Authors: Terry Jones
an and Lucy were having trouble.
They had both procured their vouchers and had successfully wheedled an upgrade to Second Class out of the Deskbot, but the trickier negotiation re an upgrade to First Class was proving to be a remarkably harrowing experience.
'You have no Credit Card. You are not members of the Sixty Million Miles Club. You are not even registered Frequent Travellers. This whole discussion is pointless. You will find the Second Class facilities on board this Starship more than adequate for
How could even a robot be so unbelievably, unremittingly snotty, wondered Dan.
'Dan!' said Lucy. 'We're wasting our breath in fact, is it my imagination or is it getting harder to breathe?'
Dan sniffed the air. Lucy was right. It was also getting colder. 'Jesus!' he muttered.
'The air and heating are at normal levels,' announced a Doorbot.
'That's bullshit!' snapped Lucy. 'It's getting colder and it's getting more difficult to breathe!'
'I can assure you that the air supply and the temperature are set to maximum for Super Galactic Traveller Class comfort,' said the Doorbot.
'Are you trying to tell us there are different levels of air supply for the different classes of traveller?' exclaimed Dan.
'Not normally, sir, no,' replied the Doorbot. 'However, should the ship be travelling without First or Second Class passengers, the oxygen and heating will — naturally — be lowered to the comfort requirements of Super Galactic Traveller Class passengers.'
'Jesus!' exclaimed Lucy. You guys are the most cynical bunch I have ever come across!'
'I'm going straight to the Travel Association when I get home!' Dan was not messing about any longer. He was now beginning to sweat with panic — despite the cold. 'There isn't enough air to breathe!'
'There is ample air and heat for the Super Galactic Traveller decks, sir, but unfortunately it is getting dispersed over the whole ship.'
Lucy, meanwhile, was back at the Deskbot, hammering on the desk.
'I'm sorry, madam,' the Deskbot was saying, 'but it is company policy to supply First and Second Class air and heat only if there are First and Second Class passengers on board.'
Second Class passengers now!'
'I have no record of any Second Class passengers on board.'
'But you just gave us an upgrade! We had vouchers!'
'I'm afraid vouchers are not processed until the end of the month. Thank you for your enquiry.' The Deskbot suddenly turned itself off.
'All right… All right…' Dan was trying to work himself round to 'Decisive Mode'. 'It's vital we all stick together. Go and get Nettie, while I try and sort this mess out.'
'But if I go and get Nettie, we won't all be sticking together.' Lucy's rational streak tended to obtrude whenever Dan was in Decisive Mode.
'All right! I'll go and get her.'
'That's the same thing! Anyway, why are you so worried about Nettie?'
'I'm not! I just think we all ought to keep together in case one of us needs help.'
'Like what sort of help do we give if we're all running out of air and freezing to death?'
'All right!Don't go and look for Nettie! But what
we going to do?'
Dan sounded so desperate — so forlorn — and yet, oddly, Lucy preferred it to Decisive Mode,
'I'll see if I can find a supply of oxygen. You get us up to First Class!'
'But that's still not "sticking together"!' moaned Dan.
'I never said we
stick together. That was your idea,' said Lucy. Then she put her arms round Dan and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. 'Cheer up, Second Class Traveller! I'm sure we're going to be all right!' And with that she had gone, and Dan suddenly felt terribly alone.
So alone… he felt he could pick his loneliness up in his hands and hug it… but even as he felt this, he realized it wasn't the absence of Lucy that made him feel empty inside. There was something else.
ucy had a good brain even though she had lived all her life in L.A. Despite the continual exposure to carbon monoxide and people from the film industry, she had remained smart. She had trained as a lawyer and was well regarded in the firm where she practised. Her speciality was entertainment law, but she still liked to use that brain of her, and here was a good opportunity.
'Where would they keep the oxygen equipment?' She actually said it aloud as she paced round the loggia at the top of the Central Well. 'Got it!' Suddenly she knew exactly where to look. God! It was so great to be bright! She'd always thanked her stars that she hadn't been born a busty bimbo like some people she could think of.
'A department store,' she told herself, 'would have a plan of the store by the elevators… So…' And sure enough there it was! By the elevators — even though this wasn't a department store. She pressed a small button and a large area of the floor lit up displaying the plan of the
. What's more she could zoom in and out with a second control. This was better than anything they had at Macy's.
Lucy slipped on her translatorspecs and read:
. That was where she'd find oxygen. And without waiting to take advantage of any of the special offers the plan of the ship assured Second Class Passengers they would be delighted with, she hurried towards the Starship's Medical Centre.
