Previously in Future Prefect... the first of the two spacecraft entered Earth orbit, and a woman calling herself Commander Lauren Oakham arrived at the Towers. Claiming to be from the Alliance ship Homeland, Commander Oakham brought the news that unless her advice is followed immediately, the world will end before it is time for afternoon coffee in London.
'We're listening,' Pord said cautiously, 'but I think there are some precautions we should take first.'
'What would they be?' Commander Oakham asked.
'I'm a telepath,' Pord told her. 'I'm sure you can understand that we have no real reason to trust you, and if things really are as urgent as you say, it would seem expident if I just use my abilities to verify whether what you have to say is indeed true. If it is, then of course we will follow your recommendations.'
Oakham paused for only a moment before nodding. 'Very well. You will find no deception.'
'That we shall see,' Pord said, before reaching out to her mind. The Geraldine waited anxiously as Oakham and Pord stared into each other's eyes in a way that reminded her of a laser beam boring through solid rock. Finally, Pord shook his head and smiled. 'She's telling the truth,' he said.
'Then say what you have to say,' Bath invited. 'And we will listen.'
A look of relief passed across Oakham's face, quickly hidden behind a careful mask of professionalism, like characters from old movies about pre-h2g2 military forces. The Geraldine frowned. Something still didn't seem right. She rose from the table.
'I doubt this is of great importance to such as myself,' she said. 'My abilities are confined to the surface of the Earth, and are likely to be of little use if the intent is to stop the other spacecraft before it enters orbit.'
Oakham inclined her head, and Pord nodded. 'Very well,' the Sitter on the Chair of Moxon said. 'We can always call you if your assistance is required. Don't go too far.'
'Of course not,' The Geraldine replied, and left the room. As the doors closed behind her, she was immediately mobbed by a large crowd of curious people who had gathered outside the meeting room, demanding to know what was going on. She held up her hands and yelled for silence. 'Discussions are taking place with a representative from the ship which entered orbit,' she told them. 'I don't know enough of the details to tell you anything concrete yet. I suggest you are patient and wait for the news. If your help is required, rest assured that it will be asked for.'
More questions assaulted her. She had to yell for silence again.
'I don't know any more than that,' she said. 'Now get out of my way.'
They parted to let her through, and one young woman broke off from the edge of the crowd to follow her into the elevator. The Geraldine pressed the button for the hanger floor where she'd left her aircar, then turned to berate the woman for following her, but the words died on her lips as the woman wavered and resolved into the familiar form of Bill. He grinned at her.
'I seem to keep encountering you,' he said.
'Yes, why don't you go hassle Pord instead? He's far more important than me.'
'Pord doesn't see things the same way that you do,' Bill said. 'I want to know what you think of our visitor.'
The Geraldine scowled at the elevator wall. 'I don't like her,' she said. 'Pord scanned her and he says she's telling the truth, but something doesn't seem quite right to me. She's too confident.'
'What did she say?'
'That the world would end before afternoon coffee if we don't do what she says. She seems convinced that if that second ship enters orbit, Earth is doomed.'
'And why does she care?'
'Prophecy, she says. Apparently her people left the planet two hundred and fifty years ago. They weren't from h2g2 - Bite confirmed that for us. He couldn't be sure about America though.'
Bill nodded slowly. 'Did she say anything about the other ship?'
'No. I didn't stay long enough for that. I-' She glared at Bill, who was grinning at her again. 'You planted the notion to leave in my head, didn't you?'
'Well, I wanted to know what was going on, and eavesdropping is so rude...'
'You know perfectly well that you could go in there and they'd welcome you,' she told him. 'You're the President of America, remember?'
'Try telling that to my generals,' Bill muttered. 'Something just doesn't feel right about this.'
'Yup. Me too. It would have been nice to hear what this Commander Oakham has told the others about the second ship though.'
The elevator came to a halt and opened onto one of the hangers. The Geraldine smiled.
'Then why don't we find out?'
They flew out of the Towers in The Geraldine's aircar, which she hovered not far from the meeting room where Oakham was presumably telling the others what needed to be done to save the world. A few moments of instruction to the aircar's computer, and The Geraldine grinned.
'Perfect,' she said cryptically, then gained several thousand metres of altitude and sped south at several times the speed of sound, checking her readouts carefully.
'What are we doing?' Bill asked her.
'Catching up with the sound,' The Geraldine replied. Bill gave her a quizzical look.
'Is that even possible?' he asked. The Geraldine shrugged.
'I have no idea,' she told him, 'but it works. The audio sensors on this aircar can hear someone stub their toe in Africa from here.' As if on cue, an indicator flashed up on the display. 'Ah look, someone in Egypt just stubbed their toe.' She winced. 'The computer doesn't have a high opinion of their choice of expletives. Here we are.'
They slowed to a halt, and a few moments later, piped through the ship's speakers and very distorted, came Oakham's voice.
