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Jim Ausfahl

December 8, 2295

Ch’terr looked around himself, oddly finding it strange to be surrounded by other avians for a change. He had purposefully asked Chekov to deposit him on his nestworld, Alpha Carinae II, and proceed on to their next stop, Serenidad, without waiting for him. Carefully, he walked off the transporter platform, still somewhat uncertain as he tried to walk with the prosthesis he had been given after he’d had his leg charred off trying to make contact with a people eventually labeled the Ians.

With regeneration technology not yet available for the Skorr, his choices had been two: continuing to make do with a peg leg, or return home to undergo a transplant. The arrangements for the surgery were easily enough made, and the Enterprise-B, recently returned from the year-long mission during which he’d loss the appendage, journeyed to the nestworld to deliver him, planning to return in three days to retrieve him for his return to the active duty roster.

Ch’terr looked through the crowd around him, trying to find some familiar plumage. Just as he was beginning to feel disappointed, he heard a voice from behind himself.

"Hey, mammal brain! What you need is a Human perched on that shoulder, a patch on one eye, and a stupid hat on your skull, and you’d be a perfect pirate!"

Ch’terr turned, fishing in the pocket of his outfit, digging out the small pirate doll—an ‘action figure’ Peter Kirk had called it—he’d been given by the Enterprise science officer, placing it on his shoulder as he faced his brother. "Avast, ye swab! I left me patch behind, and me hat is on me perch in me quarters aboard me ship!" His plumage went through most of the colors of the rainbow. "T’rakk, my nestmate, you’re a sight to make my eyes sore." He warbled in amusement at his joke.

His brother chirped happily. "Yeah, well, obviously you’re not sure of your welcome, even if your version of the family sense of humor is intact. Looks like you’ve got a built-in perch there. What happened, Ch’terr?"

"Tried to make contact with a mammalian life form; figure it from there, nestmate. They pulled a welding torch and zapped my leg before I knew I was in trouble. Dislocated a wing when I hit the ground." Ch’terr shrugged. "The wing was fixed easily enough. The drumstick’s why I’m here. How’s mom, T’rakk?"

"Eager to see you, but she’s in a major molt, and totally unwilling to be seen in public for the time being." T’rakk produced the whistling chirp that was the Skorrian equivalent of a chuckle. "Can’t say I blame her, either. She had been reduced to pinfeathers over most of her body when I talked to her this morning."

"Poor Sh’wik! I’ll bet that old bird’s freezing. Is she allowing company?"

T’rakk let his wings rise and fall a little, in the Skorrian equivalent of a shrug. "Sort of. I mean, she’ll let you visit if you can stand the heat in her nest. She kept it hot even before she was molting, remember?"

"I remember father always accused her of trying to bake him to death."

Warbling, T’rakk slapped one wing against Ch’terr. "Good to see you, brother, even if you’re among the flying wounded. Can you make a safe landing on that thing?"

"They’ve got it rigged with a proximity trigger; the talons will open when it’s close to a perch or the ground and when it hits, it grabs. It’s not as good as my own equipment, you understand, but it blows the feathers off trying to land one-footed." He looked up, seeing the familiar flying traffic of the nestworld, then back to T’rakk. "I’ll bet Sh’wik made you promise to bring me to her immediately, didn’t she?"

"Mom’s a mom, and you’re still her first fledgling, Ch’terr. C’mon." T’rakk stretched his wings. "I’ll bet that starship you’re on doesn’t let a fellow really stretch his wings. Welcome home, bro, welcome home." T’rakk took flight, Ch’terr rapidly following him.


Sh’wik motioned her sons to open perches, turning to face Ch’terr. "There is much that I have heard about your adventures. It is a dangerous pathway that you fly."

Ch’terr preened his wings, somewhat nervously. "All life is dangerous, Mother, even when flying in a flock."

"And your surgery?"

"Tomorrow, barring surprises. Some blood testing to be sure they’ve got the tissue types right, so I don’t have to worry about rejection, then attaching the replacement limb." He clucked softly. "Terrible news about that accident. So many Skorr killed—"

"The Efrosian piloting their starliner had no idea that the magnetic fields they use in their landing engines would wreak havoc with our directional senses," T’rakk sighed. "It has to be the worst single flock loss in the past five centuries."

