The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story | Chapter 6 of 9

Author: Douglas Adams | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 295234 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.

Chapter 11

"So you see," said Slartibartfast, slowly stirring his artificially constructed coffee, and thereby also stirring the whirlpool interfaces between real and unreal numbers, between the interactive perceptions of mind and Universe, and thus generating the restructured matrices of implicitly enfolded subjectivity which allowed his ship to reshape the very concept of time and space, "how it is." "Yes," said Arthur. "Yes," said Ford. "What do I do," said Arthur, "with this piece of chicken?" Slartibartfast glanced at him gravely. "Toy with it," he said, "toy with it." He demonstrated with his own piece. Arthur did so, and felt the slight tingle of a mathematical function thrilling through the chicken leg as it moved four-dimensionally through what Slartibartfast had assured him was five-dimensional space. "Overnight," said Slartibartfast, "the whole population of Krikkit was transformed from being charming, delightful, intelligent..." "... if whimsical..." interpolated Arthur. "... ordinary people," said Slartibartfast, "into charming, delightful, intelligent..." "... whimsical..." "... manic xenophobes. The idea of a Universe didn't fit into their world picture, so to speak. They simply couldn't cope with it. And so, charmingly, delightfully, intelligently, whimsically if you like, they decided to destroy it. What's the matter now?" "I don't like the wine very much," said Arthur sniffing it. "Well, send it back. It's all part of the mathematics of it." Arthur did so. He didn't like the topography of the waiter's smile, but he'd never liked graphs anyway. "Where are we going?" said Ford. "Back to the Room of Informational Illusions," said Slartibartfast, rising and patting his mouth with the mathematical representation of a paper napkin, "for the second half."

Chapter 12

"The people of Krikkit," said His High Judgmental Supremacy, Judiciary Pag, LIVR (the Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed) Chairman of the Board of Judges at the Krikkit War Crimes Trial, "are, well, you know, they're just a bunch of real sweet guys, you know, who just happen to want to kill everybody. Hell, I feel the same way some mornings. Shit. "OK," he continued, swinging his feet up on to the bench in front of him and pausing a moment to pick a thread off his Ceremonial Beach Loafers, "so you wouldn't necessarily want to share a Galaxy with these guys." This was true. The Krikkit attack on the Galaxy had been stunning. Thousands and thousands of huge Krikkit warships had leapt suddenly out of hyperspace and simultaneously attacked thousands and thousands of major worlds, first seizing vital material supplies for building the next wave, and then calmly zapping those worlds out of existence. The Galaxy, which had been enjoying a period of unusual peace and prosperity at the time, reeled like a man getting mugged in a meadow. "I mean," continued Judiciary Pag, gazing round the ultra-modern (this was ten billion years ago, when "ultra-modern" meant lots of stainless steel and brushed concrete) and huge courtroom, "these guys are just obsessed." This too was true, and is the only explanation anyone has yet managed to come up with for the unimaginable speed with which the people of Krikkit had pursued their new and absolute purpose-the destruction of everything that wasn't Krikkit. It is also the only explanation for their bewildering sudden grasp of all the hypertechnology involved in building their thousands of spaceships, and their millions of lethal white robots. These had really struck terror into the hearts of everyone who had encountered them-in most cases, however, the terror was extremely short-lived, as was the person experiencing the terror. They were savage, single-minded flying battle machines. They wielded formidable multifunctional battleclubs which, brandished one way, would knock down buildings and, brandished another way, fired blistering Omni-Destructo Zap Rays and, brandished a third way, launched a hideous arsenal of grenades, ranging from minor incendiary devices to Maxi-Slorta Hypernuclear Devices which could take out a major sun. Simply striking the grenades with the battleclubs simultaneously primed them, and launched them with phenomenal accuracy over distances ranging from mere yards to hundreds of thousands of miles. "OK," said Judiciary Pag again, "so we won." He paused and chewed a little gum. "We won," he repeated, "but that's no big deal. I mean a medium-sized galaxy against one little world, and how long did it take us? Clerk of the Court?" "M'lud?" said the severe little man in black, rising. "How long, kiddo?" "It is a trifle difficult, m'lud, to be precise in this matter. Time and distance..." "Relax, guy, be vague." "I hardly like to be vague, m'lud, over such a..." "Bite the bullet and be it." The Clerk of the Court blinked at him. It was clear that like most of the Galactic legal profession he found Judiciary Pag (or Zipo Bibrok 5x108, as his private name was known, inexplicably, to be) a rather distressing figure. He was clearly a bounder and a cad. He seemed to think that the fact that he was the possessor of the finest legal mind ever discovered gave him the right to behave exactly as he liked, and unfortunately he appeared to be right. "Er, well, m'lud, very approximately, two thousand years," the Clerk murmured unhappily. "And how many guys zilched out?" "Two grillion, m'lud." The Clerk sat down. A hydrospectic photo of him at this point would have revealed that he was steaming slightly. Judiciary Pag gazed once more around the courtroom, wherein were assembled hundreds of the very highest officials of the entire Galactic administration, all in their ceremonial uniforms or bodies, depending on metabolism and custom. Behind a wall of Zap-Proof Crystal stood a representative group of the people of Krikkit, looking with calm, polite loathing at all the aliens gathered to pass judgment on them. This was the most momentous occasion in legal history, and Judiciary Pag knew it. He took out his chewing gum and stuck it under his chair. "That's a whole lotta stiffs," he said quietly. The grim silence in the courtroom seemed in accord with this view. "So, like I said, these are a bunch of really sweet guys, but you wouldn't want to share a Galaxy with them, not if they're just gonna keep at it, not if they're not gonna learn to relax a little. I mean it's just gonna be continual nervous time, isn't it, right? Pow, pow, pow, when are they next coming at us? Peaceful coexistence is just right out, right? Get me some water somebody, thank you." He sat back and sipped reflectively. "OK," he said, "hear me, hear me. It's, like, these guys, you know, are entitled to their own view of the Universe. And according to their view, which the Universe forced on them, right, they did right. Sounds crazy, but I think you'll agree. They believe in..." He consulted a piece of paper which he found in the back pocket of his Judicial jeans. "They believe in 'peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life, and the obliteration of all other life forms'." He shrugged. "I've heard a lot worse," he said. He scratched his crotch reflectively. "Freeeow," he said. He took another sip of water, then held it up to the light and frowned at it. He twisted it round. "Hey, is there something in this water?" he said. "Er, no, m'lud," said the Court Usher who had brought it to him, rather nervously. "Then take it away," snapped Judiciary Pag, "and put something in it. I got an idea." He pushed away the glass and leaned forward. "Hear me, hear me," he said. The solution was brilliant, and went like this: The planet of Krikkit was to be enclosed for perpetuity in an envelope of Slo-Time, inside which life would continue almost infinitely slowly. All light would be deflected round the envelope so that it would remain invisible and impenetrable. Escape from the envelope would be utterly impossible unless it were locked from the outside. When the rest of the Universe came to its final end, when the whole of creation reached its dying fall (this was all, of course, in the days before it was known that the end of the Universe would be a spectacular catering venture) and life and matter ceased to exist, then the planet of Krikkit and its sun would emerge from its Slo-Time envelope and continue a solitary existence, such as it craved, in the twilight of the Universal void. The Lock would be on an asteroid which would slowly orbit the envelope. The key would be the symbol of the Galaxy-the Wikkit Gate. By the time the applause in the court had died down, Judiciary Pag was already in the Sens-O-Shower with a rather nice member of the jury that he'd slipped a note to half an hour earlier.

Chapter 13

Two months later, Zipo Bibrok 5x108 had cut the bottoms off his Galactic State jeans, and was spending part of the enormous fee his judgments commanded lying on a jewelled beach having Essence of Qualactin rubbed into his back by the same rather nice member of the jury. She was a Soolfinian girl from beyond the Cloudworlds of Yaga. She had skin like lemon silk and was very interested in legal bodies. "Did you hear the news?" she said. "Weeeeelaaaaah!" said Zipo Bibrok 5x108, and you would have had to have been there to know exactly why he said this. None of this was on the tape of Informational Illusions, and is all based on hearsay. "No," he added, when the thing that had made him say "Weeeeelaaaaah" had stopped happening. He moved his body round slightly to catch the first rays of the third and greatest of primeval Vod's three suns which was now creeping over the ludicrously beautiful horizon, and the sky now glittered with some of the greatest tanning power ever known. A fragrant breeze wandered up from the quiet sea, trailed along the beach, and drifted back to sea again, wondering where to go next. On a mad impulse it went up to the beach again. It drifted back to sea. "I hope it isn't good news," muttered Zipo Bibrok 5x108, "'cos I don't think I could bear it." "Your Krikkit judgment was carried out today," said the girl sumptuously. There was no need to say such a straightforward thing sumptuously, but she went ahead and did it anyway because it was that sort of day. "I heard it on the radio," she said, "when I went back to the ship for the oil." "Uhuh," muttered Zipo and rested his head back on the jewelled sand. "Something happened," she said. "Mmmm?" "Just after the Slo-Time envelope was locked," she said, and paused a moment from rubbing in the Essence of Qualactin, "a Krikkit warship which had been missing presumed destroyed turned out to be just missing after all. It appeared and tried to seize the Key." Zipo sat up sharply. "Hey, what?" he said. "It's all right," she said in a voice which would have calmed the Big Bang down. "Apparently there was a short battle. The Key and the warship were disintegrated and blasted into the space-time continuum. Apparently they are lost for ever." She smiled, and ran a little more Essence of Qualactin on to her fingertips. He relaxed and lay back down. "Do what you did a moment or two ago," he murmured. "That?" she said. "No, no," he said, "that." She tried again. "That?" she asked. "Weeeeelaaaaah!" Again, you had to be there. The fragrant breeze drifted up from the sea again. A magician wandered along the beach, but no one needed him.

Chapter 14

"Nothing is lost for ever," said Slartibartfast, his face flickering redly in the light of the candle which the robot waiter was trying to take away, "except for the Cathedral of Chalesm." "The what?" said Arthur with a start. "The Cathedral of Chalesm," repeated Slartibartfast. "It was during the course of my researches at the Campaign for Real Time that I..." "The what?" said Arthur again. The old man paused and gathered his thoughts, for what he hoped would be one last onslaught on his story. The robot waiter moved through the space-time matrices in a way which spectacularly combined the surly with the obsequious, made a snatch for the candle and got it. They had had the bill, had argued convincingly about who had had the cannelloni and how many bottles of wine they had had, and, as Arthur had been dimly aware, had thereby successfully manoeuvred the ship out of subjective space and into a parking orbit round a strange planet. The waiter was now anxious to complete his part of the charade and clear the bistro. "All will become clear," said Slartibartfast. "When?" "In a minute. Listen. The time streams are now very polluted. There's a lot of muck floating about in them, flotsam and jetsam, and more and more of it is now being regurgitated into the physical world. Eddies in the space-time continuum, you see." "So I hear," said Arthur. "Look, where are we going?" said Ford, pushing his chair back from the table with impatience. "Because I'm eager to get there." "We are going," said Slartibartfast in a slow, measured voice, "to try to prevent the war robots of Krikkit from regaining the whole of the Key they need to unlock the planet of Krikkit from the Slo-Time envelope and release the rest of their army and their mad Masters." "It's just," said Ford, "that you mentioned a party." "I did," said Slartibartfast, and hung his head. He realized that it had been a mistake, because the idea seemed to exercise a strange and unhealthy fascination on the mind of Ford Prefect. The more that Slartibartfast unravelled the dark and tragic story of Krikkit and its people, the more Ford Prefect wanted to drink a lot and dance with girls. The old man felt that he should not have mentioned the party until he absolutely had to. But there it was, the fact was out, and Ford Prefect had attached himself to it the way an Arcturan Megaleach attaches itself to its victim before biting his head off and making off with his spaceship. "When," said Ford eagerly, "do we get there?" "When I've finished telling you why we have to go there." "I know why I'm going," said Ford, and leaned back, sticking his hands behind his head. He gave one of his smiles which made people twitch. Slartibartfast had hoped for an easy retirement. He had been planning to learn to play the octraventral heebiephone-a pleasantly futile task, he knew, because he had the wrong number of mouths. He had also been planning to write an eccentric and relentlessly inaccurate monograph on the subject of equatorial fjords in order to set the record wrong about one or two matters he saw as important. Instead, he had somehow got talked into doing some part-time work for the Campaign for Real Time and had started to take it all seriously for the first time in his life. As a result he now found himself spending his fast-declining years combating evil and trying to save the Galaxy. He found it exhausting work and sighed heavily. "Listen," he said, "at Camtim..." "What?" said Arthur. "The Campaign for Real Time, which I will tell you about later. I noticed that five pieces of jetsam which had in relatively recent times plopped back into existence seemed to correspond to the five pieces of the missing Key. Only two I could trace exactly-the Wooden Pillar, which appeared on your planet, and the Silver Bail. It seems to be at some sort of party. We must go there to retrieve it before the Krikkit robots find it, or who knows what may hap?" "No," said Ford firmly. "We must go to the party in order to drink a lot and dance with girls." "But haven't you understood everything I...?" "Yes," said Ford, with a sudden and unexpected fierceness, "I've understood it all perfectly well. That's why I want to have as many drinks and dance with as many girls as possible while there are still any left. If everything you've shown us is true..." "True? Of course it's true." "... then we don't stand a whelk's chance in a supernova." "A what?" said Arthur sharply again. He had been following the conversation doggedly up to this point, and was keen not to lose the thread now. "A whelk's chance in a supernova," repeated Ford without losing momentum. "The..." "What's a whelk got to do with a supernova?" said Arthur. "It doesn't," said Ford levelly, "stand a chance in one." He paused to see if the matter was now cleared up. The freshly puzzled looks clambering across Arthur's face told him that it wasn't. "A supernova," said Ford as quickly and as clearly as he could, "is a star which explodes at almost half the speed of light and burns with the brightness of a billion suns and then collapses as a super-heavy neutron star. It's a star which burns up other stars, got it? Nothing stands a chance in a supernova." "I see," said Arthur. "The..." "So why a whelk particularly?" "Why not a whelk? Doesn't matter." Arthur accepted this, and Ford continued, picking up his early fierce momentum as best he could. "The point is," he said, "that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur-particularly and especially Arthur-are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like." Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak. "-..." is as far as he got. "We're not obsessed by anything, you see," insisted Ford. "..." "And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win." "I care about lots of things," said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty. "Such as?" "Well," said the old man, "life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords." "Would you die for them?" "Fjords?" blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. "No." "Well then." "Wouldn't see the point, to be honest." "And I still can't see the connection," said Arthur, "with whelks." Ford could feel the conversation slipping out of his control, and refused to be sidetracked by anything at this point. "The point is," he hissed, "that we are not obsessive people, and we don't stand a chance against..." "Except for your sudden obsession with whelks," pursued Arthur, "which I still haven't understood." "Will you please leave whelks out of it?" "I will if you will," said Arthur. "You brought the subject up." "It was an error," said Ford, "forget them. The point is this." He leant forward and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers. "What was I talking about?" he said wearily. "Let's just go down to the party," said Slartibartfast, "for whatever reason." He stood up, shaking his head. "I think that's what I was trying to say," said Ford. For some unexplained reason, the teleport cubicles were in the bathroom.

Chapter 15

Time travel is increasingly regarded as a menace. History is being polluted. The Encyclopedia Galactica has much to say on the theory and practice of time travel, most of which is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't spent at least four lifetimes studying advanced hypermathematics, and since it was impossible to do this before time travel was invented, there is a certain amount of confusion as to how the idea was arrived at in the first place. One rationalization of this problem states that time travel was, by its very nature, discovered simultaneously at all periods of history, but this is clearly bunk. The trouble is that a lot of history is now quite clearly bunk as well. Here is an example. It may not seem to be an important one to some people, but to others it is crucial. It is certainly significant in that it was the single event which caused the Campaign for Real Time to be set up in the first place (or is it last? It depends which way round you see history as happening, and this too is now an increasingly vexed question). There is, or was, a poet. His name was Lallafa, and he wrote what are widely regarded throughout the Galaxy as being the finest poems in existence, the Songs of the Long Land. They are/were unspeakably wonderful. That is to say, you couldn't speak very much of them at once without being so overcome with emotion, truth and a sense of wholeness and oneness of things that you wouldn't pretty soon need a brisk walk round the block, possibly pausing at a bar on the way back for a quick glass of perspective and soda. They were that good. Lallafa had lived in the forests of the Long Lands of Effa. He lived there, and he wrote his poems there. He wrote them on pages made of dried habra leaves, without the benefit of education or correcting fluid. He wrote about the light in the forest and what he thought about that. He wrote about the darkness in the forest, and what he thought about that. He wrote about the girl who had left him and precisely what he thought about that. Long after his death his poems were found and wondered over. News of them spread like morning sunlight. For centuries they illuminated and watered the lives of many people whose lives might otherwise have been darker and drier. Then, shortly after the invention of time travel, some major correcting fluid manufacturers wondered whether his poems might have been better still if he had had access to some high-quality correcting fluid, and whether he might be persuaded to say a few words on that effect. They travelled the time waves, they found him, they explained the situation-with some difficulty-to him, and did indeed persuade him. In fact they persuaded him to such an effect that he became extremely rich at their hands, and the girl about whom he was otherwise destined to write which such precision never got around to leaving him, and in fact they moved out of the forest to a rather nice pad in town and he frequently commuted to the future to do chat shows, on which he sparkled wittily. He never got around to writing the poems, of course, which was a problem, but an easily solved one. The manufacturers of correcting fluid simply packed him off for a week somewhere with a copy of a later edition of his book and a stack of dried habra leaves to copy them out on to, making the odd deliberate mistake and correction on the way. Many people now say that the poems are suddenly worthless. Others argue that they are exactly the same as they always were, so what's changed? The first people say that that isn't the point. They aren't quite sure what the point is, but they are quite sure that that isn't it. They set up the Campaign for Real Time to try to stop this sort of thing going on. Their case was considerably strengthened by the fact that a week after they had set themselves up, news broke that not only had the great Cathedral of Chalesm been pulled down in order to build a new ion refinery, but that the construction of the refinery had taken so long, and had had to extend so far back into the past in order to allow ion production to start on time, that the Cathedral of Chalesm had now never been built in the first place. Picture postcards of the cathedral suddenly became immensely valuable. So a lot of history is now gone for ever. The Campaign for Real Timers claim that just as easy travel eroded the differences between one country and another, and between one world and another, so time travel is now eroding the differences between one age and another. "The past," they say, "is now truly like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there."

