Having purported myself to be a fledgling author, I thought it may be apt to publish a little something.
Comments greatly appreciated. Be honest, but not cruel. Even doctors have feelings.
“Planet designers are often accused of playing God. I can assure you that I am not playing!”
H Devine, C.E.O Devine Interventions
It was the Greys that first brought news of Earth. They had been scouting this arm of the galaxy looking for other advanced life, but had so far only found the planet Amica, home to the Fulfae, Ufros and the Truffs. News of Earth with its huge oceans and rich abundance of life was greeted with joy and celebration by the Fulfae and Ufros, and with indifference by the Truffs (Earth being too far away either to eat or breed with).
Of all the known species, only the Greys could withstand transgalactic transport, but they seemed happy to return to Earth time after time to collect data and samples and to share these with the Ufros and Fulfae (for their usual fee, of course).
What they discovered was amazing. The development of life on Earth almost exactly paralleled that of Amica, and some species were nearly identical. Cellular structure, function and, most importantly DNA were indistinguishable and interchangeable.
Over hundreds of years the Greys flew countless missions to Earth, collecting vast amounts of data, soil samples and tissue samples to trade with the Amicans. Amican scientists analysed and catalogued the samples, incorporating them into designs for new planets, animals and plants.
The Fulfae and Ufros were fascinated with Earth but would never survive the journey, so they recreated what they could nearer to home. Their libraries were filled with examples of flora and fauna from every animal and plant order on Earth except for one; the Primates.
It had quickly become apparent to the Greys that the Primates were unpredictable, chaotic and destructive. They attempted to keep their missions to Earth a secret from the Primates, avoiding them whenever possible and refusing to bring any samples of their DNA back for the Amicans.
Despite these precautions, the Greys developed a fascination with one species of Primate; the Humans.
Earth date; Wednesday the 1st May, 2013
Amican date; Metday the 4th, Lunar Cycle 5 (LuCy 5), 7313
“Moonday’s child is furry faced.
Amiday’s child is full of grace.
Metday’s child is long of tail.
Thermday’s child has fins and scales.
Frosday’s child is brightly patterned.
Spiraday’s child is squat and flattened.
Soladay’s child is huge and scary;
This child’s parents, please be wary.”
Traditional Amican nursery rhyme
What is a planet without life?
It may be a very nice rock. It may have vast mountain ranges, savage volcanoes, gargantuan glaciers, crimson skies and other such wondrous phenomena, but it is still just a rock, and nobody wants to buy a rock. However, simply add a little life, a few trees here, a flock of birds there, and suddenly you no longer have a rock; you have a product.
So where does this life originate? Well, in the case of planet design company, Devine Interventions, it originates in the plant and creature design departments of its landscaping subsidiary, Intelligent Design, in this instance, at the desk of junior creature designer, Hudley Hodge. This particularly sunny Metday morning found the young Fulfa frantically adding the finishing touches to a new fish, and glancing nervously at the office clock. The morning departmental meeting was scheduled to start any minute, and he still hadn’t finished calculating the correct size for the dorsal fin. On his last simulation, the poor fish had only been able to swim upside down.
After leaving school at 16, Hudley had begun his training at the prestigious New Parmo Academy, in the centre of Amotus’ largest city. He studied hard for 4 years, and was snapped up by Intelligent Design as soon as he graduated.
Hudley’s main area of interest was marine life; fish, crustaceans, amphibians, you name it; if a creature loved the water, then Hudley loved that creature. Ironically like most Fulfae, Hudley was not a keen swimmer. Being squat, short limbed and covered in soft fur is not the most hydrodynamic shape and Hudley often reflected that had he designed himself, he certainly would have made a better job of it.
Fulfae and their larger counterparts, the Ufros, originate on the same planet and speak the same language (Ufrikaans), but the two species are notably different in both appearance and culture.
Whereas Ufros are strong, brawny and covered from head to toe in coarse brown or black fur, Fulfae are smaller, more rounded and less muscular. The male Fulfa averages about one metre forty and is brightly coloured, with beautiful displays of blue, red or even green fur. Much like birds of paradise here on Earth, male Fulfae use a combination of bright colours and elaborate dancing displays to attract the females, who are slightly shorter and covered in soft, tawny fur.
