for Moving Moosevan
Jane Palmer’s ‘The Planet Dweller’ will be happy to
hear that the sequel to ‘Moving Moosevan’ takes the same
sardonic view of human nature and science fiction clichés as
the first book. This is the sort of book for which the term ‘wacky’
might have been invented; it won’t be everyone’s cup of
tea, but it has an endearing, oddball charm…
Lisa Tuttle Time Out
has not read Jane Palmer’s fist bock THE PLANET DWELLER is likely
to find the plot of its sequel, MOVING MOOSEVAN, somewhat confusing,
but this hardly matters as most of the characters in this light-hearted
comic novel are in a permanent state of confusion.
Our heroine Diana, having survived the menopause and saved the Earth
in the previous novel, now has to deal with Kulp, a particularly obnoxious
alien, and an army of androids intent on planetary conquest. Meanwhile,
Moosevan, the Planet Dweller, an intelligent and amorous entity currently
living inside planet Earth, embarks upon a programme of home improvements
- such as moving the British Isles to warmer climes. Fortunately for
Diana help is at hand in the various forms assumed by two intergalactic
This is not a novel that demands to be taken at all seriously although
it does provide a pleasant enough light read. Jane Palmer has created
some amiable quirky characters that the reader simply cannot dislike,
and their incongruous adventures do succeed in raising a smile…
Lynne Bispham Paperback Inferno
on the other hand, is a lighthearted sequel to The Planet Dweller. It
climbs aboard the green bandwagon with its anti-pollution wish-fulfilment-
It is a very fast and rather gimmicky sf, full of throwaway comments
on Thatcher’s Britain. The plot contains aliens, androids, terraforming,
planets changing orbit - everything but the kitchen sink really. There
are some nice concepts, such as when the planet dweller decides to move
the UK and Ireland a few degrees further south…
Barbara Davies Vector
First published in Great Britain
by The Women’s Press 1990
edition by Dodo Books 2009
© Jane Palmer 2009
rights reserved. This is a work of fiction and
any resemblance to persons living or dead is
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as
the author of this work.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of
the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
science fiction books by this author
THE ATON BIRD
published in 1990
by The Women’s Press
The author would like to thank
Dr Andrea Prestwich for weeding
out any astronomical errors where they
weren’t intended. The more fantastic
passages are, quite probably,
was not a cat lover and the fact that a huge long-haired moggie kept
peering through her window did nothing to help her concentration. Eventually,
she stopped trying to carve the hard exotic wood and glowered back at
the animal. Edna’s spectacles magnified her stare which was already
steely enough to stop a bull in mid-charge. Unable to compete, the cat
ducked out of sight, only to bob up seconds later. This was too much
for Edna who was not sweet natured at the best of times. The cat’s
expression was so unnervingly benign it was like finding a friendly
smile on the potato you were about to peel. To Edna, dogs were supposed
to bark, canaries chirp, and cats purr. This creature looked as though
it was capable of discussing existentialism and quantum mechanics.
Edna gave up and angrily drew the curtain.
A little further along the terrace of cottages, Diana was having her
weekly battle with the outflow pipe on her washing machine.
There was enough ash blonde in the single mother’s greying hair
to suggest that not so long ago she had been young. Most unpleasant
surprises to which she was due over her five decades had been concertina’d
into a matter of days during that midsummer. This had left her with
an ambivalent attitude about her years. Her eyebrows no longer needed
to be plucked as they now arched in a way which suggested there was
nothing left that could surprise her. Once she wouldn’t have stepped
outside without first pointing up her face with foundation and powder;
now she never bothered to renew a lipstick.
As Diana paddled about with the mop and bucket, she gradually became
aware she was being watched. Unlike Edna, she was prepared to believe
that rabbits chased foxes and that dragons were nesting in her loft.
There were days when it came as a pleasant surprise to find that the
meadow hadn’t moved from the back of the cottages and the radio
telescopes which overlooked the architectural museum hadn’t turned
into mushrooms. Julia, her daughter, had fondly believed her mother
to be over the menopause and found her inexplicable urge to check on
such things a little disconcerting.
For several weeks one or two local people had the feeling that something
cataclysmic had happened, yet were at a loss to know what it was. They
sensed an unsettling charge in the air, as though lightning were about
to strike them. It had started on the day Daphne Trotter, pillar of
the local landed gentry, had been tossed from her horse. This would
not have been odd in itself, but rumour had it that the road’s
tarmac had pleated up in front of her steed. She had been compelled
to spend several days prone and very puzzled. Nobody would admit to
seeing the occurrence, of course, let alone to believing that such a
thing was possible.
Many people about the world were aware that the scenery had started
to shift slightly here and there, but no one was going to be the first
to admit to it. When mountains started to move and icebergs blocked
the Straits of Gibraltar, that would be the time to panic.
The Highways Department thoroughly examined the road Daphne Trotter
had complained about and couldn’t find so much as a dent in the
tarmac. Feeling there was some conspiracy to discredit the prestige
of her family, she ceased venturing out to intimidate the neighbourhood
and sent her once-trusty steed to some despised relatives in Scotland
in the hope it would drink a liver fluke or be ridden by the bagpiper
at the perpetual ceremonies they held for the tourists.
Julia came home from school and saw her mother in the kitchen, talking
to a huge long-haired cat. The animal was replying in perfect English.
It must have been an engrossing conversation because the floor was still
awash with sudsy water and there was no tea waiting. Diana never noticed
her daughter and the cat seemed happy to accept that she was no more
harmful than the soapsuds still spouting from the washing machine.
Julia silently slipped out of the back garden and into the meadow. She
darted up to the astronomer Yuri’s cottage, half hoping to find
him tipsy enough to believe what she had just seen. He probably would
have done if he hadn’t deserted the bottle weeks ago.
Below, children were playing with Daphne Trotter’s once ferocious
bull as though it were a toothless puppy. It seemed happier with their
company than with that of the prize winning herd of cows it had been
bought at great expense to serve. If it was no longer sure what its
horns were for, it had a total mental block about more vital parts of
Yuri wasn’t in. The back door was open and a cold pot of tea sat
on the table. He had probably made it and forgotten to pour himself
a cup. Sobriety had not cured his absent-mindedness. Julia strolled
back down the meadow and round to the front of the terrace. The first
soap of the afternoon would be on TV in five minutes. She fumbled the
front-door key from her purse and slunk into the front room without
disturbing the flow of irrationality going on in the kitchen.
was a tall, lean, friendly looking man. He radiated mildness of nature.
