Her memory of nearly five years ago kept resurfacing, despite the injunction to forget it all, that the government had imposed on her.
Bearing a child was not something that was easy to forget, and especially when one had given birth to an alien baby.
Jeanette Nabarro had afterwards failed to conceive another child. She had married her late husband, Tom Reagan, with high expectations, but no pregnancy had resulted. Tom had died in a stupid traffic accident, caused by alcohol in the bloodstream of the truck driver who had pushed Tom's car into the path of a bus coming the other way. The truck driver got a long sentence, but this did not bring Tom back. She had still lost the love of her life.
She thought back over her earlier government service as a baby factory, or as they called it, a surrogate mother.
The government had at least reimbursed her very generously, so that she still had most of the hundred thousand pounds they had paid her in advance to bring the alien child almost to term in the United States. The medical men eventually pushed her into the American military hospital and performed a caesarean section to remove the baby. They never even allowed her to see the child. That was one insult that she had never forgiven. Even if it were as ugly as sin, it was a child of her own womb, so it was HERS, and she deserved to see what she had given birth to.
They told her nothing about the alien baby, or why she was being asked to perform this service for them. Being a corporal in the WRAF, she was expected to obey her superiors, and she had been informed that after examining the medical records of all female military personnel, she was found to be the most suitable for this secret task.
They told her she would be flown to an unnamed American medical facility, where a fertilised egg would be implanted in her womb. From that point on, she would be monitored by doctors, but otherwise be able to enjoy an extended holiday in a warm clime, all expenses paid. She would be able to sunbathe, swim, play games of all kinds, watch movies of her own choice, go shopping (with an escort) for any clothes, makeup, any personal items she fancied.
She would NOT be able to leave the base permanently, nor even temporarily except under escort – for example if she wanted to visit a casino – and her finance for anything like that would be provided without question.
She would be a special guest, free as long as she was compliant; a prisoner without chains or bars.
This was all explained in terms that viewed it otherwise. They wanted to protect her body from unwanted chemicals and drugs that might affect the foetus. Alcohol was banned, but she did not drink, anyway. She suspected that this was one of the factors in her selection. They claimed that she would be as healthy as they could make her, for an unhealthy body would be bad for birthing the alien child.
She asked them where the alien zygote had come from, and they relented to the point of informing her that it was a clone from frozen cells of a dead alien. "You are special, Jeanette," they told her. "The alien race is dead, but we have a chance to resurrect it, at least in a small way. We are still feeling our way, which is why we do not want to risk a normal birth.
We don't know if the head of the alien baby would distort like a human foetus, to permit exit through the birth canal. Instead, we will do a caesarean section and lift it out. We are preparing a special unit to receive the alien baby and give it nourishment. We have been advised what normal Malan food is like, so we will manufacture a milk based on that set of constituents.
We doubt that it will be able to absorb human milk, even though its bloodstream, just like its body, is entirely human in its make-up. The trick is to combine the alien DNA instructions with the human baby factory that is you.
It is a complex and unique trick that we are endeavouring to bring an alien baby to term, so you are a unique person, in yourself."
"Wait." Her mind had come to conclusion that did not make sense. "You said the race was dead, but then you said you had been advised about what these creatures ate. WHO advised you, if they are all dead?"
"Ah. I had better give you another bit of information. These Malans had created a race of computer-based intelligences that live inside spaceships: they ARE the spaceships. Imagine vastly improved computers that think for themselves. They are a new race, of machine intelligences. As they were created by the Malans, they feel responsible for helping the Malans in any way possible, so they are encouraging us to do this cloning procedure, in the hope of reviving at least a few of the race."
"A few? That is not just one. I can't be unique; I can see that. You need at least two surviving babies, one of each sex, to continue a race, so you have more than one woman doing this, don't you?"
The doctor looked at her with surprised eyes. "You are a clever girl, do you realise that? You have deduced most of what we are doing, just from a couple of passing references. Well done. As it happens, you are actually the first, but we have a few more women lined up to repeat the process. As soon as we get a success with one woman, for example, successful implantation in the womb, the next woman is prepared for the same stage. If your body decides to abort the foetus, we check what the factors were, and make changes for the next one, and hopefully take the process forward."
Jeannette could see what was happening. "So I am the guinea-pig; the testbed for your first trial. I see. What are the chances of my surviving this trial by pregnancy?"
"As far as we can tell, very high. It is the foetus which is taking the risks, not you. Should you have any medical problems, we are on hand to give you the best treatment on the planet. We reckon we can cope with anything your body can come up with, but the main medical difficulty is expected to be rejection of the foetus by your body. We will be giving you drugs to hopefully prevent rejection, until your body accepts the foetus as a normal body part.
