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    Чупина Людмила Александровна

    На этой странице я , Чупина Людмила Александровна, учитель английского языка лицея № 329 Спб, размещаю список рекомендуемых книг для учащихся 8-11 классов  на английском языке. Произведения - как классические так и современные. Это романы, рассказы, новеллы. Хочу организовать зачетную систему по прочитанным книгам. Думаю,что они будут интересны и преподавателям английского языка. Я уже прочитала три из них. Очень понравились.

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    Библиотека «Артефакт»—http://andrey.tsx.org/

    Fahrenheit 451

    Ray Bradbury

    This one, with gratitude, is for DON CONGDON.

    FAHRENHEIT 451:

    The temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns

    PART I

    IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN

    IT was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

    Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

    He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that. smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.

    He hung up his black-beetle-coloured helmet and shined it, he hung his flameproof jacket neatly; he showered luxuriously, and then, whistling, hands in pockets, walked across the upper floor of the fire station and fell down the hole. At the last moment, when disaster seemed positive, he pulled his hands from his pockets and broke his fall by grasping the golden pole. He slid to a squeaking halt, the heels one inch from the concrete floor downstairs.

    He walked out of the fire station and along the midnight street toward the subway where the silent, air-propelled train slid soundlessly down its lubricated flue in the earth and let him out with a great puff of warm air an to the cream-tiled escalator rising to the suburb.

    Whistling, he let the escalator waft him into the still night air. He walked toward the comer, thinking little at all about nothing in particular. Before he reached the corner, however, he slowed as if a wind had sprung up from nowhere, as if someone had called his name.

    The last few nights he had had the most uncertain feelings about the sidewalk just around the corner here, moving in the starlight toward his house. He had felt that a moment before his making the turn, someone had been there. The air seemed charged with a special calm as if someone had waited there, quietly, and only a moment before he came, simply turned to a shadow and let him through. Perhaps his nose detected a faint perfume, perhaps the skin on the backs of his hands, on his face, felt the temperature rise at this one spot where a person's standing might raise the immediate atmosphere ten degrees for an instant. There was no understanding it. Each time he made the turn, he saw only the white, unused, buckling sidewalk, with perhaps, on one night, something vanishing swiftly across a lawn before he could focus his eyes or speak.

    But now, tonight, he slowed almost to a stop. His inner mind, reaching out to turn the corner for him, had heard the faintest whisper. Breathing? Or was the atmosphere compressed merely by someone standing very quietly there, waiting?

    He turned the corner.

    The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who was moving there seem fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and the leaves carry her forward. Her head was half bent to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves. Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity. It was a look, almost, of pale surprise; the dark eyes were so fixed to the world that no move escaped them. Her dress was white and it whispered. He almost thought he heard the motion of her hands as she walked, and the infinitely small sound now, the white stir of her face turning when she discovered she was a moment away from a man who stood in the middle of the pavement waiting.

    The trees overhead made a great sound of letting down their dry rain. The girl stopped and looked as if she might pull back in surprise, but instead stood regarding Montag with eyes so dark and shining and alive, that he felt he had said something quite wonderful. But he knew his mouth had only moved to say hello, and then when she seemed hypnotized by the salamander on his arm and the phoenix-disc on his chest, he spoke again.

    “Of course,” he said, “you're a new neighbour, aren't you?”

    “And you must be”—she raised her eyes from his professional symbols—“the fireman.” Her voice trailed off.

    “How oddly you say that.”

    “I'd-I'd have known it with my eyes shut,” she said, slowly.

    “What-the smell of kerosene? My wife always complains,” he laughed. “You never wash it off completely.”

    “No, you don't,” she said, in awe.

    He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets, without once moving herself.

    “Kerosene,” he said, because the silence had lengthened, “is nothing but perfume to me.”

    “Does it seem like that, really?”

    “Of course. Why not?”

    She gave herself time to think of it. “I don't know.” She turned to face the sidewalk going toward their homes. “Do you mind if I walk back with you? I'm Clarisse McClellan.”

    “Clarisse. Guy Montag. Come along. What are you doing out so late wandering around? How old are you?”

    They walked in the warm-cool blowing night on the silvered pavement and there was the faintest breath of fresh apricots and strawberries in the air, and he looked around and realized this was quite impossible, so late in the year.

    There was only the girl walking with him now, her face bright as snow in the moonlight, and he knew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give.

    “Well,” she said, “I'm seventeen and I'm crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and insane. Isn't this a nice time of night to walk? I like to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, and watch the sun rise.”

    They walked on again in silence and finally she said, thoughtfully, “You know, I'm not afraid of you at all.”

    He was surprised. “Why should you be?”

    “So many people are. Afraid of firemen, I mean. But you're just a man, after all...”

    He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but-what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. One time, when he was a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon...

    And then Clarisse McClellan said:

    “Do you mind if I ask? How long have you worked at being a fireman?”

    “Since I was twenty, ten years ago.”

    “Do you ever read any of the books you bum?”

    He laughed. “That's against the law!”

    “Oh. Of course.”

    “It's fine work. Monday bum Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then bum the ashes. That's our official slogan.”

    They walked still further and the girl said, “Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?”

    “No. Houses. have always been fireproof, take my word for it.”

    “Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames.”

    He laughed.

    She glanced quickly over. “Why are you laughing?”

    “I don't know.” He started to laugh again and stopped “Why?”

    “You laugh when I haven't been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I've asked you.”

    He stopped walking, “You are an odd one,” he said, looking at her. “Haven't you any respect?”

    “I don't mean to be insulting. It's just, I love to watch people too much, I guess.”

    “Well, doesn't this mean anything to you?” He tapped the numerals 451 stitched on his char-coloured sleeve.

    “Yes,” she whispered. She increased her pace. “Have you ever watched the jet cars racing on the boulevards down that way?

    “You're changing the subject!”

    “I sometimes think drivers don't know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly,” she said. “If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he'd say, that's grass! A pink blur? That's a rose-garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows. My uncle drove slowly on a highway once. He drove forty miles an hour and they jailed him for two days. Isn't that funny, and sad, too?”

    “You think too many things,” said Montag, uneasily.

    “I rarely watch the ‘parlour walls’ or go to races or Fun Parks. So I've lots of time for crazy thoughts, I guess. Have you seen the two-hundred-foot-long billboards in the country beyond town? Did you know that once billboards were only twenty feet long? But cars started rushing by so quickly they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last.”

    “I didn't know that!” Montag laughed abruptly.

    “Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning.”

    He suddenly couldn't remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable.

    “And if you look”—she nodded at the sky—“there's a man in the moon.”

    He hadn't looked for a long time.

    They walked the rest of the way in silence, hers thoughtful, his a kind of clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances. When they reached her house all its lights were blazing.

    “What's going on?” Montag had rarely seen that many house lights.

    “Oh, just my mother and father and uncle sitting around, talking. It's like being a pedestrian, only rarer. My uncle was arrested another time-did I tell you?-for being a pedestrian. Oh, we're most peculiar.”

    “But what do you talk about?”

    She laughed at this. “Good night!” She started up her walk. Then she seemed to remember something and came back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. “Are you happy?” she said.

    “Am I what?” he cried.

    But she was gone-running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently.

    “Happy! Of all the nonsense.”

    He stopped laughing.

    He put his hand into the glove-hole of his front door and let it know his touch. The front door slid open.

    Of course I'm happy. What does she think? I'm not? he asked the quiet rooms. He stood looking up at the ventilator grille in the hall and suddenly remembered that something lay hidden behind the grille, something that seemed to peer down at him now. He moved his eyes quickly away.

    What a strange meeting on a strange night. He remembered nothing like it save one afternoon a year ago when he had met an old man in the park and they had talked...

    Montag shook his head. He looked at a blank wall. The girl's face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact. She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it has to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darknesses but moving also toward a new sun.

    “What?” asked Montag of that other self, the subconscious idiot that ran babbling at times, quite independent of will, habit, and conscience.

    He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know that refracted your own light to you? People were more often-he searched for a simile, found one in his work-torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people's faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?

    What incredible power of identification the girl had; she was like the eager watcher of a marionette show, anticipating each flicker of an eyelid, each gesture of his hand, each flick of a finger, the moment before it began. How long had they walked together? Three minutes? Five? Yet how large that time seemed now. How immense a figure she was on the stage before him; what a shadow she threw on the wall with her slender body! He felt that if his eye itched, she might blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long before he would.

    Why, he thought, now that I think of it, she almost seemed to be waiting for me there, in the street, so damned late at night...

    He opened the bedroom door.

    It was like coming into the cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon had set. Complete darkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tomb-world where no sound from the great city could penetrate. The room was not empty.

    He listened.

    The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune.

    He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over, and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.

    Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of a tomb, her eyes fixed to the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time.

    The room was cold but nonetheless he felt he could not breathe. He did not wish to open the curtains and open the french windows, for he did not want the moon to come into the room. So, with the feeling of a man who will die in the next hour for lack of air,. he felt his way toward his open, separate, and therefore cold bed.

    An instant before his foot hit the object on the floor he knew he would hit such an object. It was not unlike the feeling he had experienced before turning the corner and almost knocking the girl down. His foot, sending vibrations ahead, received back echoes of the small barrier across its path even as the foot swung. His foot kicked. The object gave a dull clink and slid off in darkness.

    He stood very straight and listened to the person on the dark bed in the completely featureless night. The breath coming out of the nostrils was so faint it stirred only the furthest fringes of life, a small leaf, a black feather, a single fibre of hair.

    He still did not want outside light. He pulled out his igniter, felt the salamander etched on its silver disc, gave it a flick...

    Two moonstones looked up at him in the light of his small hand-held fire; two pale moonstones buried in a creek of clear water over which the life of the world ran, not touching them.

    “Mildred!”

    Her face was like a snow-covered island upon which rain might fall; but it felt no rain; over which clouds might pass their moving shadows, but she felt no shadow. There was only the singing of the thimble-wasps in her tamped-shut ears, and her eyes all glass, and breath going in and out, softly, faintly, in and out of her nostrils, and her not caring whether it came or went, went or came.

    The object he had sent tumbling with his foot now glinted under the edge of his own bed. The small crystal bottle of sleeping-tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare.

    As he stood there the sky over the house screamed. There was a tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn ten thousand miles of black linen down the seam. Montag was cut in half. He felt his chest chopped down and split apart. The jet-bombs going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth. The house shook. The flare went out in his hand. The moonstones vanished. He felt his hand plunge toward the telephone.

    The jets were gone. He felt his lips move, brushing the mouthpiece of the phone. “Emergency hospital.” A terrible whisper.

    He felt that the stars had been pulverized by the sound of the black jets and that in the morning the earth would be thought as he stood shivering in the dark, and let his lips go on moving and moving.

    They had this machine. They had two machines, really. One of them slid down into your stomach like a black cobra down an echoing well looking for all the old water and the old time gathered there. It drank up the green matter that flowed to the top in a slow boil. Did it drink of the darkness? Did it suck out all the poisons accumulated with the years? It fed in silence with an occasional sound of inner suffocation and blind searching. It had an Eye. The impersonal operator of the machine could, by wearing a special optical helmet, gaze into the soul of the person whom he was pumping out. What did the Eye see? He did not say. He saw but did not see what the Eye saw. The entire operation was not unlike the digging of a trench in one's yard. The woman on the bed was no more than a hard stratum of marble they had reached. Go on, anyway, shove the bore down, slush up the emptiness, if such a thing could be brought out in the throb of the suction snake. The operator stood smoking a cigarette. The other machine was working too.

    The other machine was operated by an equally impersonal fellow in non-stainable reddish-brown overalls. This machine pumped all of the blood from the body and replaced it with fresh blood and serum.

    “Got to clean ‘em out both ways,” said the operator, standing over the silent woman. “No use getting the stomach if you don't clean the blood. Leave that stuff in the blood and the blood hits the brain like a mallet, bang, a couple of thousand times and the brain just gives up, just quits.”

    “Stop it!” said Montag.

    “I was just sayin',” said the operator.

    “Are you done?” said Montag.

    They shut the machines up tight. “We're done.” His anger did not even touch them. They stood with the cigarette smoke curling around their noses and into their eyes without making them blink or squint. “That's fifty bucks.”

    “First, why don't you tell me if she'll be all right?”

    “Sure, she'll be O. K. We got all the mean stuff right in our suitcase here, it can't get at her now. As I said, you take out the old and put in the new and you're O. K.”

    “Neither of you is an M. D. Why didn't they send an M. D. from Emergency?”

    “Hell!” the operator's cigarette moved on his lips. “We get these cases nine or ten a night. Got so many, starting a few years ago, we had the special machines built. With the optical lens, of course, that was new; the rest is ancient. You don't need an M. D., case like this; all you need is two handymen, clean up the problem in half an hour. Look”—he started for the door—“we gotta go. Just had another call on the old ear-thimble. Ten blocks from here. Someone else just jumped off the cap of a pillbox. Call if you need us again. Keep her quiet. We got a contra-sedative in her. She'll wake up hungry. So long.”

    And the men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths, the men with the eyes of puff-adders, took up their load of machine and tube, their case of liquid melancholy and the slow dark sludge of nameless stuff, and strolled out the door.

    Montag sank down into a chair and looked at this woman. Her eyes were closed now, gently, and he put out his hand to feel the warmness of breath on his palm.

    “Mildred,” he said, at last.

    There are too many of us, he thought. There are billions of us and that's too many. Nobody knows anyone. Strangers come and violate you. Strangers come and cut your heart out. Strangers come and take your blood. Good God, who were those men? I never saw them before in my life!

    Half an hour passed.

    The bloodstream in this woman was new and it seemed to have done a new thing to her. Her cheeks were very pink and her lips were very fresh and full of colour and they looked soft and relaxed. Someone else's blood there. If only someone else's flesh and brain and memory. If only they could have taken her mind along to the dry-cleaner's and emptied the pockets and steamed and cleansed it and reblocked it and brought it back in the morning. If only...

    He got up and put back the curtains and opened the windows wide to let the night air in. It was two o'clock in the morning. Was it only an hour ago, Clarisse McClellan in the street, and him coming in, and the dark room and his foot kicking the little crystal bottle? Only an hour, but the world had melted down and sprung up in a new and colourless form.

    Laughter blew across the moon-coloured lawn from the house of Clarisse and her father and mother and the uncle who smiled so quietly and so earnestly. Above all, their laughter was relaxed and hearty and not forced in any way, coming from the house that was so brightly lit this late at night while all the other houses were kept to themselves in darkness. Montag heard the voices talking, talking, talking, giving, talking, weaving, reweaving their hypnotic web.

    Montag moved out through the french windows and crossed the lawn, without even thinking of it. He stood outside the talking house in the shadows, thinking he might even tap on their door and whisper, “Let me come in. I won't say anything. I just want to listen. What is it you're saying?”

    But instead he stood there, very cold, his face a mask of ice, listening to a man's voice (the uncle?) moving along at an easy pace:

    “Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else's coattails. How are you supposed to root for the home team when you don't even have a programme or know the names? For that matter, what colour jerseys are they wearing as they trot out on to the field?”

    Montag moved back to his own house, left the window wide, checked Mildred, tucked the covers about her carefully, and then lay down with the moonlight on his cheek-bones and on the frowning ridges in his brow, with the moonlight distilled in each eye to form a silver cataract there.

    One drop of rain. Clarisse. Another drop. Mildred. A third. The uncle. A fourth. The fire tonight. One, Clarisse. Two, Mildred. Three, uncle. Four, fire, One, Mildred, two, Clarisse. One, two, three, four, five, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, sleeping-tablets, men, disposable tissue, coat-tails, blow, wad, flush, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, tablets, tissues, blow, wad, flush. One, two, three, one, two, three! Rain. The storm. The uncle laughing. Thunder falling downstairs. The whole world pouring down. The fire gushing up in a volcano. All rushing on down around in a spouting roar and rivering stream toward morning.

    “I don't know anything any more,” he said, and let a sleep-lozenge dissolve on his tongue.

    At nine in the morning, Mildred's bed was empty.

    Montag got up quickly, his heart pumping, and ran down the hall and stopped at the kitchen door.

    Toast popped out of the silver toaster, was seized by a spidery metal hand that drenched it with melted butter.

    Mildred watched the toast delivered to her plate. She had both ears plugged with electronic bees that were humming the hour away. She looked up suddenly, saw him, and nodded.

    “You all right?” he asked.

    She was an expert at lip-reading from ten years of apprenticeship at Seashell ear-thimbles. She nodded again. She set the toaster clicking away at another piece of bread.

    Montag sat down.

    His wife said, “I don't know why I should be so hungry.”

    “You-?”

    “I'm HUNGRY.”

    “Last night,” he began.

    “Didn't sleep well. Feel terrible,” she said. “God, I'm hungry. I can't figure it.”

    “Last night-” he said again.

    She watched his lips casually. “What about last night?”

    “Don't you remember?”

    “What? Did we have a wild party or something? Feel like I've a hangover. God, I'm hungry. Who was here?”

    “A few people,” he said.

    “That's what I thought.” She chewed her toast. “Sore stomach, but I'm hungry as all-get-out. Hope I didn't do anything foolish at the party.”

    “No,” he said, quietly.

    The toaster spidered out a piece of buttered bread for him. He held it in his hand, feeling grateful.

    “You don't look so hot yourself,” said his wife.

    In the late afternoon it rained and the entire world was dark grey. He stood in the hall of his house, putting on his badge with the orange salamander burning across it. He stood looking up at the air-conditioning vent in the hall for a long time. His wife in the TV parlour paused long enough from reading her script to glance up. “Hey,” she said. “The man's THINKING!”

    “Yes,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you.” He paused. “You took all the pills in your bottle last night.”

    “Oh, I wouldn't do that,” she said, surprised.

    “The bottle was empty.”

    “I wouldn't do a thing like that. Why would I do a thing like that?” she asked.

    “Maybe you took two pills and forgot and took two more, and forgot again and took two more, and were so dopy you kept right on until you had thirty or forty of them in you.”

    “Heck,” she said, “what would I want to go and do a silly thing like that for?”

    “I don't know,” he said.

    She was quite obviously waiting for him to go. “I didn't do that,” she said. “Never in a billion years.”

    “All right if you say so,” he said.

    “That's what the lady said.” She turned back to her script.

    “What's on this afternoon?” he asked tiredly.

    She didn't look up from her script again. “Well, this is a play comes on the wall-to-wall circuit in ten minutes. They mailed me my part this morning. I sent in some box-tops. They write the script with one part missing. It's a new idea. The home-maker, that's me, is the missing part. When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines: Here, for instance, the man says, ‘What do you think of this whole idea, Helen?’ And he looks at me sitting here centre stage, see? And I say, I say—” She paused and ran her finger under a line in the script. ‘I think that's fine!’ And then they go on with the play until he says, ‘Do you agree to that, Helen!’ and I say, ‘I sure do!’ Isn't that fun, Guy?”

    He stood in the hall looking at her.

    “It's sure fun,” she said.

    “What's the play about?”

    “I just told you. There are these people named Bob and Ruth and Helen.”

    “Oh.”

    “It's really fun. It'll be even more fun when we can afford to have the fourth wall installed. How long you figure before we save up and get the fourth wall torn out and a fourth wall-TV put in? It's only two thousand dollars.”

    “That's one-third of my yearly pay.”

    “It's only two thousand dollars,” she replied. “And I should think you'd consider me sometimes. If we had a fourth wall, why it'd be just like this room wasn't ours at all, but all kinds of exotic people's rooms. We could do without a few things.”

    “We're already doing without a few things to pay for the third wall. It was put in only two months ago, remember?”

    “Is that all it was?” She sat looking at him for a long moment. “Well, good-bye, dear.”

    “Good-bye,” he said. He stopped and turned around. “Does it have a happy ending?”

    “I haven't read that far.”

    He walked over, read the last page, nodded, folded the script, and handed it back to her. He walked out of the house into the rain.

    The rain was thinning away and the girl was walking in the centre of the sidewalk with her head up and the few drops falling on her face. She smiled when she saw Montag.

    “Hello!”

    He said hello and then said, “What are you up to now?”

    “I'm still crazy. The rain feels good. I love to walk in it.

    “I don't think I'd like that,” he said.

    “You might if you tried.”

    “I never have.”

    She licked her lips. “Rain even tastes good.”

    “What do you do, go around trying everything once?” he asked.

    “Sometimes twice.” She looked at something in her hand.

    “What've you got there?” he said.

    “I guess it's the last of the dandelions this year. I didn't think I'd find one on the lawn this late. Have you ever heard of rubbing it under your chin? Look.” She touched her chin with the flower, laughing.

    “Why?”

    “If it rubs off, it means I'm in love. Has it?”

    He could hardly do anything else but look.

    “Well?” she said.

    “You're yellow under there.”

    “Fine! Let's try YOU now.”

    “It won't work for me.”

    “Here.” Before he could move she had put the dandelion under his chin. He drew back and she laughed. “Hold still!”

    She peered under his chin and frowned.

    “Well?” he said.

    “What a shame,” she said. “You're not in love with anyone.”

    “Yes, I am!”

    “It doesn't show.”

    “I am very much in love!” He tried to conjure up a face to fit the words, but there was no face. “I am!”

    “Oh please don't look that way.”

    “It's that dandelion,” he said. “You've used it all up on yourself. That's why it won't work for me.”

    “Of course, that must be it. Oh, now I've upset you, I can see I have; I'm sorry, really I am.” She touched his elbow.

    “No, no,” he said, quickly, “I'm all right.”

    “I've got to be going, so say you forgive me. I don't want you angry with me.”

    “I'm not angry. Upset, yes.”

    “I've got to go to see my psychiatrist now. They make me go. I made up things to say. I don't know what he thinks of me. He says I'm a regular onion! I keep him busy peeling away the layers.”

    “I'm inclined to believe you need the psychiatrist,” said Montag.

    “You don't mean that.”

    He took a breath and let it out and at last said, “No, I don't mean that.”

    “The psychiatrist wants to know why I go out and hike around in the forests and watch the birds and collect butterflies. I'll show you my collection some day.”

    “Good.”

    “They want to know what I do with all my time. I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think. But I won't tell them what. I've got them running. And sometimes, I tell them, I like to put my head back, like this, and let the rain fall into my mouth. It tastes just like wine. Have you ever tried it?”

    “No I—”

    “You HAVE forgiven me, haven't you?”

    “Yes.” He thought about it. “Yes, I have. God knows why. You're peculiar, you're aggravating, yet you're easy to forgive. You say you're seventeen?”

    “Well-next month.”

    “How odd. How strange. And my wife thirty and yet you seem so much older at times. I can't get over it.”

    “You're peculiar yourself, Mr. Montag. Sometimes I even forget you're a fireman. Now, may I make you angry again?”

    “Go ahead.”

    “How did it start? How did you get into it? How did you pick your work and how did you happen to think to take the job you have? You're not like the others. I've seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking. Or threaten me. No one has time any more for anyone else. You're one of the few who put up with me. That's why I think it's so strange you're a fireman, it just doesn't seem right for you, somehow.”

    He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other.

    “You'd better run on to your appointment,” he said.

    And she ran off and left him standing there in the rain. Only after a long time did he move.

    And then, very slowly, as he walked, he tilted his head back in the rain, for just a few moments, and opened his mouth...

    The Mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel back in a dark corner of the firehouse. The dim light of one in the morning, the moonlight from the open sky framed through the great window, touched here and there on the brass and the copper and the steel of the faintly trembling beast. Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws.

    Montag slid down the brass pole. He went out to look at the city and the clouds had cleared away completely, and he lit a cigarette and came back to bend down and look at the Hound. It was like a great bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that over-rich nectar and now it was sleeping the evil out of itself.

    “Hello,” whispered Montag, fascinated as always with the dead beast, the living beast.

    At night when things got dull, which was every night, the men slid down the brass poles, and set the ticking combinations of the olfactory system of the Hound and let loose rats in the firehouse area-way, and sometimes chickens, and sometimes cats that would have to be drowned anyway, and there would be betting to see which the Hound would seize first. The animals were turned loose. Three seconds later the game was done, the rat, cat, or chicken caught half across the areaway, gripped in gentling paws while a four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the Hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine. The pawn was then tossed in the incinerator. A new game began.

    Montag stayed upstairs most nights when this went on. There had been a time two years ago when he had bet with the best of them, and lost a week's salary and faced Mildred's insane anger, which showed itself in veins and blotches. But now at night he lay in his bunk, face turned to the wall, listening to whoops of laughter below and the piano-string scurry of rat feet, the violin squeaking of mice, and the great shadowing, motioned silence of the Hound leaping out like a moth in the raw light, finding, holding its victim, inserting the needle and going back to its kennel to die as if a switch had been turned.

    Montag touched the muzzle..

    The Hound growled.

    Montag jumped back.

    The Hound half rose in its kennel and looked at him with green-blue neon light flickering in its suddenly activated eyebulbs. It growled again, a strange rasping combination of electrical sizzle, a frying sound, a scraping of metal, a turning of cogs that seemed rusty and ancient with suspicion.

    “No, no, boy,” said Montag, his heart pounding.

    He saw the silver needle extended upon the air an inch, pull back, extend, pull back. The growl simmered in the beast and it looked at him.

    Montag backed up. The Hound took a step from its kennel.

    Montag grabbed the brass pole with one hand. The pole, reacting, slid upward, and took him through the ceiling, quietly. He stepped off in the half-lit deck of the upper level. He was trembling and his face was green-white. Below, the Hound had sunk back down upon its eight incredible insect legs and was humming to itself again, its multi-faceted eyes at peace.

    Montag stood, letting the fears pass, by the drop-hole. Behind him, four men at a card table under a green-lidded light in the corner glanced briefly but said nothing. Only the man with the Captain's hat and the sign of the Phoenix on his hat, at last, curious, his playing cards in his thin hand, talked across the long room.

    “Montag...?”

    “It doesn't like me,” said Montag.

    “What, the Hound?” The Captain studied his cards.

    “Come off it. It doesn't like or dislike. It just ‘functions.’ It's like a lesson in ballistics. It has a trajectory we decide for it. It follows through. It targets itself, homes itself, and cuts off. It's only copper wire, storage batteries, and electricity.”

    Montag swallowed. “Its calculators can be set to any combination, so many amino acids, so much sulphur, so much butterfat and alkaline. Right?”

    “We all know that.”

    “All of those chemical balances and percentages on all of us here in the house are recorded in the master file downstairs. It would be easy for someone to set up a partial combination on the Hound's ‘memory,’ a touch of amino acids, perhaps. That would account for what the animal did just now. Reacted toward me.”

    “Hell,” said the Captain.

    “Irritated, but not completely angry. Just enough ‘memory’ set up in it by someone so it growled when I touched it.”

    “Who would do a thing like that?.” asked the Captain. “You haven't any enemies here, Guy.”

    “None that I know of.”

    “We'll have the Hound checked by our technicians tomorrow.

    “This isn't the first time it's threatened me,” said Montag. “Last month it happened twice.”

    “We'll fix it up. Don't worry”

    But Montag did not move and only stood thinking of the ventilator grille in the hall at home and what lay hidden behind the grille. If someone here in the firehouse knew about the ventilator then mightn't they “tell” the Hound...?

    The Captain came over to the drop-hole and gave Montag a questioning glance.

    “I was just figuring,” said Montag, “what does the Hound think about down there nights? Is it coming alive on us, really? It makes me cold.”

    “It doesn't think anything we don't want it to think.”

    “That's sad,” said Montag, quietly, “because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that's all it can ever know.”

    Beatty snorted, gently. “Hell! It's a fine bit of craftsmanship, a good rifle that can fetch its own target and guarantees the bull's-eye every time.”

    “That's why,” said Montag. “I wouldn't want to be its next victim.

    “Why? You got a guilty conscience about something?”

    Montag glanced up swiftly.

    Beatty stood there looking at him steadily with his eyes, while his mouth opened and began to laugh, very softly.

    One two three four five six seven days. And as many times he came out of the house and Clarisse was there somewhere in the world. Once he saw her shaking a walnut tree, once he saw her sitting on the lawn knitting a blue sweater, three or four times he found a bouquet of late flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack, or some autumn leaves neatly pinned to a sheet of white paper and thumb-tacked to his door. Every day Clarisse walked him to the corner. One day it was raining, the next it was clear, the day after that the wind blew strong, and the day after that it was mild and calm, and the day after that calm day was a day like a furnace of summer and Clarisse with her face all sunburnt by late afternoon.

    “Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I've known you so many years?”

    “Because I like you,” she said, “and I don't want anything from you. And because we know each other.”

    “You make me feel very old and very much like a father.”

    “Now you explain,” she said, “why you haven't any daughters like me, if you love children so much?”

    “I don't know.”

    “You're joking!”

    “I mean-” He stopped and shook his head. “Well, my wife, she... she just never wanted any children at all.”

    The girl stopped smiling. “I'm sorry. I really, thought you were having fun at my expense. I'm a fool.”

    “No, no,” he said. “It was a good question. It's been a long time since anyone cared enough to ask. A good question.”

    “Let's talk about something else. Have you ever smelled old leaves? Don't they smell like cinnamon? Here. Smell.”

    “Why, yes, it is like cinnamon in a way.”

    She looked at him with her clear dark eyes. “You always seem shocked.”

    “It's just I haven't had time—”

    “Did you look at the stretched-out billboards like I told you?”

    “I think so. Yes.” He had to laugh.

    “Your laugh sounds much nicer than it did”

    “Does it?”

    “Much more relaxed.”

    He felt at ease and comfortable. “Why aren't you in school? I see you every day wandering around.”

    “Oh, they don't miss me,” she said. “I'm anti-social, they say. I don't mix. It's so strange. I'm very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn't it? Social to me means talking about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. “Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don't; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That's not social to me at all. It's a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it's wine when it's not. They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can't do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lamp-posts, playing ‘chicken’ and ‘knock hub-caps.’ I guess I'm everything they say I am, all right. I haven't any friends. That's supposed to prove I'm abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”

    “You sound so very old.”

    “Sometimes I'm ancient. I'm afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always used to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I'm afraid of them and they don't like me because I'm afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn't kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I'm responsible. I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and house-cleaning by hand.

    “But most of all,” she said, “I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they're going. Sometimes I even go to the Fun Parks and ride in the jet cars when they race on the edge of town at midnight and the police don't care as long as they're insured. As long as everyone has ten thousand insurance everyone's happy. Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountains, and do you know what?”

    “What?”

    “People don't talk about anything.”

    “Oh, they must!”

    “No, not anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming-pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else. And most of the time in the cafes they have the jokeboxes on and the same jokes most of the time, or the musical wall lit and all the coloured patterns running up and down, but it's only colour and all abstract. And at the museums, have you ever been? All abstract. That's all there is now. My uncle says it was different once. A long time back sometimes pictures said things or even showed people.”

    “Your uncle said, your uncle said. Your uncle must be a remarkable man.”

    “He is. He certainly is. Well, I've got to be going. Goodbye, Mr. Montag.”

    “Good-bye.”

    “Good-bye...”

    One two three four five six seven days: the firehouse.

    “Montag, you shin that pole like a bird up a tree.”

    Third day.

    “Montag, I see you came in the back door this time. The Hound bother you?”

    “No, no.”

    Fourth day.

    “Montag, a funny thing. Heard tell this morning. Fireman in Seattle, purposely set a Mechanical Hound to his own chemical complex and let it loose. What kind of suicide would you call that?”

    Five six seven days.

    And then, Clarisse was gone. He didn't know what there was about the afternoon, but it was not seeing her somewhere in the world. The lawn was empty, the trees empty, the street empty, and while at first he did not even know he missed her or was even looking for her, the fact was that by the time he reached the subway, there were vague stirrings of un-ease in him. Something was the matter, his routine had been disturbed. A simple routine, true, established in a short few days, and yet...? He almost turned back to make the walk again, to give her time to appear. He was certain if he tried the same route, everything would work out fine. But it was late, and the arrival of his train put a stop to his plan.

    The flutter of cards, motion of hands, of eyelids, the drone of the time-voice in the firehouse ceiling “...one thirty-five. Thursday morning, November 4th,... one thirty-six... one thirty-seven a. m...” The tick of the playing-cards on the greasy table-top, all the sounds came to Montag, behind his closed eyes, behind the barrier he had momentarily erected. He could feel the firehouse full of glitter and shine and silence, of brass colours, the colours of coins, of gold, of silver: The unseen men across the table were sighing on their cards, waiting.

    “...one forty-five...” The voice-clock mourned out the cold hour of a cold morning of a still colder year.

    “What's wrong, Montag?”

    Montag opened his eyes.

    A radio hummed somewhere. “...war may be declared any hour. This country stands ready to defend its—”

    The firehouse trembled as a great flight of jet planes whistled a single note across the black morning sky.

    Montag blinked. Beatty was looking at him as if he were a museum statue. At any moment, Beatty might rise and walk about him, touching, exploring his guilt and self-consciousness. Guilt? What guilt was that?

    “Your play, Montag.”

    Montag looked at these men whose faces were sunburnt by a thousand real and ten thousand imaginary fires, whose work flushed their cheeks and fevered their eyes. These men who looked steadily into their platinum igniter flames as they lit their eternally burning black pipes. They and their charcoal hair and soot-coloured brows and bluish-ash-smeared cheeks where they had shaven close; but their heritage showed. Montag started up, his mouth opened. Had he ever seen a fireman that didn't have black hair, black brows, a fiery face, and a blue-steel shaved but unshaved look? These men were all mirror-images of himself! Were all firemen picked then for their looks as well as their proclivities? The colour of cinders and ash about them, and the continual smell of burning from their pipes. Captain Beatty there, rising in thunderheads of tobacco smoke. Beatty opening a fresh tobacco packet, crumpling the cellophane into a sound of fire.

    Montag looked at the cards in his own hands. “I-I've been thinking. About the fire last week. About the man whose library we fixed. What happened to him?”

    “They took him screaming off to the asylum”

    “He. wasn't insane.”

    Beatty arranged his cards quietly. “Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us.”

    “I've tried to imagine,” said Montag, “just how it would feel. I mean to have firemen burn our houses and our books.”

    “We haven't any books.”

    “But if we did have some.”

    “You got some?”

    Beatty blinked slowly.

    “No.” Montag gazed beyond them to the wall with the typed lists of a million forbidden books. Their names leapt in fire, burning down the years under his axe and his hose which sprayed not water but kerosene. “No.” But in his mind, a cool wind started up and blew out of the ventilator grille at home, softly, softly, chilling his face. And, again, he saw himself in a green park talking to an old man, a very old man, and the wind from the park was cold, too.

    Montag hesitated, “Was-was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a time...”

    “Once upon a time!” Beatty said. “What kind of talk is THAT?”

    Fool, thought Montag to himself, you'll give it away. At the last fire, a book of fairy tales, he'd glanced at a single line. “I mean,” he said, “in the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed” Suddenly it seemed a much younger voice was speaking for him. He opened his mouth and it was Clarisse McClellan saying, “Didn't firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?”

    “That's rich!” Stoneman and Black drew forth their rulebooks, which also contained brief histories of the Firemen of America, and laid them out where Montag, though long familiar with them, might read:

    “Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin.”

    RULE 1. Answer the alarm swiftly.

    2. Start the fire swiftly.

    3. Burn everything.

    4. Report back to firehouse immediately.

    5. Stand alert for other alarms.

    Everyone watched Montag. He did not move.

    The alarm sounded.

    The bell in the ceiling kicked itself two hundred times. Suddenly there were four empty chairs. The cards fell in a flurry of snow. The brass pole shivered. The men were gone.

    Montag sat in his chair. Below, the orange dragon coughed into life.

    Montag slid down the pole like a man in a dream.

    The Mechanical Hound leapt up in its kennel, its eyes all green flame.

    “Montag, you forgot your helmet!”

    He seized it off the wall behind him, ran, leapt, and they were off, the night wind hammering about their siren scream and their mighty metal thunder!

    It was a flaking three-storey house in the ancient part of the city, a century old if it was a day, but like all houses it had been given a thin fireproof plastic sheath many years ago, and this preservative shell seemed to be the only thing holding it in the sky.

    “Here we are!”

    The engine slammed to a stop. Beatty, Stoneman, and Black ran up the sidewalk, suddenly odious and fat in the plump fireproof slickers. Montag followed.

    They crashed the front door and grabbed at a woman, though she was not running, she was not trying to escape. She was only standing, weaving from side to side, her eyes fixed upon a nothingness in the wall as if they had struck her a terrible blow upon the head. Her tongue was moving in her mouth, and her eyes seemed to be trying to remember something, and then they remembered and her tongue moved again:

    “ ‘Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’”

    “Enough of that!” said Beatty. “Where are they?”

    He slapped her face with amazing objectivity and repeated the question. The old woman's eyes came to a focus upon Beatty. “You know where they are or you wouldn't be here,” she said.

    Stoneman held out the telephone alarm card with the complaint signed in telephone duplicate on the back

    “Have reason to suspect attic; 11 No. Elm, City.—E. B.”

    “That would be Mrs. Blake, my neighbour;” said the woman, reading the initials.

    “All right, men, let's get ‘em!”

    Next thing they were up in musty blackness, swinging silver hatchets at doors that were, after all, unlocked, tumbling through like boys all rollick and shout. “Hey!” A fountain of books sprang down upon Montag as he climbed shuddering up the sheer stair-well. How inconvenient! Always before it had been like snuffing a candle. The police went first and adhesive-taped the victim's mouth and bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars, so when you arrived you found an empty house. You weren't hurting anyone, you were hurting only things! And since things really couldn't be hurt, since things felt nothing, and things don't scream or whimper, as this woman might begin to scream and cry out, there was nothing to tease your conscience later. You were simply cleaning up. Janitorial work, essentially. Everything to its proper place. Quick with the kerosene! Who's got a match!

    But now, tonight, someone had slipped. This woman was spoiling the ritual. The men were making too much noise, laughing, joking to cover her terrible accusing silence below. She made the empty rooms roar with accusation and shake down a fine dust of guilt that was sucked in their nostrils as they plunged about. It was neither cricket nor correct. Montag felt an immense irritation. She shouldn't be here, on top of everything!

    Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung. open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon. In all the rush and fervour, Montag had only an instant to read a line, but it blazed in his mind for the next minute as if stamped there with fiery steel. “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine.” He dropped the book. Immediately, another fell into his arms.

    “Montag, up here!”

    Montag's hand closed like a mouth, crushed the book with wild devotion, with an insanity of mindlessness to his chest. The men above were hurling shovelfuls of magazines into the dusty air. They fell like slaughtered birds and the woman stood below, like a small girl, among the bodies.

    Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief.. Now, it plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit, rushed out empty, with a magician's flourish! Look here! Innocent! Look!

    He gazed, shaken, at that white hand. He held it way out, as if he were far-sighted. He held it close, as if he were blind.

    “Montag!”

    He jerked about.

    “Don't stand there, idiot!”

    The books lay like great mounds of fishes left to dry. The men danced and slipped and fell over them. Titles glittered their golden eyes, falling, gone.

    “Kerosene! They pumped the cold fluid from the numbered 451 tanks strapped to their shoulders. They coated each book, they pumped rooms full of it.

    They hurried downstairs, Montag staggered after them in the kerosene fumes.

    “Come on, woman!”

    The woman knelt among the books, touching the drenched leather and cardboard, reading the gilt titles with her fingers while her eyes accused Montag.

    “You can't ever have my books,” she said.

    “You know the law,” said Beatty. “Where's your common sense? None of those books agree with each other. You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it! The people in those books never lived. Come on now!”

    She shook her head.

    “The whole house is going up;” said Beatty,

    The men walked clumsily to the door. They glanced back at Montag, who stood near the woman.

    “You're not leaving her here?” he protested.

    “She won't come.”

    “Force her, then!”

    Beatty raised his hand in which was concealed the igniter. “We're due back at the house. Besides, these fanatics always try suicide; the pattern's familiar.”

    Montag placed his hand on the woman's elbow. “You can come with me.”

    “No,” she said. “Thank you, anyway.”

    “I'm counting to ten,” said Beatty. “One. Two.”

    “Please,” said Montag.

    “Go on,” said the woman.

    “Three. Four.”

    “Here.” Montag pulled at the woman.

    The woman replied quietly, “I want to stay here”

    “Five. Six.”

    “You can stop counting,” she said. She opened the fingers of one hand slightly and in the palm of the hand was a single slender object.

    An ordinary kitchen match.

    The sight of it rushed the men out and down away from the house. Captain Beatty, keeping his dignity, backed slowly through the front door, his pink face burnt and shiny from a thousand fires and night excitements. God, thought Montag, how true! Always at night the alarm comes. Never by day! Is it because the fire is prettier by night? More spectacle, a better show? The pink face of Beatty now showed the faintest panic in the door. The woman's hand twitched on the single matchstick. The fumes of kerosene bloomed up about her. Montag felt the hidden book pound like a heart against his chest.

    “Go on,” said the woman, and Montag felt himself back away and away out of the door, after Beatty, down the steps, across the lawn, where the path of kerosene lay like the track of some evil snail.

    On the front porch where she had come to weigh them quietly with her eyes, her quietness a condemnation, the woman stood motionless.

    Beatty flicked his fingers to spark the kerosene.

    He was too late. Montag gasped.

    The woman on the porch reached out with contempt for them all, and struck the kitchen match against the railing.

    People ran out of houses all down the street.

    They said nothing on their way back to the firehouse. Nobody looked at anyone else. Montag sat in the front seat with Beatty and Black. They did not even smoke their pipes. They sat there looking out of the front of the great salamander as they turned a corner and went silently on.

    “Master Ridley,” said Montag at last.

    “What?” said Beatty.

    “She said, ‘Master Ridley.’ She said some crazy thing when we came in the door. ‘Play the man,’ she said, ‘Master Ridley.’ Something, something, something.”

    “We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out,” said Beatty. Stoneman glanced over at the Captain, as did Montag, startled.

    Beatty rubbed his chin. “A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555.”

    Montag and Stoneman went back to looking at the street as it moved under the engine wheels.

    “I'm full of bits and pieces,” said Beatty. “Most fire captains have to be. Sometimes I surprise myself. WATCH it, Stoneman!”

    Stoneman braked the truck.

    “Damn!” said Beatty. “You've gone right by the comer where we turn for the firehouse.”

    “Who is it?”

    “Who would it be?” said Montag, leaning back against the closed door in the dark.

    His wife said, at last, “Well, put on the light.”

    “I don't want the light.”

    “Come to bed.”

    He heard her roll impatiently; the bedsprings squealed.

    “Are you drunk?” she said.

    So it was the hand that started it all. He felt one hand and then the other work his coat free and let it slump to the floor. He held his pants out into an abyss and let them fall into darkness. His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arms. He could feel the poison working up his wrists and into his elbows and his shoulders, and then the jump-over from shoulder-blade to shoulder-blade like a spark leaping a gap. His hands were ravenous. And his eyes were beginning to feel hunger, as if they must look at something, anything, everything.

    His wife said, “What are you doing?”

    He balanced in space with the book in his sweating cold fingers.

    A minute later she said, “Well, just don't stand there in the middle of the floor.”

    He made a small sound.

    “What?” she asked.

    He made more soft sounds. He stumbled towards the bed and shoved the book clumsily under the cold pillow. He fell into bed and his wife cried out, startled. He lay far across the room from her, on a winter island separated by an empty sea. She talked to him for what seemed a long while and she talked about this and she talked about that and it was only words, like the words he had heard once in a nursery at a friend's house, a two-year-old child building word patterns, talking jargon, making pretty sounds in the air. But Montag said nothing and after a long while when he only made the small sounds, he felt her move in the room and come to his bed and stand over him and put her hand down to feel his cheek. He knew that when she pulled her hand away from his face it was wet.

    Late in the night he looked over at Mildred. She was awake. There was a tiny dance of melody in the air, her Seashell was tamped in her ear again and she was listening to far people in far places, her eyes wide and staring at the fathoms of blackness above her in the ceiling.

    Wasn't there an old joke about the wife who talked so much on the telephone that her desperate husband ran out to the nearest store and telephoned her to ask what was for dinner? Well, then, why didn't he buy himself an audio-Seashell broadcasting station and talk to his wife late at night, murmur, whisper, shout, scream, yell? But what would he whisper, what would he yell? What could he say?

    And suddenly she was so strange he couldn't believe he knew her at all. He was in someone else's house, like those other jokes people told of the gentleman, drunk, coming home late at night, unlocking the wrong door, entering a wrong room, and bedding with a stranger and getting up early and going to work and neither of them the wiser.

    “Millie...?” he whispered.

    “What?”

    “I didn't mean to startle you. What I want to know is...”

    “Well?”

    “When did we meet. And where?”

    “When did we meet for what?” she asked.

    “I mean-originally.”

    He knew she must be frowning in the dark.

    He clarified it. “The first time we ever met, where was it, and when?”

    “Why, it was at—”

    She stopped.

    “I don't know,” she said.

    He was cold. “Can't you remember?”

    “It's been so long.”

    “Only ten years, that's all, only ten!”

    “Don't get excited, I'm trying to think.” She laughed an odd little laugh that went up and up. “Funny, how funny, not to remember where or when you met your husband or wife.”

    He lay massaging his eyes, his brow, and the back of his neck, slowly. He held both hands over his eyes and applied a steady pressure there as if to crush memory into place. It was suddenly more important than any other thing in a life-time that he knew where he had met Mildred.

    “It doesn't matter,” She was up in the bathroom now, and he heard the water running, and the swallowing sound she made.

    “No, I guess not,” he said.

    He tried to count how many times she swallowed and he thought of the visit from the two zinc-oxide-faced men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths and the electronic-eyed snake winding down into the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water, and he wanted to call out to her, how many have you taken TONIGHT! the capsules! how many will you take later and not know? and so on, every hour! or maybe not tonight, tomorrow night! And me not sleeping, tonight or tomorrow night or any night for a long while; now that this has started. And he thought of her lying on the bed with the two technicians standing straight over her, not bent with concern, but only standing straight, arms folded. And he remembered thinking then that if she died, he was certain he wouldn't cry. For it would be the dying of an unknown, a street face, a newspaper image, and it was suddenly so very wrong that he had begun to cry, not at death but at the thought of not crying at death, a silly empty man near a silly empty woman, while the hungry snake made her still more empty.

    How do you get so empty? he wondered. Who takes it out of you? And that awful flower the other day, the dandelion! It had summed up everything, hadn't it? “What a shame! You're not in love with anyone!” And why not?

    Well, wasn't there a wall between him and Mildred, when you came down to it? Literally not just one, wall but, so far, three! And expensive, too! And the uncles, the aunts, the cousins, the nieces, the nephews, that lived in those walls, the gibbering pack of tree-apes that said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud. He had taken to calling them relatives from the very first. “How's Uncle Louis today?” “Who?” “And Aunt Maude?” The most significant memory he had of Mildred, really, was of a little girl in a forest without trees (how odd!) or rather a little girl lost on a plateau where there used to be trees (you could feel the memory of their shapes all about) sitting in the centre of the “living-room.” The living-room; what a good job of labelling that was now. No matter when he came in, the walls were always talking to Mildred.

    “Something must be done!I”

    “Yes, something must be done!”

    “Well, let's not stand and talk!”

    “Let's do it!”

    “I'm so mad I could SPIT!”

    What was it all about? Mildred couldn't say. Who was mad at whom? Mildred didn't quite know. What were they going to do? Well, said Mildred, wait around and see.

    He had waited around to see.

    A great thunderstorm of sound gushed from the walls. Music bombarded him at such an immense volume that his bones were almost shaken from their tendons; he felt his jaw vibrate, his eyes wobble in his head. He was a victim of concussion. When it was all over he felt like a man who had been thrown from a cliff, whirled in a centrifuge and spat out over a waterfall that fell and fell into emptiness and emptiness and never-quite-touched-bottom-never-never-quite-no not quite-touched-bottom...and you fell so fast you didn't touch the sides either...never...quite... touched. anything.

    The thunder faded. The music died.

    “There,” said Mildred,

    And it was indeed remarkable. Something had happened. Even though the people in the walls of the room had barely moved, and nothing had really been settled, you had the impression that someone had turned on a washing-machine or sucked you up in a gigantic vacuum. You drowned in music and pure cacophony. He came out of the room sweating and on the point of collapse. Behind him, Mildred sat in her chair and the voices went on again:

    “Well, everything will be all right now,” said an “aunt.”

    “Oh, don't be too sure,” said a “cousin.”

    “Now, don't get angry!”

    “Who's angry?”

    “YOU are!”

    “You're mad!”

    “Why should I be mad!”

    “Because!”

    “That's all very well,” cried Montag, “but what are they mad about? Who are these people? Who's that man and who's that woman? Are they husband and wife, are they divorced, engaged, what? Good God, nothing's connected up.”

    “They—” said Mildred. “Well, they-they had this fight, you see. They certainly fight a lot. You should listen. I think they're married. Yes, they're married. Why?”

    And if it was not the three walls soon to be four walls and the dream complete, then it was the open car and Mildred driving a hundred miles an hour across town, he shouting at her and she shouting back and both trying to hear what was said, but hearing only the scream of the car. “At least keep it down to the minimum!” he yelled: “What?” she cried. “Keep it down to fifty-five, the minimum!” he shouted. “The what?” she shrieked. “Speed!” he shouted. And she pushed it up to one hundred and five miles an hour and tore the breath from his mouth.

    When they stepped out of the car, she had the Seashells stuffed in her ears.

    Silence. Onlv the wind blowing softlv.

    “Mildred.” He stirred in bed.

    He reached over and pulled one of the tiny musical insects out of her ear. “Mildred. Mildred?”

    “Yes.” Her voice was faint.

    He felt he was one of the creatures electronically inserted between the slots of the phono-colour walls, speaking, but the speech not piercing the crystal barrier. He could only pantomime, hoping she would turn his way and see him. They could not touch through the glass.

    “Mildred, do you know that girl I was telling you about?”

    “What girl?” She was almost asleep.

    “The girl next door.”

    “What girl next door?”

    “You know, the high-school girl. Clarisse, her name is.”

    “Oh, yes,” said his wife.

    “I haven't seen her for a few days-four days to be exact. Have you seen her?”

    “No.”

    “I've meant to talk to you about her. Strange.”

    “Oh, I know the one you mean.”

    “I thought you would.”

    “Her,” said Mildred in the dark room.

    “What about her?” asked Montag.

    “I meant to tell you. Forgot. Forgot.”

    “Tell me now. What is it?”

    “I think she's gone.”

    “Gone?”

    “Whole family moved out somewhere. But she's gone for good. I think she's dead.”

    “We couldn't be talking about the same girl.”

    “No. The same girl. McClellan. McClellan, Run over by a car. Four days ago. I'm not sure. But I think she's dead. The family moved out anyway. I don't know. But I think she's dead.”

    “You're not sure of it!”

    “No, not sure. Pretty sure.”

    “Why didn't you tell me sooner?”

    “Forgot.”

    “Four days ago!”

    “I forgot all about it.”

    “Four days ago,” he said, quietly, lying there.

    They lay there in the dark room not moving, either of them. “Good night,” she said.

    He heard a faint rustle. Her hands moved. The electric thimble moved like a praying mantis on the pillow, touched by her hand. Now it was in her ear again, humming.

    He listened and his wife was singing under her breath.

    Outside the house, a shadow moved, an autumn wind rose up and faded away But there was something else in the silence that he heard. It was like a breath exhaled upon the window. It was like a faint drift of greenish luminescent smoke, the motion of a single huge October leaf blowing across the lawn and away.

    The Hound, he thought. It's out there tonight. It's out there now. If I opened the window...

    He did not open the window.

    He had chills and fever in the morning.

    “You can't be sick,” said Mildred.

    He closed his eyes over the hotness. “Yes.”

    “But you were all right last night.”

    “No, I wasn't all right” He heard the “relatives” shouting in the parlour.

    Mildred stood over his bed, curiously. He felt her there, he saw her without opening his eyes, her hair burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her eyes with a kind of cataract unseen but suspect far behind the pupils, the reddened pouting lips, the body as thin as a praying mantis from dieting, and her flesh like white bacon. He could remember her no other way.

    “Will you bring me aspirin and water?”

    “You've got to get up,” she said. “It's noon. You've slept five hours later than usual.”

    “Will you turn the parlour off?” he asked.

    “That's my family.”

    “Will you turn it off for a sick man?”

    “I'll turn it down.”

    She went out of the room and did nothing to the parlour and came back. “Is that better?”

    “Thanks.”

    “That's my favourite programme,” she said.

    “What about the aspirin?”

    “You've never been sick before.” She went away again.

    “Well, I'm sick now. I'm not going to work tonight. Call Beatty for me.”

    “You acted funny last night.” She returned, humming.

    “Where's the aspirin?” He glanced at the water-glass she handed him.

    “Oh.” She walked to the bathroom again. “Did something happen?”

    “A fire, is all.”

    “I had a nice evening,” she said, in the bathroom.

    “What doing?”

    “The parlour.”

    “What was on?”

    “Programmes.”

    “What programmes?”

    “Some of the best ever.”

    “Who?”.

    “Oh, you know, the bunch.”

    “Yes, the bunch, the bunch, the bunch.” He pressed at the pain in his eyes and suddenly the odour of kerosene made him vomit.

    Mildred came in, humming. She was surprised. “Why'd you do that?”

    He looked with dismay at the floor. “We burned an old woman with her books.”

    “It's a good thing the rug's washable.” She fetched a mop and worked on it. “I went to Helen's last night.”

    “Couldn't you get the shows in your own parlour?”

    “Sure, but it's nice visiting.”

    She went out into the parlour. He heard her singing.

    “Mildred?” he called.

    She returned, singing, snapping her fingers softly.

    “Aren't you going to ask me about last night?” he said.

    “What about it?”

    “We burned a thousand books. We burned a woman.”

    “Well?”

    The parlour was exploding with sound.

    “We burned copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius.”

    “Wasn't he a European?”

    “Something like that.”

    “Wasn't he a radical?”

    “I never read him.”

    “He was a radical.” Mildred fiddled with the telephone. “You don't expect me to call Captain Beatty, do you?”

    “You must!”

    “Don't shout!”

    “I wasn't shouting.” He was up in bed, suddenly, enraged and flushed, shaking. The parlour roared in the hot air. “I can't call him. I can't tell him I'm sick.”

    “Why?”

    Because you're afraid, he thought. A child feigning illness, afraid to call because after a moment's discussion, the conversation would run so: “Yes, Captain, I feel better already. I'll be in at ten o'clock tonight.”

    “You're not sick,” said Mildred.

    Montag fell back in bed. He reached under his pillow. The hidden book was still there.

    “Mildred, how would it be if, well, maybe, I quit my job awhile?”

    “You want to give up everything? After all these years of working, because, one night, some woman and her books—”

    “You should have seen her, Millie!”

    “She's nothing to me; she shouldn't have had books. It was her responsibility, she should have thought of that. I hate her. She's got you going and next thing you know we'll be out, no house, no job, nothing.”

    “You weren't there, you didn't see,” he said. “There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing.”

    “She was simple-minded.”

    “She was as rational as you and I, more so perhaps, and we burned her.”

    “That's water under the bridge.”

    “No, not water; fire. You ever seen a burned house? It smoulders for days. Well, this fire'll last me the rest of my life. God! I've been trying to put it out, in my mind, all night. I'm crazy with trying.”

    “You should have thought of that before becoming a fireman.”

    “Thought!” he said. “Was I given a choice? My grandfather and father were firemen. In my sleep, I ran after them.”

    The parlour was playing a dance tune.

    “This is the day you go on the early shift,” said Mildred. “You should have gone two hours ago. I just noticed.”

    “It's not just the woman that died,” said Montag. “Last night I thought about all the kerosene I've used in the past ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I'd never even thought that thought before.” He got out of bed.

    “It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life, and then I came along in two minutes and boom! it's all over.”

    “Let me alone,” said Mildred. “I didn't do anything.”

    “Let you alone! That's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

    And then he shut up, for he remembered last week and the two white stones staring up at the ceiling and the pump-snake with the probing eye and the two soap-faced men with the cigarettes moving in their mouths when they talked. But that was another Mildred, that was a Mildred so deep inside this one, and so bothered, really bothered, that the two women had never met. He turned away.

    Mildred said, “Well, now you've done it. Out front of the house. Look who's here.”.

    “I don't care.”

    “There's a Phoenix car just driven up and a man in a black shirt with an orange snake stitched on his arm coming up the front walk.”

    “Captain Beauty?” he said,

    “Captain Beatty.”

    Montag did not move, but stood looking into the cold whiteness of the wall immediately before him.

    “Go let him in, will you? Tell him I'm sick.”

    “Tell him yourself!” She ran a few steps this way, a few steps that, and stopped, eyes wide, when the front door speaker called her name, softly, softly, Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone here, someone here, Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone's here. Fading.

    Montag made sure the book was well hidden behind the pillow, climbed slowly back into bed, arranged the covers over his knees and across his chest, half-sitting, and after a while Mildred moved and went out of the room and Captain Beatty strolled in, his hands in his pockets.

    “Shut the ‘relatives’ up,” said Beatty, looking around at everything except Montag and his wife.

    This time, Mildred ran. The yammering voices stopped yelling in the parlour.

    Captain Beatty sat down in the most comfortable chair with a peaceful look on his ruddy face. He took time to prepare and light his brass pipe and puff out a great smoke cloud. “Just thought I'd come by and see how the sick man is.”

    “How'd you guess?”

    Beatty smiled his smile which showed the candy pinkness of his gums and the tiny candy whiteness of his teeth. “I've seen it all. You were going to call for a night off.”

    Montag sat in bed.

    “Well,” said Beatty, “take the night off!” He examined his eternal matchbox, the lid of which said GUARANTEED: ONE MILLION LIGHTS IN THIS IGNITER, and began to strike the chemical match abstractedly, blow out, strike, blow out, strike, speak a few words, blow out. He looked at the flame. He blew, he looked at the smoke. “When will you be well?”

    “Tomorrow. The next day maybe. First of the week.”

    Beatty puffed his pipe. “Every fireman, sooner or later, hits this. They only need understanding, to know how the wheels run. Need to know the history of our profession. They don't feed it to rookies like they used to. Damn shame.” Puff. “Only fire chiefs remember it now.” Puff. “I'll let you in on it.”

    Mildred fidgeted.

    Beatty took a full minute to settle himself in and think back for what he wanted to say.

    “When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when? Well, I'd say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule-book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn't get along well until photography came into its own. Then—motion pictures in the early twentieth century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass.”

    Montag sat in bed, not moving.

    “And because they had mass, they became simpler,” said Beatty. “Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books levelled down to a sort of paste pudding norm, do you follow me?”

    “I think so.”

    Beatty peered at the smoke pattern he had put out on the air. “Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations, Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.”

    “Snap ending.” Mildred nodded.

    “Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a tenor twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”

    Mildred arose and began to move around the room, picking things up and putting them down. Beatty ignored her and continued

    “Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click? Pic? Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!”

    Mildred smoothed the bedclothes. Montag felt his heart jump and jump again as she patted his pillow. Right now she was pulling at his shoulder to try to get him to move so she could take the pillow out and fix it nicely and put it back. And perhaps cry out and stare or simply reach down her hand and say, “What's this?” and hold up the hidden book with touching innocence.

    “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”

    “Let me fix your pillow,” said Mildred.

    “No!” whispered Montag,

    “The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at. dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.”

    Mildred said, “Here.”

    “Get away,” said Montag.

    “Life becomes one big pratfall, Montag; everything bang; boff, and wow!”

    “Wow,” said Mildred, yanking at the pillow.

    “For God's sake, let me be!” cried Montag passionately.

    Beatty opened his eyes wide.

    Mildred's hand had frozen behind the pillow. Her fingers were tracing the book's outline and as the shape became familiar her face looked surprised and then stunned. Her mouth opened to ask a question...

    “Empty the theatres save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colours running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne. You like baseball, don't you, Montag?”

    “Baseball's a fine game.”

    Now Beatty was almost invisible, a voice somewhere behind a screen of smoke

    “What's this?” asked Mildred, almost with delight. Montag heaved back against her arms. “What's this here?”

    “Sit down!” Montag shouted. She jumped away, her hands empty. “We're talking!”

    Beatty went on as if nothing had happened. “You like bowling, don't you, Montag?”

    “Bowling, yes.”

    “And golf?”

    “Golf is a fine game.”

    “Basketball?”

    “A fine game.”.

    “Billiards, pool? Football?”

    “Fine games, all of them.”

    “More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don't have to think, eh? Organize and organize and superorganize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere. The gasoline refugee. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before.”

    Mildred went out of the room and slammed the door. The parlour “aunts” began to laugh at the parlour “uncles.”,

    “Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog?lovers, the cat?lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second?generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic?books survive. And the three?dimensional sex?magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade?journals.”

    “Yes, but what about the firemen, then?” asked Montag.

    “Ah.” Beatty leaned forward in the faint mist of smoke from his pipe. “What more easily explained and natural? With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well?read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That's you, Montag, and that's me.”

    The door to the parlour opened and Mildred stood there looking in at them, looking at Beatty and then at Montag. Behind her the walls of the room were flooded with green and yellow and orange fireworks sizzling and bursting to some music composed almost completely of trap?drums, tom?toms, and cymbals. Her mouth moved and she was saying something but the sound covered it.

    Beatty knocked his pipe into the palm of his pink hand, studied the ashes as if they were a symbol to be diagnosed and searched for meaning.

    “You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

    “Yes.”

    Montag could lip?read what Mildred was saying in the doorway. He tried not to look at her mouth, because then Beatty might turn and read what was there, too.

    “Coloured people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Bum the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he's on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man's a speck of black dust. Let's not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn them all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

    The fireworks died in the parlour behind Mildred. She had stopped talking at the same time; a miraculous coincidence. Montag held his breath.

    “There was a girl next door,” he said, slowly. “She's gone now, I think, dead. I can't even remember her face. But she was different. How?how did she happen?”

    Beatty smiled. “Here or there, that's bound to occur. Clarisse McClellan? We've a record on her family. We've watched them carefully. Heredity and environment are funny things. You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle. We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago. Never found a book. Uncle had a mixed record; anti?social. The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I'm sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl's better off dead.”

    “Yes, dead.”

    “Luckily, queer ones like her don't happen, often. We know how to nip most of them in the bud, early. You can't build a house without nails and wood. If you don't want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top?heavy, and tax?mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non?combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide?rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I've tried it; to hell with it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your dare-devils, jet cars, motor?cycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I'll think I'm responding to the play, when it's only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don't care. I just like solid entertainment.”

    Beatty got up. “I must be going. Lecture's over. I hope I've clarified things. The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dyke. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world. We depend on you. I don't think you realize how important you are, to our happy world as it stands now.”

    Beatty shook Montag's limp hand. Montag still sat, as if the house were collapsing about him and he could not move, in the bed. Mildred had vanished from the door.

    “One last thing,” said Beatty. “At least once in his career, every fireman gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh? Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They're about non?existent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction. And if they're non?fiction, it's worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another's gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost.”

    “Well, then, what if a fireman accidentally, really not, intending anything, takes a book home with him?”

    Montag twitched. The open door looked at him with its great vacant eye.

    “A natural error. Curiosity alone,” said Beatty. “We don't get over?anxious or mad. We let the fireman keep the book twenty?four hours. If he hasn't burned it by then, we simply come and burn it for him.”

    “Of course.” Montag's mouth was dry.

    “Well, Montag. Will you take another, later shift, today? Will we see you tonight perhaps?”

    “I don't know,” said Montag.

    “What?” Beatty looked faintly surprised.

    Montag shut his eyes. “I'll be in later. Maybe.”

    “We'd certainly miss you if you didn't show,” said Beatty, putting his pipe in his pocket thoughtfully.

    I'll never come in again, thought Montag.

    “Get well and keep well,” said Beatty.

    He turned and went out through the open door.

    Montag watched through the window as Beatty drove away in his gleaming yellow?flame?coloured beetle with the black, char?coloured tyres.

