To learn a profession is not to wisen to it.
[From foreword to Introductory Xenosociology, 3rd Ed.]
First (radio) contact with an alien civilization happened on 2318-01-01 13:44:57, Earth Standard Time (EST). It was a Tuesday.
Specifically, we picked up the Haðu[note 1] radio chatter from something like 500 light years away from Earth—a statistically fortunate stone’s throw away in the immensity of a galaxy—even one containing (at least!) the hundreds of sapient species known today. Just as the young queen was drawing the 13-year civil war to a close, the planets and moons of the newly reformed UFP stood unified in awe—finally, aliens! Besides hastening the end of hostilities, the announcement also spurred the development of interstellar seedships in the coming decades[note 2].
Mistakes were made. Truly, alliances can be obliterated by sheer incompetency.
Nevertheless, due to the vastness of interstellar space, humans have only recently colonized far enough out to practicably encounter Haðu in the flesh, after 6000-odd years. The Haðu are not the first (we’ve of course already had an entire war with the even-more-improbably-close Tassad), yet as with any such case study, students would do well to learn from the mistakes that were made.
The first was in our haste to prepare to make the visit ourselves. The Haðu are a cautious race, and the departure of a hibernation-emissary-ship from a nearby system was viewed with alarm. Due to light-speed delay, it was five years before the system could retract the ship, and another five years after this before the Haðu could reassure us that they were merely nervous, that an emissary was welcome, and that the ship should be un-retracted.
The second error was cultural. Ambassador López, upon orbiting the single planet[note 3] of the Haðu, Praðeb, pronounced it dead—nevermind the indignant radio transmissions which disproved that conjecture. The Ambassador simply didn’t see any cities, and mistook this for a sign of underdevelopment. This is the sort of dangerous insensitivity that can obliterate alliances.
The third error was operational. Praðeb is larger and less-dense than Earth, combining in favor of mass to produce a 2.3x stronger gravitation. López (also acting captain; his military crew disappeared after hibernation under what can only be called suspicious circumstances) believed that the strong gravity would put himself and his aides at a diplomatic disadvantage, and adamantly refused to land. The aptly-named battleship UFP Enforcer, passing through at a distance of one light-month and so acting upon its own authority, rectified this by dispatching from its escort the light cruiser UFP Polaris, which saw to it that López and his aides disembarked right-the-hell-now. Besides the obvious confusion and embarrassment, the Haðu were thus made to suffer a federation warship in low orbit.
The fourth error was actually more a misunderstanding of scale. The federation shuttle came in slowly, saving nearly all of its fuel for the single-stage ascent to orbit, relying on aerobraking to absorb the brunt of speed on descent. The computer then performed a hard burn just above the surface, bringing the shuttle to a soft landing with minimal fuel consumption.
Haðu are each actually about the size of a small house, and enclose themselves in mounds of earth as they move. It was on one of these mounds that the shuttle had alighted, scorching it—and the hapless Haðu farmer underneath.
Fortunately, the creature was not seriously injured, and diplomatic relations were finally established. The patience and honor of the Haðu testify that such incompetence—tolerated at all levels—was not catastrophic. It is fortunate that the case of the Haðu can serve as a pleasant—if motivating—object of future study.
[note 1]N.B. “ð” is transliterated as a voiced dental fricative; “th” as in “then” (not as in “think”). Haðu produce the sound by a resonant and extremely loud thrumming.
[note 2]This colonization effort would ultimately be largely overtaken by faster, laser-accelerated ships, but this initial thrust is what made later efforts successful—and possible.
[note 3]The system, a binary, has two habitable planets and three marginally-habitable planets. Yet, the Haðu have no space program whatever, and have not colonized any.