Authors: Terry Jones
t this same moment, Nettie suddenly managed to sit up on the couch on which Dan had placed her, and screamed: 'Oh my God! There's only five minutes before the bomb goes off!'
'Five minutes!' thought Dan. 'This is where, in a cheap novel, the couple — confronted by imminent oblivion — would suddenly make passionate love.' It's a pity Nettie was now as old as she was.
'You've got to go and talk to it!' she pleaded.
?' said Dan.
'I can't explain! Just believe me! It's in the Engine Room! Hurry!'
? repeated Dan a bit gormlessly.
'HURRY! THE ENGINE ROOM! SPEAK TO THE BOMB!'
Dan decided that, while gormlessness had its place in the human repertoire of reactions, now was neither the time nor place for it. He sprinted out of the Beauty Salon (which was, apparently, where they were) and ran down the length of the Grand Axial Canal, trying to ignore the inevitable chorus:
'She threw her arms
The first thing he saw, when he burst into the Engine Room, was a large bomb sticking up out of a cabinet. A friendly sort of voice was booming out:
'Fifty-eight… fifty-seven… fifty-six… fifty-five… fifty-four.
Dan couldn't think what to say. After all, he'd never addressed a bomb before. He didn't have a clue what sort of thing it would be interested in.
'Hello,' he said.
'Fifty-three… fifty-two… hello… fifty-one… fifty…' replied the bomb genially.
'Any chance of you not exploding?'Dan thought he might as well get straight to the point.
'No…forty- eight… forty-seven…'
Dan was not the most imaginative of men. He knew it. Lucy knew it. Nigel had known it. He was dedicated, hard-working, loyal, thorough — all those admirable and desirable things for anybody's partner to be. But leaps of the imagination were not his forte. And yet, he had one now. He suddenly knew the one thing that bombs were bound to be interested in.
'Do you really want to do this?' he asked. 'I mean isn't it a bit self-destructive?
'Forty-six… forty-five… Forty — Look! I am just a simple counting and exploding device and am not equipped for philosophical discourse,' replied the bomb. 'Please do not speak to me while I'm counting. Damn! Now you've made me lose my place! You see?Recommencing countdown. One thousand… nine hundred and ninety-nine… nine hundred and ninety-eight…'
'Got the sucker!' thought Dan. He checked his watch against the bomb's counting. They had about sixteen minutes before they needed to talk to it again. He turned and raced back to Nettie.
As he ran, the thought of Nettie kept riffling his mind like a gambler's hands riffling a deck of cards. God! She was so intelligent! How had she found out the bomb's weakness so quickly? The clarity of her intellect made him feel so ordinary and humble.
But then he suddenly remembered how she seemed old and shrivelled: he must have been seeing things! That couldn't have happened to the beautiful, gorgeous Nettie? And yet, it was then that Dan found himself thinking the most curious thought of course, it was terrible if something
happened to Nettie (and what
happened to her?) but at least now, thought Dan, he might stand a chance with her!
Lucy was putting her clothes on rather hurriedly. The fact that she and The Journalist had not been blown to cosmic dust had severely embarrassed her. In fact, she didn't know where to look.
The Journalist was regarding her curiously. 'You do things very differently in your world,' he said,
'Oh?' Lucy tried to pretend that everything was perfectly normal.
'Yes,' he said. 'On Blerontin we have all these absurd rituals we have to go through before having sex. There's a thing called dating, when a young couple go out for evenings together without necessarily "going the whole way," as we say. Then there's a thing called the engagement, where rings are exchanged. Finally there's an elaborate ceremony called a wedding, with a cake and "bridesmaids" and the "best man's speech" — not to mention the "honeymoon"! You wouldn't believe the rigmarole we have to go through in order to make love to each other. I like your Earth way of doing it much better.'
'The bomb still might go off any second!' Lucy reminded him.
'The bomb? Oh! Pangalin! I'd forgotten!' The Journalist thought-sealed his clothes.
As they raced down the Grand Axial Canal Second Class, they didn't realize that they had missed bumping into Dan on his way back to the Beauty Salon by exactly one eight-hundred and sixty-fourth of a second, which, by an incredible coincidence, was exactly where the bomb had got to in its countdown, when Lucy and The Journalist arrived back in the Engine Room.
'Eight hundred and sixty-four… eight hundred and sixty-three…' said the bomb.
'Why's it only got as far as eight hundred and sixty-three?' wondered Lucy.
'You're beautiful!' replied The Journalist.
Lucy became aware that he was still looking at her in a rather odd way, and she suddenly wished he'd concentrate on the problem in hand.
