for The Planet Dweller
first novel Is a real find -definitely a specimen of higher lunacy.
The Planet Dweller appropriates all the furniture of TV sci-fi and duly
stands it on its head, with a wonderfully pragmatic absurdity - that’s
been done before, of course (Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams), but not
quite this way. How characters quite as insane as these - menopausal
Diana and the radio-astronomer Eva, 11-year-old Julia, and the drunken
Russian eccentric, Yuri - turn out to be as plausible as anyone you’d
find in the average bus-queue, I do not know; but at one time or another
I’ve met all these people. Real people are always more incredible
than fiction likes to think...
Mary Gentle Interzone
story in which the Earth is threatened by the deadliest life-form in
the universe: the Mott. Diana, a menopausal mother, and Yuri, a practised
drunk, are the two humans destined to fight them. They do have some
help in the form of Dax and Reniola a pair of Torrons; uncomfortable
in their new bodies they are eager if incompetent allies.
voice - if their is one - should surely be credited to Jane Palmer,
whose first novel ‘The Planet Dweller’ brings a much-needed
note of sanity into the launch. Palmer has more in common with Muriel
Spark than Marge Piercy. Her alien invasion of Earth takes place among
the kind of people who cause havoc at the supermarket checkout. She
also, with deft comedy, creates a Feminist who’s literally the
size of a planet, and that is a daunting prospect...
Jane Solanas Time Out
novel, The Planet Dweller quite unashamedly a good sci-fi adventure,
is really the odd one out. It draws most on the traditional ‘adventure’
strand of science fiction and quite cleverly weaves together all the
ingredients for a good read.
Liz Adams Chartist
Dweller is a much more traditionally sf novel, and also funny in a Tom
Sharpe/Douglas Adams sort of way:
first novel The Planet Dweller comically (and Britishly) juxtaposes
menopausal female reality with a farcical chauvinist SF subplot about
the Molt and their plan to rule the galaxy. . . The Planet Dweller is
the most easily readable of the four books, involving no noticeable
shortforms. Anything even slightly scientific is explained in a no-lecturing
manner, and if there is a feminist message, I can’t see it.
The only first
publication is also the only British one, Jane Palmer’s The Planet
Dweller, and it is a world away from the American novels. . . The Planet
Dweller has more in common with Dr Who than with American theological
feminism, including a sense of humour.
David Sexton Sunday Times
spins a confused but amusing tale of earth menaced by extragalactic
baddies. Her heroine, Diana, a menopausal housewife and administrator
of an architectural museum, is original, sympatico and fun.
Sunday Times Supplement
THE PLANET DWELLER & MOVING MOOSEVAN
© Jane Palmer 2010
Dodo Books 2010
reserved. This is a work of fiction
and any resemblance to persons
living or dead is purely coincidental.
asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
1 906442 24 8
reserved. 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.
fiction books by this author
THE KYBION THE PLANET DWELLER
THE ATON BIRD
The duck-billed hadrosaur gazed at the
red sun making a lurid dome on the horizon as it set. It looked like
a nasty accident. The wistful sigh that escaped from the dinosaur’s
scaly beak was more like a child’s being deprived of its favourite
toy than that of a three-ton prehistoric herbivore. Bored with trying
to digest cycad cones and dodge the bogs littered with the odd claw
and snout of less fortunate animals, the hadrosaur delved into a fold
of skin at her waist. Other members of the herd hadn't seen the need
to evolve pockets and looked on in mild amazement as she pulled out
a mobile phone.
They also didn’t understand the language she used.
‘Come on Dax, you’ve had plenty of time. I’m beginning
to feel like a fool in this skin... What do you mean? My fault? You
know more about atmospheres than I do. Why couldn’t you have checked
it out before we left..? Yes, of course I’ve got all the readings
now. I’m waiting to come back. And make it snappy! Ever since
I knocked out that tyrannosaur the rest of the herd have been giving
me funny looks... Now those humans have got a brand new planet all to
themselves you’d think they’d be happy. But no, they must
have some water to keep the continents apart as well... Yes, I know
their atmosphere is disappearing. It’s just that they never seem
The herd of duck-billed hadrosaurs continued to graze with one eye on
the look out for predators and the other on their sister with a mobile
phone. Consequently they ate a good many things true vegetarians would
have recoiled from and started to wonder if it wasn’t time they
tried to lose this member who, for some reason, was a conspicuous mauve.
In a herd that was grey and orange, this played havoc with their evolving
colour vision. They now wished they had a switch to turn it off.
The explanation for the talking hadrosaur was actually quite simple;
it just required the imagination of a fantasy fanatic on LSD to grasp
Diana, being a middle-aged single parent
and, at first glance, quite domesticated didn't seem to be the sort
of person who would have any sort of imagination.
Lifting her head from the pillow and wondering whether it was safe to
wake up, she sighed with relief to see the sun rising in its usual place
- as usual as could be expected that is, considering that the Earth
was now orbiting on the opposite side of it. At least that grotesque
piece of cosmic debris Reniola had found to replace the old moon had
at long since set. Had there been any dogs, the sight of it would have
cured them from wanting to howl. Its appearance had added a new cult
worshipping extraterrestrial vampires to all the others devoted to Mother
Nature, which regularly held ceremonies to try and reinstate the world
rhythms human beings had ignored ever since they found out what caused
Diana rolled over and asked herself yet again, ‘Why did those
stupid aliens go and have to put everyone on Titan?’
‘You're talking to yourself again Mum,’ sang out a voice
from the bathroom.
Diana told her daughter, in a rather unmotherly way, to do something
physically impossible with the shower head.
Julia was right, though. Diana was one of the only three human beings
to know what had really happened, though the astronomer, Eva Hopkirk,
had been taking one or two irrational and very accurate guesses. It
would only be a matter of time before the knock at the door came and
they would be obliged to explain how the Earth had shrank to under a
third its size and the moon turned into a badly blasted asteroid, not
to mention what had happened to all the animals conservationists had
devoted their lives to preserving.
Orbiting on the other side of the sun, the Earth was now getting on
very well with its new occupant, a planet dweller called Moosevan, and
the animals, wild and domestic, were doing what came naturally to them
without human interference.
Some astronomers had been concerned that Saturn was missing one moon.