There was no student who couldn’t be won over by his suddenly
disarming smile, even during the most contentious discussion. Some aspects
of life may have been a puzzle to him, yet he never despised it because
of them. He didn’t expect the Universe to do him any serious harm
and was prepared to tolerate any fault in another as long as they could
spell it. He was too kind and selfless to know how to duck the slings
of a wicked world, and all his wounds were deep ones because he saw
no point in burdening others with them.
Unfortunately, the scholar’s obsession with words had driven his
family mad. He had been easy-going enough to put up with virtually anything,
yet all his charm and limp elegance stood for nothing when his two children
spelt out what their mother was up to with a journalist from Leeds.
That was some years ago; his children were now adult, though it often
felt like yesterday. Even helping compile several specialist dictionaries
never quite eased the shock, and the judge’s verdict that they
‘split’ the children catapulted the quiet scholar into coping
with the teenage tantrums of an acne covered youth he doubted was his.
It was an immense relief when the boy ran away to sea, probably to take
up with pirates on the other side of the world.
Now Salisbury walked the moors and dales whenever time allowed. Once
past fifty, he could deal with life more easily. Time seemed to fall
through his hands like warm snow; all the more so as his adult offspring
seldom bothered to visit. Even the potential pirate had joined a holy
order committed to saving the world instead. Salisbury now accepted
his library and garden as his closest companions. Sometimes a student
would take long rambles with him and marvel at his botanical knowledge
as well as at how someone so amiable had lost touch with others.
Slowly the scholar’s sense of security returned. Unfortunately,
this would not last long. Somewhere in a cornfield, not too far from
his bungalow, two lovers felt the Earth move - literally.
demanded Diana as she tried to push the lake of soapy water out of the
back door. ‘What am I supposed to do about it?’
The cat looked wide-eyed and enigmatic, its long whiskers quivering
a little to show it was not as in control of the conversation as it
would like to have been.
‘But there was no time to do anything else.’
‘You’re the inter-galactic super-intelligence - you can
fix the mess yourself.’ It was at this point Diana noticed an
amazed Edna gazing through the open window.
‘What on earth is going on?’
‘It’s not all to do with Earth,’ Diana explained weakly.
‘In actual fact,’ began the cat rather formally.
‘Shut up!’ snapped the woodcarver. ‘Cats can’t
‘Miaow,’ it sneered.
Edna flourished her gouge and knocked the bottle of washing-up liquid
into the sink. ‘Don’t try and fob me off with some inane
explanation. I’m a rationalist. I never wanted to be, but that’s
what God made me.’
‘If you’re a rationalist, why do you believe in God?’
the cat asked.
‘I’m warning you!’ Edna wielded the gouge as though
she had disembowelled much larger animals.
The cat retreated behind a hedge of whiskers.
Diana put down the mop to save the washing-up liquid from totally disappearing
down the plughole. ‘You needn’t bother, Edna. You wouldn’t
believe a word of it if we tried to tell you. If you did you’d
only end up with a reputation for being as nutty as I am.’
‘I didn’t want to come along here.’
‘Why did you then?’
‘My nerves couldn’t stand the suspense of not knowing what
that absurd cat was up to, and you know what my nerves are like when
they’ve been set jangling.’
‘Wonder you manage to hold your chisel.’
‘Do you know how tricky it is to carve wenge?’
‘What’s wenge? Something to do with Stonehenge?’
‘Wood, you fool. It’s dark, with narrow stripes and hard
as Daphne Trotter’s profile.’
‘Oh, haven’t you heard?’
‘She’s going to have a face job. Won’t be able to
open any more tins of pink salmon with it after that.’
Edna refused to be distracted. ‘I’d sooner be told what’s
going on in here.’
‘Oh come inside. The children can hear you out there.’
‘They’re too busy playing with Daphne Trotter’s bull.’
Edna darted round to the back door. ‘And what happened to that
animal was something to do with you, wasn’t it?’
Diana sighed. ‘Not totally.’
‘None of this should have happened of course-’ the cat tried
‘Shut up!’ snapped Edna. ‘I’m not going to talk
to a cat!’
‘You should have seen what she was before,’ murmured Diana.
Edna never heard. Her foot skidded on the soapy floor and she slammed
into the fridge. ‘If you must flood the kitchen every Friday,
why not have a drain fitted in the middle of the floor?’
‘Given the sawdust and wood chippings which fill your house, you
should be living next to a paper mill.’
‘I don’t talk to cats.’
‘After drinking the parsley wine you make, you should be seeing
Edna straightened her leather apron and perched on a stool with her
feet clear of the floor. She folded her arms and looked like a badly
carved oriental idol. ‘All right then. Just tell me enough so
I can sleep or I’ll play Bert Kaempfert and keep everyone else
awake as well.’
‘It has to be all or nothing. And if you keep everyone up all
night there’ll be a brick through your window.’
Diana knew Edna listened to gossip when the mood took her, yet never
dished any out, and few people were inclined to gossip about a woman
who could wield sharp chisels as easily as butter knives. Her retired
husband had long since ceased trying to understand her erratic moods
and spent most of his time finding seasoned wood and taking her finished
carvings to craft fairs. Living in their separate compartments, the
relationship flourished in its odd way.
Diana made two coffees. She offered the cat a saucer of milk but it
gave a sneer that could have curdled it. Edna also noticed that it didn’t
have that comfortable feline shape which enabled others of its species
to curl up so easily. This cat had corners like a low chest of drawers.
If it had tried to roll in catnip it would have dented the garden.
‘You remember midsummer’s day?’ Diana suddenly asked.
Edna’s contemplation of the moggie was interrupted. ‘Not
particularly. Most days seem much the same to me unless something happens.’
‘Well this was the day the world was due to end.’
‘You’ve put too much sugar in mine.’
‘I put in as much as you usually have.’
‘Oh,’ Edna sighed. ‘Go on then.’
‘But, by the oddest of flukes, it never happened.’
‘I had noticed. What stopped it?’
‘Well,’ Diana admitted modestly, ‘I rather think I
‘Naturally. So what has Bagpuss got to do with all this?’