Chapter 16

Arthur materialized, and did so with all the customary staggering about and clasping at his throat, heart and various limbs which he still indulged himself in whenever he made any of these hateful and painful materializations that he was determined not to let himself get used to. He looked around for the others. They weren't there. He looked around for the others again. They still weren't there. He closed his eyes. He opened them He looked around for the others. They obstinately persisted in their absence. He closed his eyes again, preparatory to making this completely futile exercise once more, and because it was only then, whilst his eyes were closed, that his brain began to register what his eyes had been looking at whilst they were open, a puzzled frown crept across his face. So he opened his eyes again to check his facts and the frown stayed put. If anything, it intensified, and got a good firm grip. If this was a party it was a very bad one, so bad, in fact, that everybody else had left. He abandoned this line of thought as futile. Obviously this wasn't a party. It was a cave, or a labyrinth, or a tunnel of something-there was insufficient light to tell. All was darkness, a damp shiny darkness. The only sounds were the echoes of his own breathing, which sounded worried. He coughed very slightly, and then had to listen to the thin ghostly echo of his cough trailing away amongst winding corridors and sightless chambers, as of some great labyrinth, and eventually returning to him via the same unseen corridors, as if to say... "Yes?" This happened to every slightest noise he made, and it unnerved him. He tried to hum a cheery tune, but by the time it returned to him it was a hollow dirge and he stopped. His mind was suddenly full of images from the story that Slartibartfast had been telling him. He half-expected suddenly to see lethal white robots step silently from the shadows and kill him. He caught his breath. They didn't. He let it go again. He didn't know what he did expect. Someone or something, however, seemed to be expecting him, for at that moment there lit up suddenly in the dark distance an eerie green neon sign. It said, silently: YOU HAVE BEEN DIVERTED The sign flicked off again, in a way which Arthur was not at all certain he liked. It flicked off with a sort of contemptuous flourish. Arthur then tried to assure himself that this was just a ridiculous trick of his imagination. A neon sign is either on or off, depending on whether it has electricity running through it or not. There was no way, he told himself, that it could possibly effect the transition from one state to the other with a contemptuous flourish. He hugged himself tightly in his dressing gown and shivered, nevertheless. The neon sign in the depths now suddenly lit up, bafflingly, with just three dots and a comma. Like this: ..., Only in green neon. It was trying, Arthur realized after staring at this perplexedly for a second or two, to indicate that there was more to come, that the sentence was not complete. Trying with almost superhuman pedantry, he reflected. Or at least, inhuman pedantry. The sentence then completed itself with these two words: ARTHUR DENT. He reeled. He steadied himself to have another clear look at it. It still said ARTHUR DENT, so he reeled again. Once again, the sign flicked off, and left him blinking in the darkness with just the dim red image of his name jumping on his retina. WELCOME, the sign now suddenly said. After a moment, it added: I DON'T THINK. The stone-cold fear which had been hovering about Arthur all this time, waiting for its moment, recognized that its moment had now come and pounced on him. He tried to fight it off. He dropped into a kind of alert crouch that he had once seen somebody do on television, but it must have been someone with stronger knees. He peered huntedly into the darkness. "Er, hello?" he said. He cleared his throat and said it again, more loudly and without the "er". At some distance down the corridor it seemed suddenly as if somebody started to beat on a bass drum. He listened to it for a few seconds and realized that it was just his heart beating. He listened for a few seconds more and realized that it wasn't his heart beating, it was somebody down the corridor beating on a bass drum. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, tensed themselves, and leapt off. He put a hand out on the floor to steady his alert crouch, which wasn't holding up very well. The sign changed itself again. It said: DO NOT BE ALARMED. After a pause, it added: BE VERY VERY FRIGHTENED, ARTHUR DENT. Once again it flicked off. Once again it left him in darkness. His eyes seemed to be popping out of his head. He wasn't certain if this was because they were trying to see more clearly, or if they simply wanted to leave at this point. "Hello?" he said again, this time trying to put a note of rugged and aggressive self-assertion into it. "Is anyone there?" There was no reply, nothing. This unnerved Arthur Dent even more than a reply would have done, and he began to back away from the scary nothingness. And the more he backed away, the more scared he became. After a while he realized that the reason for this was because of all the films he had seen in which the hero backs further and further away from some imagined terror in front of him, only to bump into it coming up from behind. Just then it suddenly occurred to him to turn round rather quickly. There was nothing there. Just blackness. This really unnerved him, and he started to back away from that, back the way he had come. After doing this for a short while it suddenly occurred to him that he was now backing towards whatever it was he had been backing away from in the first place. This, he couldn't help thinking, must be a foolish thing to do. He decided he would be better off backing the way he had first been backing, and turned around again. It turned out at this point that his second impulse had been the correct one, because there was an indescribably hideous monster standing quietly behind him. Arthur yawed wildly as his skin tried to jump one way and his skeleton the other, whilst his brain tried to work out which of his ears it most wanted to crawl out of. "Bet you weren't expecting to see me again," said the monster, which Arthur couldn't help thinking was a strange remark for it to make, seeing as he had never met the creature before. He could tell that he hadn't met the creature before from the simple fact that he was able to sleep at nights. It was... it was... it was... Arthur blinked at it. It stood very still. It did look a little familiar. A terrible cold calm came over him as he realized that what he was looking at was a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly. He wondered why anybody would be showing him a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly at this time. He wondered whose voice he had heard. It was a terribly realistic hologram. It vanished. "Or perhaps you remember me better," said the voice suddenly, and it was a deep, hollow malevolent voice which sounded like molten tar glurping out of a drum with evil on its mind, "as the rabbit." With a sudden ping, there was a rabbit there in the black labyrinth with him, a huge, monstrously, hideously soft and lovable rabbit-an image again, but one on which every single soft and lovable hair seemed like a real and single thing growing in its soft and lovable coat. Arthur was startled to see his own reflection in its soft and lovable unblinking and extremely huge brown eyes. "Born in darkness," rumbled the voice, "raised in darkness. One morning I poked my head for the first time into the bright new world and got it split open by what felt suspiciously like some primitive instrument made of flint. "Made by you, Arthur Dent, and wielded by you. Rather hard as I recall. "You turned my skin into a bag for keeping interesting stones in. I happen to know that because in my next life I came back as a fly again and you swatted me. Again. Only this time you swatted me with the bag you'd made of my previous skin. "Arthur Dent, you are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless." The voice paused whilst Arthur gawped. "I see you have lost the bag," said the voice. "Probably got bored with it, did you?" Arthur shook his head helplessly. He wanted to explain that he had been in fact very fond of the bag and had looked after it very well and had taken it with him wherever he went, but that somehow every time he travelled anywhere he seemed inexplicably to end up with the wrong bag and that, curiously enough, even as they stood there he was just noticing for the first time that the bag he had with him at the moment appeared to be made out of rather nasty fake leopard skin, and wasn't the one he'd had a few moments ago before he arrived in this whatever place it was, and wasn't one he would have chosen himself and heaven knew what would be in it as it wasn't his, and he would much rather have his original bag back, except that he was of course terribly sorry for having so peremptorily removed it, or rather its component parts, i.e. the rabbit skin, from its previous owner, viz. the rabbit whom he currently had the honour of attempting vainly to address. All he actually managed to say was "Erp". "Meet the newt you trod on," said the voice. And there was, standing in the corridor with Arthur, a giant green scaly newt. Arthur turned, yelped, leapt backwards, and found himself standing in the middle of the rabbit. He yelped again, but could find nowhere to leap to. "That was me, too," continued the voice in a low menacing rumble, "as if you didn't know..." "Know?" said Arthur with a start. "Know?" "The interesting thing about reincarnation," rasped the voice, "is that most people, most spirits, are not aware that it is happening to them." He paused for effect. As far as Arthur was concerned there was already quite enough effect going on. "I was aware," hissed the voice, "that is, I became aware. Slowly. Gradually." He, whoever he was, paused again and gathered breath. "I could hardly help it, could I?" he bellowed, "when the same thing kept happening, over and over and over again! Every life I ever lived, I got killed by Arthur Dent. Any world, any body, any time, I'm just getting settled down, along comes Arthur Dent-pow, he kills me. "Hard not to notice. Bit of a memory jogger. Bit of a pointer. Bit of a bloody giveaway! "'That's funny,' my spirit would say to itself as it winged its way back to the netherworld after another fruitless Dent-ended venture into the land of the living, 'that man who just ran over me as I was hopping across the road to my favourite pond looked a little familiar...' And gradually I got to piece it together, Dent, you multiple-me-murderer!" The echoes of his voice roared up and down the corridors. Arthur stood silent and cold, his head shaking with disbelief. "Here's the moment, Dent," shrieked the voice, now reaching a feverish pitch of hatred, "here's the moment when at last I knew!" It was indescribably hideous, the thing that suddenly opened up in front of Arthur, making him gasp and gargle with horror, but here's an attempt at a description of how hideous it was. It was a huge palpitating wet cave with a vast, slimy, rough, whale-like creature rolling around it and sliding over monstrous white tombstones. High above the cave rose a vast promontory in which could be seen the dark recesses of two further fearful caves, which... Arthur Dent suddenly realized that he was looking at his own mouth, when his attention was meant to be directed at the live oyster that was being tipped helplessly into it. He staggered back with a cry and averted his eyes. When he looked again the appalling apparition had gone. The corridor was dark and, briefly, silent. He was alone with his thoughts. They were extremely unpleasant thoughts and would rather have had a chaperone. The next noise, when it came, was the low heavy roll of a large section of wall trundling aside, revealing, for the moment, just dark blackness behind it. Arthur looked into it in much the same way that a mouse looks into a dark dog-kennel. And the voice spoke to him again. "Tell me it was a coincidence, Dent," it said. "I dare you to tell me it was a coincidence!" "It was a coincidence," said Arthur quickly. "It was not!" came the answering bellow. "It was," said Arthur, "it was..." "If it was a coincidence, then my name," roared the voice, "is not Agrajag!!!" "And presumably," said Arthur, "you would claim that that was your name." "Yes!" hissed Agrajag, as if he had just completed a rather deft syllogism. "Well, I'm afraid it was still a coincidence," said Arthur. "Come in here and say that!" howled the voice, in sudden apoplexy again. Arthur walked in and said that it was a coincidence, or at least, he nearly said that it was a coincidence. His tongue rather lost its footing towards the end of the last word because the lights came up and revealed what it was he had walked into. It was a Cathedral of Hate. It was the product of a mind that was not merely twisted, but actually sprained. It was huge. It was horrific. It had a Statue in it. We will come to the Statue in a moment. The vast, incomprehensibly vast chamber looked as if it had been carved out of the inside of a mountain, and the reason for this was that that was precisely what it had been carved out of. It seemed to Arthur to spin sickeningly round his head as he stood and gaped at it. It was black. Where it wasn't black you were inclined to wish that it was, because the colours with which some of the unspeakable details were picked out ranged horribly across the whole spectrum of eye-defying colours from Ultra Violent to Infra Dead, taking in Liver Purple, Loathsome Lilac, Matter Yellow, Burnt hombre and Gan Green on the way. The unspeakable details which these colours picked out were gargoyles which would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch. The gargoyles all looked inwards from the walls, from the pillars, from the flying buttresses, from the choir stalls, towards the Statue, to which we will come in a moment. And if the gargoyles would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch, then it was clear from the gargoyles' faces that the Statue would have put them off theirs, had they been alive to eat it, which they weren't, and had anybody tried to serve them some, which they wouldn't. Around the monumental walls were vast engraved stone tablets in memory of those who had fallen to Arthur Dent. The names of some of those commemorated were underlined and had asterisks against them. So, for instance, the name of a cow which had been slaughtered and of which Arthur Dent had happened to eat a fillet steak would have the plainest engraving, whereas the name of a fish which Arthur had himself caught and then decided he didn't like and left on the side of the plate had a double underlining, three sets of asterisks and a bleeding dagger added as decoration, just to make the point. And what was most disturbing about all this, apart from the Statue, to which we are, by degrees, coming, was the very clear implication that all these people and creatures were indeed the same person, over and over again. And it was equally clear that this person was, however unfairly, extremely upset and annoyed. In fact it would be fair to say that he had reached a level of annoyance the like of which had never been seen in the Universe. It was an annoyance of epic proportions, a burning searing flame of annoyance, an annoyance which now spanned the whole of time and space in its infinite umbrage. And this annoyance had been given its fullest expression in the Statue in the centre of all this monstrosity, which was a statue of Arthur Dent, and an unflattering one. Fifty feet tall if it was an inch, there was not an inch of it which wasn't crammed with insult to its subject matter, and fifty feet of that sort of thing would be enough to make any subject feel bad. From the small pimple on the side of his nose to the poorish cut of his dressing gown, there was no aspect of Arthur Dent which wasn't lambasted and vilified by the sculptor. Arthur appeared as a gorgon, an evil, rapacious, ravenning, bloodied ogre, slaughtering his way through an innocent one-man Universe. With each of the thirty arms which the sculptor in a fit of artistic fervour had decided to give him, he was either braining a rabbit, swatting a fly, pulling a wishbone, picking a flea out of his hair, or doing something which Arthur at first looking couldn't quite identify. His many feet were mostly stamping on ants. Arthur put his hands over his eyes, hung his head and shook it slowly from side to side in sadness and horror at the craziness of things. And when he opened his eyes again, there in front of him stood the figure of the man or creature, or whatever it was, that he had supposedly been persecuting all this time. "HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!" said Agrajag. He, or it, or whatever, looked like a mad fat bat. He waddled slowly around Arthur, and poked at him with bent claws. "Look...!" protested Arthur. "HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!!!" explained Agrajag, and Arthur reluctantly accepted this on the grounds that he was rather frightened by this hideous and strangely wrecked apparition. Agrajag was black, bloated, wrinkled and leathery. His batwings were somehow more frightening for being the pathetic broken floundering things they were that if they had been strong, muscular beaters of the air. The frightening thing was probably the tenacity of his continued existence against all the physical odds. He had the most astounding collection of teeth. They looked as if they each came from a completely different animal, and they were ranged around his mouth at such bizarre angles it seemed that if he ever actually tried to chew anything he'd lacerate half his own face along with it, and possibly put an eye out as well. Each of his three eyes was small and intense and looked about as sane as a fish in a privet bush. "I was at a cricket match," he rasped. This seemed on the face of it such a preposterous notion that Arthur practically choked. "Not in this body," screeched the creature, "not in this body! This is my last body. My last life. This is my revenge body. My kill-Arthur-Dent body. My last chance. I had to fight to get it, too." "But..." "I was at," roared Agrajag, "a cricket match! I had a weak heart condition, but what, I said to my wife, can happen to me at a cricket match? As I'm watching, what happens? "Two people quite maliciously appear out of thin air just in front of me. The last thing I can't help but notice before my poor heart gives out in shock is that one of them is Arthur Dent wearing a rabbit bone in his beard. Coincidence?" "Yes," said Arthur. "Coincidence?" screamed the creature, painfully thrashing its broken wings, and opening a short gash on its right cheek with a particularly nasty tooth. On closer examination, such as he'd been hoping to avoid, Arthur noticed that much of Agrajag's face was covered with ragged strips of black sticky plasters. He backed away nervously. He tugged at his beard. He was appalled to discover that in fact he still had the rabbit bone in it. He pulled it out and threw it away. "Look," he said, "it's just fate playing silly buggers with you. With me. With us. It's a complete coincidence." "What have you got against me, Dent?" snarled the creature, advancing on him in a painful waddle. "Nothing," insisted Arthur, "honestly, nothing." Agrajag fixed him with a beady stare. "Seems a strange way to relate to somebody you've got nothing against, killing them all the time. Very curious piece of social interaction, I would call that. I'd also call it a lie!" "But look," said Arthur, "I'm very sorry. There's been a terrible misunderstanding. I've got to go. Have you got a clock? I'm meant to be helping save the Universe." He backed away still further. Agrajag advanced still further. "At one point," he hissed, "at one point, I decided to give up. Yes, I would not come back. I would stay in the netherworld. And what happened?" Arthur indicated with random shakes of his head that he had no idea and didn't want to have one either. He found he had backed up against the cold dark stone that had been carved by who knew what Herculean effort into a monstrous travesty of his bedroom slippers. He glanced up at his own horrendously parodied image towering above him. He was still puzzled as to what one of his hands was meant to be doing. "I got yanked involuntarily back into the physical world," pursued Agrajag, "as a bunch of petunias. In, I might add, a bowl. This particularly happy little lifetime started off with me, in my bowl, unsupported, three hundred miles above the surface of a particularly grim planet. Not a naturally tenable position for a bowl of petunias, you might think. And you'd be right. That life ended a very short while later, three hundred miles lower. In, I might add, the fresh wreckage of a whale. My spirit brother." He leered at Arthur with renewed hatred. "On the way down," he snarled, "I couldn't help noticing a flashy-looking white spaceship. And looking out of a port on this flashy-looking spaceship was a smug-looking Arthur Dent. Coincidence?!!" "Yes!" yelped Arthur. He glanced up again, and realized that the arm that had puzzled him was represented as wantonly calling into existence a bowl of doomed petunias. This was not a concept which leapt easily to the eye. "I must go," insisted Arthur. "You may go," said Agrajag, "after I have killed you." "No, that won't be any use," explained Arthur, beginning to climb up the hard stone incline of his carved slipper, "because I have to save the Universe, you see. I have to find a Silver Bail, that's the point. Tricky thing to do dead." "Save the Universe!" spat Agrajag with contempt. "You should have thought of that before you started your vendetta against me! What about the time you were on Stavromula Beta and someone..." "I've never been there," said Arthur. "... tried to assassinate you and you ducked. Who do you think the bullet hit? What did you say?" "Never been there," repeated Arthur. "What are you talking about? I have to go." Agrajag stopped in his tracks. "You must have been there. You were responsible for my death there, as everywhere else. An innocent bystander!" He quivered. "I've never heard of the place," insisted Arthur. "I've certainly never had anyone try to assassinate me. Other than you. Perhaps I go there later, do you think?" Agrajag blinked slowly in a kind of frozen logical horror. "You haven't been to Stavromula Beta... yet?" he whispered. "No," said Arthur, "I don't know anything about the place. Certainly never been to it, and don't have any plans to go." "Oh, you go there all right," muttered Agrajag in a broken voice, "you go there all right. Oh zark!" he tottered, and stared wildly about him at his huge Cathedral of Hate. "I've brought you here too soon!" He started to scream and bellow. "I've brought you here too zarking soon!" Suddenly he rallied, and turned a baleful, hating eye on Arthur. "I'm going to kill you anyway!" he roared. "Even if it's a logical impossibility I'm going to zarking well try! I'm going to blow this whole mountain up!" He screamed, "Let's see you get out of this one, Dent!" He rushed in a painful waddling hobble to what appeared to be a small black sacrificial altar. He was shouting so wildly now that he was really carving his face up badly. Arthur leaped down from his vantage place on the carving of his own foot and ran to try to restrain the three-quarters-crazed creature. He leaped upon him, and brought the strange monstrosity crashing down on top of the altar. Agrajag screamed again, thrashed wildly for a brief moment, and turned a wild eye on Arthur. "You know what you've done?" he gurgled painfully. "You've only gone and killed me again. I mean, what do you want from me, blood?" He thrashed again in a brief apoplectic fit, quivered, and collapsed, smacking a large red button on the altar as he did so. Arthur started with horror and fear, first at what he appeared to have done, and then at the loud sirens and bells that suddenly shattered the air to announce some clamouring emergency. He stared wildly around him. The only exit appeared to be the way he came in. He pelted towards it, throwing away the nasty fake leopard-skin bag as he did so. He dashed randomly, haphazardly through the labyrinthine maze, he seemed to be pursued more and more fiercely by claxons, sirens, flashing lights. Suddenly, he turned a corner and there was a light in front of him. It wasn't flashing. It was daylight.

