Shona hadn’t really had a good night’s sleep for months now. Since the baby first started to change her body shape and affect her posture, everything had changed, including sleeping. At thirty-nine weeks, her stomach was as fully extended as she expected it to get and if she slept solidly for an hour without back spasms or the urgent need to pee it was a good night.
She was tired. Physically tired and emotionally tired. She was tired of being pregnant, of being treated like an invalid because of the pregnancy. She was tired of complete strangers saying things like ‘not long now’ and smiling blandly as they told her she would love being a mother.
She was pretty much convinced that she wouldn’t. She hadn’t want to be pregnant in the first place. It was a mistake, an accident that shouldn’t have happened. If it had been up to her, she would have had the abortion. The child itself had stopped her. It had made her to go through with the pregnancy. Every time she so much as thought about getting rid of it, in the weeks when that was still a possibility, she was filled with revulsion at the idea and a fierce desire to protect the growing foetus. But it wasn’t her. It was the child putting those ideas in her head, manipulating her.
She resented that manipulation. She fought against it all the way, resisting any kind of maternal feelings about the child. Darius had been a bloody nuisance for months, always wanting to touch her, to feel the baby kicking. He had enough maternal feelings for them both. He was looking forward to the birth, although he had stopped saying so in her presence.
In strictly no-nonsense, non-sentimental way, she loved the blood sucker. There was no denying that. But she had no illusions that the baby was going to bring them together in any special way. They still weren’t going to be a couple. They weren’t going to be a little family, mother, vampire and vampire baby.
Owen Harper assured her that the baby was Human. He had done an amniocentesis as well as a few advanced tests using Torchwood technology that didn’t even have official names. He said that she had a normal Human heart and all her other organs were fully functioning. She was developing normally. The birth should, barring unforeseen problems, be normal.
Shona was having a normal baby as far as Owen could tell. But Darius was less certain. He was convinced the baby would be a vampire, like him. He fretted over that so much that she had threatened to smash his face in several times. It was driving her nuts.
Because despite Doctor Harper’s assurances, the possibility that the baby would be something other than Human haunted her, too. Even though she had seen the most advanced ultrasound scans possible, with three dimensional images of a healthy baby, she had nightmares about giving birth to something grey with an inhuman, leathery face, a mouth full of deadly fangs and a bloodlust to satisfy. She hadn’t shared her fear with anyone, least of all Darius. It was starting to be a subject that she didn’t want to talk about with anyone.
She wasn’t looking forward to the birth. She just wanted it over with. It couldn’t come fast enough. This last week before the induction that Owen had planned in order to make sure it happened in as closely controlled circumstances as possible was dragging interminably.
She wanted it over.
She had few maternal instincts. But she had plenty of soldier’s instincts. When she heard the slight sound that told her somebody was in her flat she was alert immediately. She reached for her gun and made sure it was loaded then she moved quietly. The bedroom was dark, but she knew where all the furniture was. She didn’t bump into anything or trip on the rug as a civilian might do. She didn’t panic. She calmly and slowly opened the door to the landing.
When somebody grabbed her from behind, somebody who hadn’t been in the room moments before, she didn’t scream. She simply did what she had been taught to do even before she joined the army. Her uncle Alasdair had made sure she knew how to look after herself when she was a teenager. He was an old fashioned soldier. He didn’t bother with karate or aikido, kick boxing or any of that kind of thing. He cut to the chase and showed her how to deal with a man who thought grabbing her around the neck from behind made her defenceless.
So she simply swung her elbow back into his solar plexus, kicked his left shin, brought her other arm up to break his nose and then down to smash his groin. The combination of vulnerable contact points on a male body were enough to leave most assailants grovelling at her feet. It had worked time and again. It was why she had absolutely no fear about jogging in Glasgow city centre at dawn.
This assailant wasn’t grovelling. It had only been partially successful. He relaxed his grip on her long enough for her to pull away.
