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Chapter Twenty

The Restaurant continued existing, but everything else had stopped. Temporal relastatics held it and protected it in a nothingness that wasn't merely a vacuum, it was simply nothing --- there was nothing in which a vacuum could be said to exist.

The force-shielded dome had once again been rendered opaque, the party was over, the diners were leaving, Zarquon had vanished along with the rest of the Universe, the Time Turbines were preparing to pull the Restaurant back across the brink of time in readiness for the lunch sitting, and Max Quordlepleen was back in his small curtained dressing room trying to raise his agent on the tempophone.

In the car park stood the black ship, closed and silent.

In to the car park came the late Mr Hotblack Desiato, propelled along the moving catwalk by his bodyguard.

They descended one of the tubes. As they approached the limoship a hatchway swung down from its side, engaged the wheels of the wheelchair and drew it inside. The bodyguard followed, and having seen his boss safely connected up to his death-support system, moved up to the small cockpit. Here he operated the remote control system which activated the autopilot in the black ship lying next to the limo, thus causing great relief to Zaphod Beeblebrox who had been trying to start the thing for over ten minutes.

The black ship glided smoothly forward out of its bay, turned, and moved down the central causeway swiftly and quietly. At the end it accelerated rapidly, flung itself into the temporal launch chamber and began the long journey back into the distant past.

The Milliways Lunch Menu quotes, by permission, a passage from the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The passage is this:

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.

For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ``How can we eat?'', the second by the question ``Why do we eat?'' and the third by the question, ``Where shall we have lunch?''

The Menu goes on to suggest that Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, would be a very agreeable and sophisticated answer to that third question.

What it doesn't go on to say is that though it will usually take a large civilization many thousands of years to pass through the How, Why and Where phases, small social groupings under stressful conditions can pass through them with extreme rapidity.

``How are we doing?'' said Arthur Dent.

``Badly,'' said Ford Prefect.

``Where are we going?'' said Trillian.

``I don't know,'' said Zaphod Beeblebrox.

``Why not?'' demanded Arthur Dent.

``Shut up,'' suggested Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect.

``Basically, what you're trying to say,'' said Arthur Dent, ignoring this suggestion, ``is that we're out of control.''

The ship was rocking and swaying sickeningly as Ford and Zaphod tried to wrest control from the autopilot. The engined howled and whined like tired children in a supermarket.

``It's the wild colour scheme that freaks me,'' said Zaphod whose love affair with this ship had lasted almost three minutes into the flight, ``Every time you try to operate on of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you've done it. What is this? Some kind of galactic hyperhearse?''

The walls of the swaying cabin were also black, the ceiling was black, the seats --- which were rudimentary since the only important trip this ship was designed for was supposed to be unmanned --- were black, the control panel was black, the instruments were black, the little screws that held them in place were black, the thin tufted nylon floor covering was black, and when they had lifted up a corner of it they had discovered that the foam underlay also was black.

``Perhaps whoever designed it had eyes that responded to different wavelengths,'' offered Trillian.

``Or didn't have much imagination,'' muttered Arthur.

``Perhaps,'' said Marvin, ``he was feeling very depressed.''

In fact, though they weren't to know it, the decor had been chosen in honour of its owner's sad, lamented, and tax-deductible condition.

The ship gave a particularly sickening lurch.

``Take it easy,'' pleaded Arthur, ``you're making me space sick.''

``Time sick,'' said Ford, ``we're plummeting backwards through time.''

``Thank you,'' said Arthur, ``now I think I really am going to be ill.''

``Go ahead,'' said Zaphod, ``we could do with a little colour about this place.''

``This is meant to be a polite after-dinner conversation is it?'' snapped Arthur.

Zaphod left the controls for Ford to figure out, and lurched over to Arthur.

``Look, Earthman,'' he said angrily, ``you've got a job to do, right? The Question to the Ultimate Answer, right?''

``What, that thing?'' said Arthur, ``I thought we'd forgotten about that.''

