Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams


  And very gradually, very, very slowly, the images in the cloud began to fade, gently to melt away.

  And then, suddenly, they stopped fading.

  - There was also the matter of revenge, of course, - said Hactar, with a sharpness which was new in his voice.

  - Remember, - he said, - that I was pulverized, and then left in a crippled and semi-impotent state for billions of years. I honestly would rather wipe out the Universe. You would feel the same way, believe me.

  He paused again, as eddies swept through the Dust.

  - But primarily, - he said in his former, wistful tone, - I was trying to fulfill my function. Ah well.

  Trillian said:

  - Does it worry you that you have failed?

  - Have I failed? - whispered Hactar. The image of the computer on the psychiatrist's couch began slowly to fade again.

  - Ah well, ah well, - the fading voice intoned again. - No, failure doesn't bother me now.

  - You know what we have to do? - said Trillian, her voice cold and businesslike.

  - Yes, - said Hactar, - you're going to disperse me. You are going to destroy my consciousness. Please be my guest - after all these aeons, oblivion is all I crave. If I haven't already fulfilled my function, then it's too late now. Thank you and good night.

  The sofa vanished.

  The tea table vanished.

  The couch and the computer vanished. the walls were gone. Arthur and Trillian made their curious way back into the Heart of Gold.

  - Well, that, - said Arthur, - would appear to be that.

  The flames danced higher in front of him and then subsided. A few last licks and they were gone, leaving him with just a pile of Ashes, where a few minutes previously there had been the Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality.

  He scooped them off the hob of the Heart of Gold's Gamma barbecue, put them in a paper bag, and walked back into the bridge.

  - I think we should take them back, - he said. - I feel that very strongly.

  He had already had an argument with Slartibartfast on this matter, and eventually the old man had got annoyed and left. He had returned to his own ship the Bistromath, had a furious row with the waiter and disappeared off into an entirely subjective idea of what space was.

  The argument had arisen because Arthur's idea of returning the Ashes to Lord's Cricket Ground at the same moment that they were originally taken would involve travelling back in time a day or so, and this was precisely the sort of gratuitous and irresponsible mucking about that the Campaign for Real Time was trying to put a stop to.

  - Yes, - Arthur had said, - but you try and explain that to the MCC, - and he would hear no more against the idea.

  - I think, - he said again, and stopped. The reason he started to say it again was because no one had listened to him the first time, and the reason he stopped was because it looked fairly clear that no one was going to listen to him this time either.

  Ford, Zaphod and Trillian were watching the visiscreens intently as Hactar was dispersing under pressure from a vibration field which the Heart of Gold was pumping into it.

  - What did it say? - asked Ford.

  - I thought I heard it say, - said Trillian in a puzzle voice, - "What's done is done... I have fulfilled my function..."

  - I think we should take these back, - said Arthur holding up the bag containing the Ashes. - I feel that very strongly.

  Chapter 33

  The sun was shining calmly on a scene of complete havoc.

  Smoke was still billowing across the burnt grass in the wake of the theft of the Ashes by the Krikkit robots. Through the smoke, people were running panicstricken, colliding with each other, tripping over stretchers, being arrested.

  One policeman was attempting to arrest Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged for insulting behaviour, but was unable to prevent the tall grey-green alien from returning to his ship and arrogantly flying away, thus causing even more panic and pandemonium.

  In the middle of this, for the second time that afternoon, the figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect suddenly materialized, they had teleported down out of the Heart of Gold which was now in parking orbit round the planet.

  - I can explain, - shouted Arthur. - I have the Ashes! They're in this bag.

  - I don't think you have their attention, - said Ford.

  - I have also helped save the Universe, - called Arthur to anyone who was prepared to listen, in other words no one.

  - That should have been a crowd-stopper, - said Arthur to Ford.

  - It wasn't, - said Ford.

  Arthur accosted a policeman who was running past.

