It was an ordinary piece of space hardware, not unlike the kind that have come out of the collective imaginations of those sci-fi movie making departments which tend towards the realist rather than the fantastical. How it was not noticed by the government agencies that watch for such things I do not know. Perhaps it was, and they kept it secret, because there was no contact, no interaction, nothing to say except that the aliens, if aliens they were, got away. Oops.
Cornwall saved the three of them. Had the hospital been closer to London, the decision makers and captive-takers would have been on the scene the day after the night of the birth rather than the one following. Weeks afterwards, when I returned to Chan’s house, it had been turned over. It would however have been searched in vain, because all that was particular or precious to Chan had been moved to the safe house, anticipating the possibility that she would need to be hospitalised. Before the birth gave us all proof, it was she who believed the alien’s story sufficiently not to leave the matter to chance. And so when the special agents got to her house, there was nothing left that would help them, except perhaps the DNA forensic operatives might extract from skin fragments and the like. But I doubt they’ll be growing their own winged Badezoid any time soon.
The night they departed, I was having trouble sleeping. In fact every night in the safe house, I had lain awake long into the early hours, thoughts speeding and swooping through my head like a murmuration of starlings. At Chan’s there had at least been the noise of the wind and sea to stand in for the hum of city traffic, but here in this old farmstead cupped in its own valley, there was no sound at all until the birds began their chorus, which was when at last I would fall asleep.
Deep in the night, I heard some combination of the three of them moving about, but that was not unusual, with a hungry, short-sleeping baby. So I took no notice of the different pattern of noise, thinking only that they were having a harder time than usual getting Apsara to settle. I nearly got up, to help, as I had done on most other evenings, since I was not sleeping, and so as to allow Chan a precious hour or two herself. But I felt especially tired that night, and something bade me stay in bed. I fell into a half sleep, with my bedside light on. I woke from a dream in which I had heard a door open and close, and wondered who had passed through it. I looked from the window, in this dream, and I saw Chan waving, and Apsara following suit, only using now full-grown wings to do so. I snapped awake. I could hear nothing, nothing except the ticking of the alarm clock and my anxious heart beating. I kicked off the covers and went out on the landing, peaking in at the door of their room. They weren’t inside. I knew from the feel of the air in the house that I would not find them downstairs either.
There was a note propped against the tea caddy in the kitchen.
The alien has been contacted, with something like the smuggler’s wink. His people want to take him back. They have told him that he agreed to the loss of his wings, and that there is proof of that. They say he will return as a heroic explorer. He’s nervous, but he wants us all to go. He thinks we’ll be ok, despite all the black dreams of the past. I hope he’s right. Well, it could be no worse than what would happen here. And the pull of another planet, of taking Apsara Suloch to the place where her wings belong, the place from which they came, well, it’s hard to deny that pull.
We leave from the Merry Maidens, near Lamorna, half an hour before dawn. Forgive me for not waking you, for leaving without a face-to-face explanation. I didn’t want you to feel you had any part in the decision I have taken. Even if you had said nothing, I’d have spotted the caution in your reaction, however heavily you disguised it, as you would have done, you being you. I needed to be free to make my own mind up to leave Earth, even though I may simply end up exchanging one prison for another.
I will never be able to thank you enough for all that you did for us all. The first interplanetary doula! If there is any way of sending word, I will send it, to let you know that we are safe and well. And when I do, if only a sign is possible, think of the first present you ever gave me.’
As I read, I realised that the cushion on the chair on which I sat had a residue of warmth. Chan had not long been sitting here herself writing this note. As soon as I got to her name and the kisses at the bottom of the note, I leapt into my car, checked the map, and drove. I drove like a woman possessed, not quite sure of my intention, and in my panic, unable to formulate one on the way.
I arrived just before dawn, and saw something immediately and obviously alien beyond the hedge. I threw up dust in the lay-by as I screeched to a halt. I sprang from the car in time to see a small, light brown rhomboidal craft with winged insignia not unlike a laurel wreath had landed within the perimeter marked by the nineteen stones of the circle. Its angles were blade-like, its substance dense and matt and light-repelling. Almost at once the ship lifted into the air. It made less noise than you might suppose, though certainly more than a military fighter, and the grass was streaked flat with the force. I wanted to run towards the stones but the sound made me step back. The ship began to move through the sky at an angle beyond the capability of any human craft. Then it very quickly faded to a mere speck. There was no moment where you could say it had definitely gone. I kept on looking, long after I knew that all I was seeing were stars.