Ufros take life very seriously and place great value on both status and reputation. They are hard-working, organised and diligent, being well suited to careers in the military, management or the sciences. In contrast, Fulfae are emotional, imaginative and sociable, and tend to fill creative and design roles within a company.
Hudley was finding it difficult to concentrate, mainly due to the incessant chatter from the two other junior creature designers, Pingree Verdi and Chippo Zorillo, with whom he shared the main office.
Pingree was above average height for a Fulfa, standing at almost one metre sixty. Like all the males in his family, he sported the Verdi stripe, a vibrant emerald, twelve centimetre wide stripe of fur, which ran from the top of his head, down his back and right to the base of his short tail. Hudley had joked that a groth had used him to wipe its snout, but secretly he was envious of Pingree’s effortless prowess and talents. In contrast, Hudley was short, stocky and his chest was a slightly dull shade of battleship grey. The crown of his head sported a spiky crop of blue fur which he insisted on parting in the centre and flattening onto his scalp. Pingree and Chippo had tried to smarten him up, but he insisted that he wanted to find a female who liked him for his brains, not his fur.
Pingree was no slouch in the romance department, but it was Chippo who was the biggest hit with the ladies. His dark eyes and auburn chest betrayed his southern origins, but it was his dance-floor prowess that had made him a local Lothario.
“I can’t help it,” he would protest, “Girls are drawn to me.”
“Like flies to a snarkle’s rear end,” Pingree would invariably reply.
Hudley gnashed his teeth. “Do you two ever shut up?”
“Can it, Squirrel boy,” said Chippo yawning. “Haven’t you finished that yet?”
“Almost.” Hudley scanned the office. “Shouldn’t Tedford be here by now?”
“He’s gone to see Durle.”
Durle was Project Manager for the landscaping and population of planet Genesis. Emperor Anselmus had commissioned the construction of the new planet for his wife’s fiftieth birthday, naming it Genesis in her honour. A quarter of the size of Amica, Genesis was to serve as another holiday home for the Emperor and Empress and, like the Empress, the finished planet would be beautiful, dramatic and expensive.
The planet was almost complete and in just eight days, the grand opening ceremony would take place on the spa island of Caelestis, culminating in a huge pyrotechnic display caused by the controlled ignition of its methane swamp. Caelestis currently housed the centre of operations for Intelligent Design on Genesis but after the official opening, the factories and offices would be emptied and dismantled, and the whole operation moved back to Amica until needed for another project.
“Rather him than me,” muttered Hudley. He did not like Major Durle, and he suspected that the feeling was mutual.
Major Bernard Durle was in his office, naively hoping for a relaxing weekend. Like most Amicans, he worked Moonday to Frosday, taking Spiradays and Soladays off to be with his wife, read the newspaper and catch up with paperwork. This morning he had scheduled a brief meeting with Tedford, Head of Creature Design. Good fellow, Tedford, although Durle wasn’t so sure about some of Tedford’s junior staff; they spent too much time hanging about with those lunatic Greys for his liking.
Major Durle ran his paws through his scalp fur and straightened his tie; must set a good example to the workers, he thought. The thick, light brown fur that covered his face and body was liberally streaked with grey and starting to thin out in places but, on the whole, not too bad for an Ufro of his age.
Durle was a typical Ufro, valuing loyalty, honesty and dedication amongst his staff. In keeping with his military bearing and background, he kept his facial fur trimmed short and his paws neatly manicured. His wife had suggested he dye his grey fur, but although he insisted on being neat and clean, he considered it unseemly to preen himself, a habit he disliked in his Fulfic co-workers. He was only average height for an Ufro, around two metres, but broad across the chest.
“Plenty of room for some more medals,” he often joked to friends.
Prior to his appointment to middle management at Intelligent Design, Major Durle had been a pilot in the Imperial Space Fleet, flying over one hundred active missions during the Ferox troubles. Although no longer in active service, he remained part of a military reserve force, entitling him to keep his rank.
There was a sharp knock on Durle’s office door. “Come!”
The door opened to admit a young Fulfa, Jobba Tedford. At twenty five, Tedford was young for a department head, but his talent for design was well known within the company. The only department head younger than Tedford was Marci Mee, Head of Climate Control and Natural Phenomena.
Tedford hauled himself up into one of Durle’s enormous padded swivel chairs and grinned at the Major, swinging his feet enthusiastically.
