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Chapter Twelve

``Shhh,'' said Slartibartfast. ``Listen and watch.''

Night had now fallen on ancient Krikkit. The sky was dark and empty. The only light was coming from the nearby town, from which pleasant convivial sounds were drifting quietly on the breeze. They stood beneath a tree from which heady fragrances wafted around them. Arthur squatted and felt the Informational Illusion of the soil and the grass. He ran it through his fingers. The soil seemed heavy and rich, the grass strong. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was a thoroughly delightful place in all respects.

The sky was, however, extremely blank and seemed to Arthur to cast a certain chill over the otherwise idyllic, if currently invisible, landscape. Still, he supposed, it's a question of what you're used to.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. Slartibartfast was quietly directing his attention to something down the other side of the hill. He looked and could just see some faint lights dancing and waving, and moving slowly in their direction.

As they came nearer, sounds became audible too, and soon the dim lights and noises resolved themselves into a small group of people who were walking home across the hill towards the town.

They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns which made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex.

``The Masters of Krikkit,'' breathed Slartibartfast in sepulchral tones.

Coming, as it did, so hard upon the heels of his own thoughts about Essex this remark caused Arthur a moment's confusion. Then the logic of the situation imposed itself on his scattered mind, and he discovered that he still didn't understand what the old man meant.

``What?'' he said.

``The Masters of Krikkit,'' said Slartibartfast again, and if his breathing had been sepulchral before, this time he sounded like someone in Hades with bronchitis.

Arthur peered at the group and tried to make sense of what little information he had at his disposal at this point.

The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise they appeared remarkably pleasant; a little whimsical perhaps, one wouldn't necessarily want to spend a long coach journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough. So why all this rasping lungwork from Slartibartfast which would seem more appropriate to a radio commercial for one of those nasty films about chainsaw operators taking their work home with them?

Then, this Krikkit angle was a tough one, too. He hadn't quite fathomed the connection between what he knew as cricket, and what ...

Slartibartfast interrupted his train of thought at this point as if sensing what was going through his mind.

``The game you know as cricket,'' he said, and his voice still seemed to be wandering lost in subterranean passages, ``is just one of those curious freaks of racial memory which can keep images alive in the mind aeons after their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Of all the races on the Galaxy, only the English could possibly revive the memory of the most horrific wars ever to sunder the Universe and transform it into what I'm afraid is generally regarded as an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game.

``Rather fond of it myself,'' he added, ``but in most people's eyes you have been inadvertently guilty of the most grotesque bad taste. Particularly the bit about the little red ball hitting the wicket, that's very nasty.''

``Um,'' said Arthur with a reflective frown to indicate that his cognitive synapses were coping with this as best as they could, ``um.''

``And these,'' said Slartibartfast, slipping back into crypt guttural and indicating the group of Krikkit men who had now walked past them, ``are the ones who started it all, and it will start tonight. Come, we will follow, and see why.''

They slipped out from underneath the tree, and followed the cheery party along the dark hill path. Their natural instinct was to tread quietly and stealthily in pursuit of their quarry, though, as they were simply walking through a recorded Informational Illusion, they could as easily have been wearing euphoniums and woad for all the notice their quarry would have taken of them.

Arthur noticed that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad which would have netted McCartney Kent and Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire.

``You must surely know,'' said Slartibartfast to Ford, ``what it is that is about to happen?''

``Me?'' said Ford. ``No.''

``Did you not learn Ancient Galactic History when you were a child?''

``I was in the cybercubicle behind Zaphod,'' said Ford, ``it was very distracting. Which isn't to say that I didn't learn some pretty stunning things.''

At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party were singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not ``under the moon'' or ``beneath the stars'' but ``above the grass'', which struck Arthur a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewildering black sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.

``No,'' said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, ``the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves `We are alone in the Universe.' They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank, During the day there is the sun, but you can't look directly at that so they don't. They are hardly aware of the sky. It's as if they had a blind spot which extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

``You see, the reason why they have never thought `We are alone in the Universe' is that until tonight they don't know about the Universe. Until tonight.''

He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him.

``Imagine,'' he said, ``never even thinking `We are alone' simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there's any other way to be.''

He moved on again.

``I'm afraid this is going to be a little unnerving,'' he added.

As he spoke, they became aware of a very thin roaring scream high up in the sightless sky above them. They glanced upwards in alarm, but for a moment or two could see nothing.

Then Arthur noticed that the people in the party in front of them had heard the noise, but that none of them seemed to know what to so with it. They were glancing around themselves in consternation, left, right, forwards, backwards, even at the ground. It never occurred to them to look upwards.

The profoundness of the shock and horror they emanated a few moments later when the burning wreckage of a spaceship came hurtling and screaming out of the sky and crashed about half a mile from where they were standing was something that you had to be there to experience.