The cat’s inscrutability could have deflected a well-aimed flowerpot.
‘Well...’ Diana hesitated. ‘It would take too long
to explain, but don’t believe all this guff you hear about Universal
‘I’m not into astral travelling or Star Trek myself. The
sight of all those molecules being dispersed and accelerated light years
makes my teeth rattle.’
‘That’s because you turn the television up too loud.’
‘All right then. How did you save the world?’
‘I was coming to that.’
‘It took me a little while to believe it was all happening of
course, but then, who’s ever ready to take the odd trip to another
‘Can I have some more milk?’
Diana slopped a generous measure into Edna’s mug.
‘Of course, there were complications.’
‘These two inter-galactic intelligences were trying to save this
entity that lived in a planet.’
‘Don’t we all live on a planet? Can’t be much fun
spending years in orbit. Think of all that bone loss.’
‘No, I mean inside the planet. It wore it like a shell.’
‘Now that is novel.’
‘They were preparing a new home for it in our solar system.’
‘Old place could do with a little more life.’
‘Problem was, part of its new home was a substantial slice of
‘We would have been blasted to smithereens if they’d gone
‘So they decided to leave the Earth as it was and...’
‘Let the planet-dweller live inside it.’
Edna furiously stirred the skin off her coffee. ‘Inside it?’
It was obvious Edna’s mind had slipped into that gear fitted to
most human brains and was listening, talking, yet not taking in enough
to agitate a single thought cell.
‘The Earth is inhabited by an intelligent entity capable of moving,
rearranging or generally altering anything on or below the planet’s
Edna took a long swig of her coffee. ‘Think it could do something
about the postal service?’
Edna put her cup in the sink. ‘Let’s not get too excited
about it then. Not as if the world’s coming to an end, is it?’
Diana was annoyed that her revelation hadn’t even met with contempt.
She was past fifty and should have known that most human beings lived
in a shell that could only be penetrated by propaganda and the threat
of being deprived of some imaginary right. Diana might have managed
to cast her preconceptions aside, but Edna clung to hers like a limpet.
So Diana decided to tell her about the Mott. She fortunately hadn’t
encountered these genetically engineered aberrations from the other
side of the Universe, yet knew that they would have given pause to Attila
‘There were some nasty pieces of work in the other galaxy bent
on colonisation. There wasn’t much left to conquer where they
were so they “persuaded” this Olmuke engineer, called Kulp,
to reopen the gravity corridor the planet dweller had escaped through.’
‘They are green I take it?’
‘Oh, the Olmuke are,’ said the cat.
‘I wasn’t asking you!’
Diana gave a pained smile. ‘The male Mott have four legs, tusks
instead of teeth, one eye, no taste, and smell something awful.’
‘Probably too many food additives.’
‘They have slaughtered whole species and laid waste to their planets.’
‘So what? Humans do just the same.’
Diana’s voice was getting louder. ‘And they’re coming
‘Plenty of politicians to form a coalition with. Great help to
those who want to abolish the Welfare State.’
‘You wait till your chisel slips and you need five hundred stitches.’
‘I’ve got a sewing machine.’
Diana picked up her mop and resumed work on the flooded floor. The cat
gave the woodcarver a stony glare that even her steady gaze couldn’t
Edna straightened her apron. ‘Oh well, better get back to work.
Having a devil of a job with this undercutting.’ Edna gave the
cat a fierce look. ‘I think you had better get that creature back
to its circus. How does it do it? Got batteries of some sort?’
The cat continued to glower.
Diana shrugged. ‘Something like that.’
Edna nodded and left as though she had been discussing washing powder.
‘What did I tell you?’ Diana announced with a mixture of
resentment and satisfaction.
The cat gave a thoughtful mew. ‘She did seem strangely unable
to grasp the situation. Perhaps she didn’t believe you?’
‘She took in so little of what I said that if she did ever repeat
it, it would come out that I’ve acquired a large cat that used
to appear in Star Trek.’
‘“Star Brek” - sounds like breakfast for a human astronaut.’
‘You’re as deaf as she is.’ Diana kicked the clothesbasket
to the door. ‘Will I have time to hang out the washing before
the world comes to an end this time?’
‘Probably, though turn the coloured things inside-out if you don’t
want the ultra-violet to fade them.’
‘Come off it. The ozone layer can’t be that thin.’
‘Well, Moosevan will probably get round to dealing with that soon
meticulously patted down the ericaceous compost around the new heather
on his rockery and stood back to admire his labour of love. Well pleased
with his achievement, he changed his clothes, had a small lunch, and
marked a few papers. The beginning of term was weeks off, though some
students were studying through their holidays. The scholar’s spirits
rose at such enthusiasm yet he now realised that there were better things
to do in your youth, and he was beginning to wish that he had done them.
Then Salisbury’s attention began to wander as though some ghostly
hand was beckoning him to the countryside beyond his garden. He pulled
on his walking shoes and left the bungalow.
As he strode out he became aware that there was something strangely
disconcerting about the landscape he knew so well. The sparsely scattered
trees hadn’t moved or started to shed their leaves prematurely,
the winding track still wound in the same direction, and the decomposing
trunks downed by the first great storm were still covered by tiered
slabs of fungi. No, this was something more metaphysical.
A mist rolled over the barren moorland below.
Salisbury sighed. ‘Oh, if only this country were a few degrees
He hadn’t expected to be heard, of course.
When Yuri returned to his cottage the next morning, Diana was waiting
for him with a pot of tea.
‘Now look Yuri, I don’t know what you’re sulking about,
but wandering off for days on end is only going to make people suspicious.’
‘It was for one night,’ Yuri complained morosely. ‘Why
should neighbourhood worry because I do not sleep in my bed for one
night? They do not tuck me in.’ His small face wore a stubbornly
puckish expression and Diana knew better than to berate him excessively.
He could always get sympathy from the bottle when it ran out everywhere
‘It’s because Eva’s gone off to that observatory,
Yuri was beginning to wish Diana hadn’t found out he was married
to her best friend, and it was true, he was jealous of Eva’s access
to some of the world’s best telescopes. So he stayed sullenly
Diana could read his thoughts. ‘Well, why shouldn’t she
go? We agreed not to tell her anything about Moosevan.’
‘She would have put me in home.’
‘Then I would have had to join you.’