“Hello, Major. What’s up?” Tedford’s grey dungarees ended at the knees and shoulders, showing off the beautiful downy blue fur of his legs and arms. His bright red chest fur rose and fell with his breathing and his sharp eyes darted about the room. Sewn onto his dungarees was a black patch with the words Genesis Project – Head of Creature Design emblazoned in red letters.
“Morning, Tedford. Fine day.” Tedford nodded. “Look, I’m sorry that it’s short notice, but I have a job for you. You may be aware that Admiral Bootlink will be attending the opening ceremony.” Tedford nodded again. “Well, in order to celebrate his thirtieth year in military service, we have been asked to design a new sea creature in his honour and present it to him at the ceremony.”
Tedford pulled out his notebook and started making notes. “Six working days isn’t much time. What sort of sea creature would he like?”
“Something large, impressive and fierce,” clarified the Major. “Spines, barbs, sharp teeth, tentacles galore, that sort of thing. Can you handle it?”
“No problem, Major. I know just the Fulfae for the job.”
“Excellent! Knew I could count on you.”
“Anything else?” asked Tedford.
“No, that’s it. Dismissed.”
Tedford hopped down from the chair and sauntered out, pulling the door closed behind him. Durle listened to his cheerful whistling receding down the corridor.
In the world of planet design, there are only two names; Herschel Devine and Chalfont Darwin. Over the last few years, these two Ufros have become pioneers of industry, household names and arch rivals.
Herschel Devine’s father had been in the diplomatic Corps and had always hoped that his son would follow him into the same profession. Herschel was sent to a very exclusive private-school, but it soon became apparent to his teachers that the young Ufro had inherited none of his father’s diplomacy. He was stubborn, opinionated and constantly argued with his teachers which, along with his sporting prowess, made him exceedingly popular amongst his peers. While at school he met the future Empress, Genesis, and the two became friends.
Herschel had a flair for maths and physics, and his teachers encouraged him to pursue further studies in design and engineering. When he left school he started his own landscaping business, Intelligent Design, and it was through his friendship with Genesis, who was now engaged to marry the Emperor, that he secured a lucrative contract to design and landscape the Emperor’s palatial gardens. From this point he never looked back, progressing to designing mountain ranges, ocean floors and then entire moons; it was then but a short step into planet design. His continuing friendship with Genesis, and through her the Emperor, led to further high profile contracts and his company grew so quickly that he had to divide the business into two arms; Devine Interventions for planet design and construction, and Intelligent Design for landscaping and population services.
As Devine Interventions became one of the biggest companies on the planet Amica, Devine became a business icon, but he had competition.
Chalfont Darwin had worked for Devine for several years before leaving Intelligent Design to start his own business. Both Ufros were ruthlessly ambitious, but unlike Devine, Darwin was charming and charismatic and it was not long until he had taken many of Devine’s clients.
Darwin’s company A to Z Design expanded rapidly, primarily through the use of research data and proprietary technology that Darwin had pilfered from Intelligent Design. Within five years of launching A to Z, Darwin was able to create a new umbrella Corporation, Evolution, with A to Z as its main subsidiary.
Year after year, Evolution Corporation took more and more of Devine Interventions’ market share and the trend showed no sign of abating, due in no small part to Darwin’s uncanny ability to infiltrate Devine’s companies with corporate spies and steal top secret research.
As we will soon discover, there was no love lost between the two Ufros.
Tedford ambled out of Major Durle’s office, down a short corridor flanked on each side by frosted glass office doors and into the main atrium of Intelligent Design’s office complex. The atrium’s glass roof towered high overhead and he stood for a few moments admiring the colourful birds that gathered there to preen and sing; birds that his staff had created. Things were going well; Genesis was complete, all except for the island of Caelestis, where the Intelligent Design team was currently based. Caelestis was the crowning glory of Genesis, an island paradise with its grand hotel, luxury spa, beautiful beaches and unique atmospheric phenomenon, the Aurora Methalis.
The Intelligent Design office complex formed a central hub surrounded on all sides by huge storage facilities, shuttle bays, warehouses and production plants. From the centre of the office complex, four corridors led away at right angles to one another, each one leading to a separate wing for each department. Tedford’s department, Creature Design was in the east wing. Plant Design was located west, Climate Control and Natural Phenomena in the north and Research and Development in the south wing. The main supercomputer and central servers were also located in the south wing, providing processing power to each of the other three wings’ computer simulation suites.