The Medical Centre of the
took up a whole 400-yard section of the main hull — under the Embarkation Level. It was dazzlingly new and clean and it said: 'Hello, and welcome to the Medical Centre of the
. A place to enjoy and savour the Good Things of Life while you still have it — not just somewhere to be sick! We guarantee you will feel no pain once you have placed your credit card in our Card Care Machine.'
'Jesus!' thought Lucy. 'Could they do with a new copy-writer!' Her breathing was all the time becoming a little more difficult, and it was noticeably colder. She looked around for anything that might resemble an oxygen cylinder and suddenly froze in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature.
Unlike the rest of the ship, the Medical Centre was not unpopulated. There were two people — or
they people? There were two
on the floor, and one of them was looking straight at her. Lucy stared back. Somehow she knew, without a shadow of doubt, that he was not human. He
human enough, but there was a curious 'otherness' about him. It was intangible subtle… intriguing… Then she noticed he had the most beautiful orange eyes…
Lucy screamed and turned to escape, but the alien had already leapt to his feet, and the door of the Medical Centre had closed behind her. In her panic, even her mighty brain couldn't work out how to open it again.
A powerful arm gripped her around the neck, and a voice that sent a shiver right through her said: 'Don't struggle. I can break your neck.'
Lucy went kind of limp. She always claimed she didn't actually faint, but The Journalist, for this is who had his arm around her neck, later said he dragged her over to the nearest bed and laid her out unconscious for several minutes.
When Lucy came round, she saw her blood-stained assailant bent over a dead body. She realized immediately he was a crazed killer searching through his victim's clothes — such odd clothes, Lucy noticed: strange colours, strange cut, strange materials… It was at this point that she also realized she was tied down to the bed.
The full horror of her situation suddenly hit her like a forty-tonne truck hitting a shop window: she was shattered and her alarm went off.'Aaaaaarggh! Aarrrrrgrh! Arggggggggh!' screamed Lucy.
The Journalist looked across at her and clicked his teeth in annoyance.
'Shut up!' he snarled.
Oh my God! The Murderer had spoken to her! Here she was — a defenceless woman, tied down onto a bed, waiting for this violent sadist to finish rifling the pockets of his last victim and then come across to her and do… do what… do whatever he likes! That's what! To
! To Lucy Webber — a graduate of UCLA law school!
'Aaaaaaaaaargh!Arrrrrrrgh!Aaaaargggghhh!' Lucy had never screamed so well or so effectively in her life. Unfortunately the effect was not to bring Dan running to her rescue, but to attract the unwanted attentions of her murderous assailant.
He came across and stared into her eyes. The screams died on her lips as she registered the cruel twist of his mouth and the sadistic glint in those beautiful orange-coloured eyes. The next moment she saw his blood-stained hand move to cover her mouth.
'Listen!' said the Psychopath. 'There's a bomb on board this ship! It's going to explode and take us with it unless I can find it quick! So just SHUT UP with the screaming — I can't think and it makes me crazy!'
God! thought Lucy, it was just like one of those films, where the heroine is captured by the serial killer-rapist and yet finds herself strangely drawn to him. 'What am I thinking about?!' Lucy suddenly brought herself up short.'Aaaaaah!Aaargh!' Screaming really seemed the only sensible alternative.
'Didn't you hear what I said?' The Killer-Rapist was now glaring into her eyes once again. Lucy felt her bowels go soft with fear and her breath grew even scarcer than it was. 'There is a bomb. I have to find the bomb.'
Lucy went quiet, and thought about this. A bomb was clearly not good news.
The murderer returned to his victim and continued examining his pockets — of which there were rather a lot. Scraliontis had always been an expensive dresser, and you could always reckon on his suits having more pockets than anyone else's — that being the fashion of the day.
'Suffering Supernovae!' thought The Journalist, I've never seen so many pockets!'
'Why are you doing that?' Lucy surprised herself with the steadiness of her voice.
'I'm looking to see if he's got a plan or anything to show where the bomb is,' said The Journalist.
'Why should he have?' asked Lucy.
'Stop asking questions,' snapped The Journalist.
'I just asked why?'
'Because he planted the bomb.'
'Oh,' said Lucy. 'Thank you.'And then thought: 'Why on Earth am I being polite to someone who's just about to kill me? Maybe even rape me first! Or maybe he isn't.' Maybe there were mitigating circumstances. Maybe the Psychopath wasn't a psychopath? Maybe he was a caring family man with a flair for initiating excitement, who was resourceful in danger and yet prepared to submit to the will of a strong and loving woman…
'Is that why you killed him?' Lucy felt surprisingly childish asking the question. 'Because he planted the bomb?'