As Titan was the most speculated about phenomenon in the solar system,
and last seen heading towards the Earth's orbit with unnatural speed,
someone would soon put two and two together and come up with a headache.
Diana wearily washed and dressed while Julia saw herself off to school.
All that frenetic dashing about in the morning just to make sure her
daughter was pointing in the right direction with a packed lunch before
nine o'clock no longer seemed to matter any more. A mysterious endowment
that kept her bank balance topped up like some magical urn also meant
that Diana had been able to give up her job at the architectural museum
to spend most of the day watching the news, shopping for things she
didn't really need and once again trying to talk her neighbour, Yuri,
away from the gin bottle. He was one of the others who knew what had
really happened to the Earth and found his old friend, booze, a better
consolation than the sums of money placed in his building society account
by aliens who wanted him to keep quiet about their existence. When the
knock on his door came he wanted to be under the table and incapable
of telling anyone his name and nationality.
It was about noon when Diana dawdled up the meadow at the back of her
terraced home to his ramshackle cottage. She couldn't get used to the
idea that there was no longer any need to avoid treading on families
of field voles or fresh cowpats. Even that diabolic horse once owned
by Daphne Trotter, empress of the local gentry, had been spirited away
to pastures where it was probably stampeding herds of peacefully grazing
wildebeest or terrorising packs of baboons. Reniola not only lacked
a sense of direction, her grasp of geography was nonexistent.
Had Diana known what miscalculations Reniola's companion, Dax, had made
about the atmosphere of Titan, she wouldn't have been so resigned to
the situation. The optimism of middle age insisted that the lack of
oceans on this new world would bring people together; what it would
do to the atmosphere hadn't crossed her mind. Many who had lived near
volcanoes or in earthquake zones were just too grateful to have no more
eruptions which demolished their homes or 50 foot waves slamming into
their coasts to think about it either.
As a consequence, all the concerned ecologists monitoring the decline
in the environment lost nerve and went underground to ponder on why
there was no longer any Earth they could empathise with. They also risked
persecution by churches recalling their medieval heydays and wanting
to put the Earth, wherever it was, back at the centre of the Universe.
Any others who had realised what was actually happening to their new
ecosystem were more inclined to keep their heads under the bedclothes,
including governments who daren't announce to rebellious populations
that the atmosphere was growing less breathable. They already had their
work cut out trying to cook up explanations for why their planet had
shrunk to a third its original size.
Anarchy erupted in several countries, yet was unable to supply butter
any more than democracy could. It took some people, who thought that
dairy products came ready packaged in plastic, a long while to comprehend
that there were no longer any cows to produce the raw material.
Yuri's back door was open. The autumn air was warm and Diana didn't
think it unusual. She sometimes wondered how Dax and Reniola had managed
to copy the seasons so accurately but, as long as it wasn't permanent
winter, it didn't bother her unduly.
There were voices inside the cottage. One of them belonged to Yuri.
It sounded as though he hadn't managed to put away the amount of gin
required to engage in rational conversation.
Diana silently stepped inside and peered past the parlour door curtain.
Yuri was his usual dishevelled self; stained shirt, old jeans, and waistcoat
half on. The small Russian astronomer's expression could veer between
the blearily drunk to alertly angelic and, though there was no odour
to suggest he didn't wash himself or his clothes, he seemed to wear
a permanent tide mark like a halo. At one time he may have been a dapper
shooting star of astrophysics. Now, almost burnt out, he was more like
the grimy core of a comet composed of various mysterious substances.
Those who knew him suspected that he played at being the shambolic eccentric
to hide some knowledge they really wouldn't have wanted to learn about.
His visitor was a different kettle of fish. He had the air of an elegant
pike about him. Diana didn't recognise the uniform, so assumed it belonged
to the newly formed World Army. That was one of the few sensible ideas
the UN had come up with since brotherly love went out of the window
along with Glasnost and green awareness and they realised how easy it
would be for so many countries to invade each other now there were no
natural barriers to prevent it. Not only were most of the seas gone
and mountain ranges flatter, the deserts had disappeared. So something
had to be done to take people's minds off the fact they weren't after
all, the most important individuals in the Universe.
The high-ranking UN officer, though well preserved, must have been nearing
sixty. Diana hadn't any how he had arrived because there was no Land
Rover or helicopter parked outside. She would have easily spotted a
parachute, and the bus service from town usually didn't move until midday;
something to do with saving fuel until the wind farms and solar parks
were constructed. The soldier was also carrying a side arm. That would
have been commented about on a No 9 bus, whose regular driver had no
hesitation in confiscating catapults and stiletto umbrellas.
Diana stood as silently as she could just in case the man's trigger
finger was as quick as his intelligent expression. She would have much
rather gone to one of those bickering PTA meetings than engaged in meaningful
conversation at that moment and, by the way Yuri slopped some tea into
two enamel mugs, she could tell that he would have much rather been
under the table.
The soldier gave a smile that shouldn't have been so engaging because
of the thinness of his lips. His long, straight nose could have belonged
to a lawyer and the expression in the sparkling eyes was boring away
at Yuri's presence of mind.
‘Come, come Sir.’ The urbane tone seemed slightly patronising.
‘I'm sure you can be a little more forthcoming than that. This
is an international matter, you know. The situation affects everyone.’
Yuri took a noisy swig of tea and rinsed it round his mouth before swallowing
it. Astutely, the officer unhooked a brandy flask from his belt and
topped up the murky brew.
Yuri drank another deep draught and his scowl slackened a little. ‘I
tell you what I know, but about anyone else, nothing... You not believe
‘All human beings have been adapting to the impossible in their
own ways, some very eccentrically, but I'm sure we are sensible people.’
‘Do not humour me. My mother was black bear! I bite!’
Diana flinched. She had never seen Yuri bare his teeth at anyone before.
By rights, those he still had should have been yellow, and she was surprised
to see how sharp and white they were. Though the soldier paused for
a moment, he wasn't deterred. His gentlemanly manner suggested he not
only talked tigers out of trees, he went on to persuade them to become
The visitor pulled up a stool. ‘Why don't we sit down?’
Yuri slumped heavily onto a chair by the table where he could look his
adversary in the eye. The Russian should have been able to do that standing
up because neither of them was over five foot six, but his elbows needed
the support of the marble top so he could hold his head steady.
‘What you think I know then?’
