Personal Log, Mission 42

For cross-reference purposes, the official designation of this mission is J-4327/Z, and my professional report is posted under that link. But that sounds so sterile, and since this is my 42nd mission I'll just refer to it that way.

This planetary system is at the fringe of the explored universe, and there's only one other report on it in the computer. My current destination is an unremarkable yellow sun orbited by eight planets. There's a huge chunk of rock in the outermost orbit, big enough to be an acceptable satellite of one of the huge ringed gasbags. Except that it orbits a star it meets none of the other Interstellar Research Society's criteria for being designated a planet. If the system were a dog, the rock would be its wagging tail.

On the way in-system I sent probes to seven of the planets and several of the larger satellites. The data confirmed my predecessor's report of possible life on a frozen moon of one of the big gaseous planets, but it will be millennia before it reaches sentience (if indeed it ever does) and anyway I don't have the gear to explore the extreme conditions on its surface so I merely note the fact.

Six of the planets couldn't possibly support human life. The temperature, gravity, and/or atmosphere are inhospitable. I paid close attention to the data from the seventh planet since it was within the habitable parameters, but there was no indication of any life-forms.

There are lots of theories on why so many humans are found throughout the universe, but so far as I know there are no definitive answers. We have found a few non-human sentient species, but the humans are all found on planets within a narrow range of parameters so these are the ones we researchers concentrate on. Originally "humanoid" was defined as a bi-laterally symmetrical, bipedal creature with opposable thumbs - but what we've found is that it takes a specialist (like myself) to tell most of the occupants of different planets apart. There are small differences in coloration, height, weight, facial features, length of limbs or digits, etc; and not all of them can inter-breed. But it's amazing how much we all really look alike. I've long since stopped worrying about it.

I'm here to investigate the inhabitants of the 3rd planet from this particular sun. My long-ago predecessor's report indicates they were well on their way to evolving into full humans, and it's time to take another look at them. My official goal is to assess their progress and set a new date for the next contact many thousands of years down the line.

Day One

I put the ship into orbit around the planet, and sent down dozens of probes. There are humanoid creatures in scattered settlements on several of the continents, but my trained eye spots differences. So I order more sophisticated probes to investigate two representative settlements. It doesn't take long to understand that one group, while being magnificently suited to their environment, lacks the intelligence to be considered truly human. Doubtless my successor will find no trace of them.

The other group is the one I'm interested in. I've seen people at this stage before, and the phrase "half-naked savages" comes to mind. But these people wear something that could be called clothing, they decorate their bodies with paint and beads, they use many different tools - and they have language. I order the probes to concentrate on this settlement so I can learn the (admittedly primitive) language and study the individuals.

Day Five

Finally I was ready to take the lander to the surface and set up camp. I'd chosen a lovely spot near where four rivers ran into a sea. The lander is designed to be my living quarters dirtside, with sleeping space, cooking facilities and computer access. I carefully maneuver it between two large trees and turn on the invisibility field. You don't want the natives bashing it up out of superstitious fear!

Next I take a walk - not only to enjoy the beauty of this planet, but to set the markers for the force-field and to begin cataloging the local flora and fauna. I collect samples to analyze and store, and who knows, maybe I'll find a fruit or spice that will sell well and help defray the cost of the trip. It's a beautiful place, and not for the first time I wonder what it would be like to just stay on one of these planets forever. Since I know that won't happen I spend some time transplanting some of the showier flowering plants around the camp area to make it even more appealing.

Lunch the first day on-site is pre-packaged, full of all the proper nutrients but barely edible. That motivates me to plant the food-tree seed and set up the force-grow field around it. In two days it'll be fully grown and I can pick any synth-meat, fruit, veggie or spice I want from its many branches. As I work I see one of the natives watching me from the hilltop. I'll let him watch the rest of the day so he can see I'm not a threat.

