We don’t retrieve people. It’s a good policy. You have to assume the down vehicle was being tracked. If another one now goes in after it, you’re liable to lose both. There are things that happen to delay the locals – your grounding field disables their spark-gap engine ignition systems and often knocks out utility power. But if you then go ahead and lay a lot of additional technology on the locals to hold them back beyond that, that could escalate on you.
Once you’ve gotten that tough, you might as well start in with your armed landing parties, your bridgeheads, garrisons, embassies or armies of occupation or both, and the next thing you know, the Methane-Breathers want Jupiter, to ‘maintain the balance of power.’ And for what? What’s the power?
These people have nothing for us except potential. Someday, yes, they’re going to be valuable, and that’s why the Methane-Breathers keep hanging around, too, refilling their air tanks in the petroleum swamps at night and making funny lights when they’re not careful. This is going to be a highly civilized manufacturing center someday, with factories all over the asteroid belt and on some of the bigger natural satellites, like the Moon, that’ll have really significant installations. There’ll be freighters and businessmen coming and going. Once you start getting that kind of traffic, you almost have to have a dockyard and maybe an actual military base – the Moon would be good for that, too – to keep a little order. There’s always maintenance and repair work to be done, and there’s always contraband to check for.
I keep thinking how cannabis will grow almost anywhere; one shipload of seed could make you a fortune in half a dozen places I can think of, and I don’t even have a criminal mind. But the minute that kind of thing starts, you’re into a commerce-regulating and immigration service kind of thing, and that’s armed vehicles and men. That disturbs the Methane-Breathers, and it would disturb me if I were them. It’s too easy to call a battleship just a coast guard cutter, and a regiment an inspection team. And there you go again; next thing, you’ve got two fleets eyeball to eyeball. And that stinks; any time you get the career armed services faced off, you’re going to get actions in aid of prestige. That produces debris.
And that’s apart from the fact that if the locals get on to you and resent you, you’re into a big thing with them. A slug thrower may not kill you as elegantly as a laser, but it will kill you, and these locals also have lasers. And fission and fusion and demonstrated willingness.
Then there’s the fact that the tactical position of a planet-sited military force fighting off an attempted landing from space is both hopeless and unbeatable. They can’t do much to you while you’re aloft, but the moment you start landing they can lob all sorts of stuff at you from too many places to suppress. If you keep coming, they throw more. Pretty soon, what you’re trying to land on can’t be lived in. It’s no good to them anymore, either, but that scores no points for you.
The same sort of thing applies if you try to destroy their military resources beforehand. At about the point where their industries might be worth taking over, locals are generally in possession of a well-dispersed, well-dug-in arsenal. That’s a lot of firepower, and it takes tons more to knock out a ton of it. If we could afford to bring that much suppression to someplace out on the ass end of nowhere, we wouldn’t need their damned industry in the first place.
So we don’t shoot. That leaves you two alternatives. One is to poison them off – short-lived radioactives, or biologicals. Could be done, no problem with the delivery systems. Then you’ve got a lot of real estate, free for the burying of an entire ecological system, including the management and the work force you thought was going to sell you the produce of the factories. What you’ve got for your efforts is something that’s turning hand over fist into a planetary desert. Thank you very much. And I, for one, would keep looking over my shoulder, and hearing whispers.
The only choice, really, is the one we make. You hang around as inconspicuously as possible, learning as much as you can from listening to and watching their electronics and so forth. You can learn a lot, by direct observation and by inference. Any intelligent race you can hope to someday relate to is going to have come up essentially the same developmental roads and dealt with the physical laws of the Universe in about the same way. So you keep tabs on them until they come out to meet you; then you can sit down right away and work things out; draw up your contracts.
If they’re Methane-Breather types, of course, that’s one thing; that’s strictly business, and no hanging out together after working hours. If they’re anthropomorphic, that’s another, and welcome, brethren, into the family of spacefaring, oxygenbreathing, aspiring intelligent life, granted that’s more true if it doesn’t nauseate us to look at you. You also want to consider there’s a lot of evidence – they say – that both the Methane-Breathers and we have found traces of some other types nosing around our corner of the Galaxy. Under those circumstances, everybody wants to be as friendly and businesslike as possible with anybody that’ll have you. It could be a funny feeling to be trying to go it alone while something really exotic was undermining your back fences.
So we don’t retrieve people. If something loud got triggered off in the process, it would upset too many future arrangements. We’re a pretty self-reliant kind of animal, and we also take our service oaths seriously. We knew all the possibilities before we were assigned.
And besides, hardly anything ever goes wrong.