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Chapter Four

It was a charming and delightful day at Lord's as Ford and Arthur tumbled haphazardly out of a space-time anomaly and hit the immaculate turf rather hard.

The applause of the crowd was tremendous. It wasn't for them, but instinctively they bowed anyway, which was fortunate because the small red heavy ball which the crowd actually had been applauding whistled mere millimetres over Arthur's head. In the crowd a man collapsed.

They threw themselves back to the ground which seemed to spin hideously around them.

``What was that?'' hissed Arthur.

``Something red,'' hissed Ford back at him.

``Where are we?''

``Er, somewhere green.''

``Shapes,'' muttered Arthur. ``I need shapes.''

The applause of the crowd had been rapidly succeeded by gasps of astonishment, and the awkward titters of hundreds of people who could not yet make up their minds about whether to believe what they had just seen or not.

``This your sofa?'' said a voice.

``What was that?'' whispered Ford.

Arthur looked up.

``Something blue,'' he said.

``Shape?'' said Ford.

Arthur looked again.

``It is shaped,'' he hissed at Ford, with his brow savagely furrowing, ``like a policeman.''

They remained crouched there for a few moments, frowning deeply. The blue thing shaped like a policeman tapped them both on the shoulders.

``Come on, you two,'' the shape said, ``let's be having you.''

These words had an electrifying effect on Arthur. He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring and shot a series of startled glanced at the panorama around him which had suddenly settled down into something of quite terrifying ordinariness.

``Where did you get this from?'' he yelled at the policeman shape.

``What did you say?'' said the startled shape.

``This is Lord's Cricket Ground, isn't it?'' snapped Arthur. ``Where did you find it, how did you get it here? I think,'' he added, clasping his hand to his brow, ``that I had better calm down.'' He squatted down abruptly in front of Ford.

``It is a policeman,'' he said, ``What do we do?''

Ford shrugged.

``What do you want to do?'' he said.

``I want you,'' said Arthur, ``to tell me that I have been dreaming for the last five years.''

Ford shrugged again, and obliged.

``You've been dreaming for the last five years,'' he said.

Arthur got to his feet.

``It's all right, officer,'' he said. ``I've been dreaming for the last five years. Ask him,'' he added, pointing at Ford, ``he was in it.''

Having said this, he sauntered off towards the edge of the pitch, brushing down his dressing gown. He then noticed his dressing gown and stopped. He stared at it. He flung himself at the policeman.

``So where did I get these clothes from?'' he howled.

He collapsed and lay twitching on the grass.

Ford shook his head.

``He's had a bad two million years,'' he said to the policeman, and together they heaved Arthur on to the sofa and carried him off the pitch and were only briefly hampered by the sudden disappearance of the sofa on the way.

Reaction to all this from the crowd were many and various. Most of them couldn't cope with watching it, and listened to it on the radio instead.

``Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian,'' said one radio commentator to another. ``I don't think there have been any mysterious materializations on the pitch since, oh since, well I don't think there have been any --- have there? --- that I recall?''

``Edgbaston, 1932?''

``Ah, now what happened then ...''

``Well, Peter, I think it was Canter facing Willcox coming up to bowl from the pavilion end when a spectator suddenly ran straight across the pitch.''

There was a pause while the first commentator considered this.

``Ye ... e ... s ...'' he said, ``yes, there's nothing actually very mysterious about that, is there? He didn't actually materialize, did he? Just ran on.''

``No, that's true, but he did claim to have seen something materialize on the pitch.''

``Ah, did he?''

``Yes. An alligator, I think, of some description.''

``Ah. And had anyone else noticed it?''

``Apparently not. And no one was able to get a very detailed description from him, so only the most perfunctory search was made.''

``And what happened to the man?''

``Well, I think someone offered to take him off and give him some lunch, but he explained that he'd already had a rather good one, so the matter was dropped and Warwickshire went on to win by three wickets.''

``So, not very like this current instance. For those of you who've just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er ... two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa --- a Chesterfield I think?''

``Yes, a Chesterfield.''

``Have just materialized here in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground. But I don't think they meant any harm, they've been very good-natured about it, and ...''