I spend the rest of the afternoon setting up the remote computer outside. The worst part of that chore is putting together the racks from which the data-crystals hang and making sure the crystals are in the right order. A quick test-run to make sure the robot arm can reach them all and then I settle down to analyzing the samples I'd collected. It's always a good idea to do this outside the Lander just in case you run across something with a nasty defense mechanism; it saves on clean-up and decontamination. With any luck I'll find something to supplement the food-packs until the food-tree is ready.

Day Six

This morning I set out for the local settlement. It wasn't a long walk, and the people saw me coming and gathered by their crude huts to await me. They were surprised that I spoke their language, but even so it wasn't easy to explain to them who I was. I relied on the old story of being a traveler from far away who wanted to meet them.

They pointed to my bald head, quite a contrast to their long wild locks. In turn I pointed to an old man who sported a long white fringe surrounding a bald crown. I know I didn't look old to them, but they got the idea. One of the men asked why I had no beard so I (carefully) picked up a stone scraper from a work area and mimed shaving. They shook their heads at that, not understanding why I'd want to get rid of a perfectly good beard.

One of the women noticed my missing left pinkie and asked how I'd lost it. I told them a simple story of how it was crushed by a big rock, though it'd really been an accident aboard ship. She approached cautiously and took my hand, examining it. Clearly she was impressed at the lack of scar tissue as she kept running her fingers over the stump-less edge of my hand.

They began to be less afraid of me and clustered around me touching my clothing, rubbing it between their fingers. I explained it was a covering like their crude animal skins. I could see their confusion; after all, my clothes covered most of my body and it was hard for them to grasp the idea that I was a man just like them. So I undressed and let them see for themselves. See? Two arms, two legs, feet inside the boots. There was gesturing, self-inspection, and comparison and then laughter as they understood and accepted me. Though the women snickered at my circumcised manhood, apparently they thought it unattractive.

Now that I was accepted I got dressed again and began talking to them, asking them questions. I stayed about an hour before telling them I was going back to my camp. I needed to write up my notes and finish analyzing samples, including the hunk of meat they'd given me upon leaving. I knew they needed time to talk amongst themselves to decide what they thought of me.

I needed one of them to study, a volunteer being by far the best way. I wouldn't hurt him of course, but there was no good way to explain many of the tests I would make. It usually took a few days for the locals to accept my presence and get up the courage to come visit me. But that afternoon I noticed a young man watching me from a nearby hilltop. He couldn't know I had cameras trained on him, that I was watching him on my computer. He looked to be very young, probably just accepted as a man rather than a boy. Clearly he was curious, and undoubtedly out to prove himself to his tribe by finding out about me. He would make a fine subject if I could convince him it was worthwhile.

A gift of food would be a good way to start. So I analyzed the meat they'd given me, ran it through the processor in the lander and created the synth template. The food-tree was growing well, and this would be a good time to add a new branch. By tomorrow morning I would have a large piece of "meat" that my watcher couldn't tell from the real thing. By the way, it was pretty tasty too.

Day Seven

I hadn't given this young man enough credit. The force-field kept him out of camp last night without hurting him, but this morning I saw his startled face on the security record. He was still up on the hill watching me, so I guess it hadn't scared him away for good. I harvested the new synth-meat, wrapped it in some paper and walked toward him. I smiled and waved, held the package high so he could see and then pointed from it to him. He held his ground, though he looked like he might bolt at any second. About halfway between us I bent down and left the gift on the ground, unwrapping it so he could see what it was from a distance. Then I turned around and went back to camp.

By the time I got back both meat and man were gone. Good. He'd take it back to his group and my stock would go up with them. I had camp chores to attend, and plenty of analysis still to do so the day passed quickly.

Day Eight

I'd made a bet with myself yesterday, and this morning allowed myself a sweet treat for breakfast as a reward after reviewing the security record. My watcher had prowled around the perimeter tossing stones at the force-field to test its limits, but he hadn't tried to enter my camp again. Definitely intelligent.

