Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

  There was a sound he couldn't immediately identify, partly because he didn't know the tune "I Left my Leg in Jaglan Beta" and partly because the band playing it were very tired, and some members of it were playing it in three-four time, some in four-four, and some in a kind of pie-eyed r2, each according to the amount of sleep he'd managed to grab recently.

  He lay, panting heavily in the wet air, and tried feeling bits of himself to see where he might be hurt. Wherever he touched himself, he encountered a pain. After a short while he worked out that this was because it was his hand that was hurting. He seemed to have sprained his wrist. His back, too, was hurting, but he soon satisfied himself that he was not badly hurt, but just bruised and a little shaken, as who wouldn't be? He couldn't understand what a building would be doing flying through the clouds.

  On the other hand, he would have been a little hard-pressed to come up with any convincing explanation of his own presence, so he decided that he and the building were just going to have to accept each other. He looked up from where he was lying. A wall of pale but stained stone slabs rose up behind him, the building proper. He seemed to be stretched out on some sort of ledge or lip which extended outwards for about three or four feet all the way around. It was a hunk of the ground in which the party building had had its foundations, and which it had taken along with itself to keep itself bound together at the bottom end.

  Nervously, he stood up and, suddenly, looking out over the edge, he felt nauseous with vertigo. He pressed himself back against the wall, wet with mist and sweat. His head was swimming freestyle, but someone in his stomach was doing the butterfly.

  Even though he had got up here under his own power, he could now not even bear to contemplate the hideous drop in front of him. He was not about to try his luck jumping. He was not about to move an inch closer to the edge.

  Clutching his hold-all he edged along the wall, hoping to find a doorway in. The solid weight of the can of olive oil was a great reassurance to him.

  He was edging in the direction of the nearest corner, in the hope that the wall around the corner might offer more in the way of entrances than this one, which offered none.

  The unsteadiness of the building's flight made him feel sick with fear, and after a short while he took the towel from out of his hold-all and did something with it which once again justified its supreme position in the list of useful things to take with you when you hitch-hike round the Galaxy. He put it over his head so he wouldn't have to see what he was doing.

  His feet edged along the ground. His outstretched hand edged along the wall.

  Finally he came to the corner, and as his hand rounded the corner it encountered something which gave him such a shock that he nearly fell straight off. It was another hand.

  The two hands gripped each other.

  He desperately wanted to use his other hand to pull the towel back from his eyes, but it was holding the hold-all with the olive oil, the retsina and the postcards from Santorini, and he very much didn't want to put it down.

  He experienced one of those "self" moments, one of those moments when you suddenly turn around and look at yourself and think "Who am I? What am I up to? What have I achieved? Am I doing well?" He whimpered very slightly.

  He tried to free his hand, but he couldn't. The other hand was holding his tightly. He had no recourse but to edge onwards towards the corner. He leaned around it and shook his head in an attempt to dislodge the towel. This seemed to provoke a sharp cry of some unfashionable emotion from the owner of the other hand.

  The towel was whipped from his head and he found his eyes peering into those of Ford Prefect. Beyond him stood Slartibartfast, and beyond them he could clearly see a porchway and a large closed door.

  They were both pressed back against the wall, eyes wild with terror as they stared out into the thick blind cloud around them, and tried to resist the lurching and swaying of the building.

  - Where the zarking photon have you been? - hissed Ford, panic stricken.

  - Er, well, - stuttered Arthur, not really knowing how to sum it all up that briefly. - Here and there. What are you doing here?

  Ford turned his wild eyes on Arthur again.

  - They won't let us in without a bottle, - he hissed.

  The first thing Arthur noticed as they entered into the thick of the party, apart from the noise, the suffocating heat, the wild profusion of colours that protruded dimly through the atmosphere of heavy smoke, the carpets thick with ground glass, ash and avocado droppings, and the small group of pterodactyl-like creatures in lurex who descended on his cherished bottle of retsina, squawking, "A new pleasure, a new pleasure", was Trillian being chatted up by a Thunder God.

