Cuckoo

by Miriam English

The small boat pulled up to the beach and Anna shut off the motor. Brian jumped from the boat's bow into the knee-deep water and pulled it up onto the beach. He took the anchor and walked further up the beach, paying out the rope behind him, then jammed the anchor into the sand. Dusting off his hands he looked down the beach each direction, then up the single, tree-covered hill of the island. Anna jumped off the boat onto the sand and strode up the beach. "There should be a cabin behind the trees," she said as she passed him.

Brian followed and asked, "When we find it will you tell me what the big, deep, dark secret is?"

She nodded.

It only took about half an hour of searching to find the small, one-room shack. Inside, Brian sat on a crate while Anna sat on the only chair. "OK sis, tell me now. What gives? And, by the way, I want half of the hidden treasure." He grinned.

Anna, who'd been looking very serious, lightened for a moment at that, then looked sad. "Brian, I know what you are."

Brian grinned. "That's right! I'm your brother! Contestant number one wins a teddy bear! And now would you like to pick another question and go for the jackpot or settle for--"

"Brian. I mean it."

Brian looked puzzled, but still smiled. "This sounds very dramatic." He paused for a moment weighing up whether to ask. "OK. I'll bite. What do you think I am?"

She looked at him for a little while. She'd rehearsed this in her mind over and over again and now it seemed too ridiculous to actually say. But she couldn't stop now. Too much hung on it. She plunged ahead, "Some sort of cuckoo. I don't entirely understand all about it but I know enough."

He looked sincerely at his sister. "Anna. I can assure you I'm quite sane... well, apart from eating those pieces of merangue before we left. That was pretty warped, but I've always had a weakness for--"

"A cuckoo, like the bird that lays eggs in another's nest. Not crazy."

He frowned. "Sis, Carmen and I are not going out yet, but even if we do I would never cheat on her with anybody else. I'm a very monogamous person. You know that."

She sat back in her chair to think for a moment. "I was pretty sure you knew. I'm not certain whether you're being purposefully obtuse in order to throw up a smokescreen or if there is a chance that you really don't know."

Brian looked guardedly puzzled. "Know what?"

"You aren't human." She gulped when she said it.

"Anna, are you all right?" He looked honestly concerned for her.

"Oh knock it off! I have proof, OK?"

He didn't say anything, but watched her, looking sympathetic.

She reached into her pants pocket, pulled out several papers and passed them to him in a folded bunch.

He took them silently and studied them for a few moments. When he looked up again his expression was unchanged.

She didn't say anything for a minute or two, but got up to pace about the small cabin. "I need to know a couple of things. Most importantly, did I have a brother who you replaced?"

Brian sighed and rubbed his face, thinking for a while. After a bit he answered, looking at the floor, "No. Mum gave birth to me. We don't hurt people. You had it right before. We are cuckoos."

Anna stopped. Her face went cold and white. She felt a little dizzy. It was one thing to do the tests and prove it intellectually, but it was quite another to have him confirm it. She sat in the chair, a little too heavily.

Brian looked up. "When did you suspect?"

Anna shook her head, unable to speak for a moment. "I... I never suspected. I used some of your hair and skin samples for my lab tests at Uni. We needed to compare features from close family members for... uh..." her voice faded out.

Brian sighed again. "How many people know?"

Anna frowned and looked at the papers in his hand. "Nobody. Just me. When I realised something was wrong I substituted samples from Mum. I thought at first that I just had contaminated samples."

Brian looked at her with pleading eyes. "You can't tell anyone Anna."

"Why? Would your people do something?"

"Yes, except you don't understand. My people are your people -- humanity. I know you mean other cuckoos." He shook his head. "We never meet. It's... they're... we are a solitary race. I've never met another... at least, not knowingly. I doubt I ever will. All my allegiances are with the family I grew up in."

Anna looked at him for a while, trying to see if he was telling the truth. Brian always had the most amazing ability to hide his emotions. Now Anna wondered if he really had any. Had he pretended in his pre-teens when he'd laughed and laughed at episodes of Get Smart on TV? Had he been faking the tears when their dog Muppy had been hit by a car?

Suddenly she frowned. "How do you know that the cuckoos are a solitary race if you've never met any?"

"Racial memory."

Anna snorted in disgust. "Bullshit Brian. Racial memory is impossible."

"It's a necessity for cuckoos. Without it the species would die out."

She looked skeptical, "Coded in the DNA?"

"No. I don't know what to call it. I can visualise it but don't have words for it. It's not important anyway." He sighed and put his head in his hands.