The young man was back on the hill, and waved when I looked at him. I picked some more of his synth-meat and began walking towards him. He jumped up and began walking to meet me. He walked faster than I did, but stopped just short of the force-field boundary. He was clearly puzzled when I walked through it with no ill effect. He held a bead necklace in his hand and offered it in exchange for the meat. We made the trade and he thanked me. Then he cautiously poked a finger into the invisible barrier and looked a little surprised that it was still there.

The young man asked why I could walk across that line and he couldn't. I asked if he would like to see my camp and he said 'yes'. I told him I would let him cross the barrier but I needed something of his, a piece of skin or drop of blood. Yes, I'm afraid I told him it was magic - but then DNA would seem like magic to him so it wasn't really a lie. He thought it over for a minute, came to a conclusion and scratched a scab off a cut on his leg. This job has its less savory moments, but the bloody scab would do nicely.

At this point I felt I ought to get to know my new volunteer a little better. I pointed to my chest and told him my name was Veeden. He pointed to his own bare hairy chest and said "Hadeem". When I asked about his people he said they were the Lion Clan. He pointed out a lion in the far distance and explained why his people preferred this animal's attributes. I got a short lecture on the other tribes in the area and why their animal totems weren't as powerful. We continued talking for awhile, then I told him to return tomorrow morning and asked him to bring me samples of different foods. He agreed only after making sure he'd get more "meat".

Day Nine

Hadeem took me at my word - the sun was barely up when the security alarm beeped to let me know an acceptable creature had penetrated the force-field. I found him staring at the food-tree so I explained how it worked (in simple terms) and showed him the branch with his synth-meat. He picked the pod and cut into it with his sharp stone knife, clearly amazed. Having analyzed his DNA I knew nothing on the tree would hurt him, so I picked a fruit from some far-off world and gave it to him. The look of delight on his face when he bit into it was one of the better rewards of my job.

I showed him around the camp, giving a stock explanation about the "magic" computer and warning him not to touch it. He asked about the flowers I'd planted and I told him the simple truth, that I enjoyed their beauty. I had gathered rather a lot of them, but there's nothing wrong with living in a garden if you can! He had a lot of questions about the food-tree, easy enough to understand his curiosity given his people's level of advancement. His comment was, "All the Lion Clan could live off that one tree." It must seem like a miracle to him.

I told Hadeem to take the "meat" home and he could come back to visit whenever he wanted. He left and I settled down to analyzing and synthesizing the foods he'd brought me. I didn't expect him back until tomorrow morning, but I underestimated him. The security alarm beeped again just after lunch.

I almost didn't recognize Hadeem when I turned around to greet him. He'd cut off his long hair and beard, then attempted to shave both head and face probably with that sharp knife of his. I could see several small cuts in the skin. He was clearly proud of his accomplishment, saying "I look like you." Very flattering, I'm sure.

We spent the afternoon talking, and I'm sure Hadeem had no idea that I was actually testing him and assessing his level of intelligence. It's a slow process especially with his primitive language. Once he trusted me a little more I'd run tests with the computer. I fixed dinner for the two of us, and you'd have thought he was eating at a four-star restaurant the way he raved about it. My cooking's not that good. I sent him home afterwards. Although he clearly trusted me I didn't think he was ready to sleep in camp and it wasn't necessary anyway.

Day Ten

Hadeem was back at sunrise again. He was astounded when I gave him not only "meat" but a big supply of the vegetables, fruits, and grain he'd brought yesterday. He left just long enough to take them home and come back. During our talk he asked why his hair was growing back and mine didn't. I assured him that I shaved my face every day, and he immediately swore he would too. I couldn't stand the thought of him cutting himself with that stone knife so brought out my shaving kit and showed him how to use it. While I was at it I showed him how to bathe in the river - if he wanted to imitate me I'd take advantage and cut down on his odor.

