Matt opened the door to the living room.
“I’m sorry, am I disturbing you?” he said apologetically. He was carrying his laptop and a webcam trailing a long wire.
“No, no, not at all,” said Aelvyn, although he looked slightly disgruntled. “Anna can’t concentrate today, anyway.”
“Today? It’s night time, almost dawn,” said Matt, perplexed. Anna glanced out of the window. Sure enough, the sun was just about to rise.
But that meant that her parents would die in just half an hour to an hour’s time! Anna gasped aloud.
“I see you realise what that means,” Matt said. “I’m sorry. I had to bring this – I thought you would like to say goodbye.”
“Yes, I would.” She was silent while Matt set up the laptop and webcam on the coffee table, silent while she contemplated what was about to happen.
A video screen popped up. One of the Celryn was visible, and Anna shied away automatically. It laughed, and she felt suddenly foolish, suddenly weak.
“Come to say goodbye, have you?” it said. Anna nodded, but was unable to speak past the lump in her throat. Matt took control.
“Get on with it,” he said. “Get out of the way. Have some decency.” The Celryn bared its teeth and muttered curses but it moved out of the way, showing Angie and Greg, who were very pale. They did not seem to be bound in any way.
“Mum? Dad?” said Anna, sounded for all the world like an ordinary child.
“Hush, Anna, you know that isn’t true,” Angie said, but Anna stopped her.
“You might not be my biological parents but you’re still my Mum and Dad. You’re the ones who raised me and taught me how to live – that counts for something, surely?” Anna’s voice was pleading and innocent. Matt felt tears in his eyes, which was absurd. He had not cried for years. Not since … but he would not think about that. Not now.
“Thank you, Anna. That means a lot to me,” said Greg, and Angie nodded, too.
“I don’t suppose you know why I am doing this,” Anna began, feeling suddenly guilty.
“We do, don’t worry. We would not expect you to agree to those demands, and …” But Angie could not continue.
“Don’t you want to know why I didn’t come to rescue you?” said Anna, puzzled. Her parents shook their heads.
“We already know,” said Angie. “Just after we were told that they had sent you a message, I had a sort of vision.”
As she spoke, Angie thought back to the sight she had seen. Almost like an angel, the creature had been, with great, feathered wings, and even a sort of halo. They had told her what was different about Anna, although she had already known it, and they had told her what her young foster-daughter’s job was in the universe.
“So now you see, we know what you have to do.” Greg looked gravely at Anna.
“You may find this hard to believe, but we are glad you made that choice.” Anna looked up at him, unbelieving.
“Even though you’re going to die?” she said, wonderingly.
“Yes, for we could not bear the thought that the universe would suffer, just for us,” said Angie gently, and she wiped away a tear.
“We have no more time now, Anna,” said Greg, spotting that the Celryn were approaching them. “Goodbye, and thank you.”
“For what?” she asked. “What have I ever done for you?”
“Been the best daughter ever, that’s what,” they said. “And now you’re going to save the universe. Who would have thought it?” Angie smiled through her tears, looking fondly at Anna.
“I promise I will, Mum, Dad,” said Anna, the weight of their trust falling heavily on her shoulders. “I won’t let this be for nothing.”
“That’s my girl,” said Greg. Anna watched with tears streaming down her face as two of the Celryn grasped each of her unresisting parents by the arms, strapping them to two metal chairs that stood a little way away. She reached to close the video link but nothing happened when she tried to shut the window, and she knew that the Celryn wanted her to see this.
And why not? At least I’ll be with them – figuratively speaking – until the very end, her conscience said.
That’s true, she realised.