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Douglas Adams. So long, and thanks for all the fish
to Rick and Heidi for the loan of their stable event
to Mogens and Andy and all at Huntsham Court for a number of
and especially to Sonny Metha for being stable through all
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of
the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded
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
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.
That evening it was dark early, which was normal for the time of
year. It was cold and windy, which was normal.
It started to rain, which was particularly normal.
A spacecraft landed, which was not.
There was nobody around to see it except some spectacularly
stupid quadrupeds who hadn't the faintest idea what to make of
it, or whether they were meant to make anything of it, or eat it,
or what. So they did what they did to everything which was to run
away from it and try to hide under each other, which never
It slipped down out of the clouds, seemingly balanced on a single
beam of light.
From a distance you would scarcely have noticed it through the
lightning and the storm clouds, but seen from close to it was
strangely beautiful - a grey craft of elegantly sculpted form:
Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape
different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to
take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any
kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably
guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would
You'd probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most
such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and didn't tell
anybody anything they didn't already know - except that every
single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since
this was clearly not true the whole thing had eventually to be
The craft slid quietly down through the rain, its dim operating
lights wrapping it in tasteful rainbows. It hummed very quietly,
a hum which became gradually louder and deeper as it approached
the ground, and which at an altitude of six inches became a heavy
At last it dropped and was quiet.
A hatchway opened. A short flight of steps unfolded itself.
A light appeared in the opening, a bright light streaming out
into the wet night, and shadows moved within.
A tall figure appeared in the light, looked around, flinched, and
hurried down the steps, carrying a large shopping bag under its
It turned and gave a single abrupt wave back at the ship. Already
the rain was streaming through its hair.
"Thank you," he called out, "thank you very ..."
He was interrupted by a sharp crack of thunder. He glanced up
apprehensively, and in response to a sudden thought quickly
started to rummage through the large plastic shopping bag, which
he now discovered had a hole in the bottom.
It had large characters printed on the side which read (to anyone
who could decipher the Centaurian alphabet) Duty free Mega-
Market, Port Brasta, Alpha Centauri. Be Like the Twenty-Second
Elephant with Heated Value in Space - Bark!
"Hold on!" the figure called, waving at the ship.
The steps, which had started to fold themselves back through the
hatchway, stopped, re-unfolded, and allowed him back in.
He emerged again a few seconds later carrying a battered and
threadbare towel which he shoved into the bag.
He waved again, hoisted the bag under his arm, and started to run
for the shelter of some trees as, behind him, the spacecraft had
already begun its ascent.
Lightning flitted through the sky and made the figure pause for a
moment, and then hurry onwards, revising his path to give the
trees a wide berth. He moved swiftly across the ground, slipping
here and there, hunching himself against the rain which was
falling now with ever-increasing concentration, as if being
pulled from the sky.
His feet sloshed through the mud. Thunder grumbled over the
hills. He pointlessly wiped the rain off his face and stumbled
Not lightning this time, but more diffused and dimmer lights
which played slowly over the horizon and faded.
The figure paused again on seeing them, and then redoubled his
steps, making directly towards the point on the horizon at which
they had appeared.
And now the ground was becoming steeper, sloping upwards, and
after another two or three hundred yards it led at last to an
obstacle. The figure paused to examine the barrier and then
dropped the bag he was carrying over it before climbing over
Hardly had the figure touched the ground on the other side when
there came sweeping out of the rain towards him a machine, lights
streaming through the wall of water. The figure pressed back as
the machine streaked towards him. it was a low bulbous shape,
like a small whale surfing - sleek, grey and rounded and moving
at terrifying speed.
The figure instinctively threw up his hands to protect himself,
but was hit only by a sluice of water as the machine swept past
and off into the night.
It was illuminated briefly by another flicker of lightning
crossing the sky, which allowed the soaked figure by the roadside
a split-second to read a small sign at the back of the machine
before it disappeared.
To the figure's apparent incredulous astonishment the sign read,
"My other car is also a Porsche."
Rob McKeena was a miserable bastard and he knew it because he'd
had a lot of people point it out to him over the years and he saw
no reason to disagree with them except the obvious one which was
that he liked disagreeing with people, particularly people he
disliked, which included, at the last count, everyone.
He heaved a sigh and shoved down a gear.
The hill was beginning to steepen and his lorry was heavy with
Danish thermostatic radiator controls.
It wasn't that he was naturally predisposed to be so surly, at
least he hoped not. It was just the rain which got him down,
always the rain.
It was raining now, just for a change.
It was a particular type of rain he particularly disliked,
particularly when he was driving. He had a number for it. It was
rain type 17.
He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred
different words for snow, without which their conversation would
probably have got very monotonous. So they would distinguish
between thin snow and thick snow, light snow and heavy snow,
sludgy snow, brittle snow, snow that came in flurries, snow that
came in drifts, snow that came in on the bottom of your
neighbour's boots all over your nice clean igloo floor, the snows
of winter, the snows of spring, the snows you remember from your
childhood that were so much better than any of your modern snow,
fine snow, feathery snow, hill snow, valley snow, snow that falls
in the morning, snow that falls at night, snow that falls all of
a sudden just when you were going out fishing, and snow that
despite all your efforts to train them, the huskies have pissed
Rob McKeena had two hundred and thirty-one different types of
rain entered in his little book, and he didn't like any of them.
He shifted down another gear and the lorry heaved its revs up. It
grumbled in a comfortable sort of way about all the Danish
thermostatic radiator controls it was carrying.
Since he had left Denmark the previous afternoon, he had been
through types 33 (light pricking drizzle which made the roads
slippery), 39 ( heavy spotting), 47 to 51 (vertical light drizzle
through to sharply slanting light to moderate drizzle
freshening), 87 and 88 (two finely distinguished varieties of
vertical torrential downpour), 100 (post-downpour squalling,
cold), all the seastorm types between 192 and 213 at once, 123,
124, 126, 127 (mild and intermediate cold gusting, regular and
syncopated cab-drumming), 11 (breezy droplets), and now his least
favourite of all, 17.
Rain type 17 was a dirty blatter battering against his windscreen
so hard that it didn't make much odds whether he had his wipers
on or off.
He tested this theory by turning them off briefly, but as it
turned out the visibility did get quite a lot worse. It just
failed to get better again when he turned them back on.
In fact one of the wiper blades began to flap off.
Swish swish swish flop swish flop swish swish flop swish flop
swish flop flop flop scrape.
He pounded his steering wheel, kicked the floor, thumped his
cassette player till it suddenly started playing Barry Manilow,
thumped it again till it stopped, and swore and swore and swore
and swore and swore.
It was at the very moment that his fury was peaking that there
loomed swimmingly in his headlights, hardly visible through the
blatter, a figure by the roadside.
A poor bedraggled figure, strangely attired, wetter than an otter
in a washing machine, and hitching.
"Poor miserable sod," thought Rob McKeena to himself, realizing
that here was somebody with a better right to feel hard done by
than himself, "must be chilled to the bone. Stupid to be out
hitching on a filthy night like this. All you get is cold, wet,
and lorries driving through puddles at you."
He shook his head grimly, heaved another sigh, gave the wheel a
turn and hit a large sheet of water square on.
"See what I mean?" he thought to himself as he ploughed swiftly
through it. "You get some right bastards on the road."
Splattered in his rear mirror a couple of seconds later was the
reflection of the hitch-hiker, drenched by the roadside.
For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he
felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about
feeling bad about feeling good about it and, satisfied, drove on
into the night.
At least it made up for having been finally overtaken by that
Porsche he had been diligently blocking for the last twenty
And as he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after
him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKeena was a Rain God.
All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a
succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they
loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water
The next two lorries were not driven by Rain Gods, but they did
exactly the same thing.
The figure trudged, or rather sloshed, onwards till the hill
resumed and the treacherous sheet of water was left behind.
After a while the rain began to ease and the moon put in a brief
appearance from behind the clouds.
A Renault drove by, and its driver made frantic and complex
signals to the trudging figure to indicate that he would have
been delighted to give the figure a lift, only he couldn't this
time because he wasn't going in the direction that the figure
wanted to go, whatever direction that might be, and he was sure
the figure would understand. He concluded the signalling with a
cheery thumbs-up sign, as if to say that he hoped the figure felt
really fine about being cold and almost terminally wet, and he
would catch him the next time around.
The figure trudged on. A Fiat passed and did exactly the same as
A Maxi passed on the other side of the road and flashed its
lights at the slowly plodding figure, though whether this was
meant to convey a "Hello" or a "Sorry we're going the other way"
or a "Hey look, there's someone in the rain, what a jerk" was
entirely unclear. A green strip across the top of the windscreen
indicated that whatever the message was, it came from Steve and
The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was
now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying "And
another thing ..." twenty minutes after admitting he's lost the
The air was clearer now, the night cold. Sound travelled rather
well. The lost figure, shivering desperately, presently reached a
junction, where a side road turned off to the left. Opposite the
turning stood a signpost which the figure suddenly hurried to and
studied with feverish curiosity, only twisting away from it as
another car passed suddenly.
The first whisked by with complete disregard, the second flashed
meaninglessly. A Ford Cortina passed and put on its brakes.
Lurching with surprise, the figure bundled his bag to his chest
and hurried forward towards the car, but at the last moment the
Cortina span its wheels in the wet and carreered off up the road
The figure slowed to a stop and stood there, lost and dejected.
As it chanced, the following day the driver of the Cortina went
into hospital to have his appendix out, only due to a rather
amusing mix up the surgeon removed his leg in error, and before
the appendectomy could be rescheduled, the appendicitis
complicated into an entertainingly serious case of peritonitis
and justice, in its way, was served.
The figure trudged on.
A Saab drew to a halt beside him.
Its window wound down and a friendly voice said, "Have you come
The figure turned toward it. He stopped and grasped the handle of
The figure, the car and its door handle were all on a planet
called the Earth, a world whose entire entry in the Hitch Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy comprised the two words "Mostly harmless".
The man who wrote this entry was called Ford Prefect, and he was
at this precise moment on a far from harmless world, sitting in a
far from harmless bar, recklessly causing trouble.
Whether it was because he was drunk, ill or suicidally insane
would not have been apparent to a casual observer, and indeed
there were no casual observers in the Old Pink Dog Bar on the
lower South Side of Han Dold City because it wasn't the sort of
place you could afford to do things casually in if you wanted to
stay alive. Any observers in the place would have been mean
hawklike observers, heavily armed, with painful throbbings in
their heads which caused them to do crazy things when they
observed things they didn't like.
One of those nasty hushes had descended on the place, a sort of
missile crisis sort of hush.
Even the evil-looking bird perched on a rod in the bar had
stopped screeching out the names and addresses of local contract
killers, which was a service it provided for free.
All eyes were on Ford Prefect. Some of them were on stalks.
The particular way in which he was choosing to dice recklessly
with death today was by trying to pay for a drinks bill the size
of a small defence budget with an American Express Card, which
was not acceptable anywhere in the known Universe.
"What are you worried about?" he asked in a cheery kind of voice.
"The expiration date? Have you guys never heard of Neo-Relativity
out here? There's whole new areas of physics which can take care
of this sort of thing. Time dilation effects, temporal
"We are not worried about the expiration date," said the man to
whom he addressed these remarks, who was a dangerous barman in a
dangerous city. His voice was a low soft purr, like the low soft
purr made by the opening of an ICBM silo. A hand like a side of
meat tapped on the bar top, lightly denting it.
"Well, that's good then," said Ford, packing his satchel and
preparing to leave.
The tapping finger reached out and rested lightly on the shoulder
of Ford Prefect. It prevented him from leaving.
Although the finger was attached to a slablike hand, and the hand
was attached to a clublike forearm, the forearm wasn't attached
to anything at all, except in the metaphorical sense that it was
attached by a fierce doglike loyalty to the bar which was its
home. It had previously been more conventionally attached to the
original owner of the bar, who on his deathbed had unexpectedly
bequeathed it to medical science. Medical science had decided
they didn't like the look of it and had bequeathed it right back
to the Old Pink Dog Bar.
The new barman didn't believe in the supernatural or poltergeists
or anything kooky like that, he just knew an useful ally when he
saw one. The hand sat on the bar. It took orders, it served
drinks, it dealt murderously with people who behaved as if they
wanted to be murdered. Ford Prefect sat still.
"We are not worried about the expiration date," repeated the
barman, satisfied that he now had Ford Prefect's full attention.
"We are worried about the entire piece of plastic."
"What?" said Ford. He seemed a little taken aback.
"This," said the barman, holding out the card as if it was a
small fish whose soul had three weeks earlier winged its way to
the Land Where Fish are Eternally Blessed, "we don't accept it."
Ford wondered briefly whether to raise the fact that he didn't
have any other means of payment on him, but decided for the
moment to soldier on. The disembodied hand was now grasping his
shoulder lightly but firmly between its finger and thumb.
"But you don't understand," said Ford, his expression slowly
ripening from a little taken abackness into rank incredulity.
"This is the American Express Card. It is the finest way of
settling bills known to man. Haven't you read their junk mail?"
The cheery quality of Ford's voice was beginning to grate on the
barman's ears. It sounded like someone relentlessly playing the
kazoo during one of the more sombre passages of a War Requiem.
One of the bones in Ford's shoulder began to grate against
another one of the bones in his shoulder in a way which suggested
that the hand had learnt the principles of pain from a highly
skilled chiropracter. He hoped he could get this business settled
before the hand started to grate one of the bones in his shoulder
against any of the bones in different parts of his body. Luckily,
the shoulder it was holding was not the one he had his satchel
The barman slid the card back across the bar at Ford.
"We have never," he said with muted savagery, "heard of this
This was hardly surprising.
Ford had only acquired it through a serious computer error
towards the end of the fifteen years' sojourn he had spent on the
planet Earth. Exactly how serious, the American Express Company
had got to know very rapidly, and the increasingly strident and
panic-stricken demands of its debt collection department were
only silenced by the unexpected demolition of the entire planet
by the Vogons to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.
He had kept it ever since because he found it useful to carry a
form of currency that no one would accept.
"Credit?" he said. "Aaaargggh ..."
These two words were usually coupled together in the Old Pink Dog
"I thought," gasped Ford, "that this was meant to be a class
He glanced around at the motley collection of thugs, pimps and
record company executives that skulked on the edges of the dim
pools of light with which the dark shadows of the bar's inner
recesses were pitted. They were all very deliberately looking in
any direction but his now, carefully picking up the threads of
their former conversations about murders, drug rings and music
publishing deals. They knew what would happen now and didn't want
to watch in case it put them off their drinks.
"You gonna die, boy," the barman murmured quietly at Ford
Prefect, and the evidence was on his side. The bar used to have
one of those signs hanging up which said, "Please don't ask for
credit as a punch in the mouth often offends", but in the
interest of strict accuracy this was altered to, "Please don't
ask for credit because having your throat torn out by a savage
bird while a disembodied hand smashes your head against the bar
often offends". However, this made an unreadable mess of the
notice, and anyway didn't have the same ring to it, so it was
taken down again. It was felt that the story would get about of
its own accord, and it had.
"Lemme look at the bill again," said Ford. He picked it up and
studied it thoughtfully under the malevolent gaze of the barman,
and the equally malevolent gaze of the bird, which was currently
gouging great furrows in the bar top with its talons.
It was a rather lengthy piece of paper.
At the bottom of it was a number which looked like one of those
serial numbers you find on the underside of stereo sets which
always takes so long to copy on to the registration form. He had,
after all, been in the bar all day, he had been drinking a lot of
stuff with bubbles in it, and he had bought an awful lot of
rounds for all the pimps, thugs and record executives who
suddenly couldn't remember who he was.
He cleared his throat rather quietly and patted his pockets.
There was, as he knew, nothing in them. He rested his left hand
lightly but firmly on the half-opened flap of his satchel. The
disembodied hand renewed its pressure on his right shoulder.
"You see," said the barman, and his face seemed to wobble evilly
in front of Ford's, "I have a reputation to think of. You see
that, don't you?"
This is it, thought Ford. There was nothing else for it. He had
obeyed the rules, he had made a bona fide attempt to pay his
bill, it had been rejected. He was now in danger of his life.
"Well," he said quietly, "if it's your reputation ..."
With a sudden flash of speed he opened his satchel and slapped
down on the bar top his copy of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the
Galaxy and the official card which said that he was a field
researcher for the Guide and absolutely not allowed to do what he
was now doing.
"Want a write-up?"
The barman's face stopped in mid-wobble. The bird's talons
stopped in mid-furrow. The hand slowly released its grip.
"That," said the barman in a barely audible whisper, from between
dry lips, "will do nicely, sir."
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a powerful organ.
Indeed, its influence is so prodigious that strict rules have had
to be drawn up by its editorial staff to prevent its misuse. So
none of its field researchers are allowed to accept any kind of
services, discounts or preferential treatment of any kind in
return for editorial favours unless:
a) they have made a bona fide attempt to pay for a service in the
b) their lives would be otherwise in danger;
c) they really want to.
Since invoking the third rule always involved giving the editor a
cut, Ford always preferred to much about with the first two.
He stepped out along the street, walking briskly.
The air was stifling, but he liked it because it was stifling
city air, full of excitingly unpleasant smells, dangerous music
and the sound of warring police tribes.
He carried his satchel with an easy swaying motion so that he
could get a good swing at anybody who tried to take it from him
without asking. It contained everything he owned, which at the
moment wasn't much.
A limousine careered down the street, dodging between the piles
of burning garbage, and frightening an old pack animal which
lurched, screeching, out of its way, stumbled against the window
of a herbal remedies shop, set off a wailing alarm, blundered off
down the street, and then pretended to fall down the steps of a
small pasta restaurant where it knew it would get photographed
Ford was walking north. He thought he was probably on his way to
the spaceport, but he had thought that before. He knew he was
going through that part of the city where people's plans often
changed quite abruptly.
"Do you want to have a good time?" said a voice from a doorway.
"As far as I can tell," said Ford, "I'm having one. Thanks."
"Are you rich?" said another.
This made Ford laugh.
He turned and opened his arms in a wide gesture. "Do I look
rich?" he said.
"Don't know," said the girl. "Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you'll get
rich. I have a very special service for rich people ..."
"Oh yes?" said Ford, intrigued but careful. "And what's that?"
"I tell them it's OK to be rich."
Gunfire erupted from a window high above them, but it was only a
bass player getting shot for playing the wrong riff three times
in a row, and bass players are two a penny in Han Dold City.
Ford stopped and peered into the dark doorway.
"You what?" he said.
The girl laughed and stepped forward a little out of the shadow.
She was tall, and had that kind of self-possessed shyness which
is a great trick if you can do it.
"It's my big number," she said. "I have a Master's degree in
Social Economics and can be very convincing. People love it.
Especially in this city."
"Goosnargh," said Ford Prefect, which was a special Betelgeusian
word he used when he knew he should say something but didn't know
what it should be.
He sat on a step, took from his satchel a bottle of that Ol' Janx
Spirit and a towel. He opened the bottle and wiped the top of it
with the towel, which had the opposite effect to the one
intended, in that the Ol' Janx Spirit instantly killed off
millions of the germs which had been slowly building up quite a
complex and enlightened civilization on the smellier patches of
"Want some?" he said, after he'd had a swig himself.
She shrugged and took the proffered bottle.
They sat for a while, peacefully listening to the clamour of
burglar alarms in the next block.
"As it happens, I'm owed a lot of money," said Ford, "so if I
ever get hold of it, can I come and see you then maybe?"
"Sure, I'll be here," said the girl. "So how much is a lot?"
"Fifteen years' back pay."
"Writing two words."
"Zarquon," said the girl. "Which one took the time?"
"The first one. Once I'd got that the second one just came one
afternoon after lunch."
A huge electronic drum kit hurtled through the window high above
them and smashed itself to bits in the street in front of them.
It soon became apparent that some of the burglar alarms on the
next block had been deliberately set off by one police tribe in
order to lay an ambush for the other. Cars with screaming sirens
converged on the area, only to find themselves being picked off
by copters which came thudding through the air between the city's
mountainous tower blocks.
"In fact," said Ford, having to shout now above the din, "it
wasn't quite like that. I wrote an awful lot, but they just cut
He took his copy of the Guide back out of his satchel.
"Then the planet got demolished," he shouted. "Really worthwhile
job, eh? They've still got to pay me, though."
"You work for that thing?" the girl yelled back.
"You want to see the stuff I wrote?" he shouted. "Before it gets
erased? The new revisions are due to be released tonight over the
net. Someone must have found out that the planet I spent fifteen
years on has been demolished by now. They missed it on the last
few revisions, but it can't escape their notice for ever."
"It's getting impossible to talk isn't it?"
She shrugged and pointed upwards.
There was a copter above them now which seemed to be involved in
a side skirmish with the band upstairs. Smoke was billowing from
the building. The sound engineer was hanging out of the window by
his fingertips, and a maddened guitarist was beating on his
fingers with a burning guitar. The helicopter was firing at all
"Can we move?"
They wandered down the street, away from the noise. They ran into
a street theatre group which tried to do a short play for them
about the problems of the inner city, but then gave up and
disappeared into the small restaurant most recently patronized by
the pack animal.
All the time, Ford was poking at the interface panel of the
Guide. They ducked into an alleyway. Ford squatted on a garbage
can while information began to flood over the screen of the
He located his entry.
"Earth: Mostly harmless."
Almost immediately the screen became a mass of system messages.
"Here it comes," he said.
"Please wait," said the messages. "Entries are being updated over
the Sub.Etha Net. This entry is being revised. The system will be
down for ten seconds."
At the end of the alley a steel grey limousine crawled past.
"Hey look," said the girl, "if you get paid, look me up. I'm a
working girl, and there are people over there who need me. I
She brushed aside Ford's half-articulated protests, and left him
sitting dejectedly on his garbage can preparing to watch a large
swathe of his working life being swept away electronically into
Out in the street things had calmed down a little. The police
battle had moved off to other sectors of the city, the few
surviving members of the rock band had agreed to recognize their
musical differences and pursue solo careers, the street theatre
group were re-emerging from the pasta restaurant with the pack
animal, telling it they would take it to a bar they knew where it
would be treated with a little respect, and a little way further
on the steel grey limousine was parked silently by the kerbside.
The girl hurried towards it.
Behind her, in the darkness of the alley, a green flickering glow
was bathing Ford Prefect's face, and his eyes were slowly
widening in astonishment.
For where he had expected to find nothing, an erased, closed-off
entry, there was instead a continuous stream of data - text,
diagrams, figures and images, moving descriptions of surf on
Australian beaches, Yoghurt on Greek islands, restaurants to
avoid in Los Angeles, currency deals to avoid in Istanbul,
weather to avoid in London, bars to go everywhere. Pages and
pages of it. It was all there, everything he had written.
With a deepening frown of blank incomprehension he went backwards
and forwards through it, stopping here and there at various
"Tips for aliens in New York: Land anywhere, Central Park,
anywhere. No one will care, or indeed even notice.
"Surviving: get a job as cab driver immediately. A cab driver's
job is to drive people anywhere they want to go in big yellow
machines called taxis. Don't worry if you don't know how the
machine works and you can't speak the language, don't understand
the geography or indeed the basic physics of the area, and have
large green antennae growing out of your head. Believe me, this
is the best way of staying inconspicuous.
"If your body is really weird try showing it to people in the
streets for money.
"Amphibious life forms from any of the worlds in the Swulling,
Noxios or Nausalia systems will particularly enjoy the East
River, which is said to be richer in those lovely life-giving
nutrients then the finest and most virulent laboratory slime yet
"Having fun: This is the big section. It is impossible to have
more fun without electrocuting your pleasure centres ..."
Ford flipped the switch which he saw was now marked "Mode Execute
Ready" instead of the now old-fashioned "Access Standby" which
had so long ago replaced the appallingly stone-aged "Off".
This was a planet he had seen completely destroyed, seen with his
own two eyes or rather, blinded as he had been by the hellish
disruption of air and light, felt with his own two feet as the
ground had started to pound at him like a hammer, bucking,
roaring, gripped by tidal waves of energy pouring out of the
loathsome yellow Vogon ships. And then at last, five seconds
after the moment he had determined as being the last possible
moment had already passed, the gently swinging nausea of
dematerialization as he and Arthur Dent had been beamed up
through the atmosphere like a sports broadcast.
There was no mistake, there couldn't have been. The Earth had
definitely been destroyed. Definitely, definitely. Boiled away
And yet here - he activated the Guide again - was his own entry
on how you would set about having a good time in Bournemouth,
Dorset, England, which he had always prided himself on as being
one of the most baroque pieces of invention he had ever
delivered. He read it again and shook his head in sheer wonder.
Suddenly he realized what the answer to the problem was, and it
was this, that something very weird was happening; and if
something very weird was happening, he thought, he wanted it to
be happening to him.
