"Hi. Hi? Hi, y'all! Wow, there sure are a lot of you out here today. Free-yow! Still, you guys have nothing on the crowds I used to draw back when I was President of the entire Galaxy! They all came to see my lovely faces. There were more folks tuning in on the Sub-Etha band than are standing here right now! 'Course, they weren't all ape-descendants like you, but hey, you take what you get."
Onscreen, someone with an expression of uneasy concern leaned over to whisper in the leader's nearest ear.
"What's that you say? I have to- oh, oh right. The speech." He cleared his throat. "Kids, I'm sure you're all hanging on every word, waiting to hear what I have to say. Well, I'll let you in on a little secret- even I don't know what to say! I am totally, utterly stumped. Not even my right head has an answer- and that one's supposed to be saner than the other!"
Once again, the person beside the leader leaned towards him, his expression deepening from uneasy concern to uneasy worry. One of the leader's right arms brushed him aside.
"Yeah, yeah, don't tell me what to do, Earthman. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right- I don't remember. That's perfectly fine. I'd like to thank you guys for coming out here- good job, guys! Way to go!- and-"
It appeared that the leader's assistant could no longer take it and crossed the thin line between worry and embarrassment. He grabbed the leader's third arm and tugged on it eagerly, stopping the leader in his verbal tracks. There was a moment where it seemed the wires in the leader's brain had to connect and refigure in order to figure out how to react, and then his double mouths lifted into a pair of wild grins.
"Hey, now I remember what I was going to say! Thank you, Earthman!" He condescendingly patted his assistant on the head, and his assistant gave him a dark, sour look and slunk away, glowering. The leader faced the crowd once more with his confidence restored.
"I hereby dedicate this new branch of the TV Program Archives to myself, of course. The Zaphod Beeblebrox Hall of Visual Entertainment! Now, what d'ya say to me cutting the ribbon, huh, guys?" He chuckled, and his four blue eyes glowed warmly. "I know what you're thinking- last time I was invited to cut the ribbon at a ceremony, I ran off with the ship! But this baby can't even get off the ground. Hand me the scissors, will you please?"
His assistant balefully turned over the scissors, and the leader stepped aside to reveal a shimmery red ribbon blocking the doorway to a pristine new building. The leader whistled as he gaped at it as if seeing it for the first time. "Wowee! Look at the columns on that! Such- such architecture, eh?"
"Get on with it," his assistant muttered audibly, and with the two grins never leaving his face, the leader moved in and cut the ribbon. The waiting crowd grew rapturous with applause.
Presently the scene onscreen cut to the long-suffering eyes of a female reporter. She droned, "You've just seen the dedication ceremony for the new Zaphod Beeblebrox Hall of Entertainment, a branch of the TV Program Archives. What a brilliant speech it was. This is Trillian Astra reporting live on Network 85. And now, a word from our sponsors."
Murray's sigh was enough to draw Theora's attention away from the TV screen. She looked up at him and could hardly resist shooting a humored grin at his pained features. "Good speech?"
"Just think," Murray repeated his oft-spoken words. "We could have had Peller up there…"
"Were it not for the viewing audience," Theora unintentionally finished his sentence. "Personally I don't blame them. Pitting Garth against Peller was not one of the wiser things our program has done."
Again Murray sighed and shook his head tightly as he watched the screen. "The scandal was nowhere near as bad as some of Beeblebrox's."
"Murray, you know he didn't mean to drive that Corvette into a building-" Theora began.
"Or turn a political speech into a commentary on the bottoms of the girls in the audience-" Murray added.
"Or use the Impro- Impro- Improbability Drive to turn the Zaphod B-B-Beeblebrox Hall of Visual Enter-Entertainment into a twenty-foot statue-st-statue of yours tr-truly!" Max Headroom suddenly declared from the TV. He blinked at Theora and Murray's shocked expressions. "In fact, I might have he-helped…"
"Where have you been?" Theora demanded to know, and Max gave a smirk. "Wouldn't y-y-you like to know! I'll tell you th-though, Ed-Ed-Eddie the Computer makes for great c-c-company!"
