Zaphod and Ford sat on the bridge of the Heart of Gold, hunched over a deck of cards. They had to hunch over the cards to be able to read the pips, since emergency lighting didn’t really offer much in the way of lighting at all.
They were playing a game Ford had learned back when he had been living on Earth, when he had been stranded there for 15 local years. He’d learned this particular game many years ago, and so the details were rather hazy. He couldn’t remember if the person who lost the hand was meant to take off an article of clothing, or take a shot of whatever alcoholic beverage happened to be on hand.
Ford decided that this was easily reconciled, and declared that the loser had to do both. Roughly two hands in, Ford remembered that he rather liked this game, and that he had typically played to lose.
Unfortunately, Zaphod also decided that he rather liked this game, and had also decided to play to lose.
As it was, t he two of them sat hunched over their cards, Ford wearing a very old vest and his trousers, and Zaphod in his coat and underwear. The vest was also something Ford had picked up during his time on Earth, after he learned that humans tend to act rather startled and disgusted when they learn that a person has more than two nipples (in fact, Betelgeusians also have an extra liver, and a binary vascular system, which goes a long way toward explaining some of the typical behaviour displayed by most Betelgeusians).
“What have you got?” Ford slurred, swaying slightly.
Zaphod put his cards down on the floor, showing five out-of-sequence number cards, in four different suits. “A nothing.”
Ford frowned. He had a pair of twos, which meant he had won.
“You lose again,” he said.
Zaphod picked up the bottle of Janx Spirit next to him, and drank considerably more than a shot from it. As he took off his jacket, Ford started to shuffle the cards again .
“I think we might want to stop pretty soon,” he said, sending half of the pack skidding across the floor.
“Why’s that?” Zaphod asked. “Starting to get drunk?”
Ford shook his head, but the way he kept slightly rocking back and forth betrayed him. “No, I’m just almost out of Janx Spirit in my bottle.”
Even though he didn’t lose, Ford still drank the rest of what was in his bottle, on the grounds that it barely counted as a proper shot.
“I’ll get you another one,” said Zaphod. He shakily rose to his feet, and promptly fell over.
“You all right?” asked Ford, still sitting on the floor and trying to remember how to shuffle the cards.
“Fine,” said Zaphod. “Someone just moved the floor out from under me.”
Ford looked up to see who it might have been. “Wasn’t me. Hey. Whatever happened to Arthur and Trillian, anyway?”
“I thought you said something about a party?”
“Oh, ye ah!”
Ford also jumped to his feet, and nearly crashed headlong into the main console. “Zarking hell.”
He stood up, grabbing hold of the computer to stabilise himself. “Computer,” he said. “Eddie, or whatever you’re called. Hey, computer.”
When nothing happened, he punched a few buttons. When still nothing happened, he felt the odd pain of a memory floating somewhere in the back of his mind, just out of reach.
“Computer, hey. Take us to a party.”
“Wasn’t there something we were supposed to do?” asked Zaphod, who had now managed to make his way to the bar.
“Yeah, go to a party,” said Ford. “Come on, computer. Let’s go.”
“No, after that. Or before. Or something. I can’t remember.”
Zaphod gathered up two bottles of hypervodka and returned back to the spot on the floor where he and Ford had been playing.
“I think we were supposed to be rescuing someone,” said Ford di stantly. “Someone was stuck somewhere. Or some-when.”
“Was it Dent?” asked Zaphod. “If it was, then he can probably wait.”
Ford swayed slightly. “Computer?” he asked, this time unsure. “I think it was us. Yeah, we’re lost somewhere or some-when, and we had to rescue ourselves.”
“What about Dent?” asked Zaphod.
“He’s not here. And he’s not really the rescuing type, I don’t think.”
Ford shook his head and returned to the floor next to Zaphod. The unshuffled cards long forgotten by now, he reached for one of the bottles of hypervokda and opened it.
“So, how do you think we’re supposed to get out of where… whenever we are?” he asked.
Something about this situation felt vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t figure out what it was. There was a vague and distant memory of him and Arthur doing something very similar somewhere. Or some-when. He had a vague image of waving a towel at a spaceship, bu t he couldn’t tell if it was a memory, or just something that would look rather funny.
He shook his head. He could figure out what the towel waving was supposed to be about later. Right now, he had slightly more pressing matters at hand. That bottle of hypervodka, for instance.
“Zaphod, I think we need to figure something out,” he said.
“You’re right,” agreed Zaphod. “Where’s the corkscrew?”
“No, not that,” said Ford. He found the corkscrew. “Here it is. I think we’re really in trouble, though. Maybe we should try to figure out, like… why.”
“These are the last two bottles of hypervodka,” Zaphod pointed out as he opened the second bottle. “They go bad if you don’t drink them. So, we’ll drink them, and then figure it out.”