'Maybe it doesn't count when we're out of the room?' she suggested. She pulled her companion out of the door, but as she started to listen, Lucy suddenly felt the alien's hands around her breasts.
'Ohh! Lucy! I can't stop thinking about you!' he murmured as he nuzzled her neck.
'Eight hundred and sixty-two… eight hundred and sixty-one…' continued the bomb even though they were out of the room. That was one theory out of the way, thought Lucy, disentangling herself from The Journalist's embrace.
Back in the room, she stared at the bomb and tried to think, but it was hard with an alien sticking his tongue in her ear and saying he loved her more than anything on his world.
'Please, The!' exclaimed Lucy. 'We haven't got time for that now…'
'You started it…' he reminded her. 'Once we're roused,us Blerontinian males tend to be very single-minded.'
'I've met your type before,' said Lucy, trying to push him away.
'Just put your hands on my thing again!' he was whispering in her ear.
'Stop it!' cried Lucy.
'What?' replied the bomb. 'Oh damn! I thought you were talking to me! Now you've made me lose count! Recommencing countdown. One thousand… nine hundred and ninety-nine…'
'I love you!' said The Journalist. 'You're all I've ever dreamed about.'
'It lost count!' exclaimed Lucy.
'Please put your hand here…' said The Journalist.
'Listen!' cried Lucy to the bomb. 'Which baseball team won the World Series in 1997?'
'Nineteen hundred and ninety-seven… nineteen hundred and ninety — now I've told you before about interrupting me while I'm in the middle of a countdown. If you want a bomb you can have a good chatter with, you should have got the Mega-Scuttler Pro which has multi-tasking, speech recognition and general chattering software and therefore makes an altogether more expensive bang. As it is, you've got me, and I'm doing my best under increasingly trying circumstances. Recommencing countdown. One thousand… Nine hundred and ninety-nine…'
'You have the most wonderful skin,' moaned The Journalist, biting Lucy quite hard on the earlobe.
'Ouch!' cried Lucy. 'Look, The, you've got to stay here and keep talking to the bomb, while I go up and find the Captain's Bridge.'
'I can't bear to be separated from you!' He clutched at her arm.
'If you don't stay and talk to the bomb we're both going to get blown up!' she replied.
'Just let's do it once more!' pleaded The Journalist. 'I'll be able to think properly then. Honestly! Blerontinian males need to have two orgasms before they can think straight. It's well known!'
Lucy sighed; brushed the alien's hair straight and wondered what on earth she'd got herself into…
hile Dan had gone to talk to the bomb, the prematurely aged Nettie had taken the opportunity to look around the room in which she found herself. At first she thought it must be some sort of torture chamber or at least an interrogation room. But, once she'd put on her translatorspecs, she realized she was in the ship's Hairdressing Salon and Beauty Parlour. The thumbscrews were actually elaborate nail-clippers, the electric chairs were highly ergonomic sitting structures, and the individual gas chambers were hair dryers. It was obvious once you read the motto over the doorway:
WELCOME TO THE
BEAUTY THERAPY AND HAIR CREATIONRY. YOU WILL LEAVE HERE LOVELIER AND YOUNGER.
Nettie put out a wizened finger and pressed the button on the wall beside the couch, which was marked:
PRESS FOR SERVICE
. A metal cage on an articulated arm suddenly sprang up over the back of the couch and dangled a few inches in front of her face. At the same time a large glass case began to descend from the ceiling until both she and the couch were encompassed by it. A reassuring voice then said:
'We have assessed your beauty requirements and, whilst recognizing you have a severe problem, we would like to reassure you that there is nothing that you can wish to be done that we cannot accomplish, thanks to the de-aging and re-beautifying techniques pioneered by Dr Leovinus in this machine. Lie back and relax whilst we return you to the bloom of youth. Normally our therapy would require just a few minutes, but in critical cases such as yours a little longer may be necessary. We apologize for the delay.'
The next moment, the cage fixed itself over her face and the glass case filled instantly with some purple gas. Nettie was terrified for a second, but then relaxed as the perfumes began to enter her nostrils: erotic perfumes, exotic perfumes, scents she had never imagined, scents of wonder… at the same time the feeling on her face was inexpressibly soft and kindly. She lay back and just hoped that Dan had managed to talk to the bomb.
Dan hurried back from the Engine Room to find that Nettie had disappeared. Where he'd left her there was now a glass case filled with purple gas.
