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LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING

Chapter 6

In space travel, you see," said Slartibartfast, as he fiddled with some instruments in the room of Informational Illusions, "in space travel ..."

He stopped and looked about him.

The room of Informational Illusions was a welcome relief after the visual monstrosities of the central computational area. There was nothing in it. No information, no illusions, just themselves, white walls and a few small instruments that looked as if they were meant to plug into something that Slartibartfast couldn't find.

"Yes?" urged Arthur. He had picked up Slartibartfast's sense of urgency but didn't know what to do with it.

"Yes what?" said the old man.

"You were saying?"

Slartibartfast looked at him sharply.

"The numbers," he said, "are awful." He resumed his search.

Arthur nodded wisely to himself. After a while he realized that this wasn't getting him anywhere and decided that he would say "What?" after all.

"In space travel," repeated Slartibartfast, "all the numbers are awful."

Arthur nodded again and looked around to Ford for help, but Ford was practicing being sullen and getting quite good at it.

"I was only," said Slartibartfast with a sigh, "trying to save you the trouble of asking me why all the ship's computations were being done on a waiter's check pad."

Arthur frowned.

"Why," he said, "were all the ship's computations being done on a wait --"

He stopped.

Slartibartfast said, "Because in space travel all the numbers are awful."

He could tell that he wasn't getting his point across.

"Listen," he said, "on a waiter's check pad numbers dance. You must have encountered the phenomenon."

"Well ..."

"On a waiter's check pad," said Slartibartfast, "reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and  anything is possible, within certain parameters." 

"What parameters?"

"It's impossible to say," said Slartibartfast. "That's one of them. Strange but true. At least, I think it's strange," he added, "and I am assured that it's true."

At that moment he located the slot in the wall for which he had been searching, and clicked the instrument he was holding into it. 

"Do not be alarmed," he said, and then suddenly darted an alarmed look at it himself, and lunged back, "it's ..."

They didn't hear what he said, because at that moment the ship winked out of existence around them and a Star battleship the size of a small Midlands industrial city plunged out of the sundered night toward them, star lasers ablaze.

A nightmare storm of blistering light seared through the blackness and smacked a fair bit off the planet directly behind them.

They gaped, pop-eyed, and were unable to scream.

Chapter 7

Another world, another day, another dawn.

The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently. 

Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small, cold and slightly damp.

There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.

The moment passed as it regularly did on Sqornshellous Zeta, without incident.

The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees were gray with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless like held breath.

Nothing moved.

There was silence.

The sun struggled feebly with the mist, tried to impart a little warmth here, shed a little light there, but clearly today was going to be just another long haul across the sky.

Nothing moved.

Again, silence.

Nothing moved.

Silence.

Nothing moved.

Very often on Sqornshellous Zeta, whole days would go on like this, and this was indeed going to be one of them.

Fourteen hours later the sun sank hopelessly beneath the opposite horizon with a sense of totally wasted effort.

And a few hours later it reappeared, squared its shoulders and started on up the sky again.

This time, however, something was happening. A mattress had just met a robot.

"Hello, robot," said the mattress.

"Bleah," said the robot and continued what it was doing, which was walking round very slowly in a very tiny circle.

"Happy?" said the mattress.

The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it quizzically. It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked back at him with wide eyes.

After what It had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to walk round in tight circles.

"We could have a conversation," said the mattress. "Would you like that?"

It was a large mattress, and probably one of quite high quality. Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. (A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of ratchet screwdriver fruit is quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin that crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of a hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it.)

No one really knows what mattresses are meant to gain from their lives either. They are large, friendly, pocket-sprung creatures that live quiet private lives in the marshes of Sqornshellous Zeta. Many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried out, shipped out and slept on. None of them seems to mind this and all of them are called Zem.

"No," said Marvin.

"My name," said the mattress, "is Zem. We could discuss the weather a little."

Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.

"The dew," he observed, "has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning."

He resumed his walk, as if inspired by this conversational outburst to fresh heights of gloom and despondency. He plodded tenaciously. If he had had teeth he would have gritted them at this point. He hadn't. He didn't. The mere plod said it all.

The mattress flolloped around. This is a thing that only live mattresses in swamps are able to do, which is why the word is not in common usage. It flolloped in a sympathetic sort of way, moving a fair-size body of water as it  did so. It blew a few bubbles up through the water engagingly. Its blue and white stripes glistened briefly in a sudden feeble ray of sun that had unexpectedly made it through the mist, causing the creature to bask momentarily.

Marvin plodded.

"You have something on your mind, I think," said the mattress, floopily.

"More than you can possibly imagine," dreared Marvin. "My capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my capacity for happiness."

Stomp, stomp, he went.

"My capacity for happiness," he added, "you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first."

The mattress globbered. This is the noise made by a live, swamp-dwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal tragedy. The  word can also, according to the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, mean the noise made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop on discovering that he has forgotten his wife's birthday for the second year running. Since there was only ever one Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop and he never married, the word is only used in a negative or speculative sense, and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion that holds that the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of trucks it takes to cart its microstored edition around in. Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word "floopily," which simply means "in the manner of something which is floopy."

The mattress globbered again.

