Tedford was feeling very sorry for himself. He had been summoned to Major Durle’s office, where he was met by an irate Major and even more irate Marci. The questions had come thick and fast;
“Who designed those blasted toads?”
“Why did you approve the design?”
“What were they doing in the methane swamp?”
Tedford slunk back to his office and laid his head on the desk. The Major had given him a verbal warning, and even threatened to make the fire-toads extinct. The methane swamps would have to be re-primed, an insurance loss assessor was coming to investigate the cause of the explosion and there was talk of Devine himself coming to the island.
Tedford (nobody called him Jobba, except his mother and Marci, whom he had a crush on) had studied Creature Design at the Parmo Science Academy, a prestigious institution in Amotus’ largest city. Tedford had loved life as a student and was fascinated by all aspects of his studies, so much so that after his graduation he had returned to the Academy to teach. The course was four years, the first being principles of anatomy, physiology and genetics, the second year being practical biomechanics and environmental adaptation and the third year spent in industry (with either Devine Interventions or Evolution Corporation). In the fourth year, students would create a portfolio of creature design and write a ten thousand word thesis. Tedford had spent two years mentoring first year students, and it was during this time that he met Hudley, Pingree and Chippo and first realised their potential. He had come to work for Intelligent Design as a junior designer, but within three years was the head of his department, and soon sought out his three ex-students to come to work under him.
Each of the three students had certain attributes that had impressed him, and continued to impress him now. Hudley was thorough and hard working and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Earth fauna, Chippo was confident and practical, but Pingree was a phenomenon. The Verdi family name was well known in several branches of science. Pingree’s great-grandfather had invented the prehensile tongue, and his most famous creations, the swinging lykit and its heavier cousin, the lumpit, could often be seen in Amotus’ forests, using their strong, muscular tongues to swing from tree to tree. Pingree had inherited the arrogance and confidence of his ancestors, and his creature designs were flamboyant and bold. He truly was a one in a generation designer, and he knew it.
Tedford’s junior staff were rapidly making names for themselves and would soon be ready to qualify as senior designers under his supervision; if he didn’t get the sack first.
There was a knock at the door and Chippo entered. “You wanted to see me boss?” Tedford raised his head from the desk and motioned for Chippo to sit down.
“Are you OK?” asked Chippo.
“Not really. Durle has just torn a strip off me. It looks like the explosion at the methane swamp was caused by one of the fire-toads.”
Chippo’s jaw dropped. “No way! Are you sure?”
Tedford leaned over and handed him a picture of a fire toad in mid-croak. “This is from security footage of the explosion.”
“What were they doing at the swamp? They’re designed to stay close to the shoreline.”
“I think that the Aurora confused them. Perhaps some kind of electromagnetic disturbance. Durle is having the toads reassigned to a neighbouring island. Somewhere less combustible.”
Chippo looked anxious. “What happens now? Am I in trouble?”
“No, Chippo. I approved the design, it’s my responsibility but, for now, let’s tone down the bio-luminescence.”
“Understood, boss.” Chippo frowned, “I bet Marci’s mad as anything with you.”
Tedford groaned and lay his head back down on the desk, dismissing Chippo with a feeble wave of his paw.
Major Durle had arranged to meet his wife, Afra at the Capricorn Hotel dining room, which was doubling as executive dining room. He arrived just after one o’clock, to find her waiting for him.
“Sorry, love, things are hectic today.” He gave her a peck on the cheek, then sat down and poured himself a glass of water.
“I’m not surprised,” replied Afra. “Any news on the explosion?”
The Major harrumphed. “Would you believe that those imbeciles in Creature Design made a fire-breathing frog and released it into the methane swamp? It’s a wonder no one was killed. Devine’s increased the mail run to five times daily, and he sends me a pawful of memos on every blasted run. The insurance company has launched an investigation.”
“They’re sending a team in tomorrow. Some fellow called Dugdale and a woman, Van Fumé. Of all the wretched times to have to play babysitter.”
A waiter came to the table. “Are you ready to order Sir? Madam?”
“Yes please,” said Afra. “I’ll have the forest salad.”
“Me too, and a bottle of the house green, please.”
They watched the waiter leave with their order. “Have you heard from Nalina?” asked the Major.
“She sent me a note on this morning’s mail run. She’s managed to finish up early at Head Office and she’ll be here tomorrow afternoon. She’s taken a lovely suite on the fifth floor. I’m meeting her there and then we’ll join you for supper.”
“What are your plans for the rest of the week?”
“I’m going to hand things over to Tam, and Nalina and I are going to spend a couple of days pampering ourselves at the spa. Why don’t you join us?”
“Ha!” snorted the Major. “Chance would be a fine thing. I’m up to my eyes this week. A TV crew and a shuttleful of journalists are arriving in the morning, those insurance bods need to search the methane swamp, and to cap it all I have a meeting with Lady Vee tomorrow.”
“The White Lady?” Afra spluttered. “Why are you meeting her?”
“I’m having problems with the Greys again. They need sorting out. I’ve never known a lot as bad as this before. They’re always difficult, but these latest ones are something else.”
“Be careful Bernie, I’ve heard that Vee is a nasty piece of work. Foul temper too, by all accounts.”
“I’ve heard the same things about myself.” They both laughed. “Besides,” continued the Major, patting the revolver that hung in its holster by his side, “I can always count on old faithful here.”
“Mind you,” he added, “I might be tempted to use it on those ruddy journos.”
Two smartly dressed young Ufrettes were in the reception area of Wotcha! Magazine, waiting for a meeting with the editor, Mrs Lefleg Grunella. Tulara Giblard, tall, blonde and slender, was Wotcha!’s royal correspondent and Chuna Bowen, short, stout and fawn, its event photographer.
