While most stories about alien encounters set our first meeting with extraterrestrials in the future, some plant those early encounters firmly in the distant past. What happens when early humans come face-to-space-helmet with beings from another world?
The news that Gondin was flunking Basic Visitation Protocols came screeching over the Home Screen during breakfast. Denzin was disappointed, of course, but he knew better than to screech back. Instead, he arched an eyebrow as he stared at his son across the table, fingering the edges of his own Ministry of Visitations badge.
"That class is so theoretical!" Gondin whined. "How am I supposed to memorize a list of protocols without any context?" Then he speared a putty grub from the printer. The mock creature twitched thrice upon his fork before Gondin took a meaty bite.
Denzin considered that. "Very well," he said. "At the start of the next Ebb Cycle, we're going to take you on your first contact. How's that sound, buddy?"
On the day they shipped out for Earth, Denzin found Gondin sitting behind the education pod with a group of his classmates. The other students scattered as soon as they saw Denzin, leaving Gondin to pick up the pyramid-shaped game pieces on his own.
"Are you playing Por-rouk?" Denzin asked.
"Not for money!" Gondin said as he pocketed the last piece. "Just for vat-grubs."
Gondin pressed his olfactory passages against the window as Denzin landed their shutter on Earth. "It's so green!" he breathed, fogging up the plastic.
"Remember, this isn't a vacation planet," Denzin said. "What's the first thing we do upon landing?"
Gondin pumped a fist into the air. "Scan for sentients!"
Denzin grinned at his excitement. "Before that."
Gondin thought for a moment. "Check the cloak."
Denzin pushed his chair back from the command console. "Do the honors?" he asked.
They went through the checklist from Gondin's class file. They made sure the cloak was calibrated for the visible spectra of local fauna. They detected a small band of sentients in a cave half a mile to the East and briefed themselves on their biochemistry and level of cultural development. They unpacked their visitation bags, double-checked their gear, and repacked the bags. Gondin set up a perception filter before they reached the cave, and when the hominids spotted them in spite of the perception filter, Gondin immediately pulled his nerve jammer and carefully checked the neural readings of each hominid to make sure they wouldn't remember the encounter. All in all, Denzin thought, a successful first encounter. Gondin would be on-track to the Ministry of Visitation yet.
But there was one protocol that wasn't on Gondin's school list, one that every visitation professional performs instinctively and that no one had ever thought to include on a checklist: empty your pockets. The ship was halfway home before Gondin realized that he was missing one of his Por-rouk pieces. It must have slipped out of his pocket during his encounter with the hominids. Gondin resolved not to tell his father about the missing piece. After all, what difference could one tiny pyramid make?