``Sorry, can I interrupt you a moment Peter and say that the sofa has just vanished.''

``So it has. Well, that's one mystery less. Still, it's definitely one for the record books I think, particularly occurring at this dramatic moment in play, England now needing only twenty-four runs to win the series. The men are leaving the pitch in the company of a police officer, and I think everyone's settling down now and play is about to resume.''

``Now, sir,'' said the policeman after they had made a passage through the curious crowd and laid Arthur's peacefully inert body on a blanket, ``perhaps you'd care to tell me who you are, where you come from, and what that little scene was all about?''

Ford looked at the ground for a moment as if steadying himself for something, then he straightened up and aimed a look at the policeman which hit him with the full force of every inch of the six hundred light-years' distance between Earth and Ford's home near Betelgeuse.

``All right,'' said Ford, very quietly, ``I'll tell you.''

``Yes, well, that won't be necessary,'' said the policeman hurriedly, ``just don't let whatever it was happen again.'' The policeman turned around and wandered off in search of anyone who wasn't from Betelgeuse. Fortunately, the ground was full of them.

Arthur's consciousness approached his body as from a great distance, and reluctantly. It had had some bad times in there. Slowly, nervously, it entered and settled down in to its accustomed position.

Arthur sat up.

``Where am I?'' he said.

``Lord's Cricket Ground,'' said Ford.

``Fine,'' said Arthur, and his consciousness stepped out again for a quick breather. His body flopped back on the grass.

Ten minutes later, hunched over a cup of tea in the refreshment tent, the colour started to come back to his haggard face.

``How're you feeling?'' said Ford.

``I'm home,'' said Arthur hoarsely. He closed his eyes and greedily inhaled the steam from his tea as if it was --- well, as far as Arthur was concerned, as if it was tea, which it was.

``I'm home,'' he repeated, ``home. It's England, it's today, the nightmare is over.'' He opened his eyes again and smiled serenely. ``I'm where I belong,'' he said in an emotional whisper.

``There are two things I fell which I should tell you,'' said Ford, tossing a copy of the Guardian over the table at him.

``I'm home,'' said Arthur.

``Yes,'' said Ford. ``One is,'' he said pointing at the date at the top of the paper, ``that the Earth will be demolished in two days' time.''

``I'm home,'' said Arthur. ``Tea,'' he said, ``cricket,'' he added with pleasure, ``mown grass, wooden benches, white linen jackets, beer cans ...''

Slowly he began to focus on the newspaper. He cocked his head on one side with a slight frown.

``I've seen that one before,'' he said. His eyes wandered slowly up to the date, which Ford was idly tapping at. His face froze for a second or two and then began to do that terribly slow crashing trick which Arctic ice-floes do so spectacularly in the spring.

``And the other thing,'' said Ford, ``is that you appear to have a bone in your beard.'' He tossed back his tea.

Outside the refreshment tent, the sun was shining on a happy crowd. It shone on white hats and red faces. It shone on ice lollies and melted them. It shone on the tears of small children whose ice lollies had just melted and fallen off the stick. It shone on the trees, it flashed off whirling cricket bats, it gleamed off the utterly extraordinary object which was parked behind the sight-screens and which nobody appeared to have noticed. It beamed on Ford and Arthur as they emerged blinking from the refreshment tent and surveyed the scene around them.

Arthur was shaking.

``Perhaps,'' he said, ``I should ...''

``No,'' said Ford sharply.

``What?'' said Arthur.

``Don't try and phone yourself up at home.''

``How did you know ...?''

Ford shrugged.

``But why not?'' said Arthur.

``People who talk to themselves on the phone,'' said Ford, ``never learn anything to their advantage.''

``But ...''

``Look,'' said Ford. He picked up an imaginary phone and dialled an imaginary dial.

``Hello?'' he said into the imaginary mouthpiece. ``Is that Arthur Dent? Ah, hello, yes. This is Arthur Dent speaking. Don't hang up.''

He looked at the imaginary mouthpiece in disappointment.

``He hung up,'' he said, shrugged, and put the imaginary phone neatly back on its imaginary hook.

