The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Karen Wodke

      Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I'm stuck on the only one without politicians. Back home, this would be an improvement in many ways. But now, it’s an inconvenience as my assignment involves the political structure of this small planet and its strategic location in the Darvon Solar System relative to a jump point in my government’s stellar program. And speaking of jumps, we got the jump on other Earth nations with regard to this particular portal, and I am the first ambassador from my planet to arrive here. I’m sure to be followed by others as the secrecy of new scientific discoveries, no matter how closely guarded, is always being compromised. My job is to secure an exclusive agreement with the ruling class on Chera (our name for the planet, not theirs. I can’t pronounce theirs) for a base, an embassy, and a relatively small plot of land for commercial development. To fulfill my mission, I must successfully court the Cheran government (or governments) and convince them it’s in their best interests to work with us. But it appears there is no government upon which to shower my ambassadorial charm.
      Explorers from Earth made a stopover on Chera a decade ago, dispensing language translators along with other gifts to any and all Cheran who wanted them. The trinkets were unimportant, but the translators would be critical to my success. Those ribald and rowdy explorer types were little more than modern Vikings, in my opinion. Their duties were to confirm habitability and to prepare the locals for our impending arrival. They were to sow the seeds of eventual inter-species contact. They were not hired to study or evaluate, and so they did not. This resulted in a scarcity of information about these far flung planets. We know which ones can sustain human life and which ones are inhabited, but little else.
      Now, I find myself on Chera trying to communicate to the natives that I must speak to their leaders. Of which they seem to have none.
      I remember Calvin handing me this assignment. I had questions.
      “Why can’t we just set up shop on the jump point?” I wondered.
      “Uninhabitable.” Calvin was a busy man not given to long explanations.
      “So Chera is the closest habitable planet?”
      “The closest and the biggest in that sector.” He rattled a few papers impatiently, a gesture encouraging me to be brief.
      “Do the Cheran know I’m coming? What do they look like? Are they dangerous? Can I communicate with them? Do we know anything about their governments?” Anxiety has always been a close companion of mine when setting out for new frontiers, and this time was no exception. He frowned in concentration for a few seconds.
      “No. I don’t know. No. Yes. And, no.” Calvin was concise, if not well informed. “Check the resource center. The team made a few video files.”
      “Yes, sir.” I hid my nervousness. I should have acquired a little sophistication after all my years on the job. I should look forward to meeting unfamiliar life forms with excitement rather than dread. But, no. Every assignment gave me this same sweating fear of the unknown. I surreptitiously dug an antacid capsule from my pocket and dry-swallowed it as I headed to the resource center.
      The sexy little resource officer smiled as she handed me the requested discs and then followed me to the viewer.
      “I’ve seen those,” she advised me with a wink. “I think you’ll find them both informative and entertaining.” She lingered for a moment, her musky perfume filling the space between us, but I made no move to engage the viewer in her presence. Finally she wandered back to her station. I knew I had disappointed and possibly offended her, but I was tired of her flirtations. My sweet Rena would have been proud of me.
      Inserting the first disc, I was treated to a view of our boisterous explorers handing out translators, mirrors, cooking pots, and other gifts to the aliens. As the camera focused on the Cherans, I braced myself. I saw beings that were strangely human in form, if you disregarded their meaty lower limbs which strongly resembled those of kangaroos. They stood just to the shoulders of the explorers; but our explorers were strapping large men, so I had to assume the Cheran were about the same height as an average human. Small heads with nearly human features topped slender necks, which sprung from slim torsos that belled out into wide haunches. Their arms were proportionately short and terminated in hands much like my own. The narrow Cheran face had two eyes, a nose, and mouth similar to mine. However, their mouths protruded slightly from a short snout and were circumscribed by thick lips. I noticed their skin was much like mine as well, and colored in familiar flesh tones. It struck me that the same Great Hand who seeded our galaxy must have also seeded theirs, so human-like were they. Eyes like mine, hair like mine, a tail like mine. No, wait. I don’t have a tail. My chuckle drew a sharp look from the resource officer. Since I wasn’t interested in playing her game, her tolerance of me had disappeared, apparently replaced by annoyance. I repressed my mirth.
      On the lower bellies of the female Cherans, about where the pubis would start on a human, another mouth was clearly visible with the same thick lips. The Cheran young did not have these, I noted. There were no pouches that I could see, putting to rest the notion that I was looking at nothing more than large marsupials. I was intrigued. Did they deliver their offspring by live birth? Or by eggs, as did birds and dinosaurs? Or a chrysalis as do the Benfi of Wan? The answer would not be found in these images.
      While the females were unclothed, the males wore a small covering similar to a breechclout. Their features were decidedly male and they were larger than their female counterparts.
