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art by Eleanor Bennett


Jez Patterson is a British teacher, currently based in Madrid. This is his second story to appear in Daily Science Fiction.

"We have to smother it on all over. Otherwise he'll dry out. Think of it like human babies weaning onto solids. They can't produce their own mucus until they're three years old. The dependency helps reinforce the bond between child and... Moira? Are you alright?"
"I can't do this, Geoff. I mean... look at me." Her sleeves were rolled up, but Lyam's baby-gloop was dribbling down her forearms as she held her hands out from her sides like a surgeon ready to operate but who'd overdone it on the disinfectant hand gel. Geoff laughed.
"Darling. You're doing fine. It's just new, is all. Look. He loves it when you touch him." That much at least was true. Lyam turned in his gloop-bath as Geoff's hands spread the stuff over his bald head, his bald body. His flat nostrils puckered and then blew through it to inflate twin bubbles. He giggled and gurgled when they burst.
Moira felt the splash on the front of her dress. It wasn't the first sob that had jerked up out of her gut, but it was the one that broke the frail fence that had held back the misery stampede.
"Oh Geoff..."
She had to leave the nursery. Had to get out. The air had been too thin to breathe, her head had felt in a vice, and the world... the world was spinning so fast, just so damn fast.
She sat in the living room, the gloop on her hands turning from warm to cold, setting goose bumps racing up her shoulders and neck and down her back, like armfuls of snakes direct from the refrigerator.
"He's sleeping," Geoff said when he came in. He was still smiling--fondly rather than amused now. Geoff could find something entertaining in the most banal things. Lyam was apparently the greatest comic mastermind he had ever encountered. He made a friendly sigh and sat down on the coffee table so he could take her hands in his.
The gloop had dried and begun to flake--human skin didn't keep it moist like Lyam's did. She clenched his fingers, screwing her eyes up. It was time to apologize again.
"Shh," Geoff said, anticipating or reading her thoughts. "The Adoption Counselor said there would be a period of adaptation. You're being too hard on yourself."
"It's not that, Geoff. I just... I just don't feel how I thought I'd feel." She hadn't expected the apology to transfigure into confession. Geoff's hold didn't change. "When we were going through all the paperwork I was so sure about this. Now though... I just can't help thinking I don't know what I'm doing." She paused, sucked up ragged breaths that tore and lost any substance, any sustenance, before they could be consumed.
"My mother told me they called people from France 'frogs' when she was a child."
"Ha ha. Lyam isn't any more amphibian than you or me. It's just the way he looks."
"But there are so many other things we don't know about him. About them."
"And we'll find out everything we need so that Lyam knows where he comes from. We won't deny him his roots or make him ashamed of them."
Moira glared at Geoff then, jealous not only of his surety but of its origins. One of seven children. Each different, each unique somehow. What stretch did it need to take an alien child with the physiology of a human, the photogenics of a newt? She hated herself for even thinking this about her son, but scratch the surface of any only child and you met a narcissistic tyrant who had only learnt her own standards to measure the world by.
"I'm not suggesting he go back," Moira said. "I know the survival rate for Hansoll babies that are surplus to the brood. I'm just saying maybe there's someone else who's better suited than us. For Lyam's sake." Us, she thought. Nasty. Geoff has taken to fatherhood exactly as you knew he would. You're the one who's failed, who's saying such awful things. The other mothers wouldn't be failing like this.
Geoff stood up, keeping hold of her wrists so she had to stand.
"Okay, Moira. You haven't had the requisite nine months to get to know him. You've had little over nine days. I think it's time you were properly introduced."
"No, Geoff. I can't. I..." She felt weak, wretched, desperate not to be led back into that room. "He's going to face so much prejudice, so many difficulties growing up on our planet, amongst human children. I just wanted a child--I didn't want to change the world."
Geoff laughed, pulling her firmly now, ignoring her tears, back into the room where she swallowed down her emotion to avoid waking Lyam.
"Look at what's arrived, darling. It's every science fiction cliché. A strange creature that's going to control you, that allows you to see your future, that feeds off human emotion. It's not up to us to change the world--he's already changed it."
She looked down, watched a bubble expand, contract, then expand until it popped and spat tiny specks of warm, wet mucus over her son's face. His eyelids quivered, irritated by its presence, and she stepped forward, instinctively pulling out the same tissue she'd used to scrub away her own tears.
"This isn't an alien invasion we're facing," Geoff said. "It's just parenthood. And if that doesn't scare you half to death, then you aren't fit to be a mother." She turned, smiling, happy tears now. "Welcome to the conquered."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Author Comments

The opening scene (as is so often the case) was a collision of two things. In this instance: a photo I received of friends bathing their recently adopted baby boy, and my attempts to relieve a skin condition (brought on by some dodgy shellfish) via a regime of gloopy, green, aloe vera gel. Pow! As I wrote the story, I found myself rooting for Moira, Geoff and little Lyam, but--frustratingly--I couldn’t interfere, and had to wait and see if they could resolve things for themselves. Sometimes, I find life creates its own aloe vera gel.

- Jez Patterson
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