The soldier removed his cap to reveal a full head of immaculately groomed
silver hair. The contrast between them was beginning to annoy Yuri.
‘This must be in confidence of course. I will tell you the facts
I have been furnished with in exchange for what you know.’
Yuri gave a blissfully sly smile. ‘I tell you facts, but they
not make sense. They put you in straitjacket before they believe you.’
‘No one expected the explanation to be simple.’
‘You think there are extraterrestrials, Colonel Albright?’
The soldier caught his breath as though about to jump off a high wall.
‘You mean, little green men?’
‘No, big, ugly, toad like green men… but we come to him
Colonel Albright hesitated. ‘What sort of extraterrestrials then?’
‘You mean pure energy forms?’
‘They are energy forms, but not that pure after what they do.’
‘What did they do?’
‘Us human beings out of our planet.’
The penny dropped with a pre-decimal clatter and the Colonel sat back
to digest the revelation. ‘We were evicted from the Earth by two
‘They might have help-’ something occurred to Yuri. ‘You
know where Earth is?’
‘It took astrophysicists with hyperactive imaginations to make
some bizarre calculations before they worked out that it was on the
other side of the Sun.’
‘Then you know what we sit on?’
‘We assumed it to be Titan - admittedly with a rather dramatic
face lift and manicure - but Titan all the same.’
Yuri shrugged. ‘So, there you have it. We can do nothing. Just
keep gun loaded and enjoy it.’
‘Oh, how I wish we could.’
‘I can do nothing... nor anyone else.’
‘Well, old bean, I'm afraid that is going to be rather hard on
the human race in that case.’
Yuri gave a suspicious squint. ‘You mean what?’
‘No oceans, no Great Ocean Conveyer Belt. You're an astronomer
- elementary climatology. You work it out.’
This Yuri did in a nanosecond. The problem had not occurred to him before
because, beneath his burgeoning cynicism, a few molecules of his mind
still believed the Universe had some benevolence left. The intergalactic
intelligences that did this couldn't have really left everyone on a
world without any way of renewing its atmosphere, even if their minds
had been on other things.
The pike, having swallowed the minnow, gave a condescending smile. ‘What
were you going to tell me about this big, ugly, green man?’
Diana couldn't listen any more. She pushed the curtain aside and marched
into the parlour. The Colonel looked up in mild surprise at the woman
in the pink slacks. Despite her unbrushed hair and Garfield T-shirt,
she was quite intimidating.
‘All right, what's going on?’ she demanded.
‘Who are you?’
Yuri leapt up as though Diana were some delicate pet Pomeranian. ‘My
charlady. She know nothing.’
Diana exploded, which, on only a black coffee and Ryvita biscuit, was
quite a feat for her at that time of day. ‘Charlady! Bloody cheek!'
She may not have been the world's best housekeeper, but there was no
way she would have left anyone's room looking like the rough end of
The soldier rose and extended his hand. ‘Good morning. My name
is Colonel Albright. I take it you are one of the privileged few to
know what is really going on?’
Diana snarled through her good teeth and hoped the plate of the others
wouldn't slip out. She hated herself for liking the soldier. Until then
she had regarded all men in military uniforms as being mindless, trained
killers. This one sounded as though he would fall into a state of remorse
for treading on a ladybird.
‘Where do you want me to start?’
Albright withdrew a little, sensing that the question was more of a
threat than offer of help. ‘At the beginning?’ he suggested.
Diana snatched Yuri's chair away and sat down before he could reclaim
it. ‘Right. It happened last midsummer's day.’
Albright nodded, as though realising she didn't expect him to believe
a word of it and let her carry on. ‘The early Earth accreted around
a mechanism capable of activating a gravity corridor to another part
of the Universe.’
‘Put there by these interdimensional "intelligences",’
added Yuri vehemently.
‘Shut-up.’ Diana returned her gleefully disconcerting gaze
to the army. ‘Also embedded in the Earth was the core that the
new world would accrete around; a new home for a planet dweller.’
‘Planet dweller..?’ mouthed Albright.
‘Called Moosevan. She once had her own world. Wore it like a shell.’
His eyes widened, yet he said nothing. ‘Had that device been activated
by the two intergalactic agents sent to save Moosevan, the Earth would
have been destroyed. They were persuaded to do something else instead.’
Albright's face might have lit up, even though he wasn't too sure their
solution was anything to be elated about. ‘So they let her inhabit
Albright gave a ragged sigh. At least that explained the problems they
had with geography roaming about and what had happened to all the ICBM
silos and their missiles, though it did save several countries the expense
of decommissioning them. Pity the interfering aliens had transferred
all the other weapons systems to Titan and left his old Labrador on
Albright fixed Diana with a penetrating gaze. ‘Could you explain
why the human race is now stranded on Titan and this Moosevan, with
all the other animals, presumably inhabits the Earth?’
Diana shrugged. ‘Moosevan's an easy going sort of creature...
just couldn't cope with us.’
‘I see. Why couldn't Moosevan have taken Titan instead and left
us where we were?’
‘Well, let's face it, the Earth was due for an MOT after what
we did to it.’
It was true; even if the world's navies were furious at losing the oceans,
massive areas of water on a planet the size of Titan would have meant
humans rapidly having to evolve gills.
Albright shook his poll of immaculate silver hair. 'HQ won't like this
at all, not at all.’
‘Probably not, but they needn't blame us. We don't have any control
over these characters any more than Kulp had.’
‘You don't want to know about him.’
‘I'd prefer it to come as a surprise if your paths ever cross.’
Albright didn't like the tone of that. He replaced his cap. ‘I
don't suppose there's any way of contacting these intergalactic intelligences?’
‘What? Dax and Reniola? Not that I know of. And I think we should
know when we're well off. Look what they did the last two times they
Albright seemed uncomfortable for some reason, yet said nothing.
Yuri withdrew his nose from the aroma of five star brandy in his mug.
‘You mean we can do nothing to save atmosphere?’
Albright nodded. The most dramatic measures, even if the UN could get
anyone to agree to them, wouldn't stop its deterioration. It took governments
long enough to be persuaded that the ozone layer was disappearing and
that cars cause pollution. If these entities hadn't switched planets,
humans would have probably ended up with an atmosphere like Venus's.
