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Chapter Five

She watched it coming in from over the Henley direction with mild curiosity at first, wondering what those lights were. Living, as she did, not a million miles from Heathrow, she was used to seeing lights in the sky. Not usually so late in the evening, or so low, though, which was why she was mildly curious.

When whatever it was began to come closer and closer her curiosity began to turn to bemusement.

`Hmmm,' she thought, which was about as far as she could get with thinking. She was still feeling dopey and jet-lagged and the messages that one part of her brain was busy sending to another were not necessarily arriving on time or the right way up. She left the kitchen where she'd been fixing herself a coffee and went to open the back door which led out to the garden. She took a deep breath of cool evening air, stepped outside and looked up.

There was something roughly the size of a large camper van parked about a hundred feet above her lawn.

It was really there. Hanging there. Almost silent.

Something moved deep inside her.

Her arms dropped slowly down to her side. She didn't notice the scalding coffee slopping over her foot. She was hardly breathing as slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, the craft came downwards. Its lights were playing softly over the ground as if probing and feeling it. They played over her.

It seemed beyond all hope that she should be given her chance again. Had he found her? Had he come back? The craft dropped down and down until at last it had settled quietly on her lawn. It didn't look exactly like the one she had seen departing all those years ago, she thought, but flashing lights in the night sky are hard to resolve into clear shapes.

Silence.

Then a click and a hum.

Then another click and another hum. Click hum, click hum.

A doorway slid open, spilling light towards her across the lawn.

She waited, tingling.

A figure stood silhouetted in the light, then another, and another.

Wide eyes blinked slowly at her. Hands were slowly raised in greeting.

`McMillan?' a voice said at last, a strange, thin voice that managed the syllables with difficulty. `Tricia McMillan. Ms Tricia McMillan?'

`Yes,' said Tricia, almost soundlessly.

`We have been monitoring you.'

`M... monitoring? Me?'

`Yes.'

They looked at her for a while, their large eyes moving up and down her very slowly.

`You look smaller in real life,' one said at last.

`What?' said Tricia.

`Yes.'

`I... I don't understand,' said Tricia. She hadn't expected any of this, of course, but even for something she hadn't expected to begin with it wasn't going the way she expected. At last she said,

`Are you... are you from... Zaphod?'

This question seemed to cause a little consternation among the three figures. They conferred with each other in some skittering language of their own and then turned back to her.

`We don't think so. Not as far as we know,' said one.

`Where is Zaphod?' said another, looking up into the night sky.

`I... I don't know, said Tricia, helplessly.

`Is it far from here? Which direction? We don't know.'

Tricia realised with a sinking heart that they had no idea who she was talking about. Or even what she was talking about. And she had no idea what they were talking about. She put her hopes tightly away again and snapped her brain back into gear. There was no point in being disappointed. She had to wake up to the fact that she had here the journalistic scoop of the century. What should she do? Go back into the house for a video camera? Wouldn't they just be gone when she got back? She was thoroughly confused as to strategy. Keep'em talking, she thought. Figure it out later.

`You've been monitoring... me?'

`All of you. Everything on your planet. TV. Radio. Telecommunications. Computers. Video circuitry. Warehouses.'

`What?'

`Car parks. Everything. We monitor everything.'

Tricia stared at them.

`That must be very boring, isn't it?' she blurted out.

`Yes.'

`So why...'

`Except...'

`Yes? Except what?'

`Game shows. We quite like game shows.'

There was a terribly long silence as Tricia looked at the aliens and the aliens looked at her.

`There's something I would just like to get from indoors,' said Tricia very deliberately. `Tell you what. Would you, or one of you, like to come inside with me and have a look?'

`Very much,' they all said, enthusiastically.

All three of them stood, slightly awkwardly in her sitting room, as she hurried around picking up a video camera, a 35mm camera, a tape recorder, every recording medium she could grab hold of. They were all thin and, under domestic lighting conditions, a sort of dim purplish green.

`I really won't be a second, guys,' Tricia said, as she rummaged through some drawers for spare tapes and films.

The aliens were looking at the shelves that held her CDs and her old records. One of them nudged one of the others very slightly.

`Look,' he said. `Elvis.'

Tricia stopped, and stared at them all over again.

`You like Elvis?' she said.

`Yes,' they said.

`Elvis Presley?'

`Yes.'

She shook her head in bewilderment as she tried to stuff a new tape into her video camera.

`Some of your people,' said one of her visitors, hesitantly, `think that Elvis has been kidnapped by space aliens.'