While Tulara prowled impatiently, Chuna sat reading the inside cover of Wotcha!’s latest issue.
“Duffer Publishing Group produces some of Amica’s most prestigious periodicals, including Amican Nature, Sizzling Fur, Extreme Undertaking and of course, Wotcha!, New Parmo’s premier celebrity news magazine. Founded twenty years ago by media mogul, Maxwell Duffer, the Duffer name is your guarantee of quality reading. Whether at home, at school or in the office, if you want a good read, pick up a Duffer.”
Chuna threw down the magazine and rummaged through her bag for a nail-file. Lefleg’s office door opened and out strode her husband, Gerbert Grunella. Gerbert hosted Face the Morning on TV channel Perpetual News 24/7. He gave Tulara and Chuna a wide smile and quick wave before heading for the elevators.
“In you come girls,” called Lefleg from her office. Tulara and Chuna entered, closing the door behind them. Lefleg stood with her back to the pair, looking out of the window.
“Please sit.” Lefleg turned and smiled. “This is big, girls, very big. Gerbert tells me that Perpetual News and Wotcha! have been granted exclusive access to Genesis’ opening ceremony.”
“Exclusive?” clarified Tulara. “No newspapers, no radio?”
“That’s right.” Lefleg was almost delirious with excitement. “Just us. This is the scoop of the year.”
“What about this explosion?” asked Chuna. “Will we be safe?”
“Gerbert says it was an accident. The shuttles are all running on time and we leave first thing tomorrow.”
“You’re coming with us Lefleg?”
“Yes I am. I’ve had a change of heart.”
“I thought no one was allowed access to Caelestis until next week,” said Tulara.
“It’s all been arranged. I’ve been on the phone with Mr Dugdale of Duffer Insurance. His department is sending a team to Caelestis tomorrow to investigate the accident. Because we all work for Mr Duffer, we can go on the same pass.” Lefleg beamed at the pair. “Don’t forget to pack your swimsuits.”
The phone was answered on the second ring.
“Evolution Corporation, the natural selection, Dana speaking, how may I help you?”
“May I please speak to Mr Lamarck?”
“Who should I say is calling, Madam?”
“Tell him it’s Cherry.”
“Is he expecting your call?”
“Thank you. Please hold.”
Soft music tinkled on the line. The caller checked her lipstick in a silver compact mirror.
“Hello?” Lamarck’s voice was in her ear now.
“It’s me. I got your message.”
“Is your line secure?”
“O.K, good. I hear that Eikopf is back at Caelestis.”
“You’re very well informed.”
“It’s in the weekly bulletin and I’m on the mailing list. What do you know about this explosion?”
“Apparently it was caused by a rogue amphibian. Duffer Insurance are sending a team to investigate.”
“When are you going down to Caelestis?”
“Tomorrow. What do you need?”
“I want Eikopf’s TNA samples.”
Cherry pouted. “That might be difficult with Dugdale breathing down my neck.”
“This explosion was supposed to be an accident, right?” clarified Lamarck.
“Well, if you could make it look like sabotage, Dugdale will be looking for someone who was already down there before you arrived. They’ll have to reassign more security staff from the research complex to the opening ceremony. You should be able to sneak in and out.”
“How do I make it look like sabotage?” asked Cherry.
“You’ll plant a small incendiary device in the methane swamp. I’ll knock something up and get it to you by courier this afternoon. All you need to do is leave it where Dugdale will find it.”
Cherry’s red lips curled into a smile. “I trust it will be worth my while.”
“I’ll give you one million credits for those samples.”
“One and a half.”
Lamarck was silent for a few moments. “Very well, one and a half. But, what about Durle?”
The smile widened. “Don’t worry. I know how to handle the Major.”
Professor Knut Dolman was alone in his office at Evolution House, having just left a meeting with Chalfont Darwin. Together they had agreed a working timetable to begin production of the new extreme sports planet, E.S.P. Dolman had promised to deliver completed templates for the planet, continents, mountain ranges and other land masses within a week, and two of the moons within the following fortnight.
“It’s like juggling when you’re dealing with three moons,” Dolman explained. “The first two are easy; it’s the third that’s the tricky one.”
He had set up a series of simulations and calculations to run on the department’s main computer and they would be complete in three or four days’ time. He was anxious to run tests on the working snownami model, but his test subjects would not be available for another few days, so he decided to turn his attention to catching up on some light reading. He flipped open a new copy of Professor Cranius Eikopf’s autobiography, My Life in Genes and began reading the preface.
Eikopf and Dolman had met at various seminars and conferences, and despite being employed by rival companies, the two had chosen to keep in touch. Dolman had written the introductions for two of Eikopf’s previous books, Inside your Genes, and The Student’s Guide to Unzipping Genes.
He had read only a few lines when his mobile phone began vibrating and the dulcet tones of Gilda Lilly came warbling from his pocket.
“If pigs could fly, they’d fly to you.
They’d leave the sty and fill the sky,
With messages of love and bacon,
Fresh for you when you awaken.”
His niece had changed the ringtone a month ago and he had been unable to work out how to change it back. He flipped open the phone. “Hello?”
“It’s me.” Cherry’s voice.
Dolman smiled broadly. “Hi Cherry. How are you?”
“I’m good. Look Knut, I have to go away tomorrow for a week or so. Can I see you tonight?”
“Yes, I can get away early. Where are you going?”
“Business trip in the north. Pick me up at eight?”
“Will do. I’ll book a restaurant.”
“I’ll be waiting.”