If he had been an ordinary Human, it would have been all right. But as she spun around to face him she saw the features of a vampire. Even in the dark she could make out a grey complexion and the red eyes and bared fangs of the Undead in full rage. She raised her gun and shot him twice in the head, but that didn’t stop a vampire. It just messed up his hair. He brought his arm up and she felt the sharp agony as the knife in his hand sliced into her stomach. She suppressed a groan as she fought back, wresting the knife from his hand and then turning it, stabbing at his heart. That was the way to kill a vampire. It didn’t have to be a wooden stake. That was just mythology. Any wound to the heart killed them, even though a vampire heart didn’t actually beat. It was the centre of their Undead lifeforce, still.
To be completely certain, you had to decapitate them as well. The knife blade was too short to do that, but she had a good try. When the body finally fell to the floor the head lolled back, partially severed. She dropped the knife and clutched her stomach as she stumbled back to the bed and reached for the phone.
Darius was climbing the walls in agitation as he waited in the Hub. Owen had contacted him as soon as he got Shona’s desperate call, but had refused to let him go with him. He had taken Dougal, because, as an ex-soldier, he had first aid training and could assist if necessary, and he would be calm and professional. Darius was anything but that right now.
“It’ll be all right,” Toshiko assured him. She and Munroe were both there already, despite the early hour of the day. Etsuko was asleep on the sofa, Genkei was in his cot. Sandy McCoy was making coffee. He had been keeping Dougal company on the overnight shift when the emergency began. He and Munroe had prepared the medical room. Now they were waiting like everyone else.
“They’re here,” Toshiko said, glancing at the CCTV camera overlooking the car park. The Ford Escape halted by the back entrance to Torchwood Two as Munroe emerged with a stretcher trolley. Dougal lifted Shona from the car and laid her down on it. He stayed by her side as she was rushed in through the door and down the lift to the Hub. Owen was checking her vital signs as he ran beside the trolley. His expression was grim.
“Darius, get the fuck out of the way,” he snapped. “There’s nothing you can do right now.”
“I have to be with her,” he protested. “The child... is she...”
“Dougal, fucking well restrain him until I’ve stabilised the patient,” Owen demanded. “Munroe, you can assist me.”
Dougal put himself between Darius and the medical room door. Darius bared his teeth and snarled angrily, but he stood his ground. Darius slumped unhappily, his fangs retracting and his face returning to normal. Dougal embraced him reassuringly.
“She’s still alive,” he told him. “So is the baby. If they made it this far, they’ve got a fighting chance.”
“They have to survive,” Darius said in a choked voice. “The child... she means so much to me. But if I lose Shona...”
“Owen is doing his best,” Dougal assured him. “They’re both in his hands. And that’s the safest place I know. Come on, my friend. Bear up. You can’t do anything in there right now. But you can help find out why it happened.”
“You mean... it wasn’t a burglar?” Toshiko asked. “I thought... what else could it be in the middle of the night?”
“It was a vampire,” Dougal replied. “There was dust on the bedroom floor. And she told us. In the car, Owen wanted to sedate her, but she wouldn’t let him until she’d told us everything.”
“A vampire?” Darius’s pale face turned ashen. “An Undead... No. Oh no.”
“That doesn’t surprise you, does it?” Dougal asked him. “Shock, yes. But surprise... You knew that vampires might attack Shona?”
Darius sat down at his workstation. Dougal pulled up a chair and sat beside him. He watched him open an email from his inbox. There was an image at the top of the message. It was a knife blade with an inverse cross etched onto the metal.
The message was short and to the point.
“Death to the spawn of the light.”
“Darius,” Toshiko put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“This is vampire business,” he answered. “We do not involve humans in our affairs. It is better for the humans, and for the vampires.”
“That might be true generally,” Dougal pointed out. “But not when a vampire has attacked Shona. They’ve crossed the line. Not only have they hurt a Human, but a Human who is one of us... one of Torchwood... and a friend.”
“Friend? She calls you a fucking queer,” Darius told him.
“She calls you a fucking bloodsucker,” Dougal countered. “But that’s beside the point. Because... look...”
He reached into his pocket for a Torchwood evidence bag. Inside it was a small dagger. There was blood on the blade.