This sounded like a solid plan to Ford, so he took one of the bottles.
“Hey, wanna play some cards?” asked Ford.
Arthur was startled to find hims elf woken up by a sharp pain in his side. He wasn’t sure why he should have a sharp pain in his side, and tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but the pain returned, even sharper than before.
He finally looked over to see what was causing the pain, and saw a pair of boots. He followed the boots upward to a pair of legs, which led upward further still to a pair of hands placed very angrily on someone’s hips.
The hands, hips, legs, and boots all belonged to a ship’s captain. Arthur knew this, because he had been insulted by this captain once already. As soon as he realised this, he quickly sprung up into a more vertical position and woke Fenchurch.
“I said you had to be gone at the next stop,” the captain reminded Arthur.
“Yes,” agreed Arthur. “And we’re going. Right now. Thank you very much for the lift.”
Arthur grabbed up his satchel and tried to get up as to help Fenchurch to her feet, but only wound up needing help, him self. He and Fenchurch quickly left the ship, Arthur making sure to check behind him every few paces to make sure that he wasn’t going to be shot in the back.
“I’m getting too old for this,” he declared.
Fenchurch laughed slightly.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“Because I’m getting too old for this.”
It seemed like sound logic to him, so he was going with it. Arthur had no idea how old he actually was, but if he had to make a guess, ‘too old for hitchhiking and saving planets and universes’ felt like a fairly accurate guess to him.
“Where are we?” Fenchurch asked once they stepped off the ship.
The spaceport, if it could be called that, was entirely outdoors. Various ships had landed on a vast stretch of sand, which eventually led to what seemed big enough to be an ocean. In the other direction, large, almost frightening plants grew tall against a row of buildings, where various people seemed to be q ueuing for something.
“I’m not sure,” said Arthur. “Let’s try over there. See what’s going on.”
They joined the queue, and were immediately greeted by a woman handing out flowers. “Are you with the bride or the groom?” she asked.
“Er.” Arthur looked at Fenchurch, and then shrugged. “We’re sort of gatecrashers, I guess.”
The woman smiled at him and put one of the flowers behind his ear. “You’ll be in the back. Seating is reserved for invited guests.”
“Oh. All right.”
He and Fenchurch exchanged confused shrugs.
“Well, at least we’re getting in,” Fenchurch pointed out.
“Yes,” said Arthur. “But are we really sure that this is the sort of place we want to be ‘getting in’ to?”
“You worry too much,” Fenchurch told him. “It’s just a wedding. How bad can it be?”
“How hot is the sun?” asked Arthur.
“It’s not going to be that bad,” insisted Fench urch. “Think of it as research. Maybe this way, we can sort of get an idea for how we want to do it.”
That did manage to put a smile on Arthur’s otherwise very nervous face.
“All right,” he agreed. “But if things start to get weird, we’re leaving.”
Fenchurch frowned. “Define weird?”
“It’s a sliding definition,” Arthur admitted. “Some days, I can handle more weird than others. I think today might be a medium-tolerance day, but I’ve only just woken up. This assessment may change as the day continues.”
Fenchurch laughed and kissed him. “You,” she said to him, “need to learn not to panic.”
“Who’s panicking?” asked Arthur.
At that moment, he felt himself start to panic. This wasn’t for any particularly panic-worthy reason, but rather because someone had quite loudly and suddenly called his name, and that someone wasn’t Fenchurch.
Making sure Fenchurch wasn’t about to remind him aga in not to panic, Arthur turned to see who was calling his name, and was rather startled to see Random standing nearby, staring at him in complete bewilderment.
“Random?” Arthur asked, sharing her feelings almost exactly. “What are you doing here?”
“It is you,” Random said, and Arthur couldn’t help but notice a slight hint of disappointment on the edge of her voice.
“Yes,” confirmed Arthur. “And it would appear to be you as well.”
He did some very brief soul-searching, and was rather disappointed with himself for not being entirely sure how he felt about this little reunion he was having.
“What are you doing here?” he repeated.
“I’m going to the Galactic Centre, and the guy I got a ride with had to stop here for something,” said Random.
“What, you’re hitching?” Arthur asked incredulously.
“I am an adult, Arthur,” Random reminded him.
“I suppose ‘Dad’ is too much to ask for, i s it?” Arthur asked. Though, he supposed he shouldn’t have been too surprised about that one.
“A dad is someone who’s there for you,” Random pointed out.
“Well, it was hardly my fault, was it?” Arthur said, finding this whole situation terribly annoying.
“You two. Let’s not be like this.”
Fenchurch put a comforting hand on Arthur’s shoulder, giving him a very sympathetic look.
“Who are you?” Random asked abruptly. “You were there in that stupid club.”