"I sense a deep dejectedness in your diodes," it vollued (for the meaning of the word "vollue," buy a copy of Sqornshellous Swamptalk at any bookstore selling remaindered books, or alternatively buy the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary, as the university will be very glad to get if off their hands and regain some valuable parking lots), "and it saddens me. You should be more mattresslike. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are content to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem, so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a minimum.  Why are you walking in circles?"

"Because my leg is stuck," said Marvin simply.

"It seems to me," said the mattress, eying it compassionately, "that it is a pretty poor sort of leg."

"You are right," said Marvin, "it is."

"Voon," said the mattress.

"I expect so," said Marvin, "and I also expect that you find the idea of a robot with an artificial leg pretty amusing. You should tell your friends, Zero and Zem, when you see them later; they'll laugh, if I know them, which I don't of course, except insofar as I know all organic life forms, which is much better than I would wish to. Ha, but my life is but a box of wormgears."

He stomped around again in his tiny circle, around his thin steel pegleg that revolved in the mud but seemed otherwise stuck.

"But why do you just keep walking round and round?" asked the mattress.

"Just to make the point," said Marvin, and continued, round and round.

"Consider it made, my dear friend," flurbled the mattress, "consider it made."

"Just another million years," said Marvin, "just another quick million. Then I might try it backward. Just for the variety, you understand."

The mattress could feel deep in his innermost spring pockets that the robot dearly wished to be asked how long he had been trudging in this futile and fruitless manner, and with another quiet flurble he did so.

"Oh, just over the one point five million mark, just over," said Marvin airily; "ask me if 1 ever get bored, go on, ask me."

The mattress did.

Marvin ignored the question, he merely trudged with added emphasis.

"I gave a speech once," he said suddenly and apparently unconnectedly. '"You may not instantly see why I bring the subject up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number."

"Er, five," said the mattress.

"Wrong," said Marvin. "You see?"

The mattress was much impressed by this and realized that it was in the presence of a not unremarkable mind. It willomied along its entire length sending excited little ripples through its shallow algae-covered pool.

It gupped.

"Tell me," it urged, "of the speech you once made, I long to hear it."

"It was received very badly," said Marvin, "for a variety of reasons. I delivered it," he added, pausing to make an awkward humping sort of gesture with his not-exactly-good arm, but his arm that was better than the other one that was dishearteningly welded to his left side, "over there, about a mile distant."

He was pointing as well as he could manage, and he obviously wanted to make it totally clear that this was as well as he could manage, through the mist, over the reeds, to a part of the marsh that looked exactly the same as every other part of the marsh.

"There," he repeated, "I was somewhat of a celebrity at the time."

Excitement gripped the mattress. It had never heard of speeches being delivered on Sqornshellous Zeta, and certainly not by celebrities. Water  pattered off it as a thrill glurried across its back.

It did something that mattresses very rarely bother to do. Summoning every bit of its strength, it reared its oblong body, heaved it up into the air and held it quivering there for a few seconds until it peered through the mist over the reeds at the part of the marsh that Marvin had indicated, observing, without disappointment, that it was exactly the same as every other part of the marsh. The effort was too much, and it flodged back into its pool, deluging Marvin with smelly mud, moss and weeds.

"I was a celebrity," droned the robot sadly, "for a short while on account of my miraculous and bitterly resented escape from a fate almost as good as death in the heart of a blazing sun. You can guess from my condition," he added, "how narrow my escape was. I was rescued by a scrap-metal merchant, imagine that. Here I am, brain the size of ... never  mind."

He trudged savagely for a few seconds.

"He it was who fixed me up with this leg. Hateful, isn't it? He sold me to a Mind Zoo. I was the star exhibit. I had to sit on a box and tell my story while people told me to cheer up and think positive. 'Give us a grin, little  robot,' they would shout at me, 'give us a little chuckle.' I would explain to them that to get my face to grin would take a good couple of hours in a workshop with a wrench, and that went down very well."

"The speech," urged the mattress, "I long to hear of the speech you gave in the marshes."

"There was a bridge built across the marshes. A cyberstructured hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies and freighters over the swamp."

"A bridge?" quirruled the mattress, "here, in the swamp?"

"A bridge," confirmed Marvin, "here in the swamp. It was going to revitalize the economy of the Sqornshellous System. They spent the entire economy of the Sqornshellous System building it. They asked me to open  it. Poor fools." 

It began to rain a little, a fine spray slid through the mist.

"I stood on the platform. For hundreds of miles in front of me, and hundreds of miles behind me the bridge stretched."

"Did it glitter?" enthused the mattress.

"It glittered."

"Did it span the miles majestically?"

"It spanned the miles majestically."

"Did it stretch like a silver thread, far out into the invisible mist?"

"Yes," said Marvin, "do you want to hear this story?"

"I want to hear your speech," said the mattress.

"This is what I said. I said, 'I would like to say that it is a very great  pleasure, honor and privilege for me to open this bridge, but I can't  because my lying circuits are all out of commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinking abuse of all who wantonly cross her.' And I plugged myself into the opening circuits."

Marvin paused, remembering the moment.

The mattress flurred and glurried. It flolloped, gupped and willomied, doing this last in a particularly floopy way.

"Voon," it wurfed at last, "and was it a magnificent occasion?"

"Reasonably magnificent. The entire thousand-mile-long bridge spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping into the mire, taking everybody with it."

