Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

  - Now I would say that that was also a very curious event, - said Arthur, rapidly closing the bag and pretending to look for the ball on the ground.

  - I don't think it's here, - he said to the small boys who immediately clustered round him to join in the search, - it probably rolled off somewhere. Over there I expect. - He pointed vaguely in the direction in which he wished they would push off. One of the boys looked at him quizzically.

  - You all right? - said the boy.

  - No, - said Arthur.

  - Then why you got a bone in your beard? - said the boy.

  - I'm training it to like being wherever it's put. - Arthur prided himself on saying this. It was, he thought, exactly the sort of thing which would entertain and stimulate young minds.

  - Oh, - said the small boy, putting his head to one side and thinking about it. - What's your name?

  - Dent, - said Arthur, - Arthur Dent.

  - You're a jerk, Dent, - said the boy, - a complete asshole. - The boy looked past him at something else, to show that he wasn't in any particular hurry to run away, and then wandered off scratching his nose. Suddenly Arthur remembered that the Earth was going to be demolished again in two days' time, and just this once didn't feel too bad about it.

  Play resumed with a new ball, the sun continued to shine and Ford continued to jump up and down shaking his head and blinking.

  - Something's on your mind, isn't it? - said Arthur.

  - I think, - said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, - that there's an SEP over there.

  He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again.

  - A what? - he said.

  - An SEP.

  - An S?...

  - ...EP.

  - And what's that?

  - Somebody Else's Problem.

  - Ah, good, - said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't.

  - Over there, - said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch.

  - Where? - said Arthur.

  - There! - said Ford.

  - I see, - said Arthur, who didn't.

  - You do? - said Ford.

  - What? - said Arthur.

  - Can you see, - said Ford patiently, - the SEP?

  - I thought you said that was somebody else's problem.

  - That's right.

  Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity.

  - And I want to know, - said Ford, - if you can see it.

  - You do?

  - Yes.

  - What, - said Arthur, - does it look like?

  - Well, how should I know, you fool? - shouted Ford. - If you can see it, you tell me.

  Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm.

  - An SEP, - he said, - is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.

  - Ah, - said Arthur, - then that's why...

  - Yes, - said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say.'ve been jumping up and...

  - Yes.

  -...down, and blinking...

  - Yes.


  - I think you've got the message.

  - I can see it, - said Arthur, - it's a spaceship.

  For a moment Arthur was stunned by the reaction this revelation provoked. A roar erupted from the crowd, and from every direction people were running, shouting, yelling, tumbling over each other in a tumult of confusion. He stumbled back in astonishment and glanced fearfully around. Then he glanced around again in even greater astonishment.

  - Exciting, isn't it? - said an apparition. The apparition wobbled in front of Arthur's eyes, though the truth of the matter is probably that Arthur's eyes were wobbling in front of the apparition. His mouth wobbled as well.

  - W... w... w... w... - his mouth said.

  - I think your team have just won, - said the apparition.

  - W... w... w... w... - repeated Arthur, and punctuated each wobble with a prod at Ford Prefect's back. Ford was staring at the tumult in trepidation.

  - You are English, aren't you? - said the apparition.

  - W... w... w... w... yes - said Arthur.

  - Well, your team, as I say, have just won. The match. It means they retain the Ashes. You must be very pleased. I must say, I'm rather fond of cricket, though I wouldn't like anyone outside this planet to hear me saying that. Oh dear no.

  The apparition gave what looked as if it might have been a mischievous grin, but it was hard to tell because the sun was directly behind him, creating a blinding halo round his head and illuminating his silver hair and beard in a way which was awesome, dramatic and hard to reconcile with mischievous grins.

  - Still, - he said, - it'll all be over in a couple of days, won't it? Though as I said to you when we last met, I was very sorry about that. Still, whatever will have been, will have been.

  Arthur tried to speak, but gave up the unequal struggle. He prodded Ford again.

  - I thought something terrible had happened, - said Ford, - but it's just the end of the game. We ought to get out. Oh, hello, Slartibartfast, what are you doing here?

  - Oh, pottering, pottering, - said the old man gravely.

  - That your ship? Can you give us a lift anywhere?

  - Patience, patience, - the old man admonished.

  - OK, - said Ford. - It's just that this planet's going to be demolished pretty soon.

  - I know that, - said Slartibartfast.

  - And, well, I just wanted to make that point, - said Ford.

  - The point is taken.

  And if you feel that you really want to hang around a cricket pitch at this point...

  - I do.

  - Then it's your ship.

  - It is.

  - I suppose. - Ford turned away sharply at this point.