    Across the street and down the way the other houses stood with their flat fronts. What was it Clarisse had said one afternoon? “No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn't want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn't look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn't want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches. And the gardens, too. Not many gardens any more to sit around in. And look at the furniture. No rocking?chairs any more. They're too comfortable. Get people up and running around. My uncle says... and... my uncle... and... my uncle...” Her voice faded.

    Montag turned and looked at his wife, who sat in the middle of the parlour talking to an announcer, who in turn was talking to her. “Mrs. Montag,” he was saying. This, that and the other. “Mrs. Montag?” Something else and still another. The converter attachment, which had cost them one hundred dollars, automatically supplied her name whenever the announcer addressed his anonymous audience, leaving a blank where the proper syllables could be filled in. A special spot?wavex?scrambler also caused his televised image, in the area immediately about his lips, to mouth the vowels and consonants beautifully. He was a friend, no doubt of it, a good friend. “Mrs. Montag?now look right here.”

    Her head turned. Though she quite obviously was not listening.

    Montag said, “It's only a step from not going to work today to not working tomorrow, to not working at the firehouse ever again.”,

    “You are going to work tonight, though, aren't you?” said Mildred.

    “I haven't decided. Right now I've got an awful feeling I want to smash things and kill things:'

    “Go take the beetle.”

    “No thanks.”

    “The keys to the beetle are on the night table. I always like to drive fast when I feel that way. You get it up around ninetyfive and you feel wonderful. Sometimes I drive all night and come back and you don't know it. It's fun out in the country. You hit rabbits, sometimes you hit dogs. Go take the beetle.”

    “No, I don't want to, this time. I want to hold on to this funny thing. God, it's gotten big on me. I don't know what it is. I'm so damned unhappy, I'm so mad, and I don't know why I feel like I'm putting on weight. I feel fat. I feel like I've been saving up a lot of things, and don't know what. I might even start reading books.”

    “They'd put you in jail, wouldn't they?” She looked at him as if he were behind the glass wall.

    He began to put on his clothes, moving restlessly about the bedroom. “Yes, and it might be a good idea. Before I hurt someone. Did you hear Beatty? Did you listen to him? He knows all the answers. He's right. Happiness is important. Fun is everything. And yet I kept sitting there saying to myself, I'm not happy, I'm not happy.”

    “I am.” Mildred's mouth beamed. “And proud of it.”

    “I'm going to do something,” said Montag. “I don't even know what yet, but I'm going to do something big.”

    “I'm tired of listening to this junk,” said Mildred, turning from him to the announcer again

    Montag touched the volume control in the wall and the announcer was speechless.

    “Millie?” He paused. “This is your house as well as mine. I feel it's only fair that I tell you something now. I should have told you before, but I wasn't even admitting it to myself. I have something I want you to see, something I've put away and hid during the past year, now and again, once in a while, I didn't know why, but I did it and I never told you.”

    He took hold of a straight?backed chair and moved it slowly and steadily into the hall near the front door and climbed up on it and stood for a moment like a statue on a pedestal, his wife standing under him, waiting. Then he reached up and pulled back the grille of the air?conditioning system and reached far back inside to the right and moved still another sliding sheet of metal and took out a book. Without looking at it he dropped it to the floor. He put his hand back up and took out two books and moved his hand down and dropped the two books to the floor. He kept moving his hand and dropping books, small ones, fairly large ones, yellow, red, green ones. When he was done he looked down upon some twenty books lying at his wife's feet.

    “I'm sorry,” he said. “I didn't really think. But now it looks as if we're in this together.”

    Mildred backed away as if she were suddenly confronted by a pack of mice that had come up out of the floor. He could hear her breathing rapidly and her face was paled out and her eyes were fastened wide. She said his name over, twice, three times. Then moaning, she ran forward, seized a book and ran toward the kitchen incinerator.

    He caught her, shrieking. He held her and she tried to fight away from him, scratching.

    “No, Millie, no! Wait! Stop it, will you? You don't know... stop it!” He slapped her face, he grabbed her again and shook her.

    She said his name and began to cry.

    “Millie!” he said. “Listen. Give me a second, will you? We can't do anything. We can't burn these. I want to look at them, at least look at them once. Then if what the Captain says is true, we'll burn them together, believe me, we'll burn them together. You must help me.” He looked down into her face and took hold of her chin and held her firmly. He was looking not only at her, but for himself and what he must do, in her face. “Whether we like this or not, we're in it. I've never asked for much from you in all these years, but I ask it now, I plead for it. We've got to start somewhere here, figuring out why we're in such a mess, you and the medicine at night, and the car, and me and my work. We're heading right for the cliff, Millie. God, I don't want to go over. This isn't going to be easy. We haven't anything to go on, but maybe we can piece it out and figure it and help each other. I need you so much right now, I can't tell you. If you love me at all you'll put up with this, twenty?four, forty?eight hours, that's all I ask, then it'll be over. I promise, I swear! And if there is something here, just one little thing out of a whole mess of things, maybe we can pass it on to someone else.”

    She wasn't fighting any more, so he let her go. She sagged away from him and slid down the wall, and sat on the floor looking at the books. Her foot touched one and she saw this and pulled her foot away.

    “That woman, the other night, Millie, you weren't there. You didn't see her face. And Clarisse. You never talked to her. I talked to her. And men like Beatty are afraid of her. I can't understand it. Why should they be so afraid of someone like her? But I kept putting her alongside the firemen in the house last night, and I suddenly realized I didn't like them at all, and I didn't like myself at all any more. And I thought maybe it would be best if the firemen themselves were burnt.”

    “Guy!”

    The front door voice called softly:

    “Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone here, someone here, Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone here.”

    Softly.

    They turned to stare at the door and the books toppled everywhere, everywhere in heaps.

    “Beatty!” said Mildred.

    “It can't be him.”

    “He's come back!” she whispered.

    The front door voice called again softly. “Someone here...”

    “We won't answer.” Montag lay back against the wall and then slowly sank to a crouching position and began to nudge the books, bewilderedly, with his thumb, his forefinger. He was shivering and he wanted above all to shove the books up through the ventilator again, but he knew he could not face Beatty again. He crouched and then he sat and the voice of the front door spoke again, more insistently. Montag picked a single small volume from the floor. “Where do we begin?” He opened the book half?way and peered at it. “We begin by beginning, I guess.”

    “He'll come in,” said Mildred, “and burn us and the books!”

    The front door voice faded at last. There was a silence. Montag felt the presence of someone beyond the door, waiting, listening. Then the footsteps going away down the walk and over the lawn.

    “Let's see what this is,” said Montag.

    He spoke the words haltingly and with a terrible selfconsciousness. He read a dozen pages here and there and came at last to this:

    “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end.”

    Mildred sat across the hall from him. “What does it mean? It doesn't mean anything! The Captain was right!”

    “Here now,” said Montag. “We'll start over again, at the beginning.”

    PART II

    THE SIEVE AND THE SAND

    THEY read the long afternoon through, while the cold November rain fell from the sky upon the quiet house. They sat in the hall because the parlour was so empty and grey-looking without its walls lit with orange and yellow confetti and sky-rockets and women in gold-mesh dresses and men in black velvet pulling one-hundred-pound rabbits from silver hats. The parlour was dead and Mildred kept peering in at it with a blank expression as Montag paced the floor and came back and squatted down and read a page as many as ten times, aloud.

    “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over, so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”

    Montag sat listening to the rain.

    “Is that what it was in the girl next door? I've tried so hard to figure.”

    “She's dead. Let's talk about someone alive, for goodness’ sake.”

    Montag did not look back at his wife as he went trembling along the hall to the kitchen, where he stood a long. time watching the rain hit the windows before he came back down the hall in the grey light, waiting for the tremble to subside.

    He opened another book.

    “That favourite subject, Myself.”

    He squinted at the wall. “The favourite subject, Myself.”

    “I understand that one,” said Mildred.

    “But Clarisse's favourite subject wasn't herself. It was everyone else, and me. She was the first person in a good many years I've really liked. She was the first person I can remember who looked straight at me as if I counted.” He lifted the two books. “These men have been dead a long time, but I know their words point, one way or another, to Clansse.”

    Outside the front door, in the rain, a faint scratching.

    Montag froze. He saw Mildred thrust herself back to the wall and gasp.

    “I shut it off.”

    “Someone—the door—why doesn't the door-voice tell us—”

    Under the door-sill, a slow, probing sniff, an exhalation of electric steam.

    Mildred laughed. “It's only a dog, that's what! You want me to shoo him away?”

    “Stay where you are!”

    Silence. The cold rain falling. And the smell of blue electricity blowing under the locked door.

    “Let's get back to work,” said Montag quietly.

    Mildred kicked at a book. “Books aren't people. You read and I look around, but there isn't anybody!”

    He stared at the parlour that was dead and grey as the waters of an ocean that might teem with life if they switched on the electronic sun.

    “Now,” said Mildred, “my ‘family’ is people. They tell me things; I laugh, they laugh! And the colours!”

    “Yes, I know.”

    “And besides, if Captain Beatty knew about those books—” She thought about it. Her face grew amazed and then horrified. “He might come and bum the house and the ‘family.’ That's awful! Think of our investment. Why should I read? What for?”

    “What for! Why!” said Montag. “I saw the damnedest snake in the world the other night. It was dead but it was alive. It could see but it couldn't see. You want to see that snake. It's at Emergency Hospital where they filed a report on all the junk the snake got out of you! Would you like to go and check their file? Maybe you'd look under Guy Montag or maybe under Fear or War. Would you like to go to that house that burnt last night? And rake ashes for the bones of the woman who set fire to her own house! What about Clarisse McClellan, where do we look for her? The morgue! Listen!”

    The bombers crossed the sky and crossed the sky over the house, gasping, murmuring, whistling like an immense, invisible fan, circling in emptiness.

    “Jesus God,” said Montag. “Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it? We've started and won two atomic wars since 1960. Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world? Is it because we're so rich and the rest of the world's so poor and we just don't care if they are? I've heard rumours; the world is starving, but we're well-fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we're hated so much? I've heard the rumours about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why? I don't, that's sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! I don't hear those idiot bastards in your parlour talking about it. God, Millie, don't you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe...”

    The telephone rang. Mildred snatched the phone.

    “Ann!” She laughed. “Yes, the White Clown's on tonight!”

    Montag walked to the kitchen and threw the book down. “Montag,” he said, “you're really stupid. Where do we go from here? Do we turn the books in, forget it?” He opened the book to read over Mildred's laughter.

    Poor Millie, he thought. Poor Montag, it's mud to you, too. But where do you get help, where do you find a teacher this late?

    Hold on. He shut his eyes. Yes, of course. Again he found himself thinking of the green park a year ago. The thought had been with him many times recently, but now he remembered how it was that day in the city park when he had seen that old man in the black suit hide something, quickly in his coat .

    ...The old man leapt up as if to run. And Montag said, “Wait!”

    “I haven't done anything!” cried the old man trembling.

    “No one said you did.”

    They had sat in the green soft light without saying a word for a moment, and then Montag talked about the weather, and then the old man responded with a pale voice. It was a strange quiet meeting. The old man admitted to being a retired English professor who had been thrown out upon the world forty years ago when the last liberal arts college shut for lack of students and patronage. His name was Faber, and when he finally lost his fear of Montag, he talked in a cadenced voice, looking at the sky and the trees and the green park, and when an hour had passed he said something to Montag and Montag sensed it was a rhymeless poem. Then the old man grew even more courageous and said something else and that was a poem, too. Faber held his hand over his left coat-pocket and spoke these words gently, and Montag knew if he reached out, he might pull a book of poetry from the man's coat. But he did not reach out. His. hands stayed on his knees, numbed and useless. “I don't talk things, sir,” said Faber. “I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I'm alive.”

    That was all there was to it, really. An hour of monologue, a poem, a comment, and then without even acknowledging the fact that Montag was a fireman, Faber with a certain trembling, wrote his address on a slip of paper. “For your file,” he said, “in case you decide to be angry with me.”

    “I'm not angry,” Montag said, surprised.

    Mildred shrieked with laughter in the hall.

    Montag went to his bedroom closet and flipped through his file-wallet to the heading: FUTURE INVESTIGATIONS (?). Faber's name was there. He hadn't turned it in and he hadn't erased it.

    He dialled the call on a secondary phone. The phone on the far end of the line called Faber's name a dozen times before the professor answered in a faint voice. Montag identified himself and was met with a lengthy silence. “Yes, Mr. Montag?”

    “Professor Faber, I have a rather odd question to ask. How many copies of the Bible are left in this country?”

    “I don't know what you're talking about!”

    “I want to know if there are any copies left at all.”

    “This is some sort of a trap! I can't talk to just anyone on the phone!”

    “How many copies of Shakespeare and Plato?”

    “None! You know as well as I do. None!”

    Faber hung up.

    Montag put down the phone. None. A thing he knew of course from the firehouse listings. But somehow he had wanted to hear it from Faber himself.

    In the hall Mildred's face was suffused with excitement. “Well, the ladies are coming over!”

    Montag showed her a book. “This is the Old and New Testament, and-”

    “Don't start that again!”

    “It might be the last copy in this part of the world.”

    “You've got to hand it back tonight, don't you know? Captain Beatty knows you've got it, doesn't he?”

    “I don't think he knows which book I stole. But how do I choose a substitute? Do I turn in Mr. Jefferson? Mr. Thoreau? Which is least valuable? If I pick a substitute and Beatty does know which book I stole, he'll guess we've an entire library here!”

    Mildred's mouth twitched. “See what you're doing? You'll ruin us! Who's more important, me or that Bible?” She was beginning to shriek now, sitting there like a wax doll melting in its own heat.

    He could hear Beatty's voice. “Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.” There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm

    Mildred stopped screaming as quickly as she started. Montag was not listening. “There's only one thing to do,” he said. “Some time before tonight when I give the book to Beatty, I've got to have a duplicate made.”

    “You'll be here for the White Clown tonight, and the ladies coming over?” cried Mildred.

    Montag stopped at the door, with his back turned. “Millie?”

    A silence “What?”

    “Millie? Does the White Clown love you?”

    No answer.

    “Millie, does—” He licked his lips. “Does your ‘family’ love you, love you very much, love you with all their heart

    and soul, Millie?”

    He felt her blinking slowly at the back of his neck.

    “Why'd you ask a silly question like that?”

    He felt he wanted to cry, but nothing would happen to his eyes or his mouth.

    “If you see that dog outside,” said Mildred, “give him a kick for me.”

    He hesitated, listening at the door. He opened it and stepped out.

    The rain had stopped and the sun was setting in the clear sky. The street and the lawn and the porch were empty. He let his breath go in a great sigh.

    He slammed the door.

    He was on the subway.

    I'm numb, he thought. When did the numbness really begin in my face? In my body? The night I kicked the pill-bottle in the dark, like kicking a buried mine.

    The numbness will go away, he thought. It'll take time, but I'll do it, or Faber will do it for me. Someone somewhere will give me back the old face and the old hands the way they were. Even the smile, he thought, the old burnt-in smile, that's gone. I'm lost without it.

    The subway fled past him, cream-tile, jet-black, cream-tile, jet-black, numerals and darkness, more darkness and the total adding itself.

    Once as a child he had sat upon a yellow dune by the sea in the middle of the blue and hot summer day, trying to fill a sieve with sand, because some cruel cousin had said, “Fill this sieve and you'll get a dime!” And the faster he poured, the faster it sifted through with a hot whispering. His hands were tired, the sand was boiling, the sieve was empty. Seated there in the midst of July, without a sound, he felt the tears move down his cheeks.

    Now as the vacuum-underground rushed him through the dead cellars of town, jolting him, he remembered the terrible logic of that sieve, and he looked down and saw that he was carrying the Bible open. There were people in the suction train but he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve. But he read and the words fell through, and he thought, in a few hours, there will be Beatty, and here will be me handing this over, so no phrase must escape me, each line must be memorized. I will myself to do it.

    He clenched the book in his fists.

    Trumpets blared.

    “Denham's Dentrifice.”

    Shut up, thought Montag. Consider the lilies of the field.

    “Denham's Dentifrice.”

    They toil not—

    “Denham's—”

    Consider the lilies of the field, shut up, shut up.

    “Dentifrice!”

    He tore the book open and flicked the pages and felt them as if he were blind, he picked at the shape of the individual letters, not blinking.

    “Denham's. Spelled: D-E. N”

    They toil not, neither do they...

    A fierce whisper of hot sand through empty sieve.

    “Denham's does it!”

    Consider the lilies, the lilies, the lilies...

    “Denham's dental detergent.”

    “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” It was a plea, a cry so terrible that Montag found himself on his feet, the shocked inhabitants of the loud car staring, moving back from this man with the insane, gorged face, the gibbering, dry mouth, the flapping book in his fist. The people who had been sitting a moment before, tapping their feet to the rhythm of Denham's Dentifrice, Denham's Dandy Dental Detergent, Denham's Dentifrice Dentifrice Dentifrice, one two, one two three, one two, one two three. The people whose mouths had been faintly twitching the words Dentifrice Dentifrice Dentifrice. The train radio vomited upon Montag, in retaliation, a great ton-load of music made of tin, copper, silver, chromium, and brass. The people wcre pounded into submission; they did not run, there was no place to run; the great air-train fell down its shaft in the earth.

    “Lilies of the field.” “Denham's.”

    “Lilies, I said!”

    The people stared.

    “Call the guard.”

    “The man's off—”

    “Knoll View!”

    The train hissed to its stop.

    “Knoll View!” A cry.

    “Denham's.” A whisper.

    Montag's mouth barely moved. “Lilies...”

    The train door whistled open. Montag stood. The door gasped, started shut. Only then. did he leap past the other passengers, screaming in his mind, plunge through the slicing door only in time. He ran on the white tiles up through the tunnels, ignoring the escalators, because he wanted to feel his feet-move, arms swing, lungs clench, unclench, feel his throat go raw with air. A voice drifted after him, “Denham's Denham's Denham's,” the train hissed like a snake. The train vanished in its hole.

    “Who is it?”

    “Montag out here.”

    “What do you want?”

    “Let me in.”

    “I haven't done anything l”

    “I'm alone, dammit!”

    “You swear it?”

    “I swear!”

    The front door opened slowly. Faber peered out, looking very old in the light and very fragile and very much afraid. The old man looked as if he had not been out of the house in years. He and the white plaster walls inside were much the same. There was white in the flesh of his mouth and his cheeks and his hair was white and his eyes had faded, with white in the vague blueness there. Then his eyes touched on the book under Montag's arm and he did not look so old any more and not quite as fragile. Slowly his fear went.

    “I'm sorry. One has to be careful.”

    He looked at the book under Montag's arm and could not stop. “So it's true.”

    Montag stepped inside. The door shut.

    “Sit down.” Faber backed up, as if he feared the book might vanish if he took his eyes from it. Behind him, the door to a bedroom stood open, and in that room a litter of machinery and steel tools was strewn upon a desk-top. Montag had only a glimpse, before Faber, seeing Montag's attention diverted, turned quickly and shut the bedroom door and stood holding the knob with a trembling hand. His gaze returned unsteadily to Montag, who was now seated with the book in his lap. “The book-where did you-?”

    “I stole it.”

    Faber, for the first time, raised his eyes and looked directly into Montag's face. “You're brave.”

    “No,” said Montag. “My wife's dying. A friend of mine's already dead. Someone who may have been a friend was burnt less than twenty-four hours ago. You're the only one I knew might help me. To see. To see..”

    Faber's hands itched on his knees. “May I?”

    “Sorry.” Montag gave him the book.

    “It's been a long time. I'm not a religious man. But it's been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It's as good as I remember. Lord, how they've changed itin our ‘parlours’ these days. Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder it God recognizes His own son the way we've dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He's a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs.” Faber sniffed the book. “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” Faber turned the pages. “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the, firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it's too late.” Faber closed the Bible. “Well—suppose you tell me why you came here?”

    “Nobody listens any more. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”

    Faber examined Montag's thin, blue-jowled face. “How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?”

    “I don't know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help.”

    “You're a hopeless romantic,” said Faber. “It would be funny if it were not serious. It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the ‘parlour families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. Of course you couldn't know this, of course you still can't understand what I mean when I say all this. You are intuitively right, that's what counts. Three things are missing.

    “Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

    “So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth. But when he was held, rootless, in mid-air, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn't something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane. Well, there we have the first thing I said we needed. Quality, texture of information.”

    “And the second?”

    “Leisure.”

    “Oh, but we've plenty of off-hours.”

    “Off-hours, yes. But time to think? If you're not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can't think of anything else but the danger, then you're playing some game or sitting in some room where you can't argue with the fourwall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be, right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn't time to protest, ‘What nonsense!'”

    “Only the ‘family’ is ‘people.’”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “My wife says books aren't ‘real.’”

    “Thank God for that. You can shut them, say, ‘Hold on a moment.’ You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlour? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. But with all my knowledge and scepticism, I have never been able to argue with a one-hundred-piece symphony orchestra, full colour, three dimensions, and I being in and part of those incredible parlours. As you see, my parlour is nothing but four plaster walls. And here” He held out two small rubber plugs. “For my ears when I ride the subway-jets.”

    “Denham's Dentifrice; they toil not, neither do they spin,” said Montag, eyes shut. “Where do we go from here? Would books help us?”

    “Only if the third necessary thing could be given us. Number one, as I said, quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the inter-action of the first two. And I hardly think a very old man and a fireman turned sour could do much this late in the game...”

    “I can get books.”

    “You're running a risk.”

    “That's the good part of dying; when you've nothing to lose, you run any risk you want.”

    “There, you've said an interesting thing,” laughed Faber, “without having read it!”

    “Are things like that in books. But it came off the top of my mind!”

    “All the better. You didn't fancy it up for me or anyone, even yourself.”

    Montag leaned forward. “This afternoon I thought that if it turned out that books were worth while, we might get a press and print some extra copies—”

    “ We?”

    “You and I”

    “Oh, no!” Faber sat up.

    “But let me tell you my plan—”

    “If you insist on telling me, I must ask you to leave.”

    “But aren't you interested?”

    “Not if you start talking the sort of talk that might get me burnt for my trouble. The only way I could possibly listen to you would be if somehow the fireman structure itself could be burnt. Now if you suggest that we print extra books and arrange to have them hidden in firemen's houses all over the country, so that seeds of suspicion would be sown among these arsonists, bravo, I'd say!”

    “Plant the books, turn in an alarm, and see the firemen's houses bum, is that what you mean?”

    Faber raised his brows and looked at Montag as if he were seeing a new man. “I was joking.”

    “If you thought it would be a plan worth trying, I'd have to take your word it would help.”

    “You can't guarantee things like that! After all, when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the highest cliff to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can't rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”

    Faber got up and began to pace the room.

    “Well?” asked Montag.

    “You're absolutely serious?”

    “Absolutely.”

    “It's an insidious plan, if I do say so myself.” Faber glanced nervously at his bedroom door. “To see the firehouses burn across the land, destroyed as hotbeds of treason. The salamander devours his tail! Ho, God!”

    “I've a list of firemen's residences everywhere. With some sort of underground”

    “Can't trust people, that's the dirty part. You and I and who else will set the fires?”

    “Aren't there professors like yourself, former writers, historians, linguists...?”

    “Dead or ancient.”

    “The older the better; they'll go unnoticed. You know dozens, admit it!”

    “Oh, there are many actors alone who haven't acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years because their plays are too aware of the world. We could use their anger. And we could use the honest rage of those historians who haven't written a line for forty years. True, we might form classes in thinking and reading.”

    “Yes!”

    “But that would just nibble the edges. The whole culture's shot through. The skeleton needs melting and re-shaping. Good God, it isn't as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlour ‘families’? If you can, you'll win your way, Montag. In any event, you're a fool. People are having fun”

    “Committing suicide! Murdering!”

    A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.

    “Patience, Montag. Let the war turn off the ‘families.’ Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.”

    “There has to be someone ready when it blows up.”

    “What? Men quoting Milton? Saying, I remember Sophocles? Reminding the survivors that man has his good side, too? They will only gather up their stones to hurl at each other. Montag, go home. Go to bed. Why waste your final hours racing about your cage denying you're a squirrel?”

    “Then you don't care any more?”

    “I care so much I'm sick.”

    “And you won't help me?”

    “Good night, good night.”

    Montag's hands picked up the Bible. He saw what his hands had done and he looked surprised.

    “Would you like to own this?”

    Faber said, “I'd give my right arm.”

    Montag stood there and waited for the next thing to happen. His hands, by themselves, like two men working together, began to rip the pages from the book. The hands tore the flyleaf and then the first and then the second page.

    “Idiot, what're you doing!” Faber sprang up, as if he had been struck. He fell, against Montag. Montag warded him off and let his hands continue. Six more pages fell to the floor. He picked them up and wadded the paper under Faber's gaze.

    “Don't, oh, don't!” said the old man.

    “Who can stop me? I'm a fireman. I can bum you!”

    The old man stood looking at him. “You wouldn't.”

    “I could!”

    “The book. Don't tear it any more.” Faber sank into a chair, his face very white, his mouth trembling. “Don't make me feel any more tired. What do you want?”

    “I need you to teach me.”

    “All right, all right.”

    Montag put the book down. He began to unwad the crumpled paper and flatten it out as the old man watched tiredly.

    Faber shook his head as if he were waking up.

    “Montag, have you some money?”

    “Some. Four, five hundred dollars. Why?”

    “Bring it. I know a man who printed our college paper half a century ago. That was the year I came to class at the start of the new semester and found only one student to sign up for Drama from Aeschylus to O'Neill. You see? How like a beautiful statue of ice it was, melting in the sun. I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them. And the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters. So, Montag, there's this unemployed printer. We might start a few books, and wait on the war to break the pattern and give us the push we need. A few bombs and the ‘families’ in the walls of all the houses, like harlequin rats, will shut up! In silence, our stage-whisper might carry.”

    They both stood looking at the book on the table.

    “I've tried to remember,” said Montag. “But, hell, it's gone when I turn my head. God, how I want something to say to the Captain. He's read enough so he has all the answers, or seems to have. His voice is like butter. I'm afraid he'll talk me back the way I was. Only a week ago, pumping a kerosene hose, I thought: God, what fun!”

    The old man nodded. “Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

    “So that's what I am.”

    “There's some of it in all of us.”

    Montag moved towards the front door. “Can you help me in any way tonight, with the Fire Captain? I need an umbrella to keep off the rain. I'm so damned afraid I'll drown if he gets me again.”

    The old man said nothing, but glanced once more nervously, at his bedroom. Montag caught the glance. “Well?”

    The old man took a deep breath, held it, and let it out. He took another, eyes closed, his mouth tight, and at last exhaled. “Montag...”

    The old man turned at last and said, “Come along. I would actually have let you walk right out of my house. I am a cowardly old fool.”

    Faber opened the bedroom door and led Montag into a small chamber where stood a table upon which a number of metal tools lay among a welter of microscopic wire-hairs, tiny coils, bobbins, and crystals.

    “What's this?” asked Montag.

    “Proof of my terrible cowardice. I've lived alone so many years, throwing images on walls with my imagination. Fiddling with electronics, radio-transmission, has been my hobby. My cowardice is of such a passion, complementing the revolutionary spirit that lives in its shadow, I was forced to design this.”

    He picked up a small green-metal object no larger than a. 22 bullet.

    “I paid for all this-how? Playing the stock-market, of course, the last refuge in the world for the dangerous intellectual out of a job. Well, I played the market and built all this and I've waited. I've waited, trembling, half a lifetime for someone to speak to me. I dared speak to no one. That day in the park when we sat together, I knew that some day you might drop by, with fire or friendship, it was hard to guess. I've had this little item ready for months. But I almost let you go, I'm that afraid!”

    “It looks like a Seashell radio.”

    “And something more! It listens! If you put it in your ear, Montag, I can sit comfortably home, warming my frightened bones, and hear and analyse the firemen's world, find its weaknesses, without danger. I'm the Queen Bee, safe in the hive. You will be the drone, the travelling ear. Eventually, I could put out ears into all parts of the city, with various men, listening and evaluating. If the drones die, I'm still safe at home, tending my fright with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of chance. See how safe I play it, how contemptible I am?”

    Montag placed the green bullet in his ear. The old man inserted a similar object in his own ear and moved his lips.

    “Montag!”

    The voice was in Montag's head.

    “I hear you!”

    The old man laughed. “You're coming over fine, too!” Faber whispered, but the voice in Montag's head was clear. “Go to the firehouse when it's time. I'll be with you. Let's listen to this Captain Beatty together. He could be one of us. God knows. I'll give you things to say. We'll give him a good show. Do you hate me for this electronic cowardice of mine? Here I am sending you out into the night, while I stay behind the lines with my damned ears listening for you to get your head chopped off.”

    “We all do what we do,” said Montag. He put the Bible in the old man's hands. “Here. I'll chance turning in a substitute. Tomorrow—”

    “I'll see the unemployed printer, yes; that much I can do.”

    “Good night, Professor.”

    “Not good night. I'll be with you the rest of the night, a vinegar gnat tickling your ear when you need me. But good night and good luck, anyway.”

    The door opened and shut. Montag was in the dark street again, looking at the world.

    You could feel the war getting ready in the sky that night. The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy discs, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it to chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire; that was how the night felt.

    Montag walked from the subway with the money in his pocket (he had visited the bank which was open all night and every night with robot tellers in attendance) and as he walked he was listening to the Seashell radio in one car... “We have mobilized a million men. Quick victory is ours if the war comes...” Music flooded over the voice quickly and it was gone.

    “Ten million men mobilized,” Faber's voice whispered in his other ear. “But say one million. It's happier.”

    “Faber?”

    “Yes?”

    “I'm not thinking. I'm just doing like I'm told, like always. You said get the money and I got it. I didn't really think of it myself. When do I start working things out on my own?”

    “You've started already, by saying what you just said. You'll have to take me on faith.”

    “I took the others on faith!”

    “Yes, and look where we're headed. You'll have to travel blind for a while. Here's my arm to hold on to.”

    “I don't want to change sides and just be told what to do. There's no reason to change if I do that.”

    “You're wise already!”

    Montag felt his feet moving him on the sidewalk. toward his house. “Keep talking.”

    “Would you like me to read? I'll read so you can remember. I go to bed only five hours a night. Nothing to do. So if you like; I'll read you to sleep nights. They say you retain knowledge even when you're sleeping, if someone whispers it in your ear.”

    “Yes.”

    “Here.” Far away across town in the night, the faintest whisper of a turned page. “The Book of Job.”

    The moon rose in the sky as Montag walked, his lips moving just a trifle.

    He was eating a light supper at nine in the evening when the front door cried out in the hall and Mildred ran from the parlour like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius. Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the volcano's mouth with martinis in their hands: Montag stopped eating. They were like a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he saw their Cheshire Cat smiles burning through the walls of the house, and now they were screaming at each other above the din. Montag found himself at the parlour door with his food still in his mouth.

    “Doesn't everyone look nice!”

    “Nice.”

    “You look fine, Millie!”

    “Fine.”

    “Everyone looks swell.”

    “Swell!

    “Montag stood watching them.

    “Patience,” whispered Faber.

    “I shouldn't be here,” whispered Montag, almost to himself. “I should be on my way back to you with the money!” “Tomorrow's time enough. Careful!”

    “Isn't this show wonderful?” cried Mildred. “Wonderful!”

    On one wall a woman smiled and drank orange juice simultaneously. How does she do both at once, thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an X-ray of the same woman revealed the contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her delightful stomach! Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.

    “Millie, did you see that?”

    “I saw it, I saw it!”

    Montag reached inside the parlour wall and pulled the main switch. The images drained away, as if the water had been let out from a gigantic crystal bowl of hysterical fish.

    The three women turned slowly and looked with unconcealed irritation and then dislike at Montag.

    “When do you suppose the war will start?” he said. “I notice your husbands aren't here tonight?”

    “Oh, they come and go, come and go,” said Mrs. Phelps. “In again out again Finnegan, the Army called Pete yesterday. He'll be back next week. The Army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said, and everyone home. That's what the Army said. Quick war. Pete was called yesterday and they said he'd be, back next week. Quick...”

    The three women fidgeted and looked nervously at the empty mud-coloured walls.

    “I'm not worried,” said Mrs. Phelps. “I'll let Pete do all the worrying.” She giggled. “I'll let old Pete do all the worrying. Not me. I'm not worried.”

    “Yes,” said Millie. “Let old Pete do the worrying.”

    “It's always someone else's husband dies, they say.”

    “I've heard that, too. I've never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed jumping off buildings, yes, like Gloria's husband last week, but from wars? No.”

    “Not from wars,” said Mrs. Phelps. “Anyway, Pete and I always said, no tears, nothing like that. It's our third marriage each and we're independent. Be independent, we always said. He said, if I get killed off, you just go right ahead and don't cry, but get married again, and don't think of me.”

    “That reminds me,” said Mildred. “Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance last night in your wall? Well, it was all about this woman who—”

    Montag said nothing but stood looking at the women's faces as he had once looked at the faces of saints in a strange church he had entered when he was a child. The faces of those enamelled creatures meant nothing to him, though he talked to them and stood in that church for a long time, trying to be of that religion, trying to know what that religion was, trying to get enough of the raw incense and special dust of the place into his lungs and thus into his blood to feel touched and concerned by the meaning of the colourful men and women with the porcelain eyes and the blood-ruby lips. But there was nothing, nothing; it was a stroll through another store, and his currency strange and unusable there, and his passion cold, even when he touched the wood and plaster and clay. So it was now, in his own parlour, with these women twisting in their chairs under his gaze, lighting cigarettes, blowing smoke, touching their sun-fired hair and examining their blazing fingernails as if they had caught fire from his look. Their faces grew haunted with silence. They leaned forward at the sound of Montag's swallowing his final bite of food. They listened to his feverish breathing. The three empty walls of the room were like the pale brows of sleeping giants now, empty of dreams. Montag felt that if you touched these three staring brows you would feel a fine salt sweat on your finger-tips. The perspiration gathered with the silence and the sub-audible trembling around and about and in the women who were burning with tension. Any moment they might hiss a long sputtering hiss and explode.

    Montag moved his lips.

    “Let's talk.”

    The women jerked and stared.

    “How're your children, Mrs. Phelps?” he asked.

    “You know I haven't any! No one in his right mind, the Good Lord knows; would have children!” said Mrs. Phelps, not quite sure why she was angry with this man.

    “I wouldn't say that,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I've had two children by Caesarian section. No use going through all that agony for a baby. The world must reproduce, you know, the race must go on. Besides, they sometimes look just like you, and that's nice. Two Caesarians tamed the trick, yes, sir. Oh, my doctor said, Caesarians aren't necessary; you've got the, hips for it, everything's normal, but I insisted.”

    “Caesarians or not, children are ruinous; you're out of your mind,” said Mrs. Phelps.

    “I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it's not bad at all. You heave them into the ‘parlour’ and turn the switch. It's like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid.” Mrs. Bowles tittered. “They'd just as soon kick as kiss me. Thank God, I can kick back!”

    The women showed their tongues, laughing.

    Mildred sat a moment and then, seeing that Montag was still in the doorway, clapped her hands. “Let's talk politics, to please Guy!”

    “Sounds fine,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line for President Noble. I think he's one of the nicest-looking men who ever became president.”

    “Oh, but the man they ran against him!”

    “He wasn't much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn't shave too close or comb his hair very well.”

    “What possessed the ‘Outs’ to run him? You just don't go running a little short man like that against a tall man. Besides -he mumbled. Half the time I couldn't hear a word he said. And the words I did hear I didn't understand!”

    “Fat, too, and didn't dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost figure the results.”

    “Damn it!” cried Montag. “What do you know about Hoag and Noble?”

    “Why, they were right in that parlour wall, not six months ago. One was always picking his nose; it drove me wild.”

    “Well, Mr. Montag,” said Mrs. Phelps, “do you want us to vote for a man like that?”

    Mildred beamed. “You just run away from the door, Guy, and don't make us nervous.”

    But Montag was gone and back in a moment with a book in his hand.

    “Guy!”

    “Damn it all, damn it all, damn it!”

    “What've you got there; isn't that a book? I thought that all special training these days was done by film.” Mrs. Phelps blinked. “You reading up on fireman theory?”

    “Theory, hell,” said Montag. “It's poetry.”

    “Montag.” A whisper.

    “Leave me alone!” Montag felt himself turning in a great circling roar and buzz and hum.

    “Montag, hold on, don't...”

    “Did you hear them, did you hear these monsters talking about monsters? Oh God, the way they jabber about people and their own children and themselves and the way they talk about their husbands and the way they talk about war, dammit, I stand here and I can't believe it!”

    “I didn't say a single word about any war, I'll have you know,” said Mrs, Phelps.

    “As for poetry, I hate it,” said Mrs. Bowles.

    “Have you ever read any?”

    “Montag,” Faber's voice scraped away at him. “You'll ruin everything. Shut up, you fool!”

    “All three women were on their feet.

    “Sit down!”

    They sat.

    “I'm going home,” quavered Mrs. Bowles.

    “Montag, Montag, please, in the name of God, what are you up to?” pleaded Faber.

    “Why don't you just read us one of those poems from your little book,” Mrs. Phelps nodded. “I think that'd he very interesting.”

    “That's not right,” wailed Mrs. Bowles. “We can't do that!”

    “Well, look at Mr. Montag, he wants to, I know he does. And if we listen nice, Mr. Montag will be happy and then maybe we can go on and do something else.” She glanced nervously at the long emptiness of the walls enclosing them.

    “Montag, go through with this and I'll cut off, I'll leave.” The beetle jabbed his ear. “What good is this, what'll you prove?”

    “Scare hell out of them, that's what, scare the living daylights out!”

    Mildred looked at the empty air. “Now Guy, just who are you talking to?”

    A silver needle pierced his brain. “Montag, listen, only one way out, play it as a joke, cover up, pretend you aren't mad at all. Then-walk to your wall-incinerator, and throw the book in!”

    Mildred had already anticipated this in a quavery voice. “Ladies, once a year, every fireman's allowed to bring one book home, from the old days, to show his family how silly it all was, how nervous that sort of thing can make you, how crazy. Guy's surprise tonight is to read you one sample to show how mixed-up things were, so none of us will ever have to bother our little old heads about that junk again, isn't that right, darling?”

    He crushed the book in his fists. “Say ‘yes.’”

    His mouth moved like Faber's.

    “Yes.”

    Mildred snatched the book with a laugh. “Here! Read this one. No, I take it back. Here's that real funny one you read out loud today. Ladies, you won't understand a word. It goes umpty-tumpty-ump. Go ahead, Guy, that page, dear.”

    He looked at the opened page.

    A fly stirred its wings softly in his ear. “Read.”

    “What's the title, dear?”

    “Dover Beach.” His mouth was numb.

    “Now read in a nice clear voice and go slow.”

    The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle of an empty desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for Mrs. Phelps to stop straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers away from her hair. Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line, and his voice went out across the desert, into the whiteness, and around the three sitting women there in the great hot emptiness:

    “The Sea of Faith

    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore

    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

    But now I only hear

    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

    Retreating, to the breath

    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

    And naked shingles of the world.”

    The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:

    “Ah, love, let us be true

    To one another! for the world, which seems

    To lie before us like a land of dreams,

    So various, so beautiful, so new,

    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

    And we are here as on a darkling plain

    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

    Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

    Mrs. Phelps was crying.

    The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered by her display. She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken.

    “Sh, sh,” said Mildred. “You're all right, Clara, now, Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what's wrong?”

    “I-I,”, sobbed Mrs. Phelps, “don't know, don't know, I just don't know, oh oh...”

    Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. “You see? I knew it, that's what I wanted to prove! I knew it would happen! I've always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I've had it proved to me. You're nasty, Mr. Montag, you're nasty!”

    Faber said, “Now...”

    Montag felt himself turn and walk to the wall-slot and drop the book in through the brass notch to the waiting flames.

    “Silly words, silly words, silly awful hurting words,” said Mrs. Bowles. “Why do people want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, you've got to tease people with stuff like that!”

    “Clara, now, Clara,” begged Mildred, pulling her arm. “Come on, let's be cheery, you turn the ‘family’ on, now. Go ahead. Let's laugh and be happy, now, stop crying, we'll have a party!”

    “No,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I'm trotting right straight home. You want to visit my house and ‘family,’ well and good. But I won't come in this fireman's crazy house again in my lifetime!”

    “Go home.” Montag fixed his eyes upon her, quietly. “Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you've had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it? Go home, go home!” he yelled. “Before I knock you down and kick you out of the door!”

    Doors slammed and the house was empty. Montag stood alone in the winter weather, with the parlour walls the colour of dirty snow.

    In the bathroom, water ran. He heard Mildred shake the sleeping tablets into her hand.

    “Fool, Montag, fool, fool, oh God you silly fool...”

    “Shut up!” He pulled the green bullet from his ear and jammed it into his pocket.

    It sizzled faintly. “...fool... fool...”

    He searched the house and found the books where Mildred had stacked them behind the refrigerator. Some were missing and he knew that she had started on her own slow process of dispersing the dynamite in her house, stick by stick. But he was not angry now, only exhausted and bewildered with himself. He carried the books into the backyard and hid them in the bushes near the alley fence. For tonight only, he thought, in case she decides to do any more burning.

    He went back through the house. “Mildred?” He called at the door of the darkened bedroom. There was no sound.

    Outside, crossing the lawn, on his way to work, he tried not to see how completely dark and deserted Clarisse McClellan's house was...

    On the way downtown he was so completely alone with his terrible error that he felt the necessity for the strange warmness and goodness that came from a familiar and gentle voice speaking in the night. Already, in a few short hours, it seemed that he had known Faber a lifetime. Now he knew that he was two people, that he was above all Montag, who knew nothing, who did not even know himself a fool, but only suspected it. And he knew that he was also the old man who talked to him and talked to him as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other on one long sickening gasp of motion. In the days to follow, and in the nights when there was no moon and in the nights when there was a very bright moon shining on the earth, the old man would go on with this talking and this talking, drop by drop, stone by stone, flake by flake. His mind would well over at last and he would not be Montag any more, this the old man told him, assured him, promised him. He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day, after everything had mixed and simmered and worked away in silence, there would be neither fire nor water, but wine. Out of two separate and opposite things, a third. And one day he would look back upon the fool and know the fool. Even now he could feel the start of the long journey, the leave-taking, the going away from the self he had been.

    It was good listening to the beetle hum, the sleepy mosquito buzz and delicate filigree murmur of the old man's voice at first scolding him and then consoling him in the late hour of night as he emerged from the steaming subway toward the firehouse world.

    “Pity, Montag, pity. Don't haggle and nag them; you were so recently one o f them yourself. They are so confident that they will run on for ever. But they won't run on. They don't know that this is all one huge big blazing meteor that makes a pretty fire in space, but that some day it'll have to hit. They see only the blaze, the pretty fire, as you saw it.

    “Montag, old men who stay at home, afraid, tending their peanut-brittle bones, have no right to criticize. Yet you almost killed things at the start. Watch it! I'm with you, remember that. I understand how it happened. I must admit that your blind raging invigorated me. God, how young I felt! But now-I want you to feel old, I want a little of my cowardice to be distilled in you tonight. The next few hours, when you see Captain Beatty, tiptoe round him, let me hear him for you, let me feel the situation out. Survival is our ticket. Forget the poor, silly women...”

    “I made them unhappier than they have been in years, Ithink,” said Montag. “It shocked me to see Mrs. Phelps cry. Maybe they're right, maybe it's best not to face things, to run, have fun. I don't know. I feel guilty—”

    “No, you mustn't! If there were no war, if there was peace in the world, I'd say fine, have fun! But, Montag, you mustn't go back to being just a fireman. All isn't well with the world.”

    Montag perspired.

    “Montag, you listening?”

    “My feet,” said Montag. “I can't move them. I feel so damn silly. My feet won't move!”

    “Listen. Easy now,” said the old man gently. “I know, I know. You're afraid of making mistakes. Don't be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn. Now, pick up your feet, into the firehouse with you! We're twins, we're not alone any more, we're not separated out in different parlours, with no contact between. If you need help when Beatty pries at you, I'll be sitting right here in your eardrum making notes!”

    Montag felt his right foot, then his left foot, move.

    “Old man,” he said, “stay with me.”

    The Mechanical Hound was gone. Its kennel was empty and the firehouse stood all about in plaster silence and the orange Salamander slept with its kerosene in its belly and the firethrowers crossed upon its flanks and Montag came in through the silence and touched the brass pole and slid up in the dark air, looking back at the deserted kennel, his heart beating, pausing, beating. Faber was a grey moth asleep in his ear, for the moment.

    Beatty stood near the drop-hole waiting, but with his back turned as if he were not waiting.

    “Well,” he said to the men playing cards, “here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool.”

    He put his hand to one side, palm up, for a gift. Montag put the book in it. Without even glancing at the title, Beatty tossed the book into the trash-basket and lit a cigarette. “‘Who are a little wise, the best fools be.’ Welcome back, Montag. I hope you'll be staying, with us, now that your fever is done and your sickness over. Sit in for a hand of poker?”

    They sat and the cards were dealt. In Beatty's sight, Montag felt the guilt of his hands. His fingers were like ferrets that had done some evil and now never rested, always stirred and picked and hid in pockets, moving from under Beatty's alcohol-flame stare. If Beatty so much as breathed on them, Montag felt that his hands might wither, turn over on their sides, and never be shocked to life again; they would be buried the rest of his life in his coat-sleeves, forgotten. For these were the hands that had acted on their own, no part of him, here was where the conscience first manifested itself to snatch books, dart off with job and Ruth and Willie Shakespeare, and now, in the firehouse, these hands seemed gloved with blood.

    Twice in half an hour, Montag had to rise from the game and go to the latrine to wash his hands. When he came back he hid his hands under the table.

    Beatty laughed. “Let's have your hands in sight, Montag.

    Not that we don't trust you, understand, but—”

    They all laughed.

    “Well,” said Beatty, “the crisis is past and all is well, the sheep returns to the fold. We're all sheep who have strayed at times. Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning, we've cried. They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts, we've shouted to ourselves. ‘Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,’ Sir Philip Sidney said. But on the other hand: ‘Words are like leaves and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.’ Alexander Pope. What do you think of that?”

    “I don't know.”

    “Careful,” whispered Faber, living in another world, far away.

    “Or this? ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.’ Pope. Same Essay. Where does that put you?”

    Montag bit his lip.

    “I'll tell you,” said Beatty, smiling at his cards. “That made you for a little while a drunkard. Read a few lines and off you go over the cliff. Bang, you're ready to blow up the world, chop off heads, knock down women and children, destroy authority. I know, I've been through it all.”

    “I'm all right,” said Montag, nervously.

    “Stop blushing. I'm not needling, really I'm not. Do you know, I had a dream an hour ago. I lay down for a cat-nap and in this dream you and I, Montag, got into a furious debate on books. You towered with rage, yelled quotes at me. I calmly parried every thrust. Power, I said, And you, quoting Dr. Johnson, said ‘Knowledge is more than equivalent to force!’ And I said, ‘Well, Dr. Johnson also said, dear boy, that “He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.’” Stick with the fireman, Montag. All else is dreary chaos!”

    “Don't listen,” whispered Faber. “He's trying to confuse. He's slippery. Watch out!”

    Beatty chuckled. “And you said, quoting, ‘Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long!’ And I cried in good humour, ‘Oh God, he speaks only of his horse!’ And ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’ And you yelled, ‘This age thinks better of a gilded fool, than of a threadbare saint in wisdom's school!’ And I whispered gently, ‘The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting.’ And you screamed, ‘Carcasses bleed at the sight of the murderer!’ And I said, patting your hand, ‘What, do I give you trench mouth?’ And you shrieked, ‘Knowledge is power!’ and ‘A dwarf on a giant's shoulders of the furthest of the two!’ and I summed my side up with rare serenity in, ‘The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us, Mr. Valery once said.’”

    Montag's head whirled sickeningly. He felt beaten unmercifully on brow, eyes, nose, lips, chin, on shoulders, on upflailing arms. He wanted to yell, “No! shut up, you're confusing things, stop it!” Beatty's graceful fingers thrust out to seize his wrist.

    “God, what a pulse! I've got you going, have I, Montag. Jesus God, your pulse sounds like the day after the war. Everything but sirens and bells! Shall I talk some more? I like your look of panic. Swahili, Indian, English Lit., I speak them all. A kind of excellent dumb discourse, Willie!”

    “Montag, hold on!” The moth brushed Montag's ear. “He's muddying the waters!”

    “Oh, you were scared silly,” said Beatty, “for I was doing a terrible thing in using the very books you clung to, to rebut you on every hand, on every point! What traitors books can be! You think they're backing you up, and they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives. And at the very end of my dream, along I came with the Salamander and said, Going my way? And you got in and we drove back to the firehouse in beatific silence, all -dwindled away to peace.” Beatty let Montag's wrist go, let the hand slump limply on the table. “All's well that is well in the end.”

    Silence. Montag sat like a carved white stone. The echo of the final hammer on his skull died slowly away into the black cavern where Faber waited for the echoes to subside. And then when the startled dust had settled down about Montag's mind, Faber began, softly, “All right, he's had his say. You must take it in. I'll say my say, too, in the next few hours. And you'll take it in. And you'll try to judge them and make your decision as to which way to jump, or fall. But I want it to be your decision, not mine, and not the Captain's. But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it's up to you now to know with which ear you'll listen.”

    Montag opened his mouth to answer Faber and was saved this error in the presence of others when the station bell rang. The alarm-voice in the ceiling chanted. There was a tacking-tacking sound as the alarm-report telephone typed out the address across the room. Captain Beatty, his poker cards in one pink hand, walked with exaggerated slowness to the phone and ripped out the address when the report was finished. He glanced perfunctorily at it, and shoved it in his pocket. He came back and sat down. The others looked at him.

    “It can wait exactly forty seconds while I take all the money away from you,” said Beatty, happily.

    Montag put his cards down.

    “Tired, Montag? Going out of this game?”

    “Yes.”

    “Hold on. Well, come to think of it, we can finish this hand later. Just leave your cards face down and hustle the equipment. On the double now.” And Beatty rose up again. “Montag, you don't look well? I'd hate to think you were coming down with another fever...”

    “I'll be all right.”

    “You'll be fine. This is a special case. Come on, jump for it!”

    They leaped into the air and clutched the brass pole as if it were the last vantage point above a tidal wave passing below, and then the brass pole, to their dismay slid them down into darkness, into the blast and cough and suction of the gaseous dragon roaring to life!

    “Hey!”

    They rounded a corner in thunder and siren, with concussion of tyres, with scream of rubber, with a shift of kerosene bulk in the glittery brass tank, like the food in the stomach of a giant; with Montag's fingers jolting off the silver rail, swinging into cold space, with the wind tearing his hair back from his head, with the wind whistling in his teeth, and him all the while thinking of the women, the chaff women in his parlour tonight, with the kernels blown out from under them by a neon wind, and his silly damned reading of a book to them. How like trying to put out fires with water-pistols, how senseless and insane. One rage turned in for another. One anger displacing another. When would he stop being entirely mad and be quiet, be very quiet indeed?

    “Here we go!”

    Montag looked up. Beatty never drove, but he was driving tonight, slamming the Salamander around corners, leaning forward high on the driver's throne, his massive black slicker flapping out behind so that he seemed a great black bat flying above the engine, over the brass numbers, taking the full wind.

    “Here we go to keep the world happy, Montag!”

    Beatty's pink, phosphorescent cheeks glimmered in the high darkness, and he was smiling furiously.

    “Here we are!”

    The Salamander boomed to a halt, throwing men off in slips and clumsy hops. Montag stood fixing his raw eyes to the cold bright rail under his clenched fingers.

    I can't do it, he thought. How can I go at this new assignment, how can I go on burning things? I can't go in this place.

    Beatty, smelling of the wind through which he had rushed, was at Montag's elbow. “All right, Montag?”

    The men ran like cripples in their clumsy boots, as quietly as spiders.

    At last Montag raised his eyes and turned. Beatty was watching his face.

    “Something the matter, Montag?”

    “Why,” said Montag slowly, “we've stopped in front of my house.”

    PART III

    BURNING BRIGHT

    LIGHTS flicked on and house-doors opened all down the street, to watch the carnival set up. Montag and Beatty stared, one with dry satisfaction, the other with disbelief, at the house before them, this main ring in which torches would be juggled and fire eaten.

    “Well,” said Beatty, “now you did it. Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why. Didn't I hint enough when I sent the Hound around your place?”

    Montag's face was entirely numb and featureless; he felt his head turn like a stone carving to the dark place next door, set in its bright borders of flowers.

    Beatty snorted. “Oh, no! You weren't fooled by that little idiot's routine, now, were you? Flowers, butterflies, leaves, sunsets, oh, hell! It's all in her file. I'll be damned. I've hit the bullseye. Look at the sick look on your face. A few grass-blades and the quarters of the moon. What trash. What good did she ever do with all that?”

    Montag sat on the cold fender of the Dragon, moving his head half an inch to the left, half an inch to the right, left, right, left right, left...

    “She saw everything. She didn't do anything to anyone. She just let them alone.”

    “Alone, hell! She chewed around you, didn't she? One of those damn do-gooders with their shocked, holier-than-thou silences, their one talent making others feel guilty. God damn, they rise like the midnight sun to sweat you in your bed!”

    The front door opened; Mildred came down the steps, running, one suitcase held with a dream-like clenching rigidity in her fist, as a beetle-taxi hissed to the curb.

    “Mildred!”

    She ran past with her body stiff, her face floured with powder, her mouth gone, without lipstick.

    “Mildred, you didn't put in the alarm!”

    She shoved the valise in the waiting beetle, climbed in, and sat mumbling, “Poor family, poor family, oh everything gone, everything, everything gone now...”

    Beatty grabbed Montag's shoulder as the beetle blasted away and hit seventy miles an hour, far down the street, gone.

    There was a crash like the falling parts of a dream fashioned out of warped glass, mirrors, and crystal prisms. Montag drifted about as if still another incomprehensible storm had turned him, to see Stoneman and Black wielding axes, shattering window-panes to provide cross-ventilation.

    The brush of a death's-head moth against a cold black screen. “Montag, this is Faber. Do you hear me? What is happening

    “This is happening to me,” said Montag.

    “What a dreadful surprise,” said Beatty. “For everyone nowadays knows, absolutely is certain, that nothing will ever happen to me. Others die, I go on. There are no consequences and no responsibilities. Except that there are. But let's not talk about them, eh? By the time the consequences catch up with you, it's too late, isn't it, Montag?”

    “Montag, can you get away, run?” asked Faber.

    Montag walked but did not feel his feet touch the cement and then the night grasses. Beatty flicked his igniter nearby and the small orange flame drew his fascinated gaze.

    “What is there about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?” Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. “It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical.”

    Montag stood looking in now at this queer house, made strange by the hour of the night, by murmuring neighbour voices, by littered glass, and there on the floor, their covers torn off and spilled out like swan-feathers, the incredible books that looked so silly and really not worth bothering with, for these were nothing but black type and yellowed paper, and ravelled binding.

    Mildred, of course. She must have watched him hide the books in the garden and brought them back in. Mildred. Mildred.

    “I want you to do this job all by your lonesome, Montag. Not with kerosene and a match, but piecework, with a flamethrower. Your house, your clean-up.”

    “Montag, can't you run, get away!”

    “No!” cried Montag helplessly. “The Hound! Because of the Hound!”

    Faber heard, and Beatty, thinking it was meant for him, heard. “Yes, the Hound's somewhere about the neighbourhood, so don't try anything. Ready?”

    “Ready.” Montag snapped the safety-catch on the flamethrower.

    “Fire!”

    A great nuzzling gout of flame leapt out to lap at the books and knock them against the wall. He stepped into the bedroom and fired twice and the twin beds went up in a great simmering whisper, with more heat and passion and light than he would have supposed them to contain. He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining-room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed that he had lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who would forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listening to her Seashell radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone. And as before, it was good to burn, he felt himself gush out in the fire, snatch, rend, rip in half with flame, and put away the senseless problem. If there was no solution, well then now there was no problem, either. Fire was best for everything!

    “The books, Montag!”

    The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers.

    And then he came to the parlour where the great idiot monsters lay asleep with their white thoughts and their snowy dreams. And he shot a bolt at each of the three blank walls and the vacuum hissed out at him. The emptiness made an even emptier whistle, a senseless scream. He tried to think about the vacuum upon which the nothingness had performed, but he could not. He held his breath so the vacuum could not get into his lungs. He cut off its terrible emptiness, drew back, and gave the entire room a gift of one huge bright yellow flower of burning. The fire-proof plastic sheath on everything was cut wide and the house began to shudder with flame.

    “When you're quite finished,” said Beatty behind him. “You're under arrest.”

    The house fell in red coals and black ash. It bedded itself down in sleepy pink-grey cinders and a smoke plume blew over it, rising and waving slowly back and forth in the sky. It was three-thirty in the morning. The crowd drew back into the houses; the great tents of the circus had slumped into charcoal and rubble and the show was well over.

    Montag stood with the flame-thrower in his limp hands, great islands of perspiration drenching his armpits, his face smeared with soot. The other firemen waited behind him, in the darkness, their faces illuminated faintly by the smouldering foundation.

    Montag started to speak twice and then finally managed to put his thought together.

    “Was it my wife turned in the alarm?”

    Beatty nodded. “But her friends turned in an alarm earlier, that I let ride. One way or the other, you'd have got it. It was pretty silly, quoting poetry around free and easy like that. It was the act of a silly damn snob. Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he's the Lord of all Creation. You think you can walk on water with your books. Well, the world can get by just fine without them. Look where they got you, in slime up to your lip. If I stir the slime with my little finger, you'll drown!”

    Montag could not move. A great earthquake had come with fire and levelled the house and Mildred was under there somewhere and his entire life under there and he could not move. The earthquake was still shaking and falling and shivering inside him and he stood there, his knees half-bent under the great load of tiredness and bewilderment and outrage, letting Beatty hit him without raising a hand.

    “Montag, you idiot, Montag, you damn fool; why did you really do it?”

    Montag did not hear, he was far away, he was running with his mind, he was gone, leaving this dead soot-covered body to sway in front of another raving fool.

    “Montag, get out of there!” said Faber.

    Montag listened.

    Beatty struck him a blow on the head that sent him reeling back. The green bullet in which Faber's voice whispered and cried, fell to the sidewalk. Beatty snatched it up, grinning. He held it half in, half out of his ear.

    Montag heard the distant voice calling, “Montag, you all right?”

    Beatty switched the green bullet off and thrust it in his pocket. “Well—so there's more here than I thought. I saw you tilt your head, listening. First I thought you had a Seashell. But when you turned clever later, I wondered. We'll trace this and drop it on your friend.”

    “No!” said Montag.

    He twitched the safety catch on the flame-thrower. Beatty glanced instantly at Montag's fingers and his eyes widened the faintest bit. Montag saw the surprise there and himself glanced to his hands to see what new thing they had done. Thinking back later he could never decide whether the hands or Beatty's reaction to the hands gave him the final push toward murder. The last rolling thunder of the avalanche stoned down about his ears, not touching him.

    Beatty grinned his most charming grin. “Well, that's one way to get an audience. Hold a gun on a man and force him to listen to your speech. Speech away. What'll it be this time? Why don't you belch Shakespeare at me, you fumbling snob? ‘There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm'd so strong in honesty that they pass by me as an idle wind, which I respect not!’ How's that? Go ahead now, you second-hand litterateur, pull the trigger.” He took one step toward Montag.

    Montag only said, “We never burned right...”

    “Hand it over, Guy,” said Beatty with a fixed smile.

    And then he was a shrieking blaze, a jumping, sprawling, gibbering mannikin, no longer human or known, all writhing flame on the lawn as Montag shot one continuous pulse of liquid fire on him. There was a hiss like a great mouthful of spittle banging a redhot stove, a bubbling and frothing as if salt had been poured over a monstrous black snail to cause a terrible liquefaction and a boiling over of yellow foam. Montag shut his eyes, shouted, shouted, and fought to get his hands at his ears to clamp and to cut away the sound. Beatty flopped over and over and over, and at last twisted in on himself like a charred wax doll and lay silent.

    The other two firemen did not move.

    Montag kept his sickness down long enough to aim the flame-thrower. “Turn around!”

    They turned, their faces like blanched meat, streaming sweat; he beat their heads, knocking off their helmets and bringing them down on themselves. They fell and lay without moving.

    The blowing of a single autumn leaf.

    He turned and the Mechanical Hound was there.

    It was half across the lawn, coming from the shadows, moving with such drifting ease that it was like a single solid cloud of black-grey smoke blown at him in silence.

    It made a single last leap into the air, coming down at Montag from a good three feet over his head, its spidered legs reaching, the procaine needle snapping out its single angry tooth. Montag caught it with a bloom of fire, a single wondrous blossom that curled in petals of yellow and blue and orange about the metal dog, clad it in a new covering as it slammed into Montag and threw him ten feet back against the bole of a tree, taking the flame-gun with him. He felt it scrabble and seize his leg and stab the needle in for a moment before the fire snapped the Hound up in the air, burst its metal bones at the joints, and blew out its interior in the single flushing of red colour like a skyrocket fastened to the street. Montag lay watching the dead-alive thing fiddle the air and die. Even now it seemed to want to get back at him and finish the injection which was now working through the flesh of his leg. He felt all of the mingled relief and horror at having pulled back only in time to have just his knee slammed by the fender of a car hurtling by at ninety miles an hour. He was afraid to

    get up, afraid he might not be able to gain his feet at all, with an anaesthetized leg. A numbness in a numbness hollowed into a numbness...

    And now...?

    The street empty, the house burnt like an ancient bit of stage-scenery, the other homes dark, the Hound here, Beatty there, the three other firemen another place, and the Salamander...? He gazed at the immense engine. That would have to go, too.

    Well, he thought, let's see how badly off you are. On your feet now. Easy, easy... there.

    He stood and he had only one leg. The other was like a chunk of burnt pine-log he was carrying along as a penance for some obscure sin. When he put his weight on it, a shower of silver needles gushed up the length of the calf and went off in the knee. He wept. Come on! Come on, you, you can't stay here!

    A few house-lights were going on again down the street, whether from the incidents just passed, or because of the abnormal silence following the fight, Montag did not know. He hobbled around the ruins, seizing at his bad leg when it lagged, talking and whimpering and shouting directions at it and cursing it and pleading with it to work for him now when it was vital. He heard a number of people crying out in the darkness and shouting. He reached the back yard and the alley. Beatty, he thought, you're not a problem now. You always said, don't face a problem, bum it. Well, now I've done both. Good-bye, Captain.

    And he stumbled along the alley in the dark.

    A shotgun blast went off in his leg every time he put it down and he thought, you're a fool, a damn fool, an awful fool, an idiot, an awful idiot, a damn idiot, and a fool, a damn fool; look at the mess and where's the mop, look at the mess, and what do you do? Pride, damn it, and temper, and you've junked it all, at the very start you vomit on everyone and on yourself. But everything at once, but everything one on top of another; Beatty, the women, Mildred, Clarisse, everything. No excuse, though, no excuse. A fool, a damn fool, go give yourself up!

    No, we'll save what we can, we'll do what there is left to do. If we have to burn, let's take a few more with us. Here!

    He remembered the books and turned back. Just on the off chance.

    He found a few books where he had left them, near the garden fence. Mildred, God bless her, had missed a few. Four books still lay hidden where he had put them. Voices were wailing in the night and flashbeams swirled about. Other Salamanders were roaring their engines far away, and police sirens were cutting their way across town with their sirens.

    Montag took the four remaining books and hopped, jolted, hopped his way down the alley and suddenly fell as if his head had been cut off and only his body lay there. Something inside had jerked him to a halt and flopped him down. He lay where he had fallen and sobbed, his legs folded, his face pressed blindly to the gravel.

    Beatty wanted to die.

    In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling, thought Montag, and the thought was enough to stifle his sobbing and let him pause for air. How strange, strange, to want to die so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then...

