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Chapter Thirty-four

The sun came out and beamed cheerfully at them. A bird sang. A warm breeze wafted through the trees and lifted the heads of the flowers, carrying their scent away through the woods. An insect droned past on its way to do whatever it is that insects do in the late afternoon. The sound of voices lilted through the trees followed a moment later by two girls who stopped in surprise at the sight of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent apparently lying on the ground in agony, but in fact rocking with noiseless laughter.

``No, don't go,'' called Ford Prefect between gasps, ``we'll be with you in a moment.''

``What's the matter?'' asked one of the girls. She was the taller and slimmer of the two. On Golgafrincham she had been a junior personnel officer, but hadn't liked it much.

Ford pulled himself together.

``Excuse me,'' he said, ``hello. My friend and I were just contemplating the meaning of life. Frivolous exercise.''

``Oh it's you,'' said the girl, ``you made a bit of a spectacle of yourself this afternoon. You were quite funny to begin with but you did bang on a bit.''

``Did I? Oh yes.''

``Yes, what was all that for?'' asked the other girl, a shorter round-faced girl who had been an art director for a small advertising company on Golgafrincham. Whatever the privations of this world were, she went to sleep every night profoundly grateful for the fact that whatever she had to face in the morning it wouldn't be a hundred almost identical photographs of moodily lit tubes of toothpaste.

``For? For nothing. Nothing's for anything,'' said Ford Prefect happily. ``Come and join us. I''m Ford, this is Arthur. We were just about to do nothing at all for a while but it can wait.``

The girls looked at them doubtfully.

``I'm Agda,'' said the tall one, ``this is Mella.''

``Hello Agda, hello Mella,'' said Ford.

``Do you talk at all?'' said Mella to Arthur.

``Oh, eventually,'' said Arthur with a smile, ``but not as much as Ford.''

``Good.''

There was a slight pause.

``What did you mean,'' asked Agda, ``about only having two million years? I couldn't make sense of what you were saying.''

``Oh that,'' said Ford, ``it doesn't matter.''

``It's just that the world gets demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass,'' said Arthur with a shrug, ``but that's two million years away, and anyway it's just Vogons doing what Vogons do.''

``Vogons?'' said Mella.

``Yes, you wouldn't know them.''

``Where'd you get this idea from?''

``It really doesn't matter. It's just like a dream from the past, or the future.'' Arthur smiled and looked away.

``Does it worry you that you don't talk any kind of sense?'' asked Agda.

``Listen, forget it,'' said Ford, ``forget all of it. Nothing matters. Look, it's a beautiful day, enjoy it. The sun, the green of the hills, the river down in the valley, the burning trees.''

``Even if it's only a dream, it's a pretty horrible idea,'' said Mella, ``destroying a world just to make a bypass.''

``Oh, I've heard of worse,'' said Ford, ``I read of one planet off in the seventh dimension that got used as a ball in a game of intergalactic bar billiards. Got potted straight into a black hole. Killed ten billion people.''

``That's mad,'' said Mella.

``Yes, only scored thirty points too.''

Agda and Mella exchanged glances.

``Look,'' said Agda, ``there's a party after the committee meeting tonight. You can come along if you like.''

``Yeah, OK,'' said Ford.

``I'd like to,'' said Arthur.

Many hours later Arthur and Mella sat and watched the moon rise over the dull red glow of the trees.

``That story about the world being destroyed ...'' began Mella.

``In two million years, yes.''

``You say it as if you really think it's true.''

``Yes, I think it is. I think I was there.''

She shook her head in puzzlement.

``You're very strange,'' she said.

``No, I'm very ordinary,'' said Arthur, ``but some very strange things have happened to me. You could say I'm more differed from than differing.''

``And that other world your friend talked about, the one that got pushed into a black hole.''

``Ah, that I don't know about. It sounds like something from the book.''

``What book?''

Arthur paused.

``The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy,'' he said at last.

``What's that?''

``Oh, just something I threw into the river this evening. I don't think I'll be wanting it any more,'' said Arthur Dent.


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