There was an inverse cross etched into the metal.
“So tell us what this is all about, and we’ll help you deal with it.”
Munroe appeared at the inner door. Darius stood and looked at him.
“Owen says you can come and talk to her for five minutes,” he said.
Darius crossed the floor so fast he might have used his vampire powers to do so. He followed Munroe to the medical room. Shona was lying on a bed, dressed in a paper gown. She was awake, but obviously sedated. Her eyes had trouble focussing on him as he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
“The baby is safe,” Owen said. “She shouldn’t be. The knife went through the womb lining and into her back. But the wound repaired itself. So did the damage to the womb. This is something the children of vampires can do?”
“I don’t know,” Darius replied. “A living child born of an Undead is rare. I do not know. I hoped... that she would be a normal child. If she has the power to repair herself... even in the womb... that disturbs me. I did not want her to be like me.”
“Well, she’s alive and so is Shona because of it. She’s in labour... brought on by the shock. But it’s an ordinary first time labour, still in the first stages. It will be hours yet.”
Darius gripped Shona’s hand emotionally. She pulled it away.
“You heard what he said,” she told him. “It’ll be hours. The last thing I need is you doing the fucking dutiful husband routine the whole time. I don’t need anyone holding my hand.”
“I want to help you,” he said.
“You can help me, and our child... by getting out there while it’s still three hours to dawn... and rounding up those fucking bastards responsible.”
“Shona...” Darius began.
“Do it,” she ordered him. “If you want to play vampire dad, then you make this city safe for her before she’s born.”
“I’ll do that,” Darius promised. “Just... be safe. Both of you.”
“I am fucking safe. I’m not combat wounded. I’m just having a baby. If a civilian like Toshiko can do it twice, I can bloody well manage it.”
Darius risked her wrath by kissing her again then he turned away leaving Shona to Owen and Munroe’s care. He went back to his workstation and closed the still open file. Then he turned to Dougal.
“I’ll explain it to you on the way,” he said. “Everyone else... just... I don’t need anyone else involved. This is hard for me. Don’t make it harder.”
Dougal walked with him to the garage. It was just gone five o’clock. Dawn was at eight-sixteen on this January morning as far north as Glasgow. Depending on how long this took, it could be daylight before they got back. Dougal made sure there was a thick black plastic body bag folded up on the back seat. If necessary, Darius could hunker down in it for the journey back to the Hub. It was scarcely dignified, but it was better than first degree burns all over his body.
“I get that you’re going up against vampires,” Dougal said to his Undead colleague as he drove through the relatively quiet early morning Glasgow streets passing nothing more than a few street cleaners and one or two of the hardier down and outs who refused to go to the night shelters even in the coldest winter weather. “But you’ve done that before. It’s what you do... you kill vampires who kill humans. You don’t take pleasure from it, any more than I ever took pleasure in firing on Iraqi insurgents. It’s a necessary thing. But this... is different. It’s worrying you.”
“Those Iraqi insurgents are your clear enemy,” Darius said. “But what if there was civil war in this country... what if the enemy could be your next door neighbour who chose to go against the government you were oath-bound to serve?”
“There’s a civil war in the vampire community?”
“There is a schism. And it has been caused by... well... by me, I am sorry to say.”
Dougal didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what he could say.
“I didn’t exactly brag about it,” Darius continued. “But word got around... about Shona... a Human impregnated by a Vampire. It is big news. And... some vampires welcome the news. They see our child as... as a beacon of hope, of reconciliation between the living and the Undead... as...”
“Sounds like they’re expecting a Vampire Messiah,” Dougal noted dryly.
“Not quite so dramatic, but along those lines. And... the thing about Messiahs... they have enemies even before they’re born. Some vampires... they think I’ve betrayed them. Sex with humans is acceptable... for recreation... for companionship... for a regular supply of blood given voluntarily. But procreation... there is a large faction that thinks I’ve gone too far.”
“And they are responsible for the attack on Shona.”
