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Chapter Twenty-five

`Just there, number forty-two,' shouted Ford Prefect to the taxi-driver. `Right here!'

The taxi lurched to a halt, and Ford and Arthur jumped out. They had stopped at quite a number of cash-dispensers on the way, and Ford chucked a fistful of money through the window at the driver.

The entrance to the club was dark, smart and severe. Only the smallest little plaque bore its name. Members knew where it was, and if you weren't a member then knowing where it was wasn't any help to you.

Ford Prefect was not a member of Stavro's though he had once been to Stavro's other club in New York. He had a very simple method of dealing with establishments of which he was not a member. He simply swept in as soon as the door was opened, pointed back at Arthur and said, `It's OK, he's with me.' He bounded down the dark glossy stairs, feeling very froody in his new shoes. They were suede and they were blue, and he was very pleased that in spite of everything else going on he had been sharp-eyed enough to spot them in a shop window from the back of a speeding taxi.

`I thought I told you not to come here.'

`What?' said Ford.

A thin, ill-looking man wearing something baggy and Italian was walking up the stairs past them, lighting a cigarette, and had stopped, suddenly.

`Not you,' he said. `Him.'

He looked straight at Arthur, then seemed to become a little confused.

`Excuse me,' he said. `I think I must have mistaken you for someone else.' He started on up the stairs again , but almost immediately turned round once more, even more puzzled. He stared at Arthur.

`Now what?' said Ford.

`What did you say?'

`I said, now what?' repeated Ford irritably.

`Yes, I think so,' said the man and swayed slightly and dropped the book of matches he'd been carrying. His mouth moved weakly. Then he put his hand to his forehead.

`Excuse me,' he said, `I'm trying desperately to remember which drug I've just taken, but it must be one of those ones which mean you can't remember.'

He shook his head and turned away again, and went up towards the men's room.

`Come on,' said Ford. He hurried on downstairs, with Arthur following nervously in his wake. The encounter had shaken him badly and he didn't know why.

He didn't like places like this. For all of the dreams of Earth and home he had had for years, he now badly missed his hut on Lamuella with his knives and his sandwiches. He even missed Old Thrashbarg.

`Arthur!'

It was the most astounding effect. His name was being shouted in stereo.

He twisted to look one way. Up the stairs behind him he saw Trillian hurrying down towards him in her wonderfully rumpled Rymplon\TM. She was looking suddenly aghast.

He twisted the other way to see what she was looking suddenly aghast at.

At the bottom of the stairs was Trillian, wearing... No --- this was Tricia. Tricia that he had just seen, hysterical with confusion, on television. And behind her was Random, looking more wild-eyed than ever. Behind her in the recesses of the smart, dimly lit club, the other clientele of the evening formed a frozen tableau, staring anxiously up at the confrontation on the stairs.

For a few seconds everyone stood stock still. Only the music from behind the bar didn't know to stop throbbing.

`The gun she is holding,' said Ford quietly, nodding slightly towards Random, `is a Wabanatta 3. It was in the ship she stole from me. It's quite dangerous in fact. Just don't move for a moment. Let's just everybody stay calm and find out what's upsetting her.'

`Where do I fit?' screamed Random suddenly. The hand holding the gun was trembling fiercely. Her other hand delved into her pocket and pulled out the remains of Arthur's watch. She shook it at them.

`I thought I would fit here,' she cried, `on the world that made me! But it turns out that even my mother doesn't know who I am!' She flung the watch violently aside, and it smashed into the glasses behind the bar, scattering its innards.

Everyone was very quiet for a moment or two longer.

`Random,' said Trillian quietly from up on the stairs.

`Shut up!' shouted Random. `You abandoned me!'

`Random, it is very important that you listen to me and understand,' persisted Trillian quietly. `There isn't very much time. We must leave. We must all leave.'

`What are you talking about? We're always leaving!' She had both hands on the gun now, and both were shaking. There was no one in particular she was pointing it at. She was just pointing it at the world in general.

`Listen,' said Trillian again. `I left you because I went to cover a war for the network. It was extremely dangerous . At least, I thought it was going to be. I arrived and the war had suddenly ceased to happen. There was a time anomaly and... listen! Please listen! A reconnaissance battleship had failed to turn up, the rest of the fleet was scattered in some farcical disarray. It's happening all the time now.'

`I don't care! I don't want to hear about your bloody job!' shouted Random. `I want a home! I want to fit somewhere!'

`This is not your home,' said Trillian, still keeping her voice calm. `You don't have one. We none of us have one. Hardly anybody has one any more. The missing ship I was just talking about. The people of that ship don't have a home. They don't know where they are from. They don't even have any memory of who they are or what they are for. They are very lost and very confused and very frightened. They are here in this solar system, and they are about to do something very... misguided because they are so lost and confused. We... must... leave ... now. I can't tell you where there is to go to. Perhaps there isn't anywhere. But here is not the place to be. Please. One more time. Can we go?'

Random was wavering in panic and confusion.

`It's all right,' said Arthur gently. `If I'm here, we're safe. Don't ask me to explain just now, but I am safe, so you are safe. OK?'

`What are you saying?' said Trillian.

`Let's all just relax,' said Arthur. He was feeling very tranquil. His life was charmed and none of this seemed real.

Slowly, gradually, Random began to relax, and to let the gun down, inch by inch.

Two things happened simultaneously.

The door to the men's room at the top of the stairs opened, and the man who had accosted Arthur came out, sniffing.

Startled at the sudden movement, Random lifted the gun again just as a man standing behind her made a grab for it.

Arthur threw himself forward. There was a deafening explosion. He fell awkwardly as Trillian threw herself down over him. The noise died away. Arthur looked up to see the man at the top of the stairs gazing down at him with a look of utter stupefaction.

`You...' he said. Then slowly, horribly, he fell apart.

Random threw the gun down and fell to her knees, sobbing. I'm sorry!' she said. `I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry...'

Tricia went to her. Trillian went to her.

Arthur sat on the stairs with his head between his hands and had not the faintest idea what to do. Ford was sitting on the stair beneath him. He picked something up, looked at it with interest, and passed it up to Arthur.

`This mean anything to you? he said.

Arthur took it. It was the book of matches which the dead man had dropped. It had the name of the club on it. It had the name of the proprietor of the club on it. It looked like this:

STAVRO MUELLER
BETA

He stared at it for some time as things began slowly to reassemble themselves in his mind. He wondered what he should do, but he only wondered it idly. Around him people were beginning to rush and shout a lot, but it was suddenly very clear to him that there was nothing to be done, not now or ever. Through the new strangeness of noise and light he could just make out the shape of Ford Prefect sitting back and laughing wildly.

A tremendous feeling of peace came over him. He knew that at last, for once and for ever, it was now all, finally, over.

In the darkness of the bridge at the heart of the Vogon ship, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz sat alone. Lights flared briefly across the external vision screens that lined one wall. In the air above him the discontinuities in the blue and green watery sausage shape resolved themselves. Options collapsed, possibilities folded into each other, and the whole at last resolved itself out of existence.

A very deep darkness descended. The Vogon captain sat immersed in it for a few seconds.

`Light' he said.

There was no response. The bird, too, had crumpled out of all possibility.

The Vogon turned on the light himself. He picked up the piece of paper again and placed a little tick in the little box. Well, that was done. His ship slunk off into the inky void.

In spite of having taken what he regarded as an extremely positive piece of action, the Grebulon Leader ended up having a very bad month after all. It was pretty much the same as all the previous months except that there was now nothing on the television any more. He put on a little light music instead.


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