  - Hello, Slartibartfast, - said Arthur at last.

  - Hello, Earthman, - said Slartibartfast.

  - After all, - said Ford, - we can only die once.

  The old man ignored this and stared keenly on to the pitch, with eyes that seemed alive with expressions that had no apparent bearing on what was happening out there. What was happening was that the crowd was gathering itself into a wide circle round the centre of the pitch. What Slartibartfast saw in it, he alone knew.

  Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals. He was hoping that somebody would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Noel Coward song called "Mad About the Boy" over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons which he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the "about the boy" bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked.

  - It's just, - he burst out at last, - that if we don't go soon, we might get caught in the middle of it all again. And there's nothing that depresses me more than seeing a planet being destroyed. Except possibly still being on it when it happens. Or, - he added in an undertone, - hanging around cricket matches.

  - Patience, - said Slartibartfast again. - Great things are afoot.

  - That's what you said last time we met, - said Arthur.

  - They were, - said Slartibartfast.

  - Yes, t
hat's true, - admitted Arthur.

  All, however, that seemed to be afoot was a ceremony of some kind. It was being specially staged for the benefit of TV rather than the spectators, and all they could gather about it from where they were standing was what they heard from a nearby radio. Ford was aggressively uninterested.

  He fretted as he heard it explained that the Ashes were about to be presented to the Captain of the English team out there on the pitch, fumed when told that this was because they had now won them for the n'th time, positively barked with annoyance at the information that the Ashes were the remains of a cricket stump, and when, further to this, he was asked to contend with the fact that the cricket stump in question had been burnt in Melbourne, Australia, in 1882, to signify the "death of English cricket", he rounded on Slartibartfast, took a deep breath, but didn't have a chance to say anything because the old man wasn't there. He was marching out on to the pitch with terrible purpose in his gait, his hair, beard and robes swept behind him, looking very much as Moses would have looked if Sinai had been a well-cut lawn instead of, as it is more usually represented, a fiery smoking mountain.

  - He said to meet him at his ship, - said Arthur.

  - What in the name of zarking fardwarks is the old fool doing? - exploded Ford.

  - Meeting us at his ship in two minutes, - said Arthur with a shrug which indicated total abdication of thought. They started off towards it. Strange sounds reached their ears. They tried not to listen, but could not help noticing that Slartibartfast was querulously demanding that he be given the silver urn containing the Ashes, as they were, he said, - vitally important for the past, present and future safety of the Galaxy, - and that this was causing wild hilarity. They resolved to ignore it.

  What happened next they could not ignore. With a noise like a hundred thousand people saying "wop", a steely white spaceship suddenly seemed to create itself out of nothing in the air directly above the cricket pitch and hung there with infinite menace and a slight hum.

  Then for a while it did nothing, as if it expected everybody to go about their normal business and not mind it just hanging there.

  Then it did something quite extraordinary. Or rather, it opened up and let something quite extraordinary come out of it, eleven quite extraordinary things.

  They were robots, white robots.

  What was most extraordinary about them was that they appeared to have come dressed for the occasion. Not only were they white, but they carried what appeared to be cricket bats, and not only that, but they also carried what appeared to be cricket balls, and not only that but they wore white ribbing pads round the lower parts of their legs. These last were extraordinary because they appeared to contain jets which allowed these curiously civilized robots to fly down from their hovering spaceship and start to kill people, which is what they did - Hello, - said Arthur, - something seems to be happening.

  - Get to the ship, - shouted Ford. - I don't want to know, I don't want to see, I don't want to hear, - he yelled as he ran, - this is not my planet, I didn't choose to be here, I don't want to get involved, just get me out of here, and get me to a party, with people I can relate to!

  Smoke and flame billowed from the pitch.

  - Well, the supernatural brigade certainly seems to be out in force here today... - burbled a radio happily to itself.

  - What I need, - shouted Ford, by way of clarifying his previous remarks, - is a strong drink and a peer-group. - He continued to run, pausing only for a moment to grab Arthur's arm and drag him along with him. Arthur had adopted his normal crisis role, which was to stand with his mouth hanging open and let it all wash over him.

  - They're playing cricket, - muttered Arthur, stumbling along after Ford. - I swear they are playing cricket. I do not know why they are doing this, but that is what they are doing. They're not just killing people, they're sending them up, - he shouted, - Ford, they're sending us up!