"Enough talk of bad things," Sh’wik said sternly. "How long will you roost here?"

"I’ll be on my way back to the Enterprise in three days. Fleet Captain Chekov has to return to Earth to assemble his fleet before embarking on our next mission." He shifted his weight to and from the prosthesis nervously, not sure how his mother was taking the news. "I’ll do my physical therapy under the ship’s doctor’s care. And Doctor Chapel is quite a mother hen."

"As well she should be," she clucked firmly. Skorr in molt were noted for their emotional liability, and Sh’wik had always been a bit more on the emotional side than most. "I will be there for your operation, at least in spirit." She fluffed her limited plumage. "You understand that I’m not quite presentable for being in public."

"Of course, Mother. I’d hide, too, if I looked like a plucked chicken." Warbling at his own joke, Ch’terr relaxed somewhat. "Remind me to tell you of my encounter with the Calyu." There was a pause that stretched to the point of becoming uncomfortable. He finally felt obliged to break it. "I’ll be staying in the hospital overnight, while they get things ready. They want to do some studies on the stump to see how much work it’ll need to be ready to accept the graft."

Sh’wik looked over at T’rakk; it was clear to Ch’terr that something was being communicated by the look, but it wasn’t clear what. T’rakk nodded, as if he understood what she was thinking.

The silence extended a little longer. "So, my son, who will be doing the procedure? Practitioner K’witt? Or perhaps Ch’ril?"

"K’witt is presenting a paper on a new surgical technique he has developed. Practitioner Ch’ril will be performing the transplant."

Increasingly, the Enterprise security chief felt like he was under a microscope; the undertones were escaping him, and it made him nervous. He couldn’t quite convince himself what it was, but even T’rakk seemed to be part of it. Even though the Skorr tended to peck at each other with verbal barbs and harsh remarks, it almost seemed that there was something more, something deeper that he was missing. Perhaps it was his having become so used to Humans, Tellarites, Vulcans, Andorians and other non-avian species; he wasn’t sure. While the Vulcans regarded both Tellarites and Humans as garrulous, the Skorr regarded them as taciturn. Skorr chirped and warbled incessantly to one another during the day (and even at night), and the mammalian majority of the Federation were simply regarded as reticent. A Skorr could sing a song about how the weather was fair, and a dozen others would join in offering commentaries about the clouds, the sunlight, the delectable trumpet flies lazily drifting in the dustmotes, even the taste of the air itself. Humans would reduce it to "nice day, isn’t it?" Tellarites would grunt, "At least it isn’t raining." The Vulcans would not even acknowledge such a commentary, not even with the arching of a brow. The Enterprise security chief couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t he who was out of sorts.

With a sigh, Ch’terr tried to listen to the undertone again. It wasn’t disapproval of his choosing Starfleet. The family had been enthusiastic about his choice, especially his ending up on the successor of the legendary Enterprise. It wasn’t about his not having chosen a mate. No one had faulted him for that. He had sired at least three offspring through various females, but had chosen to nest with none of them. The family line of a Skorr ran through the females anyway. Still, this almost conspiratorial undertone was a puzzling harmony to him, and somewhat distressing in its counterpoint.

Finally, he ruffed his wings slightly. "They’ll be expecting me at the hospital shortly. I guess I’d better be flying."

"Keep in touch, son." Sh’wik rubbed her beak gently against the side of Ch’terr’s head. "Things will be fine, I’m sure." She warbled toward a control microphone near her, opening the door. "I’ll try to check in after the surgery tomorrow. My plumage is growing swiftly; perhaps before long, I’ll be fit to leave the house."

He nodded. "I shall appreciate the visits, Mother." Ch’terr spread his wings, preparing to take off. "Until later, then." He ascended gently, making his way toward the building where his surgery was planned.

Sh’wit watched until her son was out of sight, then turned to T’rakk. "Ch’ril, eh? I remember that one as a featherless chick. You know what to do. Be on your way, boy. I’ll take care of Ch’ril."

T’rakk nodded, flying off. "Consider it done," he chirped at her.