'Nettie!' he cried, banging his fists on the glass, but with no effect. He looked all round the thing, but was unable to find any off switch or any way he could prise the thing off her — if indeed Nettie was in there.
After nearly fifteen minutes of futile effort, he suddenly remembered he'd need to speak to the bomb again. So he rushed back to the Engine Room as fast as he could.
Meanwhile, The Journalist was still trying to put his hand back up Lucy's pinstripe power-suit.
'You see, we're just not used to casual sex,' he was assuring her. 'Blerontinian women make such a fuss about it. You know… they want presents and they want to be treated nice and taken out to expensive restaurants and all that sort of crap. To meet a woman like you is just great! Let's do it again!'
'You said twice and you can think straight!' objected Lucy, who was trying to focus her mind on what seemed to
more pressing problems.
Yeah, but a hand-job doesn't really count. Anyway, but us Blerontinian males'll say anything when we're aroused.'
'Sixty-three… sixty-two… sixty-one…' said the bomb.
'Hey! Bomb! Just what d'you think you're doing?' Lucy suddenly remembered what
was meant to be doing.
'Pardon? Sixty…' said the bomb.
'I said: Bomb! What the hell d'you think you're doing?'
'Don't talk to me! Don't talk to me! This is a tricky bit! Forty-nine… no! Fifty-nine… I mean eight… damn!damn! There I go again, losing concentration. It’s all your fault!Recommencing countdown. One thousand…'
'And I'm aroused now,' said The Journalist.
It was at that moment that Dan burst into the Engine Room. He found the alien, whom he'd already taken an agreeably violent dislike to, kneeling behind Lucy, apparently rubbing himself up against her back.
Lucy shot to her feet.'Dan! ' she exclaimed. 'Thank God you didn't get blown up!'
'Nine hundred and ninety-six…' said the bomb.
'Am I interrupting something?'
Yes!' said the bomb, 'Now I've got to start all over again! One thousand…'
Lucy could tell Dan was not in one of his better moods. 'No!' she said. 'We've just discovered how to confuse the bomb.' she said.
'Talk to it,' said Dan.'Yeah! Nettie found that out.'
'Oh! Of course
'Nine hundred and ninety-four…' continued the bomb.
'Earth sexuality seems to be very different from Blerontinian,' observed The Journalist.
'Is it really?' Dan was sizing the alien up, trying to decide which bit to punch first.
'Yes,' said The Journalist, putting his arms round Lucy's waist. 'On Blerontin, males get what we call jealous. If one male finds another male fondling his girlfriend he can even become extremely violent.'
Dan had just decided on the alien's nose as the first point of contact, when Lucy managed to disengage herself from the amorous The Journalist, and ran over to Dan. 'We've got to get off this spaceship as soon as possible. I suggest The, here, stays and talks to the bomb while we go and find the Captain.'
'But, you don't understand…' began The Journalist.
Dan decided to hold back his iron fist of retribution for the moment. He would save it for another time. 'I understand only too well,' he replied. 'We've got to make the Captain take us back to Earth
!' And he was off out of the Engine Room and racing back down the Grand Axial Canal towards the front of the ship.
'Look, it was great making love with you,' Lucy said to The Journalist, who was now standing behind her and nuzzling her, 'but we've got to get back to the real world!
Our real world
.' And she tried to remove his hands from her blouse.
'But Blerontinian males cannot just "turn off" like that!' explained The Journalist. 'We need multiple satisfactions before we can return to a state of equilibrium!'
Lucy had attended self-defence classes for two years, when she had just qualified for the law, and had always slightly regretted the fact that she'd never had the chance to put her skills into practice. Consequently it was with some satisfaction that she suddenly realized this was such an opportunity. She decided to use the standard response to the amorous-alien-fondling-you-from-behind assault. It was textbook stuff. She drove her right elbow hard into his stomach.
'Oooouuph!' gasped The Journalist.
Then she twizzled half-round, caught his left wrist and threw him over her shoulder onto the Engine Room floor.
'Oooouump!' grunted The Journalist.
Lucy spoke to him firmly in her best lawyer-speak: 'You stay here, and keep talking to that bomb! While I go and find the Captain!'
Then she was out of the door, racing after Dan.
'You don't understand,' The Journalist called after her, 'there
any Captain on this ship!' But Lucy had gone.
'Nine hundred and seventy…' said the bomb.
'You don't know what you're doing!' yelled The Journalist. 'You're going to need me!'
'Pardon?' replied the bomb.
'I wasn't talking to you!'
'Damn!' said the bomb.'Recommencing countdown. One thousand… nine hundred and ninety-nine…'