“This is Fenchurch,” said Arthur, noticing the confused look on Fenchurch’s face. “I told you about her.”
“Did you?” asked Random. “Oh, was she the one who left you?”
Nothing about this conversation was going the way Arthur would have liked, and he had half a mind to go stick his head in the sand and pretend that the conversation didn’t exist at all. When he saw a man in pale orange robes approach, he relaxed slight ly, hoping he might get a reprieve from all this.
“Friends of yours, Randi?” he asked.
Arthur took a moment to realise who the man in the pale orange robes was addressing, and when he did, it still took several more moments to fully believe it.
“Randi?” he asks. “When did that happen?”
“Today,” Random declared smugly. “That’s what I want you to call me, for now on.”
Arthur thought about this. “Yeah, all right,” he said with a little shrug. “I rather like it, actually.”
Random’s face fell into something vaguely resembling a scowl.
“You do?” she asked, having been hoping that she could have used this to annoy Arthur. The fact that he liked it had not been worked into her plans.
“Yes,” said Arthur. “It’s much better than what your mother decided to name you, I think.”
Darling, his eyes now rather blood-shot and struggling to stay fully open, took a moment to catch up.
“I thought your parents were at the Galactic Centre,” he said.
“Apparently they stopped off on the way,” said Random. “What a coincidence.”
“Galactic Centre?” Arthur asked. Before he could enquire further, though, Random kicked him.
“What brought you out here, Random?” asked Fenchurch, trying to bring the conversation to more civil tones. “Sorry. Randi.”
“We were being chased,” answered Random. “We had to go somewhere.”
Startled at this, Arthur turned his attention to Darling. “You were being chased?” he asked. “Sorry, who are you?”
Darling smiled widely. “Darling,” he answered. “High Priest here on Anhandle. And I wasn’t being chased; I only gave your daughter and her friend a lift. They said they were trying to meet up with you.”
This was a lot of information for Arthur to take in at once, so he picked out one bit at random and chose to focus on that.
“Her friend?” he asked. ? ?Who?”
“His name’s Mown,” said Random simply.
“His?” asked Arthur. “You’re travelling with a him? Do I get to meet this him?”
Arthur was so busy being upset at this information that he didn’t notice Darling slipping away through the queue.
“Yes,” said Random.
She felt like she was back on top of the conversation which was right where she wanted to be.
“He went off to find something to eat,” Random said. “I’ll go get him.”
As she trotted off happily, Arthur turned to Fenchurch.
“She’s travelling with a man,” he said incredulously. “With several, apparently.”
Fenchurch smiled wanly at him.
“Arthur, she is an adult,” she reminded him.
“I only just found out a few months ago that I even had a daughter,” Arthur pointed out. “And now I find out that she’s running around spaceports, picking up strange men.”
Fenchurch considered this. “Isn’t that how I met you?” she asked. “You picked me up at a service station, as I seem to recall.”
“Yes, well. That’s different,” Arthur declared.
“How is it different?”
“Neither of us is my daughter,” said Arthur.
Fenchurch wrapped her arms round the back of Arthur’s neck. “You’re cute when you’re upset,” she said quietly.
Arthur wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so he simply decided it best not to.
He soon became a great deal more upset when he turned around to see Random returning to them with a Vogon trailing close behind.
“Eurgh! Random, that’s a Vogon. Get away from it!” Arthur shouted, reeling back slightly.
Random looked very cross at Arthur.
“He is a person,” she said angrily. “And I think I’m going to make him my boyfriend.”
“I forbid it,” Arthur said automatically. “No daughter of mine is going to do anything with a Vogon, least o f which, date one.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be your daughter!” Random snapped, before running to the opposite side of the crowd, Mown following close behind.
“Arthur,” Fenchurch scolded. “That was a bit…” she had to think for the right word. “Would racist be the correct term, in this case?”
Arthur looked at her. “Yes, and no it wasn’t,” he said. “Vogons are the ones who blew up Earth, you know. And then, immediately after that, threw Ford and me out into open space.”
“They can’t all be bad,” reasoned Fenchurch.
“All the ones I’ve met have been,” Arthur said. “And now my daughter’s dating one.”
“You should at least give him a chance,” suggested Fenchurch. She sat down on the ground before helping Arthur down with her. “She’s probably only dating him because she knows it will annoy you. It’s rather common behaviour for a girl her age.”
Arthur sighed and looked over the crowd.
“Oh, yeah?” he asked. “Did you ever do anything like that, then?”
“A few times,” said Fenchurch distantly. She started drawing random shapes in the sand. “You should have seen the look on Russell’s face when I told him I was dating you.”
“Thanks,” said Arthur blandly.
Fenchurch smiled at him. “You’re welcome.”