  - Excuse me, - he said. - The Ashes. I've got them. They were stolen by those white robots a moment ago. I've got them in this bag. They were part of the Key to the Slo-Time envelope, you see, and, well, anyway you can guess the rest, the point is I've got them and what should I do with them?

  The policeman told him, but Arthur could only assume that he was speaking metaphorically.

  He wandered about disconsolately.

  - Is no one interested? - he shouted out. A man rushed past him and jogged his elbow, he dropped the paper bag and it spilt its contents all over the ground. Arthur stared down at it with a tight-set mouth.

  Ford looked at him.

  - Wanna go now? - he said.

  Arthur heaved a heavy sigh. He looked around at the planet Earth, for what he was now certain would be the last time.

  - OK, - he said.

  At that moment, through the clearing smoke, he caught sight of one of the wickets, still standing in spite of everything.

  - Hold on a moment, - he said to Ford. - When I was a boy...

  - Can you tell me later?

  - I had a passion for cricket, you know, but I wasn't very good at it.

  - Or not at all, if you prefer.

  - And I always dreamed, rather stupidly, that one day I would bowl at Lord's.

  He looked around him at the panicstricken throng. No one was going to mind very much.

  - OK, - said Ford wearily. - Get it over with. I shall be over there, he added, - being bored. - He went and sat down on a patch of smoking grass.

  Arthur remembered that on their first visit there that afternoon, the cricket ball had actually landed in his bag, and he looked through the bag.

  He had already found the ball in it before he remembered that it wasn't the same bag that he'd had at the time. Still, there the ball was amongst his souvenirs of Greece.

  He took it out and polished it against his hip, spat on it and polished it again. He put the bag down. He was going to do this properly.

  He tossed the small hard red ball from hand to hand, feeling its weight.

  With a wonderful feeling of lightness and unconcern, he trotted off away from the wicket. A medium-fast pace, he decided, and measured a good long run-up.

  He looked up into the sky. The birds were wheeling about it, a few white clouds scudded across it. The air was disturbed with the sounds of police and ambulance sirens, and people screaming and yelling, but he felt curiously happy and untouched by it all. He was going to bowl a ball at Lord's.

  He turned and pawed a couple of times at the ground with his bedroom slippers. He squared his shoulders, tossed the ball in the air and caught it again.

  He started to run.

  As he ran, he saw that standing at the wicket was a batsman.

  Oh, good, he thought, that should add a little...

  Then, as his running feet took him nearer, he saw more clearly. The batsman standing ready at the wicket was not one of the England cricket team. He was not one of the Australian cricket team. It was one of the robot Krikkit team. It was a cold, hard, lethal white killer-robot that presumably had not returned to its ship with the others.

  Quite a few thoughts collided in Arthur Dent's mind at this moment, but he didn't seem to be able to stop running. Time seemed to be going terribly, terribly slowly, but still he didn't seem to be able to stop running.

  Movin
g as if through syrup, he slowly turned his troubled head and looked at his own hand, the hand which was holding the small hard red ball.

  His feet were pounding slowly onwards, unstoppably, as he stared at the ball gripped in his helpless hand. It was emitting a deep red glow and flashing intermittently. And still his feet were pounding inexorably forward.

  He looked at the Krikkit robot again standing implacably still and purposefully in front of him, battleclub raised in readiness. Its eyes were burning with a deep cold fascinating light, and Arthur could not move his own eyes from them. He seemed to be looking down a tunnel at them - nothing on either side seemed to exist.

  Some of the thoughts which were colliding in his mind at this time were these:

  He felt a hell of a fool.

  He felt that he should have listened rather more carefully to a number of things he had heard said, phrases which now pounded round in his mind as his feet pounded onwards to the point where he would inevitably release the ball to the Krikkit robot, who would inevitably strike it.

  He remembered Hactar saying, "Have I failed? Failure doesn't bother me."

