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THE ARDLY EFFECT Chapter 1 : Two moons It has been suggested that all things enjoy a certain degree of consciousness. Even the fundamental particles that make up ice cream cones or fluffy slippers. This same school of thought says that if you arrange enough of these quasi-sentient little blobs properly you’ll end up with a dung beetle or a palaeontologist or even a central heating engineer. Something conscious but not necessarily possessing a conscience. It’s a question of complexity, it seems. The more complex yet structured an object, the more likely it is to make that incomprehensible transition from just being a blob to being a sentient being. What the benefits are is a question that still haunts many. Consciousness definitely drags with it a lot of excess baggage. Fear, greed, lust, envy, ceramic quadrupeds ... to slap labels on just a few of those bags. Planets would seem to be pretty good candidates for your everyday conscious entity. They are well structured but extremely complicated objects. The 1 MITIS GREEN individual bits and bobs of an average sized planet run into billions and billions. If complication were a prerequisite for consciousness, then your average planet would easily fit the bill. However, as no evidence has been presented to the contrary, it must be assumed that Jupe, a gigantic, orange, gaseous world swinging lazily round a medium sized, yellow sun, is happily oblivious to the appallingly indifferent void in which it exists. Likewise, Jupe’s two moons, Edenia and Horridoa, are sadly unconscious of the magnificence of their parent planet. They can never appreciate the subtly serpentine tangerine bands or the angry brown whorls of storms, thousands of miles in diameter, raging endlessly through the turbulent atmosphere. A shame really. Forgoing its indifference momentarily, the universe smiled on Edenia making it by far the more attractive of the two moons. Blue and green with lots of wispy white bits. An incandescent jewel of a moon. Horridoa, on the other hand, must have been a pretty nasty piece of work in a previous existence because Horridoa is brown-grey and ... well ... lumpy. An anaemic walnut of a moon. Edenia is warm and cuddly and supports an immense variety of life. The most abundant life form on Edenia is a small yellow bean. The pitteth. The pitteth is so called because when it is squeezed between the thumb and forefinger of the second most abundant life form on Edenia the pitteth goes “pitteth”. Horridoa alternates between extremes of heat and blinding light, and cold and deepest darkness. The most 2 THE ARDLY EFFECT abundant life form on Horridoa is a tall, hardy, razor edged grass called chawoo. The second most abundant life form on Horridoa couldn’t remember why chawoo had this name. But somehow it suited it. The Edenians, inhabitants of the cosy moon Edenia, though highly intelligent, developed technology only as far as the wooden bucket. Why strive for more? Why, indeed. The pitteth is quite delicious, extremely nourishing and easily harvested. A firm grip, a stout pair of legs and the humble bucket are all that is needed to transport pitteths from the lush valleys to the warm, breeze tickled hills where, upturned, the bucket doubles as a handy stool on which to sit and ponder the wonders of Jupe resplendent in the azure sky. Not that it never rains on Edenia. Of course it does. But only in the small hours when everyone is tucked up in a warm cave or snuggled under the protective shelter of a welcoming pitteth bush. To the Horridoans, on the other hand, progress and ever swifter technological advances were fundamental to their survival. The initial driving forces behind this rapid development were the simple needs to keep warm during the freezing night, keep cool during the scorching day and make the chawoo taste of something other than month old toenail clippings. After the invention of the telescope, there was no turning back for the Horridoans. A beautiful sister moon came sharply into focus one unusually clear night. A moon which did not simply orbit Jupe but swooned gracefully to and fro maintaining just the right distance from the sun to ensure the days were warm and the nights were pleasantly cool. 3 MITIS GREEN The ever sceptical Horridoans thought this new moon too good to be true. There had to be a catch. No water. A surface covered in a twenty foot layer of choking dust. An ammonia atmosphere. Larger optical telescopes were built and trained on this apparently idyllic neighbour. Life The sister moon supported life Radio telescopes were constructed and, finally, a sophisticated satellite was put into orbit around Edenia. People There were people on Edenia And they were mostly strolling about Or splashing in sparkling streams Or horizontal The terrible truth dawned: while the Horridoans had been struggling to survive on a moon whizzing backwards and forwards between the boiling sun and the freezing void of outer space like some crazy ding ball attached to some demented ding bat wielded by some deranged ... ding bat wielder, the morons on Edenia had been swanning around discussing buckets and wondering whether to eat now and have a snooze or take a quick nap, discuss buckets