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Chapter Twenty-one

Down on the dry, red world of Kakrafoon, in the middle of the vast Rudlit Desert, the stage technicians were testing the sound system.

That is to say, the sound system was in the desert, not the stage technicians. They had retreated to the safety of Disaster Area's giant control ship which hung in orbit some four hundred miles above the surface of the planet, and they were testing the sound system from there. Anyone within five miles of the speaker silos wouldn't have survived the tuning up.

If Arthur Dent had been within five miles of the speaker silos then his expiring thought would have been that in both size and shape the sound rig closely resembled Manhattan. Risen out of the silos, the neutron phase speaker stacks towered monstrously against the sky, obscuring the banks of plutonium reactors and seismic amps behind them.

Buried deep in concrete bunkers beneath the city of speakers lay the instruments that the musicians would control from their ship, the massive photon-ajuitar, the bass detonator and the Megabang drum complex.

It was going to be a noisy show.

Aboard the giant control ship, all was activity and bustle. Hotblack Desiato's limoship, a mere tadpole beside it, had arrived and docked, and the lamented gentleman was being transported down the high vaulted corridors to meet the medium who was going to interpret his psychic impulses on to the ajuitar keyboard.

A doctor, a logician and a marine biologist had also just arrived, flown in at phenomenal expense from Maximegalon to try to reason with the lead singer who had locked himself in the bathroom with a bottle of pills and was refusing to come out till it could be proved conclusively to him that he wasn't a fish. The bass player was busy machine-gunning his bedroom and the drummer was nowhere on board.

Frantic inquiries led to the discovery that he was standing on a beach on Santraginus V over a hundred light years away where, he claimed, he had been happy over half an hour now and had found a small stone that would be his friend.

The band's manager was profoundly relieved. It meant that for the seventeenth time on this tour the drums would be played by a robot and that therefore the timing of the cymbalistics would be right.

The sub-ether was buzzing with the communications of the stage technicians testing the speaker channels, and this it was that was being relayed to the interior of the black ship.

Its dazed occupants lay against the back wall of the cabin, and listened to the voices on the monitor speakers.

``OK, channel nine on power,'' said a voice, ``testing channel fifteen ...''

Another thumping crack of noise walloped through the ship.

``Channel fifteen AOK,'' said another voice.

A third voice cut in.

``The black stunt ship is now in position,'' it said, ``it's looking good. Gonna be a great sundive. Stage computer on line?''

A computer voice answered.

``On line,'' it said.

``Take control of the black ship.''

``Black ship locked into trajectory programme, on standby.''

``Testing channel twenty.''

Zaphod leaped across the cabin and switched frequencies on the sub-ether receiver before the next mind-pulverizing noise hit them. He stood there quivering.

``What,'' said Trillian in a small quiet voice, ``does sundive mean?''

``It means,'' said Marvin, ``that the ship os going to dive into the sun. Sun ... Dive. It's very simple to understand. What do you expect if you steal Hotblack Desiato's stunt ship?''

``How do you know ...'' said Zaphod in a voice that would make a Vegan snow lizard feel chilly, ``that this is Hotblack Desiato's stuntship?''

``Simple,'' said Marvin, ``I parked it for him.''

``The why ... didn't ... you ... tell us!''

``You said you wanted excitement and adventure and really wild things.''

``This is awful,'' said Arthur unnecessarily in the pause which followed.

``That's what I said,'' confirmed Marvin.

On a different frequency, the sub-ether receiver had picked up a public broadcast, which now echoed round the cabin.

``... fine weather for the concert here this afternoon. I'm standing here in front of the stage,'' the reporter lied, ``in the middle of the Rudlit Desert, and with the aid of hyperbinoptic glasses I can just about make out the huge audience cowering there on the horizon all around me. Behind me the speaker stacks rise like a sheer cliff face, and high above me the sun is shining away and doesn't know what's going to hit it. The environmentalist lobby do know what's going to hit it, and they claim that the concert will cause earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, irreparable damage to the atmosphere, and all the usual things that environmentalists usually go on about.

``But I've just had a report that a representative of Disaster Area met with the environmentalists at lunchtime, and had them all shot, so nothing now lies in the way of ...''

Zaphod switched it off. He turned to Ford.

``You know what I'm thinking?'' he said.

``I think so,'' said Ford.

``Tell me what you think I'm thinking.''

``I think you're thinking it's time we get off this ship.''

``I think you're right,'' said Zaphod.

``I think you're right,'' said Ford.

``How?'' said Arthur.

``Quiet,'' said Ford and Zaphod, ``we're thinking.''

``So this is it,'' said Arthur, ``we're going to die.''

``I wish you'd stop saying that,'' said Ford.

It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as it 'It's a nice day,`` or ''You're very tall,`` or ''So this is it, we're going to die.``

His first theory was that if human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably seized up.

After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this --- ``If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.''

In fact, this second theory is more literally true of the Belcebron people of Kakrafoon.

The Belcebron people used to cause great resentment and insecurity amongst neighboring races by being one of the most enlightened, accomplished, and above all quiet civilizations in the Galaxy.

As a punishment for this behaviour, which was held to be offensively self righteous and provocative, a Galactic Tribunal inflicted on them that most cruel of all social diseases, telepathy. Consequently, in order to prevent themselves broadcasting every slightest thought that crossed their minds to anyone within a five mile radius, they now have to talk very loudly and continuously about the weather, their little aches and pains, the match this afternoon and what a noisy place Kakrafoon had suddenly become.

Another method of temporarily blotting out their minds is to play host to a Disaster Area concert.

The timing of the concert was critical.

The ship had to begin its dive before the concert began in order to hit the sun six minutes and thirty-seven seconds before the climax of the song to which it related, so that the light of the solar flares had time to travel out to Kakrafoon.