"Once we reach that point, the remainder of the pregnancy should be fairly normal. We are unsure of the potential size of the baby at parturition, because the machine aliens are unsure themselves. It seems that the Malans had a reverence for their bodies to the extent of not looking inside to see what was going on, so our estimate of the baby size is based on the outer views of pregnant Malans that the Spaceship people had access to. They seem to be approximate human size, but you know how variable that can be, so that is another reason for the caesarean section."
Her questions about the Malans went unanswered. They would not say what colour they were, whether they had two arms and two legs, and one head, or even confirm that they had two sexes. Almost all her questions gained replies of: "Unknown", or "We can't say" or "unsure", most which she assumed were lies, They would not try to produce an alien in a human female without at least a reasonable idea that this was a feasible proposition, she hoped.
It seemed more and more to be a reasonable assumption. Certainly once the baby started to kick, she had the impression it had the same number of limbs as a human baby, and they operated in much the same way as a human baby. Her only concern was the size the foetus would get to before it was surgically removed. She didn't fancy having her insides squashed by a ginormous baby.
Once she began to bulge, just as one would with a human baby, she started to feel like a mother should. She began moving in a protective way, avoiding any stresses that might harm her baby, and by now it was becoming HER baby, not THEIR baby.
She had all the usual motherhood body preparations; enlarged breasts, sensitive nipples; these were the most noticeable. Her mood swings concerned her at times, but when she asked the doctors about these, they dismissed her concerns: "Nothing to worry about" seemed to be the usual answer.
As she got nearer the parturition date, she became concerned at the caesarean decision. What if this was bad for the child? They were still experimenting, she felt, despite them realising that a skull without moveable sections might be fatal for both of them. She felt that it was bound to match human skulls in that respect. If Malans had extra wide hips, that fact would have been evident in the available records. She was certain it was the doctors' own fears that were pushing them into this birthing method. They were going for what seemed to them the safest option.
She wondered throughout her pregnancy what the other women were doing. Were that all fit and well? Did morning sickness afflict them? She had suffered none of that, which surprised her: she had been prepared for that common ailment.
She was astonished and alarmed that they treated her as nothing more than machine in the guise of a human body. They rushed her, without any concern for her feelings, to the hospital, at the time scheduled for the operation. The operation was timed for then, so that was when it happened, whether she liked it or not. She was incidental to the process.
They injected her with something which knocked her into unconsciousness, or as near as dammit. She had the impression her body had been left with enough activity to participate in the birth event without her mind being involved at all.
Then it was over. She was left, sore but sedated, semi-conscious and so not a bother to them, while the baby received all the attention. She certainly received medical care, but now it was standard treatment for a new mother, but one without a baby, almost as if her child had been stillborn.
From the next day they took regular blood samples, presumably to note whether any alien material was still within her body. Day by day, they seemed happier as they took the samples, and by the fifth day they stopped doing so.
They kept her in hospital for another week, until she was almost as fit as when she first started with the program. She noticed that she was now using American spellings, having been in the country for so long. She suspected that the idea was to leave her with as little evidence of the birth as possible.
Jeanette was returned to the base where she had been first taken to, but this was a debriefing time. An officer from the UK interviewed her, and congratulated her on completing a successful mission. She laughed. "I never thought of pregnancy as a mission!"
The officer looked at her strangely. "I don't know what you are talking about, young lady. I understand you have recently been in hospital, so that may have affected your equanimity.
"Can we keep to the subject? Your request for an honourable discharge has been approved, and you will receive your accumulated pay shortly, direct to your nominated bank account. Here is your air ticket back to the UK" she produced the folder and handed it over. "There is also a letter which came to you, addressed to this base, and with a USA stamp and a lawyer's return address, so you had best open that while you are still in the USA."
By this time in the interview, Jeanette had sussed that the senior officer had been kept completely in the dark about what her mission had been, so she kept quiet. She had of course not requested a discharge, but this suited her, as her attitudes towards her superiors and her government were not conducive to further unquestioning service.
She grabbed the US lawyer's letter and slipped it open. It contained a legal letter and a cheque on a US bank. She read the letter first. It informed her that that her second cousin in America, twice removed, had died and as she was one of the beneficiaries, enclosed was a cheque for the specified sum, in the interim.
She now looked at the cheque. It said "Two hundred and seventy-one dollars, fifty-three cents". No, she had read that wrong. It was "two hundred and seventy-one THOUSAND dollars, fifty-three cents!"
She gulped. She knew of no American relatives, although her mother had mentioned some cousins she was not on speaking terms with. Could it be one of them?
She doubted it. She was beginning to recognise the underhand way that her masters on both sides of the Atlantic were dealing with her. This was a sneaky way of paying her without there ever being any evidence of payment by the authorities.
The officer had waited while she read the letter, and now enquired, "Well? Is there anything in that letter which you have to deal with here in the USA before you return home?"
