Chrístõ put the old fashioned radio receiver on the desk in front of his students and turned it on. They watched and listened curiously. At first there was nothing but a hissing, static white noise. Then a tune began. The sound quality was nothing like they were used to on their digital players and sound systems. There were distortions and dropouts and strange popping noises that marred it. But they listened all the same to the pop song with a strangely haunting melody that captured their imagination.

He could tell that it had. He could see it in their thoughts. Images of rain and laughter and starfields, the wonderful vastness of the universe and joy of life filled them.

Most of them, anyway. He glanced at the three children the students had labelled ‘the cuckoos’ and knew they were completely untouched by the song or the amazing historical moment that it represented.

The song ended and the white noise resumed. Chrístõ turned off the radio and looked around at the inspired faces. “What was that?” Their eyes asked him.

“That was a message from the past,” he told them. “A radio broadcast beamed out into space by NASA. Who can tell me what NASA is?”

Several hands raised. The cuckoos were among them. They were never short of answers to factual questions.

“Lorcan,” he said, nodding to the boy ‘cuckoo’.

“It is an acronym for North American Space Agency,” he answered. “It was the organisation responsible for most of the earliest space exploration in the 20th century.”

“I think the Russians might say they had a hand in it,” Chrístõ told him. “But otherwise correct. This was one of their more unusual ideas. They sent this message to the stars on Monday, February 4th, 2008. They chose a song that embodied the idea of peace and goodwill among all people’s in all places – Across The Universe by the Beatles. And because radio waves are among the slowest forms of energy drifting through space, it took until now, nearly four hundred years later, for it to be heard here in the Beta Delta system. In the time that signal has been travelling your race developed the means to travel into space much faster than radio waves. You overtook it, established your colonies here. And were sitting waiting for the song to catch up.” He smiled. “You’re an amazing species. All of you. That’s why I wanted you to hear that. Also, it was my mother’s favourite song.”

His students were as surprised by that last comment as they were by what he had told them before that about their own race and its limitless ambition. They knew, of course, that Chrístõ must have had a mother, like anyone else. But they didn’t expect to hear him talk about her in class.

“How did a man who lived before we had space travel write about going across the universe?” Glenda asked. “How did he know?”

“He didn’t,” Chrístõ answered. “He used his imagination. He was a man with a lot of imagination. Humans always do. But he was especially gifted.

Marle Benning looked up from her desk viewscreen. She had looked up the foreign words in the song.

“Jai Guru Deva Om? Praise to the teacher?” Around her the others smiled knowingly and looked at Chrístõ. “You’re our guru.”

He laughed gently. But it wasn’t far from the truth. He was the one who had inspired them. He had helped them become, not just a group of ‘bookworms’ working towards an examination room, but students of life, looking forward to new challenges at every step of their life’s journey.

At least he had with his original fifteen students. The three who joined them just after autumn half term were another matter. They puzzled him, they puzzled the other students. They puzzled the headmaster, which was why he had thought they might benefit from his class.

But a week and a half teaching them had just opened up more questions than answers.

He looked at the three new students. Three siblings, Jennica, Clara, and Lorcan, sat next to each other at their desks. That in itself wasn’t wrong, of course. The Benning twins always sat together. Chrístõ wouldn’t have parted them for anything. But these three seemed to sit together in a way that almost physically separated them from the others. And despite the efforts of the others to make friends with them, to get them to be a part of their class, they seemed resolutely outside of it.

It was young Glenda who had first called them ‘the Cuckoos’. Chrístõ slightly blamed himself for that. He had introduced them to the works of John Wyndham, after all. And the three children with their blonde hair and blue eyes, their alabaster complexions as if they had never been out in the sun, and their strange, quite, aloof manner, certainly did remind him of the Midwich Cuckoos. He had gently chastised the students for using a derogative term for them. But the term stuck in his own mind, too, and he found himself thinking of them as ‘the Cuckoos’ more often than not.