  - Didn't I see you at Milliways? - he was saying.

  - Were you the one with the hammer?

  - Yes. I much prefer it here. So much less reputable, so much more fraught.

  Squeals of some hideous pleasure rang around the room, the outer dimensions of which were invisible through the heaving throng of happy, noisy creatures, cheerfully yelling things that nobody could hear at each other and occasionally having crises.

  - Seems fun, - said Trillian. - What did you say, Arthur?

  - I said, how the hell did you get here?

  - I was a row of dots flowing randomly through the Universe. Have you met Thor? He makes thunder.

  - Hello, - said Arthur. - I expect that must be very interesting.

  - Hi, - said Thor. - It is. Have you got a drink?

  - Er, no actually...

  - Then why don't you go and get one?

  - See you later, Arthur, - said Trillian.

  Something jogged Arthur's mind, and he looked around huntedly.

  - Zaphod isn't here, is he? - he said.

  - See you, - said Trillian firmly, - later.

  Thor glared at him with hard coal-black eyes, his beard bristled, what little light was there was in the place mustered its forces briefly to glint menacingly off the horns of his helmet.

  He took Trillian's elbow in his extremely large hand and the muscles in his upper arm moved around each other like a couple of Volkswagens parking.

  He led her away.

  - One of the interesting things about being immortal, - he said, - is...

  - One of the interesting things about space, - Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying to a large and voluminous creature who looked like someone losing a fight with a pink duvet and was gazing raptly at the old man's deep eyes and silver beard, - is how dull it is.

  - Dull? - said the creature, and blinked her rather wrinkled and bloodshot eyes.

  - Yes, - said Slartibartfast, - staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there's so much of it and so little in it. Would you like me to quote some statistics?

  - Er, well...

  - Please, I would like to. They, too, are quite sensationally dull.

  - I'll come back and hear them in a moment, - she said, patting him on the arm, lifted up her skirts like a hovercraft and moved off into the heaving crown.

  - I thought she'd never go, - growled the old man. - Come, Earthman...

  - Arthur.

  - We must find the Silver Bail, it is here somewhere.

  - Can't we just relax a little? - Arthur said. - I've had a tough day. Trillian's here, incidentally, she didn't say how, it probably doesn't matter.

  - Think of the danger to the Universe...

  - The Universe, - said Arthur, - is big enough and old enough to look after itself for half an hour. All right, - he added, in response to Slartibartfast's increasing agitation, - I'll wander round and see if anybody's seen it.

  - Good, good, - said Slartibartfast, - good. - He plunged into the crowd himself, and was told to relax by everybody he passed.

  - Have you seen a bail anywhere? - said Arthur to a little man who seemed to be standing eagerly waiting to listen to somebody. - It's made of silver, vitally important for the future safety of the Universe, and about this long.

  - No, - said the enthusi
astically wizened little man, - but do have a drink and tell me all about it.

  Ford Prefect writhed past, dancing a wild, frenetic and not entirely unobscene dance with someone who looked as if she was wearing Sydney Opera House on her head. He was yelling a futile conversation at her above the din.

  - I like that hat! - he bawled.

  - What?

  - I said, I like the hat.

  - I'm not wearing a hat.

  - Well, I like the head, then.

  - What?

  - I said, I like the head. Interesting bone-structure.

  - What?

  Ford worked a shrug into the complex routine of other movements he was performing.

  - I said, you dance great, - he shouted, - just don't nod so much.

  - What?

  - It's just that every time you nod, - said Ford, -...ow! - he added as his partner nodded forward to say - What? - and once again pecked him sharply on the forehead with the sharp end of her swept-forward skull.

  - My planet was blown up one morning, - said Arthur, who had found himself quite unexpectedly telling the little man his life story or, at least, edited highlights of it, - that's why I'm dressed like this, in my dressing gown. My planet was blown up with all my clothes in it, you see. I didn't realize I'd be coming to a party.

  The little man nodded enthusiastically.

