Previously in Future Prefect... Our intrepid heroes arrived in America, determined to find the cause of the earthquakes which have wracked h2g2. Leaving the others on the beach, Bath (holder of a Peta award for sneaking) climbed up the cliff to scout around, found a burger bar and got himself arrested. Frustratingly, the story will now switch to a completely different viewpoint.
California sunshine blazed bright in the sky, heating the inside of Bill George Hillary Lewis Lewinsky the Third's bedroom as effectively as a small nuclear reactor operating in the corner would have. Bill George Hillary Lewis wiped sweat from his brow and took a swig of Risk, muttering to himself as he put the glass down.
'Stupid weather. Why does it have to be so hot?'
'What was that dear?'
his mother asked from the hall, where she was painting a mural on the wall.
Bill George Hillary Lewis said automatically, and turned his attention back to his computer screen. If he could just... the computer interrupted his train of thought by flashing a large, garishly-coloured window onto the screen.
Your Operating System Licence has expired
it informed him.
You must purchase a new licence to continue using your computer. Press any key to purchase a new licence for $8299.99. Please note that turning off your computer will be construed as pressing any key.
Bill George Hillary Lewis scowled at the screen for a few moments, then his gaze flicked over to the corner of the room where some disks were carefully hidden behind the bookcase. Perhaps he could use the software on those disks without getting caught. Perhaps...
'Time for the news, dear.'
his mother informed him from the hall.
he replied, rising with some difficulty from his chair and hefting his substantial girth out of the room. It was a ritual observed in his house as long as he could remember. The news was watched every day at six PM, and God save anyone who wasn't there to see it. He took his usual place on the sofa and only half-looked at the newsreader who appeared on the large screen taking up most of one wall. He'd perfected the art of appearing to watch the news when he was a kid. However, today's weather made it hard to concentrate on anything much, and he found himself listening.
'...was arrested today in North Carolina, attempting to subvert diners at a fast food restaurant,' the newsreader was saying. 'An Internal Security Agency spokesman said that although this is the first time in living memory an enemy agent has attempted to enter American territory, the public should not be worried. The enemy agent, who gave the name 'Bath' to the court, was tried late last night and found guilty. You can watch the execution live from California State Penitentiary, right here, at eight o'clock this evening.'
Bill George Hillary Lewis studied the picture behind the newsreader. A young-seeming man - not young in age, but young in feeling, with an energy behind his eyes that even the orange prison uniform and the telltale signs of a tough interrogation could not hide or destroy. Those eyes were a colour no American had ever had - orange they were, almost the same colour as the prison clothing - but almost glowing from within.
'What about that then?'
his mother said.
'Fancy one of that lot trying to cause trouble over here. Good riddance to the lot of them. Should have wiped them all out centuries ago.'
Bill George Hillary Lewis had to leave the room before he said something unwise. His mother wasn't nasty, but she would turn him in if she thought it necessary, and feel nothing more than that she had done her duty.
Back in his bedroom, Bill George Hillary Lewis' gaze went back to the bookcase where those disks were hidden. This Bath person from h2g2 was going to die tonight, and California State Penitentiary was not all that far away...
His decision reached, without really knowing how, Bill George Hillary Lewis packed a few things in a rucksack and headed out of the house. His mother didn't seem to notice him going - she rarely did, so long as he was there for meals and the news, and not back too late. Little did she realise this time that he did not intend to go back at all.
California State Penitentiary, 1900 hours
Bill George Hillary Lewis studied the wall from yet another angle, trying, as he had been for the last twenty minutes, to work out a way to get inside and out again with the h2g2 agent, without being caught and executed himself. A glance at his watch told him what he didn't want to know - with only an hour before the execution, they were bound to be starting preparations, and that might mean Bath being under heavier guard as they set up the execution chamber. He sighed, rolling over onto his back and wondering if any of the assorted hard objects digging into his back would be of any use. Perhaps if he...
'And what are you doing, studying the prison in such detail?'
The voice was strangely accented and female. Bill George Hillary Lewis sat up sharply and saw a woman who looked like she had skin made of toughened leather looking down at him.
'Pord tells me that you want to break Bath out, but none of the rest of us are telepaths, so we thought we should ask you.'
'You're... you're his friends?'
'You could say that. We came here together, and we intend to leave together. Preferably alive and in no more than one piece each. Do you know how they plan to execute him?'
'The electric chair, usually.'
Bill George Hillary Lewis told her.
'Do you think you can save him? Only... I don't like it here. I never have. This place doesn't feel right for me somehow. Like I've not fulfilled...'
he broke off as another man with a look in his eyes similar to that he'd noticed in Bath's appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
'My name is Pord Frespect!'
