Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

  - The wash? - said Arthur.

  - The space-time wash, - said Ford, and as the wind blew briefly past at that moment, he bared his teeth into it.

  Arthur nodded, and then cleared his throat.

  - Are we talking about, - he asked cautiously, - some sort of Vogon laundromat, or what are we talking about?

  - Eddies, - said Ford, - in the space-time continuum.

  - Ah, - nodded Arthur, - is he? Is he? - He pushed his hands into the pocket of his dressing gown and looked knowledgeably into the distance.

  - What? - said Ford.

  - Er, who, - said Arthur, - is Eddy, then, exactly?

  Ford looked angrily at him.

  - Will you listen? - he snapped.

  - I have been listening, - said Arthur, - but I'm not sure it's helped.

  Ford grasped him by the lapels of his dressing gown and spoke to him as slowly and distinctly and patiently as if he were somebody from a telephone company accounts department.

  - There seem... - he said, - to be some pools... - he said, - of instability... - he said, - in the fabric... - he said...

  Arthur looked foolishly at the cloth of his dressing gown where Ford was holding it. Ford swept on before Arthur could turn the foolish look into a foolish remark. the fabric of space-time, - he said.

  - Ah, that, - said Arthur.

  - Yes, that, - confirmed Ford.

  They stood there alone on a hill on prehistoric Earth and stared each other resolutely in the face.

  - And it's done what? - said Arthur.

  - It, - said Ford, - has developed pools of instability.

  - Has it? - said Arthur, his eyes not wavering for a moment.

  - It has, - said Ford with a similar degree of ocular immobility.

  - Good, - said Arthur.

  - See? - said Ford.

  - No, - said Arthur.

  There was a quiet pause.

  - The difficulty with this conversation, - said Arthur after a sort of pondering look had crawled slowly across his face like a mountaineer negotiating a tricky outcrop, - is that it's very different from most of the ones I've had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees. They weren't like this. Except perhaps some of the ones I've had with elms which sometimes get a bit bogged down.

  - Arthur, - said Ford.

  - Hello? Yes? - said Arthur.

  - Just believe everything I tell you, and it will all be very, very simple.

  - Ah, well I'm not sure I believe that.

  They sat down and composed their thoughts.

  Ford got out his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. It was making vague humming noises and a tiny light on it was flickering faintly.

  - Flat battery? - said Arthur.

  - No, - said Ford, - there is a moving disturbance in the fabric of space-time, an eddy, a pool of instability, and it's somewhere in our vicinity.

  - Where?

  Ford moved the device in a slow lightly bobbing semi-circle. Suddenly the light flashed.

  - There! - said Ford, shooting out his arm. - There, behind that sofa!

  Arthur looked. Much to his surprise, there was a velvet paisleycovered Chesterfield sofa in the field in front of them. He boggled intelligently at it. Shrewd questions sprang into his mind.

  - Why, - he said, - is there a sofa in that field?

  - I told you! - shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. - Eddies in the space-time continuum!

  - And this is his sofa, is it? - asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses.

  - Arthur! - shouted Ford at him, - that sofa is there because of the space-time instability I've been trying to get your terminally softened brain to get to grips with. It's been washed out of the continuum, it's space-time jetsam, it doesn't matter what it is, we've got to catch it, it's our only way out of here!

  He scrambled rapidly down the rocky outcrop and made off across the field.

  - Catch it? - muttered Arthur, then frowned in bemusement as he saw that the Chesterfield was lazily bobbing and wafting away across the grass.

  With a whoop of utterly unexpected delight he leapt down the rock and plunged off in hectic pursuit of Ford Prefect and the irrational piece of furniture.

  They careered wildly through the grass, leaping, laughing, shouting instructions to each other to head the thing off this way or that way. The sun shone dreamily on the swaying grass, tiny field animals scattered crazily in their wake.

  Arthur felt happy. He was terribly pleased that the day was for once working out so much according to plan. Only twenty minutes ago he had decided he would go mad, and now he was already chasing a Chesterfield sofa across the fields of prehistoric Earth.

  The sofa bobbed this way and that and seemed simultaneously to be as solid as the trees as it drifted past some of them and hazy as a billowing dream as it floated like a ghost through others.

  Ford and Arthur pounded chaotically after it, but it dodged and weaved as if following its own complex mathematical topography, which it was. Still they pursued, still it danced and span, and suddenly turned and dipped as if crossing the lip of a catastrophe graph, and they were practically on top of it. With a heave and a shout they leapt on it, the sun winked out, they fell through a sickening nothingness, and emerged unexpectedly in the middle of the pitch at Lord's Cricked Ground, St John's Wood, London, towards the end of the last Test Match of the Australian Series in the year 198-, with England needing only twenty-eight runs to win.

  Chapter 3

  Important facts from Galactic history, number one:

  (Reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.)

  The night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe.

  Chapter 4

  It was a charming and delightful day at Lord's as Ford and Arthur tumbled haphazardly out of a space-time anomaly and hit the immaculate turf rather hard.