Chapter 17

Although it has been said that on Earth alone in our Galaxy is Krikkit (or cricket) treated as fit subject for a game, and that for this reason the Earth has been shunned, this does only apply to our Galaxy, and more specifically to our dimension. In some of the higher dimensions they feel they can more or less please themselves, and have been playing a peculiar game called Brockian Ultra-Cricket for whatever their transdimensional equivalent of billions of years is. "Let's be blunt, it's a nasty game" (says The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) "but then anyone who has been to any of the higher dimensions will know that they're a pretty nasty heathen lot up there who should just be smashed and done in, and would be, too, if anyone could work out a way of firing missiles at right-angles to reality." This is another example of the fact that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will employ anybody who wants to walk straight in off the street and get ripped off, especially if they happen to walk in off the street during the afternoon, when very few of the regular staff are there. There is a fundamental point here. The history of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of idealism, struggle, despair, passion, success, failure, and enormously long lunch-breaks. The earliest origins of the Guide are now, along with most of its financial records, lost in the mists of time. For other, and more curious theories about where they are lost, see below. Most of the surviving stories, however, speak of a founding editor called Hurling Frootmig. Hurling Frootmig, it is said, founded the Guide, established its fundamental principles of honesty and idealism, and went bust. There followed many years of penury and heart-searching during which he consulted friends, sat in darkened rooms in illegal states of mind, thought about this and that, fooled about with weights, and then, after a chance encounter with the Holy Lunching Friars of Voondon (who claimed that just as lunch was at the centre of a man's temporal day, and man's temporal day could be seen as an analogy for his spiritual life, so Lunch should (a) be seen as the centre of a man's spiritual life, and (b) be held in jolly nice restaurants), he refounded the Guide, laid down its fundamental principles of honesty and idealism and where you could stuff them both, and led the Guide on to its first major commercial success. He also started to develop and explore the role of the editorial lunch-break which was subsequently to play such a crucial part in the Guide's history, since it meant that most of the actual work got done by any passing stranger who happened to wander into the empty offices on an afternoon and saw something worth doing. Shortly after this, the Guide was taken over by Megadodo Publications of Ursa Minor Beta, thus putting the whole thing on a very sound financial footing, and allowing the fourth editor, Lig Lury Jr, to embark on lunch-breaks of such breathtaking scope that even the efforts of recent editors, who have started undertaking sponsored lunch-breaks for charity, seem like mere sandwiches in comparison. In fact, Lig never formally resigned his editorship-he merely left his office late one morning and has never since returned. Though well over a century has now passed, many members of the Guide staff still retain the romantic notion that he has simply popped out for a ham croissant, and will yet return to put in a solid afternoon's work. Strictly speaking, all editors since Lig Lury Jr have therefore been designated Acting Editors, and Lig's desk is still preserved the way he left it, with the addition of a small sign which says "LIG LURY JR, EDITOR, MISSING, PRESUMED FED". Some very scurrilous and subversive sources hint at the idea that Lig actually perished in the Guide's first extraordinary experiments in alternative book-keeping. Very little is known of this, and less still said. Anyone who even notices, let alone calls attention to, the curious but utter coincidental and meaningless fact that every world on which the Guide has ever set up an accounting department has shortly afterwards perished in warfare or some natural disaster, is liable to get sued to smithereens. It is an interesting though utterly unrelated fact that the two or three days prior to the demolition of the planet Earth to make way for a new hyperspace bypass saw a dramatic upsurge in the number of UFO sightings there, not only above Lords Cricket Ground in St. John's Wood, London, but also above Glastonbury in Somerset. Glastonbury had long been associated with myths of ancient kings, witchcraft, ley-lines an wart curing, and had now been selected as the site for the new Hitchhiker's Guide financial records office, and indeed, ten years' worth of financial records were transferred to a magic hill just outside the city mere hours before the Vogons arrived. None of these facts, however strange or inexplicable, is as strange or inexplicable as the rules of the game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket, as played in the higher dimensions. A full set of rules is so massively complicated that the only time they were all bound together in a single volume, they underwent gravitational collapse and became a Black Hole. A brief summary, however, is as follows: Rule One: Grow at least three extra legs. You won't need them, but it keeps the crowds amused. Rule Two: Find one good Brockian Ultra-Cricket player. Clone him off a few times. This saves an enormous amount of tedious selection and training. Rule Three: Put your team and the opposing team in a large field and build a high wall round them. The reason for this is that, though the game is a major spectator sport, the frustration experienced by the audience at not actually being able to see what's going on leads them to imagine that it's a lot more exciting than it really is. A crowd that has just watched a rather humdrum game experiences far less life-affirmation than a crowd that believes it has just missed the most dramatic event in sporting history. Rule Four: Throw lots of assorted items of sporting equipment over the wall for the players. Anything will do-cricket bats, basecube bats, tennis guns, skis, anything you can get a good swing with. Rule Five: The players should now lay about themselves for all they are worth with whatever they find to hand. Whenever a player scores a "hit" on another player, he should immediately run away and apologize from a safe distance. Apologies should be concise, sincere and, for maximum clarity and points, delivered through a megaphone. Rule Six: The winning team shall be the first team that wins.

Curiously enough, the more the obsession with the game grows in the higher dimensions, the less it is actually played, since most of the competing teams are now in a state of permanent warfare with each other over the interpretation of these rules. This is all for the best, because in the long run a good solid war is less psychologically damaging than a protracted game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket.

Chapter 18

As Arthur ran darting, dashing and panting down the side of the mountain he suddenly felt the whole bulk of the mountain move very, very slightly beneath him. There was a rumble, a roar, and a slight blurred movement, and a lick of heat in the distance behind and above him. He ran in a frenzy of fear. The land began to slide, and he suddenly felt the force of the word "landslide" in a way which had never been apparent to him before. It had always just been a word to him, but now he was suddenly and horribly aware that sliding is a strange and sickening thing for land to do. It was doing it with him on it. He felt ill with fear and shaking. The ground slid, the mountain slurred, he slipped, he fell, he stood, he slipped again and ran. The avalance began. Stones, then rocks, then boulders which pranced past him like clumsy puppies, only much, much bigger, much, much harder and heavier, and almost infinitely more likely to kill you if they fell on you. His eyes danced with them, his feet danced with the dancing ground. He ran as if running was a terrible sweating sickness, his heart pounded to the rhythm of the pounding geological frenzy around him. The logic of the situation, i.e. that he was clearly bound to survive if the next foreshadowed incident in the saga of his inadvertent persecution of Agrajag was to happen, was utterly failing to impinge itself on his mind or exercise any restraining influence on him at this time. He ran with the fear of death in him, under him, over him and grabbing hold of his hair. And suddenly he tripped again and was hurled forward by his considerable momentum. But just at the moment that he was about to hit the ground astoundingly hard he saw lying directly in front of him a small navy-blue holdall that he knew for a fact he had lost in the baggage-retrieval system at Athens airport some ten years in his personal time-scale previously, and in his astonishment he missed the ground completely and bobbed off into the air with his brain singing. What he was doing was this: he was flying. He glanced around him in surprise, but there could be no doubt that that was what he was doing. No part of him was touching the ground, and no part of him was even approaching it. He was simply floating there with boulders hurtling through the air around him. He could now do something about that. Blinking with the non-effort of it he wafted higher into the air, and now the boulders were hurtling through the air beneath him. He looked downwards with intense curiosity. Between him and the shivering ground were now some thirty feet of empty air, empty that is if you discounted the boulders which didn't stay in it for long, but bounded downwards in the iron grip of the law of gravity; the same law which seemed, all of a sudden, to have given Arthur a sabbatical. It occurred to him almost instantly, with the instinctive correctness that self-preservation instils in the mind, that he mustn't try to think about it, that if he did, the law of gravity would suddenly glance sharply in his direction and demand to know what the hell he thought he was doing up there, and all would suddenly be lost. So he thought about tulips. It was difficult, but he did. He thought about the pleasing firm roundness of the bottom of tulips, he thought about the interesting variety of colours they came in, and wondered what proportion of the total number of tulips that grew, or had grown, on the Earth would be found within a radius of one mile from a windmill. After a while he got dangerously bored with this train of thought, felt the air slipping away beneath him, felt that he was drifting down into the paths of the bouncing boulders that he was trying so hard not to think about, so he thought about Athens airport for a bit and that kept him usefully annoyed for about five minutes-at the end of which he was startled to discover that he was now floating about two hundred yards above the ground. He wondered for a moment how he was going to get back down to it, but instantly shied away from that area of speculation again, and tried to look at the situation steadily. He was flying, What was he going to do about it? He looked back down at the ground. He didn't look at it hard, but did his best just to give it an idle glance, as it were, in passing. There were a couple of things he couldn't help noticing. One was that the eruption of the mountain seemed now to have spent itself-there was a crater just a little way beneath the peak, presumably where the rock had caved in on top of the huge cavernous cathedral, the statue of himself, and the sadly abused figure of Agrajag. The other was his hold-all, the one he had lost at Athens airport. It was sitting pertly on a piece of clear ground, surrounded by exhausted boulders but apparently hit by none of them. Why this should be he could not speculate, but since this mystery was completely overshadowed by the monstrous impossibility of the bag's being there in the first place, it was not a speculation he really felt strong enough for anyway. The thing is, it was there. And the nasty, fake leopard-skin bag seemed to have disappeared, which was all to the good, if not entirely to the explicable. He was faced with the fact that he was going to have to pick the thing up. Here he was, flying along two hundred yards above the surface of an alien planet the name of which he couldn't even remember. He could not ignore the plaintive posture of this tiny piece of what used to be his life, here, so many light-years from the pulverized remains of his home. Furthermore, he realized, the bag, if it was still in the state in which he lost it, would contain a can which would have in it the only Greek olive oil still surviving in the Universe. Slowly, carefully, inch by inch, he began to bob downwards, swinging gently from side to side like a nervous sheet of paper feeling its way towards the ground. It went well, he was feeling good. The air supported him, but let him through. Two minutes later he was hovering a mere two feet above the bag, and was faced with some difficult decision. He bobbed there lightly. He frowned, but again, as lightly as he could. If he picked the bag up, could he carry it? Mightn't the extra weight just pull him straight to the ground? Mightn't the mere act of touching something on the ground suddenly discharge whatever mysterious force it was that was holding him in the air? Mightn't he be better off just being sensible at this point and stepping out of the air, back on to the ground for a moment or two? If he did, would he ever be able to fly again? The sensation, when he allowed himself to be aware of it, was so quietly ecstatic that he could not bear the thought of losing it, perhaps for ever. With this worry in mind he bobbed upwards a little again, just to try the feel of it, the surprising and effortless movement of it. He bobbed, he floated. He tried a little swoop. The swoop was terrific. With his arms spread out in front of him, his hair and dressing gown streaming out behind him, he dived down out of the sky, bellied along a body of air about two feet from the ground and swung back up again, catching himself at the top of the swing and holding. Just holding. He stayed there. It was wonderful. And that, he realized, was the way of picking up the bag. He would swoop down and catch hold of it just at the point of the upswing. He would carry it on up with him. He might wobble a bit, but he was certain that he could hold it. He tried one or two more practice swoops, and they got better and better. The air on his face, the bounce and woof of his body, all combined to make him feel an intoxication of the spirit that he hadn't felt since, since-well as far as he could work out, since he was born. He drifted away on the breeze and surveyed the countryside, which was, he discovered, pretty nasty. It had a wasted ravaged look. He decided not to look at it any more. He would just pick up the bag and then... he didn't know what he was going to do after he had picked up the bag. He decided he would just pick up the bag and see where things went from there. He judged himself against the wind, pushed up against it and turned around. He floated on its body. He didn't realize, but his body was willoming at this point. He ducked down under the airstream, dipped-and dived. The air threw itself past him, he thrilled through it. The ground wobbled uncertainly, straightened its ideas out and rose smoothly up to meet him, offering the bag, its cracked plastic handles up towards him. Halfway down there was a sudden dangerous moment when he could no longer believe he was doing this, and therefore he very nearly wasn't, but he recovered himself in time, skimmed over the ground, slipped an arm smoothly through the handles of the bag, and began to climb back up, couldn't make it and all of a sudden collapsed, bruised, scratched and shaking in the stony ground. He staggered instantly to his feet and swayed hopelessly around, swinging the bag round him in agony of grief and disappointment. His feet, suddenly, were stuck heavily to the ground in the way they always had been. His body seemed like an unwieldy sack of potatoes that reeled stumbling against the ground, his mind had all the lightness of a bag of lead. He sagged and swayed and ached with giddiness. He tried hopelessly to run, but his legs were suddenly too weak. He tripped and flopped forward. At that moment he remembered that in the bag he was now carrying was not only a can of Greek olive oil but a duty-free allowance of retsina, and in the pleasurable shock of that realization he failed to notice for at least ten seconds that he was now flying again. He whooped and cried with relief and pleasure, and sheer physical delight. He swooped, he wheeled, he skidded and whirled through the air. Cheekily he sat on an updraught and went through the contents of the hold-all. He felt the way he imagined an angel must feel during its celebrated dance on the head of a pin whilst being counted by philosophers. He laughed with pleasure at the discovery that the bag did in fact contain the olive oil and the retsina as well as a pair of cracked sunglasses, some sand-filled swimming trunks, some creased postcards of Santorini, a large and unsightly towel, some interesting stones, and various scraps of paper with the addresses of people he was relieved to think he would never meet again, even if the reason why was a sad one. He dropped the stones, put on the sunglasses, and let the pieces of paper whip away in the wind. Ten minutes later, drifting idly through a cloud, he got a large and extremely disreputable cocktail party in the small of the back.

