It was very early Saturday morning—about one o’clock—as we made our way through Lakeforest to the big tree. Harshan was driving, I was navigating, and Darryl was asleep on the back seat.
“Turn left here,” I said, pointing the way, and Harshan complied. We were looking for a traffic light intersection with a big tree in a ‘Chicago Prairie’ park. Once we found it, we parked the car in front of my uncle’s house. Even though he wouldn’t know why it was there, he would recognize it, and it would be safe. Harshan got out, closed the driver’s door, and open the door to the back seat.
“Come on, space cadet! Time to wake up!” he said gently as Darryl stirred.
Darryl struggled into sitting position. “Are we there yet?” He was very sleepy.
“Not quite,” Harshan answered, “First we have to walk a few blocks!”
There were some incoherent protests, but soon we were on our way. The crisp evening air and the brisk walk failed to bring Darryl to full wakefulness. He walked about a block, then Harshan and I had to take turns carrying him the rest of the way.
When we got to the big tree, Harshan set Darryl down. “That kid weighs a lot more than I thought,” he muttered.
“Are we really going to the Moon?” Darryl asked sleepily.
“That’s right!” Harshan said. We stopped under the street light closest to the big tree. That way Darryl and I could communicate with sign language while Harshan went into the woods to make sure we had the right pick up point.
“How can we go to the Moon,” Darryl asked, “you can’t even see it tonight!”
“That’s not a problem,” I signed. “You can’t see home from here, but we can still go there!”
Just then Harshan emerged from the bushes. “They’re waiting for us!”
We had an uneventful flight. Darryl slept through most of it, not even noticing the weightless part! In fact, I don’t think he will have any unusual memories at all. We checked into guest quarters as soon as we arrived, and had a good night’s sleep.
The next day we went to see the veterinarian, which was the whole purpose of our trip. Harshan and I waited nervously in the waiting room while the doctor examined Darryl alone. Then Harshan went in to act as interpreter, and I stayed outside and tried to be patient. It was very frustrating to sit there all the time, but Darryl can hear Harshan’s voice. After all, I don’t know much about Homelander medical procedures. I’d just get in the way. Finally, Darryl emerged.
“I thought we were going to the Moon,” he said sarcastically as he bounced through the room, “and all we did is go to see some dumb doctor!”
He was escorted to a supervised playroom, while Harshan and I consulted with the doctor.
We were ushered into a small but efficient office. The doctor sat at a desk, and the wall behind him was filled with books. He gave us both a greeting-hug, and gestured for us to sit on the sofa facing his desk.
“Please have a seat,” he said in Thorgelfaynese with a distinct Fjarnian accent. He turned to me, “Is Darryl your child?” he asked.
“No,” I said and explained about the adoption. “Darryl has been placed in our care until our local government satisfies itself that we are suitable parents. If that should occur, we would be made Darryl’s legal parents.”
“This is quite important,” the doctor said, rising from his chair. “I think the boy can be helped, but it would be prudent for you to wait until you are legally his parents.”
“He can be helped?” I repeated hopefully.
“In a limited way,” the doctor said, playing with a stick in his hand. It must have been a writing implement.
“This is Darryl’s left ear,” he said, holding up a colorful diagram. I had to take his word for it; I don’t know a thing about anatomy. It was one of those pictures where you can’t figure out if it’s a butterfly or a jet plane. “In this ear, he has a limited frequency response—that is to say, he can hear only relatively low tones. In practical terms, it means he can generally hear men talking, but not women.” He put the diagram down and looked up at us. “This is a neurological problem, and we can’t do anything about it. Even if the boy belonged to a better-known species, it would still be impossible.”
“Why is that?” Harshan asked respectfully.
“The neural structure—here,” the doctor picked up the diagram again and pointed to a blue spot, “never formed correctly. Mind you, we don’t have a full knowledge of human genetics; but in theory, this could have been corrected if the genetic anomaly had been detected at conception. Now, however, it is a bit late.”
“I guess it is!” I conceded, “But what about the other ear?”
“Oh yes, that,” the doctor shuffled through the diagrams on his desk until he found the right one. “Now this is Darryl’s right ear, in which he is totally deaf. If you will look at this spot, you will see what the problem is.”
Now this diagram I could understand! It was the inner ear, where those three bones are located. They’re called the stirrup, the hammer and the something or other; anyway, it was obvious what the doctor was getting at.
“This bone structure is malformed and cannot transmit sound from the ear drum to the cochlea.” As the doctor mentioned each part, he pointed to it with his stick. “Otherwise, this ear is totally normal! It could be surgically corrected.” He wiped his forehead with his coat sleeve and sat back down in his chair.
“What sort of surgery is involved?” I asked timidly.
“Oh, they’d just remove the defective bone structure and replace it with a synthetic prosthesis,” he replied. “The function of those bones is strictly mechanical, so it would be a relatively straightforward procedure with very little risk.”
This was exciting! My head swelled with pride as I imagined all the good things we could do for Darryl.
Harshan hunched forward in his chair. “Do I understand this right? As soon as Darryl is legally our son,” he said, “we can bring him back for surgery?”
“Goodness no! We aren’t equipped for that sort of microsurgery at Earth Watch Base!” The doctor got out of his chair and sat on the corner of his desk. “You’d have to take the boy to Homeland for that sort of thing. If he were my child, I’d want the best. I’d take him to the medical school at Hapdorn University.”
“Thank you very much, doctor,” I said, rising to hug him good-bye. “I really appreciate your efforts.” I turned to look at Harshan, “I guess we’ll have to get him to Homeland as soon as we’ve adopted him!”
“I’ve given you a wrong impression,” the doctor said hastily, “I’m sure that this place you’re from…” he glanced quickly at his papers, “this ‘Illinois’ is probably a very grand and glorious place, but its political jurisdiction does not reach to the planet Moon!”
Oh! I thought in glee, we don’t have to wait!
“First, you will need to be his legal guardians in the eyes of some Homelander jurisdiction,” the doctor continued, “Second, even if you were his biological parents you’d still have to apply for a license to remove him from his native planetary system.”
“A license?” I repeated in disbelief, “Why that?”
“Because he is a juvenile human,” the doctor explained, “and because there are laws to protect endangered species.”