It arrived suddenly and unexpectedly but with a minimum of fuss. One moment it was a perfectly ordinary late afternoon in the early autumn --- the leaves were just beginning to turn red and gold, the river was beginning to swell again with the rains from the mountains in the north, the plumage of the pikka birds was beginning to thicken in anticipation of the coming winter frosts, any day now the Perfectly Normal Beasts would start their thunderous migration across the plains, and Old Thrashbarg was beginning to mutter to himself as he hobbled his way around the village, a muttering which meant that he was rehearsing and elaborating the stories that he would tell of the past year once the evenings had drawn in and people had no choice but to gather round the fire and listen to him and grumble and say that that wasn't how they remembered it --- and the next moment there was a spaceship sitting there, gleaming in the warm autumn sun.
It hummed for a bit and then stopped.
It wasn't a big spaceship. If the villagers had been experts on spaceships they would have known at once that it was a pretty nifty one, a small sleek Hrundi four-berth runabout with just about every optional extra in the brochure except Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis, which only wimps went for. You can't get a good tight, sharp curve round a tri-lateral time axis with Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis. All right, it's a bit safer, but it makes the handling go all soggy.
The villagers didn't know all that, of course. Most of them here on the remote planet of Lamuella had never seen a spaceship, certainly not one that was all in one piece, and as it shone warmly in the evening light it was just the most extraordinary thing they had come across since the day Kirp caught a fish with a head at both ends.
Everybody had fallen silent.
Whereas a moment before two or three dozen people had been wandering about, chattering, chopping wood, carrying water, teasing the pikka birds, or just amiably trying to stay out of Old Thrashbarg's way, suddenly all activity died away and everybody turned to look at the strange object in amazement.
Or, not quite everybody. The pikka birds tended to be amazed by completely different things. A perfectly ordinary leaf lying unexpectedly on a stone would cause them to skitter off in paroxysms of confusion; sunrise took them completely by surprise every morning, but the arrival of an alien craft from another world simply failed to engage any part of their attention. They continued to kar and rit and huk as they pecked for seeds on the ground; the river continued with its quiet, spacious burbling.
Also, the noise of loud and tuneless singing from the last hut on the left continued unabated.
Suddenly, with a slight click and a hum, a door folded itself outwards and downwards from the spaceship. Then, for a minute or two, nothing further seemed to happen, other than the loud singing from the last hut on the left, and the thing just sat there.
Some of the villagers, particularly the boys, began to edge forward a little bit to have a closer look. Old Thrashbarg tried to shoo them back. This was exactly the sort of thing that Old Thrashbarg didn't like to have happening. He hadn't foretold it, not even slightly, and even though he would be able to wrestle the whole thing into his continuing story somehow or other, it really was all getting a bit much to deal with.
He strode forward, pushed the boys back, and raised his arms and his ancient knobbly staff into the air. The long warm light of the evening sun caught him nicely. He prepared to welcome whatever gods these were as if he had been expecting them all along.
Still nothing happened.
Gradually it became clear that there was some kind of argument going on inside the craft. Time went by and Old Thrashbarg's arms were beginning to ache.
Suddenly the ramp folded itself back up again. That made it easy for Thrashbarg. They were demons and he had repulsed them. The reason he hadn't foretold it was that prudence and modesty forbade.
Almost immediately a different ramp folded itself out on the other side of the craft from where Thrashbarg was standing, and two figures at last emerged on it, still arguing with each other and ignoring everybody, even Thrashbarg, whom they wouldn't even have noticed from where they were standing.
Old Thrashbarg chewed angrily on his beard.
To continue to stand there with his arms upraised? To kneel with his head bowed forward and his staff held out pointing at them? To fall backwards as if overcome in some titanic inner struggle? Perhaps just to go off to the woods and live in a tree for a year without speaking to anyone?
He opted just to drop his arms smartly as if he had done what he meant to do. They were really hurting so he didn't have much choice. He made a small, secret sign he had just invented towards the ramp which had closed and then made three and a half steps backwards, so he could at least get a good look at whoever these people were and then decide what to do next.
The taller one was a very good looking woman wearing soft and crumply clothes. Old Thrashbarg didn't know this, but they were made of Rymplon\TM, a new synthetic fabric which was terrific for space travel because it looked its absolute best when it was all creased and sweaty.
The shorter one was a girl. She was awkward and sullen looking, and was wearing clothes which looked their absolute worst when they were all creased and sweaty, and what was more she almost certainly knew it.
All eyes watched them, except for the pikka birds, which had their own things to watch.
The woman stood and looked around her. She had a purposeful air about her. There was obviously something in particular she wanted, but she didn't know exactly where to find it. She glanced from face to face among the villagers assembled curiously around her without apparently seeing what she was looking for.