  The applause of the crowd was tremendous. It wasn't for them, but instinctively they bowed anyway, which was fortunate because the small red heavy ball which the crowd actually had been applauding whistled mere millimetres over Arthur's head. In the crowd a man collapsed.

  They threw themselves back to the ground which seemed to spin hideously around them.

  - What was that? - hissed Arthur.

  - Something red, - hissed Ford back at him.

  - Where are we?

  - Er, somewhere green.

  - Shapes, - muttered Arthur. - I need shapes.

  The applause of the crowd had been rapidly succeeded by gasps of astonishment, and the awkward titters of hundreds of people who could not yet make up their minds about whether to believe what they had just seen or not.

  - This your sofa? - said a voice.

  - What was that? - whispered Ford.

  Arthur looked up.

  - Something blue, - he said.

  - Shape? - said Ford.

  Arthur looked again.

  - It is shaped, - he hissed at Ford, with his brow savagely furrowing, - like a policeman.

  They remained crouched there for a few moments, frowning deeply. The blue thing shaped like a policeman tapped them both on the shoulders.

  - Come on, you two, - the shape said, - let's be having you.

  These words had an electrifying effect on Arthur. He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring and shot a series of startled glanced at the panorama around him which had suddenly settled down into something of quite terrifying ordinariness.

  - Where did you get this from? - he yelled at the policeman shape.

  - What did you say? - said the startled shape.

  - This is Lord's Cricket Ground, isn't it? - snapped Arthur. - Where did you find it, how did you get it here? I think, - he added, clasping his hand to his brow, - that I had better calm down. - He squatted down abruptly in front of Ford.

  - It is a policeman, - he said, - What do we do?

rd shrugged.

  - What do you want to do? - he said.

  - I want you, - said Arthur, - to tell me that I have been dreaming for the last five years.

  Ford shrugged again, and obliged.

  - You've been dreaming for the last five years, - he said.

  Arthur got to his feet.

  - It's all right, officer, - he said. - I've been dreaming for the last five years. Ask him, - he added, pointing at Ford, - he was in it.

  Having said this, he sauntered off towards the edge of the pitch, brushing down his dressing gown. He then noticed his dressing gown and stopped. He stared at it. He flung himself at the policeman.

  - So where did I get these clothes from? - he howled.

  He collapsed and lay twitching on the grass.

  Ford shook his head.

  - He's had a bad two million years, - he said to the policeman, and together they heaved Arthur on to the sofa and carried him off the pitch and were only briefly hampered by the sudden disappearance of the sofa on the way.

  Reaction to all this from the crowd were many and various. Most of them couldn't cope with watching it, and listened to it on the radio instead.

  - Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian, - said one radio commentator to another. - I don't think there have been any mysterious materializations on the pitch since, oh since, well I don't think there have been any - have there? - that I recall?

  - Edgbaston, 1932?

  - Ah, now what happened then...

  - Well, Peter, I think it was Canter facing Willcox coming up to bowl from the pavilion end when a spectator suddenly ran straight across the pitch.

  There was a pause while the first commentator considered this.

  - Ye... e... s... - he said, - yes, there's nothing actually very mysterious about that, is there? He didn't actually materialize, did he? Just ran on.

  - No, that's true, but he did claim to have seen something materialize on the pitch.

  - Ah, did he?

  - Yes. An alligator, I think, of some description.

  - Ah. And had anyone else noticed it?

  - Apparently not. And no one was able to get a very detailed description from him, so only the most perfunctory search was made.

  - And what happened to the man?

  - Well, I think someone offered to take him off and give him some lunch, but he explained that he'd already had a rather good one, so the matter was dropped and Warwickshire went on to win by three wickets.

  - So, not very like this current instance. For those of you who've just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er... two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa - a Chesterfield I think?

  - Yes, a Chesterfield.

  - Have just materialized here in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground. But I don't think they meant any harm, they've been very good-natured about it, and...

  - Sorry, can I interrupt you a moment Peter and say that the sofa has just vanished.

  - So it has. Well, that's one mystery less. Still, it's definitely one for the record books I think, particularly occurring at this dramatic moment in play, England now needing only twenty-four runs to win the series. The men are leaving the pitch in the company of a police officer, and I think everyone's settling down now and play is about to resume.

  - Now, sir, - said the policeman after they had made a passage through the curious crowd and laid Arthur's peacefully inert body on a blanket, - perhaps you'd care to tell me who you are, where you come from, and what that little scene was all about?

  Ford looked at the ground for a moment as if steadying himself for something, then he straightened up and aimed a look at the policeman which hit him with the full force of every inch of the six hundred light-years' distance between Earth and Ford's home near Betelgeuse.

  - All right, - said Ford, very quietly, - I'll tell you.

  - Yes, well, that won't be necessary, - said the policeman hurriedly, - just don't let whatever it was happen again. - The policeman turned around and wandered off in search of anyone who wasn't from Betelgeuse. Fortunately, the ground was full of them.

  Arthur's consciousness approached his body as from a great distance, and reluctantly. It had had some bad times in there. Slowly, nervously, it entered and settled down in to its accustomed position.

  Arthur sat up.

  - Where am I? - he said.

  - Lord's Cricket Ground, - said Ford.

