… “I mean, I couldn’t help noticing,” said Ford, also taking a sip, “the bodies. In the hold.”
“Bodies?” said the Captain in surprise.
Ford paused and thought to himself. Never take anything for granted, he thought. Could it be that the Captain doesn’t know he’s got fifteen million dead bodies on his ship?
The Captain was nodding cheerfully at him. He also appeared to be playing with a rubber duck.
Ford looked around. Number Two was staring at him in the mirror, but only for an instant: his eyes were constantly on the move. The first officer was just standing there holding the drinks tray and smiling benignly.
“Bodies?” said the Captain again.
Ford licked his lips.
“Yes,” he said, “All those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold.”
The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.
“Oh they’re not dead,” he said, “Good Lord no, no they’re frozen. They’re going to be revived.”
Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked.
Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.
“You mean you’ve got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?” he said.
“Oh yes,” said the Captain, “Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We’re going to colonize another planet.”
Ford wobbled very slightly.
“Exciting isn’t it?” said the Captain.
“What, with that lot?” said Arthur.
“Ah, now don’t misunderstand me,” said the Captain, “we’re just one of the ships in the Ark Fleet. We’re the ‘B’ Ark you see. Sorry, could I just ask you to run a bit more hot water for me?”
Arthur obliged, and a cascade of pink frothy water swirled around the bath. The Captain let out a sigh of pleasure.
“Thank you so much my dear fellow. Do help yourselves to more drinks of course.”
Ford tossed down his drink, took the bottle from the first officer’s tray and refilled his glass to the top.
“What,” he said, “is a ‘B’ Ark?”
“This is,” said the Captain, and swished the foamy water around joyfully with the duck.
“Yes,” said Ford, “but …”
“Well what happened you see was,” said the Captain, “our planet, the world from which we have come, was, so to speak, doomed.”
“Oh yes. So what everyone thought was, let’s pack the whole population into some giant spaceships and go and settle on another planet.”
Having told this much of his story, he settled back with a satisfied grunt.
“You mean a less doomed one?” prompted Arthur.
“What did you say dear fellow?”
“A less doomed planet. You were going to settle on.”
“Are going to settle on, yes. So it was decided to build three ships, you see, three Arks in Space, and … I’m not boring you am I?”
“No, no,” said Ford firmly, “it’s fascinating.”
“You know it’s delightful,” reflected the Captain, “to have someone else to talk to for a change.”
Number Two’s eyes darted feverishly about the room again and then settled back on the mirror, like a pair of flies briefly distracted from their favourite prey of months old meat.
“Trouble with a long journey like this,” continued the Captain,”is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you’re going to say next.”
“Only half the time?” asked Arthur in surprise.
The Captain thought for a moment.
“Yes, about half I’d say. Anyway – where’s the soap?” He fished around and found it.
“Yes, so anyway,” he resumed, “the idea was that into the first ship, the ‘A’ ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or ‘C’ ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B’ ship – that’s us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.”
He smiled happily at them.
“And we were sent off first,” he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune.
The little bathing tune, which had been composed for him by one of his world’s most exciting and prolific jingle writer (who was currently asleep in hold thirty-six some nine hundred yards behind them) covered what would otherwise have been an awkward moment of silence. Ford and Arthur shuffled their feet and furiously avoided each other’s eyes.
“Er …” said Arthur after a moment, “what exactly was it that was wrong with your planet then?”
“Oh, it was doomed, as I said,” said the Captain, “Apparently it was going to crash into the sun or something. Or maybe it was that the moon was going to crash into us. Something of the kind. Absolutely terrifying prospect whatever it was.”
“Oh,” said the first officer suddenly, “I thought it was that the planet was going to be invaded by a gigantic swarm of twelve foot piranha bees. Wasn’t that it?”
Number Two span around, eyes ablaze with a cold hard light that only comes with the amount of practise he was prepared to put in.
“That’s not what I was told!” he hissed, “My commanding officer told me that the entire planet was in imminent danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star goat!”
“Oh really …” said Ford Prefect.
“Yes! A monstrous creature from the pit of hell with scything teeth ten thousand miles long, breath that would boil oceans, claws that could tear continents from their roots, a thousand eyes that burned like the sun, slavering jaws a million miles across, a monster such as you have never … never … ever …”
“And they made sure they sent you lot off first did they?” inquired Arthur.
“Oh yes,” said the Captain, “well everyone said, very nicely I thought, that it was very important for morale to feel that they would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean.”
“Oh yes,” agreed Ford, “I can see that would be very important. And the other ships, er … they followed on after you did they?”
For a moment the Captain did not answer. He twisted round in his bath and gazed backwards over the huge bulk of the ship towards the bright galactic centre. He squinted into the inconceivable distance.
“Ah. Well it’s funny you should say that,” he said and allowed himself a slight frown at Ford Prefect, “because curiously enough we haven’t heard a peep out of them since we left five years ago … but they must be behind us somewhere.”
He peered off into the distance again.
Ford peered with him and gave a thoughtful frown.
“Unless of course,” he said softly, “they were eaten by the goat …”
“Ah yes …” said the Captain with a slight hesitancy creeping into his voice, “the goat …” His eyes passed over the solid shapes of the instruments and computers that lined the bridge. They winked away innocently at him. He stared out at the stars, but none of them said a word. He glanced at his first and second officers, but they seemed lost in their own thoughts for a moment. He glanced at Ford Prefect who raised his eyebrows at him.
“It’s a funny thing you know,” said the Captain at last, “but now that I actually come to tell the story to someone else …”
Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
It’s still not safe to click any links on the internet, but this is a start.