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Chapter Twenty-three

The news networks don't like this kind of thing. They regard it as a waste. An incontrovertible spaceship arrives out of nowhere in the middle of London and it is sensational news of the highest magnitude. Another completely different one arrives three and a half hours later and somehow it isn't.

`ANOTHER SPACECRAFT!' said the headlines and news stand billboards. `THIS ONE'S PINK.' A couple of months later they could have made a lot more of it. The third spacecraft, half an hour after that, the little four berth Hrundi runabout, only made it on to the local news.

Ford and Arthur had come screaming down out of the stratosphere and parked neatly on Portland Place. It was just after six-thirty in the evening and there were spaces free. They mingled briefly with the crowd that gathered round to ogle, then said loudly that if no one else was going to call the police they would, and made good their escape.

`Home...' said Arthur, a husky tone creeping into his voice as he gazed, misty-eyed around him.

`Oh don't get all maudlin on me,' snapped Ford. `We have to find your daughter and we have to find that bird thing.'

`How?' said Arthur. `This is a planet of five and a half billion people, and...'

`Yes,' said Ford. `But only one of them has just arrived from outer space in a large silver spaceship accompanied by a mechanical bird. I suggest we just find a television and something to drink while we watch it. We need some serious room service.'

They checked into a large two-bedroomed suite at the Langham. Mysteriously, Ford's Dine-O-Charge card, issued on a planet over five thousand light years away, seemed to present the hotel's computer with no problems.

Ford hit the phones straight away while Arthur attempted to locate the television.

`OK,' said Ford. `I want to order up some margaritas please. Couple of pitchers. Couple of Chef's Salads. And as much foie gras as you've got. And also London Zoo.'

`She's on the news!' shouted Arthur from the next room.

`That's what I said,' said Ford into the phone. `London Zoo. Just charge it to the room.'

`She's... Good God!' shouted Arthur. `Do you know who she's being interviewed by?'

`Are you having difficulty understanding the English language?' continued Ford. `It's the zoo just up the road from here. I don't care if it's closed this evening. I don't want to buy a ticket, I just want to buy the zoo. I don't care if you're busy. This is room service, I'm in a room and I want some service. Got a piece of paper? OK. Here's what I want you to do. All the animals that can be safely returned to the wild, return them. Set up some good teams of people to monitor their progress in the wild, see that they're doing OK.'

`It's Trillian!' shouted Arthur. `Or is it... er... God, I can't stand all this parallel universe stuff. It's so bloody confusing. It seems to be a different Trillian. It's Tricia McMillan which is what Trillian used to be called before... er... Why don't you come and watch, see if you can figure it out?'

`Just a second,' Ford shouted, and returned to his negotiations with room service. `Then we'll need some natural reserves for the animals that can't hack it in the wild,' he said. `Set up a team to work out the best places to do that. We might need to buy somewhere like Zaire and maybe some islands. Madagascar. Baffin. Sumatra. Those kind of places. We'll need a wide variety of habitats. Look, l don't see why you're seeing this as a problem. Learn to delegate. Hire whoever you want. Get on to it. I think you'll find my credit is good. And blue cheese dressing on the salad. Thank you.'

He put the phone down and went through to Arthur, who was sitting on the edge of his bed watching television.

`I ordered us some foie gras,' said Ford.

`What?' said Arthur, whose attention was entirely focused on the television.

`I said I ordered us some foie gras.'

`Oh,' said Arthur, vaguely. `Um, I always feel a hit bad about foie gras. Bit cruel to the geese, isn't it?'

`Fuck 'em,' said Ford, slumping on the bed. `You can't care about every damn thing.'

`Well, that's all very well for you to say, but...'

`Drop it!' said Ford. `If you don't like it I'll have yours. What's happening?'

`Chaos!' said Arthur. `Complete chaos! Random keeps on screaming at Trillian, or Tricia or whoever it is, that she abandoned her and then demanding to go to a good night club. Tricia's broken down in tears and says she's never even met Random let alone given birth to her. Then she suddenly started howling about someone called Rupert and said that he had lost his mind or something. I didn't quite follow that bit, to be honest. Then Random started throwing stuff and they've cut to a commercial break while they try and sort it all out. Oh! They've just cut back to the studio! Shut up and watch.'

A rather shaken anchorman appeared on the screen and apologised to viewers for the disruption of the previous item. He said he didn't have any very clear news to report, only that the mysterious girl, who called herself Random Frequent Flyer Dent had left the studio to, er, rest. Tricia McMillan would be, he hoped, back tomorrow. Meanwhile, fresh reports of UFO activity were coming in...

Ford leaped up off the bed, grabbed the nearest phone and jabbed at a number.

`Concierge? You want to own the hotel? It's yours if you can find out for me in five minutes which clubs Tricia McMillan belongs to. Just charge the whole thing to this room.'

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