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Chapter Twenty-three

``All right,'' shouted Ford at Arthur, ``so I'm a coward, the point is I'm still alive.'' They were back aboard the Starship Bistromath, so was Slartibartfast, so was Trillian. Harmony and concord were not.

``Well, so am I alive, aren't I?'' retaliated Arthur, haggard with adventure and anger. His eyebrows were leaping up and down as if they wanted to punch each other.

``You damn nearly weren't,'' exploded Ford.

Arthur turned sharply to Slartibartfast, who was sitting in his pilot couch on the flight deck gazing thoughtfully into the bottom of a bottle which was telling him something he clearly couldn't fathom. He appealed to him.

``Do you think he understands the first word I've been saying?'' he said, quivering with emotion.

``I don't know,'' replied Slartibartfast, a little abstractedly. ``I'm not sure,'' he added, glancing up very briefly, ``that I do.'' He stared at his instruments with renewed vigor and bafflement. ``You'll have to explain it to us again,'' he said.

``Well ...''

``But later. Terrible things are afoot.''

He tapped the pseudo-glass of the bottle bottom.

``We fared rather pathetically at the party, I'm afraid,'' he said, ``and our only hope now is to try to prevent the robots from using the Key in the Lock. How in heaven we do that I don't know,'' he muttered. ``Just have to go there, I suppose. Can't say I like the idea at all. Probably end up dead.''

``Where is Trillian anyway?'' said Arthur with a sudden affectation of unconcern. What he had been angry about was that Ford had berated him for wasting time over all the business with the Thunder God when they could have been making a rather more rapid escape. Arthur's own opinion, and he had offered it for whatever anybody might have felt it was worth, was that he had been extraordinarily brave and resourceful.

The prevailing view seemed to be that his opinion was not worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys. What really hurt, though, was that Trillian didn't seem to react much one way or the other and had wandered off somewhere.

``And where are my potato crisps?'' said Ford.

``They are both,'' said Slartibartfast, without looking up, ``in the Room of Informational Illusions. I think that your young lady friend is trying to understand some problems of Galactic history. I think the potato crisps are probably helping her.''


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