He blipped off the screen, and Theora drew in a horrified gasp when she saw that the program had returned to the scene of the dedication ceremony. Even Trillian Astra's difficult-to-shake apathy was gone as she reported the strange event with wide eyes. "Breaking news- the Zaphod Beeblebrox Hall of Visual Entertainment has disappeared into thin air, to be replaced by what appears to be a statue of Network 23's CGI reporter, Max Headroom." The cameras zoomed in to show a gigantic, three-dimensional Max frozen mid-smirk in all his glory.
"Some might call it sabotage," Trillian sighed, "but others who are more knowledgeable about improbable events might suggest that the statue's appearance is a result of the famed Improbability Drive that runs Beeblebrox's starship, the Heart of Gold…"
"That's it," Murray said firmly. "Theora, we can't go on like this."
"What influence do we have, though?" Theora tried to calm him, switching channels on the TV. Thankfully, Network 85 had exclusive rights to any official stories (and public apologies) involving Zaphod Beeblebrox, and so the fiasco wouldn't be reported on any other stations. "We just have to wait until the public gains some sense for the next telelection."
"Or we get Edison to do a story…" Murray began, and then trailed off and looked around himself. "Speaking of which, where is Edison?"
Theora shrugged. She knew that he had gone out to watch the dedication ceremony in person, but he didn't have the right to cover it, and would hardly be the first Network 23 reporter to be tapped for the event. As far as Theora knew, Edison wasn't a Beeblebrox advocate and undoubtedly wouldn't stay at the ceremony for very long.
She turned and got up from her seat, and that was when a staggering pair of drunks walked in through the door, loudly singing. The more off-key one was definitely outdoing the other, his voice overpowering every other sound in the room. "Oh, don't give me none more of that Old Janx Spirit… No, don't you give me none more of that Old Janx Spirit! For my head will fly, my tongue will lie, my eyes will fry and I might die…"
"Who's that?" Murray said, and then exclaimed as if answering himself, "He's got Edison!"
"Edison?" Theora approached the drunks from a distance, and her heart sunk when she realized that one was indeed Edison. He was grinning like a loon and had one arm thrown heartily around the unfamiliar, off-key man, whose red hair was sticking up all over the place. He had thrown a towel over one shoulder and clutched a nearly-empty bottle of some unidentifiable drink.
"Hey, Theora!" Edison whooped, disentangling himself from the clutches of the unfamiliar man. "Come meet my new best friend!"
"Edison, how hammered are you?" Theora asked, crossing her arms.
"He's lost th' Jancspirit drinkin' game," the unfamiliar man slurred. He stared at Theora with hazy purple eyes and smiled, and the expression made shivers run up Theora's spine. "We're jus' here t' grab 'is things, and-"
"Edison, you shouldn't come in here under the influence," Murray demanded, casting a glance around at the snickering network employees at all sides. "And you-" He strode forward and grabbed the unfamiliar man by the shirt front, who gave him a loopy closed-mouth smile back. "You need to get out."
"Not until he's held up 'is end of the bargain," the man drawled. Slowly he yanked himself away from Murray's grasp and sidled up to Edison again, who was still grinning insanely to himself despite Theora's stern glare. Conspiratorially leaning his elbow against Edison's shoulder, the man concluded, "T' object'a t' game is t' knock t' bottle over with yer mind." He gestured to his head, and Edison laughed. "T' loser finishes t' bottle and mus' perform a forfeit."
"The last thing we want is Edison unknowingly embarrassing us," Theora said. She came forward and tugged on Edison's arm, which made the man back off. "I'll take him home, Murray. It's fine."
"Aww, Theora," Edison protested. "Just lemme do the forfeit…"
"That's quite enough." Theora pulled his unresisting body into her arms, and he sighed and practically collapsed on her. She stared coldly at the man he had brought to Network 23, who hiccupped. "And as for you…"
"Prefect," the man said, mistaking Theora's pause for confusion about his name. "Ford Prefect." He stepped forward and took her hand, heartily shaking it.
"Ford Prefect?" Murray muttered, who knew as much about cars as Theora did. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Hey, have you ever tried to find a normal name on Earth?" Ford Prefect retorted. "Iss a lot more normal than 'Edison Carter,' for example!"
