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Chapter Twenty-three

The battle raged on about the star of Xaxis. Hundreds of the fierce and horribly beweaponed Zirzla ships had now been smashed and wrenched to atoms by the withering forces the huge silver Xaxisian ship was able to deploy.

Part of the moon had gone too, blasted away by those same blazing forceguns that ripped the very fabric of space as they passed through it.

The Zirzla ships that remained, horribly beweaponed though they were, were now hopelessly outclassed by the devastating power of the Xaxisian ship, and were fleeing for cover behind the rapidly disintegrating moon, when the Xaxisian ship, in hurtling pursuit behind them, suddenly announced that it needed a holiday and left the field of battle.

All was redoubled fear and consternation for a moment, but the ship was gone.

With the stupendous powers at its command it flitted across vast tracts of irrationally shaped space, quickly, effortlessly, and above all, quietly.

Deep in his greasy, smelly bunk, fashioned out of a maintenance hatchway, Ford Prefect slept among his towels, dreaming of old haunts. He dreamed at one point in his slumbers of New York.

In his dream he was walking late at night along the East Side, beside the river which had become so extravagantly polluted that new lifeforms were now emerging from it spontaneously, demanding welfare and voting rights.

One of those now floated past, waving. Ford waved back.

The thing thrashed to the shore and struggled up the bank.

``Hi,'' it said, ``I've just been created. I'm completely new to the Universe in all respects. Is there anything you can tell me?''

``Phew,'' said Ford, a little nonplussed, ``I can tell you where some bars are, I guess.''

``What about love and happiness. I sense deep needs for things like that,'' it said, waving its tentacles. ``Got any leads there?''

``You can get some like what you require,'' said Ford, ``on Seventh Avenue.''

``I instinctively feel,'' said the creature, urgently, ``that I need to be beautiful. Am I?''

``You're pretty direct, aren't you?''

``No point in mucking about. Am I?''

``To me?'' said Ford. ``No. But listen,'' he added after a moment, ``most people make out, you know. Are there and like you down there?''

``Search me, buster,'' said the creature, ``as I said, I'm new here. Life is entirely strange to me. What's it like?''

Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.

``Life,'' he said, ``is like a grapefruit.''

``Er, how so?''

``Well, it's sort of orangey-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.''

``Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?''

``I expect so,'' said Ford. ``Ask a policeman.''

Deep in his bunk, Ford Prefect wriggled and turned on to his other side. It wasn't his favourite type of dream because it didn't have Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon VI in it, whom many of his dreams did feature. But at least it was a dream. At least he was asleep.


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