copyright 1997 by Pat Powers
After the preliminaries we moved on to M2395b and set up orbit around the planet at about 30 klicks, scanning it with the full array of instruments in our ships, and if there was one thing our ships had, it was the best scanning equipment Earth system could produce.
The first thing we looked for was some sign of high tech that the initial inspection by the AI had missed. It was redundant, really, since the AI probe in question was a fairly recent launch with scanning equipment much like our own. Some of the probes that had been launched when Pelman points were first figured out were still in service, and their equipment was not comparable to what was available nowadays.
Since it was OUR lives that were on the line if any nasty advanced tech was lurking planetside, we had no problem with redundancy in this instance. We happily scanned and checked and rechecked.
What we came up with was a portrait of a basically undeveloped planet with a flourishing but primeval human civilization on it.
The most startling bit about the planet was the existence of large reptilian animals on the planet. With such crowd of large, fierce animals on hand, it was hard to understand how the humans on M2395b survived, but the evidence of newly cleared fields everywhere indicated a growing population. Primitive humans should have had a hard time surviving in a world on which fast, giant reptiles were established -- such animals were difficult to escape from if they were stalking you, as some early ECC teams had discovered to their woe.
If you had an assault laser or a military grade laser you could cut them down very handily, but with swords, bows and arrows, you were in deep doo-doo very quickly. Yet the inhabitants of M2395b seemed to be doing very well. Had they figured out some strategem for dealing with these monsters that no one had yet found? We saw things that looked a lot like Earth's tyrannosaurs stalking huge herbivores on the plains, carnivores at least 20 meters long. A sword would just bounce off one of those babies' armor.
Other than that, surprises were few and far between. An agrarian society was flourishing on one of the planet's two continents, with evidence of nomadic hunter-gatherers living in the forests that still dominated the continent ecologically. No evidence of fossil fuel consumption, internal combustion engines, radio transmissions, or any large-scale industrial activity. There was some metal-smelting activity occurring near the site of copper and iron deposits that were near the surface. The most advanced method of transportation appeared to be lizard-drawn carts. The building materials were wood and stone.
Primitive, really primitive.
"Who goes down first?" was a question we had debated while DNI-linked to the ships' AI system. It was SOP to send two crewmembers planetside and let the others stay in the ship, on the grounds that if there was some REALLY nasty biohazard or other catastrophe waiting, the people in the ship could survive and report back. It had worked out just that way, far too many times.
Tully and I were the obvious choice. My planetside specialty is biochemistry, and that was a key to checking out any new planet. Tully's specialty was cultural ethnology, an obvious necessity in this case.
So we found ourselves crawling over to cell 4 and into the lander that was moored to its exterior. The lander was a much more complex bit of construction than the Asimov cells: it was designed to fly deep within gravity wells and through all kinds of atmospheres, so it was a sleek little number with swept-back wings and a streamlined cargo pod.
The ship's artificial intelligence and I piloted the lander down while Tully handled the com. The spot we'd picked out to explore in detail was a salt estuary on the fringes of the planet's "civilized" area. There was a small settlement at the edge of the marsh, but not enough of a settlement to put us at any risk of premature discovery. There was a small hummock of trees about five miles from the settlement that served our purposes nicely. We came in just before dawn and I put us down right in the middle of the hummock.
"How's it lookin' down there?" Sammy asked once we were down.
"Dark," Tully responded. "We'll get our 'bots out and set up a perimeter before the locals wake up."
This was also SOP -- sending out a group of sentry robots equipped with videocams to keep an eye on the surroundings. Subsequently, we sent out sampling robots. Tully and I stayed very busy our first day, directing the activities of the sampling robots in the morning hours and then analyzing the materials they brought in -- water samples, air samples, tissue samples from plants and animals, and in some cases, whole plants and animals.
Sammy and Anna monitored our work from the mothership, and the ship's AI provided extra processing power where needed.
"Looks pretty clean," I said as I rechecked the number on a monitor screen. "We can metabolize the plant and animal protiens and carbohydrates. Funny thing is, I don't think the native plants and animals can metabolize OUR proteins and carbohydrates. There's some differences in the structure."
"We can eat them, but they can't eat us?" Sammy asked from the com.
"That's pretty much it," I said. "That doesn't mean the local flora and fauna won't TRY to eat us, however."
"An important point," said Sammy, grinning. "Some of the 'bots have recorded some large, toothy types lurking in the marshes here. I imagine they could make a pretty good try at eating us."
"I imagine so," I said calmly. "You'll be careful when you go out, then, won't you?"
"You got that right," said Tully.
That night, we sent 'bots into the native village, with IR enhancers that gave a noonday glare to the village's darkest recesses, with the light available from the two moons that were presently visible in the night sky.
