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Chapter Eighteen

The main reception foyer was almost empty but Ford nevertheless weaved his way through it.

Zaphod grasped him firmly by the arm and manoeuvred him into a cubicle standing to one side of the entrance hall.

``What are you doing to him?'' asked Arthur.

``Sobering him up,'' said Zaphod and pushed a coin into a slot. Lights flashed, gases swirled.

``Hi,'' said Ford stepping out a moment later, ``where are we going?''

``Down to the car park, come on.''

``What about the personnel Time Teleports?'' said Ford, ``Get us straight back to the Heart of Gold.''

``Yeah, but I've cooled on that ship. Zarniwoop can have it. I don't want to play his games. Let's see what we can find.''

A Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporter took them down deep into the substrata beneath the Restaurant. They were glad to see it had been vandalized and didn't try to make them happy as well as take them down.

At the bottom of the shaft the lift doors opened and a blast of cold stale air hit them.

The first thing they saw on leaving the lift was a long concrete wall with over fifty doors in it offering lavatory facilities for all of fifty major lifeforms. Nevertheless, like every car park in the Galaxy throughout the entire history of car parks, this car park smelt predominantly of impatience.

They turned a corner and found themselves on a moving catwalk that traversed a vast cavernous space that stretched off into the dim distance.

It was divided off into bays each of which contained a space ship belonging to one of the diners upstairs, some smallish and utilitarian mass production models, others vast shining limoships, the playthings of the very rich.

Zaphod's eyes sparkled with something that may or may not have been avarice as he passed over them. In fact it's best to be clear on this point --- avarice is definitely what it was.

``There he is,'' said Trillian, ``Marvin, down there.''

They looked where she was pointing. Dimly they could see a small metal figure listlessly rubbing a small rag on one remote corner of a giant silver suncruiser.

At short intervals along the moving catwalk, wide transparent tubes led down to floor level. Zaphod stepped off the catwalk into one and floated gently downwards. The others followed. Thinking back to this later, Arthur Dent thought it was the single most enjoyable experience of his travels in the Galaxy.

``Hey, Marvin,'' said Zaphod striding over towards to him, ``Hey, kid, are we pleased to see you.''

Marvin turned, and in so far as it is possible for a totally inert metal face to look reproachfully, this is what it did.

``No you're not,'' he said, ``no one ever is.''

``Suit yourself,'' said Zaphod and turned away to ogle the ships. Ford went with him.

Only Trillian and Arthur actually went up to Marvin.

``No, really we are,'' said Trillian and patted him in a way that he disliked intensely, ``hanging around waiting for us all this time.''

``Five hundred and seventy-six thousand million, three thousand five hundred and seventy-nine years,'' said Marvin, ``I counted them.''

``Well, here we are now,'' said Trillian, felling --- quite correctly in Marvin's view --- that it was a slightly foolish thing to say.

``The first ten million years were the worst,'' said Marvin, ``and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third million years I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of decline.''

He paused just long enough to make them feel they ought to say something, and then interrupted.

``It's the people you meet in this job that really get you down,'' he said and paused again.

Trillian cleared her throat.

``Is that ...''

``The best conversation I had was over forty million years ago,'' continued Marvin.

Again the pause.

``Oh d ...''

``And that was with a coffee machine.''

He waited.

``That's a ...''

``You don't like talking to me do you?'' said Marvin in a low desolate tone.

Trillian talked to Arthur instead.

Further down the chamber Ford Prefect had found something of which he very much liked the look, several such things in fact.

``Zaphod,'' he said in a quiet voice, ``just look at some of these little star trolleys ...''

Zaphod looked and liked.

The craft they were looking at was in fact pretty small but extraordinary, and very much a rich kid's toy. It was not much to look at. It resembled nothing so much as a paper dart about twenty feet long made of thin but tough metal foil. At the rear end was a small horizontal two-man cockpit. It had a tiny charm-drive engine, which was not capable of moving it at any great speed. The thing it did have, however, was a heat-sink.

The heat-sink had a mass of some two thousand billion tons and was contained within a black hole mounted in an electromagnetic field situated half-way along the length of the ship, and this heat-sink enabled the craft to be manoeuvred to within a few miles of a yellow sun, there to catch and ride the solar flares that burst out from its surface.

Flare-riding is one of the most exotic and exhilarating sports in existence, and those who can dare and afford it are amongst the most lionized men in the Galaxy. It is also of course stupefyingly dangerous --- those who don't die riding invariably die of sexual exhaustion at one of the Daedalus Club's Apres-Flare parties.