There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed unexpectedly to say "whop" and a team of white robots descended from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in tight military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then they were gone again in their ship that said "foop."

"You see the sort of thing I have to contend with?" said Marvin to the gobbering mattress.

And suddenly, a moment later, the robots were back again for another violent incident, and this time when they left, the mattress was alone in the swamp. He flolloped around in astonishment and alarm. He almost lurgled  in fear. He reared himself to see over the reeds, but there was nothing to see, no robot, no glittering bridge, no ship, just more reeds. He listened, but there was no sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed etymologists calling to each other across the sullen mire.

Chapter 8

The body of Arthur Dent spun.

The Universe shattered into a million glittering fragments around it, and each particular shard spun silently through the void, reflecting on its silver surface some single searing holocaust of fire and destruction.

And then the blackness behind the Universe exploded, and each particular piece of blackness was the furious smoke of hell. 

And the nothingness behind the blackness behind the Universe erupted, and behind the nothingness behind the blackness behind the shattered Universe was at last the dark figure of an immense man speaking immense words.

"These, then," said the figure, speaking from an immensely comfortable chair, "were the Krikkit Wars, the greatest devastation ever visited upon our Galaxy. What you have experienced ..."

Slartibartfast floated past, waving.

"It's just a documentary," he called out, "this is not a good bit. Terribly sorry, trying to find the rewind control ..."

" ... is what billions upon billions of innocent ..."

"Do not," called out Slartibartfast, floating past again, and fiddling furiously with the thing that he had stuck into the wall of the room of  Informational Illusions and that was in fact still stuck there ... agree to buy anything at this point." 

" ... people, creatures, your fellow beings ..."

Music swelled -- again, it was immense music, immense chords. And behind the man, slowly, three tall pillars began slowly to emerge out of the immensely swirling mist.

"... experienced, lived through or -- more often -- failed to live through. Think of that, my friends. And let us not forget -- and in just a moment I shall be able to suggest a way that will help us always to remember -- that before the Krikkit Wars, the Galaxy was that rare and wonderful thing, a happy Galaxy!"

The music was going bananas with immensity at this point.

"A happy Galaxy, my friends, as represented by the symbol of the Wikkit Gate!"

The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two crosspieces in a way that looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur's addled brain.

"The three pillars," thundered the man ... the Steel Pillar, which represents the Strength and Power of the Galaxy!"

Searchlights seared out and danced crazy dances up and down the pillar on the left that was made of steel or something very like it. The music thumped and bellowed.

"The Plastic Pillar," announced the man, "representing the forces of Science and Reason in the Galaxy!"

Other searchlights played exotically up and down the right-hand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent.

"And," the thunderous voice continued, "the Wooden Pillar, representing ..." and here his voice became just very slightly hoarse with wonderful  sentiments ... the forces of Nature and Spirituality."

The lights picked out the central pillar. The music moved bravely up into the realms of complete unspeakability. 

"Between them supporting," the voice rolled on, approaching its climax, "the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace!" 

The whole structure was now flooded with dazzling lights, and the music had now, fortunately, gone far beyond the limits of the discernible.  At the top of the three pillars the two brilliantly gleaming bails sat and dazzled. There seemed to be girls sitting on top of them, or maybe they were meant to be angels. Angels usually are represented as wearing more than that though.

Suddenly there was a dramatic hush in what was presumably meant to be the cosmos, and a darkening of the lights.

"There is not a world," thrilled the man's expert voice, "not a civilized world in the Galaxy where this symbol is not revered even today. Even in primitive worlds it persists in racial memories. This it was that the forces of Krikkit destroyed, and this it is that now locks their world away till the end of eternity.'

And with a flourish, the man produced in his hands a model of the Wikkit Gate. Scale was terribly hard to judge in this whole extraordinary spectacle, but the model looked as if it must have been about three feet high.

"Not the original Key, of course. That, as everyone knows, was destroyed, blasted into the ever whirling eddies in the space-time continuum and lost forever. This is a remarkable replica, hand-tooled by skilled craftsmen, lovingly assembled using ancient craft secrets into a memento you will be proud to own, in memory of those who fell, and in tribute to the Galaxy -- our Galaxy -- which they died to defend ..."

Slartibartfast floated past again at this moment.

"Found it," he said, "we can lose all this rubbish. Just don't nod, that's all."

"Now, let us bow our heads in payment," intoned the voice, and then said it again, much faster and backward.

Lights came and went, the pillars disappeared, the man gabbled himself backward into nothing, the Universe snappily reassembled itself around  chem.

"You get the gist?" said Slartibartfast.

"I'm astonished," said Arthur, "and bewildered."

"I was asleep," said Ford, who floated into view at this point. "Did I miss anything?"

They found themselves once again teetering rather rapidly on the edge of an agonizingly high cliff. The wind whipped out from their faces and across a bay on which the remains of one of the greatest and most powerful space battle fleets ever assembled in the Galaxy were briskly burning themselves back into existence. The sky was a sullen pink, darkening, via a rather curious color, to blue and upward to black. Smoke billowed down out of it at an incredible lick.

Events were now passing back by them almost too quickly to be distinguished, and when, a short while later, a huge star battleship rushed away from them as if they'd said "Boo," they only just recognized it as the point at which they had come in.

