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Chapter Twenty-two

Arthur woke up and instantly regretted it. Hangovers he'd had, but never anything on this scale. This was it, this was the big one, this was the ultimate pits. Matter transference beams, he decided, were not as much fun as, say, a good solid kick in the head.

Being for the moment unwilling to move on account of a dull stomping throb he was experiencing, he lay a while and thought. The trouble with most forms of transport, he thought, is basically one of them not being worth all the bother. On Earth --- when there had been an Earth, before it was demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass --- the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm's way, turning it into tar to cover the land with, smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another --- particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke and short of fish.

And what about matter transference beams? Any form of transport which involved tearing you apart atom by atom, flinging those atoms through the sub-ether, and then jamming them back together again just when they were getting their first taste of freedom for years had to be bad news.

Many people had thought exactly this before Arthur Dent and had even gone to the lengths of writing songs about it. Here is one that used regularly to be chanted by huge crowds outside the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Teleport Systems factory on Happi-Werld III:

Aldebaran's great, OK,
Algol's pretty neat,
Betelgeuse's pretty girls,
Will knock you off your feet.
They'll do anything you like,
Real fast and then real slow,
But if you have to take me apart to get me there,
Then I don't want to go.
Singing,
Take me apart, take me apart,
What a way to roam,
And if you have to take me apart to get me there,
I'd rather stay at home.
Sirius is paved with gold
So I've heard it said
By nuts who then go on to say
``See Tau before you're dead.''
I'll gladly take the high road
Or even take the low,
But if you have to take me apart to get me there,
Then I, for one, won't go.
Singing,
Take me apart, take me apart, You must be off your head,
And if you try to take me apart to get me there,
I'll stay right here in bed.

I teleported home one night,
With Ron and Sid and Meg,
Ron stole Meggie's heart away,
And I got Sidney's leg.

Arthur felt the waves of pain slowly receding, though he was still aware of a dull stomping throb. Slowly, carefully, he stood up.

``Can you hear a dull stomping throb?'' said Ford Prefect.

Arthur span round and wobbled uncertainly. Ford Prefect was approaching looking red eyed and pasty.

``Where are we?'' gasped Arthur.

Ford looked around. They were standing in a long curving corridor which stretched out of sight in both directions. The outer steel wall --- which was painted in that sickly shade of pale green which they use in schools, hospitals and mental asylums to keep the inmates subdued --- curved over the tops of their heads where it met the inner perpendicular wall which, oddly enough was covered in dark brown hessian wall weave. The floor was of dark green ribbed rubber.

Ford moved over to a very thick dark transparent panel set in the outer wall. It was several layers deep, yet through it he could see pinpoints of distant stars.

``I think we're in a spaceship of some kind,'' he said.

Down the corridor came the sound of a dull stomping throb.

``Trillian?'' called Arthur nervously, ``Zaphod?''

Ford shrugged.

``Nowhere about,'' he said, ``I've looked. They could be anywhere. An unprogrammed teleport can throw you light years in any direction. Judging by the way I feel I should think we've travelled a very long way indeed.''

``How do you feel?''

``Bad.''

``Do you think they're ...''

``Where they are, how they are, there's no way we can know and no way we can do anything about it. Do what I do.''

``What?''

``Don't think about it.''

Arthur turned this thought over in his mind, reluctantly saw the wisdom of it, tucked it up and put it away. He took a deep breath.

``Footsteps!'' exclaimed Ford suddenly.

``Where?''

``That noise. That stomping throb. Pounding feet. Listen!''

Arthur listened. The noise echoed round the corridor at them from an indeterminate distance. It was the muffled sound of pounding footsteps, and it was noticeably louder.

``Let's move,'' said Ford sharply. They both moved --- in opposite directions.

``Not that way,'' said Ford, ``that's where they're coming from.''

``No it's not,'' said Arthur, ``They're coming from that way.''

``They're not, they're ...''

They both stopped. They both turned. They both listened intently. They both agreed with each other. They both set off into opposite directions again.

Fear gripped them.

From both directions the noise was getting louder.

A few yards to their left another corridor ran at right angles to the inner wall. They ran to it and hurried along it. It was dark, immensely long and, as they passed down it, gave them the impression that it was getting colder and colder. Other corridors gave off it to the left and right, each very dark and each subjecting them to sharp blasts of icy air as they passed.

They stopped for a moment in alarm. The further down the corridor they went, the louder became the sound of pounding feet.

They pressed themselves back against the cold wall and listened furiously. The cold, the dark and the drumming of disembodied feet was getting to them badly. Ford shivered, partly with the cold, but partly with the memory of stories his favourite mother used to tell him when he was a mere slip of a Betelgeusian, ankle high to an Arcturan Megagrasshopper: stories of dead ships, haunted hulks that roamed restlessly round the obscurer regions of deep space infested with demons or the ghosts of forgotten crews; stories too of incautious travellers who found and entered such ships; stories of ... --- then Ford remembered the brown hessian wall weave in the first corridor and pulled himself together. However ghosts and demons may choose to decorate their death hulks, he thought to himself, he would lay any money you liked it wasn't with hessian wall weave. He grasped Arthur by the arm.

``Back the way we came,'' he said firmly and they started to retrace their steps.

A moment later they leap like startled lizards down the nearest corridor junction as the owners of the drumming feet suddenly hove into view directly in front of them.

Hidden behind the corner they goggled in amazement as about two dozen overweight men and women pounded past them in track suits panting and wheezing in a manner that would make a heart surgeon gibber.

Ford Prefect stared after them.

``Joggers!'' he hissed, as the sound of their feet echoed away up and down the network of corridors.

``Joggers?'' whispered Arthur Dent.

``Joggers,'' said Ford prefect with a shrug.

The corridor they were concealed in was not like the others. It was very short, and ended at a large steel door. Ford examined it, discovered the opening mechanism and pushed it wide.

The first thing that hit their eyes was what appeared to be a coffin.

And the next four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine things that hit their eyes were also coffins.


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