When humanity's paws couldn't be prized from the steering wheel of ecocatastrophe
it's unlikely people would dash out onto the motorways to do rain dances
and plant trees.
‘What happens when volcanoes erupt?’ Diana asked. ‘The
pollution would have nowhere to go.’
‘There would not be enough rainfall to precipitate the fallout,
so it's just as well this planet doesn't have any crustal movement,’
Yuri looked up sharply. ‘You mean... there is no tectonic activity?’
The core of Titan may have moved once. It was now as inert as the population's
capacity for self-control. Albright had never had to deal with hysterical
crowds and would have sooner faced half a dozen marches of religious
fanatics single-handed than calculated the prospect of them passing
this world onto their descendants.
Diana thoughtfully poured herself a mug of Yuri's dingy tea. ‘So
what can you do about it?’
Albright gave a tight smile. ‘Nothing I suppose, though I had
to try. Your friend's address was passed on to me so it seemed pointless
not to follow it up.’
‘Who passed Yuri's address on to you?’
Albright was momentarily fazed. ‘It wasn't his fault. Hardened
agents would have found it difficult to resist those sorts of drugs
- Not the sort of thing I'd go in for of course,’ he added hastily.
Diana immediately knew he mean the English don who had reluctantly become
entangled with them.
Salisbury was one of those people educated to a pitch of dangerous unworldliness,
and had believed the worst that could happen to human evolution would
be the adoption of Webster's Dictionary by English teachers. This was
before he had an amorous planet take a fancy to him, been chased by
the army and a large green alien, rescued by two shape-changing entities,
and then had to fend off a resentful Yuri who was jealous because the
planet dweller had been his girlfriend.
‘What you do to Salisbury?’ Yuri blurted out as though he
was a bosom comrade instead of the thorn that had punctured his few
‘I had nothing to do with this and am trying to negotiate his
release. I'm afraid the officer in charge of that unit is as irrational
as most other people at the moment, though. Believes the man to be in
league with aliens from outer space.’
‘Oh no, Kulp again. ’ Diana sighed as though they were talking
about some annoying tomcat instead of a galactic megacriminal.
‘Perhaps if you managed to raise Dax and Reniola they might rescue
The suggestion was put so charmingly it was difficult to believe it
‘If they are so intelligent, they might be able to read thoughts.’
‘If they had been reading mine over the past few weeks it's very
unlikely they'd want to come back.’
‘Didn’t you have some mental link with this Moosevan as
well?’ Albright asked carefully.
‘Yes, she talk to Moosevan,’ Yuri accused Diana.
The Colonel's expression suggested that this was what he really wanted
Diana gave a small laugh. Moosevan knew when she was well off. Why should
she try and help? The planet dweller had no malice in her vast being,
though, so perhaps Diana should try. At worst, she would plug into some
transcendental group meditating on the vibrations given off by new potatoes.
‘Who else knows about Yuri?’
‘Only me,’ said Albright.
‘Get Salisbury released and I'll help you.’
Albright gave a stiff nod. ‘Very good.’ He left silently
without bothering to drop his calling card onto the much scuffed table
in Yuri's hall.
Not waiting to see the skin congeal on her mug of tea, Diana followed
him. By the time she stepped into the meadow Albright had gone, probably
plucked up by some silent motorised balloon. She wandered back down
to her terraced cottage and drew the curtains of her living room, where
she relaxed in an armchair for some serious mind clearing. As all other
problems now seemed such minor matters, she was surprised at how easily
she managed it.
Calling up a planet orbiting on the other side of the sun should have
been difficult, but now Moosevan had no romantic interests to distract
her she should be more receptive to a sister spirit. The entity would
have no doubt preferred to hear from Yuri or Salisbury. On the other
hand - perhaps not. The planet dweller had gone off the Russian as soon
as he had sobered up, and why hadn't she realised that Salisbury was
in trouble? That was it! She was bound to answer as soon as she knew
that the don was in danger. Without giving any thought to what Moosevan
might do about it, Diana let her thoughts float free onto the orbit
of the two worlds.
When she woke, Diana knew that there was
something she should have remembered. Instead of worrying about it,
she made herself a coffee, boiled some rice, and opened the recipe book
of government recommended dishes that could be made without any animal
products. Ensuring that everyone had a balanced diet seemed to be their
main priority now no one needed to negotiate over fish quotas and butter
mountains, or worry about salmonella and BSE. The book listed ways to
remove the bitter taste from acorns and make cheese with their pulp,
101 recipes for tofu which all had the consistency of latex, and tasted
like it whatever you marinated it in, how to mould the putty cleverly
created by removing the cellulose from straw and make cement burghers,
and even how to bake flour with and without yeast - assuming you could
get either from the secure storage vats governments were now hoarding
them in since farmers were banned from using nitrates and had run out
of manure. Only bakers and mice could get at the wheat, and the yeast
was probably fermenting into a new life form that would take over as
soon as human beings had been suffocated by the thinning atmosphere.
Not to worry, it was wonderful what could be done with a carrot, a little
sunflower oil, and bag of peanuts.
Diana suspiciously read the label on the jar of artificial yeast extract.
This was now the wonder substitute for all meat flavours and supplemented
the demand for Quorn. Chemists were working on more intestine numbing
concoctions to improve on substitute meats but, not having any animals
to test them on, found keeping within old government legislation heavy
Having tossed a few vegetables in hot oil to put with the rice, Diana
had one of her inconvenient premonitions. They now came over her as
frequently as hot flushes.
She walked to the front room to gaze out of the window.
There went Flora and Irene. They had always left at the same time to
buy milk and cat food. Now they used that money to come back with a
bottle of Spar wine and Danish pastry each. In their new home their
pampered pussies were at that moment trying to work out how to catch
a vole whilst avoiding the packs of pedigree hounds at liberty to do
everything centuries of inbreeding had intended to anthropomorphise
out of them. Strangely, Flora and Irene seemed much happier. Having
discovered sherry and rum babas, they also started to wonder what else
they had missed. There had never been any doubts when the vicar declared
that animals didn't have souls but, as most of them had apparently gone
to Heaven, the sisters felt free to natter about their growing atheism
without being struck by lightning.