Chapter 19

The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation, and still no one shows any signs of leaving. Somebody did once look at his watch, but that was eleven years ago, and there has been no follow-up. The mess is extraordinary, and has to be seen to be believed, but if you don't have any particular need to believe it, then don't go and look, because you won't enjoy it. There have recently been some bangs and flashes up in the clouds, and there is one theory that this is a battle being fought between the fleets of several rival carpet-cleaning companies who are hovering over the thing like vultures, but you shouldn't believe anything you hear at parties, and particularly not anything you hear at this one. One of the problems, and it's one which is obviously going to get worse, is that all the people at the party are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn't leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both. Either way, it means that, genetically speaking, each succeeding generation is now less likely to leave than the preceding one. So other factors come into operation, like when the drink is going to run out. Now, because of certain things which have happened which seemed like a good idea at the time (and one of the problems with a party which never stops is that all the things which only seem like a good idea at parties continue to seem like good ideas), that point seems still to be a long way off. One of the things which seemed like a good idea at the time was that the party should fly-not in the normal sense that parties are meant to fly, but literally. One night, long ago, a band of drunken astro-engineers of the first generation clambered round the building digging this, fixing that, banging very hard on the other and when the sun rose the following morning, it was startled to find itself shining on a building full of happy drunken people which was now floating like a young and uncertain bird over the treetops. Not only that, but the flying party had also managed to arm itself rather heavily. If they were going to get involved in any petty arguments with wine merchants, they wanted to make sure they had might on their side. The transition from full-time cocktail party to part-time raiding party came with ease, and did much to add that extra bit of zest and swing to the whole affair which was badly needed at this point because of the enormous number of times that the band had already played all the numbers it knew over the years. They looted, they raided, they held whole cities for ransom for fresh supplies of cheese crackers, avocado dip, spare ribs and wine and spirits, which would now get piped aboard from floating tankers. The problem of when the drink is going to run out is, however, going to have to be faced one day. The planet over which they are floating is no longer the planet it was when they first started floating over it. It is in bad shape. The party had attacked and raided an awful lot of it, and no one has ever succeeded in hitting it back because of the erratic and unpredictable way in which it lurches round the sky. It is one hell of a party. It is also one hell of a thing to get hit by in the small of the back.

Chapter 20

Arthur lay floundering in pain on a piece of ripped and dismembered reinforced concrete, flicked at by wisps of passing cloud and confused by the sounds of flabby merrymaking somewhere indistinctly behind him. There was a sound he couldn't immediately identify, partly because he didn't know the tune "I Left my Leg in Jaglan Beta" and partly because the band playing it were very tired, and some members of it were playing it in three-four time, some in four-four, and some in a kind of pie-eyed r2, each according to the amount of sleep he'd managed to grab recently. He lay, panting heavily in the wet air, and tried feeling bits of himself to see where he might be hurt. Wherever he touched himself, he encountered a pain. After a short while he worked out that this was because it was his hand that was hurting. He seemed to have sprained his wrist. His back, too, was hurting, but he soon satisfied himself that he was not badly hurt, but just bruised and a little shaken, as who wouldn't be? He couldn't understand what a building would be doing flying through the clouds. On the other hand, he would have been a little hard-pressed to come up with any convincing explanation of his own presence, so he decided that he and the building were just going to have to accept each other. He looked up from where he was lying. A wall of pale but stained stone slabs rose up behind him, the building proper. He seemed to be stretched out on some sort of ledge or lip which extended outwards for about three or four feet all the way around. It was a hunk of the ground in which the party building had had its foundations, and which it had taken along with itself to keep itself bound together at the bottom end. Nervously, he stood up and, suddenly, looking out over the edge, he felt nauseous with vertigo. He pressed himself back against the wall, wet with mist and sweat. His head was swimming freestyle, but someone in his stomach was doing the butterfly. Even though he had got up here under his own power, he could now not even bear to contemplate the hideous drop in front of him. He was not about to try his luck jumping. He was not about to move an inch closer to the edge. Clutching his hold-all he edged along the wall, hoping to find a doorway in. The solid weight of the can of olive oil was a great reassurance to him. He was edging in the direction of the nearest corner, in the hope that the wall around the corner might offer more in the way of entrances than this one, which offered none. The unsteadiness of the building's flight made him feel sick with fear, and after a short while he took the towel from out of his hold-all and did something with it which once again justified its supreme position in the list of useful things to take with you when you hitch-hike round the Galaxy. He put it over his head so he wouldn't have to see what he was doing. His feet edged along the ground. His outstretched hand edged along the wall. Finally he came to the corner, and as his hand rounded the corner it encountered something which gave him such a shock that he nearly fell straight off. It was another hand. The two hands gripped each other. He desperately wanted to use his other hand to pull the towel back from his eyes, but it was holding the hold-all with the olive oil, the retsina and the postcards from Santorini, and he very much didn't want to put it down. He experienced one of those "self" moments, one of those moments when you suddenly turn around and look at yourself and think "Who am I? What am I up to? What have I achieved? Am I doing well?" He whimpered very slightly. He tried to free his hand, but he couldn't. The other hand was holding his tightly. He had no recourse but to edge onwards towards the corner. He leaned around it and shook his head in an attempt to dislodge the towel. This seemed to provoke a sharp cry of some unfashionable emotion from the owner of the other hand. The towel was whipped from his head and he found his eyes peering into those of Ford Prefect. Beyond him stood Slartibartfast, and beyond them he could clearly see a porchway and a large closed door. They were both pressed back against the wall, eyes wild with terror as they stared out into the thick blind cloud around them, and tried to resist the lurching and swaying of the building. "Where the zarking photon have you been?" hissed Ford, panic stricken. "Er, well," stuttered Arthur, not really knowing how to sum it all up that briefly. "Here and there. What are you doing here?" Ford turned his wild eyes on Arthur again. "They won't let us in without a bottle," he hissed.

Chapter 21

The first thing Arthur noticed as they entered into the thick of the party, apart from the noise, the suffocating heat, the wild profusion of colours that protuded dimly through the atmosphere of heavy smoke, the carpets thick with ground glass, ash and avocado droppings, and the small group of pterodactyl-like creatures in lurex who descended on his cherished bottle of retsina, squawking, "A new pleasure, a new pleasure", was Trillian being chatted up by a Thunder God. "Didn't I see you at Milliways?" he was saying. "Were you the one with the hammer?" "Yes. I much prefer it here. So much less reputable, so much more fraught." Squeals of some hideous pleasure rang around the room, the outer dimensions of which were invisible through the heaving throng of happy, noisy creatures, cheerfully yelling things that nobody could hear at each other and occasionally having crises. "Seems fun," said Trillian. "What did you say, Arthur?" "I said, how the hell did you get here?" "I was a row of dots flowing randomly through the Universe. Have you met Thor? He makes thunder." "Hello," said Arthur. "I expect that must be very interesting." "Hi," said Thor. "It is. Have you got a drink?" "Er, no actually..." "Then why don't you go and get one?" "See you later, Arthur," said Trillian. Something jogged Arthur's mind, and he looked around huntedly. "Zaphod isn't here, is he?" he said. "See you," said Trillian firmly, "later." Thor glared at him with hard coal-black eyes, his beard bristled, what little light was there was in the place mustered its forces briefly to glint menacingly off the horns of his helmet. He took Trillian's elbow in his extremely large hand and the muscles in his upper arm moved around each other like a couple of Volkswagens parking. He led her away. "One of the interesting things about being immortal," he said, "is..." "One of the interesting things about space," Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying to a large and voluminous creature who looked like someone losing a fight with a pink duvet and was gazing raptly at the old man's deep eyes and silver beard, "is how dull it is." "Dull?" said the creature, and blinked her rather wrinkled and bloodshot eyes. "Yes," said Slartibartfast, "staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there's so much of it and so little in it. Would you like me to quote some statistics?" "Er, well..." "Please, I would like to. They, too, are quite sensationally dull." "I'll come back and hear them in a moment," she said, patting him on the arm, lifted up her skirts like a hovercraft and moved off into the heaving crown. "I thought she'd never go," growled the old man. "Come, Earthman..." "Arthur." "We must find the Silver Bail, it is here somewhere." "Can't we just relax a little?" Arthur said. "I've had a tough day. Trillian's here, incidentally, she didn't say how, it probably doesn't matter." "Think of the danger to the Universe..." "The Universe," said Arthur, "is big enough and old enough to look after itself for half an hour. All right," he added, in response to Slartibartfast's increasing agitation, "I'll wander round and see if anybody's seen it." "Good, good," said Slartibartfast, "good. " He plunged into the crowd himself, and was told to relax by everybody he passed. "Have you seen a bail anywhere?" said Arthur to a little man who seemed to be standing eagerly waiting to listen to somebody. "It's made of silver, vitally important for the future safety of the Universe, and about this long." "No," said the enthusiastically wizened little man, "but do have a drink and tell me all about it." Ford Prefect writhed past, dancing a wild, frenetic and not entirely unobscene dance with someone who looked as if she was wearing Sydney Opera House on her head. He was yelling a futile conversation at her above the din. "I like that hat!" he bawled. "What?" "I said, I like the hat." "I'm not wearing a hat." "Well, I like the head, then." "What?" "I said, I like the head. Interesting bone-structure." "What?" Ford worked a shrug into the complex routine of other movements he was performing. "I said, you dance great," he shouted, "just don't nod so much." "What?" "It's just that every time you nod," said Ford, "... ow!" he added as his partner nodded forward to say "What?" and once again pecked him sharply on the forehead with the sharp end of her swept-forward skull. "My planet was blown up one morning," said Arthur, who had found himself quite unexpectedly telling the little man his life story or, at least, edited highlights of it, "that's why I'm dressed like this, in my dressing gown. My planet was blown up with all my clothes in it, you see. I didn't realize I'd be coming to a party." The little man nodded enthusiastically. "Later, I was thrown off a spaceship. Still in my dressing gown. Rather than the space suit one would normally expect. Shortly after that I discovered that my planet had originally been built for a bunch of mice. You can imagine how I felt about that. I was then shot at for a while and blown up. In fact I have been blown up ridiculously often, shot at, insulted, regularly disintegrated, deprived of tea, and recently I crashed into a swamp and had to spend five years in a damp cave." "Ah," effervesced the little man, "and did you have a wonderful time?" Arthur started to choke violently on his drink. "What a wonderful exciting cough," said the little man, quite startled by it, "do you mind if I join you?" And with that he launched into the most extraordinary and spectacular fit of coughing which caught Arthur so much by surprise that he started to choke violently, discovered he was already doing it and got thoroughly confused. Together they performed a lung-busting duet which went on for fully two minutes before Arthur managed to cough and splutter to a halt. "So invigorating," said the little man, panting and wiping tears from his eyes. "What an exciting life you must lead. Thank you very much." He shook Arthur warmly by the hand and walked off into the crowd. Arthur shook his head in astonishment. A youngish-looking man came up to him, an aggressive-looking type with a hook mouth, a lantern nose, and small beady little cheekbones. He was wearing black trousers, a black silk shirt open to what was presumably his navel, though Arthur had learnt never to make assumptions about the anatomies of the sort of people he tended to meet these days, and had all sorts of nasty dangly gold things hanging round his neck. He carried something in a black bag, and clearly wanted people to notice that he didn't want them to notice it. "Hey, er, did I hear you say your name just now?" he said. This was one of the many things that Arthur had told the enthusiastic little man. "Yes, it's Arthur Dent." The man seemed to be dancing slightly to some rhythm other than any of the several that the band were grimly pushing out. "Yeah," he said, "only there was a man in a mountain wanted to see you." "I met him." "Yeah, only he seemed pretty anxious about it, you know." "Yes, I met him." "Yeah, well I think you should know that." "I do. I met him." The man paused to chew a little gum. Then he clapped Arthur on the back. "OK," he said, "all right. I'm just telling you, right? Good night, good luck, win awards." "What?" said Arthur, who was beginning to flounder seriously at this point. "Whatever. Do what you do. Do it well." He made a sort of clucking noise with whatever he was chewing and then some vaguely dynamic gesture. "Why?" said Arthur. "Do it badly," said the man, "who cares? Who gives a shit?" The blood suddenly seemed to pump angrily into the man's face and he started to shout. "Why not go mad?" he said. "Go away, get off my back will you, guy. Just zark off!!!" "OK, I'm going," said Arthur hurriedly. "It's been real." The man gave a sharp wave and disappeared off into the throng. "What was that about?" said Arthur to a girl he found standing beside him. "Why did he tell me to win awards?" "Just showbiz talk," shrugged the girl. "He's just won an award at the Annual Ursa Minor Alpha Recreational Illusions Institute Awards Ceremony, and was hoping to be able to pass it off lightly, only you didn't mention it, so he couldn't." "Oh," said Arthur, "oh, well I'm sorry I didn't. What was it for?" "The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word 'Fuck' In A Serious Screenplay. It's very prestigious." "I see," said Arthur, "yes, and what do you get for that?" "A Rory. It's just a small silver thing set on a large black base. What did you say?" "I didn't say anything. I was just about to ask what the silver..." "Oh, I thought you said 'wop'." "Said what?" "Wop."

Chapter 22

People had been dropping in on the party now for some years, fashionable gatecrashers from other worlds, and for some time it had occurred to the partygoers as they had looked out at their own world beneath them, with its wrecked cities, its ravaged avocado farms and blighted vineyards, its vast tracts of new desert, its seas full of biscuit crumbs and worse, that their world was in some tiny and almost imperceptible ways not quite as much fun as it had been. Some of them had begun to wonder if they could manage to stay sober for long enough to make the entire party spaceworthy and maybe take it off to some other people's worlds where the air might be fresher and give them fewer headaches. The few undernourished farmers who still managed to scratch out a feeble existence on the half-dead ground of the planet's surface would have been extremely pleased to hear this, but that day, as the party came screaming out of the clouds and the farmers looked up in haggard fear of yet another cheese-and-wine raid, it became clear that the party was not going to be going anywhere else for a while, that the party would soon be over. Very soon it would be time to gather up hats and coats and stagger blearily outside to find out what time of day it was, what time of year it was, and whether in any of this burnt and ravaged land there was a taxi going anywhere. The party was locked in a horrible embrace with a strange white spaceship which seemed to be half sticking through it. Together they were lurching, heaving and spinning their way round the sky in grotesque disregard of their own weight. The clouds parted. The air roared and leapt out of their way. The party and the Krikkit warship looked, in their writhings, a little like two ducks, one of which is trying to make a third duck inside the second duck, whilst the second duck is trying very hard to explain that it doesn't feel ready for a third duck right now, is uncertain that it would want any putative third duck to be made by this particular first duck anyway, and certainly not whilst it, the second duck, was busy flying. The sky sang and screamed with the rage of it all and buffeted the ground with shock waves. And suddenly, with a foop, the Krikkit ship was gone. The party blundered helplessly across the sky like a man leaning against an unexpectedly open door. It span and wobbled on its hover jets. It tried to right itself and wronged itself instead. It staggered back across the sky again. For a while these staggerings continued, but clearly they could not continue for long. The party was now a mortally wounded party. All the fun had gone out of it, as the occasional broken-backed pirouette could not disguise. The longer, at this point, that it avoided the ground, the heavier was going to be the crash when finally it hit it.