  He remembered the account of Hactar's dying words, "What's done is done, I have fulfilled my function."

  He remembered Hactar saying that he had managed to make "a few things."

  He remembered the sudden movement in his hold-all that had made him grip it tightly to himself when he was in the Dust Cloud.

  He remembered that he had travelled back in time a couple of days to come to Lord's again.

  He also remembered that he wasn't a very good bowler.

  He felt his arm coming round, gripping tightly on to the ball which he now knew for certain was the supernova bomb that Hactar had built himself and planted on him, the bomb which would cause the Universe to come to an abrupt and premature end.

  He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.

  He would feel very, very embarrassed meeting everybody.

  He hoped, he hoped, he hoped that his bowling was as bad as he remembered it to be, because that seemed to be the only thing now standing between this moment and universal oblivion.

  He felt his legs pounding, he felt his arm coming round, he felt his feet connecting with the airline hold-all he'd stupidly left lying on the ground in front of him, he felt himself falling heavily forward but, having his mind so terribly full of other things at this moment, he completely forgot about hitting the ground and didn't.

  Still holding the ball firmly in his right hand he soared up into the air whimpering with surprise.

  He wheeled and whirled through the air, spinning out of control.

  He twisted down towards the ground, flinging himself hectically through the air, at the same time hurling the bomb harmlessly off into the distance.

  He hurtled towards the astounded robot from behind. It still had its multi-functional battleclub raised, but had suddenly been deprived of anything to hit.

  With a sudden mad access of strength, he wrestled the battleclub from the grip of the startled robot, executed a dazzling banking turn in the air, hurtled back down in a furious power-drive and with one crazy swing knocked the robot's head from the robot's shoulders.

  - Are you coming now? - said Ford.

  Epilogue:

  Life, the Universe and Everything

  And at the end they travelled again.

  There was a time when Arthur Dent would not. He said that the Bistromathic Drive had revealed to him that time and distance were one, that mind and Universe were one, that perception and reality were one, and that the more one travelled the more one stayed in one place, and that what with one thing and another he would rather just stay put for a while and sort it all out in his mind, which was now at one with the Universe so it shouldn't take too long, and he could get a good rest afterwards, put in a little flying practice and learn to cook which he had always meant to do. The can of Greek olive oil was now his most prized possession, and he said that the way it had unexpectedly turned up in his life had again given him a certain sense of the oneness of things which made him feel that...

  He yawned and fell asleep.

  In the morning as they prepared to take him to some quiet and idyllic planet where they wouldn't mind him talking like that they suddenly picked up a computer-driven distress call and diverted to investigate.

  A small but apparently undamaged spacecraft of the Merida class seemed to be dancing a strange little jig through the void. A brief computer scan revealed that the ship was fine, its computer was fine, but that its pilot was mad.

  - Half-mad, half-mad, - the man insisted as they carried him, raving, aboard.

  He was a journalist with the Siderial Daily Mentioner. They sedated him and sent Marvin in to keep him company until he promised to try and talk sense.

  - I was covering a trial, - he said at last, - on Argabuthon.

  He pushed himself up on to his thin wasted shoulders, his eyes stared wildly. His white hair seemed to be waving at someone it knew in the next room.

  - Easy, easy, - said Ford. Trillian put a soothing hand on his shoulder.

  The man sank back down again and stared at the ceiling of the ship's sick bay.

  - The case, - he said, - is now immaterial, but there was a witness... a witness... a man called... called Prak. A strange and difficult man. They were eventually forced to administer a drug to make him tell the truth, a truth drug.

  His eyes rolled helplessly in his head.

  - They gave him too much, - he said in a tiny whimper. - They gave him much too much. - He started to cry. - I thing the robots must have jogged the surgeon's arm.

  - Robots? - said Zaphod sharply. - What robots?