They were Human. He had made certain of that a couple of days ago. He had the whole class do a biology experiment involving the effects of the enzymes in saliva on protein chains. Each of the students had to prepare a solution using their own saliva and water and analyse its effects on the protein – a teaspoon of beef soup – in a Petri dish. After the students had gone home he used the labelled samples in his own experiment. The Cuckoos definitely had Human DNA.

But that only ruled out two possibilities. They weren’t ‘alien’ – in so far as that term could be used on a colony so many light years from Earth. They weren’t very cleverly made artificial lifeforms. They were real children.

It was just that nobody seemed to have told them that.

“Ok,” he said. “Time to do some work, for a change! This is supposed to be English Literature double period before lunch. I’d like a 500 word deconstruction of the symbolism in John Lennon’s Across The Universe. And then, for the second half of the lesson, a creative essay on the theme of “My World.”

They made complaining noises. They were children, and resistance to being asked to work was mandatory. But then they settled down to the task. Soon the only sound in the room was the quiet susurration of styluses on the virtual notebooks on their desks. He gently reached out mentally and noted how they were thinking about the ‘poem’. They saw the juxtaposition of the mundane – paper cup, rain, letter box, with the grandeur of the universe, and how the three stanzas each focussed on a different sensory experience – thought, sight, hearing…

They got it. His Chrysalids were all child geniuses, flying through the curriculum easily, but they also had imagination. The universe opened up in their minds as they worked.

The Cuckoos were having a bit more trouble. He saw the frowns on their faces as they stared at the blank notebook pages in front of them. He stood up from his desk and went to talk to them quietly.

“Jennica?” he said, addressing the eldest. “Are you having trouble with the topic?”

“I don’t understand it, sir,” she answered. She sounded painfully distressed. The other two looked equally unhappy.

“Don’t understand what?” he asked.

“The words. They do not make sense. There is no logic to them. No meaning. They are just words… one after the other. I do not know what to do with them.”

“John Lennon isn’t exactly ‘literature’ in the narrow meaning of the term,” Chrístõ admitted. “But it’s not as bad as that. Have you not done poetry deconstruction before? Have you READ any poetry?”

They understood what a poem was. Their answers to his question told him that much. But they honestly didn’t understand what to do with one when it was in front of them.

“All right,” he told them. “Skip that part of the lesson and have a go at the creative essay. We’ll come back to poetry another time.”

They looked relieved. They set to work at once. Chrístõ went back to his desk and watched them carefully. They worked diligently, filling the virtual pages one after the other, and when the lunch bell rang they sent their essays to his PDA along with the others. He took it with him to read while he ate his meal.

The essays by the ‘Cuckoos’ gave him a lot of food for thought. He showed them to the Head of English, Miss Curtiss, who was sitting next to him. She read them carefully.

“These are perfectly accurate, properly punctuated, descriptions of the flora and fauna and topography of Beta Delta IV,” she said. “If they were geography essays they would be fine. But this was meant to be a creative writing exercise?”

“‘My World’,” Chrístõ confirmed. “The others wrote about their families and pets, their favourite hobbies and holidays – what it was like abseiling down a cliff for the first time, or ice skating in winter, the sun on their faces on a cloudless day in Earth Park. Individual and unique expressions of their personal worlds. These three children… wrote factual essays about the planet they live on.”

“Are you saying they shouldn’t be in your class?” asked the headmaster, overhearing the discussion. “They scored extremely highly in the streaming tests. High enough for the advanced needs group.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Chrístõ answered him. “But it is possible to have a lot of knowledge of facts and statistics, but not have the capacity to use that knowledge.”

“The lantern of knowledge lights the path to Wisdom,” Miss Curtis said.

Chrístõ nodded and remembered a similar axiom written in High Gallifreyan over the entrance to the lecture theatre at the Prydonian Academy.

“Exactly so,” he said. “Perhaps that’s what I have to do for them. Teach them how to light their lantern.”