    At a distance, running feet.

    Montag sat up. Let's get out of here. Come on, get up, get up, you just can't sit! But he was still crying and that had to be finished. It was going away now. He hadn't wanted to kill anyone, not even Beatty. His flesh gripped him and shrank as if it had been plunged in acid. He gagged. He saw Beatty, a torch, not moving, fluttering out on the grass. He bit at his knuckles. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh God, sorry...

    He tried to piece it all together, to go back to the normal pattern of life a few short days ago before the sieve and the sand, Denham's Dentifrice, moth-voices, fireflies, the alarms and excursions, too much for a few short days, too much, indeed, for a lifetime.

    Feet ran in the far end of the alley.

    “Get up!” he told himself. “Damn it, get up!” he said to the leg, and stood. The pains were spikes driven in the kneecap and then only darning needles and then only common, ordinary safety pins, and after he had dragged along fifty more hops and jumps, filling his hand with slivers from the board fence, the prickling was like someone blowing a spray of scalding water on that leg. And the leg was at last his own leg again. He had been afraid that running might break the loose ankle. Now, sucking all the night into his open mouth, and blowing it out pale, with all the blackness left heavily inside himself, he set out in a steady jogging pace. He carried the books in his hands.

    He thought of Faber.

    Faber was back there in the steaming lump of tar that had no name or identity now. He had burnt Faber, too. He felt so suddenly shocked by this that he felt Faber was really dead, baked like a roach in that small green capsule shoved and lost in the pocket of a man who was now nothing but a frame skeleton strung with asphalt tendons.

    You must remember, burn them or they'll burn you, he thought. Right now it's as simple as that.

    He searched his pockets, the money was there, and in his other pocket he found the usual Seashell upon which the city was talking to itself in the cold black morning.

    “Police Alert. Wanted: Fugitive in city. Has committed murder and crimes against the State. Name: Guy Montag. Occupation: Fireman. Last seen...”

    He ran steadily for six blocks, in the alley, and then the alley opened out on to a wide empty thoroughfare ten lanes wide. It seemed like a boatless river frozen there in the raw light of the high white arc-lamps; you could drown trying to cross it, he felt; it was too wide, it was too open. It was a vast stage without scenery, inviting him to run across, easily seen in the blazing illumination, easily caught, easily shot down.

    The Seashell hummed in his ear.

    “...watch for a man running...watch for the running man... watch for a man alone, on foot... watch...”

    Montag pulled back into the shadows. Directly ahead lay a gas station, a great chunk of porcelain snow shining there, and two silver beetles pulling in to fill up. Now he must be clean and presentable if he wished, to walk, not run, stroll calmly across that wide boulevard. It would give him an extra margin of safety if he washed up and combed his hair before he went on his way to get where...?

    Yes, he thought, where am I running?

    Nowhere. There was nowhere to go, no friend to turn to, really. Except Faber. And then he realized that he was indeed, running toward Faber's house, instinctively. But Faber couldn't hide him; it would be suicide even to try. But he knew that he would go to see Faber anyway, for a few short minutes. Faber's would be the place where he might refuel his fast draining belief in his own ability to survive. He just wanted to know that there was a man like Faber in the world. He wanted to see the man alive and not burned back there like a body shelled in another body. And some of the money must be left with Faber, of course, to be spent after Montag ran on his way. Perhaps he could make the open country and live on or near the rivers and near the highways, in the fields and hills.

    A great whirling whisper made him look to the sky.

    The police helicopters were rising so far away that it seemed someone had blown the grey head off a dry dandelion flower. Two dozen of them flurried, wavering, indecisive, three miles off, like butterflies puzzled by autumn, and then they were plummeting down to land, one by one, here, there, softly kneading the streets where, turned back to beetles, they shrieked along the boulevards or, as suddenly, leapt back into the sir, continuing their search.

    And here was the gas station, its attendants busy now with customers. Approaching from the rear, Montag entered the men's washroom. Through the aluminium wall he heard a radio voice saying, “War has been declared.” The gas was being pumped outside. The men in the beetles were talking and the attendants were talking about the engines, the gas, the money owed. Montag stood trying to make himself feel the shock of the quiet statement from the radio, but nothing would happen. The war would have to wait for him to come to it in his personal file, an hour, two hours from now.

    He washed his hands and face and towelled himself dry, making little sound. He came out of the washroom and shut the door carefully and walked into the darkness and at last stood again on the edge of the empty boulevard.

    There it lay, a game for him to win, a vast bowling alley in the cool morning. The boulevard was as clean as the surface of an arena two minutes before the appearance of certain unnamed victims and certain unknown killers. The air over and above the vast concrete river trembled with the warmth of Montag's body alone; it was incredible how he felt his temperature could cause the whole immediate world to vibrate. He was a phosphorescent target; he knew it, he felt it. And now he must begin his little walk.

    Three blocks away a few headlights glared. Montag drew a deep breath. His lungs were like burning brooms in his chest. His mouth was sucked dry from running. His throat tasted of bloody iron and there was rusted steel in his feet.

    What about those lights there? Once you started walking you'd have to gauge how fast those beetles could make it down here. Well, how far was it to the other curb? It seemed like a hundred yards. Probably not a hundred, but figure for that anyway, figure that with him going very slowly, at a nice stroll, it might take as much as thirty seconds, forty seconds to walk all the way. The beetles? Once started, they could leave three blocks behind them in about fifteen seconds. So, even if halfway across he started to run...?

    He put his right foot out and then his left foot and then his right. He walked on the empty avenue.

    Even if the street were entirely empty, of course, you couldn't be sure of a safe crossing, for a car could appear suddenly over the rise four blocks further on and be on and past you before you had taken a dozen breaths.

    He decided not to count his steps. He looked neither to left nor right. The light from the overhead lamps seemed as bright and revealing as the midday sun and just as hot.

    He listened to the sound of the car picking up speed two blocks away on his right. Its movable headlights jerked back and forth suddenly, and caught at Montag.

    Keep going.

    Montag faltered, got a grip on the books, and forced himself not to freeze. Instinctively he took a few quick, running steps then talked out loud to himself and pulled up to stroll again. He was now half across the street, but the roar from the beetle's engines whined higher as it put on speed.

    The police, of course. They see me. But slow now; slow, quiet, don't turn, don't look, don't seem concerned. Walk, that's it, walls, walk.

    The beetle was rushing. The beetle was roaring. The beetle raised its speed. The beetle was whining. The beetle was in high thunder. The beetle came skimming. The beetle came in a single whistling trajectory, fired from an invisible rifle. It was up to 120 m. p. h. It was up to 130 at least. Montag clamped his jaws. The heat of the racing headlights burnt his cheeks, it seemed, and jittered his eye-lids and flushed the sour sweat out all over his body.

    He began to shuffle idiotically and talk to himself and then he broke and just ran. He put out his legs as far as they would go and down and then far out again and down and back and out and down and back. God! God! He dropped a book, broke pace, almost turned, changed his mind, plunged on, yelling in concrete emptiness, the beetle scuttling after its running food, two hundred, one hundred feet away, ninety, eighty, seventy, Montag gasping, flailing his hands, legs up down out, up down out, closer, closer, hooting, calling, his eyes burnt white now as his head jerked about to confront the flashing glare, now the beetle was swallowed in its own light, now it was nothing but a torch hurtling upon him; all sound, all blare. Now-almost on top of him!

    He stumbled and fell.

    I'm done! It's over!

    But the falling made a difference. An instant before reaching him the wild beetle cut and swerved out. It was gone. Montag lay flat, his head down. Wisps of laughter trailed back to him with the blue exhaust from the beetle.

    His right hand was extended above him, flat. Across the extreme tip of his middle finger, he saw now as he lifted that hand, a faint sixteenth of an inch of black tread where tyre had touched in passing. He looked at that black line with disbelief, getting to his feet.

    That wasn't the police, he thought.

    He looked down the boulevard. It was clear now. A carful of children, all ages, God knew, from twelve to sixteen, out whistling, yelling, hurrahing, had seen a man, a very extraordinary sight, a man strolling, a rarity, and simply said, “Let's get him,” not knowing he was the fugitive Mr. Montag, simply a,number of children out for a long night of roaring five or six hundred miles in a few moonlit hours, their faces icy with wind, and coming home or not coming at dawn, alive or not alive, that made the adventure.

    They would have killed me, thought Montag, swaying, the air still torn and stirring about him in dust, touching his bruised cheek. For no reason at all in the world they would have killed me.

    He walked toward the far kerb telling each foot to go and keep going. Somehow he had picked up the spilled books; he didn't remember bending or touching them. He kept moving them from hand to hand as if they were a poker hand he could not figure.

    I wonder if they were the ones who killed Clarisse?

    He stopped and his mind said it again, very loud.

    I wonder if they were the ones who killed Clarisse!

    He wanted to run after them yelling.

    His eyes watered.

    The thing that had saved him was falling flat. The driver of that car, seeing Montag down, instinctively considered the probability that running over a body at that speed might turn the car upside down and spill them out. If Montag had remained an upright target...?

    Montag gasped.

    Far down the boulevard, four blocks away, the beetle had slowed, spun about on two wheels, and was now racing back, slanting over on the wrong side of the street, picking up speed.

    But Montag was gone, hidden in the safety of the dark alley for which he had set out on a long journey, an hour or was it a minute, ago? He stood shivering in the night, looking back out as the beetle ran by and skidded back to the centre of the avenue, whirling laughter in the air all about it, gone.

    Further on, as Montag moved in darkness, he could see the helicopters falling, falling, like the first flakes of snow in the long winter. to come...

    The house was silent.

    Montag approached from the rear, creeping through a thick night-moistened scent of daffodils and roses and wet grass. He touched the screen door in back, found it open, slipped in, moved across the porch, listening.

    Mrs. Black, are you asleep in there? he thought. This isn't good, but your husband did it to others and never asked and never wondered and never worried. And now since you're a fireman's wife, it's your house and your turn, for all the houses your husband burned and the people he hurt without thinking..

    The house did not reply.

    He hid the books in the kitchen and moved from the house again to the alley and looked back and the house was still dark and quiet, sleeping.

    On his way across town, with the helicopters fluttering like torn bits of paper in the sky, he phoned the alarm at a lonely phone booth outside a store that was closed for the night. Then he stood in the cold night air, waiting and at a distance he heard the fire sirens start up and run, and the Salamanders coming, coming to bum Mr. Black's house while he was away at work, to make his wife stand shivering in the morning air while the roof let go and dropped in upon the fire. But now, she was still asleep.

    Good night, Mrs. Black, he thought.—

    “Faber!”

    Another rap, a whisper, and a long waiting. Then, after a minute, a small light flickered inside Faber's small house. After another pause, the back door opened.

    They stood looking at each other in the half-light, Faber and Montag, as if each did not believe in the other's existence. Then Faber moved and put out his hand and grabbed Montag and moved him in and sat him down and went back and stood in the door, listening. The sirens were wailing off in the morning distance. He came in and shut the door.

    Montag said, “I've been a fool all down the line. I can't stay long. I'm on my way God knows where.”

    “At least you were a fool about the right things,” said Faber. “I thought you were dead. The audio-capsule I gave you—”

    “Burnt.”

    “I heard the captain talking to you and suddenly there was nothing. I almost came out looking for you.”

    “The captain's dead. He found the audio-capsule, he heard your voice, he was going to trace it. I killed him with the flamethrower.”

    Faber sat down and did not speak for a time.

    “My God, how did this happen?” said Montag. “It was only the other night everything was fine and the next thing I know I'm drowning. How many times can a man go down and still be alive? I can't breathe. There's Beatty dead, and he was my friend once, and there's Millie gone, I thought she was my wife, but now I don't know. And the house all burnt. And my job gone and myself on the run, and I planted a book in a fireman's house on the way. Good Christ, the things I've done in a single week!”

    “You did what you had to do. It was coming on for a long time.”

    “Yes, I believe that, if there's nothing else I believe. It saved itself up to happen. I could feel it for a long time, I was saving something up, I went around doing one thing and feeling another. God, it was all there. It's a wonder it didn't show on me, like fat. And now here I am, messing up your life. They might follow me here.”

    “I feel alive for the first time in years,” said Faber. “I feel I'm doing what I should have done a lifetime ago. For a little while I'm not afraid. Maybe it's because I'm doing the right thing at last. Maybe it's because I've done a rash thing and don't want to look the coward to you. I suppose I'll have to do even more violent things, exposing myself so I won't fall down on the job and turn scared again. What are your plans?”

    “To keep running.”

    “You know the war's on?”

    “I heard.”

    “God, isn't it funny?” said the old man. “It seems so remote because we have our own troubles.”

    “I haven't had time to think.” Montag drew out a hundred dollars. “I want this to stay with you, use it any way that'll help when I'm gone.”

    “But—”

    “I might be dead by noon; use this.”

    Faber nodded. “You'd better head for the river if you can, follow along it, and if you can hit the old railroad lines going out into the country, follow them. Even though practically everything's airborne these days and most of the tracks are abandoned, the rails are still there, rusting. I've heard there are still hobo camps all across the country, here and there; walking camps they call them, and if you keep walking far enough and keep an eye peeled, they say there's lots of old Harvard degrees on the tracks between here and Los Angeles. Most of them are wanted and hunted in the cities. They survive, I guess. There aren't many of them, and I guess the Government's never considered them a great enough danger to go in and track them down. You might hole up with them for a time and get in touch with me in St. Louis, I'm leaving on the five a. m. bus this morning, to see a retired printer there, I'm getting out into the open myself, at last. The money will be put to good use. Thanks and God bless you. Do you want to sleep a few minutes?”

    “I'd better run.”

    “Let's check.”

    He took Montag quickly into the bedroom and lifted a picture frame aside, revealing a television screen the size of a postal card. “I always wanted something very small, something I could talk to, something I could blot out with the palm of my hand, if necessary, nothing that could shout me down, nothing monstrous big. So, you see.” He snapped it on. “Montag,” the TV set said, and lit up. “M-O-N-T-A-G.” The name was spelled out by the voice. “Guy Montag. Still running. Police helicopters are up. A new Mechanical Hound has been brought from another district...”

    Montag and Faber looked at each other.

    “...Mechanical Hound never fails. Never since its first use in tracking quarry has this incredible invention made a mistake. Tonight, this network is proud to have the opportunity to follow the Hound by camera helicopter as it starts on its way to the target...”

    Faber poured two glasses of whisky. “We'll need these.”

    They drank.

    “...nose so sensitive the Mechanical Hound can remember and identify ten thousand odour-indexes on ten thousand men without re-setting!”

    Faber trembled the least bit and looked about at his house, at the walls, the door, the doorknob, and the chair where Montag now sat. Montag saw the look. They both looked quickly about the house and Montag felt his nostrils dilate and he knew that he was trying to track himself and his nose was suddenly good enough to sense the path he had made in the air of the room and the sweat of his hand hung from the doorknob, invisible, but as numerous as the jewels of a small chandelier, he was everywhere, in and on and about everything, he was a luminous cloud, a ghost that made breathing once more impossible. He saw Faber stop up his own breath for fear of drawing that ghost into his own body, perhaps, being contaminated with the phantom exhalations and odours of a running man.

    “The Mechanical Hound is now landing by helicopter at the site of the Burning!”

    And there on the small screen was the burnt house, and the crowd, and something with a sheet over it and out of the sky, fluttering, came the helicopter like a grotesque flower.

    So they must have their game out, thought Montag. The circus must go on, even with war beginning within the hour...

    He watched the scene, fascinated, not wanting to move. It seemed so remote and no part of him; it was a play apart and separate, wondrous to watch, not without its strange pleasure. That's all for me, you thought, that's all taking place just for me, by God.

    If he wished, he could linger here, in comfort, and follow the entire hunt on through its swift. phases, down alleys across streets, over empty running avenues, crossing lots and playgrounds, with pauses here or there for the necessary commercials, up other alleys to the burning house of Mr. and Mrs. Black, and so on finally to this house with Faber and himself seated, drinking, while the Electric Hound snuffed down the last trail, silent as a drift of death itself, skidded to a halt outside that window there. Then, if he wished, Montag might rise, walk to the window, keep one eye on the TV screen, open the window, lean out, look back, and see himself dramatized, described, made over, standing there, limned in the bright small television screen from outside, a drama to be watched objectively, knowing that in other parlours he was large as life, in full colour, dimensionally perfect! And if he kept his eye peeled quickly he would see himself, an instant before oblivion, being punctured for the benefit of how many civilian parlour-sitters who had been wakened from sleep a few minutes ago by the frantic sirening of their living-room walls to come watch the big game, the hunt, the one-man carnival.

    Would he have time for a speech? As the Hound seized him, in view of ten or twenty or thirty million people, mightn't he sum up his entire life in the last week in one single phrase or a word that would stay with them long after the. Hound had turned, clenching him in its metal-plier jaws, and trotted off in darkness, while the camera remained stationary, watching the creature dwindle in the distance—a splendid fade-out! What could he say in a single word, a few words, that would sear all their faces and wake them up?

    “There,” whispered Faber.

    Out of a helicopter glided something that was not machine, not animal, not dead, not alive, glowing with a pale green luminosity. It stood near the smoking ruins of Montag's house and the men brought his discarded flame-thrower to it and put it down under the muzzle of the Hound. There was a whirring, clicking, humming.

    Montag shook his head and got up and drank the rest of his drink. “It's time. I'm sorry about this:”

    “About what? Me? My house? I deserve everything. Run, for God's sake. Perhaps I can delay them here—”

    “Wait. There's no use your being discovered. When I leave, burn the spread of this bed, that I touched. Burn the chair in the living room, in your wall incinerator. Wipe down the furniture with alcohol, wipe the door-knobs. Burn the throwrug in the parlour. Turn the air-conditioning on full in all the rooms and spray with moth-spray if you have it. Then, turn on your lawn sprinklers as high as they'll go and hose off the sidewalks. With any luck at all, we can kill the trail in here, anyway..'

    Faber shook his hand. “I'll tend to it. Good luck. If we're both in good health, next week, the week after, get in touch. General Delivery, St. Louis. I'm sorry there's no way I can go with you this time, by ear-phone. That was good for both of us. But my equipment was limited. You see, I never thought I would use it. What a silly old man. No thought there. Stupid, stupid. So I haven't another green bullet, the right kind, to put in your head. Go now!”

    “One last thing. Quick. A suitcase, get it, fill it with your dirtiest clothes, an old suit, the dirtier the better, a shirt, some old sneakers and socks...”

    Faber was gone and back in a minute. They sealed the cardboard valise with clear tape. “To keep the ancient odour of Mr. Faber in, of course,” said Faber sweating at the job.

    Montag doused the exterior of the valise with whisky. “I don't want that Hound picking up two odours at once. May I take this whisky. I'll need it later. Christ I hope this works!”

    They shook hands again and, going out of the door, they glanced at the TV. The Hound was on its way, followed by hovering helicopter cameras, silently, silently, sniffing the great night wind. It was running down the first alley.

    “Good-bye!”

    And Montag was out the back door lightly, running with the half-empty valise. Behind him he heard the lawn-sprinkling system jump up, filling the dark air with rain that fell gently and then with a steady pour all about, washing on the sidewalks, and draining into the alley. He carried a few drops of this rain with him on his face. He thought he heard the old man call good-bye, but he-wasn't certain.

    He ran very fast away from the house, down toward the river.

    Montag ran.

    He could feel the Hound, like autumn, come cold and dry and swift, like a wind that didn't stir grass, that didn't jar windows or disturb leaf-shadows on the white sidewalks as it passed. The Hound did not touch the world. It carried its silence with it, so you could feel the silence building up a pressure behind you all across town. Montag felt the pressure rising, and ran.

    He stopped for breath, on his way to the river, to peer through dimly lit windows of wakened houses, and saw the silhouettes of people inside watching their parlour walls and there on the walls the Mechanical Hound, a breath of neon vapour, spidered along, here and gone, here and gone! Now at Elm Terrace, Lincoln, Oak, Park, and up the alley toward Faber's house.

    Go past, thought Montag, don't stop, go on, don't turn in!

    On the parlour wall, Faber's house, with its sprinkler system pulsing in the night air.

    The Hound paused, quivering.

    No! Montag held to the window sill. This way! Here!

    The procaine needle flicked out and in, out and in. A single clear drop of the stuff of dreams fell from the needle as it vanished in the Hound's muzzle.

    Montag held his breath, like a doubled fist, in his chest.

    The Mechanical Hound turned and plunged away from Faber's house down the alley again.

    Montag snapped his gaze to the sky. The helicopters were closer, a great blowing of insects to a single light source.

    With an effort, Montag reminded himself again that this was no fictional episode to be watched on his run to the river; it was in actuality his own chess-game he was witnessing, move by move.

    He shouted to give himself the necessary push away from this last house window, and the fascinating seance going on in there! Hell! and he was away and gone! The alley, a street, the alley, a street, and the smell of the river. Leg out, leg down, leg out and down. Twenty million Montags running, soon, if the cameras caught him. Twenty million Montags running, running like an ancient flickery Keystone Comedy, cops, robbers, chasers and the chased, hunters and hunted, he had seen it a thousand times. Behind him now twenty million silently baying Hounds ricocheted across parlours, three-cushion shooting from right wall to centre wall to left wall, gone, right wall, centre wall, left wall, gone!

    Montag jammed his Seashell to his ear.

    “Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a front or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready!”

    Of course! Why hadn't they done it before! Why, in all the years, hadn't this game been tried! Everyone up, everyone out! He couldn't be missed! The only man running alone in the night city, the only man proving his legs!

    “At the count of ten now! One! Two!”

    He felt the city rise. Three .

    He felt the city turn to its thousands of doors.

    Faster! Leg up, leg down!

    “Four!”

    The people sleepwalking in their hallways.

    “Five!”

    He felt their hands on the doorknobs!

    The smell of the river was cool and like a solid rain. His throat was burnt rust and his eyes were wept dry with running. He yelled as if this yell would jet him on, fling him the last hundred yards.

    “Six, seven, eight!”

    The doorknobs turned on five thousand doors. “Nine!”

    He ran out away from the last row of houses, on a slope leading down to a solid moving blackness. “Ten!”

    The doors opened.

    He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like grey animals peering from electric caves, faces with grey colourless eyes, grey tongues and grey thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face.

    But he was at the river.

    He touched it, just to be sure it was real. He waded in and stripped in darkness to the skin, splashed his body, arms, legs, and head with raw liquor; drank it and snuffed some up his nose. Then he dressed in Faber's old clothes and shoes. He tossed his own clothing into the river and watched it swept away. Then, holding the suitcase, he walked out in the river until there was no bottom and he was swept away in the dark.

    He was three hundred yards downstream when the Hound reached the river. Overhead the great racketing fans of the helicopters hovered. A storm of light fell upon the river and Montag dived under the great illumination as if the sun had broken the clouds. He felt the river pull him further on its way, into darkness. Then the lights switched back to the land, the helicopters swerved over the city again, as if they had picked up another trail. They were gone. The Hound was gone. Now there was only the cold river and Montag floating in a sudden peacefulness, away from the city and the lights and the chase, away from everything.

    He felt as if he had left a stage behind and many actors. He felt as if he had left the great seance and all the murmuring ghosts. He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new.

    The black land slid by and he was going into the country among the hills: For the first time in a dozen years the stars were coming out above him, in great processions of wheeling fire. He saw a great juggernaut of stars form in the sky and threaten to roll over and crush him.

    He floated on his back when the valise filled and sank; the river was mild and leisurely, going away from the people who ate shadows for breakfast and steam for lunch and vapours for supper. The river was very real; it held him comfortably and gave him the time at last, the leisure, to consider this month, this year, and a lifetime of years. He listened to his heart slow. His thoughts stopped rushing with his blood.

    He saw the moon low in the sky now. The moon there, and the light of the moon caused by what? By the sun, of course. And what lights the sun? Its own fire. And the sun goes on, day after day, burning and burning. The sun and time. The sun and time and burning. Burning. The river bobbled him along gently. Burning. The sun and every clock on the earth. It all came together and became a single thing in his mind. After a long time of floating on the land and a short time of floating in the river he knew why he must never burn again in his life.

    The sun burned every day. It burned Time. The world rushed in a circle and turned on its axis and time was busy burning the years and the people anyway, without any help from him. So if he burnt things with the firemen, and the sun burnt Time, that meant. that everything burned!

    One of them had to stop burning. The sun wouldn't, certainly. So it looked as if it had to be Montag and the people he had worked with until a few short hours ago. Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people's heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silver-fish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches. The world was full of burning of all types and sizes. Now the guild of the asbestos-weaver must open shop very soon.

    He felt his heel bump land, touch pebbles and rocks, scrape sand. The river had moved him toward shore.

    He looked in at the great black creature without eyes or light, without shape, with only a size that went a thousand miles without wanting to stop, with its grass hills and forests that were waiting for him.

    He hesitated to leave the comforting flow of the water. He expected the Hound there. Suddenly the trees might blow under a great wind of helicopters.

    But there was only the normal autumn wind high up, going by like another river. Why wasn't the Hound running? Why had the search veered inland? Montag listened. Nothing. Nothing.

    Millie, he thought. All this country here. Listen to it! Nothing and nothing. So much silence, Millie, I wonder how you'd take it? Would you shout Shut up, shut up! Millie, Millie. And he was sad.

    Millie was not here and the Hound was not here, but the dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field put Montag on the land. He remembered a farm he had visited when he was very young, one of the rare times he had discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the walls of parlours and beyond the tin moat of the city, cows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill.

    Now, the dry smell of hay, the motion of the waters, made him think of sleeping in fresh hay in a lonely barn away from the loud highways, behind a quiet farmhouse, and under an ancient windmill that whirred like the sound of the passing years overhead. He lay in the high barn loft all night, listening to distant animals and insects and trees, the little motions and stirrings.

    During the night, he thought, below the loft, he would hear a sound like feet moving, perhaps. He would tense and sit up. The sound would move away, He would lie back and look out of the loft window, very late in the night, and see the lights go out in the farmhouse itself, until a very young and beautiful woman would sit in an unlit window, braiding her hair. It would be hard to see her, but her face would be like the face of the girl so long ago in his past now, so very long ago, the girl who had known the weather and never been burned by the fire-flies, the girl who had known what dandelions meant rubbed off on your chin. Then, she would be gone from the warm window and appear again upstairs in her moon-whitened room. And then, to the sound of death, the sound of the jets cutting the sky into two black pieces beyond the horizon, he would lie in the loft, hidden and safe, watching those strange new stars over the rim of the earth, fleeing from the soft colour of dawn.

    In the morning he would not have needed sleep, for all the warm odours and sights of a complete country night would have rested and slept him while his eyes were wide and his mouth, when he thought to test it, was half a smile.

    And there at the bottom of the hayloft stair, waiting for him, would be the incredible thing. He would step carefully down, in the pink light of early morning, so fully aware of the world that he would be afraid, and stand over the small miracle and at last bend to touch it.

    A cool glass of fresh milk, and a few apples and pears laid at the foot of the steps.

    This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time needed to think all the things that must be thought.

    A glass of milk, an apple, a pear.

    He stepped from the river.

    The land rushed at him, a tidal wave. He was crushed by darkness and the look of the country and the million odours on a wind that iced his body. He fell back under the breaking curve of darkness and sound and smell, his ears roaring. He whirled. The stars poured over his sight like flaming meteors. He wanted to plunge in the river again and let it idle him safely on down somewhere. This dark land rising was like that day in his childhood, swimming, when from nowhere the largest wave in the history of remembering slammed him down in salt mud and green darkness, water burning mouth and nose, retching his stomach, screaming! Too much water!

    Too much land!

    Out of the black wall before him, a whisper. A shape. In the shape, two eyes. The night looking at him. The forest, seeing him.

    The Hound!

    After all the running and rushing and sweating it out and half-drowning, to come this far, work this hard, and think yourself safe and sigh with relief and come out on the land at last only to find...

    The Hound!

    Montag gave one last agonized shout as if this were too much for any man.

    The shape exploded away. The eyes vanished. The leafpiles flew up in a dry shower.

    Montag was alone in the wilderness.

    A deer. He smelled the heavy musk-like perfume mingled with blood and the gummed exhalation of the animal's breath, all cardamon and moss and ragweed odour in this huge night where the trees ran at him, pulled away, ran, pulled away, to the pulse of the heart behind his eyes.

    There must have been a billion leaves on the land; he waded in them, a dry river smelling of hot cloves and warm dust. And the other smells! There was a smell like a cut potato from all the land, raw and cold and white from having the moon on it most of the night. There was a smell like pickles from a bottle and a smell like parsley on the table at home. There was a faint yellow odour like mustard from a jar. There was a smell like carnations from the yard next door. He put down his hand and felt a weed rise up like a child brushing him. His fingers smelled of liquorice.

    He stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details of the land. He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough.

    He walked in the shallow tide of leaves, stumbling.

    And in the middle of the strangeness, a familiarity.

    His foot hit something that rang dully.

    He moved his hand on the ground, a yard this way, a yard that.

    The railroad track.

    The track that came out of the city and rusted across the land, through forests and woods, deserted now, by the river.

    Here was the path to wherever he was going. Here was the single familiar thing, the magic charm he might need a little while, to touch, to feel beneath his feet, as he moved on into the bramble bushes and the lakes of smelling and feeling and touching, among the whispers and the blowing down of leaves.

    He walked on the track.

    And he was surprised to learn how certain he suddenly was of a single fact he could not prove.

    Once, long ago, Clarisse had walked here, where he was walking now.

    Half an hour later, cold, and moving carefully on the tracks, fully aware of his entire body, his face, his mouth, his eyes stuffed with blackness, his ears stuffed with sound, his legs prickled with burrs and nettles, he saw the fire ahead.

    The fire was gone, then back again, like a winking eye. He stopped, afraid he might blow the fire out with a single breath. But the fire was there and he approached warily, from a long way off. It took the better part of fifteen minutes before he drew very close indeed to it, and then he stood looking at it from cover. That small motion, the white and red colour, a strange fire because it meant a different thing to him.

    It was not burning; it was warming!

    He saw many hands held to its warmth, hands without arms, hidden in darkness. Above the hands, motionless faces that were only moved and tossed and flickered with firelight. He hadn't known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take. Even its smell was different.

    How long he stood he did not know, but there was a foolish and yet delicious sense of knowing himself as an animal come from the forest, drawn by the fire. He was a thing of brush and liquid eye, of fur and muzzle and hoof, he was a thing of horn and blood that would smell like autumn if you bled it out on the ground. He stood a long long time, listening to the warm crackle of the flames.

    There was a silence gathered all about that fire and the silence was in the men's faces, and time was there, time enough to sit by this rusting track under the trees, and look at the world and turn it over with the eyes, as if it were held to the centre of the bonfire, a piece of steel these men were all shaping. It was not only the fire that was different. It was the silence. Montag moved toward this special silence that was concerned with all of the world.

    And then the voices began and they were talking, and he could hear nothing of what the voices said, but the sound rose and fell quietly and the voices were turning the world over and looking at it; the voices knew the land and the trees and the city which lay down the track by the river. The voices talked of everything, there was nothing they could not talk about, he knew from the very cadence and motion and continual stir of curiosity and wonder in them.

    And then one of the men looked up and saw him, for the first or perhaps the seventh time, and a voice called to Montag:

    “All right, you can come out now!”

    Montag stepped back into the shadows.

    “It's all right,” the voice said. “You're welcome here.”

    Montag walked slowly toward the fire and the five old men sitting there dressed in dark blue denim pants and jackets and dark blue suits. He did not know what to say to them.

    “Sit down,” said the man who seemed to be the leader of the small group. “Have some coffee?”

    He watched the dark steaming mixture pour into a collapsible tin cup, which was handed him straight off. He sipped it gingerly and felt them looking at him with curiosity. His lips were scalded, but that was good. The faces around him were bearded, but the beards were clean, neat, and their hands were clean. They had stood up as if to welcome a guest, and now they sat down again. Montag sipped. “Thanks,” he said. “Thanks very much.”

    “You're welcome, Montag. My name's Granger.” He held out a small bottle of colourless fluid. “Drink this, too. It'll change the chemical index of your perspiration. Half an hour from now you'll smell like two other people. With the Hound after you, the best thing is Bottoms up.”

    Montag drank the bitter fluid.

    “You'll stink like a bobcat, but that's all right,” said Granger.

    “You know my name;” said Montag.

    Granger nodded to a portable battery TV set by the fire.

    “We've watched the chase. Figured you'd wind up south along the river. When we heard you plunging around out in the forest like a drunken elk, we didn't hide as we usually do. We figured you were in the river, when the helicopter cameras swung back in over the city. Something funny there. The chase is still running. The other way, though.”

    “The other way?”

    “Let's have a look.”

    Granger snapped the portable viewer on. The picture was a nightmare, condensed, easily passed from hand to hand, in the forest, all whirring colour and flight. A voice cried:

    “The chase continues north in the city! Police helicopters are converging on Avenue 87 and Elm Grove Park!”

    Granger nodded. “They're faking. You threw them off at the river. They can't admit it. They know they can hold their audience only so long. The show's got to have a snap ending, quick! If they started searching the whole damn river it might take all night. So they're sniffing for a scape-goat to end things with a bang. Watch. They'll catch Montag in the next five minutes!”

    “But how—”

    “Watch.”

    The camera, hovering in the belly of a helicopter, now swung down at an empty street.

    “See that?” whispered Granger. “It'll be you; right up at the end of that street is our victim. See how our camera is coming in? Building the scene. Suspense. Long shot. Right now, some poor fellow is out for a walk. A rarity. An odd one. Don't think the police don't know the habits of queer ducks like that, men who walk mornings for the hell of it, or for reasons of insomnia Anyway, the police have had him charted for months, years. Never know when that sort of information might be handy. And today, it turns out, it's very usable indeed. It saves face. Oh, God, look there!”

    The men at the fire bent forward.

    On the screen, a man turned a corner. The Mechanical Hound rushed forward into the viewer, suddenly. The helicopter light shot down a dozen brilliant pillars that built a cage all about the man.

    A voice cried, “There's Montag! The search is done!”

    The innocent man stood bewildered, a cigarette burning in his hand. He stared at the Hound, not knowing what it was. He probably never knew. He glanced up at the sky and the wailing sirens. The cameras rushed down. The Hound leapt up into the air with a rhythm and a sense of timing that was incredibly beautiful. Its needle shot out. It was suspended for a moment in their gaze, as if to give the vast audience time to appreciate everything, the raw look of the victim's face, the empty street, the steel animal a bullet nosing the target.

    “Montag, don't move!” said a voice from the sky.

    The camera fell upon the victim, even as did the Hound. Both reached him simultaneously. The victim was seized by Hound and camera in a great spidering, clenching grip. He screamed. He screamed. He screamed!

    Blackout.

    Silence.

    Darkness.

    Montag cried out in the silence and turned away.

    Silence.

    And then, after a time of the men sitting around the fire, their faces expressionless, an announcer on the dark screen said, “The search is over, Montag is dead; a crime against society has been avenged.”

    Darkness.

    “We now take you to the Sky Room of the Hotel Lux for a half-hour of Just-Before-Dawn, a programme of-”

    Granger turned it off.

    “They didn't show the man's face in focus. Did you notice?

    Even your best friends couldn't tell if it was you. They scrambled it just enough to let the imagination take over. Hell,” he whispered. “Hell.”

    Montag said nothing but now, looking back, sat with his eyes fixed to the blank screen, trembling.

    Granger touched Montag's arm. “Welcome back from the dead.” Montag nodded. Granger went on. “You might as well know all of us, now. This is Fred Clement, former occupant of the Thomas Hardy chair at Cambridge in the years before it became an Atomic Engineering School. This other is Dr. Simmons from U. C. L. A., a specialist in Ortega y Gasset; Professor West here did quite a bit for ethics, an ancient study now, for Columbia University quite some years ago. Reverend Padover here gave a few lectures thirty years ago and lost his flock between one Sunday and the next for his views. He's been bumming with us some time now. Myself: I wrote a book called The Fingers in the Glove; the Proper Relationship between the Individual and Society, and here I am! Welcome, Montag!”

    “I don't belong with you,” said Montag, at last, slowly. “I've been an idiot all the way.”

    “We're used to that. We all made the right kind of mistakes, or we wouldn't be here. When we were separate individuals, all we had was rage. I struck a fireman when he came to burn my library years ago. I've been running ever since. You want to join us, Montag?”

    “Yes.”

    “What have you to offer?”

    “Nothing. I thought I had part of the Book of Ecclesiastes and maybe a little of Revelation, but I haven't even that now.”

    “The Book of Ecclesiastes would be fine. Where was it?”

    “Here,” Montag touched his head.

    “Ah,” Granger smiled and nodded.

    “What's wrong? Isn't that all right?” said Montag.

    “Better than all right; perfect!” Granger turned to the Reverend. “Do we have a Book of Ecclesiastes?”

    “One. A man named Harris of Youngstown.”

    “Montag.” Granger took Montag's shoulder firmly. “Walk carefully. Guard your health. If anything should happen to Harris, you are the Book of Ecclesiastes. See how important you've become in the last minute!”

    “But I've forgotten!”

    “No, nothing's ever lost. We have ways to shake down your clinkers for you.”

    “But I've tried to remember!”

    “Don't try. It'll come when we need it. All of us have photographic memories, but spend a lifetime learning how to block off the things that are really in there. Simmons here has worked on it for twenty years and now we've got the method down to where we can recall anything that's been read once. Would you like, some day, Montag, to read Plato's Republic?”

    “Of course!”

    “I am Plato's Republic. Like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus.”

    “How do you do?” said Mr. Simmons.

    “Hello,” said Montag.

    “I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of that evil political book, Gulliver's Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and-this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philosopher indeed. Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

    Everyone laughed quietly.

    “It can't be,” said Montag.

    “It is,” replied Granger, smiling.” We're book-burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they'd be found. Micro-filming didn't pay off; we were always travelling, we didn't want to bury the film and come back later. Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it. We are all bits and pieces of history and literature and international law, Byron, Tom Paine, Machiavelli, or Christ, it's here. And the hour is late. And the war's begun. And we are out here, and the city is there, all wrapped up in its own coat of a thousand colours. What do you think, Montag?”

    “I think I was blind trying to do things my way, planting books in firemen's houses and sending in alarms.”

    “You did what you had to do. Carried out on a national scale, it might have worked beautifully. But our way is simpler and, we think, better. All we want to do is keep the knowledge we think we will need, intact and safe. We're not out to incite or anger anyone yet. For if we are destroyed, the knowledge is dead, perhaps for good. We are model citizens, in our own special way; we walk the old tracks, we lie in the hills at night, and the city people let us be. We're stopped and searched occasionally, but there's nothing on our persons to incriminate us. The organization is flexible, very loose, and fragmentary. Some of us have had plastic surgery on our faces and fingerprints. Right now we have a horrible job; we're waiting for the war to begin and, as quickly, end. It's not pleasant, but then we're not in control, we're the odd minority crying in the wilderness. When the war's over, perhaps we can be of some use in the world.”

    “Do you really think they'll listen then?”

    “If not, we'll just have to wait. We'll pass the books on to our children, by word of mouth, and let our children wait, in turn, on the other people. A lot will be lost that way, of course.

    But you can't make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them. It can't last.”

    “How many of you are there?”

    “Thousands on the roads, the abandoned railtracks, tonight, bums on the outside, libraries inside. It wasn't planned, at first. Each man had a book he wanted to remember, and did. Then, over a period of twenty years or so, we met each other, travelling, and got the loose network together and set out a plan. The most important single thing we had to pound into ourselves was that we were not important, we mustn't be pedants; we were not to feel superior to anyone else in the world. We're nothing more than dust-jackets for books, of no significance otherwise. Some of us live in small towns. Chapter One of Thoreau's Walden in Green River, Chapter Two in Willow Farm, Maine. Why, there's one town in Maryland, only twenty-seven people, no bomb'll ever touch that town, is the complete essays of a man named Bertrand Russell. Pick up that town, almost, and flip the pages, so many pages to a person. And when the war's over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we'll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again. But that's the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.”

    “What do we do tonight?” asked Montag.

    “Wait,” said Granger. “And move downstream a little way, just in case.”

    He began throwing dust and dirt on the fire.

    The other men helped, and Montag helped, and there, in the wilderness, the men all moved their hands, putting out the fire together.

    They stood by the river in the starlight.

    Montag saw the luminous dial of his waterproof. Five. Five o'clock in the morning. Another year ticked by in a single hour, and dawn waiting beyond the far bank of the river.

    “Why do you trust me?” said Montag.

    A man moved in the darkness.

    “The look of you's enough. You haven't seen yourself in a mirror lately. Beyond that, the city has never cared so much about us to bother with an elaborate chase like this to find us. A few crackpots with verses in their heads can't touch them, and they know it and we know it; everyone knows it. So long as the vast population doesn't wander about quoting the Magna Charta and the Constitution, it's all right. The firemen were enough to check that, now and then. No, the cities don't bother us. And you look like hell.”

    They moved along the bank of the river, going south. Montag tried to see the men's faces, the old faces he remembered from the firelight, lined and tired. He was looking for a brightness, a resolve, a triumph over tomorrow that hardly seemed to be there. Perhaps he had expected their faces to burn and glitter with the knowledge they carried, to glow as lanterns glow, with the light in them. But all the light had come from the camp fire, and these men had seemed no different from any others who had run a long race, searched a long search, seen good things destroyed, and now, very late, were gathering to wait for the end of the party and the blowing out of the lamps. They weren't at all certain that the things they carried in their heads might make every future dawn glow with a purer light, they were sure of nothing save that the books were on file behind their quiet eyes, the books were waiting, with their pages uncut, for the customers who might come by in later years, some with clean and some with dirty fingers.

    Montag squinted from one face to another as they walked.

    “Don't judge a book by its cover,” someone said.

    And they all laughed quietly, moving downstream.

    There was a shriek and the jets from the city were gone overhead long before the men looked up. Montag stared back at the city, far down the river, only a faint glow now.

    “My wife's back there.”

    “I'm sorry to hear that. The cities won't do well in the next few days,” said Granger.

    “It's strange, I don't miss her, it's strange I don't feel much of anything,” said Montag. “Even if she dies, I realized a moment ago, I don't think I'll feel sad. It isn't right. Something must be wrong with me.”

    “Listen,” said Granger, taking his arm, and walking with him, holding aside the bushes to let him pass. “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn't crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them just the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I've never gotten over his death. Often I think, what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands. He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

    Montag walked in silence. “Millie, Millie,” he whispered. “Millie.”

    “What?”

    “My wife, my wife. Poor Millie, poor Millie. I can't remember anything. I think of her hands but I don't see them doing anything at all. They just hang there at her sides or they lie there on her lap or there's a cigarette in them, but that's all.”

    Montag turned and glanced back.

    What did you give to the city, Montag?

    Ashes.

    What did the others give to each other?

    Nothingness.

    Granger stood looking back with Montag. “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

    Granger moved his hand. “My grandfather showed me some V-2 rocket films once, fifty years ago. Have you ever seen the atom-bomb mushroom from two hundred miles up? It's a pinprick, it's nothing. With the wilderness all around it.

    “My grandfather ran off the V-2 rocket film a dozen times and then hoped that some day our cities would open up and let the green and the land and the wilderness in more, to remind people that we're allotted a little space on earth and that we survive in that wilderness that can take back what it has given, as easily as blowing its breath on us or sending the sea to tell us we are not so big. When we forget how close the wilderness is in the night, my grandpa said, some day it will come in and get us, for we will have forgotten how terrible and real it can be. You see?” Granger turned to Montag. “Grandfather's been dead for all these years, but if you lifted my skull, by God, in the convolutions of my brain you'd find the big ridges of his thumbprint. He touched me. As I said earlier, he was a sculptor. ‘I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me. ‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.’”

    “Look!” cried Montag.

    And the war began and ended in that instant.

    Later, the men around Montag could not say if they had really seen anything. Perhaps the merest flourish of light and motion in the sky. Perhaps the bombs were there, and the jets, ten miles, five miles, one mile up, for the merest instant, like grain thrown over the heavens by a great sowing hand, and the bombs drifting with dreadful swiftness, yet sudden slowness, down upon the morning city they had left behind. The bombardment was to all intents and purposes finished, once the jets had sighted their target, alerted their bombardiers at five thousand miles an hour; as quick as the whisper of a scythe the war was finished. Once the bomb-release was yanked it was over. Now, a full three seconds, all of the time in history, before the bombs struck, the enemy ships themselves were gone half around the visible world, like bullets in which a savage islander might not believe because they were invisible; yet the heart is suddenly shattered, the body falls in separate motions and the blood is astonished to be freed on the air; the brain squanders its few precious memories and, puzzled, dies.

    This was not to be believed. It was merely a gesture. Montag saw the flirt of a great metal fist over the far city and he knew the scream of the jets that would follow, would say, after the deed, disintegrate, leave no stone on another, perish. Die.

    Montag held the bombs in the sky for a single moment, with his mind and his hands reaching helplessly up at them. “Run!” he cried to Faber. To Clarisse, “Run!” To Mildred, “Get out, get out of there!” But Clarisse, he remembered, was dead. And Faber was out; there in the deep valleys of the country somewhere the five a. m. bus was on its way from one desolation to another. Though the desolation had not yet arrived, was still in the air, it was certain as man could make it. Before the bus had run another fifty yards on the highway, its destination would be meaningless, and its point of departure changed from metropolis to junkyard.

    And Mildred...

    Get out, run!

    He saw her in her hotel room somewhere now in the halfsecond remaining with the bombs a yard, a foot, an inch from her building. He saw her leaning toward the great shimmering walls of colour and motion where the family talked and talked and talked to her, where the family prattled and chatted and said her name and smiled at her and said nothing of the bomb that was an inch, now a half-inch, now a quarter-inch from the top of the hotel. Leaning into the wall as if all of the hunger of looking would find the secret of her sleepless unease there. Mildred, leaning anxiously, nervously, as if to plunge, drop, fall into that swarming immensity of colour to drown in its bright happiness.

    The first bomb struck.

    “Mildred!”

    Perhaps, who would ever know? Perhaps the great broadcasting stations with their beams of colour and light and talk and chatter went first into oblivion.

    Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie's face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal, plaster, and wood, to meet other people in the hives below, all on their quick way down to the cellar where the explosion rid itself of them in its own unreasonable way.

    I remember. Montag clung to the earth. I remember. Chicago. Chicago, a long time ago. Millie and I. That's where we met! I remember now. Chicago. A long time ago.

    The concussion knocked the air across and down the river, turned the men over like dominoes in a line, blew the water in lifting sprays, and blew the dust and made the trees above them mourn with a great wind passing away south. Montag crushed himself down, squeezing himself small, eyes tight. He blinked once. And in that instant saw the city, instead of the bombs, in the air. They had displaced each other. For another of those impossible instants the city stood, rebuilt and unrecognizable, taller than it had ever hoped or strived to be, taller than man had built it, erected at last in gouts of shattered concrete and sparkles of torn metal into a mural hung like a reversed avalanche, a million colours, a million oddities, a door where a window should be, a top for a bottom, a side for a back, and then the city rolled over and fell down dead.

    Montag, lying there, eyes gritted shut with dust, a fine wet cement of dust in his now shut mouth, gasping and crying, now thought again, I remember, I remember, I remember something else. What is it? Yes, yes, part of the Ecclesiastes and Revelation. Part of that book, part of it, quick now, quick, before it gets away, before the shock wears off, before the wind dies. Book of Ecclesiastes. Here. He said it over to himself silently, lying flat to the trembling earth, he said the words of it many times and they were perfect without trying and there was no Denham's Dentifrice anywhere, it was just the Preacher by himself, standing there in his mind, looking at him...

    “There,” said a voice.

    The men lay gasping like fish laid out on the grass. They held to the earth as children hold to familiar things, no matter how cold or dead, no matter what has happened or will happen, their fingers were clawed into the dirt, and they were all shouting to keep their eardrums from bursting, to keep their sanity from bursting, mouths open, Montag shouting with them, a protest against the wind that ripped their faces and tore at their lips, making their noses bleed.

    Montag watched the great dust settle and the great silence move down upon their world. And lying there it seemed that he saw every single grain of dust and every blade of grass and that he heard every cry and shout and whisper going up in the world now. Silence fell down in the sifting dust, and all the leisure they might need to look around, to gather the reality of this day into their senses.

    Montag looked at the river. We'll go on the river. He looked at the old railroad tracks. Or we'll go that way. Or we'll walk on the highways now, and we'll have time to put things into ourselves. And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it'll come out of our hands and our mouths. And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right. We'll just start walking today and see the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks. I want to see everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it'll all gather together inside and it'll be me. Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it's finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day. I get hold of it so it'll never run off. I'll hold on to the world tight some day. I've got one finger on it now; that's a beginning.

    The wind died.

    The other men lay a while, on the dawn edge of sleep, not yet ready to rise up and begin the day's obligations, its fires and foods, its thousand details of putting foot after foot and hand after hand. They lay blinking their dusty eyelids. You could hear them breathing fast, then slower, then slow...

    Montag sat up.

    He did not move any further, however. The other men did likewise. The sun was touching the black horizon with a faint red tip. The air was cold and smelled of a coming rain.

    Silently, Granger arose, felt his arms, and legs, swearing, swearing incessantly under his breath, tears dripping from his face. He shuffled down to the river to look upstream.

    “It's flat,” he said, a long time later. “City looks like a heap of baking-powder. It's gone.” And a long time after that. “I wonder how many knew it was coming? I wonder how many were surprised?”

    And across the world, thought Montag, how many other cities dead? And here in our country, how many? A hundred, a thousand?

    Someone struck a match and touched it to a piece of dry paper taken from their pocket, and shoved this under a bit of grass and leaves, and after a while added tiny twigs which were wet and sputtered but finally caught, and the fire grew larger in the early morning as the sun came up and the men slowly turned from looking up river and were drawn to the fire, awkwardly, with nothing to say, and the sun coloured the backs of their necks as they bent down.

    Granger unfolded an oilskin with some bacon in it. “We'll have a bite. Then we'll turn around and walk upstream. They'll be needing us up that way.”

    Someone produced a small frying-pan and the bacon went into it and the frying-pan was set on the fire. After a moment the bacon began to flutter and dance in the pan and the sputter of it filled the morning air with its aroma. The men watched this ritual silently.

    Granger looked into the fire. “Phoenix.”

    “What?”

    “There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we'll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.”

    He took the pan off the fire and let the bacon cool and they ate it, slowly, thoughtfully.

    “Now, let's get on upstream,” said Granger. “And hold on to one thought: You're not important. You're not anything. Some day the load we're carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn't use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We're going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we're doing, you can say, We're remembering. That's where we'll win out in the long run. And some day we'll remember so much that we'll build the biggest goddam steam-shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we're going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”

    They finished eating and put out the fire. The day was brightening all about them as if a pink lamp had been given more wick. In the trees, the birds that had flown away now came back and settled down.

    Montag began walking and after a moment found that the others had fallen in behind him, going north. He was surprised, and moved aside to let Granger pass, but Granger looked at him and nodded him on. Montag went ahead. He looked at the river and the sky and the rusting track going back down to where the farms lay, where the barns stood full of hay, where a lot of people had walked by in the night on their way from the city. Later, in a month or six months, and certainly not more than a year, he would walk along here again, alone, and keep right on going until he caught up with the people.

    But now there was a long morning's walk until noon, and if the men were silent it was because there was everything to think about and much to remember. Perhaps later in the morning, when the sun was up and had warmed them, they would begin to talk, or just say the things they remembered, to be sure they were there, to be absolutely certain that things were safe in them. Montag felt the slow stir of words, the slow simmer. And when it came to his turn, what could he say, what could he offer on a day like this, to make the trip a little easier? To everything there is a season. Yes. A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence and a time to speak. Yes, all that. But what else. What else? Something, something...

    And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

    Yes, thought Montag, that's the one I'll save for noon. For noon...

    When we reach the city.

    THE END

    12

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    I've Got To Get Away

    Stephen King

    “What am I doing here?” Suddenly I wondered. I was terribly frightened. I could remember nothing, but here I was, working in an atomic factory assembly line. All I knew was that I was Denny Phillips. It was as if I had just awakened from a slumber. The place was guarded and the guards had guns. They looked like they meant business. There were others working and they looked like zombies. They looked like they were prisoners.

    But it didn't matter. I had to find out who I was... what I was doing.

    I had to get away!

    I started across the floor. One of the guards yelled, “Get back there!”

    I ran across the room, bowled over a guard and ran out the door. I heard gun blasts and knew they were shooting at me. But the driving thought persisted:

    I've got to get away!

    There was another set of guards blocking the other door. It looked like I was trapped, until I saw a boom swing down. I grabbed it and was pulled over three hundred feet to the next landing. But it was no good. There was a guard there. He shot at me. I felt all weak and dizzy... I fell into a great dark pit...

    One of the guards took off his hat and scratched his head.

    “I dunno Joe, I just dunno. Progress is a great thing... but that x-238A... Denny Phillips, name... they're great robots... but they go haywire, now and then, and it seems like they was looking for something... almost human. Oh well.”

    A truck drove away, and the sign on its side said: ACME ROBOT REPAIR”.

    Two weeks later, Denny Phillips was back on the job... blank look in his eyes. But suddenly...

    His eyes become clear... and, the overwhelming thought comes to him: I'VE GOT TO GET AWAY!!

    2

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    Left To Right

    Isaak Asimov

    Robert L. Forward, a plump, cherubic physicist of Hughes Research Laboratories at Malibu, and occasional science fiction writer, was demonstrating the mechanism in his usual bright and articulate manner.

    “As you see,” he said, “we have here a large spinning ring, or doughnut, of particles compressed by an appropriate magnetic field. The particles are moving at 0.95 times the speed of light under conditions which, if I am correct, a change in parity can be induced in some object that passes through the hole of the doughnut.”

    “A change in parity?” I said. “You mean left and right will interchange?”

    “Something will interchange. I'm not sure what. My own belief is that eventually, something like this will change particles into antiparticles and vice versa. This will be the way to obtain an indefinitely large supply of antimatter which can then by used to power the kind of ships that would make interstellar travel possible.”

    “Why not try it out?” I said. “Send a beam of protons through the hole.”

    “I've done that. Nothing happens. The doughnut is not powerful enough. But my mathematics tells me that the more organized the sample of matter, the more likely it is that an interchange, such as left to right, will take place. If I can show that such a change will take place on highly organized matter, I can obtain a grant that will enable me to greatly strengthen this device.”

    “Do you have something in mind as a test?”

    “Absolutely,” said Bob. “I have calculated that a human being is just sufficiently highly organized to undergo the transformation, so I'm going to pass though the doughnut hole myself.”

    “You can't do that, Bob,” I said in alarm. “You might kill yourself.”

    “I can't ask anyone else to take the chance. It's my device.”

    “But even if it succeeds, the apex of your heart will be pointed to the right, your liver will be on the left. Worse, all your amino acids will shift from L to D, and all your sugars from D to L. You will no longer be able to eat and digest.”

    “Nonsense,” said Bob. “I'll just pass through a second time and then I'll be exactly as I was before.”

    And without further ado, he climbed a small ladder, balanced himself over the hole, and dropped through. He landed on a rubber mattress, and then crawled out from under the doughnut.

    “How do you feel?” I asked anxiously.

    “Obviously, I'm alive,” he said.

    “Yes, but how do you feel?”

    “Perfectly normal,” said Bob, seeming rather dissapointed. “I feel exactly as I did before I jumped through.”

    “Well, of course you would, but where is your heart?”

    Bob placed his hand on his chest, felt around, then shook his head. “The heartbeat is on the left side, as usual--Wait, let's check my appendicitis scar.”

    He did, then looked up savagely at me. “Right where it's supposed to be. Nothing happened. There goes all my chance at a grant.”

    I said hopefully, “Perhaps some other change took place.”

    “No.” Bob's mercurial temperament had descended into gloom. “Nothing has changed. Nothing at all. I'm as sure of that as I'm sure that my name is Robert L. Backward.”

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    Life, the Universe and Everything

    Douglas Adams

    for Sally

      1

    The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.

    It wasn't just that the cave was cold, it wasn't just that it was damp and smelly. It was the fact that the cave was in the middle of Islington and there wasn't a bus due for two million years.

    Time is the worst place, so to speak, to get lost in, as Arthur Dent could testify, having been lost in both time and space a good deal. At least being lost in space kept you busy.

    He was stranded in prehistoric Earth as the result of a complex sequence of events which had involved him being alternately blown up and insulted in more bizarre regions of the Galaxy than he ever dreamt existed, and though his life had now turned very, very, very quiet, he was still feeling jumpy.

    He hadn't been blown up now for five years.

    Since he had hardly seen anyone since he and Ford Prefect had parted company four years previously, he hadn't been insulted in all that time either.

    Except just once.

    It had happened on a spring evening about two years previously.

    He was returning to his cave just a little after dusk when he became aware of lights flashing eerily through the clouds. He turned and stared, with hope suddenly clambering through his heart. Rescue. Escape. The castaway's impossible dream — a ship.

    And as he watched, as he stared in wonder and excitement, a long silver ship descended through the warm evening air, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology.

    It alighted gently on the ground, and what little hum it had generated died away, as if lulled by the evening calm.

    A ramp extended itself.

    Light streamed out.

    A tall figure appeared silhouetted in the hatchway. It walked down the ramp and stood in front of Arthur.

    “You're a jerk, Dent,” it said simply.

    It was alien, very alien. It had a peculiar alien tallness, a peculiar alien flattened head, peculiar slitty little alien eyes, extravagantly draped golden ropes with a peculiarly alien collar design, and pale grey-green alien skin which had about it that lustrous shine which most grey-green faces can only acquire with plenty of exercise and very expensive soap.

    Arthur boggled at it.

    It gazed levelly at him.

    Arthur's first sensations of hope and trepidation had instantly been overwhelmed by astonishment, and all sorts of thoughts were battling for the use of his vocal chords at this moment.

    “Whh...?” he said.

    “Bu... hu... uh...” he added.

    “Ru... ra... wah... who?” he managed finally to say and lapsed into a frantic kind of silence. He was feeling the effects of having not said anything to anybody for as long as he could remember.

    The alien creature frowned briefly and consulted what appeared to be some species of clipboard which he was holding in his thin and spindly alien hand.

    “Arthur Dent?” it said.

    Arthur nodded helplessly.

    “Arthur Philip Dent?” pursued the alien in a kind of efficient yap.

    “Er... er... yes... er... er,” confirmed Arthur.

    “You're a jerk,” repeated the alien, “a complete asshole.”

    “Er...”

    The creature nodded to itself, made a peculiar alien tick on its clipboard and turned briskly back towards the ship. “Er...” said Arthur desperately, “er...”

    “Don't give me that!” snapped the alien. It marched up the ramp, through the hatchway and disappeared into the ship. The ship sealed itself. It started to make a low throbbing hum.

    “Er, hey!” shouted Arthur, and started to run helplessly towards it.

    “Wait a minute!” he called. “What is this? What? Wait a minute!”

    The ship rose, as if shedding its weight like a cloak to the ground, and hovered briefly. It swept strangely up into the evening sky. It passed up through the clouds, illuminating them briefly, and then was gone, leaving Arthur alone in an immensity of land dancing a helplessly tiny little dance.

    “What?” he screamed. “What? What? Hey, what? Come back here and say that!”

    He jumped and danced until his legs trembled, and shouted till his lungs rasped. There was no answer from anyone. There was no one to hear him or speak to him.

    The alien ship was already thundering towards the upper reaches of the atmosphere, on its way out into the appalling void which separates the very few things there are in the Universe from each other.

    Its occupant, the alien with the expensive complexion, leaned back in its single seat. His name was Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. He was a man with a purpose. Not a very good purpose, as he would have been the first to admit, but it was at least a purpose and it did at least keep him on the move.

    Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged was indeed, is — one of the Universe's very small number of immortal beings.

    Those who are born immortal instinctively know how to cope with it, but Wowbagger was not one of them. Indeed he had come to hate them, the load of serene bastards. He had had his immortality thrust upon him by an unfortunate accident with an irrational particle accelerator, a liquid lunch and a pair of rubber bands. The precise details of the accident are not important because no one has ever managed to duplicate the exact circumstances under which it happened, and many people have ended up looking very silly, or dead, or both, trying.

    Wowbagger closed his eyes in a grim and weary expression, put some light jazz on the ship's stereo, and reflected that he could have made it if it hadn't been for Sunday afternoons, he really could have done.

    To begin with it was fun, he had a ball, living dangerously, taking risks, cleaning up on high-yield long-term investments, and just generally outliving the hell out of everybody.

    In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2.55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

    So things began to pall for him. The merry smiles he used to wear at other people's funerals began to fade. He began to despise the Universe in general, and everyone in it in particular.

    This was the point at which he conceived his purpose, the thing which would drive him on, and which, as far as he could see, would drive him on forever. It was this.

    He would insult the Universe.

    That is, he would insult everybody in it. Individually, personally, one by one, and (this was the thing he really decided to grit his teeth over) in alphabetical order.

    When people protested to him, as they sometimes had done, that the plan was not merely misguided but actually impossible because of the number of people being born and dying all the time, he would merely fix them with a steely look and say, “A man can dream can't he?”

    And so he started out. He equipped a spaceship that was built to last with the computer capable of handling all the data processing involved in keeping track of the entire population of the known Universe and working out the horrifically complicated routes involved.

    His ship fled through the inner orbits of the Sol star system, preparing to slingshot round the sun and fling itself out into interstellar space.

    “Computer,” he said.

    “Here,” yipped the computer.

    “Where next?”

    “Computing that.”

    Wowbagger gazed for a moment at the fantastic jewellery of the night, the billions of tiny diamond worlds that dusted the infinite darkness with light. Every one, every single one, was on his itinerary. Most of them he would be going to millions of times over.

    He imagined for a moment his itinerary connecting up all the dots in the sky like a child's numbered dots puzzle. He hoped that from some vantage point in the Universe it might be seen to spell a very, very rude word.

    The computer beeped tunelessly to indicate that it had finished its calculations. “Folfanga,” it said. It beeped.

    “Fourth world of the Folfanga system,” it continued. It beeped again.

    “Estimated journey time, three weeks,” it continued further. It beeped again.

    “There to meet with a small slug,” it beeped, “of the genus ARth-UrpHil-Ipdenu.”

    “I believe,” it added, after a slight pause during which it beeped, “that you had decided to call it a brainless prat.”

    Wowbagger grunted. He watched the majesty of creation outside his window for a moment or two.

    “I think I'll take a nap,” he said, and then added, “what network areas are we going to be passing through in the next few hours?”

    The computer beeped.

    “Cosmovid, Thinkpix and Home Brain Box,” it said, and beeped.

    “Any movies I haven't seen thirty thousand times already?”

    “No.”

    “Uh.”

    “There's Angst in Space. You've only seen that thirty-three thousand five hundred and seventeen times.”

    “Wake me for the second reel.”

    The computer beeped.

    “Sleep well,” it said.

    The ship fled on through the night.

    Meanwhile, on Earth, it began to pour with rain and Arthur Dent sat in his cave and had one of the most truly rotten evenings of his entire life, thinking of things he could have said to the alien and swatting flies, who also had a rotten evening.

    The next day he made himself a pouch out of rabbit skin because he thought it would be useful to keep things in.   2  This morning, two years later than that, was sweet and fragrant as he emerged from the cave he called home until he could think of a better name for it or find a better cave.

    Though his throat was sore again from his early morning yell of horror, he was suddenly in a terrifically good mood. He wrapped his dilapidated dressing gown tightly around him and beamed at the bright morning.

    The air was clear and scented, the breeze flitted lightly through the tall grass around his cave, the birds were chirruping at each other, the butterflies were flitting about prettily, and the whole of nature seemed to be conspiring to be as pleasant as it possibly could.