He stashed the Guide back in his satchel and hurried out on to
the street again.
Walking north he again passed a steel grey limousine parked by
the kerbside, and from a nearby doorway he heard a soft voice
saying, "It's OK, honey, it's really OK, you got to learn to feel
good about it. Look at the way the whole economy is structured
Ford grinned, detoured round the next block which was now in
flames, found a police helicopter which was standing unattended
in the street, broke into it, strapped himself in, crossed his
fingers and sent it hurtling inexpertly into the sky.
He weaved terrifyingly up through the canyoned walls of the city,
and once clear of them, hurtled through the black and red pall of
smoke which hung permanently above it.
Ten minutes later, with all the copter's sirens blaring and its
rapid-fire cannon blasting at random into the clouds, Ford
Prefect brought it careering down among the gantries and landing
lights at Han Dold spaceport, where it settled like a gigantic,
startled and very noisy gnat.
Since he hadn't damaged it too much he was able to trade it in
for a first class ticket on the next ship leaving the system, and
settled into one of its huge, voluptuous body-hugging seats.
This was going to be fun, he thought to himself, as the ship
blinked silently across the insane distances of deep space and
the cabin service got into its full extravagant swing.
"Yes please," he said to the cabin attendants whenever they
glided up to offer him anything at all.
He smiled with a curious kind of manic joy as he flipped again
through the mysteriously re-instated entry on the planet Earth.
He had a major piece of unfinished business that he would now be
able to attend to, and was terribly pleased that life had
suddenly furnished him with a serious goal to achieve.
It suddenly occurred to him to wonder where Arthur Dent was, and
if he knew.
Arthur Dent was one thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven light
years away in a Saab, and anxious.
Behind him in the backseat was a girl who had made him crack his
head on the door as he climbed in. He didn't know if it was just
because she was the first female of his own species that he had
laid eyes on in years, or what it was, but he felt stupefied
with, with ... This is absurd, he told himself. Calm down, he
told himself. You are not, he continued to himself in the firmest
internal voice he could muster, in a fit and rational state. You
have just hitch-hiked over a hundred thousand light years across
the galaxy, you are very tired, a little confused and extremely
vulnerable. Relax, don't panic, concentrate on breathing deeply.
He twisted round in his seat.
"Are you sure she's all right?" he said again.
Beyond the fact that she was, to him, heartthumpingly beautiful,
he could make out very little, how tall she was, how old she was,
the exact shading of her hair. And nor could he ask her anything
about herself because, sadly, she was completely unconscious.
"She's just drugged," said her brother, shrugging, not moving his
eyes from the road ahead.
"And that's all right, is it?" said Arthur, in alarm.
"Suits me," he said.
"Ah," said Arthur. "Er," he added after a moment's thought.
The conversation so far had been going astoundingly badly.
After an initial flurry of opening hellos, he and Russell - the
wonderful girl's brother's name was Russell, a name which, to
Arthur's mind, always suggested burly men with blond moustaches
and blow-dried hair, who would at the slightest provocation start
wearing velvet tuxedos and frilly shirtfronts and would then have
to be forcibly restrained from commentating on snooker matches -
had quickly discovered they didn't like each other at all.
Russell was a burly man. He had a blond moustache. His hair was
fine and blow dried. To be fair to him - though Arthur didn't see
any necessity for this beyond the sheer mental exercise of it -
he, Arthur, was looking pretty grim himself. A man can't cross a
hundred thousand light years, mostly in other people's baggage
compartments, without beginning to fray a little, and Arthur had
frayed a lot.
"She's not a junkie," said Russell suddenly, as if he clearly
thought that someone else in the car might be. "She's under
"But that's terrible," said Arthur, twisting round to look at her
again. She seemed to stir slightly and her head slipped sideways
on her shoulder. Her dark hair fell across her face, obscuring
"What's the matter with her, is she ill?"
"No," said Russell, "merely barking mad."
"What?" said Arthur, horrified.
"Loopy, completely bananas. I'm taking her back to the hospital
and telling them to have another go. They let her out while she
still thought she was a hedgehog."
Russell hooted his horn fiercely at the car that came round the
corner towards them half-way on to their side of the road, making
them swerve. The anger seemed to make him feel better.
"Well, maybe not a hedgehog," he said after he'd settled down
again. "Though it would probably be simpler to deal with if she
did. If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just
give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them
to sort it out for themselves, come down again when they feel
better. At least medical science could deal with it, that's the
point. Seems that's no good enough for Fenny, though."
"You know what I got her for Christmas?"
"Black's Medical Dictionary."
"I thought so. Thousands of diseases in it, all in alphabetical
"You say her name is Fenny?"
"Yeah. Take your pick, I said. Anything in here can be dealt
with. The proper drugs can be prescribed. But no, she has to have
something different. Just to make life difficult. She was like
that at school, you know."
"She was. Fell over playing hockey and broke a bone nobody had
ever heard of."
"I can see how that would be irritating," said Arthur doubtfully.
He was rather disappointed to discover her name was Fenny. It was
a rather silly, dispiriting name, such as an unlovely maiden aunt
might vote herself if she couldn't sustain the name Fenella
"Not that I wasn't sympathetic," continued Russell, "but it did
get a bit irritating. She was limping for months."
He slowed down.
"This is your turning isn't it?"
"Ah, no," said Arthur, "five miles further on. If that's all
"OK," said Russell after a very tiny pause to indicate that it
wasn't, and speeded up again.
It was in fact Arthur's turning, but he couldn't leave without
finding out something more about this girl who seemed to have
taken such a grip on his mind without even waking up. He could
take either of the next two turnings.
They led back to the village that had been his home, though what
he would find there he hesitated to imagine. Familiar landmarks
had been flitting by, ghostlike, in the dark, giving rise to the
shudders that only very very normal things can create, when seen
where the mind is unprepared for them, and in an unfamiliar
By his own personal time scale, so far as he could estimate it,
living as he had been under the alien rotations of distant suns,
it was eight years since he had left, but what time had passed
here he could hardly guess. Indeed, what events had passed were
beyond his exhausted comprehension because this planet, his home,
should not be here.
Eight years ago, at lunchtime, this planet had been demolished,
utterly destroyed, by the huge yellow Vogon ships which had hung
in the lunchtime sky as if the law of gravity was no more than a
local regulation, and breaking it no more than a parking offence.
"Delusions," said Russell.
"What?" said Arthur, started out of his train of thought.
"She says she suffers from strange delusions that she's living in
the real world. It's no good telling her that she is living in
the real world because she just says that's why the delusions are
so strange. Don't know about you, but I find that kind of
conversation pretty exhausting. Give her the tablets and piss off
for a beer is my answer. I mean you can only muck about so much
Arthur frowned, not for the first time.
"And all this dreams and nightmare stuff. And the doctors going
on about strange jumps in her brainwave patterns."
"This," said Fenny.
Arthur whirled round in his seat and stared into her suddenly
open but utterly vacant eyes. Whatever she was looking at wasn't
in the car. Her eyes fluttered, her head jerked once, and then
she was sleeping peacefully.
"What did she say?" he asked anxiously.
"She said `this'."
"This what? How the heck should I know? This hedgehog, that
chimney pot, the other pair of Don Alfonso's tweezers. She's
barking mad, I thought I'd mentioned that."
"You don't seem to care very much." Arthur tried to say it as
matter-of-factly as possible but it didn't seem to work.
"Look, buster ..."
"OK, I'm sorry. It's none of my business. I didn't mean it to
sound like that," said Arthur. "I know you care a lot,
obviously," he added, lying. "I know that you have to deal with
it somehow. You'll have to excuse me. I just hitched from the
other side of the Horsehead Nebula."
He stared furiously out of the window.
He was astonished that of all the sensations fighting for room in
his head on this night as he returned to the home that he had
thought had vanished into oblivion for ever, the one that was
compelling him was an obsession with this bizarre girl of whom he
knew nothing other than that she had said "this" to him, and that
he wouldn't wish her brother on a Vogon.
"So, er, what were the jumps, these jumps you mentioned?" he went
on to say as quickly as he could.
"Look, this is my sister, I don't even know why I'm talking to
you about ..."
"OK, I'm sorry. Perhaps you'd better let me out. This is ..."
At the moment he said it, it became impossible, because the storm
which had passed them by suddenly erupted again. Lightning belted
through the sky, and someone seemed to be pouring something which
closely resembled the Atlantic Ocean over them through a sieve.
Russell swore and steered intently for a few seconds as the sky
blattered at them. He worked out his anger by rashly accelerating
to pass a lorry marked "McKeena's All-Weather Haulage". The
tension eased as the rain subsided.
"It started with all that business of the CIA agent they found in
the reservoir, when everybody had all the hallucinations and
everything, you remember?"
Arthur wondered for a moment whether to mention again that he had
just hitch-hiked back from the other side of the Horsehead Nebula
and was for this and various other related and astounding reasons
a little out of touch with recent events, but he decided it would
only confuse matters further.
"No," he said.
"That was the moment she cracked up. She was in a cafe somewhere.
Rickmansworth. Don't know what she was doing there, but that was
where she cracked up. Apparently she stood up, calmly announced
that she had undergone some extraordinary revelation or
something, wobbled a bit, looked confused, and finally collapsed
screaming into an egg sandwich."
Arthur winced. "I'm very sorry to hear that," he said a little
Russell made a sort of grumping noise.
"So what," said Arthur in an attempt to piece things together,
"was the CIA agent doing in the reservoir?"
"Bobbing up and down of course. He was dead."
"But what ..."
"Come on, you remember all that stuff. The hallucinations.
Everyone said it was a cock up, the CIA trying experiments into
drug warfare or something. Some crackpot theory that instead of
invading a country it would be much cheaper and more effective to
make everyone think they'd been invaded."
"What hallucinations were those exactly ...?" said Arthur in a
rather quiet voice.
"What do you mean, what hallucinations? I'm talking about all
that stuff with the big yellow ships, everyone going crazy and
saying we're going to die, and then pop, they vanished as the
effect wore off. The CIA denied it which meant it must be true."
Arthur's head went a little swimmy. His hand grabbed at something
to steady himself, and gripped it tightly. His mouth made little
opening and closing movements as if it was on his mind to say
something, but nothing emerged.
"Anyway," continued Russell, "whatever drug it was it didn't seem
to wear off so fast with Fenny. I was all for suing the CIA, but
a lawyer friend of mine said it would be like trying to attack a
lunatic asylum with a banana, so ..." He shrugged.
"The Vogon ..." squeaked Arthur. "The yellow ships ... vanished?"
"Well, of course they did, they were hallucinations," said
Russell, and looked at Arthur oddly. "You trying to say you don't
remember any of this? Where have you been for heaven's sake?"
This was, to Arthur, such an astonishingly good question that he
half-leapt out of his seat with shock.
"Christ!!!" yelled Russell, fighting to control the car which was
suddenly trying to skid. He pulled it out of the path of an
oncoming lorry and swerved up on to a grass bank. As the car
lurched to a halt, the girl in the back was thrown against
Russell's seat and collapsed awkwardly.
Arthur twisted round in horror.
"Is she all right?" he blurted out.
Russell swept his hands angrily back through his blow-dried hair.
He tugged at his blond moustache. He turned to Arthur.
"Would you please," he said, "let go of the handbrake?"
From here it was a four-mile walk to his village: a further mile
to the turning, to which the abominable Russell had now fiercely
declined to take him, and from there a further three miles of
winding country lane.
The Saab seethed off into the night. Arthur watched it go, as
stunned as a man might be who, having believed himself to be
totally blind for five years, suddenly discovers that he had
merely been wearing too large a hat.
He shook his head sharply in the hope that it might dislodge some
salient fact which would fall into place and make sense of an
otherwise utterly bewildering Universe, but since the salient
fact, if there was one, entirely failed to do this, he set off up
the road again, hoping that a good vigorous walk, and maybe even
some good painful blisters, would help to reassure him of his own
existence at least, if not his sanity.
It was 10.30 when he arrived, a fact he discovered from the
steamed and greasy window of the Horse and Groom pub, in which
there had hung for many years a battered old Guiness clock which
featured a picture of an emu with a pint glass jammed rather
amusingly down its throat.
This was the pub at which he had passed the fateful lunchtime
during which first his house and then the entire planet Earth had
been demolished, or rather had seemed to be demolished. No, damn
it, had been demolished, because if it hadn't then where the
bloody heck had he been for the last eight years, and how he had
got there if not in one of the big yellow Vogon ships which the
appalling Russell had just been telling him were merely drug-
induced hallucinations, and yet if it had been demolished, what
was he currently standing on ...?
He jammed the brake on this line of thought because it wasn't
going to get him any further than it had the last twenty times
he'd been over it.
He started again.
This was the pub at which he had passed the fateful lunchtime
during which whatever it was had happened that he was going to
sort out later had happened, and ...
It still didn't make sense.
He started again.
This was the pub in which ...
This was a pub.
Pubs served drinks and he couldn't half do with one.
Satisfied that his jumbled thought processes had at last arrived
at a conclusion, and a conclusion he was happy with, even if it
wasn't the one he had set out to achieve, he strode towards the
A small black wire-haired terrier ran out from behind a low wall
and then, catching sight of Arthur, began to snarl.
Now Arthur knew this dog, and he knew it well. It belonged to an
advertising friend of his, and was called Know-Nothing-Bozo
because the way its hair stood up on its head it reminded people
of the President of the United States, and the dog knew Arthur,
or at least should do. It was a stupid dog, could not even read
an autocue, which way why some people had protested about its
name, but it should at least have been able to recognize Arthur
instead of standing there, hackles raised, as if Arthur was the
most fearful apparition ever to intrude upon its feeble-witted
This prompted Arthur to go and peer at the window again, this
time with an eye not for the asphyxiating emu but for himself.
Seeing himself for the first time suddenly in a familiar context,
he had to admit that the dog had a point.
He looked a lot like something a farmer would use to scare birds
with, and there was no doubt but that to go into the pub in his
present condition would excite comments of a raucous kind, and
worse still, there would doubtless be several people in there at
the moment whom he knew, all of whom would be bound to bombard
him with questions which, at the moment, he felt ill-equipped to
Will Smithers, for instance, the owner of Know-Nothing-Bozo the
Non-Wonder Dog, an animal so stupid that it had been sacked from
one of Will's own commercials for being incapable of knowing
which dog food it was supposed to prefer, despite the fact that
the meat in all the other bowls had had engine oil poured over
Will would definitely be in there. Here was his dog, here was his
car, a grey Porsche 928S with a sign in the back window which
read, "My other car is also a Porsche." Damn him.
He stared at it and realized that he had just learned something
he hadn't known before.
Will Smithers, like most of the overpaid and under-scrupulous
bastards Arthur knew in advertising made a point of changing his
car every August so that he could tell people his accountant made
him do it, though the truth was that his accountant was trying
like hell to stop him, what with all the alimony he had to pay,
and so on - and this was the same car Arthur remembered him
having before. The number plate proclaimed its year.
Given that it was now winter, and that the event which had caused
Arthur so much trouble eight of his personal years ago had
occurred at the beginning of September, less than six or seven
months could have passed here.
He stood terribly still for a moment and let Know-Nothing-Bozo
jump up and down yapping at him. He was suddenly stunned by a
realization he could no longer avoid, which was this: he was now
an alien on his own world. Try as he might, no one was even to be
able to believe his story. Not only did it sound perfectly potty,
but it was flatly contradicted by the simplest observable facts.
Was this really the Earth? Was there the slightest possibility
that he had made some extraordinary mistake?
The pub in front of him was unbearably familiar to him in every
detail - every brick, every piece of peeling paint; and inside he
could sense its familiar stuffy, noisy warmth, its exposed beams,
its unauthentic cast-iron light fittings, its bar sticky with
beer that people he knew had put their elbows in, overlooked by
cardboard cutouts of girls with packets of peanuts stapled all
over their breasts. It was all the stuff of his home, his world.
He even knew this blasted dog.
The sound of Will Smithers' voice meant he had to decide what do
to quickly. If he stood his ground he would be discovered and the
whole circus would begin. To hide would only postpone the moment,
and it was bitterly cold now.
The fact that it was Will made the choice easier. It wasn't that
Arthur disliked him as such - Will was quite fun. It was just
that he was fun in such an exhausting way because, being in
advertising, he always wanted you to know how much fun he was
having and where he had got his jacket from.
Mindful of this, Arthur hid behind a van.
"Hey, Know-Nothing, what's up?"
The door opened and Will came out, wearing a leather flying
jacket that he'd got a mate of his at the Road Research
Laboratory to crash a car into specially, in order to get that
battered look. Know-Nothing yelped with delight and, having got
the attention it wanted, was happy to forget Arthur.
Will was with some friends, and they had a game they played with
"Commies!" they all shouted at the dog in chorus. "Commies,
The dog went berserk with barking, prancing up and down, yapping
its little heart out, beside itself in transports of ecstatic
rage. They all laughed and cheered it on, then gradually
dispersed to their various cars and disappeared into the night.
Well that clears one thing up, thought Arthur from behind the
van, this is quite definitely the planet I remember.
His house was still there.
How or why, he had no idea. He had decided to go and have a look
while he was waiting for the pub to empty, so that he could go
and ask the landlord for a bed for the night when everyone else
had gone. And there it was.
He hurriedly let himself in with the key he kept under a stone
frog in the garden, because, astoundingly, the phone was ringing.
He had heard it faintly all the way up the lane and had started
to run as soon as he realized where the sound was coming from.
The door had to be forced open because of the astonishing
accumulation of junk mail on the doormat. It jammed itself stuck
on what he would later discover were fourteen identical,
personally addressed invitations to apply for a credit card he
already had, seventeen identical threatening letters for non-
payment of bills on a credit card he didn't have, thirty-three
identical letters saying that he personally had been specially
selected as a man of taste and discrimination who knew what he
wanted and where he was going in today's sophisticated jet-
setting world and would he therefore like to buy some grotty
wallet, and also a dead tabby kitten.
He rammed himself through the relatively narrow opening afforded
by all this, stumbled through a pile of wine offers that no
discriminating connoisseur would want to miss, slithered over a
heap of beach villa holidays, blundered up the dark stairs to his
bedroom and got to the phone just as it stopped ringing.
He collapsed, panting, on to his cold, musty-smelling bed and for
a few minutes stopped trying to prevent the world from spinning
round his head in the way it obviously wanted to.
When it had enjoyed its little spin and had calmed down a bit,
Arthur reached out for the bedside light, not expecting it to
come on. To his surprise it did. This appealed to Arthur's sense
of logic. Since the Electricity Board cut him off without fail
every time he paid his bill, it seemed only reasonable that they
should leave him connected when he didn't. Sending them money
obviously only drew attention to yourself.
The room was much as he had left it, i.e. festeringly untidy,
though the effect was muted a little by a thick layer of dust.
Half-read books and magazines nestled amongst piles of half-used
towels. Half pairs of socks reclined in half-drunk cups of
coffee. What was once a half-eaten sandwich had now half-turned
into something that Arthur entirely didn't want to know about.
Bung a fork of lightning through this lot, he thought to himself,
and you'd start the evolution of life all over again.
There was only one thing in the room that was different.
For a moment or so he couldn't see what the one thing that was
different was, because it too was covered in a film of disgusting
dust. Then his eyes caught it and stopped.
It was next to a battered old television on which it was only
possible to watch Open University Study Courses, because if it
tried to show anything more exciting it would break down.
It was a box.
Arthur pushed himself up on his elbows and peered at it.
It was a grey box, with a kind of dull lustre to it. It was a
cubic grey box, just over a foot on a side. It was tied with a
single grey ribbon, knotted into a neat bow on the top.
He got up, walked over and touched it in surprise. Whatever it
was was clearly gift-wrapped, neatly and beautifully, and was
waiting for him to open it.
Cautiously, he picked it up and carried it back to the bed. He
brushed the dust off the top and loosened the ribbon. The top of
the box was a lid, with a flap tucked into the body of the box.
He untucked it and looked into the box. In it was a glass globe,
nestling in fine grey tissue paper. He drew it out, carefully. It
wasn't a proper globe because it was open at the bottom, or, as
Arthur realized turning it over, at the top, with a thick rim. It
was a bowl. A fish bowl.
It was made of the most wonderful glass perfectly transparent,
yet with an extraordinary silver-grey quality as if crystal and
slate had gone into its making.
Arthur slowly turned it over and over in his hands. It was one of
the most beautiful objects he had ever seen, but he was entirely
perplexed by it. He looked into the box, but other than the
tissue paper there was nothing. On the outside of the box there
He turned the bowl round again. It was wonderful. It was
exquisite. But it was a fish bowl.
He tapped it with his thumbnail and it rang with a deep and
glorious chime which was sustained for longer than seemed
possible, and when at last it faded seemed not to die away but to
drift off into other worlds, as into a deep sea dream.
Entranced, Arthur turned it round yet again, and this time the
light from the dusty little bedside lamp caught it at a different
angle and glittered on some fine abrasions on the fish bowl's
surface. He held it up, adjusting the angle to the light, and
suddenly saw clearly the finely engraved shapes of words shadowed
on the glass.
"So Long," they said, "and Thanks ..."
And that was all. He blinked, and understood nothing.
For fully five more minutes he turned the object round and
around, held it to the light at different angles, tapped it for
its mesmerizing chime and pondered on the meaning of the shadowy
letters but could find none. Finally he stood up, filled the bowl
with water from the tap and put it back on the table next to the
television. He shook the little Babel fish from his ear and
dropped it, wriggling, into the bowl. He wouldn't be needing it
any more, except for watching foreign movies.
He returned to lie on his bed, and turned out the light.
He lay still and quiet. He absorbed the enveloping darkness,
slowly relaxed his limbs from end to end, eased and regulated his
breathing, gradually cleared his mind of all thought, closed his
eyes and was completely incapable of getting to sleep.
The night was uneasy with rain. The rain clouds themselves had
now moved on and were currently concentrating their attention on
a small transport cafe just outside Bournemouth, but the sky
through which they had passed had been disturbed by them and now
wore a damply ruffled air, as if it didn't know what else it
might not do it further provoked.
The moon was out in a watery way. It looked like a ball of paper
from the back pocket of jeans that have just come out of the
washing machine, and which only time and ironing would tell if it
was an old shopping list or a five pound note.
The wind flicked about a little, like the tail of a horse that's
trying to decide what sort of mood it's in tonight, and a bell
somewhere chimed midnight.
A skylight creaked open.
It was stiff and had to be jiggled and persuaded a little because
the frame was slightly rotten and the hinges had at some time in
its life been rather sensibly painted over, but eventually it was
A strut was found to prop it and a figure struggled out into the
narrow gully between the opposing pitches of the roof.
It stood and watched the sky in silence.
The figure was completely unrecognizable as the wild-looking
creature who had burst crazily into the cottage a little over an
hour ago. Gone was the ragged threadbare dressing gown, smeared
with the mud of a hundred worlds, stained with junk food
condiment from a hundred grimy spaceports, gone was the tangled
mane of hair, gone the long and knotted beard, flourishing
ecosystem and all.
Instead, there was Arthur Dent the smooth and casual, in
corduroys and a chunky sweater. His hair was cropped and washed,
his chin clean shaven. Only the eyes still said that whatever it
was the Universe thought it was doing to him, he would still like
it please to stop.
They were not the same eyes with which he had last looked out at
this particular scene, and the brain which interpreted the images
the eyes resolved was not the same brain. There had been no
surgery involved, just the continual wrenching of experience.
The night seemed like an alive thing to him at this moment, the
dark earth around him a being in which he was rooted.
He could feel like a tingle on distant nerve ends the flood of a
far river, the roll of invisible hills, the knot of heavy
rainclouds parked somewhere away to the south.
He could sense, too, the thrill of being a tree, which was
something he hadn't expected. He knew that it felt good to curl
your toes in the earth, but he'd never realized it could feel
quite as good as that. He could sense an almost unseemly wave of
pleasure reaching out to him all the way from the New Forest. He
must try this summer, he thought, and see what having leaves felt
From another direction he felt the sensation of being a sheep
startled by a flying saucer, but it was virtually
indistinguishable from the feeling of being a sheep startled by
anything else it ever encountered, for they were creatures who
learned very little on their journey through life, and would be
startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by
all the green stuff in the fields.
He was surprised to find he could feel the sheep being startled
by the sun that morning, and the morning before, and being
startled by a clump of trees the day before that. He could go
further and further back, but it got dull because all it
consisted of was sheep being startled by things they'd been
startled by the day before.
He left the sheep and let his mind drift outwards sleepily in
developing ripples. It felt the presence of other minds, hundreds
of them, thousands in a web, some sleepy, some sleeping, some
terribly excited, one fractured.
He passed it fleetingly and tried to feel for it again, but it
eluded him like the other card with an apple on it in Pelmanism.