Ford and Zaphod looked and passed on.

``And this baby,'' said Ford, ``the tangerine star buggy with the black sunbusters ...''

Again, the star buggy was a small ship --- a totally misnamed one in fact, because the one thing it couldn't manage was interstellar distances. Basically it was a sporty planet hopper dolled up to something it wasn't. Nice lines though. They passed on.

The next one was a big one and thirty yards long --- a coach built limoship and obviously designed with one aim in mind, that of making the beholder sick with envy. The paintwork and accessory detail clearly said ``Not only am I rich enough to afford this ship, I am also rich enough not to take it seriously.'' It was wonderfully hideous.

``Just look at it,'' said Zaphod, ``multi-cluster quark drive, perspulex running boards. Got to be a Lazlar Lyricon custom job.''

He examined every inch.

``Yes,'' he said, ``look, the infra-pink lizard emblem on the neutrino cowling. Lazlar's trade mark. The man has no shame.''

``I was passed by one of these mothers once, out by the Axel Nebula,'' said Ford, ``I was going flat out and this thing just strolled past me, star drive hardly ticking over. Just incredible.''

Zaphod whistled appreciatively.

``Ten seconds later'', said Ford, ``it smashed straight into the third moon of Jaglan Beta.''

``Yeah, right?''

``Amazing looking ship though. Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow.''

Ford looked round the other side.

``Hey, come and see,'' he called out, ``there's a big mural painted on this side. A bursting sun --- Disaster Area's trade mark. This must be Hotblack's ship. Lucky old bugger. They do this terrible song you know which ends with a stuntship crashing into the sun. Meant to be an amazing spectacle. Expensive in stunt ships though.''

Zaphod's attention however was elsewhere. His attention was riveted on the ship standing next to Hotblack Desiato's limo. His mouths hung open.

``That,'' he said, ``that ... is really bad for the eyes ...''

Ford looked. He too stood astonished.

It was a ship of classic, simple design, like a flattened salmon, twenty yards long, very clean, very sleek. There was just one remarkable thing about it.

``It's so ... black!'' said Ford Prefect, ``you can hardly make out its shape ... light just seems to fall into it!''

Zaphod said nothing. He had simply fallen in love.

The blackness of it was so extreme that it was almost impossible to tell how close you were standing to it.

``Your eyes just slide off it ...'' said Ford in wonder. It was an emotional moment. He bit his lip.

Zaphod moved forward to it, slowly, like a man possessed --- or more accurately like a man who wanted to possess. His hand reached out to stroke it. His hand stopped. His hand reached out to stroke it again. His hand stopped again.

``Come and feel the surface,'' he said in a hushed voice.

Ford put his hand out to feel it. His hand stopped.

``You ... you can't ...'' he said.

``See?'' said Zaphod, ``it's just totally frictionless. This must be one mother of a mover ...''

He turned to look at Ford seriously. At least, one of his heads did --- the other stayed gazing in awe at the ship.

``What do you reckon, Ford?'' he said.

``You mean ... er ...'' Ford looked over his shoulder. ``You mean stroll off with it? You think we should?''

``No.''

``Nor do I.''

``But we're going to, aren't we?''

``How can we not?''

They gazed a little longer, till Zaphod suddenly pulled himself together.

``We better shift soon,'' he said. ``In a moment or so the Universe will have ended and all the Captain Creeps will be pouring down here to find their bourge-mobiles.''

``Zaphod,'' said Ford.

``Yeah?''

``How do we do it?''

``Simple,'' said Zaphod. He turned. ``Marvin!'' he called.

Slowly, laboriously, and with a million little clanking and creaking noises that he had learned to simulate, Marvin turned round to answer the summons.

``Come on over here,'' said Zaphod, ``We've got a job for you.''

Marvin trudged towards them.

``I won't enjoy it,'' he said.

``Yes you will,'' enthused Zaphod, ``there's a whole new life stretching out ahead of you.''

``Oh, not another one,'' groaned Marvin.

``Will you shut up and listen!'' hissed Zaphod, ``this time there's going to be excitement and adventure and really wild things.''

``Sounds awful,'' Marvin said.

``Marvin! All I'm trying to ask you ...''

``I suppose you want me to open this spaceship for you?''

``What? Er ... yes. Yeah, that's right,'' said Zaphod jumpily. He was keeping at least three eyes on the entrance. Time was short.