I.T, the security department and (most importantly) the staff canteen were all located in a separate building just north of the office complex.
Animal population figures were still a little low but Tedford was confident they could meet their eighty percent target in time for completion. He had given the other senior designers in the department some well-earned leave, so it was just him and his three junior designers left to put the finishing touches to the island’s wildlife. Tedford felt that the extra responsibility would be good experience for the juniors and he had given them carte blanche to design whatever they liked. All designs would then be approved by a senior designer (i.e. him) before going to the bio-printers.
Tedford walked down the east corridor, through a door marked Department of Creature Design, and into the main office.
“Grab your designs, lads; show me what you’ve got,” called Tedford as he swept past through the main office towards the computer simulation suite. The three juniors filed in behind him.
The walls were lined with banks of TV monitors, each one showing animal activity on different sections of the island. There was a drinks machine in one corner, and at the far end of the room, a large tinted glass window afforded a view of the creature production plant. The centre of the room was dominated by a large, glass table surrounded by comfortable, swivel chairs, each of which faced its own computer terminal. The table was otherwise bare.
They each took a seat at the table and logged in to their terminals, except for Chippo who had gone back to his desk to get some biscuits. Tedford shuffled his papers and started the meeting.
“Population figures are good; stable across all groups, no one in danger of extinction at present. I would like to see a few more invertebrates this week if possible. It’s our last six working days, so let’s see if we can come up with something really special to finish. Did you catch all that, Chippo?” Chippo gave a thumbs-up with one paw and stuffed biscuits into his mouth with the other. Tedford shook his head and continued. “Durle has given us a project. We are to design something in honour of Admiral Bootlink, who will be attending the opening ceremony. Apparently he’s a big deal in the navy, and Durle wishes us to create a sea-dwelling nasty to amuse him. He has specified…” Tedford pulled out his notebook and read “large, fierce, spines, barbs, sharp teeth, tentacles.” He put his notebook aside. “Initial ideas?”
“Cephalopod?” ventured Chippo.
“No, the mouth would be underneath. We need to be able to see fangs or mandibles.”
“Malacostracans then. Perhaps lobster based?” offered Chippo.
“How about arachnid?” ventured Pingree. “Sea scorpion perhaps.”
“Too short notice to apply for a venomous sting, but we could put pincers or a clubbed tail at the back,” suggested Tedford.
“A mammal might be easier to work with,” said Hudley. “Perhaps a manatee?”
“Not very scary though,” said Chippo. “How about squamata? Monitor lizards are pretty fierce. Bung on a few tentacles and spines down its back. Or maybe a crocodilian?”
“Do you think it’s possible to splice together a squid and a land crab?” asked Hudley. “Then you’ve got your tentacles, mandibles, pincers, armour plating, the works.”
“You could try it,” agreed Tedford “Obviously we don’t have time to get planning permission, so it needs to be no more than two metres in length, but obviously size will depend on the environmental impact simulation. Get over to the DNA library and grab a few templates after the meeting. I want you to get cracking straight away.”
“Is that two metres including the tail?” asked Hudley.
“Two metres plus tail,” clarified Tedford. “Right, let’s see what you’ve got for me today. You first, Pingree. Amaze us.”
Pingree turned his attention to his computer terminal, plugging in his data stick and tapping a few keys. A haze appeared over the table, quickly forming itself into a 3D image of a thirty centimetre long, slender, furry mammal. It was entirely covered in fine yellow fur except for its long bushy tail, which was pure white. Its tail swished distractedly from side to side, its nose twitched and it yawned widely, displaying long, needle like teeth. “Rotate, said Pingree and the creature steadily rotated clockwise. “Zoom” he said, and the image doubled in size. “This is a yewli. As you can see; mammalian, nocturnal, prehensile tail, tree dweller. The long snout and sharp teeth allow it to get into gaps between the bark on the trees. It will eat bugs, beetles, worms, the occasional tree frog.”
“Very fetching,” said Tedford. “Environmental impact?”
“And why yewli?”
“Sound,” said Pingree. The yewli opened its mouth and let out a long, drawn out “yeeeeeeeewwwwwwleeeeeeeee!” Its tone rose and fell like a flute.
The others nodded and murmured their approval.
“Classy, Pingree. OK, Hudley; top that.”