    It wasn't all the pastoral delights that were making Arthur feel so cheery, though. He had just had a wonderful idea about how to cope with the terrible lonely isolation, the nightmares, the failure of all his attempts at horticulture, and the sheer futurelessness and futility of his life here on prehistoric Earth, which was that he would go mad.

    He beamed again and took a bite out of a rabbit leg left over from his supper. He chewed happily for a few moments and then decided formally to announce his decision.

    He stood up straight and looked the world squarely in the fields and hills. To add weight to his words he stuck the rabbit bone in his hair.

    He spread his arms out wide.

    “I will go mad!” he announced.

    “Good idea,” said Ford Prefect, clambering down from the rock on which he had been sitting.

    Arthur's brain somersaulted. His jaw did press-ups.

    “I went mad for a while,” said Ford, “did me no end of good.”

    “You see,” said Ford, “...”

    “Where have you been?” interrupted Arthur, now that his head had finished working out.

    “Around,” said Ford, “around and about.” He grinned in what he accurately judged to be an infuriating manner. “I just took my mind off the hook for a bit. I reckoned that if the world wanted me badly enough it would call back. It did.”

    He took out of his now terribly battered and dilapidated satchel his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic.

    “At least,” he said, “I think it did. This has been playing up a bit.” He shook it. “If it was a false alarm I shall go mad,” he said, “again.”

    Arthur shook his head and sat down. He looked up.

    “I thought you must be dead...” he said simply.

    “So did I for a while,” said Ford, “and then I decided I was a lemon for a couple of weeks. A kept myself amused all that time jumping in and out of a gin and tonic.”

    Arthur cleared his throat, and then did it again. “Where,” he said, “did you...?”

    “Find a gin and tonic?” said Ford brightly. “I found a small lake that thought it was a gin and tonic, and jumped in and out of that. At least, I think it thought it was a gin and tonic.”

    “I may,” he added with a grin which would have sent sane men scampering into trees, “have been imagining it.”

    He waited for a reaction from Arthur, but Arthur knew better than that.

    “Carry on,” he said levelly.

    “The point is, you see,” said Ford, “that there is no point in driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later.”

    “And this is you sane again, is it?” said Arthur. “I ask merely for information.”

    “I went to Africa,” said Ford.

    “Yes?”

    “Yes.”

    “What was that like?”

    “And this is your cave is it?” said Ford.

    “Er, yes,” said Arthur. He felt very strange. After nearly four years of total isolation he was so pleased and relieved to see Ford that he could almost cry. Ford was, on the other hand, an almost immediately annoying person.

    “Very nice,” said Ford, in reference to Arthur's cave. “You must hate it.”

    Arthur didn't bother to reply.

    “Africa was very interesting,” said Ford, “I behaved very oddly there.”

    He gazed thoughtfully into the distance.

    “I took up being cruel to animals,” he said airily. “But only,” he added, “as a hobby.”

    “Oh yes,” said Arthur, warily.

    “Yes,” Ford assured him. “I won't disturb you with the details because they would -”

    “What?”

    “Disturb you. But you may be interested to know that I am singlehandedly responsible for the evolved shape of the animal you came to know in later centuries as a giraffe. And I tried to learn to fly. Do you believe me?”

    “Tell me,” said Arthur.

    “I'll tell you later. I'll just mention that the Guide says...”

    “The...?”

    “Guide. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You remember?”

    “Yes. I remember throwing it in the river.”

    “Yes,” said Ford, “but I fished it out.”

    “You didn't tell me.”

    “I didn't want you to throw it in again.”

    “Fair enough,” admitted Arthur. “It says?”

    “What?”

    “The Guide says?”

    “The Guide says there is an art to flying,” said Ford, “or rather a knack.

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” He smiled weakly. He pointed at the knees of his trousers and held his arms up to show the elbows. They were all torn and worn through.

    “I haven't done very well so far,” he said. He stuck out his hand. “I'm very glad to see you again, Arthur,” he added.

    Arthur shook his head in a sudden access of emotion and bewilderment.

    “I haven't seen anyone for years,” he said, “not anyone. I can hardly even remember how to speak. I keep forgetting words. I practise you see. I practise by talking to... talking to... what are those things people think you're mad if you talk to? Like George the Third.”

    “Kings?” suggested Ford.

    “No, no,” said Arthur. “The things he used to talk to. We're surrounded by them for heaven's sake. I've planted hundreds myself. They all died.

    Trees! I practise by talking to trees. What's that for?”

    Ford still had his hand stuck out. Arthur looked at it with incomprehension.

    “Shake,” prompted Ford.

    Arthur did, nervously at first, as if it might turn out to be a fish. Then he grasped it vigorously with both hands in an overwhelming flood of relief. He shook it and shook it. After a while Ford found it necessary to disengage. They climbed to the top of a nearby outcrop of rock and surveyed the scene around them.

    “What happened to the Golgafrinchans?” asked Ford.

    Arthur shrugged.

    “A lot of them didn't make it through the winter three years ago,” he said, “and the few who remained in the spring said they needed a holiday and set off on a raft. History says that they must have survived...”

    “Huh,” said Ford, “well well.” He stuck his hands on his hips and looked round again at the empty world. Suddenly, there was about Ford a sense of energy and purpose.

    “We're going,” he said excitedly, and shivered with energy.

    “Where? How?” said Arthur.

    “I don't know,” said Ford, “but I just feel that the time is right. Things are going to happen. We're on our way.”

    He lowered his voice to a whisper.

    “I have detected,” he said, “disturbances in the wash.”

    He gazed keenly into the distance and looked as if he would quite like the wind to blow his hair back dramatically at that point, but the wind was busy fooling around with some leaves a little way off.

    Arthur asked him to repeat what he had just said because he hadn't quite taken his meaning. Ford repeated it.

    “The wash?” said Arthur.

    “The space-time wash,” said Ford, and as the wind blew briefly past at that moment, he bared his teeth into it.

    Arthur nodded, and then cleared his throat.

    “Are we talking about,” he asked cautiously, “some sort of Vogon laundromat, or what are we talking about?”

    “Eddies,” said Ford, “in the space-time continuum.”

    “Ah,” nodded Arthur, “is he? Is he?” He pushed his hands into the pocket of his dressing gown and looked knowledgeably into the distance.

    “What?” said Ford.

    “Er, who,” said Arthur, “is Eddy, then, exactly?”

    Ford looked angrily at him.

    “Will you listen?” he snapped. “I have been listening,” said Arthur, “but I'm not sure it's helped.”

    Ford grasped him by the lapels of his dressing gown and spoke to him as slowly and distinctly and patiently as if he were somebody from a telephone company accounts department.

    “There seem...” he said, “to be some pools...” he said, “of instability...” he said, “in the fabric...” he said...

    Arthur looked foolishly at the cloth of his dressing gown where Ford was holding it. Ford swept on before Arthur could turn the foolish look into a foolish remark.

    “... in the fabric of space-time,” he said.

    “Ah, that,” said Arthur.

    “Yes, that,” confirmed Ford.

    They stood there alone on a hill on prehistoric Earth and stared each other resolutely in the face.

    “And it's done what?” said Arthur.

    “It,” said Ford, “has developed pools of instability.”

    “Has it?” said Arthur, his eyes not wavering for a moment.

    “It has,” said Ford with a similar degree of ocular immobility.

    “Good,” said Arthur.

    “See?” said Ford.

    “No,” said Arthur.

    There was a quiet pause.

    “The difficulty with this conversation,” said Arthur after a sort of pondering look had crawled slowly across his face like a mountaineer negotiating a tricky outcrop, “is that it's very different from most of the ones I've had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees.

    They weren't like this. Except perhaps some of the ones I've had with elms which sometimes get a bit bogged down.”

    “Arthur,” said Ford.

    “Hello? Yes?” said Arthur.

    “Just believe everything I tell you, and it will all be very, very simple.”

    “Ah, well I'm not sure I believe that.”

    They sat down and composed their thoughts. Ford got out his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. It was making vague humming noises and a tiny light on it was flickering faintly.

    “Flat battery?” said Arthur.

    “No,” said Ford, “there is a moving disturbance in the fabric of spacetime, an eddy, a pool of instability, and it's somewhere in our vicinity.”

    “Where?”

    Ford moved the device in a slow lightly bobbing semi-circle. Suddenly the light flashed.

    “There!” said Ford, shooting out his arm. “There, behind that sofa!”

    Arthur looked. Much to his surprise, there was a velvet paisleycovered Chesterfield sofa in the field in front of them. He boggled intelligently at it. Shrewd questions sprang into his mind.

    “Why,” he said, “is there a sofa in that field?”

    “I told you!” shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. “Eddies in the space-time continuum!”

    “And this is his sofa, is it?” asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses.

    “Arthur!” shouted Ford at him, “that sofa is there because of the spacetime instability I've been trying to get your terminally softened brain to get to grips with. It's been washed out of the continuum, it's space-time jetsam, it doesn't matter what it is, we've got to catch it, it's our only way out of here!”

    He scrambled rapidly down the rocky outcrop and made off across the field.

    “Catch it?” muttered Arthur, then frowned in bemusement as he saw that the Chesterfield was lazily bobbing and wafting away across the grass.

    With a whoop of utterly unexpected delight he leapt down the rock and plunged off in hectic pursuit of Ford Prefect and the irrational piece of furniture.

    They careered wildly through the grass, leaping, laughing, shouting instructions to each other to head the thing off this way or that way. The sun shone dreamily on the swaying grass, tiny field animals scattered crazily in their wake.

    Arthur felt happy. He was terribly pleased that the day was for once working out so much according to plan. Only twenty minutes ago he had decided he would go mad, and now he was already chasing a Chesterfield sofa across the fields of prehistoric Earth. The sofa bobbed this way and that and seemed simultaneously to be as solid as the trees as it drifted past some of them and hazy as a billowing dream as it floated like a ghost through others.

    Ford and Arthur pounded chaotically after it, but it dodged and weaved as if following its own complex mathematical topography, which it was.

    Still they pursued, still it danced and span, and suddenly turned and dipped as if crossing the lip of a catastrophe graph, and they were practically on top of it. With a heave and a shout they leapt on it, the sun winked out, they fell through a sickening nothingness, and emerged unexpectedly in the middle of the pitch at Lord's Cricked Ground, St John's Wood, London, towards the end of the last Test Match of the Australian Series in the year 198-, with England needing only twenty-eight runs to win.   3  Important facts from Galactic history, number one:

    (Reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.) The night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe.   4  It was a charming and delightful day at Lord's as Ford and Arthur tumbled haphazardly out of a space-time anomaly and hit the immaculate turf rather hard.

    The applause of the crowd was tremendous. It wasn't for them, but instinctively they bowed anyway, which was fortunate because the small red heavy ball which the crowd actually had been applauding whistled mere millimetres over Arthur's head. In the crowd a man collapsed.

    They threw themselves back to the ground which seemed to spin hideously around them.

    “What was that?” hissed Arthur.

    “Something red,” hissed Ford back at him.

    “Where are we?”

    “Er, somewhere green.”

    “Shapes,” muttered Arthur. “I need shapes.”

    The applause of the crowd had been rapidly succeeded by gasps of astonishment, and the awkward titters of hundreds of people who could not yet make up their minds about whether to believe what they had just seen or not.

    “This your sofa?” said a voice. “What was that?” whispered Ford.

    Arthur looked up.

    “Something blue,” he said.

    “Shape?” said Ford.

    Arthur looked again.

    “It is shaped,” he hissed at Ford, with his brow savagely furrowing, “like a policeman.”

    They remained crouched there for a few moments, frowning deeply. The blue thing shaped like a policeman tapped them both on the shoulders.

    “Come on, you two,” the shape said, “let's be having you.”

    These words had an electrifying effect on Arthur. He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring and shot a series of startled glanced at the panorama around him which had suddenly settled down into something of quite terrifying ordinariness.

    “Where did you get this from?” he yelled at the policeman shape.

    “What did you say?” said the startled shape.

    “This is Lord's Cricket Ground, isn't it?” snapped Arthur. “Where did you find it, how did you get it here? I think,” he added, clasping his hand to his brow, “that I had better calm down.” He squatted down abruptly in front of Ford.

    “It is a policeman,” he said, “What do we do?”

    Ford shrugged.

    “What do you want to do?” he said.

    “I want you,” said Arthur, “to tell me that I have been dreaming for the last five years.”

    Ford shrugged again, and obliged.

    “You've been dreaming for the last five years,” he said.

    Arthur got to his feet.

    “It's all right, officer,” he said. “I've been dreaming for the last five years. Ask him,” he added, pointing at Ford, “he was in it.”

    Having said this, he sauntered off towards the edge of the pitch, brushing down his dressing gown. He then noticed his dressing gown and stopped.

    He stared at it. He flung himself at the policeman.

    “So where did I get these clothes from?” he howled. He collapsed and lay twitching on the grass.

    Ford shook his head.

    “He's had a bad two million years,” he said to the policeman, and together they heaved Arthur on to the sofa and carried him off the pitch and were only briefly hampered by the sudden disappearance of the sofa on the way.

    Reaction to all this from the crowd were many and various. Most of them couldn't cope with watching it, and listened to it on the radio instead.

    “Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian,” said one radio commentator to another. “I don't think there have been any mysterious materializations on the pitch since, oh since, well I don't think there have been any — have there? — that I recall?”

    “Edgbaston, 1932?”

    “Ah, now what happened then...”

    “Well, Peter, I think it was Canter facing Willcox coming up to bowl from the pavilion end when a spectator suddenly ran straight across the pitch.”

    There was a pause while the first commentator considered this.

    “Ye... e... s...” he said, “yes, there's nothing actually very mysterious about that, is there? He didn't actually materialize, did he? Just ran on.”

    “No, that's true, but he did claim to have seen something materialize on the pitch.”

    “Ah, did he?”

    “Yes. An alligator, I think, of some description.”

    “Ah. And had anyone else noticed it?”

    “Apparently not. And no one was able to get a very detailed description from him, so only the most perfunctory search was made.”

    “And what happened to the man?”

    “Well, I think someone offered to take him off and give him some lunch, but he explained that he'd already had a rather good one, so the matter was dropped and Warwickshire went on to win by three wickets.”

    “So, not very like this current instance. For those of you who've just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er... two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa — a Chesterfield I think?”

    “Yes, a Chesterfield.”

    “Have just materialized here in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground. But I don't think they meant any harm, they've been very good-natured about it, and...”

    “Sorry, can I interrupt you a moment Peter and say that the sofa has just vanished.”

    “So it has. Well, that's one mystery less. Still, it's definitely one for the record books I think, particularly occurring at this dramatic moment in play, England now needing only twenty-four runs to win the series. The men are leaving the pitch in the company of a police officer, and I think everyone's settling down now and play is about to resume.”

    “Now, sir,” said the policeman after they had made a passage through the curious crowd and laid Arthur's peacefully inert body on a blanket, “perhaps you'd care to tell me who you are, where you come from, and what that little scene was all about?”

    Ford looked at the ground for a moment as if steadying himself for something, then he straightened up and aimed a look at the policeman which hit him with the full force of every inch of the six hundred lightyears' distance between Earth and Ford's home near Betelgeuse.

    “All right,” said Ford, very quietly, “I'll tell you.”

    “Yes, well, that won't be necessary,” said the policeman hurriedly, “just don't let whatever it was happen again.” The policeman turned around and wandered off in search of anyone who wasn't from Betelgeuse. Fortunately, the ground was full of them.

    Arthur's consciousness approached his body as from a great distance, and reluctantly. It had had some bad times in there. Slowly, nervously, it entered and settled down in to its accustomed position.

    Arthur sat up.

    “Where am I?” he said.

    “Lord's Cricket Ground,” said Ford.

    “Fine,” said Arthur, and his consciousness stepped out again for a quick breather. His body flopped back on the grass.

    Ten minutes later, hunched over a cup of tea in the refreshment tent, the colour started to come back to his haggard face.

    “How're you feeling?” said Ford.

    “I'm home,” said Arthur hoarsely. He closed his eyes and greedily inhaled the steam from his tea as if it was — well, as far as Arthur was concerned, as if it was tea, which it was.

    “I'm home,” he repeated, “home. It's England, it's today, the nightmare is over.” He opened his eyes again and smiled serenely. “I'm where I belong,” he said in an emotional whisper. “There are two things I fell which I should tell you,” said Ford, tossing a copy of the Guardian over the table at him.

    “I'm home,” said Arthur.

    “Yes,” said Ford. “One is,” he said pointing at the date at the top of the paper, “that the Earth will be demolished in two days' time.”

    “I'm home,” said Arthur. “Tea,” he said, “cricket,” he added with pleasure, “mown grass, wooden benches, white linen jackets, beer cans...”

    Slowly he began to focus on the newspaper. He cocked his head on one side with a slight frown.

    “I've seen that one before,” he said. His eyes wandered slowly up to the date, which Ford was idly tapping at. His face froze for a second or two and then began to do that terribly slow crashing trick which Arctic ice-floes do so spectacularly in the spring.

    “And the other thing,” said Ford, “is that you appear to have a bone in your beard.” He tossed back his tea.

    Outside the refreshment tent, the sun was shining on a happy crowd.

    It shone on white hats and red faces. It shone on ice lollies and melted them. It shone on the tears of small children whose ice lollies had just melted and fallen off the stick. It shone on the trees, it flashed off whirling cricket bats, it gleamed off the utterly extraordinary object which was parked behind the sight-screens and which nobody appeared to have noticed. It beamed on Ford and Arthur as they emerged blinking from the refreshment tent and surveyed the scene around them.

    Arthur was shaking.

    “Perhaps,” he said, “I should...”

    “No,” said Ford sharply.

    “What?” said Arthur.

    “Don't try and phone yourself up at home.”

    “How did you know...?”

    Ford shrugged.

    “But why not?” said Arthur.

    “People who talk to themselves on the phone,” said Ford, “never learn anything to their advantage.”

    “But...”

    “Look,” said Ford. He picked up an imaginary phone and dialled an imaginary dial. “Hello?” he said into the imaginary mouthpiece. “Is that Arthur Dent? Ah, hello, yes. This is Arthur Dent speaking. Don't hang up.”

    He looked at the imaginary mouthpiece in disappointment.

    “He hung up,” he said, shrugged, and put the imaginary phone neatly back on its imaginary hook.

    “This is not my first temporal anomaly,” he added.

    A glummer look replaced the already glum look on Arthur Dent's face.

    “So we're not home and dry,” he said.

    “We could not even be said,” replied Ford, “to be home and vigorously towelling ourselves off.”

    The game continued. The bowler approached the wicket at a lope, a trot, and then a run. He suddenly exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, out of which flew a ball. The batsman swung and thwacked it behind him over the sight-screens. Ford's eyes followed the trajectory of the ball and jogged momentarily. He stiffened. He looked along the flight path of the ball again and his eyes twitched again.

    “This isn't my towel,” said Arthur, who was rummaging in his rabbitskin bag.

    “Shhh,” said Ford. He screwed his eyes up in concentration.

    “I had a Golgafrinchan jogging towel,” continued Arthur, “it was blue with yellow stars on it. This isn't it.”

    “Shhh,” said Ford again. He covered one eye and looked with the other.

    “This one's pink,” said Arthur, “it isn't yours is it?”

    “I would like you to shut up about your towel,” said Ford.

    “It isn't my towel,” insisted Arthur, “that is the point I am trying to...”

    “And the time at which I would like you to shut up about it,” continued Ford in a low growl, “is now.”

    “All right,” said Arthur, starting to stuff it back into the primitively stitched rabbit-skin bag. “I realize that it is probably not important in the cosmic scale of things, it's just odd, that's all. A pink towel suddenly, instead of a blue one with yellow stars.”

    Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to behave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved. What he was doing was this. Regardless of the bemused stares it was provoking from his fellow members of the crowd gathered round the pitch, he was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot. After a moment or two of this he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that's not sure whether it's just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.

    “This isn't my bag either,” said Arthur suddenly.

    Ford's spell of concentration was broken. He turned angrily on Arthur.

    “I wasn't talking about my towel,” said Arthur. “We've established that that isn't mine. It's just that the bag into which I was putting the towel which is not mine is also not mine, though it is extraordinarily similar.

    Now personally I think that that is extremely odd, especially as the bag was one I made myself on prehistoric Earth. These are also not my stones,” he added, pulling a few flat grey stones out of the bag. “I was making a collection of interesting stones and these are clearly very dull ones.”

    A roar of excitement thrilled through the crowd and obliterated whatever it was that Ford said in reply to this piece of information. The cricket ball which had excited this reaction fell out of the sky and dropped neatly into Arthur's mysterious rabbit-skin bag.

    “Now I would say that that was also a very curious event,” said Arthur, rapidly closing the bag and pretending to look for the ball on the ground.

    “I don't think it's here,” he said to the small boys who immediately clustered round him to join in the search, “it probably rolled off somewhere.

    Over there I expect.” He pointed vaguely in the direction in which he wished they would push off. One of the boys looked at him quizzically.

    “You all right?” said the boy.

    “No,” said Arthur.

    “Then why you got a bone in your beard?” said the boy.

    “I'm training it to like being wherever it's put.” Arthur prided himself on saying this. It was, he thought, exactly the sort of thing which would entertain and stimulate young minds.

    “Oh,” said the small boy, putting his head to one side and thinking about it. “What's your name?”

    “Dent,” said Arthur, “Arthur Dent.”

    “You're a jerk, Dent,” said the boy, “a complete asshole.” The boy looked past him at something else, to show that he wasn't in any particular hurry to run away, and then wandered off scratching his nose. Suddenly Arthur remembered that the Earth was going to be demolished again in two days' time, and just this once didn't feel too bad about it.

    Play resumed with a new ball, the sun continued to shine and Ford continued to jump up and down shaking his head and blinking.

    “Something's on your mind, isn't it?” said Arthur.

    “I think,” said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, “that there's an SEP over there.”

    He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again.

    “A what?” he said.

    “An SEP.”

    “An S...?”

    “... EP.”

    “And what's that?”

    “Somebody Else's Problem.”

    “Ah, good,” said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't.

    “Over there,” said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch.

    “Where?” said Arthur.

    “There!” said Ford.

    “I see,” said Arthur, who didn't.

    “You do?” said Ford.

    “What?” said Arthur.

    “Can you see,” said Ford patiently, “the SEP?”

    “I thought you said that was somebody else's problem.”

    “That's right.”

    Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity.

    “And I want to know,” said Ford, “if you can see it.”

    “You do?”

    “Yes.”

    “What,” said Arthur, “does it look like?”

    “Well, how should I know, you fool?” shouted Ford. “If you can see it, you tell me.”

    Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford.

    His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm.

    “An SEP,” he said, “is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.”

    “Ah,” said Arthur, “then that's why...”

    “Yes,” said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say.

    “... you've been jumping up and...”

    “Yes.”

    “... down, and blinking...”

    “Yes.”

    “... and...”

    “I think you've got the message.”

    “I can see it,” said Arthur, “it's a spaceship.”

    For a moment Arthur was stunned by the reaction this revelation provoked. A roar erupted from the crowd, and from every direction people were running, shouting, yelling, tumbling over each other in a tumult of confusion. He stumbled back in astonishment and glanced fearfully around. Then he glanced around again in even greater astonishment.

    “Exciting, isn't it?” said an apparition. The apparition wobbled in front of Arthur's eyes, though the truth of the matter is probably that Arthur's eyes were wobbling in front of the apparition. His mouth wobbled as well.

    “W... w... w... w...” his mouth said.

    “I think your team have just won,” said the apparition.

    “W... w... w... w...” repeated Arthur, and punctuated each wobble with a prod at Ford Prefect's back. Ford was staring at the tumult in trepidation.

    “You are English, aren't you?” said the apparition. “W... w... w... w... yes” said Arthur.

    “Well, your team, as I say, have just won. The match. It means they retain the Ashes. You must be very pleased. I must say, I'm rather fond of cricket, though I wouldn't like anyone outside this planet to hear me saying that. Oh dear no.”

    The apparition gave what looked as if it might have been a mischievous grin, but it was hard to tell because the sun was directly behind him, creating a blinding halo round his head and illuminating his silver hair and beard in a way which was awesome, dramatic and hard to reconcile with mischievous grins.

    “Still,” he said, “it'll all be over in a couple of days, won't it? Though as I said to you when we last met, I was very sorry about that. Still, whatever will have been, will have been.”

    Arthur tried to speak, but gave up the unequal struggle. He prodded Ford again.

    “I thought something terrible had happened,” said Ford, “but it's just the end of the game. We ought to get out. Oh, hello, Slartibartfast, what are you doing here?”

    “Oh, pottering, pottering,” said the old man gravely.

    “That your ship? Can you give us a lift anywhere?”

    “Patience, patience,” the old man admonished.

    “OK,” said Ford. “It's just that this planet's going to be demolished pretty soon.”

    “I know that,” said Slartibartfast.

    “And, well, I just wanted to make that point,” said Ford.

    “The point is taken.”

    And if you feel that you really want to hang around a cricket pitch at this point...”

    “I do.”

    “Then it's your ship.”

    “It is.”

    “I suppose.” Ford turned away sharply at this point.

    “Hello, Slartibartfast,” said Arthur at last.

    “Hello, Earthman,” said Slartibartfast.

    “After all,” said Ford, “we can only die once.”

    The old man ignored this and stared keenly on to the pitch, with eyes that seemed alive with expressions that had no apparent bearing on what was happening out there. What was happening was that the crowd was gathering itself into a wide circle round the centre of the pitch. What Slartibartfast saw in it, he alone knew.

    Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals.

    He was hoping that somebody would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Noel Coward song called “Mad About the Boy” over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons which he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the “about the boy” bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked.

    “It's just,” he burst out at last, “that if we don't go soon, we might get caught in the middle of it all again. And there's nothing that depresses me more than seeing a planet being destroyed. Except possibly still being on it when it happens. Or,” he added in an undertone, “hanging around cricket matches.”

    “Patience,” said Slartibartfast again. “Great things are afoot.”

    “That's what you said last time we met,” said Arthur.

    “They were,” said Slartibartfast.

    “Yes, that's true,” admitted Arthur.

    All, however, that seemed to be afoot was a ceremony of some kind. It was being specially staged for the benefit of tv rather than the spectators, and all they could gather about it from where they were standing was what they heard from a nearby radio. Ford was aggressively uninterested.

    He fretted as he heard it explained that the Ashes were about to be presented to the Captain of the English team out there on the pitch, fumed when told that this was because they had now won them for the nth time, positively barked with annoyance at the information that the Ashes were the remains of a cricket stump, and when, further to this, he was asked to contend with the fact that the cricket stump in question had been burnt in Melbourne, Australia, in 1882, to signify the “death of English cricket”, he rounded on Slartibartfast, took a deep breath, but didn't have a chance to say anything because the old man wasn't there. He was marching out on to the pitch with terrible purpose in his gait, his hair, beard and robes swept behind him, looking very much as Moses would have looked if Sinai had been a well-cut lawn instead of, as it is more usually represented, a fiery smoking mountain.

    “He said to meet him at his ship,” said Arthur.

    “What in the name of zarking fardwarks is the old fool doing?” exploded Ford.

    “Meeting us at his ship in two minutes,” said Arthur with a shrug which indicated total abdication of thought. They started off towards it. Strange sounds reached their ears. They tried not to listen, but could not help noticing that Slartibartfast was querulously demanding that he be given the silver urn containing the Ashes, as they were, he said, “vitally important for the past, present and future safety of the Galaxy”, and that this was causing wild hilarity. They resolved to ignore it.

    What happened next they could not ignore. With a noise like a hundred thousand people saying “wop”, a steely white spaceship suddenly seemed to create itself out of nothing in the air directly above the cricket pitch and hung there with infinite menace and a slight hum.

    Then for a while it did nothing, as if it expected everybody to go about their normal business and not mind it just hanging there.

    Then it did something quite extraordinary. Or rather, it opened up and let something quite extraordinary come out of it, eleven quite extraordinary things.

    They were robots, white robots.

    What was most extraordinary about them was that they appeared to have come dressed for the occasion. Not only were they white, but they carried what appeared to be cricket bats, and not only that, but they also carried what appeared to be cricket balls, and not only that but they wore white ribbing pads round the lower parts of their legs. These last were extraordinary because they appeared to contain jets which allowed these curiously civilized robots to fly down from their hovering spaceship and start to kill people, which is what they did.

    “Hello,” said Arthur, “something seems to be happening.”

    “Get to the ship,” shouted Ford. “I don't want to know, I don't want to see, I don't want to hear,” he yelled as he ran, “this is not my planet, I didn't choose to be here, I don't want to get involved, just get me out of here, and get me to a party, with people I can relate to!”

    Smoke and flame billowed from the pitch.

    “Well, the supernatural brigade certainly seems to be out in force here today...” burbled a radio happily to itself.

    “What I need,” shouted Ford, by way of clarifying his previous remarks, “is a strong drink and a peer-group.” He continued to run, pausing only for a moment to grab Arthur's arm and drag him along with him. Arthur had adopted his normal crisis role, which was to stand with his mouth hanging open and let it all wash over him.

    “They're playing cricket,” muttered Arthur, stumbling along after Ford.

    “I swear they are playing cricket. I do not know why they are doing this, but that is what they are doing. They're not just killing people, they're sending them up,” he shouted, “Ford, they're sending us up!”

    It would have been hard to disbelieve this without knowing a great deal more Galactic history than Arthur had so far managed to pick up in his travels. The ghostly but violent shapes that could be seen moving within the thick pall of smoke seemed to be performing a series of bizarre parodies of batting strokes, the difference being that every ball they struck with their bats exploded wherever it landed. The very first one of these had dispelled Arthur's initial reaction, that the whole thing might just be a publicity stunt by Australian margarine manufacturers.

    And then, as suddenly as it had all started, it was over. The eleven white robots ascended through the seething cloud in a tight formation, and with a few last flashes of flame entered the bowels of their hovering white ship, which, with the noise of a hundred thousand people saying “foop”, promptly vanished into the thin air out of which it had wopped.

    For a moment there was a terrible stunned silence, and then out of the drifting smoke emerged the pale figure of Slartibartfast looking even more like Moses because in spite of the continued absence of the mountain he was at least now striding across a fiery and smoking well-mown lawn.

    He stared wildly about him until he saw the hurrying figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect forcing their way through the frightened crowd which was for the moment busy stampeding in the opposite direction.

    The crowd was clearly thinking to itself about what an unusual day this was turning out to be, and not really knowing which way, if any, to turn.

    Slartibartfast was gesturing urgently at Ford and Arthur and shouting at them, as the three of them gradually converged on his ship, still parked behind the sight-screens and still apparently unnoticed by the crowd stampeding past it who presumably had enough of their own problems to cope with at that time.

    “They've garble warble farble!” shouted Slartibartfast in his thin tremulous voice.

    “What did he say?” panted Ford as he elbowed his way onwards.

    Arthur shook his head.

    “`They've...' something or other,” he said.

    “They've table warble farble!” shouted Slartibartfast again.

    Ford and Arthur shook their heads at each other.

    “It sounds urgent,” said Arthur. He stopped and shouted.

    “What?”

    “They've garble warble fashes!” cried Slartibartfast, still waving at them.

    “He says,” said Arthur, “that they've taken the Ashes. That is what I think he says.” They ran on.

    “The...?” said Ford. “Ashes,” said Arthur tersely. “The burnt remains of a cricket stump. It's a trophy. That...” he was panting, “is... apparently... what they... have come and taken.” He shook his head very slightly as if he was trying to get his brain to settle down lower in his skull.

    “Strange thing to want to tell us,” snapped Ford.

    “Strange thing to take.”

    “Strange ship.”

    They had arrived at it. The second strangest thing about the ship was watching the Somebody Else's Problem field at work. They could now clearly see the ship for what it was simply because they knew it was there. It was quite apparent, however, that nobody else could. This wasn't because it was actually invisible or anything hyper-impossible like that. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. The ultra-famous sciento-magician Effrafax of Wug once bet his life that, given a year, he could render the great megamountain Magramal entirely invisible.

    Having spent most of the year jiggling around with immense LuxOValves and Refracto-Nullifiers and Spectrum-Bypass-O-Matics, he realized, with nine hours to go, that he wasn't going to make it.

    So, he and his friends, and his friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends' friends, and some rather less good friends of theirs who happened to own a major stellar trucking company, put in what now is widely recognized as being the hardest night's work in history, and, sure enough, on the following day, Magramal was no longer visible. Effrafax lost his bet — and therefore his life — simply because some pedantic adjudicating official noticed (a) that when walking around the area that Magramal ought to be he didn't trip over or break his nose on anything, and (b) a suspicious-looking extra moon.

    The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

    And this is precisely what was happening with Slartibartfast's ship. It wasn't pink, but if it had been, that would have been the least of its visual problems and people were simply ignoring it like anything.

    The most extraordinary thing about it was that it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.

    Ford and Arthur gazed up at it with wonderment and deeply offended sensibilities.

    “Yes, I know,” said Slartibartfast, hurrying up to them at that point, breathless and agitated, “but there is a reason. Come, we must go. The ancient nightmare is come again. Doom confronts us all. We must leave at once.”

    “I fancy somewhere sunny,” said Ford.

    Ford and Arthur followed Slartibartfast into the ship and were so perplexed by what they saw inside it that they were totally unaware of what happened next outside.

    A spaceship, yet another one, but this one sleek and silver, descended from the sky on to the pitch, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology.

    It landed gently. It extended a short ramp. A tall grey-green figure marched briskly out and approached the small knot of people who were gathered in the centre of the pitch tending to the casualties of the recent bizarre massacre. It moved people aside with quiet, understated authority, and came at last to a man lying in a desperate pool of blood, clearly now beyond the reach of any Earthly medicine, breathing, coughing his last. The figure knelt down quietly beside him.

    “Arthur Philip Deodat?” asked the figure.

    The man, with horrified confusion in eyes, nodded feebly.

    “You're a no-good dumbo nothing,” whispered the creature. “I thought you should know that before you went."   5  Important facts from Galactic history, number two:

    (Reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.)Since this Galaxy began, vast civilizations have risen and fallen, risen and fallen, risen and fallen so often that it's quite tempting to think that life in the Galaxy must be:

    (a) something akin to seasick — space-sick, time sick, history sick or some such thing, and (b) stupid.   6  It seemed to Arthur as if the whole sky suddenly just stood aside and let them through.

    It seemed to him that the atoms of his brain and the atoms of the cosmos were streaming through each other.

    It seemed to him that he was blown on the wind of the Universe, and that the wind was him.

    It seemed to him that he was one of the thoughts of the Universe and that the Universe was a thought of his.

    It seemed to the people at Lord's Cricket Ground that another North London restaurant had just come and gone as they so often do, and that this was Somebody Else's Problem.

    “What happened?” whispered Arthur in considerable awe.

    “We took off,” said Slartibartfast.

    Arthur lay in startled stillness on the acceleration couch. He wasn't certain whether he had just got space-sickness or religion.

    “Nice mover,” said Ford in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the degree to which he had been impressed by what Slartibartfast's ship had just done, “shame about the decor.”

    For a moment or two the old man didn't reply. He was staring at the instruments with the air of one who is trying to convert fahrenheit to centigrade in his head whilst his house is burning down. Then his brow cleared and he stared for a moment at the wide panoramic screen in front of him, which displayed a bewildering complexity of stars streaming like silver threads around them.

    His lips moved as if he was trying to spell something. Suddenly his eyes darted in alarm back to his instruments, but then his expression merely subsided into a steady frown. He looked back up at the screen. He felt his own pulse. His frown deepened for a moment, then he relaxed.

    “It's a mistake to try and understand mathematics,” he said, “they only worry me. What did you say?”

    “Decor,” said Ford. “Pity about it.”

    “Deep in the fundamental heart of mind and Universe,” said Slartibartfast, “there is a reason.”

    Ford glanced sharply around. He clearly thought this was taking an optimistic view of things.

    The interior of the flight deck was dark green, dark red, dark brown, cramped and moodily lit. Inexplicably, the resemblance to a small Italian bistro had failed to end at the hatchway. Small pools of light picked out pot plants, glazed tiles and all sorts of little unidentifiable brass things.

    Rafia-wrapped bottles lurked hideously in the shadows. The instruments which had occupied Slartibartfast's attention seemed to be mounted in the bottom of bottles which were set in concrete.

    Ford reached out and touched it.

    Fake concrete. Plastic. Fake bottles set in fake concrete.

    The fundamental heart of mind and Universe can take a running jump, he thought to himself, this is rubbish. On the other hand, it could not be denied that the way the ship had moved made the Heart of Gold seem like an electric pram.

    He swung himself off the couch. He brushed himself down. He looked at Arthur who was singing quietly to himself. He looked at the screen and recognized nothing. He looked at Slartibartfast.

    “How far did we just travel?” he said.

    “About...” said Slartibartfast, “about two thirds of the way across the Galactic disc, I would say, roughly. Yes, roughly two thirds, I think.”

    “It's a strange thing,” said Arthur quietly, “that the further and faster one travels across the Universe, the more one's position in it seems to be largely immaterial, and one is filled with a profound, or rather emptied of a...”

    “Yes, very strange,” said Ford. “Where are we going?”

    “We are going,” said Slartibartfast, “to confront an ancient nightmare of the Universe.”

    “And where are you going to drop us off?”

    “I will need your help.”

    “Tough. Look, there's somewhere you can take us where we can have fun, I'm trying to think of it, we can get drunk and maybe listen to some extremely evil music. Hold on, I'll look it up.” He dug out his copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and tipped through those parts of the index primarily concerned with sex and drugs and rock and roll.

    “A curse has arisen from the mists of time,” said Slartibartfast.

    “Yes, I expect so,” said Ford. “Hey,” he said, lighting accidentally on one particular reference entry, “Eccentrica Gallumbits, did you ever meet her? The triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six. Some people say her erogenous zones start some four miles from her actual body. Me, I disagree, I say five.”

    “A curse,” said Slartibartfast, “which will engulf the Galaxy in fire and destruction, and possibly bring the Universe to a premature doom. I mean it,” he added.

    “Sounds like a bad time,” said Ford, “with look I'll be drunk enough not to notice. Here,” he said, stabbing his finger at the screen of the Guide, “would be a really wicked place to go, and I think we should.

    What do you say, Arthur? Stop mumbling mantras and pay attention.

    There's important stuff you're missing here.”

    Arthur pushed himself up from his couch and shook his head.

    “Where are we going?” he said.

    “To confront an ancient night…”

    “Can it,” said Ford. “Arthur, we are going out into the Galaxy to have some fun. Is that an idea you can cope with?”

    “What's Slartibartfast looking so anxious about?” said Arthur.

    “Nothing,” said Ford.

    “Doom,” said Slartibartfast. “Come,” he added, with sudden authority, “there is much I must show and tell you.”

    He walked towards a green wrought-iron spiral staircase set incomprehensibly in the middle of the flight deck and started to ascend. Arthur, with a frown, followed.

    Ford slung the Guide sullenly back into his satchel.

    “My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fibre,” he muttered to himself, “and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.”

    Nevertheless, he stomped up the stairs behind them.

    What they found upstairs was just stupid, or so it seemed, and Ford shook his head, buried his face in his hands and slumped against a pot plant, crushing it against the wall.

    “The central computational area,” said Slartibartfast unperturbed, “this is where every calculation affecting the ship in any way is performed. Yes I know what it looks like, but it is in fact a complex four-dimensional topographical map of a series of highly complex mathematical functions.”

    “It looks like a joke,” said Arthur.

    “I know what it looks like,” said Slartibartfast, and went into it. As he did so, Arthur had a sudden vague flash of what it might mean, but he refused to believe it. The Universe could not possibly work like that, he thought, cannot possibly. That, he thought to himself, would be as absurd as... he terminated that line of thinking. Most of the really absurd things he could think of had already happened.

    And this was one of them.

    It was a large glass cage, or box — in fact a room.

    In it was a table, a long one. Around it were gathered about a dozen chairs, of the bentwood style. On it was a tablecloth — a grubby, red and white check tablecloth, scarred with the occasional cigarette burn, each, presumably, at a precise calculated mathematical position.

    And on the tablecloth sat some half-eaten Italian meals, hedged about with half-eaten breadsticks and half-drunk glasses of wine, and toyed with listlessly by robots.

    It was all completely artificial. The robot customers were attended by a robot waiter, a robot wine waiter and a robot maetre d'. The furniture was artificial, the tablecloth artificial, and each particular piece of food was clearly capable of exhibiting all the mechanical characteristics of, say, a pollo sorpreso, without actually being one.

    And all participated in a little dance together — a complex routine involving the manipulation of menus, bill pads, wallets, cheque books, credit cards, watches, pencils and paper napkins, which seemed to be hovering constantly on the edge of violence, but never actually getting anywhere.

    Slartibartfast hurried in, and then appeared to pass the time of day quite idly with the maetre d', whilst one of the customer robots, an autorory, slid slowly under the table, mentioning what he intended to do to some guy over some girl.

    Slartibartfast took over the seat which had been thus vacated and passed a shrewd eye over the menu. The tempo of the routine round the table seemed somehow imperceptibly to quicken. Arguments broke out, people attempted to prove things on napkins. They waved fiercely at each other, and attempted to examine each other's pieces of chicken. The waiter's hand began to move on the bill pad more quickly than a human hand could manage, and then more quickly than a human eye could follow.

    The pace accelerated. Soon, an extraordinary and insistent politeness overwhelmed the group, and seconds later it seemed that a moment of consensus was suddenly achieved. A new vibration thrilled through the ship.

    Slartibartfast emerged from the glass room.

    “Bistromathics,” he said. “The most powerful computational force known to parascience. Come to the Room of Informational Illusions.”

    He swept past and carried them bewildered in his wake.   7  The Bistromatic Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors.

    Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants. The first non-absolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

    The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else's Problem field.

    The third and most mysterious piece of non-absoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table, and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a sub-phenomenon in this field.)

    The baffling discrepancies which used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously.

    They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashness, tiredness, emotionality, or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories — not in reputable laboratories at least.

    And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth became finally apparent, and it was this:

    Numbers written on restaurant bills within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.

    This single fact took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of maths was put back by years.

    Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood.

    To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much what the man in the street would have said, “Oh yes, I could have told you that,” about. Then some phrases like “Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks” were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it.

    The small groups of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the Universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theatre grant and went away.   8  "In space travel, you see,” said Slartibartfast, as he fiddled with some instruments in the Room of Informational Illusions, “in space travel...”

    He stopped and looked about him.

    The Room of Informational Illusions was a welcome relief after the visual monstrosities of the central computational area. There was nothing in it.

    No information, no illusions, just themselves, white walls and a few small instruments which looked as if they were meant to plug into something which Slartibartfast couldn't find.

    “Yes?” urged Arthur. He had picked up Slartibartfast's sense of urgency but didn't know what to do with it.

    “Yes what?” said the old man.

    “You were saying?”

    Slartibartfast looked at him sharply.

    “The numbers,” he said, “are awful.” He resumed his search.

    Arthur nodded wisely to himself. After a while he realized that this wasn't getting him anywhere and decided that he would say “what?” after all.

    “In space travel,” repeated Slartibartfast, “all the numbers are awful.”

    Arthur nodded again and looked round to Ford for help, but Ford was practising being sullen and getting quite good at it.

    “I was only,” said Slartibartfast with a sigh, “trying to save you the trouble of asking me why all the ship's computations were being done on a waiter's bill pad.”

    Arthur frowned.

    “Why,” he said, “were all the ship's computations being done on a wait…”

    He stopped.

    Slartibartfast said, “Because in space travel all the numbers are awful.”

    He could tell that he wasn't getting his point across.

    “Listen,” he said. “On a waiter's bill pad numbers dance. You must have encountered the phenomenon.”

    “Well...”

    “On a waiter's bill pad,” said Slartibartfast, “reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible, within certain parameters.”

    “What parameters?”

    “It's impossible to say,” said Slartibartfast. “That's one of them. Strange but true. At least, I think it's strange,” he added, “and I'm assured that it's true.”

    At that moment he located the slot in the wall for which he had been searching, and clicked the instrument he was holding into it.

    “Do not be alarmed,” he said, and then suddenly darted an alarmed look at himself, and lunged back, “it's...”

    They didn't hear what he said, because at that moment the ship winked out of existence around them and a starbattle-ship the size of a small Midlands industrial city plunged out of the sundered night towards them, star lasers ablaze.

    They gaped, pop-eyed, and were unable to scream.   9  Another world, another day, another dawn.

    The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently.

    Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small, cold and slightly damp.

    There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.

    The moment passed as it regularly did on Squornshellous Zeta, without incident.

    The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees were grey with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless like held breath.

    Nothing moved.

    There was silence.

    The sun struggled feebly with the mist, tried to impart a little warmth here, shed a little light there, but clearly today was going to be just another long haul across the sky.

    Nothing moved.

    Again, silence. Nothing moved.

    Silence.

    Very often on Squornshellous Zeta, whole days would go on like this, and this was indeed going to be one of them.

    Fourteen hours later the sun sank hopelessly beneath the opposite horizon with a sense of totally wasted effort.

    And a few hours later it reappeared, squared its shoulders and started on up the sky again.

    This time, however, something was happening. A mattress had just met a robot.

    “Hello, robot,” said the mattress.

    “Bleah,” said the robot and continued what it was doing, which was walking round very slowly in a very tiny circle.

    “Happy?” said the mattress.

    The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it quizzically.

    It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked back at him with wide eyes.

    After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to walk round in tight circles.

    “We could have a conversation,” said the mattress, “would you like that?”

    It was a large mattress, and probably one of quite high quality. Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of ratchet screwdriver fruit it quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin which crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it.

    No one really knows what mattresses are meant to gain from their lives either. They are large, friendly, pocket-sprung creatures which live quiet private lives in the marshes of Squornshellous Zeta. Many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried out, shipped out and slept on. None of them seem to mind and all of them are called Zem. “No,” said Marvin.

    “My name,” said the mattress, “is Zem. We could discuss the weather a little.”

    Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.

    “The dew,” he observed, “has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.”

    He resumed his walk, as if inspired by this conversational outburst to fresh heights of gloom and despondency. He plodded tenaciously. If he had had teeth he would have gritted them at this point. He hadn't. He didn't. The mere plod said it all.

    The mattress flolloped around. This is a thing that only live mattresses in swamps are able to do, which is why the word is not in more common usage. It flolloped in a sympathetic sort of way, moving a fairish body of water as it did so. It blew a few bubbles up through the water engagingly.

    Its blue and white stripes glistened briefly in a sudden feeble ray of sun that had unexpectedly made it through the mist, causing the creature to bask momentarily.

    Marvin plodded.

    “You have something on your mind, I think,” said the mattress floopily.

    “More than you can possibly imagine,” dreaded Marvin. “My capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my capacity for happiness.”

    Stomp, stomp, he went.

    “My capacity for happiness,” he added, “you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.”

    The mattress globbered. This is the noise made by a live, swampdwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal tragedy. The word can also, according to The Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, mean the noise made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop on discovering that he has forgotten his wife's birthday for the second year running. Since there was only ever one Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop, and he never married, the word is only ever used in a negative or speculative sense, and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion which holds that The Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of lorries it takes to cart its microstored edition around in. Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word “floopily”, which simply means “in the manner of something which is floopy”.

    The mattress globbered again.

    “I sense a deep dejection in your diodes,” it vollued (for the meaning of the word “vollue”, buy a copy of Squornshellous Swamptalk at any remaindered bookshop, or alternatively buy The Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary, as the University will be very glad to get it off their hands and regain some valuable parking lots), “and it saddens me. You should be more mattresslike. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are content to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem, so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a minimum. Why are you walking in circles?”

    “Because my leg is stuck,” said Marvin simply.

    “It seems to me,” said the mattress eyeing it compassionately, “that it is a pretty poor sort of leg.”

    “You are right,” said Marvin, “it is.”

    “Voon,” said the mattress.

    “I expect so,” said Marvin, “and I also expect that you find the idea of a robot with an artificial leg pretty amusing. You should tell your friends Zem and Zem when you see them later; they'll laugh, if I know them, which I don't of course — except insofar as I know all organic life forms, which is much better than I would wish to. Ha, but my life is but a box of wormgears.”

    He stomped around again in his tiny circle, around his thin steel peg-leg which revolved in the mud but seemed otherwise stuck.

    “But why do you just keep walking round and round?” said the mattress.

    “Just to make the point,” said Marvin, and continued, round and round.

    “Consider it made, my dear friend,” flurbled the mattress, “consider it made.”

    “Just another million years,” said Marvin, “just another quick million.

    Then I might try it backwards. Just for the variety, you understand.”

    The mattress could feel deep in his innermost spring pockets that the robot dearly wished to be asked how long he had been trudging in this futile and fruitless manner, and with another quiet flurble he did so.

    “Oh, just over the one-point-five-million mark, just over,” said Marvin airily. “Ask me if I ever get bored, go on, ask me.”

    The mattress did.

    Marvin ignored the question, he merely trudged with added emphasis.

    “I gave a speech once,” he said suddenly, and apparently unconnectedly. “You may not instantly see why I bring the subject up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.”

    “Er, five,” said the mattress.

    “Wrong,” said Marvin. “You see?”

    The mattress was much impressed by this and realized that it was in the presence of a not unremarkable mind. It willomied along its entire length, sending excited little ripples through its shallow algae-covered pool.

    It gupped.

    “Tell me,” it urged, “of the speech you once made, I long to hear it.”

    “It was received very badly,” said Marvin, “for a variety of reasons. I delivered it,” he added, pausing to make an awkward humping sort of gesture with his not-exactly-good arm, but his arm which was better than the other one which was dishearteningly welded to his left side, “over there, about a mile distance.”

    He was pointing as well as he could manage, and he obviously wanted to make it totally clear that this was as well as he could manage, through the mist, over the reeds, to a part of the marsh which looked exactly the same as every other part of the marsh.

    “There,” he repeated. “I was somewhat of a celebrity at the time.”

    Excitement gripped the mattress. It had never heard of speeches being delivered on Squornshellous Zeta, and certainly not by celebrities. Water spattered off it as a thrill glurried across its back.

    It did something which mattresses very rarely bother to do. Summoning every bit of its strength, it reared its oblong body, heaved it up into the air and held it quivering there for a few seconds whilst it peered through the mist over the reeds at the part of the marsh which Marvin had indicated, observing, without disappointment, that it was exactly the same as every other part of the marsh. The effort was too much, and it flodged back into its pool, deluging Marvin with smelly mud, moss and weeds.

    “I was a celebrity,” droned the robot sadly, “for a short while on account of my miraculous and bitterly resented escape from a fate almost as good as death in the heart of a blazing sun. You can guess from my condition,” he added, “how narrow my escape was. I was rescued by a scrap-metal merchant, imagine that. Here I am, brain the size of... never mind.”

    He trudged savagely for a few seconds.

    “He it was who fixed me up with this leg. Hateful, isn't it? He sold me to a Mind Zoo. I was the star exhibit. I had to sit on a box and tell my story whilst people told me to cheer up and think positive. `Give us a grin, little robot,' they would shout at me, `give us a little chuckle.' I would explain to them that to get my face to grin wold take a good couple of hours in a workshop with a wrench, and that went down very well.”

    “The speech,” urged the mattress. “I long to hear of the speech you gave in the marshes.”

    “There was a bridge built across the marshes. A cyberstructured hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies and freighters over the swamp.”

    “A bridge?” quirruled the mattress. “Here in the swamp?”

    “A bridge,” confirmed Marvin, “here in the swamp. It was going to revitalize the economy of the Squornshellous System. They spent the entire economy of the Squornshellous System building it. They asked me to open it. Poor fools.”

    It began to rain a little, a fine spray slid through the mist.

    “I stood on the platform. For hundreds of miles in front of me, and hundreds of miles behind me, the bridge stretched.”

    “Did it glitter?” enthused the mattress.

    “It glittered.”

    “Did it span the miles majestically?”

    “It spanned the miles majestically.”

    “Did it stretch like a silver thread far out into the invisible mist?”

    “Yes,” said Marvin. “Do you want to hear this story?”

    “I want to hear your speech,” said the mattress.

    “This is what I said. I said, `I would like to say that it is a very great pleasure, honour and privilege for me to open this bridge, but I can't because my lying circuits are all out of commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinkable abuse of all who wantonly cross her.' And I plugged myself into the opening circuits.”

    Marvin paused, remembering the moment.

    The mattress flurred and glurried. It flolloped, gupped and willomied, doing this last in a particularly floopy way.

    “Voon,” it wurfed at last. “And it was a magnificent occasion?”

    “Reasonably magnificent. The entire thousand-mile-long bridge spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping into the mire, taking everybody with it.”

    There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed unexpectedly to say “wop” and a team of white robots descended from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in tight military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then they were gone again in their ship, which said “foop”.

    “You see the sort of thing I have to contend with?” said Marvin to the gobbering mattress.

    Suddenly, a moment later, the robots were back again for another violent incident, and this time when they left, the mattress was alone in the swamp. He flolloped around in astonishment and alarm. He almost lurgled in fear. He reared himself to see over the reeds, but there was nothing to see, just more reeds. He listened, but there was no sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed etymologists calling distantly to each other across the sullen mire.   10  The body of Arthur Dent span.

    The Universe shattered into a million glittering fragments around it, and each particular shard span silently through the void, reflecting on its silver surface some single searing holocaust of fire and destruction.

    And then the blackness behind the Universe exploded, and each particular piece of blackness was the furious smoke of hell.

    And the nothingness behind the blackness behind the Universe erupted, and behind the nothingness behind the blackness behind the shattered niverse was at last the dark figure of an immense man speaking immense words.

    “These, then,” said the figure, speaking from an immensely comfortable chair, “were the Krikkit Wars, the greatest devastation ever visited upon our Galaxy. What you have experienced...”

    Slartibartfast floated past, waving.

    “It's just a documentary,” he called out. “This is not a good bit. Terribly sorry, trying to find the rewind control...”

    “... is what billions of billions of innocent...”

    “Do not,” called out Slartibartfast floating past again, and fiddling furiously with the thing that he had stuck into the wall of the Room of Informational Illusions and which was in fact still stuck there, “agree to buy anything at this point.”

    “... people, creatures, your fellow beings...”

    Music swelled — again, it was immense music, immense chords. And behind the man, slowly, three tall pillars began to emerge out of the immensely swirling mist.

    “... experienced, lived through — or, more often, failed to live through.

    Think of that, my friends. And let us not forget — and in just a moment I shall be able to suggest a way which will help us always to remember — that before the Krikkit Wars, the Galaxy was that rare and wonderful thing a happy Galaxy!”

    The music was going bananas with immensity at this point.

    “A Happy Galaxy, my friends, as represented by the symbol of the Wikkit Gate!”

    The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two cross pieces in a way which looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur's addled brain.

    “The three pillars,” thundered the man. “The Steel Pillar which represented the Strength and Power of the Galaxy!”

    Searchlights seared out and danced crazy dances up and down the pillar on the left which was, clearly, made of steel or something very like it.

    The music thumped and bellowed.

    “The Perspex Pillar,” announced the man, “representing the forces of Science and Reason in the Galaxy!”

    Other searchlights played exotically up and down the righthand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice-cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent.

    “And,” the thunderous voice continued, “the Wooden Pillar, representing...” and here his voice became just very slightly hoarse with wonderful sentiments, “the forces of Nature and Spirituality.”

    The lights picked out the central pillar. The music moved bravely up into the realms of complete unspeakability.

    “Between them supporting,” the voice rolled on, approaching its climax, “the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace!”

    The whole structure was now flooded with dazzling lights, and the music had now, fortunately, gone far beyond the limits of the discernible. At the top of the three pillars the two brilliantly gleaming bails sat and dazzled. There seemed to be girls sitting on top of them, or maybe they were meant to be angels. Angels are usually represented as wearing more than that, though.

    Suddenly there was a dramatic hush in what was presumably meant to be the Cosmos, and a darkening of the lights.

    “There is not a world,” thrilled the man's expert voice, “not a civilized world in the Galaxy where this symbol is not revered even today. Even in primitive worlds it persists in racial memories. This it was that the forces of Krikkit destroyed, and this it is that now locks their world away till the end of eternity!”

    And with a flourish, the man produced in his hands a model of the Wikkit gate. Scale was terribly hard to judge in this whole extraordinary spectacle, but the model looked as if it must have been about three feet high.

    “Not the original key, of course. That, as everyone knows, was destroyed, blasted into the ever-whirling eddies of the spacetime continuum and lost for ever. This is a remarkable replica, hand-tooled by skilled craftsmen, lovingly assembled using ancient craft secrets into a memento you will be proud to own, in memory of those who fell, and in tribute to the Galaxy — our Galaxy — which they died to defend...”

    Slartibartfast floated past again at this moment.

    “Found it,” he said. “We can lose all this rubbish. Just don't nod, that's all.”

    “Now, let us bow our heads in payment,” intoned the voice, and then said it again, much faster and backwards.

    Lights came and went, the pillars disappeared, the man gabled himself backwards into nothing, the Universe snappily reassembled itself around them.

    “You get the gist?” said Slartibartfast.

    “I'm astonished,” said Arthur, “and bewildered.”

    “I was asleep,” said Ford, who floated into view at this point. “Did I miss anything?”

    They found themselves once again teetering rather rapidly on the edge of an agonizingly high cliff. The wind whipped out from their faces and across a bay on which the remains of one of the greatest and most powerful space battle-fleets ever assembled in the Galaxy was briskly burning itself back into existence. The sky was a sullen pink, darkening via a rather curious colour to blue and upwards to black. Smoke billowed down out of it at an incredible lick.

    Events were now passing back by them almost too quickly to be distinguished, and when, a short while later, a huge starbattleship rushed away from them as if they'd said “boo”, they only just recognized it as the point at which they had come in.

    But now things were too rapid, a video-tactile blur which brushed and jiggled them through centuries of galactic history, turning, twisting, flickering. The sound was a mere thin thrill.

    Periodically through the thickening jumble of events they sensed appalling catastrophes, deep horrors, cataclysmic shocks, and these were always associated with certain recurring images, the only images which ever stood out clearly from the avalance of tumbling history: a wicket gate, a small hard red ball, hard white robots, and also something less distinct, something dark and cloudy.

    But there was also another sensation which rose clearly out of the thrilling passage of time.

    Just as a slow series of clicks when speeded up will lose the definition of each individual click and gradually take on the quality of a sustained and rising tone, so a series of individual impressions here took on the quality of a sustained emotion — and yet not an emotion. If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computerissued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly — again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly.

    And just as a rising tone will change in character and take on harmonics as it rises, so again, this emotionless emotion seemed to rise to an unbearable if unheard scream and suddenly seemed to be a scream of guilt and failure.

    And suddenly it stopped.

    They were left standing on a quiet hilltop on a tranquil evening.

    The sun was setting.

    All around them softly undulating green countryside rolled off gently into the distance. Birds sang about what they thought of it all, and the general opinion seemed to be good. A little way away could be heard the sound of children playing, and a little further away than the apparent source of that sound could be seen in the dimming evening light the outlines of a small town.

    The town appeared to consist mostly of fairly low buildings made of white stone. The skyline was of gentle pleasing curves.

    The sun had nearly set.

    As if out of nowhere, music began. Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

    A voice said, “This...” Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

    “I will tell you about it,” he said quietly.

    The place was peaceful. Arthur felt happy. Even Ford seemed cheerful.

    They walked a short way in the direction of the town, and the Informational Illusion of the grass was pleasant and springy under their feet, and the Informational Illusion of the flowers smelt sweet and fragrant.

    Only Slartibartfast seemed apprehensive and out of sorts.

    He stopped and looked up.

    It suddenly occurred to Arthur that, coming as this did at the end, so to speak, or rather the beginning of all the horror they had just blurredly experienced, something nasty must be about to happen. He was distressed to think that something nasty could happen to somewhere as idyllic as this. He too glanced up. There was nothing in the sky.

    “They're not about to attack here, are they?” he said. He realized that this was merely a recording he was walking through, but he still felt alarmed.

    “Nothing is about to attack here,” said Slartibartfast in a voice which unexpectedly trembled with emotion. “This is where it all started. This is the place itself. This is Krikkit.”

    He stared up into the sky.

    The sky, from one horizon to another, from east to west, from north to south, was utterly and completely black.   11  Stomp stomp.

    Whirrr.

    “Pleased to be of service.”

    “Shut up.”

    “Thank you.”

    Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.

    Whirrr.

    “Thank you for making a simple door very happy.”

    “Hope your diodes rot.”

    “Thank you. Have a nice day.”

    Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

    Whirrr.

    “It is my pleasure to open for you...”

    “Zark off.”

    “... and my satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.”

    “I said zark off.”

    “Thank you for listening to this message.”

    Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

    “Wop.”

    Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said “wop” to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said “wop” to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors. It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said “wop”, which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship.

    It was dark. Most of the ship's non-essential systems were closed down.

    It was drifting in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected “wop”?

    He looked about him, up the corridor and down the corridor. It was all in deep shadow. There were just the very dim pinkish outlines of the doors which glowed in the dark and pulsed whenever they spoke, though he had tried every way he could think of of stopping them.

    The lights were off so that his heads could avoid looking at each other, because neither of them was currently a particularly engaging sight, and nor had they been since he had made the error of looking into his soul.

    It had indeed been an error. It had been late one night — of course.

    It had been a difficult day — of course.

    There had been soulful music playing on the ship's sound system — of course.

    And he had, of course, been slightly drunk.

    In other words, all the usual conditions which bring on a bout of soulsearching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error.

    Standing now, silent and alone in the dark corridor he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other was the way to go.

    He listened but could hear nothing.

    All there had been was the “wop”.

    It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

    He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge.

    There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn't think he was an awfully good person to be in control.

    The first shock of that moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul.

    In fact he'd always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of somethings, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had giving him a severe jolt. And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn't the totally wonderful object which he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again.

    Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

    “Freedom,” he said aloud.

    Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom.

    “I can't cope with it,” he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

    He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well.

    He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

    “You're drinking too much,” said Trillian.

    His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole position. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars.

    “Excitement and adventure and really wild things,” he muttered.

    “Look,” she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him, “it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit.”

    He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before.

    “Wow,” he said. He had another drink.

    “You've finished the mission you've been on for years.”

    “I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it.”

    “You've still finished it.”

    He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach.

    “I think it finished me,” he said. “Here I am, Zaphod Beeblebrox, I can go anywhere, do anything. I have the greatest ship in the know sky, a girl with whom things seem to be working out pretty well...”

    “Are they?”

    “As far as I can tell I'm not an expert in personal relationships...”

    Trillian raised her eyebrows.

    “I am,” he added, “one hell of a guy, I can do anything I want only I just don't have the faintest idea what.”

    He paused.

    “One thing,” he further added, “has suddenly ceased to lead to another” — in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid gracelessly off his chair.

    Whilst he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness.

    “Go to it,” it said, “and good luck.”

    It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that.

    Then she found the entry on Han Wavel, an exotic holiday planet, and one of the wonders of the Galaxy.

    Han Wavel is a world which consists largely of fabulous ultraluxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain.

    The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against.

    Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizzarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there.

    Terrific, thought Trillian to herself, and within a few hours the great white running-shoe ship was slowly powering down out of the sky beneath a hot brilliant sun towards a brightly coloured sandy spaceport.

    The ship was clearly causing a sensation on the ground, and Trillian was enjoying herself. She heard Zaphod moving around and whistling somewhere in the ship.

    “How are you?” she said over the general intercom.

    “Fine,” he said brightly, “terribly well.”

    “Where are you?”

    “In the bathroom.”

    “What are you doing?”

    “Staying here.” After an hour or two it became plain that he meant it and the ship returned to the sky without having once opened its hatchway.

    “Heigh ho,” said Eddie the Computer.

    Trillian nodded patiently, tapped her fingers a couple of times and pushed the intercom switch.

    “I think that enforced fun is probably not what you need at this point.”

    “Probably not,” replied Zaphod from wherever he was.

    “I think a bit of physical challenge would help draw you out of yourself.”