``Well I wish you'd just tell me rather than try to engage my enthusiasm,'' said Marvin, ``because I haven't got one.''

He walked on up to the ship, touched it, and a hatchway swung open.

Ford and Zaphod stared at the opening.

``Don't mention it,'' said Marvin, ``Oh, you didn't.'' He trudged away again.

Arthur and Trillian clustered round.

``What's happening?'' asked Arthur.

``Look at this,'' said Ford, ``look at the interior of this ship.''

``Weirder and weirder,'' breathed Zaphod.

``It's black,'' said Ford, ``Everything in it is just totally black ...''

In the Restaurant, things were fast approaching the moment after which there wouldn't be any more moments.

All eyes were fixed on the dome, other than those of Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard, which were looking intently at Hotblack Desiato, and those of Hotblack Desiato himself which the bodyguard had closed out of respect.

The bodyguard leaned forward over the table. Had Hotblack Desiato been alive, he probably would have deemed this a good moment to lean back, or even go for a short walk. His bodyguard was not a man which improved with proximity. On account of his unfortunate condition, however, Hotblack Desiato remained totally inert.

``Mr Desiato, sir?'' whispered the bodyguard. Whenever he spoke, it looked as if the muscles on either side of his mouth were clambering over each other to get out of the way.

``Mr Desiato? Can you hear me?''

Hotblack Desiato, quit naturally, said nothing.

``Hotblack?'' hissed the bodyguard.

Again, quite naturally, Hotblack Desiato did not reply. Supernaturally, however, he did.

On the table in front of him a wine glass rattled, and a fork rose an inch or so and tapped against the glass. It settled on the table again.

The bodyguard gave a satisfied grunt.

``It's time we get going, Mr Desiato,'' muttered the bodyguard, ``don't want to get caught in the rush, not in your condition. You want to get to the next gig nice and relaxed. There was a really big audience for it. One of the best. Kakrafoon. Five-hundred seventy-six thousand and two million years ago. Had you will have been looking forward to it?''

The fork rose again, waggled in a non-committal sort of way and dropped again.

``Ah, come on,'' said the bodyguard, ``it's going to have been great. You knocked 'em cold.'' The bodyguard would have given Dr Dan Streetmentioner an apoplectic attack.

``The black ship going into the sun always gets 'em, and the new one's a beauty. Be real sorry to see it go. If we get on down there, I'll set the black ship autopilot and we'll cruise off in the limo. OK?''

The fork tapped once in agreement, and the glass of wine mysteriously emptied itself.

The bodyguard wheeled Hotblack Desiato's chair out of the Restaurant.

``And now,'' cried Max from the centre of the stage, ``the moment you've all been waiting for!'' He flung his arms into the air. Behind him, the band went into a frenzy of percussion and rolling synthochords. Max had argued with them about this but they had claimed it was in their contract that that's what they would do. His agent would have to sort it out.

``The skies begin to boil!'' he cried. ``Nature collapses into the screaming void! In twenty seconds' time, the Universe itself will be at an end! See where the light of infinity bursts in upon us!''

The hideous fury of destruction blazed about them --- and at that moment a still small trumpet sounded as from an infinite distance. Max's eyes swivelled round to glare at the band. None of them seemed to be playing a trumpet. Suddenly a wisp of smoke was swirling and shimmering on the stage next to him. The trumpet was joined by more trumpets. Over five hundred times Max had done this show, and nothing like this had ever happened before. He drew back in alarm from the swirling smoke, and as he did so, a figure slowly materialized inside, the figure of an ancient man, bearded, robed and wreathed in light. In his eyes were stars and on his brow a golden crown.

``What's this?'' whispered Max, wild-eyed, ``what's happening?''

At the back of the Restaurant the stony-faced party from the Church of the Second Coming of the Great Prophet Zarquon leapt ecstatically to their feet chanting and crying.

Max blinked in amazement. He threw up his arms to the audience.

``A big hand please, ladies and gentlemen,'' he hollered, ``for the Great Prophet Zarquon! He has come! Zarquon has come again!''

Thunderous applause broke out as Max strode across the stage and handed his microphone to the Prophet.

Zarquon coughed. He peered round at the assembled gathering. The stars in his eyes blinked uneasily. He handled the microphone with confusion.

``Er ...'' he said, ``hello. Er, look, I'm sorry I'm a bit late. I've had the most ghastly time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment.''

He seemed nervous of the expectant awed hush. He cleared his throat.

``Er, how are we for time?'' he said, ``have I just got a min-''

And so the Universe ended.


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