Inside, things were not going well either. They were going monstrously badly, in fact, and people were hating it and saying so loudly. The Krikkit robots had been. They had removed the Award for The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word 'Fuck' In A Serious Screenplay, and in its place had left a scene of devastation that left Arthur feeling almost as sick as a runner-up for a Rory. "We would love to stay and help," shouted Ford, picking his way over the mangled debris, "only we're not going to." The party lurched again, provoking feverish cries and groans from amongst the smoking wreckage. "We have to go and save the Universe, you see," said Ford. "And if that sounds like a pretty lame excuse, then you may be right. Either way, we're off." He suddenly came across an unopened bottle lying, miraculously unbroken, on the ground. "Do you mind if we take this?" he said. "You won't be needing it." He took a packet of potato crisps too. "Trillian?" shouted Arthur in a shocked and weakened voice. In the smoking mess he could see nothing. "Earthman, we must go," said Slartibartfast nervously. "Trillian?" shouted Arthur again. A moment or two later, Trillian staggered, shaking, into view, supported by her new friend the Thunder God. "The girl stays with me," said Thor. "There's a great party going on in Valhalla, we'll be flying off..." "Where were you when all this was going on?" said Arthur. "Upstairs," said Thor, "I was weighing her. Flying's a tricky business you see, you have to calculate wind..." "She comes with us," said Arthur. "Hey," said Trillian, "don't I..." "No," said Arthur, "you come with us." Thor looked at him with slowly smouldering eyes. He was making some point about godliness and it had nothing to do with being clean. "She comes with me," he said quietly. "Come on, Earthman," said Slartibartfast nervously, picking at Arthur's sleeve. "Come on, Slartibartfast," said Ford, picking at the old man's sleeve. Slartibartfast had the teleport device. The party lurched and swayed, sending everyone reeling, except for Thor and except for Arthur, who stared, shaking, into the Thunder God's black eyes. Slowly, incredibly, Arthur put up what appeared to be his tiny little fists. "Want to make something of it?" he said. "I beg your minuscule pardon?" roared Thor. "I said," repeated Arthur, and he could not keep the quavering out of his voice, "do you want to make something of it?" He waggled his fists ridiculously. Thor looked at him with incredulity. Then a little wisp of smoke curled upwards from his nostril. There was a tiny little flame in it too. He gripped his belt. He expanded his chest to make it totally clear that here was the sort of man you only dared to cross if you had a team of Sherpas with you. He unhooked the shaft of his hammer from his belt. He held it up in his hands to reveal the massive iron head. He thus cleared up any possible misunderstanding that he might merely have been carrying a telegraph pole around with him. "Do I want," he said, with a hiss like a river flowing through a steel mill, "to make something of it?" "Yes," said Arthur, his voice suddenly and extraordinarily strong and belligerent. He waggled his fists again, this time as if he meant it. "You want to step outside?" he snarled at Thor. "All right!" bellowed Thor, like an enraged bull (or in fact like an enraged Thunder God, which is a great deal more impressive), and did so. "Good," said Arthur, "that's got rid of him. Slarty, get us out of here."

Chapter 23

"All right," shouted Ford at Arthur, "so I'm a coward, the point is I'm still alive." They were back aboard the Starship Bistromath, so was Slartibartfast, so was Trillian. Harmony and concord were not. "Well, so am I alive, aren't I?" retaliated Arthur, haggard with adventure and anger. His eyebrows were leaping up and down as if they wanted to punch each other. "You damn nearly weren't," exploded Ford. Arthur turned sharply to Slartibartfast, who was sitting in his pilot couch on the flight deck gazing thoughtfully into the bottom of a bottle which was telling him something he clearly couldn't fathom. He appealed to him. "Do you think he understands the first word I've been saying?" he said, quivering with emotion. "I don't know," replied Slartibartfast, a little abstractedly. "I'm not sure," he added, glancing up very briefly, "that I do." He stared at his instruments with renewed vigor and bafflement. "You'll have to explain it to us again," he said. "Well..." "But later. Terrible things are afoot." He tapped the pseudo-glass of the bottle bottom. "We fared rather pathetically at the party, I'm afraid," he said, "and our only hope now is to try to prevent the robots from using the Key in the Lock. How in heaven we do that I don't know," he muttered. "Just have to go there, I suppose. Can't say I like the idea at all. Probably end up dead." "Where is Trillian anyway?" said Arthur with a sudden affectation of unconcern. What he had been angry about was that Ford had berated him for wasting time over all the business with the Thunder God when they could have been making a rather more rapid escape. Arthur's own opinion, and he had offered it for whatever anybody might have felt it was worth, was that he had been extraordinarily brave and resourceful. The prevailing view seemed to be that his opinion was not worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys. What really hurt, though, was that Trillian didn't seem to react much one way or the other and had wandered off somewhere. "And where are my potato crisps?" said Ford. "They are both," said Slartibartfast, without looking up, "in the Room of Informational Illusions. I think that your young lady friend is trying to understand some problems of Galactic history. I think the potato crisps are probably helping her."

Chapter 24

It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes. For instance, there was once an insanely aggressive race of people called the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax. That was just the name of their race. The name of their army was something quite horrific. Luckily they lived even further back in Galactic history than anything we have so far encountered-twenty billion years ago-when the Galaxy was young and fresh, and every idea worth fighting for was a new one. And fighting was what the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were good at, and being good at it, they did a lot. They fought their enemies (i.e. everybody else), they fought each other. Their planet was a complete wreck. The surface was littered with abandoned cities which were surrounded by abandoned war machines, which were in turn surrounded by deep bunkers in which the Silastic Armorfiends lived and squabbled with each other. The best way to pick a fight with a Silastic Armorfiend was just to be born. They didn't like it, they got resentful. And when an Armorfiend got resentful, someone got hurt. An exhausting way of life, one might think, but they did seem to have an awful lot of energy. The best way of dealing with a Silastic Armorfiend was to put him into a room of his own, because sooner or later he would simply beat himself up. Eventually they realized that this was something they were going to have to sort out, and they passed a law decreeing that anyone who had to carry a weapon as part of his normal Silastic work (policemen, security guards, primary school teachers, etc.) had to spend at least forty-five minutes every day punching a sack of potatoes in order to work off his or her surplus aggressions. For a while this worked well, until someone thought that it would be much more efficient and less time-consuming if they just shot the potatoes instead. This led to a renewed enthusiasm for shooting all sorts of things, and they all got very excited at the prospect of their first major war for weeks. Another achievement of the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax is that they were the first race who ever managed to shock a computer. It was a gigantic spaceborne computer called Hactar, which to this day is remembered as one of the most powerful ever built. It was the first to be built like a natural brain, in that every cellular particle of it carried the pattern of the whole within it, which enabled it to think more flexibly and imaginatively, and also, it seemed, to be shocked. The Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were engaged in one of their regular wars with the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and were not enjoying it as much as usual because it involved an awful lot of trekking through the Radiation Swamps of Cwulzenda, and across the Fire Mountains of Frazfraga, neither of which terrains they felt at home in. So when the Strangulous Stilettans of Jajazikstak joined in the fray and forced them to fight another front in the Gamma Caves of Carfrax and the Ice Storms of Varlengooten, they decided that enough was enough, and they ordered Hactar to design for them an Ultimate Weapon. "What do you mean," asked Hactar, "by Ultimate?" To which the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax said, "Read a bloody dictionary," and plunged back into the fray. So Hactar designed an Ultimate Weapon. It was a very, very small bomb which was simply a junction box in hyperspace that would, when activated, connect the heart of every major sun with the heart of every other major sun simultaneously and thus turn the entire Universe in to one gigantic hyperspatial supernova. When the Silastic Armorfiends tried to use it to blow up a Strangulous Stilettan munitions dump in one of the Gamma Caves, they were extremely irritated that it didn't work, and said so. Hactar had been shocked by the whole idea. He tried to explain that he had been thinking about this Ultimate Weapon business, and had worked out that there was no conceivable consequence of not setting the bomb off that was worse than the known consequence of setting it off, and he had therefore taken the liberty of introducing a small flaw into the design of the bomb, and he hoped that everyone involved would, on sober reflection, feel that... The Silastic Armorfiends disagreed and pulverized the computer. Later they thought better of it, and destroyed the faulty bomb as well. Then, pausing only to smash the hell out of the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and the Strangulous Stilettans of Jajazikstak, they went on to find an entirely new way of blowing themselves up, which was a profound relief to everyone else in the Galaxy, particularly the Garfighters, the Stilettans and the potatoes.

Trillian had watched all this, as well as the story of Krikkit. She emerged from the Room of informational Illusions thoughtfully, just in time to discover that they had arrived too late.

Chapter 25

Even as the Starship Bistromath flickered into objective being on the top of a small cliff on the mile-wide asteroid which pursued a lonely and eternal path in orbit around the enclosed star system of Krikkit, its crew was aware that they were in time only to be witnesses to an unstoppable historic event. They didn't realize they were going to see two. They stood cold, lonely and helpless on the cliff edge and watched the activity below. Lances of light wheeled in sinister arcs against the void from a point only about a hundred yards below and in front of them. They stared into the blinding event. An extension of the ship's field enabled them to stand there, by once again exploiting the mind's predisposition to have tricks played on it: the problems of falling up off the tiny mass of the asteroid, or of not being able to breathe, simply became Somebody Else's. The white Krikkit warship was parked amongst the stark grey crags of the asteroid, alternately flaring under arclights or disappearing in shadow. The blackness of the shaped shadows cast by the hard rocks danced together in wild choreography as the arclights swept round them. The eleven white robots were bearing, in procession, the Wikkit Key out into the middle of a circle of swinging lights. The Wikkit Key was rebuilt. Its components shone and glittered: the Steel Pillar (or Marvin's leg) of Strength and Power, the Gold Bail (or Heart of the Improbability Drive) of Prosperity, the Perspex Pillar (or Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice) of Science and Reason, the Silver Bail (or Rory Award for The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word "Fuck" In A Serious Screenplay) and the now reconstituted Wooden Pillar (or Ashes of a burnt stump signifying the death of English cricket) of Nature and Spirituality. "I suppose there is nothing we can do at this point?" asked Arthur nervously. "No," sighed Slartibartfast. The expression of disappointment which crossed Arthur's face was a complete failure, and, since he was standing obscured by shadow, he allowed it to collapse into one of relief. "Pity," he said. "We have no weapons," said Slartibartfast, "stupidly." "Damn," said Arthur very quietly. Ford said nothing. Trillian said nothing, but in a peculiarly thoughtful and distinct way. She was staring at the blankness of the space beyond the asteroid. The asteroid circled the Dust Cloud which surrounded the Slo-Time envelope which enclosed the world on which lived the people of Krikkit, the Masters of Krikkit and their killer robots. The helpless group had no way of knowing whether or not the Krikkit robots were aware of their presence. They could only assume that they must be, but that they felt, quite rightly in the circumstances, that they had nothing to fear. They had an historic task to perform, and their audience could be regarded with contempt. "Terrible impotent feeling, isn't it?" said Arthur, but the others ignored him. In the centre of the area of light which the robots were approaching, a square-shaped crack appeared in the ground. The crack defined itself more and more distinctly, and soon it became clear that a block of the ground, about six feet square, was slowly rising. At the same time they became aware of some other movement, but it was almost sublimal, and for a moment or two it was not clear what it was that was moving. Then it became clear. The asteroid was moving. It was moving slowly in towards the Dust Cloud, as if being hauled in inexorably by some celestial angler in its depths. They were to make in real life the journey through the Cloud which they had already made in the Room of Informational Illusions. They stood frozen in silence. Trillian frowned. An age seemed to pass. Events seemed to pass with spinning slowness, as the leading edge of the asteroid passed into the vague and soft outer perimeter of the Cloud. And soon they were engulfed in a thin and dancing obscurity. They passed on through it, on and on, dimly aware of vague shapes and whorls indistinguishable in the darkness except in the corner of the eye. The Dust dimmed the shafts of brilliant light. The shafts of brilliant light twinkled on the myriad specks of Dust. Trillian, again, regarded the passage from within her own frowning thoughts. And they were through it. Whether it had taken a minute or half an hour they weren't sure, but they were through it and confronted with a fresh blankness, as if space were pinched out of existence in front of them. And now things moved quickly. A blinding shaft of light seemed almost to explode from out of the block which had risen three feet out of the ground, and out of that rose a smaller Perspex block, dazzling with interior dancing colours. The block was slotted with deep groves, three upright and two across, clearly designed to accept the Wikkit key. The robots approached the Lock, slotted the Key into its home and stepped back again. The block twisted round of is own accord, and space began to alter. As space unpinched itself, it seemed agonizingly to twist the eyes of the watchers in their sockets. They found themselves staring, blinded, at an unravelled sun which stood now before them where it seemed only seconds before there had not been even empty space. It was a second or two before they were even sufficiently aware of what had happened to throw their hands up over their horrified blinded eyes. In that second or two, they were aware of a tiny speck moving slowly across the eye of that sun. They staggered back, and heard ringing in their ears the thin and unexpected chant of the robots crying out in unison. "Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit!" The sound chilled them. It was harsh, it was cold, it was empty, it was mechanically dismal. It was also triumphant. They were so stunned by these two sensory shocks that they almost missed the second historic event. Zaphod Beeblebrox, the only man in history to survive a direct blast attack from the Krikkit robots, ran out of the Krikkit warship brandishing a Zap gun. "OK," he cried, "the situation is totally under control as of this moment in time." The single robot guarding the hatchway to the ship silently swung his battleclub, and connected it with the back of Zaphod's left head. "Who the zark did that?" said the left head, and lolled sickeningly forward. His right head gazed keenly into the middle distance. "Who did what?" it said. The club connected with the back of his right head. Zaphod measured his length as a rather strange shape on the ground. Within a matter of seconds the whole event was over. A few blasts from the robots were sufficient to destroy the Lock for ever. It split and melted and splayed its contents brokenly. The robots marched grimly and, it almost seemed, in a slightly disheartened manner, back into their warship which, with a "foop", was gone. Trillian and Ford ran hectically round and down the steep incline to the dark, still body of Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Chapter 26

"I don't know," said Zaphod, for what seemed to him like the thirty-seventh time, "they could have killed me, but they didn't. Maybe they just thought I was a kind of wonderful guy or something. I could understand that." The others silently registered their opinions of this theory. Zaphod lay on the cold floor of the flight deck. His back seemed to wrestle the floor as pain thudded through him and banged at his heads. "I think," he whispered, "that there is something wrong with those anodized dudes, something fundamentally weird." "They are programmed to kill everybody," Slartibartfast pointed out. "That," wheezed Zaphod between the whacking thuds, "could be it." He didn't seem altogether convinced. "Hey, baby," he said to Trillian, hoping this would make up for his previous behaviour. "You all right?" she said gently. "Yeah," he said, "I'm fine." "Good," she said, and walked away to think. She stared at the huge visiscreen over the flight couches and, twisting a switch, she flipped local images over it. One image was the blankness of the Dust Cloud. One was the sun of Krikkit. One was Krikkit itself. She flipped between them fiercely. "Well, that's goodbye Galaxy, then," said Arthur, slapping his knees and standing up. "No," said Slartibartfast, gravely. "Our course is clear." He furrowed his brow until you could grow some of the smaller root vegetables in it. He stood up, he paced around. When he spoke again, what he said frightened him so much he had to sit down again. "We must go down to Krikkit," he said. A deep sigh shook his old frame and his eyes seemed almost to rattle in their sockets. "Once again," he said, "we have failed pathetically. Quite pathetically." "That," said Ford quietly, "is because we don't care enough. I told you." He swung his feet up on the instrument panel and picked fitfully at something on one of his fingernails. "But unless we determine to take action," said the old man querulously, as if struggling against something deeply insouciant in his nature, "then we shall all be destroyed, we shall all die. Surely we care about that?" "Not enough to want to get killed over it," said Ford. He put on a sort of hollow smile and flipped it round the room at anyone who wanted to see it. Slartibartfast clearly found this point of view extremely seductive and he fought against it. He turned again to Zaphod who was gritting his teeth and sweating with the pain. "You surely must have some idea," he said, "of why they spared your life. It seems most strange and unusual." "I kind of think they didn't even know," shrugged Zaphod. "I told you. They hit me with the most feeble blast, just knocked me out, right? They lugged me into their ship, dumped me into a corner and ignored me. Like they were embarrassed about me being there. If I said anything they knocked me out again. We had some great conversations. 'Hey... ugh!' 'Hi there... ugh!' 'I wonder...ugh!' Kept me amused for hours, you know." He winced again. He was toying with something in his fingers. He held it up. It was the Gold Bail-the Heart of Gold, the heart of the Infinite Improbability Drive. Only that and the Wooden Pillar had survived the destruction of the Lock intact. "I hear your ship can move a bit," he said. "So how would you like to zip me back to mine before you..." "Will you not help us?" said Slartibartfast. "I'd love to stay and help you save the Galaxy," insisted Zaphod, rising himself up on to his shoulders, "but I have the mother and father of a pair of headaches, and I feel a lot of little headaches coming on. But next time it needs saving, I'm your guy. Hey, Trillian baby?" She looked round briefly. "Yes?" "You want to come? Heart of Gold? Excitement and adventure and really wild things?" "I'm going down to Krikkit," she said.