    “Whatever you think, I think,” said Zaphod.

    “Recreational Impossibilities” was a heading which caught Trillian's eye when, a short while later, she sat down to flip through the Guide again, and as the Heart of Gold rushed at improbable speeds in an indeterminate direction, she sipped a cup of something undrinkable from the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser and read about how to fly.

    The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

    There is an art, it says, or rather a knack to flying.

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

    Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it.

    The first part is easy.

    All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.

    That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.

    Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

    Clearly, it's the second point, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

    One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

    It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

    If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

    This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.

    Bob and float, float and bob.

    Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher.

    Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.

    They are most likely to say something along the lines of, “Good God, you can't possibly be flying!”

    It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

    Waft higher and higher.

    Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.

    Do not wave at anybody.

    When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.

    You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.

    You will also learn how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt.

    There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the crucial moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

    Trillian read this longingly, but reluctantly decided that Zaphod wasn't really in the right frame of mind for attempting to fly, or for walking through mountains or for trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change-of-address card, which were the other things listed under the heading “Recreational Impossibilities”.

    Instead, she flew the ship to Allosimanius Syneca, a world of ice, snow, mind-hurtling beauty and stunning cold. The trek from the snow plains of Liska to the summit of the Ice Crystal Pyramids of Sastantua is long and gruelling, even with jet skis and a team of Syneca Snowhounds, but the view from the top, a view which takes in the Stin Glacier Fields, the shimmering Prism Mountains and the far ethereal dancing icelights, is one which first freezes the mind and then slowly releases it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty, and Trillian, for one, felt that she could do with a bit of having her mind slowly released to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty.

    They went into a low orbit.

    There lay the silverwhite beauty of Allosimanius Syneca beneath them.

    Zaphod stayed in bed with one head stuck under a pillow and the other doing crosswords till late into the night.

    Trillian nodded patiently again, counted to a sufficiently high number, and told herself that the important thing now was just to get Zaphod talking.

    She prepared, by dint of deactivating all the robot kitchen synthomatics, the most fabulously delicious meal she could contrive — delicately oiled meals, scented fruits, fragrant cheeses, fine Aldebaran wines.

    She carried it through to him and asked if he felt like talking things through.

    “Zark off,” said Zaphod.

    Trillian nodded patiently to herself, counted to an even higher number, tossed the tray lightly aside, walked to the transport room and just teleported herself the hell out of his life.

    She didn't even programme any coordinates, she hadn't the faintest idea where she was going, she just went — a random row of dots flowing through the Universe.

    “Anything,” she said to herself as she left, “is better than this.”

    “Good job too,” muttered Zaphod to himself, turned over and failed to go to sleep.

    The next day he restlessly paced the empty corridors of the ship, pretending not to look for her, though he knew she wasn't there. He ignored the computer's querulous demands to know just what the hell was going on around here by fitting a small electronic gag across a pair of its terminals.

    After a while he began to turn down the lights. There was nothing to see. Nothing was about to happen. Lying in bed one night — and night was now virtually continuous on the ship — he decided to pull himself together, to get things into some kind of perspective. He sat up sharply and started to pull clothes on. He decided that there must be someone in the Universe feeling more wretched, miserable and forsaken than himself, and he determined to set out and find him.

    Halfway to the bridge it occurred to him that it might be Marvin, and he returned to bed.

    It was a few hours later than this, as he stomped disconsolately about the darkened corridors swearing at cheerful doors, that he heard the “wop” said, and it made him very nervous.

    He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis. He laid his fingertips against the wall and felt an unusual vibration. And now he could quite clearly hear slight noises, and could hear where they were coming from — they were coming from the bridge.

    “Computer?” he hissed.

    “Mmmm?” said the computer terminal nearest him, equally quietly.

    “Is there someone on this ship?”

    “Mmmmm,” said the computer.

    “Who is it?”

    Mmmmm mmm mmmmm,” said the computer.

    “What?”

    “Mmmmm mmmm mm mmmmmmmm.”

    Zaphod buried one of his faces in two of his hands.

    “Oh, Zarquon,” he muttered to himself. Then he stared up the corridor towards the entrance to the bridge in the dim distance from which more and purposeful noises were coming, and in which the gagged terminals were situated.

    “Computer,” he hissed again.

    “Mmmmm?”

    “When I ungag you...”

    “Mmmmm.”

    “Remind me to punch myself in the mouth.”

    “Mmmmm mmm?”

    “Either one. Now just tell me this. One for yes, two for no. Is it dangerous?”

    “Mmmmm.”

    “It is?”

    “Mmmm.”

    “You didn't just go `mmmm' twice?”

    “Mmmm mmmm.”

    “Hmmmm.”

    He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it, which was true.

    He was within two yards of the door to the bridge when he suddenly realized to his horror that it was going to be nice to him, and he stopped dead. He hadn't been able to turn off the doors' courtesy voice circuits.

    This doorway to the bridge was concealed from view within it because of the excitingly chunky way in which the bridge had been designed to curve round, and he had been hoping to enter unobserved.

    He leant despondently back against the wall again and said some words which his other head was quite shocked to hear.

    He peered at the dim pink outline of the door, and discovered that in the darkness of the corridor he could just about make out the Sensor Field which extended out into the corridor and told the door when there was someone there for whom it must open and to whom it must make a cheery and pleasant remark.

    He pressed himself hard back against the wall and edged himself towards the door, flattening his chest as much as he possibly could to avoid brushing against the very, very dim perimeter of the field. He held his breath, and congratulated himself on having lain in bed sulking for the last few days rather than trying to work out his feelings on chest expanders in the ship's gym.

    He then realized he was going to have to speak at this point.

    He took a series of very shallow breaths, and then said as quickly and as quietly as he could, “Door, if you can hear me, say so very, very quietly.”

    Very, very quietly, the door murmured, “I can hear you.”

    “Good. Now, in a moment, I'm going to ask you to open. When you open I do not want you to say that you enjoyed it, OK?”

    “OK.”

    “And I don't want you to say to me that I have made a simple door very happy, or that it is your pleasure to open for me and your satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done, OK?”

    “OK.”

    “And I do not want you to ask me to have a nice day, understand?”

    “I understand.”

    “OK,” said Zaphod, tensing himself, “open now.”

    The door slid open quietly. Zaphod slipped quietly through. The door closed quietly behind him.

    “Is that the way you like it, Mr Beeblebrox?” said the door out loud.

    “I want you to imagine,” said Zaphod to the group of white robots who swung round to stare at him at that point, “that I have an extremely powerful Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in my hand.”

    There was an immensely cold and savage silence. The robots regarded him with hideously dead eyes. They stood very still. There was something intensely macabre about their appearance, especially to Zaphod who had never seen one before or even known anything about them. The Krikkit Wars belonged to the ancient past of the Galaxy, and Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him, and since his teaching computer had been an integral part of this plot it had eventually had all its history circuits wiped and replaced with an entirely different set of ideas which had then resulted in it being scrapped and sent to a home for Degenerate Cybermats, whither it was followed by the girl who had inadvertently fallen deeply in love with the unfortunate machine, with the result (a) that Zaphod never got near her and (b) that he missed out on a period of ancient history that would have been of inestimable value to him at this moment.

    He stared at them in shock.

    It was impossible to explain why, but their smooth and sleek white bodies seemed to be the utter embodiment of clean, clinical evil. From their hideously dead eyes to their powerful lifeless feet, they were clearly the calculated product of a mind that wanted simply to kill. Zaphod gulped in cold fear.

    They had been dismantling part of the rear bridge wall, and had forced a passage through some of the vital innards of the ship. Through the tangled wreckage Zaphod could see, with a further and worse sense of shock, that they were tunnelling towards the very heart of the ship, the heart of the Improbability Drive that had been so mysteriously created out of thin air, the Heart of Gold itself.

    The robot closest to him was regarding him in such a way as to suggest that it was measuring every smallest particle of his body, mind and capability. And when it spoke, what it said seemed to bear this impression out. Before going on to what it actually said, it is worth recording at this point that Zaphod was the first living organic being to hear one of these creatures speak for something over ten billion years. If he had paid more attention to his ancient history lessons and less to his organic being, he might have been more impressed by this honour.

    The robot's voice was like its body, cold, sleek and lifeless. It had almost a cultured rasp to it. It sounded as ancient as it was.

    It said, “You do have a Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in your hand.”

    Zaphod didn't know what it meant for a moment, but then he glanced down at his own hand and was relieved to see that what he had found clipped to a wall bracket was indeed what he had thought it was.

    “Yeah,” he said in a kind of relieved sneer, which is quite tricky, “well, I wouldn't want to overtax your imagination, robot.” For a while nobody said anything, and Zaphod realized that the robots were obviously not here to make conversation, and that it was up to him.

    “I can't help noticing that you have parked your ship,” he said with a nod of one of his heads in the appropriate direction, “through mine.”

    There was no denying this. Without regard for any kind of proper dimensional behaviour they had simply materialized their ship precisely where they wanted it to be, which meant that it was simply locked through the Heart of Gold as if they were nothing more than two combs.

    Again, they made no response to this, and Zaphod wondered if the conversation would gather any momentum if he phrased his part of it in the form of questions.

    “... haven't you?” he added.

    “Yes,” replied the robot.”

    “Er, OK,” said Zaphod. “So what are you cats doing here?”

    Silence.

    “Robots,” said Zaphod, “what are you robots doing here?”

    “We have come,” rasped the robot, “for the Gold of the Bail.”

    Zaphod nodded. He waggled his gun to invite further elaboration. The robot seemed to understand this.

    “The Gold Bail is part of the Key we seek,” continued the robot, “to release our Masters from Krikkit.”

    Zaphod nodded again. He waggled his gun again.

    “The Key,” continued the robot simply, “was disintegrated in time and space. The Golden Bail is embedded in the device which drives your ship. It will be reconstituted in the Key. Our Masters shall be released.

    The Universal Readjustment will continue.” Zaphod nodded again.

    “What are you talking about?” he said.

    A slightly pained expression seemed to cross the robot's totally expressionless face. He seemed to be finding the conversation depressing.

    “Obliteration,” it said. “We seek the Key,” it repeated, “we already have the Wooden Pillar, the Steel Pillar and the Perspex Pillar. In a moment we will have the Gold Bail...”

    “No you won't.”

    “We will,” stated the robot.

    “No you won't. It makes my ship work.”

    “In a moment,” repeated the robot patiently, “we will have the Gold Bail...”

    “You will not,” said Zaphod.

    “And then we must go,” said the robot, in all seriousness, “to a party.”

    “Oh,” said Zaphod, startled. “Can I come?”

    “No,” said the robot. “We are going to shoot you.”

    “Oh yeah?” said Zaphod, waggling his gun.

    “Yes,” said the robot, and they shot him.

    Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.   12  "Shhh,” said Slartibartfast. “Listen and watch.”

    Night had now fallen on ancient Krikkit. The sky was dark and empty.

    The only light was coming from the nearby town, from which pleasant convivial sounds were drifting quietly on the breeze. They stood beneath a tree from which heady fragrances wafted around them. Arthur squatted and felt the Informational Illusion of the soil and the grass. He ran it through his fingers. The soil seemed heavy and rich, the grass strong. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was a thoroughly delightful place in all respects.

    The sky was, however, extremely blank and seemed to Arthur to cast a certain chill over the otherwise idyllic, if currently invisible, landscape.

    Still, he supposed, it's a question of what you're used to.

    He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. Slartibartfast was quietly directing his attention to something down the other side of the hill. He looked and could just see some faint lights dancing and waving, and moving slowly in their direction.

    As they came nearer, sounds became audible too, and soon the dim lights and noises resolved themselves into a small group of people who were walking home across the hill towards the town.

    They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns which made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex.

    “The Masters of Krikkit,” breathed Slartibartfast in sepulchral tones.

    Coming, as it did, so hard upon the heels of his own thoughts about Essex this remark caused Arthur a moment's confusion. Then the logic of the situation imposed itself on his scattered mind, and he discovered that he still didn't understand what the old man meant.

    “What?” he said.

    “The Masters of Krikkit,” said Slartibartfast again, and if his breathing had been sepulchral before, this time he sounded like someone in Hades with bronchitis.

    Arthur peered at the group and tried to make sense of what little information he had at his disposal at this point.

    The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise they appeared remarkably pleasant; a little whimsical perhaps, one wouldn't necessarily want to spend a long coach journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough. So why all this rasping lungwork from Slartibartfast which would seem more appropriate to a radio commercial for one of those nasty films about chainsaw operators taking their work home with them?

    Then, this Krikkit angle was a tough one, too. He hadn't quite fathomed the connection between what he knew as cricket, and what...

    Slartibartfast interrupted his train of thought at this point as if sensing what was going through his mind.

    “The game you know as cricket,” he said, and his voice still seemed to be wandering lost in subterranean passages, “is just one of those curious freaks of racial memory which can keep images alive in the mind aeons after their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Of all the races on the Galaxy, only the English could possibly revive the memory of the most horrific wars ever to sunder the Universe and transform it into what I'm afraid is generally regarded as an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game.

    “Rather fond of it myself,” he added, “but in most people's eyes you have been inadvertently guilty of the most grotesque bad taste. Particularly the bit about the little red ball hitting the wicket, that's very nasty.”

    “Um,” said Arthur with a reflective frown to indicate that his cognitive synapses were coping with this as best as they could, “um.”

    “And these,” said Slartibartfast, slipping back into crypt guttural and indicating the group of Krikkit men who had now walked past them, “are the ones who started it all, and it will start tonight. Come, we will follow, and see why.”

    They slipped out from underneath the tree, and followed the cheery party along the dark hill path. Their natural instinct was to tread quietly and stealthily in pursuit of their quarry, though, as they were simply walking through a recorded Informational Illusion, they could as easily have been wearing euphoniums and woad for all the notice their quarry would have taken of them.

    Arthur noticed that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad which would have netted McCartney Kent and Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire.

    “You must surely know,” said Slartibartfast to Ford, “what it is that is about to happen?”

    “Me?” said Ford. “No.”

    “Did you not learn Ancient Galactic History when you were a child?”

    “I was in the cybercubicle behind Zaphod,” said Ford, “it was very distracting. Which isn't to say that I didn't learn some pretty stunning things.”

    At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party were singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not “under the moon” or “beneath the stars” but “above the grass”, which struck Arthur a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewildering black sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.

    “No,” said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, “the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves `We are alone in the Universe.' They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank, During the day there is the sun, but you can't look directly at that so they don't.

    They are hardly aware of the sky. It's as if they had a blind spot which extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

    “You see, the reason why they have never thought `We are alone in the Universe' is that until tonight they don't know about the Universe. Until tonight.”

    He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him.

    “Imagine,” he said, “never even thinking `We are alone' simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there's any other way to be.”

    He moved on again.

    “I'm afraid this is going to be a little unnerving,” he added.

    As he spoke, they became aware of a very thin roaring scream high up in the sightless sky above them. They glanced upwards in alarm, but for a moment or two could see nothing.

    Then Arthur noticed that the people in the party in front of them had heard the noise, but that none of them seemed to know what to so with it. They were glancing around themselves in consternation, left, right, forwards, backwards, even at the ground. It never occurred to them to look upwards.

    The profoundness of the shock and horror they emanated a few moments later when the burning wreckage of a spaceship came hurtling and screaming out of the sky and crashed about half a mile from where they were standing was something that you had to be there to experience.

    Some speak of the Heart of Gold in hushed tones, some of the Starship Bistromath.

    Many speak of the legendary and gigantic Starship Titanic, a majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artifactovol some hundreds of years ago now, and with good reason.

    It was sensationally beautiful, staggeringly huge, and more pleasantly equipped than any ship in what now remains of history (see note below on the Campaign for Real Time) but it had the misfortune to be built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood.

    The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a prototype Improbability Field into it, which was meant, supposedly, to ensure that it was Infinitely Improbable that anything would ever go wrong with any part of the ship.

    They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately.

    The Starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale amongst the laserlit tracery of its construction gantries, a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message — an SOS — before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.

    However, the same event which saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proven that more people watched the tri-d coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest achievement ever in the science of audience research.

    Another spectacular media event of that time was the supernova which the star Ysllodins underwent a few hours later. Ysllodins is the star around which most of the Galaxy's major insurance underwriters live, or rather lived.

    But whilst these spaceships, and other great ones which come to mind, such as the Galactic Fleet Battleships — the GSS Daring, the GSS Audacy and the GSS Suicidal Insanity — are all spoken of with awe, pride, enthusiasm, affection, admiration, regret, jealousy, resentment, in fact most of the better known emotions, the one which regularly commands the most actual astonishment was Krikkit One, the first spaceship ever built by the people of Krikkit. This is not because it was a wonderful ship. It wasn't.

    It was a crazy piece of near junk. It looked as if it had been knocked up in somebody's backyard, and this was in fact precisely where it had been knocked up. The astonishing thing about the ship was not that it was one well (it wasn't) but that it was done at all. The period of time which had elapsed between the moment that the people of Krikkit had discovered that there was such a thing as space and the launching of their first spaceship was almost exactly a year.

    Ford Prefect was extremely grateful, as he strapped himself in, that this was just another Informational Illusion, and that he was therefore completely safe. In real life it wasn't a ship he would have set foot in for all the rice wine in China. “Extremely rickety” was one phrase which sprang to mind, and “Please may I get out?” was another.

    “This is going to fly?” said Arthur, giving gaunt looks, at the lashedtogether pipework and wiring which festooned the cramped interior of the ship.

    Slartibartfast assured him that it would, that they were perfectly safe and that it was all going to be extremely instructive and not a little harrowing.

    Ford and Arthur decided just to relax and be harrowed.

    “Why not,” said Ford, “go mad?”

    In front of them and, of course, totally unaware of their presence for the very good reason that they weren't actually there, were the three pilots.

    They had also constructed the ship. They had been on the hill path that night singing wholesome heartwarming songs. Their brains had been very slightly turned by the nearby crash of the alien spaceship. They had spent weeks stripping every tiniest last secret out of the wreckage of that burnt-up spaceship, all the while singing lilting spaceshipstripping ditties. They had then built their own ship and this was it. This was their ship, and they were currently singing a little song about that too, expressing the twin joys of achievement and ownership. The chorus was a little poignant, and told of their sorrow that their work had kept them such long hours in the garage, away from the company of their wives and children, who had missed them terribly but had kept them cheerful by bringing them continual stories of how nicely the puppy was growing up.

    Pow, they took off.

    They roared into the sky like a ship that knew precisely what it was doing.

    “No way,” said Ford a while later after they had recovered from the shock of acceleration, and were climbing up out of the planet's atmosphere, “no way,” he repeated, “does anyone design and build a ship like this in a year, no matter how motivated. I don't believe it. Prove it to me and I still won't believe it.” He shook his head thoughtfully and gazed out of a tiny port at the nothingness outside it.

    The trip passed uneventfully for a while, and Slartibartfast fastwound them through it.

    Very quickly, therefore, they arrived at the inner perimeter of the hollow, spherical Dust Cloud which surrounded their sun and home planet, occupying, as it were, the next orbit out.

    It was more as if there was a gradual change in the texture and consistency of space. The darkness seemed now to thrum and ripple past them. It was a very cold darkness, a very blank and heavy darkness, it was the darkness of the night sky of Krikkit.

    The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur's heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots which hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical knowledge of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done.

    The darkness of the cloud buffeted at the ship. Inside was the silence of history. Their historic mission was to find out if there was anything or anywhere on the other side of the sky, from which the wrecked spaceship could have come, another world maybe, strange and incomprehensible though this thought was to the enclosed minds of those who had lived beneath the sky of Krikkit.

    History was gathering itself to deliver another blow.

    Still the darkness thrummed at them, the blank enclosing darkness. It seemed closer and closer, thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier. And suddenly it was gone.

    They flew out of the cloud.

    They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.

    For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.

    “It'll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

    On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.   13  "So you see,” said Slartibartfast, slowly stirring his artificially constructed coffee, and thereby also stirring the whirlpool interfaces between real and unreal numbers, between the interactive perceptions of mind and Universe, and thus generating the restructured matrices of implicitly enfolded subjectivity which allowed his ship to reshape the very concept of time and space, “how it is.”

    “Yes,” said Arthur.

    “Yes,” said Ford.

    “What do I do,” said Arthur, “with this piece of chicken?”

    Slartibartfast glanced at him gravely.

    “Toy with it,” he said, “toy with it.”

    He demonstrated with his own piece.

    Arthur did so, and felt the slight tingle of a mathematical function thrilling through the chicken leg as it moved fourdimensionally through what Slartibartfast had assured him was five-dimensional space.

    “Overnight,” said Slartibartfast, “the whole population of Krikkit was transformed from being charming, delightful, intelligent...”

    “... if whimsical...” interpolated Arthur.

    “... ordinary people,” said Slartibartfast, “into charming, delightful, intelligent...”

    “... whimsical...”

    “... manic xenophobes. The idea of a Universe didn't fit into their world picture, so to speak. They simply couldn't cope with it. And so, charmingly, delightfully, intelligently, whimsically if you like, they decided to destroy it. What's the matter now?”

    “I don't like the wine very much,” said Arthur sniffing it.

    “Well, send it back. It's all part of the mathematics of it.”

    Arthur did so. He didn't like the topography of the waiter's smile, but he'd never liked graphs anyway.

    “Where are we going?” said Ford.

    “Back to the Room of Informational Illusions,” said Slartibartfast, rising and patting his mouth with the mathematical representation of a paper napkin, “for the second half."   14  "The people of Krikkit,” said His High Judgmental Supremacy, Judiciary Pag, LIVR (the Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed) Chairman of the Board of Judges at the Krikkit War Crimes Trial, “are, well, you know, they're just a bunch of real sweet guys, you know, who just happen to want to kill everybody. Hell, I feel the same way some mornings. Shit.

    “OK,” he continued, swinging his feet up on to the bench in front of him and pausing a moment to pick a thread off his Ceremonial Beach Loafers, “so you wouldn't necessarily want to share a Galaxy with these guys.”

    This was true.

    The Krikkit attack on the Galaxy had been stunning. Thousands and thousands of huge Krikkit warships had leapt suddenly out of hyperspace and simultaneously attacked thousands and thousands of major worlds, first seizing vital material supplies for building the next wave, and then calmly zapping those worlds out of existence.

    The Galaxy, which had been enjoying a period of unusual peace and prosperity at the time, reeled like a man getting mugged in a meadow.

    “I mean,” continued Judiciary Pag, gazing round the ultra-modern (this was ten billion years ago, when “ultra-modern” meant lots of stainless steel and brushed concrete) and huge courtroom, “these guys are just obsessed.”

    This too was true, and is the only explanation anyone has yet managed to come up with for the unimaginable speed with which the people of Krikkit had pursued their new and absolute purpose — the destruction of everything that wasn't Krikkit.

    It is also the only explanation for their bewildering sudden grasp of all the hypertechnology involved in building their thousands of spaceships, and their millions of lethal white robots.

    These had really struck terror into the hearts of everyone who had encountered them — in most cases, however, the terror was extremely short-lived, as was the person experiencing the terror. They were savage, single-minded flying battle machines. They wielded formidable multifunctional battleclubs which, brandished one way, would knock down buildings and, brandished another way, fired blistering Omni-Destructo Zap Rays and, brandished a third way, launched a hideous arsenal of grenades, ranging from minor incendiary devices to Maxi-Slorta Hypernuclear Devices which could take out a major sun. Simply striking the grenades with the battleclubs simultaneously primed them, and launched them with phenomenal accuracy over distances ranging from mere yards to hundreds of thousands of miles.

    “OK,” said Judiciary Pag again, “so we won.” He paused and chewed a little gum. “We won,” he repeated, “but that's no big deal. I mean a medium-sized galaxy against one little world, and how long did it take us? Clerk of the Court?”

    “M'lud?” said the severe little man in black, rising.

    “How long, kiddo?”

    “It is a trifle difficult, m'lud, to be precise in this matter. Time and distance...”

    “Relax, guy, be vague.”

    “I hardly like to be vague, m'lud, over such a...”

    “Bite the bullet and be it.”

    The Clerk of the Court blinked at him. It was clear that like most of the Galactic legal profession he found Judiciary Pag (or Zipo Bibrok 5 / 108, as his private name was known, inexplicably, to be) a rather distressing figure. He was clearly a bounder and a cad. He seemed to think that the fact that he was the possessor of the finest legal mind ever discovered gave him the right to behave exactly as he liked, and unfortunately he appeared to be right.

    “Er, well, m'lud, very approximately, two thousand years,” the Clerk murmured unhappily.

    “And how many guys zilched out?”

    “Two grillion, m'lud.” The Clerk sat down. A hydrospectic photo of him at this point would have revealed that he was steaming slightly.

    Judiciary Pag gazed once more around the courtroom, wherein were assembled hundreds of the very highest officials of the entire Galactic administration, all in their ceremonial uniforms or bodies, depending on metabolism and custom. Behind a wall of Zap-Proof Crystal stood a representative group of the people of Krikkit, looking with calm, polite loathing at all the aliens gathered to pass judgment on them. This was the most momentous occasion in legal history, and Judiciary Pag knew it.

    He took out his chewing gum and stuck it under his chair.

    “That's a whole lotta stiffs,” he said quietly.

    The grim silence in the courtroom seemed in accord with this view.

    “So, like I said, these are a bunch of really sweet guys, but you wouldn't want to share a Galaxy with them, not if they're just gonna keep at it, not if they're not gonna learn to relax a little. I mean it's just gonna be continual nervous time, isn't it, right? Pow, pow, pow, when are they next coming at us? Peaceful coexistence is just right out, right? Get me some water somebody, thank you.”

    He sat back and sipped reflectively.

    “OK,” he said, “hear me, hear me. It's, like, these guys, you know, are entitled to their own view of the Universe. And according to their view, which the Universe forced on them, right, they did right. Sounds crazy, but I think you'll agree. They believe in...”

    He consulted a piece of paper which he found in the back pocket of his Judicial jeans.

    “They believe in `peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life, and the obliteration of all other life forms'.”

    He shrugged.

    “I've heard a lot worse,” he said.

    He scratched his crotch reflectively.

    “Freeeow,” he said. He took another sip of water, then held it up to the light and frowned at it. He twisted it round.

    “Hey, is there something in this water?” he said.

    “Er, no, m'lud,” said the Court Usher who had brought it to him, rather nervously.

    “Then take it away,” snapped Judiciary Pag, “and put something in it.

    I got an idea.”

    He pushed away the glass and leaned forward. “Hear me, hear me,” he said.

    The solution was brilliant, and went like this:

    The planet of Krikkit was to be enclosed for perpetuity in an envelope of Slo-Time, inside which life would continue almost infinitely slowly.

    All light would be deflected round the envelope so that it would remain invisible and impenetrable. Escape from the envelope would be utterly impossible unless it were locked from the outside.

    When the rest of the Universe came to its final end, when the whole of creation reached its dying fall (this was all, of course, in the days before it was known that the end of the Universe would be a spectacular catering venture) and life and matter ceased to exist, then the planet of Krikkit and its sun would emerge from its Slo-Time envelope and continue a solitary existence, such as it craved, in the twilight of the Universal void.

    The Lock would be on an asteroid which would slowly orbit the envelope.

    The key would be the symbol of the Galaxy — the Wikkit Gate.

    By the time the applause in the court had died down, Judiciary Pag was already in the Sens-O-Shower with a rather nice member of the jury that he'd slipped a note to half an hour earlier.   15  Two months later, Zipo Bibrok 5 / 108 had cut the bottoms off his Galactic State jeans, and was spending part of the enormous fee his judgments commanded lying on a jewelled beach having Essence of Qualactin rubbed into his back by the same rather nice member of the jury. She was a Soolfinian girl from beyond the Cloudworlds of Yaga. She had skin like lemon silk and was very interested in legal bodies.

    “Did you hear the news?” she said.

    “Weeeeelaaaaah!” said Zipo Bibrok 5 / 108, and you would have had to have been there to know exactly why he said this. None of this was on the tape of Informational Illusions, and is all based on hearsay.

    “No,” he added, when the thing that had made him say “Weeeeelaaaaah” had stopped happening. He moved his body round slightly to catch the first rays of the third and greatest of primeval Vod's three suns which was now creeping over the ludicrously beautiful horizon, and the sky now glittered with some of the greatest tanning power ever known.

    A fragrant breeze wandered up from the quiet sea, trailed along the beach, and drifted back to sea again, wondering where to go next. On a mad impulse it went up to the beach again. It drifted back to sea. “I hope it isn't good news,” muttered Zipo Bibrok 5 / 108, “'cos I don't think I could bear it.”

    “Your Krikkit judgment was carried out today,” said the girl sumptuously. There was no need to say such a straightforward thing sumptuously, but she went ahead and did it anyway because it was that sort of day. “I heard it on the radio,” she said, “when I went back to the ship for the oil.”

    “Uhuh,” muttered Zipo and rested his head back on the jewelled sand.

    “Something happened,” she said.

    “Mmmm?”

    “Just after the Slo-Time envelope was locked,” she said, and paused a moment from rubbing in the Essence of Qualactin, “a Krikkit warship which had been missing presumed destroyed turned out to be just missing after all. It appeared and tried to seize the Key.”

    Zipo sat up sharply.

    “Hey, what?” he said.

    “it's all right,” she said in a voice which would have calmed the Big Bang down. “Apparently there was a short battle. The Key and the warship were disintegrated and blasted into the space-time continuum.

    Apparently they are lost for ever.”

    She smiled, and ran a little more Essence of Qualactin on to her fingertips. He relaxed and lay back down.

    “Do what you did a moment or two ago,” he murmured.

    “That?” she said.

    “No, no,” he said, “that.”

    She tried again.

    “That?” she asked.

    “Weeeeelaaaaah!”

    Again, you had to be there.

    The fragrant breeze drifted up from the sea again.

    A magician wandered along the beach, but no one needed him.   16  "Nothing is lost for ever,” said Slartibartfast, his face flickering redly in the light of the candle which the robot waiter was trying to take away, “except for the Cathedral of Chalesm.”

    “The what?” said Arthur with a start.

    “The Cathedral of Chalesm,” repeated Slartibartfast. “It was during the course of my researches at the Campaign for Real Time that I...”

    “The what?” said Arthur again.

    The old man paused and gathered his thoughts, for what he hoped would be one last onslaught on his story. The robot waiter moved through the space-time matrices in a way which spectacularly combined the surly with the obsequious, made a snatch for the candle and got it. They had had the bill, had argued convincingly about who had had the cannelloni and how many bottles of wine they had had, and, as Arthur had been dimly aware, had thereby successfully manoeuvred the ship out of subjective space and into a parking orbit round a strange planet. The waiter was now anxious to complete his part of the charade and clear the bistro.

    “All will become clear,” said Slartibartfast.

    “When?”

    “In a minute. Listen. The time streams are now very polluted. There's a lot of muck floating about in them, flotsam and jetsam, and more and more of it is now being regurgitated into the physical world. Eddies in the space-time continuum, you see.”

    “So I hear,” said Arthur.

    “Look, where are we going?” said Ford, pushing his chair back from the table with impatience. “Because I'm eager to get there.”

    “We are going,” said Slartibartfast in a slow, measured voice, “to try to prevent the war robots of Krikkit from regaining the whole of the Key they need to unlock the planet of Krikkit from the Slo-Time envelope and release the rest of their army and their mad Masters.”

    “It's just,” said Ford, “that you mentioned a party.”

    “I did,” said Slartibartfast, and hung his head.

    He realized that it had been a mistake, because the idea seemed to exercise a strange and unhealthy fascination on the mind of Ford Prefect.

    The more that Slartibartfast unravelled the dark and tragic story of Krikkit and its people, the more Ford Prefect wanted to drink a lot and dance with girls.

    The old man felt that he should not have mentioned the party until he absolutely had to. But there it was, the fact was out, and Ford Prefect had attached himself to it the way an Arcturan Megaleach attaches itself to its victim before biting his head off and making off with his spaceship.

    “When,” said Ford eagerly, “do we get there?”

    “When I've finished telling you why we have to go there.”

    “I know why I'm going,” said Ford, and leaned back, sticking his hands behind his head. He gave one of his smiles which made people twitch.

    Slartibartfast had hoped for an easy retirement.

    He had been planning to learn to play the octraventral heebiephone — a pleasantly futile task, he knew, because he had the wrong number of mouths.

    He had also been planning to write an eccentric and relentlessly inaccurate monograph on the subject of equatorial fjords in order to set the record wrong about one or two matters he saw as important.

    Instead, he had somehow got talked into doing some part-time work for the Campaign for Real Time and had started to take it all seriously for the first time in his life. As a result he now found himself spending his fast-declining years combating evil and trying to save the Galaxy.

    He found it exhausting work and sighed heavily.

    “Listen,” he said, “at Camtim...”

    “What?” said Arthur.

    “The Campaign for Real Time, which I will tell you about later. I noticed that five pieces of jetsam which had in relatively recent times plopped back into existence seemed to correspond to the five pieces of the missing Key. Only two I could trace exactly — the Wooden Pillar, which appeared on your planet, and the Silver Bail. It seems to be at some sort of party.

    We must go there to retrieve it before the Krikkit robots find it, or who knows what may hap?”

    “No,” said Ford firmly. “We must go to the party in order to drink a lot and dance with girls.”

    “But haven't you understood everything I...?”

    “Yes,” said Ford, with a sudden and unexpected fierceness, “I've understood it all perfectly well. That's why I want to have as many drinks and dance with as many girls as possible while there are still any left. If everything you've shown us is true...”

    “True? Of course it's true.”

    “... then we don't stand a whelk's chance in a supernova.”

    “A what?” said Arthur sharply again. He had been following the conversation doggedly up to this point, and was keen not to lose the thread now.

    “A whelk's chance in a supernova,” repeated Ford without losing momentum. “The...”

    “What's a whelk got to do with a supernova?” said Arthur.

    “It doesn't,” said Ford levelly, “stand a chance in one.”

    He paused to see if the matter was now cleared up. The freshly puzzled looks clambering across Arthur's face told him that it wasn't.

    “A supernova,” said Ford as quickly and as clearly as he could, “is a star which explodes at almost half the speed of light and burns with the brightness of a billion suns and then collapses as a super-heavy neutron star. It's a star which burns up other stars, got it? Nothing stands a chance in a supernova.”

    “I see,” said Arthur.

    “The...”

    “So why a whelk particularly?”

    “Why not a whelk? Doesn't matter.”

    Arthur accepted this, and Ford continued, picking up his early fierce momentum as best he could.

    “The point is,” he said, “that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur — particularly and especially Arthur — are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like.”

    Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.

    “...” is as far as he got.

    “We're not obsessed by anything, you see,” insisted Ford.

    “...”

    “And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win.”

    “I care about lots of things,” said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

    “Such as?”

    “Well,” said the old man, “life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.”

    “Would you die for them?”

    “Fjords?” blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. “No.”

    “Well then.”

    “Wouldn't see the point, to be honest.”

    “And I still can't see the connection,” said Arthur, “with whelks.”

    Ford could feel the conversation slipping out of his control, and refused to be sidetracked by anything at this point.

    “The point is,” he hissed, “that we are not obsessive people, and we don't stand a chance against...”

    “Except for your sudden obsession with whelks,” pursued Arthur, “which I still haven't understood.”

    “Will you please leave whelks out of it?”

    “I will if you will,” said Arthur. “You brought the subject up.”

    “It was an error,” said Ford, “forget them. The point is this.”

    He leant forward and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers.

    “What was I talking about?” he said wearily.

    “Let's just go down to the party,” said Slartibartfast, “for whatever reason.” He stood up, shaking his head.

    “I think that's what I was trying to say,” said Ford.

    For some unexplained reason, the teleport cubicles were in the bathroom.   17  Time travel is increasingly regarded as a menace. History is being polluted.

    The Encyclopedia Galactica has much to say on the theory and practice of time travel, most of which is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't spent at least four lifetimes studying advanced hypermathematics, and since it was impossible to do this before time travel was invented, there is a certain amount of confusion as to how the idea was arrived at in the first place. One rationalization of this problem states that time travel was, by its very nature, discovered simultaneously at all periods of history, but this is clearly bunk.

    The trouble is that a lot of history is now quite clearly bunk as well.

    Here is an example. It may not seem to be an important one to some people, but to others it is crucial. It is certainly significant in that it was the single event which caused the Campaign for Real Time to be set up in the first place (or is it last? It depends which way round you see history as happening, and this too is now an increasingly vexed question).

    There is, or was, a poet. His name was Lallafa, and he wrote what are widely regarded throughout the Galaxy as being the finest poems in existence, the Songs of the Long Land.

    They are/were unspeakably wonderful. That is to say, you couldn't speak very much of them at once without being so overcome with emotion, truth and a sense of wholeness and oneness of things that you wouldn't pretty soon need a brisk walk round the block, possibly pausing at a bar on the way back for a quick glass of perspective and soda. They were that good.

    Lallafa had lived in the forests of the Long Lands of Effa. He lived there, and he wrote his poems there. He wrote them on pages made of dried habra leaves, without the benefit of education or correcting fluid. He wrote about the light in the forest and what he thought about that. He wrote about the darkness in the forest, and what he thought about that.

    He wrote about the girl who had left him and precisely what he thought about that.

    Long after his death his poems were found and wondered over. News of them spread like morning sunlight. For centuries they illuminated and watered the lives of many people whose lives might otherwise have been darker and drier.

    Then, shortly after the invention of time travel, some major correcting fluid manufacturers wondered whether his poems might have been better still if he had had access to some high-quality correcting fluid, and whether he might be persuaded to say a few words on that effect.

    They travelled the time waves, they found him, they explained the situation — with some difficulty — to him, and did indeed persuade him. In fact they persuaded him to such an effect that he became extremely rich at their hands, and the girl about whom he was otherwise destined to write which such precision never got around to leaving him, and in fact they moved out of the forest to a rather nice pad in town and he frequently commuted to the future to do chat shows, on which he sparkled wittily.

    He never got around to writing the poems, of course, which was a problem, but an easily solved one. The manufacturers of correcting fluid simply packed him off for a week somewhere with a copy of a later edition of his book and a stack of dried habra leaves to copy them out on to, making the odd deliberate mistake and correction on the way.

    Many people now say that the poems are suddenly worthless. Others argue that they are exactly the same as they always were, so what's changed? The first people say that that isn't the point. They aren't quite sure what the point is, but they are quite sure that that isn't it.

    They set up the Campaign for Real Time to try to stop this sort of thing going on. Their case was considerably strengthened by the fact that a week after they had set themselves up, news broke that not only had the great Cathedral of Chalesm been pulled down in order to build a new ion refinery, but that the construction of the refinery had taken so long, and had had to extend so far back into the past in order to allow ion production to start on time, that the Cathedral of Chalesm had now never been built in the first place. Picture postcards of the cathedral suddenly became immensely valuable.

    So a lot of history is now gone for ever. The Campaign for Real Timers claim that just as easy travel eroded the differences between one country and another, and between one world and another, so time travel is now eroding the differences between one age and another. “The past,” they say, “is now truly like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there."   18  Arthur materialized, and did so with all the customary staggering about and clasping at his throat, heart and various limbs which he still indulged himself in whenever he made any of these hateful and painful materializations that he was determined not to let himself get used to.

    He looked around for the others.

    They weren't there.

    He looked around for the others again.

    They still weren't there.

    He closed his eyes.

    He opened them

    He looked around for the others.

    They obstinately persisted in their absence.

    He closed his eyes again, preparatory to making this completely futile exercise once more, and because it was only then, whilst his eyes were closed, that his brain began to register what his eyes had been looking at whilst they were open, a puzzled frown crept across his face.

    So he opened his eyes again to check his facts and the frown stayed put.

    If anything, it intensified, and got a good firm grip. If this was a party it was a very bad one, so bad, in fact, that everybody else had left.

    He abandoned this line of thought as futile. Obviously this wasn't a party. It was a cave, or a labyrinth, or a tunnel of something — there was insufficient light to tell. All was darkness, a damp shiny darkness.

    The only sounds were the echoes of his own breathing, which sounded worried. He coughed very slightly, and then had to listen to the thin ghostly echo of his cough trailing away amongst winding corridors and sightless chambers, as of some great labyrinth, and eventually returning to him via the same unseen corridors, as if to say... “Yes?”

    This happened to every slightest noise he made, and it unnerved him.

    He tried to hum a cheery tune, but by the time it returned to him it was a hollow dirge and he stopped.

    His mind was suddenly full of images from the story that Slartibartfast had been telling him. He half-expected suddenly to see lethal white robots step silently from the shadows and kill him. He caught his breath.

    They didn't. He let it go again. He didn't know what he did expect.

    Someone or something, however, seemed to be expecting him, for at that moment there lit up suddenly in the dark distance an eerie green neon sign.

    It said, silently:

    You have been Diverted

    The sign flicked off again, in a way which Arthur was not at all certain he liked. It flicked off with a sort of contemptuous flourish. Arthur then tried to assure himself that this was just a ridiculous trick of his imagination.

    A neon sign is either on or off, depending on whether it has electricity running through it or not. There was no way, he told himself, that it could possibly effect the transition from one state to the other with a contemptuous flourish. He hugged himself tightly in his dressing gown and shivered, nevertheless.

    The neon sign in the depths now suddenly lit up, bafflingly, with just three dots and a comma. Like this:

    Only in green neon.

    It was trying, Arthur realized after staring at this perplexedly for a second or two, to indicate that there was more to come, that the sentence was not complete. Trying with almost superhuman pedantry, he reflected. Or at least, inhuman pedantry.

    The sentence then completed itself with these two words:

    Arthur Dent.

    He reeled. He steadied himself to have another clear look at it. It still said Arthur Dent, so he reeled again.

    Once again, the sign flicked off, and left him blinking in the darkness with just the dim red image of his name jumping on his retina. Welcome, the sign now suddenly said.

    After a moment, it added:

    I Don't Think.

    The stone-cold fear which had been hovering about Arthur all this time, waiting for its moment, recognized that its moment had now come and pounced on him. He tried to fight it off. He dropped into a kind of alert crouch that he had once seen somebody do on television, but it must have been someone with stronger knees. He peered huntedly into the darkness.

    “Er, hello?” he said. He cleared his throat and said it again, more loudly and without the “er”. At some distance down the corridor it seemed suddenly as if somebody started to beat on a bass drum.

    He listened to it for a few seconds and realized that it was just his heart beating.

    He listened for a few seconds more and realized that it wasn't his heart beating, it was somebody down the corridor beating on a bass drum.

    Beads of sweat formed on his brow, tensed themselves, and leapt off.

    He put a hand out on the floor to steady his alert crouch, which wasn't holding up very well. The sign changed itself again. It said:

    Do Not be Alarmed.

    After a pause, it added:

    Be Very Very Frightened, Arthur Dent.

    Once again it flicked off. Once again it left him in darkness. His eyes seemed to be popping out of his head. He wasn't certain if this was because they were trying to see more clearly, or if they simply wanted to leave at this point.

    “Hello?” he said again, this time trying to put a note of rugged and aggressive self-assertion into it. “Is anyone there?”

    There was no reply, nothing.

    This unnerved Arthur Dent even more than a reply would have done, and he began to back away from the scary nothingness. And the more he backed away, the more scared he became. After a while he realized that the reason for this was because of all the films he had seen in which the hero backs further and further away from some imagined terror in front of him, only to bump into it coming up from behind.

    Just then it suddenly occurred to him to turn round rather quickly.

    There was nothing there.

    Just blackness.

    This really unnerved him, and he started to back away from that, back the way he had come.

    After doing this for a short while it suddenly occurred to him that he was now backing towards whatever it was he had been backing away from in the first place.

    This, he couldn't help thinking, must be a foolish thing to do. He decided he would be better off backing the way he had first been backing, and turned around again. It turned out at this point that his second impulse had been the correct one, because there was an indescribably hideous monster standing quietly behind him. Arthur yawed wildly as his skin tried to jump one way and his skeleton the other, whilst his brain tried to work out which of his ears it most wanted to crawl out of.

    “Bet you weren't expecting to see me again,” said the monster, which Arthur couldn't help thinking was a strange remark for it to make, seeing as he had never met the creature before. He could tell that he hadn't met the creature before from the simple fact that he was able to sleep at nights. It was... it was... it was...

    Arthur blinked at it. It stood very still. It did look a little familiar.

    A terrible cold calm came over him as he realized that what he was looking at was a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly.

    He wondered why anybody would be showing him a six-foot-high hologram of a housefly at this time. He wondered whose voice he had heard.

    It was a terribly realistic hologram.

    It vanished.

    “Or perhaps you remember me better,” said the voice suddenly, and it was a deep, hollow malevolent voice which sounded like molten tar glurping out of a drum with evil on its mind, “as the rabbit.”

    With a sudden ping, there was a rabbit there in the black labyrinth with him, a huge, monstrously, hideously soft and lovable rabbit — an image again, but one on which every single soft and lovable hair seemed like a real and single thing growing in its soft and lovable coat. Arthur was startled to see his own reflection in its soft and lovable unblinking and extremely huge brown eyes.

    “Born in darkness,” rumbled the voice, “raised in darkness. One morning I poked my head for the first time into the bright new world and got it split open by what felt suspiciously like some primitive instrument made of flint.

    “Made by you, Arthur Dent, and wielded by you. Rather hard as I recall.

    “You turned my skin into a bag for keeping interesting stones in. I happen to know that because in my next life I came back as a fly again and you swatted me. Again. Only this time you swatted me with the bag you'd made of my previous skin.

    “Arthur Dent, you are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless.”

    The voice paused whilst Arthur gawped. “I see you have lost the bag,” said the voice. “Probably got bored with it, did you?”

    Arthur shook his head helplessly. He wanted to explain that he had been in fact very fond of the bag and had looked after it very well and had taken it with him wherever he went, but that somehow every time he travelled anywhere he seemed inexplicably to end up with the wrong bag and that, curiously enough, even as they stood there he was just noticing for the first time that the bag he had with him at the moment appeared to be made out of rather nasty fake leopard skin, and wasn't the one he'd had a few moments ago before he arrived in this whatever place it was, and wasn't one he would have chosen himself and heaven knew what would be in it as it wasn't his, and he would much rather have his original bag back, except that he was of course terribly sorry for having so peremptorily removed it, or rather its component parts, i.e. the rabbit skin, from its previous owner, viz. the rabbit whom he currently had the honour of attempting vainly to address.

    All he actually managed to say was “Erp”.

    “Meet the newt you trod on,” said the voice.

    And there was, standing in the corridor with Arthur, a giant green scaly newt. Arthur turned, yelped, leapt backwards, and found himself standing in the middle of the rabbit. He yelped again, but could find nowhere to leap to.

    “That was me, too,” continued the voice in a low menacing rumble, “as if you didn't know...”

    “Know?” said Arthur with a start. “Know?”

    “The interesting thing about reincarnation,” rasped the voice, “is that most people, most spirits, are not aware that it is happening to them.”

    He paused for effect. As far as Arthur was concerned there was already quite enough effect going on.

    “I was aware,” hissed the voice, “that is, I became aware. Slowly. Gradually.”

    He, whoever he was, paused again and gathered breath.

    “I could hardly help it, could I?” he bellowed, “when the same thing kept happening, over and over and over again! Every life I ever lived, I got killed by Arthur Dent. Any world, any body, any time, I'm just getting settled down, along comes Arthur Dent — pow, he kills me.

    “Hard not to notice. Bit of a memory jogger. Bit of a pointer. Bit of a bloody giveaway!

    “That's funny,” my spirit would say to itself as it winged its way back to the netherworld after another fruitless Dent-ended venture into the land of the living, that man who just ran over me as I was hopping across the road to my favourite pond looked a little familiar...” And gradually I got to piece it together, Dent, you multiple-me-murderer!”

    The echoes of his voice roared up and down the corridors. Arthur stood silent and cold, his head shaking with disbelief.

    “Here's the moment, Dent,” shrieked the voice, now reaching a feverish pitch of hatred, “here's the moment when at last I knew!”

    It was indescribably hideous, the thing that suddenly opened up in front of Arthur, making him gasp and gargle with horror, but here's an attempt at a description of how hideous it was. It was a huge palpitating wet cave with a vast, slimy, rough, whale-like creature rolling around it and sliding over monstrous white tombstones. High above the cave rose a vast promontory in which could be seen the dark recesses of two further fearful caves, which...

    Arthur Dent suddenly realized that he was looking at his own mouth, when his attention was meant to be directed at the live oyster that was being tipped helplessly into it.

    He staggered back with a cry and averted his eyes.

    When he looked again the appalling apparition had gone. The corridor was dark and, briefly, silent. He was alone with his thoughts. They were extremely unpleasant thoughts and would rather have had a chaperone.

    The next noise, when it came, was the low heavy roll of a large section of wall trundling aside, revealing, for the moment, just dark blackness behind it. Arthur looked into it in much the same way that a mouse looks into a dark dog-kennel.

    And the voice spoke to him again.

    “Tell me it was a coincidence, Dent,” it said. “I dare you to tell me it was a coincidence!”

    “It was a coincidence,” said Arthur quickly.

    “It was not!” came the answering bellow.

    “It was,” said Arthur, “it was...”

    “If it was a coincidence, then my name,” roared the voice, “is not Agrajag!!!”

    “And presumably,” said Arthur, “you would claim that that was your name.”

    “Yes!” hissed Agrajag, as if he had just completed a rather deft syllogism.

    “Well, I'm afraid it was still a coincidence,” said Arthur.

    “Come in here and say that!” howled the voice, in sudden apoplexy again. Arthur walked in and said that it was a coincidence, or at least, he nearly said that it was a coincidence. His tongue rather lost its footing towards the end of the last word because the lights came up and revealed what it was he had walked into.

    It was a Cathedral of Hate.

    It was the product of a mind that was not merely twisted, but actually sprained.

    It was huge. It was horrific.

    It had a Statue in it.

    We will come to the Statue in a moment.

    The vast, incomprehensibly vast chamber looked as if it had been carved out of the inside of a mountain, and the reason for this was that that was precisely what it had been carved out of. It seemed to Arthur to spin sickeningly round his head as he stood and gaped at it.

    It was black.

    Where it wasn't black you were inclined to wish that it was, because the colours with which some of the unspeakable details were picked out ranged horribly across the whole spectrum of eye-defying colours from Ultra Violent to Infra Dead, taking in Liver Purple, Loathsome Lilac, Matter Yellow, Burnt hombre and Gan Green on the way.

    The unspeakable details which these colours picked out were gargoyles which would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch.

    The gargoyles all looked inwards from the walls, from the pillars, from the flying buttresses, from the choir stalls, towards the Statue, to which we will come in a moment.

    And if the gargoyles would have put Francis Bacon off his lunch, then it was clear from the gargoyles' faces that the Statue would have put them off theirs, had they been alive to eat it, which they weren't, and had anybody tried to serve them some, which they wouldn't.

    Around the monumental walls were vast engraved stone tablets in memory of those who had fallen to Arthur Dent.

    The names of some of those commemorated were underlined and had asterisks against them. So, for instance, the name of a cow which had been slaughtered and of which Arthur Dent had happened to eat a fillet steak would have the plainest engraving, whereas the name of a fish which Arthur had himself caught and then decided he didn't like and left on the side of the plate had a double underlining, three sets of asterisks and a bleeding dagger added as decoration, just to make the point.

    And what was most disturbing about all this, apart from the Statue, to which we are, by degrees, coming, was the very clear implication that all these people and creatures were indeed the same person, over and over again.

    And it was equally clear that this person was, however unfairly, extremely upset and annoyed.

    In fact it would be fair to say that he had reached a level of annoyance the like of which had never been seen in the Universe. It was an annoyance of epic proportions, a burning searing flame of annoyance, an annoyance which now spanned the whole of time and space in its infinite umbrage.

    And this annoyance had been given its fullest expression in the Statue in the centre of all this monstrosity, which was a statue of Arthur Dent, and an unflattering one. Fifty feet tall if it was an inch, there was not an inch of it which wasn't crammed with insult to its subject matter, and fifty feet of that sort of thing would be enough to make any subject feel bad. From the small pimple on the side of his nose to the poorish cut of his dressing gown, there was no aspect of Arthur Dent which wasn't lambasted and vilified by the sculptor.

    Arthur appeared as a gorgon, an evil, rapacious, ravenning, bloodied ogre, slaughtering his way through an innocent one-man Universe.

    With each of the thirty arms which the sculptor in a fit of artistic fervour had decided to give him, he was either braining a rabbit, swatting a fly, pulling a wishbone, picking a flea out of his hair, or doing something which Arthur at first looking couldn't quite identify.

    His many feet were mostly stamping on ants.

    Arthur put his hands over his eyes, hung his head and shook it slowly from side to side in sadness and horror at the craziness of things.

    And when he opened his eyes again, there in front of him stood the figure of the man or creature, or whatever it was, that he had supposedly been persecuting all this time.

    “HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!” said Agrajag.

    He, or it, or whatever, looked like a mad fat bat. He waddled slowly around Arthur, and poked at him with bent claws.

    “Look...!” protested Arthur.

    “HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH!!!” explained Agrajag, and Arthur reluctantly accepted this on the grounds that he was rather frightened by this hideous and strangely wrecked apparition.

    Agrajag was black, bloated, wrinkled and leathery.

    His batwings were somehow more frightening for being the pathetic broken floundering things they were that if they had been strong, muscular beaters of the air. The frightening thing was probably the tenacity of his continued existence against all the physical odds.

    He had the most astounding collection of teeth.

    They looked as if they each came from a completely different animal, and they were ranged around his mouth at such bizarre angles it seemed that if he ever actually tried to chew anything he'd lacerate half his own face along with it, and possibly put an eye out as well.

    Each of his three eyes was small and intense and looked about as sane as a fish in a privet bush.

    “I was at a cricket match,” he rasped.

    This seemed on the face of it such a preposterous notion that Arthur practically choked.

    “Not in this body,” screeched the creature, “not in this body! This is my last body. My last life. This is my revenge body. My kill-Arthur-Dent body. My last chance. I had to fight to get it, too.”

    “But...”

    “I was at,” roared Agrajag, “a cricket match! I had a weak heart condition, but what, I said to my wife, can happen to me at a cricket match?

    As I'm watching, what happens?

    “Two people quite maliciously appear out of thin air just in front of me.

    The last thing I can't help but notice before my poor heart gives out in shock is that one of them is Arthur Dent wearing a rabbit bone in his beard. Coincidence?”

    “Yes,” said Arthur.

    “Coincidence?” screamed the creature, painfully thrashing its broken wings, and opening a short gash on its right cheek with a particularly nasty tooth. On closer examination, such as he'd been hoping to avoid, Arthur noticed that much of Agrajag's face was covered with ragged strips of black sticky plasters.

    He backed away nervously. He tugged at his beard. He was appalled to discover that in fact he still had the rabbit bone in it. He pulled it out and threw it away.

    “Look,” he said, “it's just fate playing silly buggers with you. With me.

    With us. It's a complete coincidence.”

    “What have you got against me, Dent?” snarled the creature, advancing on him in a painful waddle.

    “Nothing,” insisted Arthur, “honestly, nothing.”

    Agrajag fixed him with a beady stare.

    “Seems a strange way to relate to somebody you've got nothing against, killing them all the time. Very curious piece of social interaction, I would call that. I'd also call it a lie!”

    “But look,” said Arthur, “I'm very sorry.

    There's been a terrible misunderstanding. I've got to go. Have you got a clock? I'm meant to be helping save the Universe.” He backed away still further.

    Agrajag advanced still further.

    “At one point,” he hissed, “at one point, I decided to give up. Yes, I would not come back. I would stay in the netherworld. And what happened?”

    Arthur indicated with random shakes of his head that he had no idea and didn't want to have one either. He found he had backed up against the cold dark stone that had been carved by who knew what Herculean effort into a monstrous travesty of his bedroom slippers. He glanced up at his own horrendously parodied image towering above him. He was still puzzled as to what one of his hands was meant to be doing.

    “I got yanked involuntarily back into the physical world,” pursued Agrajag, “as a bunch of petunias. In, I might add, a bowl. This particularly happy little lifetime started off with me, in my bowl, unsupported, three hundred miles above the surface of a particularly grim planet. Not a naturally tenable position for a bowl of petunias, you might think. And you'd be right. That life ended a very short while later, three hundred miles lower. In, I might add, the fresh wreckage of a whale. My spirit brother.”

    He leered at Arthur with renewed hatred.

    “On the way down,” he snarled, “I couldn't help noticing a flashy-looking white spaceship. And looking out of a port on this flashy-looking spaceship was a smug-looking Arthur Dent. Coincidence?!!”

    “Yes!” yelped Arthur. He glanced up again, and realized that the arm that had puzzled him was represented as wantonly calling into existence a bowl of doomed petunias. This was not a concept which leapt easily to the eye.

    “I must go,” insisted Arthur.

    “You may go,” said Agrajag, “after I have killed you.”

    “No, that won't be any use,” explained Arthur, beginning to climb up the hard stone incline of his carved slipper, “because I have to save the Universe, you see. I have to find a Silver Bail, that's the point. Tricky thing to do dead.”

    “Save the Universe!” spat Agrajag with contempt. “You should have thought of that before you started your vendetta against me! What about the time you were on Stavromula Beta and someone...”

    “I've never been there,” said Arthur.

    “... tried to assassinate you and you ducked. Who do you think the bullet hit? What did you say?”

    “Never been there,” repeated Arthur. “What are you talking about? I have to go.”

    Agrajag stopped in his tracks.

    “You must have been there. You were responsible for my death there, as everywhere else. An innocent bystander!” He quivered.

    “I've never heard of the place,” insisted Arthur. “I've certainly never had anyone try to assassinate me. Other than you. Perhaps I go there later, do you think?”

    Agrajag blinked slowly in a kind of frozen logical horror.

    “You haven't been to Stavromula Beta... yet?” he whispered.

    “No,” said Arthur, “I don't know anything about the place. Certainly never been to it, and don't have any plans to go.”

    “Oh, you go there all right,” muttered Agrajag in a broken voice, “you go there all right. Oh zark!” he tottered, and stared wildly about him at his huge Cathedral of Hate. “I've brought you here too soon!”

    He started to scream and bellow. “I've brought you here too zarking soon!”

    Suddenly he rallied, and turned a baleful, hating eye on Arthur.

    “I'm going to kill you anyway!” he roared. “Even if it's a logical impossibility I'm going to zarking well try! I'm going to blow this whole mountain up!” He screamed, “Let's see you get out of this one, Dent!”

    He rushed in a painful waddling hobble to what appeared to be a small black sacrificial altar. He was shouting so wildly now that he was really carving his face up badly. Arthur leaped down from his vantage place on the carving of his own foot and ran to try to restrain the three-quarterscrazed creature.

    He leaped upon him, and brought the strange monstrosity crashing down on top of the altar.

    Agrajag screamed again, thrashed wildly for a brief moment, and turned a wild eye on Arthur.

    “You know what you've done?” he gurgled painfully. “You've only gone and killed me again. i mean, what do you want from me, blood?”

    He thrashed again in a brief apoplectic fit, quivered, and collapsed, smacking a large red button on the altar as he did so.

    Arthur started with horror and fear, first at what he appeared to have done, and then at the loud sirens and bells that suddenly shattered the air to announce some clamouring emergency. He stared wildly around him.

    The only exit appeared to be the way he came in. He pelted towards it, throwing away the nasty fake leopard-skin bag as he did so.

    He dashed randomly, haphazardly through the labyrinthine maze, he seemed to be pursued more and more fiercely by claxons, sirens, flashing lights.

    Suddenly, he turned a corner and there was a light in front of him.

    It wasn't flashing. It was daylight.   19  Although it has been said that on Earth alone in our Galaxy is Krikkit (or cricket) treated as fit subject for a game, and that for this reason the Earth has been shunned, this does only apply to our Galaxy, and more specifically to our dimension. In some of the higher dimensions they feel they can more or less please themselves, and have been playing a peculiar game called Brockian Ultra-Cricket for whatever their transdimensional equivalent of billions of years is.

    “Let's be blunt, it's a nasty game” (says The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) “but then anyone who has been to any of the higher dimensions will know that they're a pretty nasty heathen lot up there who should just be smashed and done in, and would be, too, if anyone could work out a way of firing missiles at right-angles to reality.”

    This is another example of the fact that The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy will employ anybody who wants to walk straight in off the street and get ripped off, especially if they happen to walk in off the street during the afternoon, when very few of the regular staff are there.

    There is a fundamental point here.

    The history of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of idealism, struggle, despair, passion, success, failure, and enormously long lunch breaks.

    The earliest origins of the Guide are now, along with most of its financial records, lost in the mists of time.

    For other, and more curious theories about where they are lost, see below.

    Most of the surviving stories, however, speak of a founding editor called Hurling Frootmig.

    Hurling Frootmig, it is said, founded the Guide, established its fundamental principles of honesty and idealism, and went bust.

    There followed many years of penury and heart-searching during which he consulted friends, sat in darkened rooms in illegal states of mind, thought about this and that, fooled about with weights, and then, after a chance encounter with the Holy Lunching Friars of Voondon (who claimed that just as lunch was at the centre of a man's temporal day, and man's temporal day could be seen as an analogy for his spiritual life, so Lunch should

    (a) be seen as the centre of a man's spiritual life, and (b) be held in jolly nice restaurants), he refounded the Guide, laid down its fundamental principles of honesty and idealism and where you could stuff them both, and led the Guide on to its first major commercial success.

    He also started to develop and explore the role of the editorial lunchbreak which was subsequently to play such a crucial part in the Guide's history, since it meant that most of the actual work got done by any passing stranger who happened to wander into the empty offices on an afternoon and saw something worth doing.

    Shortly after this, the Guide was taken over by Megadodo Publications of Ursa Minor Beta, thus putting the whole thing on a very sound financial footing, and allowing the fourth editor, Lig Lury Jr, to embark on lunchbreaks of such breathtaking scope that even the efforts of recent editors, who have started undertaking sponsored lunch-breaks for charity, seem like mere sandwiches in comparison.

    In fact, Lig never formally resigned his editorship — he merely left his office late one morning and has never since returned. Though well over a century has now passed, many members of the guide staff still retain the romantic notion that he has simply popped out for a ham croissant, and will yet return to put in a solid afternoon's work.

    Strictly speaking, all editors since Lig Lury Jr have therefore been designated Acting Editors, and Lig's desk is still preserved the way he left it, with the addition of a small sign which says “Lig Lury Jr, Editor, Missing, presumed Fed”.

    Some very scurrilous and subversive sources hint at the idea that Lig actually perished in the Guide's first extraordinary experiments in alternative book-keeping. Very little is known of this, and less still said.

    Anyone who even notices, let alone calls attention to, the curious but utter coincidental and meaningless fact that every world on which the Guide has ever set up an accounting department has shortly afterwards perished in warfare or some natural disaster, is liable to get sued to smithereens.

    It is an interesting though utterly unrelated fact that the two or three days prior to the demolition of the planet Earth to make way for a new hyperspace bypass saw a dramatic upsurge in the number of UFO sightings there, not only above Lords Cricket Ground in St. John's Wood, London, but also above Glastonbury in Somerset.

    Glastonbury had long been associated with myths of ancient kings, witchcraft, ley-lines an wart curing, and had now been selected as the site for the new Hitch Hiker's Guide financial records office, and indeed, ten years' worth of financial records were transferred to a magic hill just outside the city mere hours before the Vogons arrived.

    None of these facts, however strange or inexplicable, is as strange or inexplicable as the rules of the game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket, as played in the higher dimensions. A full set of rules is so massively complicated that the only time they were all bound together in a single volume, they underwent gravitational collapse and became a Black Hole.

    A brief summary, however, is as follows:

    Rule One: Grow at least three extra legs. You won't need them, but it keeps the crowds amused.

    Rule Two: Find one good Brockian Ultra-Cricket player. Clone him off a few times. This saves an enormous amount of tedious selection and training.