``Not me, baby. Like the mice said, it's worth a lot of money in the right quarters. And it's all locked up in that head thing of yours.''

``Yes but ...''

``But nothing! Think about it. The Meaning of Life! We get our fingers on that we can hold every shrink in the Galaxy up to ransom, and that's worth a bundle. I owe mine a mint.''

Arthur took a deep breath without much enthusiasm.

``Alright,'' he said, ``but where do we start? How should I know? They say the Ultimate Answer or whatever is Forty-two, how am I supposed to know what the question is? It could be anything. I mean, what's six times seven?''

Zaphod looked at him hard for a moment. Then his eyes blazed with excitement.

``Forty-two!'' he cried.

Arthur wiped his palm across his forehead.

``Yes,'' he said patiently,`` I know that.''

Zaphod's faces fell.

``I'm just saying that the question could be anything at all,'' said Arthur, ``and I don't see how I am meant to know.''

``Because,'' hissed Zaphod, ``you were there when your planet did the big firework.''

``We have a thing on Earth ...'' began Arthur.

``Had,'' corrected Zaphod.

``... called tact. Oh never mind. Look, I just don't know.''

A low voice echoed dully round the cabin.

``I know,'' said Marvin.

Ford called out from the controls he was still fighting a losing battle with.

``Stay out of this Marvin,'' he said, ``this is organism talk.''

``It's printed in the Earthman's brainwave patterns,'' continued Marvin, ``but I don't suppose you'll be very interested in knowing that.''

``You mean,'' said Arthur, ``you mean you can see into my mind?''

``Yes,'' said Marvin.

Arthur stared in astonishment.

``And ...?'' he said.

``It amazes me how you can manage to live in anything that small.''

``Ah,'' said Arthur, ``abuse.''

``Yes,'' confirmed Marvin.

``Ah, ignore him,'' said Zaphod, ``he's only making it up.''

``Making it up?'' said Marvin, swivelling his head in a parody of astonishment, ``Why should I want to make anything up? Life's bad enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it.''

``Marvin,'' said Trillian in the gentle, kindly voice that only she was still capable of assuming in talking to this misbegotten creature, ``if you knew all along, why then didn't you tell us?''

Marvin's head swivelled back to her.

``You didn't ask,'' he said simply.

``Well, we're asking you now, metal man,'' said Ford, turning round to look at him.

At that moment the ship suddenly stopped rocking and swaying, the engine pitch settled down to a gentle hum.

``Hey, Ford,'' said Zaphod, ``that sounds good. Have you worked out the controls of this boat?''

``No,'' said Ford, ``I just stopped fiddling with them. I reckon we just go to wherever this ship is going and get off it fast.''

``Yeah, right,'' said Zaphod.

``I could tell you weren't really interested,'' murmured Marvin to himself and slumped into a corner and switched himself off.

``Trouble is,'' said Ford, ``that the one instrument in this while ship that is giving any reading is worrying me. If it is what I think it is, and if it's saying what I think it's saying, then we've already gone too far back into the past. Maybe as much as two million years before our own time.''

Zaphod shrugged.

``Time is bunk,'' he said.

``I wonder who this ship belongs to anyway,'' said Arthur.

``Me,'' said Zaphod.

``No. Who it really belongs to.''

``Really me,'' insisted Zaphod, ``look, property is theft, right? Therefore theft is property. Therefore this ship is mine, OK?''

``Tell the ship that,'' said Arthur.

Zaphod strode over to the console.

``Ship,'' he said, banging on the panels, ``this is your new owner speaking to ...''

He got no further. Several things happened at once.

The ship dropped out fo time travel mode and re-emerged into real space.

All the controls on the console, which had been shut down for the time trip now lit up.

A large vision screen above the console winked into life revealing a wide starscape and a single very large sun dead ahead of them.

None of these things, however, were responsible for the fact that Zaphod was at the same moment hurled bodily backwards against the rear of the cabin, as were all the others.

They were hurled back by a single thunderous clap of noise that thuddered out of the monitor speakers surrounding the vision screen.


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