“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see …”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards role the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairan dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say `That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin. But I haven’t and I am. Anyway, what are you looking so placid and moon-eyed for? Are you in love?”
Arthur said yes, he was, and said it placidly.
“With someone who knows where the gin bottle is? Do I get to meet her?”
He did because Fenchurch came in at that moment with a pile of newspapers she’d been into the village to buy. She stopped in astonishment at the wreckage on the table and the wreckage from Betelgeuse on the sofa.
“Where’s the gin?” said Ford to Fenchurch. And to Arthur, “What happened to Trillian by the way?”
“Er, this is Fenchurch,” said Arthur, awkwardly. “There was nothing with Trillian, you must have seen her last.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Ford, “she went off with Zaphod somewhere. They had some kids or something. At least,” he added, “I think that’s what they were. Zaphod’s calmed down a lot you know.”
“Really?” said Arthur, clustering hurriedly round Fenchurch to relieve her of the shopping.
“Yeah,” said Ford, “at least one of his heads is now saner than an emu on acid.”
“Arthur, who is this?” said Fenchurch.
“Ford Prefect,” said Arthur. “I may have mentioned him in passing.”
For a total of three days and nights the giant silver robot stood in stunned amazement straddling the remains of Knightsbridge, swaying slightly and trying to work out a number of things.
Government deputations came to see it, ranting journalists by the truckload asked each other questions on the air about what they thought of it, flights of fighter bombers tried pathetically to attack it – but no lizards appeared. It scanned the horizon slowly.
At night it was at its most spectacular, floodlit by the teams of television crews who covered it continuously as it continuously did nothing.
It thought and thought and eventually reached a conclusion.
It would have to send out its service robots.
It should have thought of that before, but it was having a number of problems.
The tiny flying robots came screeching out of the hatchway one afternoon in a terrifying cloud of metal. They roamed the surrounding terrain, frantically attacking some things and defending others.
One of them at last found a pet shop with some lizards, but it instantly defended the pet shop for democracy so savagely that little in the area survived.
A turning point came when a crack team of flying screechers discovered the Zoo in Regent’s Park, and most particularly the reptile house.