  It would have been hard to disbelieve this without knowing a great deal more Galactic history than Arthur had so far managed to pick up in his travels. The ghostly but violent shapes that could be seen moving within the thick pall of smoke seemed to be performing a series of bizarre parodies of batting strokes, the difference being that every ball they struck with their bats exploded wherever it landed. The very first one of these had dispelled Arthur's initial reaction, that the whole thing might just be a publicity stunt by Australian margarine manufacturers.

  And then, as suddenly as it had all started, it was over. The eleven white robots ascended through the seething cloud in a tight formation, and with a few last flashes of flame entered the bowels of their hovering white ship, which, with the noise of a hundred thousand people saying "foop", promptly vanished into the thin air out of which it had wopped.

  For a moment there was a terrible stunned silence, and then out of the drifting smoke emerged the pale figure of Slartibartfast looking even more like Moses because in spite of the continued absence of the mountain he was at least now striding across a fiery and smoking well-mown lawn.

  He stared wildly about him until he saw the hurrying figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect forcing their way through the frightened crowd which was for the moment busy stampeding in the opposite direction. The crowd was clearly thinking to itself about what an unusual day this was turning out to be, and not really knowing which way, if any, to turn.

  Slartibartfast was gesturing urgently at Ford and Arthur and shouting at them, as the three of them gradually converged on his ship, still parked behind the sight-screens and still apparently unnoticed by the crowd stampeding past it who presumably had enough of their own problems to cope with at that time.

  - They've garble warble farble! - shouted Slartibartfast in his thin tremulous voice.

  - What did he say? - panted Ford as he elbowed his way onwards.

  Arthur shook his head.

  - "They've..." something or other, - he said.

  - They've table warble farble! - shouted Slartibartfast again.

  Ford and Arthur shook their heads at each other.

  - It sounds urgent, - said Arthur. He stopped and shouted.

  - What?

  - They've garble warble fashes! - cried Slartibartfast, still waving at them.

  - He says, - said Arthur, - that they've taken the Ashes. That is what I think he says. - They ran on.

  - The?... - said Ford.

  - Ashes, - said Arthur tersely. - The burnt remains of a cricket stump. It's a trophy. That... - he was panting, - is... apparently... what they... have come and taken. - He shook his head very slightly as if he was trying to get his brain to settle down lower in his skull.

  - Strange thing to want to tell us, - snapped Ford.

  - Strange thing to take.

  - Strange ship.

  They had arrived at it. The second strangest thing about the ship was watching the Somebody Else's Problem field at work. They could now clearly see the ship for what it was simply because they knew it was there. It was quite apparent, however, that nobody else could. This wasn't because it was actually invisible or anything hyper-impossible like that. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. The ultra-famous sciento-magician Effrafax of Wug once bet his life that, given a year, he could render the great megamountain Magramal entirely invisible.

  Having spent most of the year jiggling around with immense Lux-O-Valves and Refracto-Nullifiers and Spectrum-Bypass-O-Matics, he realized, with nine hours to go, that he wasn't going to make it.

  So, he and his friends, and his friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends' friends, and some rather less good friends of theirs who happened to own a major stellar trucking company, put in what now is widely recognized as being
the hardest night's work in history, and, sure enough, on the following day, Magramal was no longer visible. Effrafax lost his bet - and therefore his life - simply because some pedantic adjudicating official noticed (a) that when walking around the area that Magramal ought to be he didn't trip over or break his nose on anything, and (b) a suspicious-looking extra moon.

  The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

  And this is precisely what was happening with Slartibartfast's ship. It wasn't pink, but if it had been, that would have been the least of its visual problems and people were simply ignoring it like anything.

  The most extraordinary thing about it was that it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.

  Ford and Arthur gazed up at it with wonderment and deeply offended sensibilities.

  - Yes, I know, - said Slartibartfast, hurrying up to them at that point, breathless and agitated, - but there is a reason. Come, we must go. The ancient nightmare is come again. Doom confronts us all. We must leave at once.

  - I fancy somewhere sunny, - said Ford.

  Ford and Arthur followed Slartibartfast into the ship and were so perplexed by what they saw inside it that they were totally unaware of what happened next outside.

  A spaceship, yet another one, but this one sleek and silver, descended from the sky on to the pitch, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology.

  It landed gently. It extended a short ramp. A tall grey-green figure marched briskly out and approached the small knot of people who were gathered in the centre of the pitch tending to the casualties of the recent bizarre massacre. It moved people aside with quiet, understated authority, and came at last to a man lying in a desperate pool of blood, clearly now beyond the reach of any Earthly medicine, breathing, coughing his last. The figure knelt down quietly beside him.

  - Arthur Philip Deodat? - asked the figure.

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