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Chapter Thirty-five

They went to Arthur's house in the West Country, shoved a couple of towels and stuff in a bag, and then sat down to do what every Galactic hitch hiker ends up spending most of his time doing.

They waited for a flying saucer to come by.

``Friend of mine did this for fifteen years,'' said Arthur one night as they sat forlornly watching the sky.

``Who was that?''

``Called Ford Prefect.''

He caught himself doing something he had never really expected to do again.

He wondered where Ford Prefect was.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the following day there were two reports in the paper, one concerning the most astonishing incidents with a flying saucer, and the other about a series of unseemly riots in pubs.

Ford Prefect turned up the day after that looking hung over and complaining that Arthur never answered the phone.

In fact he looked extremely ill, not merely as if he'd been pulled through a hedge backwards, but as if the hedge was being simultaneously pulled backwards through a combine harvester. He staggered into Arthur's sitting room, waving aside all offers of support, which was an error, because the effort caused him to lose his balance altogether and Arthur had eventually to drag him to the sofa.

``Thank you,'' said Ford, ``thank you very much. Have you ...'' he said, and fell asleep for three hours.

``... the faintest idea'' he continued suddenly, when he revived, ``how hard it is to tap into the British phone system from the Pleiades? I can see that you haven't, so I'll tell you,'' he said, ``over the very large mug of black coffee that you are about to make me.''

He followed Arthur wobbily into the kitchen.

``Stupid operators keep asking you where you're calling from and you try and tell them Letchworth and they say you couldn't be if you're coming in on that circuit. What are you doing?''

``Making you some black coffee.''

``Oh.'' Ford seemed oddly disappointed. He looked about the place forlornly.

``What's this?'' he said.

``Rice Crispies.''

``And this?''

``Paprika.''

``I see,'' said Ford, solemnly, and put the two items back down, one on top of the other, but that didn't seem to balance properly, so he put the other on top of the one and that seemed to work.

``A little space-lagged,'' he said. ``What was I saying?''

``About not phoning from Letchworth.''

``I wasn't. I explained this to the lady. `Bugger Letchworth,' I said, `if that's your attitude. I am in fact calling from a sales scoutship of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, currently on the sub-light-speed leg of a journey between the stars known on your world, though not necessarily to you, dear lady.' --- I said `dear lady','' explained Ford Prefect, ``because I didn't want her to be offended by my implication that she was an ignorant cretin ...''

``Tactful,'' said Arthur Dent.

``Exactly,'' said Ford, ``tactful.''

He frowned.

``Space-lag,'' he said, ``is very bad for sub-clauses. You'll have to assist me again,'' he continued, ``by reminding me what I was talking about.''

```Between the stars,''' said Arthur, ```known on your world, though not necessarily to you, dear lady, as ...'''

```Pleiades Epsilon and Pleiades Zeta,''' concluded Ford triumphantly. ``This conversation lark is quite gas isn't it?''

``Have some coffee.''

``Thank you, no. `And the reason,' I said, `why I am bothering you with it rather than just dialling direct as I could, because we have some pretty sophisticated telecommunications equipment out here in the Pleiades, I can tell you, is that the penny pinching son of a starbeast piloting this son of a starbeast spaceship insists that I call collect. Can you believe that?'''

``And could she?''

``I don't know. She had hung up,'' said Ford, ``by this time. So! What do you suppose,'' he asked fiercely, ``I did next?''

``I've no idea, Ford,'' said Arthur.

``Pity,'' said Ford, ``I was hoping you could remind me. I really hate those guys you know. They really are the creeps of the cosmos, buzzing around the celestial infinite with their junky little machines that never work properly or, when they do, perform functions that no sane man would require of them and,'' he added savagely, ``go beep to tell you when they've done it!''

This was perfectly true, and a very respectable view widely held by right thinking people, who are largely recognizable as being right thinking people by the mere fact that they hold this view.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in a moment of reasoned lucidity which is almost unique among its current tally of five million, nine hundred and seventy-five thousand, five hundred and nine pages, says of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation product that ``it is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all.

``In other words --- and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded --- their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.''

``And this guy,'' ranted Ford, ``was on a drive to sell more of them! His five-year mission to seek out and explore strange new worlds, and sell Advanced Music Substitute Systems to their restaurants, elevators and wine bars! Or if they didn't have restaurants, elevators and wine bars yet, to artificially accelerate their civilization growth until they bloody well did have! Where's that coffee!''

``I threw it away.''

``Make some more. I have now remembered what I did next. I saved civilization as we know it. I knew it was something like that.''

He stumbled determinedly back into the sitting room, where he seemed to carry on talking to himself, tripping over the furniture and making beep beep noises.

A couple of minutes later, wearing his very placid face, Arthur followed him.

Ford looked stunned.

``Where have you been?'' he demanded.

``Making some coffee,'' said Arthur, still wearing his very placid face. He had long ago realized that the only way of being in Ford's company successfully was to keep a large stock of very placid faces and wear them at all times.

``You missed the best bit!'' raged Ford. ``You missed the bit where I jumped the guy! Now,'' he said, ``I shall have to jump him, all over him!''

He hurled himself recklessly at a chair and broke it.

``It was better,'' he said sullenly, ``last time,'' and waved vaguely in the direction of another broken chair which he had already got trussed up on the dining table.

``I see,'' said Arthur, casting a placid eye over the trussed up wreckage, ``and, er, what are all the ice cubes for?''

``What?'' screamed Ford. ``What? You missed that bit too? That's the suspended animation facility! I put the guy in the suspended animation facility. Well I had to didn't I?''

``So it would seem,'' said Arthur, in his placid voice.

``Don't touch that!!!'' yelled Ford.

Arthur, who was about to replace the phone, which was for some mysterious reason lying on the table, off the hook, paused, placidly.

``OK,'' said Ford, calming down, ``listen to it.''

Arthur put the phone to his ear.

``It's the speaking clock,'' he said.

``Beep, beep, beep,'' said Ford, ``is exactly what is being heard all over that guy's ship, while he sleeps, in the ice, going slowly round a little-known moon of Sesefras Magna. The London Speaking Clock!''

``I see,'' said Arthur again, and decided that now was the time to ask the big one.

``Why?'' he said, placidly.

``With a bit of luck,'' said Ford, ``the phone bill will bankrupt the buggers.''

He threw himself, sweating, on to the sofa.

``Anyway,'' he said, ``dramatic arrival don't you think?''


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