Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
Previous Next Index


Chapter Twenty-four

``Er, captain ...''

``Yes, Number One?''

``Just heard a sort of report thingy from Number Two.''

``Oh, dear.''

High up in the bridge of the ship, the Captain stared out into the infinite reaches of space with mild irritation. From where he reclined beneath a wide domed bubble he could see before and above them the vast panorama of stars through which they were moving --- a panorama that had thinned out noticably during the course of the voyage. Turning and looking backwards, over the vast two-mile bulk of the ship he could see the far denser mass of stars behind them which seemed to form almost a solid band. This was the view through the Galactic centre from which they were travelling, and indeed had been travelling for years, at a speed that he couldn't quite remember at the moment, but he knew it was terribly fast. It was something approaching the speed of something or other, or was it three times the speed of something else? Jolly impressive anyway. He peered into the bright distance behind the ship, looking for something. He did this every few minutes or so, but never found what he was looking for. He didn't let it worry him though. The scientist chaps had been very insistent that everything was going to be perfectly alright providing nobody panicked and everybody got on and did their bit in an orderly fashion.

He wasn't panicking. As far as he was concerned everything was going splendidly. He dabbed at his shoulder with a large frothy sponge. It crept back into his mind that he was feeling mildly irritated about something. Now what was all that about? A slight cough alerted him to the fact that the ship's first officer was still standing nearby.

Nice chap, Number One. Not of the very brightest, had the odd spot of difficulty doing up his shoe laces, but jolly good officer material for all that. The Captain wasn't a man to kick a chap when he was bending over trying to do up his shoe laces, however long it took him. Not like that ghastly Number Two, strutting about all over the place, polishing his buttons, issuing reports every hour: ``Ship's still moving, Captain.'' ``Still on course, Captain.'' ``Oxygen levels still being maintained, Captain.'' ``Give it a miss,'' was the Captain's vote. Ah yes, that was the thing that had been irritating him. He peered down at Number One.

``Yes, Captain, he was shouting something or other about having found some prisoners ...''

The Captain thought about this. Seemed pretty unlikely to him, but he wasn't one to stand in his officers' way.

``Well, perhaps that'll keep him happy for a bit,'' he said, ``He's always wanted some.''

Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent trudged onwards up the ship's apparently endless corridors. Number Two marched behind them barking the occasional order about not making any false moves or trying any funny stuff. They seemed to have passed at least a mile of continuous brown hessian wall weave. Finally they reached a large steel door which slid open when Number Two shouted at it.

They entered.

To the eyes of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, the most remarkable thing about the ship's bridge was not the fifty foot diameter hemispherical dome which covered it, and through which the dazzling display of stars shone down on them: to people who have eaten at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, such wonders are commonplace. Nor was it the bewildering array of instruments that crowded the long circumferential wall around them. To Arthur this was exactly what spaceships were traditionally supposed to look like, and to Ford it looked thoroughly antiquated: it confirmed his suspicions that Disaster Area's stuntship had taken them back at least a million, if not two million, years before their own time.

No, the thing that really caught them off balance was the bath.

The bath stood on a six foot pedestal of rough hewn blue water crystal and was of a baroque monstrosity not often seen outside the Maximegalon Museum of Diseased Imaginings. An intestinal jumble of plumbing had been picked out in gold leaf rather than decently buried at midnight in an unmarked grave; the taps and shower attachment would have made a gargoyle jump.

As the dominant centrepiece of a starship bridge it was terribly wrong, and it was with the embittered air of a man who knew this that Number Two approached it.

``Captain, sir!'' he shouted through clenched teeth --- a difficult trick but he'd had years during which to perfect it.

A large genial face and a genial foam covered arm popped up above the rim of the monstrous bath.

``Ah, hello, Number Two,'' said the Captain, waving a cheery sponge, ``having a nice day?''

Number Two snapped even further to attention than he already was.

``I have brought you the prisoners I located in freezer bay seven, sir!'' he yapped.

Ford and Arthur coughed in confusion.

``Er ... hello,'' they said.

The Captain beamed at them. So Number Two had really found some prisoners. Well, good for him, thought the Captain, nice to see a chap doing what he's best at.

``Oh, hello there,'' he said to them, ``Excuse me not getting up, having a quick bath. Well, jynnan tonnyx all round then. Look in the fridge Number one.''

``Certainly sir.''

It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian ``chinanto/mnigs'' which is ordinary water server at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan ``tzjin-anthony-ks'' which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs.

Number Two stood before the Captain's bathtub trembling with frustration.

``Don't you want to interrogate the prisoners sir?'' he squealed.

The Captain peered at him in bemusement.

``Why on Golgafrincham should I want to do that?'' he asked.

``To get information out of them, sir! To find out why they came here!''

``Oh no, no, no,'' said the Captain, ``I expect they just dropped in for a quick jynnan tonnyx, don't you?''

``But sir, they're my prisoners! I must interrogate them!''