``This is not my first temporal anomaly,'' he added.

A glummer look replaced the already glum look on Arthur Dent's face.

``So we're not home and dry,'' he said.

``We could not even be said,'' replied Ford, ``to be home and vigorously towelling ourselves off.''

The game continued. The bowler approached the wicket at a lope, a trot, and then a run. He suddenly exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, out of which flew a ball. The batsman swung and thwacked it behind him over the sight-screens. Ford's eyes followed the trajectory of the ball and jogged momentarily. He stiffened. He looked along the flight path of the ball again and his eyes twitched again.

``This isn't my towel,'' said Arthur, who was rummaging in his rabbit-skin bag.

``Shhh,'' said Ford. He screwed his eyes up in concentration.

``I had a Golgafrinchan jogging towel,'' continued Arthur, ``it was blue with yellow stars on it. This isn't it.''

``Shhh,'' said Ford again. He covered one eye and looked with the other.

``This one's pink,'' said Arthur, ``it isn't yours is it?''

``I would like you to shut up about your towel,'' said Ford.

``It isn't my towel,'' insisted Arthur, ``that is the point I am trying to ...''

``And the time at which I would like you to shut up about it,'' continued Ford in a low growl, ``is now.''

``All right,'' said Arthur, starting to stuff it back into the primitively stitched rabbit-skin bag. ``I realize that it is probably not important in the cosmic scale of things, it's just odd, that's all. A pink towel suddenly, instead of a blue one with yellow stars.''

Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to behave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved. What he was doing was this. Regardless of the bemused stares it was provoking from his fellow members of the crowd gathered round the pitch, he was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot. After a moment or two of this he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that's not sure whether it's just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.

``This isn't my bag either,'' said Arthur suddenly.

Ford's spell of concentration was broken. He turned angrily on Arthur.

``I wasn't talking about my towel,'' said Arthur. ``We've established that that isn't mine. It's just that the bag into which I was putting the towel which is not mine is also not mine, though it is extraordinarily similar. Now personally I think that that is extremely odd, especially as the bag was one I made myself on prehistoric Earth. These are also not my stones,'' he added, pulling a few flat grey stones out of the bag. ``I was making a collection of interesting stones and these are clearly very dull ones.''

A roar of excitement thrilled through the crowd and obliterated whatever it was that Ford said in reply to this piece of information. The cricket ball which had excited this reaction fell out of the sky and dropped neatly into Arthur's mysterious rabbit-skin bag.

``Now I would say that that was also a very curious event,'' said Arthur, rapidly closing the bag and pretending to look for the ball on the ground.

``I don't think it's here,'' he said to the small boys who immediately clustered round him to join in the search, ``it probably rolled off somewhere. Over there I expect.'' He pointed vaguely in the direction in which he wished they would push off. One of the boys looked at him quizzically.

``You all right?'' said the boy.

``No,'' said Arthur.

``Then why you got a bone in your beard?'' said the boy.

``I'm training it to like being wherever it's put.'' Arthur prided himself on saying this. It was, he thought, exactly the sort of thing which would entertain and stimulate young minds.

``Oh,'' said the small boy, putting his head to one side and thinking about it. ``What's your name?''

``Dent,'' said Arthur, ``Arthur Dent.''

``You're a jerk, Dent,'' said the boy, ``a complete asshole.'' The boy looked past him at something else, to show that he wasn't in any particular hurry to run away, and then wandered off scratching his nose. Suddenly Arthur remembered that the Earth was going to be demolished again in two days' time, and just this once didn't feel too bad about it.

Play resumed with a new ball, the sun continued to shine and Ford continued to jump up and down shaking his head and blinking.

``Something's on your mind, isn't it?'' said Arthur.

``I think,'' said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, ``that there's an SEP over there.''

He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again.

``A what?'' he said.

``An SEP.''

``An S ...?''

``... EP.''

``And what's that?''

``Somebody Else's Problem.''

``Ah, good,'' said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't.

``Over there,'' said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch.

``Where?'' said Arthur.

``There!'' said Ford.

``I see,'' said Arthur, who didn't.

``You do?'' said Ford.