      Eyes glued to the screen I watched as the Cherans, resting on their hefty laurels, accepted the presents from the explorers. They turned to each other and spewed incomprehensible words, waving their gifts around as if to show them off. Patiently, the explorers demonstrated the use of the translators and mimed the use of the pots, mirrors, and other items. The video ended.
      Starting the next video, I was unprepared for the images that assaulted me. Our explorers were engaged in joyous sexual congress with the Cheran females while the Cheran males looked on from the sidelines, baffled expressions on their faces. The females were elevated on a platform of some kind (I later learned this was their communal dining table) while the explorers stood in front of them, space-pants down around their ankles. There was much hooting and hollering from our not-so-noble representatives as they copulated with the natives. I then realized the mouths I had seen on the abdomens of the females were actually their genitalia. Also, I would later discover the confusion in the faces of the Cheran males came not so much from the intercourse itself as from the face-to-face manner in which it was accomplished. Up to that point, Cheran had only ever mated from behind. There were no young present at this gathering. I inadvertently gasped and the resource officer shot me a smug knowing look from across the room. I blushed and hung my head so she would not have the satisfaction of seeing my discomfiture. I am not a shy man, but these images embarrassed me.
      The video ended and I replaced it with the third and final disc. A farewell was taking place in this recording. I got a glimpse of the large ship that had hurtled our crusty explorers through space and a good look at the crowd of Cheran standing back from it somewhat warily. Three of our crew were hugging and patting the Cherans, male and female alike. I was able to hear the speech of the Cheran deciphered by the translators for the first time. A large male was saying goodbye to our captain, patting him on the face with his small hands. The captain suddenly grabbed the Cheran in a bear hug before pulling away and boarding the ship. If I expected a wave from the natives, I was disappointed. They stood with hands at their sides. The videographer kept filming as he approached the ship, then turned in the doorway and panned the gathering before boarding the craft himself. I would say there were about two hundred Cheran of all sizes standing around to see the ship take off. The video ended at this point.
      I rubbed my eyes and snuck a look at the officer. She was pointedly ignoring me now. I guess I didn’t have the response to the discs that she expected. I’m such a disappointment.
      Great, I thought, this is the impression our explorers left with the Cherans. Their debauchery would set the tone for all future encounters between Cheran and humans. I could see I had a lot to overcome, and I felt weary as I handed the discs back to the officer.
      Of course, I subliminally studied what few records there were of Chera during the flight-sleep, taken mostly from interviews of the explorers upon their return. I knew, for instance, the Cheran live in family groups within villages much like humans. I knew they subsist entirely by gathering as the planet is tropical by Earth standards, lush and fertile. It is a veritable Garden of Eden as far as food supply is concerned. The Cheran are thought to be vegetarian. They are intelligent, but have not progressed beyond rudimentary tools made of wood and stone. They do not have electricity; do have a simple form of running water in their homes. Beyond these basic facts, I knew nothing. It seems our bawdy explorers were too busy humping the natives to find out much about their society.
      I stepped onto Cheran soil knowing very little about the beings I was sent to persuade.
      The Cheran are friendly and welcome me with pats on the face and smiles of recognition. They dig out their translators and haltingly communicate their joy at seeing another human, or “captain” as they call us. They ask after the explorers and several females seem particularly interested in my answers. I hate to have to tell them the explorers will not be back. Apparently, contrary to my comprehension of the Cheran videos, the explorers were quite popular with the natives, male and female alike. Several females give me looks from under their long lashes and find excuses to touch my face and hands, their compelling pheromones doing a number on my senses. I cling to the mental image of sweet Rena.
      A smiling group of males approaches me to inquire about the “captains” and their wonderful gifts. “Captains? Captains?” they ask.
      Now I am sitting at the communal dining table with a small group of Cheran enjoying a delectable array of fruits and vegetables, ready to address my mission.
      “I must see your leader,” I say to one of the larger males, one whom I perceive to have an air of authority. My words filter through the translator and he looks up at me, his wide eyes uncomprehending.
      “Your bosses. Your lawmakers. Your rulers,” I try. He is as clueless. I can’t seem to hit on the correct word.
      “Who decides things here?” I finally ask, and he smiles, revealing his small brown teeth.
      “All do,” he answers through the device.
      “Who is most important?” I ask. He looks confused.
      “None is.”
      This isn’t working. I decide to take a different tack and speak to him as if he is in charge.
      “My people want to build a base here,” I say.
      “Build. Yes.”
      “A base,” I prompt. Again, he is stumped. Cheran live in huts. They know what it is to build, but they have no corresponding word for “base”.
      “Big hut. For humans,” I say. He nods, a gesture I believe he picked up from the “captains”.
      “No area,” he says. I look around and see nothing but vegetation outside the small circle of the village. They have an abundance of room, I think, if they would just clear some of the growth.