`What?' said Tricia. `Has he?'

`It is possible.'

`Are you telling me that you have kidnapped Elvis?' gasped Tricia. She was trying to keep cool enough not to foul up her equipment, but this was all almost too much for her.

`No. Not us,' said her guests. `Aliens. It is a very interesting possibility. We talk of it often.'

`I must get this down,' Tricia muttered to herself. She checked her video was properly loaded and working now. She pointed the camera at them. She didn't put it up to her eye because she didn't want to freak them out. But she was sufficiently experienced to be able to shoot accurately from the hip.

`OK,' she said. `Now tell me slowly and carefully who you are. You first,' she said to the one on the left. `What's your name?'

`I don't know.'

`You don't know.'

`No.'

`I see,' said Tricia. `And what about you other two?'

`We don't know.'

`Good. OK. Perhaps you can tell me where you are from?'

They shook their heads.

`You don't know where you're from?'

They shook their heads again.

`So,' said Tricia. `What are you... er...'

She was floundering but, being a professional, kept the camera steady while she did it.

`We are on a mission,' said one of the aliens.

`A mission? A mission to do what?'

`We do not know.'

Still she kept the camera steady.

`So what are you doing here on Earth, then?'

`We have come to fetch you.'

Rock steady, rock steady. Could have been on a tripod. She wondered if she should be using a tripod, in fact. She wondered that because it gave her a moment or two to digest what they had just said. No, she thought, hand-held gave her more flexibility. She also thought, help, what am I going to do?

`Why,' she asked, calmly, `have you come to fetch me?'

`Because we have lost our minds.'

`Excuse me,' said Tricia, `I'm going to have to get a tripod.'

They seemed happy enough to stand there doing nothing while Tricia quickly found a tripod and mounted the camera on it. Her face was completely immobile, but she did not have the faintest idea what was going on or what to think about it.

`OK,' she said, when she was ready. `Why...'

`We liked your interview with the astrologer.'

`You saw it?'

`We see everything. We are very interested in astrology. We like it. It is very interesting. Not everything is interesting. Astrology is interesting. What the stars tell us. What the stars foretell. We could do with some information like that.'

`But...'

Tricia didn't know where to start.

Own up, she thought. There's no point in trying to second guess any of this stuff.

So she said, `But I don't know anything about astrology.'

`We do.'

`You do?'

`Yes. We follow our horoscopes. We are very avid. We see all your newspapers and your magazines and are very avid with them. But our leader says we have a problem.'

`You have a leader?'

`Yes.'

`What's his name?'

`We do not know.'

`What does he say his name is, for Christ's sake? Sorry I'll need to edit that. What does he say his name is?'

`He does not know.'

`So how do you all know he's the leader?'

`He seized control. He said someone has to do something round here.'

`Ah! , said Tricia, seizing on a clue. `Where is ``here''?'

`Rupert.'

`What?'

`Your people call it Rupert. The tenth planet from your sun. We have settled there for many years. It is highly cold and uninteresting there. But good for monitoring.'

`Why are you monitoring us?'

`It is all we know to do.'

`OK,' said Tricia. `Right. What is the problem that your leader says you have?'

`Triangulation.'

`I beg your pardon?'

`Astrology is a very precise science. We know this.'

`Well...' said Tricia, then left it at that.

`But it is precise for you here on Earth.'

`Ye... e... s...' She had a horrible feeling she was getting a vague glimmering of something.

`So when Venus is rising in Capricorn, for instance, that is from Earth. How does that work if we are out on Rupert? What if the Earth is rising in Capricorn? It is hard for us to know. Amongst the things we have forgotten, which we think are many and profound, is trigonometry.'

`Let me get this straight,' said Tricia. `You want me to come with you to... Rupert...'

`Yes.'

`To recalculate your horoscopes for you to take account of the relative positions of Earth and Rupert?'

`Yes.'

`Do I get an exclusive?'

`Yes.'

`I'm your girl,' said Tricia, thinking that at the very least she could sell it to the National Enquirer.

As she boarded the craft that would take her off to the furthest limits of the Solar System, the first thing that met her eyes was a bank of video monitors across which thousands of images were sweeping. A fourth alien was sitting watching them, but was focused on one particular screen that held a steady image. It was a replay of the impromptu interview which Tricia had just conducted with his three colleagues. He looked up when he saw her apprehensively climbing in.

`Good evening, Ms McMillan,' he said. `Nice camera work.'


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