The young swan hid in the shallow mud and sedge, terrified. Splash splash splash splash. The strides approached her exposed refuge. It was the first, the last hiding place she could find. The splashing feet stopped, as though trying to get their bearings, then started again.
She was never designed for camouflage. Her graceful neck was an arc of beauty amongst the straight reeds. Once upon a time perhaps her grey, downy feathers might have merged with the muddy straw on the bank, but now she wore a coat of purest white, impossible not to see. No other face could look like hers, at once peaceful and knowing, with a gentle tilt to the side; her beak the colour of a burnt August sunset.
The footsteps were getting closer. Relentless. She had no voice to cry out, but her heart’s hammer would give her away, she felt sure. Splash splash splash. All alone. There was no sanctuary.
The splashes paused. The hunter was close now. He could sense the quarry. A small satisfaction rippled through him. His equipment was the best. His method was correct. His reason was sound. He was a hunter. He would provide.
A flock of curlews screamed into the air when the shot rang across the marsh. A mile away, two older swans turned slightly at the sound and moved serenely on. There was very little blood. It mingled with the muddy backwater and disappeared. The hunter turned towards home and family, satisfied with his day’s accomplishment.
On June 4th a San Diego, California-based company called Sequenom announced that it had developed a test that detects Down syndrome before birth without giving false-positive results. Almost immediately the company’s share value rose 22% on the New York Stock Exchange. Sequenom intends to sell its test in the U.S. from 2009. I do not wish it happy hunting.