I made good progress, though there was still a lot to be done. It was a little early to tell, but I thought Hadeem's people were more than sufficiently intelligent to one day be accepted by the rest of the worlds. He insisted on trying different foods and relished everything I fed him. He went home again after dinner.

Day Eleven

The new day brought another surprise - Hadeem proudly showed me his left hand, now missing its little finger. I felt terrible, clearly he'd cut it off to further the imitation. I cleaned the wound, slathered it with an antibiotic, and bandaged it. He took another bundle of food back to his tribe and we spent the rest of the day talking about the tools and weapons he brought back with him.

After dinner Hadeem announced that he would sleep in camp. I tried to discourage him, but quickly saw that he thought I was displeased with him so I gave in. I wasn't about to let him in the lander, but the weather was warm and he seemed quite content to lie down in the grass.

Day Seventeen

Our daily routine had changed. Hadeem bathed and shaved every morning and left his bundle of food just outside the force-field where another member of his tribe could retrieve it. He said he wanted to learn from me and stay here with me. It wasn't long before he asked if he could have clothes like mine. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, and that particular bit of imitation sure beat self-mutilation so I gave him some. I thought it would be comical watching him put them on, but he'd watched me dress too many times and had very little trouble. We took to walking around outside the force-field so he could show me more of his world and skills, though I noticed he seemed reluctant to take me into his clan's settlement. He didn't want to share me, I guess.

It was on one of these walks that trouble struck. Hadeem had climbed a tree to gather some bird eggs for me. I suggested he take off the boots, but he refused. Wearing boots was part of his imitation of me and besides, I think he wanted to impress me that he could climb that big tree even in unfamiliar clothes. He nearly made it, too. He had almost reached the nest when Mama Bird suddenly dove at him, screeching her head off. Hadeem took a step back, but his boot slipped on the branch and he came crashing down.

The rock he landed on was small, but big enough to break a rib. I could see the end of the bone sticking out of his skin. Hadeem tried to act like it was nothing, but I could tell he was in pain. He didn't argue when I told him we were going back to camp, though I had to convince him that I could fix the broken rib. His people would know about broken bones, and I'm not sure he believed my magic was that powerful.

This called for a little subterfuge on my part. I gave him a particularly tasty piece of fruit from the food-tree, but of course he had no way of knowing it was laced with a powerful soporific. After that it was a (fairly) simple matter of carrying him into the lander and making use of the auto-doc. Although I could have erased the scar, I thought that might be a little much for him to handle. I'd just gotten him back outside when the computer beeped for attention.

One of the probes had come across a native in dire peril. While it's not my responsibility to protect all these people (and indeed I cannot), I do like to help where I can. A young woman was being attacked by a big cat and it was clear she was losing the battle. I instructed the probe to attempt to drive away the predator. I could probably repair any resulting damage to the probe, and if not I still had plenty left. I'd trade a probe for a human life any day.

The animal tried to fight, swatting at the probe with its great paws but could do no more than knock it away. After watching a few minutes I gave the probe permission to administer a mild electric shock on its next pass, and that did the trick. The big creature turned and ran off, it would look for an easier meal elsewhere. But the woman had dropped to the ground, either injured or too exhausted to move. I didn't see anyone with her, and knew the beast might well decide to come back and finish her off.

Hadeem would be out for several hours yet, so I decided to go get her. The lander comes equipped with a small wheeled ground vehicle, but I rarely use it as it frightens the natives. It took me an hour to drive out there and the woman was still unconscious when I arrived. A quick check showed she wasn't badly injured so I loaded her up and headed back to camp. I treated her wounds and left her sleeping beside Hadeem.

Hadeem awoke first, astonished to see the woman beside him. I explained that I'd rescued her and brought her back thinking he might like a companion. He asked if she was hurt and I told him I'd made her well just like I'd fixed his rib. It wasn't long before she woke up too.

