Monday, May 23, 2005


      Douglas didn't mind a night sky, but inside dark was something completely different. It was a different kind of not knowing and it made him anxious. Darkness had been watching his hesitant footsteps for what seemed like forever, but when he checked behind him, sunlight was still peering expectantly over his shoulder. It turned him back toward the colorless stone void.
      He often found that the things he saw with his eyes were a poor roommate for the things he thought in his head. When either went away, the other liked to throw big, noisy parties. In his bedroom at night, his thoughts chattered and danced. Babysitters were always telling him to just go to sleep already, but that struck him as a crazy idea. Who can sleep in the middle of a party?
      The party was roaring in this jungle cave. His fear quickly filled the dark empty space in front of him. That whiffling could be the motion of some terrible creature, those burbles the only warning of its malicious approach. But maybe not. Probably not. After all, what were the chances of anything he could think of? He just needed to admit the freedom of possibility.
      "There could be anything at the end of this cave."
      "And whatever it is," quaked Josef, entirely failing to help, "we just freed its lunch."
      As it happened, the whiffling was wind. The burbles, such as they were, echoed up from a small spring. It was the faint blue glow around the corner that deserved some explaining. Closer inspection merely blinded Douglas and Josef until they cleared the swath of projected light.
      Nothing could have prepared Douglas for what he found in the large room at the end of the cave. The tunnel opened onto a silent, ghostly chaos. Alien text and images moved eerily across the cave walls. Pale, patchwork monsters surrounded him, imploring him to listen, to care, to buy.
      "Television..." Douglas spun, "so much television..."
      "The holosphere on that rock is projecting them," replied Josef, "He is monitoring the sub-etha news networks - probably for news of Earth."
      "Who is?"
      The dim light of the broadcasts made it difficult for Douglas's eyes to adjust. After much squinting, he was finally able to discern a crouched silhouette on the other side of the room, watching the projected images. Someone deceptively large. Size and distance stumbled around dizzily in the synthetic moonlight. Douglas snuck a quick glance at Josef to make sure his own size wasn't changing. Then something else occurred to him about this being in a cave on the other side of the galaxy.
      "He looks... human," he whispered.
      "Oh," replied Josef, "did I forget to mention that?"
      Douglas glared at him.
      "Your species is not native to Earth," stated the mouse, with a bit less consideration for Douglas's sanity than the situation allowed.
      "What?!" cried Douglas loudly, with a bit less consideration for the situation than his sanity allowed.
      The silhouette dove for a corner of the cave.
      "Afraid," it growled.
      "We should stand our ground," whispered Douglas through his teeth.
      The massive man stared at them. He reminded Douglas of a caveman from a Science textbook. His hair and beard were long and bedraggled. His clothes hung in dingy tatters. Douglas briefly wondered if there was a monkey somewhere behind him.
      "Are we standing our ground?" asked Douglas.
      "Are you paralyzed with fear?" replied Josef.
      "Then yes."
      "Good for us," said Douglas.
      "Afraid," growled the man from his corner, "Confused."
      "Me too," sighed Douglas.
      "Golgafrincham," muttered Josef quickly, "You humans crash-landed on Earth from a planet called Golgafrincham. You were very similar to the species designed to grow on Earth, so you simply replaced them. That is how the whole experiment got bungled, you see."
      "You said it was sabotaged."
      "Yes, well, bungle is a rather harsh word."
      "Sabotage is much harsher," argued Douglas.
      "Wait 'til you're a taxpayer."
      Their company didn't seem to get it either and suddenly took a few looming steps toward them. Douglas and Josef hastily retreated to the tunnel.
      "The point is, you live there now. Are you going to save your little blue-green planet or not?"
      Douglas crossed his arms and pouted.
      "Fine," he grumbled, and began a cautious approach back toward the man. Josef was startled.
      "Where are you going?"
      "He doesn't know what he's doing."
      "I am certain he knows that he is trying to destroy Earth."
      "The truth is like a jigsaw."
      "Truth?!" gawked Josef, "TRUTH?"
      But it was too late. Douglas stood inches from the titan. Staring up at the thick beard and stern face, he felt himself sway on a breath.
      "Hello. I'm Douglas Dent and I've come to tell you to stop. The Earth experiment is over. It failed."
      The man gazed down with a terrible stillness.
      "Oh! Oh, well, that's all right, then." The moment stretched and yawned. "Relieved," the man said.
      "That's it?!" Josef approached. "I could have done that!"
      "This is Josef," apologized Douglas, "He's a mouse."
      "I am Galactic Ward 1."
      "That's it?!" repeated Josef, "After the dream-visits, the mouse council, the superturkeys! I was going to turn this into a book deal, but who would be dumb enough to read a book like this? No one, that's who. Isn't there anything else?"
      "Oh no," said 1 suddenly, "Oh no, oh no." He retreated to the wall of the cave, with eyes full of fear.
      "Dear Zaphod, we've lost him again," squeaked Josef, "I told you this would never work."
      "Have you learned nothing?!" asked Douglas, disbelieving the mouse. He turned to 1, "What is it?"
      There was a long silence as 1 brought his mind back into the cave. It began as a low whisper. At first, Douglas mistook the brooding hulk to be breathing funny. But soon, the breathing was very clearly a word - a word repeated over and over.
      "He's saying, 'Three'!" exclaimed Josef.
      "Three?" Douglas asked calmly, "There's three of us."
      "No, no," breathed 1, "Oh no, oh no. 3 doesn't know."
      "3 doesn't know?" puzzled Douglas, "Is 3 a person? That other Galactic Ward, Josef?"
      "Yes," replied Josef dismissively, "but he disappeared. 1, I assure you there's nothing to worry about; 3 hasn't done anything."
      "3 doesn't know," repeated 1 gravely, "and you don't know."
      Douglas sensed Josef's fur stand up. He himself felt strangely like a crow on a wire, in that moment right before the murder flies off all at once.


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