Author : JT Heyman
Joe Zimmerman was walking down Main Street when the Cken Confederation teleported him aboard their ship. He found himself standing on a small dais in the ship’s central chamber, surrounded by the staring eyes of several dozen Cken council members.
A Cken arbitrator, atop a much higher dais, called for order in a singsong voice. Slowly the noise of the council subsided.
“Where am I?” Joe asked. Not the most clever words he could have said in his first contact with the Cken, but then not many humans had actually met Cken by that point.
A tall Cken , standing between Joe and the arbitrator, handed him a translation module and said, “You are here as part of a survey to confirm that Humans are complying with the Cken-Human Peace Treaty. I am the Cken Advocate.”
“I haven’t broken any laws,” Joe said.
“We’ll see,” the Advocate said. “State your name and place of residence, for the record.”
“Joe Zimmerman, Oldbridge, Massachusetts,” Joe said. “Earth,” he added after a moment’s thought.
“Are you familiar with the terms of the treaty?”
“I know some of it,” Joe said. “No military ships in orbit without announcement. You got some planets and we got others. I’m not a lawyer but it was in the news last week.”
“You know enough. You will be the Human Advocate.”
“What? Wait!” Joe turned to the arbitrator. “I’m not qualified.”
The arbitrator peered down at him and said, “Under the terms of the treaty, all Humans were to be made aware of its contents. You were made aware. You are the Human Advocate.”
“Where were you going when we subpoenaed you?” the Cken Advocate asked.
“What? Oh, the grocery store.”
“Do you have a list?”
“Yeah … I mean, yes, I do.”
“Present the list as evidence.”
Joe suspected he was being set up. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. The Cken Advocate took the list, read it quickly, then gave it back. Joe couldn’t read the Cken’s expressions. They were too … alien.
“What is the first item on your list?”
Joe looked at it. “Cake mix. My wife is baking a cake.”
“Baking. How … quaint,” the Cken said mockingly.
The Cken councillors whistled in derision. Joe recalled that Cken ate their food raw.
“The second item?”
“Milk!” the Cken crowed. “A liquid produced by mammalian mothers for their young, taken by the Humans for their own consumption!”
The councillors called their disbelief in their singsong voices. Joe knew this was not going well.
“It’s soy milk!” he shouted.
“That may be,” the Cken Advocate said, “and we will certainly investigate your claims. Cooking food, though distasteful, is a Human fashion, and therefore irrelevant. Your consumption of milk does not violate the treaty, although it reveals Human willingness to use other species for your own benefit, which is troubling to anyone who signs a treaty with you.”
Joe began to relax.
“However, I dare you to explain the final item on your list, in direct defiance of the treaty! Read it!”
Joe looked at the list and his eyes widened. He read it softly.
The arbitrator said, “You will read it so we can all hear, Human.”
Joe Zimmerman never wanted to be famous He never wanted to have schoolchildren know his name and his place in history. Sometimes, you get what you don’t want.
He gulped and said, “A dozen eggs.”
The Cken councillors flapped their wings in horror amidst the calls for war.