In which Arthur Dent finally manages
to acquire a proper cup of tea.
It was entirely fitting that the sublevels of Milliways, the most fashionable eating establishment in the universe, should be packed with an array of spectacular spacecraft. It was also remarkably fortunate if you were in dire need of making a rapid exit from said eating establishment and had omitted to secure transportation in advance. Confronted with such an abundance of choice Zaphod and Ford were, quite naturally, bickering.
As it was, Arthur barely noticed the exotic shapes once his eyes caught upon a particularly impossible blue object close to the entrance to the docking bays.
"That," he said slowly, "is a police box."
"Yeah, yeah Monkeyman," Zaphod muttered, waving him away absently, "go climb on it or something."
Arthur shot him a withering glare, and returned to examining the unexpected blue box.
"What," he pondered aloud, "is a police box doing at the end of the universe?"
"Sightseeing?" ventured Ford. "Really, Arthur, if you can't come to terms with even slightly unlikely things, you are never going to survive for long in this galaxy. Or any other, for that matter." He turned to examine a sleek silver dart which was docked nearby, whistling tunelessly between his teeth.
"But that still doesn't answer my question," Arthur continued, slightly belligerent. "Why is there an Earth police box parked in the car park of an impossible restaurant at the end of time, when MY Earth, MY planet, was destroyed millions of years ago? A fact which still does not sit entirely comfortably with me, by the way, as wherever I go I feel like the universe is taunting me about its demise!"
He slammed his hand against the Police Box door for emphasis. It was a tribute to how resigned he had become to the vagaries of space travel that Arthur experienced very little surprise when door swung open beneath his fist and he fell inelegantly into its interior. He emerged, wide-eyed, a moment later.
"Ford," he said eventually, "I really think you should look at this."
"They're not any kind of ship controls that I've ever seen," Ford said, studying something that resembled a bicycle pump protruding from the console inside the blue box. He poked it. It made a faintly unsatisfactory 'plink' noise. "Maybe it's where they keep Marvin when he gets too much to take." The grin which was beginning to spread across his face halted its advance as the door clicked shut and a grating sound filled the impossible chamber.
"I don't think this is a cupboard, Ford," Arthur remarked, as the floor tilted alarmingly. "We're clearly going somewhere."
"Oh Zarquon! What did you do this time?" Ford exclaimed as he loped away from the console to rattle the door uselessly.
"Me?" Arthur said, outraged, "I didn't touch anything." He paused. "You know, Zaphod was right by the door when it closed."
"Not me, Monkeyman," drawled Zaphod, from where he leaned against the curiously curved wall. "I wanted nothing to do with this hunk of junk."
Rolling his eyes, Ford pulled on the door handle, alternating between cursing under his breath and shooting pointed looks at Zaphod.
"I'll just... look at these controls then." Arthur muttered, and turned to examine the instruments sprouting from the panels beside him. His toe connected with something, and he glanced down.
"Ford, Zaphod," he said warily, "this control bank appears to have grown legs." He cautiously stepped over the limbs and moved back towards the door. "They seem to have pinstripes."
"What," said the console indistinctly, "are you doing in here?" There was a prolonged scuffling noise, a resounding clang, and a scruffy head popped up from behind the bank of controls. "And what, exactly, have you done to my Tardis?"
Zaphod clearly saw this as his cue to switch into social mode.
"Hey man, it's really great to meet you," he said with a practiced smile, extending a hand to the stranger. "Whoever the hell you are."
"I'm the Doctor," said the pinstriped man, regarding Zaphod's outstretched arm with puzzlement. "And who might you be?"
"I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox," said Zaphod.
The Doctor looked at him blankly.
"President Beeblebrox?" Zaphod waited hopefully for the spark of recognition which surely must come.
The Doctor continued to stare for a time, then said, very carefully,
"That must be nice for you."
There was a muffled sound from the solitary chair in the room. It appeared to have something to do with Ford trying to cram his own fist into his mouth as he marveled at the impact of Zaphod's ego with an apparently immovable object. Something akin to a laugh's deranged cousin escaped.
"Right," said the Doctor, rubbing his hands together. "Let's see if we can't put you back where you belong." He grinned, flicked a switch, and mercifully the floor's uncertain movement ceased.
Ford sidled closer, and peered around the Doctor's elbow at what he was doing to the controls. The Doctor frowned, and shifted to another panel.