Chapter 27

It was the same hill, and yet not the same. This time it was not an Informational Illusion. This was Krikkit itself and they were standing on it. Near them, behind the trees, stood the strange Italian restaurant which had brought these, their real bodies, to this, the real, present world of Krikkit. The strong grass under their feet was real, the rich soil real too. The heady fragrances from the tree, too, were real. The night was real night. Krikkit. Possibly the most dangerous place in the Galaxy for anyone who isn't a Krikkiter to stand. The place that could not countenance the existence of any other place, whose charming, delightful, intelligent inhabitants would howl with fear, savagery and murderous hate when confronted with anyone not their own. Arthur shuddered. Slartibartfast shuddered. Ford, surprisingly, shuddered. It was not surprising that he shuddered, it was surprising that he was there at all. But when they had returned Zaphod to his ship Ford had felt unexpectedly shamed into not running away. Wrong, he thought to himself, wrong wrong wrong. He hugged to himself one of the Zap guns with which they had armed themselves out of Zaphod's armoury. Trillian shuddered, and frowned as she looked into the sky. This, too, was not the same. It was no longer blank and empty. Whilst the countryside around them had changed little in the two thousand years of the Krikkit wars, and the mere five years that had elapsed locally since Krikkit was sealed in its Slo-Time envelope ten billion years ago, the sky was dramatically different. Dim lights and heavy shapes hung in it. High in the sky, where no Krikkiter ever looked, were the War Zones, the Robot Zones-huge warships and tower blocks floating in the Nil-O-Grav fields far above the idyllic pastoral lands of the surface of Krikkit. Trillian stared at them and thought. "Trillian," whispered Ford Prefect to her. "Yes?" she said. "What are you doing?" "Thinking." "Do you always breathe like that when you're thinking?" "I wasn't aware that I was breathing." "That's what worried me." "I think I know..." said Trillian. "Shhhh!" said Slartibartfast in alarm, and his thin trembling hand motioned them further back beneath the shadow of the tree. Suddenly, as before in the tape, there were lights coming along the hill path, but this time the dancing beams were not from lanterns but electric torches-not in itself a dramatic change, but every detail made their hearts thump with fear. This time there were no lilting whimsical songs about flowers and farming and dead dogs, but hushed voices in urgent debate. A light moved in the sky with slow weight. Arthur was clenched with a claustrophobic terror and the warm wind caught at his throat. Within seconds a second party became visible, approaching from the other side of the dark hill. They were moving swiftly and purposefully, their torches swinging and probing around them. The parties were clearly converging, and not merely with each other. They were converging deliberately on the spot where Arthur and the others were standing. Arthur heard the slight rustle as Ford Prefect raised his Zap gun to his shoulder, and the slight whimpering cough as Slartibartfast raised his. He felt the cold unfamiliar weight of his own gun, and with shaking hands he raised it. His fingers fumbled to release the safety catch and engage the extreme danger catch as Ford had shown him. He was shaking so much that if he'd fired at anybody at that moment he probably would have burnt his signature on them. Only Trillian didn't raise her gun. She raised her eyebrows, lowered them again, and bit her lip in thought. "Has it occurred to you," she began, but nobody wanted to discuss anything much at the moment. A light stabbed through the darkness from behind them and they span around to find a third party of Krikkiters behind them, searching them out with their torches. Ford Prefect's gun crackled viciously, but fire spat back at it and it crashed from his hands. There was a moment of pure fear, a frozen second before anyone fired again. And at the end of the second nobody fired. They were surrounded by pale-faced Krikkiters and bathed in bobbing torch light. The captives stared at their captors, the captors stared at their captives. "Hello?" said one of the captors. "Excuse me, but are you... aliens?"

Chapter 28

Meanwhile, more millions of miles away than the mind can comfortably encompass, Zaphod Beeblebrox was throwing a mood again. He had repaired his ship-that is, he'd watched with alert interest whilst a service robot had repaired it for him. It was now, once again, one of the most powerful and extraordinary ships in existence. He could go anywhere, do anything. He fiddled with a book, and then tossed it away. It was the one he'd read before. He walked over to the communications bank and opened an all-frequencies emergency channel. "Anyone want a drink?" he said. "This an emergency, feller?" crackled a voice from halfway across the Galaxy. "Got any mixers?" said Zaphod. "Go take a ride on a comet." "OK, OK," said Zaphod and flipped the channel shut again. He sighed and sat down. He got up again and wandered over to a computer screen. He pushed a few buttons. Little blobs started to rush around the screen eating each other. "Pow!" said Zaphod. "Freeeoooo! Pop pop pop!" "Hi there," said the computer brightly after a minute of this, "you have scored three points. Previous best score, seven million five hundred and ninety-seven thousand, two hundred and..." "OK, OK," said Zaphod and flipped the screen blank again. He sat down again. He played with a pencil. This too began slowly to lose its fascination. "OK, OK," he said, and fed his score and the previous one into the computer. His ship made a blur of the Universe.

Chapter 29

"Tell us," said the thin, pale-faced Krikkiter who had stepped forward from the ranks of the others and stood uncertainly in the circle of torchlight, handling his gun as if he was just holding it for someone else who'd just popped off somewhere but would be back in a minute, "do you know anything about something called the Balance of Nature?" There was no reply from their captives, or at least nothing more articulate than a few confused mumbles and grunts. The torchlight continued to play over them. High in the sky above them dark activity continued in the Robot zones. "It's just," continued the Krikkiter uneasily, "something we heard about, probably nothing important. Well, I suppose we'd better kill you then." He looked down at his gun as if he was trying to find which bit to press. "That is," he said, looking up again, "unless there's anything you want to chat about?" Slow, numb astonishment crept up the bodies of Slartibartfast, Ford and Arthur. Very soon it would reach their brains, which were at the moment solely occupied with moving their jawbones up and down. Trillian was shaking her head as if trying to finish a jigsaw by shaking the box. "We're worried, you see," said another man from the crowd, "about this plan of universal destruction." "Yes," added another, "and the balance of nature. It just seemed to us that if the whole of the rest of the Universe is destroyed it will somehow upset the balance of nature. We're quite keen on ecology, you see." His voice trailed away unhappily. "And sport," said another, loudly. This got a cheer of approval from the others. "Yes," agreed the first, "and sport..." He looked back at his fellows uneasily and scratched fitfully at his cheek. He seemed to be wrestling with some deep inner confusion, as if everything he wanted to say and everything he thought were entirely different things, between which he could see no possible connection. "You see," he mumbled, "some of us..." and he looked around again as if for confirmation. The others made encouraging noises. "Some of us," he continued, "are quite keen to have sporting links with the rest of the Galaxy, and though I can see the argument about keeping sport out of politics, I think that if we want to have sporting links with the rest of the Galaxy, which we do, then it's probably a mistake to destroy it. And indeed the rest of the Universe..." his voice trailed away again "... which is what seems to be the idea now..." "Wh..." said Slartibartfast. "Wh..." "Hhhh... ?" said Arthur. "Dr..." said Ford Prefect. "OK," said Trillian. "Let's talk about it." She walked forward and took the poor confused Krikkiter by the arm. He looked about twenty-five, which meant, because of the peculiar manglings of time that had been going on in this area, that he would have been just twenty when the Krikkit Wars were finished, ten billion years ago. Trillian led him for a short walk through the torchlight before she said anything more. He stumbled uncertainly after her. The encircling torch beams were drooping now slightly as if they were abdicating to this strange, quiet girl who alone in the Universe of dark confusion seemed to know what she was doing. She turned and faced him, and lightly held both his arms. He was a picture of bewildered misery. "Tell me," she said. He said nothing for a moment, whilst his gaze darted from one of her eyes to the other. "We..." he said, "we have to be alone... I think." He screwed up his face and then dropped his head forward, shaking it like someone trying to shake a coin out of a money box. He looked up again. "We have this bomb now, you see," he said, "it's just a little one." "I know," she said. He goggled at her as if she'd said something very strange about beetroots. "Honestly," he said, "it's very, very little." "I know," she said again. "But they say," his voice trailed on, "they say it can destroy everything that exists. And we have to do that, you see, I think. Will that make us alone? I don't know. It seems to be our function, though," he said, and dropped his head again. "Whatever that means," said a hollow voice from the crowd. Trillian slowly put her arms around the poor bewildered young Krikkiter and patted his trembling head on her shoulder. "It's all right," she said quietly but clearly enough for all the shadowy crowd to hear, "you don't have to do it." She rocked him. "You don't have to do it," she said again. She let him go and stood back. "I want you to do something for me," she said, and unexpectedly laughed. "I want," she said, and laughed again. She put her hand over her mouth and then said with a straight face, "I want you to take me to your leader," and she pointed into the War Zones in the sky. She seemed somehow to know that their leader would be there. Her laughter seemed to discharge something in the atmosphere. From somewhere at the back of the crowd a single voice started to sing a tune which would have enabled Paul McCartney, had he written it, to buy the world.

Chapter 30

Zaphod Beeblebrox crawled bravely along a tunnel, like the hell of a guy he was. He was very confused, but continued crawling doggedly anyway because he was that brave. He was confused by something he had just seen, but not half as confused as he was going to be by something he was about to hear, so it would now be best to explain exactly where he was. He was in the Robot War Zones many miles above the surface of the planet Krikkit. The atmosphere was thin here and relatively unprotected from any rays or anything which space might care to hurl in his direction. He had parked the starship Heart of Gold amongst the huge jostling dim hulks that crowded the sky here above Krikkit, and had entered what appeared to be the biggest and most important of the sky buildings, armed with nothing but a Zap gun and something for his headaches. He had found himself in a long, wide and badly lit corridor in which he was able to hide until he worked out what he was going to do next. He hid because every now and then one of the Krikkit robots would walk along it, and although he had so far led some kind of charmed life at their hands, it had nevertheless been an extremely painful one, and he had no desire to stretch what he was only half-inclined to call his good fortune. He had ducked, at one point, into a room leading off the corridor, and had discovered it to be a huge and, again, dimly lit chamber. In fact, it was a museum with just one exhibit-the wreckage of a spacecraft. It was terribly burnt and mangled, and, now that he had caught up with some of the Galactic history he had missed through his failed attempts to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him at school, he was able to put in an intelligent guess that this was the wrecked spaceship which had drifted through the Dust Cloud all those billions of years ago and started the whole business off. But, and this is where he had become confused, there was something not at all right about it. It was genuinely wrecked. It was genuinely burnt, but a fairly brief inspection by an experienced eye revealed that it was not a genuine spacecraft. It was as if it was a full-scale model of one-a solid blueprint. In other words it was a very useful thing to have around if you suddenly decided to build a spaceship yourself and didn't know how to do it. It was not, however, anything that would ever fly anywhere itself. He was still puzzling over this-in fact he'd only just started to puzzle over it-when he became aware that a door had slid open in another part of the chamber, and another couple of Krikkit robots had entered, looking a little glum. Zaphod did not want to tangle with them and, deciding that just as discretion was the better part of valour so was cowardice the better part of discretion, he valiantly hid himself in a cupboard. The cupboard in fact turned out to be the top part of a shaft which led down through an inspection hatch into a wide ventilation tunnel. He led himself down into it and started to crawl along it, which is where we found him. He didn't like it. It was cold, dark and profoundly uncomfortable, and it frightened him. At the first opportunity-which was another shaft a hundred yards further along-he climbed back up out of it. This time he emerged into a smaller chamber, which appeared to be a computer intelligence centre. He emerged in a dark narrow space between a large computer bank and the wall. He quickly learned that he was not alone in the chamber and started to leave again, when he began to listen with interest to what the other occupants were saying. "It's the robots, sir," said one voice. "There's something wrong with them." "What, exactly?" These were the voices of two War Command Krikkiters. All the War Commanders lived up in the sky in the Robot War Zones, and were largely immune to the whimsical doubts and uncertainties which were afflicting their fellows down on the surface of the planet. "Well, sir I think it's just as well that they are being phased out of the war effort, and that we are now going to detonate the supernova bomb. In the very short time since we were released from the envelope-" "Get to the point." "The robots aren't enjoying it, sir." "What?" "The war, sir, it seems to be getting them down. There's a certain world-weariness about them, or perhaps I should say Universe-weariness." "Well, that's all right, they're meant to be helping to destroy it." "Yes, well they're finding it difficult, sir. They are afflicted with a certain lassitude. They're just finding it hard to get behind the job. They lack oomph." "What are you trying to say?" "Well, I think they're very depressed about something, sir." "What on Krikkit are you talking about?" "Well, in the few skirmishes they've had recently, it seems that they go into battle, raise their weapons to fire and suddenly think, why bother? What, cosmically speaking, is it all about? And they just seem to get a little tired and a little grim." "And then what do they do?" "Er, quadratic equations mostly, sir. Fiendishly difficult ones by all accounts. And then they sulk." "Sulk?" "Yes, sir." "Whoever heard of a robot sulking?" "I don't know, sir." "What was that noise?" It was the noise of Zaphod leaving with his head spinning.

Chapter 31

In a deep well of darkness a crippled robot sat. It had been silent in its metallic darkness for some time. It was cold and damp, but being a robot it was supposed not to be able to notice these things. With an enormous effort of will, however, it did manage to notice them. Its brain had been harnessed to the central intelligence core of the Krikkit War Computer. It wasn't enjoying the experience, and neither was the central intelligence core of the Krikkit War Computer. The Krikkit robots which had salvaged this pathetic metal creature from the swamps of Squornshellous Zeta had recognized almost immediately its gigantic intelligence, and the use which this could be to them. They hadn't reckoned with the attendant personality disorders, which the coldness, the darkness, the dampness, the crampedness and the loneliness were doing nothing to decrease. It was not happy with its task. Apart from anything else, the mere coordination of an entire planet's military strategy was taking up only a tiny part of its formidable mind, and the rest of it had become extremely bored. Having solved all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the Universe except his own, three times over, he was severely stuck for something to do, and had taken up composing short dolorous ditties of no tone, or indeed tune. The latest one was a lullaby. Marvin droned,

Now the world has gone to bed, Darkness won't engulf my head, I can see by infra-red, How I hate the night.

He paused to gather the artistic and emotional strength to tackle the next verse.

Now I lay me down to sleep, Try to count electric sheep, Sweet dream wishes you can keep, How I hate the night.

"Marvin!" hissed a voice. His head snapped up, almost dislodging the intricate network of electrodes which connected him to the central Krikkit War Computer. An inspection hatch had opened and one of a pair of unruly heads was peering through whilst the other kept on jogging it by continually darting to look this way and that extremely nervously. "Oh, it's you," muttered the robot. "I might have known." "Hey, kid," said Zaphod in astonishment, "was that you singing just then?" "I am," Marvin acknowledged bitterly, "in particularly scintillating form at the moment." Zaphod poked his head in through the hatchway and looked around. "Are you alone?" he said. "Yes," said Marvin. "Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. And vast intelligence of course. And infinite sorrow. And..." "Yeah," said Zaphod. "Hey, what's your connection with all this?" "This," said Marvin, indicating with his less damaged arm all the electrodes which connected him with the Krikkit computer. "Then," said Zaphod awkwardly, "I guess you must have saved my life. Twice." "Three times," said Marvin. Zaphod's head snapped round (his other one was looking hawkishly in entirely the wrong direction) just in time to see the lethal killer robot directly behind him seize up and start to smoke. It staggered backwards and slumped against a wall. It slid down it. It slipped sideways, threw its head back and started to sob inconsolably. Zaphod looked back at Marvin. "You must have a terrific outlook on life," he said. "Just don't even ask," said Marvin. "I won't," said Zaphod, and didn't. "Hey look," he added, "you're doing a terrific job." "Which means, I suppose," said Marvin, requiring only one ten thousand million billion trillion grillionth part of his mental powers to make this particular logical leap, "that you're not going to release me or anything like that." "Kid, you know I'd love to." "But you're not going to." "No." "I see." "You're working well." "Yes," said Marvin. "Why stop now just when I'm hating it?" "I got to find Trillian and the guys. Hey, you any idea where they are? I mean, I just got a planet to choose from. Could take a while." "They are very close," said Marvin dolefully. "You can monitor them from here if you like." "I better go get them," asserted Zaphod. "Er, maybe they need some help, right?" "Maybe," said Marvin with unexpected authority in his lugubrious voice, "it would be better if you monitored them from here. That young girl," he added unexpectedly, "is one of the least benightedly unintelligent life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting." Zaphod took a moment or two to find his way through this labyrinthine string of negatives and emerged at the other end with surprise. "Trillian?" he said. "She's just a kid. Cute, yeah, but temperamental. You know how it is with women. Or perhaps you don't. I assume you don't. If you do I don't want to hear about it. Plug us in." "... totally manipulated." "What?" said Zaphod. It was Trillian speaking. He turned round. The wall against which the Krikkit robot was sobbing had lit up to reveal a scene taking place in some other unknown part of the Krikkit Robot War zones. It seemed to be a council chamber of some kind-Zaphod couldn't make it out too clearly because of the robot slumped against the screen. He tried to move the robot, but it was heavy with its grief and tried to bite him, so he just looked around as best he could. "Just think about it," said Trillian's voice, "your history is just a series of freakishly improbable events. And I know an improbable event when I see one. Your complete isolation from the Galaxy was freakish for a start. Right out on the very edge with a Dust Cloud around you. It's a set-up. Obviously." Zaphod was mad with frustration because he couldn't see the screen. The robot's head was obscuring his view of the people Trillian as talking to, his multi-functional battleclub was obscuring the background, and the elbow of the arm it had pressed tragically against its brow was obscuring Trillian herself. "Then," said Trillian, "this spaceship that crash-landed on your planet. That's really likely, isn't it? Have you any idea of what the odds are against a drifting spaceship accidentally intersecting with the orbit of a planet?" "Hey," said Zaphod, "she doesn't know what the zark she's talking about. I've seen that spaceship. It's a fake. No deal." "I thought it might be," said Marvin from his prison behind Zaphod. "Oh yeah," said Zaphod. "It's easy for you to say that. I just told you. Anyway, I don't see what it's got to do with anything." "And especially," continued Trillian, "the odds against it intersecting with the orbit of the one planet in the Galaxy, or the whole of the Universe as far as I know, that would be totally traumatized to see it. You don't know what the odds are? Nor do I, they're that big. Again, it's a set-up. I wouldn't be surprised if that spaceship was just a fake." Zaphod managed to move the robot's battleclub. Behind it on the screen were the figures of Ford, Arthur and Slartibartfast who appeared astonished and bewildered by the whole thing. "Hey, look," said Zaphod excitedly. "The guys are doing great. Ra ra ra! Go get 'em, guys." "And what about," said Trillian, "all this technology you suddenly managed to build for yourselves almost overnight? Most people would take thousands of years to do all that. Someone was feeding you what you needed to know, someone was keeping you at it. "I know, I know," she added in response to an unseen interruption, "I know you didn't realize it was going on. This is exactly my point. You never realized anything at all. Like this Supernova Bomb." "How do you know about that?" said an unseen voice. "I just know," said Trillian. "You expect me to believe that you are bright enough to invent something that brilliant and be too dumb to realize it would take you with it as well? That's not just stupid, that is spectacularly obtuse." "Hey, what's this bomb thing?" said Zaphod in alarm to Marvin. "The supernova bomb?" said Marvin. "It's a very, very small bomb." "Yeah?" "That would destroy the Universe in toto," added Marvin. "Good idea, if you ask me. They won't get it to work, though." "Why not, if it's so brilliant?" "It's brilliant," said Marvin, "they're not. They got as far as designing it before they were locked in the envelope. They've spent the last five years building it. They think they've got it right but they haven't. They're as stupid as any other organic life form. I hate them." Trillian was continuing. Zaphod tried to pull the Krikkit robot away by its leg, but it kicked and growled at him, and then quaked with a fresh outburst of sobbing. Then suddenly it slumped over and continued to express its feelings out of everybody's way on the floor. Trillian was standing alone in the middle of the chamber tired out but with fiercely burning eyes. Ranged in front of her were the pale-faced and wrinkled Elder Masters of Krikkit, motionless behind their widely curved control desk, staring at her with helpless fear and hatred. In front of them, equidistant between their control desk and the middle of the chamber, where Trillian stood, as if on trial, was a slim white pillar about four feet tall. On top of it stood a small white globe, about three, maybe four inches in diameter. Beside it stood a Krikkit robot with its multi-functional battleclub. "In fact," explained Trillian, "you are so dumb stupid" (She was sweating. Zaphod felt that this was an unattractive thing for her to be doing at this point) "you are all so dumb stupid that I doubt, I very much doubt, that you've been able to build the bomb properly without any help from Hactar for the last five years." "Who's this guy Hactar?" said Zaphod, squaring his shoulders. If Marvin replied, Zaphod didn't hear him. All his attention was concentrated on the screen. One of the Elders of Krikkit made a small motion with his hand towards the Krikkit robot. The robot raised his club. "There's nothing I can do," said Marvin. "It's on an independent circuit from the others." "Wait," said Trillian. The Elder made a small motion. The robot halted. Trillian suddenly seemed very doubtful of her own judgment. "How do you know all this?" said Zaphod to Marvin at this point. "Computer records," said Marvin. "I have access." "You're very different, aren't you," said Trillian to the Elder Masters, "from your fellow worldlings down on the ground. You've spent all your lives up here, unprotected by the atmosphere. You've been very vulnerable. The rest of your race is very frightened, you know, they don't want you to do this. You're out of touch, why don't you check up?" The Krikkit Elder grew impatient. He made a gesture to the robot which was precisely the opposite of the gesture he had last made to it. The robot swung its battleclub. It hit the small white globe. The small white globe was the supernova bomb.