“I am sorry to see that they’re not yet settling in,” the headmaster added. They all looked towards the table where the ‘Cuckoos’ sat. Chrístõ’s Chrysalids did their best to include them in the lively conversation. They had been wonderfully kind to them, doing their best in every way to bring them into the fold. But the three just ate their food and said almost nothing. “Perhaps they need a little more time. They have had a great deal of trauma in their young lives. Their father died recently. No close relatives could be traced and they were placed into a foster home.”

Chrístõ wondered if he would have treated them any differently if he had known that from the start. But he couldn’t have been kinder to them. And would that have helped anyway? Being constantly reminded of their grief even by people being kind, was not necessarily helpful.

All he could do was carry on trying to break through the walls they had put up for themselves, gently and without frightening them and causing them to withdraw further.

After lunch he had the use of the school gym for a period. His class all changed into their gi ready for their Tai Chi lesson. The ‘Cuckoos’ took longer.

“Jennica and Clara wouldn’t get changed with us,” Gretta told Chrístõ when he asked. Carlo reported that Lorcan was the same. Apparently they had been told they could not undress in front of other children.

“A religious stipulation?” Chrístõ wondered. It didn’t really help their assimilation into the class, setting them apart in that way. But the guidelines from the education department ruled that religious constraints on diet, dress, or social interaction had to be accommodated where it was possible to do so.

He told Laurence to start the class off with their warm up exercises while he waited for them. They would need catch up lessons anyway, of course. They had never done Tai Chi before, while the Chrysalids had been practising since the start of the spring term. Nearly eight months ago, now.

The Cuckoos emerged from their changing rooms and watched without any sign of surprise or interest in the others going through their advanced exercises. They obeyed all of Chrístõ’s instructions, performing the movements correctly. But they didn’t seem to understand about the spiritual side of it, the way Tai Chi should help them to clear and relax their minds and help them reach an emotional balance in their hearts and souls.

“I don’t have a soul,” Jennica told him.

“Yes, you do,” Chrístõ assured her. “Every living being does. And Tai Chi will help you understand yours. You will know who you are.”

“I am Jennica Corr,” she answered.

The wall of logic was so frustrating. It pained him that they were missing out on so much that would help them to heal and move on from the grief they shared. He put his hand on her shoulder, reassuringly, and was startled by her reaction. It was as if she had never been touched by anyone before. He took his hand away, quietly. He would have liked to have tried to reach into her mind, to see what was behind that wall. But he could not do so while she was so reluctant to meet him half way.

The trouble was, that only made him more curious to see what was being held inside.


Later that day he had a clue about the ‘Cuckoos’ from an unexpected source. He was in his room, changing his shirt before supper, when there was a tap at the door. He fastened the buttons and tucked the clean, pressed shirt into his belt and called out. Julia slipped into the room. He was surprised. She didn’t come into his bedroom very often, or he in hers. There was a kind of unspoken rule of what was appropriate. But he smiled warmly at her, anyway.

“Are you ok?” he asked as Humphrey emerged from under the bed to greet her.

“I’m fine,” she answered. She sat on the edge of the bed and watched as he combed his hair. “I wanted to talk to you about…one of your students. One of the new ones… the younger one of the blonde girls.”


“They were still in the shower when I came in to get changed. It was my free period and Miss Crane wanted to take me through the floor exercises for the competition next week. And I suppose they didn’t expect me to be there at all. And the girl… Clara I think her name is... she dropped her towel as she came out of the shower.”

“I’m trying NOT to visualise this,” Chrístõ said. “It isn’t entirely appropriate. Perhaps I shouldn’t be hearing it.”

“I can’t really tell anyone else without it causing trouble. You see, she was really upset. I mean, nearly hysterical. She screamed and ran back into the showers, and her sister ran after her and they didn’t come back out until I’d changed and gone into the gym. And I know why. It’s because she has a weird abnormality. She… has no navel.”