“No.” Darius shook his head. “Six months ago, they would have gladly given us an escort to the abortion clinic. But once it was clear the child was going to be born... They mutter darkly. They turn their backs on me. There are some parts of the city I’m not welcome in any more... some clubs where I wouldn’t be served luke-warm water even if I begged. But they abhor killing as much as I do, as much as most Vampires do.”
“It’s the hard core. There are a dozen of them, I think. Maybe more. They’re led by a very old Vampire called Gabriel.”
“Gabriel?” Dougal was surprised. “A biblical name for a Vampire?”
“I’ve heard tell he was born in the fourteenth century. They didn’t have a lot of imagination when it came to christenings, back then. Everyone had biblical names. For the record, I was named for a fourth century Christian martyr. We were all born into the light even those of us who turned to the dark.”
“But this Gabriel...”
“It’s hard to separate fact from legend. As I heard it, he was always a hard man. In the dark times, when women were burnt at the stake just for knowing a bit of midwifery and our sort were hunted down ruthlessly throughout Europe, he went on the offensive and hunted the vampire hunters. He killed humans who would harm our kind. That ruthless reputation stayed with him down the centuries, though he probably hasn’t been active since before I was turned. It was enough to gather followers and admirers around him. The inverse cross comes from a story told about him... in the fifteenth century a priest from Dundee caught him and tried to crucify him upside down... because he didn’t deserve to die like Christ. Somehow or other he escped and took the symbol for himself. It added to his mystique. I... am never sure whether most of the stuff about him is bullshit or if he really is everything they say.”
Dougal glanced at his friend as he waited for the traffic lights ahead to change.
“You admire him?”
“He’s probably the oldest vampire in Europe. He’s the oldest I know... or any of my community know of. Admire... not so much. I think he revels too much in his legends. But I have to owe a certain respect. Which is why....”
As the Ford Escape crossed the junction, Darius indicated a turn, then another before telling him to stop. They were in the Pollockshaws district of Glasgow, on Queens Drive, opposite Queens Park.
“Seems an appropriate place for me,” Dougal remarked. “But I never knew it was a vampire hangout. Is this where Gabriel...”
“No. Before I go after him and his gang, I need to see somebody else, first.” Darius looked up at one of the four storey Georgian town houses that lined the drive. Few of them were privately owned these days. They were hotels and clubs or the offices of architects, stockbrokers, solicitors and dentists. A few were divided into apartments where the architects, stockbrokers, solicitors or dentists might live if they were single or without children.
But there was one house at least that didn’t have the telltale row of numbered doorbells or polished brass nameplates beside the elegant Georgian door at the top of a wide set of steps. And it was the only house where lights burned in the bay-windowed drawing room at five-thirty in the morning.
Darius knocked and waited. The door was opened presently by a pale-faced man in a butler’s livery. When he recognised his visitor, his eyes glowed red with controlled contempt.
“You’re not welcome here, Petkus,” the man said, giving voice to that contempt.
“I know that, Lachlan,” Darius replied. “Nevertheless I need to see Lady Moira.” Lachlan tried to close the door, but Darius pushed it and him back firmly and stepped into the dimly lit hallway. Dougal followed him, a little nervously. A vampire butler had answered the door. What kind of master did he serve?
In fact, Lachlan the vampire butler served a mistress. She was a Vampire, too. She looked about fifty years old in Human terms, but obviously that was meaningless. She was elegantly dressed in an evening gown of maroon satin with pearl necklace and earrings. Her make up was impeccable. Dougal thought she looked like a grand dame of the theatre world, somebody like Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, holding court on a wide sofa with silk cushions all around her. She had a wine glass in her hand. Dougal wondered if the red liquid in it was actually derived from a grape.
“It is blood mixed with a little chilled spring water, since you’re wondering,” the lady said to Dougal. “You... are not one of us. But you are not fully Human, either. There is something different about you.” She sounded as if she was interested in finding out just WHAT was interesting about him. But Darius’s presence in her elegant drawing room took precedence. Her voice when she spoke to him was colder.
“You were told not to come here,” she said to him. “You know why. Give me one good reason not to have Lachlan lock you in the pretty little room upstairs that the Georgian architect of this house called a ‘solar’.”
