Undeniably Cute: A Cautionary Talehome
by Marta Randall
|Someone, they decided, had used the place as a prison planet for pesky
savages. There was no sign of putative jailors but the prison-planet theory
explained the circumstances with the least possible fuss: no direct evolutionary
link to the indigenous hominids, a culture (if it could be so termed) far
too primitive to produce tools, and, the most telling point of all, no means
of reproduction. The inhabitants, from the most wrinkled ancient to the callowest
adolescent, were without exception male. And, concluded the crew of the starship
Mellora, three years out of port on an exploratory voyage and hungry for
anything to break the monotony, they were undeniably cute.
The captain decided on an unscheduled and unreported landing, set the Mellora down at the edge of a broad plain in full view of the natives, and be damned to Federation regulations. They were, after all, on a real-estate hunting expedition and not hampered by ethnologists, exobiologists, and other such unwanted cargo, all of whom came with stiff necks and total ignorance on the subject of space crews, boredom, and the unhappy combination of the two. The atmosphere was safe and fresh, the local sun shone brightly, a sweet lake glimmered nearby, and the natives, frozen with stupefaction, stood gripping their rocks and sticks and staring open-mouthed at the Mellora's roughened sides. The crew didn't want to wait and the captain didn't intend to make them. Grinning, arms open in signs of peace, hungry as wolves, the crew tumbled onto the green grass.
Within two days the Mellora's crew had settled into the native village and the natives themselves were both presentable and happy about it. Once the crew had them scrubbed down and spruced up they looked, as the ship's doctor admitted from a hammock slung in the shade, unutterably cute. And frisky. And very obliging.
The natives supplied an endless stream of fresh fruits and palatable meats; introduced by the chief engineer to the pleasures of beer, they provided endless, harmless, and athletic entertainment. The dietician and the cook together emptied the Mellora's holds of food and proceeded to create extravagant meals. It was, the navigator opined, Paradise. The captain, beguiled by a lithe blond native with, really, remarkable blue eyes, languidly agreed. The analyst said that it was only logical to view the natives as pets, since it was, indeed, so nice to pet them and they, in turn, so nicely petted back. The Mellora, scrubbed, repaired, and spaceworthy, sat locked in a meadow and stayed that way.
The beginning of the end, had they but known it, came the morning the dietician announced that Prince, a winsome young native, was learning to speak Standard. His engaging lisp and endearing linguistic mistakes were so adorable that soon everyone was teaching the natives to speak Standard, and boasting of the progress of Runner, or Big Boy, or Button Nose, or Sweet Pea. It seemed as harmless as the original naming had seemed, and from there it was only a small step to letting Baby or Cuddles or Snooks converse, and eat, at the table -- they were, after all, already sleeping on the crew's beds, and had been from the first.
A fresh, new season drove the game from the verdant lake to the wide plain but no one wished to follow, least of all the once-nomadic natives. The crew, for amusement, hunted with hand-made bows and arrows and, laughing, gave in to the natives' importunities and taught them to shoot. Boomer and Twaddles and Lucky gamboled across the plains, returning to the village burdened with their kills and so obviously, delightfully pleased with themselves that the crew hadn't the heart to tell them that the meat wasn't needed, thus fostering the gentle deception that the natives were, as they themselves believed, an integral, important, necessary part of life.
The machinist's mate took Pookie to look at the Mellora and, in a fit of affectionate generosity, gifted Pookie with the main locking mechanism, a delightful piece of mechanical complexity which Pookie wore around his neck until he lost it hunting, but nobody minded. The rains came, washing through the trees and over the fresh thatch of the huts. Inside, crew and natives shared warm fireplaces and warmer beds, played mathematical games of increasing complexity, and told the long, convoluted stories at which the natives had shown such an engaging talent. Rust gathered along the Mellora's seams. They all got fat, and happy, and almost disgustingly cute.
Spring brought wild flowers, rainbows, warm afternoons, and one piece of news which almost terminated the idyll. The ship's doctor, returning from a damp, private, and enjoyable hunt with Sweet Pea, entered the captain's hut with a gift of venison, eyed the captain's comfortable little belly, prodded and poked and, eventually, sat back, looking more than a little surprised.
"You may not believe this," the doctor said in a voice fraught with disbelief, "but I'll stake my professional reputation on it. You're pregnant."
A spirited anatomical discussion ensued. Once convinced, the captain took action, first with the crew, who greeted the news with amusement, and then at the Mellora which, without its main locking mechanism, proved to be impenetrable and, true to its deep-space construction, withstood all assaults against it. Not yet discouraged, the captain returned to the village and called a meeting. The crew, for entertainment's sake, appeared.
"The Mellora is locked shut and unbreachable," the captain told them "We are stranded here, and no one in the universe knows where we are."
"Good," said the master electrician.. "Who wants to go back anyway? Long hours, lousy pay, and the home world's not so hot either, if you get my drift."
The crew vociferously agreed. The captain, arms folded, glared at them and waited for the noise to abate.
"We'll have to live the rest of our lives here! On a primitive planet! Amid these savages!"
"Who are," said the analyst, blithely interrupting, "undeniably cute."
"That's not the point," the captain roared. "They may be cute, I grant you, but could you spend the rest of your life with them? We're a superior race -- in evolutionary standards we're millennia ahead of them -- they'll never catch up. They may think, but they don't think the way we do and they never will! We're not even the same species!"
"Close enough," the doctor said, patting the captain's comfortable little belly. "Besides, who cares? The air's clean, food's plentiful, lots of space -- and they really are so damned cute."
As the captain's hands fluttered in defeat, the crew, with applause, huzzas, and ovations, and to a woman, agreed.
And that, ladies, is why we'll never understand them.
© Marta Randall 1986, 2002
originally published in ISAAC ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, 1986