“What?” He was still trying not to visualise any part of this scene. “You’re sure? I mean this must have been a fleeting glimpse at best?” He tried to remember when the girls came back into his class. He had been busy with Marle and Laurence, writing a teacher’s recommendation for their university applications. But he had looked up and nodded to them and they sat down and got on with their maths problems. Perhaps he should have taken more notice. But he hadn’t wanted to draw attention to the fact that their separate showers had made them late for class.

“It was quick, of course. But I couldn’t help noticing. And it is odd, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve never seen anyone like that before.”

“How many naked people have you seen?”

“I'm a gymnast,” she pointed out. “I spend a lot of time in communal showers. I know what people are supposed to look like. And they shouldn’t look like that.”

“It’s impossible,” Chrístõ admitted. “For a Human being. For any humanoid race apart from a few that give birth to eggs. Any live birth involves an umbilical cord and a scar where it breaks off. No Human being is born without one.

“I’m not mistaken, Chrístõ,” Julia insisted. “I wouldn’t waste your time if I wasn’t sure. But they’re so odd, and I thought maybe, if it’s just something freaky about their bodies that upsets them, then that’s not so terrible, really. And I thought if you knew, you could help.”

“Does the whole school think that they’re ‘odd’?” Chrístõ asked.

“Yes,” Julia answered. “A lot of people laugh about them and call them names.”

“That’s not good. Try not to do that, if you can. Don’t join in with the gossip and the names, or the jokes. Do that for me, won’t you?”

“Of course, I will. I was thinking about the Wild Flowers… remember them, and the way they were made to feel worthless on their world. And they weren’t. And you proved that. You’ll find a way to help the ‘Cuckoos’ too.”

“I’ll try,” he promised. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

“I’d better get out of here before Cordell or Michal find out and make a fuss. Boys!” He laughed and watched her go, thinking about what she had told him. He wasn’t sure whether it explained anything or just added one more question to the list he already wanted answering.

“It’s Friday,” he told himself. “I don’t have to worry about them again until Monday.

Except he did worry. And he decided he couldn’t wait for Monday. The next morning after breakfast he asked Julia to come with him for a drive. She was happy to do so. Any chance to spend time with him was treasured. She didn’t even mind when he told her he was going to visit the ‘Cuckoos’ at their foster home.


“The children are in their rooms,” said Mrs Richards, the foster parent as she showed them both into her living room and offered them tea. “It’s not natural at all. Today is a beautiful day. They should be in the park or up the town with other children. Sitting in their rooms doing homework… You surely didn’t set them so much that it would keep them indoors on a weekend?”

“I did not,” Chrístõ assured her. “So you have also noticed unusual behaviour from them?”

“I’ve never seen children like them. So withdrawn. They hardly speak except to each other. They seem devoid of emotion. Hardly what I expect after they lost their father. I’ve looked after children of all ages who’ve had terrible tragedies. These three don’t cry. They don’t grieve in any normal way. That I know how to handle. A hug, reassurance. But… I don’t think they even know what a hug is. I really don’t. And they certainly don’t want one from me.” She sighed. “I know what you’re going to say. They’re not fitting in at school. I don’t think they’re ready for it. But there’s nothing else for it. They need to be educated.”

“There is nothing wrong with their work, of course. But they are so insular. How did their father die? Do you know?”

“A traffic accident,” Mrs Richards said. “Killed instantly. The strange thing is, nobody even knew he had children. It was about a week later that somebody reported seeing their faces at the window and the police went around. They were in the house all alone.”

“The neighbours didn’t know about them?”

“They were never seen. He taught them at home. But nobody seemed to have ever seen them outside the house, not even in the garden. And the authorities found no trace of their birth certificates. It seems as if they were never officially known in any way.”

“That’s…” Chrístõ was lost for words. How could anyone live that way? “What about their mother?”