‘Nobody will ever believe us.
‘I told the wretched cat that.’
‘It must go and chase big little green men by itself.’
‘What about Moosevan, though? She’s behaved herself pretty
well so far, but if you go and fall out with her, the Devil only knows
what she might get up to.’
‘She ignores me.’
Diana was taken aback. Not so long before, that mighty planet dweller
would have moved mountains or drained oceans for Yuri’s sake.
Diana noticed that some of his innocent charisma had been lost after
going through an experience that would have sent a more rational human
into permanent shock. Perhaps Moosevan, because she was 90,000 million
years old, had a different perspective on romance. Diana had ditched
more than one lover herself and she wasn’t that much past fifty.
‘Can we be sure you were the only love interest she had at the
‘I was only human male she knew at time.’
Diana poured another mug of tea. ‘Oh no. You don’t think
she could be making eyes at someone else do you?’
‘Like all women - fickle.’
‘I wonder who the lucky fellow is?’
‘I would like to see his face when he finds out.’
‘At least there would be one more person capable of believing
There was a loud satisfied mew from the doorway.
‘Oh no,’ snapped Diana. ‘Who told you to eavesdrop?’
‘Go away pussy cat,’ agreed Yuri.
The cat jumped onto the table and helped itself to a sugar cube. ‘This
could be helpful of course,’ it purred whilst crunching.
‘To you maybe,’ grumbled Diana. ‘You were the ones
who made such a pig’s ear of everything. We’re only mere
human beings remember. Why should we have to be involved in the machinations
of intelligent planets and intergalactic mega brains?’ The cat
helped itself to another lump of sugar and Diana snatched the bowl away.
‘And why is it necessary to wander around in that cat’s
‘Humans don’t pay any attention to cats. If I disguised
myself as a human I would have to spend most of my time explaining who
I was, where I came from, what my sexual preferences were, and what
branch of the family tree I fell from. Cats don’t seem to have
‘Well, we’re not going to have anything to do with you until
you disguise yourself as a human,’ Diana said firmly.
Yuri wasn’t too bothered what the entity looked like and wondered
whether to run off at the first opportunity. He shook his tangled locks
in off-handed agreement.
‘This was something I wasn’t prepared for,’ mewed
the cat resentfully.
Diana gasped. ‘You mean you actually thought we were going to
chase that revolting green creature and its companions for you?’
‘I would have supplied you with a very powerful fusion blaster
‘I can’t even chop the heads off sprats. How do you expect
me to gun down some huge, two-legged mollusc?’
‘It wouldn’t make that much of a mess, and this atmosphere
must slow them down a little. There’s not nearly as much pollution
in it as on their home planet. Fresh air never did suit the Olmuke constitution.’
‘I thought you and your friend were supposed to be pacifists?’
‘Well,’ purred the cat. ‘Kulp did double-cross us.’
It sank its claws into the table and carved out sizable striations in
its marble top.
‘You said the Mott didn’t give him any choice. You said
they had the power to dismember him piece by piece, even from their
‘So you would be doing him a favour.’
‘Go away pussy cat,’ mumbled Yuri, ‘or I shall pour
this pot of scalding tea over your tail.’ He tossed a mugful in
the cat’s direction.
It leapt from the table with a skirl of rage. ‘I’ll report
you to the RSPCA for that!’ Then it bolted out of the door.
‘How odd,’ mused Diana. ‘I was sure neither of them
could feel pain.’
‘As its companion is exploring surface of Venus at this very moment,
it could be inconvenient for her if you are wrong.
Diana gave him a sideways glance. ‘Yuri, you sounded almost English
‘Yes. I think my brain must really be going at last.’
again the geophysicist scrutinised the latest satellite image. It was
no good; its ground control would have to recalibrate the camera. The
pictures it was sending back had definitely slewed the North Sea by
several degrees. She emailed her report to them in time for the satellite’s
next pass. A reply came back almost instantaneously. There was nothing
wrong with the satellite. Climatologists had agreed that the readings
The geophysicist picked up the telephone and made a transatlantic call.
‘What do you mean, “correct”? If those images being
sent back are correct, then Ireland and Britain are moving southwest.
It’s just as well the Scilly Isles are moving, otherwise we’ll
soon run them down... No, of course not... I thought the rise in temperature
was something to do with global warming... But it’s impossible.
This is continental drift gone mad. Land masses just don’t shift
about like that. We aren’t even on the edge of a plate, and no
tremors have been reported... What aren’t you telling me?... What
do you mean, it’s classified? It’s our ruddy country that’s
moving... Yes, and you know what you can do with your Freedom of Information
Act - Oh, it’s our Government. I should have known. If we were
all about to be devoured by an outbreak of necrotising fasciitis, we’d
be the last to know... Oh, all right. If you won’t tell me it’ll
have to wait, but I’ve got to pass this on. The Channel Tunnel
will need to be evacuated if nothing else. Though, come to think of
it, they must have done that some while ago. They must have kept that
out of the news as well.’
Like mighty ships that had been moored too long in the same anchorage,
Ireland and Britain were sedately slipping into the warming waters of
the Atlantic Drift. Not enough to cause a catastrophic eddy behind or
massive flooding before, but ponderously, as though some colossal brain
was carefully easing them inch by inch towards the equator. Miraculously,
no well heads or mineshafts were ruptured, and tunnels were safely sealed.
Birds sensed the slight increase in warmth and wondered whether to try
for one more brood, while some dogs tended to howl a lot - they weren’t
sure why, it just seemed like a good idea.
These strange events may have been what Salisbury had sensed that misty
afternoon though, had anyone told him, he would never have believed
it. He was more concerned about the sudden influx of strangers into
his quiet countryside. These uniforms didn’t belong to hikers.
The scholar disliked authority and soldiers of any description. He had
led a personal and persuasive crusade amongst his students to dissuade
them from joining the forces. As soon as the gym instructors started
praising a youngster’s competitive spirit, Salisbury would bombard
the pupil with poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. He had often
wished for himself the courage it took to be a conscientious objector.
Because Salisbury dreaded uniforms, officialdom seemed to sense this
and invariably zeroed in on him at the slightest pretext. He was probably
listed somewhere as an anarchist for daring to complain about low-flying
jets or for losing his library ticket. Most other dons on the staff
kept company with magistrates, local government officers and the odd
MP, whether freemasons or not. Salisbury preferred to chat with the
secretary of the local ramblers’ association and the Brown Owl
who regularly led her pack round his wild flower garden for nature instruction.