  - Later, I was thrown off a spaceship. Still in my dressing gown. Rather than the space suit one would normally expect. Shortly after that I discovered that my planet had originally been built for a bunch of mice. You can imagine how I felt about that. I was then shot at for a while and blown up. In fact I have been blown up ridiculously often, shot at, insulted, regularly disintegrated, deprived of tea, and recently I crashed into a swamp and had to spend five years in a damp cave.

  - Ah, - effervesced the little man, - and did you have a wonderful time?

  Arthur started to choke violently on his drink.

  - What a wonderful exciting cough, - said the little man, quite startled by it, - do you mind if I join you?

  And with that he launched into the most extraordinary and spectacular fit of coughing which caught Arthur so much by surprise that he started to choke violently, discovered he was already doing it and got thoroughly confused.

  Together they performed a lung-busting duet which went on for fully two minutes before Arthur managed to cough and splutter to a halt.

  - So invigorating, - said the little man, panting and wiping tears from his eyes. - What an exciting life you must lead. Thank you very much.

  He shook Arthur warmly by the hand and walked off into the crowd. Arthur shook his head in astonishment.

  A youngish-looking man came up to him, an aggressive-looking type with a hook mouth, a lantern nose, and small beady little cheekbones. He was wearing black trousers, a black silk shirt open to what was presumably his navel, though Arthur had learnt never to make assumptions about the anatomies of the sort of people he tended to meet these days, and had all sorts of nasty dangly gold things hanging round his neck. He carried something in a black bag, and clearly wanted people to notice that he didn't want them to notice it.

  - Hey, er, did I hear you say your name just now? - he said.

  This was one of the many things that Arthur had told the enthusiastic little man.

  - Yes, it's Arthur Dent.

  The man seemed to be dancing slightly to some rhythm other than any of the several that the band were grimly pushing out.

  - Yeah, - he said, - only there was a man in a mountain wanted to see you.

  - I met him.

  - Yeah, only he seemed pretty anxious about it, you know.

  - Yes, I met him.

  - Yeah, well I think you should know that.

  - I do. I met him.

  The man paused to chew a little gum. Then he clapped Arthur on the back.

  - OK, - he said, - all right. I'm just telling you, right? Good night, good luck, win awards.

  - What? - said Arthur, who was beginning to flounder seriously at this point.

  - Whatever. Do what you do. Do it well. - He made a sort of clucking noise with whatever he was chewing and then some vaguely dynamic gesture.

  - Why? - said Arthur.

  - Do it badly, - said the man, - who cares? Who gives a shit? - The blood suddenly seemed to pump angrily into the man's face and he started to shout.

  - Why not go mad? - he said. - Go away, get off my back will you, guy. Just zark off!!!

  - OK, I'm going, - said Arthur hurriedly.

  - It's been real. - The man gave a sharp wave and disappeared off into the throng.

  - What was that about? - said Arthur to a girl he found standing beside him. - Why did he tell me to win awards?

  - Just showbiz talk, - shrugged the girl. - He's just won an award at the Annual Ursa Minor Alpha Recreational Illusions Institute Awards Ceremony, and was hoping to be able to pass it off lightly, only you didn't mention it, so he couldn't.

  - Oh, - said Arthur, - oh, well I'm sorry I didn't. What was it for?

  - The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word "Fuck" In A Serious Screenplay. It's very prestigious.

  - I see, - said Arthur, - yes, and what do you get for that?

  - A Rory. It's just a small silver thing set on a large black base. What did you say?

  - I didn't say anything. I was just about to ask what the silver...

  - Oh, I thought you said "wop".

  - Said what?

  - Wop.

  People had been dropping in on the party now for some years, fashionable gatecrashers from other worlds, and for some time it had occurred to the partygoers as they had looked out at their own world beneath them, with its wrecked cities, its ravaged avocado farms and blighted vineyards, its vast tracts of new desert, its seas full of biscuit crumbs and worse, that their world was in some tiny and almost imperceptible ways not quite as much fun as it had been. Some of them had begun to wonder if they could manage to stay sober for long enough to make the entire party spaceworthy and maybe take it off to some other people's worlds where the air might be fresher and give them fewer headaches.