Her name was Yeviyah, from the Otter Clan. She'd been foraging far from her camp when the predator attacked, and in her fright had run the wrong direction. She was happy to still be alive, but unsure about both Hadeem and myself. I left the two of them alone as much as possible for the rest of the day, thinking he would do a better job telling her what was going on than I could.

Later I saw them over by the food-tree, Yeviyah stuffing herself with several different kinds of "meat". Hadeem had to talk her into trying the unfamiliar fruits, but I could hear her cries of delight once she did. I left them together under the food-tree and disappeared into the lander to sleep.

Day Eighteen

I came out of the lander this morning to find Hadeem and Yeviyah bathing in the river. Clearly she was comfortable with him by now, and I've been around enough primitive humans to know not to hold them to my own moral standards. If they'd had sex that was their business. When they were finished they walked up to me, Yeviyah clearly embarrassed about something as she wouldn't even look at me. Hadeem spoke for her, asking if she too could have clothes like ours. I've never yet met a woman who didn't want to dress in the latest fashion, whatever that might be. Hadeem showed her how to put the clothes on, but I had to show them both how to adjust them for her smaller frame.

Breakfast was another delight for Yeviyah, and I must admit I'd tried my best to impress her with new flavors. Since they both needed some rest today I asked Hadeem to do another test session on the computer. Whatever he had told her she seemed to have decided that I could be trusted. She watched as he worked through the puzzles and then asked if she could try it too.

I suggested we have lunch first and we walked over to the food-tree. Yeviyah asked if she could choose the pods as she wanted to try something new. I noticed she seemed to have lost her initial shyness. She wanted to help me cook too which was fine with me. She couldn't possibly understand the energy that powered the cooking unit, but nevertheless she quickly grasped that it worked the same as an open fire. We men dutifully told her it was a wonderful meal. I was lying a little, but Hadeem had that slightly sick look on his face that suggested he'd have thought the food marvelous even if it'd been half burned, simply because she'd cooked it. Some things are the same the universe over.

Yeviyah did indeed go through a session on the computer. It appeared she was quicker to figure out how to use the interface, but then she'd watched Hadeem carefully that morning. As expected, she scored better on some tests and worse on others. Some of the scores were directly attributable to the gender-differentiated tasks of her primitive society, and some were just individual differences. She asked a lot of questions about how the computer worked, and seemed particularly interested in the rack of data-crystals. She thought it looked pretty, like a tree; but she also seemed to understand that there was a lot of information in each crystal.

I tried to explain that there were things in the data-crystals that could hurt her, that not everything pretty was good, but she didn't understand. So I took her over to the food-tree and picked an appealing vegetable from some far-off planet. She took one bite and spat it out on the ground. It's an acquired taste but one of my favorites - and it turned out to be useful as an example.

Day Twenty-Six

The days went by quickly. The three of us went for long walks, talking about all the things we saw. Back to the camp for Yeviyah to fix lunch, then I had both work through some more computer tests in the afternoons. I worked on my report in the evenings, leaving them alone to do whatever. Truthfully I had enough data on these people that I could leave any time, but it was pleasant here and I'm under no set schedule so I chose to stay awhile longer.

As so often happens, that was the calm before the storm. Yeviyah had wandered away from us on our morning walk but she knew her way back to camp so we weren't worried. Well, Hadeem seemed a bit concerned but I assured him she'd be fine. The poor fellow was head-over-heels, but too proud to admit it. Especially to me since Yeviyah spent a lot of time learning everything she could from me. I knew better than to protest that I had no romantic interest in her (even though it was quite true) so I said nothing.

A little while later we happened on a group of Lion Clan men. Their greeting was reserved, probably miffed that one of their best young hunters was hanging out with me instead of helping the clan. I spoke with the leader and he told me there was another clan trying to move into their territory. This was a war party trying to scare them off, and he asked if Hadeem and I would help. I replied that I was no warrior, but Hadeem could do as he pleased.

The chief turned to ask Hadeem, but we could both see there was a problem. His former friends were looking at him with disdain and making unfavorable comments on his new appearance.