But now things were too rapid, a videotactile blur that brushed and jiggled them through centuries of Galactic history, turning, twisting,  flickering. The sound was a mere thin trill. 

Periodically throughout the thickening jumble of events they sensed appalling catastrophes, deep horrors, cataclysmic shocks, and these were always associated with certain recurring images, the only images which ever stood out clearly from the avalanche of tumbling history: a Wikkit Gate, a small, hard red ball, and hard white robots, and also something less distinct, something dark and cloudy. 

But there was also another sensation that rose clearly out of the trilling passage of time.

Just as a slow series of clicks when speeded up will lose the definition of each individual click and gradually take on the quality of a sustained and rising tone, so a series of individual impressions here took on the quality of a sustained emotion -- and yet not an emotion. If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not like a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly, again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across an expressway is deadly.

And just as a rising tone will change in character and take on harmonics as it rises, so again this emotionless emotion seemed to rise to an unbearable if unheard scream and suddenly seemed to be a scream of guilt and failure.

And suddenly it stopped.

**

They were left standing on a quiet hilltop on a tranquil evening.

The sun was setting.

All around them softly undulating green countryside rolled off gently into the distance. Birds sang about what they thought of it all, and the general opinion seemed to be good. A little way off could be heard the sound of children playing, and a little farther away than the apparent source of that sound could be seen in the dimming evening light the outlines of a small town.

The town appeared to consist mostly of fairly low buildings made of white stone. The skyline was of gentle pleasing curves.

The sun had nearly set.

As if out of nowhere, music began. Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

A voice said, "This ..." Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

"I will tell you about it," he said quietly.

The place was peaceful. Arthur felt happy. Even Ford seemed cheerful. They walked a short way in the direction of the town, and the Informational Illusion of the grass was pleasant and springy under their feet, and the Informational Illusion of the flowers smelled sweet and fragrant. Only Slartibartfast seemed apprehensive and out of sorts.

He stopped and looked up.

It suddenly occurred to Arthur that coming as this did at the end, so to speak, or rather the beginning, of all the horror they had just blurrily experienced, something nasty must be about to happen. He was distressed to think that something nasty could happen to somewhere as idyllic as this.  He too glanced up. There was nothing in the sky.

"They're not about to attack here, are they?" he said. He realized that this was merely a recording he was walking through, but he still felt alarmed.

"Nothing is about to attack here," said Slartibartfast in a voice that unexpectedly trembled with emotion, "this is where it all starts. This is the place itself. This is Krikkit."

He stared up into the sky.

The sky, from one horizon to another, from east to west, from north to south, was utterly and completely black.

Chapter 9

Stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

"Pleased to be of service."

"Shut up."

"Thank you."

Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

"Thank you for making a simple door very happy."

"Hope your diodes rot."

"Thank you. Have a nice day."

Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

"It is my pleasure to open for you ..."

"Zark off."

" ... and my satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done."

"I said zark off."

"Thank you for listening to this message."

Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

"Whop."

Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said "whop" to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said "whop" to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors.  It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said "whop," which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship.

It was dark. Most of the ship's nonessential systems were closed down.  It was drifting idly in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected "whop"?

He looked about him, up the corridor and down the corridor. It was all in deep shadow. There were just the very dim pinkish outlines to the doors that glowed in the dark and pulsed whenever they spoke though he had tried every way he could think of to stop them.

The lights were off so that his heads could avoid looking at each other because neither of them was currently a particularly engaging sight, nor had they been since he had made the error of looking into his soul.

It had indeed been an error.

It had been late one night -- of course.

It had been a difficult day -- of course.

There had been soulful music playing on the ship's sound system -- of course.

And he had, of course, been slightly drunk.

In other words, all the usual conditions that bring on a bout of soul searching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error. 

Standing now, silent and alone in the dark corridor, he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other way was the way to go.

He listened but could hear nothing.

All there had been was the "whop."

It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge. There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn't think he was an awfully good person to be in control.

The first shock of that moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul.

In fact he'd always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of some things, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had given him a severe jolt.

And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn't the totally wonderful object that he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again. 

Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

"Freedom," he said aloud.

Trillian came onto the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom.

"I can't cope with it," he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to.

He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

"You're drinking too much," said Trillian.

His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole person. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars.

"Excitement and adventure and really wild things," he muttered.

"Look," she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him,  "it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit."

He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before.

"Wow," he said. He had another drink.

"You've finished the mission you've been on for years."

"I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it."

"You've still finished it."

He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach.

"I think it finished me," he said. "Here I am, Zaphod Beeblebrox, I can go anywhere, do anything. I have the greatest ship in the known sky, a girl with whom things seem to be working out pretty well ..."

"Are they?"

"As far as I can tell. I'm not an expert in personal relationships ..."

Trillian raised her eyebrows.

"I am," he added, "one hell of a guy, I can do anything I want only I just don't have the faintest idea what."

He paused.

"One thing," he further added, "has suddenly ceased to lead to another," in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid  gracelessly off his chair. 

While he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness.

"Go to it," it said, "and good luck."

It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that.

Then she found the entry on Han Wavel, an exotic holiday planet, and one of the wonders of the Galaxy. Han Wavel is a world that consists largely of fabulous ultraluxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain.