  - Some white robots, - whispered the man hoarsely, - broke into the courtroom and stole the judge's sceptre, the Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice, nasty Perspex thing. I don't know why they wanted it. - He began to cry again. - And I think they jogged the surgeon's arm...

  He shook his head loosely from side to side, helplessly, sadly, his eyes screwed up in pain.

  - And when the trial continued, - he said in a weeping whisper, - they asked Prak a most unfortunate thing. They asked him, - he paused and shivered, - to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. Only, don't you see?

  He suddenly hoisted himself up on to his elbows again and shouted at them.

  - They'd given him much too much of the drug!

  He collapsed again, moaning quietly.

  - Much too much too much too much too...

  The group gathered round his bedside glanced at each other. There were goose pimples on backs.

  - What happened? - said Zaphod at last.

  - Oh, he told it all right, - said the man savagely, - for all I know he's still telling it now. Strange, terrible things... terrible, terrible! - he screamed.

  They tried to calm him, but he struggled to his elbows again.

  - Terrible things, incomprehensible things, - he shouted, - things that would drive a man mad!

  He stared wildly at them.

  - Or in my case, - he said, - half-mad. I'm a journalist.

  - You mean, - said Arthur quietly, - that you are used to confronting the truth?

  - No, - said the man with a puzzled frown. - I mean that I made an excuse and left early.

  He collapsed into a coma from which he recovered only once and briefly.

  On that one occasion, they discovered from him the following:

  When it became clear that Prak could not be stopped, that here was truth in its absolute and final form, the court was cleared.

  Not only cleared, it was sealed up, with Prak still in it. Steel walls were erected around it, and, just to be on the safe side, barbed wire, electric fences, crocodile swamps and three major armies were installed, so that no one would ever have to hear Prak speak.

  - That's a pity, - said Arthur. - I'd like to hear what he had
to say. Presumably he would know what the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer is. It's always bothered me that we never found out.

  - Think of a number, - said the computer, - any number.

  Arthur told the computer the telephone number of King's Cross railway station passenger inquiries, on the grounds that it must have some function, and this might turn out to be it.

  The computer injected the number into the ship's reconstituted Improbability Drive.

  In Relativity, Matter tells Space how to curve, and Space tells Matter how to move.

  The Heart of Gold told space to get knotted, and parked itself neatly within the inner steel perimeter of the Argabuthon Chamber of Law.

  The courtroom was an austere place, a large dark chamber, clearly designed for Justice rather than, for instance, for Pleasure. You wouldn't hold a dinner party here - at least, not a successful one. The decor would get your guests down.

  The ceilings were high, vaulted and very dark. Shadows lurked there with grim determination. The panelling for the walls and benches, the cladding of the heavy pillars, all were carved from the darkest and most severe trees in the fearsome Forest of Arglebard. The massive black Podium of Justice which dominated the centre of the chamber was a monster of gravity. If a sunbeam had ever managed to slink this far into the Justice complex of Argabuthon it would have turned around and slunk straight back out again.

  Arthur and Trillian were the first in, whilst Ford and Zaphod bravely kept a watch on their rear.

  At first it seemed totally dark and deserted. their footsteps echoed hollowly round the chamber. This seemed curious. All the defences were still in position and operative around the outside of the building, they had run scan checks. Therefore, they had assumed, the truth-telling must still be going on.

  But there was nothing.

  Then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they spotted a dull red glow in a corner, and behind the glow a live shadow. They swung a torch round on to it.

  Prak was lounging on a bench, smoking a listless cigarette.

  - Hi, - he said, with a little half-wave. His voice echoed through the chamber. He was a little man with scraggy hair. He sat with his shoulders hunched forward and his head and knees kept jiggling. He took a drag of his cigarette.

  They stared at him.

  - What's going on? - said Trillian.

  - Nothing, - said the man and jiggled his shoulders.

  Arthur shone his torch full on Prak's face.

  - We thought, - he said, - that you were meant to be telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth.

 
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