Previously in Future Prefect... Bath, Pord, The Geraldine, Bite and Bark escaped from California State Penitentiary and are now making their way back to h2g2 for a decent meal before they head to the moon, all unaware that Agnes and Linda, the Sitter on the Chair of Mina, have already arrived there, determined to find and eliminate the cause of the earthquakes, the most recent of which demolished most of London...
'Why are you here?'
The voice came out of the darkness without any warning. Agnes and Linda froze in place, heads swivelling, trying to see where the speaker was. A few moments later, he stepped into the light. Agnes gaped - the reason for the high ceilings they'd observed throughout the part of the moonbase they'd explored so far was right in front of her. Almost nine feet tall, the man was simply enormous.
'We have been watching you since you arrived,' he said. 'You're looking for something.'
Agnes and Linda exchanged glances.
'You do not wish to tell me,' the man continued. He must have grown up on the moon, Agnes realised. It was the lack of gravity here which allowed him to grow so tall. No doubt on Earth he would have trouble breathing, let alone walking about. 'You fear your mission will be endangered if you do. Very well. I suspect I know why you are here, so let me show you why my people would help your cause.'
He turned, gesturing into the darkness.
'We keep the entrances to our caverns concealed,' he said. 'It would not do for the Americans to find them.'
'They're your enemies?' Linda asked.
'Enemies, and enslavers. Come, I will take you to our Queen, and she will tell you our story.'
He walked confidently into the shadows, and the two h2g2ers exchanged another glance before following. Deep in a patch of shadow was a door so well-hidden Agnes doubted she could have spotted it in full light. The man operated some concealed mechanism to open it, then stooped to get through it. The corridor beyond appeared to lead between two of the base's metal walls, was very narrow, had an unfinished look and was clearly intended to be unnoticed by normal inhabitants of the base. Agnes remembered seeing the like on Earth. Secret passages inside castle walls were always narrow and cramped. At least on the moonbase, the secret passages wouldn't get filled with cobwebs.
They did not go far before the way sloped down, and before long the walls were made of rock rather than metal. They came to a large airtight door, which opened at the man's instigation to reveal an airlock. They entered, and waited while the doors cycled. On the other side was a rock tunnel, and the air was thinner and colder. Agnes shivered, although Linda appeared unpeturbed. Black skintight leather was clearly warmer than Agnes had thought.
'It is not much further,' the man said. 'We keep our caverns colder to help avoid detection. The Americans might pick up heat seeping to the surface if we were not careful.'
He led them past several doors and side passages, until they came to a large chamber hollowed right out of the rock. At the far end was a raised platform with a large throne on top of it, occupied by a regal-looking woman equally as tall as their guide. A crown which looked to be made of cut glass sparkled on her head. Rows of chairs, proportioned for the taller Lunar people, filled the rest of the room, save for a wide aisle down the centre, which Linda and Agnes followed their guide down. Before the dais, he stopped and bowed, and spoke in an unfamiliar language to the Queen. She paused a moment.
'We will speak with them,' she announced in English. Their guide moved to one side, and the Queen beckoned Agnes and Linda forward with a slight movement of her hand. 'I am the Queen of the Free Peoples of Lunar,' she told them. 'Who are you, and why do you come here?' Her accent was odd, reminiscent of the almost musical language she had spoken with her countryman, and her dialect was old.
'I am Linda, Sitter on the Chair of Mina,' Linda introduced herself. 'This is Agnes, a professional singer. We come in the belief that somewhere on the moon lies the solution to a problem.'
'Which problem might this be?'
'Earthquakes have been destroying our cities, striking where no earthquakes should ever strike, with no warning from even our most sophisticated prediction machines, or our best clairvoyant mages. Agnes and some others travelled to America, hoping to find the answer there in the only part of Earth we do not know, but we found only that we should come here,' Linda explained. The Queen looked away, at the rock walls, as if trying to see beyond them. She sighed.
'It is something we have expected all these long years,' she said eventually. 'Your arrival is prophesised - the disaster you are trying to lessen is written in our oldest texts of prophecy. We will aid you as best we can, but first you must hear who we are, and how you can help us, and why you must help us - for not only is it impossible to get something for nothing, helping us will also lead you closer to your goal.'
'We will listen, and help as best we can,' Linda said, 'provided we will also be helping our people. I have no wish to see anyone suffer, but my position requires me to place our own people before any others.'
'You are as a Queen to your people?'
Linda shook her head. 'No,' she said. 'Along with others, I am charged with ensuring their safety from all threats. It is usually a quiet, easy job. Since I accepted the position of Sitter, I have spent more time at parties than doing any serious work. Now I find everything has changed, and although we have a very loose governmental system, sometimes a person simply has to take action of their own accord in order to accomplish what must be accomplished.'
