Previously in Future Prefect, a mismatched bunch of people from the enlightened world which follows the teachings of h2g2 were gathered together to travel to America, the only continent on the planet where twentieth-century culture still exists. Three hundred years have passed since anyone of h2g2 has encountered anyone of America, or indeed been even slightly interested. But now, inexplicable earthquakes threaten h2g2 cities, and America is the only place the reason for these earthquakes can be discovered...
Land's End, Cornwall
Agnes looked out at the Atlantic Ocean and screwed up her nose.
'It's alright to look at, I suppose, but why does it have to smell like that?'
She asked in her warm Scottish accent.
'Because it's got salts and stuff dissolved in it,'
Bite explained. A Guru from Bavaria, he of course knew everything there was to know about h2g2. America was an unknown quantity for him, and it was making both Bite and his brother Bark visibly apprehensive.
'Haven't you ever been to the seaside before?'
'I always figured I'd do that later on in life.'
'Are you two coming or not?'
Bath called from further along the cliff top where he was checking over his hydrocycle. A sleek silver in colour, the hydrocycle had a well-padded seat, handlebars and a large engine assembly at the back. Next to Bath, The Geraldine had the cargo compartment of her
hydrocycle open and was attempting to fit several changes of clothes, four wetsuits, some Wellington boots and six packets of Polo mints into it.
'Yes, I suppose we're coming,'
Agnes said, walking resignedly over to her hydrocycle which, to her credit, was already packed and ready to go.
'Might as well get it over with.'
To her left, Pord Frespect had already mounted his hydrocycle and switched on the power.
'Stop dallying! We want to reach America just after sunset, not at breakfast time!'
Agnes threw the Polo mints over the cliff and shut the cargo compartment before mounting her hydrocycle. The others did the same, and there were a few moments of gunning engines to see if any of them sounded cooler. They were all exactly the same, so the competition was abandoned in short order.
Bath yelled, and they all pressed hard on the Go button. Each hydrocycle leaped from the cliff, teetering in mid-air as if they were about to decide to fly, then splashed loudly into the water, sending spray in all directions but keeping the riders dry with cunningly-placed force fields. No sooner were they in the water than they were powering forwards, Pord Frespect and Bath in the lead, followed by Bite, Bark and The Geraldine, with Agnes trailing a little behind muttering about having to throw away her Polo mints.
In only a few minutes, Land's End was over the horizon and they were in the open ocean, hydrocycles skimming across the water leaving long white wakes behind them, the blue sky overhead and a distant storm flickering on the horizon. Bath eyed it warily for a while until The Geraldine assured everybody it was going in the opposite direction and they need not worry about it. After that, everybody began to relax and enjoy the ride, putting the hydrocycles on autopilot and gathering closer together to swap amusing stories, jokes and cups of tea balanced precariously on outstretched oars. It was all very pleasant, but then the shore of America loomed over the horizon and they brought their hydrocycles to a halt.
'Well, there it is,'
said Pord after a long silence. And indeed, there it was. Although it was only just over the horizon, everyone could clearly see that it looked nothing like any coast of h2g2. It was dull and dingy, and a kind of black haze hovered over it, despite the bright sunlight and clear blue sky. Looking towards America, the sky seemed greyer in colour, but not the grey of cloud - the grey of the corners of a room which hasn't seen a vacuum cleaner in years. Agnes shuddered.
she said with sarcasm.
'The perfect holiday spot. Remind me why we came here again?'
'We're trying to save the world,'
'Oh yes, so we are. Shame we can't do it in a more glamorous location.'
Agnes was thinking of Sicily, or perhaps New Zealand.
'Now we know why nobody wanted to go there for the last three centuries,'
Bite pointed out.
'Who would want to?'
'I certainly wouldn't,'
The Geraldine said,
'but we don't exactly have a choice. Best go in and get out as quickly as possible.'
'We should wait until sunset,'
Pord objected as The Geraldine started up her hydrocycle again.
'We don't particularly want to be seen yet.'
'You worry too much,'
Agnes informed him.
'You forget why you dragged me into this. At the moment, we are all completely invisible. They wouldn't see us coming if we were carrying flares. Best to be quiet though. I can't do anything about noise.'
'Thank you, Agnes,'
Pord said, and they headed for the shore as quietly as they could manage while maintaining a reasonable speed, coasting the last few hundred metres on momentum. The bottom of Bath's hydrocycle scraped against sand, and he hopped off the seat into the water, feeling it seep into his shoes. He pulled the hydrocycle up onto the beach and took his shoes off to empty out the water. It left an oily film on his feet.
The Geraldine asked when they had all dragged their hydrocycles into relative concealment and brushed out the tracks left from pulling them out of the water. She pointed to a dim red glow at the top of the cliff.
'I have absolutely no idea,'
Bite murmured, sounding quite terrified by the notion. Bark had paled, and Bath realised how strange it must feel for them to see something and not know what it was. In the lands of h2g2, Gurus knew everything instinctively.
Pord studied the glow for a moment.
'Bath, why don't you go up there and have a look.'
'just what I always wanted to do.'
'Try not to be seen,'
'I can't keep you invisible if I can't see you.'
'I won't be seen,'
Bath assured her.
'One of my three Peta awards is for sneaking.'
There was an awed mutter from The Geraldine, but Bath ignored it and pulled out his towel.
he said, and flew up to the top of the cliff, landing silently on the crumbling edge. Some dirt fell down to the beach with a faint sound, and he moved silently away from the edge. There were trees, but they looked stunted and ill, and gave way after only about fifty metres to a large concrete-covered area painted in rectangles with white lines. Various four-wheeled vehicles were parked in the rectangles, and Bath recognised it from history lessons.
'Wow. A car park,'
he breathed, studying it from the cover of a small, ill-looking dandelion.
The car park was clearly intended to service a smallish building built of corrugated aluminium sheets. It had a large sign on the top - a yellow rounded M on a red background, and clearly the source of the red glow The Geraldine had seen from the beach. Sniffing, Bath thought the smell of food came from the place, but it wasn't like any food he'd ever smelled before. Of course, there was no telling what these Americans ate.
He was just about to move back to the edge of the cliff and tell the others what he'd seen when he heard footfalls behind him and felt something cold and metallic press against the back of his head.
'Just stay right there,'
a man's voice said.
'Internal Security Agency. You're under arrest for breaching cultural purity.'
Will Bath escape? Have the others avoided capture? Will they come and rescue him? Will there be exciting car chases, gunfights and gratuitous wisecracks? Find out, in the next riveting instalment of Future Prefect, the story saga which just won't go