The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against. Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there.

"Terrific," thought Trillian to herself, and within a few hours, the great white running shoe ship was slowly powering down out of the sky beneath a hot brilliant sun toward a brightly colored sandy spaceport. The ship was clearly causing a sensation on the ground, and Trillian was enjoying herself.  She heard Zaphod moving around and whistling somewhere in the ship.

"How are you?" she said over the general intercom.

"Fine," he said brightly, "terribly well."

"Where are you?"

"In the bathroom."

"What are you doing?"

"Staying here."

After an hour or two it became clear that he meant it and the ship returned to the sky without having once opened its hatchway.

"Heigh-ho," said Eddie the Computer.

Trillian nodded patiently, tapped her fingers a couple of times and pushed the intercom switch.

"I think that enforced fun is probably not what you need at this point."

"Probably not," replied Zaphod from wherever he was.

"I think a bit of physical challenge would help draw you out of yourself."

"Whatever you think, I think," said Zaphod.

RECREATIONAL IMPOSSIBILITIES was a heading that caught Trillian's eye when, a short while later, she sat down to flip through the Guide again, and as the Heart of Gold rushed at improbable speeds in an indeterminate direction, she sipped a cup of something undrinkable from the Nutri-matic Drinks Dispenser and read about how to fly.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

There is an art, it says, or, rather, a knack to flying.

The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy.

All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.

That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.

Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard. 

Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.

Bob and float, float and bob.

Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher.

Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.

They are most likely to say something along the lines of "Good God, you can't possibly be flying!"

It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher.

Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.

DO NOT WAVE AT ANYBODY.

When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.

You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your maneuverability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it were going to anyway.

You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly screw up, and screw up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitchhikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

Trillian read this longingly, but reluctantly decided that Zaphod wasn't really in the right frame of mind for attempting to fly, or for walking through mountains or for trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change of address card, which were the other things listed under the heading of RECREATIONAL IMPOSSIBILITIES.

Instead, she flew the ship to Allosimanius Syneca, a world of ice, snow, mind-hurtling beauty and stunning cold. The trek from the snow plains of Liska to the summit of the Ice Crystal Pyramids of Sastantua is long and grueling, even with jet skis and a team of Syneca Snowhounds, but the view from the top, a view which takes in the Stin Glacier Fields, the shimmering Prism Mountains and the far ethereal dancing icelights, is one which first freezes the mind and then slowly releases it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty, and Trillian, for one, felt that she could do with a bit of having her mind slowly released to hitherto unexperienced  horizons of beauty.

They went into a low orbit.

There lay the silverwhite beauty of Allosimanius Syneca beneath them.

Zaphod stayed in bed with one head stuck under a pillow and the other doing crosswords till late into the night.

Trillian nodded patiently again, counted to a sufficiently high number, and told herself that the important thing now was just to get Zaphod talking.

She prepared, by dint of deactivating all the robot kitchen synthomatics, the most fabulously delicious meal she could contrive -- delicately oiled meats, scented fruits, fragrant cheeses, fine Aldebaran wines.

She carried it through to him and asked if he felt like talking things through.

"Zark off," said Zaphod.

Trillian nodded patiently to herself, counted to an even higher number, tossed the tray lightly aside, walked to the transport room and just teleported herself the hell out of his life.

She didn't even program any coordinates, she hadn't the faintest idea where she was going, she just went -- a random row of dots flowing through the Universe.

"Anything," she said to herself as she left, "is better than this."

"Good job, too," muttered Zaphod to himself, turned over and failed to go to sleep.

The next day he restlessly paced the empty corridors of the ship, pretending not to look for her, though he knew she wasn't there. He  ignored the computer's querulous demands to know just what the hell was going on around here by fitting a small electronic gag across a pair of its terminals.

After a while he began to turn down the lights. There was nothing to see. Nothing was about to happen.

Lying in bed one night -- and night was now virtually continuous on the ship -- he decided to pull himself together, to get things into some kind of perspective. He sat up sharply and started to pull clothes on. He decided that there must be someone in the Universe feeling more wretched, miserable and forsaken than himself, and he determined to set out and find him.

Halfway to the bridge it occurred to him that it might be Marvin and he returned to bed.

It was a few hours later than this as he stomped disconsolately about the darkened corridors swearing at cheerful doors, that he heard the "whop" said, and it made him very nervous.

He leaned tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis. He laid his fingertips against the wall and felt an unusual vibration. And now he could quite clearly hear slight noises, and could hear where they were coming from -- they were coming from the bridge.

Moving his hand along the wall he came across something he was glad to find. He moved on a little farther, quietly.

"Computer?" he hissed.

"Mmmm?" said the computer terminal nearest him, equally quietly.

"Is there someone on this ship?"

"Mmmm," said the computer.

"Who is it?"

"Mmmm mmm mmmmm," said the computer.

"What?"

"Mmmmm mmmm mm mmmmmmmm."

Zaphod buried one of his faces in two of his hands.

"Oh, Zarquon," he muttered to himself. Then he stared up the corridor toward the entrance to the bridge in the dim distance from which more and purposeful noises were coming, and in which the gagged terminals were situated.

"Computer," he hissed again.

"Mmmmm?"

"When I ungag you ... "

"Mmmmm."

