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Chapter Thirty-six

The flying saucer in which Ford Prefect had stowed away had stunned the world.

Finally there was no doubt, no possibility of mistake, no hallucinations, no mysterious CIA agents found floating in reservoirs.

This time it was real, it was definite. It was quite definitely definite.

It had come down with a wonderful disregard for anything beneath it and crushed a large area of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, including much of Harrods.

The thing was massive, nearly a mile across, some said, dull silver in colour, pitted, scorched and disfigured with the scars of unnumbered vicious space battles fought with savage forces by the light of suns unknown to man.

A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nicholls, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower.

After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.

It held up a hand.

``I come in peace,'' it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, ``take me to your Lizard.''

Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the non-stop frenetic news reports on the television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.

``It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see ...''

``You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?''

``No,'' said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, ``nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards role the people.''

``Odd,'' said Arthur, ``I thought you said it was a democracy.''

``I did,'' said Ford. ``It is.''

``So,'' said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, ``why don't people get rid of the lizards?''

``It honestly doesn't occur to them,'' said Ford. ``They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.''

``You mean they actually vote for the lizards?''

``Oh yes,'' said Ford with a shrug, ``of course.''

``But,'' said Arthur, going for the big one again, ``why?''

``Because if they didn't vote for a lizard,'' said Ford, ``the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?''

``What?''

``I said,'' said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, ``have you got any gin?''

``I'll look. Tell me about the lizards.''

Ford shrugged again.

``Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,'' he said. ``They're completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it.''

``But that's terrible,'' said Arthur.

``Listen, bud,'' said Ford, ``if I had one Altairan dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say `That's terrible' I wouldn't be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin. But I haven't and I am. Anyway, what are you looking so placid and moon-eyed for? Are you in love?''

Arthur said yes, he was, and said it placidly.

``With someone who knows where the gin bottle is? Do I get to meet her?''

He did because Fenchurch came in at that moment with a pile of newspapers she'd been into the village to buy. She stopped in astonishment at the wreckage on the table and the wreckage from Betelgeuse on the sofa.

``Where's the gin?'' said Ford to Fenchurch. And to Arthur, ``What happened to Trillian by the way?''

``Er, this is Fenchurch,'' said Arthur, awkwardly. ``There was nothing with Trillian, you must have seen her last.''

``Oh, yeah,'' said Ford, ``she went off with Zaphod somewhere. They had some kids or something. At least,'' he added, ``I think that's what they were. Zaphod's calmed down a lot you know.''

``Really?'' said Arthur, clustering hurriedly round Fenchurch to relieve her of the shopping.

``Yeah,'' said Ford, ``at least one of his heads is now saner than an emu on acid.''

``Arthur, who is this?'' said Fenchurch.

``Ford Prefect,'' said Arthur. ``I may have mentioned him in passing.''


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