“Lady Moira,” Darius said, bowing his head respectfully. “I would not have intruded upon you at this time, or any other time. But... Gabriel... He has overstepped the line.”
“Overstepped it how?” Lady Moira asked. She waved away her butler – for now.
Dougal held up the evidence bag with the knife in it. Lady Moira took it from him and examined it carefully. The fact that there was blood on it did not escape her notice.
“One of his followers tried to kill the child... and her mother.”
“Tried?” Lady Moira was concerned. “They are alive?”
“They are. The one who attacked them is dead. But it is clear to me. This was not an isolated incident. They will not be safe while Gabriel....”
“Blood has been taken,” Lady Moira said. “Innocent blood. I cannot stand in your way.”
“I am sorry,” Darius said.
“You don’t know the meaning of sorry, Petkus,” the Lady snapped back at him. Her eyes glowed momentarily. But Dougal thought there was grief rather than anger in her expression. She gave the knife back to him as she turned to address her butler.
“Lachlan, rouse Kyle from the kitchen and tell him to have my car brought round.”
“Madam?” Lachlan’s single word had a loaded question in it. She glared at him as if she had no intention of repeating her order. “Yes, madam,” he added dutifully. He left the room. Lady Moira stood and walked to the hallway. She stopped there and waited for Lachlan to return. He opened a cupboard and brought out a fur lined coat and hat which he helped her into then opened the front door again.
“When I return...” she said to the butler. “When I return...” This time she seemed to have trouble with her instruction.
“I will have the shutters closed and your bed prepared as usual,” he said. “Goodnight, my Lady.”
“Goodnight, Lachlan,” she said and walked down the steps with her head held high, never looking at her feet, but in no danger of tripping or falling. At the kerb, her car waited.
Dougal did a double take. The car was a hearse - a long, streamlined, American style limousine hearse with four doors and an enclosed section for the coffin.
“She doesn’t...” he whispered. Darius shook his head and went to take her arm as the chauffer opened the door to the back seat. He helped her into the car and then sat beside her. He was an aristocrat before he was a vampire. He sat in the back seat of limousines. Dougal wondered if he was expected to follow in the Ford Escape, but the chauffer indicated that he was to ride in the front passenger seat.
“It is illegal to have windows THIS darkly tinted, you know,” he pointed out. They were so dark he only had a very vague idea where they were going. The driver, who seemed to be Human, looked at his satnav regularly. But that didn’t account for unexpected pedestrians or other road users.
“The local police know not to ask questions about my car,” Lady Moira said, as if that settled the question. Dougal recalled somebody once telling him, it might have been in the Officer’s Mess, that the word privilege derived from ‘private law’. In Lady Moira’s case, it might have been true. It certainly seemed as if her word was law in the Vampire world. Darius had gone to her before he sought out the one who had tried to kill Shona and the baby, as if he needed her permission to seek justice for them.
“There is much that you do not know, young man,” Lady Moira said to him. “Much that you are not meant to know. Petkus trusts you, or you would have remained in my butler’s company.”
Dougal decided not to say anything. He did his best not to think anything, either, for the next eight minutes. When the car stopped and the chauffer went to open the passenger door for Darius he got out and looked around. To his surprise he recognised where he was – the junction of Caledonia Road and Cathcart Street, in the Gorbals. They had been here a few months ago when ‘Airn Jenny’ made her last appearance in the Southern Necropolis.
The triangle formed by the convergence of those two roads was distinguished by a piece of unique Victorian architecture commonly known as the Gorbals Church. With its classical colonnade inspired by ancient Athens, it must have been daunting to the residents of the old tenements and terraces of this working class district. Now, it was a sad reminder of past glories. Behind the façade was nothing but a shell. Plans to build a community centre incorporating the old architecture were on hold in the current climate of spending cuts and austerity.
“Gabriel hangs out here? In an old church?” he asked as Darius headed towards the building.