"No, apart from putting a cheque in the bank."
"Anything else to prevent you leaving tomorrow on the flight as stipulated on your ticket?"
"No. I didn't bring much with me, and I can get packed today, with just a few items for overnight to be stuffed in tomorrow morning. What time is the flight?"
"3.10 p.m. I will drive you to the airport and see you off. Someone else will meet you at the other end."
"Is it a commercial flight?"
"No. Regular RAF flight between the UK and USA. You arrive at Brize Norton. Your immediate superior will meet you and take you through the discharge procedure."
"That sounds pretty quick."
"I wouldn't know, not having been involved in such matters. You will get further instructions once you are in England."
And that was the way it happened, Jeannette recalled. There was a blanket secrecy clampdown on her connection with the alien program, and she was told to forget she ever was involved in any aspect of it. When she jocularly described it as an "X File", she received a blank look, and the remark was ignored.
She was duly discharged from the RAF, with an "honourable discharge" certificate, referring to her years in service to the Crown, and a letter of recommendation to any prospective employer. Beyond that, they said goodbye to her.
Her "inheritance" appeared in her local bank account after transfer from the America bank, but it took another six months before she received another cheque from the same American lawyers, this time for One Million, Three hundred and Forty-three dollars, and 27 cents. It seemed a lot, but once converted into pounds, it was a lot smaller sum, around 860,000 pounds. This would be enough to buy her a reasonable house, and a bit left over.
She would need to find herself a job.
Her service record, and the letter of recommendation, gave her a helping hand and she soon found a job as a publisher's manager in a big conglomerate that had a number of companies under its wing. It was here she met her future husband, Tom Reagan.
Her wedding night was a surprise to her husband and to her. As they began to consummate their nuptials, Tom declared, "I didn't realise you were still a virgin, my love!" Shocked at the revelation, for she had assumed her hymen lost during her "duty", Jeannette quickly recovered by saying, "I didn't tell you everything about me, darling." She was suddenly more aware that due to the caesarean operation, she had gone through a pregnancy and given birth without losing her hymen!
This discovery gave her a new thought. Maybe this was one of the reasons for the caesarean: they were making themselves prepared to prove that any tale of giving birth to an alien baby was fantasy; having her medically to be still a virgin long after the event would destroy any claim she might put forward of being impregnated.
She later got to a mirror and looked for her caesarean scar. It was gone. Instead of stitches, they must have used surgical glue, and the scar had healed completely, leaving just a minor pucker in the skin. More disposal of evidence, she realised.
That decided her: she would forget it ever happened, and go on with her life.
It was only years later, after Tom had died and she found herself without a child of their marriage, that she had began to pine for that lost alien child. Her problem was, there was no way she could connect to it, wherever it was.
It put her into depression. She moped about, always tired and irritable, unsociable with friends and colleagues. Her boss, the CEO of the publishing firm, called her into his office eventually, and demanded to know what was wrong with her.
She explained that it was depression, and that she would pull herself out of it. He glared at her. "You don't know about depression, my girl. It is insidious and not easy to throw off, no matter what you might think. You need to establish the cause of your depression, and deal with that problem. Do you think the depression is work-related?"
"Oh, no, sir. I enjoy my work."
"Well, what else can it be? You must have some idea. What is on your mind?"
"If I told you sir, you would think I was unstable, and fire me."
"Jeannette, I know you well enough to not react like that. Trust me, I'm your boss. I know my staff, and I know when they are telling me the truth or not. Tell me now, and let me think about it."
"You asked for it, boss. I was coerced by the military authorities into giving birth to an alien baby. I never saw it, for the doctors in America did a caesarean section, but I miss not knowing about my baby, alien or not. I wonder what happened to it, whether it is alive or dead; is it growing up somewhere, not knowing it had a mother who loved it?"
Her boss looked at her in amazement. "Of all the reasons for depression, this one is unique. This story is so bizarre, it is probably true. Aliens, eh? The only aliens I know of are spaceships known as The Personalia, and they certainly were not born of human flesh."
He found his mind ringing up a memory, and he stopped to consider what it told him.
"Wait. Now that I think about it, there was a story some time back about alien children in the human colony on the planet Rehome. Cute little kids, as I recall. Do you remember the story? About a year ago?"
"No, I must have missed it. That was about the time when my husband Tom was killed in a car crash, and I was distraught for quite a while, so I wasn't paying any attention to the news channels."
Her boss explained, "Apparently the four alien children were aged about four, and could speak good English, but they lived in Rehome Colony among humans. The story said that they were the only surviving Malans in the universe."
"Malans? That was the name the doctors used, when they talked about their program to bring the race back to life. Was my child a baby Malan? Why didn't they tell me about him or her? What do Malans look like?"