"Remind me to punch myself in the mouth."

"Mmmmm mmm?"

"Either one. Now just tell me this. One for yes, dangerous?"

"Mmmm."

"It is?"

"Mmmm."

"You didn't just go 'mmmm' twice?"

"Mmmm mmm."

"Hmmmm."

He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it, which was true.

He was within two yards of the door to the bridge when he suddenly realized to his horror that it was going to be nice to him, and he stopped dead. He hadn't been able to turn off the door's courtesy voice circuits.

This doorway to the bridge was concealed from view within it because of the excitingly chunky way in which the bridge had been designed to curve round, and he had been hoping to enter unobserved.

He leaned despondently back against the wall again and said some words that his other head was quite shocked to hear.

He peered at the dim pink outline of the door, and discovered that in the darkness of the corridor he could just about make out the Sensor Field that extended out into the corridor and told the door when there was someone there for whom it must open and to whom it must make a cheery and pleasant remark.

He pressed himself hard back against the wall and edged himself toward the door, flattening his chest as much as he possibly could to avoid brushing against the very, very dim perimeter of the field. He held his breath, and congratulated himself on having lain in bed sulking for the last few days rather than trying to work out his feelings on chest expanders in the ship's gym. 

He then realized he was going to have to speak at this point.

He took a series of very shallow breaths, and then said as quickly and as quietly as he could, "Door, if you can hear me, say so very, very quietly."

Very, very quietly, the door murmured, "I can hear you."

"Good. Now, in a moment, I'm going to ask you to open. When you  open I do not want you to say that you enjoyed it, okay?"

"Okay."

"And I don't want you to say to me that I have made a simple door very happy, or that it is your pleasure to open for me and your satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done, okay?"

"Okay."

"And I do not want you to ask me to have a nice day, understand?"

"I understand."

"Okay," said Zaphod, tensing himself, "open now."

The door slid open quietly. Zaphod slipped quietly through. The door closed quietly behind him.

"Is that the way you like it, Mr. Beeblebrox?" said the door out loud.

"I want you to imagine," said Zaphod to the group of white robots who swung round to stare at him at that point, "that I have an extremely powerful Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in my hand."

There was an immensely cold and savage silence. The robots regarded  him with hideously dead eyes. They stood very still. There was something  intensely macabre about their appearance, especially to Zaphod, who had  never seen one before or even known anything about them. The Krikkit Wars belonged to the ancient past of the Galaxy, and Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him, and since his teaching computer had been an integral part of this plot it had eventually had all its history circuits wiped and replaced with an entirely different set of ideas that had then resulted in its being scrapped and sent to a home for Degenerate Cybermats, whither it was followed by the girl who had  inadvertently fallen deeply in love with the unfortunate machine, with the result that (a) Zaphod never got near her and (b) he missed out on a period of ancient history that would have been of inestimable value to him at this moment.

He stared at them in shock.

It was impossible to explain why, but their smooth and sleek white bodies seemed to be the utter embodiment of clean, clinical evil. From their hideously dead eyes to their powerful lifeless feet, they were clearly the calculated product of a mind that wanted simply to kill. Zaphod gulped in cold fear.

They had been dismantling part of the rear wall, and had forced a passage through some of the vital innards of the ship. Through the tangled wreckage Zaphod could see, with a further and worse sense of shock, that  hey were tunneling toward the very heart of the ship, the heart of the Improbability Drive that had been so mysteriously created out of thin air, the Heart of Gold itself.

The robot closest to him was regarding him in such a way as to suggest that it was measuring each minute particle of his body, mind and capability.  And when it spoke, what it said seemed to bear this impression out. Before going on to what it actually said, it is worth recording at this point that Zaphod was the first living organic being to hear one of these creatures speak for something over ten billion years. If he had paid more attention to his ancient history lessons and less to his organic being, he might have been more impressed by this honor.

The robot's voice was like its body, cold, sleek and lifeless. It had almost a cultured rasp to it. It sounded as ancient as it was.

It said, "You do have a Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in your hand."

Zaphod didn't know what it meant for a moment, but then he glanced down at his own hand and was relieved to see that what he had found clipped to a wall bracket was indeed what he had thought it was.

"Yeah," he said in a kind of relieved sneer, which is quite tricky, "well, I wouldn't want to overtax your imagination, robot."

For a while nobody said anything, and Zaphod realized that the robots were obviously not here to make conversation, and that it was up to him.

"I can't help noticing that you have parked your ship," he said with a nod of one of his heads in the appropriate direction, "through mine."

There was no denying this. Without regard for any kind of proper dimensional behavior they had simply materialized their ship precisely  where they wanted it to be, which meant that it was simply locked through the Heart of Gold as if they were nothing more than two combs.

Again, they made no response to this, and Zaphod wondered if the conversation would gather any momentum if he phrased his part of it in the form of questions.

"Haven't you?" he added.

"Yes," replied the robot.

"Er, okay," said Zaphod, "so what are you cats doing here?"

Silence.

"Robots," said Zaphod, "what are you robots doing here?"

"We have come," rasped the robot, "for the Golden Bail."

Zaphod nodded. He waggled his gun to invite further elaboration. The robot seemed to understand this.

"The Golden Bail is part of the Key we seek," continued the robot, "to release our Masters from Krikkit."

