Cultural Background

by Thomas H. Hunter

Allison Park, Pennsylvania - 1978

"The Russians signed it, Jeb. The 'Principle of Active Territorial Utilization' is in effect. Everyone of our operating Planetary Probes now rests on U.S. soil."

"Squatter's rights!" Dr. Jebidiah Williamson smiled as he leaned back and carefully placed his feet on a corner of his cluttered desk.

Your background is showing again," said Dr. Collins, sitting on the folding chair near the desk. "I wouldn't put it past you to set up houskeeping in one of the empty tool sheds out on the field."

"Keep making me homesick likr that, Ed, and I might just give up this desk job and head back to West Virginia. You know, the mountains are beautiful this time of year.

But the Russians finally signed? It's curious how they waited until we began using our flying probes instead of dropping fixed hardware indiscriminately all over the Solar System. And it's just as curious that so much of our Venus hardware is suddenly failing. Which reminds me, have any pictures come in from the Venus flyer?"

Collins handed across a slim folder. "This is the flyover shot of Mariner 19, the one that failed last week. We wanted a picture of it as soon as possible, so we made it top priority. This is right from the big dish at Goldstone. The computer enhancement isn't done yet."

Do you see that pile of debris near the lander? It wasn't in the ground photos. We think it's most of the instrument package. It looks like something blew it out the access hatch. Emory thinks the battery exploded, and Dr. Bell said the chemical analysis vessel could have burst. You can see the hatch is gone and something seems to be lying across the opening.

"And the shadows I circled in red, they don't correspond to rocks in the ground photos; but they're too large to be pieces of hardware. And look, these small shadows in a nearly straight line from the hatch to the debris pile... Ah, here's Frank with the enhancement now. What do you think, Jeb?"

"These large shadows, Ed, on th eenhancement, they're animals! Damned if they don't remind me of the cows Pap used to keep behind that old bus we called home. But look here, this one has six legs if it has any!

"And you're right, those are the instruments, all in a heap. And this line, that's an oblique projection of a catenary, with things hanging from it. That thing in the access hatch... Ed, Frank, look! It's sitting upright, and you can just see the shadow. It's holding something in a hand, like my old Pap used to sit on the stoop with his corncob pipe.. That pile of hardware stripped out of the lander... The food animals... This... This clothesline... Principles of Active Territorial Utilization... Ed, do you know what we've signed away? Squatters rights! I don't know what kind of beings they are, or where they came from, but that two and a half billion dollar spacecraft has become the home for a family of damned Venusian hillbillies!"