Homer sighed in relief as he took his favorite seat in his favorite tea house. The Misty Mountain imported the best green tea in the city.
"Having trouble with your art students, Homer?" Kelsey Meridian was an attractive young wuss. For better or worse, she was attracted to Harriett July, who was sitting beside her. Also attractive. "Or did you fly over a Church of the Second Coming and cause all that foorah in the courts?"
Homer sniffed. "Sub par immigrants suing dragons for flying. Why did we ever allow the second comers into our country? Oh, that's right. Pretty blondes. Never mind."
They laughed at him. "Blondes, is it, Homer?" Harriett leaned back and smirked.
He shook himself. "Enough of them. Good thing I do prefer blondes. You two would break my heart, otherwise."
Harriet laughed. "So save the sweet talk for them, Homer. How's business?"
"Oh, quite good. With the City growing so fast, well, I just hate to call my paintings 'items of decor' but they're moving well." He eyed them thoughtfully. "Have you two ever considered running a gallery?"
They blinked at him. Kelsey answered. "We haven't got the start up money. Give us a century, then we might be able to afford the rent you pay on your place."
Homer shrugged modestly. It was stylish to complain about costs, so he hadn't ever mentioned owning the building. Other people paid rent to him. Hmm. "Kelsey, you have a business degree, don't you?" The question was rhetorical, he knew she 'd added the business degree to her accounting certificate a year ago.
"Yes. Not that it's getting me to the pinnacle of Big Business. It just means I get to supervise three other accountants while managing clients myself. Why?"
"Well, I was just starting to plan for my alt taking over. He hasn't the faintest interest in art. Your business sense and Harriett's artwork . . . think about taking over the gallery. You wouldn't need start up money."
Harriett was sitting up, looking alarmed. "Homer! I've never met your alt. Are you extremely Bi? We'll still see you sometimes, won't we?"
"Oh, I doubt Herod will stay in the City. And yes, we're strongly Bi. He's very different."
They were both looking dismayed. Kelsey tugged at her bangs. "We're going to lose our favorite Lounge Lizard? The City's top artist? The best critic?"
Kelsey bit her lip. "Your Herod doesn't write the Jerry Lumpkin column, does he?"
"Oh, no. I write both. One snobby and one silly. He won't do either. Trust me. He's a loner, won't keep up with society or the arts. Doesn't care enough to even lampoon them. So maybe you two should think about the columns as well. Do you think you could imitate my writing style?"
"Oh wow. You write those Lumpkin columns? And here I was waiting to read about what you both think about these new comer people, as they try to invade our society."
Homer wrinkled his nose. "I haven't met any yet. Why don't I see about getting some extra invites to the White Cliffs' winter ball. I expect they'll have invited this ambassador fellow those people have sent." He elevated his nose. "Shall I find them unstylish boors from some savage island, attempting to ape the manners of their betters? Or will some exotic beauty sweep me off my feet?"
"I expect Jerry Lumpkin to misunderstand and start calling them the Third Comers, and how had he missed it when the second fellow came?"
Homer grinned. "Oh, I think you two would be perfect replacements for me."
The ship poked along in a low orbit, the planet turning slowly below them. Scarlet Magana pulled her eyes away from the beautiful sight.
"So our conclusions are that this is not one, but two lost colonies." Lieutenant Standish was the chief exobiologist. "The Oceanic plankton is about half and half native and introduced Earth types. Unfortunately, the planet has lost all but a few species of land animals and plants. The most obvious being the dragons." The picture of the planet changed to her spectacular shot of the black dragon in mid air, wings three-fourths folded, claws reaching for a deer as it leapt for safety. "The surviving plants are moderately toxic, some hallucinogenic, with some reports that they are, umm, aphrodisiacs of impressive strength."
That brought a snigger from the assembly. Scarlet did not look around, or indicate in any way that she was the one who'd spent days trying to seduce her superior officers, fellow scouts, subordinates and everything else in pants. Or skirts. All of them available. Singly and collectively. And if she found the big fellow who'd doped her drink, he was toast. Three frigging days.
The docs were pleased as punch to have isolated it. They were gleefully analyzing it, certain that it must have a medicinal use. Beyond the obvious.
"Which brings us to the history of the planet. Geologically speaking, the surface is almost entirely young, less than ten thousand years, due to a round of late impacting asteroids, or possibly comets. The year is slightly shorter than Earth's, the locals have split it up into twelve months of thirty days, they probably have a sort of reverse Leap Year, with one year out of three short a day to keep the solstices on the first of the year and the first day of the sixth month. There are three moons, only one large enough to be immediately noticeable, its orbit is twenty-six days long, so probably has no relation to their calendar months.
"The myths we've intercepted include the three original dragons bringing the water, the plants and the animals to the world. That probably has something to do with the first human arrivals, who must have been First Diaspora, two thousand years ago. This is the furthest, by a factor of about twenty, that a first D colony has been found. Most of them were just prior to or during the early stages of Bio War II. In any case, what they locally call the Second Coming was the arrival of the Colony Ship Godiva four hundred years ago. We've reconstructed about half the captain's log, and we're still working on the science lab records. From what we've got, the colonists found terrestrial plants and animals all over the planet. Their final log entry spoke of their successful settlement on a continent away from the "Natives" and their "Dragons." They were all members of a fundamentalist offshoot Christian Church, North American roots, almost exclusively Caucasian. Transmitted at the speed of light, the electronic log will no doubt be picked up on Earth in another six hundred years. The ship herself has been orbiting at L4 for four hundred years." He looked back at his notes, and tapped for a slide.