December 9, 2295

Ch’terr was suddenly aware of the fact that he was aware again. His last conscious thought had been seeing his cousin, Ch’ril, perching next to the surgical field, swathed in coverings to keep microbes in his plumage from contaminating the surgical site and hearing him continually spout reassurances that the procedure would be comparatively straightforward, despite the damage the laser welder had done. The surgeon had nodded to the anesthesiologist, and Ch’terr had sunk swiftly and deeply into unconsciousness. A clock was where he could see it: the procedure had barely lasted two hours. From one side, he heard a familiar voice.

"Ch’ril said things went well, son. I am glad."

He turned, seeing his mother, all but her face covered in a protective garment. "Thanks for coming, Mother. It’s reassuring, just knowing that you were here." He reached over, stroking her wing.

"Neither of us would have missed this for the world, nestmate."

Ch’terr turned, seeing T’rakk. "I should have guessed you’d be here with Mother. Good to see you." He shifted slightly, which made him acutely aware of the fact he could feel both feet.

"How’s the talons, kid?" Ch’terr’s brother nudged him in the ribs. "They said you should be able to move things without problem, by the time you woke up. Strut your stuff!"

More out of curiosity than out of a feeling of obligation to obey, Ch’terr lifted his leg. To his shock and distress, he realized that his knee had bent forward, rather than back as it should have done. He dropped the leg back in place, seeing only a single taloned toe lifting the sheet rather than the three he’d expected. Panicked, he sat upright. "It’s backwards!"

"You’re over-reacting son. I’m sure it’s just your brain being a little befuddled by the anesthesia. Try it again, you’ll see its fine. My sister’s son is one of the best transplant surgeons on all Skorr."

Watching with horrified precision, Ch’terr moved his newly attached limb again, only to find his worst fears confirmed: there was no question that the limb had been attached backwards.

"Looks like you’ve got two right feet, after all, brother." T’rakk shook his head. "With it hooked up like that, you’re going to be going in circles a lot, you know it?"

"The dizziness you’re going to suffer is a nightmare." Sh’wik’s plumage paled in horror. "How are you going to perch properly? What will you do when you have to walk in a building? This is terrible! How could Ch’ril put things together absolutely backward?"

Unbelieving, Ch’terr moved the leg again and again, shocked at the deformity he had been given. "I can’t believe this. I just don’t believe this. Do you realize it’ll be at least a month before this can be corrected?"

T’rakk looked at his mother, who returned the gaze for a moment before turning to her other son. "Perhaps you’ll be able to cope with it, my child. Perhaps if you tried bearing a little weight on it?"

"Ch’ril said it’d have to be at least a full day before I tried that, Mother." He wiggled his talons, seeing only one talon moving the sheet. "I guess I need to talk to that cousin of mine." He turned to an attendant. "Caregiver? Could I talk to my surgeon, please, Practitioner Ch’ril? It’s really important."

The Skorr female consulted a readout. "The practitioner hasn’t started his next surgery yet, so I’m sure he’ll be happy to talk to you. He wanted a chance to have a word with you when you came to." The nurse triggered a contact.

A moment or two later, the doctor entered. "Ch’terr, good to see you awake again. How’s that leg of yours feel?"

"Wrong! How do you explain this, you mammal-brained cretin?" He moved his leg, the obviously incorrect articulation clear even through the sheet.

T’rakk moved to the other side of Ch’terr’s cart, allowing the surgeon unimpeded access to the avian.

"Bizarre. Could you do that again, please?" Ch’ril’s attention focused on the sheet. As before, the limb moved utterly incorrectly. "That makes no sense at all. Your leg’s supposed to move the other way."

"Brilliant observation; I was hoping for an explanation, not a deduction." Ch’terr’s plumage was starting to shift to a deep shade of angry crimson.

"Guess I’d better take a look." Ch’rill whipped the sheet off Ch’terr’s legs.

Half afraid of what he would see, Ch’terr opened the eyes he had closed as Ch’rill had reached to uncover him. Where his leg should have been, there was a contraption of pulleys and string that moved a mannequin leg. Under the cart, his new leg, properly attached, was controlling the inappropriate motion of the faked leg. Sh’wit, T’rakk and Ch’ril dissolved into laughter at Ch’terr’s astonishment.

"Son, I told you I’d get back at you for all the pranks you pulled on me growing up." Sh’wit’s plumage registered triumphant satisfaction. "Admit it. After all these years, I finally got you back."

All Ch’terr could do was laugh in return as he began to formulate his next practical joke on the old bird.

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