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Chapter Twenty-eight

It was a long time before anyone spoke.

Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea of tense expectant faces down in the square outside.

``We're going to get lynched aren't we?'' he whispered.

``It was a tough assignment,'' said Deep Thought mildly.

``Forty-two!'' yelled Loonquawl. ``Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?''

``I checked it very thoroughly,'' said the computer, ``and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is.''

``But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything!'' howled Loonquawl.

``Yes,'' said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, ``but what actually is it?''

A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.

``Well, you know, it's just Everything ... Everything ...'' offered Phouchg weakly.

``Exactly!'' said Deep Thought. ``So once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means.''

``Oh terrific,'' muttered Phouchg flinging aside his notebook and wiping away a tiny tear.

``Look, alright, alright,'' said Loonquawl, ``can you just please tell us the Question?''

``The Ultimate Question?''

``Yes!''

``Of Life, the Universe, and Everything?''

``Yes!''

Deep Thought pondered this for a moment.

``Tricky,'' he said.

``But can you do it?'' cried Loonquawl.

Deep Thought pondered this for another long moment.

Finally: ``No,'' he said firmly.

Both men collapsed on to their chairs in despair.

``But I'll tell you who can,'' said Deep Thought.

They both looked up sharply.

``Who?'' ``Tell us!''

Suddenly Arthur began to feel his apparently non-existent scalp begin to crawl as he found himself moving slowly but inexorably forward towards the console, but it was only a dramatic zoom on the part of whoever had made the recording he assumed.

``I speak of none other than the computer that is to come after me,'' intoned Deep Thought, his voice regaining its accustomed declamatory tones. ``A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate --- and yet I will design it for you. A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix. And you yourselves shall take on new forms and go down into the computer to navigate its ten-million-year program! Yes! I shall design this computer for you. And I shall name it also unto you. And it shall be called ... The Earth.''

Phouchg gaped at Deep Thought.

``What a dull name,'' he said and great incisions appeared down the length of his body. Loonquawl too suddenly sustained horrific gashed from nowhere. The Computer console blotched and cracked, the walls flickered and crumbled and the room crashed upwards into its own ceiling ...

Slartibartfast was standing in front of Arthur holding the two wires.

``End of the tape,'' he explained.


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