EACH man had a wilderness of beard. Each woman’s hair had grown long, some whose roots had grown out almost to the length of their hair which streaked dark and light like varnished wood. Children now aged five or six had been babies when they had boarded. They looked dazed as they walked down the steps from the aeroplane that had been missing for five long years.
No family or friends waiting to greet them this time. Back then, the concourse had been crowded with wailing and weeping family for weeks after the plane had been reported missing, but they had all drifted away eventually when there was no news.
My role was to do some of the debriefing. This was a new experience for us all. Previously I had de-briefed kidnap victims, not the disappeared. There was a team of us waiting for the families to be allocated to us. Five couples with an assortment of children were ushered into my office. I sat them in comfortable armchairs and my assistant brought them tea and coffee and soft drinks for the children. We seated the children at a nearby low table where there was paper and crayons to keep them amused.
The adults looked at me expectantly. They had no idea why they had been brought to the administration block. One woman mentioned that her parents were supposed to be meeting them. I explained that all friends and family would be told of the aeroplane’s landing in good time. I continued by asking them what date it was. They looked at me as if I were stupid. They all clamoured that the date was today’s but 2013. When I told them it was 2018 they scoffed.
I passed around a newspaper showing the date. They looked shocked and confused. I explained that their aeroplane had been reported missing five years ago and then last night Radar had picked up a signal from them and the pilot had asked for clearance. The personnel at air traffic control were shocked and stupefied. Several reported that the hair on their arms raised and prickled and one or two almost fainted.
I left the passengers for five minutes to absorb the news and went to speak to my colleague next door who was debriefing the crew. They too had thought it was 2013. Most peculiar. Everyone that had boarded that plane five years ago was accounted for.
I returned to my office. There was a babble of talk which instantly ceased as I came in. I brought a little boy over to the adults; he was around six years old.
‘Whose little boy is this?’ I asked. A man and woman sitting together put up their hands.
‘That’s my son, Toby,’ the man said.
‘Did you see him grow up from a baby?’ I asked him. He and his wife looked puzzled.
What do you mean?’ the woman asked.
I explained that when Toby boarded the plane in 2013, the information had him down as eleven months old. The couple were stunned. It was beyond their comprehension.
I had all their passports on my desk. I called an older girl of around twelve years of age. Their parents claimed her.
‘Look,’ I showed them the photograph of their daughter on her passport. She was quite different at seven years of age.
The parents started to talk all at once. I heard them accuse me of being a fraud, or saying that it was impossible, that they had only left Australia two days before, and comments to that effect. A doctor entered the room and took one of the men to be examined. They would all be examined in turn.
What on earth had happened to these people that five years on they had no recollection of the time that had passed? I wandered over to the children’s table and sat on a low chair. They were all busy scribbling. A couple of the older children were drawing pictures of their homes and families. I asked one where the house was? She told me it was her grandma’s house in Australia where they been on a lovely holiday.
A younger girl, only just five, had drawn a picture of a spaceman, one of those pictures you might see in a film or video game. I asked her name and she replied that Gili had called her Curly.
‘Who’s Gili?’ I asked. She pointed at the spaceman in the picture.
‘That’s Gili. My friend.’ She said.
And what does Gili do?’ I asked, expecting a story she might have seen on children’s television.
‘Lots of things,’ she said, ‘He taught me to read when I was only two. He thought I was really clever.’
I was staggered. It seemed, that of all these people, she was the only one who had any memory of the last five years. I went to talk to my colleagues, to look at their children’s drawings, but it was only Curly who could tell us anything.
I returned to my office. I identified Curly’s parents and they told me her name was … Curly. That was the name she had been given and they didn’t remember her birth name. I flicked through the passports and found her mother’s passport with her daughter named as Susie.
‘Her name’s Susie?’ I asked. No, they were sure her name was Curly, so I left it at that. I returned to talk to Curly. ‘What else happened when you lived with Gili?’
‘Oh, lots. We had a lot of fun. We rode around on space scooters and played with the other children. Gili said they just didn’t have enough children anymore.’
‘What did your mum and dad do while you were playing?’
‘I don’t know where dad went, but I know Mum kept having babies.’
‘Babies?’ I was astounded. ‘Where are these babies now?’ I asked Curly.
‘Oh, Gili took them away. We couldn’t bring them back to earth because they were half space babies. They wanted them, so they would have more children.’
I wondered how much of this was Curly’s imagination. It seemed off the wall. But she was so matter of fact about it all.
Later, when the doctors had finished their examinations, I went to talk to them. It seemed that all the women under forty had had babies, even women who had never had children before, or at least had not accompanied them on the flight. Even a young woman who would only have been eleven in 2013, had given birth. And some of the births were quite recent. I told them what Curly had said. It adds up they said. So how come only Curly could remember anything?
None of the women had the foggiest idea of what had happened nor that they had conceived babies with spacemen, although we didn’t put it quite like that to them. The space people must have given everyone a drug to make them forget and somehow Curly had been missed. Or was it deliberate? We will never know. But what is frightening is that this could happen again.
The black box showed no diversions to the original flight path and that the timing for their arrival was as it should have been.
When eventually families and friends were told of the aeroplane’s reappearance, the concourse surged with frantic people trying to locate their relatives. I watched as the woman who had told me her parents were meeting her sobbed loudly when her sister informed her that her parents had died two and three years ago respectively. Other family were shocked to see how the babies they had said goodbye to only two weeks ago, were now much older.
We decided we would not tell anyone what Curly had told us. Somewhere in outer space there is a colony of half-human children. We hoped that reporters would not realise there was a little girl with golden curls that could tell them everything. We ripped up her picture of Gili.