“I understand that she died when they were young,” Mrs Richards explained. “There is a death certificate for his wife… Jacinta Corr… She was rather famous in her younger days. She was a dancer…”

“Oh!” Julia had been quiet through the conversation. She, too, was having trouble imagining what it must have been like for the three children, growing up without knowing any other people but their father. But now she looked up in excitement. “Jacinta Corr? She was one of the most beautiful ballet dancers EVER. She died in childbirth, I think. Oh… that means… Clara is the youngest. Her mother must have died when she was born.”

“He must have been so grief-stricken by the death of his wife, he kept the children close to him?” Chrístõ tried to piece it together. “It explains a lot. Except how either of us can help them.”

“We should try not to give up on them, Mr De Leon,” said Mrs Richards. “I don’t know how long you’ve been a teacher. You barely look old enough to have left school. But I’ve been a foster parent for twenty-five years. And I don’t give up on any child.”

“Neither do I,” he promised. “Can you tell me one more thing? Where did they live when their father was alive?”


“We’re going to the house?” Julia asked as Chrístõ programmed the satnav system to direct him to the address.


“Ok,” she said as she opened her mini-computer. Chrístõ glanced at the webpage she had found while the car was stopped at a traffic light. It was about Jacinta Corr. She scrolled through the biography. “Chrístõ, this is odd. I looked it up because I wasn’t sure. But it says here, Jacinta died 18 years ago. But Clara is my age. And Jennica is only 16. How can that be?”

“That’s not a mistake? Cross check with other websites?”

Julia did so. There was no mistake.

“It’s getting weird again.”

“Very weird,” Chrístõ agreed. “Something is going on. Something that might be illegal. But I intend to get to the bottom of it. Even if I have to do something a bit illegal myself.”

The Corr house was a substantial one, set back from the road behind a high fence and a locked gate. Chrístõ used his sonic screwdriver to override it and drove up to the house itself.

“You should stay in the car,” he told Julia as she followed him to the door. “So far it’s just trespass. But from here on it’s breaking and entering.”

“We’re investigating,” she answered. “Both of us. Anyway, you’ve got psychic paper. Won’t it tell anyone who turns up that you’re ok to be here?”

“I hope so,” he answered. “Sometimes it can be silly. It introduced me as the King of Belgium once at a diplomatic function.”

Julia laughed. He was glad of her company, if truth be told, as they entered the sad, silent house. It was a beautiful place, tastefully decorated and with fine furniture. It had been left as it was. Nothing had been touched. They wandered through the downstairs rooms, drawing room, study, kitchen, dining room. It was all clean and neat. The surfaces were anti-dust treated and there were particle vents, so it all looked pristine, still.

“He must have been rich,” Julia commented as they headed upstairs.

“He was a scientist, apparently. Must have been a successful one.”

They found the bedrooms where the children had slept and the schoolroom where they worked. It was very neat and tidy, with three desks. There were computer screens with virtual keyboards set into them. Julia sat at one desk and turned it on. She read the timetable and looked at some of the work they had done.

“The science and maths are all way too advanced for me. But there are huge gaps here. There’s no art or music, or any kind of PE lesson. They don’t even dance. Their mother was a wonderful dancer, but they don’t. That’s very sad.”

“Perhaps the dancing reminded him too much of her? Or… or he didn’t know how to teach them those things. He’s a scientist. They learnt what he thought was important. He didn’t think about things that stretched their imagination. That’s why they find poetry so mystifying. But there’s still more to the puzzle than this room tell us. Let’s look elsewhere.”

They found the master bedroom, where the father had slept. It was a shrine to his late wife. There were pictures of her everywhere. A huge one of her in what Julia identified as a Sleeping Beauty costume on the wall above the headboard, and framed pictures on the dresser. Chrístõ picked up what looked like a TV remote control, except there was no TV in the room. He pressed a button and jumped back in surprise as a life sized hologram appeared in front of him. It was Jacinta in that same costume, dancing beautifully. Julia sighed with pleasure. Her feet were moving of their own accord with the hologram. She was sorry when the dance came to an end and the hologram disappeared.