Then the real reason for Diana's premonition appeared. Eva Hopkirk's
mud spattered car sped round the corner and screeched to halt outside
the terrace of cottages. Eva was another lunatic of the local fold,
though not one others tried to humour; a nod and quick departure was
the safest way to greet the astronomer. There were always those who
wanted to discuss their horoscopes, to which Dr Hopkirk would give an
alternative reading and leave them thoroughly depressed, waiting for
the tell tale signs of hepatitis B or watching pine cones that would
predict an inundation overwhelming enough to make Noah give up. Eva
had never been very kind to the gullible and had kept her marriage to
Yuri more secret than the address of a tabloid reporter's bolthole.
‘Damn,’ swore Diana as a glimmer of what she should have
remembered came back to her. The door bell rang and the thought fled.
Still wearing her ancient flapping overall, Eva strode into Diana's
living room and dropped into the nearest armchair. She was a short,
untidy woman who somehow took up enough space for a person three times
‘Now what?’ Diana enquired without much enthusiasm as she
poured her unlikely friend a glass of carbonated spring water.
‘It's impossible of course...’
‘What isn't?' Lately that seemed to be the only guarantee that
it was actually happening.
Eva swigged back the water and hiccupped. ‘I can't make it out.’
‘You're talking astronomy, aren't you?’
‘Why don't you pick on Yuri?’
‘It's no use talking to him since he went back to the bottle.
He'd never be able to see with his reflector what I'm picking up anyway.’
Diana smiled sarcastically. ‘I always knew you'd be able to tune
into some alien pop station with those radio telescopes one day.’
Eva ignored her. ‘We've had a one and a half metre reflector installed.’
‘It's not calibrated yet, but when it is we'll be looking very
closely at the solar system.’
‘How are you going to pay for that?’
Eva gave a slow smile that could only mean one thing. ‘I have
a friend in high places.’
‘She's a pigeon?’
‘She has been monitoring the activity in an obscure part of the
British Isles and sending the results to the UN.’
‘So, she's a carrier pigeon.’
‘And they are very interested in what's been going on in our little
Diana lifted the spring water bottle threateningly. ‘What have
you been telling the authorities about us?’ The bottle began to
Eva waved her aside like an annoying moth. ‘The UN has recently
appointed an astrophysics team. Given the way things were shifting about
it seemed the most logical thing to do. I happen to be acquainted with
one of the group leaders.’
‘I still want to know what you've been telling her?’
‘Oh, she's all right. Has to be with a name like Honey Paymaster.’
'Fijian. Used to collect exotic shells. Gone on to lead crystal now.
You'd like her.’
‘What have you told her?’
‘Only that one or two planets and moons are starting to deviate
from their orbits. Not enough observatories are still operating to confirm
it and the amateurs have trouble phoning their findings in. It's difficult
to tell anyway - us being on the other side of the sun - but Venus has
certainly started to wobble, and Io is beginning to look a little wan.’
Deflated, Diana put down the bottle before it exploded. ‘You know
about us being on Titan?’
‘Of course I do. Any prat capable of measuring a shadow can tell
we're not on the Earth. Even if they didn't know the polar caps and
oceans had disappeared, they must have noticed the unnaturally pronounced
curve of the horizon.’
‘Have long have you known?’ demanded Diana.
‘About you and Yuri galaxy trotting and hobnobbing with aliens?’
Eva shrugged. ‘The penny dropped when that observatory I was working
in was suddenly pushed into the stratosphere by the mountain it sat
on. I knew you had something to do with it. Couldn't make our what.’
‘I see. At long last. Now you want me to tell you what's been
going on? ’ Diana smiled maliciously. ‘Well, I'm not going
Eva viewed her with critical coolness. ‘You shouldn't wear that
colour lipstick. It doesn't match the bags under your eyes.’
‘My last lipstick ran out a week ago, and anything manufactured
with cow's blood or fish scales now costs a fortune.’
‘Luckily I was never that keen on tripe or black pudding.’
‘I'm still not saying anything. You laughed when Yuri tried to
tell you about the asteroid belt reassembling itself ready to make a
new world.' Diana marched into the kitchen. ‘Are you stopping
for rice and veg, or going?’ she called over her shoulder.
‘If I eat something can I stay?’
Diana tossed the meal together and tipped it onto two plates. She came
back in and thrust one of them at Eva, giving her a spoon. ‘Can't
find any clean forks.’
Eva looked at the offering with a mathematician's eye as though trying
to calculate the ratio of carrot to rice grain. ‘You get more
like Yuri every day.’
‘You should go and see him every now and then.’
‘You did marry him.’
‘When I was younger had the occasional attack of compassion.’
‘You told me you drew straws.’
‘And no doubt you told Yuri.’
Diana glowered. ‘You know I wouldn't be that mean.’
‘He fancies you more, anyway.’
‘All right. Let's talk about astronomy. I suppose you know that
the atmosphere is going to pack up on us if we can't find some oceans
Eva halted a spoonful of rice halfway to her mouth. ‘Who told
Diana shrugged. ‘Doesn't everyone know it?’ she bluffed.
‘Most people are still panicking because they can't buy a hamburger.
God knows what they’d do if they found out they were going to
suffocate as well.’
‘Oh... somebody told me in confidence.’
‘Who? Not that nutty English don who was driving about the village,
trying to remember where Yuri lives? Apparently had trouble reading
his road map.’
Diana froze. ‘What?’
‘Harmless old soul. Saw him with Yuri not so long ago.'
Since very few roads were in the same place as they used to be a couple
of months before, most people had a similar problem. It seemed odd that
whatever shifted everyone to Titan needed to replicate the mayhem Moosevan
‘How old?’ demanded Diana.
‘About our age.’
Diana shook her head. It couldn't be. Salisbury was supposed to be in
the clutches of the army. Wasn't that why she had poked about in the
hardly used recesses of her mind to try and raise Moosevan. The questions
this revelation begged were too huge to contemplate at that moment.
‘You haven't seen a UN officer, name of Colonel Albright, in these
parts either, have you?’ she asked as calmly as she could.
Eva looked surprised. Any uniforms wandering the locality would have
soon been noticed. Daphne Trotter was the only person around there who
wore boots since Bert Wheeler took to wearing trainers now there wasn't
any wildlife to plunge through the undergrowth and shoot.
'Come on Mog, what's going on?’ insisted Eva.