``What?'' said Arthur.

``Can you see,'' said Ford patiently, ``the SEP?''

``I thought you said that was somebody else's problem.''

``That's right.''

Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity.

``And I want to know,'' said Ford, ``if you can see it.''

``You do?''

``Yes.''

``What,'' said Arthur, ``does it look like?''

``Well, how should I know, you fool?'' shouted Ford. ``If you can see it, you tell me.''

Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm.

``An SEP,'' he said, ``is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.''

``Ah,'' said Arthur, ``then that's why ...''

``Yes,'' said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say.

``... you've been jumping up and ...''

``Yes.''

``... down, and blinking ...''

``Yes.''

``... and ...''

``I think you've got the message.''

``I can see it,'' said Arthur, ``it's a spaceship.''

For a moment Arthur was stunned by the reaction this revelation provoked. A roar erupted from the crowd, and from every direction people were running, shouting, yelling, tumbling over each other in a tumult of confusion. He stumbled back in astonishment and glanced fearfully around. Then he glanced around again in even greater astonishment.

``Exciting, isn't it?'' said an apparition. The apparition wobbled in front of Arthur's eyes, though the truth of the matter is probably that Arthur's eyes were wobbling in front of the apparition. His mouth wobbled as well.

``W ... w ... w ... w ...'' his mouth said.

``I think your team have just won,'' said the apparition.

``W ... w ... w ... w ...'' repeated Arthur, and punctuated each wobble with a prod at Ford Prefect's back. Ford was staring at the tumult in trepidation.

``You are English, aren't you?'' said the apparition.

``W ... w ... w ... w ... yes'' said Arthur.

``Well, your team, as I say, have just won. The match. It means they retain the Ashes. You must be very pleased. I must say, I'm rather fond of cricket, though I wouldn't like anyone outside this planet to hear me saying that. Oh dear no.''

The apparition gave what looked as if it might have been a mischievous grin, but it was hard to tell because the sun was directly behind him, creating a blinding halo round his head and illuminating his silver hair and beard in a way which was awesome, dramatic and hard to reconcile with mischievous grins.

``Still,'' he said, ``it'll all be over in a couple of days, won't it? Though as I said to you when we last met, I was very sorry about that. Still, whatever will have been, will have been.''

Arthur tried to speak, but gave up the unequal struggle. He prodded Ford again.

``I thought something terrible had happened,'' said Ford, ``but it's just the end of the game. We ought to get out. Oh, hello, Slartibartfast, what are you doing here?''

``Oh, pottering, pottering,'' said the old man gravely.

``That your ship? Can you give us a lift anywhere?''

``Patience, patience,'' the old man admonished.

``OK,'' said Ford. ``It's just that this planet's going to be demolished pretty soon.''

``I know that,'' said Slartibartfast.

``And, well, I just wanted to make that point,'' said Ford.

``The point is taken.''

And if you feel that you really want to hang around a cricket pitch at this point ...``

``I do.''

``Then it's your ship.''

``It is.''

``I suppose.'' Ford turned away sharply at this point.

``Hello, Slartibartfast,'' said Arthur at last.

``Hello, Earthman,'' said Slartibartfast.

``After all,'' said Ford, ``we can only die once.''

The old man ignored this and stared keenly on to the pitch, with eyes that seemed alive with expressions that had no apparent bearing on what was happening out there. What was happening was that the crowd was gathering itself into a wide circle round the centre of the pitch. What Slartibartfast saw in it, he alone knew.

Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals. He was hoping that somebody would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Noel Coward song called ``Mad About the Boy'' over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons which he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the ``about the boy'' bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked.

``It's just,'' he burst out at last, ``that if we don't go soon, we might get caught in the middle of it all again. And there's nothing that depresses me more than seeing a planet being destroyed. Except possibly still being on it when it happens. Or,'' he added in an undertone, ``hanging around cricket matches.''

``Patience,'' said Slartibartfast again. ``Great things are afoot.''

``That's what you said last time we met,'' said Arthur.

``They were,'' said Slartibartfast.

``Yes, that's true,'' admitted Arthur.