Chrístõ pressed another button and Jacinta appeared again, sitting on the bed in a black evening dress, brushing her hair. This time she spoke, chatting to ‘Charles’ about what a nice anniversary dinner it had been. Then she seemed to look straight at him and asked a question.

“Are you happy, my love?”

It was a simple programme, intended to react to certain answers.

“Yes,” Chrístõ answered.

“So am I. Let’s go to bed.”

Chrístõ pressed another button very quickly. Julia giggled at his embarrassment. This time Jacinta was in a long silk nightdress and dressing gown.

“Are you happy, my love?” she asked again.

“No,” Chrístõ answered. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, Charles,” she said in a sad, forlorn voice. “I love you.”

“I love you, Jacinta,” he answered. “And our children.”

The hologram shimmered. The statement didn’t seem to have a programmed response. He turned it off and left the remote on the bed.

“It’s all been designed to satisfy his fantasy that she’s alive. But she wasn’t a mother in that sequence. The children aren’t a part of the fantasy.”

“Sad man. She’s so beautiful. He must miss her a lot.”

“Yes.” Chrístõ looked at Julia. One day she was going to be his beautiful, talented, wife, a former dancer and gymnast, ready to give it all up to be mother to his children. And in the far future he would have to face losing her as Charles Corr lost his Jacinta. Would he become as desperately sad that he would resort to hologram memories?

No, he told himself. He would remember her fondly. But he would never let himself get lost in the grief. And not at the expense of his own children.

“This still isn’t the full story,” Chrístõ said. “There’s still another secret in this house. I wonder…”

He turned away from the sad bedroom and went downstairs again. He looked around the ground floor, working out the layout of the building.

“It’s got a cellar – a basement level. I saw a window at ground level on the outside. There must be an entrance.” He took out his sonic screwdriver and analysed the floor. “There’s a large space beneath. Far more than a damp coursing crawl space. There’s a room there.”

He looked at all the rooms, then went into the study. There was a bookcase there with leather bound books nearly arranged. He began to examine it carefully, tapping and pressing.

“Oh, no!” Julia groaned. “Not a secret passage behind the bookcase. It’s so Famous Five!” Chrístõ looked at her quizzically. “It’s a set of stories from 20th century Earth, about four children and a dog who can’t take a simple holiday without finding secret passages and smugglers, treasure, that sort of thing.”

“I know. I’ve heard of them. But when did you read them?”

“The ship had a library. And hiding from the vampires in a cupboard, gets a bit boring. I read everything in the kids section.”

“Oh. I see. Anyway, If we’re doing 20th century culture, I was thinking of Scooby Do. But secret passages aren’t always silly. In the 16th and 17th centuries on Earth, priest holes saved many a life. And in the 20th, the places people hid from the Nazis were amazing. Secret attics or cellars. Usually the clue was a room that was smaller than it should be, like this one. There’s a space the width of a staircase behind there.”

“Yes, but this is 24th century Beta Delta IV,” Julia pointed out. “And what secret could be in this house?”

“One Charles Corr didn’t dare let anyone know about,” Chrístõ answered. “Something so very illegal he would have gone to prison for trying.”

“What?” Julia asked. But Chrístõ was too busy trying to find the secret entrance he was sure was behind the bookcase. He gave a triumphant cry as he pressed an indentation in the wood and a small panel slid open.

“Alphabetic code,” he noted as he looked at the keypad inside. “Seven letter display.”

“Jacinta,” Julia suggested. “This is a man with no imagination and a major obsession.”

“Good guess,” Chrístõ answered as he typed it in. He jumped back as the bookcase slid inwards and sideways to reveal a staircase, just as he predicted. “We make a good team! Just the two of us, and no need for a dog!”

They walked down the stairs carefully, by the light of the sonic screwdriver’s penlight and came to an ordinary door. It opened into what was obviously a laboratory as Chrístõ found a lightswitch and illuminated the scene.

