"How's she doin' Tanya?"
The blonde duck sighed, dropping tiredly into a chair. "She's stable, Duke. Everything's healing. You wouldn't believe the mess her body's in, though... I can't imagine how much pain she went through."
Wildwing found another chair and settled into it, as Duke turned a third chair around and straddled it, leaning on the back. Wildwing spoke first. "So we're sure it's her?"
Tanya shook her head. "I can't really be sure of anything. There's not a t-tra-ter—shred of human DNA in her, so I can't compare it to the samples of Chris's DNA that I already have. But I can't find any other causes for the injuries she's suffered. It's like her body literally tore itself apart and then put itself together again. Let's just say I'm ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure it's Christina." She looked at Duke. "And I did compare her DNA to yours, Duke. Even if she wasn't hatched like a normal duckling, she is definitely your daughter."
Wildwing furrowed his eyebrows. "But a person only gets half their DNA from each parent, right? So where... Or should I say who, did the rest come from?"
Tanya shook her head again. "I don't know. As far as I can figure, there are only three female ducks Pretorius could possibly have samples on—me, Mallory, and—ugh—Lucretia DeCoy."
Duke groaned and rubbed his forehead. "Oh, there's a nice pedigree for ya: a thief for a father and a traitor for a mother. Kid's got enough problems as it is."
"No, it's not her, it definitely isn't. It isn't Mallory or me, either. I don't know who it is. That's the problem. I thought about the possibility that she could just be a sort of clone of Duke, with the gender switches just thrown the other way, but that didn't work out, either. There's other DNA there. Half her chromosomes are from Duke, the other half are... I don't know."
"But you said she's entirely duck." Wildwing shook his head in confusion.
"She is. As near as I can figure, Pretorius just, y'know, manufactured the missing nucleotides himself."
"This is starting to sound like something out of Jurassic Park, Tanya."
"That's exactly what it is, Wildwing. Except I don't think he took the information from Earth ducks or anything like that. I think he just sorta, y'know, made it up as he went along."
Wildwing frowned. "That's not very comforting."
"Well, I'm not saying he just pulled the sequences out of thin air. He may be a lunatic, but he is a genius. He must have thought the sequences out, because so far I haven't found anything that seems really wrong. There are a couple of minor glitches that could pose a problem later on, but other than that, she's perfectly healthy. Um, y'know, aside from the obvious."
"So she's going to recover?"
Tanya nodded. "She should make a full recovery, Duke. She'll never be human again, but..."
Wildwing rubbed his forehead tiredly. "So there's no way to reverse it?"
"No. There's nothing to work with; her human DNA is gone. Even if I could use the samples I've got, and even if I managed to replicate the techniques Pretorius used to change her into a duck in the first place..." Tanya sighed. "The chances of her surviving... Well, she just wouldn't survive it. The only reason she survived it this time is because ducks are, y'know, more resilient than humans. 'Downgrading' her, uh, back to human would be fatal. And without the technology Dragaunus gave Pretorius, I wouldn't even know where to begin, anyway."
"So in other words, 'no'." Duke frowned and stood up, walking over to where the topic of their conversation lay still and silent on a medi-bed. He took her hand gently in both of his. "Hang in there kid. We'll be here to help you. It'll be all right." Wildwing walked over and put a hand on Duke's shoulder.
"We're just going to have to give it time, Duke."
Nosedive settled into a chair and flipped on the TV. It was going to be another long night. It had been over three weeks now, and Christina hadn't done much more than moan in her sleep. She'd opened her eyes once or twice, but Tanya said it was mostly reflex; she wasn't really awake or seeing anything.
It was just too weird to think about his best human friend now being a duck. Okay, so she made an admittedly good-looking duck, if you could get past the fact that she looked an awful lot like a younger, female version of Duke.
But Christina? A duck?
"Man, this story is gettin' weird even for us," he complained as he began flipping through the channels. He heard her moan but ignored it, assuming it was just another of many unconscious complaints.
"T-Turn... th-that thin' d-do-un..."
Nosedive leaped out of his chair as if his boxers had caught fire. He was at Christina's side in an instant, staring at her, beak hanging open. "Y-You're awake!"
She flinched at his voice and struggled to open her eyes. He caught a brief glimpse of her brown eyes before her eyelids slammed shut again, Chris crying out in pain as if the very light had hurt her. Despite the fact that the majority of her injuries had healed by now, as well as the fact that she was still pumped full of a great deal of painkillers, she was writhing on the bed in apparent agony. Furrowing his eyebrows, he flipped his com open.
