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Chapter Twenty-six

That night the ship crash-landed on to an utterly insignificant little green-blue planet which circled a small unregarded yellow sun in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the Galaxy.

In the hours preceding the crash Ford Prefect had fought furiously but in vain to unlock the controls of the ship from their pre-ordained flight path. It had quickly become apparent to him that the ship had been programmed to convey its payload safely, in uncomfortably, to its new home but to cripple itself beyond repair in the process.

Its screaming, blazing descent through the atmosphere had stripped away most of its superstructure and outer shielding, and its final inglorious bellyflop into a murky swamp had left its crew only a few hours of darkness during which to revive and offload its deep-frozen and unwanted cargo for the ship began to settle almost at once, slowly upending its gigantic bulk in the stagnant slime. Once or twice during the night it was starkly silhouetted against the sky as burning meteors --- the detritus of its descent --- flashed across the sky.

In the grey pre-dawn light it let out an obscene roaring gurgle and sank for ever into the stinking depths.

When the sun came up that morning it shed its thin watery light over a vast area heaving with wailing hairdressers, public relations executives, opinion pollsters and the rest, all clawing their way desperately to dry land.

A less strong minded sun would probably have gone straight back down again, but it continued to climb its way through the sky and after a while the influence of its warming rays began to have some restoring effect on the feebly struggling creatures.

Countless numbers had, unsurprisingly, been lost to the swamp in the night, and millions more had been sucked down with the ship, but those that survived still numbered hundreds of thousands and as the day wore on they crawled out over the surrounding countryside, each looking for a few square feet of solid ground on which to collapse and recover from their nightmare ordeal.

Two figures moved further afield.

From a nearby hillside Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent watched the horror of which they could not feel a part.

``Filthy dirty trick to pull,'' muttered Arthur.

Ford scraped a stick along the ground and shrugged.

``An imaginative solution to a problem I'd have thought,'' he said.

``Why can't people just learn to live together in peace and harmony?'' said Arthur.

Ford gave a loud, very hollow laugh.

``Forty-two!'' he said with a malicious grin, ``No, doesn't work. Never mind.''

Arthur looked at him as if he'd gone mad and, seeing nothing to indicate the contrary, realized that it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that this had in fact happened.

``What do you think will happen to them all?'' he said after a while.

``In an infinite Universe anything can happen,'' said Ford, ``Even survival. Strange but true.''

A curious look came into his eyes as they passed over the landscape and then settles again on the scene of misery below them.

``I think they'll manage for a while,'' he said.

Arthur looked up sharply.

``Why do you say that?'' he said.

Ford shrugged.

``Just a hunch,'' he said, and refused to be drawn to any further questions.

``Look,'' he said suddenly.

Arthur followed his pointing finger. Down amongst the sprawling masses a figure was moving --- or perhaps lurching would be a more accurate description. He appeared to be carrying something on his shoulder. As he lurched from prostrate form to prostrate form he seemed to wave whatever the something was at them in a drunken fashion. After a while he gave up the struggle and collapsed in a heap.

Arthur had no idea what this was meant to mean to him.

``Movie camera,'' said Ford. ``Recording the historic movement.''

``Well, I don't know about you,'' said Ford again after a moment, ``but I'm off.''

He sat a while in silence.

After a while this seemed to require comment.

``Er, when you say you're off, what do you mean exactly?'' said Arthur.

``Good question,'' said Ford, ``I'm getting total silence.''

Looking over his shoulder Arthur saw that he was twiddling with knobs on a small box. Ford had already introduced this box as a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic, but Arthur had merely nodded absently and not pursued the matter. In his mind the Universe still divided into two parts --- the Earth, and everything else. The Earth having been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass meant that this view of things was a little lopsided, but Arthur tended to cling to that lopsidedness as being his last remaining contact with his home. Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matics belonged firmly in the ``everything else'' category.

``Not a sausage,'' said Ford, shaking the thing.

Sausage, thought Arthur to himself as he gazed listlessly at the primitive world about him, what I wouldn't give for a good Earth sausage.

``Would you believe,'' said Ford in exasperation, ``that there are no transmissions of any kind within light years of this benighted tip? Are you listening to me?''

``What?'' said Arthur.

``We're in trouble,'' said Ford.

``Oh,'' said Arthur. This sounded like month-old news to him.

``Until we pick up anything on this machine,'' said Ford, ``our chances of getting off this planet are zero. It may be some freak standing wave effect in the planet's magnetic field --- in which case we just travel round and round till we find a clear reception area. Coming?''

He picked up his gear and strode off.

Arthur looked down the hill. The man with the movie camera had struggled back up to his feet just in time to film one of his colleagues collapsing.

Arthur picked a blade of grass and strode off after Ford.


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