'Ever since we first encountered one of their ships, they've been determined to wipe us out,' she said. 'We know very little about them - all our efforts even to find out where they come from have failed. We do know that they are vaguely like ourselves - two arms, two legs, brain in the head, that kind of thing, but they also differ substantially in some ways. Their skulls are large, their brains enormous. They appear to have very sensitive hearing, and can see a greater range of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans can. Their skins are very dark, almost impervious to any level of ultraviolet radiation, and they are almost completely double-jointed, with incredible agility and flexibility. The only thing we know about what they want is all humans dead.' She paused for a moment before continuing.
'We came back to Earth in response to prophecy given before we left, but we didn't know what we'd find when we got here. When we saw their ship... we don't even know what they're called, but we can be certain, now they've found the homeworld of humankind they intend to wipe us out at the source. They're winning the war out in space - slowly, but certainly. If that ship isn't stopped, in fifty years there won't be a human left alive in the galaxy. Since we came close enough about two days ago, we've been observing activity on the surface of the Earth. You appear to have fairly widespread incidences of telekinesis and other supernatural abilities.'
'Magic is quite common, yes,' Bath's voice put in.
'We obviously don't know what you are capable of,' Oakham continued, 'but we believe there is a chance. Pool your talents, all your power. Combined with our ship's weapons, we can destroy the attackers before they can strike.'
Bill hit the mute button and stared out of the window.
'I don't like it,' he said. 'I don't like it at all. It doesn't fit!'
'Doesn't fit with what?' The Geraldine asked.
'Before they returned to their own time, Gillian and Lloyd drew me some pictures depicting their impressions of the other ship.' Bill snapped his fingers, and two sheets of paper appeared in his hand. He gave them to The Geraldine.
'These pictures are of humans,' she said. 'There's a human crew on that ship?'
'Not necessarily,' Bill told her. 'All it shows is that they have souls which look like ours. That's how remote viewing at that kind of distance works. We assumed they were human just like us, but...'
'If they are, why would they want to wipe us out?'
'Exactly. I don't like this. I think we should find out what the other side has to say.'
'So do I. How do we go about doing that?'
Bill thought for a moment, then turned on the passenger computer terminal and made a few calculations.
'I can't teleport us onto the ship from here,' he said, 'but if we can get up to seventy kilometers above sea level we can go via the moon. Can this thing get us that high?'
'I don't know,' The Geraldine admitted. 'Let's find out, shall we?'
She opened up the drive and pulled back on the control stick, sending the aircar shooting almost vertically upwards. A number of warning lights appeared on the screens as they reached forty kilometres and continued to rise.
'Air pressure's going to get very low,' The Geraldine said. 'This car isn't designed to go anywhere near this high.'
'If we're lucky, we won't be in the car for much longer,' Bill said, eyeing the altimeter, which now indicated fifty kilometres above sea level, although it was rising more slowly.
'The air's getting too thin for the jets,' The Geraldine said. 'Hold on.' She opened a small panel next to her seat and activated the controls inside it, then tapped a command on the computer screen. There was a whirring sound, and they were pressed back into their seats as a rocket motor fired up, propelling them upwards at far greater speed. Sixty kilometres passed almost instantly. Sixty-five... sixty-seven...
Bill reached over and grabbed The Geraldine's arm, and suddenly they were lying on the floor in the observation dome of the abandoned American moonbase. The Geraldine blinked the spots out of her vision.
'Wow,' she said. 'That was a wild ride.'
'Is your car going to be okay?' Bill asked.
'Yes, when the rocket burns out it'll go to autopilot and land somewhere safe.'
'Speaking of that, why does your car have a rocket motor in the back?' Bill pulled himself to his feet and looked out of the dome. The second ship was actually visible now, gleaming slightly in the reflected light of the sun.
'Misspent youth,' The Geraldine said. 'Are we moving on then?'
'Yes, I think we should,' Bill agreed. 'Ready?'
The interior of the second ship proved to have a very battered appearance, with cables and pipes running all over the walls and ceiling, and in some cases the floor, all showing signs of hasty repair. The Geraldine studied a few of them for a couple of moments.
'Looks like the American weapon did more damage than we thought,' she said.
'Not necessarily,' Bill said. 'We're on the Earth side of the ship, this would have taken most of the damage.'
'Ah. Where do we go now?'
The Geraldine was prevented from replying by the intervention of a new and unfamiliar voice.
'Who are you?' it asked. They both spun around to see a group of four people just as Oakham had described - vaguely human, with very dark skin, joints which didn't look quite right and assorted other alterations from the general human pattern. 'Are you from Earth?'
Bill and The Geraldine exchanged startled looks.
'Yes, we are,' The Geraldine said after a moment.
'Come with us,' the original speaker said. 'The Captain would like to speak to you immediately. There is not much time. Come.'
He walked off down the corridor, then looked back. 'Come. We intend no harm to you.'