some more and then eat News of this idyllic world of unappreciative cretins spread around Horridoa like a chawoo lager rash. The Horridoans rose as one and swore to the heavens that their children, or their children’s children, or their children’s children’s children, or somebody, some day would have their revenge on Fate for making their lives so bloody miserable. Generations of Horridoans gave themselves to the Cause. Technology blossomed under the light generated from the heat of their united fervour. Gigantic space going transporters were built in orbit. An invasion force 4 THE ARDLY EFFECT consisting of the entire population of Horridoa, excluding of course people who couldn’t read without moving their lips, descended on Edenia. The dumbfounded Edenians were easily herded aboard the transporters. Twenty-four hours later and the Horridoans on Edenia were having fun in the sun eating piles of the delicious pitteth while the Edenians where standing bemused on Horridoa watching their buckets fill with rain. With the slow dawning of what had happened to them the Edenians’ under-utilised brains started to experience an altogether new and compelling emotion. Indignant outrage. Spurred on by the harsh conditions and a burning desire for revenge, the Edenians went from the wooden bucket age to the bronze, iron, industrial, tootsie-glow single slipper, and space age in just a few hundred years. The whole Edenia population on Horridoa worked as one towards the “Great revenge”. A task force of gigantic battle cruisers was assembled and dispatched to Edenia but the Horridoans on Edenia weren’t going to give up their newly acquired paradise without a fight. Inter-moon war raged. The word “war” is a tad severe. “Raged” is probably a bit strong too. It was more of an inter-moon shouting-finger-wagging-with-the-odd-shove argy-bargy. After all, the population of Horridoa had got used to their new planet. Hundreds of years had made it home. Technology made the climate bearable. A little illegal trade with Edenia brought in a few culinary luxuries. Even the foul tasting chawoo turned out to be excellent at sorting out even the most determined acne. 5 MITIS GREEN The Edenians still felt a twinge of guilt for their ancestors’ actions so they were never going to mount any full scale attacks. There was the odd dispute over mineral rights on some of the larger asteroids. But any prisoners taken by either side were returned unharmed after a suitable amount of public humiliation and a few political points had been gained. None of the awesome weapons that both sides had built was ever fired in anger. The most dangerous piece of technology developed by both sides was the matter transporter. It was generally agreed that this could only be used to transport fruit, livestock and machinery. The matter transporter was to be used on people only in an emergency. It was employed occasionally when capturing enemy forces but with a failure rate of one per cent was considered too unreliable for general use. It was embarrassing enough, being deposited somewhere with your underpants inside out over your trousers, without having to suffer the indignity of having your head inside out over your left wrist as well. Those in power, on both moons, considered the war, on balance, neither a good nor a bad thing. Not many people got hurt, the people were focused and hard working, and technology and research drove forward at an artificially heightened pace. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. It couldn’t last for ever, of course. Someone, someday, had to ask the question. But, first, someone had to think of the question. 6 THE ARDLY EFFECT Chapter 2 : Idea Kwait Naize sat, eyes open but unfocused, in his stationary car. He stared, unblinkingly oblivious to the rain lashing his windscreen, the unrelenting howl of the wind and the drenched security guard wasting his energy in a futile attempt to wave him through. Kwait was grey-haired, forty and wondering. Wondering why he hadn’t noticed it before. But, it was simple really. He had been too busy. They had all been too busy. Their whole lives had been devoted to the Great Revenge. No one had time to notice things. Things not related to the war, anyway. The entire population was hell-bent on finding a more powerful this, a faster that, a more accurate the other. The Great Revenge consumed everyone from the womb to the tomb. Sifted and sorted at childhood, people were channelled into grooves that fit them best for the war effort. Bound and blinkered by duty and revenge, researchers avoided delving into anything not directly connected with resolving the conflict. 