'That is something we, too, understand,' the Queen said. 'Were it not for people like yourself among our people, we would not be here today. I will tell you our story.
'Three hundred years ago, the moonbase above us had been established for almost twenty years. It was smaller then, and little more than a scientific outpost, performing a variety of useful low-gravity experiments and sending the results back to the scientific community on Earth. Then, of course, the War broke out, and the moonbase was left to fend for itself. We are the descendants of the scientists who were there at the time.'
'War? What war?' Agnes asked.
'You don't know of the War?' The Queen asked. Her emphasis on the word War was noticeable.
'I've never heard of it,' Linda said. 'But then, nobody in h2g2 knows much about what happened back then.'
'We know only what was observed from the moon and intercepted transmissions,' the Queen said. 'So not all the details are clear to us, but we do know some of the events which occurred, and some of their effects.
'For the fifty years or so before the start of the War, during the planning of the first human settlement on the moon, there was a lot of speculation about what society was going to be like in the future. It was, after all, a time of great forward-thinking. Humans were going to stay permanently on the moon. The likes of it had never been attempted before. The world situation at the time was a very divided one. In what was called the Western world, which was largely Europe, North America, Japan and Australasia, things were good. Living conditions were excellent, there was plenty of food even if there wasn't much space for people to live in. By contrast, the rest of the world lived in poverty and squalor, some of the smaller countries literally in the debris of their richer counterparts.
'This was a situation which had developed over centuries, but people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the state of affairs - ordinary people living in the more prosperous nations were campaigning for better conditions for all, and for the saving of the Earth, which they saw as being polluted to death. This had been going on for years, but about that time it got more organised and much, much louder. Not long after the moonbase was established and the second load of colonists sent up, all from the United States of America, the island of Jersey suffered a serious internal upheaval and declared itself an independent state. The British weren't particularly pleased about this, but there wasn't much they could do because there was a lot of popular support for Jersey's move, as anti-globalisation sentiment was running high.'
'Sounds like an ideal situation to forment a war,' Linda said. 'What took them so long to start it?'
'At the time, only Britain was really worried about it. Jersey is not, after all, a particularly large or strategically significant island,' the Queen replied. 'Gradually, it became apparent that Jersey was shifting towards a new government structure, although nobody really seemed to know what it was save for the people who were forming it and most of the people who lived there. Nobody paid them much mind after a year or so, since they didn't cause any problems and just seemed to become much happier.
'Then the other two Channel Islands announced they were merging with Jersey to form a new triumvirate state. Britain was baffled, but again there was tremendous support from their population, so they couldn't take any action against the move. The Americans, on the other hand, came up with the theory that the governmental changes in the Channel Islands were being inspired by an online community known as h2g2.'
'Yes, we were taught that h2g2 began on the Internet, developing a community which eventually grew to encompass all the lands which aren't America,' Agnes said.
'It wasn't quite as simple as that. The Americans became convinced that the site was a subversive influence to their citizens and government, and used their influence on the Internet to block the servers from American users - and a couple of billion other people around the world. Such a move did not go unnoticed, of course, and so the people who could still see the site all went to see what such a fuss was about. Many liked it and stayed, and its influence spread. Then came the real crunch. After the moonbase had been established almost twenty years, the Channel Islands released an announcement stating that from this point on, any person under threat of prosecution in their own country could travel to the Channel Islands and receive sanctuary and fair treatment. They promised that those guilty of crimes would be punished, but in their own way. As you can probably imagine, the rest of the world wasn't too pleased by this.
'People started to drift towards the Channel Islands. There was no border control, no passport or ID checks, and no crime. Buildings were being constructed of such dazzling beauty it took the breath away from many a visitor. Some people took them up on their offer of sanctuary. Many ran from unjust regimes and were spared punishment for acts they were innocent of. Others were guilty but hoped to fool the people of the Channel Islands into letting them go. None, as far as we are aware, succeeded. Somehow, they were always found out. However, enough innocents escaped from some countries, including the increasingly corrupt USA, that the rest of the world became concerned. America, with the permission although probably not the encouragement of Britain and France, sent several warships to take what they saw as dangerous felons back to America to face justice according to their law. The Channel Islands told them to stay two miles from the coast, and not to touch anyone living there. The Americans continued onwards, and when they reached one mile from the shore, the world saw just what it was that had made life there so good.'
'What was that?' Agnes had become quite caught up in the story.
'Magic,' the Queen replied.
How much more of this history of the world will be unfolded before something inconvenient, like an attack by American astronauts, happens? Will Agnes and Linda get to sit down before the Queen goes on much longer, or will they have to put up with their aching feet? And what's happening to Pord, Bath, Bite and Bark? And where's Bill? Read the next Future Prefect, and you might find out...