  The few undernourished farmers who still managed to scratch out a feeble existence on the half-dead ground of the planet's surface would have been extremely pleased to hear this, but that day, as the party came screaming out of the clouds and the farmers looked up in haggard fear of yet another cheese-and-wine raid, it became clear that the party was not going to be going anywhere else for a while, that the party would soon be over. Very soon it would be time to gather up hats and coats and stagger blearily outside to find out what time of day it was, what time of year it was, and whether in any of this burnt and ravaged land there was a taxi going anywhere.

  The party was locked in a horrible embrace with a strange white spaceship which seemed to be half sticking through it. Together they were lurching, heaving and spinning their way round the sky in grotesque disregard of their own weight.

  The clouds parted. The air roared and leapt out of their way.

  The party and the Krikkit warship looked, in their writhings, a little like two ducks, one of which is trying to make a third duck inside the second duck, whilst the second duck is trying very hard to explain that it doesn't feel ready for a third duck right now, is uncertain that it would want any putative third duck to be made by this particular first duck anyway, and certainly not whilst it, the second duck, was busy flying.

  The sky sang and screamed with the rage of it all and buffeted the ground with shock waves.

  And suddenly, with a foop, the Krikkit ship was gone.

  The party blundered helplessly across the sky like a man leaning against an unexpectedly open door. It span and wobbled on its hover jets. It tried to right itself and wronged itself instead. It staggered back across the sky again.

  For a while these staggerings continued, but clearly they could not continue for long. The party was now a mortally wounded party. All the fun had gone out of it, as the occasional br
okenbacked pirouette could not disguise.

  The longer, at this point, that it avoided the ground, the heavier was going to be the crash when finally it hit it.

  Inside, things were not going well either. They were going monstrously badly, in fact, and people were hating it and saying so loudly. The Krikkit robots had been.

  They had removed the Award for The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word "Fuck" In A Serious Screenplay, and in its place had left a scene of devastation that left Arthur feeling almost as sick as a runner-up for a Rory.

  - We would love to stay and help, - shouted Ford, picking his way over the mangled debris, - only we're not going to.

  The party lurched again, provoking feverish cries and groans from amongst the smoking wreckage.

  - We have to go and save the Universe, you see, - said Ford. - And if that sounds like a pretty lame excuse, then you may be right. Either way, we're off.

  He suddenly came across an unopened bottle lying, miraculously unbroken, on the ground.

  - Do you mind if we take this? - he said. - You won't be needing it.

  He took a packet of potato crisps too.

  - Trillian? - shouted Arthur in a shocked and weakened voice. In the smoking mess he could see nothing.

  - Earthman, we must go, - said Slartibartfast nervously.

  - Trillian? - shouted Arthur again.

  A moment or two later, Trillian staggered, shaking, into view, supported by her new friend the Thunder God.

  - The girl stays with me, - said Thor. - There's a great party going on in Valhalla, we'll be flying off...

  - Where were you when all this was going on? - said Arthur.

  - Upstairs, - said Thor, - I was weighing her. Flying's a tricky business you see, you have to calculate wind...

  - She comes with us, - said Arthur.

  - Hey, - said Trillian, - don't I...

  - No, - said Arthur, - you come with us.

  Thor looked at him with slowly smouldering eyes. He was making some point about godliness and it had nothing to do with being clean.

  - She comes with me, - he said quietly.

  - Come on, Earthman, - said Slartibartfast nervously, picking at Arthur's sleeve.

  - Come on, Slartibartfast, - said Ford, picking at the old man's sleeve. Slartibartfast had the teleport device.

  The party lurched and swayed, sending everyone reeling, except for Thor and except for Arthur, who stared, shaking, into the Thunder God's black eyes.

  Slowly, incredibly, Arthur put up what appeared to be his tiny little fists.

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