Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
Previous Next Index


Chapter Twenty-three

The vault was low ceilinged, dimly lit and gigantic. At the far end, about three hundred yards away an archway let through to what appeared to be a similar chamber, similarly occupied.

Ford Prefect let out a low whistle as he stepped down on to the floor of the vault.

``Wild,'' he said.

``What's so great about dead people?'' asked Arthur, nervously stepping down after him.

``Dunno,'' said Ford, ``Let's find out shall we?''

On closer inspection the coffins seemed to be more like sarcophagi. They stood about waist high and were constructed of what appeared to be white marble, which is almost certainly what it was --- something that only appeared to be white marble. The tops were semi-translucent, and through them could dimly be perceived the features of their late and presumably lamented occupants. They were humanoid, and had clearly left the troubles of whatever world it was they came from far behind them, but beyond that little else could be discerned.

Rolling slowly round the floor between the sarcophagi was a heavy, oily white gas which Arthur at first thought might be there to give the place a little atmosphere until he discovered that it also froze his ankles. The sarcophagi too were intensely cold to the touch.

Ford suddenly crouched down beside one of them. He pulled a corner of his towel out of his satchel and started to rub furiously at something.

``Look, there's a plaque on this one,'' he explained to Arthur, ``It's frosted over.''

He rubbed the frost clear and examined the engraved characters. To Arthur they looked like the footprints of a spider that had had one too many of whatever it is that spiders have on a night out, but Ford instantly recognized an early form of Galactic Eezeereed.

``It says `Golgafrincham Ark Fleet, Ship B, Hold Seven, Telephone Sanitizer Second Class' --- and a serial number.''

``A telephone sanitizer?'' said Arthur, ``a dead telephone sanitizer?''

``Best kind.''

``But what's he doing here?''

Ford peered through the top at the figure within.

``Not a lot,'' he said, and suddenly flashed one of those grins of his which always made people think he'd been overdoing things recently and should try to get some rest.

He scampered over to another sarcophagus. A moment's brisk towel work and he announced:

``This one's a dead hairdresser. Hoopy!''

The next sarcophagus revealed itself to be the last resting place of an advertising account executive; the one after that contained a second-hand car salesman, third class.

An inspection hatch let into the floor suddenly caught Ford's attention, and he squatted down to unfasten it, thrashing away at the clouds of freezing gas that threatened to envelope him.

A thought occurred to Arthur.

``If these are just coffins,'' he said, ``Why are they kept so cold?''

``Or, indeed, why are they kept anyway,'' said Ford tugging the hatchway open. The gas poured down through it. ``Why in fact is anyone going to all the trouble and expense of carting five thousand dead bodies through space?''

``Ten thousand,'' said Arthur, pointing at the archway through which the next chamber was dimly visible.

Ford stuck his head down through the floor hatchway. He looked up again.

``Fifteen thousand,'' he said, ``there's another lot down there.''

``Fifteen million,'' said a voice.

``That's a lot,'' said Ford, ``A lot a lot.''

``Turn around slowly,'' barked the voice, ``and put your hands up. Any other move and I blast you into tiny tiny bits.''

``Hello?'' said Ford, turning round slowly, putting his hands up and not making any other move.

``Why,'' said Arthur Dent, ``isn't anyone ever pleased to see us?''

Standing silhouetted in the doorway through which they had entered the vault was the man who wasn't pleased to see them. His displeasure was communicated partly by the barking hectoring quality of his voice and partly by the viciousness with which he waved a long silver Kill-O-Zap gun at them. The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. ``Make it evil,'' he'd been told. ``Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.''

Ford and Arthur looked at the gun unhappily.

The man with the gun moved from the door and circled round them. As he came into the light they could see his black and gold uniform on which the buttons were so highly polished that they shone with an intensity that would have made an approaching motorist flash his lights in annoyance.

He gestured at the door.

``Out,'' he said. People who can supply that amount of fire power don't need to supply verbs as well. Ford and Arthur went out, closely followed by the wrong end of the Kill-O-Zap gun and the buttons.

Turning into the corridor they were jostled by twenty-four oncoming joggers, now showered and changed, who swept on past them into the vault. Arthur turned to watch them in confusion.

``Move!'' screamed their captor.

Arthur moved.

Ford shrugged and moved.

In the vault the joggers went to twenty-four empty sarcophagi along the side wall, opened them, climbed in, and fell into twenty-four dreamless sleeps.


Previous Next Index