The design was reminiscent of most low-tech villages in subtropical regions on Earth -- a collection of thatch-roofed huts sided with light wooden frames patched with broad leaves whose slick surfaces looked distinctly water-repellent.
The huts were arranged in no particular order, and there was no outer perimeter around them -- a curious condition, considering the large predators that we knew lived in and around the marsh. Several banked cooking fired were raging bonfires until the IR monitors compensated. There were some pens on one side of the village that housed some small reptilians, and other pens that housed small insectoids.
It was really very typical.
In the exact center of the village were four effigies that probably represented the local deity or deities. Each was identical, and they all sat back to back, forming a sort of compass. The effigy showed a curious creature, a male figure that sat on a throne and held its arms outstretched, elbows bent down so that the "hands" which were circular, pointed at the ground and were about on a level with the lap.
The feet were also strange -- long, splayed-out things that bowed in the center.
And the reason I KNEW it was a male deity was the large phallus that jutted out from the creature's seated torso.
The head was also very masculine, with prominent brow ridges, cheekbones, chin, and a carved beard. A pretty fearsome-looking fellow, except that the expression on his face was a lost, gazing-into-the-distance look, and his mouth hung open, as if he were panting or moaning slightly.
The real surprise came when we sent flycams into the huts to check out the villagers. As expected, we found the natives sleeping peacefully, cuddled up on the floor of the huts. They were, for all practical purposes, naked, except that some of them wore strings around their waists, necklaces, etc. No loincloths or wraparounds of any kind were in evidence. Letting it all hang out was the fashion rule here, apparently.
I heard Tully instruct the ship's AI, "Give me a close-up of the large woman sleeping at the far left."
"She's gagged!" I said, as the camera closed in on the woman's sleeping face. Something large and brown filled her mouth, and straps ran from it to the back of her neck.
"That's not all, look at her arms," said Tully. "See how she's sleeping? Doesn't look natural. Let's see if the flycam can give us a view of her hands."
The flycam detached itself from the hut wall and hovered above the sleeping woman, so that we could see behind her.
"She's hogtied," Tully observed. And she was -- her hands were tied together behind her back, her legs were tied together as well, and a rope ran from her hands to her feet.
"Why do you suppose she's tied up like that?" I asked.
"She's probably a slave," Tully replied. "Maybe a capture from another tribe, or maybe she violated a taboo seriously enough to merit enslavement as a punishment."
We checked out several other huts in the village and in every one of them, the adult females wore gags and were hogtied as they slept.
In one of the huts, the adult female was not asleep. Neither was the adult male. The were having sex, while their two children slept peacefully. The woman's hands were tied behind her back, she was gagged, and her ankles were tied to a pole that kept them stretched widely apart as the man took her from behind.
"What do you make of it?" I asked Tully. "Why are all the women tied up like that? Have we stumbled on the Village of the Terminally Kinky, or what?"
"I don't know," said Tully. "It's obvious that women in this tribe have pretty much the status of slaves. There's some historic precedent -- in many primitive Earth societies, women had the status of chattel. In fact, women had the status of chattel in some Islamic and Asian societies well into the 21st century. But they didn't tie the women up like that, that I know of, except as a form of recreational sex. Which is what this might be, though I doubt that. Practice is too widespread. Well, that explains the effigy, anyway."
"How so?" I asked.
"Didn't you notice the straps on it, at the base of the phallus, at the foot of the throne and in the "hands"?" Tully asked. "They obviously tie their women to it on ceremonial occasions, in poses that make it clear that the deity is having sex with them."
"Ah," I said. "Sounds like a pretty repulsive little culture."
"Primitive cultures tend to be," Tully said. "The level of misery at which the people exist has a way of being reflected in their treatment of one another. Plus, of course, they've got no DNI, and their language has probably regressed considerably. They can hardly understand each other, and the slightest difference is magnified by the lack of understanding. They can hurt each other a lot, without understanding that they're hurting each other, and without the victim even understanding that she's being hurt. It's really hard to understand what things were like before DNI links were widely available."
"Yeah, I guess so," I said, staring at a bound woman sleeping peacefully amid her family members, her mouth stretched wide by a gag that clearly filled it, her hands bound behind her back. She probably thought that was the natural way to sleep.
No other surprises showed up as we completed our survey of the village. We hid flycams at various spots in the village so we could keep an eye on things as the day progressed, then we went to sleep ourselves. I set my nanomeds for one complete cycle of deep, intensive sleep, which ought to be OK so long as I caught up the next night.
I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and alert, and very glad that I hadn't spent the night bound hand and foot and gagged. What a strange way to live.