He felt a spasm of excitement because he knew instinctively who
it was, or at least knew who it was he wanted it to be, and once
you know what it is you want to be true, instinct is a very
useful device for enabling you to know that it is.
He instinctively knew that it was Fenny and that he wanted to
find her; but he could not. By straining too much for it, he
could feel he was losing this strange new faculty, so he relaxed
the search and let his mind wander more easily once more.
And again, he felt the fracture.
Again he couldn't find it. This time, whatever his instinct was
busy telling him it was all right to believe, he wasn't certain
that it was Fenny - or perhaps it was a different fracture this
time. It had the same disjointed quality but it seemed a more
general feeling of fracture, deeper, not a single mind, maybe not
a mind at all. It was different.
He let his mind sink slowly and widely into the Earth, rippling,
He was following the Earth through its days, drifting with the
rhythms of its myriad pulses, seeping through the webs of its
life, swelling with its tides, turning with its weight. Always
the fracture kept returning, a dull disjointed distant ache.
And now he was flying through a land of light; the light was
time, the tides of it were days receding. The fracture he had
sensed, the second fracture, lay in the distance before him
across the land, the thickness of a single hair across the
dreaming landscape of the days of Earth.
And suddenly he was upon it.
He danced dizzily over the edge as the dreamland dropped sheer
away beneath him, a stupefying precipice into nothing, him wildly
twisting, clawing at nothing, flailing in horrifying space,
Across the jagged chasm had been another land, another time, an
older world, not fractured from, but hardly joined: two Earths.
A cold breeze brushed the feverish sweat standing on his
forehead. The nightmare was spent and so, he felt, was he. His
shoulders dropped, he gently rubbed his eyes with the tips of his
fingers. At last he was sleepy as well as very tired. As to what
it meant, if it meant anything at all, he would think about it in
the morning; for now he would go to bed and sleep. His own bed,
his own sleep.
He could see his house in the distance and wondered why this was.
It was silhouetted against the moonlight and he recognized its
rather dull blockish shape. He looked about him and noticed that
he was about eighteen inches above the rose bushes of one of his
neighbours, John Ainsworth. His rose bushes were carefully
tended, pruned back for the winter, strapped to canes and
labelled, and Arthur wondered what he was doing above them. He
wondered what was holding him there, and when he discovered that
nothing was holding him there he crashed awkwardly to the ground.
He picked himself up, brushed himself down and hobbled back to
his house on a sprained ankle. He undressed and toppled into bed.
While he was asleep the phone rang again. It rang for fully
fifteen minutes and caused him to turn over twice. It never,
however, stood a chance of waking him up.
Arthur awoke feeling wonderful, absolutely fabulous, refreshed,
overjoyed to be home, bouncing with energy, hardly disappointed
at all to discover it was the middle of February.
He almost danced to the fridge, found the three least hairy
things in it, put them on a plate and watched them intently for
two minutes. Since they made no attempt to move within that time
he called them breakfast and ate them. Between them they killed a
virulent space disease he's picked up without knowing it in the
Flargathon Gas Swamps a few days earlier, which otherwise would
have killed off half the population of the Western Hemisphere,
blinded the other half and driven everyone else psychotic and
sterile, so the Earth was lucky there.
He felt strong, he felt healthy. He vigorously cleared away the
junk mail with a spade and then buried the cat.
Just as he was finishing that, the phone went, but he let it ring
while he maintained a moment's respectful silence. Whoever it was
would ring back if it was important.
He kicked the mud off his shoes and went back inside.
There had been a small number of significant letters in the piles
of junk - some documents from the council, dated three years
earlier, relating to the proposed demolition of his house, and
some other letters about the setting up of a public inquiry into
the whole bypass scheme in the area; there was also an old letter
from Greenpeace, the ecological pressure group to which he
occasionally made contributions, asking for help with their
scheme to release dolphins and orcas from captivity, and some
postcards from friends, vaguely complaining that he never got in
touch these days.
He collected these together and put them in a cardboard file
which he marked "Things To Do". Since he was feeling so vigorous
and dynamic that morning, he even added the word "Urgent!"
He unpacked his towel and another few odd bits and pieces from
the plastic bag he had acquired at the Port Brasta Mega-Market.
The slogan on the side was a clever and elaborate pun in Lingua
Centauri which was completely incomprehensible in any other
language and therefore entirely pointless for a Duty Free Shop at
a spaceport. The bag also had a hole in it so he threw it away.
He realized with a sudden twinge that something else must have
dropped out in the small spacecraft that had brought him to
Earth, kindly going out of its way to drop him right beside the
A303. He had lost his battered and spaceworn copy of the thing
which had helped him find his way across the unbelievable wastes
of space he had traversed. He had lost the Hitch Hiker's Guide to
Well, he told himself, this time I really won't be needing it
He had some calls to make.
He had decided how to deal with the mass of contradictions his
return journey precipitated, which was that he would simply
brazen it out.
He phoned the BBC and asked to be put through to his department
"Oh, hello, Arthur Dent here. Look, sorry I haven't been in for
six months but I've gone mad."
"Oh, not to worry. Thought it was probably something like that.
Happens here all the time. How soon can we expect you?"
"When do hedgehogs stop hibernating?"
"Sometime in spring I think."
"I'll be in shortly after that."
He flipped through the Yellow Pages and made a short list of
numbers to try.
"Oh hello, is that the Old Elms Hospital? Yes, I was just phoning
to see if I could have a word with Fenella, er ... Fenella - Good
Lord, silly me, I'll forget my own name next, er, Fenella - isn't
this ridiculous? Patient of yours, dark haired girl, came in last
"I'm afraid we don't have any patients called Fenella."
"Oh, don't you? I mean Fiona of course, we just call her Fen ..."
"I'm sorry, goodbye."
Six conversations along these lines began to take their toll on
his mood of vigorous, dynamic optimism, and he decided that
before it deserted him entirely he would take it down to the pub
and parade it a little.
He had had the perfect idea for explaining away every
inexplicable weirdness about himself at a stroke, and he whistled
to himself as he pushed open the door which had so daunted him
He grinned cheerfully at the boggling eyes that stared at him
from all corners of the pub, and told them all what a wonderful
time he'd had in Southern California.
He accepted another pint and took a pull at it.
"Of course, I had my own personal alchemist too."
He was getting silly and he knew it. Exuberance and Hall and
Woodhouse best bitter was a mixture to be wary of, but one of the
first effects it had is to stop you being wary of things, and the
point at which Arthur should have stopped and explained no more
was the point at which he started instead to get inventive.
"Oh yes," he insisted with a happy glazed smile. "It's why I've
lost so much weight."
"What?" said his audience.
"Oh yes," he said again. "The Californians have rediscovered
alchemy. Oh yes."
He smiled again.
"Only," he said, "it's in a much more useful form than that which
in ..." He paused thoughtfully to let a little grammar assemble
in his head. "In which the ancients used to practise it. Or at
least," he added, "failed to practise it. They couldn't get it to
work you know. Nostradamus and that lot. Couldn't cut it."
"Nostradamus?" said one of his audience.
"I didn't think he was an alchemist," said another.
"I thought," said a third, "he was a seer."
"He became a seer," said Arthur to his audience, the component
parts of which were beginning to bob and blur a little, "because
he was such a lousy alchemist. You should know that."
He took another pull at his beer. It was something he had not
tasted for eight years. He tasted it and tasted it.
"What has alchemy got to do," asked a bit of the audience, "with
"I'm glad you asked that," said Arthur. "Very glad. And I will
now tell you what the connection is between ..." He paused.
"Between those two things. The things you mentioned. I'll tell
He paused and manoeuvred his thoughts. It was like watching oil
tankers doing three-point turns in the English Channel.
"They've discovered how to turn excess body fat into gold," he
said, in a sudden blur of coherence.
"Oh yes," he said, "no," he corrected himself, "they have."
He rounded on the doubting part of his audience, which was all of
it, and so it took a little while to round on it completely.
"Have you been to California?" he demanded. "Do you know the sort
of stuff they do there?"
Three members of his audience said they had and that he was
"You haven't seen anything," insisted Arthur. "Oh yes," he added,
because someone was offering to buy another round.
"The evidence," he said, pointing at himself, and not missing by
more than a couple of inches, "is before your eyes. Fourteen
hours in a trance," he said, "in a tank. In a trance. I was in a
tank. I think," he added after a thoughtful pause, "I already
He waited patiently while the next round was duly distributed. He
composed the next bit of his story in his mind, which was going
to be something about the tank needing to be orientated along a
line dropped perpendicularly from the Pole Star to a baseline
drawn between Mars and Venus, and was about to start trying to
say it when he decided to give it a miss.
"Long time," he said instead, "in a tank. In a trance." He looked
round severely at his audience, to make sure it was all following
"Where was I?" he said.
"In a trance," said one.
"In a tank," said another.
"Oh yes," said Arthur. "Thank you. And slowly," he said pressing
onwards, "slowly, slowly slowly, all your excess body fat ...
turns ... to ..." he paused for effect, "subcoo ... subyoo ...
subtoocay ..." - he paused for breath - "subcutaneous gold, which
you can have surgically removed. Getting out of the tank is hell.
What did you say?"
"I was just clearing my throat."
"I think you doubt me."
"I was clearing my throat."
"She was clearing her throat," confirmed a significant part of
the audience in a low rumble.
"Oh yes," said Arthur, "all right. And you then split the
proceeds ..." he paused again for a maths break, "fifty-fifty
with the alchemist. Make a lot of money!"
He looked swayingly around at his audience, and could not help
but be aware of an air of scepticism about their jumbled faces.
He felt very affronted by this.
"How else," he demanded, "could I afford to have my face
Friendly arms began to help him home. "Listen," he protested, as
the cold February breeze brushed his face, "looking lived-in is
all the rage in California at the moment. You've got to look as
if you've seen the Galaxy. Life, I mean. You've got to look as if
you've seen life. That's what I got. A face drop. Give me eight
years, I said. I hope being thirty doesn't come back into fashion
or I've wasted a lot of money."
He lapsed into silence for a while as the friendly arms continued
to help him along the lane to his house.
"Got in yesterday," he mumbled. "I'm very happy to be home. Or
somewhere very like it ..."
"Jet lag," muttered one of his friends. "Long trip from
California. Really mucks you up for a couple of days."
"I don't think he's been there at all," muttered another. "I
wonder where he has been. And what's happened to him."
After a little sleep Arthur got up and pottered round the house a
bit. He felt woozy and a little low, still disoriented by the
journey. He wondered how he was going to find Fenny.
He sat and looked at the fish bowl. He tapped it again, and
despite being full of water and a small yellow Babel fish which
was gulping its way around rather dejectedly, it still chimed its
deep and resonant chime as clearly and mesmerically as before.
Someone is trying to thank me, he thought to himself. He wondered
who, and for what.
"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and twenty
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
Ford Prefect suppressed a little giggle of evil satisfaction,
realized that he had no reason to suppress it, and laughed out
loud, a wicked laugh.
He switched the incoming signal through from the Sub-Etha Net to
the ship's hi-fi system, and the odd, rather stilted, sing-song
voice spoke out with remarkable clarity round the cabin.
"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and thirty
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
He tweaked the volume up just a little while keeping a careful
eye on a rapidly changing table of figures on the ship's computer
display. For the length of time he had in mind, the question of
power consumption became significant. He didn't want a murder on
"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and forty
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
He checked around the small ship. He walked down the short
corridor. "At the third stroke ..."
He stuck his head into the small, functional, gleaming steel
"it will be ..."
It sounded fine in there.
He looked into the tiny sleeping quarters.
"... one ... thirty-two ..."
It sounded a bit muffled. There was a towel hanging over one of
the speakers. He took down the towel.
"... and fifty seconds."
He checked out the packed cargo hold, and wasn't at all satisfied
with the sound. There was altogether too much crated junk in the
way. He stepped back out and waited for the door to seal. He
broke open a closed control panel and pushed the jettison button.
He didn't know why he hadn't thought of that before. A whooshing
rumbling noise died away quickly into silence. After a pause a
slight hiss could be heard again.
He waited for the green light to show and then opened the door
again on the now empty cargo hold.
"... one ... thirty-three ... and fifty seconds."
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
He then went and had a last thorough examination of the emergency
suspended animation chamber, which was where he particularly
wanted it to be heard.
"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty ... four ...
He shivered as he peered down through the heavily frosted
covering at the dim bulk of the form within. One day, who knew
when, it would wake, and when it did, it would know what time it
was. Not exactly local time, true, but what the heck.
He double-checked the computer display above the freezer bed,
dimmed the lights and checked it again.
"At the third stroke it will be ..."
He tiptoed out and returned to the control cabin.
"... one ... thirty-four and twenty seconds."
The voice sounded as clear as if he was hearing it over a phone
in London, which he wasn't, not by a long way.
He gazed out into the inky night. The star the size of a
brilliant biscuit crumb he could see in the distance was
Zondostina, or as it was known on the world from which the rather
stilted, sing-song voice was being received, Pleiades Zeta.
The bright orange curve that filled over half the visible area
was the giant gas planet Sesefras Magna, where the Xaxisian
battleships docked, and just rising over its horizon was a small
cool blue moon, Epun.
"At the third stroke it will be ..."
For twenty minutes he sat and watched as the gap between the ship
and Epun closed, as the ship's computer teased and kneaded the
numbers that would bring it into a loop around the little moon,
close the loop and keep it there, orbiting in perpetual
"One ... fifty-nine ..."
His original plan had been to close down all external signalling
and radiation from the ship, to render it as nearly invisible as
possible unless you were actually looking at it, but then he'd
had an idea he preferred. It would now emit one single continuous
beam, pencil-thin, broadcasting the incoming time signal to the
planet of the signal's origin, which it would not reach for four
hundred years, travelling at light speed, but where it would
probably cause something of a stir when it did.
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
He didn't like to think of himself as the sort of person who
giggled or sniggered, but he had to admit that he had been
giggling and sniggering almost continuously for well over half an
"At the third stroke ..."
The ship was now locked almost perfectly into its perpetual orbit
round a little known and never visited moon. Almost perfect.
One thing only remained. He ran again the computer simulation of
the launching of the ship's little Escape-O-Buggy, balancing
actions, reactions, tangential forces, all the mathematical
poetry of motion, and saw that it was good.
Before he left, he turned out the lights.
As his tiny little cigar tube of an escape craft zipped out on
the beginning of its three-day journey to the orbiting space
station Port Sesefron, it rode for a few seconds a long pencil-
thin beam of radiation that was starting out on a longer journey
"At the third stroke, it will be two ... thirteen ... and fifty
He giggled and sniggered. He would have laughed out loud but he
didn't have the room.
"Beep ... beep ... beep."
"April showers I hate especially."
However noncommittally Arthur grunted, the man seemed determined
to talk to him. He wondered if he should get up and move to
another table, but there didn't seem to be one free in the whole
cafeteria. He stirred his coffee fiercely.
"Bloody April showers. Hate hate hate."
Arthur stared, frowning, out of the window. A light, sunny spray
of rain hung over the motorway. Two months he'd been back now.
Slipping back into his old life had in fact been laughably easy.
People had such extraordinarily short memories, including him.
Eight years of crazed wanderings round the Galaxy now seemed to
him not so much like a bad dream as like a film he had videotaped
from the tv and now kept in the back of a cupboard without
bothering to watch.
One effect that still lingered though, was his joy at being back.
Now that the Earth's atmosphere had closed over his head for
good, he thought, wrongly, everything within it gave him
extraordinary pleasure. Looking at the silvery sparkle of the
raindrops he felt he had to protest.
"Well, I like them," he said suddenly, "and for all the obvious
reasons. They're light and refreshing. They sparkle and make you
The man snorted derisively.
"That's what they all say," he said, and glowered darkly from his
He was a lorry driver. Arthur knew this because his opening,
unprovoked remark had been, "I'm a lorry driver. I hate driving
in the rain. Ironic isn't it? Bloody ironic."
If there was a sequitur hidden in this remark, Arthur had not
been able to divine it and had merely given a little grunt,
affable but not encouraging.
But the man had not been deterred then, and was not deterred now.
"They all say that about bloody April showers," he said. "So
bloody nice, so bloody refreshing, such charming bloody weather."
He leaned forward, screwing his face up as if he was going to say
something about the government.
"What I want to know is this," he said, "if it's going to be nice
weather, why," he almost spat, "can't it be nice without bloody
Arthur gave up. He decided to leave his coffee, which was too hot
to drink quickly and too nasty to drink cold.
"Well, there you go," he said and instead got up himself. "Bye."
He stopped off at the service station shop, then walked back
through the car park, making a point of enjoying the fine play of
rain on his face. There was even, he noticed, a faint rainbow
glistening over the Devon hills. He enjoyed that too.
He climbed into his battered but adored old black Golf GTi,
squealed the tyres, and headed out past the islands of petrol
pumps and on to the slip road back towards the motorway.
He was wrong in thinking that the atmosphere of the Earth had
closed finally and for ever above his head.
He was wrong to think that it would ever be possible to put
behind him the tangled web of irresolutions into which his
galactic travels had dragged him.
He was wrong to think he could now forget that the big, hard,
oily, dirty, rainbow-hung Earth on which he lived was a
microscopic dot on a microscopic dot lost in the unimaginable
infinity of the Universe.
He drove on, humming, being wrong about all these things.
The reason he was wrong was standing by the slip road under a
His jaw sagged. He sprained his ankle against the brake pedal and
skidded so hard he very nearly turned the car over.
"Fenny!" he shouted.
Having narrowly avoided hitting her with the actual car, he hit
her instead with the car door as he leant across and flung it
open at her.
It caught her hand and knocked away her umbrella, which then
bowled wildly away across the road.
"Shit!" yelled Arthur as helpfully as he cold, leapt out of his
own door, narrowly avoided being run down by McKeena's All-
Weather Haulage, and watched in horror as it ran down Fenny's
umbrella instead. The lorry swept along the motorway and away.
The umbrella lay like a recently swatted daddy-long-legs,
expiring sadly on the ground. Tiny gusts of wind made it twitch a
He picked it up.
"Er," he said. There didn't seem to be a lot of point in offering
the thing back to her.
"How did you know my name?" she said.
"Er, well," he said. "Look, I'll get you another one ..."
He looked at her and tailed off.
She was tallish with dark hair which fell in waves around a pale
and serious face. Standing still, alone, she seemed almost
sombre, like a statue to some important but unpopular virtue in a
formal garden. She seemed to be looking at something other than
what she looked as if she was looking at.
But when she smiled, as she did now, it was as if she suddenly
arrived from somewhere. Warmth and life flooded into her face,
and impossibly graceful movement into her body. The effect was
very disconcerting, and it disconcerted Arthur like hell.
She grinned, tossed her bag into the back and swivelled herself
into the front seat.
"Don't worry about the umbrella," she said to him as she climbed
in. "It was my brother's and he can't have liked it or he
wouldn't have given it to me." She laughed and pulled on her
seatbelt. "You're not a friend of my brother's are you?"
Her voice was the only part of her which didn't say "Good".
Her physical presence there in the car, his car, was quite
extraordinary to Arthur. He felt, as he let the car pull slowly
away, that he could hardly think or breathe, and hoped that
neither of these functions were vital to his driving or they were
So what he had experienced in the other car, her brother's car,
the night he had returned exhausted and bewildered from his
nightmare years in the stars had not been the unbalance of the
moment, or, if it had been, he was at least twice as unbalanced
now, and quite liable to fall off whatever it is that well-
balanced people are supposed to be balancing on.
"So ..." he said, hoping to kick the conversation off to an
"He was meant to pick me up - my brother - but phoned to say he
couldn't make it. I asked about buses but the man started to look
at the calendar rather than a timetable, so I decided to hitch.
"So here I am. And what I would like to know, is how you know my
"Perhaps we ought to first sort out," said Arthur, looking back
over his shoulder as he eased his car into the motorway traffic,
"where I'm taking you."
Very close, he hoped, or long away. Close would mean she lived
near him, a long way would mean he could drive her there.
"I'd like to go to Taunton," she said, "please. If that's all
right. It's not far. You can drop me at ..."
"You live in Taunton?" he said, hoping that he'd managed to sound
merely curious rather than ecstatic. Taunton was wonderfully
close to him. He could ...
"No, London," she said. "There's a train in just under an hour."
It was the worst thing possible. Taunton was only minutes away up
the motorway. He wondered what to do, and while he was wondering
with horror heard himself saying, "Oh, I can take you to London.
Let me take you to London ..."
Bungling idiot. Why on Earth had he said "let" in that stupid
way? He was behaving like a twelve-year-old.
"Are you going to London?" she asked.
"I wasn't," he said, "but ..." Bungling idiot.
"It's very kind of you," she said, "but really no. I like to go
by train." And suddenly she was gone. Or rather, that part of her
which brought her to life was gone. She looked rather distantly
out of the window and hummed lightly to herself.
He couldn't believe it.
Thirty seconds into the conversation, and already he'd blown it.
Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of
accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not
behave like this.
Taunton 5 miles, said the signpost.
He gripped the steering wheel so tightly the car wobbled. He was
going to have to do something dramatic.
"Fenny," he said.
She glanced round sharply at him.
"You still haven't told me how ..."
"Listen," said Arthur, "I will tell you, though the story is
rather strange. Very strange."
She was still looking at him, but said nothing.
"You said that."
"Did I? Oh. There are things I must talk to you about, and things
I must tell you ... a story I must tell you which would ..." He
was thrashing about. He wanted something along the lines of "Thy
knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular quill to
stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine" but didn't
think he could carry it off and didn't like the hedgehog
"... which would take more than five miles," he settled for in
the end, rather lamely he was afraid.
"Just supposing," he said, "just supposing" - he didn't know what
was coming next, so he thought he'd just sit back and listen -
"that there was some extraordinary way in which you were very
important to me, and that, though you didn't know it, I was very
important to you, but it all went for nothing because we only had
five miles and I was a stupid idiot at knowing how to say
something very important to someone I've only just met and not
crash into lorries at the same time, what would you say ..." he
paused helplessly, and looked at her, "I ... should do?"
"Watch the road!" she yelped.
He narrowly avoided careering into the side of a hundred Italian
washing machines in a German lorry.
"I think," she said, with a momentary sigh of relief, "you should
buy me a drink before my train goes."
There is, for some reason, something especially grim about pubs
near stations, a very particular kind of grubbiness, a special
kind of pallor to the pork pies.
Worse than the pork pies, though, are the sandwiches.
There is a feeling which persists in England that making a
sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat
is something sinful that only foreigners do.
"Make 'em dry," is the instruction buried somewhere in the
collective national consciousness, "make 'em rubbery. If you have
to keep the buggers fresh, do it by washing 'em once a week."
It is by eating sandwiches in pubs on Saturday lunchtimes that
the British seek to atone for whatever their national sins have
been. They're not altogether clear what those sins are, and don't
want to know either. Sins are not the sort of things one wants to
know about. But whatever their sins are they are amply atoned for
by the sandwiches they make themselves eat.
If there is anything worse than the sandwiches, it is the
sausages which sit next to them. Joyless tubes, full of gristle,
floating in a sea of something hot and sad, stuck with a plastic
pin in the shape of a chef's hat: a memorial, one feels, for some
chef who hated the world, and died, forgotten and alone among his
cats on a back stair in Stepney.
The sausages are for the ones who know what their sins are and
wish to atone for something specific.
"There must be somewhere better," said Arthur.
"No time," said Fenny, glancing at her watch. "My train leaves in
half an hour."
They sat at a small wobbly table. On it were some dirty glasses,
and some soggy beermats with jokes printed on them. Arthur got
Fenny a tomato juice, and himself a pint of yellow water with gas
in it. And a couple of sausages. He didn't know why. He bought
them for something to do while the gas settled in his glass.
The barman dunked Arthur's change in a pool of beer on the bar,
for which Arthur thanked him.
"All right," said Fenny, glancing at her watch, "tell me what it
is you have to tell me."
She sounded, as well she might, extremely sceptical, and Arthur's
heart sank. Hardly, he felt, the most conductive setting to try
to explain to her as she sat there, suddenly cool and defensive,
that in a sort of out-of-body dream he had had a telepathic sense
that the mental breakdown she had suffered had been connected
with the fact that, appearances to the contrary nonwithstanding,
the Earth had been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace
bypass, something which he alone on Earth knew anything about,
having virtually witnessed it from a Vogon spaceship, and that
furthermore both his body and soul ached for her unbearably and
he needed to got to bed with her as soon as was humanly possible.
"Fenny," he started.
"I wonder if you'd like to buy some tickets for our raffle? It's
just a little one."
He glanced up sharply.
"To raise money for Anjie who's retiring."
"And needs a kidney machine."