'Sitter on the Chair of Moxon. Tell us what you know which might help us, then wait for us here. Once we've rescued Bath, I give you my word that we will take you back with us.'
'We're not staying here?'
the woman asked as three more people, two men who looked like twins and one middle-aged woman, appeared. Bill George Hillary Lewis blinked. It was rumoured that the people of h2g2 had strange powers gained by digging too deeply into forbidden knowledge, but he'd never suspected anything like this...
Pord was saying.
'Not permanantly. That doesn't mean, of course, that I intend to leave immediately...'
he turned to Bill George Hillary Lewis, his gaze out of purple eyes piercing right to the soul.
'It's not forbidden knowledge.'
'Just that which your government don't want you to obtain, because you might realise that you do not need them in power over you, and if there is one thing wrong with most humans, it is a needless desire to obtain power, and the willingness to keep it by any means necessary. What is your name?'
Bill George Hillary Lewis hesitated, then stopped. It was a silly name, all told, and clearly these people from h2g2 saw no need to carry around all the excess baggage Americans did.
he said, although Bill wasn't sure what for. Pord rose to his feet.
'Time is wasting. It will take a while for us to get in there, and although I'm sure Bath can hold off actually dying for quite some time, he'll need some help if he's going to be able to escape.'
Pord caught Bill's puzzled expression.
'Bath is a wizard...'
... 'but not a particularly powerful one. He has to use his hands for things, and from what I've picked up on the journey here after Bath was arrested, your Internal Security Agency are aware of this, so they'll be sure to keep his hands restrained at all times. All we need to do is free them, and he can do most of the rest for us. With a little help from Agnes here, of course. Agnes, if you will?'
Abruptly, Pord and Agnes vanished. Bill heard their footsteps moving towards the wall.
'I suppose I'm going in with you.'
Agnes muttered, just loud enough for Bill to catch.
'Well, I did agree to come, foolish though it was...'
their voices faded to nothing as they moved out of earshot, and Bill was left with the three others.
'Pord didn't ask me anything!'
'He didn't need to!'
one of the twins said.
'He's telepathic - when he mentioned he needed information, you thought of most of it, and he skimmed it off the top of your mind. My name's Bite, and this is my brother Bark.'
Bill shook hands with them.
'Are you telepaths as well, then?'
Seeing Bill's blank look, he continued.
'We're born with the ability to understand things. Back home, everything we perceive we understand at an instinctive level. Our role in life is to pass that understanding on to others where it is needful. Many Gurus become teachers, others aid our scientists and wizards in researching new things, and others, like my brother and I, roam around looking for trouble to get into. Unfortunately, our abilities don't work very well here. We can only know things about the people we came with, other h2g2ers.'
'And that's how you knew about what Pord did?'
'Yes. The moment he did it, we understood it.'
'I guess we should complete the introductions!'
the woman said suddenly. Her voice was accented differently again, yet another unusual one to Bill's ears. It was clipped and precise, totally unlike the Californian twang he was used to.
'I'm The Geraldine. I'm a geologist, seismologist and oceanographer by trade.'
'Pleased to meet you,'
'Why are you here?'
'Well, that's a question which will take some explanation...'
The Geraldine began, but she was cut off by a rumbling sound which rapidly became louder as most of the wall of the prison shattered, sending an enormous cloud of dust skywards. Bill leaped to his feet, and moments later heard three pairs of footsteps come near. A split second later, and suddenly he could see Pord, Agnes and Bath, except they were hazy and insubstantial to his vision. As were himself, Bite, Bark and The Geraldine, he realised a moment later.
Are we invisible?'
'but they can still hear us, so if you want to survive long enough to come to h2g2 with us, I suggest you stay quiet and follow!'
'No need to be so harsh on him, Agnes.'
'Oh, shut up and let's get moving!'
'In case you hadn't noticed, they're starting to look for us.'
She gestured back towards the shattered remains of the wall, where numerous prison officers could be seen, some of them already with tracker dogs and portable detectors.
'I know somewhere we might be able to hide.'
Bill said as they broke into a run. In between gasping for air - he wasn't used to physical exertion, and his blubbery frame wobbled at every stride - he explained further.
'It's about a mile from here, and if we can get there far enough ahead, they'll never know we're in there.'
'We'll take it!'
Bath said shortly. Behind them, barks and shouts urged them on.
How will the addition of Bill to the party affect their mission? Now that Bath is out of prison, will our heroes actually be able to get on with finding out about those earthquakes? Just what are the potentially useful hard objects in Bill's rucksack, and why is his third name Hillary? Find out the answers to some of these questions, plus some you hadn't even thought to ask, in the next installment of Future Prefect, the story saga declared an essential read by the editor of Many-armed Pink Insect's Own magazine.