Through the pain and the pain relief, through the half-heard urgent discussions at my bedside, through the drifting in and out of consciousness while the baby – my baby – slept alongside me, there were two conflicting moods. First, the euphoria, the joy, the sheer woosh of having at last brought a life into the world, of immediately loving the creature, her initial wide-eyed, bamboozled alertness, her uniqueness as an individual life form regardless of the derivation of her genes. She was light but she was solid, her presence the strongest reality in my dreamlike state, a connection to the world which was both the balm of love and the alarm of fear. I could be soothed and lulled, or stung and poised at any moment for fight or flight, even in the midst of this exhaustion. Fear was the keynote of the second mood. We had necessarily put ourselves into the system, and with the proof of the alien’s story now before me – her beautiful little oriels and oversize shoulders, the unusually wide spacing between her eyes which seemed in itself conclusively other – it was obvious that the system could only be equated with captivity. I knew instinctively that I would give myself any amount of pain and force myself to override it, if that was what it took to get my daughter to a place of safety. A place where she would not be held up and scrutinised as a miracle, but regarded simply as a child to be loved and nurtured. I trusted the alien and Rupa to find a way out. I knew they would not let me down, but at the same time I realised we would have only the one chance. If anything went wrong, we would find ourselves under lock and key and lives under a high security regime would await us all. For our own protection, they would say.
But why did the alien let the consultant take photos of me, and our baby? I was too drained to protest. I hoped they knew what they were doing. When the alien whispered in my ear that they were playing Gareth into the team, because it might result in him giving us greater protection, I was relieved. And when the following morning brought a visitation, the strategy proved its worth.
‘I’m sorry,’ said our protector, ‘but I must insist you leave. This was a particularly unusual birth and mum is understandably tired, and in no way up to receiving visits from the chief executive and half of his office.’ He ushered the disgruntled man and the suits flanking him back into the corridor. The baby was swaddled, so the bigwigs did not get a peep at her upper body, but that only meant that there was now another danger – that having been thwarted, they might seek advice from London. It would be a convoluted chain, but it would not take long before people considerably more forceful than those who had just tried to enter the room started appearing at our door. And Gareth would be powerless to prevent their entry. We just had to hope that Cornwall’s distance from the centre of government and intelligence might buy us some time, even if only a day.
The consultant was obliged to attend to other births and patients, and we were left alone. The implications of the chief executive’s visit had not escaped the alien or Rupa.
‘We need to go tonight. I’ll call Sandy. Rupa, can you acquire whatever meds are necessary?’ Rupa nodded. ‘Chan, do you think you could stand, and see how it feels to walk up and down the corridor? That way if anyone sees you tonight, they’ll be more inclined to think you’re exercising.’
The rest of the day passed in a state of heightened tension. Gareth reappeared at intervals, talking with the alien, about what he remembered of Badezoid reproduction and birth, and with me about how the pregnancy had been, its unusual length and features. He even purported to show understanding as to why we had tried not to involve the health service in the baby’s delivery, though he said we had run an absurdly high risk in doing so. He had obviously convinced himself that he was being told the truth. We tried to appear relaxed, proud parents who now saw that involving a benevolent, caring health system was nothing more than reassuring.
Fortunately Gareth had himself a home life to which even he must return, and as evening began we were left alone with only the odd passing midwife for company.
At one point in that long night of waiting Rupa asked,
‘What are you going to call her?’
‘I don’t know. None of the names I ever had in mind before seem right now. Have you thought of anything?’
‘I have thought of something, yes, an Indian name. Apsara. It means ‘celestial maiden’.
‘And I have remembered something too,’ said the alien, nodding at Rupa’s suggestion. ‘I think it might even have been my grandmother’s name. Suloch. One with beautiful eyes.’
‘Apsara Suloch. Yes. How do you like your name, Apsara Suloch?’ The baby wriggled her elbows, as if anticipating the expressive extension of her wings. Of course, it might have been in response to the tickle I gave her chin.
We made our escape at three in the morning. Rupa held Apsara, and the alien helped me, going ahead at times to check that our way was clear. Only once did we have to duck into a hiding place before reaching the exit. A dirty white van stood alone in the visitor’s car park. Sandy stood ready by its back doors. He greeted us with a smile, and opened them.
‘It’s what in smuggling terms you might call a lugger,’ said Sandy.
We ran for our dear lives, as a lugger might have, across the Channel, pursued by the King’s cutters. The sound of a siren cut through the night, above the growl of the van, piercing us all. But then the ambulance passed us at speed, heading for A&E, and the tension drained away.