'I didn't kill him!'
Suddenly Lucy saw the murderer in a new light. For a start he wasn't a murderer. In the second place she noticed he was hurt himself; he seemed to be in some pain as he bent over the body. Perhaps he wasn't going to rape or kill her either.
'Haaaa!' The Journalist gave a yell that made Lucy jump.
'Have you got it?' Lucy asked nervously.
'Shut up!' said The Journalist. He had a small piece of paper which he was now stuffing into one of his many pockets (although he didn't have nearly as many as Scraliontis).
'Hey! Hey! You can't leave me here!' Lucy had gone from abject terror to incensed indignation in less time than most people could go from feeling OK to still feeling OK.
'I can't waste time!' snapped The Journalist. 'It may go off any second!' And he made for the door.
'DON'T LEAVE ME TIED UP IN HERE WITH A DEAD BODY!' screamed Lucy. Something in her tone of voice — maybe the sheer volume of it — made The Journalist stop. He turned and looked at Lucy, in her power pinstripe, tied to the bed — her black hair falling across her face.
'Shit!' he said. The actual Blerontin phrase was: 'North of Pangalin' which was a particularly unpleasant suburb of Blerontis, the capital of Blerontin, but the meaning was: 'Shit!'
He limped over to the bed and untied Lucy.
'Just don't get in the way,' he said.
'Don't talk to me like that!' fired Lucy.
'Oh! You're going to be a great help! I can see that!' replied The Journalist as he set off down the corridor towards the stairs up to the Embarkation Level.
'Wait!' Lucy shouted after him. 'I've got to find a supply of oxygen!'
'But it's getting hard to breathe!'
'Not as hard as it will be once we're tiny fragments floating in space!' retorted The Journalist.
Lucy was by now running alongside him. 'You're an alien, aren't you?' she suggested, as they waited for the Doorbot to open the door to the Second Class Area.
'No,' replied The Journalist. 'You're the alien. This is a Blerontinian Starship in case you hadn't noticed.'
'Point taken,' said Lucy. She really wasn't used to being talked to like this. Dan would never have dared. 'Oh my God!' she exclaimed as the doors opened and she took in for the first time the majestic sweep of the Grand Axial Canal Second Class.
…sang the gondoliers.
'Ohh!'The Journalist gasped as he stepped down into the nearest gondola, and missed his footing. Lucy caught him and held him for a moment.
You're hurt,' she said.
'Let's get on!' he returned. 'We have no idea when the bomb is timed to go off.'
Lucy helped him down into the gondola, and the singing stopped.
'Take us to the Engine Room,' gasped The Journalist, holding his stomach.
Nitrogen-Loathing Respecters of Pressed Veal!'
'And make it fast.'
The gondola set off down the Great Canal at no greater speed than any other. Lucy looked across at her former assailant: he was rocking backwards and forwards, hugging himself.
'Are you cold?' asked Lucy. She certainly was. But The Journalist didn't reply; he just gritted his teeth and Lucy suddenly realized he was in real pain.
'What happened?' she asked, and touched his arm.
'That bastard — Scraliontis — stabbed me with a table lamp,' growled the ex-murderer.
Lucy stifled a laugh. 'How can you stab someone with a…'
'It had a sharp end,' interrupted The Journalist.
'Are you in pain?' asked Lucy. The Journalist grunted. Lucy leaned towards him and moved his hands away from his stomach. The unfamiliar smell of a being from another world caught her unawares — it was not unpleasant, quite the contrary, but it made her head spin.
'Leave me alone!' he growled.
'Let me look at it!' Lucy pulled him back onto the pillow and tried to open his clothes, where the congealed blood was thickest. 'I have no idea how to undo this,' she said.
'Thought-seal,' he said, and suddenly the garment opened so that Lucy was able to pull it back and reveal The Journalist's gouged flesh.
'Oh! It's nasty!' she said. 'Look!' Suddenly she made a quick movement. The Journalist yelled, and she pulled a large shard of glass from his abdomen. The blood welled up again from the wound.
'I couldn't see it!' he gasped. 'Thanks!' And he held up a small packet. 'Here!' he said.
'Oh! Thank you!' said Lucy, accepting the gift in what she felt was an appropriately grateful way. 'What is it?'
'A plaster,' said The Journalist. 'Stick it on before I bleed to death.'
'A lady she say we ought to sing while passengers are in the gondola and not other way round,' confided the gondolabot, clearly feeling the need for a bit of small-talk. 'We think something may be seriously wrong.'
'Just get us to the Engine Room!'