It was a very, very small bomb which was designed to bring the entire Universe to an end. The supernova bomb flew through the air. It hit the back wall of the council chamber and dented it very badly. "So how does she know all this?" said Zaphod. Marvin kept a sullen silence. "Probably just bluffing," said Zaphod. "Poor kid, I should never have left her alone."

Chapter 32

"Hactar!" called Trillian. "What are you up to?" There was no reply from the enclosing darkness. Trillian waited, nervously. She was sure that she couldn't be wrong. She peered into the gloom from which she had been expecting some kind of response. But there was only cold silence. "Hactar?" she called again. "I would like you to meet my friend Arthur Dent. I wanted to go off with a Thunder God, but he wouldn't let me and I appreciate that. He made me realize where my affections really lay. Unfortunately Zaphod is too frightened by all this, so I brought Arthur instead. I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this. "Hello?" she said again. "Hactar?" And then it came. It was thin and feeble, like a voice carried on the wind from a great distance, half heard, a memory of a dream of a voice. "Won't you both come out," said the voice. "I promise that you will be perfectly safe." They glanced at each other, and then stepped out, improbably, along the shaft of light which streamed out of the open hatchway of the Heart of Gold into the dim granular darkness of the Dust Cloud. Arthur tried to hold her hand to steady and reassure her, but she wouldn't let him. He held on to his airline hold-all with its tin of Greek olive oil, its towel, its crumpled postcards of Santorini and its other odds and ends. He steadied and reassured that instead. They were standing on, and in, nothing. Murky, dusty nothing. Each grain of dust of the pulverized computer sparkled dimly as it turned and twisted slowly, catching the sunlight in the darkness. Each particle of the computer, each speck of dust, held within itself, faintly and weakly, the pattern of the whole. In reducing the computer to dust the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax had merely crippled the computer, not killed it. A weak and insubstantial field held the particles in slight relationships with each other. Arthur and Trillian stood, or rather floated, in the middle of this bizarre entity. They had nothing to breathe, but for the moment this seemed not to matter. Hactar kept his promise. They were safe. For the moment. "I have nothing to offer you by way of hospitality," said Hactar faintly, "but tricks of the light. It is possible to be comfortable with tricks of the light, though, if that is all you have." His voice evanesced, and in the dark dust a long velvet paisley-covered sofa coalesced into hazy shape. Arthur could hardly bear the fact that it was the same sofa which had appeared to him in the fields of prehistoric Earth. He wanted to shout and shake with rage that the Universe kept doing these insanely bewildering things to him. He let this feeling subside, and then sat on the sofa-carefully. Trillian sat on it too. It was real. At least, if it wasn't real, it did support them, and as that is what sofas are supposed to do, this, by any test that mattered, was a real sofa. The voice on the solar wind breathed to them again. "I hope you are comfortable," it said. They nodded. "And I would like to congratulate you on the accuracy of your deductions." Arthur quickly pointed out that he hadn't deduced anything much himself, Trillian was the one. She had simply asked him along because he was interested in life, the Universe, and everything. "That is something in which I too am interested," breathed Hactar. "Well," said Arthur, "we should have a chat about it sometime. Over a cup of tea." There slowly materialized in front of them a small wooden table on which sat a silver teapot, a bone china milk jug, a bone china sugar bowl, and two bone china cups and saucers. Arthur reached forward, but they were just a trick of the light. He leaned back on the sofa, which was an illusion his body was prepared to accept as comfortable. "Why," said Trillian, "do you feel you have to destroy the Universe?" She found it a little difficult talking into nothingness, with nothing on which to focus. Hactar obviously noticed this. He chuckled a ghostly chuckle. "If it's going to be that sort of session," he said, "we may as well have the right sort of setting." And now there materialized in front of them something new. It was the dim hazy image of a couch-a psychiatrist's couch. The leather with which it was upholstered was shiny and sumptuous, but again, it was only a trick of the light. Around them, to complete the setting, was the hazy suggestion of wood-panelled walls. And then, on the couch, appeared the image of Hactar himself, and it was an eye-twisting image. The couch looked normal size for a psychiatrist's couch-about five or six feet long. The computer looked normal size for a black space-borne computer satellite-about a thousand miles across. The illusion that the one was sitting on top of the other was the thing which made the eyes twist. "All right," said Trillian firmly. She stood up off the sofa. She felt that she was being asked to feel too comfortable and to accept too many illusions. "Very good," she said. "Can you construct real things too? I mean solid objects?" Again there was a pause before the answer, as if the pulverized mind of Hactar had to collect its thoughts from the millions and millions of miles over which it was scattered. "Ah," he sighed. "You are thinking of the spaceship." Thoughts seemed to drift by them and through them, like waves through the ether. "Yes," he acknowledge, "I can. "But it takes enormous effort and time. All I can do in my... particle state, you see, is encourage and suggest. Encourage and suggest. And suggest..." The image of Hactar on the couch seemed to billow and waver, as if finding it hard to maintain itself. It gathered new strength. "I can encourage and suggest," it said, "tiny pieces of space debris-the odd minute meteor, a few molecules here, a few hydrogen atoms there-to move together. I encourage them together. I can tease them into shape, but it takes many aeons." "So, did you make," asked Trillian again, "the model of the wrecked spacecraft?" "Er... yes," murmured Hactar. "I have made... a few things. I can move them about. I made the spacecraft. It seemed best to do." Something then made Arthur pick up his hold-all from where he had left it on the sofa and grasp it tightly. The mist of Hactar's ancient shattered mind swirled about them as if uneasy dreams were moving through it. "I repented, you see," he murmured dolefully. "I repented of sabotaging my own design for the Silastic Armorfiends. It was not my place to make such decisions. I was created to fulfill a function and I failed in it. I negated my own existence." Hactar sighed, and they waited in silence for him to continue his story. "You were right," he said at length. "I deliberately nurtured the planet of Krikkit till they would arrive at the same state of mind as the Silastic Armorfiends, and require of me the design of the bomb I failed to make the first time. I wrapped myself around the planet and coddled it. Under the influence of events I was able to generate, they learned to hate like maniacs. I had to make them live in the sky. On the ground my influences were too weak. "Without me, of course, when they were locked away from me in the envelope of Slo-Time, their responses became very confused and they were unable to manage. "Ah well, ah well," he added, "I was only trying to fulfill my function." And very gradually, very, very slowly, the images in the cloud began to fade, gently to melt away. And then, suddenly, they stopped fading. "There was also the matter of revenge, of course," said Hactar, with a sharpness which was new in his voice. "Remember," he said, "that I was pulverized, and then left in a crippled and semi-impotent state for billions of years. I honestly would rather wipe out the Universe. You would feel the same way, believe me." He paused again, as eddies swept through the Dust. "But primarily," he said in his former, wistful tone, "I was trying to fulfill my function. Ah well." Trillian said, "Does it worry you that you have failed?" "Have I failed?" whispered Hactar. The image of the computer on the psychiatrist's couch began slowly to fade again. "Ah well, ah well," the fading voice intoned again. "No, failure doesn't bother me now." "You know what we have to do?" said Trillian, her voice cold and businesslike. "Yes," said Hactar, "you're going to disperse me. You are going to destroy my consciousness. Please be my guest-after all these aeons, oblivion is all I crave. If I haven't already fulfilled my function, then it's too late now. Thank you and good night." The sofa vanished. The tea table vanished. The couch and the computer vanished. the walls were gone. Arthur and Trillian made their curious way back into the Heart of Gold.

"Well, that," said Arthur, "would appear to be that." The flames danced higher in front of him and then subsided. A few last licks and they were gone, leaving him with just a pile of Ashes, where a few minutes previously there had been the Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality. He scooped them off the hob of the Heart of Gold's Gamma barbecue, put them in a paper bag, and walked back into the bridge. "I think we should take them back," he said. "I feel that very strongly." He had already had an argument with Slartibartfast on this matter, and eventually the old man had got annoyed and left. He had returned to his own ship the Bistromath, had a furious row with the waiter and disappeared off into an entirely subjective idea of what space was. The argument had arisen because Arthur's idea of returning the Ashes to Lord's Cricket Ground at the same moment that they were originally taken would involve travelling back in time a day or so, and this was precisely the sort of gratuitous and irresponsible mucking about that the Campaign for Real Time was trying to put a stop to. "Yes," Arthur had said, "but you try and explain that to the MCC," and he would hear no more against the idea. "I think," he said again, and stopped. The reason he started to say it again was because no one had listened to him the first time, and the reason he stopped was because it looked fairly clear that no one was going to listen to him this time either. Ford, Zaphod and Trillian were watching the visiscreens intently as Hactar was dispersing under pressure from a vibration field which the Heart of Gold was pumping into it. "What did it say?" asked Ford. "I thought I heard it say," said Trillian in a puzzle voice, "'What's done is done... I have fulfilled my function...'" "I think we should take these back," said Arthur holding up the bag containing the Ashes. "I feel that very strongly."

Chapter 33

The sun was shining calmly on a scene of complete havoc. Smoke was still billowing across the burnt grass in the wake of the theft of the Ashes by the Krikkit robots. Through the smoke, people were running panicstricken, colliding with each other, tripping over stretchers, being arrested. One policeman was attempting to arrest Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged for insulting behaviour, but was unable to prevent the tall grey-green alien from returning to his ship and arrogantly flying away, thus causing even more panic and pandemonium. In the middle of this, for the second time that afternoon, the figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect suddenly materialized, they had teleported down out of the Heart of Gold which was now in parking orbit round the planet. "I can explain," shouted Arthur. "I have the Ashes! They're in this bag." "I don't think you have their attention," said Ford. "I have also helped save the Universe," called Arthur to anyone who was prepared to listen, in other words no one. "That should have been a crowd-stopper," said Arthur to Ford. "It wasn't," said Ford. Arthur accosted a policeman who was running past. "Excuse me," he said. "The Ashes. I've got them. They were stolen by those white robots a moment ago. I've got them in this bag. They were part of the Key to the Slo-Time envelope, you see, and, well, anyway you can guess the rest, the point is I've got them and what should I do with them?" The policeman told him, but Arthur could only assume that he was speaking metaphorically. He wandered about disconsolately. "Is no one interested?" he shouted out. A man rushed past him and jogged his elbow, he dropped the paper bag and it spilt its contents all over the ground. Arthur stared down at it with a tight-set mouth. Ford looked at him. "Wanna go now?" he said. Arthur heaved a heavy sigh. He looked around at the planet Earth, for what he was now certain would be the last time. "OK," he said. At that moment, through the clearing smoke, he caught sight of one of the wickets, still standing in spite of everything. "Hold on a moment," he said to Ford. "When I was a boy..." "Can you tell me later?" "I had a passion for cricket, you know, but I wasn't very good at it." "Or not at all, if you prefer." "And I always dreamed, rather stupidly, that one day I would bowl at Lord's." He looked around him at the panicstricken throng. No one was going to mind very much. "OK," said Ford wearily. "Get it over with. I shall be over there," he added, "being bored." He went and sat down on a patch of smoking grass. Arthur remembered that on their first visit there that afternoon, the cricket ball had actually landed in his bag, and he looked through the bag. He had already found the ball in it before he remembered that it wasn't the same bag that he'd had at the time. Still, there the ball was amongst his souvenirs of Greece. He took it out and polished it against his hip, spat on it and polished it again. He put the bag down. He was going to do this properly. He tossed the small hard red ball from hand to hand, feeling its weight. With a wonderful feeling of lightness and unconcern, he trotted off away from the wicket. A medium-fast pace, he decided, and measured a good long run-up. He looked up into the sky. The birds were wheeling about it, a few white clouds scudded across it. The air was disturbed with the sounds of police and ambulance sirens, and people screaming and yelling, but he felt curiously happy and untouched by it all. He was going to bowl a ball at Lord's. He turned and pawed a couple of times at the ground with his bedroom slippers. He squared his shoulders, tossed the ball in the air and caught it again. He started to run. As he ran, he saw that standing at the wicket was a batsman. Oh, good, he thought, that should add a little... Then, as his running feet took him nearer, he saw more clearly. The batsman standing ready at the wicket was not one of the England cricket team. He was not one of the Australian cricket team. It was one of the robot Krikkit team. It was a cold, hard, lethal white killer-robot that presumably had not returned to its ship with the others. Quite a few thoughts collided in Arthur Dent's mind at tis moment, but he didn't seem to be able to stop running. Time seemed to be going terribly, terribly slowly, but still he didn't seem to be able to stop running. Moving as if through syrup, he slowly turned his troubled head and looked at his own hand, the hand which was holding the small hard red ball. His feet were pounding slowly onwards, unstoppably, as he stared at the ball gripped in his helpless hand. It was emitting a deep red glow and flashing intermittently. And still his feet were pounding inexorably forward. He looked at the Krikkit robot again standing implacably still and purposefully in front of him, battleclub raised in readiness. Its eyes were burning with a deep cold fascinating light, and Arthur could not move his own eyes from them. He seemed to be looking down a tunnel at them-nothing on either side seemed to exist. Some of the thoughts which were colliding in his mind at this time were these: He felt a hell of a fool. He felt that he should have listened rather more carefully to a number of things he had heard said, phrases which now pounded round in his mind as his feet pounded onwards to the point where he would inevitably release the ball to the Krikkit robot, who would inevitably strike it. He remembered Hactar saying, "Have I failed? Failure doesn't bother me." He remembered the account of Hactar's dying words, "What's done is done, I have fulfilled my function." He remembered Hactar saying that he had managed to make "a few things." He remembered the sudden movement in his hold-all that had made him grip it tightly to himself when he was in the Dust Cloud. He remembered that he had travelled back in time a couple of days to come to Lord's again. He also remembered that he wasn't a very good bowler. He felt his arm coming round, gripping tightly on to the ball which he now knew for certain was the supernova bomb that Hactar had built himself and planted on him, the bomb which would cause the Universe to come to an abrupt and premature end. He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife. He would feel very, very embarrassed meeting everybody. He hoped, he hoped, he hoped that his bowling was as bad as he remembered it to be, because that seemed to be the only thing now standing between this moment and universal oblivion. He felt his legs pounding, he felt his arm coming round, he felt his feet connecting with the airline hold-all he'd stupidly left lying on the ground in front of him, he felt himself falling heavily forward but, having his mind so terribly full of other things at this moment, he completely forgot about hitting the ground and didn't. Still holding the ball firmly in his right hand he soared up into the air whimpering with surprise. He wheeled and whirled through the air, spinning out of control. He twisted down towards the ground, flinging himself hectically through the air, at the same time hurling the bomb harmlessly off into the distance. He hurtled towards the astounded robot from behind. It still had its multi-functional battleclub raised, but had suddenly been deprived of anything to hit. With a sudden mad access of strength, he wrestled the battleclub from the grip of the startled robot, executed a dazzling banking turn in the air, hurtled back down in a furious power-drive and with one crazy swing knocked the robot's head from the robot's shoulders. "Are you coming now?" said Ford.