“I read Frankenstein when we studied the Gothic Novel,” Julia said. “I didn’t fancy Dracula.”

Chrístõ could perfectly well see the analogy. Though what went on here was several steps along the scientific evolutionary line from Baron Frankenstein’s work. He looked at the equipment set up in one part of the room. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

“What is that?” Julia asked.

“A cloning tank,” Chrístõ replied. “I thought of it last night, but I dismissed the possibility as too absurd. I was wrong. This is the one way that a Human can be born without an umbilical cord.”

“But it’s illegal, isn’t it?” Julia answered.

“Very illegal. Cloning is banned in every colony of the Earth Federation. And just about every Humanoid society I know of. Including Gallifrey. The Time Lords ruled against it 100,000 years ago.”

“But Charles Corr did it? Clara was born in… that tank?”

“All three of them were. He must have been so grief-stricken when he lost his wife and child. He used some of her DNA to produce embryos. Or perhaps…” He turned from the cloning tank and looked around at the other equipment in the room. “Oh, dear!”

He crossed the floor and examined another piece of equipment.

“I saw one of these on a film in science class,” Julia said. “It’s a cryogenic freezer. They said that in a few years they’ll be able to freeze people, just like in a deep sleep, while they travel to the colonies. They will need much smaller ships and they will be able to go faster, without the weight of all the food and other supplies that the colony ships need.”

“They’re going to take at least another century before the idea is commercially viable,” Chrístõ told them. “But yes, they’re on the right track. So was Charles Corr. This is still active. But what….”

There were two chambers in use, he noted. He pressed the keypad that opened up the first one. He heard Julia gasp as she saw the sad contents.

“Triplets,” Chrístõ said as he looked at the three dead foetuses. “About six months gestation. Born too soon. But there must have been severe problems. Babies have been saved even more premature than that.”

“She died in childbirth…”

“Yes.” Chrístõ looked around and shuddered as he realised that Jacinta Corr must have died in this room, in that painful labour. Charles Corr had kept the dead babies in the cryo-store. He looked at them again. Two girls and a boy. He had used DNA from each of them to create the clones he had grown in the same room. He had only been able to grow one at a time. They weren’t triplets. They were born separately. But they were duplicates of the children he had lost.

“What about the other chamber?”

“I hardly dare,” Chrístõ answered. “I think I know…” He closed the compartment with those sad remains. Later, though, he thought, he ought to see about getting them properly buried or cremated, as they should have been. The body in the other chamber, too, he thought as he released the seal and opened it.

“Oh,” Julia whispered as they both looked at the frozen body of Jacinta Corr. “She is so beautiful. Like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. “But it would take far more than a prince charming to wake her, I'm sorry to say.”

“You’re a prince,” Julia reminded him. “My prince charming.”

Chrístõ smiled at her fanciful idea. But his hearts were aching. He had known there was a secret here. He had suspected the cloning. But this was worse. What kind of madness had this man fallen into? His dead wife and children frozen in the basement, his cloned babies growing up within the walls of this house while he watched a hologram tell him she loved him. How much worse could it get?

“Chrístõ, what’s that noise?” Julia asked. He looked at the LED panel on the cryo-unit and realised that it could be worse.

“This cryo-unit is one of the ones you saw in your school lesson. It is asking if I want to begin resuscitation. Oh, sweet mother of chaos. She’s not DEAD.”

“No,” Julia protested. “She died. It said so.”

“He said she was dead. He might even have forged a death certificate.” He looked around again. There was no life-saving equipment. No defibrillator or even a heat blanket. “Run upstairs and get the duvet from the bed. It’s the best we can do.”

The cryogenic process took only minutes either way. The least distress to the body. He had that long to prepare to save her life. He had a moment of uncertainty when he wondered if he could. If she died at his hands, he was as much to blame as Charles Corr who had put her in there. His inner voice taunted him with the knowledge that he had never actually passed those medical examinations. He wasn’t actually a doctor.