"Veeden is powerful" he told them, "and there is much you could learn from him." They said he'd obviously chosen a new leader for himself and he wasn't welcome in his settlement anymore. "He's made you look just like him," was one comment I heard.

Hadeem was angry, not having considered that he'd made an irrevocable choice in going with me. Then he remembered my stunt and pulled off his shirt saying he'd show them he hadn't changed. One of them pointed to the scar over his ribcage and suggested I'd bested him in a fight and that was why he now followed me.

"No." Hadeem said. "I fell and broke the bone. Veeden made me sleep and fixed it for me - and when I awoke there was a beautiful woman beside me to take my mind off the injury." Since there was no woman with us they only laughed and told him he was a fool and went off looking for the invading clan.

I felt it best that we return to camp immediately, and Hadeem didn't argue. Although I always carried a weapon with me I preferred not to use it in front of him and didn't want to get in the middle of a war, even a small one. We called out for Yeviyah but she didn't answer.

Nor did she return all afternoon. Hadeem was worried and refused to sit at the computer, spending his time restlessly walking the force-field perimeter looking off in the distance for her. By dusk I was getting worried too, and chided myself for getting involved with these people. Naturally it was then that I heard Hadeem's shout and saw her trotting towards the camp, unhurt.

She told us she'd found the camp of the Snake Clan and spent the afternoon talking to them. The fact that she had bits of grass and leaves in her hair might have other explanations, but I wondered just how much talking had actually been done. From her description the new clan had more people than Hadeem's, or her Otter Clan, and she clearly thought they would move into the area with little difficulty. She said she'd felt safer coming back to us than staying with them - truth, or hadn't they wanted her there the night before a big fight? I left the two of them alone and went to sleep in the lander.

Day Twenty-Seven

When I got up this morning neither of them were in camp. I ate, and spent the morning working on my report. Periodically I'd check the probes' visual feed and eventually saw part of the fight. Looked like the Lion Clan was losing, as Yeviyah had predicted. Just before lunch I saw the whole bunch of them, women and children included, running for the hills. Not long after that Hadeem and Yeviyah returned. They'd watched the fight from cover so they knew more about it than I did.

They didn't seem interested in talking about it, and Yeviyah insisted they continue working the computer tests. I had an uneasy feeling, but was interested to see how they did with some of the more complex test sequences. For a change Yeviyah didn't even ask questions about what she might learn from the computer. I asked her to fix a big dinner that evening, thinking we could all use a little lift from the day's events.

Day Twenty-Eight

I came out of the lander this morning expecting a normal day, thinking we might even be able to take our usual morning walk. Imagine how surprised I was to see Hadeem and Yeviyah scuttling away from the computer. I might not have noticed save they left in such a hurry that they knocked over one of the data-crystal racks which fell with a crash.

I ran to the computer to check on the crystals but stopped short when I saw what was on the screen. They'd been accessing files on the basics of agriculture. With a quick command I stopped the synthetic voice in mid-word, and told the computer to un-load the crystal without returning it to the rack.

They were huddled together under the food-tree, pretending to eat breakfast like nothing was wrong. Surely they'd picked a pod at random, because the last time Yeviyah had tasted that pretty vegetable she'd spat it out. I asked what they'd been doing and she offered me a bite, saying they were hungry and had decided to eat without me.

I pointed to the data-crystal rack and asked why it had fallen. Yeviyah didn't even look at it, said the wind must've knocked it over and Hadeem nodded in agreement. I reminded them that the force-field kept out the weather, wind included. They could tell I was angry, and both looked at the ground for a minute. Then Hadeem glanced at Yeviyah and turned to face me. He told me Yeviyah had told him to do it, had said she'd used the computer during the night and he should try it too. He said he'd reminded her that this was the one thing I'd asked them not to do and that I'd told them it could hurt them. She'd simply said that she hadn't been hurt, and there was much to learn from the computer.

