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Chapter Ten

``At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and twenty seconds.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''

Ford Prefect suppressed a little giggle of evil satisfaction, realized that he had no reason to suppress it, and laughed out loud, a wicked laugh.

He switched the incoming signal through from the Sub-Etha Net to the ship's hi-fi system, and the odd, rather stilted, sing-song voice spoke out with remarkable clarity round the cabin.

``At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and thirty seconds.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''

He tweaked the volume up just a little while keeping a careful eye on a rapidly changing table of figures on the ship's computer display. For the length of time he had in mind, the question of power consumption became significant. He didn't want a murder on his conscience.

``At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and forty seconds.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''

He checked around the small ship. He walked down the short corridor. ``At the third stroke ...''

He stuck his head into the small, functional, gleaming steel bathroom.

``it will be ...''

It sounded fine in there.

He looked into the tiny sleeping quarters.

``... one ... thirty-two ...''

It sounded a bit muffled. There was a towel hanging over one of the speakers. He took down the towel.

``... and fifty seconds.''

Fine.

He checked out the packed cargo hold, and wasn't at all satisfied with the sound. There was altogether too much crated junk in the way. He stepped back out and waited for the door to seal. He broke open a closed control panel and pushed the jettison button. He didn't know why he hadn't thought of that before. A whooshing rumbling noise died away quickly into silence. After a pause a slight hiss could be heard again.

It stopped.

He waited for the green light to show and then opened the door again on the now empty cargo hold.

``... one ... thirty-three ... and fifty seconds.''

Very nice.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''

He then went and had a last thorough examination of the emergency suspended animation chamber, which was where he particularly wanted it to be heard.

``At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty ... four ... precisely.''

He shivered as he peered down through the heavily frosted covering at the dim bulk of the form within. One day, who knew when, it would wake, and when it did, it would know what time it was. Not exactly local time, true, but what the heck.

He double-checked the computer display above the freezer bed, dimmed the lights and checked it again.

``At the third stroke it will be ...''

He tiptoed out and returned to the control cabin.

``... one ... thirty-four and twenty seconds.''

The voice sounded as clear as if he was hearing it over a phone in London, which he wasn't, not by a long way.

He gazed out into the inky night. The star the size of a brilliant biscuit crumb he could see in the distance was Zondostina, or as it was known on the world from which the rather stilted, sing-song voice was being received, Pleiades Zeta.

The bright orange curve that filled over half the visible area was the giant gas planet Sesefras Magna, where the Xaxisian battleships docked, and just rising over its horizon was a small cool blue moon, Epun.

``At the third stroke it will be ...''

For twenty minutes he sat and watched as the gap between the ship and Epun closed, as the ship's computer teased and kneaded the numbers that would bring it into a loop around the little moon, close the loop and keep it there, orbiting in perpetual obscurity.

``One ... fifty-nine ...''

His original plan had been to close down all external signalling and radiation from the ship, to render it as nearly invisible as possible unless you were actually looking at it, but then he'd had an idea he preferred. It would now emit one single continuous beam, pencil-thin, broadcasting the incoming time signal to the planet of the signal's origin, which it would not reach for four hundred years, travelling at light speed, but where it would probably cause something of a stir when it did.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''

He sniggered.

He didn't like to think of himself as the sort of person who giggled or sniggered, but he had to admit that he had been giggling and sniggering almost continuously for well over half an hour now.

``At the third stroke ...''

The ship was now locked almost perfectly into its perpetual orbit round a little known and never visited moon. Almost perfect.

One thing only remained. He ran again the computer simulation of the launching of the ship's little Escape-O-Buggy, balancing actions, reactions, tangential forces, all the mathematical poetry of motion, and saw that it was good.

Before he left, he turned out the lights.

As his tiny little cigar tube of an escape craft zipped out on the beginning of its three-day journey to the orbiting space station Port Sesefron, it rode for a few seconds a long pencil-thin beam of radiation that was starting out on a longer journey still.

``At the third stroke, it will be two ... thirteen ... and fifty seconds.''

He giggled and sniggered. He would have laughed out loud but he didn't have the room.

``Beep ... beep ... beep.''


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