So he wisely kept his distance from the activity below, even though
he burned with curiosity to know what they were searching for.
From the cover of the trees skirting the hill, Salisbury peered down
into the valley he had always thought so featureless that he had often
wished for the occasional shrub or landslide to punctuate its bleakness.
It was now apparent that some friendly deity had granted his wish. The
stony pasture had been transformed into a massive rockery studded with
clumps of brilliant flowers. The occasional sheep, stranded amongst
the fluorescent blossoms, wondered whether it should graze or take a
photograph. Salisbury had often scattered seeds in the hope that something
other than twitch grass would grow, but they hadn’t produced so
much as a daisy. Now an alpine meadowland bloomed.
Wonderment overtook Salisbury’s caution. He was unaware of the
inquisitive blue eyes observing him.
‘Quite a show isn’t it?’ said a friendly voice.
Salisbury turned and saw a cheerful man two-thirds his height, and twice
his width, with an accent he couldn’t place. He was dressed more
like a tourist than a rambler: open sandals, cotton trousers, patterned
shirt, and obligatory camera with which he reeled off snaps.
‘Yes,’ agreed Salisbury. ‘I wonder what happened?’
he added vaguely.
‘How d’you mean?’
‘What? Oh. The scenery. Wasn’t here before. Quite strange
- the stream never used to have that course. It rose in the adjoining
valley, didn’t cascade from those rocks in a waterfall. Come to
think about it, that escarpment wasn’t there before either - None
of this was. I’d often wished something would liven the place
up, yet never dared hope for anything more dramatic than a rare bird
followed by twitchers. It’s more likely the odd jet might crash.
They do fly perilously low over here, you know.’
‘Need to learn how to avoid the radar.’ The tourist shook
his head knowingly. ‘Got to do it, I suppose.’
‘Rather dents the prospect of any rare bird wanting to nest. They’ve
even frightened the dunnocks off. Dratted military. Seem to be everywhere.’
‘Never a soldier then?’
‘National service. All those mindless orders. Never yet heard
a drill sergeant able to put an intelligent sentence together. I’m
sure they didn’t understand half the words they used.’
‘I bet you told them.’
‘Frequently. They seemed to think anyone University trained and
without the connections to be a captain should be in permanent fatigues,
and I never had the right “attitude” to be an officer.’
‘Nothing to be ashamed of.’
Salisbury sighed. ‘Could never understand how we managed to afford
an army after the War, given what we owed the Americans.’
‘Same college as Burgess and MacLean were you?’
‘Oh no. Where I studied most of us never found our way out of
the ivory tower.’
‘You think they had a point though?’
Salisbury gave a thin smile. ‘Everyone has a point of view. In
a hundred years’ time, when we know what the secret services were
really up to, it may transpire they were right after all.’
The tourist laughed. ‘Bet you’re a vegetarian as well?’
‘Ever since Lucifer died.’
‘My dog. I was given custody when my family left. They took the
Volkswagen and the cat. I only bought meat because of him. Not the sort
of animal that would mistake lettuce for steak - He did dig up the garden
‘Like the countryside, do you?’
‘Oh yes, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I was offered a
chair at my old University, but that would have meant living in a town.’
Salisbury smiled at the scene below. ‘Perhaps I was right.’
‘You don’t think all this is odd then?’
Salisbury hesitated and wondered why he was being so open with the stranger,
even though the man seemed amiable and trustworthy enough. ‘I’ve
been having this strange feeling lately, as though something were listening
to my thoughts. It’s absurd of course - And then there’s
‘It’s my age I suppose. Over the past few days, whenever
I’ve been out there, I’ve had this sensation that I wasn’t
alone. I had a good look around and couldn’t find anything though
- it’s almost half an acre. Has to be my imagination, though my
barometer said there was definitely a change in air pressure.’
The stranger gave a sympathetic smile. ‘They say some people are
more sensitive to their environment than others. Perhaps you just had
a premonition about this change in the landscape.’
‘I’m sure I willed it to happen. That’s even more
absurd.’ Salisbury laughed self-consciously then noticed an odd
sparkle in the tubby man’s friendly eyes.
they don’t have a colour set,’ whinged Julia.
Diana hammered the remaining T-shirts into her daughter’s suitcase.
‘That’s because your cousins spend most of their time outside.’
Once she would have lovingly folded every article. After surviving the
menopause, she wondered why she had ever bothered.
‘They collect pebbles and make papier mâché cows.
Have you seen their new fishpond?’
‘They’re breeding sharks, you know.’
‘I’ve no doubt the piranha will soon sort them out.’
‘And the river’s only yards away from a sewage outlet.’
‘Since when did you fancy going for a swim anyway? You can draw
some posters for their campaign to have it relocated.’
‘That’s all they do - campaign. They don’t even bother
to watch Doctor Who because they think he causes time pollution.’
‘You’re still staying there until I say you can come back.’
‘There won’t be any holiday left to enjoy by then.’
Julia put on her doe-like expression. ‘Are you sure we can’t
have a DVD recorder?’
‘Positive. I won’t be here to record anything for you anyway.’
‘Where’re you going then?’
‘Never you mind.’
‘You aren’t running off with Yuri are you?’
‘At the moment Yuri is more likely to run off by himself.’
Julia instinctively knew this had something to do with the talking cat.
She didn’t ask any more questions because she wasn’t up
to facing honest answers. She preferred the quiet life, and even her
eco-freak cousins were relatively docile compared with what her mother
could get up to.
That evening, a large, angular cat sat on the roof of Yuri’s cottage
and watched Venus gleaming on the horizon. Given the corrosion and massive
pressures that distorted its atmosphere, the planet probably couldn’t
do much else. More out of boredom than in the hope of seeing anything,
Yuri also peered up at it through his ten-inch reflector. It looked
the same. It always looked the same, even with some inter-galactic intelligence
poking about in its sulphuric sky.
The cat gave a very tired miaow then sloped down the roof to join Yuri.
He had not been expecting its arrival and nearly toppled over as it
made a massive leap to land on the fence beside him. The fence lurched
uneasily under its weight, so it jumped onto the branch of a tree with
an unfeline thud.
