- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Oct 2006
From the cover
That evening it was dark early, which was normal for the time of year. It was cold and windy, which was normal.
It started to rain, which was particularly normal.
A spacecraft landed, which was not.
There was nobody around to see it except for some spectacularly stupid quadrupeds who hadn't the faintest idea what to make of it, or whether they were meant to make anything of it, or eat it, or what. So they did what they did to everything, which was to run away from it and try to hide under each other, which never worked.
It slipped down out of the clouds, seeming to be balanced on a single beam of light.
From a distance you would scarcely have noticed it through the lightning and the storm clouds, but seen from close up it was strangely beautiful—a gray craft of elegantly sculpted form; quite small.
Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.
You'd probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn't already know—except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
The craft slid quietly down through the rain, its dim operating lights seeming to wrap it in tasteful rainbows. It hummed very quietly, a hum that became gradually louder and deeper as it approached the ground and which at an altitude of six inches became a heavy throb.
At last it dropped and was quiet.
A hatchway opened. A short flight of steps unfolded itself.
A light appeared in the opening, a bright light streaming out into the wet night, and shadows moved within.
A tall figure appeared in the light, looked around, flinched, and hurried down the steps, carrying a large shopping bag under his arm.
He turned and gave a single abrupt wave back to the ship. Already the rain was streaming through his hair.
"Thank you," he called out, "thank you very—"
He was interrupted by a sharp crack of thunder. He glanced up apprehensively, and in response to a sudden thought started quickly to rummage through the large plastic shopping bag, which he now discovered had a hole in the bottom.
It had large characters printed on the side which read (to anyone who could decipher the Centaurian alphabet) DUTY FREE MEGA-MARKET, PORT BRASTA, ALPHA CENTAURI. BE LIKE THE TWENTY-SECOND ELEPHANT WITH HEATED VALUE IN SPACE—BARK!
"Hold on!" the figure called, waving at the ship.
The steps, which had started to fold themselves back through the hatchway, stopped, re-unfolded, and allowed him back in.
He emerged again a few seconds later carrying a battered and threadbare towel which he shoved into the bag.
He waved again, hoisted the bag under his arm, and started to run for the shelter of some trees as, behind him, the spacecraft had already begun its ascent.
Lightning flitted through the sky and made the figure pause for a moment, and then hurry onward, revising his path to give the trees a wide berth. He moved swiftly across the ground, slipping here and there, hunching himself against the rain which was falling now with ever-increasing concentration, as if being pulled from the sky.
His feet sloshed through...