Hudley inserted his data stick and the yewli faded away to be replaced by a fairly unremarkable, ten centimetre, shiny silver and gold fish.
“Add water” said Hudley. The fish swam to and fro and as the water rippled around it, the ripples were mirrored by pulses of blue and green light which strobed up and down the fish’s flanks. “Shoal” said Hudley, feeling a surge of pride, as the others murmured and cooed.
Tedford pointed. “Chippo. Your turn.”
Chippo tapped his keypad, but nothing happened. He frowned and tapped a few more keys until a tiny dot appeared over the table.
“A-ha! There it is. Zoom!” Nothing happened; the dot remained a dot.
“ZOOM!” he shouted in frustration. Instantly, the dot swelled into a huge face, two metres wide with enormous, multifaceted red eyes, snapping mandibles and green antennae.
“Aaaaaaaaargh!” Four chairs shot backwards in unison.
“Undo!” yelled Chippo. The face again became a dot. Shaking, the four drew themselves back to the table.
“What was that revolting thing?”
“A giddy ant.”
“OK,” said Tedford. “I’ve seen enough. Print them, then head over to the library and grab those DNA templates. I need you to start on Bootlink’s beastie, stat.”
Tedford rose to leave. “Tedford?”
“I told you that I’m going home for my mum’s birthday, didn’t I?”
“You mentioned it. When is it?”
“Next Amiday. I’m only staying overnight, I’ll be back Metday afternoon.”
“Righto. Have you bought her a present?”
Hudley shook his head. “Not yet. I’ll pop into Parmocelli’s when I get off the shuttle.”
Factories and warehouses are noisy places and so, along with the shuttle hangars, they were located on the north side of the industrial complex, well away from the central offices. The main warehouse was the size of a football pitch and spread over three floors. The ground floor contained all the heavier components for the factory equipment and shuttle craft, the first floor contained lighter components and the top floor contained all the proteins, fluids and other ingredients for making a living organism. There was a separate warehouse for rocks and other non–organic components, though some of the larger items (such as volcanoes) were assembled off site and airlifted in.
Within this cluster of buildings was the bio-printing works, containing half a dozen industrial bio-print machines arranged side by side. The main entrance to the factory was located at the east side of the building, and on the west side there was an entrance into the observation bay which overlooked the factory floor. All the machines were aligned to face the large sliding doors in the north side of the building, so that larger animals could be released straight into the dense forest that surrounded the complex on all sides.
There was one machine to produce creatures between five and fifty metres in length, and two standard machines to produce anything from a rabbit to an elephant. Some of the more sizable ocean dwellers were too large to be produced by standard machines, and so there was one mega-machine, capable of producing creatures of between forty and one hundred metres in length. There was also a mini-machine, to produce insects and smaller animals up to a metre in length and a micro-machine which could produce single-celled organisms and viruses.
Access to the observation bay was via a fire-exit on the west wall and the three Fulfae climbed the stairs and let themselves in. Facing them was a large window that looked east onto the factory floor below, and another door leading to a set of stairs for access to the main factory area, where a tall dark Ufro currently patrolled the machines. They waved to him cheerily and he gave them a thumbs-up.
The observation bay contained a low table with several magazines on it, half a dozen comfortable chairs, a computer terminal and, in the corner, a drinks machine and biscuits which Chippo and Pingree almost fell over one another to reach.
Hudley sat down at the computer terminal. Each machine had clear sides and from the observation bay, you could watch each creature taking shape as it moved on a conveyor belt through the machine. Only the three nearest machines were visible from the bay, but the majority of Hudley’s work was done on the mini-machine. Larger creatures tended to be the remit of senior designers.
Whilst Chippo and Pingree continued to do battle over the biscuits, Hudley logged eagerly into the terminal and inserted his data stick. He loved this part of the job. There was a real thrill in watching something he had designed being fed into one end of a machine as raw ingredients, and then watching it trot out of the other end, ready to take up residence on the island. He accessed the file for his latest fish, and it appeared on-screen, slowly rotating. The word “PRINT?” flashed below it. He tapped the screen. “ARE YOU SURE?” He tapped the screen again and then slid his chair over to the window to watch. A red light flashed on top of the mini-machine, a soft beeping emanated from it and the conveyor belt began slowly moving.
“Right,” he said to himself, “let’s make a fish!”