"So what will the other cuckoos do to you?"

"Nothing. Like I said, I'm worried about people -- humanity's track record on xenophobia is not really a good one."

Well, that's true enough, she thought. We grew up together for heaven's sake, and I'm feeling more than a bit scared of him right now.

"How many cuckoos are on Earth?"

He shrugged. "I have no idea."

She prompted, "Racial memory?"

Brian shrugged.

Anna shook her head, got up again and paced the room. This all just sounded too ridiculous. Aliens? ...living among us for who knows how long? ...her own brother? It was all too weird. But the tests. They were clear. There was no mistake. He was not human. She stopped and faced him. "So what happens now, Brian?"

He smiled sadly, "We go back to how things were and forget about it?"

She gave a sarcastic look but didn't say anything. After a while she asked, "Are you going to try to kill me?"

Brian sat up straight, shocked, "Anna! How could you think that? How could you possibly think I'd harm you?"

She shouted at him, suddenly angry, "Everything's changed. You're some goddamn bloodsucking alien for chrissakes!"

Brian looked at her reprovingly and said softly, "Get a grip Anna. You've been watching too many horror movies. Nothing has changed. I'm still me. I've always been who I am. The ones that I come from don't take life, they give it. I didn't replace anyone and nobody's worse off for me being born."

Anna was still angry. "And what were you going to do to Carmen? Infect her to make another cuckoo baby?"

Brian looked a little peeved at that. "If by 'infect' you mean have children with her, well she and I are not even going out properly yet, but if things did progress then maybe one day she and I might have some children."

"More alien pod people -- more cuckoos."

He groaned. "Oh for heaven's sakes! No Anna, I would raise normal human children. Any more cuckoos I seed should not be close to me."

She was horrified. "You'd go out and make complete strangers have your babies?! That's disgusting."

He continued to speak gently, reasonably, "I wouldn't make anybody do anything. I'd put a lot of work into finding people who really wanted children who would bring the child up well. As for disgusting I'd have thought a lesbian would be a little tolerant of difference."

"Difference?!!" she yelled. "We don't go about impregnating unsuspecting people with our babies. God! That's almost rape!"

He spoke quietly, "Calm down Anna. It's got nothing to do with rape. The most logical people to choose are those who want, but are unable to have babies. It gives them the greatest gift. The seed is planted without them even realising it. The child never gets ill, is unusually intelligent and shy, but in almost all other respects normal."

"Except it's a bloody alien! You can't just go about impregnating people with your goddamn 'seed'." She made quote marks with her fingers in the air. "I can't let you do it Brian."

"What do you mean you can't let me do it?" He looked a little wary.

"I've removed a part of the boat's engine and hidden it. There is no way off the island till I'm satisfied."

He looked glum. "Well that was particularly dumb. I'm surprised at you sis. You normally think things through better than that."

"What do you mean?"

He gave a soft humorless laugh. "There's nothing I can possibly say to convince you. This is an impasse. You'll remain suspicious of me no matter what, and you won't fix the engine while you fear that I could escape the island."

Anna thought about it. He was right. Oh crap! How could she have not seen that?

He spoke softly. "There is one way..." He stood and walked to the door.

"Where are you going?"

"Just down to the beach." He paused, turned and said, "Don't act irrationally. Use that excellent mind of yours. You'll have plenty of time to think it over," then he left and walked through the shade under the palms, down the track toward the beach.

Anna hesitated for a bit, wondering what he meant, then followed at a distance.

He wandered down to the hard sand above the small waves, then turned about slowly, looking at the sea, the trees, and clouds.

Anna stood among the shrubs under the palms at the edge of the beach watching him.

Brian lay down, hands laced behind his head and looked up at the clouds.

Suddenly Anna noticed wisps of smoke rising from him and, shocked, she stood rooted to the spot for a moment, then tore down the beach to him, screaming "Brian! No!" She plunged to her knees by him, frantically heaping sand onto him till she realised there were no flames; he was quietly incinerating to a fine black powder and crumbling away before her eyes. No fuss, low key -- the way he did everything.

---

That was a few days ago. Now she stood, looking out from a 6th floor shop window... looking out at the city below. She'd been so damned stupid. She was ashamed. Of course there had been no other way out. He wouldn't force the issue. Brian was far too passive. She'd left him only one choice. He had somehow, without even making physical contact, passed the 'seed' to her. She wondered how she was going explain her pregnancy to her partner, Donna... and how much should be explained.

The implications weighed heavily upon her.

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