He was being leant over by a rather stiffly slim middle-aged
woman with a prim knitted suit and a prim little perm, and a prim
little smile that probably got licked by prim little dogs a lot.
She was holding out a small book of cloakroom tickets and a
"Only ten pence each," she said, "so you could probably even buy
two. Without breaking the bank!" She gave a tinkly little laugh
and then a curiously long sigh. Saying "Without breaking the
bank" had obviously given her more pleasure than anything since
some GIs had been billeted on her in the war.
"Er, yes, all right," said Arthur, hurriedly digging in his
pocket and producing a couple of coins.
With infuriating slowness, and prim theatricality, if there was
such a thing, the woman tore off two tickets and handed them to
"I do hope you win," she said with a smile that suddenly snapped
together like a piece of advanced origami, "the prizes are so
"Yes, thank you," said Arthur, pocketing the tickets rather
brusquely and glancing at his watch.
He turned towards Fenny.
So did the woman with the raffle tickets.
"And what about you, young lady?" she said. "It's for Anjie's
kidney machine. She's retiring you see. Yes?" She hoisted the
little smile even further up her face. She would have to stop and
let it go soon or the skin would surely split.
"Er, look, here you are," said Arthur, and pushed a fifty pence
piece at her in the hope that that would see her off.
"Oh, we are in the money, aren't we?" said the woman, with a long
smiling sigh. "Down from London are we?"
"No, that's all right, really," he said with a wave of his hand,
and she started with an awful deliberation to peel off five
tickets, one by one.
"Oh, but you must have your tickets," insisted the woman, "or you
won't be able to claim your prize. They're very nice prizes, you
know. Very suitable."
Arthur snatched the tickets, and said thank you as sharply as he
The woman turned to Fenny once again.
"And now, what about ..."
"No!" Arthur nearly yelled. "These are for her," he explained,
brandishing the five new tickets.
"Oh, I see! How nice!"
She smiled sickeningly at both of them.
"Well, I do hope you ..."
"Yes," snapped Arthur, "thank you."
The woman finally departed to the table next to theirs. Arthur
turned desperately to Fenny, and was relieved to see that she was
rocking with silent laughter.
He sighed and smiled.
"Where were we?"
"You were calling me Fenny, and I was about to ask you not to."
"What do you mean?"
She twirled the little wooden cocktail stick in her tomato juice.
"It's why I asked if you were a friend of my brother's. Or half-
brother really. He's the only one who calls me Fenny, and I'm not
fond of him for it."
"So what's ...?"
She looked at him sternly.
"Yes," she said, "and I'm watching you like a lynx to see if
you're going to ask the same silly question that everybody asks
me until I want to scream. I shall be cross and disappointed if
you do. Plus I shall scream. So watch it."
She smiled, shook her hair a little forward over her face and
peered at him from behind it.
"Oh," he said, "that's a little unfair, isn't it?"
"All right," she said with a laugh, "you can ask me. Might as
well get it over with. Better than have you call me Fenny all the
"Presumably ..." said Arthur.
"We've only got two tickets left, you see, and since you were so
generous when I spoke to you before ..."
"What?" snapped Arthur.
The woman with the perm and the smile and the now nearly empty
book of cloakroom tickets was now waving the two last ones under
"I thought I'd give the opportunity to you, because the prizes
are so nice."
She wrinkled up he nose a little confidentially.
"Very tasteful. I know you'll like them. And it is for Anjie's
retirement present you see. We want to give her ..."
"A kidney machine, yes," said Arthur. "Here."
He held out two more ten pence pieces to her, and took the
A thought seemed to strike the woman. It struck her very slowly.
You could watch it coming in like a long wave on a sandy beach.
"Oh dear," she said, "I'm not interrupting anything am I?"
She peered anxiously at both of them.
"No it's fine," said Arthur. Everything that could possibly be
fine," he insisted, "is fine.
"Thank you," he added.
"I say," she said, in a delightful ecstacy of worry, "you're not
... in love, are you?"
"It's very hard to say," said Arthur. "We haven't had a chance to
He glanced at Fenchurch. She was grinning.
The woman nodded with knowing confidentiality.
"I'll let you see the prizes in a minute," she said, and left.
Arthur turned, with a sigh, back to the girl that he found it
hard to say whether he was in love with.
"You were about to ask me," she said, "a question."
"Yes," said Arthur.
"We can do it together if you like," said Fenchurch. "Was I found
"... in a handbag ..." joined in Arthur.
"... in the Left Luggage Office ..." they said together.
"... at Fenchurch street station," they finished.
"And the answer," said Fenchurch, "is no."
"Fine," said Arthur.
"I was conceived there."
"I was con-"
"In the Left Luggage Office?" hooted Arthur.
"No, of course not. Don't be silly. What would my parents be
doing in the Left Luggage Office?" she said, rather taken aback
by the suggestion.
"Well, I don't know," spluttered Arthur, "or rather ..."
"It was in the ticket queue."
"The ticket queue. Or so they claim. They refuse to elaborate.
They only say you wouldn't believe how bored it is possible to
get in the ticket queue at Fenchurch Street Station."
She sipped demurely at her tomato juice and looked at her watch.
Arthur continued to gurgle for a moment or two.
"I'm going to have to go in a minute or two," said Fenchurch,
"and you haven't begun to tell me whatever this terrifically
extraordinary thing is that you were so keen to get off your
"Why don't you let me drive you to London?" said Arthur. "It's
Saturday, I've got nothing particular to do, I'd ..."
"No," said Fenchurch, "thank you, it's sweet of you, but no. I
need to be by myself for a couple of days." She smiled and
"You can tell me another time. I'll give you my number."
Arthur's heart went boom boom churn churn as she scribbled seven
figures in pencil on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.
"Now we can relax," she said with a slow smile which filled
Arthur till he thought he would burst.
"Fenchurch," he said, enjoying the name as he said it. "I -"
"A box," said a trailing voice, "of cherry liqueurs, and also,
and I know you'll like this, a gramophone record of Scottish
bagpipe music ..."
"Yes thank you, very nice," insisted Arthur.
"I just thought I'd let you have a look at them," said the permed
woman, "as you're down from London ..."
She was holding them out proudly for Arthur too see. He could see
that they were indeed a box of cherry brandy liqueurs and a
record of bagpipe music. That was what they were.
"I'll let you have your drink in peace now," she said, patting
Arthur lightly on his seething shoulder, "but I knew you'd like
Arthur re-engaged his eyes with Fenchurch's once again, and
suddenly was at a loss for something to say. A moment had come
and gone between the two of them, but the whole rhythm of it had
been wrecked by that stupid, blasted woman.
"Don't worry," said Fenchurch, looking at him steadily from over
the top of her glass, "we will talk again." She took a sip.
"Perhaps," she added, "it wouldn't have gone so well if it wasn't
for her." She gave a wry little smile and dropped her hair
forward over her face again.
It was perfectly true.
He had to admit it was perfectly true.
That night, at home, as he was prancing round the house
pretending to be tripping through cornfields in slow motion and
continually exploding with sudden laughter, Arthur thought he
could even bear to listen to the album of bagpipe music he had
won. It was eight o'clock and he decided he would make himself,
force himself, to listen to the whole record before he phoned
her. Maybe he should even leave it till tomorrow. That would be
the cool thing to do. Or next week sometime.
No. No games. He wanted her and didn't care who knew it. He
definitely and absolutely wanted her, adored her, longed for her,
wanted to do more things than there were names for with her.
He actually caught himself saying thinks like "Yippee" as he
prances ridiculously round the house. Her eyes, her hair, her
voice, everything ...
He would put on the record of bagpipe music. Then he would call
Would he, perhaps, call her first?
No. What he would do was this. He would put on the record of
bagpipe music. He would listen to it, every last banshee wail of
it. Then he would call her. That was the correct order. That was
what he would do.
He was worried about touching things in case they blew up when he
He picked up the record. It failed to blow up. He slipped it out
of its cover. He opened the record player, he turned on the amp.
They both survived. He giggled foolishly as he lowered the stylus
on to the disc.
He sat and listened solemnly to "A Scottish Soldier".
He listened to "Amazing Grace".
He listened to something about some glen or other.
He thought about his miraculous lunchtime.
They had just been on the point of leaving, when they were
distracted by an awful outbreak of "yoo-hooing". The appallingly
permed woman was waving to them across the room like some stupid
bird with a broken wing. Everyone in the pub turned to them and
seemed to be expecting some sort of response.
They hadn't listened to the bit about how pleased and happy Anjie
was going to be about the 4.30p everyone had helped to raise
towards the cost of her kidney machine, had been vaguely aware
that someone from the next table had won a box of cherry brandy
liqueurs, and took a moment or two to cotton on to the fact that
the yoo-hooing lady was trying to ask them if they had ticket
Arthur discovered that he had. He glanced angrily at his watch.
Fenchurch gave him a push.
"Go on," she said, "go and get it. Don't be bad tempered. Give
them a nice speech about how pleased you are and you can give me
a call and tell me how it went. I'll want to hear the record. Go
She flicked his arm and left.
The regulars thought his acceptance speech a little over-
effusive. It was, after all, merely an album of bagpipe music.
Arthur thought about it, and listened to the music, and kept on
breaking into laughter.
"Hello, yes? Yes, that's right. Yes. You'll 'ave to speak up,
there's an awful lot of noise in 'ere. What?
"No, I only do the bar in the evenings. It's Yvonne who does
lunch, and Jim, he's the landlord. No, I wasn't on. What?
"You'll have to speak up.
"What? No, don't know anything about no raffle. What?
"No, don't know nothing about it. 'Old on, I'll call Jim."
The barmaid put her hand over the receiver and called over the
"'Ere, Jim, bloke on the phone says something about he's won a
raffle. He keeps on saying it's ticket 37 and he's won."
"No, there was a guy in the pub here won," shouted back the
"He says 'ave we got the ticket."
"Well how can he think he's won if he hasn't even got a ticket?"
"Jim says 'ow can you think you've won if you "aven't even got
the ticket. What?"
She put her hand over the receiver again.
"Jim, 'e keeps effing and blinding at me. Says there's a number
on the ticket."
"Course there was a number on the ticket, it was a bloody raffle
ticket wasn't it?"
"'E says 'e means its a telephone number on the ticket."
"Put the phone down and serve the bloody customers, will you?"
Eight hours West sat a man alone on a beach mourning an
inexplicable loss. He could only think of his loss in little
packets of grief at a time, because the whole thing was too great
to be borne.
He watched the long slow Pacific waves come in along the sand,
and waited and waited for the nothing that he knew was about to
happen. As the time came for it not to happen, it duly didn't
happen and so the afternoon wore itself away and the sun dropped
beneath the long line of sea, and the day was gone.
The beach was a beach we shall not name, because his private
house was there, but it was a small sandy stretch somewhere along
the hundreds of miles of coastline that first runs west from Los
Angeles, which is described in the new edition of the Hitch
Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy in one entry as "junky, wunky, lunky,
stunky, and what's that other word, and all kinds of bad stuff,
woo", and in another, written only hours later as "being like
several thousand square miles of American Express junk mail, but
without the same sense of moral depth. Plus the air is, for some
The coastline runs west, and then turns north up to the misty bay
of San Francisco, which the Guide describes as a "good place to
go. It's very easy to believe that everyone you meet there is
also a space traveller. Starting a new religion for you is just
their way of saying `hi'. Until you've settled in and got the
hang of the place it is best to say `no' to three questions out
of any given four that anyone may ask you, because there are some
very strange things going on there, some of which an unsuspecting
alien could die of." The hundreds of curling miles of cliffs and
sand, palm trees, breakers and sunsets are described in the Guide
as "Boffo. A good one."
And somewhere on this good boffo stretch of coastline lay the
house of this inconsolable man, a man whom many regarded as being
insane. But this was only, as he would tell people, because he
One of the many many reasons why people thought him insane was
because of the peculiarity of his house which, even in a land
where most people's houses were peculiar in one way or another,
was quite extreme in his peculiarness.
His house was called The Outside of the Asylum.
His name was simply John Watson, though he preferred to be called
- and some of his friends had now reluctantly agreed to this -
Wonko the Sane.
In his house were a number of strange things, including a grey
glass bowl with eight words engraved upon it.
We can talk of him much later on - this is just an interlude to
watch the sun go down and to say that he was there watching it.
He had lost everything he cared for, and was now simply waiting
for the end of the world - little realizing that it had already
been and gone.
After a disgusting Sunday spent emptying rubbish bins behind a
pub in Taunton, and finding nothing, no raffle ticket, no
telephone number, Arthur tried everything he could to find
Fenchurch, and the more things he tried, the more weeks passed.
He raged and railed against himself, against fate, against the
world and its weather. He even, in his sorrow and his fury, went
and sat in the motorway service station cafeteria where he'd been
just before he met her.
"It's the drizzle that makes me particularly morose."
"Please shut up about the drizzle," snapped Arthur.
"I would shut up if it would shut up drizzling."
"But I'll tell you what it will do when it shuts up drizzling,
"It will blatter."
Arthur stared over the rim of his coffee cup at the grisly
outside world. It was a completely pointless place to be, he
realized, and he had been driven there by superstition rather
than logic. However, as if to bait him with the knowledge that
such coincidences could in fact happen, fate had chosen to
reunite him with the lorry driver he had encountered there last
The more he tried to ignore him, the more he found himself being
dragged back into the gravitic whirlpool of the man's
"I think," said Arthur vaguely, cursing himself for even
bothering to say this, "that it's easing off."
Arthur just shrugged. He should go. That's what he should do. He
should just go.
"It never stops raining!" ranted the lorry driver. He thumped the
table, spilt his tea, and actually, for a moment, appeared to be
You can't just walk off without responding to a remark like that.
"Of course it stops raining," said Arthur. It was hardly an
elegant refutation, but it had to be said.
"It rains ... all ... the time," raved the man, thumping the
table again, in time to the words.
Arthur shook his head.
"Stupid to say it rains all the time ..." he said.
The man's eyebrows shot up, affronted.
"Stupid? Why's it stupid? Why's it stupid to say it rains all the
time if it rains the whole time?"
"Didn't rain yesterday."
"Did in Darlington."
Arthur paused, warily.
"You going to ask me where I was yesterday?" asked the man. "Eh?"
"No," said Arthur.
"But I expect you can guess."
"Begins with a D."
"And it was pissing down there, I can tell you."
"You don't want to sit there, mate," said a passing stranger in
overalls to Arthur cheerily. "That's Thundercloud Corner that is.
Reserved special for old Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head here.
There's one reserved in every motorway caff between here and
sunny Denmark. Steer clear is my advice. 'Swhat we all do. How's
it going, Rob? Keeping busy? Got your wet-weather tyres on? Har
He breezed by and went to tell a joke about Britt Ekland to
someone at a nearby table.
"See, none of them bastards take me seriously," said Rob McKeena.
"But," he added darkly, leaning forward and screwing up his eyes,
"they all know it's true!"
"Like my wife," hissed the sole owner and driver of McKeena's
All-Weather Haulage. "She says it's nonsense and I make a fuss
and complain about nothing, but," he paused dramatically and
darted out dangerous looks from his eyes, "she always brings the
washing in when I phone to say I'm on me way home!" He brandished
his coffee spoon. "What do you make of that?"
"I have a book," he went on, "I have a book. A diary. Kept it for
fifteen years. Shows every single place I've ever been. Every
day. And also what the weather was like. And it was uniformly,"
he snarled, "'orrible. All over England, Scotland, Wales I been.
All round the Continent, Italy, Germany, back and forth to
Denmark, been to Yugoslavia. It's all marked in and charted. Even
when I went to visit my brother," he added, "in Seattle."
"Well," said Arthur, getting up to leave at last, "perhaps you'd
better show it to someone."
"I will," said Rob McKeena.
And he did.
Misery, dejection. More misery and more dejection. He needed a
project and he gave himself one.
He would find where his cave had been.
On prehistoric Earth he had lived in a cave, not a nice cave, a
lousy cave, but ... There was no but. It had been a totally lousy
cave and he had hated it. But he had lived in it for five years
which made it home of some kind, and a person likes to keep track
of his homes. Arthur Dent was such a person and so he went to
Exeter to buy a computer.
That was what he really wanted, of course, a computer. But he
felt he ought to have some serious purpose in mind before he
simply went and lashed out a lot of readies on what people might
otherwise mistake as being just a thing to play with. So that was
his serious purpose. To pinpoint the exact location of a cave on
prehistoric Earth. He explained this to the man in the shop.
"Why?" said the man in the shop.
This was a tricky one.
"OK, skip that," said the man in the shop. "How?"
"Well, I was hoping you could help me with that."
The man sighed and his shoulders dropped.
"Have you much experience of computers?"
Arthur wondered whether to mention Eddie the shipboard computer
on the Heart of Gold, who could have done the job in a second, or
Deep Thought, or - but decided he wouldn't.
"No," he said.
"Looks like a fun afternoon," said the man in the shop, but he
said it only to himself.
Arthur bought the Apple anyway. Over a few days he also acquired
some astronomical software, plotted the movements of stars, drew
rough little diagrams of how he seemed to remember the stars to
have been in the sky when he looked up out of his cave at night,
and worked away busily at it for weeks, cheerfully putting off
the conclusion he knew he would inevitably have to come to, which
was that the whole project was completely ludicrous.
Rough drawings from memory were futile. He didn't even know how
long it had been, beyond Ford Prefect's rough guess at the time
that it was "a couple of million years" and he simply didn't have
Still, in the end he worked out a method which would at least
produce a result. He decided not to mind the fact that with the
extraordinary jumble of rules of thumb, wild approximations and
arcane guesswork he was using he would be lucky to hit the right
galaxy, he just went ahead and got a result.
He would call it the right result. Who would know?
As it happened, through the myriad and unfathomable chances of
fate, he got it exactly right, though he of course would never
know that. He just went up to London and knocked on the
"Oh. I thought you were going to phone me first."
Arthur gaped in astonishment.
"You can only come in for a few minutes," said Fenchurch. "I'm
just going out."
A summer's day in Islington, full of the mournful wail of
Fenchurch was unavoidably busy for the afternoon, so Arthur
wandered in a blissed-out haze and looked at all the shops which,
in Islington, are quite an useful bunch, as anyone who regularly
needs old woodworking tools, Boer War helmets, drag, office
furniture or fish will readily confirm.
The sun beat down over the roofgardens. It beat on architects and
plumbers. It beat on barristers and burglars. It beat on pizzas.
It beat on estate agent's particulars.
It beat on Arthur as he went into a restored furniture shop.
"It's an interesting building," said the proprietor, cheerfully.
"There's a cellar with a secret passage which connects with a
nearby pub. It was built for the Prince Regent apparently, so he
could make his escape when he needed to."
"You mean, in case anybody might catch him buying stripped pine
furniture," said Arthur
"No," said the proprietor, "not for that reason."
"You'll have to excuse me," said Arthur. "I'm terribly happy."
He wandered hazily on and found himself outside the offices of
Greenpeace. he remembered the contents of his file marked "Things
to do - urgent!", which he hadn't opened again in the meantime.
He marched in with a cheery smile and said he'd come to give them
some money to help free the dolphins.
"Very funny," they told him, "go away."
This wasn't quite the response he had expected, so he tried
again. This time they got quite angry with him, so he just left
some money anyway and went back out into the sunshine.
Just after six he returned to Fenchurch's house in the alleyway,
clutching a bottle of champagne.
"Hold this," she said, shoved a stout rope in his hand and
disappeared inside through the large white wooden doors from
which dangled a fat padlock off a black iron bar.
The house was a small converted stable in a light industrial
alleyway behind the derelict Royal Agricultural Hall of
Islington. As well as its large stable doors it also had a
normal-looking front door of smartly glazed panelled wood with a
black dolphin door knocker. The one odd thing about this door was
its doorstep, which was nine feet high, since the door was set
into the upper of the two floors and presumably had been
originally used to haul in hay for hungry horses.
An old pulley jutted out of the brickwork above the doorway and
it was over this that the rope Arthur was holding was slung. The
other end of the rope held a suspended 'cello.
The door opened above his head.
"OK," said Fenchurch, "pull on the rope, steady the 'cello. Pass
it up to me."
He pulled on the rope, he steadied the 'cello.
"I can't pull on the rope again," he said, "without letting go of
Fenchurch leant down.
"I'm steadying the 'cello," she said. "You pull on the rope."
The 'cello eased up level with the doorway, swinging slightly,
and Fenchurch manoeuvred it inside.
"Come on up yourself," she called down.
Arthur picked up his bag of goodies and went in through the
stable doors, tingling.
The bottom room, which he had seen briefly before, was pretty
rough and full of junk. A large old cast-iron mangle stood there,
a surprising number of kitchen sinks were piled in a corner.
There was also, Arthur was momentarily alarmed to see, a pram,
but it was very old and uncomplicatedly full of books.
The floor was old stained concrete, excitingly cracked. And this
was the measure of Arthur's mood as he stared up the rickety
wooden steps in the far corner. Even a cracked concrete floor
seemed to him an almost unbearably sensual thing.
"An architect friend of mine keeps on telling me how he can do
wonderful things with this place," said Fenchurch chattily as
Arthur emerged through the floor. "He keeps on coming round,
standing in stunned amazement muttering about space and objects
and events and marvellous qualities of light, then says he needs
a pencil and disappears for weeks. Wonderful things have,
therefore, so far failed to happen to it."
In fact, thought Arthur as he looked about, the upper room was at
least reasonably wonderful anyway. It was simply decorated,
furnished with things made out of cushions and also a stereo set
with speakers which would have impressed the guys who put up
There were flowers which were pale and pictures which were
There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which
held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you
could actually swing a cat in. "But," she added, "only if it was
a reasonably patient cat and didn't mind a few nasty cracks about
the head. So. here you are."
They looked at each other for a moment.
The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very
long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was
For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if
left alone for long enough with a Swiss Cheese plant, the moment
was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a
cramped and zoo-born animal who awakes one morning to find the
door to his cage hanging quietly open and the savannah stretching
grey and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new
sounds are waking.
He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly
wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.
He hadn't realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice
that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of
it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones
till it now said something it had never said to him before, which
Fenchurch dropped her eyes away at last, with a tiny shake of her
"I know," she said. "I shall have to remember," she added, "that
you are the sort of person who cannot hold on to a simple piece
of paper for two minutes without winning a raffle with it."
She turned away.
"Let's go for a walk," she said quickly. "Hyde Park. I'll change
into something less suitable."
She was dressed in a rather severe dark dress, not a particularly
shapely one, and it didn't really suit her.
"I wear it specially for my 'cello teacher," she said. "He's a
nice boy, but I sometimes think all that bowing gets him a bit
excited. I'll be down in a moment."
She ran lightly up the steps to the gallery above, and called
down, "Put the bottle in the fridge for later."
He noticed as he slipped the champagne bottle into the door that
it had an identical twin to sit next to.
He walked over to the window and looked out. He turned and
started to look at her records. From above he heard the rustle of
her dress fall to the ground. He talked to himself about the sort
of person he was. He told himself very firmly that for this
moment at least he would keep his eyes very firmly and
steadfastly locked on to the spines of her records, read the
titles, nod appreciatively, count the blasted things if he had
to. He would keep his head down.
This he completely, utterly and abjectly failed to do.
She was staring down at him with such intensity that she seemed
hardly to notice that he was looking up at her. Then suddenly she
shook her head, dropped the light sundress over herself and
disappeared quickly into the bathroom.
She emerged a moment later, all smiles and with a sunhat and came
tripping down the steps with extraordinary lightness. It was a
strange kind of dancing motion she had. She saw that he noticed
it and put her head slightly on one side.
"Like it?" she said.
"You look gorgeous," he said simply, because she did.
"Hmmmm," she said, as if he hadn't really answered her question.
She closed the upstairs front door which had stood open all this
time, and looked around the little room to see that it was all in
a fit state to be left on its own for a while. Arthur's eyes
followed hers around, and while he was looking in the other
direction she slipped something out of a drawer and into the
canvas bag she was carrying.
Arthur looked back at her.
"Did you know," she said with a slightly puzzled smile, "that
there's something wrong with me?"
Her directness caught Arthur unprepared.
"Well," he said, "I'd heard some vague sort of ..."
"I wonder how much you do know about me," she said. "I you heard
it from where I think you heard then that's not it. Russell just
sort of makes stuff up, because he can't deal with what it really
A pang of worry went through Arthur.
"Then what is it?" he said. "Can you tell me?"
"Don't worry," she said, "it's nothing bad at all. Just unusual.
Very very unusual."
She touched his hand, and then leant forward and kissed him
"I shall be very interested to know," she said, "if you manage to
work out what it is this evening."
Arthur felt that if someone tapped him at that point he would
have chimed, like the deep sustained rolling chime his grey
fishbowl made when he flicked it with his thumbnail.