Zaphod nodded again. He waggled his gun again.

"The Key," continued the robot simply, "was disintegrated in time and space. The Golden Bail is embedded in the device which drives your ship.  It will be reconstituted in the Key. Our Masters shall be released. The Universal Readjustment will continue." 

Zaphod nodded again.

"What are you talking about?" he said.

A slightly pained expression seemed to cross the robot's totally expressionless face. He seemed to be finding the conversation depressing.

"Obliteration," it said. "We seek the Key," it repeated. "We already have the Wooden Pillar, the Steel Pillar and the Plastic Pillar. In a moment we will have the Golden Bail ..."

"No, you won't."

"We will," stated the robot simply.

"No, you won't. It makes my ship work."

"In a moment," repeated the robot patiently, "we will have the Golden Bail ..."

"You will not," said Zaphod.

"And then we must go," said the robot, in all seriousness, "to a party."

"Oh," said Zaphod, startled, "can I come?"

"No," said the robot, "we are going to shoot you."

"Oh, yeah?" said Zaphod, waggling his gun.

"Yes," said the robot, and they shot him.

Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.

Chapter 10

Shh," said Slartibartfast, "listen and watch."

Night had now fallen on ancient Krikkit. The sky was dark and empty. The only light was coming from the nearby town, from which pleasant convivial sounds were drifting quietly on the breeze. They stood beneath a tree from which heady fragrances wafted around them. Arthur squatted and felt the Informational Illusion of the soil and the grass. He ran it through his fingers. The soil seemed heavy and rich, the grass strong. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was a thoroughly delightful place in all respects.

The sky was, however, extremely blank and seemed to Arthur to cast a certain chill over the otherwise idyllic, if currently invisible, landscape. Still, he supposed, it's a question of what you're used to.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. Slartibartfast was quietly directing his attention to something down the other side of the hill. He looked and could just see some faint lights dancing and waving, and moving slowly in their direction.

As they came nearer sounds became audible, too, and soon the dim lights and noises resolved themselves into a small group of people who were walking home across the hill toward the town.

They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns that made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire one evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking, probably, Essex.

"The Masters of Krikkit," breathed Slartibartfast in sepulchral tones.

Coming, as it did, so hard upon the heels of his own thoughts about Essex this remark caused Arthur a moment's confusion. Then the logic of the situation imposed itself on his scattered mind, and he discovered that he still didn't understand what the old man meant.

"What?" he said.

"The Masters of Krikkit," said Slartibartfast again, and if his breathing  had been sepulchral before, this time he sounded like someone in Hades with bronchitis.

Arthur peered at the group and tried to make sense of what little information he had at his disposal at this point.

The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise seemed remarkably pleasant, a little whimsical perhaps; one wouldn't necessarily want to spend a long bus journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough. So why all this rasping lungwork from Slartibartfast, which would seem more appropriate to a radio commercial for one of those nasty films about chainsaw operators taking their work home with them?

Then, this Krikkit angle was a tough one, too. He hadn't quite fathomed the connection between what he knew as cricket, and what ...

Slartibartfast interrupted his train of thought at this point as if sensing what was going through his mind.

"The game you know as cricket," he said, and his voice still seemed to be wandering, lost in subterranean passages, "is just one of those curious freaks of racial memory that can keep images alive in the mind eons after their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Of all the races in the Galaxy, only the English could possibly revive the memory of the most horrific wars ever to sunder the Universe and transform it into what I'm afraid is generally regarded as an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game. 

"Rather fond of it myself," he added, "but in most people's eyes you have been inadvertently guilty of the most grotesquely bad taste. Particularly the bit about the little red ball hitting the wicket, that's very nasty."

"Um," said Arthur with a reflective frown to indicate that his cognitive synapses were coping with this as best they could, "um."

"And these," said Slartibartfast, slipping back into crypt guttural and indicating the group of Krikkit men who had now walked past them, "are the ones who started it all, and it will start tonight. Come, we will follow, and see why."

They slipped out from underneath the tree, and followed the cheery party along the dark hill path. Their natural instinct was to tread quietly and stealthily in pursuit of their quarry, though, as they were simply walking through a recorded Informational Illusion, they could as easily have been carrying euphoniums and wearing war paint for all the notice their quarry would have taken of them.

Arthur saw that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad that would have netted McCartney Kent and  Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire.

"You must surely know," said Slartibartfast to Ford, "what it is that is about to happen?"

"Me?" said Ford, "no."

"Did you not learn Ancient Galactic history when you were a child?"

"I was in the cybercubicle behind Zaphod," said Ford; "it was very distracting. Which isn't to say that I didn't learn some pretty stunning  things."

At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party  was singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics.  The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not "under the moon"  or "beneath the stars" but "above the grass," which struck Arthur as being a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewilderingly blank sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.

"No," said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, "the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves, 'We are alone in the Universe.' They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank. During the day there is the sun, but you can't look directly at that so they don't. They are hardly aware of the sky. It's as if they had a blind spot that extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

"You see, the reason why they have never thought, 'We are alone in the Universe' is that until tonight they didn't know about the Universe. Until tonight."

He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him.

"Imagine," he said, "never even thinking, 'We are alone,' simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there's any other way to be."

He moved on again.