The Captain looked at them doubtfully.

``Oh all right,'' he said, ``if you must. Ask them what they want to drink.''

A hard cold gleam came into Number Two's eyes. He advanced slowly on Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent.

``All right, you scum,'' he growled, ``you vermin ...'' He jabbed Ford with the Kill-O-Zap gun.

``Steady on, Number Two,'' admonished the Captain gently.

``What do you want to drink!!!'' Number Two screamed.

``Well the jynnan tonnyx sounds very nice to me,'' said Ford, ``What about you Arthur?''

Arthur blinked.

``What? Oh, er, yes,'' he said.

``With ice or without?'' bellowed Number Two.

``Oh, with please,'' said Ford.

``Lemon??!!''

``Yes please,'' said Ford, ``and do you have any of those little biscuits? You know, the cheesy ones?''

``I'm asking the questions!!!!'' howled Number Two, his body quaking with apoplectic fury.

``Er, Number Two ...'' said the Captain softly.

``Sir?!''

``Push off, would you, there's a good chap. I'm trying to have a relaxing bath.''

Number Two's eyes narrowed and became what are known in the Shouting and Killing People trade as cold slits, the idea presumably being to give your opponent the impression that you have lost your glasses or are having difficulty keeping awake. Why this is frightening is an, as yet, unresolved problem.

He advanced on the captain, his (Number Two's) mouth a thin hard line. Again, tricky to know why this is understood as fighting behaviour. If, whilst wandering through the jungle of Traal, you were suddenly to come upon the fabled Ravenous Bugblatter Beast, you would have reason to be grateful if its mouth was a thin hard line rather than, as it usually is, a gaping mass of slavering fangs.

``May I remind you sir,'' hissed Number Two at the Captain, ``that you have now been in that bath for over three years?!'' This final shot delivered, Number Two spun on his heel and stalked off to a corner to practise darting eye movements in the mirror.

The Captain squirmed in his bath. He gave Ford Prefect a lame smile.

``Well you need to relax a lot in a job like mine,'' he said.

Ford slowly lowered his hands. It provoked no reaction. Arthur lowered his.

Treading very slowly and carefully, Ford moved over to the bath pedestal. He patted it.

``Nice,'' he lied.

He wondered if it was safe to grin. Very slowly and carefully, he grinned. It was safe.

``Er ...'' he said to the Captain.

``Yes?'' said the Captain.

``I wonder,'' said Ford, ``could I ask you actually what your job is in fact?''

A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He span round.

It was the first officer.

``Your drinks,'' he said.

``Ah, thank you,'' said Ford. He and Arthur took their jynnan tonnyx. Arthur sipped his, and was surprised to discover it tasted very like a whisky and soda.

``I mean, I couldn't help noticing,'' said Ford, also taking a sip, ``the bodies. In the hold.''

``Bodies?'' said the Captain in surprise.

Ford paused and thought to himself. Never take anything for granted, he thought. Could it be that the Captain doesn't know he's got fifteen million dead bodies on his ship?

The Captain was nodding cheerfully at him. He also appeared to be playing with a rubber duck.

Ford looked around. Number Two was staring at him in the mirror, but only for an instant: his eyes were constantly on the move. The first officer was just standing there holding the drinks tray and smiling benignly.

``Bodies?'' said the Captain again.

Ford licked his lips.

``Yes,'' he said, ``All those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold.''

The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.

``Oh they're not dead,'' he said, ``Good Lord no, no they're frozen. They're going to be revived.''

Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked.

Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.

``You mean you've got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?'' he said.

``Oh yes,'' said the Captain, ``Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We're going to colonize another planet.''

Ford wobbled very slightly.

``Exciting isn't it?'' said the Captain.

``What, with that lot?'' said Arthur.

``Ah, now don't misunderstand me,'' said the Captain, ``we're just one of the ships in the Ark Fleet. We're the `B' Ark you see. Sorry, could I just ask you to run a bit more hot water for me?''

Arthur obliged, and a cascade of pink frothy water swirled around the bath. The Captain let out a sigh of pleasure.

``Thank you so much my dear fellow. Do help yourselves to more drinks of course.''

Ford tossed down his drink, took the bottle from the first officer's tray and refilled his glass to the top.

``What,'' he said, ``is a `B' Ark?''

``This is,'' said the Captain, and swished the foamy water around joyfully with the duck.

``Yes,'' said Ford, ``but ...''

``Well what happened you see was,'' said the Captain, ``our planet, the world from which we have come, was, so to speak, doomed.''

``Doomed?''

``Oh yes. So what everyone thought was, let's pack the whole population into some giant spaceships and go and settle on another planet.''

Having told this much of his story, he settled back with a satisfied grunt.

``You mean a less doomed one?'' promoted Arthur.

``What did you say dear fellow?''

``A less doomed planet. You were going to settle on.''

``Are going to settle on, yes. So it was decided to build three ships, you see, three Arks in Space, and ... I'm not boring you am I?''