‘Now disappear,’ Yuri suggested hopefully, but this cat
wasn’t from Cheshire.
‘She’s very quiet,’ it mewed quizzically.
‘Who?’ asked Yuri.
‘Dax. She’s up there on Venus, you know. Hasn’t contacted
me for ages.’
‘Must have found something interesting.’
‘Why should she go there?’
‘Just looking around.’
‘I do not trust you or your friend, pussy cat. What are you up
‘Nothing liable to cause any harm.’
‘You move planet creature from one galaxy to another, and into
world which is already occupied, and you do not think that is liable
to cause harm?’
‘Not that much anyway.’
‘And now you say we are about to be invaded by that loathsome
Kulp and his friends, and that is not going to cause harm?’
‘Well, nothing compared to what will happen when the Mott come
through the portal he’s going to install -You haven’t met
them have you?’
‘I do not wish to.’
‘Not a good idea if you haven’t got the nostrils for it.
They smell worse than they look, and they look gruesome enough to curdle
‘I did not know dragons had milk.’
‘Not many people try to milk them.’
Yuri became more annoyed. ‘Is this only level of conversation
intelligences of your magnitude can manage?’
‘You prefer to talk about Kulp?’
‘I prefer not to think about that creature. You must stop him
‘It would help if we knew where he was going to reopen the gravity
‘Why don’t you change into In Sb array then you can scan
in near infra-red?’
‘Oh no, Kulp’s too green.’
‘Now you are being silly, pussy cat.’
‘His blood’s the wrong temperature.’
Yuri threw the cover over the reflector. ‘Well, if you think I
am going to let you put Diana or me in danger-’
‘I’m quite sure she’s capable of rescuing you if anything
happens. She did the last time.’
Yuri prickled. ‘Neither of us want to play this game.’
‘We thought you were fond of Moosevan?’
‘She is fickle. I think she find someone else.’
‘Must be the change of atmosphere. Her old home was much more
mauve. Full of exotic minerals and flowers exuding every poison you
can think of.’
‘Humans will poison Earth quite soon, so then she will be happy.’
‘Oh dear, how I hate lovers’ tiffs.’
Yuri’s fury became totally irrational. ‘And it is all your
‘Because you have power to put everything right, then decide to
change into cat instead!’
‘Well, I had to have some cover-’ it began, but Yuri had
stomped inside and slammed the door.
The cat started to clean itself and, unable to manage it without lifting
two paws, fell out of the tree.
encountering atmospheres corrosive enough to disintegrate brick, it
was never a good idea to choose a guise that required cells. That was
why the cat’s companion, Dax, had assumed the form of a rather
elegant spiral of plasma. She wasn’t expecting to come across
anyone on Venus worth impressing but, unlike her friend, she had an
innate sense of what was stylish.
This inquisitive puff of energy had so far ascertained that Venus was
the right shape, a reasonable distance from a stable sun, and had nothing
really wrong with it that a little juggling about with the atmosphere
couldn’t put right. Perhaps a slight adjustment in its orbit;
the planet was unlikely to have evolved any beings sentient enough to
complain about that. Those dratted pulses of energy that occasionally
launched murderous attacks at her nebulous body seemed to be the nearest
to anything living. Dax had put it down to the lightning that frequently
sliced through the leaden cloud bank and struck the ground. But she
had to be sure.
The next pulse that came at her suddenly found itself flattened against
a wall of rock. Instead of dispersing like any self-respecting blob
of energy, it seemed to lie there as though waiting for an ambulance.
There weren’t many things with which this super-intelligence couldn’t
communicate, but dazed chunks of energy did present something of a problem.
In an instant the dense atmosphere was buzzing with its furious companions.
If they had the intelligence to get that wild, there had to be some
topic of conversation Dax could engage them in. Before the angry swarm
knew what was happening, the svelte spiral of plasma became an enveloping
blanket in which they found themselves trapped.
Their leader buzzed in their own language words equivalent to, ‘All
right, we give up! Swallow us and it won’t do you much good either.’
‘Who are you?’ demanded Dax.
‘So, where else is there to live in a place like this?’
‘I didn’t think anything could live in a place like this.’
‘It doesn’t require that much intelligence, just persistence.’
‘But nothing with any sense could have evolved under these pressures.’
‘Why do you think we’re so bad-tempered? Who are you anyway?’
‘As we’re into short names, you can call me Dax.’
‘What’s your reason for hanging about a place like this?’
‘Oh, I don’t come from this galaxy.’ Dax didn’t
think it would be wise to let on what she was really up to. That would
make them even more furious. ‘There’s been a breach in space
time. I was sent to investigate it. You haven’t seen anything
suspicious, have you?’
‘Only you,’ said the Zatts. ‘Haven’t seen any
metal objects being pulverised for ages. Whoever was sending the things
must have twigged what was happening to them.’
‘You mean from Earth?’
‘Oh, is that what they call it? We’ve often wondered. Not
many of us try getting over the mountains to see who’s on the
other side. We lead a pretty uneventful life. The only things to get
excited in this place are molecules.’
Dax resisted the temptation to say that their tempers were even worse.
‘Perhaps I should have gone to that red planet first.’
‘Planet? What’s a planet?’
It was obvious the Zatts believed they lived in a valley with a permanent
shell of cloud cover. Dax didn’t have her companion’s simple
urge to explain revolutionary matters to backward life forms. It usually
started uprisings of the most unpleasant sort anyway. They knew what
molecules were and that was enough. It was best that something as bad-tempered
as Zatts never went on to discover anything about atoms.
Dax shaped her plasma into a rocket. ‘Better go now - Cheerio.’
And before the swarm could close in again, she shot straight up through
the corrosive soup and disappeared.
said Diana irritably. ‘She told me to pack and wait here.’
‘She told me you would be waiting here with suitcase, so I come
as well. I do not trust that pussy cat.’
Diana noticed Yuri’s battered knapsack. ‘I thought you would
be heading in the opposite direction.’
‘Opposite direction to where? I come with you, I find out where
‘How did they ever think you were mad? Sometimes your logic is
terrifying - generally useless - but terrifying all the same. Do you
think she’s discovered where Kulp and his companions are?’
Yuri pursed his lips. ‘I do not think it good idea we should meet
‘I’ve never met them and I agree.’