Ford Prefect was irritated to be continually wakened by the sound
He slid himself out of the maintenance hatchway which he had
fashioned into a bunk for himself by disabling some of the
noisier machinery in his vicinity and padding it with towels. He
slung himself down the access ladder and prowled the corridors
They were claustrophobic and ill-lit, and what light there was
was continually flickering and dimming as power surged this way
and that through the ship, causing heavy vibrations and rasping
That wasn't it, though.
He paused and leaned back against the wall as something that
looked like a small silver power drill flew past him down the dim
corridor with a nasty searing screech.
That wasn't it either.
He clambered listlessly through a bulkhead door and found himself
in a larger corridor, though still ill-lit.
The ship lurched. It had been doing this a fair bit, but this was
heavier. A small platoon of robots weent by making a terrible
Still not it, though.
Acrid smoke was drifting up from one end of the corridor, so he
walked along it in the other direction.
He passed a series of observation monitors let into the walls
behind plates of toughened but still badly scratched perspex.
One of them showed some horrible green scaly reptilian figure
ranting and raving about the Single Transferable Vote system. It
was hard to tell whether he was for or against it, but he clearly
felt very strongly about it. Ford turned the sound down.
That wasn't it, though.
He passed another monitor. It was showing a commercial for some
brand of toothpaste that would apparently make you feel free if
you used it. There was nasty blaring music with it too, but that
He came upon another, much larger three-dimensional screen that
was monitoring the outside of the vast silver Xaxisian ship.
As he watched, a thousand horribly beweaponed Zirzla robot
starcruisers came searing round the dark shadow of a moon,
silhouetted against the blinding disc of the star Xaxis, and the
ship simultaneously unleashed a vicious blaze of hideously
incomprehensible forces from all its orifices against them.
That was it.
Ford shook his head irritably and rubbed his eyes. He slumped on
the wrecked body of a dull silver robot which clearly had been
burning earlier on, but had now cooled down enough to sit on.
He yawned and dug his copy of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the
Galaxy out of his satchel. He activated the screen, and flicked
idly through some level three entries and some level four
entries. He was looking for some good insomnia cures. He found
Rest, which was what he reckoned he needed. He found Rest and
Recuperation and was about to pass on when he suddenly had a
better idea. He looked up at the monitor screen. The battle was
raging more fiercely every second and the noise was appalling.
The ship juddered, screamed, and lurched as each new bolt of
stunning energy was delivered or received.
He looked back down at the Guide again and flipped through a few
likely locations. He suddenly laughed, and then rummaged in his
He pulled out a small memory dump module, wiped off the fluff and
biscuit crumbs, and plugged it into an interface on the back of
When all the information that he could think was relevant had
been dumped into the module, he unplugged it again, tossed it
lightly in the palm of his hand, put the Guide away in his
satchel, smirked, and went in search of the ship's computer data
"The purpose of having the sun go low in the evenings, in the
summer, especially in parks," said the voice earnestly, "is to
make girl's breasts bob up and down more clearly to the eye. I am
convinced that this is the case."
Arthur and Fenchurch giggled about this to each other as they
passed. She hugged him more tightly for a moment.
"And I am certain," said the frizzy ginger-haired youth with the
long thin nose who was epostulating from his deckchair by the
side of the Serpentine, "that if one worked the argument through,
one would find that it flowed with perfect naturalness and logic
from everything," he insisted to his thin dark-haired companion
who was slumped in the next door deckchair feeling dejected about
his spots, "that Darwin was going on about. This is certain. This
is indisputable. And," he added, "I love it."
He turned sharply and squinted through his spectacles at
Fenchurch. Arthur steered her away and could feel her silently
"Next guess," she said, when she had stopped giggling, "come on."
"All right," he said, "your elbow. Your left elbow. There's
something wrong with your left elbow."
"Wrong again," she said, "completely wrong. You're on completely
the wrong track."
The summer sun was sinking through the tress in the park, looking
as if - Let's not mince words. Hyde Park is stunning. Everything
about it is stunning except for the rubbish on Monday mornings.
Even the ducks are stunning. Anyone who can go through Hyde Park
on a summer's evening and not feel moved by it is probably going
through in an ambulance with the sheet pulled over their face.
It is a park in which people do more extraordinary things than
they do elsewhere. Arthur and Fenchurch found a man in shorts
practising the bagpipes to himself under a tree. The piper paused
to chase off an American couple who had tried, timidly to put
some coins on the box his bagpipes came in.
"No!" he shouted at them, "go away! I'm only practising."
He started resolutely to reinflate his bag, but even the noise
this made could not disfigure their mood.
Arthur put his arms around her and moved them slowly downwards.
"I don't think it can be your bottom," he said after a while,"
there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with that at all."
"Yes," she agreed, "there's absolutely nothing wrong with my
They kissed for so long that eventually the piper went and
practised on the other side of the tree.
"I'll tell you a story," said Arthur.
They found a patch of grass which was relatively free of couples
actually lying on top of each other and sat and watched the
stunning ducks and the low sunlight rippling on the water which
ran beneath the stunning ducks.
"A story," said Fenchurch, cuddling his arm to her.
"Which will tell you something of the sort of things that happen
to me. It's absolutely true."
"You know sometimes people tell you stories that are supposed to
be something that happened to their wife's cousin's best friend,
but actually probably got made up somewhere along the line."
"Well, it's like one of those stories, except that it actually
happened, and I know it actually happened, because the person it
actually happened to was me."
"Like the raffle ticket."
Arthur laughed. "Yes. I had a train to catch," he went on. "I
arrived at the station ..."
"Did I ever tell you," interrupted Fenchurch, "what happened to
my parents in a station?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "you did."
Arthur glanced at his watch. "I suppose we could think of getting
back," he said.
"Tell me the story," said Fenchurch firmly. "You arrived at the
"I was about twenty minutes early. I'd got the time of the train
wrong. I suppose it is at least equally possible," he added after
a moment's reflection, "that British Rail had got the time of the
train wrong. Hadn't occurred to me before."
"Get on with it." Fenchurch laughed.
"So I bought a newspaper, to do the crossword, and went to the
buffet to get a cup of coffee."
"You do the crossword?"
"The Guardian usually."
"I think it tries to be too cute. I prefer the Times. Did you
"The crossword in the Guardian."
"I haven't had a chance to look at it yet," said Arthur, "I'm
still trying to buy the coffee."
"All right then. Buy the coffee."
"I'm buying it. I am also," said Arthur, "buying some biscuits."
"I like them. Laden with all these new possessions, I go and sit
at a table. And don't ask me what the table was like because this
was some time ago and I can't remember. It was probably round."
"So let me give you the layout. Me sitting at the table. On my
left, the newspaper. On my right, the cup of coffee. In the
middle of the table, the packet of biscuits."
"I see it perfectly."
"What you don't see," said Arthur, "because I haven't mentioned
him yet, is the guy sitting at the table already. He is sitting
there opposite me."
"What's he like?"
"Perfectly ordinary. Briefcase. Business suit. He didn't look,"
said Arthur, "as if he was about to do anything weird."
"Ah. I know the type. What did he do?"
"He did this. He leaned across the table, picked up the packet of
biscuits, tore it open, took one out, and ..."
"He ate it."
Fenchurch looked at him in astonishment. "What on Earth did you
"Well, in the circumstances I did what any red-blooded Englishman
would do. I was compelled," said Arthur, "to ignore it."
"Well, it's not the sort of thing you're trained for is it? I
searched my soul, and discovered that there was nothing anywhere
in my upbringing, experience or even primal instincts to tell me
how to react to someone who has quite simply, calmly, sitting
right there in front of me, stolen one of my biscuits."
"Well, you could ..." Fenchurch thought about it. "I must say I'm
not sure what I would have done either. So what happened?"
"I stared furiously at the crossword," said Arthur. "Couldn't do
a single clue, took a sip of coffee, it was too hot to drink, so
there was nothing for it. I braced myself. I took a biscuit,
trying very hard not to notice," he added, "that the packet was
already mysteriously open ..."
"But you're fighting back, taking a tough line."
"After my fashion, yes. I ate the biscuit. I ate it very
deliberately and visibly, so that he would have no doubt as to
what it was I was doing. When I eat a biscuit," Arthur said, "it
"So what did he do?"
"Took another one. Honestly," insisted Arthur, "this is exactly
what happened. He took another biscuit, he ate it. Clear as
daylight. Certain as we are sitting on the ground."
Fenchurch stirred uncomfortably.
"And the problem was," said Arthur, "that having not said
anything the first time, it was somehow even more difficult to
broach the subject the second time around. What do you say?
`Excuse me ... I couldn't help noticing, er ...' Doesn't work.
No, I ignored it with, if anything, even more vigour than
"My man ..."
"Stared at the crossword, again, still couldn't budge a bit of
it, so showing some of the spirit that Henry V did on St
Crispin's Day ..."
"I went into the breach again. I took," said Arthur, "another
biscuit. And for an instant our eyes met."
"Yes, well, no, not quite like that. But they met. Just for an
instant. And we both looked away. But I am here to tell you,"
said Arthur, "that there was a little electricity in the air.
There was a little tension building up over the table. At about
"I can imagine."
"We went through the whole packet like this. Him, me, him, me
"The whole packet?"
"Well it was only eight biscuits but it seemed like a lifetime of
biscuits we were getting through at this point. Gladiators could
hardly have had a tougher time."
"Gladiators," said Fenchurch, "would have had to do it in the
sun. More physically gruelling."
"There is that. So. When the empty packet was lying dead between
us the man at last got up, having done his worst, and left. I
heaved a sigh of relief, of course. As it happened, my train was
announced a moment or two later, so I finished my coffee, stood
up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper ..."
"Were my biscuits."
"What?" said Fenchurch. "What?"
"No!" She gasped and tossed herself back on the grass laughing.
She sat up again.
"You completely nitwit," she hooted, "you almost completely and
utterly foolish person."
She pushed him backwards, rolled over him, kissed him and rolled
off again. He was surprised at how light she was.
"Now you tell me a story."
"I thought," she said putting on a low husky voice, "that you
were very keen to get back."
"No hurry," he said airily, "I want you to tell me a story."
She looked out over the kale and pondered.
"All right," she said, "it's only a short one. And not funny like
yours, but ... Anyway."
She looked down. Arthur could feel that it was one of those sorts
of moments. The air seemed to stand still around them, waiting.
Arthur wished that the air would go away and mind its own
"When I was a kid," she said. "These sort of stories always start
like this, don't they, `When I was a kid ...' Anyway. This is the
bit where the girl suddenly says, `When I was a kid' and starts
to unburden herself. We have got to that bit. When I was a kid I
had this picture hanging over the foot of my bed ... What do you
think of it so far?"
"I like it. I think it's moving well. You're getting the bedroom
interest in nice and early. We could probably do with some
development with the picture."
"It was one of those pictures that children are supposed to
like," she said, "but don't. Full of endearing little animals
doing endearing things, you know?"
"I know. I was plagued with them too. Rabbits in waistcoats."
"Exactly. These rabbits were in fact on a raft, as were assorted
rats and owls. There may even have been a reindeer."
"On the raft."
"On the raft. And a boy was sitting on the raft."
"Among the rabbits in waistcoats and the owls and the reindeer."
"Precisely there. A boy of the cheery gypsy ragamuffin variety."
"The picture worried me, I must say. There was an otter swimming
in front of the raft, and I used to lie awake at night worrying
about this otter having to pull the raft, with all these wretched
animals on it who shouldn't even be on a raft, and the otter had
such a thin tail to pull it with I thought it must hurt pulling
it all the time. Worried me. Not badly, but just vaguely, all the
"Then one day - and remember I'd been looking at this picture
every night for years - I suddenly noticed that the raft had a
sail. Never seen it before. The otter was fine, he was just
"Good story?" she said.
"Ends weakly," said Arthur, "leaves the audience crying `Yes, but
what of it?' Fine up till there, but needs a final sting before
Fenchurch laughed and hugged her legs.
"It was just such a sudden revelation, years of almost unnoticed
worry just dropping away, like taking off heavy weights, like
black and white becoming colour, like a dry stick suddenly being
watered. The sudden shift of perspective that says `Put away your
worries, the world is a good and perfect place. It is in fact
very easy.' You probably thing I'm saying that because I'm going
to say that I felt like that this afternoon or something, don't
"Well, I ..." said Arthur, his composure suddenly shattered.
"Well, it's all right," she said, "I did. That's exactly what I
felt. But you see, I've felt that before, even stronger.
Incredibly strongly. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a one," she said
gazing off into the distance, "for sudden startling revelations."
Arthur was at sea, could hardly speak, and felt it wiser,
therefore, for the moment not to try.
"It was very odd," she said, much as one of the pursuing
Egyptians might have said that the behaviour of the Red Sea when
Moses waved his rod at it was a little on the strange side.
"Very odd," she repeated, "for days before, the strangest feeling
had been building in me, as if I was going to give birth. No, it
wasn't like that in fact, it was more as if I was being connected
into something, bit by bit. No, not even that; it was as if the
whole of the Earth, through me, was going to ..."
"Does the number," said Arthur gently, "forty-two mean anything
to you at all?"
"What? No, what are you talking about?" exclaimed Fenchurch.
"Just a thought," murmured Arthur.
"Arthur, I mean this, this is very real to me, this is serious."
"I was being perfectly serious," said Arthur. "It's just the
Universe I'm never quite sure about."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Tell me the rest of it," he said. "Don't worry if it sounds odd.
Believe me, you are talking to someone who has seen a lot of
stuff," he added, "that is odd. And I don't mean biscuits."
She nodded, and seemed to believe him. Suddenly, she gripped his
"It was so simple," she said, "so wonderfully and extraordinarily
simple, when it came."
"What was it?" said Arthur quietly.
"Arthur, you see," she said, "that's what I no longer know. And
the loss is unbearable. If I try to think back to it, it all goes
flickery and jumpy, and if I try too hard, I get as far as the
teacup and I just black out."
"Well, like your story," she said, "the best bit happened in a
cafe. I was sitting there, having a cup of tea. This was after
days of this build up, the feeling of becoming connected up. I
think I was buzzing gently. And there was some work going on at a
building site opposite the cafe, and I was watching it through
the window, over the rim of my teacup, which I always find is the
nicest way of watching other people working. And suddenly, there
it was in my mind, this message from somewhere. And it was so
simple. It made such sense of everything. I just sat up and
thought, `Oh! Oh, well that's all right then.' I was so startled
I almost dropped my teacup, in fact I think I did drop it. Yes,"
she added thoughtfully, "I'm sure I did. How much sense am I
"It was fine up to the bit about the teacup."
She shook her head, and shook it again, as if trying to clear it,
which is what she was trying to do.
"Well that's it," she said. "Fine up to the bit about the teacup.
That was the point at which it seemed to me quite literally as if
the world exploded."
"I know it sounds crazy, and everybody says it was
hallucinations, but if that was hallucinations then I have
hallucinations in big screen 3D with 16-track Dolby Stereo and
should probably hire myself out to people who are bored with
shark movies. It was as if the ground was literally ripped from
under my feet, and ... and ..."
She patted the grass lightly, as if for reassurance, and then
seemed to change her mind about what she was going to say.
"And I woke up in hospital. I suppose I've been in and out ever
since. And that's why I have an instinctive nervousness," she
said, "of sudden startling revelations that's everything's going
to be all right." She looked up at him.
Arthur had simply ceased to worry himself about the strange
anomalies surrounding his return to his home world, or rather had
consigned them to that part of his mind marked "Things to think
about - Urgent." "Here is the world," he had told himself. "Here,
for whatever reason, is the world, and here it stays. With me on
it." But now it seemed to go swimmy around him, as it had that
night in the car when Fenchurch's brother had told him the silly
stories about the CIA agent in the reservoir. The trees went
swimmy. The lake went swimmy, but this was perfectly natural and
nothing to be alarmed by because a grey goose had just landed on
it. The geese were having a great relaxed time and had no major
answers they wished to know the questions to.
"Anyway," said Fenchurch, suddenly and brightly and with a wide-
eyed smile, "there is something wrong with part of me, and you've
got to find out what it is. We'll go home."
Arthur shook his head.
"What's the matter?" she said.
Arthur had shaken his head, not to disagree with her suggestion
which he thought was a truly excellent one, one of the world's
great suggestions, but because he was just for a moment trying to
free himself of the recurring impression he had that just when he
was least expecting it the Universe would suddenly leap out from
behind a door and go boo at him.
"I'm just trying to get this entirely clear in my mind," said
Arthur, "you say you felt as if the Earth actually ... exploded
"Yes. More than felt."
"Which is what everybody else says," he said hesitantly, "is
"Yes, but Arthur that's ridiculous. People think that if you just
say `hallucinations' it explains anything you want it to explain
and eventually whatever it is you can't understand will just go
away. It's just a word, it doesn't explain anything. It doesn't
explain why the dolphins disappeared."
"No," said Arthur. "No," he added thoughtfully. "No," he added
again, even more thoughtfully. "What?" he said at last.
"Doesn't explain the dolphins disappearing."
"No," said Arthur, "I see that. Which dolphins do you mean?"
"What do you mean which dolphins? I'm talking about when all the
She put her hand on his knee, which made him realize that the
tingling going up and down his spine was not her gently stroking
his back, and must instead be one of the nasty creepy feelings he
so often got when people were trying to explain things to him.
"All the dolphins," said Arthur, "disappeared?"
"The dolphins? You're saying the dolphins all disappeared? Is
this," said Arthur, trying to be absolutely clear on this point,
"what you're saying?"
"Arthur where have you been for heaven's sake? The dolphins all
disappeared on the same day I ..."
She stared him intently in his startled eyes.
"No dolphins. All gone. Vanished."
She searched his face.
"Did you really not know that?"
It was clear from his startled expression that he did not.
"Where did they go?" he asked.
"No one knows. That's what vanished means." She paused. "Well,
there is one man who says he knows about it, but everyone says he
lives in California," she said, "and is mad. I was thinking of
going to see him because it seems the only lead I've got on what
happened to me."
She shrugged, and then looked at him long and quietly. She lay
her hand on the side of his face.
"I really would like to know where you've been," she said. "I
think something terrible happened to you then as well. And that's
why we recognized each other."
She glanced around the park, which was now being gathered into
the clutches of dusk.
"Well," she said, "now you've got someone you can tell."
Arthur slowly let out a long year of a sigh.
"It is," he said, "a very long story."
Fenchurch leaned across him and drew over her canvas bag.
"Is it anything to do with this?" she said. The thing she took
out of her bag was battered and travelworn as it had been hurled
into prehistoric rivers, baked under the sun that shines so redly
on the deserts of Kakrafoon, half-buried in the marbled sands
that fringe the heady vapoured oceans of Santraginus V, frozen on
the glaciers of the moon of Jaglan Beta, sat on, kicked around
spaceships, scuffed and generally abused, and since its makers
had thought that these were exactly the sorts of things that
might happen to it, they had thoughtfully encased it in a sturdy
plastic cover and written on it, in large friendly letters, the
words "Don't Panic".
"Where did you get this?" said Arthur, startled, taking it from
"Ah," she said, "I thought it was yours. In Russell's car that
night. You dropped it. Have you been to many of these places?"
Arthur drew the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy from its cover.
It was like a small, thin, flexible lap computer. He tapped some
buttons till the screen flared with text.
"A few," he said.
"Can we go to them?"
"What? No," said Arthur abruptly, then relented, but relented
warily. "Do you want to?" he said, hoping for the answer no. It
was an act of great generosity on his part not to say, "You don't
want to, do you?" which expects it.
"Yes," she said. "I want to know what the message was that I
lost, and where it came from. Because I don't think," she added,
standing up and looking round the increasing gloom of the park,
"that it came from here."
"I'm not even sure," she further added, slipping her arm around
Arthur's waist, "that I know where here is."
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is, as has been remarked
before often and accurately, a pretty startling kind of a thing.
It is, essentially, as the title implies, a guide book. The
problem is, or rather one of the problems, for there are many, a
sizeable portion of which are continually clogging up the civil,
commercial and criminal courts in all areas of the Galaxy, and
especially, where possible, the more corrupt ones, this.
The previous sentence makes sense. That is not the problem.
Read it through again and you'll get it.
The Galaxy is a rapidly changing place. There is, frankly, so
much of it, every bit of which is continually on the move,
continually changing. A bit of a nightmare, you might think, for
a scrupulous and conscientious editor diligently striving to keep
this massively detailed and complex electronic tome abreast of
all the changing circumstances and conditions that the Galaxy
throws up every minute of every hour of every day, and you would
be wrong. Where you would be wrong would be in failing to realize
that the editor, like all the editors of the Guide has ever had,
has no real grasp of the meanings of the words "scrupulous",
"conscientious" or "diligent", and tends to get his nightmares
through a straw.
Entries tend to get updated or not across the Sub-Etha Net
according to if they read good.
Take for example, the case of Brequinda on the Foth of Avalars,
famed in myth, legend and stultifyingly dull tri-d mini-serieses
as home of the magnificent and magical Fuolornis Fire Dragon.
In Ancient days, when Fragilis sang and Saxaquine of the Quenelux
held sway, when the air was sweet and the nights fragrant, but
everyone somehow managed to be, or so they claimed, though how on
earth they could have thought that anyone was even remotely
likely to believe such a preposterous claim what with all the
sweet air and fragrant nights and whatnot is anyone's guess,
virgins, it was not possible to heave a brick on Brequinda in the
Foth of Avalars without hitting at least half a dozen Fuolornis
Whether you would want to do that is another matter.
Not that Fire Dragons weren't an essentially peace-loving
species, because they were. They adored it to bits, and this
wholesale adoring of things to bits was often in itself the
problem: one so often hurts the one one loves, especially if one
is a Fuolornis Fire Dragon with breath like a rocket booster and
teeth like a park fence. Another problem was that once they were
in the mood they often went on to hurt quite a lot of the ones
that other people loved as well. Add to all that the relatively
small number of madmen who actually went around the place heaving
bricks, and you end up with a lot of people on Brequinda in the
Foth of Avalars getting seriously hurt by dragons.
But did they mind? They did not.
Were they heard to bemoan their fate? No.
The Fuolornis Fire Dragons were revered throughout the lands of
Brequinda in the Foth of valors for their savage beauty, their
noble ways and their habit of biting people who didn't revere
Why was this?
The answer was simple.
There is, for some unfathomed reason, something almost unbearably
sexy about having huge fire-breathing magical dragons flying low
about the sky on moonlit nights which were already dangerously on
the sweet and fragrant side.
Why this should be so, the romance-besotted people of Brequinda
in the Foth of Avalars could not have told you, and would not
have stopped to discuss the matter once the effect was up and
going, for no sooner would a flock of half a dozen silk-winged
leather-bodied Fuolornis Fire Dragons heave into sight across the
evening horizon than half the people of Brequinda are scurrying
off into the woods with the other half, there to spend a busy
breathless night together and emerge with the first rays of dawn
all smiling and happy and still claiming, rather endearingly, to
be virgins, if rather flushed and sticky virgins.
Pheromones, some researchers said.
Something sonic, others claimed.
The place was always stiff with researchers trying to get to the
bottom of it all and taking a very long time about it.
Not surprisingly, the Guide's graphically enticing description of
the general state of affairs on this planet has proved to be
astonishingly popular amongst hitch-hikers who allow themselves
to be guided by it, and so it has simply never been taken out,
and it is therefore left to latter-day travellers to find out for
themselves that today's modern Brequinda in the City State of
Avalars is now little more than concrete, strip joints and Dragon
The night in Islington was sweet and fragrant.
There were, of course, no Fuolornis Fire Dragons about in the
alley, but if any had chanced by they might just as well have
sloped off across the road for a pizza, for they were not going
to be needed.
Had an emergency cropped up while they were still in the middle
of their American Hots with extra anchovy they could always have
sent across a message to put Dire Straits on the stereo, which is
now known to have much the same effect.
"No," said Fenchurch, "not yet."
Arthur put Dire Straits on the stereo. Fenchurch pushed ajar the
upstairs front door to let in a little more of the sweet fragrant
night air. They both sat on some of the furniture made out of
cushions, very close to the open bottle of champagne.
"No," said Fenchurch, "not till you've found out what's wrong
with me, which bit. But I suppose," she added very, very, very
quietly, "that we may as well start with where your hand is now."
Arthur said, "So which way do I go?"
"Down," said Fenchurch, "on this occasion."
He moved his hand.
"Down," she said, "is in fact the other way."
Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter
Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday
night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff
beer - which is not strictly relevant at this point since the
record hadn't yet got to that bit, but there will be too much
else going on when it does, and furthermore the chronicler does
not intend to sit here with a track list and a stopwatch, so it
seems best to mention it now while things are still moving
"And so we come," said Arthur, "to your knee. There is something
terribly and tragically wrong with your left knee."
