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The group in the rec room was discussing strange creatures they had seen on a variety of planets.
Scotty, coming in with McCoy, listened for a minute, then put in a word.
"Have any of you ever seen a haggis?"
There was a brief silence, then someone said, "No."
"Of course," Scotty went on thoughtfully, "there are actually several different species of haggis, and some of them are quite rare.
"The one you'll see most, of course, is the common haggis. It's the one you'll find kept on haggis farms, the one that's sold in butcher's shops; it's the one we usually eat. Oh, you'll find them wild, too, but they've been trapped so much they're terribly timid; folk just walking about among the hills aren't likely to see any. They breed...they breed like tribbles, nearly, because they have a lot of natural enemies, like wild cats, or foxes, eagles end buzzards.
"The only haggis more timid is the water haggis. I don't know why it's so scared of everything, it's only semi-edible, so predators don't bother it much. If they think there's any danger about, they dive into water - you'll never find them far from the stuff. They're so timid that they can even be frightened to death by loud noises - "
"Aw, come on, Scotty," Sulu put in. "Nothing could be frightened to death."
Scotty glanced at McCoy.
"It could happen," the surgeon said, a little doubtfully.
"Aye, it does, wi' wee furry animals," Scotty maintained. "Now the next most common species of haggis is the flying haggis. It's the one you're most likely to have heard of. To look at it, you'd think it's too big and heavy to fly far. But its wings are very, very strong, though it never flies far. It's like the bumblebee - aerodynamically, a bumblebee shouldn't be able to get off the ground, but it manages fine, just the same way as a flying haggis.
"Flying haggises always have one leg shorter than the other, so they can run round a hill-side easily, and land and take off almost anywhere, provided there's a slope, of course.
"There are two sub-species; one lot always travels clockwise, the other anticlockwise, depending on which leg is the short one."
He saw the doubtful look on Sulu's face and went on quickly before the oriental could raise any objections.
"All the other types of haggis are rarer, and some are very local. The best one to eat is the lesser conbuncular haggis. It's widespread, but quite rare. It's almost a gourmet item, and it's far dearer to buy than an ordinary common haggis. It's a nocturnal beastie, and it's really clever at dodging traps; so it has to be shot, and it's not easy shooting haggises in the middle of a cold winter's night - it's so rare there's a close season during the summer. The hunters have to be specially trained.
"Then there's the greater conbuncular haggis. It's the second biggest of the lot. All the smaller haggises eat grass, heather, and so on, but the greater conbuncluar haggis is a scavenger. It eats carrion. It isn't a hunter, though; it wouldn't thank you for fresh meat. The only haggis that goes hunting and could be called dangerous is the largie.
"It's the biggest haggis of all, and the only one that's a predator. Luckily, it's very rare; it's a man-eater if it gets the chance. Oddly enough, if it does attack people, it only attacks men - it's never been known to attack a woman. And it only attacks men who are on their own. There have been a few unexplained disappearances over the years, men out on the hills who have vanished without trace - we can only guess that they fell victim to a largie. It's a bit of a coward; there aren't any stories about largies attacking groups of two or more men.
"Then there are the aries. They're about the rarest and most local breed of all. They're almost intelligent, and have a definite tribal culture; they're the only species of haggis known to have a 'civilisation'. They actually have a chief - called Aulderarie. He's the one who's reckoned to be the wisest and most mature of the entire race. It's the youngeraries who tend to be irresponsible, and when they can, they slip away from the tribal land to the nearby Loch Brandy; now if you or I drank from it, we'd think it just water, but to the youngeraries, there's something in it that's intoxicating - and a drunk youngerarie is a nuisance in anyone's language.
"The olderaries do keep a watch on the young ones, and go after them when they realise the youngsters have slipped off for a drink. An arie always knows when he's grown up and ready to take on adult responsibilities - he stops slipping away to Loch Brandy for a surreptitious drink.
"There's just one other haggis, and it's both quite affectionate and a little dangerous. That's the mutonis. It's sometimes kept as a pet, but its bite is poisonous. Oh, it never bites on purpose, unless you manage to scare it out of its wits, but it does sometimes give its owner an affectionate wee nibble. If you milk its fangs every two or three days, you'll keep it harmless. It's a right easy pet to feed, it loves grass and maybe an odd carrot for a treat."
"If it just eats grass, why is it poisonous?" an anonymous voice put in.
"For defence, laddie," Scotty said patiently. "Just for defence." He got up again and moved to the door. "You've kept me talking too long," he went on. "I'm due back on duty five minutes ago." He went out.
The members of the group left looked at each other.
"Doctor," said Sulu, "you know Scotty well. Was he telling the truth about all that?"
McCoy shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "He's never spoken about any of that to me before this, and I've never been to Scotland."
Scotty grinned to himself as he walked away down the corridor. They didn't believe him, of course. Not really. But as he didn't have a reputation as a joker, they didn't know whether to disbelieve him either.
It would be interesting to see for how long they would go on discussing the subject.