‘They are green, like algae on surface of dead pond. When I first
see them on Moosevan’s planet they were not green for long. Big
one turned pink and other two became... striped. They might have done
this to frighten me, but I think it was to annoy each other.’
‘Even if I could get used to the idea of aliens, I don’t
think I’d ever manage to deal with their sense of humour.’
‘Oh...’ Yuri shook his head of tangled grey locks. ‘They
have no sense of humour.’
‘They sound hilarious.’
‘Crocodile smile, but does not tell many jokes.’
Diana looked up at the large dishes which were trying to find some tiny
radio signal in the sky through the barrage of interference coming from
satellites, ground stations, and anything that could transmit on the
wave bands they had been allocated. ‘It’s going to rain.’
‘If Eva was here, she would know what to do.’
‘She’d never believe it. Those dratted entities are stuck
with us because we’re the only humans with brains curdled enough
to understand what’s going on.’
Yuri paused. ‘I do not understand what is going on.’
‘Come to mention it, I’m not too sure why I’m waiting
by the side of a road for a car that neither of us can drive to suddenly
appear out of nowhere.’
‘That has probably been attended to.’
‘I’m not getting into it if there’s a cat behind the
steering wheel - Got a clean change of clothes in that bag?’
Yuri shrugged. ‘Clean enough. From what I saw of big green alien,
he would not be bothered whether I wash or not.’
Something occurred to Diana. ‘Of course.’
‘We’re going to meet someone.’
‘Whoever Moosevan has taken a fancy to.’
‘Don’t you see?’ Diane explained, ‘She must
be getting up to something we haven’t been told about. Her new
boyfriend is probably the only one who can persuade her to calm down.
He’s not liable to listen to that silly cat if he’s sane,
so she wants us to explain what’s going on.’
Yuri scowled. ‘I prefer big green men to chase me.’
‘You’re just jealous.’
‘I just come along to make sure you are kept well. I have no interest
in this new boyfriend of hers.’
‘I wonder what she’s been doing?’
‘That I prefer not to think about.’
Their conversation was interrupted by the purr of a car’s engine.
It was a Rolls almost as wide as the road, and looked vintage enough
to be able to sneer a tractor onto the verge. It pulled up beside them.
‘Do not get inside,’ warned Yuri. ‘I saw picture once
about car which ate people.’
Diana was inclined to agree. The elegant vehicle had an unnerving air
of Thirties’ menace about it.
‘Oh really,’ complained a voice from behind the polarised
window concealing the driver’s seat. ‘Will you two stop
fooling around and get in.’ The tone definitely belonged to the
Though curious to know how it was managing to turn the steering wheel
and reach the accelerator, Diana thought twice about opening the door.
She had seen the way the cat had tried to climb trees, and its new venture
didn’t bode well for the road.
‘I do not want to be driven anywhere by a moggie,’ she said
‘It’s all right.’ There was a good deal of clicking
and rustling as the driver released her safety belt and climbed out.
‘I would never have been able to stand all those cat’s eyes
staring back at me.’
Diana and Yuri gazed in amazement at the large jovial woman of indeterminate
colour dressed in voluminous skirts. Though not elderly, she had the
presence of a tree three hundred years old. This new disguise had the
splendour of Brunel’s derelict ‘Great Britain’, now
ancient enough to be restored for posterity. No, thought Diana, there
wasn’t a model, female, male, monument, or yak, on which she could
have based her appearance. That was just something devised from the
depths of the entity’s vast store of knowledge, innate bad taste,
and possibly a glimpse of a large toby jug.
‘I think I prefer pussy cat,’ whispered Yuri. ‘Does
she have name for this... arrangement?’
‘Call me Reniola, old thing.’ She shook Yuri’s hand
before he could snatch it away.
‘Look Reniola, couldn’t you have chosen to be someone...’
Diana hesitated, ‘a little less conspicuous?’
‘Oh, I thought purple rather suited me.’
‘It’s not the purple so much as what’s inside it.’
Reniola shrugged. ‘Well, it seems comfortable enough. Anyhow,
I expect you to do all the talking for me. Finding it a bit difficult
getting the hang of you humans. Strange ideas you have. Would you believe
it, only a moment ago I was tempted to put one of those - you know -
tobacco sticks I found in the glove compartment in my mouth and set
fire to it. Made me feel quite peculiar. Never mind - only dented the
front a bit.’
‘Who does the car belong to, for goodness’ sake?’
‘Oh, it won’t be missed. I left a hologram in its place.
The old boy apparently only looks at it. Had to jiggle a few things
about to get its speed up of course, and to adjust the engine so it
didn’t need petrol. Now I know how to put the machine together
I could assemble one in no time.’
‘I didn’t think you needed diagrams to assemble anything?’
‘Only the easy stuff. To reach enlightenment it’s necessary
to perfect the art of simplicity in everything. When you do eventually
manage to dispense with mortality you can do virtually anything as long
as it’s not easy. You’d probably say it was all to do with
Yuri’s knowledge of the astrophysical quailed at such Uncertainty
on a Cosmic scale and wondered, belatedly, if Reniola’s previous
incarnation was related to Schrödinger’s cat.
‘I see,’ Diana said unsurely. ‘How safe a driver are
you? Our molecules aren’t able to recombine as efficiently as
yours after major accidents.’
‘Oh - safe as houses. Whatever that means. Jump in. Want to catch
the poor fish before Moosevan gives him a nervous breakdown. Won’t
be much use to us then, will he?’
‘I was right.’
Reniola laughed. ‘You didn’t really think we wanted you
to hunt down Kulp did you?’
‘Yes,’ said Diana and Yuri.
‘Oh dear me. What a strange sense of humour some cats must have.’
She chuckled and bounced back into the driver’s seat.
Yuri now wished she was the cat in Schrödinger’s box, so
he could close the lid and believe it had expired.
Yuri and Diana looked apprehensively at each other.
‘I have the strange feeling Julia is going to have to spend the
rest of her adolescent life rescuing stranded whales, planting acorns
and drawing posters for environmental campaigns,’ sighed Diana.
‘I have feeling that if we fail there will be very big entity
with own ideas about looking after Earth anyway.’
only did Salisbury have an acute dislike of authority, he didn’t
care much for the small cell it had kept him locked up in for the last
two days. At least his food had been vegetarian and toilet paper soft.