Some speak of the Heart of Gold in hushed tones, some of the Starship Bistromath.

Many speak of the legendary and gigantic Starship Titanic, a majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artifactovol some hundreds of years ago now, and with good reason.

It was sensationally beautiful, staggeringly huge, and more pleasantly equipped than any ship in what now remains of history (see note below on the Campaign for Real Time) but it had the misfortune to be built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood.

The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a prototype Improbability Field into it, which was meant, supposedly, to ensure that it was Infinitely Improbable that anything would ever go wrong with any part of the ship.

They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately.

The Starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale amongst the laser-lit tracery of its construction gantries, a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message --- an SOS --- before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.

However, the same event which saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proven that more people watched the tri-d coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest achievement ever in the science of audience research.

Another spectacular media event of that time was the supernova which the star Ysllodins underwent a few hours later. Ysllodins is the star around which most of the Galaxy's major insurance underwriters live, or rather lived.

But whilst these spaceships, and other great ones which come to mind, such as the Galactic Fleet Battleships --- the GSS Daring, the GSS Audacy and the GSS Suicidal Insanity --- are all spoken of with awe, pride, enthusiasm, affection, admiration, regret, jealousy, resentment, in fact most of the better known emotions, the one which regularly commands the most actual astonishment was Krikkit One, the first spaceship ever built by the people of Krikkit. This is not because it was a wonderful ship. It wasn't.

It was a crazy piece of near junk. It looked as if it had been knocked up in somebody's backyard, and this was in fact precisely where it had been knocked up. The astonishing thing about the ship was not that it was one well (it wasn't) but that it was done at all. The period of time which had elapsed between the moment that the people of Krikkit had discovered that there was such a thing as space and the launching of their first spaceship was almost exactly a year.

Ford Prefect was extremely grateful, as he strapped himself in, that this was just another Informational Illusion, and that he was therefore completely safe. In real life it wasn't a ship he would have set foot in for all the rice wine in China. ``Extremely rickety'' was one phrase which sprang to mind, and ``Please may I get out?'' was another.

``This is going to fly?'' said Arthur, giving gaunt looks, at the lashed-together pipework and wiring which festooned the cramped interior of the ship.

Slartibartfast assured him that it would, that they were perfectly safe and that it was all going to be extremely instructive and not a little harrowing.

Ford and Arthur decided just to relax and be harrowed.

``Why not,'' said Ford, ``go mad?''

In front of them and, of course, totally unaware of their presence for the very good reason that they weren't actually there, were the three pilots. They had also constructed the ship. They had been on the hill path that night singing wholesome heartwarming songs. Their brains had been very slightly turned by the nearby crash of the alien spaceship. They had spent weeks stripping every tiniest last secret out of the wreckage of that burnt-up spaceship, all the while singing lilting spaceship-stripping ditties. They had then built their own ship and this was it. This was their ship, and they were currently singing a little song about that too, expressing the twin joys of achievement and ownership. The chorus was a little poignant, and told of their sorrow that their work had kept them such long hours in the garage, away from the company of their wives and children, who had missed them terribly but had kept them cheerful by bringing them continual stories of how nicely the puppy was growing up.

Pow, they took off.

They roared into the sky like a ship that knew precisely what it was doing.

``No way,'' said Ford a while later after they had recovered from the shock of acceleration, and were climbing up out of the planet's atmosphere, ``no way,'' he repeated, ``does anyone design and build a ship like this in a year, no matter how motivated. I don't believe it. Prove it to me and I still won't believe it.'' He shook his head thoughtfully and gazed out of a tiny port at the nothingness outside it.

The trip passed uneventfully for a while, and Slartibartfast fastwound them through it.

Very quickly, therefore, they arrived at the inner perimeter of the hollow, spherical Dust Cloud which surrounded their sun and home planet, occupying, as it were, the next orbit out.

It was more as if there was a gradual change in the texture and consistency of space. The darkness seemed now to thrum and ripple past them. It was a very cold darkness, a very blank and heavy darkness, it was the darkness of the night sky of Krikkit.

The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur's heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots which hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical knowledge of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done.

The darkness of the cloud buffeted at the ship. Inside was the silence of history. Their historic mission was to find out if there was anything or anywhere on the other side of the sky, from which the wrecked spaceship could have come, another world maybe, strange and incomprehensible though this thought was to the enclosed minds of those who had lived beneath the sky of Krikkit.

History was gathering itself to deliver another blow.

Still the darkness thrummed at them, the blank enclosing darkness. It seemed closer and closer, thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier. And suddenly it was gone.

They flew out of the cloud.

They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.

For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.

``It'll have to go,'' the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.


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