an extract from the novel
"Go to sleep, my baby..." crooned Dorothy
Petrie drowsily, regretting for the thousandth time that she had ever
let her husband, Rory, persuade her to leave Scotland for London when
he was offered a better-paid job. Now he was away in the trenches, Lord
knew where, up to his eyes in mud or worse, while she, instead of being
safely asleep in their old, stone-built cottage tucked snugly into the
hillside, tried to doze on a horse-hair sofa while her eight-year-old
son Stephen waved his toy guns, assiduously shooting down the aeroplanes
droning endlessly overhead, and her baby daughter, Aurora, tossed restlessly
in her cot, whimpering, about to cry again.
Aurora. The imaginative name had been Dorothy's idea. The Northern
Lights had been draping their ethereal multicoloured banners above the
cottage on the night Dorothy and the kids had left for the south, for
Stephen had been dangerously ill with pneumonia -- she put it down
to his having to be taken through the cold air night after night to
the shelters -- but was now well on the mend. He had qualified for a
Morrison indoor shelter: chocolate-brown metal plates bolted to a girder
frame, with metal-grid sides. The Morrison was supposed to double as
a table during the day, but the boy played inside it almost constantly,
sticking cut-out models of Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancasters, Messerschmitts
and Heinkels to its "sky" with black cotton and Plasticine, spotlighting
them with battery-powered searchlights and aiming wooden shells at them
from model guns, complaining because caps were no longer available to
supply sound effects.
The house shook as the crump! of a nearby explosion seemed to
flatten the air.
That was too close for comfort!
Darting across the room, Dorothy grabbed the baby up from the cot and
dived for the Morrison,
An eerie whistling sound grew louder, louder, louder. A cloud of soot
burst from the fireplace. There was clatter from the roof.
For a moment there was silence, apart from a spattering rain of plaster.
Then the ceiling fell in.
"Stevie! Get back!" she cried in horror, lying on her side with a leg
twisted beneath her, trapped under a heavy joist. The baby lay on the
ground, just beyond her reach, but was bawling lustily, apparently more
frightened than hurt. Through the clouds of choking dust she watched
as her son, as though in slow motion, tried to crawl towards her from
the shelter, wailing, terrified. Above her the roof gaped open to the
sky. She could see showers of sparks streaming upwards from a burning
building nearby. Water gushed out the end of a lead pipe that protruded
from the hole, spreading in a dark stain down the wallpaper.
But these horrors were as nothing compared to another. Right above
her, swinging from the rafters by the cords of its parachute, hung a
dull metal cylinder.
Her wartime conditioning was profound: even in her fright she found
part of her brain thinking of the underwear she could make from the
parachute's green silken folds.
But only for a second. Then the fear came surging back through her.
The tall chimney of Dobson & Dart's paint factory next door, which
should have towered above her, was missing -- absent from the patch
of livid night sky framed by the shattered ceiling above her. And now
she could see a solid fountain of flame gushing up from the factory,
its roar like a blowtorch trying to sear the clouds. Tins of paint and
varnish rocketed into the sky -- at any moment one could splash its
blazing contents around this room.
We're trapped! Oh, God, take me but spare the kids...
Stephen had crawled out of the Morrison. She watched, powerless, frozen,
as the rest of the ceiling and a section of the Dobson & Dart chimney
collapsed, covering Stevie and Aurora in dust, grit and stones. The
baby disappeared completely, the sound of her crying cut off abruptly.
Stevie, ominously silent now, was only partially hidden by the rubble
and the rising shrouds of dust, his open eyes upon her.
She screamed wildly.
"Help! Oh, for God's sake, somebody, help!"
Silhouetted against the flames and sparks which filled the frame of
sky overhead there came into view something bulbous, metallic and balloon-like.
It slid slowly out of sight, sinking downwards, its underbelly orange
in the reflected glare. There was a haze around it which seemed not
entirely smoke -- almost as though the smoke and sparks were deflected
around it as it sank onto the blazing factory.
The ceiling of flame reddened and dimmed, reminding her of a candle
in church being smothered by a brass snuffer. The roar and crackle diminished
as though someone were turning down the volume of a wireless set. The
sky, so fiery moments before, became dark. A few wisps of pink cloud
drifted overhead, and a star winked.
Stevie moaned faintly.
"Stevie! Are you all right, love?" At least he was alive.
But what about the baby?
"I -- I think so, Mummy." He started to sob again. "But I can't move."
Then the natural curiosity of the child kicked in. "What was that funny
thing up there?"
Several timbers crashed down between them, one narrowly missing his
head. The mine hanging above them, the Sword of Damocles, shifted.
It's going to fall right on top of us.
Something moved above the mine. Refocusing her eyes, she saw the balloon-like
object appear again, now hovering, almost motionless. It was smaller
than she had thought. She felt rather than heard a low, throbbing hum.