All, however, that seemed to be afoot was a ceremony of some kind. It was being specially staged for the benefit of tv rather than the spectators, and all they could gather about it from where they were standing was what they heard from a nearby radio. Ford was aggressively uninterested.

He fretted as he heard it explained that the Ashes were about to be presented to the Captain of the English team out there on the pitch, fumed when told that this was because they had now won them for the nth time, positively barked with annoyance at the information that the Ashes were the remains of a cricket stump, and when, further to this, he was asked to contend with the fact that the cricket stump in question had been burnt in Melbourne, Australia, in 1882, to signify the ``death of English cricket'', he rounded on Slartibartfast, took a deep breath, but didn't have a chance to say anything because the old man wasn't there. He was marching out on to the pitch with terrible purpose in his gait, his hair, beard and robes swept behind him, looking very much as Moses would have looked if Sinai had been a well-cut lawn instead of, as it is more usually represented, a fiery smoking mountain.

``He said to meet him at his ship,'' said Arthur.

``What in the name of zarking fardwarks is the old fool doing?'' exploded Ford.

``Meeting us at his ship in two minutes,'' said Arthur with a shrug which indicated total abdication of thought. They started off towards it. Strange sounds reached their ears. They tried not to listen, but could not help noticing that Slartibartfast was querulously demanding that he be given the silver urn containing the Ashes, as they were, he said, ``vitally important for the past, present and future safety of the Galaxy'', and that this was causing wild hilarity. They resolved to ignore it.

What happened next they could not ignore. With a noise like a hundred thousand people saying ``wop'', a steely white spaceship suddenly seemed to create itself out of nothing in the air directly above the cricket pitch and hung there with infinite menace and a slight hum.

Then for a while it did nothing, as if it expected everybody to go about their normal business and not mind it just hanging there.

Then it did something quite extraordinary. Or rather, it opened up and let something quite extraordinary come out of it, eleven quite extraordinary things.

They were robots, white robots.

What was most extraordinary about them was that they appeared to have come dressed for the occasion. Not only were they white, but they carried what appeared to be cricket bats, and not only that, but they also carried what appeared to be cricket balls, and not only that but they wore white ribbing pads round the lower parts of their legs. These last were extraordinary because they appeared to contain jets which allowed these curiously civilized robots to fly down from their hovering spaceship and start to kill people, which is what they did

``Hello,'' said Arthur, ``something seems to be happening.''

``Get to the ship,'' shouted Ford. ``I don't want to know, I don't want to see, I don't want to hear,'' he yelled as he ran, ``this is not my planet, I didn't choose to be here, I don't want to get involved, just get me out of here, and get me to a party, with people I can relate to!''

Smoke and flame billowed from the pitch.

``Well, the supernatural brigade certainly seems to be out in force here today ...'' burbled a radio happily to itself.

``What I need,'' shouted Ford, by way of clarifying his previous remarks, ``is a strong drink and a peer-group.'' He continued to run, pausing only for a moment to grab Arthur's arm and drag him along with him. Arthur had adopted his normal crisis role, which was to stand with his mouth hanging open and let it all wash over him.

``They're playing cricket,'' muttered Arthur, stumbling along after Ford. ``I swear they are playing cricket. I do not know why they are doing this, but that is what they are doing. They're not just killing people, they're sending them up,'' he shouted, ``Ford, they're sending us up!''

It would have been hard to disbelieve this without knowing a great deal more Galactic history than Arthur had so far managed to pick up in his travels. The ghostly but violent shapes that could be seen moving within the thick pall of smoke seemed to be performing a series of bizarre parodies of batting strokes, the difference being that every ball they struck with their bats exploded wherever it landed. The very first one of these had dispelled Arthur's initial reaction, that the whole thing might just be a publicity stunt by Australian margarine manufacturers.

And then, as suddenly as it had all started, it was over. The eleven white robots ascended through the seething cloud in a tight formation, and with a few last flashes of flame entered the bowels of their hovering white ship, which, with the noise of a hundred thousand people saying ``foop'', promptly vanished into the thin air out of which it had wopped.