7 MITIS GREEN Surface standards and technology fell way behind the innovations and advancements pumped into the space effort. The gigantic battle cruisers built in orbit boasted a technical excellence decades ahead of anything on the surface of Horridoa. The price of these orbiting technical marvels was myopia. The simple startling fact had come to Kwait the previous evening while he tried to convince Bonnie that his groin was not the most reasonable of places to rest her heavily clawed paws. Kwait had smiled to himself thinking back ... He had been lying in the bath, snoozing. Bonnie, Kwait’s loyal, loving and lonely golden retriever, had carefully nosed open the kitchen door, belly-crawled up the stairs and sneaked unnoticed into the bathroom where she lay happily listening to her master gently humming and splashing. Leaving ten minutes or so for the pair to enter full semi-doze mode, a cup in the kitchen sink leaning on the edge of a fork balanced carefully on a plate in a bowl of unwashed cutlery and crockery decided to slip and moved an inch causing a “plock-plock-bosh” sound. Kwait came round thinking Bonnie was sniffing in the dustbin again and shouted “Bonnie Stop that whatever it is” Bonnie was, of course, delighted at being summoned by her wonderful master and without further ado joined him in the bath. After the initial shock and when the soap suds had stopped falling Kwait thought, “What the hell” and gave Bonnie a good shampooing. It was while wrestling in the bath with Bonnie that Kwait’s thoughts turned to those vile usurpers, those evil purloiners who had stolen his beloved moon Edenia. 8 THE ARDLY EFFECT They had dogs too He’d seen pictures. They also had two arms, two legs and an arse, and talked through a hole in their face. In short, they were the same. On two different moons and yet they were the same species Kwait recalled the peculiar look of confused ambivalence on his daughter Streemly’s face when the notion was introduced to her. Torn between her lifelong conditioning to mistrust all Horridoans and the intriguing questions this new idea raised, she sank into an aggressive silence. A semi-awareness that something had happened snapped Kwait’s attention back to the present. The space between his car and the gatehouse which had previously been filled by another car was now empty. By rights the long build-up of traffic behind him should have been hooting their annoyance at being kept waiting. But they weren’t. A grimacing blue-clad security guard had left his dry gatehouse and must have been trying to attract Kwait’s attention through the driving rain for some time. By rights the man should have been bellowing at Kwait to get his arse in gear and his car shifted before people drowned out here for Christ’s sake. But he wasn’t. Being Director of The Space Services R&D Centre had its perks. Since Kwait’s appointment as Director some ten years before, the Centre had blossomed and produced some remarkable innovations. The more noteworthy of the innovations were the Gravitonic Wave Motor used by surface to orbit shuttles, the Gravitonic Wave Projector 9 MITIS GREEN used by interplanetary space ships for both self propulsion and remote object manipulation and, more recently, one of Kwait’s favourites, the Gravitonic Wave Hologram used to generate perfect 3-D pictures of naked ladies that appeared briefly in a glass of just-downed chawoo beer. A batch of these last devices contributed considerably to the retaking of asteroid 461. The enemy troops, who had been holding the asteroid for the previous four months, had been so captivated by the images that they had drunk themselves into a stupor within an hour of the drop. In addition, the newly developed Gravitonic Wave Scanner was progressing well and would be ready for testing within a few weeks. These innovations had earned the Centre an enormous budget and Kwait had the respectful ear of some key players on the Board of Governors. The Board were a researcher’s God answerable only to the High Presidium. Ross was a good Production Assistant and Kwait hated spinning him a line. “I’m sorry about this, Ross,” Kwait said. “But this one’s a bit hush-hush.” He put his arm around Ross’s shoulders, steering him gently towards the door. “Even for me. I’m sure it will all become clear soon.” Ross looked quizzically at the sheaf of papers he had just been handed. He inhaled, obviously ready to protest. “In the meantime,” Kwait cut him off, “keep up the good work.” A quick shake of the hand, a delicate manoeuvre expertly performed, and Ross found himself looking at the closed door to his boss’s office. Leaning against the other side of the door, Kwait 10 THE ARDLY EFFECT sighed theatrically, wiping a bead of mock sweat from his brow. He almost skipped with a kind of childish glee across his office. He sat at his desk enjoying the strange sensations of exhilaration and guilt. The private revelry was soon interrupted. “YOUR DAUGH-ER- -ERE DO—ER NAI—,“ squawked the faulty intercom. His office door burst open and Streemly Naize, Kwait’s daughter, strode into the room. She lowered herself gracefully into one of the plush visitors’ chairs. Twenty, long legged, beautiful and frowning, Streemly fixed her father with a stern glare. “I’ve been thinking Pops.” Streemly kicked off her shoes and tucked her legs under her bottom. “Maybe we are intelligent because of the way we are. Because of our physical shape. We need legs to move around.” She uncurled a leg, waved it and retucked it. “We need arms and hands to manipulate things.” She waved an arm. “With a different shaped body maybe we couldn’t be intelligent.” Streemly paused. “To be like us, is, to be like us.” “Arms ...” said Kwait waving a leg in mock imitation of Streemly’s unnecessary gesture. “... and legs ...” Kwait waved an arm. “... aside.” The effort of what he had just done distracted