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Chapter Twenty-nine

``Tell us,'' said the thin, pale-faced Krikkiter who had stepped forward from the ranks of the others and stood uncertainly in the circle of torchlight, handling his gun as if he was just holding it for someone else who'd just popped off somewhere but would be back in a minute, ``do you know anything about something called the Balance of Nature?''

There was no reply from their captives, or at least nothing more articulate than a few confused mumbles and grunts. The torchlight continued to play over them. High in the sky above them dark activity continued in the Robot zones.

``It's just,'' continued the Krikkiter uneasily, ``something we heard about, probably nothing important. Well, I suppose we'd better kill you then.''

He looked down at his gun as if he was trying to find which bit to press.

``That is,'' he said, looking up again, ``unless there's anything you want to chat about?''

Slow, numb astonishment crept up the bodies of Slartibartfast, Ford and Arthur. Very soon it would reach their brains, which were at the moment solely occupied with moving their jawbones up and down. Trillian was shaking her head as if trying to finish a jigsaw by shaking the box.

``We're worried, you see,'' said another man from the crowd, ``about this plan of universal destruction.''

``Yes,'' added another, ``and the balance of nature. It just seemed to us that if the whole of the rest of the Universe is destroyed it will somehow upset the balance of nature. We're quite keen on ecology, you see.'' His voice trailed away unhappily.

``And sport,'' said another, loudly. This got a cheer of approval from the others.

``Yes,'' agreed the first, ``and sport ...'' He looked back at his fellows uneasily and scratched fitfully at his cheek. He seemed to be wrestling with some deep inner confusion, as if everything he wanted to say and everything he thought were entirely different things, between which he could see no possible connection.

``You see,'' he mumbled, ``some of us ...'' and he looked around again as if for confirmation. The others made encouraging noises. ``Some of us,'' he continued, ``are quite keen to have sporting links with the rest of the Galaxy, and though I can see the argument about keeping sport out of politics, I think that if we want to have sporting links with the rest of the Galaxy, which we do, then it's probably a mistake to destroy it. And indeed the rest of the Universe ...'' his voice trailed away again ``... which is what seems to be the idea now ...''

``Wh ...'' said Slartibartfast. ``Wh ...''

``Hhhh ... ?'' said Arthur.

``Dr ...'' said Ford Prefect.

``OK,'' said Trillian. ``Let's talk about it.'' She walked forward and took the poor confused Krikkiter by the arm. He looked about twenty-five, which meant, because of the peculiar manglings of time that had been going on in this area, that he would have been just twenty when the Krikkit Wars were finished, ten billion years ago.

Trillian led him for a short walk through the torchlight before she said anything more. He stumbled uncertainly after her. The encircling torch beams were drooping now slightly as if they were abdicating to this strange, quiet girl who alone in the Universe of dark confusion seemed to know what she was doing.

She turned and faced him, and lightly held both his arms. He was a picture of bewildered misery.

``Tell me,'' she said.

He said nothing for a moment, whilst his gaze darted from one of her eyes to the other.

``We ...'' he said, ``we have to be alone ... I think.'' He screwed up his face and then dropped his head forward, shaking it like someone trying to shake a coin out of a money box. He looked up again. ``We have this bomb now, you see,'' he said, ``it's just a little one.''

``I know,'' she said.

He goggled at her as if she'd said something very strange about beetroots.

``Honestly,'' he said, ``it's very, very little.''

``I know,'' she said again.

``But they say,'' his voice trailed on, ``they say it can destroy everything that exists. And we have to do that, you see, I think. Will that make us alone? I don't know. It seems to be our function, though,'' he said, and dropped his head again.

``Whatever that means,'' said a hollow voice from the crowd.

Trillian slowly put her arms around the poor bewildered young Krikkiter and patted his trembling head on her shoulder.

``It's all right,'' she said quietly but clearly enough for all the shadowy crowd to hear, ``you don't have to do it.''

She rocked him.

``You don't have to do it,'' she said again.

She let him go and stood back.

``I want you to do something for me,'' she said, and unexpectedly laughed.

``I want,'' she said, and laughed again. She put her hand over her mouth and then said with a straight face, ``I want you to take me to your leader,'' and she pointed into the War Zones in the sky. She seemed somehow to know that their leader would be there.

Her laughter seemed to discharge something in the atmosphere. From somewhere at the back of the crowd a single voice started to sing a tune which would have enabled Paul McCartney, had he written it, to buy the world.


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