The mine moved again. Her scream filled her mind until that was all
Then, between her fingers she saw the mine rise, drawn upwards
as though by a magnet. Bomb and balloon slid out of view.
As did the rest of the world...
The weight had gone from her legs, and someone was shining
a bright, unshielded torch on Stephen.
"Put that light out!" she cried automatically, then: "Oh, sorry, sorry,
sorry! Thank you, thank you for helping -- but won't they see your light?"
Dorothy glanced up at the sky. The drone of aircraft, which had seemed
continuous for hours, was gone. The heavens were paling with the dawn
-- or is it just the light of the city burning?
She remembered the baby, and looked around frantically. A pathetic
white bundle lay on a dust-covered chair.
Grunting with pain, she struggled to get to her feet -- and succeeded,
surprised she wasn't more badly injured.
The man in the wrecked room put out his hand to stop her.
He set down his lamp, a globe without obvious battery-pack. He had
been scrabbling in the mound of plaster, bricks and mortar that had
almost buried the boy. He had said nothing in reply to her. She frowned
as she took in his tight, grey uniform and close-fitting helmet. There
was something wrong about him, but she didn't know what it was.
Then realization dawned.
A German parachutist!
Her fingers closed around a length of broken rafter, but then she dropped
it. German or not, he was human -- and he had helped her, and he was
now trying to help her son.
The man stood up, then clutched his side as if in pain.
"Are you hurt? Are -- are you -- German?" she babbled. "Er -- Deutsch?
What is your name?" She pointed at her own chest. "Dorothy."
The man looked at her, still without a word. She thought he smiled.
Dorothy made another effort to reach her baby, but at that moment the
stranger pulled Stevie from under the pile of debris. Laying the small
form down gently, he ran his hands over the boy's body and legs.
Stevie jerked and stiffened, and Dorothy took a half-pace towards him
with a cry, but the man waved her back almost savagely. In the shadows
she couldn't see what he was doing.
Retreating, she bumped into the chair where baby Aurora lay.
Stevie stirred and sat up. "Hello. Who are you?" he asked in an incongruously
calm voice, as if he had just woken from a peaceful sleep.
The stranger helped the boy to his feet. Stevie swayed unsteadily for
a moment, like a new-born faun, then walked stiffly to his mother.
Dorothy clutched the body of her little daughter tightly to her, tears
streaming down her cheeks. Her gaze flicked back and forth from her
lifeless baby to her son. It was too much. Hysterically, she laughed
and cried, then slipped once more into oblivion.
A loud battering sound beat against her. She opened her
eyes to see two men bursting through the front door. Both wore the uniform
of Air Raid Wardens.
"Are you all right, Mrs Petrie?" yelled one, his gaze roving the shattered
room warily, obviously terrified there would be a further fall of rubble.
She knew him -- Mr Hicks, the greengrocer. The other was unknown to
Dorothy spared them barely a glance, for from the chair came the plaintive
wail of a hungry baby.
Aurora's alive? Yet I was so sure...
Mr Hicks went off for help after a while, and Dorothy tried to explain
to the other man.
"If there was a German, madam," said the warden, "we'll get him, don't
you worry. He may have been a Good Samaritan, but he can't go running
around loose in London for long. For his own good, apart from anything
"You don't understand..." she shouted in exasperation.
"Mummy, what was that silvery thing we saw?" interrupted Stevie.
"What? Oh ... it must have been a ... a barrage balloon that got shot
and drifted down, dear. Yes, that's it, a barrage balloon. Now, will
you listen, Mr...?"
"Thompson. Just calm down, ducks. We'll have to find you somewhere
to live for the time being, but your roof can be fixed. You're lucky
you can all walk out of here."
"Lucky? To walk? That's what I've been trying to tell you! Stephen
hasn't walked since he fell off a swing when he was two. He's been paralysed
from the waist down ever since."
Thompson stared, speechless. He had just opened his mouth to speak
when a movement above caught his eye.
They both looked up in time to see a metallic spheroid drifting upward.
It shrank to the size of a full Moon, then vanished in a brilliant blue,
"Hydrogen, you know. It does that," said Thompson.
It was some time later that Dorothy Petrie realized in horror
that the baby girl she held in her arms was not Aurora.
She was quite sure.
After all, a mother knows her own child.
Yet it was ridiculous. Of course the baby was Aurora! It had to be!
Over the years that followed, Dorothy never dared mention her knowledge
to anyone, and after a while she convinced herself that the shock of
all those strange and violent events must have done something to her
The baby had to be Aurora.
© David A Hardy 2003, 2004
Aurora is published by Cosmos
Order online using these links and infinity
plus will benefit:
...Aurora, trade paperback, from Amazon.com
...alternatively, signed copies are available direct from the author's
website (see below) and Andromeda bookshop.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
- non-fiction - Futures:
50 Years in Space, extracts from a book marking David Hardy and
Patrick Moore's 50 years as a collaborative team.
Elsewhere on the web: