I waited for her to tell me. On Badezon a male of the species knew when the female to whom he had become attached was expecting a child; there was something in our biological make-up that made it so – a smell, a look, a difference, a genetic understanding. I presumed this was not how it was with humans. Typically their biology seemed to breed mental complications where ours stripped those complexities away, rendered them simple. But I judged it best not to let on that I knew; I suspected it would – in a phrase I heard regularly among hang-gliding club members – freak her out. In the meantime I tried to work out the implications of the as yet unspoken news, and to translate my instinctive Badezon reaction of joy and deep curiosity into some gently equivalent human male form. Humans seemed to think that the gulf between their sexes was wider than it appeared to me to be, but perhaps the margin was most frequently at its largest when the half that were men were faced with the struggle of making the transition between partner and parent. The little that Chan had told me about her previous partner seemed to confirm a male fear of being shaken out of a comfortable rut into one which he envisaged being both less comfortable, and less free.
We were sitting before the fire one night, watching the flames dance awkwardly to some of Chan’s favourite songs. When the music stopped, a raging winter wind stepped in quickly to take its place, howling its frustration at not being able to blow our house down. Chan took my hands and I knew this was the moment; I knew the words she was about to speak. She spoke them, a badly disguised look of uncertainty in her eyes. I smiled, and I kissed her, and, finding I was unable to pretend otherwise, told that I already knew, had known for some time. She hit me on the head with a cushion then, and said, ‘Why ever didn’t you say? I’ve been worried sick about telling you.’ Then she hugged me, and kissed me back. It was difficult to gauge, but I think my reaction had pleased her. She talked, slowly at first, then with her words tripping over each other in their rush to be spoken. I listened, smiling all the while, and looked into the heart of the fire just as ancient cave-dwelling Badezoid males must have at the blaze pitched in the mouths of their shelters, dwelling with primeval satisfaction on the knowledge that their line was set to continue.
My attention was drifting, so I made an effort to reconnect with what Chan was saying, and realised to my surprise that she seemed to be seriously countenancing the possibility that this baby might be born with an unusual set of genes. Not just a weird set, but alien. This was a breakthrough; but it was probably also a sign that Chan’s underlying pragmatic determination was coming together with the maternal instinct to protect her unborn child from every conceivably threatening possibility. She desperately wanted this baby, and nothing – not even alien genes – was going to stop the world from treating it like any other ordinary, wholly human infant. After so many disappointments, she did not want success to turn into a freak show. But it was what she asked me next that most confounded my expectations.
‘Are Badezoid babies born with little fledgling wings, or do they sprout from your shoulders at some point as you grow?’