"Jeannette, the news archives must have footage from a year ago, surely. Go online and search it out. One of these four might be your baby. Don't count on it, though. Your baby might have died."
That idea stabbed her in the heart. She refused to even think about the possibility.
"Sir, can I have a day off tomorrow? I want to check this out, in my own time, and think about what it might mean."
"Take a day's sick leave, Mrs Reagan. I would like to see the old, happy, Jeannette come back to work for us. See if you can make it that way."
She went home and fired up her laptop computer. She was unsure what to do, so simply did a search for "Malan", and she was astonished how many hits it produced. Many looked to be negative comments on "the aliens we are harbouring", but several were TV news stories, so she looked for a news story that had come from Rehome Colony. She found several, with wording similar to each other. She clicked on the news channel story she thought most authoritative, and the story started running.
She watched as the local man, presumably the reporter, chatted to the young aliens. These youngsters, seemingly two boys and two girls, all of similar ages, were interacting easily with several human children. The Malans were most definitely alien, but not too much different from humans.
Her heart started thudding in her chest. Was one of these four alien children her own child? Her baby?"
She mused, how could she find out? Who could she ask? Her own government and military authorities were not going to tell her, she knew. What about the people in the Colony? Were they tied into the Earth authorities, or were they independent? She went back and re-ran the story, listening to every word of the commentary. She noticed that some of the human children were referred to as the Governor's children, but the reporter seemed very familiar with them, as if he knew the family.
Was the "Governor" a gesture of friendship towards a social superior, as happened in England at times, or was he a genuine Governor? A prison Governor, or a political post such as a State Governor in the USA?
She decided on action. The editor of the Rehome newspaper should know who the reporter was. She did a search for newspapers on Rehome, finding only one. The Editor's name and contact number were given, so she decided she should contact him. Unsure about the possible cost of phone calls to another planet, she emailed him instead, writing, "Can you please put me in touch with the reporter who did the story about Malan children about a year ago? I think I might have been the mother of one of them, though I am not certain."
She fired off the email, hoping that someone at the paper would pay attention to it.
She was pleasantly surprised to get an email response within a hour or so. It said, "I was the one who did that report. I would be happy to discuss it with you. Can you phone me to talk it over? The call is charged at your own local rates, as The Personalia route the calls through their private space network. This is my number: " and the number was there, staring at her. He had signed his message: Tom Pfeiffer, Editor, Rehome News.
Jeannette immediately picked up her phone and tried the number. She got a voice message: "This is Rehome News. If you have a story to leave, press 2 on your phone; If you want to leave a brief message, such as about an event, press 3. If you have a commercial matter to discuss, press 4; if you need to speak to the Editor in person, press 5 and wait. He may have to finish what he is doing before he can speak to you."
She pressed 5, and waited. Within moments, Tom Pfeiffer was on the line. "Mrs Reagan, in England, as I gather from your phone ID. What can I do for you?"
She responded, "You replied to my email. I was a mother..."
"Oh, yes. The Malan children. Were you truly the mother of one of these bairns?"
"I was. I suspect I was the first, by the way I was spoken to in America. I am British, and was in the RAF at the time."
"I see. Yes, that would make sense. They would check their own databases for suitable females, as you would be under military law."
"Yes, that is correct. I have no idea why a British girl would be the first to be chosen, though."
"Interesting. It may have been simpler and quicker to scan through the small UK database, than the much more massive US database. So you were "volunteered"? Do you want to tell your story?"
"I would be happy to do so, but my prime concern is to find the child that I gave birth to. It is the only child I have had, and it is weighing heavily on my mind. I should point out that I was instructed to forget all about the events back then. I may have signed the Official Secrets Act, but I don't know. They stuffed a stack of papers in front of me and told me to sign them. I presumed it was permission for various medical procedures, protective inoculations, and so on."
"Very well, Mrs Reagan. Let's talk about your experience. Does your husband know about it, before we start? He might want to be involved."
"He died a year or so ago, in a car crash, and he never knew about it. His name was Tom, like yours."
"Yes, a nice name, I feel. I have always liked it. Can I ask if you know which of the Malan children is yours?"
"Tom, I don't know a damn thing. They kept me from knowing almost everything. I had to do a lot of guessing and only then would they confirm that some of my surmises were correct. I never even saw my baby, even when it was born. It was removed the instant it was born by caesarean section. They said they had to test its blood, for compatibility with available baby milk. By that I think they meant what they had prepared for it. Presumably cow's milk would not do for the alien's constitution; though as the child came out of my body, surely there would be some compatibility?"
"One would assume so, my dear lady, but as a new procedure, they would have to be prepared for almost any outcome. May I ask about any restrictions on telling your story? I am under the assumption that any restriction would only apply to you if you were within their jurisdiction. Would you agree?"