“Oh, yes I am,” he answered his inner voice resolutely. “I don’t need a piece of paper. I’m a doctor. And this woman is going to live.”

He lifted her out of the cryo-unit as soon as it was safe to do so. Julia spread the soft thermal duvet on the floor and he laid the cold body of Jacinta Corr down on it. He knelt over her and began to massage her heart with his hands. He compressed her chest firmly and expertly then bent to breathe air into her blue lips. He repeated the process again and again as Julia watched, biting her lip in anticipation of him giving up in despair. She looked dead. There was no spark of life in her.

But Chrístõ WAS the prince charming. Li Tuo had once teased her about it, calling him that. But she really did believe that his kiss could wake the sleeping beauty after all.

“Yes!” he cried as he felt her heart beat on its own and her chest expand as she drew in a long breath. “Yes, that’s it. Welcome home, Jacinta. Welcome back to the world.”

She was breathing. Her heart was beating. But she was still unconscious. Chrístõ wrapped her in the duvet and carried her upstairs. Julia called an ambulance as he sat on the floor in the hallway and waited. He passed his hand across her face, feeling her flesh warm and alive at last. He touched her forehead and felt her thoughts. The last she had before she slept. And the last piece of the puzzle fell together.

“She had the babies too soon, but she recovered from it. It was months later. He wanted to start again. She was frightened of another failure. They argued about it. Then he… he drugged her. She fell asleep. He froze her in the same chamber he had placed his dead little ones. She was still his wife. He loved her. But he wanted babies. He was so desperate. He wouldn’t even let her stand in his way.”

“How horrible,” Julia said. “But she’s alive. She’s going to be ok?”

“Somebody will have to tell her that he’s dead. That 18 years have passed, and that she is the biological mother of three children.” Chrístõ sighed. “It will probably be me, of course. This can’t be made official.”

At the hospital he said that he had found her unconscious in her bath and revived her with CPR. He said he was a family friend who reached her in time. After she was settled in a hospital bed he called Mrs Richards and told her to bring the children. He explained to her that Jacinta was not dead at all, and after a nasty accident she was in the hospital recovering.

He told Jacinta the truth, little by little. It was a lot for her to take in. She cried a lot. She cried out of grief for a husband she still loved, even after she heard what he had done. She cried to be told about the three children with the DNA of the triplets who had died.

“They’re here?” she asked.

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. “If you’re ready to see them?”

“Help me brush my hair and look right,” she said. Julia gladly did that for her. Then she told Chrístõ she was ready. He went to the door and told the ‘cuckoo’ children to come in.

He had a hard time holding back his own tears. He was glad of Julia’s hand in his as he watched the mother and children reach out to each other. The children who hardly knew what a hug was, who showed no emotion, burst into tears as Jacinta reached out to embrace them one by one.

“There needs to be a lot of healing,” Mrs Richards observed.

“They’ll heal each other,” Chrístõ said.

There were some things they needed help with. Over the next few days Chrístõ saw to some of them. He personally disposed of the illegal cloning equipment, so the secret of what had happened there would never be known. He arranged for a quiet, dignified funeral for the three dead babies and the dismantling of the cryogenic unit. He cleared the basement laboratory and cleared the programming of the hologram projector. Then he closed up the house with so many sad memories for them all and arranged for it to be sold, while Jacinta and her children moved into a nice rented house in a different part of town, where nobody knew anything about them and thought nothing except that a beautiful lady and her lovely children had come to live among them.

And when the ‘cuckoos’ came back to his class, Chrístõ found them a lot easier to teach. They were a lot less locked into their own world. They responded to the kind gestures of his other students and were on their way to being friends with them.

He set a creative writing task entitled “Mother” and when Clara actually wrote a poem about blue eyes and soft hair, and a gentle voice that spoke in a voice that was like a song, he knew that the healing was done.