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Chapter Fourteen

The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on conventional photon drive. Its crew of four were ill at ease knowing that they had been brought together not of their own volition or by simple coincidence, but by some curious principle of physics --- as if relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed the relationships between atoms and molecules.

As the ship's artificial night closed in they were each grateful to retire to separate cabins and try to rationalize their thoughts.

Trillian couldn't sleep. She sat on a couch and stared at a small cage which contained her last and only links with Earth --- two white mice that she had insisted Zaphod let her bring. She had expected not to see the planet again, but she was disturbed by her negative reaction to the planet's destruction. It seemed remote and unreal and she could find no thoughts to think about it. She watched the mice scurrying round the cage and running furiously in their little plastic treadwheels till they occupied her whole attention. Suddenly she shook herself and went back to the bridge to watch over the tiny flashing lights and figures that charted the ship's progress through the void. She wished she knew what it was she was trying not to think about.

Zaphod couldn't sleep. He also wished he knew what it was that he wouldn't let himself think about. For as long as he could remember he'd suffered from a vague nagging feeling of being not all there. Most of the time he was able to put this thought aside and not worry about it, but it had been re-awakened by the sudden inexplicable arrival of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Somehow it seemed to conform to a pattern that he couldn't see.

Ford couldn't sleep. He was too excited about being back on the road again. Fifteen years of virtual imprisonment were over, just as he was finally beginning to give up hope. Knocking about with Zaphod for a bit promised to be a lot of fun, though there seemed to be something faintly odd about his semi-cousin that he couldn't put his finger on. The fact that he had become President of the Galaxy was frankly astonishing, as was the manner of his leaving the post. Was there a reason behind it? There would be no point in asking Zaphod, he never appeared to have a reason for anything he did at all: he had turned unfathomably into an art form. He attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

Arthur slept: he was terribly tired.

There was a tap at Zaphod's door. It slid open.

``Zaphod ...?''

``Yeah?''

``I think we just found what you came to look for.''

``Hey, yeah?''

Ford gave up the attempt to sleep. In the corner of his cabin was a small computer screen and keyboard. He sat at it for a while and tried to compose a new entry for the Guide on the subject of Vogons but couldn't think of anything vitriolic enough so he gave that up too, wrapped a robe round himself and went for a walk to the bridge.

As he entered he was surprised to see two figures hunched excitedly over the instruments.

``See? The ship's about to move into orbit,'' Trillian was saying. ``There's a planet out there. It's at the exact coordinates you predicted.''

Zaphod heard a noise and looked up.

``Ford!'' he hissed. ``Hey, come and take a look at this.''

Ford went and had a look at it. It was a series of figures flashing over a screen.

``You recognize those Galactic coordinates?'' said Zaphod.

``No.''

``I'll give you a clue. Computer!''

``Hi gang!'' enthused the computer. ``This is getting real sociable isn't it?''

``Shut up,'' said Zaphod, ``and show up the screens.''

Light on the bridge sank. Pinpoints of light played across the consoles and reflected in four pairs of eyes that stared up at the external monitor screens.

There was absolutely nothing on them.

``Recognize that?'' whispered Zaphod.

Ford frowned.

``Er, no,'' he said.

``What do you see?''

``Nothing.''

``Recognize it?''

``What are you talking about?''

``We're in the Horsehead Nebula. One whole vast dark cloud.''

``And I was meant to recognize that from a blank screen?''

``Inside a dark nebula is the only place in the Galaxy you'd see a dark screen.''

``Very good.''

Zaphod laughed. He was clearly very excited about something, almost childishly so.

``Hey, this is really terrific, this is just far too much!''

``What's so great about being stuck in a dust cloud?'' said Ford.

``What would you reckon to find here?'' urged Zaphod.

``Nothing.''

``No stars? No planets?''

``No.''

``Computer!'' shouted Zaphod, ``rotate angle of vision through one-eighty degrees and don't talk about it!''

For a moment it seemed that nothing was happening, then a brightness glowed at the edge of the huge screen. A red star the size of a small plate crept across it followed quickly by another one --- a binary system. Then a vast crescent sliced into the corner of the picture --- a red glare shading away into the deep black, the night side of the planet.

``I've found it!'' cried Zaphod, thumping the console. ``I've found it!''

Ford stared at it in astonishment.

``What is it?'' he said.

``That ...'' said Zaphod, ``is the most improbable planet that ever existed.''


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