These closely communal creatures boast the longest period of civilized history of any known species in the Milky Way. They seldom interact directly with other intelligent species, content in their independence and universally committed to their policy of isolation from the affairs of the galaxy beyond their territorial borders. Their civilizations are founded on the precepts of near absolute collectivism.
Practically telepathic, they are able to share their psyches with one another, routinely “swapping” bodies within their fundamental social units — their “consenses”. Within a Consensus, Chelarans are partially clairvoyant, able to discern the signs of probable futures from the quantum static of the universe. They practice a kind of communal fortune-telling, divining the destinies of other civilizations as a matter of foreign policy. Infinitely patient and blessed with a near perfect foresight, Consenses are seldom caught off guard.
Chelaran’s are born in litters generally consisting of one or two females and anywhere from six to three dozen males. Female twins are exceedingly rare, and litters with higher numbers of females are rarely viable. Upon birth, Chelaran females are immature and virtually helpless, while males are born fully formed and as self-sufficient as they will ever be. The females begin their development in much the same way as most Terran mammals, growing and developing over a period of several years into adults. Meanwhile, the males are turned loose into protected “mingling pools,” in which they follow a very different course of development.
Over the course of a Chelaran male’s life, he seeks out other males to exchange genetic information with. The result of this exchange a splicing — males substitute portions of the genomes they receive for portions of their own. They are capable of more than one such splicing. Over the course of his lifetime, a Chelaran male may “swap” more than 90% of the genes he was born with. When he is finally selected for breeding by a female, only 10% of that male’s genes will be the same ones he was born with.
Breeding takes place when a Chelaran female catches a male and induces it to attach himself it to a nipple-like protrusion inside a “gestation pouch” on the underside of her carapace. Once attached and inside the pouch, the male’s body begins to rapidly adapt itself to the sole purpose of supporting and nurturing the embryonic litter that forms inside it. From this moment on, the male derives all of its sustenance from the female via the attachment nipple. The litter gestates for a period of fifteen months. During this time, the gestating male’s body atrophies and shrivels. Its skin becomes thin and delicate. By the end of the gestation period, every system of the male’s body apart from those dedicated to sustaining the developing litter will be cannibalized. By the time the gestation period ends, the male is effectively dead.
The litter “drops” when the male no longer has sufficient strength to cling to the female’s nipple. At this point, the carrying female removes the husk of the male’s body from her gestation pouch and helps the newborn female inside it break free. The withered skin of the male makes this task fairly easy. Most newborn females are more than capable of breaking through it without much help. In the course of freeing herself, a newborn female also frees the males of her litter. These males are then taken to a Mingling Pool to begin their lives with other males, while the female is cared for and reared in much the analogy to the way human children are raised.
It should be specially noted that, apart from the genes she shares with her littermates, a Chelaran female contributes no genes to her offspring. Also, since Chelaran males may trade off up to 90% of their genomes in their Mingling Pools, Chelaran offspring may be only distantly related to their mothers, genetically speaking. As a consequence, Chelaran society gives significantly less importance to genetic lineage than it does to matrilineage — a relationship based on who carries whom in a gestating litter, regardless of whose genome that litter most reflects.
Very early in their history, Chelarans took to applying the same science of eugenics to themselves as they did to other animals. Since controlling the opportunity of males to swap genetic material can control the genes a given male will contribute to a litter, Chelarans have had an easy time of enhancing their own offspring through selective breeding programs. Because Chelaran males are demonstrably nonsapient — they exhibit little more intellectual capability than Terran earthworms — the tight regulation of their breeding opportunities is not seen as an infringement of sapient rights. Traditionally, Chelaran females have shown little compunction about managing the gene-swapping activities of males to plan and optimize the traits they will contribute to a litter.
Because a Chelaran female has only a finite number of opportunities to breed, determined by the number of males available, reproductive rights in Chelaran societies are often closely tied to hereditable property rights. A Chelaran female effectively “owns” the males she is born with. It is considered a basic right in most modern Chelaran societies for a female to have full control over the gene-mingling her males take part in. The social power and de facto wealth of a Chelaran female is generally tied in some way to the number of males she is born with, as well as the genetic “richness” of those males. Mingling rights are bought and sold, and make up a fundamental part of most Chelaran economies. Less often, males themselves are bought and sold as chattel.