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Chapter Sixteen

``Nothing is lost for ever,'' said Slartibartfast, his face flickering redly in the light of the candle which the robot waiter was trying to take away, ``except for the Cathedral of Chalesm.''

``The what?'' said Arthur with a start.

``The Cathedral of Chalesm,'' repeated Slartibartfast. ``It was during the course of my researches at the Campaign for Real Time that I ...''

``The what?'' said Arthur again.

The old man paused and gathered his thoughts, for what he hoped would be one last onslaught on his story. The robot waiter moved through the space-time matrices in a way which spectacularly combined the surly with the obsequious, made a snatch for the candle and got it. They had had the bill, had argued convincingly about who had had the cannelloni and how many bottles of wine they had had, and, as Arthur had been dimly aware, had thereby successfully manoeuvred the ship out of subjective space and into a parking orbit round a strange planet. The waiter was now anxious to complete his part of the charade and clear the bistro.

``All will become clear,'' said Slartibartfast.

``When?''

``In a minute. Listen. The time streams are now very polluted. There's a lot of muck floating about in them, flotsam and jetsam, and more and more of it is now being regurgitated into the physical world. Eddies in the space-time continuum, you see.''

``So I hear,'' said Arthur.

``Look, where are we going?'' said Ford, pushing his chair back from the table with impatience. ``Because I'm eager to get there.''

``We are going,'' said Slartibartfast in a slow, measured voice, ``to try to prevent the war robots of Krikkit from regaining the whole of the Key they need to unlock the planet of Krikkit from the Slo-Time envelope and release the rest of their army and their mad Masters.''

``It's just,'' said Ford, ``that you mentioned a party.''

``I did,'' said Slartibartfast, and hung his head.

He realized that it had been a mistake, because the idea seemed to exercise a strange and unhealthy fascination on the mind of Ford Prefect. The more that Slartibartfast unravelled the dark and tragic story of Krikkit and its people, the more Ford Prefect wanted to drink a lot and dance with girls.

The old man felt that he should not have mentioned the party until he absolutely had to. But there it was, the fact was out, and Ford Prefect had attached himself to it the way an Arcturan Megaleach attaches itself to its victim before biting his head off and making off with his spaceship.

``When,'' said Ford eagerly, ``do we get there?''

``When I've finished telling you why we have to go there.''

``I know why I'm going,'' said Ford, and leaned back, sticking his hands behind his head. He gave one of his smiles which made people twitch.

Slartibartfast had hoped for an easy retirement.

He had been planning to learn to play the octraventral heebiephone --- a pleasantly futile task, he knew, because he had the wrong number of mouths.

He had also been planning to write an eccentric and relentlessly inaccurate monograph on the subject of equatorial fjords in order to set the record wrong about one or two matters he saw as important.

Instead, he had somehow got talked into doing some part-time work for the Campaign for Real Time and had started to take it all seriously for the first time in his life. As a result he now found himself spending his fast-declining years combating evil and trying to save the Galaxy.

He found it exhausting work and sighed heavily.

``Listen,'' he said, ``at Camtim ...''

``What?'' said Arthur.

``The Campaign for Real Time, which I will tell you about later. I noticed that five pieces of jetsam which had in relatively recent times plopped back into existence seemed to correspond to the five pieces of the missing Key. Only two I could trace exactly --- the Wooden Pillar, which appeared on your planet, and the Silver Bail. It seems to be at some sort of party. We must go there to retrieve it before the Krikkit robots find it, or who knows what may hap?''

``No,'' said Ford firmly. ``We must go to the party in order to drink a lot and dance with girls.''

``But haven't you understood everything I ...?''

``Yes,'' said Ford, with a sudden and unexpected fierceness, ``I've understood it all perfectly well. That's why I want to have as many drinks and dance with as many girls as possible while there are still any left. If everything you've shown us is true ...''

``True? Of course it's true.''

``... then we don't stand a whelk's chance in a supernova.''

``A what?'' said Arthur sharply again. He had been following the conversation doggedly up to this point, and was keen not to lose the thread now.

``A whelk's chance in a supernova,'' repeated Ford without losing momentum. ``The ...''

``What's a whelk got to do with a supernova?'' said Arthur.

``It doesn't,'' said Ford levelly, ``stand a chance in one.''

He paused to see if the matter was now cleared up. The freshly puzzled looks clambering across Arthur's face told him that it wasn't.

``A supernova,'' said Ford as quickly and as clearly as he could, ``is a star which explodes at almost half the speed of light and burns with the brightness of a billion suns and then collapses as a super-heavy neutron star. It's a star which burns up other stars, got it? Nothing stands a chance in a supernova.''

``I see,'' said Arthur.

``The ...''

``So why a whelk particularly?''

``Why not a whelk? Doesn't matter.''

Arthur accepted this, and Ford continued, picking up his early fierce momentum as best he could.

``The point is,'' he said, ``that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur --- particularly and especially Arthur --- are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like.''

Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.

``--- ...'' is as far as he got.

``We're not obsessed by anything, you see,'' insisted Ford.

``...''

``And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win.''

``I care about lots of things,'' said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

``Such as?''

``Well,'' said the old man, ``life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.''

``Would you die for them?''

``Fjords?'' blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. ``No.''

``Well then.''

``Wouldn't see the point, to be honest.''

``And I still can't see the connection,'' said Arthur, ``with whelks.''

Ford could feel the conversation slipping out of his control, and refused to be sidetracked by anything at this point.

``The point is,'' he hissed, ``that we are not obsessive people, and we don't stand a chance against ...''

``Except for your sudden obsession with whelks,'' pursued Arthur, ``which I still haven't understood.''

``Will you please leave whelks out of it?''

``I will if you will,'' said Arthur. ``You brought the subject up.''

``It was an error,'' said Ford, ``forget them. The point is this.''

He leant forward and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers.

``What was I talking about?'' he said wearily.

``Let's just go down to the party,'' said Slartibartfast, ``for whatever reason.'' He stood up, shaking his head.

``I think that's what I was trying to say,'' said Ford.

For some unexplained reason, the teleport cubicles were in the bathroom.


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