WARNING: This poem contains some disturbing scenes. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes domestic violence among the Fifers, other Fifers ganging up on the abuser to drive him out, a victim showing signs of past maltreatment, angst, social anxiety, the challenges of interspecies relations, messy medical details, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. This poem sets the stage for "The Purest Love," so skipping it would leave a gap.
"Where We Can Go As We Are"
Dr. Ogden was helping Ensign Obert
figure out some tricky anatomical vocabulary
when the colony of Fifers went berserk.
One of the faeders shrilled in pain, and
everyone stared as he fled through the crowd.
Then the other Fifers all turned on
the offending aleph, first the modors,
but soon the neighboring alephs and
even the beths converged as well.
They pecked and kicked until they
drove him right out of the group,
shedding feathers all the way.
Then the other alephs started
squabbling amongst themselves
over the division of his territory.
One of the beth males pushed
his way toward them, and Dr. Ogden
recognized Fwil, who liked to hang around
observing some of the human couples.
"He wouldn't stop," Fwil said unhappily.
He had broken a secondary feather in
the scuffle, which stuck out at an angle.
"That aleph you chased away?"
Ensign Obert said. "I didn't see it all --"
"No, I mean Trell, the faeder," said Fwil.
"Alephs get too rough sometimes, it happens,
but we dealt with it. Everybody did what we
were supposed to do. Usually the faeder just
runs into a neighboring territory for shelter.
But Trell just kept going. Why wouldn't
he stop? We would've protected him!"
"Maybe Trell didn't know that,"
Dr. Ogden said quietly.
"What?" said Fwil, tilting his head
in confusion. "Why not?"
"Well, I don't know how it is for
your people, but if Trell were human,
I'd say he's acting like someone who's
been hurt before," Dr. Ogden said.
"If he ran, it's likely because he is
used to people not protecting him."
"That's barbaric!" Fwil exclaimed.
"That's the hell of abuse,"
Dr. Ogden said. "It messes up
your ability to see what's going on
around you, because all you can
see is the past, like ghosts."
Fwil's ruff flattened with misery.
"I better find some people to go
after him and explain --" he began.
"Please don't," Dr. Ogden said. "Unless
there's a big species difference here, chasing
an upset person tends to end rather badly."
"Then what can we do?" Fwil said,
drooping. "I don't want to leave him
alone out there -- everyone is worried."
"Let me try," Dr. Ogden said. "I'm an alien,
so he may find that a little less threatening."
"All right," Fwil said. Then he pointed
with his wing. "Trell went that way,
toward the scalloped beaches."
That part of the coast had
many small beaches tucked
between narrow fingers of rock.
It was a great place to be alone,
which the Fifers generally disliked
but the humans appreciated more.
Dr. Ogden picked up his medical kit
and started walking in that direction.
As soon as he spotted Trell, he
stopped and sat on a rock.
The little alien had skittered away
at his approach, one wing dragging in
a worrisome way, but when Dr. Ogden
didn't move, Trell drifted closer.
"What do you want?" Trell said.
"To see how you're doing,"
Dr. Ogden said. "Everyone's
all in a fluster back there, and
people are concerned about you.
I thought you'd rather deal with
one alien than a flock of friends."
Trell ducked his head. "I didn't
mean for that to happen. Vrit
knocked me into a rock and I
forgot to crouch for him. It
hurt so much that I just ... ran."
"That sounds awful," said Dr. Ogden.
"Will you let me take a look at that wing?"
Alien illnesses were largely out of
his reach, but bones were bones,
and he had a regenerator in his kit.
Trell's feathers fluffed out in fear,
but he shuffled closer until Dr. Ogden
could reach the wing to scan it.
"Broken in two places, here and
here, that's why you can't tuck it,"
Dr. Ogden explained. "Would you
like me to fix it for you, or shall we
go find a doctor of your own kind?"
"You do it," Trell said quickly.
"Putting the bones in order
will hurt, and I don't have
any medications for you,"
Dr. Ogden warned him.
Feathers rippled across
Trell's side in an avian shrug.
"It already hurts," he said.
So Dr. Ogden set the bones,
tried to ignore Trell's whimpering,
and waved the regenerator over
the wing until the bones knit.
