'Are you the alien baby couple?'
When people come up to us in the street, I always answer the same way:
'Xir was the most beautiful creature we have ever seen. She brought us nothing but misery. Yet we would gladly take the chance again.'
Xir came to us on a rainy winter's night. Outside, a security police cordon held back the excited crowds. We were one of the lucky couples entrusted with caring for the alien babies saved from the catastrophe at Kos 3.
Xir and seven other tiny creatures were discovered miraculously unharmed in what appeared to be a maternity unit.
When the landing party arrived, Kos 3 was suffering the full force of a radiation storm caused by unusually large solar flares. Our cruiser sped away as the radiation reached a peak that would have killed us all had we attempted to pick up any more survivors — and which almost certainly destroyed all remaining life on the planet.
There appeared to be five males, three females. Our DNA tests were unable to determine whether or not any of the infants were related. We are only beginning to understand how their DNA differs from ours. Yet, like us, they appeared to be bipedal. They were quite small, which would indicate that fully grown they would measure no more than half or at most two thirds of our normal height. And they were also extremely delicate. But more of that later.
We know what beauty is. or thought we did. But these creatures were on another scale altogether. 'Like an angel,' my partner said when she first cast eyes on her. She was like nothing we'd ever seen. A creature from myth or fable.
Little did we know that for us, that winter's night would the beginning of a long ordeal as it indeed was for the other couples who had been selected. You'll have read about it in the magazines. But let me just try to express how we felt.
As Xir was beautiful and heavenly, so everything else about her was hellish. On that very first night, Xir started to emit a piercing sound, her whole frame shaking and trembling with the effort. As time went on the incessant, unbearable noise drove us to the brink of insanity.
We had already been warned that Xir's delicate skin could by harmed by the lightest contact so we were careful to wear protective gloves at all times. Even so, we found it difficult even to hold her in our arms without hurting or bruising her.
Our very breath was harmful. Leaning over her cot or holding her too close would be enough to cause ugly red welts to appear on her face and body.
The piercing cries only ceased when Xir slept, fitfully at best. The least sound such as my partner and I whispering would awake her and then our ordeal — and hers as well — would start all over again.
She stank. There are very few creatures whose bodily excretions have an odour that could be described as pleasant. Like many other species, our sense of smell has evolved to alert us to the presence of potentially harmful bacteria. But this was far worse, a foul mortuary stench which left us gasping for air.
More worrying still was the fact that she would not eat. Who knows what they ate? We tried everything. We gave her every formulation of protein liquid that the ET labs sent us. Each time, with the same result, while Xir daily grew more thin and haggard and her stomach part more distended.
Then, little by little, the piercing sound grew more muted. In our hearts we knew the worst was coming.
Some nourishment must have gotten through because she lasted for months before she died.
You'll have heard how the other two females and four males perished in similar circumstances, leaving just one male. In desperation the couple looking after him fed him sun tan lotion and, miraculously, he thrived on it. What a tragedy that the news came too late to save the other poor creatures.
The last of his species. His face shown on millions of TV screens, yet totally alone and without comfort. Our geneticists and molecular biologists have not given up hope that we might one day succeed in growing the aliens from their DNA samples. At the present time, creating a baby in a test tube is still far beyond the scope of our biotechnology.
In the evenings, I sit by the fire with my partner and we scroll through Xir's images on the video screen. Her exquisite body, her skin smooth and evenly coloured without a trace of imperfection. What a wonder it would have been to see her grow to adulthood!
On other planets, we have discovered alien races who thought their own form was beautiful, though we did not find it so. Our race has never been tempted to make that error about ourselves. We know what beauty is, we find it all around our home planet. But we are so ugly! I joke to my partner, 'You're the ugliest jagged tailed slug grey slit eyed Zorg I've ever had the misfortune to cast my eyes upon!' And she takes it as a compliment!
With her shiny blue eyes and red mouth parts our alien child was the image of a beauty and loveliness to which surely few species in this universe can ever attain.
© Geoffrey Klempner 2012