"Hey," Edison muttered, his face half-buried in Theora's shoulder, "who said my name…"
"And as for you, Mr. Prefect, you can get out," Theora ordered. Ford shrugged. "I'll handle it from here."
"Guess I'll see you around," Ford said, and waved goodbye before walking out the door. Theora breathed a sigh of relief and waited a careful amount of seconds before lugging Edison out the door along with her. She didn't want to be surprised by Ford along the way.
"Do you need help?" Murray called behind her, and Theora said "No." It wasn't any harder than conveying him to her apartment after picking him up from the Body Bank had been.
Down in the parking garage, Theora went to her car and searched for her keys, leaving Edison wavering on his feet. So busy was she searching through her purse that she didn't notice the inclusion of a third person until it was too late.
"So," came an awfully familiar and unpleasant voice from behind her, "what d'ya say?" Theora whirled around to see Ford clasping Edison's shoulder in a great show of camaraderie.
Edison frowned. "I'd rather go home with Theora."
:"Aw, Earthman, don't be like that," Ford complained. "Come on, it's just a little dare." He then looked up at Theora, who had crossed her arms over her chest and was glaring at him, and said, "Look, lady, I'll make sure no one sees 'im. We'll do it in the parking garage if you like."
"Do what?" Theora asked, and Ford grinned wildly. "Just wait." He threw his arm around Edison's shoulder and drew him close, and together they marched off into a corner of the garage where Theora couldn't see them.
Theora waited anxiously, her foot tapping a rhythm against the ground. What if Ford's idea of a forfeit was even worse than she could imagine? Even if they were only in the parking garage, Theora didn't want Edison to be humiliated when he recovered himself later.
Then suddenly a figure came running out of the corner, a very familiar figure- and a stark-naked figure. He was singing a bizarre song in a language that Theora couldn't understand at the top of his lungs. Theora couldn't help uttering a gasp and taking an automatic step back as Edison Carter blew past her, streaking and enjoying the hell out of himself. From behind the corner, Ford appeared with Edison's clothes in his arms. He grinned and came closer to Theora.
"Best drinking buddy I've had in ages," he said warmly, appearing not to notice Theora's discomfort. "We were down at the Ouzo Bar and he wanted to see some of my work for the Guide. Next thing you know we were drinking, and-" He broke off and shrugged, finally seeming to take Theora's expression into account. "He's singing the Betelgeusian national anthem. Taught it to him myself." With that, Ford handed Edison's clothing over to Theora and trotted after him, eventually catching up to him as his mad dash slowed down. Theora could only stare down at the ground as Ford led the panting Edison over to her side.
"If you like, I could help you restore him to normality," he said as Edison snatched at his clothes and Theora, trying her best not to look his way, handed them over at once. "We just ask the Improbability Drive to give us an anti-intoxication machine, shove him in there, and in a few moments he'll be good as new."
"Thank you for the offer, Mr. Prefect," Theora said, glancing Edison's way as he buttoned his shirt through the wrong buttonholes, "but you've done enough for now. Besides, I don't want to take any chances with that Improbability Drive."
"Oh, come on," Ford protested as Edison bent over to put his boots on, realized that he hadn't zipped his pants up all the way, and desperately grabbed at them before he could moon anyone. "It's only mostly harmless… Saved my life a few times!"
"I say no," Theora repeated firmly, and Ford shrugged yet again. "Do what you like, then. I've got to be off. Zaphod will want me at his Celebration for Performing the Duties of the Attorney General dinner, again. See you around, Edison." With that he departed, and Theora was left facing a flummoxed Edison, who had managed to put each shoe on the wrong foot.
"Theora?" he mumbled, shaking first one leg and then the other as if discovering that he had nerve endings in each. "Are you taking me home?"
Theora nodded sharply. "Yes, but not quite yet." She turned and marched her way over to the viewphone, her mind sizzling. Someone had to be the first to publically call out Zaphod Beeblebrox, and she knew that when he was sober Edison wouldn't be able to resist. It was only a matter of if Murray would arrange for such a story to happen.