It was when I put an exultant fist through one of the ceiling tiles in the room to which Chan and the baby had been transferred that the consultant told me to calm down. But he was barely calm himself, because he could see what I could see – that this was no ordinary human baby. The upper third of her musculoskeletal structure had significant differences to those other babies down the corridor on the maternity ward. Her shoulders were oversize, where in a human baby only the head is. Following the two scalloped protuberances down the baby’s back with an informed pair of hands, the consultant’s face showed constant surprise. Gareth’s professional coolness in the operating theatre in the operating theatre had been replaced by rising excitement that he had just delivered into the world an extremely unusual infant – possibly an impossible one.
Chan held the baby’s head to her cheek, kissed the covering of still wet hair, ran her fingers over her daughter’s wing stumps, all the while murmuring to her, while Rupa and I sized up Gareth, wondering whether we could trust him, whether we had now moved so far beyond trust now that we would need to do something decisive if we were not all to be turned into lab rats. – That was the phrase Chan had used, in fear of just this eventuality. Rupa nodded at me, confirming my own impression that Gareth’s elation was mostly down to the scientific wonder before him rather than contemplation of the prospective fame awaiting him. But inevitably those thoughts would soon run through his head. How would they fare against his duty to do what was best for those in his care? How quickly would decisions be taken out of his hands as word spread? How far would word spread, and how quickly?
Rupa took me to one side. ‘I think you have no option but to take him into your confidence. He may have enough clout to protect you all long enough for us to work out what to do.’
‘If he feels we trust him, he may trust us.’
So I told Gareth that I needed to talk to him. Rupa stayed with Chan while I trailed the consultant to his office.
‘So, are you’re going to enlighten me as to how you believe your baby came by those strange shoulder formations?’
I told him everything, from the day Chan found me on the beach to the moment we presented ourselves in A&E. I told him about life on Badezon, and the fate I thought had befallen me. I asked him to consider my unnatural hang-gliding ability, though of course he only had my word for it. I took of my t-shirt and showed him the traces of the scars at my shoulders, where my own protuberances had been severed. Almost everything. I may have left out the part about me having come unhinged from time to time, enough to wave a knife in the faces of Chan’s innocent neighbours.
‘You’re an alien. From… Badezon?’ He couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it. ‘Have you heard of the fugue state? Retrograde amnesia? Haven’t you – not to put too fine a point on it – simply been acting out a form of ingrained psychological role play?’
‘So how do you explain my daughter’s oriels?’
‘That’s what we call them – the shoulder protuberances. From which her wings will sprout.’
‘The wings you no longer have.’ I shrugged, and watched him mentally scroll through the possibilities, discarding each in turn. He knew none of them explained what he had felt under the newborn baby’s skin, and was sharp enough not to bluster me with the least outlandish of the explanations.
‘You must admit it’s a lot to ask me to credit. And that there are holes in your story, giant holes – you will say because of the amnesia, of course, I understand that. And yet… that exoskeletal formation at the shoulders; nothing else explains those except a genetic lineage not of this world.’ A little dazed by all he had seen and heard, he held his jaw in his hand, and I knew he was trying to think clearly and work out what to do next. I felt it might be best if I didn’t give him the opportunity to do so. I had noticed the camera on his desk.
‘Bring that. You should have documentary evidence. On the condition that you do nothing with it without our say-so.’ He looked in a draw, and eventually fished out a sheet of paper. Some kind of waiver.
‘No, I won’t sign that, not yet.’
I was dangling him the celebrity, if he wanted it, or merely the scientific kudos. Of course, if we disappeared off the face of the planet, it could turn out to be ridicule. I just hoped that he was unaware of any protocol within the hospital to deal specifically with any situation as unique as this. If we passed into government or military hands I feared for our futures.
As Gareth took photographs of baby and mother, Rupa and I stepped aside again.
‘How quickly will Chan be able to be back on her feet?’
‘Three or four days, if there are no complications. She’ll be able to move about – she should do so – but she’ll also need lots of rest.’
‘Rupa, nevertheless I think we are going to have to disappear. Otherwise our lives will no longer be our own. I don’t want our child to grow up in what would essentially be captivity.’
We had foreseen that the need might arise. We could not now go back to Chan’s. But Sandy, who rented out the odd property, had readily agreed to prompt a friend who was also in that line to set aside a safe house for us. It would buy us some more time. Not much, but enough to work out what to do next. But a lot could happen in the three days she was supposed to remain in hospital.
We would need to plan for a sudden discharge.