The ship had already been diving for several minutes by the time that Ford Prefect had completed his search of the other compartments of the black ship. He burst back into the cabin.

The sun of Kakrafoon loomed terrifyingly large on the vision screen, its blazing white inferno of fusing hydrogen nuclei growing moment by moment as the ship plunged onwards, unheeding the thumping and banging of Zaphod's hands on the control panel. Arthur and Trillian had the fixed expressions of rabbits on a night road who think that the best way of dealing with approaching headlights is to stare them out.

Zaphod span round, wild-eyed.

``Ford,'' he said, ``how many escape capsules are there?''

``None,'' said Ford.

Zaphod gibbered.

``Did you count them?'' he yelled.

``Twice,'' said Ford, ``did you manage to raise the stage crew on the radio?''

``Yeah,'' said Zaphod, bitterly, ``I said there were a whole bunch of people on board, and they said to say `hi' to everybody.''

Ford goggled.

``Didn't you tell them who we were?''

``Oh yeah. They said it was a great honour. That and something about a restaurant bill and my executors.''

Ford pushed Arthur aside and leaned forward over the control console.

``Does none of this function?'' he said savagely.

``All overridden.''

``Smash the autopilot.''

``Find it first. Nothing connects.''

There was a moment's cold silence.

Arthur was stumbling round the back of the cabin. He stopped suddenly.

``Incidentally,'' he said, ``what does teleport mean?''

Another moment passed.

Slowly, the others turned to face him.

``Probably the wrong moment to ask,'' said Arthur, ``It's just I remember hearing you use the word a short while ago and I only bring it up because ...''

``Where,'' said Ford Prefect quietly, ``does it say teleport?''

``Well, just over here in fact,'' said Arthur, pointing at a dark control box in the rear of the cabin, ``Just under the word `emergency', above the word `system' and beside the sign saying `out of order'.''

In the pandemonium that instantly followed, the only action to follow was that of Ford Prefect lunging across the cabin to the small black box that Arthur had indicated and stabbing repeatedly at the single small black button set into it.

A six-foot square panel slid open beside it revealing a compartment which resembled a multiple shower unit that had found a new function in life as an electrician's junk store. Half-finished wiring hung from the ceiling, a jumble of abandoned components lay strewn on the floor, and the programming panel lolled out of the cavity in the wall into which it should have been secured.

A junior Disaster Area accountant, visiting the shipyard where this ship was being constructed, had demanded to know of the works foreman why the hell they were fitting an extremely expensive teleport into a ship which only had one important journey to make, and that unmanned. The foreman had explained that the teleport was available at a ten per cent discount and the accountant had explained that this was immaterial; the foreman had explained that it was the finest, most powerful and sophisticated teleport that money could buy and the accountant had explained that the money did not wish to buy it; the foreman had explained that people would still need to enter and leave the ship and the accountant had explained that the ship sported a perfectly serviceable door; the foreman had explained that the accountant could go and boil his head and the accountant had explained to the foreman that the thing approaching him rapidly from his left was a knuckle sandwich. After the explanations had been concluded, work was discontinued on the teleport which subsequently passed unnoticed on the invoice as ``Sund. explns.'' at five times the price.

``Hell's donkeys,'' muttered Zaphod as he and Ford attempted to sort through the tangle of wiring.

After a moment or so Ford told him to stand back. He tossed a coin into the teleport and jiggled a switch on the lolling control panel. With a crackle and spit of light, the coin vanished.

``That much of it works,'' said Ford, ``however, there is no guidance system. A matter transference teleport without guidance programming could put you ... well, anywhere.''

The sun of Kakrafoon loomed huge on the screen.

``Who cares,'' said Zaphod, ``we go where we go.''

``And,'' said Ford, ``there is no autosystem. We couldn't all go. Someone would have to stay and operate it.''

A solemn moment shuffled past. The sun loomed larger and larger.

``Hey, Marvin kid,'' said Zaphod brightly, ``how you doing?''

``Very badly I suspect,'' muttered Marvin.

A shortish while later, the concert on Kakrafoon reached an unexpected climax.

The black ship with its single morose occupant had plunged on schedule into the nuclear furnace of the sun. Massive solar flares licked out from it millions of miles into space, thrilling and in a few cases spilling the dozen or so Flare Riders who had been coasting close to the surface of the sun in anticipation of the moment.

Moments before the flare light reached Kakrafoon the pounding desert cracked along a deep faultline. A huge and hitherto undetected underground river lying far beneath the surface gushed to the surface to be followed seconds later by the eruption of millions of tons of boiling lava that flowed hundreds of feet into the air, instantaneously vaporizing the river both above and below the surface in an explosion that echoed to the far side of the world and back again.

Those --- very few --- who witnessed the event and survived swear that the whole hundred thousand square miles of the desert rose into the air like a mile-thick pancake, flipped itself over and fell back down. At that precise moment the solar radiation from the flares filtered through the clouds of vaporized water and struck the ground.

A year later, the hundred thousand square mile desert was thick with flowers. The structure of the atmosphere around the planet was subtly altered. The sun blazed less harshly in the summer, the cold bit less bitterly in the winter, pleasant rain fell more often, and slowly the desert world of Kakrafoon became a paradise. Even the telepathic power with which the people of Kakrafoon had been cursed was permanently dispersed by the force of the explosion.

A spokesman for Disaster Area --- the one who had had all the environmentalists shot --- was later quoted as saying that it had been ``a good gig''.

Many people spoke movingly of the healing powers of music. A few sceptical scientists examined the records of the events more closely, and claimed that they had discovered faint vestiges of a vast artificially induced Improbability Field drifting in from a nearby region of space.

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