“It goes with the legend,” Darius replied. “That knife. Take it out of the evidence bag and be ready to use it. Lady Moira dislikes me, but recognises me as an aristocrat almost equal to herself. Gabriel’s people hate me. We kill or be killed. Both of us.”
The warning was given just in time. As they passed through a pair of rusty gates with a padlock and chain dangling uselessly, four vampires stepped in front of them. Darius raised his arms and two stiletto knives slid from under his sleeves with a metallic sound. He stabbed two of them through the hearts simultaneously then slit them across the throat. Dougal was a little slower but he stabbed one of the remaining two. Darius took the fourth down. They bled only briefly before their bodies disintegrated into foul smelling dust.
“They know we’re here,” he said as a shrieking cry came from somewhere beneath the weed covered remains of the church nave. “The crypt. The entrance is back there, where the altar used to be.”
Two more vampires emerged into the night air as they reached the crypt entrance. They killed one each. Darius’s eyes were red and his fangs almost bit into his bottom lip. He was angry, but nervous, too. Dougal wondered how many more vampires there were down there, and whether the two of them could fight them all.
The answer to the first question was quickly answered. Eight pairs of eyes glowed in the candle-lit crypt. Fangs were drawn. Vicious snarls of rage filled the air. Dougal tightened his grip on the knife as Gabriel’s close protection guard closed in.
It was a hard fight. The odds were very much against them. Dougal wondered briefly if Darius expected to die here in this crypt, as if he intended it to happen, some kind of sacrifice on the day his child was to be born. But his vampire friend fought with a frenzy even he didn’t expect and the odds were turned. Dougal thrust and cut at those who came within his reach, and was sure he had killed two, possibly three, of them. But Darius killed the rest.
Finally, there was nothing but foul smelling dust settling on the stone floor. Dougal caught his breath. Darius didn’t breathe so he didn’t have to, but he seemed to pause, all the same, to gather himself for the final confrontation.
“Gabriel!” he called out. There was a deep snarl in response and a softer sound of somebody snapping their fingers. More candles lit up, surrounding a wide chair, a throne, on a stone pedestal. A man sat upon it, dressed in a black hooded robe. He wore a single gold ornament around his neck - an inverse cross on a chain.
Darius had said that Gabriel was born in the fourteenth century. Dougal could well believe it. The man looked as old as the world itself. His face was lined, his hands were bony claws with long grey fingernails. His eyes were sharp, though, and when he looked his way, Dougal had to remind himself that he had once won a VC for courage and that he didn’t frighten easily.
“You sent your people to kill an innocent child,” Darius said to him coldly. “According to our law that is as good as wielding the knife yourself. And by that same law I have the right to take your life.”
“The right, yes,” Gabriel replied. “But not the ability. Your weapons won’t kill me.”
Darius had buried his stiletto deep in Gabriel’s chest, piercing his heart. It should have killed him. It didn’t. He bled from the wound, and it hurt him, but he was alive, still.
“He’s right,” Lady Moira said, sweeping down the stairs and crossing the floor in an eyeblink. “You can’t kill him. But I can.”
She grabbed the knife with the inverse cross etched in it from Dougal’s unresisting hand and in the same movement plunged it into Gabriel’s heart. She pulled it out and slashed it across his neck. Then she dropped the knife and leaned forward. She grasped Gabriel’s head in her hands and kissed his forehead. She whispered something to him. Dougal didn’t catch what it was. Darius did. His eyes opened in shocked surprise.
Something else shocked Dougal.
“He’s not a vampire?” He watched as Darius lifted the dead man from his throne and laid him on the floor, straightening his ancient limbs.
“No, he isn’t,” Lady Moira replied. “Please... go out to my car. There actually is a coffin in the back. Bring it here. We will lay him in peace.”
Dougal ran to do her bidding. He was puzzled by what had taken place, but it was a practical thing to do with the body. When he and the chauffer returned with the very good quality casket, Lady Moira and Darius were kneeling beside Gabriel’s corpse. They weren’t exactly praying. Vampires didn’t do that. But it was pretty close.