I asked Yeviyah what she'd wanted to learn, and she replied she'd wanted to know more about the food-tree, that with such a tree a clan could feed many with little work. Her attitude was defiant, and she made it clear that she didn't understand how this knowledge could be harmful. How do you explain the physical and social changes that would result from such a change in lifestyle? More importantly, how do you explain that such a change should come naturally, if at all?

It occurred to me that Yeviyah was far away from her own clan, and Hadeem's had just been chased out of the area. What exactly had she planned to do with this information? She was a little reluctant to name names, but I finally got the story out of her. One of the Snake Clan warriors wanted the food-tree; doubtless he thought providing such bounty to his people would make him the instant leader. He'd promised they could join the clan, probably thinking he'd end up making her his mate.

The damage had been done and I knew it was time to leave this beautiful place. I told myself it was highly probably these people would've eventually figured out how to plant seeds on their own, that they couldn't really have learned much (or understood much of what they heard) from the computer. The Interstellar Research Society had no rules against teaching natives, but strongly prefers we let them develop on their own timeline and path. I wouldn't need to hide what had happened, but didn't want to risk any further contamination.

I told them I was angry with them, that they'd betrayed my trust. I think they expected to be punished in some way, but they seemed surprised when I said I would be leaving. Yeviyah pleaded with me to stay, promising she wouldn't touch the computer again. Hadeem didn't say much but I could tell he was worried, so I told him someone like me would return one day. He didn't need to know he'd be long dead by that time.

I began packing up the data-crystals immediately; I could be away from here by early afternoon. Yeviyah offered to help, still trying to mollify me. When I refused she resorted to tears, which didn't make me feel any better about the situation but also didn't change my mind. She moaned that she was so far away from her clan that she wouldn't be able to find her way back, but seemed reluctant when I offered to take her there. My guess is that her own people had had enough of her conniving ways and wouldn't welcome her back. I also suspected that she still thought she could worm her way into the invading Snake Clan, especially if she could get me to change my mind about the information in the computer.

Hadeem was sullen, sitting under the food-tree staring off into the distance. He must've been thinking that his people had left and even if he followed them they probably wouldn't take him back. He had to be thinking about Yeviyah's duplicity too. The Snake leader might indeed take her in, but would they want him?

I felt sorry for them both, but there was nothing I could do to help. Once the computer was stored away and the lander was packed up and ready to go there was little left to do. As I took one last look around I saw Yeviyah talking to Hadeem under the food-tree, but he wouldn't even look at her. I asked if they wanted something to eat, but neither of them did. I ate a quick lunch, and then picked all the ripe pods from the tree, piling them on the ground.

I injected the food-tree with a fast-acting poison which caused it to immediately begin to wither. Yeviyah screamed at me, asking what they would eat once the tree was gone. I explained as gently as I could that they'd have to make it on their own. When I asked for the clothes back it was Hadeem's turn to get upset. I had to threaten to use magic before they agreed. The food-tree would be rotted away by tomorrow but the fabric and metals in the clothing would last a long time and the Interstellar Research Society was very specific about not leaving behind any tangible traces of a visit.

I deactivated the force-field and began picking up the markers. I returned to the center of the camp to find Hadeem and Yeviyah covering themselves with their hands, clearly feeling more than naked since I was still dressed. I wished them well and told them goodbye, then walked to the lander and prepared to go back to my orbiting ship.

My last view of them from the air showed them slowly walking away, carrying as much of the food as they could. I wondered where they would go, and what fantastic stories they would tell. In a few years their stories of a life of ease in this beautiful spot and the magical powers of Veeden will be forgotten.

Handwritten note attached:

To: Membership Administrator, Interstellar Research Society

Re: Pending Invitation for planet Earth

I have researched the surveyor's records for this planet as you requested. The official reports contain the standard information you'd expect; however this personal log is a different matter. It is highly reminiscent of one of their oldest and most cherished legends. Perhaps we shouldn't mention it to them.