  - Fine, - said Arthur, and his consciousness stepped out again for a quick breather. His body flopped back on the grass.

  Ten minutes later, hunched over a cup of tea in the refreshment tent, the colour started to come back to his haggard face.

  - How're you feeling? - said Ford.

  - I'm home, - said Arthur hoarsely. He closed his eyes and greedily inhaled the steam from his tea as if it was - well, as far as Arthur was concerned, as if it was tea, which it was.

  - I'm home, - he repeated, - home. It's England, it's today, the nightmare is over. - He opened his eyes again and smiled serenely. - I'm where I belong, - he said in an emotional whisper.

  - There are two things I fell which I should tell you, - said Ford, tossing a copy of the Guardian over the table at him.

  - I'm home, - said Arthur.

  - Yes, - said Ford. - One is, - he said pointing at the date at the top of the paper, - that the Earth will be demolished in two days' time.

  - I'm home, - said Arthur. - Tea, - he said, - cricket, - he added with pleasure, - mown grass, wooden benches, white linen jackets, beer cans...

  Slowly he began to focus on the newspaper. He cocked his head on one side with a slight frown.

  - I've seen that one before, - he said. His eyes wandered slowly up to the date, which Ford was idly tapping at. His face froze for a second or two and then began to do that terribly slow crashing trick which Arctic ice-floes do so spectacularly in the spring.

  - And the other thing, - said Ford, - is that you appear to have a bone in your beard. - He tossed back his tea.

  Outside the refreshment tent, the sun was shining on a happy crowd. It shone on white hats and red faces. It shone on ice lollies and melted them. It shone on the tears of small children whose ice lollies had just melted and fallen off the stick. It shone on the trees, it flashed off whirling cricket bats, it gleamed off the utterly extraordinary object which was parked behind the sight-screens and which nobody appeared to have noticed. It beamed on Ford and Arthur as they emerged blinking from the refreshment tent and surveyed the scene around them.

  Arthur was shaking.

  - Perhaps, - he said, - I should...

  - No, - said Ford sharply.

  - What? - said Arthur.

  - Don't try and phone yourself up at home.

  - How did you know?...

  Ford shrugged.

  - But why not? - said Arthur.

  - People who talk to themselves on the phone, - said Ford, - never learn anything to their advantage.

  - But...

  - Look, - said Ford. He picked up an imaginary phone and dialled an imaginary dial.

  - Hello? - he said into the imaginary mouthpiece. - Is that Arthur Dent? Ah, hello, yes. This is Arthur Dent speaking. Don't hang up.

  He looked at the imaginary mouthpiece in disappointment.

  - He hung up, - he said, shrugged, and put the imaginary phone neatly back on its imaginary hook.

  - This is not my first temporal anomaly, - he added.

  A glummer look replaced the already glum look on Arthur Dent's face.

  - So we're not home and dry, - he said.

  - We could not even be said, - replied Ford, - to be home and vigorously towelling ourselves off.

  The game continued. The bowler approached the wicket at a lope, a trot, and then a run. He suddenly exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, out of which flew a ball. The batsman swung and thwacked it behind him over the sight-screens. Ford's eyes followed the trajectory of the ball and jogged momentarily. He stiffened. He looked along the fli
ght path of the ball again and his eyes twitched again.

  - This isn't my towel, - said Arthur, who was rummaging in his rabbit-skin bag.

  - Shhh, - said Ford. He screwed his eyes up in concentration.

  - I had a Golgafrinchan jogging towel, - continued Arthur, - it was blue with yellow stars on it. This isn't it.

  - Shhh, - said Ford again. He covered one eye and looked with the other.

  - This one's pink, - said Arthur, - it isn't yours is it?

  - I would like you to shut up about your towel, - said Ford.

  - It isn't my towel, - insisted Arthur, - that is the point I am trying to...

  - And the time at which I would like you to shut up about it, continued Ford in a low growl, - is now.

  - All right, - said Arthur, starting to stuff it back into the primitively stitched rabbit-skin bag. - I realize that it is probably not important in the cosmic scale of things, it's just odd, that's all. A pink towel suddenly, instead of a blue one with yellow stars.

  Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to behave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved. What he was doing was this. Regardless of the bemused stares it was provoking from his fellow members of the crowd gathered round the pitch, he was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot. After a moment or two of this he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that's not sure whether it's just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.

  - This isn't my bag either, - said Arthur suddenly.

  Ford's spell of concentration was broken. He turned angrily on Arthur.

  - I wasn't talking about my towel, - said Arthur. - We've established that that isn't mine. It's just that the bag into which I was putting the towel which is not mine is also not mine, though it is extraordinarily similar. Now personally I think that that is extremely odd, especially as the bag was one I made myself on prehistoric Earth. These are also not my stones, - he added, pulling a few flat grey stones out of the bag. - I was making a collection of interesting stones and these are clearly very dull ones.

  A roar of excitement thrilled through the crowd and obliterated whatever it was that Ford said in reply to this piece of information. The cricket ball which had excited this reaction fell out of the sky and dropped neatly into Arthur's mysterious rabbit-skin bag.

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