``No, no,'' said Ford firmly, ``it's fascinating.''

``You know it's delightful,'' reflected the Captain, ``to have someone else to talk to for a change.''

Number Two's eyes darted feverishly about the room again and then settled back on the mirror, like a pair of flies briefly distracted from their favourite prey of months old meat.

``Trouble with a long journey like this,'' continued the Captain, ``is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you're going to say next.''

``Only half the time?'' asked Arthur in surprise.

The Captain thought for a moment.

``Yes, about half I'd say. Anyway --- where's the soap?'' He fished around and found it.

``Yes, so anyway,'' he resumed, ``the idea was that into the first ship, the `A' ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or `C' ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B' ship --- that's us --- would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.''

He smiled happily at them.

``And we were sent off first,'' he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune.

The little bathing tune, which had been composed for him by one of his world's most exciting and prolific jingle writer (who was currently asleep in hold thirty-six some nine hundred yards behind them) covered what would otherwise have been an awkward moment of silence. Ford and Arthur shuffled their feet and furiously avoided each other's eyes.

``Er ...'' said Arthur after a moment, ``what exactly was it that was wrong with your planet then?''

``Oh, it was doomed, as I said,'' said the Captain, ``Apparently it was going to crash into the sun or something. Or maybe it was that the moon was going to crash into us. Something of the kind. Absolutely terrifying prospect whatever it was.''

``Oh,'' said the first officer suddenly, ``I thought it was that the planet was going to be invaded by a gigantic swarm of twelve foot piranha bees. Wasn't that it?''

Number Two span around, eyes ablaze with a cold hard light that only comes with the amount of practise he was prepared to put in.

``That's not what I was told!'' he hissed, ``My commanding officer told me that the entire planet was in imminent danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star goat!''

``Oh really ...'' said Ford Prefect.

``Yes! A monstrous creature from the pit of hell with scything teeth ten thousand miles long, breath that would boil oceans, claws that could tear continents from their roots, a thousand eyes that burned like the sun, slavering jaws a million miles across, a monster such as you have never ... never ... ever ...''

``And they made sure they sent you lot off first did they?'' inquired Arthur.

``Oh yes,'' said the Captain, ``well everyone said, very nicely I thought, that it was very important for morale to feel that they would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean.''

``Oh yes,'' agreed Ford, ``I can see that would be very important. And the other ships, er ... they followed on after you did they?''

For a moment the Captain did not answer. He twisted round in his bath and gazed backwards over the huge bulk of the ship towards the bright galactic centre. He squinted into the inconceivable distance.

``Ah. Well it's funny you should say that,'' he said and allowed himself a slight frown at Ford Prefect, ``because curiously enough we haven't heard a peep out of them since we left five years ago ... but they must be behind us somewhere.''

He peered off into the distance again.

Ford peered with him and gave a thoughtful frown.

``Unless of course,'' he said softly, ``they were eaten by the goat ...''

``Ah yes ...'' said the Captain with a slight hesitancy creeping into his voice, ``the goat ...'' His eyes passed over the solid shapes of the instruments and computers that lined the bridge. They winked away innocently at him. He stared out at the stars, but none of them said a word. He glanced at his first and second officers, but they seemed lost in their own thoughts for a moment. He glanced at Ford Prefect who raised his eyebrows at him.

``It's a funny thing you know,'' said the Captain at last, ``but now that I actually come to tell the story to someone else ... I mean does it strike you as odd Number Two?''

``Errrrrrrrrrrr ...'' said Number Two.

``Well,'' said Ford, ``I can see that you've got a lot of things you're going to talk about, so, thanks for the drinks, and if you could sort of drop us off at the nearest convenient planet ...''

``Ah, well that's a little difficult you see,'' said the Captain, ``because our trajectory thingy was preset before we left Golgafrincham, I think partly because I'm not very good with figures ...''

``You mean we're stuck here on this ship?'' exclaimed Ford suddenly losing patience with the whole charade, ``When are you meant to be reaching this planet you're meant to be colonizing?''

``Oh, we're nearly there I think,'' said the Captain, ``any second now. It's probably time I was getting out of this bath in fact. Oh, I don't know though, why stop just when I'm enjoying it?''

``So we're actually going to land in a minute?''

``Well not so much land, in fact, not actually land as such, no ... er ...''

``What are you talking about?'' said Ford sharply.

``Well,'' said the Captain, picking his way through the words carefully, ``I think as far as I can remember we were programmed to crash on it.''

``Crash?'' shouted Ford and Arthur.

``Er, yes,'' said the Captain, ``yes, it's all part of the plan I think. There was a terribly good reason for it which I can't quite remember at the moment. It was something to with ... er ...''

Ford exploded.

``You're a load of useless bloody loonies!'' he shouted.

``Ah yes, that was it,'' beamed the Captain, ``that was the reason.''


Previous Next Index