"I'm afraid this is going to be a little unnerving," he added.

As he spoke, they became aware of a very thin roaring scream high up in the sightless sky above them. They glanced upward in alarm, but for a moment or two could see nothing.

Then Arthur noticed that the people in the party in front of them had heard the noise, but that none of them seemed to know what to do with it.  They were glancing around themselves in consternation, left, right, forward, backward, even at the ground. It never occurred to them to look upward.

The profoundness of the shock and horror they emanated a few moments later when the burning wreckage of a spaceship came hurtling  and screaming out of the sky and crashed about half a mile from where they were standing was something that you had to be there to experience.

***

Some speak of the Heart of Gold in hushed tones, some of the starship Bistromat.

Many speak of the legendary and gigantic starship Titanic, a majestic and luxurious cruise liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artrifactovol some hundreds of years ago now, and with good reason.

It was sensationally beautiful, staggeringly huge and more pleasantly equipped than any ship in what now remains of history (see page 110 [on  the Campaign for Real Time]) but it had the misfortune to be built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood.

The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a  prototype Improbability Field into it, which was meant, supposedly, to ensure that it was Infinitely Improbable that anything would ever go wrong with any part of the ship.

They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately. 

The starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale among the laser-lit tracery of its construction gantries, a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message -- an SOS -- before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.

However, the same event that saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proved that more people watched the Tri-D television coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest achievement ever in the science of audience research.

Another spectacular media event of that time was the supernova that the star Ysllodins underwent a few hours later. Ysllodins is the star around which most of the Galaxy's major insurance underwriters live, or rather lived.

But while these spaceships, and other great ones that come to mind, such as the Galactic Fleet Battleships -- the GSS Daring, the GSS Audacity and the GSS Suicidal Insanity -- are all spoken of with awe, pride, enthusiasm, affection, admiration, regret, jealousy, resentment, in fact most of the better known emotions, the one that regularly commands the most actual  astonishment is Krikkit One, the first spaceship ever built by the people of Krikkit.

This is not because it was a wonderful ship. It wasn't.

It was a crazy piece of near-junk. It looked as if it had been knocked up in somebody's backyard, and this was in fact precisely where it had been  knocked up. The astonishing thing about the ship was not that it was done well (it wasn't) but that it was done at all. The period of time that had elapsed between the moment that the people of Krikkit had discovered that there was such a thing as space and the launching of this, their first spaceship, was almost exactly a year.

Ford Prefect was extremely grateful, as he strapped himself in, that this was just another Informational Illusion, and that he was therefore completely safe. In real life it wasn't a ship he would have set foot in for all the rice wine in China. "Extremely rickety" was one phrase that sprang to mind and "Please may I get out?" was another.

"This is going to fly?" said Arthur, giving gaunt looks at the lashed- together pipework and wiring that festooned the cramped interior of the ship.

Slartibartfast assured him that it would, that they were perfectly safe and that it was all going to be extremely instructive and not a little harrowing.

Ford and Arthur decided just to relax and be harrowed.

"Why not," said Ford, "go mad?"

In front of them and, of course, totally unaware of their presence for the very good reason that they weren't actually there, were the three pilots. They also had constructed the ship. They had been on the hill path that night singing wholesome, heartwarming songs. Their brains had been very slightly turned by the nearby crash of the alien spaceship. They had spent weeks stripping every tiniest last secret out of the wreckage of that burnt-up spaceship, all the while singing lilting spaceship-stripping ditties. They had then built their own ship and this was it. This was their ship, and they were currently singing a little song about that, too, expressing the twin joys of achievement and ownership. The chorus was a little poignant, and told of their sorrow because their work had kept them such long hours in the garage, away from the company of their wives and children, who had missed them terribly but had kept them cheerful by bringing them continual stories of how nicely the puppy was growing up.

Pow, they took off.

They roared into the sky like a ship that knew precisely what it was doing.

"No way," said Ford a while later after they had recovered from the shock of acceleration, and were climbing up out of the planet's atmosphere, "no way," he repeated, "does anyone design and build a ship like this in a year, no matter how motivated. I don't believe it. Prove it to me and I still won't believe it." He shook his head thoughtfully and gazed out of a tiny port at the nothingness outside it.

The trip passed uneventfully for a while, and Slartibartfast fastwound them through it.

Very quickly, therefore, they arrived at the inner perimeter of the hollow, spherical Dust Cloud that surrounded their sun and home planet, occupying, as it were, the next orbit out.

It was more as if there were a gradual change in the texture and consistency of space. The darkness seemed now to thrum and ripple past them. It was very cold darkness, a very blank and heavy darkness, it was the darkness of the night sky of Krikkit.

The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur's heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots that hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical consciousness of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done.

The darkness of the cloud buffeted at the ship. Inside was the silence of history. Their historic mission was to find out if there was anything or anywhere on the other side of the sky, from which the wrecked spaceship could have come, another world maybe, strange and incomprehensible though this thought was to the enclosed minds of those who had lived beneath the sky of Krikkit.

History was gathering itself to deliver another blow.

Still the darkness thrummed at them, the blank enclosing darkness. It seemed closer and closer, thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier. And suddenly it was gone.

They flew out of the cloud.

They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.

For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.

"It'll have to go," the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

***

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.

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