Bill shrugged and followed, The Geraldine right behind him. The other three aliens formed up around them, guiding them past a few piles of wreckage until they reached a large door, which slid open to reveal a tunnel with arrows inscribed in varying directions upon the wall. Their escorts stopped.
'Please be careful here,' the one who had spoken before said. His accent was slightly musical, but with harsh consonants which made it quite difficult to understand. 'This tube will move us quickly to the command deck, but if you are not used to it it may be an unpleasant experience. Step carefully onto the yellow arrow, and remain still until I tell you to do otherwise. Act on my instructions and you will be fine.' He gestured to the other three escorts, and they each stepped into the tube and were whisked away. Bill stepped up to the entrance, peeked each way down the tube and did as he was instructed. The Geraldine studied it for a bit longer.
'Are you sure this is safe?'
'After the way you came on board our ship, I'm surprised to hear you asking that.'
'How did you know about that?'
'We are observing the Earth very closely as we approach it. To do otherwise would be foolish, especially with an Alliance ship in orbit and one of their representatives speaking with some of your leaders. Come, the captain will explain more fully than I am able.'
The Geraldine stared at him for a moment longer, then stepped into the tube. The sensation was actually quite pleasant - not a harsh jerking into motion, but rather a gentle acceleration resulting in a feeling of gliding along on nothing. Except, rather disconcertingly, her feet were still firmly planted on the floor. Ahead, she saw Bill and the three other aliens step across the tube onto a blue arrow which lifted them upwards and into a tube which intersected theirs. When she reached it, she did the same and rose gracefully to the top of the intersecting tube, which proved to be their destination.
Bill was already there, but there was no sign of the other three aliens.
'The captain will be along very shortly,' their guide assured them, then bowed and left the room through another door. Bill and The Geraldine looked around. It was really a very plain room, with a hard floor of some material neither of them recognised, and walls which were featureless save what appeared to be deactivated display screens, and four doors, one of which they had come in by. A table and chairs stood in the middle of the space, decorated only with a large glass sphere on a stand.
'They seem quite pleased to see us,' The Geraldine commented.
'Yes. Odd, that. You'd think, if they were intent on wiping out the human race, we'd be dead by now.'
'Is that what they told you?' another voice said. It was rich and deep, and clearly female. The Geraldine turned, and was treated to the sight of Bill's eyes nearly popping out of their sockets as they fell upon a body which could only be described as the pure essence of womanhood. The owner of the body cleared her throat meaningfully. 'Eyes here,' she said, gesturing at her face, which was not even slightly less stunning than the rest of her. She sighed, rolling her eyes at The Geraldine as they both observed Bill struggling not to stare at her cleavage. 'I should probably get myself toned down a bit,' she said, 'but sometimes the reaction is just too entertaining. We don't have time for it now, though.'
'We gathered that,' The Geraldine said. 'Bill!'
'Huh? What?' Bill looked up at The Geraldine and smiled at her.
'There's no time for staring now,' The Geraldine told him sternly. 'Besides, it's impolite. Introduce yourself.' She turned back to the startling woman. 'I assume that you are the captain of this ship?'
'I am,' the woman replied. 'Captain Elizabeth Randall, of the Free Ship Sharon.'
'My name is The Geraldine,' The Geraldine said. 'I'm an oceanographer, among other things.'
'Then what are you doing here?'
'Trying to save the world. Nobody else seems particularly equipped to do it, so I got the job. My gaping friend here is Bill George Hillary Lewis Lewinsky, the President of America, although you'd never know it to look at him.'
'Hey!' Bill protested. The Geraldine poked him in the side with her pointiest fingernail.
'That's for gaping at Captain Randall,' she said. 'Keep your mind on what we're here for.' She turned back to Captain Randall. 'Currently, a Commander Lauren Oakham of the Alliance Ship Homeland is meeting with several representatives of the dominant ruling force on Earth. Usually they're sensible people but they seem to be believing what she's telling them without argument or complaint.'
'We've seen that happen before,' Captain Randall said. 'There have been a few independent human settlements out there, but they all had to choose a side eventually. The Alliance have a gift for convincing people of their viewpoint in spite of evidence to the contrary.'
'You mean you don't intend to wipe out the entire human race?'
'In case you haven't already figured it out, we're just as human as you are - mentally, at least.'
'Perhaps you'd better explain in more detail,' Bill said.
'Yes, perhaps I should,' Captain Randall said. 'Please, have a seat.' She gestured to the table, and they all sat down. 'Now,' said Captain Randall, 'where shall I begin? Ah yes...'
What is Captain Randall about to reveal about the current situation? Will what she has to say have any real bearing on the story, or will it just be a red herring? Will the story finish before Commander Oakham's predicted time until the end of the world? And why do all these visitors speak almost perfect English? The answers to some of these questions may be found in the next action-packed edition of Future Prefect, the story saga which continually appears to be about to finish, but which somehow hasn't managed it yet.