‘Nothing. Only, if you do meet a man in a UN uniform, don't tell
That’s the last thing Eva would do; she hated uniforms and Honey
Paymaster would have mentioned if the UN had sent someone else.
Diana managed to swallow her meal without choking. As soon as Eva left
she pushed on her shoes and bounded up the meadow to Yuri's bungalow.
The rest of the hadrosaur herd tried to
sleep, but were kept awake by the plod, plod, plod of tired footsteps
circling round them. The duckbill with the mobile phone was making hard
work of being a grazing herbivore. As she had just routed a pack of
sickle-clawed deinonychids intent on having the herd's young for a light
snack, they were more inclined to tolerate her eccentricities, despite
insomnia. However, that perpetual chattering into a small black box,
deep sulks when it didn't say anything that satisfied her, and attempts
to browse on all the wrong things was enough to get on any dinosaur's
nerves. And no herbivore needed half a hundredweight of pebbles in its
gizzard to break down a dinner, even of cycad cones. This was purely
for chemical analysis of course though, like the mobile phone, it would
have been somewhat tricky to explain that to them.
Their mauve sister also seemed to have a disconcerting interest in the
night sky. The herd had never thought there was anything wrong with
the two massive moons until they noticed the strange twinkle in her
yellow eye, as though she wanted to alter that arrangement.
The more the duckbill paced, the more she wondered whether she was making
the right decision. Time was a funny thing and infinitesimal causation
could have cataclysmal effects. So, if the theory of Chaos was stood
on its head, it seemed reasonable to assume that a major cosmic upheaval
might only trigger a minor imbalance in the order of things; and this
was no time to be faint-hearted about bending a few Universal laws to
manipulate wormholes in space-time. In this backwater, who would notice
The mauve hadrosaur stopped pacing. Silhouetted against the setting
sun was a police box. A small humanoid wearing a battered straw hat
and carrying an umbrella stepped from it, looked around, and then stepped
back inside again. The police box vanished.
‘Strange,’ the hadrosaur muttered to herself. ‘Fancy
carrying an umbrella in this climate.’ Then she started to pace
Salisbury had a gentle, forgiving nature,
yet could not make up his mind whether he preferred the antagonistic,
sober Yuri he had first known or the amiably sozzled one. After Yuri
made it known how the army was supposed to have abducted him, the don
hoped the astronomer's story emanated from the gin and they had not
intended to do it. Whatever else had happened when the human race had
been transferred to a new planet, Dax and Reniola had got everyone's
address right, and there was no way the army was going to forget Salisbury's.
He had never heard of Colonel Albright, either. Although the soldier
sounded like a reasonable enough sort of fellow, Salisbury still preferred
to steer clear of anyone in a uniform.
For some reason, Yuri was anxious to get away from his cottage, so Salisbury
agreed to use half a gallon of his precious petrol to head out onto
the twisting roads that mimicked the ones Moosevan had created. When
she had inhabited the Earth, the planet dweller had visualised the English
landscape as a knot garden and designed vast fields of borage, rosebay
willow herb, and golden rod in elaborate carpet patterns. Unfortunately,
instead of using gravel paths to outline her creations, she chose tarmac.
Consequently, most motorists unlucky enough to encounter one of these
roads burnt up all the fuel in their tanks before they could find their
way out. It didn't help that, having transferred the road network to
Titan exactly as Moosevan had left it on Earth, Dax and Reniola hadn't
included any offshore oil reserves. As a consequence, the massive knot
gardens became dotted with abandoned cars. Fortunately Salisbury anticipated
the problem and wasn't caught out that easily, despite his problem reading
a conventional road map.
‘Look,’ Salisbury eventually said after just managing to
avoid a strategically placed lily pond. ‘Why is it necessary to
drive out this far? We're going to get lost if we carry on.’
Yuri looked furtively about the deserted countryside. ‘Okay, we
Salisbury stopped his green and mauve car into a lay-by and they got
The countryside without bird song was unnerving and the silence made
Yuri shudder, even after several stiff drinks. ‘I do not think
anyone listen,’ he announced unsurely.
‘Why should they for goodness sake? The army I encountered wouldn't
have had the wit to track down a herd of elephants in the same barn.’
‘It is not army you met which I think about.’
‘Oh,’ Salisbury recalled. ‘Albright. UN, you say?
Not likely to be engaged in any sort of mischief, I would have thought.
They've got a reputation to live up to now. Too many countries with
vulnerable borders depend on them.’
‘There is something sinister about this Albright. If you did not
give him my address, then who..?’
‘Goodness knows. I was the only one the military seemed keen on
‘They think you were in league with Kulp.’
‘How could they have thought I'd team up with someone as unscrupulous
as that green slug?’
‘As you say - they are not very bright.’
Salisbury sat down on a fallen tree trunk and studied the great slabs
of bracket fungi growing from it, wondering whether they would fit into
a frying pan. ‘Do you realise how many nights' sleep I've lost
since meeting you and your green friends?’
‘Very, very many I should think,' Yuri admitted. He knew the problem
well. ‘You should become alcoholic like me.’
‘The thought of some planet creature having a crush on me nearly
did drive me to the port.’
‘Ah, Moosevan. She has no one to flirt with now.’ He noticed
Salisbury's expression become strangely frozen. ‘What is matter?’
‘I'm not sure. I don't like to think about it.’
Salisbury took a deep breath. ‘I thought you might help.’
‘She fancied you long before she met me.’
‘When I sleep, I hear this voice - No, that's not right. These
thoughts somehow arrive in my mind.’
‘This I understand.’
That was Moosevan's way of communicating. If she did have a mouth and
was capable of speech, everyone on that side of the solar system would
have heard her romantic overtures.
‘What she say?’ Yuri asked slyly.
‘I think she is trying to tell me something.’ The don scratched
his nose. ‘I'm not sure what. I wake up in a cold sweat before
she gets round to it.’
Yuri threw out his arms. ‘Ah, she wants you to join her.’
‘That's probably why I wake up before I can find out.’
‘Why you not listen?’
‘I am not travelling, by any means, to the other side of the sun
to exist on a planet that is swarming with vengeful wildlife, and which
is home for an erotic entity who could live for half of eternity.’
‘You must humour her.’
‘I wish you would take this seriously. Why should I humour her
for goodness sake?’
Yuri was suddenly pensive. He stood and thought for a few moments. ‘This
is good question. Now she has Earth, there is nothing we can offer.’