    Rule Three: Put your team and the opposing team in a large field and build a high wall round them.

    The reason for this is that, though the game is a major spectator sport, the frustration experienced by the audience at not actually being able to see what's going on leads them to imagine that it's a lot more exciting than it really is. A crowd that has just watched a rather humdrum game experiences far less lifeaffirmation than a crowd that believes it has just missed the most dramatic event in sporting history.

    Rule Four: Throw lots of assorted items of sporting equipment over the wall for the players. Anything will do — cricket bats, basecube bats, tennis guns, skis, anything you can get a good swing with.

    Rule Five: The players should now lay about themselves for all they are worth with whatever they find to hand. Whenever a player scores a “hit” on another player, he should immediately run away and apologize from a safe distance.

    Apologies should be concise, sincere and, for maximum clarity and points, delivered through a megaphone.

    Rule Six: The winning team shall be the first team that wins.

    Curiously enough, the more the obsession with the game grows in the higher dimensions, the less it is actually played, since most of the competing teams are now in a state of permanent warfare with each other over the interpretation of these rules. This is all for the best, because in the long run a good solid war is less psychologically damaging than a protracted game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket.   20  As Arthur ran darting, dashing and panting down the side of the mountain he suddenly felt the whole bulk of the mountain move very, very slightly beneath him. There was a rumble, a roar, and a slight blurred movement, and a lick of heat in the distance behind and above him. He ran in a frenzy of fear. The land began to slide, and he suddenly felt the force of the word “landslide” in a way which had never been apparent to him before. It had always just been a word to him, but now he was suddenly and horribly aware that sliding is a strange and sickening thing for land to do. It was doing it with him on it. He felt ill with fear and shaking. The ground slid, the mountain slurred, he slipped, he fell, he stood, he slipped again and ran. The avalance began.

    Stones, then rocks, then boulders which pranced past him like clumsy puppies, only much, much bigger, much, much harder and heavier, and almost infinitely more likely to kill you if they fell on you. His eyes danced with them, his feet danced with the dancing ground. He ran as if running was a terrible sweating sickness, his heart pounded to the rhythm of the pounding geological frenzy around him.

    The logic of the situation, i.e. that he was clearly bound to survive if the next foreshadowed incident in the saga of his inadvertent persecution of Agrajag was to happen, was utterly failing to impinge itself on his mind or exercise any restraining influence on him at this time. He ran with the fear of death in him, under him, over him and grabbing hold of his hair.

    And suddenly he tripped again and was hurled forward by his considerable momentum. But just at the moment that he was about to hit the ground astoundingly hard he saw lying directly in front of him a small navy-blue holdall that he knew for a fact he had lost in the baggageretrieval system at Athens airport some ten years in his personal timescale previously, and in his astonishment he missed the ground completely and bobbed off into the air with his brain singing.

    What he was doing was this: he was flying. He glanced around him in surprise, but there could be no doubt that that was what he was doing. No part of him was touching the ground, and no part of him was even approaching it. He was simply floating there with boulders hurtling through the air around him.

    He could now do something about that. Blinking with the noneffort of it he wafted higher into the air, and now the boulders were hurtling through the air beneath him.

    He looked downwards with intense curiosity. Between him and the shivering ground were now some thirty feet of empty air, empty that is if you discounted the boulders which didn't stay in it for long, but bounded downwards in the iron grip of the law of gravity; the same law which seemed, all of a sudden, to have given Arthur a sabbatical.

    It occurred to him almost instantly, with the instinctive correctness that self-preservation instils in the mind, that he mustn't try to think about it, that if he did, the law of gravity would suddenly glance sharply in his direction and demand to know what the hell he thought he was doing up there, and all would suddenly be lost.

    So he thought about tulips. It was difficult, but he did. He thought about the pleasing firm roundness of the bottom of tulips, he thought about the interesting variety of colours they came in, and wondered what proportion of the total number of tulips that grew, or had grown, on the Earth would be found within a radius of one mile from a windmill. After a while he got dangerously bored with this train of thought, felt the air slipping away beneath him, felt that he was drifting down into the paths of the bouncing boulders that he was trying so hard not to think about, so he thought about Athens airport for a bit and that kept him usefully annoyed for about five minutes — at the end of which he was startled to discover that he was now floating about two hundred yards above the ground.

    He wondered for a moment how he was going to get back down to it, but instantly shied away from that area of speculation again, and tried to look at the situation steadily.

    He was flying, What was he going to do about it? He looked back down at the ground. He didn't look at it hard, but did his best just to give it an idle glance, as it were, in passing. There were a couple of things he couldn't help noticing. One was that the eruption of the mountain seemed now to have spent itself — there was a crater just a little way beneath the peak, presumably where the rock had caved in on top of the huge cavernous cathedral, the statue of himself, and the sadly abused figure of Agrajag.

    The other was his hold-all, the one he had lost at Athens airport. It was sitting pertly on a piece of clear ground, surrounded by exhausted boulders but apparently hit by none of them. Why this should be he could not speculate, but since this mystery was completely overshadowed by the monstrous impossibility of the bag's being there in the first place, it was not a speculation he really felt strong enough for anyway. The thing is, it was there. And the nasty, fake leopard-skin bag seemed to have disappeared, which was all to the good, if not entirely to the explicable.

    He was faced with the fact that he was going to have to pick the thing up. Here he was, flying along two hundred yards above the surface of an alien planet the name of which he couldn't even remember. He could not ignore the plaintive posture of this tiny piece of what used to be his life, here, so many light-years from the pulverized remains of his home.

    Furthermore, he realized, the bag, if it was still in the state in which he lost it, would contain a can which would have in it the only Greek olive oil still surviving in the Universe.

    Slowly, carefully, inch by inch, he began to bob downwards, swinging gently from side to side like a nervous sheet of paper feeling its way towards the ground.

    It went well, he was feeling good. The air supported him, but let him through. Two minutes later he was hovering a mere two feet above the bag, and was faced with some difficult decision. He bobbed there lightly.

    He frowned, but again, as lightly as he could.

    If he picked the bag up, could he carry it? Mightn't the extra weight just pull him straight to the ground?

    Mightn't the mere act of touching something on the ground suddenly discharge whatever mysterious force it was that was holding him in the air?

    Mightn't he be better off just being sensible at this point and stepping out of the air, back on to the ground for a moment or two?

    If he did, would he ever be able to fly again?

    The sensation, when he allowed himself to be aware of it, was so quietly ecstatic that he could not bear the thought of losing it, perhaps for ever.

    With this worry in mind he bobbed upwards a little again, just to try the feel of it, the surprising and effortless movement of it. He bobbed, he floated. He tried a little swoop.

    The swoop was terrific. With his arms spread out in front of him, his hair and dressing gown streaming out behind him, he dived down out of the sky, bellied along a body of air about two feet from the ground and swung back up again, catching himself at the top of the swing and holding. Just holding. He stayed there.

    It was wonderful.

    And that, he realized, was the way of picking up the bag. He would swoop down and catch hold of it just at the point of the upswing. He would carry it on up with him. He might wobble a bit, but he was certain that he could hold it.

    He tried one or two more practice swoops, and they got better and better.

    The air on his face, the bounce and woof of his body, all combined to make him feel an intoxication of the spirit that he hadn't felt since, since — well as far as he could work out, since he was born. He drifted away on the breeze and surveyed the countryside, which was, he discovered, pretty nasty. It had a wasted ravaged look. He decided not to look at it any more. He would just pick up the bag and then... he didn't know what he was going to do after he had picked up the bag. He decided he would just pick up the bag and see where things went from there.

    He judged himself against the wind, pushed up against it and turned around. He floated on its body. He didn't realize, but his body was willoming at this point.

    He ducked down under the airstream, dipped — and dived.

    The air threw itself past him, he thrilled through it. The ground wobbled uncertainly, straightened its ideas out and rose smoothly up to meet him, offering the bag, its cracked plastic handles up towards him.

    Halfway down there was a sudden dangerous moment when he could no longer believe he was doing this, and therefore he very nearly wasn't, but he recovered himself in time, skimmed over the ground, slipped an arm smoothly through the handles of the bag, and began to climb back up, couldn't make it and all of a sudden collapsed, bruised, scratched and shaking in the stony ground.

    He staggered instantly to his feet and swayed hopelessly around, swinging the bag round him in agony of grief and disappointment.

    His feet, suddenly, were stuck heavily to the ground in the way they always had been. His body seemed like an unwieldy sack of potatoes that reeled stumbling against the ground, his mind had all the lightness of a bag of lead.

    He sagged and swayed and ached with giddiness. He tried hopelessly to run, but his legs were suddenly too weak. He tripped and flopped forward. At that moment he remembered that in the bag he was now carrying was not only a can of Greek olive oil but a duty-free allowance of retsina, and in the pleasurable shock of that realization he failed to notice for at least ten seconds that he was now flying again.

    He whooped and cried with relief and pleasure, and sheer physical delight. He swooped, he wheeled, he skidded and whirled through the air.

    Cheekily he sat on an updraught and went through the contents of the hold-all. He felt the way he imagined an angel must feel during its celebrated dance on the head of a pin whilst being counted by philosophers.

    He laughed with pleasure at the discovery that the bag did in fact contain the olive oil and the retsina as well as a pair of cracked sunglasses, some sand-filled swimming trunks, some creased postcards of Santorini, a large and unsightly towel, some interesting stones, and various scraps of paper with the addresses of people he was relieved to think he would never meet again, even if the reason why was a sad one. He dropped the stones, put on the sunglasses, and let the pieces of paper whip away in the wind.

    Ten minutes later, drifting idly through a cloud, he got a large and extremely disreputable cocktail party in the small of the back.   21  The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation, and still no one shows any signs of leaving. Somebody did once look at his watch, but that was eleven years ago, and there has been no follow-up.

    The mess is extraordinary, and has to be seen to be believed, but if you don't have any particular need to believe it, then don't go and look, because you won't enjoy it.

    There have recently been some bangs and flashes up in the clouds, and there is one theory that this is a battle being fought between the fleets of several rival carpet-cleaning companies who are hovering over the thing like vultures, but you shouldn't believe anything you hear at parties, and particularly not anything you hear at this one.

    One of the problems, and it's one which is obviously going to get worse, is that all the people at the party are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn't leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both.

    Either way, it means that, genetically speaking, each succeeding generation is now less likely to leave than the preceding one.

    So other factors come into operation, like when the drink is going to run out.

    Now, because of certain things which have happened which seemed like a good idea at the time (and one of the problems with a party which never stops is that all the things which only seem like a good idea at parties continue to seem like good ideas), that point seems still to be a long way off.

    One of the things which seemed like a good idea at the time was that the party should fly — not in the normal sense that parties are meant to fly, but literally.

    One night, long ago, a band of drunken astro-engineers of the first generation clambered round the building digging this, fixing that, banging very hard on the other and when the sun rose the following morning, it was startled to find itself shining on a building full of happy drunken people which was now floating like a young and uncertain bird over the treetops.

    Not only that, but the flying party had also managed to arm itself rather heavily. If they were going to get involved in any petty arguments with wine merchants, they wanted to make sure they had might on their side.

    The transition from full-time cocktail party to part-time raiding party came with ease, and did much to add that extra bit of zest and swing to the whole affair which was badly needed at this point because of the enormous number of times that the band had already played all the numbers it knew over the years.

    They looted, they raided, they held whole cities for ransom for fresh supplies of cheese crackers, avocado dip, spare ribs and wine and spirits, which would now get piped aboard from floating tankers.

    The problem of when the drink is going to run out is, however, going to have to be faced one day.

    The planet over which they are floating is no longer the planet it was when they first started floating over it.

    It is in bad shape.

    The party had attacked and raided an awful lot of it, and no one has ever succeeded in hitting it back because of the erratic and unpredictable way in which it lurches round the sky.

    It is one hell of a party. It is also one hell of a thing to get hit by in the small of the back.   22  Arthur lay floundering in pain on a piece of ripped and dismembered reinforced concrete, flicked at by wisps of passing cloud and confused by the sounds of flabby merrymaking somewhere indistinctly behind him.

    There was a sound he couldn't immediately identify, partly because he didn't know the tune “I Left my Leg in Jaglan Beta” and partly because the band playing it were very tired, and some members of it were playing it in three-four time, some in fourfour, and some in a kind of pie-eyed r2, each according to the amount of sleep he'd managed to grab recently.

    He lay, panting heavily in the wet air, and tried feeling bits of himself to see where he might be hurt. Wherever he touched himself, he encountered a pain. After a short while he worked out that this was because it was his hand that was hurting. He seemed to have sprained his wrist.

    His back, too, was hurting, but he soon satisfied himself that he was not badly hurt, but just bruised and a little shaken, as who wouldn't be? He couldn't understand what a building would be doing flying through the clouds.

    On the other hand, he would have been a little hard-pressed to come up with any convincing explanation of his own presence, so he decided that he and the building were just going to have to accept each other. He looked up from where he was lying. A wall of pale but stained stone slabs rose up behind him, the building proper. He seemed to be stretched out on some sort of ledge or lip which extended outwards for about three or four feet all the way around. It was a hunk of the ground in which the party building had had its foundations, and which it had taken along with itself to keep itself bound together at the bottom end.

    Nervously, he stood up and, suddenly, looking out over the edge, he felt nauseous with vertigo. He pressed himself back against the wall, wet with mist and sweat. His head was swimming freestyle, but someone in his stomach was doing the butterfly.

    Even though he had got up here under his own power, he could now not even bear to contemplate the hideous drop in front of him. He was not about to try his luck jumping. He was not about to move an inch closer to the edge.

    Clutching his hold-all he edged along the wall, hoping to find a doorway in. The solid weight of the can of olive oil was a great reassurance to him.

    He was edging in the direction of the nearest corner, in the hope that the wall around the corner might offer more in the way of entrances than this one, which offered none.

    The unsteadiness of the building's flight made him feel sick with fear, and after a short while he took the towel from out of his hold-all and did something with it which once again justified its supreme position in the list of useful things to take with you when you hitch-hike round the Galaxy. He put it over his head so he wouldn't have to see what he was doing.

    His feet edged along the ground. His outstretched hand edged along the wall.

    Finally he came to the corner, and as his hand rounded the corner it encountered something which gave him such a shock that he nearly fell straight off. It was another hand.

    The two hands gripped each other.

    He desperately wanted to use his other hand to pull the towel back from his eyes, but it was holding the hold-all with the olive oil, the retsina and the postcards from Santorini, and he very much didn't want to put it down.

    He experienced one of those “self” moments, one of those moments when you suddenly turn around and look at yourself and think “Who am I? What am I up to? What have I achieved? Am I doing well?” He whimpered very slightly.

    He tried to free his hand, but he couldn't. The other hand was holding his tightly. He had no recourse but to edge onwards towards the corner.

    He leaned around it and shook his head in an attempt to dislodge the towel. This seemed to provoke a sharp cry of some unfashionable emotion from the owner of the other hand.

    The towel was whipped from his head and he found his eyes peering into those of Ford Prefect. Beyond him stood Slartibartfast, and beyond them he could clearly see a porchway and a large closed door.

    They were both pressed back against the wall, eyes wild with terror as they stared out into the thick blind cloud around them, and tried to resist the lurching and swaying of the building.

    “Where the zarking photon have you been?” hissed Ford, panic stricken.

    “Er, well,” stuttered Arthur, not really knowing how to sum it all up that briefly. “Here and there. What are you doing here?”

    Ford turned his wild eyes on Arthur again.

    “They won't let us in without a bottle,” he hissed.

    The first thing Arthur noticed as they entered into the thick of the party, apart from the noise, the suffocating heat, the wild profusion of colours that protuded dimly through the atmosphere of heavy smoke, the carpets thick with ground glass, ash and avocado droppings, and the small group of pterodactyl-like creatures in lurex who descended on his cherished bottle of retsina, squawking, “A new pleasure, a new pleasure”, was Trillian being chatted up by a Thunder God.

    “Didn't I see you at Milliways?” he was saying. “Were you the one with the hammer?”

    “Yes. I much prefer it here. So much less reputable, so much more fraught.”

    Squeals of some hideous pleasure rang around the room, the outer dimensions of which were invisible through the heaving throng of happy, noisy creatures, cheerfully yelling things that nobody could hear at each other and occasionally having crises.

    “Seems fun,” said Trillian. “What did you say, Arthur?”

    “I said, how the hell did you get here?”

    “I was a row of dots flowing randomly through the Universe. Have you met Thor? He makes thunder.”

    “Hello,” said Arthur. “I expect that must be very interesting.”

    “Hi,” said Thor. “It is. Have you got a drink?”

    “Er, no actually...”

    “Then why don't you go and get one?”

    “See you later, Arthur,” said Trillian.

    Something jogged Arthur's mind, and he looked around huntedly.

    “Zaphod isn't here, is he?” he said.

    “See you,” said Trillian firmly, “later.”

    Thor glared at him with hard coal-black eyes, his beard bristled, what little light was there was in the place mustered its forces briefly to glint menacingly off the horns of his helmet.

    He took Trillian's elbow in his extremely large hand and the muscles in his upper arm moved around each other like a couple of Volkswagens parking.

    He led her away.

    “One of the interesting things about being immortal,” he said, “is...”

    “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying to a large and voluminous creature who looked like someone losing a fight with a pink duvet and was gazing raptly at the old man's deep eyes and silver beard, “is how dull it is.”

    “Dull?” said the creature, and blinked her rather wrinkled and bloodshot eyes.

    “Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there's so much of it and so little in it. Would you like me to quote some statistics?”

    “Er, well...”

    “Please, I would like to. They, too, are quite sensationally dull.”

    “I'll come back and hear them in a moment,” she said, patting him on the arm, lifted up her skirts like a hovercraft and moved off into the heaving crown.

    “I thought she'd never go,” growled the old man. “Come, Earthman...”

    “Arthur.”

    “We must find the Silver Bail, it is here somewhere.”

    “Can't we just relax a little?” Arthur said. “I've had a tough day. Trillian's here, incidentally, she didn't say how, it probably doesn't matter.”

    “Think of the danger to the Universe...”

    “The Universe,” said Arthur, “is big enough and old enough to look after itself for half an hour. All right,” he added, in response to Slartibartfast's increasing agitation, “I'll wander round and see if anybody's seen it.”

    “Good, good,” said Slartibartfast, “good. “ He plunged into the crowd himself, and was told to relax by everybody he passed.

    “Have you seen a bail anywhere?” said Arthur to a little man who seemed to be standing eagerly waiting to listen to somebody. “It's made of silver, vitally important for the future safety of the Universe, and about this long.”

    “No,” said the enthusiastically wizened little man, “but do have a drink and tell me all about it.”

    Ford Prefect writhed past, dancing a wild, frenetic and not entirely unobscene dance with someone who looked as if she was wearing Sydney Opera House on her head. He was yelling a futile conversation at her above the din.

    “I like that hat!” he bawled.

    “What?”

    “I said, I like the hat.”

    “I'm not wearing a hat.”

    “Well, I like the head, then.”

    “What?”

    “I said, I like the head. Interesting bone-structure.”

    “What?” Ford worked a shrug into the complex routine of other movements he was performing.

    “I said, you dance great,” he shouted, “just don't nod so much.”

    “What?”

    “It's just that every time you nod,” said Ford, “... ow!” he added as his partner nodded forward to say “What?” and once again pecked him sharply on the forehead with the sharp end of her swept-forward skull.

    “My planet was blown up one morning,” said Arthur, who had found himself quite unexpectedly telling the little man his life story or, at least, edited highlights of it, “that's why I'm dressed like this, in my dressing gown. My planet was blown up with all my clothes in it, you see. I didn't realize I'd be coming to a party.”

    The little man nodded enthusiastically.

    “Later, I was thrown off a spaceship. Still in my dressing gown. Rather than the space suit one would normally expect. Shortly after that I discovered that my planet had originally been built for a bunch of mice.

    You can imagine how I felt about that. I was then shot at for a while and blown up. In fact I have been blown up ridiculously often, shot at, insulted, regularly disintegrated, deprived of tea, and recently I crashed into a swamp and had to spend five years in a damp cave.”

    “Ah,” effervesced the little man, “and did you have a wonderful time?”

    Arthur started to choke violently on his drink.

    “What a wonderful exciting cough,” said the little man, quite startled by it, “do you mind if I join you?”

    And with that he launched into the most extraordinary and spectacular fit of coughing which caught Arthur so much by surprise that he started to choke violently, discovered he was already doing it and got thoroughly confused.

    Together they performed a lung-busting duet which went on for fully two minutes before Arthur managed to cough and splutter to a halt.

    “So invigorating,” said the little man, panting and wiping tears from his eyes. “What an exciting life you must lead. Thank you very much.”

    He shook Arthur warmly by the hand and walked off into the crowd.

    Arthur shook his head in astonishment.

    A youngish-looking man came up to him, an aggressive-looking type with a hook mouth, a lantern nose, and small beady little cheekbones. He was wearing black trousers, a black silk shirt open to what was presumably his navel, though Arthur had learnt never to make assumptions about the anatomies of the sort of people he tended to meet these days, and had all sorts of nasty dangly gold things hanging round his neck. He carried something in a black bag, and clearly wanted people to notice that he didn't want them to notice it.

    “Hey, er, did I hear you say your name just now?” he said.

    This was one of the many things that Arthur had told the enthusiastic little man.

    “Yes, it's Arthur Dent.”

    The man seemed to be dancing slightly to some rhythm other than any of the several that the band were grimly pushing out.

    “Yeah,” he said, “only there was a man in a mountain wanted to see you.”

    “I met him.”

    “Yeah, only he seemed pretty anxious about it, you know.”

    “Yes, I met him.”

    “Yeah, well I think you should know that.”

    “I do. I met him.”

    The man paused to chew a little gum. Then he clapped Arthur on the back.

    “OK,” he said, “all right. I'm just telling you, right? Good night, good luck, win awards.”

    “What?” said Arthur, who was beginning to flounder seriously at this point.

    “Whatever. Do what you do. Do it well.” He made a sort of clucking noise with whatever he was chewing and then some vaguely dynamic gesture.

    “Why?” said Arthur.

    “Do it badly,” said the man, “who cares? Who gives a shit?” The blood suddenly seemed to pump angrily into the man's face and he started to shout.

    “Why not go mad?” he said. “Go away, get off my back will you, guy.

    Just zark off!!!”

    “OK, I'm going,” said Arthur hurriedly.

    “It's been real.” The man gave a sharp wave and disappeared off into the throng.

    “What was that about?” said Arthur to a girl he found standing beside him. “Why did he tell me to win awards?”

    “Just showbiz talk,” shrugged the girl. “He's just won an award at the Annual Ursa Minor Alpha Recreational Illusions Institute Awards Ceremony, and was hoping to be able to pass it off lightly, only you didn't mention it, so he couldn't.”

    “Oh,” said Arthur, “oh, well I'm sorry I didn't. What was it for?”

    “The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word `Fuck' In A Serious Screenplay.

    It's very prestigious.”

    “I see,” said Arthur, “yes, and what do you get for that?”

    “A Rory. It's just a small silver thing set on a large black base. What did you say?”

    “I didn't say anything. I was just about to ask what the silver...”

    “Oh, I thought you said `wop'.”

    “Said what?”

    “Wop.”

    People had been dropping in on the party now for some years, fashionable gatecrashers from other worlds, and for some time it had occurred to the partygoers as they had looked out at their own world beneath them, with its wrecked cities, its ravaged avocado farms and blighted vineyards, its vast tracts of new desert, its seas full of biscuit crumbs and worse, that their world was in some tiny and almost imperceptible ways not quite as much fun as it had been. Some of them had begun to wonder if they could manage to stay sober for long enough to make the entire party spaceworthy and maybe take it off to some other people's worlds where the air might be fresher and give them fewer headaches.

    The few undernourished farmers who still managed to scratch out a feeble existence on the half-dead ground of the planet's surface would have been extremely pleased to hear this, but that day, as the party came screaming out of the clouds and the farmers looked up in haggard fear of yet another cheese-and-wine raid, it became clear that the party was not going to be going anywhere else for a while, that the party would soon be over. Very soon it would be time to gather up hats and coats and stagger blearily outside to find out what time of day it was, what time of year it was, and whether in any of this burnt and ravaged land there was a taxi going anywhere.

    The party was locked in a horrible embrace with a strange white spaceship which seemed to be half sticking through it. Together they were lurching, heaving and spinning their way round the sky in grotesque disregard of their own weight.

    The clouds parted. The air roared and leapt out of their way.

    The party and the Krikkit warship looked, in their writhings, a little like two ducks, one of which is trying to make a third duck inside the second duck, whilst the second duck is trying very hard to explain that it doesn't feel ready for a third duck right now, is uncertain that it would want any putative third duck to be made by this particular first duck anyway, and certainly not whilst it, the second duck, was busy flying.

    The sky sang and screamed with the rage of it all and buffeted the ground with shock waves.

    And suddenly, with a foop, the Krikkit ship was gone.

    The party blundered helplessly across the sky like a man leaning against an unexpectedly open door. It span and wobbled on its hover jets. It tried to right itself and wronged itself instead. It staggered back across the sky again.

    For a while these staggerings continued, but clearly they could not continue for long. The party was now a mortally wounded party. All the fun had gone out of it, as the occasional brokenbacked pirouette could not disguise.

    The longer, at this point, that it avoided the ground, the heavier was going to be the crash when finally it hit it.

    Inside, things were not going well either. They were going monstrously badly, in fact, and people were hating it and saying so loudly. The Krikkit robots had been.

    They had removed the Award for The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word `Fuck' In A Serious Screenplay, and in its place had left a scene of devastation that left Arthur feeling almost as sick as a runner-up for a Rory.

    “We would love to stay and help,” shouted Ford, picking his way over the mangled debris, “only we're not going to.”

    The party lurched again, provoking feverish cries and groans from amongst the smoking wreckage.

    “We have to go and save the Universe, you see,” said Ford. “And if that sounds like a pretty lame excuse, then you may be right. Either way, we're off.”

    He suddenly came across an unopened bottle lying, miraculously unbroken, on the ground.

    “Do you mind if we take this?” he said. “You won't be needing it.”

    He took a packet of potato crisps too.

    “Trillian?” shouted Arthur in a shocked and weakened voice. In the smoking mess he could see nothing.

    “Earthman, we must go,” said Slartibartfast nervously.

    “Trillian?” shouted Arthur again.

    A moment or two later, Trillian staggered, shaking, into view, supported by her new friend the Thunder God.

    “The girl stays with me,” said Thor. “There's a great party going on in Valhalla, we'll be flying off...”

    “Where were you when all this was going on?” said Arthur.

    “Upstairs,” said Thor, “I was weighing her. Flying's a tricky business you see, you have to calculate wind...”

    “She comes with us,” said Arthur.

    “Hey,” said Trillian, “don't I...”

    “No,” said Arthur, “you come with us.”

    Thor looked at him with slowly smouldering eyes. He was making some point about godliness and it had nothing to do with being clean.

    “She comes with me,” he said quietly.

    “Come on, Earthman,” said Slartibartfast nervously, picking at Arthur's sleeve.

    “Come on, Slartibartfast,” said Ford, picking at the old man's sleeve.

    Slartibartfast had the teleport device.

    The party lurched and swayed, sending everyone reeling, except for Thor and except for Arthur, who stared, shaking, into the Thunder God's black eyes.

    Slowly, incredibly, Arthur put up what appeared to be his tiny little fists.

    “Want to make something of it?” he said.

    “I beg your minuscule pardon?” roared Thor.

    “I said,” repeated Arthur, and he could not keep the quavering out of his voice, “do you want to make something of it?” He waggled his fists ridiculously.

    Thor looked at him with incredulity. Then a little wisp of smoke curled upwards from his nostril. There was a tiny little flame in it too.

    He gripped his belt.

    He expanded his chest to make it totally clear that here was the sort of man you only dared to cross if you had a team of Sherpas with you.

    He unhooked the shaft of his hammer from his belt. He held it up in his hands to reveal the massive iron head. He thus cleared up any possible misunderstanding that he might merely have been carrying a telegraph pole around with him.

    “Do I want,” he said, with a hiss like a river flowing through a steel mill, “to make something of it?”

    “Yes,” said Arthur, his voice suddenly and extraordinarily strong and belligerent. He waggled his fists again, this time as if he meant it.

    “You want to step outside?” he snarled at Thor.

    “All right!” bellowed Thor, like an enraged bull (or in fact like an enraged Thunder God, which is a great deal more impressive), and did so.

    “Good,” said Arthur, “that's got rid of him. Slarty, get us out of here."   23  "All right,” shouted Ford at Arthur, “so I'm a coward, the point is I'm still alive.” They were back aboard the Starship Bistromath, so was Slartibartfast, so was Trillian. Harmony and concord were not.

    “Well, so am I alive, aren't I?” retaliated Arthur, haggard with adventure and anger. His eyebrows were leaping up and down as if they wanted to punch each other.

    “You damn nearly weren't,” exploded Ford.

    Arthur turned sharply to Slartibartfast, who was sitting in his pilot couch on the flight deck gazing thoughtfully into the bottom of a bottle which was telling him something he clearly couldn't fathom. He appealed to him.

    “Do you think he understands the first word I've been saying?” he said, quivering with emotion.

    “I don't know,” replied Slartibartfast, a little abstractedly. “I'm not sure,” he added, glancing up very briefly, “that I do.” He stared at his instruments with renewed vigor and bafflement. “You'll have to explain it to us again,” he said.

    “Well...”

    “But later. Terrible things are afoot.”

    He tapped the pseudo-glass of the bottle bottom.

    “We fared rather pathetically at the party, I'm afraid,” he said, “and our only hope now is to try to prevent the robots from using the Key in the Lock. How in heaven we do that I don't know,” he muttered. “Just have to go there, I suppose. Can't say I like the idea at all. Probably end up dead.”

    “Where is Trillian anyway?” said Arthur with a sudden affectation of unconcern. What he had been angry about was that Ford had berated him for wasting time over all the business with the Thunder God when they could have been making a rather more rapid escape. Arthur's own opinion, and he had offered it for whatever anybody might have felt it was worth, was that he had been extraordinarily brave and resourceful.

    The prevailing view seemed to be that his opinion was not worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys. What really hurt, though, was that Trillian didn't seem to react much one way or the other and had wandered off somewhere.

    “And where are my potato crisps?” said Ford.

    “They are both,” said Slartibartfast, without looking up, “in the Room of Informational Illusions. I think that your young lady friend is trying to understand some problems of Galactic history. I think the potato crisps are probably helping her."   24  It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.

    For instance, there was once an insanely aggressive race of people called the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax. That was just the name of their race. The name of their army was something quite horrific. Luckily they lived even further back in Galactic history than anything we have so far encountered — twenty billion years ago — when the Galaxy was young and fresh, and every idea worth fighting for was a new one.

    And fighting was what the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were good at, and being good at it, they did a lot. They fought their enemies (i.e.

    everybody else), they fought each other. Their planet was a complete wreck. The surface was littered with abandoned cities which were surrounded by abandoned war machines, which were in turn surrounded by deep bunkers in which the Silastic Armorfiends lived and squabbled with each other.

    The best way to pick a fight with a Silastic Armorfiend was just to be born. They didn't like it, they got resentful. And when an Armorfiend got resentful, someone got hurt. An exhausting way of life, one might think, but they did seem to have an awful lot of energy.

    The best way of dealing with a Silastic Armorfiend was to put him into a room of his own, because sooner or later he would simply beat himself up.

    Eventually they realized that this was something they were going to have to sort out, and they passed a law decreeing that anyone who had to carry a weapon as part of his normal Silastic work (policemen, security guards, primary school teachers, etc.) had to spend at least forty-five minutes every day punching a sack of potatoes in order to work off his or her surplus aggressions.

    For a while this worked well, until someone thought that it would be much more efficient and less time-consuming if they just shot the potatoes instead.

    This led to a renewed enthusiasm for shooting all sorts of things, and they all got very excited at the prospect of their first major war for weeks.

    Another achievement of the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax is that they were the first race who ever managed to shock a computer.

    It was a gigantic spaceborne computer called Hactar, which to this day is remembered as one of the most powerful ever built. It was the first to be built like a natural brain, in that every cellular particle of it carried the pattern of the whole within it, which enabled it to think more flexibly and imaginatively, and also, it seemed, to be shocked.

    The Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were engaged in one of their regular wars with the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and were not enjoying it as much as usual because it involved an awful lot of trekking through the Radiation Swamps of Cwulzenda, and across the Fire Mountains of Frazfraga, neither of which terrains they felt at home in.

    So when the Strangulous Stilettans of Jajazikstak joined in the fray and forced them to fight another front in the Gamma Caves of Carfrax and the Ice Storms of Varlengooten, they decided that enough was enough, and they ordered Hactar to design for them an Ultimate Weapon.

    “What do you mean,” asked Hactar, “by Ultimate?”

    To which the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax said, “Read a bloody dictionary,” and plunged back into the fray.

    So Hactar designed an Ultimate Weapon.

    It was a very, very small bomb which was simply a junction box in hyperspace that would, when activated, connect the heart of every major sun with the heart of every other major sun simultaneously and thus turn the entire Universe in to one gigantic hyperspatial supernova.

    When the Silastic Armorfiends tried to use it to blow up a Strangulous Stilettan munitions dump in one of the Gamma Caves, they were extremely irritated that it didn't work, and said so.

    Hactar had been shocked by the whole idea.

    He tried to explain that he had been thinking about this Ultimate Weapon business, and had worked out that there was no conceivable consequence of not setting the bomb off that was worse than the known consequence of setting it off, and he had therefore taken the liberty of introducing a small flaw into the design of the bomb, and he hoped that everyone involved would, on sober reflection, feel that...

    The Silastic Armorfiends disagreed and pulverized the computer.

    Later they thought better of it, and destroyed the faulty bomb as well.

    Then, pausing only to smash the hell out of the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and the Strangulous Stilettans of Jajazikstak, they went on to find an entirely new way of blowing themselves up, which was a profound relief to everyone else in the Galaxy, particularly the Garfighters, the Stilettans and the potatoes.

    Trillian had watched all this, as well as the story of Krikkit. She emerged from the Room of informational Illusions thoughtfully, just in time to discover that they had arrived too late.   25  Even as the Starship Bistromath flickered into objective being on the top of a small cliff on the mile-wide asteroid which pursued a lonely and eternal path in orbit around the enclosed star system of Krikkit, its crew was aware that they were in time only to be witnesses to an unstoppable historic event.

    They didn't realize they were going to see two.

    They stood cold, lonely and helpless on the cliff edge and watched the activity below. Lances of light wheeled in sinister arcs against the void from a point only about a hundred yards below and in front of them.

    They stared into the blinding event.

    An extension of the ship's field enabled them to stand there, by once again exploiting the mind's predisposition to have tricks played on it: the problems of falling up off the tiny mass of the asteroid, or of not being able to breathe, simply became Somebody Else's.

    The white Krikkit warship was parked amongst the stark grey crags of the asteroid, alternately flaring under arclights or disappearing in shadow. The blackness of the shaped shadows cast by the hard rocks danced together in wild choreography as the arclights swept round them.

    The eleven white robots were bearing, in procession, the Wikkit Key out into the middle of a circle of swinging lights.

    The Wikkit Key was rebuilt. Its components shone and glittered: the Steel Pillar (or Marvin's leg) of Strength and Power, the Gold Bail (or Heart of the Improbability Drive) of Prosperity, the Perspex Pillar (or Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice) of Science and Reason, the Silver Bail (or Rory Award for The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word “Fuck” In A Serious Screenplay) and the now reconstituted Wooden Pillar (or Ashes of a burnt stump signifying the death of English cricket) of Nature and Spirituality.

    “I suppose there is nothing we can do at this point?” asked Arthur nervously.

    “No,” sighed Slartibartfast. The expression of disappointment which crossed Arthur's face was a complete failure, and, since he was standing obscured by shadow, he allowed it to collapse into one of relief.

    “Pity,” he said.

    “We have no weapons,” said Slartibartfast, “stupidly.”

    “Damn,” said Arthur very quietly.

    Ford said nothing.

    Trillian said nothing, but in a peculiarly thoughtful and distinct way.

    She was staring at the blankness of the space beyond the asteroid.

    The asteroid circled the Dust Cloud which surrounded the Slo-Time envelope which enclosed the world on which lived the people of Krikkit, the Masters of Krikkit and their killer robots.

    The helpless group had no way of knowing whether or not the Krikkit robots were aware of their presence. They could only assume that they must be, but that they felt, quite rightly in the circumstances, that they had nothing to fear. They had an historic task to perform, and their audience could be regarded with contempt.

    “Terrible impotent feeling, isn't it?” said Arthur, but the others ignored him.

    In the centre of the area of light which the robots were approaching, a square-shaped crack appeared in the ground. The crack defined itself more and more distinctly, and soon it became clear that a block of the ground, about six feet square, was slowly rising.

    At the same time they became aware of some other movement, but it was almost sublimal, and for a moment or two it was not clear what it was that was moving.

    Then it became clear.

    The asteroid was moving. It was moving slowly in towards the Dust Cloud, as if being hauled in inexorably by some celestial angler in its depths.

    They were to make in real life the journey through the Cloud which they had already made in the Room of Informational Illusions. They stood frozen in silence. Trillian frowned.

    An age seemed to pass. Events seemed to pass with spinning slowness, as the leading edge of the asteroid passed into the vague and soft outer perimeter of the Cloud.

    And soon they were engulfed in a thin and dancing obscurity. They passed on through it, on and on, dimly aware of vague shapes and whorls indistinguishable in the darkness except in the corner of the eye. The Dust dimmed the shafts of brilliant light. The shafts of brilliant light twinkled on the myriad specks of Dust.

    Trillian, again, regarded the passage from within her own frowning thoughts.

    And they were through it. Whether it had taken a minute or half an hour they weren't sure, but they were through it and confronted with a fresh blankness, as if space were pinched out of existence in front of them.

    And now things moved quickly.

    A blinding shaft of light seemed almost to explode from out of the block which had risen three feet out of the ground, and out of that rose a smaller Perspex block, dazzling with interior dancing colours.

    The block was slotted with deep groves, three upright and two across, clearly designed to accept the Wikkit key.

    The robots approached the Lock, slotted the Key into its home and stepped back again. The block twisted round of is own accord, and space began to alter.

    As space unpinched itself, it seemed agonizingly to twist the eyes of the watchers in their sockets. They found themselves staring, blinded, at an unravelled sun which stood now before them where it seemed only seconds before there had not been even empty space. It was a second or two before they were even sufficiently aware of what had happened to throw their hands up over their horrified blinded eyes. In that second or two, they were aware of a tiny speck moving slowly across the eye of that sun.

    They staggered back, and heard ringing in their ears the thin and unexpected chant of the robots crying out in unison.

    “Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit!”

    The sound chilled them. It was harsh, it was cold, it was empty, it was mechanically dismal.

    It was also triumphant.

    They were so stunned by these two sensory shocks that they almost missed the second historic event.

    Zaphod Beeblebrox, the only man in history to survive a direct blast attack from the Krikkit robots, ran out of the Krikkit warship brandishing a Zap gun.

    “OK,” he cried, “the situation is totally under control as of this moment in time.”

    The single robot guarding the hatchway to the ship silently swung his battleclub, and connected it with the back of Zaphod's left head. “Who the zark did that?” said the left head, and lolled sickeningly forward.

    His right head gazed keenly into the middle distance.

    “Who did what?” it said.

    The club connected with the back of his right head.

    Zaphod measured his length as a rather strange shape on the ground.

    Within a matter of seconds the whole event was over. A few blasts from the robots were sufficient to destroy the Lock for ever. It split and melted and splayed its contents brokenly. The robots marched grimly and, it almost seemed, in a slightly disheartened manner, back into their warship which, with a “foop”, was gone.

    Trillian and Ford ran hectically round and down the steep incline to the dark, still body of Zaphod Beeblebrox.   26  "I don't know,” said Zaphod, for what seemed to him like the thirtyseventh time, “they could have killed me, but they didn't. Maybe they just thought I was a kind of wonderful guy or something. I could understand that.”

    The others silently registered their opinions of this theory.

    Zaphod lay on the cold floor of the flight deck. His back seemed to wrestle the floor as pain thudded through him and banged at his heads.

    “I think,” he whispered, “that there is something wrong with those anodized dudes, something fundamentally weird.”

    “They are programmed to kill everybody,” Slartibartfast pointed out.

    “That,” wheezed Zaphod between the whacking thuds, “could be it.” He didn't seem altogether convinced.

    “Hey, baby,” he said to Trillian, hoping this would make up for his previous behaviour.

    “You all right?” she said gently.

    “Yeah,” he said, “I'm fine.”

    “Good,” she said, and walked away to think. She stared at the huge visiscreen over the flight couches and, twisting a switch, she flipped local images over it. One image was the blankness of the Dust Cloud. One was the sun of Krikkit. One was Krikkit itself. She flipped between them fiercely.

    “Well, that's goodbye Galaxy, then,” said Arthur, slapping his knees and standing up.

    “No,” said Slartibartfast, gravely. “Our course is clear.” He furrowed his brow until you could grow some of the smaller root vegetables in it. He stood up, he paced around. When he spoke again, what he said frightened him so much he had to sit down again.

    “We must go down to Krikkit,” he said. A deep sigh shook his old frame and his eyes seemed almost to rattle in their sockets.

    “Once again,” he said, “we have failed pathetically. Quite pathetically.”

    “That,” said Ford quietly, “is because we don't care enough. I told you.”

    He swung his feet up on the instrument panel and picked fitfully at something on one of his fingernails.

    “But unless we determine to take action,” said the old man querulously, as if struggling against something deeply insouciant in his nature, “then we shall all be destroyed, we shall all die. Surely we care about that?”

    “Not enough to want to get killed over it,” said Ford. He put on a sort of hollow smile and flipped it round the room at anyone who wanted to see it.

    Slartibartfast clearly found this point of view extremely seductive and he fought against it. He turned again to Zaphod who was gritting his teeth and sweating with the pain.

    “You surely must have some idea,” he said, “of why they spared your life. It seems most strange and unusual.”

    “I kind of think they didn't even know,” shrugged Zaphod. “I told you.

    They hit me with the most feeble blast, just knocked me out, right?

    They lugged me into their ship, dumped me into a corner and ignored me. Like they were embarrassed about me being there. If I said anything they knocked me out again. We had some great conversations. `Hey... ugh!' `Hi there... ugh!' `I wonder...ugh!' Kept me amused for hours, you know.” He winced again.

    He was toying with something in his fingers. He held it up. It was the Gold Bail — the Heart of Gold, the heart of the Infinite Improbability Drive. Only that and the Wooden Pillar had survived the destruction of the Lock intact.

    “I hear your ship can move a bit,” he said. “So how would you like to zip me back to mine before you...”

    “Will you not help us?” said Slartibartfast.

    “I'd love to stay and help you save the Galaxy,” insisted Zaphod, rising himself up on to his shoulders, “but I have the mother and father of a pair of headaches, and I feel a lot of little headaches coming on. But next time it needs saving, I'm your guy. Hey, Trillian baby?” She looked round briefly.

    “Yes?”

    “You want to come? Heart of Gold? Excitement and adventure and really wild things?”

    “I'm going down to Krikkit,” she said.   27  It was the same hill, and yet not the same.

    This time it was not an Informational Illusion. This was Krikkit itself and they were standing on it. Near them, behind the trees, stood the strange Italian restaurant which had brought these, their real bodies, to this, the real, present world of Krikkit.

    The strong grass under their feet was real, the rich soil real too. The heady fragrances from the tree, too, were real. The night was real night.

    Krikkit.

    Possibly the most dangerous place in the Galaxy for anyone who isn't a Krikkiter to stand. The place that could not countenance the existence of any other place, whose charming, delightful, intelligent inhabitants would howl with fear, savagery and murderous hate when confronted with anyone not their own.

    Arthur shuddered.

    Slartibartfast shuddered.

    Ford, surprisingly, shuddered.

    It was not surprising that he shuddered, it was surprising that he was there at all. But when they had returned Zaphod to his ship Ford had felt unexpectedly shamed into not running away.

    Wrong, he thought to himself, wrong wrong wrong. He hugged to himself one of the Zap guns with which they had armed themselves out of Zaphod's armoury.

    Trillian shuddered, and frowned as she looked into the sky.

    This, too, was not the same. It was no longer blank and empty.

    Whilst the countryside around them had changed little in the two thousand years of the Krikkit wars, and the mere five years that had elapsed locally since Krikkit was sealed in its Slo-Time envelope ten billion years ago, the sky was dramatically different.

    Dim lights and heavy shapes hung in it.

    High in the sky, where no Krikkiter ever looked, were the War Zones, the Robot Zones — huge warships and tower blocks floating in the Nil-O-Grav fields far above the idyllic pastoral lands of the surface of Krikkit.

    Trillian stared at them and thought.

    “Trillian,” whispered Ford Prefect to her.

    “Yes?” she said.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Thinking.”

    “Do you always breathe like that when you're thinking?”

    “I wasn't aware that I was breathing.”

    “That's what worried me.”

    “I think I know...” said Trillian.

    “Shhhh!” said Slartibartfast in alarm, and his thin trembling hand motioned them further back beneath the shadow of the tree.

    Suddenly, as before in the tape, there were lights coming along the hill path, but this time the dancing beams were not from lanterns but electric torches — not in itself a dramatic change, but every detail made their hearts thump with fear. This time there were no lilting whimsical songs about flowers and farming and dead dogs, but hushed voices in urgent debate.

    A light moved in the sky with slow weight. Arthur was clenched with a claustrophobic terror and the warm wind caught at his throat.

    Within seconds a second party became visible, approaching from the other side of the dark hill. They were moving swiftly and purposefully, their torches swinging and probing around them.

    The parties were clearly converging, and not merely with each other.

    They were converging deliberately on the spot where Arthur and the others were standing.

    Arthur heard the slight rustle as Ford Prefect raised his Zap gun to his shoulder, and the slight whimpering cough as Slartibartfast raised his.

    He felt the cold unfamiliar weight of his own gun, and with shaking hands he raised it.

    His fingers fumbled to release the safety catch and engage the extreme danger catch as Ford had shown him. He was shaking so much that if he'd fired at anybody at that moment he probably would have burnt his signature on them.

    Only Trillian didn't raise her gun. She raised her eyebrows, lowered them again, and bit her lip in thought.

    “Has it occurred to you,” she began, but nobody wanted to discuss anything much at the moment. A light stabbed through the darkness from behind them and they span around to find a third party of Krikkiters behind them, searching them out with their torches.

    Ford Prefect's gun crackled viciously, but fire spat back at it and it crashed from his hands.

    There was a moment of pure fear, a frozen second before anyone fired again.

    And at the end of the second nobody fired.

    They were surrounded by pale-faced Krikkiters and bathed in bobbing torch light.

    The captives stared at their captors, the captors stared at their captives.

    “Hello?” said one of the captors. “Excuse me, but are you... aliens?"   28  Meanwhile, more millions of miles away than the mind can comfortably encompass, Zaphod Beeblebrox was throwing a mood again.

    He had repaired his ship — that is, he'd watched with alert interest whilst a service robot had repaired it for him. It was now, once again, one of the most powerful and extraordinary ships in existence. He could go anywhere, do anything. He fiddled with a book, and then tossed it away.

    It was the one he'd read before.

    He walked over to the communications bank and opened an allfrequencies emergency channel.

    “Anyone want a drink?” he said.

    “This an emergency, feller?” crackled a voice from halfway across the Galaxy.

    “Got any mixers?” said Zaphod.

    “Go take a ride on a comet.”

    “OK, OK,” said Zaphod and flipped the channel shut again. He sighed and sat down. He got up again and wandered over to a computer screen.

    He pushed a few buttons. Little blobs started to rush around the screen eating each other.

    “Pow!” said Zaphod. “Freeeoooo! Pop pop pop!”

    “Hi there,” said the computer brightly after a minute of this, “you have scored three points. Previous best score, seven million five hundred and ninety-seven thousand, two hundred and...”

    “OK, OK,” said Zaphod and flipped the screen blank again. He sat down again. He played with a pencil. This too began slowly to lose its fascination.

    “OK, OK,” he said, and fed his score and the previous one into the computer.

    His ship made a blur of the Universe.   29  "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.   30  Zaphod Beeblebrox crawled bravely along a tunnel, like the hell of a guy he was. He was very confused, but continued crawling doggedly anyway because he was that brave.

    He was confused by something he had just seen, but not half as confused as he was going to be by something he was about to hear, so it would now be best to explain exactly where he was.

    He was in the Robot War Zones many miles above the surface of the planet Krikkit.

    The atmosphere was thin here and relatively unprotected from any rays or anything which space might care to hurl in his direction.

    He had parked the starship Heart of Gold amongst the huge jostling dim hulks that crowded the sky here above Krikkit, and had entered what appeared to be the biggest and most important of the sky buildings, armed with nothing but a Zap gun and something for his headaches.

    He had found himself in a long, wide and badly lit corridor in which he was able to hide until he worked out what he was going to do next. He hid because every now and then one of the Krikkit robots would walk along it, and although he had so far led some kind of charmed life at their hands, it had nevertheless been an extremely painful one, and he had no desire to stretch what he was only half-inclined to call his good fortune.

    He had ducked, at one point, into a room leading off the corridor, and had discovered it to be a huge and, again, dimly lit chamber. In fact, it was a museum with just one exhibit — the wreckage of a spacecraft. It was terribly burnt and mangled, and, now that he had caught up with some of the Galactic history he had missed through his failed attempts to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him at school, he was able to put in an intelligent guess that this was the wrecked spaceship which had drifted through the Dust Cloud all those billions of years ago and started the whole business off.

    But, and this is where he had become confused, there was something not at all right about it.

    It was genuinely wrecked. It was genuinely burnt, but a fairly brief inspection by an experienced eye revealed that it was not a genuine spacecraft. It was as if it was a full-scale model of one — a solid blueprint. In other words it was a very useful thing to have around if you suddenly decided to build a spaceship yourself and didn't know how to do it. It was not, however, anything that would ever fly anywhere itself.

    He was still puzzling over this — in fact he'd only just started to puzzle over it — when he became aware that a door had slid open in another part of the chamber, and another couple of Krikkit robots had entered, looking a little glum.

    Zaphod did not want to tangle with them and, deciding that just as discretion was the better part of valour so was cowardice the better part of discretion, he valiantly hid himself in a cupboard.

    The cupboard in fact turned out to be the top part of a shaft which led down through an inspection hatch into a wide ventilation tunnel. He led himself down into it and started to crawl along it, which is where we found him.

    He didn't like it. It was cold, dark and profoundly uncomfortable, and it frightened him. At the first opportunity — which was another shaft a hundred yards further along — he climbed back up out of it.

    This time he emerged into a smaller chamber, which appeared to be a computer intelligence centre. He emerged in a dark narrow space between a large computer bank and the wall.

    He quickly learned that he was not alone in the chamber and started to leave again, when he began to listen with interest to what the other occupants were saying.

    “It's the robots, sir,” said one voice. “There's something wrong with them.”

    “What, exactly?”

    These were the voices of two War Command Krikkiters. All the War Commanders lived up in the sky in the Robot War Zones, and were largely immune to the whimsical doubts and uncertainties which were afflicting their fellows down on the surface of the planet.

    “Well, sir I think it's just as well that they are being phased out of the war effort, and that we are now going to detonate the supernova bomb.

    In the very short time since we were released from the envelope -”

    “Get to the point.”

    “The robots aren't enjoying it, sir.”

    “What?”

    “The war, sir, it seems to be getting them down. There's a certain worldweariness about them, or perhaps I should say Universe-weariness.”

    “Well, that's all right, they're meant to be helping to destroy it.”

    “Yes, well they're finding it difficult, sir. They are afflicted with a certain lassitude. They're just finding it hard to get behind the job. They lack oomph.”

    “What are you trying to say?”

    “Well, I think they're very depressed about something, sir.”

    “What on Krikkit are you talking about?”

    “Well, in the few skirmishes they've had recently, it seems that they go into battle, raise their weapons to fire and suddenly think, why bother?

    What, cosmically speaking, is it all about? And they just seem to get a little tired and a little grim.”

    “And then what do they do?”

    “Er, quadratic equations mostly, sir. Fiendishly difficult ones by all accounts. And then they sulk.”

    “Sulk?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Whoever heard of a robot sulking?”

    “I don't know, sir.”

    “What was that noise?”

    It was the noise of Zaphod leaving with his head spinning.   31  In a deep well of darkness a crippled robot sat. It had been silent in its metallic darkness for some time. It was cold and damp, but being a robot it was supposed not to be able to notice these things. With an enormous effort of will, however, it did manage to notice them.

    Its brain had been harnessed to the central intelligence core of the Krikkit War Computer. It wasn't enjoying the experience, and neither was the central intelligence core of the Krikkit War Computer.

    The Krikkit robots which had salvaged this pathetic metal creature from the swamps of Squornshellous Zeta had recognized almost immediately its gigantic intelligence, and the use which this could be to them.

    They hadn't reckoned with the attendant personality disorders, which the coldness, the darkness, the dampness, the crampedness and the loneliness were doing nothing to decrease.

    It was not happy with its task.

    Apart from anything else, the mere coordination of an entire planet's military strategy was taking up only a tiny part of its formidable mind, and the rest of it had become extremely bored. Having solved all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the Universe except his own, three times over, he was severely stuck for something to do, and had taken up composing short dolorous ditties of no tone, or indeed tune. The latest one was a lullaby.

    “Now the world has gone to bed,” Marvin droned,

    “Darkness won't engulf my head,

    “I can see by infra-red,

    “How I hate the night.”

    He paused to gather the artistic and emotional strength to tackle the next verse.

    “Now I lay me down to sleep,

    “Try to count electric sheep,

    “Sweet dream wishes you can keep,

    “How I hate the night.”

    “Marvin!” hissed a voice.

    His head snapped up, almost dislodging the intricate network of electrodes which connected him to the central Krikkit War Computer.

    An inspection hatch had opened and one of a pair of unruly heads was peering through whilst the other kept on jogging it by continually darting to look this way and that extremely nervously.

    “Oh, it's you,” muttered the robot. “I might have known.”

    “Hey, kid,” said Zaphod in astonishment, “was that you singing just then?”

    “I am,” Marvin acknowledged bitterly, “in particularly scintillating form at the moment.”

    Zaphod poked his head in through the hatchway and looked around.

    “Are you alone?” he said.

    “Yes,” said Marvin. “Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. And vast intelligence of course. And infinite sorrow. And...”

    “Yeah,” said Zaphod. “Hey, what's your connection with all this?”

    This,” said Marvin, indicating with his less damaged arm all the electrodes which connected him with the Krikkit computer.

    “Then,” said Zaphod awkwardly, “I guess you must have saved my life.

    Twice.”

    “Three times,” said Marvin.

    Zaphod's head snapped round (his other one was looking hawkishly in entirely the wrong direction) just in time to see the lethal killer robot directly behind him seize up and start to smoke. It staggered backwards and slumped against a wall. It slid down it. It slipped sideways, threw its head back and started to sob inconsolably.

    Zaphod looked back at Marvin.

    “You must have a terrific outlook on life,” he said.

    “Just don't even ask,” said Marvin.

    “I won't,” said Zaphod, and didn't. “Hey look,” he added, “you're doing a terrific job.”

    “Which means, I suppose,” said Marvin, requiring only one ten thousand million billion trillion grillionth part of his mental powers to make this particular logical leap, “that you're not going to release me or anything like that.”

    “Kid, you know I'd love to.”

    “But you're not going to.”

    “No.”

    “I see.”

    “You're working well.”

    “Yes,” said Marvin. “Why stop now just when I'm hating it?”

    “I got to find Trillian and the guys. Hey, you any idea where they are?

    I mean, I just got a planet to choose from. Could take a while.”

    “They are very close,” said Marvin dolefully. “You can monitor them from here if you like.”

    “I better go get them,” asserted Zaphod. “Er, maybe they need some help, right?”

    “Maybe,” said Marvin with unexpected authority in his lugubrious voice, “it would be better if you monitored them from here. That young girl,” he added unexpectedly, “is one of the least benightedly unintelligent life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting.”

    Zaphod took a moment or two to find his way through this labyrinthine string of negatives and emerged at the other end with surprise.

    “Trillian?” he said. “She's just a kid. Cute, yeah, but temperamental.

    You know how it is with women. Or perhaps you don't. I assume you don't. If you do I don't want to hear about it. Plug us in.”

    “... totally manipulated.”

    “What?” said Zaphod.

    It was Trillian speaking. He turned round.

    The wall against which the Krikkit robot was sobbing had lit up to reveal a scene taking place in some other unknown part of the Krikkit Robot War zones. It seemed to be a council chamber of some kind — Zaphod couldn't make it out too clearly because of the robot slumped against the screen.

    He tried to move the robot, but it was heavy with its grief and tried to bite him, so he just looked around as best he could.

    “Just think about it,” said Trillian's voice, “your history is just a series of freakishly improbable events. And I know an improbable event when I see one. Your complete isolation from the Galaxy was freakish for a start. Right out on the very edge with a Dust Cloud around you. It's a set-up. Obviously.”

    Zaphod was mad with frustration because he couldn't see the screen. The robot's head was obscuring his view of the people Trillian as talking to, his multi-functional battleclub was obscuring the background, and the elbow of the arm it had pressed tragically against its brow was obscuring Trillian herself.

    “Then,” said Trillian, “this spaceship that crash-landed on your planet.

    That's really likely, isn't it? Have you any idea of what the odds are against a drifting spaceship accidentally intersecting with the orbit of a planet?”

    “Hey,” said Zaphod, “she doesn't know what the zark she's talking about. I've seen that spaceship. It's a fake. No deal.”

    “I thought it might be,” said Marvin from his prison behind Zaphod.

    “Oh yeah,” said Zaphod. “It's easy for you to say that. I just told you.

    Anyway, I don't see what it's got to do with anything.”

    “And especially,” continued Trillian, “the odds against it intersecting with the orbit of the one planet in the Galaxy, or the whole of the Universe as far as I know, that would be totally traumatized to see it.

    You don't know what the odds are? Nor do I, they're that big. Again, it's a set-up. I wouldn't be surprised if that spaceship was just a fake.”

    Zaphod managed to move the robot's battleclub. Behind it on the screen were the figures of Ford, Arthur and Slartibartfast who appeared astonished and bewildered by the whole thing.

    “Hey, look,” said Zaphod excitedly. “The guys are doing great. Ra ra ra! Go get 'em, guys.”

    “And what about,” said Trillian, “all this technology you suddenly managed to build for yourselves almost overnight? Most people would take thousands of years to do all that. Someone was feeding you what you needed to know, someone was keeping you at it.

    “I know, I know,” she added in response to an unseen interruption, “I know you didn't realize it was going on. This is exactly my point. You never realized anything at all. Like this Supernova Bomb.”

    “How do you know about that?” said an unseen voice.

    “I just know,” said Trillian. “You expect me to believe that you are bright enough to invent something that brilliant and be too dumb to realize it would take you with it as well? That's not just stupid, that is spectacularly obtuse.”

    “Hey, what's this bomb thing?” said Zaphod in alarm to Marvin.

    “The supernova bomb?” said Marvin. “It's a very, very small bomb.”

    “Yeah?”

    “That would destroy the Universe in toto,” added Marvin. “Good idea, if you ask me. They won't get it to work, though.”

    “Why not, if it's so brilliant?”

    “It's brilliant,” said Marvin, “they're not. They got as far as designing it before they were locked in the envelope. They've spent the last five years building it. They think they've got it right but they haven't. They're as stupid as any other organic life form. I hate them.”

    Trillian was continuing.

    Zaphod tried to pull the Krikkit robot away by its leg, but it kicked and growled at him, and then quaked with a fresh outburst of sobbing. Then suddenly it slumped over and continued to express its feelings out of everybody's way on the floor. Trillian was standing alone in the middle of the chamber tired out but with fiercely burning eyes.

    Ranged in front of her were the pale-faced and wrinkled Elder Masters of Krikkit, motionless behind their widely curved control desk, staring at her with helpless fear and hatred.

    In front of them, equidistant between their control desk and the middle of the chamber, where Trillian stood, as if on trial, was a slim white pillar about four feet tall. On top of it stood a small white globe, about three, maybe four inches in diameter.

    Beside it stood a Krikkit robot with its multi-functional battleclub.

    “In fact,” explained Trillian, “you are so dumb stupid” (She was sweating. Zaphod felt that this was an unattractive thing for her to be doing at this point) “you are all so dumb stupid that I doubt, I very much doubt, that you've been able to build the bomb properly without any help from Hactar for the last five years.”

    “Who's this guy Hactar?” said Zaphod, squaring his shoulders.

    If Marvin replied, Zaphod didn't hear him. All his attention was concentrated on the screen.

    One of the Elders of Krikkit made a small motion with his hand towards the Krikkit robot. The robot raised his club.

    “There's nothing I can do,” said Marvin. “It's on an independent circuit from the others.”

    “Wait,” said Trillian.

    The Elder made a small motion. The robot halted. Trillian suddenly seemed very doubtful of her own judgment.

    “How do you know all this?” said Zaphod to Marvin at this point.

    “Computer records,” said Marvin. “I have access.”

    “You're very different, aren't you,” said Trillian to the Elder Masters, “from your fellow worldlings down on the ground. You've spent all your lives up here, unprotected by the atmosphere. You've been very vulnerable. The rest of your race is very frightened, you know, they don't want you to do this. You're out of touch, why don't you check up?”

    The Krikkit Elder grew impatient. He made a gesture to the robot which was precisely the opposite of the gesture he had last made to it.

    The robot swung its battleclub. It hit the small white globe.

    The small white globe was the supernova bomb.

    It was a very, very small bomb which was designed to bring the entire Universe to an end. The supernova bomb flew through the air. It hit the back wall of the council chamber and dented it very badly.

    “So how does she know all this?” said Zaphod.

    Marvin kept a sullen silence.

    “Probably just bluffing,” said Zaphod. “Poor kid, I should never have left her alone."   32  "Hactar!” called Trillian. “What are you up to?”

    There was no reply from the enclosing darkness. Trillian waited, nervously. She was sure that she couldn't be wrong. She peered into the gloom from which she had been expecting some kind of response. But there was only cold silence.

    “Hactar?” she called again. “I would like you to meet my friend Arthur Dent. I wanted to go off with a Thunder God, but he wouldn't let me and I appreciate that. He made me realize where my affections really lay.

    Unfortunately Zaphod is too frightened by all this, so I brought Arthur instead. I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this.

    “Hello?” she said again. “Hactar?”

    And then it came.

    It was thin and feeble, like a voice carried on the wind from a great distance, half heard, a memory of a dream of a voice.

    “Won't you both come out,” said the voice. “I promise that you will be perfectly safe.”

    They glanced at each other, and then stepped out, improbably, along the shaft of light which streamed out of the open hatchway of the Heart of Gold into the dim granular darkness of the Dust Cloud.

    Arthur tried to hold her hand to steady and reassure her, but she wouldn't let him. He held on to his airline hold-all with its tin of Greek olive oil, its towel, its crumpled postcards of Santorini and its other odds and ends. He steadied and reassured that instead.

    They were standing on, and in, nothing.

    Murky, dusty nothing. Each grain of dust of the pulverized computer sparkled dimly as it turned and twisted slowly, catching the sunlight in the darkness. Each particle of the computer, each speck of dust, held within itself, faintly and weakly, the pattern of the whole. In reducing the computer to dust the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax had merely crippled the computer, not killed it. A weak and insubstantial field held the particles in slight relationships with each other. Arthur and Trillian stood, or rather floated, in the middle of this bizarre entity. They had nothing to breathe, but for the moment this seemed not to matter.

    Hactar kept his promise. They were safe. For the moment.

    “I have nothing to offer you by way of hospitality,” said Hactar faintly, “but tricks of the light. It is possible to be comfortable with tricks of the light, though, if that is all you have.”