      “What do you do when you need more huts?” I ask.
      “We have enough huts.”
      “When your population grows, you need more huts,” I point out.
      “No,” he says. “When one is born, another is taken.”
      “Taken by whom? Death?” I am perplexed. He frowns and adjusts his translator. I follow suit with my own.
      After much back and forth, he manages to give me the information I seek. With dawning horror, I am made to understand that each time a Cheran gives birth; an older Cheran is eaten by the community. It is the only meat in their diet. They do not hunt or raise livestock although there are animals aplenty on the planet. Cannibalism keeps their population constant.
      He tells me Cheran do not clear the forests or fields. They do not have a monetary system. They do not have a ruling class, nor do they have leaders of any kind. They do not have laws.
      As the last of the meal is consumed, I ask my Cheran companion how they regulate behavior without laws. I ask about lies and he does not know what I mean. I ask about theft, child molesting, and failure to contribute to society. He tells me no one steals because there is no need to steal. He is perplexed by the question of pedophilia, then with further explanation from me, simply smiles and says it is impossible. Cheran do not develop genitalia until they are mature. It is not until that time the gender is identified. Laziness is no problem either as any Cheran who joins the communal table without bringing food is not allowed to eat with the community. However, this is not much of a punishment as food is so readily available. Just a short walk into the vegetation provides many toothsome choices that need only be harvested from vine or branch.
      I ask him what happens if one Cheran intentionally hurts another Cheran. He says the guilty party is eaten in advance of the next birth. I ask him how they sort out the truth of an accusation; how they know who to punish. He says, “We all know what we all know.” It is at that point I realize the Cheran share a single consciousness. No wonder he didn’t understand the meaning of the word “lie”.
      The torches throw shadows over his odd features, so reminiscent of human ones, as he attempts to explain some concept to me that I do not grasp. I recognize the words “captains” and “error”, but the translator gives me gibberish beyond that. In seeming frustration, he leaves the table and returns with several youngsters in tow. In the flickering light, they shuffle up to stand before me, each an abomination of mingled genes. These are the progeny of the explorers, I realize. All are deformed. Not human, not fully Cheran. Their lower limbs are a melding of human legs and Cheran hindquarters with long useless feet and knees that bend wrong. They cannot hop, only shamble. Their oversized heads droop on necks too long and slender to properly support them. I would have thought interbreeding impossible between our two species, but the Great Hand must have assumed when designing our respective reproductive systems that we’d never meet, or mate. Then again, the All-Knowing does not assume. Therefore, I could infer we must have been engineered with the potential to cross-breed, for some grand purpose beyond my understanding. But, I don’t philosophize as a rule.
      I am made finally to understand that twenty deformed offspring were born after the explorers left and therefore twenty productive adult Cheran had to be devoured. He explains that Cheran are fertile only once every ten Cheran cycles (years), but not with regard to human sperm. Apparently our semen does not respect the Cheran cycle. He blames the front-mating for the birth defects. This seems the logical answer to him, his culture having no understanding of genetics. Nonetheless, twenty fully functioning Cheran were sacrificed for twenty defective hybrids. With further communication, he implores me not to mate with any Cheran females unless I mount them from the rear. I am too sickened to even consider it anyway, and I give him my promise.
      This exchange of information has taken several laborious hours and I am exhausted. We part for the night and I go back aboard my ship to sleep. I am now unwilling to trust my safety to these natives. For all I know, they might be hungering for meat and decide that I am a member of the community even if I am not Cheran. For all I know, a baby Cheran may have been born this day and I could be the population trade-off. I don’t relax until I am safely locked inside my vessel. I lie back in my berth and ponder the situation.
      Doubtless we Earthlings could subdue this planet and take what we want. Chera is not weaponized and could not resist us. However, I will recommend against such action in my findings. Extrapolating the available data, I conclude there are probably no more than a hundred thousand Chera on the entire planet. Humans could render their species extinct with very little effort, even inadvertently. As revolting as I might find the Cheran ways, I believe they have a right to exist along with all their peculiarities and limitations.
      I fall asleep relieved I have not succumbed to the temptation of the Cheran females. Tomorrow I will file my report, say my farewells, and head to the next-closest habitable planet.

Karen Wodke has had a lifelong love affair with the written word and appreciates a well-turned phrase. After a number of years as a songwriter and performer, she has recently turned her attention to writing fiction. An avid reader, she is never far from a book. She attended Hutchinson Community College and Kansas Wesleyan University. Karen has just completed a co-written sci-fi book and is nearing completion of her second co-written novel, a story of survival and romance set in Colorado. Karen's co-authored works are written with PJ Hawkinson under the name Wodke Hawkinson. The Planet Chera will be included in a soon-to-be released collection of short stories by Wodke Hawkinson which will be available shortly on Kindle and

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