I came in from my shift at Sandy’s less tired than usual. I had done very little flying of late. I knew Chan would not want me to be far out to sea when the time came. Quietly I went upstairs to see if she was sleeping. She wasn’t. In fact, unusually, she was lying against the side of the bed rather than on top of it. Her face was pale and drawn, and her voice when she found it was urgent.
‘I think it’s started… call Rupa.’ There was an edge in her voice that felt like a reprimand, for me not having been close by at the moment when she needed me to be. But it was probably just the painful peak of a contraction that made it come out so. ‘Now,’ she said, and that was a reprimand. I went across the landing and knocked. After a few moments Rupa appeared, in t-shirt and pyjama bottoms. She reeled off the list of things I was to fetch, which would not be difficult because we had set them aside weeks ago; Chan was way past ten months now. Rupa felt sure that she must have her dates wrong, but she and I were both sure that she had them right. She was overdue beyond the record books. The cross-breeding had to have resulted in a longer gestation period – not that I could remember precisely what that was for Badezoids, and so work out an average – but otherwise Chan seemed much as Rupa suggested was normal for an entirely human baby. No cause for concern. Chan wanted to believe her, but never having got this far with a pregnancy, she had no way of knowing whether or not her body was feeling as it was supposed to feel.
But when Rupa signalled that she and I should both duck out of the bedroom, Chan knew something was up. Rupa was perturbed that the contractions were not proceeding according to the book. ‘The timings are not as they should be; and now she is in more pain than she should be. I don’t feel confident about where this is going.’ We decided on wait and see, but if the level of pain increased, then I would ring for an ambulance. Through an undercover operation she and I had acquired certain painkilling pharmaceuticals, and one of these Rupa now decided to administer. Even though she was in pain, Chan was not pressing us to ring. I think she knew for sure now that what was inside her was not within human understanding, and she was determined that if at all possible her baby would not be treated as a freak. If we could get this new life out of her without medical intervention, that would be worth the risk.
The waiting grew heavy on us. All through the night, and till noon the next day. But I couldn’t leave her side, much as though she might have wanted me too, with Rupa there too, doing a better job of trying to make her as comfortable as she could. It was a hot, heavy morning. From the windows I could see that the sea was a millpond, and even with them wide open to receive such flutters of breeze as there were, the room was too hot. How much hotter for Chan? We gave her ice cubes to suck, and a towel dunked in a basin of ice water was at her forehead. For periods I held her hand; for others she shrugged me off. When such air as there was tickled at my nostrils, I drifted sleepily out of the room, letting myself be carried on my wings by a thermal, out above the sea, where it would be freshest. I hadn’t flown in weeks; I yearned to be out in my natural element, but I also wanted to be here, to do what I could, to carry on holding Chan’s hand through the pain and the effort and the waiting, to see our child, and, yes, I confess, to see whether the body of the brand new life form, covered in vernix caseosa, or its Badezoid equivalent, perhaps some alchemical mix of the two, presented us with proof of my story, with proof that on another planet, bipeds could fly. With proof that I was not mad.
My reverie was broken by Chan’s scream.
Rupa said, ‘Ring for the ambulance. Now.’