It was getting on for seven o’clock by the time the body was safely in the back of the hearse. There was still an hour and a quarter until sunrise, but there was a grey, sullen light in the sky and there was traffic on the roads. The hearse was a more conspicuous sight than it was earlier.
“I still don’t understand,” Dougal said. “I know something terrible happened and I don’t want to impinge on anyone’s grief. But please...”
“Darius has been asking a question for nearly nine months,” Lady Moira said in a calm but cold voice. “What happens when a vampire male and a Human female create a life. The answer is... the same thing that happens when a Human male and a vampire female create a life. A child is born who can walk by day or night, who breathes and has a heartbeat, yet has all the powers of the Undead. A child who can only be killed by the hand of the one who bore him.”
“Only his mother can kill him.” Dougal was still a beat away from understanding. “You are Gabriel’s mother?”
“His father was a good man who loved me despite what I was. He protected us all his life. It was he who named our child after one of the archangels. And at first he seemed to be a child of the light in every sense of the word. But the long centuries of persecution of our kind soured him. He became hard and bitter. And now... to order the death of a child.... If his minions had succeeded while the child was still in the womb, with its mother’s blood in its veins... it COULD be killed.”
“But he’s your own son?”
“I could not let him live after committing such a terrible crime. I think... it is for the best. He is at peace, now, and perhaps I am, too.”
“All the same, I’m sorry it came to that,” Dougal told her.
“So am I,” Darius said. He turned his face away and looked through the darkly tinted windows at the rapidly lightening morning. They were stopped at traffic lights, still several minutes from Queens Drive.
Darius’s mobile phone rang simultaneously with Dougal’s.
“Can you get here in five minutes?” Owen asked. “The baby is that close. And whatever she says, she DOES need you.”
“I don’t think I can,” Darius answered. “We have to get back to our car then return to the city centre.”
But Lady Moira leaned forward and instructed her chauffer. He ignored the lights, doing a very illegal u-turn into the oncoming traffic before putting his foot down on the accelerator. Dougal asked Toshiko to make the traffic lights turn in their favour, but it was possible Lady Moira was right about the police not bothering her car. In any case, they reached the Hub in three minutes. Darius burst into the medical room with barely time to grasp Shona’s hand before their daughter was born.
She was seven pounds one ounce. She had all the right number of fingers and toes. Her heart and lungs worked normally. So did every other organ of her body. When she was washed and wrapped and given back to her mother’s arms, she fed like any other newborn baby. Shona looked at her and smiled warmly. Then she looked at Darius and uyjhglared at him.
“I bought one of those things for expressing the milk. I’m not a brood mare, and I’m not an on tap feeding station. I’m getting back to active duty as soon as possible. You can do your share of this job in future.”
Darius was perfectly happy with that arrangement.
“She’s normal?” he asked Owen. “Human?”
“As far as I can tell,” he admitted. “There’s just one thing. The umbilical cord. Usually it takes three or four days for the clamped fragment to drop away. She already has a perfectly formed belly button. An inny, if anyone cares. I think that’s the only unusual thing about her.”
Darius accepted that much abnormality in his child with relief. Shona finished the first feed and gave her to him. He held her in his arms and his smile widened.
The door opened and Lady Moira stepped into the medical room.
“May I see the child before... There’s still a little time before dawn. I want to get Gabriel into the house and make the necessary arrangements. But...”
Darius let her hold the baby. She smiled and gave her back to him.
“New life takes the place of old. Even for us, that’s the way it should be. My blessing on the child. Does she have a name?”
Shona said nothing. She hadn’t even thought of names. She had resisted taking that much interest in the child before now.
“Would it be all right if...” Darius said hesitantly. “Gabrielle.”
“Yes,” Lady Moira told him. Then she turned away. Dougal went with her. He had to retrieve the Ford Escape from Queens Drive. And besides, somebody who didn’t get sunburn on a cloudy January morning was needed to help bring the coffin into the house.
Darius looked at his baby’s face, looking back at him, and counted his blessings. He looked at Shona, who stopped glaring at him and smiled, though she was prepared to deny she had done any such thing.