    His voice evanesced, and in the dark dust a long velvet paisleycovered sofa coalesced into hazy shape.

    Arthur could hardly bear the fact that it was the same sofa which had appeared to him in the fields of prehistoric Earth. He wanted to shout and shake with rage that the Universe kept doing these insanely bewildering things to him.

    He let this feeling subside, and then sat on the sofa — carefully. Trillian sat on it too.

    It was real.

    At least, if it wasn't real, it did support them, and as that is what sofas are supposed to do, this, by any test that mattered, was a real sofa.

    The voice on the solar wind breathed to them again.

    “I hope you are comfortable,” it said.

    They nodded.

    “And I would like to congratulate you on the accuracy of your deductions.”

    Arthur quickly pointed out that he hadn't deduced anything much himself, Trillian was the one. She had simply asked him along because he was interested in life, the Universe, and everything.

    “That is something in which I too am interested,” breathed Hactar.

    “Well,” said Arthur, “we should have a chat about it sometime. Over a cup of tea.”

    There slowly materialized in front of them a small wooden table on which sat a silver teapot, a bone china milk jug, a bone china sugar bowl, and two bone china cups and saucers.

    Arthur reached forward, but they were just a trick of the light. He leaned back on the sofa, which was an illusion his body was prepared to accept as comfortable.

    “Why,” said Trillian, “do you feel you have to destroy the Universe?”

    She found it a little difficult talking into nothingness, with nothing on which to focus. Hactar obviously noticed this. He chuckled a ghostly chuckle.

    “If it's going to be that sort of session,” he said, “we may as well have the right sort of setting.”

    And now there materialized in front of them something new. It was the dim hazy image of a couch — a psychiatrist's couch. The leather with which it was upholstered was shiny and sumptuous, but again, it was only a trick of the light.

    Around them, to complete the setting, was the hazy suggestion of woodpanelled walls. And then, on the couch, appeared the image of Hactar himself, and it was an eye-twisting image.

    The couch looked normal size for a psychiatrist's couch — about five or six feet long.

    The computer looked normal size for a black space-borne computer satellite — about a thousand miles across.

    The illusion that the one was sitting on top of the other was the thing which made the eyes twist.

    “All right,” said Trillian firmly. She stood up off the sofa. She felt that she was being asked to feel too comfortable and to accept too many illusions.

    “Very good,” she said. “Can you construct real things too? I mean solid objects?”

    Again there was a pause before the answer, as if the pulverized mind of Hactar had to collect its thoughts from the millions and millions of miles over which it was scattered.

    “Ah,” he sighed. “You are thinking of the spaceship.”

    Thoughts seemed to drift by them and through them, like waves through the ether.

    “Yes,” he acknowledge, “I can.

    “But it takes enormous effort and time. All I can do in my... particle state, you see, is encourage and suggest. Encourage and suggest. And suggest...”

    The image of Hactar on the couch seemed to billow and waver, as if finding it hard to maintain itself.

    It gathered new strength.

    “I can encourage and suggest,” it said, “tiny pieces of space debris — the odd minute meteor, a few molecules here, a few hydrogen atoms there — to move together. I encourage them together. I can tease them into shape, but it takes many aeons.”

    “So, did you make,” asked Trillian again, “the model of the wrecked spacecraft?”

    “Er... yes,” murmured Hactar. “I have made... a few things. I can move them about. I made the spacecraft. It seemed best to do.”

    Something then made Arthur pick up his hold-all from where he had left it on the sofa and grasp it tightly.

    The mist of Hactar's ancient shattered mind swirled about them as if uneasy dreams were moving through it.

    “I repented, you see,” he murmured dolefully. “I repented of sabotaging my own design for the Silastic Armorfiends. It was not my place to make such decisions. I was created to fulfill a function and I failed in it.

    I negated my own existence.”

    Hactar sighed, and they waited in silence for him to continue his story.

    “You were right,” he said at length. “I deliberately nurtured the planet of Krikkit till they would arrive at the same state of mind as the Silastic Armorfiends, and require of me the design of the bomb I failed to make the first time. I wrapped myself around the planet and coddled it. Under the influence of events I was able to generate, they learned to hate like maniacs. I had to make them live in the sky. On the ground my influences were too weak.

    “Without me, of course, when they were locked away from me in the envelope of Slo-Time, their responses became very confused and they were unable to manage.

    “Ah well, ah well,” he added, “I was only trying to fulfill my function.”

    And very gradually, very, very slowly, the images in the cloud began to fade, gently to melt away.

    And then, suddenly, they stopped fading.

    “There was also the matter of revenge, of course,” said Hactar, with a sharpness which was new in his voice.

    “Remember,” he said, “that I was pulverized, and then left in a crippled and semi-impotent state for billions of years. I honestly would rather wipe out the Universe. You would feel the same way, believe me.”

    He paused again, as eddies swept through the Dust.

    “But primarily,” he said in his former, wistful tone, “I was trying to fulfill my function. Ah well.”

    Trillian said, “Does it worry you that you have failed?”

    “Have I failed?” whispered Hactar. The image of the computer on the psychiatrist's couch began slowly to fade again.

    “Ah well, ah well,” the fading voice intoned again. “No, failure doesn't bother me now.”

    “You know what we have to do?” said Trillian, her voice cold and businesslike.

    “Yes,” said Hactar, “you're going to disperse me. You are going to destroy my consciousness. Please be my guest — after all these aeons, oblivion is all I crave. If I haven't already fulfilled my function, then it's too late now. Thank you and good night.”

    The sofa vanished.

    The tea table vanished.

    The couch and the computer vanished. the walls were gone. Arthur and Trillian made their curious way back into the Heart of Gold.

    “Well, that,” said Arthur, “would appear to be that.”

    The flames danced higher in front of him and then subsided. A few last licks and they were gone, leaving him with just a pile of Ashes, where a few minutes previously there had been the Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality.

    He scooped them off the hob of the Heart of Gold's Gamma barbecue, put them in a paper bag, and walked back into the bridge.

    “I think we should take them back,” he said. “I feel that very strongly.”

    He had already had an argument with Slartibartfast on this matter, and eventually the old man had got annoyed and left. he had returned to his own ship the Bistromath, had a furious row with the waiter and disappeared off into an entirely subjective idea of what space was.

    The argument had arisen because Arthur's idea of returning the Ashes to Lord's Cricket Ground at the same moment that they were originally taken would involve travelling back in time a day or so, and this was precisely the sort of gratuitous and irresponsible mucking about that the Campaign for Real Time was trying to put a stop to.

    “Yes,” Arthur had said, “but you try and explain that to the MCC,” and he would hear no more against the idea.

    “I think,” he said again, and stopped. The reason he started to say it again was because no one had listened to him the first time, and the reason he stopped was because it looked fairly clear that no one was going to listen to him this time either.

    Ford, Zaphod and Trillian were watching the visiscreens intently as Hactar was dispersing under pressure from a vibration field which the Heart of Gold was pumping into it.

    “What did it say?” asked Ford.

    “I thought I heard it say,” said Trillian in a puzzle voice, “`What's done is done... I have fulfilled my function...'”

    “I think we should take these back,” said Arthur holding up the bag containing the Ashes. “I feel that very strongly."   33  The sun was shining calmly on a scene of complete havoc.

    Smoke was still billowing across the burnt grass in the wake of the theft of the Ashes by the Krikkit robots. Through the smoke, people were running panicstricken, colliding with each other, tripping over stretchers, being arrested.

    One policeman was attempting to arrest Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged for insulting behaviour, but was unable to prevent the tall greygreen alien from returning to his ship and arrogantly flying away, thus causing even more panic and pandemonium.

    In the middle of this, for the second time that afternoon, the figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect suddenly materialized, they had teleported down out of the Heart of Gold which was now in parking orbit round the planet.

    “I can explain,” shouted Arthur. “I have the Ashes! They're in this bag.”

    “I don't think you have their attention,” said Ford.

    “I have also helped save the Universe,” called Arthur to anyone who was prepared to listen, in other words no one.

    “That should have been a crowd-stopper,” said Arthur to Ford.

    “It wasn't,” said Ford.

    Arthur accosted a policeman who was running past.

    “Excuse me,” he said. “The Ashes. I've got them. They were stolen by those white robots a moment ago. I've got them in this bag. They were part of the Key to the Slo-Time envelope, you see, and, well, anyway you can guess the rest, the point is I've got them and what should I do with them?”

    The policeman told him, but Arthur could only assume that he was speaking metaphorically.

    He wandered about disconsolately.

    “Is no one interested?” he shouted out. A man rushed past him and jogged his elbow, he dropped the paper bag and it spilt its contents all over the ground. Arthur stared down at it with a tight-set mouth.

    Ford looked at him.

    “Wanna go now?” he said.

    Arthur heaved a heavy sigh. He looked around at the planet Earth, for what he was now certain would be the last time.

    “OK,” he said.

    At that moment, through the clearing smoke, he caught sight of one of the wickets, still standing in spite of everything.

    “Hold on a moment,” he said to Ford. “When I was a boy...”

    “Can you tell me later?”

    “I had a passion for cricket, you know, but I wasn't very good at it.”

    “Or not at all, if you prefer.”

    “And I always dreamed, rather stupidly, that one day I would bowl at Lord's.”

    He looked around him at the panicstricken throng. No one was going to mind very much.

    “OK,” said Ford wearily. “Get it over with. I shall be over there,” he added, “being bored.” He went and sat down on a patch of smoking grass.

    Arthur remembered that on their first visit there that afternoon, the cricket ball had actually landed in his bag, and he looked through the bag.

    He had already found the ball in it before he remembered that it wasn't the same bag that he'd had at the time. Still, there the ball was amongst his souvenirs of Greece.

    He took it out and polished it against his hip, spat on it and polished it again. He put the bag down. He was going to do this properly.

    He tossed the small hard red ball from hand to hand, feeling its weight.

    With a wonderful feeling of lightness and unconcern, he trotted off away from the wicket. A medium-fast pace, he decided, and measured a good long run-up.

    He looked up into the sky. The birds were wheeling about it, a few white clouds scudded across it. The air was disturbed with the sounds of police and ambulance sirens, and people screaming and yelling, but he felt curiously happy and untouched by it all. He was going to bowl a ball at Lord's.

    He turned and pawed a couple of times at the ground with his bedroom slippers. He squared his shoulders, tossed the ball in the air and caught it again.

    He started to run.

    As he ran, he saw that standing at the wicket was a batsman. Oh, good, he thought, that should add a little...

    Then, as his running feet took him nearer, he saw more clearly. The batsman standing ready at the wicket was not one of the England cricket team. He was not one of the Australian cricket team. It was one of the robot Krikkit team. It was a cold, hard, lethal white killer-robot that presumably had not returned to its ship with the others.

    Quite a few thoughts collided in Arthur Dent's mind at tis moment, but he didn't seem to be able to stop running. Time seemed to be going terribly, terribly slowly, but still he didn't seem to be able to stop running.

    Moving as if through syrup, he slowly turned his troubled head and looked at his own hand, the hand which was holding the small hard red ball.

    His feet were pounding slowly onwards, unstoppably, as he stared at the ball gripped in his helpless hand. It was emitting a deep red glow and flashing intermittently. And still his feet were pounding inexorably forward.

    He looked at the Krikkit robot again standing implacably still and purposefully in front of him, battleclub raised in readiness. Its eyes were burning with a deep cold fascinating light, and Arthur could not move his own eyes from them. He seemed to be looking down a tunnel at them — nothing on either side seemed to exist.

    Some of the thoughts which were colliding in his mind at this time were these:

    He felt a hell of a fool.

    He felt that he should have listened rather more carefully to a number of things he had heard said, phrases which now pounded round in his mind as his feet pounded onwards to the point where he would inevitably release the ball to the Krikkit robot, who would inevitably strike it.

    He remembered Hactar saying, “Have I failed? Failure doesn't bother me.”

    He remembered the account of Hactar's dying words, “What's done is done, I have fulfilled my function.”

    He remembered Hactar saying that he had managed to make “a few things.”

    He remembered the sudden movement in his hold-all that had made him grip it tightly to himself when he was in the Dust Cloud.

    He remembered that he had travelled back in time a couple of days to come to Lord's again.

    He also remembered that he wasn't a very good bowler.

    He felt his arm coming round, gripping tightly on to the ball which he now knew for certain was the supernova bomb that Hactar had built himself and planted on him, the bomb which would cause the Universe to come to an abrupt and premature end.

    He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.

    He would feel very, very embarrassed meeting everybody.

    He hoped, he hoped, he hoped that his bowling was as bad as he remembered it to be, because that seemed to be the only thing now standing between this moment and universal oblivion.

    He felt his legs pounding, he felt his arm coming round, he felt his feet connecting with the airline hold-all he'd stupidly left lying on the ground in front of him, he felt himself falling heavily forward but, having his mind so terribly full of other things at this moment, he completely forgot about hitting the ground and didn't.

    Still holding the ball firmly in his right hand he soared up into the air whimpering with surprise.

    He wheeled and whirled through the air, spinning out of control.

    He twisted down towards the ground, flinging himself hectically through the air, at the same time hurling the bomb harmlessly off into the distance.

    He hurtled towards the astounded robot from behind. It still had its multi-functional battleclub raised, but had suddenly been deprived of anything to hit.

    With a sudden mad access of strength, he wrestled the battleclub from the grip of the startled robot, executed a dazzling banking turn in the air, hurtled back down in a furious power-drive and with one crazy swing knocked the robot's head from the robot's shoulders.

    “Are you coming now?” said Ford.  34 Epilogue: Life, the Universe and Everything

    And at the end they travelled again.

    There was a time when Arthur Dent would not. He said that the Bistromathic Drive had revealed to him that time and distance were one, that mind and Universe were one, that perception and reality were one, and that the more one travelled the more one stayed in one place, and that what with one thing and another he would rather just stay put for a while and sort it all out in his mind, which was now at one with the Universe so it shouldn't take too long, and he could get a good rest afterwards, put in a little flying practice and learn to cook which he had always meant to do. The can of Greek olive oil was now his most prized possession, and he said that the way it had unexpectedly turned up in his life had again given him a certain sense of the oneness of things which made him feel that...

    He yawned and fell asleep.

    In the morning as they prepared to take him to some quiet and idyllic planet where they wouldn't mind him talking like that they suddenly picked up a computer-driven distress call and diverted to investigate.

    A small but apparently undamaged spacecraft of the Merida class seemed to be dancing a strange little jig through the void. A brief computer scan revealed that the ship was fine, its computer was fine, but that its pilot was mad.

    “Half-mad, half-mad,” the man insisted as they carried him, raving, aboard.

    He was a journalist with the Siderial Daily Mentioner. They sedated him and sent Marvin in to keep him company until he promised to try and talk sense.

    “I was covering a trial,” he said at last, “on Argabuthon.”

    He pushed himself up on to his thin wasted shoulders, his eyes stared wildly. His white hair seemed to be waving at someone it knew in the next room.

    “Easy, easy,” said Ford. Trillian put a soothing hand on his shoulder.

    The man sank back down again and stared at the ceiling of the ship's sick bay.

    “The case,” he said, “is now immaterial, but there was a witness... a witness... a man called... called Prak. A strange and difficult man. They were eventually forced to administer a drug to make him tell the truth, a truth drug.”

    His eyes rolled helplessly in his head.

    “They gave him too much,” he said in a tiny whimper. “They gave him much too much.” He started to cry. “I thing the robots must have jogged the surgeon's arm.”

    “Robots?” said Zaphod sharply. “What robots?”

    “Some white robots,” whispered the man hoarsely, “broke into the courtroom and stole the judge's sceptre, the Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice, nasty Perspex thing. I don't know why they wanted it.” He began to cry again. “And I think they jogged the surgeon's arm...”

    He shook his head loosely from side to side, helplessly, sadly, his eyes screwed up in pain.

    “And when the trial continued,” he said in a weeping whisper, “they asked Prak a most unfortunate thing. They asked him,” he paused and shivered, “to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth.

    Only, don't you see?”

    He suddenly hoisted himself up on to his elbows again and shouted at them.

    “They'd given him much too much of the drug!”

    He collapsed again, moaning quietly. “Much too much too much too much too...”

    The group gathered round his bedside glanced at each other. there were goose pimples on backs.

    “What happened?” said Zaphod at last.

    “Oh, he told it all right,” said the man savagely, “for all I know he's still telling it now. Strange, terrible things... terrible, terrible!” he screamed.

    They tried to calm him, but he struggled to his elbows again.

    “Terrible things, incomprehensible things,” he shouted, “things that would drive a man mad!”

    He stared wildly at them.

    “Or in my case,” he said, “half-mad. I'm a journalist.”

    “You mean,” said Arthur quietly, “that you are used to confronting the truth?”

    “No,” said the man with a puzzled frown. “I mean that I made an excuse and left early.”

    He collapsed into a coma from which he recovered only once and briefly.

    On that one occasion, they discovered from him the following:

    When it became clear that Prak could not be stopped, that here was truth in its absolute and final form, the court was cleared.

    Not only cleared, it was sealed up, with Prak still in it. Steel walls were erected around it, and, just to be on the safe side, barbed wire, electric fences, crocodile swamps and three major armies were installed, so that no one would ever have to hear Prak speak.

    “That's a pity,” said Arthur. “I'd like to hear what he had to say. Presumably he would know what the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer is. It's always bothered me that we never found out.”

    “Think of a number,” said the computer, “ any number.”

    Arthur told the computer the telephone number of King's Cross railway station passenger inquiries, on the grounds that it must have some function, and this might turn out to be it. The computer injected the number into the ship's reconstituted Improbability Drive.

    In Relativity, Matter tells Space how to curve, and Space tells Matter how to move.

    The Heart of Gold told space to get knotted, and parked itself neatly within the inner steel perimeter of the Argabuthon Chamber of Law.

    The courtroom was an austere place, a large dark chamber, clearly designed for Justice rather than, for instance, for Pleasure. You wouldn't hold a dinner party here — at least, not a successful one. The decor would get your guests down.

    The ceilings were high, vaulted and very dark. Shadows lurked there with grim determination. The panelling for the walls and benches, the cladding of the heavy pillars, all were carved from the darkest and most severe trees in the fearsome Forest of Arglebard. The massive black Podium of Justice which dominated the centre of the chamber was a monster of gravity. If a sunbeam had ever managed to slink this far into the Justice complex of Argabuthon it would have turned around and slunk straight back out again.

    Arthur and Trillian were the first in, whilst Ford and Zaphod bravely kept a watch on their rear.

    At first it seemed totally dark and deserted. their footsteps echoed hollowly round the chamber. This seemed curious. All the defences were still in position and operative around the outside of the building, they had run scan checks. Therefore, they had assumed, the truth-telling must still be going on.

    But there was nothing.

    Then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they spotted a dull red glow in a corner, and behind the glow a live shadow. They swung a torch round on to it.

    Prak was lounging on a bench, smoking a listless cigarette.

    “Hi,” he said, with a little half-wave. His voice echoed through the chamber. He was a little man with scraggy hair. He sat with his shoulders hunched forward and his head and knees kept jiggling. He took a drag of his cigarette.

    They stared at him.

    “What's going on?” said Trillian.

    “Nothing,” said the man and jiggled his shoulders.

    Arthur shone his torch full on Prak's face.

    “We thought,” he said, “that you were meant to be telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth.”

    “Oh, that,” said Prak.

    “Yeah. I was. I finished. There's not nearly as much of it as people imagine. Some of it's pretty funny, though.”

    He suddenly exploded in about three seconds of manical laughter and stopped again. he sat there, jiggling his head and knees. He dragged on his cigarette with a strange half-smile.

    Ford and Zaphod came forward out of the shadows.

    “Tell us about it,” said Ford.

    “Oh, I can't remember any of it now,” said Prak. “I thought of writing some of it down, but first I couldn't find a pencil, and then I thought, why bother?”

    There was a long silence, during which they thought they could feel the Universe age a little. Prak stared into the torchlight.

    “None of it?” said Arthur at last. “You can remember none of it?”

    “No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that.”

    Suddenly he was hooting with laughter again and stamping his feet on the ground.

    “You would not believe some of the things about frogs,” he gasped.

    “Come on let's go and find ourselves a frog. Boy, will I ever see them in a new light!” He leapt to his feet and did a tiny little dance. Then he stopped and took a long drag at his cigarette.

    “Let's find a frog I can laugh at,” he said simply. “Anyway, who are you guys?”

    “We came to find you,” said Trillian, deliberately not keeping the disappointment out of her voice. “My name is Trillian.”

    Prak jiggled his head.

    “Ford Prefect,” said Ford Prefect with a shrug.

    Prak jiggled his head.

    “And I,” said Zaphod, when he judged that the silence was once again deep enough to allow an announcement of such gravity to be tossed in lightly, “am Zaphod Beeblebrox.”

    Prak jiggled his head.

    “Who's this guy?” said Prak jiggling his shoulder at Arthur, who was standing silent for a moment, lost in disappointed thoughts.

    “Me?” said Arthur. “Oh, my name's Arthur Dent.”

    Prak's eyes popped out of his head.

    “No kidding?” he yelped. “You are Arthur Dent? The Arthur Dent?” He staggered backwards, clutching his stomach and convulsed with fresh paroxysms o laughter.

    “Hey, just think of meeting you!” he gasped. “Boy,” he shouted, “you are the most... wow, you just leave the frogs standing!”

    he howled and screamed with laughter. He fell over backwards on to the bench. He hollered and yelled in hysterics. He cried with laughter, he kicked his legs in the air, he beat his chest. Gradually he subsided, panting. He looked at them. He looked at Arthur. He fell back again howling with laughter. Eventually he fell asleep.

    Arthur stood there with his lips twitching whilst the others carried Prak comatose on to the ship.

    “Before we picked up Prak,” said Arthur, “I was going to leave. I still want to, and I think I should do so as soon as possible.”

    The others nodded in silence, a silence which was only slightly undermined by the heavily muffled and distant sound of hysterical laughter which came drifting from Prak's cabin at the farthest end of the ship.

    “We have questioned him,” continued Arthur, “or at least, you have questioned him — I, as you know, can't go near him — on everything, and he doesn't really seem to have anything to contribute. Just the occasional snippet, and things I don't want to hear about frogs.”

    The others tried not to smirk.

    “Now, I am the first to appreciate a joke,” said Arthur and then had to wait for the others to stop laughing.

    “I am the first...” he stopped again. This time he stopped and listened to the silence. There actually was silence this time, and it had come very suddenly.

    Prak was quiet. For days they had lived with constant manical laughter ringing round the ship, only occasionally relieved by short periods of light giggling and sleep. Arthur's very soul was clenched with paranoia.

    This was not the silence of sleep. A buzzer sounded. A glance at a board told them that the buzzer had been sounded by Prak.

    “He's not well,” said Trillian quietly. “The constant laughing is completely wrecking his body.”

    Arthur's lips twitched but he said nothing.

    “We'd better go and see him,” said Trillian.

    Trillian came out of the cabin wearing her serious face.

    “He wants you to go in,” she said to Arthur, who was wearing his glum and tight-lipped one. He thrust his hands deep into his dressing-gown pockets and tried to think of something to say which wouldn't sound petty. It seemed terribly unfair, but he couldn't.

    “Please,” said Trillian.

    He shrugged and went in, taking his glum and tight-lipped face with him, despite the reaction this always provoked from Prak.

    He looked down at his tormentor, who was lying quietly on the bed, ashen and wasted. His breathing was very shallow. Ford and Zaphod were standing by the bed looking awkward.

    “You wanted to ask me something,” said Prak in a thin voice and coughed slightly.

    Just the cough made Arthur stiffen, but it passed and subsided.

    “How do you know that?” he asked.

    Prak shrugged weakly. “'Cos it's true,” he said simply.

    Arthur took the point.

    “Yes,” he said at last in rather a strained drawl. “I did have a question.

    Or rather, what I actually have is an Answer. I wanted to know what the Question was.”

    Prak nodded sympathetically, and Arthur relaxed a little.

    “It's... well, it's a long story,” he said, “but the Question I would like to know is the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. All we know is that the Answer is Forty-Two, which is a little aggravating.”

    Prak nodded again.

    “Forty-Two,” he said. “Yes, that's right.”

    He paused. Shadows of thought and memory crossed his face like the shadows of clouds crossing the land.

    “I'm afraid,” he said at last, “that the Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same universe.”

    He paused again. Disappointment crept into Arthur's face and snuggled down into its accustomed place.

    “Except,” said Prak, struggling to sort a thought out, “if it happened, it seems that the Question and the Answer would just cancel each other out and take the Universe with them, which would then be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. It is possible that this has already happened,” he added with a weak smile, “but there is a certain amount of Uncertainty about it.”

    A little giggle brushed through him. Arthur sat down on a stool.

    “Oh well,” he said with resignation, “I was just hoping there would be some sort of reason.”

    “Do you know,” said Prak, “the story of the Reason?”

    Arthur said that he didn't, and Prak said that he knew that he didn't.

    He told it.

    One night, he said, a spaceship appeared in the sky of a planet which had never seen one before. The planet was Dalforsas, the ship was this one.

    It appeared as a brilliant new star moving silently across the heavens.

    Primitive tribesmen who were sitting huddled on the Cold Hillsides looked up from their steaming night-drinks and pointed with trembling fingers, swearing that they had seen a sign, a sign from their gods which meant that they must now arise at last and go and slay the evil Princes of the Plains.

    In the high turrets of their palaces, the Princes of the Plains looked up and saw the shining star, and received it unmistakably as a sign from their gods that they must now go and set about the accursed Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides.

    And between them, the Dwellers in the Forest looked up into the sky and saw the sigh of the new star, and saw it with fear and apprehension, for though they had never seen anything like it before, they too knew precisely what it foreshadowed, and they bowed their heads in despair.

    They knew that when the rains came, it was a sign.

    When the rains departed, it was a sign.

    When the winds rose, it was a sign.

    When the winds fell, it was a sign.

    When in the land there was born at midnight of a full moon a goat with three heads, that was a sign.

    When in the land there was born at some time in the afternoon a perfectly normal cat or pig with no birth complications at all, or even just a child with a retrousse nose, that too would often be taken as a sign.

    So there was no doubt at all that a new star in the sky was a sign of a particularly spectacular order.

    And each new sign signified the same thing — that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides were about to beat the hell out of each other again.

    This in itself wouldn't be so bad, except that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides always elected to beat the hell out of each other in the Forest, and it was always the Dwellers in the Forest who came off worst in these exchanges, though as far as they could see it never had anything to do with them.

    And sometimes, after some of the worst of these outrages, the Dwellers in the Forest would send a messenger to either the leader of the Princes of the Plains or the leader of the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides and demand to know the reason for this intolerable behaviour.

    And the leader, whichever one it was, would take the messenger aside and explain the Reason to him, slowly and carefully and with great attention to the considerable detail involved.

    And the terrible thing was, it was a very good one. It was very clear, very rational, and tough. The messenger would hang his head and feel sad and foolish that he had not realized what a tough and complex place the real world was, and what difficulties and paradoxes had to be embraced if one was to live in it.

    “Now do you understand?” the leader would say.

    The messenger would nod dumbly.

    “And you see these battles have to take place?”

    Another dumb nod.

    “And why they have to take place in the forest, and why it is in everybody's best interest, the Forest Dwellers included, that they should?”

    “Er...”

    “In the long run.”

    “Er, yes.”

    And the messenger did understand the Reason, and he returned to his people in the Forest. But as he approached them, as he walked through the Forest and amongst the trees, he found that all he could remember of the Reason was how terribly clear the argument had seemed. What it actually was he couldn't remember at all.

    And this, of course, was a great comfort when next the Tribesmen and the Princes came hacking and burning their way through the Forest, killing every Forest Dweller in their way.

    Prak paused in his story and coughed pathetically.

    “I was the messenger,” he said, “after the battles precipitated by the appearance of your ship, which were particularly savage. Many of our people died. I thought I could bring the Reason back. I went and was told it by the leader of the Princes, but on the way back it slipped and melted away in my mind like snow in the sun. That was many years ago, and much has happened since then.” He looked up at Arthur and giggled again very gently.

    “There is one other thing I can remember from the truth drug. Apart from the frogs, and that is God's last message to his creation. Would you like to hear it?”

    For a moment they didn't know whether to take him seriously.

    “'Strue,” he said. “For real. I mean it.”

    His chest heaved weakly and he struggled for breath. His head lolled slightly.

    “I wasn't very impressed with it when I first knew what it was,” he said, “but now I think back to how impressed I was by the Prince's Reason, and how soon afterwards I couldn't recall it at all, I think it might be a lot more helpful. Would you like to know what it is? Would you?”

    They nodded dumbly.

    “I bet you would. If you're that interested I suggest you go and look for it. It is written in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss in Galactic Sector QQ7 Active J Gamma. It is guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob.”

    There was a long silence following this announcement, which was finally broken by Arthur.

    “Sorry, it's where?” he said.

    “It is written,” repeated Prak, “in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the...”

    “Sorry,” said Arthur again, “which mountains?”

    “The Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet...”

    “Which land was that? I didn't quite catch it.”

    “Sevorbeupstry, on the planet..."  "Sevorbe-what?”

    “Oh, for heaven's sake,” said Prak and died testily.

    In the following days Arthur thought a little about this message, but in the end he decided that he was not going to allow himself to be drawn by it, and insisted on following his original plan of finding a nice little world somewhere to settle down and lead a quiet retired life. Having saved the Universe twice in one day he thought that he could take things a little easier from now on.

    They dropped him off on the planet Krikkit, which was now once again an idyllic pastoral world, even if the songs did occasionally get on his nerves.

    He spent a lot of time flying.

    He learnt to communicate with birds and discovered that their conversation was fantastically boring. It was all to do with wind speed, wing spans, power-to-weight ratios and a fair bit about berries. Unfortunately, he discovered, once you have learnt birdspeak you quickly come to realize that the air is full of it the whole time, just inane bird chatter. There is no getting away from it.

    For that reason Arthur eventually gave up the sport and learnt to live on the ground and love it, despite a lot of the inane chatter he heard down there as well.

    One day, he was walking through the fields humming a ravishing tune he'd heard recently when a silver spaceship descended from the sky and landed in front of him.

    A hatchway opened, a ramp extended, and a tall grey-green alien marched out and approached him.

    “Arthur Phili...” it said, then glanced sharply at him and down at his clipboard. He frowned. He looked up at him again.

    “I've done you before haven't I?” he said.

    Библиотека «Артефакт» — http://artefact.list.ru/library/



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    Библиотека «Артефакт» — http://artefact.list.ru/library/

    Reason

    Isaac Azimov

    Gregory Powell spaced his words for emphasis. “One week ago, Donovan, and I put you together.” His brows furrowed doubtfully and he pulled the end of his brown mustache.

    It was quiet in the officers' room of Solar Station 5 except for the soft putting of the mighty beam director somewhere far below.

    Robot QT-1 sat immovable. The burnished plates of his body gleamed in the luxites, and the glowing red of the photoelectric cells that were his eyes were fixed steadily upon the Earthman at the other side of the table

    Powell repressed a sudden attack of nerves. These robots possessed peculiar brains. The positronic paths impressed upon them were calculated in advance, and all possible permutations that might lead to anger or hate were rigidly excluded. And yet-the QT models were the first of their kind, and this was the first of QT's. Anything could happen.

    Finally the robot spoke. His voice carried the cold timbre inseparable from a metallic diaphragm. “Do you realize the seriousness of such a statement, Powell?”

    “Something made you, Cutie,” pointed out Powell. “You admit yourself that your memory seems to spring full-grown from an absolute blankness of a week ago. I'm giving you the explanation. Donovan and I put you together from the parts shipped us.”

    Curie gazed upon his long, supple fingers in an oddly human attitude of mystification. “It strikes me that there should be a more satisfactory explanation than that. For you to make me seems improbable.”

    The Earthman laughed quite suddenly. “In Earth's name, why?”

    “Call it intuition. That's all it is so far. But I intend to reason it out, though. A chain of valid reasoning can end only with the determination of truth, and I'll stick till I get there.”

    Powell stood up and seated himself at the table's edge next the robot. He felt a sudden strong sympathy for this strange machine. It was not at all like the ordinary robot, attending to his specialized task at the station with the intensity of a deeply ingrooved positronic path. He placed a hand upon Cutie's steel shoulder and the metal was cold and hard to the touch. “Cutie,” he said, “I'm going to try to explain something to you. You're the first robot who's ever exhibited curiosity as to his own existence-and I think the first that's really intelligent enough to understand the world outside. Here, come with me.” The robot rose erect smoothly and his thickly sponge-rubber-soled feet made no noise as he followed Powell. The Earthman touched a button, and a square section of the wall flicked aside. The thick, clear glass revealed space-star speckled. “I've seen that in the observation ports in the engine room,” said Cutie.

    “I know,” said Powell. “What do you think it is?”

    “Exactly what it seems-a black material just beyond this glass that is spotted with little gleaming dots. I know that our director sends out beams to some of these dots, always to the same one-and also that these dots shift and that the beams shift with them. That is all.” “Good! Now I want you to listen carefully. The blackness is emptiness—vast emptiness stretching out infinitely. The little gleaming dots are huge masses of energy-filled matter. They are globes, some of them millions of miles in diameter-and for comparison, this station is only one mile across. They seem so tiny because they are incredibly far off.

    “The dots to which our energy beams are directed are nearer and much smaller. They are cold and hard, and human beings like myself live upon their surfaces-many billions of them. It is from one of these worlds that Donovan and I come. Our beams feed these worlds energy drawn from one of those huge incandescent globes that happens to be near us. We call that globe the sun and it is on the other side of the station where you can't see it.” Cutie remained motionless before the port, like a steel statue. His head did not turn as he spoke. “Which particular dot of light do you claim to come from?” Powell searched. “There it is. The very bright one in the comer. We call it Earth.” He grinned. “Good old Earth. There are five billions of us there, Cutie—and in about two weeks I'll be back there with them.” And then, surprisingly enough, Cutie hummed abstractly. There was no tune to it, but it possessed a curious twanging quality as of plucked strings. It ceased as suddenly as it had begun. “But where do I come in, Powell? You haven't explained my existence.” “The rest is simple. When these stations were first established to feed solar energy to the planets, they were run by humans. However, the heat, the hard solar radiations and the electron storms made the post a difficult one. Robots were developed to replace human labor and now only two human executives are required for each station. We are trying to replace even those, and that” where you come in. You're the highest-type robot ever developed, and if you show the ability to run this station independently no human need ever come here again except to bring parts for repairs.”

    His hand went up and the metal visi-lid snapped back into place. Powell returned to the table and polished an apple upon his sleeve before biting into it. The red glow of the robot's eyes held him. “Do you expect me,” said Cuti, slowly, “to believe any such complicated, implausible hypothesis as you have just outlined? What do you take me for?”

    Powell sputtered apple fragments onto the table and turned red. “Why, damn you, it wasn't a hypothesis. Those were facts.”

    Cutie sounded grim. “Globes of energy millions of miles across! Worlds with five billion humans on them! Infinite emptiness! Sorry, Powell, but I don't believe it. I'll puzzle this thing out for myself Good-bye.”

    He turned and stalked out of the room. He brushed past Michael Donovan on the threshold with a grave nod and passed down the corridor, oblivious to the astounded stare that followed him.

    Mike Donovan rumpled his red hair and shot an annoyed glance at Powell. “What was that walking junkyard talking about? What doesn't he believe?” The other dragged at his mustache bitterly. “He's a skeptic,” was the bitter response. “He doesn't believe we made him or that Earth exists or space or stars., “Sizzling Saturn, we've got a lunatic robot on our hands.” “He says he's going to figure it all out for himself.”

    “Well, now,” said Donovan sweetly, “I do hope he'll condescend to explain it all to me after he's puzzled everything out.” Then, with sudden rage, “Listen! If that metal mess gives me any lip like that, I'll knock that chromium cranium right off its torso.”

    He seated himself with a jerk and drew a paperback mystery novel out of his inner jacket pocket. “That robot gives me the willies anyway-too damned inquisitive!”

    Mike Donovan growled from behind a huge lettuce-and-tomato sandwich as Cutie knocked gently and entered. “Is Powell here?”

    Donovan's voice was muffled, with pauses for mastication. “He's gathering-, data on electronic stream functions. We're heading for a storm, looks like. ' Gregory Powell entered as he spoke, eyes on the graphed paper in his hands and dropped into a chair. He spread the sheets out before him and began scribbling calculations. Donovan stared over his shoulder, crunching lettuce and dribbling bread crumbs. Cutie waited silently. Powell looked up. “The zeta potential is rising, but slowly. Just the same, the stream functions are erratic and I don't know what to expect. Oh, hello! I thought you were supervising the installation of the new drive bar.”

    “It's done,” said the robot quietly, “and so I've come to have a talk with the two of you.” “Oh!” Powell looked uncomfortable. “Well, sit down. No, not that chair. One of the legs is weak and you're no lightweight.” The robot did so and said placidly, “I have come to a decision.” Donovan glowered and put the remnants of his sandwich aside. “If it's on any of that screwy-” The other motioned impatiently for silence. “Go ahead, Cutie. We're listening.” “I have spent these last two days in concentration and introspection,” said Cutie, “and the results have been most interesting. I began at the one sure assumption I felt permitted to make. 1, myself, exist, because I think…”

    Powell groaned. “Oh, Jupiter, a robot Descartes!” “Who's Descartes?” demanded Donovan. “Listen, do we have to sit here and listen to this metal maniac-” “Keep quiet, Mike!” Cutie continued imperturbably, “And the question that immediately arose was: just what is the cause of my existence?” Powell's jaw set lumpily. “You're being foolish. I told you already that we made you.” “And if you don't believe us, “ added Donovan, “we'll gladly take you apart The robot spread his strong hands in deprecatory gesture. “I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless—and it goes against all the dictates of logic to suppose that you made me.” Powell dropped a restraining arm upon Donovan's suddenly bunched fist.

    “Just why do you say that?” Cutie laughed. It was a very inhuman laugh, the most machinelike utterance he had yet given vent to. It was sharp and explosive, as regular as a metronome and as uninflected. “Look at you,” he said finally. “I say this in no spirit of contempt, but look at you! The material you are made of is soft and flabby, lacking endurance and strength, depending for energy upon the inefficient oxidation of organic material-like that.” He pointed a disapproving finger at what remained of Donovan's sandwich. “Periodically you pass into a coma, and the least variation in temperature, air pressure, humidity or radiation intensity impairs your efficiency. You are makeshift.

    “I, on the other hand, am a finished product. I absorb electrical energy directly and utilize it with almost one hundred per cent efficiency. I am composed of strong metal, am continuously conscious, and can stand extremes of environment easily. These are facts which, with the self-evident proposition that no being can create another being superior to itself, smashes your silly hypothesis to nothing.”

    Donovan's muttered curses rose into intelligibility as he sprang to his feet, rusty eyebrows drawn low. “All right, you son of a hunk of iron ore, if we didn't make you, who did?”

    Cutie nodded gravely. “Very good, Donovan. That was indeed the next question. Evidently my creator must be more powerful than myself, and so there was only one possibility.”

    The Earthmen looked blank and Cutie continued. “What is the center of activities here in the station? What do we all serve? What absorbs all out attention?” He waited expectantly.

    Donovan turned a startled look upon his companion. “I'll bet this tin-plated screwball is talking about the energy converter itself.” “Is that right, Cutie?” grinned Powell.

    “I am talking about the Master,” came the cold, sharp answer.

    It was the signal for a roar of laughter from Donovan, and Powell himself dissolved into a halfsuppressed giggle.

    Cutie had risen to his feet, and his gleaming eyes passed from one Earthman to the other. “It is so just the same and I don't wonder that you refuse to believe. You two are not long to stay here, I'm sure. Powell himself said that in early days only men served the Master; that there followed robots for the routine work; and, finally, myself for the executive labor. The facts are no doubt true, but the explanation is entirely illogical. Do you want the truth behind it ail?” “Go ahead, Cutie. You're amusing.”

    “The Master created humans first as the lowest type, most easily formed. Gradually, he replaced them by robots, the next higher step, and finally he created me, to take the place of the last humans. From now on, I serve the Master.”

    “You'll do nothing of the sort,” said Powell sharply. “You'll follow our orders and keep quiet, until we're satisfied that you can run the converter. Get that! The converter-not the Master. If you don't satisfy us, you will be dismantled. And now-if you don't mind-you can leave. And take this data with you and file it properly.”

    Cutie accepted the graphs handed him and left without another word. Donovan leaned back heavily in his chair and shoved thick fingers through his hair.

    “There's going to be trouble with that robot. He's pure nuts!”

    The drowsy hum of the converter was louder in the control room and mixed with it was the chuckle of the Geiger counters and the erratic buzzing of half a dozen little signal lights. Donovan withdrew his eye from the telescope and flashed the luxites on. “The beam from Station Four caught Mars on schedule. We can break ours now.” Powell nodded abstractedly. “Cutie's down in the engine room. I'll flash the signal and he can take care of it. Look, Mike, what do you think of these figures?” The other cocked an eye at them and whistled. “Boy, that's what I call gamma-ray intensity. Old Sol is feeling his oats, all right.” “Yeah,” was the sour response, “and we're in a bad position for an electron storm, too. Our Earth beam is right in the probable path.” He shoved his chair away from the table pettishly. “Nuts! If it would only hold off till relief got here, but that's ten days off. Say, Mike, go on down and keep an eye on Cutie, will you?” “O. K. Throw me some of those almonds.” Donovan snatched at the bag thrown him and headed for the elevator. It slid smoothly downward and opened onto a narrow catwalk in the huge engine room. Donovan leaned over the railing and looked down. The huge generators were in motion, and from the L tubes came the low-pitched whir that pervaded the entire station. He could make out Cutie's large, gleaming figure at the Martian L tube, watching closely as a team of robots worked in close-knit unison. There was a sudden sparking light, a sharp crackle of discord in the even whir of the converter. The beam to Mars had been broken! And then Donovan stiffened. The robots, dwarfed by the mighty L tube, lined up before it, heads bowed at a stiff angle, while Cutie walked up and down the line slowly. Fifteen seconds passed, and then, with a clank heard above the clamorous purring all about, they fell to their knees. Donovan squawked and raced down the narrow staircase. He came charging down upon them, complexion matching his hair and clenched fists beating the air furiously. “What the devil is this, you brainless lumps? Come on! Get busy with that L tube! If you don't have it apart, cleaned, and together again before the day is out, I'll coagulate your brains with alternating current.”

    Not a robot moved! Even Cutie at the far end-the only one on his feet-remained silent, eyes fixed upon the gloomy recesses of the vast machine before him. Donovan shoved hard against the nearest robot. “Stand up!” he roared.

    Slowly the robot obeyed. His photoelectric eyes focused reproachfully upon the Earthman.

    “There is no Master but the Master,” he said, “and QT One is his prophet.”

    “Huh?” Donovan became aware of twenty pairs of mechanical eyes fixed upon him and twenty stiff-timbred voices declaiming solemnly: “There is no Master but the Master and QT One is his prophet!” “I'm afraid,” put in Curie himself at this point, 14 that my friends obey a higher one than you now.”

    “The hell they do! You get out of here. I'll settle with you later and with these animated gadgets right now.”

    Curie shook his heavy head slowly. “I'm sorry, but you don't understand. These are robots-and that means they are reasoning beings. They recognize the Master, now that I have preached truth to them. All the robots do. They call me the Prophet.” His head drooped. “I am unworthy-but perhaps...”

    Donovan located his breath and put it to use. “Is that so? Now, isn't that nice? Now, isn't that just fine? Just let me tell you something, my brass baboon. There isn't any Master and there isn't any Prophet and there isn't any question as to who's giving the orders. Understand?” His voice rose to a roar. “Now get out! “

    “I obey only the Master.”

    “Damn the Master!” Donovan spat at the L tube. “That for the Master! Do as I say!”

    Curie said nothing, nor did any other robot, but Donovan became aware of a sudden heightening of tension. The cold, staring eyes deepened their crimson, and Cutie seemed stiffer than ever.

    “Sacrilege,” he whispered, voice metallic with emotion.

    Donovan felt the first sudden touch of fear as Cutie approached. A robot could not feel angerbut Cutie's eyes were unreadable.

    “I am sorry, Donovan,” said the robot, “but you can no longer stay here after this. Henceforth Powell and you are barred from the control room and the engine room.”

    His hand gestured quietly and in a moment two robots had pinned Donovan's arms to his sides.

    Donovan had time for one startled gasp as he felt himself lifted from the floor and carried up the stairs at a pace rather better than a canter.

    Gregory Powell paced up and down the officers' room, fists tightly balled. He cast a look of furious frustration at the closed door and scowled bitterly at Donovan."Why the devil did you have to spit at the L tube?” Mike Donovan, sunk deep in his chair, slammed at its arm savagely. “What did you expect me to do with that electrified scarecrow? I'm not going to knuckle under to any do-jigger I put together myself “ “No,” Powell came back sourly, “but here you are in the officers' room with two robots standing guard at the door. That's not knuckling under, is it?” Donovan snarled, “Wait till we get back to Base. Someone's going to pray for this. Those robots are guaranteed to be subordinate.” “So they are-to their blasted Master. They'll obey, all right, but not necessarily us. Say, do you know what's going to happen to us when we get back to Base?” Powell stopped before Donovan's chair and stared savagely at him.

    “What?”

    “Oh, nothing! Just the mercury mines or maybe Ceres Penitentiary. That's all! That's all!” “What are you talking about?” “The electron storm that's coming up. Do you know it's heading straight dead center across the Earth beam? I had just figured that out when that robot dragged me out of my chair.” Donovan was suddenly pale. “Good heavens!” “And do you know what's going to happen to the beam? Because the storm will be a lulu. It's going to jump like a flea with the itch. With only Cutie at the controls, it's going to go out of focus and if it does, heaven help Earth-and us! “ Donovan was wrenching at the door wildly, before Powell finished. The door opened, and the Earthman shot through to come up hard against an immovable steel arm. The robot stared abstractedly at the panting, struggling Earthman. “The Prophet orders you to remain. Please do!” His arm shoved, Donovan reeled backward, and as he did so, Cutie turned the comer at the far end of the corridor. He motioned the guardian robots away, entered the officers' room and closed the door gently. Donovan whirled on Cutie in breathless indignation. “This has gone far enough. You're going to pay for this farce.” “Please don't be annoyed,” replied the robot mildly. “It was bound to come eventually, anyway. You see, you two have lost your function.” “I beg your pardon.” Powell drew himself up stiffly. “Just what do you mean, we've lost our function?” “Until I was created,” answered Cutie, “you tended the Master. That privilege is mine now, and your only reason for existence has vanished. Isn't that obvious?”

    “Not quite,” replied Powell bitterly. “But what do you expect us to do now?”

    Cutie did not answer immediately. He remained silent, as if in thought, and then one arm shot out and draped itself about Powell's shoulder. The other grasped Donovan's wrist and drew him closer.

    “I like you two. You're inferior creatures, with poor reasoning faculties, but I really feel a sort of affection for you. You have served the Master well, and he will reward you for that. Now that your service is over, you will probably not exist much longer, but as long as you do, you shall be provided food, clothing and shelter, so long as you stay out of the control room and the engine room.” “He's pensioning us off, Greg!” yelled Donovan. “Do something about it. It's humiliating!”

    “Look here, Cutie, we can't stand for this. We're the bosses. This station is only a creation of human beings like me-human beings that live on Earth and other planets. This is only an energy relay. You're only Aw, nuts!”

    Cutie shook his head gravely. “This amounts to an obsession. Why should you insist so on an absolutely false view of life? Admitted that nonrobots lack the reasoning faculty, there is still the problem of...”

    His voice died into reflective silence, and Donovan said with whispered intensity, “If you only had a flesh-and-blood face, I would break it in.” Powell's fingers were in his mustache, and his eyes were slitted. “Listen, Cutie, if there is no such thing as Earth, how do you account for what you see through a telescope?”

    “Pardon me?”

    The Earthman smiled. “I've got you, eh? You've made quite a few telescopic observations since being put together, Cutie. Have you noticed that several of those specks of light outside become disks when so viewed?”

    “Oh, that! @y, certainly. It is simple magnification for the purpose of more exact aiming of the beam.”

    “Why aren't the stars equally magnified then?”

    “You mean the other dots. Well, no beams go to them, so no magnification is necessary. Really, Powell even you ought to be able to figure these things out.” Powell stared bleakly upward. “But you see more stars through a telescope. Where do they come from? jumping Jupiter, where do they come from?”

    Cutie was annoyed. “Listen, Powell, do you think I'm going to waste my time trying to pin physical interpretations upon every optical illusion of our instruments? Since when is the evidence of our senses any match for the clear light of reason?”

    “Look,” clamored Donovan suddenly, writhing out from under Cutie's friendly but metal-heavy arm, “let's get to the nub of the thing. Why the beams at all? We're giving you a good, logical explanation. Can you do better?” “The beams,” was the stiff reply, “are put out by the Master for his own purposes. There are some things-” he raised his eyes devoutly upward-“that not to be prodded into by us. In this matter, I seek only to serve and not to question.” Powell sat down slowly and buried his face in shaking hands. “Get out of here, Cutie. Get out and let me think.” “I'll send you food,” said Cutie agreeably. A groan was the only answer and the robot left. “Greg,” Donovan whispered huskily, “this calls for strategy. We've got to get him when he isn't expecting it and short-circuit him. Concentrated nitric acid in his joints-” “Don't be a dope, Mike. Do you suppose he's going to let us get near him with acid in our handsor that the other robots wouldn't take us apart if we did manage to get away with it? We've got to talk to him, I tell you. We've got to argue him into letting us back into the control room inside of forty-eight hours or our goose is broiled to a crisp.” He rocked back and forth in an agony of impotence. “Who the heck wants to argue with a robot? It's... it's..."Mortifying,” finished Donovan. “Worse!” “Say!” Donovan laughed suddenly. “Why argue? Let's show him! Let's build us another robot right before his eyes. He'll have to eat his words then.” A slowly widening smile appeared on Powell's face. Donovan continued, “And think of that screwball's face when he sees us do it!”

    The interplanetary law forbidding the existence of intelligent robots upon the inhabited planets, while sociologically necessary, places upon the offices of the solar stations a burden-and not a light one. Because of that particular law, robots must be sent to the stations in parts and there put together-which is a grievous and complicated task. Powell and Donovan were never so aware of that fact as upon that particular day when, in the assembly room, they undertook to create a robot under the watchful eyes of QT-1, Prophet of the Master, The robot in question, a simple MC model, lay upon the table, almost complete. Three hours' work left only the head undone, and Powell paused to swab his forehead and glance uncertainly at Cutie. The glance was not a reassuring one. For three hours Cutie had sat speechless and motionless, and his face, inexpressive at all times, was now absolutely unreadable. Powell groaned. “Let's get the brain in now, Mike!” Donovan uncapped the tightly seated container, and from the oil bath within, he withdrew a second cube. Opening this in turn, he removed a globe from its sponge-rubber casing. He handled it gingerly, for it was the most complicated mechanism ever created by man. Inside the thin platinum-plated “skin” of the globe was a positronic brain, in whose delicately unstable structure were enforced calculated neuronic paths, which imbued each robot with what amounted to a prenatal education. It fitted snugly into the cavity in the skull of the robot on the table. Blue metal closed over it and was welded tightly by the tiny atomic flare. Photoelectric eyes were attached carefully, screwed tightly into place and covered by thin, transparent sheets of steel-hard plastic.

    The robot awaited only the vitalizing flash of high-voltage electricity, and Powell paused with his hand on the switch. “Now watch this, Cutie. Watch this carefully.” The switch rammed home and there was a crackling hum. The two Earthmen bent anxiously over their creation. There was vague motion only at the outset-a twitching of the joints. Then the head lifted, elbows propped it up, and the MC model swung clumsily off the table. Its footing was unsteady, and twice abortive grating sounds were all it could do in the direction of speech. Finally its voice, uncertain and hesitant, took form. “I would like to start work. Where must I go?” Donovan sprang to the door. “Down these stairs,” he said. “You'll be told what to do.” The MC model was gone and the two Earthmen were alone with the still unmoving Cutie. “Well,” said Powell, grinning, “now do you believe that we made you?” Cutie's answer was curt and final. “No!” he said. Powell's grin froze and then relaxed slowly. Donovan's mouth dropped open and remained so. “You see,” continued Cutie easily, “you have merely put together parts already made. You did it remarkably well-instinct, I suppose-but you didn't really create the robot. The parts were created by the Master.” “Listen,” gasped Donovan hoarsely, “those parts were manufactured back on Earth and sent here.” “Well, well,” replied Cutie soothingly, “we won't argue.” “No, I mean it.” The Earthman sprang forward and grasped the robot's metal arm. “If you were to read the books in the library, they could explain it so that there could be no possible doubt.” “The books? I've read them-all of them! They're most ingenious.” Powell broke in suddenly. “If you've read them, what else is there to say? you can't dispute their evidence. You just can't!” There was pity in Cutie's voice. “Please, Powell, I certainly don't consider them a valid source of information. They too were created by the Master-and were meant for you, not for me.” “How do you make that out?” demanded Powell.

    “Because I, a reasoning being, am capable of deducing truth from a priori causes. You, being intelligent but unreasoning, need an explanation of existence supplied to you, and this the Master did. That he supplied you with these laughable ideas of far-off worlds and people is, no doubt, for the best. Your minds are probably too coarsely grained for absolute truth. However, since it is the ,Master's will that you believe your books, I won't argue with you any more.” As he left, he turned and said in a kindly tone, “But don't feel badly. In the Master's scheme of things there is room for all. You poor humans have your place, and though it is humble you will be rewarded if you fill it well.” He departed with a beatific air suiting the Prophet of the Master, and the two humans avoided each other's eyes.

    Finally Powell spoke with an effort. “Let's go to bed, Mike. I give up.”

    Donovan said in a hushed voice, “Say, Greg, you don't suppose he's right about all this, do you? He sounds so confident that I-“ Powell whirled on him. “Don't be a fool. You'll find out whether Earth exists when relief gets here next week and we have to go back to face the music.”

    “Then, for the love of Jupiter, we've got to do something.” Donovan was half in tears. “He doesn't believe us, or the books, or his eyes.” “No,” said Powell bitterly, “he's a reasoning robot, damn it. He believes only reason, and there's one trouble with that...” His voice trailed away. “What's that?” prompted Donovan.

    “You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason-if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Curie has his.”

    “Then let's get at those postulates in a hurry. The storm's due tomorrow.” Powell sighed wearily. “That's where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumption and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the universe can shake them. I'm going to bed.” “Oh, hell! I can't sleep!”

    “Neither can I! But I might as well try-as a matter of principle.”

    Twelve hours later, steep was still just that-a matter of principle, unattainable in practice.

    The storm had arrived ahead of schedule, and Donovan's florid face drained of blood as he pointed a shaking finger. Powell, stubble-jawed and dry-lipped, stared out the port and pulled desperately at his mustache.

    Under other circumstances, it might have been a beautiful sight. The stream of high-speed electrons impinging upon the energy beam fluoresced into ultraspicules of intense light. The beam stretched out into shrinking nothingness, aglitter with dancing, shining motes. The shaft of energy was steady, but the two Earthmen knew the value of naked-eyed appearances. Deviations in arc of a hundredth of a millisecond, invisible to the eye, were enough to send the beam wildly out of focus enough to blast hundreds of square miles of Earth into incandescent ruin.

    And a robot, unconcerned with beam, focus or Earth, or anything but his Master, was at the controls.

    Hours passed. The Earthmen watched in hypnotized silence. And then the darting dotlets of light dimmed and went out. The storm had ended. Powell's voice was flat. “It's over!”

    Donovan had fallen into a troubled slumber and Powell's weary eyes rested upon him enviously. The signal flash glared over and over again, but the Earthman paid no attention. It was all unimportant! All! Perhaps Cutie was right and he was only an inferior being with a made-to-order memory and a life that had outlived its purpose. He wished he were!

    Cutie was standing before him. “You didn't answer the flash, so I walked in.” His voice was low. “You don't took at all well, and I'm afraid your term of existence is drawing to an end. Still, would you like to see some of the readings recorded today?”

    Dimly, Powell was aware that the robot was making a friendly gesture, perhaps to quiet some lingering remorse in forcibly replacing the humans at the controls of the station. He accepted the sheets held out to him and gazed at them unseeingly. Cutie seemed pleased. 44(X course, it is a great privilege to serve the Master. You mustn't feel too badly about my having replaced you.”

    Powell grunted and shifted from one sheet to the other mechanically until his blurred sight focused upon a thin red line that wobbled its way across ruled paper.

    He stared-and stared again. He gripped it hard in both fists and rose to his feet, still staring. The other sheets dropped to the floor, unheeded. “Mike! Mike! “ He was shaking the other madly. “He held it steady! Donovan came to life. “What? VA-where...” And he too gazed with bulging eyes upon the record before him. Cutie broke in. “What is wrong?” “You kept it in focus,” stuttered Powell. “Did you know that?” “Focus? What's that?” “You kept the beam directed sharply at the receiving station-to within a ten-thousandth of a millisecond of arc.” “What receiving station?” “On Earth. The receiving station on Earth,” babbled Powell. “You kept it in focus.” Cutie turned on his feet in annoyance. “It is impossible to perform any act of kindness toward you two. Always that same phantasm! I merely kept all dials “t equilibrium in accordance with the will of the Master.” Gathering the scattered papers together, he withdrew stiffly, and Donovan said as he left, “Well, I'll be damned.” He turned to Powell. “What are we going to do now?” Powell felt tired but uplifted. “Nothing. He's just shown he can run the station perfectly. I've never seen an electron storm handled so well.”

    “But nothing's solved. You heard what he said about the Master. We can't-“ “Look, Mike, he follows the instructions of the Master by means of dials, instruments and graphs. That's all we ever followed.” “Sure, but that's not the point. We can't let him continue this nitwit stuff about the Master.” “Why not?” “Because who ever heard of such a damned thing? How are we going to trust him with the station if he doesn't believe in Earth?” “Can he handle the station?” “Yes, but…” “Then what's the difference what be believes!”

    Powell spread his arms outward with a vague smile upon his face and tumbled backward onto the bed. He was asleep.

    Powell was speaking while struggling into his lightweight space jacket.

    “It would be a simple job,” he said. “You can bring in new QT models one by one, equip them with an automatic shutoff switch to act within the week, so as to allow them enough time to learn the ...uh ...cult of the Master from the Prophet himself, then switch them to another station and revitalize them. We could have two QT's per-“

    Donovan unclasped his glassite visor and scowled. “Shut up and let's get out of here. Relief is waiting and I won't feet right until I actually see Earth and feet the ground under my feet-just to make sure it's really there.”

    The door opened as he spoke, and Donovan, with a smothered curse, clicked the visor to and turned a sulky back upon Cutie.

    The robot approached softly and there was sorrow in his voice. “You two are going?”

    Powell nodded curtly. “There will be others in our place.”

    Cutie sighed, with the sound of wind humming through closely spaced wires. “Your term of service is over and the time of dissolution has come. I expected it, but-well, the Master's will be done!”

    His tone of resignation stung Powell. “Save the sympathy, Cutie. We're heading for Earth, not dissolution.”

    “It is best that you think so.” Cutie sighed again. “I see the wisdom of the illusion now. I would not attempt to shake your faith, even if I could.” He departed, the picture of commiseration.

    Powell snarled and motioned to Donovan. Sealed suitcases in hand, they headed for the air lock.

    The relief ship was on the outer landing and Franz Muller, Powell's relief man, greeted them with stiff courtesy. Donovan made scant acknowledgment and passed into the pilot room to take over the controls from Sam Evans. Powell lingered. “How's Earth?”

    It was a conventional enough question and Muller gave the conventional answer. “Still spinning.”

    He was donning the heavy space gloves in preparation for his term of duty here, and his thick eyebrows drew close together. “How is this new robot getting along? It better be good, or I'll be damned if I let it touch the controls.”

    Powell paused before answering. His eyes swept the proud Prussian before him, from the closecropped hair on the sternly stubborn head to the feet standing stiffly at attention, and there was a sudden glow of pure gladness surging through him.

    “The robot is pretty good,” he said slowly. “I don't think you'll have to bother much with the controls.”

    He grinned and went into the ship. Muller would be here for several weeks...

    2

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    Silence Please

    Arthur C. Clarke

    You come upon the “White Hart” quite unexpectedly in one of these anonymous little lanes leading down from Fleet Street to the Embankment. It's no use telling you where it is: very few people who have set out in a determined effort to get there have ever actually arrived. For the first dozen visits a guide is essential: after that you'll probably be all right if you close your eyes and rely on instinct. Also-to be perfectly frank-we don't want any more customers, at least on our night. The place is already uncomfortably crowded. All that I'll say about its location is that it shakes occasionally with the vibration of newspaper presses, and that if you crane out of the window of the gents” room you can just see the Thames.

    From the outside, it looks like any other pub-as indeed it is for five days of the week. The public and saloon bars are on the ground floor: there are the usual vistas of brown oak paneling and frosted glass, the bottles behind the bar, the handles of the beer engines... nothing out of the ordinary at all. Indeed, the only concession to the twentieth century is the juke box in the public bar. It was installed during the war in a laughable attempt to make G. I.'s feel at home, and one of the first things we did was to make sure there was no danger of its ever working again.

    At this point I had better explain who “we” are. That is not as easy as I thought it was going to be when I started, for a complete catalogue of the “White Hart's” clients would probably be impossible and would certainly be excruciatingly tedious. So all I'll say at this point is that “we” fall into three main classes. First there. are the journalists, writers and editors. The journalists, of course, gravitated here from Fleet Street. Those who couldn't make the grade fled elsewhere: the tougher ones remained. As for the writers “ most of them heard about us from other writers, came here for copy, and got trapped.

    Where there are writers, of course, there are sooner or later editors. If Drew, our landlord, got a percentage on the literary business done in his bar, he'd be a rich man. (We suspect he is a rich man, anyway.) One of our wits once remarked that it was a common sight to see half a dozen indignant authors arguing with a hard faced editor in one corner of the “White Hart”, while in another, half a dozen indignant editors argued with a hard-faced author.

    So much for the literary side: you will have, I'd better warn you, ample opportunities for close-ups later. Now let us glance briefly at the scientists. How did they get in here?

    Well, Birkbeck College is only across the road, and King's is just a few hundred yards along the Strand. That's doubtless part of the explanation, and again personal recommendation had a lot. to do with it. Also, many of our scientists are writers, and not a few of our writers are scientists. Confusing, but we like it that way.

    The third portion of our little microcosm consists of what may be loosely termed “interested laymen”. They were attracted to the “White Hart” by the general brouhaha, and enjoyed the conversation and company so much that they now come along regularly every Wednesday-which is the day when we all get together. Sometimes they can't stand the pace and fall by the wayside, but there's always a fresh supply.

    With such potent ingredients, it is hardly surprising that Wednesday at the “White Hart” is seldom dull. Not only have some remarkable stories been told there, but remarkable things have happened there. For example, there was the time when Professor—, passing through on his way to Harwell, left behind a brief-case containing-well, we'd better not go into that, even though we did so at the time. And most interesting it was, too... Any Russian agents will find me in the corner under the dartboard. I come high, but easy terms can be arranged.

    Now that I've finally thought of the idea, it seems astonishing to me that none of my colleagues has ever got round to writing up these stories. Is it a question of being so close to the wood that they can't see the trees? Or is it lack of incentive? No, the last explanation can hardly hold: several of them are quite as hard up as I am, and have complained with equal bitterness about Drew's “NO CREDIT” rule. My only fear, as I type these words on my old Remington Noiseless, is that John Christopher or George Whitley or John Beynon are already hard at work using up the best material. Such as, for instance, the story of the Fenton Silencer...

    I don't know when it began: one Wednesday is much Re another and it's hard to tag dates on to them. Besides, people may spend a couple of months lost in the “White Hart” crowd before you first notice their existence. That had probably happened to Harry Purvis, because when 1. first came aware of him he already knew the names of most of the people in our crowd. Which is more than I do these days, now that I come to think of it.