"My left knee," said Fenchurch, "is absolutely fine."
"Do it is."
"Did you know that ..."
"Ahm, it's all right. I can tell you do. No, keep going."
"So it has to be something to do with your feet ..."
She smiled in the dim light, and wriggled her shoulders
noncommittally against the cushions. Since there are cushions in
the Universe, on Squornshellous Beta to be exact, two worlds in
from the swampland of the mattresses, that actively enjoy being
wriggled against, particularly if it's noncommittally because of
the syncopated way in which the shoulders move, it's a pity they
weren't there. They weren't, but such is life.
Arthur held her left foot in his lap and looked it over
carefully. All kinds of stuff about the way her dress fell away
from her legs was making it difficult for him to think
particularly clearly at this point.
"I have to admit," he said, "that I really don't know what I'm
"You'll know when you find it," she said. "Really you will."
There was a slight catch in her voice. "It's not that one."
Feeling increasingly puzzled, Arthur let her left foot down on
the floor and moved himself around so that he could take her
right foot. She moved forward, put her arms round and kissed him,
because the record had got to that bit which, if you knew the
record, you would know made it impossible not to do this.
Then she gave him her right foot.
He stroked it, ran his fingers round her ankle, under her toes,
along her instep, could find nothing wrong with it.
She watched him with great amusement, laughed and shook her head.
"No, don't stop," she said, but it's not that one now."
Arthur stopped, and frowned at her left foot on the floor.
He stroked her right foot, ran his fingers around her ankle,
under her toes, along her instep and said, "You mean it's
something to do with which leg I'm holding ...?"
She did another of the shrugs which would have brought such joy
into the life of a simple cushion from Squornshellous Beta.
"Pick me up," she said quietly.
He let her right foot down to the floor and stood up. So did she.
He picked her up in his arms and they kissed again. This went on
for a while, then she said, "Now put me down again."
Still puzzled, he did so.
She looked at him almost challengingly.
"So what's wrong with my feet?" she said.
Arthur still did not understand. He sat on the floor, then got
down on his hands and knees to look at her feet, in situ, as it
were, in their normal habitat. And as he looked closely,
something odd struck him. He pit his head right down to the
ground and peered. There was a long pause. He sat back heavily.
"Yes," he said, "I see what's wrong with your feet. They don't
touch the ground."
"So ... so what do you think ...?"
Arthur looked up at her quickly and saw the deep apprehension
making her eyes suddenly dark. She bit her lip and was trembling.
"What do ..." she stammered. "Are you ...?" She shook the hair
forwards over her eyes that were filling with dark fearful tears.
He stood up quickly, put his arms around her and gave her a
"Perhaps you can do what I can do," he said, and walked straight
out of her upstairs front door.
The record got to the good bit.
The battle raged on about the star of Xaxis. Hundreds of the
fierce and horribly beweaponed Zirzla ships had now been smashed
and wrenched to atoms by the withering forces the huge silver
Xaxisian ship was able to deploy.
Part of the moon had gone too, blasted away by those same blazing
forceguns that ripped the very fabric of space as they passed
The Zirzla ships that remained, horribly beweaponed though they
were, were now hopelessly outclassed by the devastating power of
the Xaxisian ship, and were fleeing for cover behind the rapidly
disintegrating moon, when the Xaxisian ship, in hurtling pursuit
behind them, suddenly announced that it needed a holiday and left
the field of battle.
All was redoubled fear and consternation for a moment, but the
ship was gone.
With the stupendous powers at its command it flitted across vast
tracts of irrationally shaped space, quickly, effortlessly, and
above all, quietly.
Deep in his greasy, smelly bunk, fashioned out of a maintenance
hatchway, Ford Prefect slept among his towels, dreaming of old
haunts. He dreamed at one point in his slumbers of New York.
In his dream he was walking late at night along the East Side,
beside the river which had become so extravagantly polluted that
new lifeforms were now emerging from it spontaneously, demanding
welfare and voting rights.
One of those now floated past, waving. Ford waved back.
The thing thrashed to the shore and struggled up the bank.
"Hi," it said, "I've just been created. I'm completely new to the
Universe in all respects. Is there anything you can tell me?"
"Phew," said Ford, a little nonplussed, "I can tell you where
some bars are, I guess."
"What about love and happiness. I sense deep needs for things
like that," it said, waving its tentacles. "Got any leads there?"
"You can get some like what you require," said Ford, "on Seventh
"I instinctively feel," said the creature, urgently, "that I need
to be beautiful. Am I?"
"You're pretty direct, aren't you?"
"No point in mucking about. Am I?"
"To me?" said Ford. "No. But listen," he added after a moment,
"most people make out, you know. Are there and like you down
"Search me, buster," said the creature, "as I said, I'm new here.
Life is entirely strange to me. What's it like?"
Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with
"Life," he said, "is like a grapefruit."
"Er, how so?"
"Well, it's sort of orangey-yellow and dimpled on the outside,
wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and
some people have half a one for breakfast."
"Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?"
"I expect so," said Ford. "Ask a policeman."
Deep in his bunk, Ford Prefect wriggled and turned on to his
other side. It wasn't his favourite type of dream because it
didn't have Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of
Eroticon VI in it, whom many of his dreams did feature. But at
least it was a dream. At least he was asleep.
Luckily there was a strong updraft in the alley because Arthur
hadn't done this sort of thing for a while, at least, not
deliberately, and deliberately is exactly the way you are not
meant to do it.
He swung down sharply, nearly catching himself a nasty crack on
the jaw with the doorstep and tumbled through the air, so
suddenly stunned with what a profoundly stupid thing he had just
done that he completely forgot the bit about hitting the ground
A nice trick, he thought to himself, if you can do it.
The ground was hanging menacingly above his head.
He tried not to think about the ground, what an extraordinarily
big thing it was and how much it would hurt him if it decided to
stop hanging there and suddenly fell on him. He tried to think
nice thoughts about lemurs instead, which was exactly the right
thing to do because he couldn't at that moment remember precisely
what a lemur was, if it was one of those things that sweep in
great majestic herds across the plains of wherever it was or if
that was wildebeests, so it was a tricky kind of thing to think
nice thoughts about without simply resorting to an icky sort of
general well-disposedness towards things, and all this kept his
mind well occupied while his body tried to adjust to the fact
that it wasn't touching anything.
A Mars bar wrapper fluttered down the alleyway.
After a seeming moment of doubt and indecision it eventually
allowed the wind to ease it, fluttering, between him and the
The ground was still hanging menacingly above his head, and he
thought it was probably time to do something about that, such as
fall away from it, which is what he did. Slowly. Very, very
As he fell slowly, very, very slowly, he closed his eyes -
carefully, so as not to jolt anything.
The feel of his eyes closing ran down his whole body. Once it had
reached his feet, and the whole of his body was alerted to the
fact that his eyes were now closed and was not panicked by it, he
slowly, very, very slowly, revolved his body one way and his mind
That should sort the ground out.
He could feel the air clear about him now, breezing around him
quite cheerfully, untroubled by his being there, and slowly,
very, very slowly, as from a deep and distant sleep, he opened
He had flown before, of course, flown many times on Krikkit until
all the birdtalk had driven him scatty, but this was different.
Here he was on his own world, quietly, and without fuss, beyond a
slight trembling which could have been attributable to a number
of things, being in the air.
Ten or fifteen feet below him was the hard tarmac and a few yards
off to the right the yellow street lights of Upper Street.
Luckily the alleyway was dark since the light which was supposed
to see it through the night was on an ingenious timeswitch which
meant it came on just before lunchtime and went off again as the
evening was beginning to draw in. He was, therefore, safely
shrouded in a blanket of dark obscurity.
He slowly, very, very slowly, lifted his head to Fenchurch, who
was standing in silent breathless amazement, silhouetted in her
Her face was inches from his.
"I was about to ask you," she said in a low trembly voice, "what
you were doing. But then I realized that I could see what you
were doing. You were flying. So it seemed," she went on after a
slight wondering pause, "like a bit of a silly question."
Arthur said, "Can you do it?"
"Would you like to try?"
She bit her lip and shook her head, not so much to say no, but
just in sheer bewilderment. She was shaking like a leaf.
"It's quite easy," urged Arthur, "if you don't know how. That's
the important bit. Be not at all sure how you're doing it."
Just to demonstrate how easy it was he floated away down the
alley, fell upwards quite dramatically and bobbed back down to
her like a banknote on a breath of wind.
"Ask me how I did that."
"How ... did you do that?"
"No idea. Not a clue."
She shrugged in bewilderment. "So how can I ...?"
Arthur bobbed down a little lower and held out his hand.
"I want you to try," he said, "to step on my hand. Just one
Nervously, hesitantly, almost, she told herself, as if she was
trying to step on the hand of someone who was floating in front
of her in midair, she stepped on to his hand.
"Now the other."
"Take the weight off your back foot."
Nervously, hesitantly, almost, she told herself, as if - She
stopped telling herself what what she was doing was like because
she had a feeling she didn't altogether want to know.
She fixed her eyes very very firmly on the guttering of the roof
of the decrepit warehouse opposite which had been annoying her
for weeks because it was clearly going to fall off and she
wondered if anyone was going to do anything about it or whether
she ought to say something to somebody, and didn't think for a
moment about the fact that she was standing on the hands of
someone who wasn't standing on anything at all.
"Now," said Arthur, "take your weight off your left foot."
She thought that the warehouse belonged to the carpet company who
had their offices round the corner, and took the weight off her
left foot, so she should probably go and see them about the
"Now," said Arthur, "take the weight off your right foot."
She hadn't seen the guttering from quite this angle before, and
it looked to her now as if as well as the mud and gunge up there
there might also be a bird's nest. If she leaned forward just a
little and took her weight off her right foot, she could probably
see it more clearly.
Arthur was alarmed to see that someone down in the alley was
trying to steal her bicycle. He particularly didn't want to get
involved in an argument at the moment and hoped that the guy
would do it quietly and not look up.
He had the quiet shifty look of someone who habitually stole
bicycles in alleys and habitually didn't expect to find their
owners hovering several feet above them. He was relaxed by both
these habits, and went about his job with purpose and
concentration, and when he found that the bike was unarguably
bound by hoops of tungsten carbide to an iron bar embedded in
concrete, he peacefully bent both its wheels and went on his way.
Arthur let out a long-held breath.
"See what a piece of eggshell I have found you," said Fenchurch
in his ear.
Those who are regular followers of the doings of Arthur Dent may
have received an impression of his character and habits which,
while it includes the truth and, of course, nothing but the
truth, falls somewhat short, in its composition, of the whole
truth in all its glorious aspects.
And the reasons for this are obvious. Editing, selection, the
need to balance that which is interesting with that which is
relevant and cut out all the tedious happenstance.
Like this for instance. "Arthur Dent went to bed. He went up the
stairs, all fifteen of them, opened the door, went into his room,
took off his shoes and socks and then all the rest of his clothes
one by one and left them in a neatly crumpled heap on the floor.
He put on his pyjamas, the blue ones with the stripe. He washed
his face and hands, cleaned his teeth, went to the lavatory,
realized that he had once again got this all in the wrong order,
had to wash his hands again and went to bed. He read for fifteen
minutes, spending the first ten minutes of that trying to work
out where in the book he had got to the previous night, then he
turned out the light and within a minute or so more was asleep.
"It was dark. He lay on his left side for a good hour.
"After that he moved restlessly in his sleep for a moment and
then turned over to sleep on his right side. Another hour after
this his eyes flickered briefly and he slightly scratched his
nose, though there was still a good twenty minutes to go before
he turned back on to his left side. And so he whiled the night
"At four he got up and went to the lavatory again. He opened the
door to the lavatory ..." and so on.
It's guff. It doesn't advance the action. It makes for nice fat
books such as the American market thrives on, but it doesn't
actually get you anywhere. You don't, in short, want to know.
But there are other omissions as well, beside the teethcleaning
and trying to find fresh socks variety, and in some of these
people have often seemed inordinately interested.
What, they want to know, about all that stuff off in the wings
with Arthur and Trillian, did that ever get anywhere?
To which the answer is, of course, mind your own business.
And what, they say, was he up to all those nights on the planet
Krikkit? Just because the planet didn't have Fuolornis Fire
Dragons or Dire Straits doesn't mean that everyone just sat up
every night reading.
Or to take a more specific example, what about the night after
the committee meeting party on Prehistoric Earth, when Arthur
found himself sitting on a hillside watching the moon rise over
the softly burning trees in company with a beautiful young girl
called Mella, recently escaped from a lifetime of staring every
morning at a hundred nearly identical photographs of moodily lit
tubes of toothpaste in the art department of an advertising
agency on the planet Golgafrincham. What then? What happened
next? And the answer is, of course, that the book ended.
The next one didn't resume the story till five years later, and
you can, claim some, take discretion too far. "This Arthur Dent,"
comes the cry from the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and has
even now been found inscribed on a mysterious deep space probe
thought to originate from an alien galaxy at a distance too
hideous to contemplate, "what is he, man or mouse? Is he
interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life?
Has he no spirit? has he no passion? Does he not, to put it in a
Those who wish to know should read on. Others may wish to skip on
to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it.
Arthur Dent allowed himself for an unworthy moment to think, as
they drifted up, that he very much hoped that his friends who had
always found him pleasant but dull, or more latterly, odd but
dull, were having a good time in the pub, but that was the last
time, for a while, that he thought of them.
They drifted up, spiralling slowly around each other, like
sycamore seeds falling from sycamore trees in the autumn, except
going the other way.
And as they drifted up their minds sang with the ecstatic
knowledge that either what they were doing was completely and
utterly and totally impossible or that physics had a lot of
catching up to do.
Physics shook its head and, looking the other way, concentrated
on keeping the cars going along the Euston Road and out towards
the Westway flyover, on keeping the streetlights lit and on
making sure that when somebody on Baker Street dropped a
cheeseburger it went splat upon the ground.
Dwindling headily beneath them, the beaded strings of light of
London - London, Arthur had to keep reminding himself, not the
strangely coloured fields of Krikkit on the remote fringes of the
galaxy, lighted freckles of which faintly spanned the opening sky
above them, but London - swayed, swaying and turning, turned.
"Try a swoop," he called to Fenchurch.
Her voice seemed strangely clear but distant in all the vast
empty air. It was breathy and faint with disbelief - all those
things, clear, faint, distant, breathy, all at the same time.
"We're flying ..." she said.
"A trifle," called Arthur, "think nothing of it. Try a swoop."
Her hand caught his, and in a second her weight caught it too,
and stunningly, she was gone, tumbling beneath him, clawing
wildly at nothing.
Physics glanced at Arthur, and clotted with horror he was gone
too, sick with giddy dropping, every part of him screaming but
They plummeted because this was London and you really couldn't do
this sort of thing here.
He couldn't catch her because this was London, and not a million
miles from here, seven hundred and fifty-six, to be exact, in
Pisa, Galileo had clearly demonstrated that two falling bodies
fell at exactly the same rate of acceleration irrespective of
their relative weights.
Arthur realized as he fell, giddily and sickeningly, that if he
was going to hang around in the sky believing everything that the
Italians had to say about physics when they couldn't even keep a
simple tower straight, that they were in dead trouble, and damn
well did fall faster than Fenchurch.
He grappled her from above, and fumbled for a tight grip on her
shoulders. He got it.
Fine. They were now falling together, which was all very sweet
and romantic, but didn't solve the basic problem, which was that
they were falling, and the ground wasn't waiting around to see if
he had any more clever tricks up his sleeve, but was coming up to
meet them like an express train.
He couldn't support her weight, he hadn't anything he could
support it with or against. The only thing he could think was
that they were obviously going to die, and if he wanted anything
other than the obvious to happen he was going to have to do
something other than the obvious. Here he felt he was on familiar
He let go of her, pushed her away, and when she turned her face
to him in a gasp of stunned horror, caught her little finger with
his little finger and swung her back upwards, tumbling clumsily
up after her.
"Shit," she said, as she sat panting and breathless on absolutely
nothing at all, and when she had recovered herself they fled on
up into the night.
Just below cloud level they paused and scanned where they had
impossibly come. The ground was something not to regard with any
too firm or steady an eye, but merely to glance at, as it were,
Fenchurch tried some little swoops, daringly, and found that if
she judged herself just right against a body of wind she could
pull off some really quite dazzling ones with a little pirouette
at the end, followed by a little drop which made her dress billow
around her, and this is where readers who are keen to know what
Marvin and Ford Prefect have been up to all this while should
look ahead to later chapters, because Arthur now could wait no
longer and helped her take it off.
It drifted down and away whipped by the wind until it was a speck
which finally vanished, and for various complicated reasons
revolutionized the life of a family on Hounslow, over whose
washing line it was discovered draped in the morning.
In a mute embrace, they drifted up till they were swimming
amongst the misty wraiths of moisture that you can see feathering
around the wings of an aeroplane but never feel because you are
sitting warm inside the stuffy aeroplane and looking through the
little scratchy perspex window while somebody else's son tries
patiently to pour warm milk into your shirt.
Arthur and Fenchurch could feel them, wispy cold and thin,
wreathing round their bodies, very cold, very thin. They felt,
even Fenchurch, now protected from the elements by only a couple
of fragments from Marks and Spencer, that if they were not going
to let the force of gravity bother them, then mere cold or
paucity of atmosphere could go and whistle.
The two fragments from Marks and Spencer which, as Fenchurch rose
now into the misty body of the clouds, Arthur removed very, very
slowly, which is the only way it's possible to do it when you're
flying and also not using your hands, went on to create
considerable havoc in the morning in, respectively, counting from
top to bottom, Isleworth and Richmond.
They were in the cloud for a long time, because it was stacked
very high, and when finally they emerged wetly above it,
Fenchurch slowly spinning like a starfish lapped by a rising
tidepool, they found that above the clouds is where the night get
The light is darkly brilliant. There are different mountains up
there, but they are mountains, with their own white arctic snows.
They had emerged at the top of the high-stacked cumulo-nimbus,
and now began lazily to drift down its contours, as Fenchurch
eased Arthur in turn from his clothes, prised him free of them
till all were gone, winding their surprised way down into the
She kissed him, kissed his neck, his chest, and soon they were
drifting on, turning slowly, in a kind of speechless T-shape,
which might have caused even a Fuolornis Fire Dragon, had one
flown past, replete with pizza, to flap its wings and cough a
There were, however, no Fuolornis Fire Dragons in the clouds nor
could there be for, like the dinosaurs, the dodos, and the
Greater Drubbered Wintwock of Stegbartle Major in the
constellation Fraz, and unlike the Boeing 747 which is in
plentiful supply, they are sadly extinct, and the Universe shall
never know their like again.
The reason that a Boeing 747 crops up rather unexpectedly in the
above list is not unconnected with the fact that something very
similar happened in the lives of Arthur and Fenchurch a moment or
They are big things, terrifyingly big. You know when one is in
the air with you. There is a thunderous attack of air, a moving
wall of screaming wind, and you get tossed aside, if you are
foolish enough to be doing anything remotely like what Arthur and
Fenchurch were doing in its close vicinity, like butterflies in
This time, however, there was a heart-sickening fall or loss of
nerve, a re-grouping moments later and a wonderful new idea
enthusiastically signalled through the buffeting noise.
Mrs E. Kapelsen of Boston, Massachusetts was an elderly lady,
indeed, she felt her life was nearly at an end. She had seen a
lot of it, been puzzled by some, but, she was a little uneasy to
feel at this late stage, bored by too much. It had all been very
pleasant, but perhaps a little too explicable, a little too
With a sigh she flipped up the little plastic window shutter and
looked out over the wing.
At first she thought she ought to call the stewardess, but then
she thought no, damn it, definitely not, this was for her, and
By the time her two inexplicable people finally slipped back off
the wing and tumbled into the slipstream she had cheered up an
She was mostly immensely relieved to think that virtually
everything that anybody had ever told her was wrong.
The following morning Arthur and Fenchurch slept very late in the
alley despite the continual wail of furniture being restored.
The following night they did it all over again, only this time
with Sony Walkmen.
"This is all very wonderful," said Fenchurch a few days later.
"But I do need to know what has happened to me. You see, there's
this difference between us. That you lost something and found it
again, and I found something and lost it. I need to find it
She had to go out for the day, so Arthur settled down for a day
Murray Bost Henson was a journalist on one of the papers with
small pages and big print. It would be pleasant to be able to say
that he was none the worse for it, but sadly, this was not the
case. He happened to be the only journalist that Arthur knew, so
Arthur phoned him anyway.
"Arthur my old soup spoon, my old silver turreen, how
particularly stunning to hear from you. Someone told me you'd
gone off into space or something."
Murray had his own special kind of conversation language which he
had invented for his own use, and which no one else was able to
speak or even to follow. Hardly any of it meant anything at all.
The bits which did mean anything were often so wonderfully buried
that no one could ever spot them slipping past in the avalance of
nonsense. The time when you did find out, later, which bits he
did mean, was often a bad time for all concerned.
"What?" said Arthur.
"Just a rumour my old elephant tusk, my little green baize card
table, just a rumour. Probably means nothing at all, but I may
need a quote from you."
"Nothing to say, just pub talk."
"We thrive on it, my old prosthetic limb, we thrive on it. Plus
it would fit like a whatsit in one of those other things with the
other stories of the week, so it could be just to have you
denying it. Excuse me, something has just fallen out of my ear."
There was a slight pause, at the end of which Murray Bost Henson
came back on the line sounding genuinely shaken.
"Just remembered," he said, "what an odd evening I had last
night. Anyway my old, I won't say what, how do you feel about
having ridden on Halley's Comet?"
"I haven't," said Arthur with a suppressed sigh, "ridden on
"OK, How do you feel about not having ridden on Halley's Comet?"
"Pretty relaxed, Murray."
There was a pause while Murray wrote this down.
"Good enough for me, Arthur, good enough for Ethel and me and the
chickens. Fits in with the general weirdness of the week. Week of
the Weirdos, we're thinking of calling it. Good, eh?"
"Got a ring to it. First we have this man it always rains on."
"It's the absolute stocking top truth. All documented in his
little black book, it all checks out at every single funloving
level. The Met Office is going ice cold thick banana whips, and
funny little men in white coats are flying in from all over the
world with their little rulers and boxes and drip feeds. This man
is the bee's knees, Arthur, he is the wasp's nipples. He is, I
would go so far as to say, the entire set of erogenous zones of
every major flying insect of the Western world. We're calling him
the Rain God. Nice, eh?"
"I think I've met him."
"Good ring to it. What did you say?"
"I may have met him. Complains all the time, yes?"
"Incredible! You met the Rain God?"
"If it's the same guy. I told him to stop complaining and show
someone his book."
There was an impressed pause from Murray Bost Henson's end of the
"Well, you did a bundle. An absolute bundle has absolutely been
done by you. Listen, do you know how much a tour operator is
paying that guy not to go to Malaga this year? I mean forget
irrigating the Sahara and boring stuff like that, this guy has a
whole new career ahead of him, just avoiding places for money.
The man's turning into a monster, Arthur, we might even have to
make him win the bingo.
"Listen, we may want to do a feature on you, Arthur, the Man Who
Made the Rain God Rain. Got a ring to it, eh?"
"A nice one, but ..."
"We may need to photograph you under a garden shower, but that'll
be OK. Where are you?"
"Er, I'm in Islington. Listen, Murray ..."
"Well, what about the real weirdness of the week, the real
seriously loopy stuff. You know anything about these flying
"You must have. This is the real seethingly crazy one. This is
the real meatballs in the batter. Locals are phoning in all the
time to say there's this couple who go flying nights. We've got
guys down in our photo labs working through the night to put
together a genuine photograph. You must have heard."
"Arthur, where have you been? Oh, space, right, I got your quote.
But that was months ago. Listen, it's night after night this
week, my old cheesegrater, right on your patch. This couple just
fly around the sky and start doing all kinds of stuff. And I
don't mean looking through walls or pretending to be box girder
bridges. You don't know anything?"
"Arthur, it's been almost inexpressibly delicious conversing with
you, chumbum, but I have to go. I'll send the guy with the camera
and the hose. Give me the address, I'm ready and writing."
"Listen, Murray, I called to ask you something."
"I have a lot to do."
"I just wanted to find out something about the dolphins."
"No story. Last year's news. Forget 'em. They're gone."
"Listen, no one will touch it. You can't sustain a story, you
know, when the only news is the continuing absence of whatever
the story's about. Not our territory anyway, try the Sundays.
Maybe they'll run a little `Whatever Happened to "Whatever
Happened to the Dolphins"' story in a couple of years, around
August. But what's anybody going to do now? `Dolphins still
gone'? `Continuing Dolphin Absence'? `Dolphins - Further Days
Without Them'? The story dies, Arthur. It lies down and kicks its
little feet in the air and presently goes to the great golden
spike in the sky, my old fruitbat."