Kwait for a moment. He continued, “I find that hard to believe. The physical requirements for intelligence are probably quite restrictive. But, I wouldn’t have thought they were much more restrictive than, say, the physical requirements to live underwater and feed off plankton. There’s a huge diversity of life that does just that.” “Well,” added Kwait after a moment’s thought. “At least on Edenia there is.” 11 MITIS GREEN Streemly thought the reasoning a little tenuous but chose not to argue. Kwait and Streemly had always been very close. Especially since the death of Streemly’s mother, Vairy, some two years before. Vairy had died along with two hundred and twenty others when a freak blizzard had plucked her aeroplane from the skies and smashed it into the side of a mountain. Kwait studied his daughter. He saw Vairy’s well formed eyebrows and slender nose. He saw his own brown eyes and full lips. There was Vairy in the tilt of Streemly’s head, in her slender wrists and the long legs tucked under herself. He heard Vairy in Streemly’s mellow, unexpectedly deep voice. Streemly knew that look in her father’s eyes. She leaned forward. “Oh daddy ...” Their hands touched across the desk. They clung for a moment. Eyes misted. Heads bowed. Streemly was the first to compose herself. “Look. If we do have a common ancestor then where did they come from?” Kwait ignored the question, rose, picked up a piece of chalk and stood beside his large clean blackboard. “We have talking computers. We can project a gravity-well from within a space ship to drag itself along. We can monitor the motion of a man’s eyebrows from two hundred miles and laser one of them off if we so desire. We have overcome inertia for faster manoeuvrability. But,” Kwait waved the piece of chalk, “we still use a blackboard and chalk, my intercom doesn’t work and we don’t even know for sure how many planets and moons 12 THE ARDLY EFFECT we have in our own system.” Kwait tossed the chalk into the bin. It BONKED and bounced out. “Everyone,” continued Kwait, “has concentrated purely on the war. No one has thought of anything for centuries other than the retaking of Edenia. The ‘Great Revenge’.” Kwait sat down. “Edenia is a paradise,” he said. “Horridoa is just survivable. Jupe is big enough to make it fairly easy to go round but very difficult to leave. And ... the Edenians and the Horridoans are the same species” Streemly frowned at her father. “You make us sound like some sort of huge experiment.” Kwait frowned back saying nothing. “You think we’re being studied like we’re on some mega microscope slide?” “No. I don’t think that. I’m thinking more along the lines of us being colonists. Left here thousands of years ago by highly advanced ancestors expanding through the galaxy.” Kwait made a steeple from his fingers. “What do you think?” Streemly frowned even more, looking thoughtfully at her father. “I don’t believe you. I think what you’re saying is you’re fed up with the war and would like to research something completely different. The origin of man. The origins of Edenia and Horridoa in planetary terms. Jupe’s influence on evolution. Why is farting so funny ...” “Stop frowning so much,” interrupted Kwait. “You’ll get wrinkles.” “I get it from you.” “Hmmm.” Kwait stabbed the intercom. PHHARRTTT. “Two chawoo teas please, Movis.” “-ER-AINLY -IR.” 13 MITIS GREEN Father and daughter sat lost in thought while stout Movis brought in two steaming mugs of chawoo tea. Movis paused for the briefest of moments, tutted and left. Kwait, realising with a start they had both completely ignored Movis, stabbed the intercom. PHHARRTTT. “Sorry. Thanks, Movis.” “Yes. Sorry. Thanks, Movis,” said Streemly, aiming her voice at the intercom. “- -“ came the intercom’s response. “Look Pops,” Streemly rose to pace the room. “You have virtually unlimited resources, unlimited cash and being the blue-eyed boy with the Board at the moment means you can get away with just about anything.” “So?” “So, make use of it. You could ...” Streemly paused, thinking. “You could build a whole fleet of cheapo space drones, send them off into space looking for ... whoever or whatever ... and no one would bat an eyelid.” “Are you serious?” “Yes. Why not? No one would question one of your projects. Who knows what you might find.” Streemly warmed to the idea. To gaze out into the universe. The very thought was refreshing. Like looking through the carriage window to the far horizon after having your view confined to within a few feet as your train went through a particularly long tunnel. Kwait went slightly pink. “I’ve started building them already,” he said removing a non-existent piece of fluff from his knee. Streemly’s thoughts of trains emerging from 14 THE ARDLY EFFECT tunnels stopped abruptly as her jaw dropped. “We’ll send them off in all different directions,” said Kwait. “Each one has some basic scanning devices. The Board will think we’re testing some new gravity- wave device.” “How many are you building?” “Five hundred and do close your mouth, it’s most unbecoming.” Streemly stood to leave. “Well I think you’re crazy, Pops,” she said. “But, my gravity-wave scanner will be along soon to save your bacon so I’m not worried. Yet. See you tonight.” Streemly shuffled into her