All else was a puzzle to him. Despite his easy-going nature, he had
been adamant about not answering any questions without first knowing
why he had been arrested. Apart from them having the suspicion that
he had been doing some illicit landscape gardening on a preposterous
scale, there was nothing else to which he could link his internment.
And, without access to a phone, he had no way of telling where he was
being held. His guards were not dressed like ordinary policemen and
their accents weren’t local. Perhaps he should have been flattered
they chose to abduct him, instead he was more worried about what he
was going to tell his principal when he did get out. The last thing
she would have expected her English don to acquire was a police record.
At last, the deceptively jolly tourist paid him a visit. No longer in
his innocent tourist disguise, he was wearing a suit and waistcoat that
gave him the affable air of a Sidney Greenstreet. This did not raise
Salisbury’s hopes. He had seen the Maltese Falcon several times
and was more inclined to trust the sinister charm of Peter Lorre.
After a good deal of beating, fortunately only about the bush, the truth
at last came out. It wasn’t the landscape gardening that bothered
this security service so much, but a well of molecular disturbance between
Salisbury’s wild flower garden and the tool-shed. Not being a
physicist, he was at a loss to understand what this meant, let alone
feel inclined to own up to it.
Realising that the prisoner was going to continue being obdurate, his
captors bundled the scholar into a van and drove him off to be confronted
by the crime that defied anything their scientists knew about quantum
On seeing the expressions of the scientists surrounding a sizable indentation
in his lovingly tended garden, Salisbury knew it was about time to stop
being worried, and opt for full blown fear. The combination of glaring
arc lamps on the cloudy night sky and trucks full of scientific equipment
told him how deep in trouble he was.
For all the illumination, a pillar of darkness was threading its erratic
way up through the descending fog. Whatever the nebulous structure might
have been, it was beginning to show signs of decay. Anything tossed
into the densely black unstable cylinder either never landed or bounced
back with its molecules scrambled beyond recognition. Salisbury was
only grateful Brown Owl and her pack hadn’t encountered the aberration
on their nature rambles. Apart from the awkward questions the Brownies
would have asked, it might also have left them with the impression that
he was in league with dangerous alien powers. In fact, his knowledge
of physics, much to the disgust of the science faculty, only ran to
differentiating between water and alcohol by tasting them. It seemed
absurd he could be accused of making dark dents in the ether.
Salisbury wondered if he should have accepted those quarters at the
college after all. The students there were loyal and had defended the
ancient stones against visiting education ministers and fascist speakers.
They would have been in their element seeing off the army.
Salisbury’s inquisitors soon gave up trying to question him. They
had the powers to detain him for as long as they liked, and only needed
to claim the scholar had contracted some deadly virus infiltrated into
the country by an alien power. That would have been enough to dampen
the curiosity of the most suspicious policeman or passing neighbour.
Salisbury pleaded to be allowed to use the phone, even to make sure
the fridge had defrosted, but it was no good. Through the windows he
could see his rooms had been ransacked, his library dismantled and stacked
in heaps, the furniture pushed to one side and the floorboards ripped
up. He didn’t dare ask what they were looking for. Such melodramatic
actions begged a terrible answer.
A square-faced man wearing a camouflage jacket eventually confronted
him. ‘All right, where are they?’
‘Who?’ Salisbury’s mouth was so dry the word was reluctant
to come out.
‘Three men were seen coming through that pillar thing in your
‘Three men? What pillar thing?’
‘Don’t play the innocent. We may not know what this is all
about, or how they managed it, but you’re our only clue.’
‘Who saw these three men?’
‘That doesn’t matter. We also know they were bringing a
heck of a lot of equipment with them. We need to know what that was
going to be used for as well.’
‘I don’t understand. Please believe me.’
‘You’re just the sort of front infiltrators would put up.’
‘Infiltrators from where?’
The hard-featured man gave him a glacial glare. ‘That’s
what we want to know.’
‘But... if you’re from Intelligence, surely you must know
more than I do?’
The sarcasm in the statement didn’t register.
‘We only know about what happens on this planet.’
Salisbury swallowed hard. He was frightened before; now he began to
experience the odd cocktail of shock, terror, and panic. ‘Aliens?’
‘Well. What do you know about them?’
‘Nothing - I swear it - nothing.’
‘All right. We’ll question you later.’ The officer
strode off to intimidate someone else.
Salisbury didn’t like the inflection in the man’s tone.
He glanced about to see if there was some opening he could dash through.
He was scared enough to risk a bullet in the back. Unfortunately he
was handcuffed and surrounded by a detachment of similar granite-featured
men who no doubt had the muscles and compassion to match.
Wishing he had been trained for the rugby scrum after all, Salisbury
tried to make his brain communicate with his legs. He knew the countryside
beyond his bungalow so well, that even with its recent adjustments he
could have lost his guards in the pitch blackness with just a little
There was an odd movement a short way off; not enough to alarm those
nearest to him, just raise their curiosity. Something appeared to be
burrowing its way up through the ground. An arc lamp was turned on the
area as the apparently solid lawn started to ripple. This no doubt caused
some alarm amongst the many moles that frequented it and the men poked
at it with their guns.
‘Don’t get earth in your weapons you idiots!’ bellowed
the square-faced officer as he strode over, glowering at Salisbury.
‘What is it?’
‘Hyperactive worms,’ the prisoner suggested, hoping something
so mundane wouldn’t bring the wrath of the army down on him. He
couldn’t understand why his carefully tended garden had decided
to commit such an act of treachery against him.
‘Dig it up.’
Salisbury had no choice but to watch the neat turf being turned over
by spades and a small bulldozer.
Not finding anything, the officer wandered away to let them get on with
their excavations. Weary of the fruitless task, the soldiers’
attention was no longer on Salisbury.
Then, suddenly, the arc lamp vanished. So did the bulldozer. The soldiers
rushed to pull its driver from a rapidly growing hole. As soon as he
was saved, another chasm opened up and swallowed them as well. Apparently
unharmed, their shouts of panic attracted the attention of everyone
else. The garden appeared to be on Salisbury’s side after all.
He didn’t stop to wonder at his luck, and darted to a familiar
hole in the hedge where he disappeared into the darkness while square-jaws
tried to bully everyone into keeping calm.