"Here's a map of the planet. The dragons and the first colonists are on these two continents in what we're calling the eastern hemisphere. The Kite drapes the equator, with rain forests in the middle, and deserts at the ends. The Blob, sorry, is across a narrow channel, and continues on over the north pole.
"Down here, Australia. This is where the Godiva colonists settled. They have a widespread trading Empire, just now, with small settlements on the shores of these two small continents, Ying and Yang. They have a putative democracy, with draconian, sorry, should not use that word, qualifications for voting and office holding that keeps the power in the hands of a cabal of twelve very large families.
"Up here, a continent about double the size of North America, which we're calling Texas, even though the shape isn't quite right. No doubt everything will get renamed once we've talked to the, well, natives, a bit more. It is very lightly settled, with some frontier type towns along the southeastern coast."
Captain Howard leaned forward, and caught the Lieutenant's eye. "The second colonists?"
"No sir, the first, and the dragons."
The Captain scowled. "This is a dilemma. We are forbidden by law to settle on a planet with a native intelligent species. But this planet has already been compromised . . . and as we know all too well, we'll never make the transition again."
Scarlet winced. To the best of anyone's knowledge, the Hesperus was the only ship to have survived a hyperspace impact. They still had no idea just what they hit, or what had hit them. The engineer said it must have been tiny, else the energy conversion would have taken out more than a single outboard supply pod. The combined kinetic transfer and the . . . can you call it heat, in hyperspace? Energy burst, perhaps. Explosion, yeah. Shrapnel. Had damaged or out-and-out removed all their antennae, most of their sensors.
They'd lost hull integrity, half their atmosphere, fried their electronics, and warped the frame that controlled the magnetic field. They'd worked frantically and held it together while they looked for the tell-tale gravity dimple of a star they could reach without having to steer. Which had landed them here, about twice as far from Earth as they'd planned to travel. The engineering staff was trying to figure out how they'd managed that. The rest of the crew was considering getting religion, as the star was not just a G3, but had a habitable planet. The blue and white marble of a earth-type had never been more welcome in the front viewports of a space ship. With three million colonists frozen in the core of the ship, it was exactly what they needed.
They'd cobbled together a pair of drop remotes. And dropped exploration parties in the two surviving shuttles. Fortunately one shuttle had been stored in each supply pod, so they could still reach the surface safely. They'd finally finished a single working satellite, and were now able to pick up the entertainment channels. They were working on eavesdropping on the heavily encrypted communications satellites. In theory, they could use those satellites themselves.
"Both the major polities have late electric to early space age civilizations, so we've managed to disentangle the languages from broadcasts. Both derived from English. We're making progress with the encryption protocols for their satellite communications system, so we may be able to worm our way into their network. Until then, once you are down on the planet, you will be out of touch with the ship.
"The hypno chambers are programmed. Everyone must have a language session before drop." That brought a universal moan. Wimps. Scarlet's splitting head ache had only lasted eighteen hours; surely receiving what they'd read from her mind couldn't be any more painful.
"We are working our way gradually into the culture. From everything we've heard, the dragons are considered to be people. But we haven't spoken to one yet, so we can't confirm reports that they are intelligent.
"We've overheard people on the street referring to them as both old fashioned, and demons. The people that are called 'second comers' refer to them as demons. They tend towards fair coloring, and so we think they are from the Godiva Colony, and later immigrated to Freer. The other humans seem to accept the dragons openly. Probably mostly the descendants of the first Colonists, they appear to be Southern European, Middle Eastern or even oriental in their genetics. Olive skins, black hair, black eyes. Their news channels are full of reports of anti-social behavior by dragons, and claims that it has to do with this being the sunspot minimum. This violent behavior needs to be examined. We may want to stick to the Godiva Colony and avoid the wildlife.
"We've just opened talks with the two governments, and we're about ready to start waking colonists and moving them down. The existing world population is only around two or three hundred million, so we can either start in an empty area, or integrate ourselves into the existing civilization. The one we're concentrating on has a parliamentary democracy with a figurehead monarch and a few noble titles which may actually be derived from the dragons' original civilization."
The Captain stepped up to the podium. "So. We have three choices for landing. If we want to stay separate from the two nations, we have our choice of numerous islands, some nearly as large as Britain. For somewhat more contact with civilization, there are Ying, Yang, and Texas. We'll be waking up selected members of the colony party and landing exploration groups well away from all other people on the larger islands. We have also the option of joining fully with one polity or the other. In as much as one third of our equipment and supplies are lost, this may be the best choice.
"We have openly contacted the two governments of the two nations. We have sent ambassadors to each government. In Freer—Kite and Blob—we've made enough progress to put people into various positions to study the society from the inside. Hopefully we'll get a line on the dragons, and be able to judge whether we want to cross Freer off our list of potential homes. We're sending a delegation of eighty people down for six months. The government of Crease is a bit less enthusiastic, as the twelve families want to protect their domination. We'd only be about two percent of the population of either country, so they may decide to let us immigrate, if living with these dragons seems inadvisable.
"So, get your gear together. Check the pictures of the current clothing styles, and enjoy the open air down there."
The Captain tapped at his comp. "You all have your assignments. Let's get to it."
"Detective-Inspector Jason Miribeau, this is Lieutenant Scarlet Magana." The Chief of Police looked bilious. Scarlet looked gorgeous. Not quite enough red in her blonde hair to warrant the name. "Lieutenant Magana is from Hesperus, and will be working with us so she can study our law enforcement system from the inside. Your case being the big news item, she has asked to work with you, specifically. Nice to have met you, Lieutenant."