"Just take it easy, Chris, okay? I'm gonna get Tanya up here." He ended up setting his com to alert all channels, and in a moment Duke, Wildwing and Tanya tore into the room, clad in nightclothes, followed quickly by Mallory and Grin.
Tanya was instantly fussing over the younger hen. "Stay c-calm, Christina, you're okay." She rushed over to the control panel for Christina's many censors and IV's, upping the painkillers as much as she dared, and adding a trickle of sedative to help calm the girl. Wildwing took one of her hands and Duke took the other, and Chris clutched them desperately, trembling violently. Then, slowly, she started to relax. Tanya watched her closely, adjusting the IV levels to her satisfaction. Finally, Chris lay still, breathing heavily but with her pain levels apparently reduced to bearable levels.
"Chris?" Duke spoke softly. "Can you hear me?"
She tried again to open her eyes, and again, she slammed them shut, gasping in pain. Tanya shooed Nosedive out of her way and stood next to Wildwing, carefully adjusting the needles in the girl's arms.
"Somebody turn off the overhead lights," she ordered quietly. Mallory flipped the switch with a raised eyebrow, but said nothing. Tanya continued. "And keep your voices down. Nosedive, could you turn that display around and push it closer? I need to monitor her brain activity. It's much, much higher than normal." He complied silently, and Tanya studied the display for a moment.
"Chris, listen to me. Are you listening?" The girl nodded slightly. Tanya continued. "I want you to open your eyes, okay?" Chris shook her head with a bit more energy.
"C-Can't..." She seemed to be having a little trouble maneuvering her new beak around words. Tanya frowned at her and repeated herself sternly.
"Most of your injuries are healed enough by now that a normal person would be starting to go about life again. Most of your pain is because your, y'know, brain doesn't know what to do with all the new signals it's receiving, so it's perceiving everything as pain." Chris furrowed her eyebrows slightly but didn't attempt to speak, so Tanya continued. "Your brain has to learn to d-decode all this new information. I've done a lot of studying on human biology, and we ducks tend to have much stronger senses than humans. Uh, n-no offense. Your eyesight, your hearing, even your, y'know, sense of touch is stronger now, and your brain is going to have to learn to cope with it. But it can't begin to learn if you don't open your eyes. We turned down the lights, so I promise it won't be as bad as it was the first time. Now open."
Finally, the girl's eyes fluttered open, and she blinked up at them. There was an innocent wonder overtaking her features as she looked from one face to another, as she slowly, achingly lifted the hand Duke held, bringing it before her face as he let go and turning it this way and that, as if she'd never seen a hand or feathers before.
"...Christina?" Duke finally ventured, and the curious gaze shifted toward him. "How do you feel?"
"...It..." She swallowed, then started over, her brows knitted in concentration as she struggled to speak through new vocal cords. Her words were awkward and broken, difficult to understand, but she persisted, determined to get her thoughts out. "It hurts... but..." Her gaze shifted again, to take in the view of the entire team where they crowded around her bed. "I-It's incredible," she breathed at last. "Everything's so... so clear... and the colors... I-I never..."
The others glanced back and forth at each other in confusion and concern, but Tanya merely smiled calmly. "Ducks have a higher v-visual, um, capacity than humans. Our sight is sharper: we can see clearly father than humans, and we can detect spectrums of light that humans can't. It's sorta the same with your other senses, too."
Reassured, Wildwing turned his attention back to the former human. "Must be a lot to take in."
"It's like... s-seeing the... the w-world for... the f-first time..." she whispered, fighting the fatigue that was already overtaking her yet again, keeping her eyes open for as long as possible. But try as she might, she couldn't stay awake, and in moments she'd settled into a deep sleep once more.
As the team headed back to bed—a bit reluctantly—a few minutes later, and as Nosedive settled back into his chair to finish his watch, Tanya reassured them all.
"She should be j-just, y'know, fine now. She's out of the coma and she's surve—survu—made it through the worst part. She ought to recover completely, now. Just that, y'know, she'll have feathers and a beak, too."
Duke lingered by Christina's bed a bit longer than the others, stroking her hair in a decidedly fatherly fashion.
"We're glad to have ya back, kid," he whispered. "...I'm glad to have you back. You have a family with us, kid, you know that.
"And now, you've got a father."