Salisbury knew he had wasted a journey and only hoped he could find
the way back to his college before being missed. He stood up. ‘I
don't suppose you would have any objection to me seeing Diana before
Yuri shrugged. ‘Diana would not forgive me if I spoke for her.’
On the way back to Yuri's bungalow both men were silent. New nightmares
were pushing their way up through the creaking floorboards of their
When they arrived, Diana was sitting in Yuri's parlour sipping gin.
Salisbury coyly embraced her as though she was some fearsome aunt back
from the dead. Diana was just relieved to find him unmarked and his
nervous, highly strung self, which he was quite entitled to be. Not
everyone gets pursued by the army, a passionate planet, and evil green
aliens in the same day. To distract them from going over the events
that had led up to the human race being banished to one of Saturn's
moons, she brewed a pot of tea in the hope that would prove less corrosive
than Yuri's cheap gin.
‘I've something to tell you, Salisbury.’ Diana suspected
the don had a Christian name, which he hadn't mentioned for fear of
blushing every time she used it. ‘I didn't start to remember until
Eva came round...’ she stopped awkwardly.
Salisbury knew that it had to be something pretty absurd to make Diana
hesitate. ‘You've been hearing from Moosevan as well.’
‘Albright wanted me to contact her.’
‘He told you I was being interrogated by the army?’
‘Promised to get you released if I co-operated.’
Salisbury took a mug of tea from Diana and sat on the sofa's only intact
cushion. ‘I don't like it; I don't like it at all. Perhaps the
army unit after me supplied him with false information for some reason.’
‘What reason?’ asked Yuri.
‘To help confuse the UN perhaps.’
‘Why? They are already more confused than moths at midday anyway.’
Diana looked absently at the cracked teapot. ‘I don't think I
really want to know the answer to any of this.’
The wail of a distant siren scorched the ensuing silence as a police
car in distress tried to find its way out of one of Moosevan's mazes.
‘My large lilac tree has changed colour,’ Salisbury suddenly
announced. ‘It had white blooms in the spring then, in the middle
of the summer, burst into bright mauve flowers. Very odd.’
‘You know what I think,’ Diana mused sternly.
‘What?’ Yuri muttered non-committally.
‘I think we're being set up.’
‘If anyone on this planet is going to be set up, it would have
to be us.’ Diana put down her mug. ‘I have to go. Julia
will want something for tea.’
‘Can she not peel her own turnips?’
‘The child hasn't quite been reduced to that sort of diet.’
‘I find that mixing nuts with bulgur wheat and rice quite palatable,’
‘You hungry then?’
‘Not really. My appetite declined at the thought of never being
able to tackle a piece of red Leicester again.’
Diana glowered at Yuri. ‘Don't you dare say that it serves all
of us right.’
Yuri smiled smugly. That very sentiment permeated his misanthropic soul
with no regrets at the human race being deprived of their staple diet.
He preferred animals to people and even might have managed a friendly
exchange with Daphne Trotter's horse given time, despite it kicking
his garden gate off its hinges.
‘Well,’ sighed Salisbury. ‘I suppose we can only wait
and see what happens.’
Diana gave him a puzzled look. ‘You aren't going back home, are
‘Albright was not some illusion thought up by Yuri and me.’
‘Do you really think they would arrest me then?’
Salisbury considered this. They would.
‘You stop here,’ Yuri ordered, afraid Diana might offer
to put him up instead.
There was no choice. However much Salisbury would have preferred to
stay with Diana, propriety would not allow it, and even Yuri's cottage
was preferable to some barrack cell.
That night Salisbury made his bed on the lumpy sofa not long enough
to accommodate his height, with a blanket that must have been woven
with teasels and in a cutting draught the heavy velvet curtain over
the door was too short to stop. It was like being in his old college
dormitory; he even had one of the attendant nightmares to remind him
of its horrors. By the time morning arrived and he had gently worked
the crick from his neck, he wondered why he had ever built up such an
aversion to Moosevan invading his dreams.
Kulp was one of the few green Olmuke left.
Most of the others had been turned bright pink by the dye with which
he had sprayed their planet in a fit of resentment. As he was now imprisoned
there for misdemeanours great enough to make him criminal of the millennium,
his colour would have been somewhat conspicuous even if he had managed
His two partners in many crimes, Tolt and Jannu, had long since taken
off to make their own fortunes with an uncharacteristic determination
to abide by the law. Kulp assumed Dax and Reniola had scrambled the
molecules of their brains when they transmitted them back through the
gravity corridor to the Olmuke home world.
There was no justice; the three Olmukes' escapades on the Earth's were
nothing compared to the interference of Dax and Reniola.
The decaying galaxy Kulp came from had been dominated and picked clean
of its natural resources by the Mott. These warlords had evolved from
a competitive species that eventually ran past itself, only to be liquidated
by its own androids.
While the Mott females remained tuskless, two-legged and three eyed,
the males had genetically engineered for themselves four legs (each),
protruding teeth so long they couldn't chew the meat they were so adept
at killing, and one eye. No designer of a video game could have thought
up aliens that sometimes didn't believe their own reflections when inadvertently
glimpsing them. Their appearance had been intended to terrify the rest
of the galaxy, and anyone laughing instead had been instantly exterminated,
along with any others suspected of having a sense of humour.
The only beneficial thing about the haphazardly genetic transformation
of the male Mott had been that they found it impossible to mate, so
the Mott females were obliged to rely on artificial insemination, much
to their relief. When all the males were slaughtered by an army of their
own androids because they had forgotten how to switch them off, the
female Mott decided to go back to the blueprint for the species and
engineer a male who didn't look like a badly made clothes horse sprouting
lavatory brushes. Tolt and Jannu had been happy to sell their services
to that cause, leaving Kulp to steam and plot in his cramped cage, where
he reluctantly concluded that there was nothing else for it. Pink it
would have to be. All he needed to do now was remember the formula for
the dye and get a Dringle to unlock the door.
Anyone else with Kulp's sharp memory would never have been able to live
with their conscience, but several coatings of compulsive greed insulated
this Olmuke’s misgivings. Having had time to confront the wickedness
of his deeds, Kulp came to the conclusion that they had been a pretty
good idea after all. It would be even better if he came up with something
to improve on them. Reordering the Galaxy to suit the needs of the nouveau
riche who had arisen since the male Mott had been exterminated wouldn't
be that much of the crime anyway.