shoes, blew her father a kiss and left. 15 MITIS GREEN Chapter 3 : Found Streemly looked from the high desert sun to the shimmering horizon. There was something reflected in the haze. She found herself moving closer. A scruffy little man was painting a huge red line at least ten yards wide. His shoes were spattered with red paint. The rest of him was suddenly pristine. He looked up and smiled at Streemly. He pointed and whispered, “I don’t know you.” The wide red line meandered for miles towards the distant hills. Streemly pointed at the line. “Why?” she asked. The little man became her Tactics tutor from college. “Someone has to paint the red lines on the maps,” he said, holding out a tiny can of blue paint. She rapped his head with her knuckles. Tap, tap. “Wheelies,” he said. “They leave marks too.” Streemly shook her head. “You’re crazy Pops,” she said. Tap, tap. Streemly woke up. She felt hot. Someone was knocking on her door. “Streemly?” It was her father. “Yes. Umm. Come in.” Streemly sat up, rubbing 16 THE ARDLY EFFECT sleep from her eyes. “I just got these results.” Kwait was obviously very excited. “Sixteen of the buggers have disappeared. Sixteen” He rattled a sheet of paper in Streemly’s face. She reached for it, trying to focus but Kwait was off round the room. “All from the same area. Ross plotted their positions. Look.” Kwait rattled the paper in front of Streemly again. She reached for it but was too slow. Kwait was off round the room once more. “I’m going to take this to the Board you see if I don’t. Something’s going on out ...” Kwait’s voice trailed off as he left the room. Streemly sat and thought about maps for a few minutes. She had been dreaming. What about? Damn, but that was annoying. She was certain that right on the edge of her memory was a whole lifetime of very important experiences. If she could only remember them. The effort of trying to bring back the taunting, illusive thoughts irritated the inside of her mind. She could feel the thoughts tickling her neurones and then dashing away. Then she thought about what her father had been ranting about. “Crikey” she said. Kwait felt like a schoolboy summoned before the headmaster. The chair was straight backed and unyielding. His fashionably stiff collar rubbed at the slightest movement. He sighed lightly to himself and glanced at the delicate porcelain cup of lukewarm chawoo tea he held in his lap. His index finger was well and truly stuck in the ridiculously small and convoluted 17 MITIS GREEN handle. It was only Kwait’s second visit to the Board of Governors’ underground bunker. The first visit had been to receive his promotion to Director of The Space Services Centre and a commendation on his research into Gravity Projection. A jolly little bash, knee deep in bullshit and backslapping. Kwait was no politician and hated the whole affair. Governor Septa had his head down reading the report on his desk. Kwait sat looking at Septa’s bald patch wondering how a toad like him rose to such dizzy heights. He remembered Governor Septa as being the only Governor to vote against his appointment. Septa had said, “Gravity Research will never get off the ground Ha, ha.” That was before Kwait’s Gravity Projectors became responsible for moving ninety-nine per cent of all objects in space. Suddenly, Septa was behind Kwait all the way. And always had been Septa looked up and removed his glasses. With the cup-handle still clamped to his digit like a Chinese Finger Trap, Kwait leaned forward expectantly. Septa put his glasses back on and turned to the start of the report. Kwait sat back taking the opportunity to give his finger a good yank. Success And pain He placed the cup carefully on the edge of Septa’s desk, willing his eyes to stop watering. After several minutes Septa looked up and removed his glasses once more. “Just as disturbing the second reading as the first,” he said. “So why didn’t you read it before I got here, big nose?” thought Kwait reaching for the tea and then 18 THE ARDLY EFFECT thinking better of it. “There is something out there,” continued Septa slowly. “Invisible to our Beta scanners, and capable of wiping out several spacecraft simultaneously over a very large area.” Septa bashed his fist on the desk and sat back triumphantly as if he had invented the concept. “Yes. I know, you twot I wrote the report” thought Kwait. “The Gravitonic Scanner looks most promising ...” “Most promising?” thought Kwait. “It’s fantastic You ignorant oick. Streemly’s done a brilliant job” “... and is ready for action. That’s why I want you,” Septa thrust a chubby index finger in Kwait’s direction, “to be on the mission to find out exactly what this new menace is.” “You could have told me this over the phone, you balding git,” thought Kwait. “You will, of course need an assistant. Your daughter, as Head of the Scanner project is best qualified to go with you.” Septa tossed some papers across the desk. “All the arrangements have been made.” “Thanks for asking for my thoughts on the subject,” thought Kwait. Did he detect a faint smirk on Septa’s face? “You and your daughter will report to Space Rehearsal Station 87 at five tomorrow morning. Good luck” “” thought Kwait. 19

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