"Go easy on that for a few days,"
he said. "Your body needs to recover."
"It's all right," Trell said. "This is
a nice place to camp until I move."
Dr. Ogden's eyebrows went up.
"You got roughed up, and you're
not going home?" he said.
"No. People don't like it
when I ... it's better to leave,"
Trell said. "I know that I should
go back and apologize to Vrit, and
be good for him, but I don't want to."
"Vrit's out of the picture," Dr. Ogden said.
"Everyone else ganged up on him and
drove him away. The other alephs are
still bickering over who gets how much
out of what's left of his territory."
"Why would they do all of that?"
Trell said, looking confused.
"Probably because you were
screaming," Dr. Ogden said.
Trell winced. "I didn't mean
to make a scene," he said.
"I just ... couldn't think."
"Now I could be wrong, but
if you were human, I'd think
maybe you came from a place
very different than where you
live now," Dr. Ogden said.
"Yes," Trell said, hunching
against the rocks. "Very different."
"So you might not be familiar with
all the local customs, just like I'm not
because my people do things differently,"
said Dr. Ogden. "There's nothing wrong
with that, it just means people need to talk
about those differences sometimes, so
they can understand each other better."
"Maybe," Trell said, looking back
the way they came. "I like this place.
The people are so much nicer. I just
don't know how to fit in here."
"It's not about fitting in, it's about
belonging," said Dr. Ogden.
"What's the difference?" Trell said.
"For humans at least, fitting in means
making yourself more like other people.
Belonging is when they love you
for yourself," Dr. Ogden said.
"I wish I could have that too,"
Trell said, futilely trying to smooth
the wreck of his rumpled feathers.
"I don't think species matters when
it comes to the need for acceptance,"
Dr. Ogden said as he helped Trell preen.
"The ache for home lives in all of us,
the safe place where we can go as
we are and not be questioned."
"I don't know what to do
about that," Trell admitted.
"Let's walk back to the colony,"
Dr. Ogden said. "Your friends are
frantic with worry. At least let them see
that you're in one piece. You don't have
to do more than that if you don't want to.
I'll shoo them away if they crowd you."
"I guess ... I can try," Trell said.
"It's better than sleeping on the sand."
They walked back slowly, and
when they arrived, the other Fifers
piped and trilled in excitement.
Trell promptly hid behind Dr. Ogden.
The older man flapped his hands at
the Fifers as if trying to shoo chickens.
"Stay back and don't crowd Trell, he's
had a terrible day and doesn't want to be
mobbed," the doctor said firmly. "As you
can see, he is physically recovered."
Some of the nearby alephs began
displaying in hopes of attracting
a highly desirable faeder, but
Trell ignored all of them, instead
edging toward a gap in the flock.
And that gap was the entrance
to another aleph's territory.
The females had cleared a space,
and a few beth males hung around
the fringes, but there was enough
room for Trell to come in without
touching anybody else.
Seriit's territory was up against
a rock wall, and the aleph had
backed up to it so as to give Trell
as much space as possible.
"Come in if you like," Seriit said.
"Nobody will bother you here."
Trell looked up at the aleph
perched on a little ledge of rock,
sunlight glinting on his ruff.
Seriit wasn't posturing, though.
He just sat there watching them.
"Maybe for a little while," Trell said
as he crept into Seriit's territory.
"Stay as long as you like,"
Seriit said. "It's up to you."
Dr. Ogden left him there, confident
that at least one aleph had a clue
in his brightly feathered head.
All that remained was passing
the word to Trell's worried friends
where he was staying and that
he was going to be okay now.
* * *
Dr. Ellis Ogden -- a human man
Ensign Julian Obert -- faeder-style human man
Fwil -- a beth male who has no interest in other males, only females. Most females think he's weird and thus avoid him, but he has coupled up with the gimel female Srii.
Trell -- a faeder male with a history of abuse. He came from another colony that doesn't treat its faeders as well, and he's struggling to adapt to his new home.
Seriit -- an aleph male who takes the unusual step of not posturing to attract attention and thereby coaxes Trell into his territory.
* * *
"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."
Domestic violence is a serious issue which can cause lasting problems. There are ways to escape an abusive relationship. Know how to help someone who is being abused. Male victims may need specialized support.