This continued all the way around the console.
Eventually the Doctor removed a pair of glasses from his jacket pocket and turned abruptly to regard Ford. Unfortunately for Ford, due to the disparity in heights this was rather more chin to forehead than face to face.
"Look," said the Doctor, holding the glasses up to his eyes and taking a pace backwards. "Will you please stop that? Who are you?"
"Ford Prefect, field researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," said Ford, stepping closer, with one of his grins which Arthur had come to associate with things rapidly spiraling even further out of control. "I'm sure you've heard of it."
"The Guide? Yes. The Guide. Very informative. Very guide-y," said the Doctor. With an exaggerated stride, he moved to put the console between himself and Ford's curious scrutiny, then leant over sideways and sighted along a lever on the console.
"I can see you've never come across a copy," Arthur muttered.
The Doctor paused in his elaborate dance with the controls and stared at him.
"Arthur Dent? You're Arthur Dent!" He said, vaulting over one side of the console to land in front of Arthur. "Arthur Dent from Earth?"
Arthur nodded, and was surprised to find his hand being shaken vigorously.
"Terrific to see you, really, really terrific," the Doctor babbled. "Although, and I'm guessing here, the way you're staring me like I'm utterly insane makes me think we may not, in fact, have met yet." He bounded back to the controls and set to work. "So, I'll just pop you back to where I found you, and be on my way, no harm done."
Those are NHS glasses, Arthur thought inconsequentially. I'm trapped in a logically impossible Police Box with an insane alien who wears free NHS spectacles and claims that he already will have met me. Once again, once a-bloody-gain, the Universe is playing silly buggers with me. A thought tickled the back of his mind, logic persisting despite seemingly insurmountable odds. NHS spectacles must, by their very nature, be procured from a National Health Service optician, he mused. Unless there has been some massive expansion drive I was unaware of, that means that I have encountered yet another alien who has, at some point, visited the Earth. Or, more specifically, an Earth-based NHS optician. Which means...
"I don't suppose," Arthur began, in tones which spoke of desperate hope, "I don't suppose you would happen to have any tea aboard?"
"Tea?" the Doctor said, brightly. "Of course I do, very important stuff tea. I always keep a flask to hand when I'm working; you never know when you might need a cuppa. Help yourself." He fished around in his jacket pocket and extracted a large tartan thermos flask, a sight which sent the logical part of Arthur's brain into spasm.
He poured a generous cupful and peered at it suspiciously. Tea had, thus far, been something of a disappointment in the parts of the galaxy he had visited, and if this tea was of similar provenance to the glasses there was a good chance that things were not about to improve. Even the worst tea that the Heart of Gold had produced was superior to that found in the vending machines which lurked in that shining beacon of the NHS, the Royal Surrey Hospital. He took a cautious sip, and for a moment he was home.
He was broken from his tea-induced calm by a juddering crash.
"Here you go, all ashore who's going ashore and all that," said the Doctor cheerfully, flinging the doors open. "Right back where you started." He looked around. "Well, more or less. I couldn't park exactly where I picked you up as someone's gone and parked a dirty great black spaceship there. It's near enough though." He stepped aside, waving his visitors through. As Arthur trailed reluctantly after, he grabbed his hand and shook it enthusiastically. "I hope you enjoy it when I meet you the first time, as the cricket is particularly thrilling."
Arthur took a moment to process this, but as it appeared there would be cricket in the future, he decided it couldn't be all bad. It also occurred to him that anyone who could manage to confuse time itself was probably far more in tune with the fundamental nature of the Universe than he personally was.
"Doctor," Arthur called as the door of the Tardis began to close, "I don't suppose you know the ultimate question to life, the universe and everything?"
The Doctor's head popped back out.
"What? The Ultimate Question?" he began, "oh, certainly. I can tell you all about that..." but to Arthur's dismay the unsettling grating sound drowned out anything further.
They stood watching the spot where the police box was now conspicuously absent.
"What we need is another ship," Ford said eventually. "Although, personally I'd settle for a large gin and tonic."
Zaphod was half-way along the gantry, the Doctor and his Tardis already forgotten in his eagerness to select a ship.
"That," he called, "that... is really bad for the eyes..."
"He really does have the attention span of a demented gnat," he said. "Come on, let's see if we can get off this planet."
Arthur watched them go, sipping happily from the cup.
It really was terribly good tea.