Thrashbarg had no idea how to play this at all, and decided to resort to chanting. He threw back his head and began to wail, but was instantly interrupted by a fresh outbreak of song from the hut of the Sandwich Maker: the last one on the left. The woman looked round sharply, and gradually a smile came over her face. Without so much as a glance at Old Thrashbarg she started to walk towards the hut.
There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the right bread for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the baker and eventually they had between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light, moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced the savour of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.
There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise relationships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished sandwich: here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise of succulence and savour that is the hallmark of a truly intense sandwich experience.
The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven, would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.
Three knives altogether were required. First there was the knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness and grace of spread.
The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife; it must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would be accomplished.
The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant who would then add a few slices of newcumber and fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven.
And so the Sandwich Maker sang as he worked.
He was using the last of the year's salted meat. It was a little past its best now, but still the rich savour of Perfectly Normal Beast meat was something unsurpassed in any of the Sandwich Maker's previous experience. Next week it was anticipated that the Perfectly Normal Beasts would appear again for their regular migration, whereupon the whole village would once again be plunged into frenetic action: hunting the Beasts, killing perhaps six, maybe even seven dozen of the thousands that thundered past. Then the Beasts must be rapidly butchered and cleaned, with most of the meat salted to keep it through the winter months until the return migration in the spring, which would replenish their supplies.
The very best of the meat would be roasted straight away for the feast that marked the Autumn Passage. The celebrations would last for three days of sheer exuberance, dancing and stories that Old Thrashbarg would tell of how the hunt had gone, stories that he would have been busy sitting making up in his hut while the rest of the village was out doing the actual hunting.
And then the very, very best of the meat would be saved from the feast and delivered cold to the Sandwich Maker. And the Sandwich Maker would exercise on it the skills that he had brought to them from the gods, and make the exquisite Sandwiches of the Third Season, of which the whole village would partake before beginning, the next day, to prepare themselves for the rigours of the coming winter.
Today he was just making ordinary sandwiches, if such delicacies, so lovingly crafted, could ever be called ordinary. Today his assistant was away so the Sandwich Maker was applying his own garnish, which he was happy to do. He was happy with just about everything in fact.
He sliced, he sang. He flipped each slice of meat neatly on to a slice of bread, trimmed it and assembled all the trimmings into their jigsaw. A little salad, a little sauce, another slice of bread, another sandwich, another verse of Yellow Submarine.
`Hello , Arthur.'
The Sandwich Maker almost sliced his thumb off.
The villagers had watched in consternation as the woman had marched boldly to the hut of the Sandwich Maker. The Sandwich Maker had been sent to them by Almighty Bob in a burning fiery chariot. This, at least, was what Thrashbarg said, and Thrashbarg was the authority on these things. So, at least, Thrashbarg claimed, and Thrashbarg was... and so on and so on. It was hardly worth arguing about.
A few villagers wondered why Almighty Bob would send his onlie begotten Sandwich Maker in a burning fiery chariot rather than perhaps in one that might have landed quietly without destroying half the forest, filling it with ghosts and also injuring the Sandwich Maker quite badly. Old Thrashbarg said that it was the ineffable will of Bob, and when they asked him what ineffable meant he said look it up.
This was a problem because Old Thrashbarg had the only dictionary and he wouldn't let them borrow it. They asked him why not and he said that it was not for them to know the will of Almighty Bob, and when they asked him why not again he said because he said so. Anyway, somebody sneaked into Old Thrashbarg's hut one day while he was out having a swim and looked up `ineffable'. `Ineffable' apparently meant `unknowable, indescribable, unutterable, not to be known or spoken about'. So that cleared that up.
At least they had got the sandwiches.
One day Old Thrashbarg said that Almighty Bob had decreed that he, Thrashbarg, was to have first pick of the sandwiches. The villagers asked him when this had happened, exactly, and Thrashbarg said it had happened yesterday, when they weren't looking. `Have faith,' Old Thrashbarg said, `or burn!' They let him have first pick of the sandwiches. It seemed easiest.
And now this woman had just arrived out of nowhere, and gone straight for the Sandwich Maker's hut. His fame had obviously spread, though it was hard to know where to since, according to Old Thrashbarg, there wasn't anywhere else. Anyway, wherever it was she had come from, presumably somewhere ineffable, she was here now and was in the Sandwich Maker's hut. Who was she? And who was the strange girl who was hanging around outside the hut moodily and kicking at stones and showing every sign of not wanting to be there? It seemed odd that someone should come all the way from somewhere ineffable in a chariot that was obviously a vast improvement on the burning fiery one which had brought them the Sandwich Maker, if she didn't even want to be here?
They all looked to Thrashbarg, but he was on his knees mumbling and looking very firmly up into the sky and not catching anybody else's eye until he'd thought of something.
`Trillian!' said the Sandwich Maker, sucking his bleeding thumb. `What...? Who...? When...? Where...?'