For a moment there was a terrible stunned silence, and then out of the drifting smoke emerged the pale figure of Slartibartfast looking even more like Moses because in spite of the continued absence of the mountain he was at least now striding across a fiery and smoking well-mown lawn.

He stared wildly about him until he saw the hurrying figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect forcing their way through the frightened crowd which was for the moment busy stampeding in the opposite direction. The crowd was clearly thinking to itself about what an unusual day this was turning out to be, and not really knowing which way, if any, to turn.

Slartibartfast was gesturing urgently at Ford and Arthur and shouting at them, as the three of them gradually converged on his ship, still parked behind the sight-screens and still apparently unnoticed by the crowd stampeding past it who presumably had enough of their own problems to cope with at that time.

``They've garble warble farble!'' shouted Slartibartfast in his thin tremulous voice.

``What did he say?'' panted Ford as he elbowed his way onwards.

Arthur shook his head.

```They've ...' something or other,'' he said.

``They've table warble farble!'' shouted Slartibartfast again.

Ford and Arthur shook their heads at each other.

``It sounds urgent,'' said Arthur. He stopped and shouted.

``What?''

``They've garble warble fashes!'' cried Slartibartfast, still waving at them.

``He says,'' said Arthur, ``that they've taken the Ashes. That is what I think he says.'' They ran on.

``The ...?'' said Ford.

``Ashes,'' said Arthur tersely. ``The burnt remains of a cricket stump. It's a trophy. That ...'' he was panting, ``is ... apparently ... what they ... have come and taken.'' He shook his head very slightly as if he was trying to get his brain to settle down lower in his skull.

``Strange thing to want to tell us,'' snapped Ford.

``Strange thing to take.''

``Strange ship.''

They had arrived at it. The second strangest thing about the ship was watching the Somebody Else's Problem field at work. They could now clearly see the ship for what it was simply because they knew it was there. It was quite apparent, however, that nobody else could. This wasn't because it was actually invisible or anything hyper-impossible like that. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. The ultra-famous sciento-magician Effrafax of Wug once bet his life that, given a year, he could render the great megamountain Magramal entirely invisible.

Having spent most of the year jiggling around with immense Lux-O-Valves and Refracto-Nullifiers and Spectrum-Bypass-O-Matics, he realized, with nine hours to go, that he wasn't going to make it.

So, he and his friends, and his friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends' friends, and some rather less good friends of theirs who happened to own a major stellar trucking company, put in what now is widely recognized as being the hardest night's work in history, and, sure enough, on the following day, Magramal was no longer visible. Effrafax lost his bet --- and therefore his life --- simply because some pedantic adjudicating official noticed (a) that when walking around the area that Magramal ought to be he didn't trip over or break his nose on anything, and (b) a suspicious-looking extra moon.

The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

And this is precisely what was happening with Slartibartfast's ship. It wasn't pink, but if it had been, that would have been the least of its visual problems and people were simply ignoring it like anything.

The most extraordinary thing about it was that it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.

Ford and Arthur gazed up at it with wonderment and deeply offended sensibilities.

``Yes, I know,'' said Slartibartfast, hurrying up to them at that point, breathless and agitated, ``but there is a reason. Come, we must go. The ancient nightmare is come again. Doom confronts us all. We must leave at once.''

``I fancy somewhere sunny,'' said Ford.

Ford and Arthur followed Slartibartfast into the ship and were so perplexed by what they saw inside it that they were totally unaware of what happened next outside.

A spaceship, yet another one, but this one sleek and silver, descended from the sky on to the pitch, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology.

It landed gently. It extended a short ramp. A tall grey-green figure marched briskly out and approached the small knot of people who were gathered in the centre of the pitch tending to the casualties of the recent bizarre massacre. It moved people aside with quiet, understated authority, and came at last to a man lying in a desperate pool of blood, clearly now beyond the reach of any Earthly medicine, breathing, coughing his last. The figure knelt down quietly beside him.

``Arthur Philip Deodat?'' asked the figure.

The man, with horrified confusion in eyes, nodded feebly.

``You're a no-good dumbo nothing,'' whispered the creature. ``I thought you should know that before you went.''


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