As the Mott females had managed to hang onto some of the Mott wealth,
with the co-operation of a few pragmatic androids, they were in a position
to govern what was left of the old empire. Political alliances didn't
appeal to them, though; some of the Motts' allies were almost as repellent
as their unlamented mates. The females had open, charitable natures
the complete opposite of their husbands, were far from glamorous or
terrifying, and their frocks were always the wrong colour. Their inferiority
complex enabled the younger, upwardly mobile and downwardly altruistic
Mott collaborators to grab power with however many appendages they had.
Races that had been cringing under the hooves, or up the backsides,
of the Mott suddenly blossomed into currency butterflies. As soon as
planets were once again able to manufacture enough to survive, their
industries were bought up by a new galactic counsel. They were resold,
share by share, to entrepreneurs who thought that the gold plating on
their diplomatic satchels came from the eggshells of an extinct asteroid
dragon, and that those who wanted to grow food instead of live off burghers
made from industrial waste, were anarchists.
This new order may have been a tyranny but after the Mott, who had done
most of their diplomacy with blasters, it at least looked smarter, flitting
about in personalised space buggies from one asteroid party to another.
Kulp had no time for them. To him, greed was something to be savoured
during the long steamy evenings. Unfortunately only these nouveau riche
had enough wealth to afford what he planned to sell and this yuppie
empire needed new, extremely expensive playthings it could show off.
Asteroids were great places to have parties for as long as they could
hold an atmosphere, only to disintegrate when all those personalised
space buggies blasted off after they were over. Planets - the ecologically
sound type with enough atmospheric molecules to hold a tune - were really
where it was at. If the planet dwellers hadn't got in there first, there
would have been plenty to go round. After what had happened to Moosevan's
original planet - it had ended up as a cosmic cinder after Kulp had
tried to evict her from it - Kulp should have known better. This time
he was convinced he had the perfect solution; no need for space distort
nets or clumsy robots to carry explosives. The creature who could do
it, probably not free of charge - that was something he would have to
negotiate - existed. All those worlds now monopolised by other planet
dwellers could then be sold as the ultimate holiday homes to entrepreneurs
whose most bankable commodities did not include scruples.
Kulp was still in his cage, though. Whenever one of the guard Dringles
brought him a meal, he offered them snippets of what could be accomplished
if he were only let loose on a galaxy that, through experience, had
learnt to be very suspicious, but not how to duck. At first they thought
he was inventing everything; the Olmuke were not renowned for their
flights of fancy. Then one of them had enough imagination to read the
list of charges against the prisoner. It was pretty impressive.
Dringles were uncomplicated creatures. They waddled like amiable teddy
bears, yet could pick out every insect in a swarm without once getting
stung: this they did frequently because they were fond of honey; not
the sort of sweet stuff humans like. Its narcotic effect could last
weeks and increase their IQ tenfold. It must have been in short supply
at that moment because one or two started to listen to Kulp. The Dringles
resented being used for the tasks the Olmuke found it too tedious to
bother with, but had never been able to work out what to do about it.
Perhaps Kulp was the solution.
It had to look like an innocent break-out of course, so the Dringles
found the chemicals required to turn him pink and bribed the attendant
of one of the aristocracy's space ships to turn its back at the right
Once transformed into glowing pink and fitted with a space uniform,
Kulp fed in the code that unlocked his prison door, and then darted
through the metropolis to the spaceport. The only problem he encountered
after boarding the silver ship was a large, hairy Dringle sitting at
its controls. Bright they may not have been, but no creature aware of
Kulp's record would have trusted him out of their sight. There was nothing
Kulp could do about it. The Dringle was quicker on the draw, and that
amiable pussycat smile was more deceptive than a hungry polar bear's.
He just hoped the creature would lose its enthusiasm when it knew where
they were going.
It didn't help sweeten Kulp's temper to discover that the Dringle could
speak fluent Olmuke. Most of them just grunted and waved their arms
a lot, which hardly mattered because nobody ever paid attention to them
‘I hope you don't think I'm going to let you drive this ship?’
Kulp counted on the Dringle understanding the daggers in his tone.
‘One of us had better drive it.’ The Dringle smiled. ‘The
theft alarms have just gone off.’
‘Oh shit,’ Kulp cursed. ‘Why didn't I think more of
Tolt and Jannu?’ With reflexes like a striking snake's, Kulp turned
on the ship's power and made it vault upwards before its computer had
time to digest what was happening.
‘Well, what did he say?’ asked
Eva as she gloated over the observatory's new reflector.
Honey Paymaster gave a bemused grin. ‘Colonel Albright has no
idea who this visitor is. He was going to be sent here from the UN,
but wasn't due to arrive for another 36 hours.’
‘Who the hell then ..?’
‘Colonel Albright is more interested in knowing how this impostor
found out about his movements. That was classified information.’
Eva shrugged. ‘Well, it's hardly the surprising given the people
Diana and Yuri keep bumping into.’
‘You wouldn't believe me if I told you the half of it.’
‘You weren't the only one hijacked by the geography when this
planet started to have a fit. I was on Lake Erie when it disappeared!
Had to walk five miles to find out where I was.’
‘What were you doing in the middle of Lake Erie?’
Honey pulled some papers from her briefcase. ‘Why not stop playing
with that telescope for a moment and sign these papers.’
‘With blood, or just the usual biro?’
‘These are for the telescope's housing. You've already sold your
soul for the reflector.’
Eva pulled out a stub of pencil from an overall pocket and scoured her
signature in the places indicated. ‘I haven't spotted anything
else yet. The only mathematician who could calculate a solution from
the figures we have hit the gin bottle a couple of weeks ago.’
‘Well, after being married to you...’
‘How did you know?’
‘I was one of those to draw a long straw, remember?’
‘Oh, yes - some while ago, that.’
‘How is Yuri?’
‘I still don't understand him. Though I'm now sure he isn't so
mad. With his mind he could untie the Gordian knot, but ask him to find
the eyepiece of his reflector after a few gins - It might make him a
little happier if I were to let him loose on this telescope, I suppose.’
‘Think he would find out anything?’
‘If it wasn't there, he could always conjure something up.’