`Exactly the questions I was going to ask you,' said Trillian, looking around Arthur's hut. It was neatly laid out with his kitchen utensils. There were some fairly basic cupboards and shelves, and a basic bed in the corner. A door at the back of the room led to something Trillian couldn't see because the door was closed. `Nice,' she said, but in an enquiring tone of voice. She couldn't quite make out what the set-up was.
`Very nice,' said Arthur. `Wonderfully nice. I don't know when I've ever been anywhere nicer. I'm happy here. They like me, I make sandwiches for them, and... er, well that's it really. They like me and I make sandwiches for them.'
`Idyllic,' said Arthur, firmly. `It is. It really is. I don't expect you'd like it very much, but for me it's, well, it's perfect. Look, sit down, please, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything, er, a sandwich?'
Trillian picked up a sandwich and looked at it. She sniffed it carefully.
`Try it,' said Arthur, `it's good.'
Trillian took a nibble, then a bite and munched on it thoughtfully.
`It is good,' she said, looking at it.
`My life's work,' said Arthur, trying to sound proud and hoping he didn't sound like a complete idiot. He was used to being revered a bit, and was having to go through some unexpected mental gear changes.
`What's the meat in it?' asked Trillian.
`Ah yes, that's, um, that's Perfectly Normal Beast.'
`Perfectly Normal Beast. It's a bit like a cow, or rather a bull. Kind of like a buffalo in fact. Large, charging sort of animal.'
`So what's odd about it?'
`Nothing, it's Perfectly Normal.'
`It's just a bit odd where it comes from.'
Tricia frowned, and stopped chewing.
`Where does it come from?' she asked with her mouth full. She wasn't going to swallow until she knew.
`Well it's not just a matter of where it comes from, it's also where it goes to. It's all right, it's perfectly safe to swallow. I've eaten tons of it. It's great. Very succulent. Very tender. Slightly sweet flavour with a long dark finish.'
Trillian still hadn't swallowed.
`Where,' she said, `does it come from, and where does it go to?'
`They come from a point just slightly to the east of the Hondo Mountains. They're the big ones behind us here, you must have seen them as you came in, and then they sweep in their thousands across the great Anhondo plains and, er, well that's it really. That's where they come from. That's where they go.'
Trillian frowned. There was something she wasn't quite getting about this.
`I probably haven't made it quite clear,' said Arthur. `When I say they come from a point to the east of the Hondo Mountains, I mean that that's where they suddenly appear. Then they sweep across the Anhondo plains and, well, vanish really. We have about six days to catch as many of them as we can before they disappear. In the spring they do it again only the other way round, you see.'
Reluctantly, Trillian swallowed. It was either that or spit it out, and it did in fact taste pretty good.
`I see,' she said, once she had reassured herself that she didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects. `And why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?'
`Well, I think because otherwise people might think it was a bit odd. I think Old Thrashbarg called them that. He says that they come from where they come from and they go to where they go to and that it's Bob's will and that's all there is to it.'
`Just don't even ask.'
`Well, you look well on it.'
`I feel well. You look well.'
`I'm well. I'm very well.'
`Well, that's good.'
`Nice of you to drop in.'
`Well,' said Arthur, casting around himself. Astounding how hard it was to think of anything to say to someone after all this time.
`I expect you're wondering how I found you,' said Trillian.
`Yes!' said Arthur. `I was wondering exactly that. How did you find me?'
`Well, as you may or may not know, I now work for one of the big Sub-Etha broadcasting networks that ---'
`I did know that,' said Arthur, suddenly remembering. `Yes, you've done very well. That's terrific. Very exciting. Well done. Must be a lot of fun.'
`All that rushing around. I expect it must be, yes.'
`We have access to virtually every kind of information. I found your name on the passenger list of the ship that crashed.'
Arthur was astonished.
`You mean they knew about the crash?'
`Well, of course they knew. You don't have a whole spaceliner disappear without someone knowing about it.'
`But you mean, they knew where it had happened? They knew I'd survived?'
`But nobody's ever been to look or search or rescue. There's been absolutely nothing.'
`Well there wouldn't be. It's a whole complicated insurance thing. They just bury the whole thing. Pretend it never happened. The insurance business is completely screwy now. You know they've reintroduced the death penalty for insurance company directors?'
`Really?' said Arthur. `No I didn't. For what offence?'
`What do you mean, offence?'
Trillian gave Arthur a long look, and then, in a new tone of voice, said, `It's time for you to take responsibility, Arthur.'
Arthur tried to understand this remark. He found it often took a moment or so before he saw exactly what it was that people were driving at, so he let a moment or two pass at a leisurely rate. Life was so pleasant and relaxed these days, there was time to let things sink in. He let it sink in.
He still didn't quite understand what she meant, though, so in the end he had to say so.
Trillian gave him a cool smile and then turned back to the door of the hut.
`Random?' she called. `Come in. Come and meet your father.'