"Murray, I'm not interested in whether it's a story. I just want
to find out how I can get in touch with that guy in California
who claims to know something about it. I thought you might know."
"People are beginning to talk," said Fenchurch that evening,
after they had hauled her 'cello in.
"Not only talk," said Arthur, "but print, in big bold letters
under the bingo prizes. Which is why I thought I'd better get
He showed her the long narrow booklets of airline tickets.
"Arthur!" she said, hugging him. "Does that mean you managed to
talk to him?"
"I have had a day," said Arthur, "of extreme telephonic
exhaustion. I have spoken to virtually every department of
virtually every paper in Fleet street, and I finally tracked his
"You've obviously been working hard, you're drenched with sweat
"Not with sweat," said Arthur wearily. "A photographer's just
been. I tried to argue, but - never mind, the point is, yes."
"You spoke to him."
"I spoke to his wife. She said he was too weird to come to the
phone right now and could I call back."
He sat down heavily, realized he was missing something and went
to the fridge to find it.
"Want a drink?"
"Would commit murder to get one. I always know I'm in for a tough
time when my 'cello teacher looks me up and down and says, `Ah
yes, my dear, I think a little Tchaikovsky today.'."
"I called again," said Arthur, "and she said that he was 3.2
light years from the phone and I should call back."
"I called again. "She said the situation had improved. He was now
a mere 2.6 light years from the phone but it was still a long way
"You don't suppose," said Fenchurch, doubtfully, "that there's
anyone else we can talk to?"
"It gets worse," said Arthur, "I spoke to someone on a science
magazine who actually knows him, and he said that John Watson
will not only believe, but will actually have absolute proof,
often dictated to him by angels with golden beards and green
wings and Doctor Scholl footwear, that the month's most
fashionable silly theory is true. For people who question the
validity of these visions he will triumphantly produce the clogs
in question, and that's as far as you get."
"I didn't realize it was that bad," said Fenchurch quietly. She
fiddled listlessly with the tickets.
"I phoned Mrs Watson again," said Arthur. "Her name, by the way,
and you may wish to know this, is Arcane Jill."
"I'm glad you see. I thought you mightn't believe any of this, so
when I called her this time I used the telephone answering
machine to record the call."
He went across to the telephone machine and fiddled and fumed
with all its buttons for a while, because it was the one which
was particularly recommended by Which? magazine and is almost
impossible to use without going mad.
"Here it is," he said at last, wiping the sweat from his brow.
The voice was thin and crackly with its journey to a
geostationary satellite and back, but it was also hauntingly
"Perhaps I should explain," Arcane Jill Watson's voice said,
"that the phone is in fact in a room that he never comes into.
It's in the Asylum you see. Wonko the Sane does not like to enter
the Asylum and so he does not. I feel you should know this
because it may save you phoning. If you would like to meet him,
this is very easily arranged. All you have to do is walk in. He
will only meet people outside the Asylum."
Arthur's voice, at its most mystified: "I'm sorry, I don't
understand. Where is the asylum?"
"Where is the Asylum?" Arcane Jill Watson again. "Have you ever
read the instructions on a packet of toothpicks?"
On the tape, Arthur's voice had to admit that he had not.
"You may want to do that. You may find that it clarifies things
for you a little. You may find that it indicates to you where the
Asylum is. Thank you."
The sound of the phone line went dead. Arthur turned the machine
"Well, I suppose we can regard that as an invitation," he said
with a shrug. "I actually managed to get the address from the guy
on the science magazine."
Fenchurch looked up at him again with a thoughtful frown, and
looked at the tickets again.
"Do you think it's worth it?" she said.
"Well," said Arthur, "the one thing that everyone I spoke to
agrees on, apart from the fact that they all thought he was
barking mad, is that he does know more than any man living about
"This is an important announcement. This is flight 121 to Los
Angeles. If your travel plans today do not include Los Angeles,
now would be the perfect time to disembark."
They rented a car in Los Angeles from one of the places that
rents out cars that other people have thrown away.
"Getting it to go round corners is a bit of a problem," said the
guy behind the sunglasses as he handed them the keys, "sometimes
it's simpler just to get out and find a car that's going in that
They stayed for one night in a hotel on Sunset Boulevard which
someone had told them they would enjoy being puzzled by.
"Everyone there is either English or odd or both. They've got a
swimming pool where you can go and watch English rock stars
reading Language, Truth and Logic for the photographers."
It was true. There was one and that was exactly what he was
The garage attendant didn't think much of their car, but that was
fine because they didn't either.
Late in the evening they drove through the Hollywood hills along
Mulholland Drive and stopped to look out first over the dazzling
sea of floating light that is Los Angeles, and later stopped to
look across the dazzling sea of floating light that is the San
Fernando Valley. They agreed that the sense of dazzle stopped
immediately at the back of their eyes and didn't touch any other
part of them and came away strangely unsatisfied by the
spectacle. As dramatic seas of light went, it was fine, but light
is meant to illuminate something, and having driven through what
this particularly dramatic sea of light was illuminating they
didn't think much of it.
They slept late and restlessly and awoke at lunchtime when it was
They drove out along the freeway to Santa Monica for their first
look at the Pacific Ocean, the ocean which Wonko the Sane spent
all his days and a good deal of his nights looking at.
"Someone told me," said Fenchurch, "that they once overheard two
old ladies on this beach, doing what we're doing, looking at the
Pacific Ocean for the first time in their lives. And apparently,
after a long pause, one of them said to the other, `You know,
it's not as big as I expected.'"
Their mood lifted further as the sun began to move down the
western half of the sky, and by the time they were back in their
rattling car and driving towards a sunset that no one of any
sensibility would dream of building a city like Los Angeles on
front of, they were suddenly feeling astonishingly and
irrationally happy and didn't even mind that the terrible old car
radio would only play two stations, and those simultaneously. So
what, they were both playing good rock and roll.
"I know he will be able to help us," said Fenchurch determinedly.
"I know he will. What's his name again, that he likes to be
"Wonko the Sane."
"I know that he will be able to help us."
Arthur wondered if he would and hoped that he would, and hoped
that what Fenchurch had lost could be found here, on this Earth,
whatever this Earth might prove to be.
He hoped, as he had hoped continually and fervently since the
time they had talked together on the banks of the Serpentine,
that he would not be called upon to try to remember something
that he had very firmly and deliberately buried in the furthest
recesses of his memory, where he hoped it would cease to nag at
In Santa Barbara they stopped at a fish restaurant in what seemed
to be a converted warehouse.
Fenchurch had red mullet and said it was delicious.
Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry.
He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.
"Why's this fish so bloody good?" he demanded, angrily.
"Please excuse my friend," said Fenchurch to the startled
waitress. "I think he's having a nice day at last."
If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David
Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another
David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the
first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a
dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't
exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would
find hauntingly familiar.
He was tall and he gangled.
When he sat in his deckchair gazing at the Pacific, not so much
with any kind of wild surmise any longer as with a peaceful deep
dejection, it was a little difficult to tell exactly where the
deckchair ended and he began, and you would hesitate to put your
hand on, say, his forearm in case the whole structure suddenly
collapsed with a snap and took your thumb off.
But his smile when he turned it on you was quite remarkable. It
seemed to be composed of all the worst things that life can do to
you, but which, when he briefly reassembled them in that
particular order on his face, made you suddenly fee, "Oh. Well
that's all right then."
When he spoke, you were glad that he used the smile that made you
feel like that pretty often.
"Oh yes," he said, "they come and see me. They sit right here.
They sit right where you're sitting."
He was talking of the angels with the golden beards and green
wings and Dr Scholl sandals.
"They eat nachos which they say they can't get where they come
from. They do a lot of coke and are very wonderful about a whole
range of things."
"Do they?" said Arthur. "Are they? So, er ... when is this then?
When do they come?"
He gazed out at the Pacific as well. There were little sandpipers
running along the margin of the shore which seemed to have this
problem: they needed to find their food in the sand which a wave
had just washed over, but they couldn't bear to get their feet
wet. To deal with this problem they ran with an odd kind of
movement as if they'd been constructed by somebody very clever in
Fenchurch was sitting on the sand, idly drawing patterns in it
with her fingers.
"Weekends, mostly," said Wonko the Sane, "on little scooters.
They are great machines." He smiled.
"I see," said Arthur. "I see."
A tiny cough from Fenchurch attracted his attention and he looked
round at her. She had scratched a little stick figure drawing in
the sand of the two of them in the clouds. For a moment he
thought she was trying to get him excited, then he realized that
she was rebuking him. "Who are we," she was saying, "to say he's
His house was certainly peculiar, and since this was the first
thing that Fenchurch and Arthur had encountered it would help to
know what it was like.
What it was like was this:
It was inside out.
Actually inside out, to the extent that they had to park on the
All along what one would normally call the outer wall, which was
decorated in a tasteful interior-designed pink, were bookshelves,
also a couple of those odd three-legged tables with semi-circular
tops which stand in such a way as to suggest that someone just
dropped the wall straight through them, and pictures which were
clearly designed to soothe.
Where it got really odd was the roof.
It folded back on itself like something that Maurits C. Escher,
had he been given to hard nights on the town, which is no part of
this narrative's purpose to suggest was the case, though it is
sometimes hard, looking at his pictures, particularly the one
with the awkward steps, not to wonder, might have dreamed up
after having been on one, for the little chandeliers which should
have been hanging inside were on the outside pointing up.
The sign above the front door said, "Come Outside", and so,
nervously, they had.
Inside, of course, was where the Outside was. Rough brickwork,
nicely done painting, guttering in good repair, a garden path, a
couple of small trees, some rooms leading off.
And the inner walls stretched down, folded curiously, and opened
at the end as if, by an optical illusion which would have had
Maurits C. Escher frowning and wondering how it was done, to
enclose the Pacific Ocean itself.
"Hello," said John Watson, Wonko the Sane.
Good, they thought to themselves, "Hello" is something we can
"Hello," they said, and all surprisingly was smiles.
For quite a while he seemed curiously reluctant to talk about the
dolphins, looking oddly distracted and saying, "I forget ..."
whenever they were mentioned, and had shown them quite proudly
round the eccentricities of his house.
"It gives me pleasure," he said, "in a curious kind of way, and
does nobody any harm," he continued, "that a competent optician
They liked him. He had an open, engaging quality and seemed able
to mock himself before anybody else did.
"Your wife," said Arthur, looking around, "mentioned some
toothpicks." He said it with a hunted look, as if he was worried
that she might suddenly leap out from behind the door and mention
Wonko the Sane laughed. It was a light easy laugh, and sounded
like one he had used a lot before and was happy with.
"Ah yes," he said, "that's to so with the day I finally realized
that the world had gone totally mad and built the Asylum to put
it in, poor thing, and hoped it would get better."
This was the point at which Arthur began to feel a little nervous
"Here," said Wonko the Sane, "we are outside the Asylum." He
pointed again at the rough brickwork, the pointing and the
guttering. "Go through that door," he pointed at the first door
through which they had originally entered, "and you go into the
Asylum. I've tried to decorate it nicely to keep the inmates
happy, but there's very little one can do. I never go in there
now myself. If ever I am tempted, which these days I rarely am, I
simply look at the sign written over the door and shy away."
"That one?" said Fenchurch, pointing, rather puzzled, at a blue
plaque with some instructions written on it.
"Yes. They are the words that finally turned me into the hermit I
have now become. It was quite sudden. I saw them, and I knew what
I had to do."
The sign said:
Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in
mouth. insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle
"It seemed to me," said Wonko the sane, "that any civilization
that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of
detailed instructions for use in a packet of toothpicks, was no
longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane."
He gazed out at the Pacific again, as if daring it to rave and
gibber at him, but it lay there calmly and played with the
"And in case it crossed your mind to wonder, as I can see how it
possibly might, I am completely sane. Which is why I call myself
Wonko the Sane, just to reassure people on this point. Wonko is
what my mother called me when I was a kid and clumsy and knocked
things over, and sane is what I am, and how," he added, with one
of his smiles that made you feel, "Oh. Well that's all right
then." "I intend to remain. Shall we go on to the beach and see
what we have to talk about?"
They went out on to the beach, which was where he started talking
about angels with golden beards and green wings and Dr Scholl
"About the dolphins ..." said Fenchurch gently, hopefully.
"I can show you the sandals," said Wonko the Sane.
"I wonder, do you know ..."
"Would you like me to show you," said Wonko the Sane, "the
sandals? I have them. I'll get them. They are made by the Dr
Scholl company, and the angels say that they particularly suit
the terrain they have to work in. They say they run a concession
stand by the message. When I say I don't know what that means
they say no, you don't, and laugh. Well, I'll get them anyway."
As he walked back towards the inside, or the outside depending on
how you looked at it, Arthur and Fenchurch looked at each other
in a wondering and slightly desperate sort of way, then each
shrugged and idly drew figures in the sand.
"How are the feet today?" said Arthur quietly.
"OK. It doesn't feel so odd in the sand. Or in the water. The
water touches them perfectly. I just think this isn't our world."
"What do you think he meant," she said, "by the message?"
"I don't know," said Arthur, though the memory of a man called
Prak who laughed at him continuously kept nagging at him.
When Wonko returned he was carrying something that stunned
Arthur. Not the sandals, they were perfectly ordinary wooden-
"I just thought you'd like to see," he said, "what angels wear on
their feet. Just out of curiousity. I'm not trying to prove
anything, by the way. I'm a scientist and I know what constitutes
proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to
remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a
child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether
it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first,
think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will
only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that.
I'll show you something to demonstrate that later. So, the other
reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think
I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You
can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that
you're a fool. Anyway, I also thought you might like to see
This was the thing that Arthur had been stunned to see him
carrying, for it was a wonderful silver-grey glass fish bowl,
seemingly identical to the one in Arthur's bedroom.
Arthur had been trying for some thirty seconds now, without
success, to say, "Where did you get that?" sharply, and with a
gasp in his voice.
Finally his time had come, but he missed it by a millisecond.
"Where did you get that?" said Fenchurch, sharply and with a gasp
in her voice.
Arthur glanced at Fenchurch sharply and with a gasp in his voice
said, "What? Have you seen one of these before?"
"Yes," she said, "I've got one. Or at least I did have. Russell
nicked it to put his golfballs in. I don't know where it came
from, just that I was angry with Russell for nicking it. Why,
have you got one?"
"Yes, it was ..."
They both became aware that Wonko the Sane was glancing sharply
backwards and forwards between them, and trying to get a gasp in
"You have one of those too?" he said to both of them.
"Yes." They both said it.
He looked long and calmly at each of them, then he held up the
bowl to catch the light of the Californian sun.
The bowl seemed almost to sing with the sun, to chime with the
intensity of its light, and cast darkly brilliant rainbows around
the sand and upon them. He turned it, and turned it. They could
see quite clearly in the fine tracery of its etchwork the words
"So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish."
"Do you know," asked Wonko quietly, "what it is?"
They each shook their heads slowly, and with wonder, almost
hypnotized by the flashing of the lightning shadows in the grey
"It is a farewell gift from the dolphins," said Wonko in a low
quiet voice, "the dolphins whom I loved and studied, and swam
with, and fed with fish, and even tried to learn their language,
a task which they seemed to make impossibly difficult,
considering the fact that I now realize they were perfectly
capable of communicating in ours if they decided they wanted to."
He shook his head with a slow, slow smile, and then looked again
at Fenchurch, and then at Arthur.
"Have you ..." he said to Arthur, "what have you done with yours?
May I ask you that?"
"Er, I keep a fish in it," said Arthur, slightly embarrassed. "I
happened to have this fish I was wondering what to do with, and,
er, there was this bowl." He tailed off.
"You've done nothing else? No," he said, "if you had, you would
know." He shook his head again.
"My wife kept wheatgerm in ours," resumed Wonko, with some new
tone in his voice, "until last night ..."
"What," said Arthur slowly and hushedly, "happened last night?"
"We ran out of wheatgerm," said Wonko, evenly. "My wife," he
added, "has gone to get some more." He seemed lost with his own
thoughts for a moment.
"And what happened then?" said Fenchurch, in the same breathless
"I washed it," said Wonko. "I washed it very carefully, very very
carefully, removing every last speck of wheatgerm, then I dried
it slowly with a lint-free cloth, slowly, carefully, turning it
over and over. Then I held it to my ear. Have you ... have you
held one to your ear?"
They both shook their heads, again slowly, again dumbly.
"Perhaps," he said, "you should."
The deep roar of the ocean.
The break of waves on further shores than thought can find.
The silent thunders of the deep.
And from among it, voices calling, and yet not voices, humming
trillings, wordlings, the half-articulated songs of thought.
Greetings, waves of greetings, sliding back down into the
inarticulate, words breaking together.
A crash of sorrow on the shores of Earth.
Waves of joy on - where? A world indescribably found,
indescribably arrived at, indescribably wet, a song of water.
A fugue of voices now, clamouring explanations, of a disaster
unavertable, a world to be destroyed, a surge of helplessness, a
spasm of despair, a dying fall, again the break of words.
And then the fling of hope, the finding of a shadow Earth in the
implications of enfolded time, submerged dimensions, the pull of
parallels, the deep pull, the spin of will, the hurl and split of
it, the flight. A new Earth pulled into replacement, the dolphins
Then stunningly a single voice, quite clear.
"This bowl was brought to you by the Campaign to Save the Humans.
We bid you farewell."
And then the sound of long, heavy, perfectly grey bodies rolling
away into an unknown fathomless deep, quietly giggling.
That night they stayed Outside the Asylum and watched TV from
"This is what I wanted you to see," said Wonko the Sane when the
news came around again, "an old colleague of mine. He's over in
your country running an investigation. Just watch."
It was a press conference.
"I'm afraid I can't comment on the name Rain God at this present
time, and we are calling him an example of a Spontaneous Para-
Causal Meteorological Phenomenon."
"Can you tell us what that means?"
"I'm not altogether sure. Let's be straight here. If we find
something we can't understand we like to call it something you
can't understand, or indeed pronounce. I mean if we just let you
go around calling him a Rain God, then that suggests that you
know something we don't, and I'm afraid we couldn't have that.
"No, first we have to call it something which says it's ours, not
yours, then we set about finding some way of proving it's not
what you said it is, but something we say it is.
"And if it turns out that you're right, you'll still be wrong,
because we will simply call him a ... er `Supernormal ...' - not
paranormal or supernatural because you think you know what those
mean now, no, a `Supernormal Incremental Precipitation Inducer'.
We'll probably want to shove a `Quasi' in there somewhere to
protect ourselves. Rain God! Huh, never heard such nonsense in my
life. Admittedly, you wouldn't catch me going on holiday with
him. Thanks, that'll be all for now, other than to say `Hi!' to
Wonko if he's watching."
On the way home there was a woman sitting next to them on the
plane who was looking at them rather oddly.
They talked quietly to themselves.
"I still have to know," said Fenchurch, "and I strongly feel that
you know something that you're not telling me."
Arthur sighed and took out a piece of paper.
"Do you have a pencil?" he said. She dug around and found one.
"What are you doing, sweetheart?" she said, after he had spent
twenty minutes frowning, chewing the pencil, scribbling on the
paper, crossing things out, scribbling again, chewing the pencil
again and grunting irritably to himself.
"Trying to remember an address someone once gave me."
"Your life would be an awful lot simpler," she said, "if you
bought yourself an address book."
Finally he passed the paper to her.
"You look after it," he said.
She looked at it. Among all the scratchings and crossings out
were the words "Quentulus Quazgar Mountains. Sevorbeupstry.
Planet of Preliumtarn. Sun-Zarss. Galactic Sector QQ7 Active J
"And what's there?"
"Apparently," said Arthur, "it's God's Final Message to His
"That sounds a bit more like it," said Fenchurch. "How do we get
"You really ...?"
"Yes," said Fenchurch firmly, "I really want to know."
Arthur looked out of the scratchy little perspex window at the
open sky outside.
"Excuse me," said the woman who had been looking at them rather
oddly, suddenly, "I hope you don't think I'm rude. I get so bored
on these long flights, it's nice to talk to somebody. My name's
Enid Kapelsen, I'm from Boston. Tell me, do you fly a lot?"
They went to Arthur's house in the West Country, shoved a couple
of towels and stuff in a bag, and then sat down to do what every
Galactic hitch hiker ends up spending most of his time doing.
They waited for a flying saucer to come by.
"Friend of mine did this for fifteen years," said Arthur one
night as they sat forlornly watching the sky.
"Who was that?"
"Called Ford Prefect."
He caught himself doing something he had never really expected to
He wondered where Ford Prefect was.
By an extraordinary coincidence, the following day there were two
reports in the paper, one concerning the most astonishing
incidents with a flying saucer, and the other about a series of
unseemly riots in pubs.
Ford Prefect turned up the day after that looking hung over and
complaining that Arthur never answered the phone.
In fact he looked extremely ill, not merely as if he'd been
pulled through a hedge backwards, but as if the hedge was being
simultaneously pulled backwards through a combine harvester. He
staggered into Arthur's sitting room, waving aside all offers of
support, which was an error, because the effort caused him to
lose his balance altogether and Arthur had eventually to drag him
to the sofa.
"Thank you," said Ford, "thank you very much. Have you ..." he
said, and fell asleep for three hours.
"... the faintest idea" he continued suddenly, when he revived,
"how hard it is to tap into the British phone system from the
Pleiades? I can see that you haven't, so I'll tell you," he said,
"over the very large mug of black coffee that you are about to
He followed Arthur wobbily into the kitchen.
"Stupid operators keep asking you where you're calling from and
you try and tell them Letchworth and they say you couldn't be if
you're coming in on that circuit. What are you doing?"
"Making you some black coffee."
"Oh." Ford seemed oddly disappointed. He looked about the place
"What's this?" he said.
"I see," said Ford, solemnly, and put the two items back down,
one on top of the other, but that didn't seem to balance
properly, so he put the other on top of the one and that seemed
"A little space-lagged," he said. "What was I saying?"
"About not phoning from Letchworth."
"I wasn't. I explained this to the lady. `Bugger Letchworth,' I
said, `if that's your attitude. I am in fact calling from a sales
scoutship of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, currently on the
sub-light-speed leg of a journey between the stars known on your
world, though not necessarily to you, dear lady.' - I said `dear
lady'," explained Ford Prefect, "because I didn't want her to be
offended by my implication that she was an ignorant cretin ..."
"Tactful," said Arthur Dent.
"Exactly," said Ford, "tactful."
"Space-lag," he said, "is very bad for sub-clauses. You'll have
to assist me again," he continued, "by reminding me what I was
"`Between the stars,'" said Arthur, "`known on your world, though
not necessarily to you, dear lady, as ...'"
"`Pleiades Epsilon and Pleiades Zeta,'" concluded Ford
triumphantly. "This conversation lark is quite gas isn't it?"
"Have some coffee."
"Thank you, no. `And the reason,' I said, `why I am bothering you
with it rather than just dialling direct as I could, because we
have some pretty sophisticated telecommunications equipment out
here in the Pleiades, I can tell you, is that the penny pinching
son of a starbeast piloting this son of a starbeast spaceship
insists that I call collect. Can you believe that?'"
"And could she?"
"I don't know. She had hung up," said Ford, "by this time. So!
What do you suppose," he asked fiercely, "I did next?"
"I've no idea, Ford," said Arthur.
"Pity," said Ford, "I was hoping you could remind me. I really
hate those guys you know. They really are the creeps of the
cosmos, buzzing around the celestial infinite with their junky
little machines that never work properly or, when they do,
perform functions that no sane man would require of them and," he
added savagely, "go beep to tell you when they've done it!"
This was perfectly true, and a very respectable view widely held
by right thinking people, who are largely recognizable as being
right thinking people by the mere fact that they hold this view.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in a moment of reasoned
lucidity which is almost unique among its current tally of five
million, nine hundred and seventy-five thousand, five hundred and
nine pages, says of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation product
that "it is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness
of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to
work at all.
"In other words - and this is the rock solid principle on which
the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded -
their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their
superficial design flaws."
"And this guy," ranted Ford, "was on a drive to sell more of
them! His five-year mission to seek out and explore strange new
worlds, and sell Advanced Music Substitute Systems to their
restaurants, elevators and wine bars! Or if they didn't have
restaurants, elevators and wine bars yet, to artificially
accelerate their civilization growth until they bloody well did
have! Where's that coffee!"
"I threw it away."
"Make some more. I have now remembered what I did next. I saved
civilization as we know it. I knew it was something like that."
He stumbled determinedly back into the sitting room, where he
seemed to carry on talking to himself, tripping over the
furniture and making beep beep noises.
A couple of minutes later, wearing his very placid face, Arthur
Ford looked stunned.
"Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Making some coffee," said Arthur, still wearing his very placid
face. He had long ago realized that the only way of being in
Ford's company successfully was to keep a large stock of very
placid faces and wear them at all times.
"You missed the best bit!" raged Ford. "You missed the bit where
I jumped the guy! Now," he said, "I shall have to jump him, all
He hurled himself recklessly at a chair and broke it.
"It was better," he said sullenly, "last time," and waved vaguely
in the direction of another broken chair which he had already got
trussed up on the dining table.
"I see," said Arthur, casting a placid eye over the trussed up
wreckage, "and, er, what are all the ice cubes for?"
"What?" screamed Ford. "What? You missed that bit too? That's the
suspended animation facility! I put the guy in the suspended
animation facility. Well I had to didn't I?"
"So it would seem," said Arthur, in his placid voice.
"Don't touch that!!!" yelled Ford.
Arthur, who was about to replace the phone, which was for some
mysterious reason lying on the table, off the hook, paused,
"OK," said Ford, calming down, "listen to it."
Arthur put the phone to his ear.
"It's the speaking clock," he said.
"Beep, beep, beep," said Ford, "is exactly what is being heard
all over that guy's ship, while he sleeps, in the ice, going
slowly round a little-known moon of Sesefras Magna. The London
"I see," said Arthur again, and decided that now was the time to
ask the big one.
"Why?" he said, placidly.
"With a bit of luck," said Ford, "the phone bill will bankrupt
He threw himself, sweating, on to the sofa.
"Anyway," he said, "dramatic arrival don't you think?"
The flying saucer in which Ford Prefect had stowed away had
stunned the world.
Finally there was no doubt, no possibility of mistake, no
hallucinations, no mysterious CIA agents found floating in
This time it was real, it was definite. It was quite definitely
It had come down with a wonderful disregard for anything beneath
it and crushed a large area of some of the most expensive real
estate in the world, including much of Harrods.
The thing was massive, nearly a mile across, some said, dull
silver in colour, pitted, scorched and disfigured with the scars
of unnumbered vicious space battles fought with savage forces by
the light of suns unknown to man.
A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls,
demolished Harvey Nicholls, and with a final grinding scream of
tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower.
After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and
grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the
ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.
It held up a hand.
"I come in peace," it said, adding after a long moment of further
grinding, "take me to your Lizard."
Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat
with Arthur and watched the non-stop frenetic news reports on the
television, none of which had anything to say other than to
record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was
valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this
totally other number of people, and then say it again, because
the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying
very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error
"It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see ..."
"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"
"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and
coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced
down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so
straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders
are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards role the
"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."
"I did," said Ford. "It is."
"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse,
"why don't people get rid of the lizards?"
"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got
the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government
they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they
"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"
"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."
"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"
"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong
lizard might get in. Got any gin?"
"I said," said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping
into his voice, "have you got any gin?"
"I'll look. Tell me about the lizards."
Ford shrugged again.
"Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever
happened to them," he said. "They're completely wrong of course,
completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it."
"But that's terrible," said Arthur.
"Listen, bud," said Ford, "if I had one Altairan dollar for every
time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the
Universe and say `That's terrible' I wouldn't be sitting here
like a lemon looking for a gin. But I haven't and I am. Anyway,
what are you looking so placid and moon-eyed for? Are you in
Arthur said yes, he was, and said it placidly.
"With someone who knows where the gin bottle is? Do I get to meet
He did because Fenchurch came in at that moment with a pile of
newspapers she'd been into the village to buy. She stopped in
astonishment at the wreckage on the table and the wreckage from
Betelgeuse on the sofa.
"Where's the gin?" said Ford to Fenchurch. And to Arthur, "What
happened to Trillian by the way?"
"Er, this is Fenchurch," said Arthur, awkwardly. "There was
nothing with Trillian, you must have seen her last."
"Oh, yeah," said Ford, "she went off with Zaphod somewhere. They
had some kids or something. At least," he added, "I think that's
what they were. Zaphod's calmed down a lot you know."
"Really?" said Arthur, clustering hurriedly round Fenchurch to
relieve her of the shopping.
"Yeah," said Ford, "at least one of his heads is now saner than
an emu on acid."
"Arthur, who is this?" said Fenchurch.
"Ford Prefect," said Arthur. "I may have mentioned him in
For a total of three days and nights the giant silver robot stood
in stunned amazement straddling the remains of Knightsbridge,
swaying slightly and trying to work out a number of things.
Government deputations came to see it, ranting journalists by the
truckload asked each other questions on the air about what they
thought of it, flights of fighter bombers tried pathetically to
attack it - but no lizards appeared. It scanned the horizon
At night it was at its most spectacular, floodlit by the teams of
television crews who covered it continuously as it continuously
It thought and thought and eventually reached a conclusion.
It would have to send out its service robots.
It should have thought of that before, but it was having a number
The tiny flying robots came screeching out of the hatchway one
afternoon in a terrifying cloud of metal. They roamed the
surrounding terrain, frantically attacking some things and
One of them at last found a pet shop with some lizards, but it
instantly defended the pet shop for democracy so savagely that
little in the area survived.
A turning point came when a crack team of flying screechers
discovered the Zoo in Regent's Park, and most particularly the
Learning a little caution from their previous mistakes in the
petshop, the flying drills and fretsaws brought some of the
larger and fatter iguanas to the giant silver robot, who tried to
conduct high-level talks with them.
Eventually the robot announced to the world that despite the
full, frank and wide-ranging exchange of views the high level
talks had broken down, the lizards had been retired, and that it,
the robot would take a short holiday somewhere, and for some
reason selected Bournemouth.
Ford Prefect, watching it on TV, nodded, laughed, and had another
Immediate preparations were made for its departure.
The flying toolkits screeched and sawed and drilled and fried
things with light throughout that day and all through the night
time, and in the morning, stunningly, a giant mobile gantry
started to roll westwards on several roads simultaneously with
the robot standing on it, supported within the gantry.
Westward it crawled, like a strange carnival buzzed around by its
servants and helicopters and news coaches, scything through the
land until at last it came to Bournemouth, where the robot slowly
freed itself from it transport system's embraces and went and lay
for ten days on the beach.
It was, of course, by far the most exciting thing that had ever
happened to Bournemouth.
Crowds gathered daily along the perimeter which was staked out
and guarded as the robot's recreation area, and tried to see what
it was doing.
It was doing nothing. It was lying on the beach. It was lying a
little awkwardly on its face.
It was a journalist from a local paper who, late one night,
managed to do what no one else in the world had so far managed,
which was to strike up a brief intelligible conversation with one
of the service robots guarding the perimeter.
It was an extraordinary breakthrough.
"I think there's a story in it," confided the journalist over a
cigarette shared through the steel link fence, "but it needs a
good local angle. I've got a little list of questions here," he
went on, rummaging awkwardly in an inner pocket, "perhaps you
could get him, it, whatever you call him, to run through them
The little flying ratchet screwdriver said it would see what it
cold do and screeched off.
A reply was never forthcoming.
Curiously, however, the questions on the piece of paper more or
less exactly matched the questions that were going through the
massive battle-scarred industrial quality circuits of the robot's
mind. They were these:
"How do you feel about being a robot?"
"How does it feel to be from outer space?" and
"How do you like Bournemouth?"
Early the following day things started to be packed up and within
a few days it became apparent that the robot was preparing to
leave for good.
"The point is," said Fenchurch to Ford, "can you get us on
Ford looked wildly at his watch.
"I have some serious unfinished business to attend to," he
Crowds thronged as close as they could to the giant silver craft,
which wasn't very. The immediate perimeter was fenced off and
patrolled by the tiny flying service robots. Staked out around
that was the army, who had been completely unable to breach that
inner perimeter, but were damned if anybody was going to breach
them. They in turn were surrounded by a cordon of police, though
whether they were there to protect the public from the army or
the army from the public, or to guarantee the giant ship's
diplomatic immunity and prevent it getting parking tickets was
entirely unclear and the subject of much debate.
The inner perimeter fence was now being dismantled. The army
stirred uncomfortably, uncertain of how to react to the fact that
the reason for their being there seemed as if it was simply going
to get up and go.
The giant robot had lurched back aboard the ship at lunchtime,
and now it was five o'clock in the afternoon and no further sign
had been seen of it. Much had been heard - more grindings and
rumblings from deep within the craft, the music of a million
hideous malfunctions; but the sense of tense expectation among
the crowd was born of the fact that they tensely expected to be
disappointed. This wonderful extraordinary thing had come into
their lives, an now it was simply going to go without them.
Two people were particularly aware of this sensation. Arthur and
Fenchurch scanned the crowd anxiously, unable to find Ford
Prefect in it anywhere, or any sign that he had the slightest
intention of being there.
"How reliable is he?" asked Fenchurch in a sinking voice.
"How reliable?" said Arthur. He gave a hollow laugh. "How shallow
is the ocean?" he said. "How cold is the sun?"
The last parts of the robot's gantry transport were being carried
on board, and the few remaining sections of the perimeter fence
were now stacked at the bottom of the ramp waiting to follow
them. The soldiers on guard round the ramp bristled meaningfully,
orders were barked back and forth, hurried conferences were held,
but nothing, of course, could be done about any of it.
Hopelessly, and with no clear plan now, Arthur and Fenchurch
pushed forward through the crowd, but since the whole crowd was
also trying to push forward through the crowd, this got them
And within a few minutes more nothing remained outside the ship,
every last link of the fence was aboard. A couple of flying fret
saws and a spirit level seemed to do one last check around the
site, and then screamed in through the giant hatchway themselves.
A few seconds passed.
The sounds of mechanical disarray from within changed in
intensity, and slowly, heavily, the huge steel ramp began to lift
itself back out of the Harrods Food Halls. The sound that
accompanied it was the sound of thousands of tense, excited
people being completely ignored.
A megaphone barked from a taxi which screeched to a halt on the
edge of the milling crowd.
"There has been," barked the megaphone, "a major scientific
break-in! Through. Breakthrough," it corrected itself. The door
flew open and a small man from somewhere in the vicinity of
Betelgeuse leapt out wearing a white coat.
"Hold it!" he shouted again, and this time brandished a short
squad black rod with lights on it. The lights winked briefly, the
ramp paused in its ascent, and then in obedience to the signals
from the Thumb (which half the electronic engineers in the galaxy
are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming, while the
other half are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming
the jamming signals), slowly ground its way downwards again.
Ford Prefect grabbed his megaphone from out of the taxi and
started bawling at the crowd through it.
"Make way," he shouted, "make way, please, this is a major
scientific breakthrough. You and you, get the equipment from the
Completely at random he pointed at Arthur and Fenchurch, who
wrestled their way back out of the crowd and clustered urgently
round the taxi.
"All right, I want you to clear a passage, please, for some
important pieces of scientific equipment," boomed Ford. "Just
everybody keep calm. It's all under control, there's nothing to
see. It is merely a major scientific breakthrough. Keep calm now.
Important scientific equipment. Clear the way."
Hungry for new excitement, delighted at this sudden reprieve from
disappointment, the crowd enthusiastically fell back and started
to open up.
Arthur was a little surprised to see what was printed on the
boxes of important scientific equipment in the back of the taxi.
"Hang your coat over them," he muttered to Fenchurch as he heaved
them out to her. Hurriedly he manoeuvred out the large
supermarket trolley that was also jammed against the back seat.
It clattered to the ground, and together they loaded the boxes
"Clear a path, please," shouted Ford again. "Everything's under
proper scientific control."
"He said you'd pay," said the taxi-driver to Arthur, who dug out
some notes and paid him. There was the distant sound of police
"Move along there," shouted Ford, "and no one will get hurt."
The crowd surged and closed behind them again, as frantically
they pushed and hauled the rattling supermarket trolley through
the rubble towards the ramp.
"It's all right," Ford continued to bellow. "There's nothing to
see, it's all over. None of this is actually happening."
"Clear the way, please," boomed a police megaphone from the back
of the crowd. "There's been a break-in, clear the way."
"Breakthrough," yelled Ford in competition. "A scientific
"This is the police! Clear the way!"
"Scientific equipment! Clear the way!"
"Police! Let us through!"
"Walkmen!" yelled Ford, and pulled half a dozen miniature tape
players from his pockets and tossed them into the crowd. The
resulting seconds of utter confusion allowed them to get the
supermarket trolley to the edge of the ramp, and to haul it up on
to the lip of it.
"Hold tight," muttered Ford, and released a button on his
Electronic Thumb. Beneath them, the huge ramp juddered and began
slowly to heave its way upwards.
"Ok, kids," he said as the milling crowd dropped away beneath
them and they started to lurch their way along the tilting ramp
into the bowels of the ship, "looks like we're on our way."
Arthur Dent was irritated to be continually wakened by the sound
Being careful not to wake Fenchurch, who was still managing to
sleep fitfully, he slid his way out of the maintenance hatchway
which they had fashioned into a kind of bunk for themselves,
slung himself down the access ladder and prowled the corridors
They were claustrophobic and ill-lit. The lighting circuits
This wasn't it, though.
He paused and leaned backwards as a flying power drill flew past
him down the dim corridor with a nasty screech, occasionally
clanging against the walls like a confused bee as it did so.
That wasn't it either.
He clambered through a bulkhead door and found himself in a
larger corridor. Acrid smoke was drifting up from one end so he
walked towards the other.
He came to an observation monitor let into the wall behind a
plate of toughened but still badly scratched perspex.
"Would you turn it down please?" he said to Ford Prefect who was
crouching in front of it in the middle of a pile of bits of video
equipment he'd taken from a shop window in Tottenham Court Road,
having first hurled a small brick through it, and also a nasty
heap of empty beer cans.
"Shhhh!" hissed Ford, and peered with manic concentration at the
screen. He was watching The Magnificent Seven.
"Just a bit," said Arthur.
"No!" shouted Ford. "We're just getting to the good bit! Listen,
I finally got it all sorted out, voltage levels, line conversion,
everything, and this is the good bit!"
With a sigh and a headache, Arthur sat down beside him and
watched the good bit. He listened to Ford's whoops and yells and
"yeehay!"s as placidly as he could.
"Ford," he said eventually, when it was all over, and Ford was
hunting through a stack of cassettes for the tape of Casablanca,
"how come, if ..."
"This is the big one," said Ford. "This is the one I came back
for. Do you realize I never saw it all through? Always I missed
the end. I saw half of it again the night before the Vogons came.
When they blew the place up I thought I'd never get to see it.
Hey, what happened with all that anyway?"
"Just life," said Arthur, and plucked a beer from a six-pack.
"Oh, that again," said Ford. "I thought it might be something
like that. I prefer this stuff," he said as Rick's Bar flickered
on to the screen. "How come if what?"
"You started to say, `how come if ...'"
"How come if you're so rude about the Earth, that you ... oh
never mind, let's just watch the movie."
"Exactly," said Ford.
There remains little still to tell.
Beyond what used to be known as the Limitless Lightfields of
Flanux until the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine were
discovered lying behind them, lie the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of
Saxaquine. Within the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine lies the
star named Zarss, around which orbits the planet Preliumtarn in
which is the land of Sevorbeupstry, and it was to the land of
Sevorbeupstry that Arthur and Fenchurch came at last, a little
tired by the journey.
And in the land of Sevorbeupstry, they came to the Great Red
Plain of Rars, which was bounded on the South side by the
Quentulus Quazgar Mountains, on the further side of which,
according to the dying words of Prak, they would find in thirty-
foot-high letters of fire God's Final Message to His Creation.
According to Prak, if Arthur's memory saved him right, the place
was guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob, and so, after a
manner, it proved to be. He was a little man in a strange hat and
he sold them a ticket.
"Keep to the left, please," he said, "keep to the left," and
hurried on past them on a little scooter.
They realized they were not the first to pass that way, for the
path that led around the left of the Great Plain was well-worn
and dotted with booths. At one they bought a box of fudge, which
had been baked in an oven in a cave in the mountain, which was
heated by the fire of the letters that formed God's Final Message
to His Creation. At another they bought some postcards. The
letters had been blurred with an airbrush, "so as not to spoil
the Big Surprise!" it said on the reverse.
"Do you know what the message is?" they asked the wizened little
lady in the booth.
"Oh yes," she piped cheerily, "oh yes!"
She waved them on.
Every twenty miles or so there was a little stone hut with
showers and sanitary facilities, but the going was tough, and the
high sun baked down on the Great Red Plain, and the Great Red
Plain rippled in the heat.
"Is it possible," asked Arthur at one of the larger booths, "to
rent one of those little scooters? Like the one Lajestic
"The scooters," said the little lady who was serving at an ice
cream bar, "are not for the devout."
"Oh well, that's easy then," said Fenchurch, "we're not
particularly devout. We're just interested."
"Then you must turn back now," said the little lady severely, and
when they demurred, sold them a couple of Final Message sunhats
and a photograph of themselves with their arms tight around each
other on the Great Red Plain of Rars.
They drank a couple of sodas in the shade of the booth and then
trudged out into the sun again.
"We're running out of border cream," said Fenchurch after a few
more miles. "We can go to the next booth, or we can return to the
previous one which is nearer, but means we have to retrace our
They stared ahead at the distant black speck winking in the heat
haze; they looked behind themselves. They elected to go on.
They then discovered that they were not only not the first ones
to make this journey, but that they were not the only ones making
Some way ahead of them an awkward low shape was heaving itself
wretchedly along the ground, stumbling painfully slowly, half-
It was moving so slowly that before too long they caught the
creature up and could see that it was made of worn, scarred and
It groaned at them as they approached it, collapsing in the hot
"So much time," it groaned, "oh so much time. And pain as well,
so much of that, and so much time to suffer it in too. One or the
other on its own I could probably manage. It's the two together
that really get me down. Oh hello, you again."
"Marvin?" said Arthur sharply, crouching down beside it. "Is that
"You were always one," groaned the aged husk of the robot, "for
the super-intelligent question, weren't you?"
"What is it?" whispered Fenchurch in alarm, crouching behind
Arthur, and grasping on to his arm. "He's sort of an old friend,"
said Arthur. "I ..."
"Friend!" croaked the robot pathetically. The word died away in a
kind of crackle and flakes of rust fell out of its mouth. "You'll
have to excuse me while I try and remember what the word means.
My memory banks are not what they were you know, and any word
which falls into disuse for a few zillion years has to get
shifted down into auxiliary memory back-up. Ah, here it comes."
The robot's battered head snapped up a bit as if in thought.
"Hmm," he said, "what a curious concept."
He thought a little longer.
"No," he said at last, "don't think I ever came across one of
those. Sorry, can't help you there."
He scraped a knee along pathetically in the dust, an then tried
to twist himself up on his misshapen elbows.
"Is there any last service you would like me to perform for you
perhaps?" he asked in a kind of hollow rattle. "A piece of paper
that perhaps you would like me to pick up for you? Or maybe you
would like me," he continued, "to open a door?"
His head scratched round in its rusty neck bearings and seemed to
scan the distant horizon.
"Don't seem to be any doors around at present," he said, "but I'm
sure that if we waited long enough, someone would build one. And
then," he said slowly twisting his head around to see Arthur
again, "I could open it for you. I'm quite used to waiting you
"Arthur," hissed Fenchurch in his ear sharply, "you never told me
of this. What have you done to this poor creature?"
"Nothing," insisted Arthur sadly, "he's always like this ..."
"Ha!" snapped Marvin. "Ha!" he repeated. "What do you know of
always? You say `always' to me, who, because of the silly little
errands your organic lifeforms keep on sending me through time
on, am now thirty-seven times older than the Universe itself?
Pick your words with a little more care," he coughed, "and tact."
He rasped his way through a coughing fit and resumed.
"Leave me," he said, "go on ahead, leave me to struggle painfully
on my way. My time at last has nearly come. My race is nearly
run. I fully expect," he said, feebly waving them on with a
broken finger, "to come in last. It would be fitting. Here I am,
brain the size ..."
Between them they picked him up despite his feeble protests and
insults. The metal was so hot it nearly blistered their fingers,
but he weighed surprisingly little, and hung limply between their
They carried him with them along the path that ran along the left
of the Great Red Plain of Rars toward the encircling mountains of
Arthur attempted to explain to Fenchurch, but was too often
interrupted by Marvin's dolorous cybernetic ravings.
They tried to see if they could get him some spare parts at one
of the booths, but Marvin would have none of it.
"I'm all spare parts," he droned.
"Let me be!" he groaned.
"Every part of me," he moaned, "has been replaced at least fifty
times ... except ..." He seemed almost imperceptibly to brighten
for a moment. His head bobbed between them with the effort of
memory. "Do you remember, the first time you ever met me," he
said at last to Arthur. "I had been given the intellect-
stretching task of taking you up to the bridge? I mentioned to
you that I had this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left
side? That I had asked for them to be replaced but they never
He left a longish pause before he continued. They carried him on
between them, under the baking sun that hardly ever seemed to
move, let alone set.
"See if you can guess," said Marvin, when he judged that the
pause had become embarrassing enough, "which parts of me were
never replaced? Go on, see if you can guess.
"Ouch," he added, "ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch."
At last they reached the last of the little booths, set down
Marvin between them and rested in the shade. Fenchurch bought
some cufflinks for Russell, cufflinks that had set in them little
polished pebbles which had been picked up from the Quentulus
Quazgar Mountains, directly underneath the letters of fire in
which was written God's Final Message to His Creation.
Arthur flipped through a little rack of devotional tracts on the
counter, little meditations on the meaning of the Message.
"Ready?" he said to Fenchurch, who nodded.
They heaved up Marvin between them.
They rounded the foot of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains, and
there was the Message written in blazing letters along the crest
of the Mountain. There was a little observation vantage point
with a rail built along the top of a large rock facing it, from
which you could get a good view. It had a little pay-telescope
for looking at the letters in detail, but no one would ever use
it because the letters burned with the divine brilliance of the
heavens and would, if seen through a telescope, have severely
damaged the retina and optic nerve.
They gazed at God's Final Message in wonderment, and were slowly
and ineffably filled with a great sense of peace, and of final
and complete understanding.
Fenchurch sighed. "Yes," she said, "that was it."
They had been staring at it for fully ten minutes before they
became aware that Marvin, hanging between their shoulders, was in
difficulties. The robot could no longer lift his head, had not
read the message. They lifted his head, but he complained that
his vision circuits had almost gone.
They found a coin and helped him to the telescope. He complained
and insulted them, but they helped him look at each individual
letter in turn, The first letter was a "w", the second an "e".
Then there was a gap. An "a" followed, then a "p", an "o" and an
Marvin paused for a rest.
After a few moments they resumed and let him see the "o", the
"g", the "i", the "s" and the "e".
The next two words were "for" and "the". The last one was a long
one, and Marvin needed another rest before he could tackle it.
It started with an "i", then "n" then a "c". Next came an "o" and
an "n", followed by a "v", an "e", another "n" and an "i".
After a final pause, Marvin gathered his strength for the last
He read the "e", the "n", the "c" and at last the final "e", and
staggered back into their arms.
"I think," he murmured at last, from deep within his corroding
rattling thorax, "I feel good about it."
The lights went out in his eyes for absolutely the very last time
Luckily, there was a stall nearby where you could rent scooters
from guys with green wings.
One of the greatest benefactors of all lifekind was a man who
couldn't keep his mind on the job in hand.
One of the foremost genetic engineers of his or any other
generation, including a number he had designed himself?
Without a doubt.
The problem was that he was far too interested in things which he
shouldn't be interested in, at least, as people would tell him,
He was also, partly because of this, of a rather irritable
So when his world was threatened by terrible invaders from a
distant star, who were still a fair way off but travelling fast,
he, Blart Versenwald III (his name was Blart Versenwald III,
which is not strictly relevant, but quite interesting because -
never mind, that was his name and we can talk about why it's
interesting later), was sent into guarded seclusion by the
masters of his race with instructions to design a breed of
fanatical superwarriors to resist and vanquish the feared
invaders, do it quickly and, they told him, "Concentrate!"
So he sat by a window and looked out at a summer lawn and
designed and designed and designed, but inevitably got a little
distracted by things, and by the time the invaders were
practically in orbit round them, had come up with a remarkable
new breed of super-fly that could, unaided, figure out how to fly
through the open half of a half-open window, and also an off-
switch for children. Celebrations of these remarkable
achievements seemed doomed to be shortlived because disaster was
imminent as the alien ships were landing. But astoundingly, the
fearsome invaders who, like most warlike races were only on the
rampage because they couldn't cope with things at home, were
stunned by Versenwald's extraordinary breakthroughs, joined in
the celebrations and were instantly prevailed upon to sign a
wide-ranging series of trading agreements and set up a programme
of cultural exchanges. And, in an astonishing reversal of normal
practice in the conduct of such matters, everybody concerned
lived happily ever after.
There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped
the chronicler's mind.
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