“So who is rumoured to be developing this Unlikelihood Drive?” Merry asked.
“Dashed if I know,” Cdr Pippington replied, “there is talk about a species not of this galaxy, but I think that’s just a lot of hot air.”
“Borborygmi,” Tarquin offered.
“What, those skinny chaps on the moon?”
“The very same,” Tarquin replied, “fifteen hundred of them, according to their leader.”
“These are the aliens that are applying for asylum, Admiral,” Merry said.
“If they have this kind of technology, grant it, and have them share their know-how in exchange.”
“Sadly, it isn’t that easy, Admiral,” Merry said.
That upset the Admiral, and Merry saw a side of him she hadn’t seen since… since… well, we won’t go into the circumstances or events that took place when she last saw this side of him.
“For Christ’s sake!” he screamed.
“Don’t blaspheme on my ship please, Admiral.”
“Sorry,” he said quietly, then raised his voice again. “For goodness’ sake. I am the ranking Field Officer here, am I not?”
“And that gives me rather a lot of authority and demands a certain amount of respect and obedience, does it not?”
“But nothing. If I say we offer these blighters asylum in exchange for their technology, then that’s what we do. Right?”
“In theory, Sir, yes,” Lt Cdr Weinberg interjected, “but it isn’t that easy.”
“Not you too, for—”
“Sir!” Merry interrupted him before he could offend anyone.
“‘For pity’s sake’, I was going to say, Captain. I trust that is permitted?”
“Of course, Sir.”
“For pity’s sake, why must everyone respond to a simple order with ‘it isn’t that easy’?”
“I can’t answer for everything, Admiral,” Merry said, “but the reason we’re saying it now is—”
“Don’t tell me. Because it isn’t.”
“And why isn’t it, may I ask?”
“Because the Borborygmi on the moon have had no contact with their home planet, or any of their kind outside their own little group, for more than twenty thousand years.”
“Twenty-three thousand and seventeen, to be exact,” Tarquin said.
“Shut up, Stuart-Lane.”
“Sorry, Admiral, Sir.”
“Carry on, Meredith, I mean Captain.”
“Sir. It is inconceivable that the Borborygmi currently on the moon would have access to the technology that their distant relatives are developing or were developing when this ship left their world.”
“Borbor,” Tarquin said.
“Borbor. That’s the name of their planet.”
“Tarquin; shut up unless you have something positive to offer,” Merry commanded.
“I rather think I do, Captain. Indeed, I have a theory; one that you might like to hear.”
It was probably rather unkind how all the bridge officers started laughing, and had Tarquin not been, well… Tarquin, he might have been offended, even hurt by it. But Tarquin he was, so it ran off him like olive oil off a ceramic grille.
“You see,” he continued, once the laughter had abated somewhat, “as a lifelong fan of the late Douglas Adams, I know a thing or two about his books.”
“And if the Borborygmi have indeed replicated the Infinite Improbability Drive with their Unlikelihood Drive, then I jolly well know how the thing works. Not its internal workings of course, Adams never actually let that on, but how it works. Like I don’t know how the infernal combustion engine works, but I know if you press the accelerator it goes faster; that sort of know how it works.”
“Internal,” Joan Weinberg said.
“You said infernal combustion engine. It’s internal, not infernal.”
“Potahto, potato,” Tarquin replied with an impressive display of indifference.
“And?” Merry asked, hauling the discussion kicking and screaming back to the matter in hand.
“If they got it right, then the ship is everywhere in the universe at the same time.”
“Like God?” Cdr Pippington asked.
“Yah. I say; do you suppose God has an Unlikelihood Drive?”
“Unlikely,” Merry replied.
“Ah-ha!” he cried, “so there we have it.”
“That’s just it. Everywhere. At the same time.”
“Can we return to the point, please?” the Admiral asked.
“Yah. Absolutely. Sure. Sorry.”
“Go on then.”
“Get back to the blasted point!”
“Okay. So. If the ship was everywhere at the same time, then it’s a recent invention and this may have been the first try, its maiden thingummy.”
“So they came looking for their people to rescue them?” Cdr Pippington suggested.
“Hardly,” Merry replied, “listen to this recording. The voice you’ll hear is Flatulon, whom we believe to be the local leader. This is his statement of circumstances in support of his asylum request.” Merry pressed the key to play the recording and a strange, raspy yet tinny sound came out of the speakers. “Sorry,” she said, “my young daughter’s violin practice.”
“Didn’t know you had a daughter,” Admiral Farquharson said.
“Neither did I, Admiral,” Merry replied with an unconvincing approximation of a Gallic shrug. She pressed another key.
“Exploration ships left our planet, Borbor, a long time ago, with our progenitors on board. Their open-ended mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no Borborygmus had gone before. There was and is no provision in the mission statement for a return to Borbor; no achievable, measurable goals and, we now believe, no expectation of the return of any of the two thousand vessels that left on this quest. I, Flatulon Grumpblast, am a member of the 853rd generation since the launch. By your way of counting time, the launch was twenty-three thousand and seventeen years ago, although it could be a lot more or a lot less, because of the way the universe expands. We arrived at our present location, the natural satellite that orbits your planet, a little under three hundred of your years ago.”
“There’s a bit more,” Merry said after she had pressed another key to stop the recording from playing any more, “but that’s the gist of it.”
“So what are you saying?” the Admiral asked.
“I’m saying that it’s more likely that they were here to make sure those they sent out never go back.”
“Like the Golgafrinchans,” Tarquin suggested.
“Exactly like the Golgafrinchans,” Merry agreed.
Rear Admiral Farquharson and his adjutant went into a huddle for a moment.
“So you’re suggesting that the Borborygmi got rid of all their non-productives in one go; thinned out their population and only kept the useful ones,” he said after Cdr Pippington had explained to him who the Golgafrichans were and how their fate was relevant to the matter under consideration.
It is probably worth recording, at this point, that Cdr Pippington didn’t go into the relationship between the Golgafrinchans and the early human populations they encountered after their arrival on the planet, or any link between them, the early humans and the Ultimate Question. No doubt he would do so at a later date, but this was not the time for such detail.
“Seems that way, Sir.”
“What a spiffing idea. I’ll suggest it to the PM when we get back. Remind me, Pippington; I might forget.”
“Come the revolution,” Joan Weinberg whispered.
“What was that, Joan?” the Admiral asked.
“I said, ‘Quite a resolution’, Admiral.”
“Quite right. Well done Lieutenant Commander.”
“If I may, Sir,” Merry interrupted.
“What is it, Captain?”
“Didn’t you already start a programme like that, Sir?”
“Did I? Dashed if I can remember it.”
“Waist of Space, Sir,” Merry reminded him.
“Drat it, so I did. Didn’t go too well that, did it?”
“Not for Tarquin and me, Sir; though it all worked out in the end.”
“Thoroughly glad it turned out the way it did, Captain. You’ve a bright future in the Regiment.”
“What about me, Admiral?” Tarquin asked.
“You, Stuart-Lane, are a waste of space.”
“Golly, am I? Does that mean you named the mission after me, Admiral? Gosh, what an honour.”