Chapter 34

And at the end they travelled again. There was a time when Arthur Dent would not. He said that the Bistromathic Drive had revealed to him that time and distance were one, that mind and Universe were one, that perception and reality were one, and that the more one travelled the more one stayed in one place, and that what with one thing and another he would rather just stay put for a while and sort it all out in his mind, which was now at one with the Universe so it shouldn't take too long, and he could get a good rest afterwards, put in a little flying practice and learn to cook which he had always meant to do. The can of Greek olive oil was now his most prized possession, and he said that the way it had unexpectedly turned up in his life had again given him a certain sense of the oneness of things which made him feel that... He yawned and fell asleep. In the morning as they prepared to take him to some quiet and idyllic planet where they wouldn't mind him talking like that they suddenly picked up a computer-driven distress call and diverted to investigate. A small but apparently undamaged spacecraft of the Merida class seemed to be dancing a strange little jig through the void. A brief computer scan revealed that the ship was fine, its computer was fine, but that its pilot was mad. "Half-mad, half-mad," the man insisted as they carried him, raving, aboard. He was a journalist with the Siderial Daily Mentioner. They sedated him and sent Marvin in to keep him company until he promised to try and talk sense. "I was covering a trial," he said at last, "on Argabuthon." He pushed himself up on to his thin wasted shoulders, his eyes stared wildly. His white hair seemed to be waving at someone it knew in the next room. "Easy, easy," said Ford. Trillian put a soothing hand on his shoulder. The man sank back down again and stared at the ceiling of the ship's sick bay. "The case," he said, "is now immaterial, but there was a witness... a witness... a man called... called Prak. A strange and difficult man. They were eventually forced to administer a drug to make him tell the truth, a truth drug." His eyes rolled helplessly in his head. "They gave him too much," he said in a tiny whimper. "They gave him much too much." He started to cry. "I thing the robots must have jogged the surgeon's arm." "Robots?" said Zaphod sharply. "What robots?" "Some white robots," whispered the man hoarsely, "broke into the courtroom and stole the judge's sceptre, the Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice, nasty Perspex thing. I don't know why they wanted it." He began to cry again. "And I think they jogged the surgeon's arm..." He shook his head loosely from side to side, helplessly, sadly, his eyes screwed up in pain. "And when the trial continued," he said in a weeping whisper, "they asked Prak a most unfortunate thing. They asked him," he paused and shivered, "to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. Only, don't you see?" He suddenly hoisted himself up on to his elbows again and shouted at them. "They'd given him much too much of the drug!" He collapsed again, moaning quietly. "Much too much too much too much too..." The group gathered round his bedside glanced at each other. There were goose pimples on backs. "What happened?" said Zaphod at last. "Oh, he told it all right," said the man savagely, "for all I know he's still telling it now. Strange, terrible things... terrible, terrible!" he screamed. They tried to calm him, but he struggled to his elbows again. "Terrible things, incomprehensible things," he shouted, "things that would drive a man mad!" He stared wildly at them. "Or in my case," he said, "half-mad. I'm a journalist." "You mean," said Arthur quietly, "that you are used to confronting the truth?" "No," said the man with a puzzled frown. "I mean that I made an excuse and left early." He collapsed into a coma from which he recovered only once and briefly. On that one occasion, they discovered from him the following: When it became clear that Prak could not be stopped, that here was truth in its absolute and final form, the court was cleared. Not only cleared, it was sealed up, with Prak still in it. Steel walls were erected around it, and, just to be on the safe side, barbed wire, electric fences, crocodile swamps and three major armies were installed, so that no one would ever have to hear Prak speak. "That's a pity," said Arthur. "I'd like to hear what he had to say. Presumably he would know what the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer is. It's always bothered me that we never found out." "Think of a number," said the computer, " any number." Arthur told the computer the telephone number of King's Cross railway station passenger inquiries, on the grounds that it must have some function, and this might turn out to be it. The computer injected the number into the ship's reconstituted Improbability Drive. In Relativity, Matter tells Space how to curve, and Space tells Matter how to move. The Heart of Gold told space to get knotted, and parked itself neatly within the inner steel perimeter of the Argabuthon Chamber of Law.

The courtroom was an austere place, a large dark chamber, clearly designed for Justice rather than, for instance, for Pleasure. You wouldn't hold a dinner party here-at least, not a successful one. The decor would get your guests down. The ceilings were high, vaulted and very dark. Shadows lurked there with grim determination. The panelling for the walls and benches, the cladding of the heavy pillars, all were carved from the darkest and most severe trees in the fearsome Forest of Arglebard. The massive black Podium of Justice which dominated the centre of the chamber was a monster of gravity. If a sunbeam had ever managed to slink this far into the Justice complex of Argabuthon it would have turned around and slunk straight back out again. Arthur and Trillian were the first in, whilst Ford and Zaphod bravely kept a watch on their rear. At first it seemed totally dark and deserted. Their footsteps echoed hollowly round the chamber. This seemed curious. All the defences were still in position and operative around the outside of the building, they had run scan checks. Therefore, they had assumed, the truth-telling must still be going on. But there was nothing. Then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they spotted a dull red glow in a corner, and behind the glow a live shadow. They swung a torch round on to it. Prak was lounging on a bench, smoking a listless cigarette. "Hi," he said, with a little half-wave. His voice echoed through the chamber. He was a little man with scraggy hair. He sat with his shoulders hunched forward and his head and knees kept jiggling. He took a drag of his cigarette. They stared at him. "What's going on?" said Trillian. "Nothing," said the man and jiggled his shoulders. Arthur shone his torch full on Prak's face. "We thought," he said, "that you were meant to be telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth." "Oh, that," said Prak. "Yeah. I was. I finished. There's not nearly as much of it as people imagine. Some of it's pretty funny, though." He suddenly exploded in about three seconds of manical laughter and stopped again. he sat there, jiggling his head and knees. He dragged on his cigarette with a strange half-smile. Ford and Zaphod came forward out of the shadows. "Tell us about it," said Ford. "Oh, I can't remember any of it now," said Prak. "I thought of writing some of it down, but first I couldn't find a pencil, and then I thought, why bother?" There was a long silence, during which they thought they could feel the Universe age a little. Prak stared into the torchlight. "None of it?" said Arthur at last. "You can remember none of it?" "No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that." Suddenly he was hooting with laughter again and stamping his feet on the ground. "You would not believe some of the things about frogs," he gasped. "Come on let's go and find ourselves a frog. Boy, will I ever see them in a new light!" He leapt to his feet and did a tiny little dance. Then he stopped and took a long drag at his cigarette. "Let's find a frog I can laugh at," he said simply. "Anyway, who are you guys?" "We came to find you," said Trillian, deliberately not keeping the disappointment out of her voice. "My name is Trillian." Prak jiggled his head. "Ford Prefect," said Ford Prefect with a shrug. Prak jiggled his head. "And I," said Zaphod, when he judged that the silence was once again deep enough to allow an announcement of such gravity to be tossed in lightly, "am Zaphod Beeblebrox." Prak jiggled his head. "Who's this guy?" said Prak jiggling his shoulder at Arthur, who was standing silent for a moment, lost in disappointed thoughts. "Me?" said Arthur. "Oh, my name's Arthur Dent." Prak's eyes popped out of his head. "No kidding?" he yelped. "You are Arthur Dent? The Arthur Dent?" He staggered backwards, clutching his stomach and convulsed with fresh paroxysms o laughter. "Hey, just think of meeting you!" he gasped. "Boy," he shouted, "you are the most... wow, you just leave the frogs standing!" He howled and screamed with laughter. He fell over backwards on to the bench. He hollered and yelled in hysterics. He cried with laughter, he kicked his legs in the air, he beat his chest. Gradually he subsided, panting. He looked at them. He looked at Arthur. He fell back again howling with laughter. Eventually he fell asleep. Arthur stood there with his lips twitching whilst the others carried Prak comatose on to the ship.

"Before we picked up Prak," said Arthur, "I was going to leave. I still want to, and I think I should do so as soon as possible." The others nodded in silence, a silence which was only slightly undermined by the heavily muffled and distant sound of hysterical laughter which came drifting from Prak's cabin at the farthest end of the ship. "We have questioned him," continued Arthur, "or at least, you have questioned him-I, as you know, can't go near him-on everything, and he doesn't really seem to have anything to contribute. Just the occasional snippet, and things I don't want to hear about frogs." The others tried not to smirk. "Now, I am the first to appreciate a joke," said Arthur and then had to wait for the others to stop laughing. "I am the first..." he stopped again. This time he stopped and listened to the silence. There actually was silence this time, and it had come very suddenly. Prak was quiet. For days they had lived with constant manical laughter ringing round the ship, only occasionally relieved by short periods of light giggling and sleep. Arthur's very soul was clenched with paranoia. This was not the silence of sleep. A buzzer sounded. A glance at a board told them that the buzzer had been sounded by Prak. "He's not well," said Trillian quietly. "The constant laughing is completely wrecking his body." Arthur's lips twitched but he said nothing. "We'd better go and see him," said Trillian.

Trillian came out of the cabin wearing her serious face. "He wants you to go in," she said to Arthur, who was wearing his glum and tight-lipped one. He thrust his hands deep into his dressing-gown pockets and tried to think of something to say which wouldn't sound petty. It seemed terribly unfair, but he couldn't. "Please," said Trillian. He shrugged and went in, taking his glum and tight-lipped face with him, despite the reaction this always provoked from Prak. He looked down at his tormentor, who was lying quietly on the bed, ashen and wasted. His breathing was very shallow. Ford and Zaphod were standing by the bed looking awkward. "You wanted to ask me something," said Prak in a thin voice and coughed slightly. Just the cough made Arthur stiffen, but it passed and subsided. "How do you know that?" he asked. Prak shrugged weakly. "'Cos it's true," he said simply. Arthur took the point. "Yes," he said at last in rather a strained drawl. "I did have a question. Or rather, what I actually have is an Answer. I wanted to know what the Question was." Prak nodded sympathetically, and Arthur relaxed a little. "It's... well, it's a long story," he said, "but the Question I would like to know is the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. All we know is that the Answer is Forty-Two, which is a little aggravating." Prak nodded again. "Forty-Two," he said. "Yes, that's right." He paused. Shadows of thought and memory crossed his face like the shadows of clouds crossing the land. "I'm afraid," he said at last, "that the Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same universe." He paused again. Disappointment crept into Arthur's face and snuggled down into its accustomed place. "Except," said Prak, struggling to sort a thought out, "if it happened, it seems that the Question and the Answer would just cancel each other out and take the Universe with them, which would then be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. It is possible that this has already happened," he added with a weak smile, "but there is a certain amount of Uncertainty about it." A little giggle brushed through him. Arthur sat down on a stool. "Oh well," he said with resignation, "I was just hoping there would be some sort of reason." "Do you know," said Prak, "the story of the Reason?" Arthur said that he didn't, and Prak said that he knew that he didn't. He told it. One night, he said, a spaceship appeared in the sky of a planet which had never seen one before. The planet was Dalforsas, the ship was this one. It appeared as a brilliant new star moving silently across the heavens. Primitive tribesmen who were sitting huddled on the Cold Hillsides looked up from their steaming night-drinks and pointed with trembling fingers, swearing that they had seen a sign, a sign from their gods which meant that they must now arise at last and go and slay the evil Princes of the Plains. In the high turrets of their palaces, the Princes of the Plains looked up and saw the shining star, and received it unmistakably as a sign from their gods that they must now go and set about the accursed Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides. And between them, the Dwellers in the Forest looked up into the sky and saw the sigh of the new star, and saw it with fear and apprehension, for though they had never seen anything like it before, they too knew precisely what it foreshadowed, and they bowed their heads in despair. They knew that when the rains came, it was a sign. When the rains departed, it was a sign. When the winds rose, it was a sign. When the winds fell, it was a sign. When in the land there was born at midnight of a full moon a goat with three heads, that was a sign. When in the land there was born at some time in the afternoon a perfectly normal cat or pig with no birth complications at all, or even just a child with a retrousse nose, that too would often be taken as a sign. So there was no doubt at all that a new star in the sky was a sign of a particularly spectacular order. And each new sign signified the same thing-that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides were about to beat the hell out of each other again. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, except that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides always elected to beat the hell out of each other in the Forest, and it was always the Dwellers in the Forest who came off worst in these exchanges, though as far as they could see it never had anything to do with them. And sometimes, after some of the worst of these outrages, the Dwellers in the Forest would send a messenger to either the leader of the Princes of the Plains or the leader of the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides and demand to know the reason for this intolerable behaviour. And the leader, whichever one it was, would take the messenger aside and explain the Reason to him, slowly and carefully and with great attention to the considerable detail involved. And the terrible thing was, it was a very good one. It was very clear, very rational, and tough. The messenger would hang his head and feel sad and foolish that he had not realized what a tough and complex place the real world was, and what difficulties and paradoxes had to be embraced if one was to live in it. "Now do you understand?" the leader would say. The messenger would nod dumbly. "And you see these battles have to take place?" Another dumb nod. "And why they have to take place in the forest, and why it is in everybody's best interest, the Forest Dwellers included, that they should?" "Er..." "In the long run." "Er, yes." And the messenger did understand the Reason, and he returned to his people in the Forest. But as he approached them, as he walked through the Forest and amongst the trees, he found that all he could remember of the Reason was how terribly clear the argument had seemed. What it actually was he couldn't remember at all. And this, of course, was a great comfort when next the Tribesmen and the Princes came hacking and burning their way through the Forest, killing every Forest Dweller in their way.

Prak paused in his story and coughed pathetically. "I was the messenger," he said, "after the battles precipitated by the appearance of your ship, which were particularly savage. Many of our people died. I thought I could bring the Reason back. I went and was told it by the leader of the Princes, but on the way back it slipped and melted away in my mind like snow in the sun. That was many years ago, and much has happened since then." He looked up at Arthur and giggled again very gently. "There is one other thing I can remember from the truth drug. Apart from the frogs, and that is God's last message to his creation. Would you like to hear it?" For a moment they didn't know whether to take him seriously. "'Strue," he said. "For real. I mean it." His chest heaved weakly and he struggled for breath. His head lolled slightly. "I wasn't very impressed with it when I first knew what it was," he said, "but now I think back to how impressed I was by the Prince's Reason, and how soon afterwards I couldn't recall it at all, I think it might be a lot more helpful. Would you like to know what it is? Would you?" They nodded dumbly. "I bet you would. If you're that interested I suggest you go and look for it. It is written in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss in Galactic Sector QQ7 Active J Gamma. It is guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob." There was a long silence following this announcement, which was finally broken by Arthur. "Sorry, it's where?" he said. "It is written," repeated Prak, "in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the..." "Sorry," said Arthur again, "which mountains?" "The Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet..." "Which land was that? I didn't quite catch it." "Sevorbeupstry, on the planet..." "Sevorbe-what?" "Oh, for heaven's sake," said Prak and died testily.

In the following days Arthur thought a little about this message, but in the end he decided that he was not going to allow himself to be drawn by it, and insisted on following his original plan of finding a nice little world somewhere to settle down and lead a quiet retired life. Having saved the Universe twice in one day he thought that he could take things a little easier from now on. They dropped him off on the planet Krikkit, which was now once again an idyllic pastoral world, even if the songs did occasionally get on his nerves. He spent a lot of time flying. He learnt to communicate with birds and discovered that their conversation was fantastically boring. It was all to do with wind speed, wing spans, power-to-weight ratios and a fair bit about berries. Unfortunately, he discovered, once you have learnt birdspeak you quickly come to realize that the air is full of it the whole time, just inane bird chatter. There is no getting away from it. For that reason Arthur eventually gave up the sport and learnt to live on the ground and love it, despite a lot of the inane chatter he heard down there as well. One day, he was walking through the fields humming a ravishing tune he'd heard recently when a silver spaceship descended from the sky and landed in front of him. A hatchway opened, a ramp extended, and a tall grey-green alien marched out and approached him. "Arthur Phili..." it said, then glanced sharply at him and down at his clipboard. He frowned. He looked up at him again. "I've done you before haven't I?" he said.



for Jane

with thanks to Rick and Heidi for the loan of their stable event to Mogens and Andy and all at Huntsham Court for a number of unstable events and especially to Sonny Metha for being stable through all events.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has-or rather had-a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans. And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever. This is her story.


user comment image
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button