Tully and I watched the day begin for the villagers. It began as the mature females awoke and nuzzled their mates until the males awoke and untied them, and ungagged them, though a few were not ungagged, and unless they were ungagged by their men, they did not remove their gags, but went about wearing them. The females got up and began going about the business of getting the day started, while the males rolled over and went back to sleep. That figured, somehow.
By the time the men got up the banked fires were roaring away and the kids were eating a starchy-looking porridgelike substance out of wooden bowls. But none of the women ate. They waited until the men came out, stretching and yawning and grinning -- and every one of them was carrying a short length of rope.
The men took seats on logs beside the fire, and their womenfolk picked up large bowls porridge, walked over to their men, knelt before them and offered the bowls to them. The men took the bowls and set them on the log beside them, then made a peculiar hand gesture to the women. This was the signal for the women to turn so that they faced away from their men, and cross their hands behind their backs, which the men promptly tied there with the ropes they'd brought out. And at this time, the women who were still gagged were ungagged.
The women shuffled around to face their men again. The men reached into the porridge bowl and palmed out of glob of the stuff, eating it with every sign of enjoyment. Then he reached in again and pulled out more, which he smeared all over his dick. The women then knelt forward and licked and sucked at their men's dicks until the porridge was gone, at which point the men smeared more on.
"Do you believe that?" Tully asked as we watched the proceedings in bug-eyed amazement -- an orgy of oral sex conducted in complete calm, as children, teens and elders ate their mush without showing any interest in the definitely obscene goings-on.
"We're going to be the number one net feed all over Earth system as soon as the drone gets through with this stuff," I said.
"Incredible," Sammy's voice said over the com. "This is one kinky village. What a weird orgy."
"It's not an orgy," Tully said. "An orgy is a specific kind of cultural event. What we're watching is breakfast."
"Messy way to eat breakfast," Anna observed, as a large blob of mush oozed to the ground before a woman could get to it. "If their hands weren't tied back like that, I bet they'd do a lot better."
"I don't think neatness counts for a lot among these people," Tully said. "it's obvious that this culture places a high value on reinforcing the subservience of women to men. A little spilled mush is a minor price to pay, I'm sure."
One by one, as the mush ran out, the men stopped spooning it onto their dicks and seized the women's heads, thrusting their penises in and out of the women's mouths while the women's bound hands writhed helplessly behind their backs and their feet struggled for purchase as they were pulled forward and then backward.
"Little extra protein there," Tully observed as one man after another groaned and pressed his woman's face deep into his groin as he spasmodically thrust at her.
"These people are WEIRD," I exclaimed, overcome by the strangeness of the spectacle. At one time, it was tremendously sexual and deeply obscene, and at the same time, the casual attitude of the nonparticipants indicated that it was a mundane event. "Breakfast" as Tully put it.
The women bowed down and kissed their men's feet with every sign of reverence, then waited patiently for their hands to be untied. Once their hands were untied, the women picked up the mush bowls and walked to one of the many inlets that fringed the village, and washed the bowls and themselves. The kids came along played in the water. Some of the men bathed as well. Others sat by the fire and chewed on leaves, their expressions growing more and more stupified as they chewed.
"Starting out the day with a good buzz, I'd say," said Anna. "Great little lifestyle they've carved out for themselves."
"Think you're right," Tully said. "Probably some kind of narcotic. A common practices among Earth's primitive tribes."
Next, the adult males in the village stood together in the center of the village and held a relaxed conversation, while the children played and the women began hauling various primeval paraphernalia out of the huts.
After about half an hour of slow-motion wrangling, about 2/3 of the men -- almost all of the ones who were in their prime -- siezed spears, knives and nets and trooped off into the swamp.
"What are they doing, going off to raid somebody?" Sammy I asked.
"Extremely unlikely," Tully said. "Things are too casual. Even among primitive tribes which warred with one another frequently, there's always some kind of ritual before a raid, to get everyone whipped up and ready to fight. More likely, this is a hunting party. The men are going off to catch game while the women and children will move off to harvest edible plants, or fish. Very typical pattern -- hunter/gatherers."
When the bulk of the men were safely out in the swamp, the women in the tribe relaxed visibly. The level and loundness of their chatter increased. The women took large woven baskets and got the children organized, leaving the village deserted except for some oldsters, and a few women who were tending babies and very young infants. There were also three men who sat by the fire, chewed leaves and talked.
"Why are those three guys hanging around?" I asked.
"Guards," Tully answered. "Since there's just three of them, I don't think there's much of a threat out there."
Tully was sure things would be dull in the village until later in the day when hunting party returned, so we set the cams on "TR" (Transmit to the mothership and Record) and started doing some sampling. This time, we did it live and in person.