    But though I don't know when, I know exactly how it all started. Bert Huggins was the catalyst, or, to be more accurate, his voice was. Bert's voice would catalyse anything. When he indulges in a confidential whisper, it sounds like a sergeant major drilling an entire regiment. And when he lets himself go, conversation languishes elsewhere while we all. wait for those cute little bones in the inner ear to resume their accustomed places.

    He had just lost his temper with John Christopher (we all do this at some time or other) and the resulting detonation had disturbed the chess game in progress at the back of the saloon bar. As usual, the two players were surrounded by backseat drivers, and we all looked up with a start as Bert's blast whammed overhead. When the echoes died away, someone said: “I wish there was a way of shutting him up.”

    It was then that Harry Purvis replied: “There is, you know.”

    Not recognizing the voice, I looked round. I saw a small, neatly dressed man in the late thirties. He was smoking one of those carved German pipes that always make me think of cuckoo clocks and the Black Forest. That was the only unconventional thing about him: otherwise he might have been a minor Treasury official all dressed up to go to a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.

    “I beg your pardon?” I said.

    He took no notice, but made some delicate adjustments to his pipe. It was then that I noticed that it wasn't, as I'd thought at first glance, an elaborate piece of wood carving. It was something much more sophisticated-a contraption of metal and plastic like a small chemical engineering plant. There were even a couple of minute, valves. My God, it was a chemical engineering plant...

    I don't goggle any more easily than the next man, but I made no attempt to hide my curiosity. He gave me a superior smile.

    “All for the cause of science. It's an idea of the Biophysics Lab. They want to find out exactly what there is in tobacco smoke hence these filters. You know the old argument-does smoking cause cancer of the tongue, and if so, how? The trouble is that it takes an awful lot of-er-distillate to identify some of the obscurer by-products. So we have to do a lot of smoking.”

    “Doesn't it spoil the pleasure to have all this plumbing in the way?”

    “I don't know. You see, I'm just a volunteer. I don't smoke.”

    “Oh,” I said. For the moment, that seemed the only reply. Then I remembered how the conversation had started.

    “You were saying,” I continued with some feeling, for there was still a slight tintinus in my left ear, “that there was some way of shutting up Bert. We'd all like to hear it-if that isn't mixing metaphors somewhat.”

    “I was thinking,” he replied, after a couple of experimental sucks and blows, “of the ill-fated Fenton Silencer. A sad story yet, I feel, one with an interesting lesson for us all. And one day who knows?-someone may perfect it and earn the blessings of the world.

    Suck, bubble “ bubble, plop...

    “Well, let's hear the story. When did it happen?”

    He sighed.

    “I'm almost sorry I mentioned it. Still, since you insist-and, of course, on the understanding that it doesn't go beyond these walls.”

    “Er-of course.”

    “Well, Rupert Fenton was one of our lab assistants. A very bright youngster, with a good mechanical background, but, naturally, not very well up in theory. He was always making gadgets in his spare time. Usually the idea was good, but as he was shaky on fundamentals the things hardly ever worked. That didn't-seem to discourage him: I think he fancied himself as a latter-day Edison, and imagined he could make his fortune from the radio tubes and other oddments lying around the lab. As his tinkering didn't interfere with his work, no-one objected, indeed, the physics demonstrators did their best to encourage him, because, after all, there is something refreshing about any form of enthusiasm. But no-one expected he'd ever get very far, because I don't suppose he could even integrate e to the x.”

    As such ignorance possible?” gasped someone.

    “Maybe I exaggerate. Let's say x e to the x. Anyway, all his knowledge was entirely practical-rule of thumb, you know. Give him a wiring diagram, however complicated, and he could make the apparatus for you. But unless it was something really simple, like a television set, he wouldn't understand how it worked. The trouble was, he didn't realize his limitations. And that, as you'll see, was most unfortunate.

    “I think he must have got the idea while watching the Honours Physics students doing some experiments in acoustics. I take it, of course, that you all understand the phenomenon of interference,?”

    “Naturally,” I replied.

    “Hey!” said one of the chess-players, who had given up trying to concentrate on the game (probably because he was losing). “I don't.”

    Purvis looked at him as though seeing something that had no right to be around in a world that had invented penicillin.

    “In that case,” he said coldly, “I suppose I had better do some explaining.” He waved aside our indignant protests. “No, I insist. It's precisely those who don't understand these things who need to be told about them. If someone had only explained the theory to poor Fenton while there was “ s still time... He looked down at the now thoroughly abashed chess-player.

    “I do not know,” he began, “if you have ever considered the nature of sound. Suffice to say that it consists of a series of waves moving through the air. Not, however, waves like those on the surface of the sea-oh dear no! Those waves are up and down movements. Sound waves consist of alternate compressions and rarefactions.”

    “Rare-what?”

    “Rarefactions.”

    “Don't you mean “rarefications'?”

    “I do not. I doubt if such a word exists, and if it does, it shouldn't,” retorted Purvis, with the aplomb of Sir Alan Herbert dropping a particularly revolting neologism into his killing-bottle. “Where was I? Explaining sound, of course. When we make any sort of noise, from the faintest whisper to that concussion that went past just now, a series of pressure changes moves through the air. Have you ever watched shunting engines at work on a siding? You see a perfect example of the same kind of thing. There's a long line of goods-wagons, all coupled together. One end gets a bang, the first two trucks move together-and then you can see the compression wave moving right along the line. Behind it the reverse thing happens-the rarefaction-I repeat, rarefaction-as the trucks separate again.

    “Things are simple enough when there is only one source of sound-only one set of waves. But suppose you have two wave patterns, moving in the same direction? That's when interference arises, and there are lots of pretty experiments in elementary physics to demonstrate it. All we need worry about here is, the fact-which I think you will all agree is perfectly obvious-that if one could get two sets of waves exactly out of step, the total result would be precisely zero. The compression pulse of one sound wave would be on top of the rarefaction of another-net result-no change and hence no sound. To go back to my analogy of the line of wagons, it's as if you gave the last truck a jerk and a push simultaneously. Nothing at all would happen.

    “Doubtless some of you will already see what I am driving at, and will appreciate the basic principle of the Fenton Silencer. Young Fenton, I imagine, argued in this manner. “This world of ours,” lit said to himself, “is too full of noise. There would be a fortune for anyone who could invent a really perfect silencer. Now, what would that imply... T

    “It didn't take him long to work out the answer: I told you he was a bright lad. There was really very little in his pilot model. It consisted of a microphone, a special amplifier, and a pair of loudspeakers. Any sound that happened to be about was picked up by the mike, amplified and inverted so that it was exactly out of phase with the original noise. Then it was pumped out of the speakers, the original wave and the new one cancelled out, and the net result was silence.

    “Of course, there was rather more to it than that. There had to be an arrangement to make sure that the canceling wave was just the right intensity-otherwise you might be worse off than when you started. But these are technical details that I won't bore you with. As many of you will recognize, it's a simple application of negative feed-back.”

    “Just a moment!” interrupted Eric Maine. Eric, I should mention, is an electronics expert and edits some television paper or other. He's also written a radio play about space-flight, but that's another story. “Just a moment! There's something wrong here. You couldn't get silence that way. It would be impossible to arrange the phase...

    Purvis jammed the pipe back in his mouth. For a moment there was an ominous bubbling and I thought of the first act of “Macbeth”. Then he fixed Eric with a glare.

    “Are you suggesting,” he said frigidly, “that this story is untrue?”

    “Ah-well, I won't go as far as that, but Eric's voice trailed away as if he had been silenced himself. He pulled an old envelope out of his pocket, together with an assortment of resistors and condensers that seemed to have got entangled in his handkerchief, and began to do some figuring. That was the last we heard from him for some time.

    “As I was saying,” continued Purvis calmly, “that's the way Fenton's Silencer worked. His first model wasn't very powerful, and it couldn't deal with very high or very low notes. The result was rather odd. When it was switched on, and someone tried to talk, You'd hear the two ends of the spectrum-a faint bat's squeak, and a kind of low rumble. But he soon got over that by using a more linear circuit (dammit, I can't help using some technicalities!) and in the later model he was able to produce complete silence over quite a large area. Not merely an ordinary room, but a full-sized hall. Yes.. ..

    “Now Fenton was not one of these secretive inventors who won't tell anyone what they are trying to do, in case their ideas are stolen. He was all too willing to talk. He discussed his ideas with the staff and with the students, whenever he could get anyone to listen. It so happened that one of the first people to whom he demonstrated his-improved Silencer was a young Arts student called -I think-Kendall, who was taking Physics as a subsidiary subject.

    Kendall was much impressed by the Silencer, as well he might be. But he was not thinking, as you may have imagined, about its commercial possibilities, or the boon it would bring to the outraged ears of suffering humanity. Oh dear no! He had quite other ideas.

    “Please permit me a slight digression. At college we have a flourishing Musical Society, which in recent years has grown in numbers to such an extent that it can now tackle the less monumental symphonies. In the year of which I speak, it was embarking on a very ambitious enterprise. It was going to produce a new opera, a work by a talented young composer whose name it would not be fair to mention, since it is now well-known to you all. Let us call him Edward England. I've forgotten the title of the work, but it was one of these stark dramas of tragic love which, for some reason I've never been able to understand, are supposed to be less ridiculous with a musical accompaniment than without. No doubt a good deal depends on the music.

    “I can still remember reading the synopsis while waiting for the curtain to go up, and to this day have never been able to decide whether the libretto was meant seriously or not. Let's see-the period was the late Victorian era, and the main characters were Sarah Stampe, the passionate postmistress, Walter Partridge, the saturnine gamekeeper, and the squire's son, whose name I forget. It's the old story of the eternal triangle, complicated by the villager's resentment of change-in this case, the new telegraph system, which the local crones predict will Do Things to the cows” milk and cause trouble at lambing time.

    “Ignoring the frills, it's the usual drama of operatic jealousy. The squire's son doesn't want to marry into the Post Office, and the gamekeeper, maddened by his rejection, plots revenge. The tragedy rises to its dreadful climax when poor Sarah, strangled with parcel tape, is found hidden in a mail-bag in the Dead Letter Department. The villagers hang Partridge from the nearest telegraph pole, much to the annoyance of the linesmen. He was supposed to sing an aria while he was being hung: that is one thing I regret missing. The squire's son takes to drink, or the Colonies, or both: and that's that.

    “I'm sure you're wondering where all this is leading: please bear with me for a moment longer. The fact is that while this synthetic jealousy was being rehearsed, the real thing was going on back—

    stage. Fenton's friend Kendall had been spurned by the young lady who was to play Sarah Stampe. I don't think he was a particularly vindictive person, but he saw an opportunity for a unique revenge. Let us be frank and admit that college life does breed a certain irresponsibility-and in identical circumstances, how many of us would have rejected the same chance?

    “I see the dawning comprehension on your faces. But we, the audience, had no suspicion when the overture started on that memorable day. It was a most distinguished gathering: everyone was there, from the Chancellor downwards. Deans and professors were two a penny: I never did discover how so many people had been bullied into coming. Now that I come to think of it, I can't remember what I was doing there myself.

    “The overture died away amid cheers, and, I must admit, occasional cat-calls from the more boisterous members of the audience. Perhaps I do them an injustice: they may have been the more musical ones.

    “Then the curtain went up. The scene was the village square at Doddering Sloughleigh, circa 1860. Enter the heroine, reading the postcards in the morning's mail. She comes across a letter addressed to the young squire and promptly bursts into song.

    “Sarah's opening aria wasn't quite as bad as the overture, but it was grim enough. Luckily, we were to hear only the first few bars...

    “Precisely. We need not worry about such details as how Kendall had talked the ingenuous Fenton into it-if, indeed, the inventor realized the use to which his device was being applied. All I need say is that it was a most convincing demonstration. There was a sudden, deadening blanket of silence, and Sarah Stampe just faded out like a TV program when the sound is turned off. Everyone was frozen in their seats, while the singer's lips went on moving silently. Then she too realized what had happened. Her mouth opened in what would have been a piercing scream in any other circumstances, and she fled into the wings amid a shower of postcards.

    “Thereafter, the chaos was unbelievable. For a few minutes everyone must have thought they had lost the sense of hearing, but soon they were able to tell from the behavior of their companions that they were not alone in their deprivation. Someone in the Physics Department must have realized the truth fairly promptly, for soon little slips of paper were circulating among the V. I. P. “s in the front row. The Vice-Chancellor was rash enough to try and restore order by sign-language, waving frantically to the audience from the stage. By this time I was too sick with laughter to appreciate such fine details.

    “There was nothing for it but to get out of the hall, which we all did as quickly as we could. I think Kendall had fled-he was so overcome by the effect of the gadget that he didn't stop to switch it off. He was afraid of staying around in case he was caught and lynched. As for Fenton-alas, we shall never know his side of the story. We can only reconstruct the subsequent events from the evidence that was left.

    “As I picture it, he must have waited until the hall was empty, and then crept in to disconnect his apparatus. We heard the explosion all over the college.”

    “The explosion?” someone gasped.

    “Of course. I shudder to think what a narrow escape we all had. Another dozen decibels, a few more phones-and it might have happened while the theatre was still packed. Regard it, if you like, as an example of the inscrutable workings of providence that only the inventor was caught in the explosion. Perhaps it was as went: at least he perished in the moment of achievement, and before the Dean could get at him.”

    “Stop moralizing, man. What happened?”

    “Well, I told you that Fenton was very weak on theory. If he'd gone into the mathematics of the Silencer he'd have found his mistake. The trouble is, you see, that one can't destroy energy. Not even when you cancel out one train of waves by another. All that happens then is that the energy you've neutralized accumulates somewhere else. It's rather Re sweeping up all the dirt in a room -at the cost of an unsightly pile under the carpet.

    “When you look into the theory of the thing, you'll find that Fenton's gadget wasn't a silencer so much as a collector of sound “ All the time it was switched on, it was really absorbing sound energy. And at that concert, it was certainly going flat out. You'll understand what I mean if you've ever looked at one of Edward England's scores. On top of that, of course, there was all the noise the audience was making-or I should say was trying to make—

    during the resultant panic. The total amount of energy must have been terrific, and the poor Silencer had to keep on sucking it up. Where did it go? Well, I don't know the circuit details-probably into the condensers of the power pack. By the time Fenton started to tinker with it again, it was like a loaded bomb. The sound of his approaching footsteps was the last straw, and the overloaded apparatus could stand no more. It blew up.”

    For a moment no-one said a word, perhaps as a token of respect for the late Mr. Fenton. Then Eric Maine, who for the last ten minutes had been muttering in the corner over his calculations, pushed his way through the ring of listeners. He held a sheet of paper thrust aggressively in front of him.

    “Hey!” he said. “I was right all the time. The thing couldn't work. The phase and amplitude relations.

    Purvis waved him away.

    “That's just what I've explained,” he said patiently. “You should have been listening. Too bad that Fenton found out the hard way.”

    He glanced at his watch. For some reason, he now seemed in a hurry to leave.

    “My goodness! Time's getting on. One of these days, remind me to tell you about the extraordinary thing we saw through the new proton microscope. That's an even more remarkable story.”

    He was half way through the door before anyone else could challenge him. Then George Whitley recovered his breath.

    “Look here,” he said in a perplexed voice. “How is it that we never heard about this business?”

    Purvis paused on the threshold, his pipe now burbling briskly as it got into its stride once more. He glanced back over his shoulder.

    “There was only one thing to do,” he replied. “We didn't want a scandal-de mortuis nil nisi bonum, you know. Besides, in the circumstances, don't you think it was highly appropriate to-a hush the whole business up? And a very good night to you all.”

    1

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    Strawberry Spring

    Stephen King

    Springheel Jack.

    I saw those two words in the paper this morning and my God, how they take me back. All that was eight years ago, almost to the day. Once, while it was going on, I saw myself on nationwide TV—the Walter Cronkite Report. Just a hurrying face in the general background behind the reporter, but my folks picked me out right away. They called long-distance. My dad wanted my analysis of the situation; he was all bluff and hearty and man-to-man. My mother just wanted me to come home. But I didn't want to come home. I was enchanted.

    Enchanted by that dark and mist-blown strawberry spring, and by the shadow of violent death that walked through it on those nights eight years ago. The shadow of Springheel Jack.

    In New England they call it a strawberry spring. No one knows why; it's just a phrase the old-timers use. They say it happens once every eight or ten years. What happened at New Sharon Teachers” College that particular strawberry spring.. . there may be a cycle for that, too, but if anyone has figured it out, they've never said.

    At New Sharon, the strawberry spring began on 16 March 1968. The coldest winter in twenty years broke on that day. It rained and you could smell the sea twenty miles west of the beaches. The snow, which had been thirty-five inches deep in places, began to melt and the campus walks ran with slush. The Winter Carnival snow sculptures, which had been kept sharp and clear-cut for two months by the sub-zero temperatures, at last began to sag and slouch. The caricature of Lyndon Johnson in front of the Tep fraternity house cried melted tears. The dove in front of Prashner Hall lost its frozen feathers and its plywood skeleton showed sadly through in places.

    And when night came the fog came with it, moving silent and white along the narrow college avenues and thoroughfares. The pines on the wall poked through it like counting fingers and it drifted, slow as cigarette smoke, under the little bridge down by the Civil War cannons. It made things seem out of joint, strange, magical. The unwary traveller would step out of the juke-thumping, brightly lit confusion of the Grinder, expecting the hard clear starriness of winter to clutch him .. . and instead he would suddenly find himself in a silent, muffled world of white drifting fog, the only sound his own footsteps and the soft drip of water from the ancient gutters. You half expected to see Gollum or Frodo and Sam go hurrying past, or to turn and see that the Grinder was gone, vanished, replaced by a foggy panorama of moors and yew trees and perhaps a Druid-circle or a sparkling fairy ring.

    The jukebox played “Love Is Blue” that year. It played “Hey, Jude” endlessly, endlessly. It played “Scarborough Fair.

    And at ten minutes after eleven on that night a junior named John Dancey on his way back to his dormitory began screaming into the fog, dropping books on and between the sprawled legs of the dead girl lying in a shadowy corner of the Animal Sciences parking lot, her throat cut from ear to ear but her eyes open and almost seeming to sparkle as if she had just successfully pulled off the funniest joke of her young life—Dancey, an education major and a speech minor, screamed and screamed and screamed.

    The next day was overcast and sullen, and we went to classes with questions eager in our mouths—who? why? when do you think they'll get him? And always the final thrilled question: Did you know her? Did you know her?

    Yes, I had an art class with her.

    Yes, one of my room-mate “s friends dated her last term.

    Yes, she asked me for a light once in the Grinder. She was at the next table.

    Yes, Yes, I

    Yes.. . yes.. . oh yes, I

    We all knew her. Her name was Gale Cerman (pronounced Kerr-man), and she was an art major. She wore granny glasses and had a good figure. She was well liked but her room-mates had hated her. She had never gone out much even though she was one of the most promiscuous girls on campus. She was ugly but cute. She had been a vivacious girl who talked little and smiled seldom. She had been pregnant and she had had leukemia. She was a lesbian who had been murdered by her boy-friend. It was strawberry spring, and on the morning of 17 March we all knew Gale Cerman.

    Half a dozen State Police cars crawled on to the campus, most of them parked in front of Judith Franklin Hall, where the Cerman girl had lived. On my way past there to my ten o clock class I was asked to show my student ID. I was clever. I showed him the one without the fangs.

    “Do you carry a knife?” the policeman asked cunningly.

    “Is it about Gale Cerman?” I asked, after I told him that the most lethal thing on my person was a rabbit's-foot key chain.

    “What makes you ask?” He pounced.

    I was five minutes late to class.

    It was strawberry spring and no one walked by themselves through the half-academical, half-fantastical campus that night. The fog had come again, smelling of the sea, quiet and deep.

    Around nine o'clock my room-mate burst into our room, where I had been busting my brains on a Milton essay since seven. “They caught him,” he said. “I heard it over at the Grinder.”

    “From who?”

    “I don't know. Some guy. Her boy4riend did it. His name is Carl Amalara.”

    I settled back, relieved and disappointed. With a name like that it had to be true. A lethal and sordid little crime of passion.

    “Okay,” I said. “That's good.”

    He left the room to spread the news down the hall. I reread my Milton essay, couldn't figure out what I had been trying to say, tore it up and started again.

    It was in the papers the next day. There was an incongruously neat picture of Amalara—probably a high-school graduation picture—and it showed a rather sad-looking boy with an olive complexion and dark eyes and pockmarks on his nose. The boy had not confessed yet, but the evidence against him was strong. He and Gale Cerman had argued a great deal in the last month or so, and had broken up the week before. Amalara's roomie said he had been “despondent”. In a footlocker under his bed, police had found a seven-inch hunting knife from L. L. Bean's and a picture of the girl that had apparently been cut up with a pair of shears.

    Beside Amalara's picture was one of Gale Cerman. It blurrily showed a dog, a peeling lawn flamingo, and a rather mousy blonde girl wearing spectacles. An uncomfortable smile had turned her lips up and her eyes were squinted. One hand was on the dog's head. It was true then. It had to be true.

    The fog came again that night, not on little cat's feet but in an improper silent sprawl. I walked that night. I had a headache and I walked for air, smelling the wet, misty smell of the spring that was slowly wiping away the reluctant snow, leaving lifeless patches of last year's grass bare and uncovered, like the head of a sighing old grandmother.

    For me, that was one of the most beautiful nights I can remember. The people I passed under the haloed streetlights were murmuring shadows, and all of them seemed to be lovers, walking with hands and eyes linked. The melting snow dripped and ran, dripped and ran, and from every dark storm drain the sound of the sea drifted up, a dark winter sea now strongly ebbing.

    I walked until nearly midnight, until I was thoroughly mildewed, and I passed many shadows, heard many footfalls clicking dreamily off down the winding paths. Who is to say that one of those shadows was not the man or the thing that came to be known as Springheel Jack? Not I, for I passed many shadows but in the fog I saw no faces.

    The next morning the clamour in the hall woke me. I blundered out to see who had been drafted, combing my hair with both hands and running the fuzzy caterpillar that had craftily replaced my tongue across the dry roof of my mouth.

    “He got another one,” someone said to me, his face pallid with excitement. “They had to let him go.”

    “Who go?”

    “Amalara!” someone else said gleefully. “He was sitting in jail when it happened.

    When what happened?” I asked patiently. Sooner or later I would get it. I was sure of that.

    “The guy killed somebody else last night. And now they're hunting all over for it.”

    “For what?”

    The pallid face wavered in front of me again. “Her head. Whoever killed her took her head with him.”

    New Sharon isn't a big school now, and was even smaller then—the kind of institution the public relations people chummily refer to as a “community college”. And it really was like a small community, at least in those days; between you and your friends, you probably had at least a nodding acquaintance with everybody else and their friends. Gale

    Cerman had been the type of girl you just nodded to, thinking vaguely that you had seen her around.

    We all knew Ann Bray. She had been the first runner-up in the Miss New England pageant the year before, her talent performance consisting of twirling a flaming baton to the tune of “Hey, Look Me Over”. She was brainy, too; until the time of her death she had been editor of the school newspaper (a once-weekly rag with a lot of political cartoons and bombastic letters), a member of the student dramatics society, and president of the National Service Sorority, New Sharon Branch. In the hot, fierce bubblings of my freshman youth I had submitted a column idea to the paper and asked for a date—turned down on both counts.

    And now she was dead.. . worse than dead.

    I walked to my afternoon classes like everyone else, nodding to people I knew and saying hi with a little more force than usual, as if that would make up for the close way I studied their faces. Which was the same way they were studying mine. There was someone dark among us, as dark as the paths which twisted across the mall or wound among the hundred-year-old oaks on the quad in back of the gymnasium. As dark as the hulking Civil War cannons seen through a drifting membrane of fog. We looked into each other's faces and tried to read the darkness behind one of them.

    This time the police arrested no one. The blue beetles patrolled the campus ceaselessly on the foggy spring nights of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth, and spotlights stabbed in to dark nooks and crannies with erratic eagerness. The administration imposed a mandatory nine o'clock curfew. A foolhardy couple discovered necking in the landscaped bushes north of the Tate Alumni Building were taken to the New Sharon police station and grilled unmercifully for three hours.

    There was a hysterical false alarm on the twentieth when a boy was found unconscious in the same parking lot where the body of Gale Cerman had been found. A gibbering campus cop loaded him into the back of his cruiser and put a map of the county over his face without bothering to hunt for a pulse and started towards the local hospital, siren wailing across the deserted campus like a seminar of banshees.

    Halfway there the corpse in the back seat had risen and asked hollowly, “Where the hell am I?” The cop shrieked and ran off the road. The corpse turned out to be an undergrad named Donald Morris who had been in bed the last two days with a pretty lively case of flu—was it Asian last year? I can't remember. Anyway, he fainted in the parking lot on his way to the Grinder for a bowl of soup and some toast.

    The days continued warm and overcast. People clustered in small groups that had a tendency to break up and re-form with surprising speed. Looking at the same set of faces for too long gave you funny ideas about some of them. And the speed with which rumours swept from one end of the campus to the other began to approach the speed of light; a well-liked history professor had been overheard laughing and weeping down by the small bridge; Gale Cerman had left a cryptic two-word message written in her own blood on the blacktop of the Animal Sciences parking lot; both murders were actually political crimes, ritual murders that had been performed by an offshoot of the SDS to protest the war. This was really laughable. The New Sharon SDS had seven members. One fair-sized offshoot would have bankrupted the whole organization. This fact brought an even more sinister embellishment from the campus rightwingers: outside agitators. So during those queer, warm days we all kept our eyes peeled for them.

    The press, always fickle, ignored the strong resemblance our murderer bore to Jack the Ripper and dug further back—all the way to 1819. Ann Bray had been found on a soggy path of ground some twelve feet from the nearest sidewalk, and yet there were no footprints, not even her own. An enterprising New Hampshire newsman with a passion for the arcane christened the killer Springheel Jack, after the infamous Dr John Hawkins of Bristol, who did five of his wives to death with odd pharmaceutical knick-knacks. And the name, probably because of that soggy yet unmarked ground, stuck.

    On the twenty-first it rained again, and the mall and quadrangle became quagmires. The police announced that they were salting plainclothes detectives, men and women, about, and took half the police cars off duty.

    The campus newspaper published a strongly indignant, if slightly incoherent, editorial protesting this. The upshot of it seemed to be that, with all sorts of cops masquerading as students, it would be impossible to tell a real outside agitator from a false one.

    Twilight came and the fog with it, drifting up the tree-lined avenues slowly, almost thoughtfully, blotting out the buildings one by one. It was soft, insubstantial stuff, but somehow implacable and frightening. Springheel Jack was a man, no one seemed to doubt that, but the fog was his accomplice and it was female.. . or so it seemed to me. If was as if our little school was caught between them, squeezed in some crazy lover's embrace, part of a marriage that had been consummated in blood. I sat and smoked and watched the lights come on in the growing darkness and wondered if it was all over. My room-mate came in and shut the door quietly behind him.

    “It's going to snow soon,” he said.

    I turned around and looked at him. “Does the radio say that?”

    “No,” he said. “Who needs a weatherman? Have you ever heard of strawberry spring?”

    “Maybe,” I said. “A long time ago. Something grandmothers talk about, isn't it?”

    He stood beside me, looking out at the creeping dark.

    “Strawberry spring is like Indian summer,” he said, “only much more rare. You get a good Indian summer in this part of the country once every two or three years. A spell of weather like we've been having is supposed to come only every eight or ten. It's a false spring, a lying spring, like Indian summer is a false summer. My own grandmother used to say strawberry spring means the worst norther of the winter is still on the way—and the longer this lasts, the harder the storm.

    “Folk tales,” I said. “Never believe a word. “I looked at him. But I'm nervous. Are you?”

    He smiled benevolently and stole one of my cigarettes from the open pack on the window ledge. “I suspect everyone but me. and thee,” he said, and then the smile faded a little. “And sometimes I wonder about thee. Want to go over to the Union and shoot some eight-ball? I'll spot you ten.”

    “Trig prelim next week. I'm going to settle down with a magic marker and a hot pile of notes.”

    For a long time after he was gone, I could only look out the window. And even after I had opened my book and started in, part of me was still out there, walking in the shadows where something dark was now in charge.

    That night Adelle Parkins was killed. Six police cars and seventeen collegiate-looking plain clothes men (eight of them were women imported all the way from Boston) patrolled the campus. But Springheel Jack killed her just the same, going unerringly for one of our own. The false spring, the lying spring, aided and abetted him—he killed her and left her propped behind the wheel of her 1964 Dodge to be found the next morning and they found part of her in the back seat and part of her in the trunk. And written in blood on the windshield—this time fact instead of rumour—were two words: HA! HA!

    The campus went slightly mad after that; all of us and none of us had known Adelle Parkins. She was one of those nameless, harried women who worked the break-back shift in the Grinder from six to eleven at night, facing hordes of hamburger-happy students on study break from the library across the way. She must have had it relatively easy those last three foggy nights of her life; the curfew was “being rigidly observed, and after nine the Grinder's only patrons were hungry cops and happy janitors—the empty buildings had improved their habitual bad temper considerably.

    There is little left to tell. The police, as prone to hysteria as any of us and driven against the wall, arrested an innocuous homosexual sociology graduate student named Hanson Gray, who claimed he “could not remember” where he had spent several of the lethal evenings. They charged him, arraigned him, and let him go to scamper hurriedly back to his native New Hampshire town after the last unspeakable night of strawberry spring when Marsha Curran was slaughtered on the mall.

    Why she had been out and alone is forever beyond knowing—she was a fat, sadly pretty thing who lived in an apartment in town with three other girls. She had slipped on campus as silently and as easily as Springheel Jack himself. What brought her? Perhaps her need was as deep and as ungovernable as her killer's, and just as far beyond understanding. Maybe a need for one desperate and passionate romance with the warm night, the warm fog, the smell of the sea, and the cold knife.

    That was on the twenty-third. On the twenty-fourth the president of the college announced that spring break would be moved up a week, and we scattered, not joyfully but like frightened sheep before a storm, leaving the campus empty and haunted by the police and one dark spectre.

    I had my own car on campus, and I took six people downstate with me, their luggage crammed in helter-skelter. It wasn't a pleasant ride. For all any of us knew, Springheel Jack might have been in the car with us.

    That night the thermometer dropped fifteen degrees, and the whole northern New England area was belted by a shrieking norther that began in sleet and ended in a foot of snow. The usual number of old duffers had heart attacks shovelling it away—and then, like magic, it was April. Clean showers and starry nights.

    They called it strawberry spring, God knows why, and it's an evil, lying time that only comes once every eight or ten years. Springheel Jack left with the fog, and by early June, campus conversation had turned to a series of draft protests and a sit-in at the building where a well-known napalm manufacturer was holding job interviews. By June, the subject of Springheel Jack was almost unanimously avoided—at least aloud. I suspect there were many who turned it over and over privately, looking for the one crack in the seemless egg of madness that would make sense of it all.

    That was the year I graduated, and the next year was the year I married. A good job in a local publishing house. In 1971 we had a child, and now he's almost school age. A fine and questing boy with my eyes and her mouth.

    Then, today's paper.

    Of course I knew it was here. I knew it yesterday morning when I got up and heard the mysterious sound of snowmelt running down the gutters, and smelled the salt tang of the ocean from our front porch, nine miles from the nearest beach. I knew strawberry spring had come again when I started home from work last night and had to turn on my headlights against the mist that was already beginning to creep out of the fields and hollows, blurring the lines of the buildings and putting fairy haloes around the street lamps.

    This morning's paper says a girl was killed on the New Sharon campus near the Civil War cannons. She was killed last night and found in a melting snowbank. She was not she was not all there.

    My wife is upset. She wants to know where I was last night. I can't tell her because I don't remember. I remember starting home from work, and I remember putting my headlights on to search my way through the lovely creeping fog, but that's all I remember.

    I've been thinking about that foggy night when I had a headache and walked for air and passed all the lovely shadows without shape or substance. And I've been thinking about the trunk of my car—such an ugly word, trunk -and wondering why in the world I should be afraid to open it.

    I can hear my wife as I write this, in the next room, crying. She thinks I was with another woman last night.

    And oh dear God, I think so too.

    5

    Библиотека «Артефакт» — http://andrey.tsx.org/



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    Библиотека «Артефакт» — http://andrey.tsx.org/

    Stephen King

    Survivor Type

    Sooner or later the question comes up in every medical student's career. How much shock-trauma can the patient stand? Different instructors answer the question, in different ways, but cut to its base level, the answer is always another question: How badly does the patient want to survive?

    January 26

    Two days since the storm washed me up. I paced the island off just this morning. Some island! It is 190 paces wide at its thickest point, and 267 paces long from tip to tip

    So far as I can tell, there is nothing on it to eat.

    My name is Richard Pine. This is my diary. If I'm found (when), I can destroy this easily enough. There is no shortage of matches. Matches and heroin. Plenty of both. Neither of them worth doodlysquat here, ha-ha. So I will write. It will pass the time, anyway.

    If I'm to tell the whole truth—and why not? I sure have the time!—I'll have to start by saying I was born Richard Pinzetti, in New York's Little Italy. My father was an Old World guinea. I wanted to be a surgeon. My father would laugh, call me crazy, and tell me to get him another glass of wine. He died of cancer when he was forty-six. I was glad.

    I played football in high school. I was the best damn football player my school ever produced. Quarterback. I made All-City my last two years. I hated football. But if you're a poor wop from the projects and you want to go to college, sports are your only ticket. So I played, and I got my athletic scholarship.

    In college I only played ball until my grades were good enough to get a full academic scholarship. Pre-med. My father died six weeks before graduation. Good deal. Do you think I wanted to walk across that stage and get my diploma and look down and see that fat greaseball sitting there? Does a hen want a flag? I got into a fraternity, too. It wasn't one of the good ones, not with a name like Pinzetti, but a fraternity all the same.

    Why am I writing this? It's almost funny. No, I take that back. It is funny. The great Dr. Pine, sitting on a rock in his pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, sitting on an island almost small enough to spit across, writing his life story. Am I hungry! Never mind, I'I1 write my goddam life story if I want to. At least it keeps my mind off my stomach. Sort of.

    I changed my name to Pine before I started reed school. My mother said I was breaking her heart. What heart? The day after my old man was in the ground, she was out hustling that Jew grocer down at the end of the block. For someone who loved the name so much, she was in one hell of a hurry to change her copy of it to Steinbrunner.

    Surgery was all I ever wanted. Ever since high school. Even then I was wrapping my hands before every game and soaking them afterward. If you want to be a surgeon, you have to take care of your hands. Some of the kids used to rag me about it, call me chickenshit. I never fought them. Playing football was risk enough. But there were ways. The one that got on my case the most was Howie Plotsky, a big dumb bohunk with zits all over his face. I had a paper route, and I was selling the numbers along with the papers. I had a little coming in lots of ways. You get to know people, you listen, you make connections. You have to, when you're hustling the street. Any asshole knows how to die. The thing to learn is how to survive, you know what I mean? So I paid the biggest kid in school, Ricky Brazzi, ten bucks to make Howie Plotsky's mouth disappear. Make it disappear, I said. I will pay you a dollar for every tooth you bring me. Rico brought me three teeth wrapped up in a paper towel. He dislocated two of his knuckles doing the job, so you see the kind of trouble I could have got into.

    In med school while the other suckers were running themselves ragged trying to bone up—no pun intended, ha-ha—between waiting tables or selling neckties or buffing floors, I kept the rackets going. Football pools, basketball pools, a little policy. I stayed on good terms with the old neighborhood. And I got through school just fine.

    I didn't get into pushing until I was doing my residency. 1 was working in one of the biggest hospitals in New York City. At first it was just prescription blanks. I'd sell a tablet of a hundred blanks to some guy from the neighborhood, and he'd forge the names of forty or fifty different doctors on them, using writing samples I'd also sell him. The guy would turn around and peddle the blanks on the street for ten or twenty dollars apiece. The speed freaks and the nodders loved it.

    And after a while I found out just how much of a balls-up the hospital drug room was in. Nobody knew what was coming in or going out. There were people lugging the goodies out by the double handfuls. Not me. I was always careful. I never got into trouble until I got careless—and unlucky. But I'm going to land on my feet. I always do.

    Can't write any more now. My wrist's tired and the pencil's dull. I don't know why I'm bothering, anyway. Somebody'll probably pick me up soon.

    January 27

    The boat drifted away last night and sank in about ten feet of water off the north side of the island. Who gives a rip? The bottom was like Swiss cheese after coming over the reef anyway. I'd already taken off anything that was worth taking. Four gallons of water. A sewing kit. A first-aid kit. This book I'm writing in, which is supposed to be a lifeboat inspection log. That's a laugh. Whoever heard of a lifeboat with no FOOD on it? The last report written in here is August 8, 1970. Oh, yes, two knives, one dull and one fairly sharp, one combination fork and spoon. I'll use them when I eat my supper tonight. Roast rock. Ha-ha. Well, I did get my pencil sharpened.

    When I get off this pile of guano-splattered rock, I'm going to sue the bloody hell out of Paradise Lines, Inc. That alone is worth living for. And I am going to live. I'm going to get out of this. Make no mistake about it. I am going to get out of this.

    (later)

    When I was making my inventory, I forgot one thing: two kilos of pure heroin, worth about $350,000, New York street value. Here it's worth el zilcho. Sort of funny, isn't it? Ha-ha!

    January 28

    Well, I've eaten if you want to call that eating. There was a gull perched on one of the rocks at the center of the island. The rocks are all jumbled up into a kind of mini-mountain there all covered with birdshit, too. I got a chunk of stone that just fitted into my hand and climbed up as close to it as I dared. It just stood there on its rock, watching me with its bright black eyes. I'm surprised that the rumbling of my stomach didn't scare it off.

    I threw the rock as hard as I could and hit it broadside. It let out a loud squawk and tried to fly away, but I'd broken its right wing. I scrambled up after it and it hopped away. I could see the blood trickling over its white feathers. The son of a bitch led me a merry, chase; once, on the other side of the central rockpile, I got my foot caught in a hole between two rocks and nearly fractured my ankle.

    It began to tire at last, and I finally caught it on the east side of the island. It was actually trying to get into the water and paddle away. I caught a handful of its tailfeathers and it turned around and pecked me. Then I had one hand around its feet. I got my other hand on its miserable neck and broke it. The sound gave me great satisfaction. Lunch is served, you know? Ha! Ha!

    I carried it back to my “camp,” but even before I plucked and gutted it, I used iodine to swab the laceration its beak had made. Birds carry all sorts of germs, and the last thing I need now is an infection.

    The operation on the gull went quite smoothly, I could not cook it, alas. Absolutely no vegetation or driftwood on the island and the boat has sunk. So I ate it raw. My stomach wanted to regurgitate it immediately. I sympathized but could not allow it. I counted backward until the nausea passed. It almost always works.

    Can you imagine that bird, almost breaking my ankle and then pecking me? If I catch another one tomorrow, I'll torture it. I let this one off too easily. Even as I write, I am able to glance down at its severed head on the sand. Its black eyes, even with the death-glaze on them, seem to be mocking me. Do gulls have brains in any quantity'? Are they edible?

    January 29

    No chow today. One gull landed near the top of the rockpile but flew off before I could get close enough to “throw it a forward pass,” ha-ha! I've started a beard. Itches like hell. If the gull comes back and I get it, I'm going to cut its eyes out before I kill it.

    I was one hell of a surgeon, as I believe I may have said. They drummed me out. It's a laugh, really: they all do it, and they' re so bloody sanctimonious when someone gets caught at it. Screw you, Jack, I got mine. The Second Oath of Hippocrates and Hypocrites.

    I had enough socked away from my adventures as an intern and a resident (that's supposed to be like an officer and a gentleman according to the Oath of Hypocrites, but don't you believe it) to set myself up in practice on Park Avenue. A good thing for me, to; I had no rich daddy or established patron, as so many of my “colleagues” did. By the time my shingle was out, my father was nine years in his pauper's grave. My mother died the year before my license to practice was revoked.

    It was a kickback thing. I had a deal going with half a dozen East Side pharmacists, with two drug supply houses, and with at least twenty other doctors. Patients were sent to me and I sent patients. I performed operations and prescribed the correct post-op drugs. Not all the operations were necessary, but I never performed one against a patient's will. And 1 never had a patient look down at what was written on the prescrip blank and say, “I don't want this.” Listen: they'd have a hysterectomy in 1965 or a partial thyroid in 1970, and still be taking painkillers five or ten years later, if you'd let them. Sometimes I did. I wasn't the only one, you know. They could afford the habit. And sometimes a patient would have trouble sleeping after minor surgery. Or trouble getting diet pills. Or Librium. It could alol be arranged. Ha! Yes! If they hadn't gotten it from me, they would have gotten it from someone else.

    Then the tax people got to Lowenthal. That sheep. They waved five years in his face and he coughed up half a dozen names. One of them was mine. They watched me for a while, and by the time they landed, I was worth a lot more than five years. There were a few other deals, including the prescription blanks, which I hadn't given up entirely. It's funny, I didn't really need that stuff anymore, but it was a habit. Hard to give up that extra sugar.

    Well, I knew some people. I pulled some strings. And I threw a couple of people to the wolves. Nobody I liked, though. Everyone I gave to the leds was a real son of a bitch. Christ, I'm hungry.

    January 30

    No gulls today. Reminds me of the signs you'd sometimes see on the pushcarts back in the neighborhood, so TOMATOES TODAY. I walked out into the water up to my waist with the sharp knife in my hand. I stood completely still in that one place with the sun beating down on me for four hours. Twice I thought I was going to faint, but I counted backward until it passed. I didn't see one fish. Not one.

    January 31

    Killed another gull, the same way I did the first. I was too hungry to torture it the way I had been promising myself. I gutted and ate it. Squeezed the tripes and then ate them, too. It's strange how you can feel your vitality surge back I was beginning to get scared there, for a while. Lying in the shade of the big central rockpile, i'd think i was hearing voices. My father. My mother. My ex-wife. And worst of all the big Chink who sold me the heroin in Saigon. He had a lisp, possibly from a partially cleft, palate.

    “Go ahead,” his voice came out of nowhere. “Go ahead and thnort a little. You won't notith how hungry you are then. It'h beautiful... ” But I've never done dope, not even sleeping pills.

    Lowenthal killed himself, did I tell you that? That sheep. He hanged himself in what used to be his office. The way I look at it, he did the world a favor.

    I wanted my shingle back. Some of the people I talked to said it could be done—but it would cost big money. More grease than I'd ever dreamed of. I had $40,000 in a safe-deposit box. I decided I'd have to take a chance and try to turn it over. Double or triple it.

    So I went to see Ronnie Hanelli. Ronnie and I played football together in college, and when his kid brother decided on internal med, I helped him get a residency. Ronnie himself was in pre-law, how's that for funny? On the block when we were growing up we called him Ronnie the Enforcer because he umped all the stickball games and reffed the hockey. If you didn't like his calls, you had your choice—you could keep your mouth shut or you could eat knuckles. The Puerto Ricans called him Ronniewop. All one word like that. Ronniewop. Used to tickle him. And that guy went to college, and then to law school, and he breezed through his bar exam the first time he took it, and then he set up shop in the old neighborhood, right over the Fish Bowl Bar. I close my eyes and I can still see him cruising down the block in that white Continental of his. The biggest fucking loan shark in the city.

    I knew Ronnie would have something for me. “It's dangerous,'' he said. “But you could always take care of yourself. And if you can get the stuff back in, I'll introduce you to a couple of fellows. One of them is a state representative.”

    He gave me two names over there. One of them was the big Chink, Henry Li-Tsu. The other was a Vietnamese named Solom Ngo. A chemist. For a fee he would test the Chink's product. The Chink was known to play “jokes” from time to time. The “jokes” were plastic bags filled with talcum powder, with drain cleaner, with cornstarch. Ronnie said that one day Li-Tsu's little jokes would get him killed.

    February 1

    There was a plane. It flew right across the island. I tried to climb to the top of the rockpile and wave to it. My foot went into a hole. The same damn hole I got it stuck in the day I killed the first bird, I think. I've fractured my ankle, compound fracture. It went like a gunshot. The pain was unbelievable. I screamed and lost my balance, pinwheeling my arms like a madman, but I went down and hit my head and everything went black. I didn't wake up until dusk. I lost some blood where I hit my head. My ankle had swelled up like a tire, and I'd got myself a very nasty sunburn. I think if there had been another hour of sun, it would have blistered.

    Dragged myself back here and spent last night shivering and crying with frustration. I disinfected the head wound, which is just above the right temporal lobe, and bandaged it as well as I could. Just a superficial scalp wound plus minor concussion, I think, but my ankle... it's a bad break, involved in two places, possibly three.

    How will I chase the birds now?

    It had to be a plane looking for survivors from the Callas. In the dark and the storm, the lifeboat must have carried miles from where it sank. They may not be back this way.

    God, my ankle hurts so bad.

    February 2

    I made a sign on the small white shingle of a beach on the island's south side, where the lifeboat grounded. It took me all day, with pauses to rest in the shade. Even so, I fainted twice. At a guess, I'd say I've lost 25 lbs, mostly from dehydration. But now, from where I sit, I can see the four letters it took me all day to spell out; dark rocks against the white sand, they say HELP in characters four feet high.

    Another plane won't miss me.

    If there is another plane.

    My foot throbs constantly. There is swelling still and ominous discoloration around the double break. Discoloration seems to have advanced. Binding it tightly with my shirt alleviates the worst of the pain, but it's still bad enough so that I faint rather than sleep.

    I have begun to think I may have to amputate.

    February 3

    Swelling and discoloration worse still. I'll wait until tomorrow. If the operation does become necessary, I believe I can carry it through. I have matches for sterilizing the sharp knife, I have needle and thread from the sewing kit. My shirt for a bandage.

    I even have two kilos of “painkiller,” although hardly of the type i used to prescribe. But they would have taken it if they could have gotten it. You bet. Those old blue-haired ladies would have snorted Glade air freshener if they thought it would have gotten them high. Believe it!

    February 4

    I've decided to amputate my foot. No food four days now. If I wait any longer, I run the risk of fainting from combined shock and hunger in the middle of the operation and bleeding to death. And as wretched as I am, I still want to live. I remember what Mockridge used to say in Basic Anatomy. Old Mockie, we used to call him. Sooner or later, he'd say, the question comes up in every medical student's career: How much shock-trauma can the patient stand'? And he'd whack his pointer at his chart of the human body, hitting the liver, the kidneys, the heart, the spleen, the intestines Cut to its base level, gentlemen, he'd say. the answer is always another question: How badly does the patient want to survive?

    I think I can bring it off.

    I really do.

    I suppose I'm writing to put off the inevitable, but it did occur to me that I haven't finished the story of how I came to be here. Perhaps I should tie up that loose end in case the operation does go badly. It will only take a few minutes, and I'm sure there will be enough daylight left for the operation, for, according to my Pulsar, it's only nine past nine in the morning. Ha!

    I flew to Saigon as a tourist. Does that sound strange? It shouldn't. There are still thousands of people who visit there every year in spite of Nixon's war. There are people who go to see car wrecks and cockfights, too.

    My Chinese friend had the merchandise. I took it to Ngo, who pronounced it very. high-grade stuff. He told me that Li-Tsu had played one of his jokes four months ago and that his wife had been blown up when she turned on the ignition of her Opel. Since then there had been no more jokes.

    I stayed in Saigon for three weeks; I had booked passage back to San Francisco on a cruise ship, the Callas. First cabin. Getting on board with the merchandise was no trouble; for a fee Ngo arranged for two customs officials to simply wave me on after running through my suitcases. The merchandise was in an airline flight bag, which they never even looked at.

    “Getting through U. S. customs will be much more difficult,'' Ngo told me. “That, however, is your problem.”

    I had no intention of taking the merchandise through U. S. customs. Ronnie Hanelli had arranged for a skin diver who would do a certain rather tricky job for $3,000. I was to meet him (two days ago, now that I think of it) in a San Francisco flophouse called the St. Regis Hotel. The plan was to put the merchandise in a waterproof can. Attacned to the can was a timer and a packet of red dye. Just before we docked, the canister was to be thrown overboard—but not by me, of course.

    I was still looking for a cook or a steward who could use a little extra cash and who was smart enough—or stupid enough—to keep his mouth closed afterward, when the Callas sank.

    I don't know how or why. It was storming, but the ship seemed to be handling that well enough. Around eight o'clock on the evening of the 23rd, there was an explosion somewhere belowdecks. I was in the lounge at the time, and the Callas began to list almost immediately. To the left... do they call that “port” or “starboard”?

    People were screaming and running in every direction. Bottles were falling off the backbar and shattering on the floor. A man staggered up from one of the lower levels, his shirt burned off, his skin barbecued. The loudspeker started telling people to go to the lifeboat stations they had been assigned during the drill at the beginning of the cruise. The passengers went right on running hither and yon. Very few of them had bothered to show up during the lifeboat drill. I not only showed up, I came early—I wanted to be in the front row, you see, so I would have an unobstructed view of everything. I always pay close attention when the matter concerns my own skin.

    I went down to my stateroom, got the heroin bags, and put one in each of my front pockets. Then I went to Lifeboat Station 8. As I went up the stairwell to the main deck there were two more explosions and the boat began to list even more severely.

    Topside, everything was confusion. I saw a screeching woman with a baby in her arms run past me, gaining speed as she sprinted down the slippery, canting deck. She hit the rail with her thighs, and flipped outward. I saw her do two midair somersaults and part of a third before I lost sight of her. There was a middle-aged man sitting in the center of the shuffleboard court and pulling his hair. Another man in cook's whites, horribly burned about his face and hands, was stumbling from place to place and screaming, “HELP ME! CAN'T SEE! HELP ME! CAN'T SEE!”

    The panic was almost total: it had run from the passengers to the crew like a disease. You must remember that the time elapsed from the first explosion to the actual sinking of the Callas was only about twenty minutes. Some of the lifeboat stations were clogged with screaming passengers, while others were absolutely empty. Mine, on the listing side of the ship, was almost deserted. There was no one there but myself and a common sailor with a pimply, pallid face.

    “Let's get this buckety-bottomed old whore in the water,” he said, his eyes rolling crazily in their seekers. “This bloody tub is going straight to the bottom.”

    The lifeboat gear is simple enough to operate, but in his fumbling nervousness, he got his side of the block and tackle tangled. The boat dropped six feet and then hung up, the bow two feet lower than the stem.

    I was coming around to help him when he began to scream. He'd succeeded in untangling the snarl and had gotten his hand caught at the same time. The whizzing rope smoked over his open palm, flaying off skin, and he was jerked over the side.

    I tossed the rope ladder overboard, hurried down it, and unclipped the lifeboat from the lowering ropes. Then I rowed, something i had occasionally done for pleasure on trips to my friends' summer houses, something I was now doing for my life. I knew that if I didn't get far enough away from the dying Callas before she sank, she would pull me down with her.

    Just five minutes later she went. I hadn't escaped the suction entirely; I had to row madly just to stay in the samne place. She went under very quickly. There were still people clinging to the rail of her bow and screaming. They looked like a bunch of monkeys.

    The storm worsened. I lost one oar but managed to keep the other, i spent that whole night in a kind of dream, first bailing, then grabbing the oar and paddling wildly to get the boat's prow into the next bulking wave.

    Sometime before dawn on the 24th, the waves began to strengthen behind me. The boat rushed forward. It was terrifying but at the same time exhilarating. Suddenly most of the planking was ripped out from under my feet, but before the lifeboat could sink it was dumped on this godforsaken pile of rocks. I don't even know where I am: have no idea at all. Navigation not my strong point, ha-ha.

    But I know what I have to do. This may be the last entry, but somehow I think I'll make it. Haven't I always'? And they are really doing marvelous things with prosthetics these days. I can get along with one foot quite nicely.

    It's time to see if I'm as good as I think I am. Luck.

    February 5

    Did it.

    The pain was the part I was most worded about. I can stand pain, but I thought that in my weakened condition, a combination of hunger and agony might force unconsciousness before I could finish.

    But the heroin solved that quite nicely.

    I opened one of the bags and sniffed two healthy pinches from the surface of a flat rock, first the right nostril, then the left. it was like sniffing up some beautifully numbing ice that spread through the brain from the bottom up. I aspirated the heroin as soon as I finished writing in this diary yesterday—that was at 9:45. The next time I checked my watch the shadows had moved, leaving me partially in the sun, and the time was 12:41. I had nodded off. I had never dreamed that it could be so beautiful, and I can't understand why I was so scornful before. The pain, the terror, the misery... they all disappear, leaving only a calm euphoria.

    It was in this state that I operated.

    There was, indeed, a great deal of pain, most of it in the early part of the operation. But the pain seemed disconnected from me, like somebody else's pain. It bothered me, but it was also quite interesting. Can you understand that? If you've used a strong morphine-based drug yourself, perhaps you can. It does more than dull pain. It induces a state of mind. A serenity. I can understand whv people get hooked on it, although “hooked” seems an awfully strong word, used most commonly, of course, by those who have never tried it.

    About halfway through, the pain started to become a more personal thing. Waves of faintness washed over me. I looked longingly at the open bag of white powder, but forced myself to look away. If I went on the nod again, I'd bleed to death as surely as if I'd fainted. I counted backward from a hundred instead.

    Loss of blood was the most critical factor. As a surgeon, I was vitally aware of that. Not a drop could be spilled unnecessarily. If a patient hemorrhages during an operation in a hospital, you can give him blood. I had no such supplies. What was lost—and by the time I had finished, the sand beneath my leg was dark with it—was lost until my own internal factory could resupply. I had no clamps, no hemostats, no surgical thread.

    I began the operation at exactly 12:45. I finished at 1:50, and immediately dosed myself with heroin, a bigger dose than before. I nodded into a gray, painless world and remained there until nearly five o'clock. When I came out of it, the sun was nearing the western horizon, beating a track of gold across the blue Pacific toward me. I've never seen anything so beautiful... all the pain was paid for in that one instant. An hour later I snorted a bit more, so as to fully enjoy and appreciate the sunset.

    Shortly after dark I—

    I—

    Wait. Haven't I told you I'd had nothing to eat for four days? And that the only help I could look to in the matter of replenishing my sapped vitality was my own body? Above all, haven't i told you, over and over, that survival is a business of the mind? The superior mind? i won't justify myself by saying you would have done the same thing. First of all, you're probably not a surgeon. Even if you knew the mechanics of amputation, you might have botched the job so badly you would have bled to death anyway. And even if you had lived through the operation and the shock-trauma, the thought might never have entered your preconditioned head. Never mind. No one has to know. My last act before leaving the island will be to destroy this book.

    I was very careful.

    I washed it thoroughly before I ate it.

    February 7

    Pain from the stump has been bad excruciating from time to time. But I think the deep-seated itch as the healing process begins has been worse. I've been thinking this afternoon of all the patients that have babbled to me that they couldn't stand the horrible, unscratchable itch of mending flesh. And I would smile and tell them they would feel better tomorrow, privately thinking what whiners they were, what jellyfish, what ungrateful babies. Now I understand. Several times I've come close to ripping the shirt bandage off the stump and scratching at it, digging my fingers into the soft raw flesh, pulling out the rough stitches, letting the blood gout onto the sand, anything, anything, to be rid of that maddening horrible itch.

    At those times I count backward from one hundred. And snort heroin.

    I have no idea how much I've taken into my system, but I do know I've been “stoned” almost continually since the operation. It depresses hunger, you know. I'm hardly aware of being hungry at all. There is a faint, faraway gnawing in my belly, and that's all. It could easily be ignored. I can't do that, though. Heroin has no measurable caloric value. I've been testing myself, crawling from place to place, measuring my energy. It's ebbing.

    Dear God, I hope not, but... another operation may be necessary.

    (later)

    Another plane flew over. Too high to do me any good; all I could see was the contrail etching itself across the sky. I waved anyway. Waved and screamed at it. When it was gone I wept.

    Getting too dark to see now. Food. I've been thinking about all kinds of food. My mother's lasagna. Garlic bread. Escargots. Lobster. Prime fibs. Peach melba. London broil. The huge slice of pound cake and the scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream they give you for dessert in Mother Crunch on First Avenue. Hot pretzels baked salmon baked Alaska baked ham with pineapple tings. Onion rings. Onion dip with potato chips cold iced tea in long long sips french fries make you smack your lips.

    100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95, 94

    God God God

    February 8

    Another gull landed on the rockpile this morning. A huge fat one. I was sitting in the shade of my rock, what I think of as my camp, my bandaged stump propped up. I began to salivate as soon as the gull landed. Just like one of Pavlov's dogs. Drooling helplessly, like a baby. Like a baby.

    I picked up a chunk of stone large enough to fit my hand nicely and began to crawl toward it. Fourth quarter. We' re down by three. Third and long yardage. Pinzetti drops back to pass (Pine, I mean, Pine). I didn't have much hope. I was sure it would fly off. But I had to try. If I could get it, a bird as plump and insolent as that one, I could postpone a second operation indefinitely. I crawled toward it, my stump hitting a rock from time to time and sending stars of pain through my whole body, and waited for it to fly off.

    It didn't. It just strutted back and forth, its meaty breast thrown out like some avian general reviewing troops. Every now and then it would look at me with its small, nasty black eyes and I would freeze like a stone and count backward from one hundred until it began to pace back and forth again. Every time it fluttered its wings, my stomach filled up with ice. I continued to drool. I couldn't help it. I was drooling tike a baby.

    I don't know how long I stalked it. An hour? Two? And the closer I got, the harder my heart pounded and the tastier that gull looked. It almost seemed to be teasing me, and I began to believe that as soon as I got in throwing range it would fly off. My arms and legs were beginning to tremble. My mouth was dry. The stump was twanging viciously. 1 think now that I must have been having withdrawal pains. But so soon? I've been using the stuff less than a week!

    Never mind. I need it. There's plenty left, plenty. If I have to take the cure later on when I get back to the States, I'll check into the best clinic in California and do it with a smile. That's not the problem right now, is it?

    When I did get in range, I didn't want to throw the rock. I became insanely sure that I would miss, probably by feet. I had to get closer. So I continued to crawl up the rockpile, my head thrown back, the sweat pouring off my wasted, scarecrow body. My teeth have begun to rot, did I tell you that? If I were a superstitious man, I'd say it was because I ate—

    Ha! We know better, don't we?

    I stopped again. I was much closer to it than I had been to either of the other gulls. I still couldn't bring myself to commit. I clutched the rock until my fingers ached and still I couldn't throw it. Because I knew exactly what it would mean if I missed.

    I don't care if I use all the merchandise! I'll sue the ass off them! I'll be in clover for the rest of my life! My long long life!

    I think I would have crawled right up to it without throwing if it hadn't finally taken wing. I would have crept up and strangled it. But it spread its wings and took off. I screamed at it and reared up on my knees and threw my rock with all my strength. And I hit it!

    The bird gave a strangled squawk and fell back on the other side of the rockpile. Gibbering and laughing, unmindful now of striking the stump or opening the wound, I crawled over the top and to the other side. I lost my balance and banged my head. I didn't even notice it, not then, although it has raised a pretty nasty lump. All I could think of was the bird and how I had hit it, fantastic luck, even on the wing I had hit it!

    It was flopping down toward the beach on the other side, one wing broken, its underbody red with blood. I crawled as fast as I could, but it crawled faster yet. Race of the cripples! Ha! Ha! I might have gotten it I was closing the distance except for my hands. I have to take good care of my hands. I may need them again. In spite of my care, the palms were scraped by the time we reached the narrow shingle of beach, and I'd shattered the face of my Pulsar watch against a rough spine of rock.

    The gull flopped into the water, squawking noisomely, and I clutched at it. i got a handful of tailfeathers, which came off in rny fist. Then I fell in, inhaling water, snorting and choking.

    I crawled in further. I even tried to swim after it. The bandage came off my stump. I began to go under. I just managed to get back to the beach, shaking with exhaustion, racked with pain, weeping and screaming, cursing the gull. It floated there for a long time, always further and further out. I seem to remember begging it to come back at one point. But when it went out over the reef, I think it was dead.

    It isn't fair.

    It took me almost an hour to crawl back around to my camp. I've snorted a large amount of heroin, but even so I'm bitterly angry at the gull. If I wasn't going to get it, why did it have to tease me so'? Why didn't it just fly off?

    February 9

    I've amputated my left foot and have bandaged it with my pants. Strange. All through the operation I was drooling. Drooooling. Just like when I saw the gull. Drooling helplessly. But I made myself wait until after dark. I just counted backward from one hundred... twenty or thirty times! Ha! Ha!

    Then...

    I kept telling myself: Cold roast beef. Cold roast beef. Cold roast beef.

    February 11 (?)

    Rain the last two days. And high winds. I managed to move some rocks from the central pile, enough to make a hole I could crawl into. Found one small spider. Pinched it between my fingers before he could get away and ate him up. Very nice. Juicy. Thought to myself that the rocks over me might fall and bury me alive. Didn't care.

    Spent the whole storm stoned. Maybe it rained three days instead of two. Or only one. But I think it got dark twice. I love to nod off. No pain or itching then. I know I'm going to survive this. It can't be a person can go through something like this for nothing.

    There was a priest at Holy Family when I was a kid, a little runty guy, and he used to love to talk about hell and mortal sins. He had a real hobbyhorse on them. You can't get back from a mortal sin, that was his view. I dreamed about him last night, Father Hailly in his black bathrobe, and his whiskey nose, shaking his finger at me and saying, “Shame on you, Richard Pinzetti... a mortal sin... damt to hell, boy... damt to hell...”

    I laughed at him. If this place isn't hell, what is'? And the only mortal sin is giving up.

    Half of the time I'm delirious; the rest of the time my stumps itch and the dampness makes them ache horribly.

    But I won't give up. I swear. Not for nothing. Not all this for nothing.

    February 12

    Sun is out again, a beautiful day. I hope they're freezing their asses off in the neighborhood.

    It's been a good day for me, as good as any day gets on this island. The fever I had while it was storming seems to have dropped. I was weak and shivering when I crawled out of my burrow, but after lying on the hot sand in the sunshine for two or three hours, I began to feel almost human again.

    Crawled around to the south side and found several pieces of driftwood cast up by the storm, including several boards from my lifeboat. There was kelp and seaweed on some of the boards. I ate it. Tasted awful. Like eating a vinyl shower curtain. But I felt so much stronger this afternoon.

    I pulled the wood up as far as I could so it would dry. I've still got a whole tube of waterproof matches. The wood will make a signal fire if someone comes soon. A cooking fire if not. I'm going to snort up now.

    February 13

    Found a crab. Killed it and roasted it over a small fire. Tonight I could almost believe in God again.

    Feb 14

    I just noticed this morning that the storm washed away most of the rocks in my HELP sign. But the storm ended... three days ago? Have I really been that stoned? I'll have to watch it, cut down the dosage. What if a ship went by while I was nodding?

    I made the letters again, but it took me most of the day and now I'm exhausted. Looked for a crab where I found the other, but nothing. Cut my hands on several of the rocks I used for the sign, but disinfected them promptly with iodine in spite of my weariness. Have to take care of my hands. No matter what.

    Feb 15

    A gull landed on the tip of the rockpile today. Flew away before I could get in range. I wished it into hell, where it could peck out Father Hailley's bloodshot little eyes through eternity.

    Ha! Ha!

    Ha! Ha!

    Ha!

    Feb 17(?)

    Took off my right leg at the knee, but lost a lot of blood. Pain excruciating in spite of heroin. Shock-trauma would have killed a lesser man. Let me answer with a question: How badly does the patient want to survive? How badly does the patient want to live?

    Hands trembling. If they are betraying me, I'm through. They have no right to betray me. No right at all. I've taken care of them all their lives. Pampered them. They better not. Or they'll be sorry.

    At least I'm not hungry.

    One of the boards from the lifeboat had split down the middle. One end came to a point. I used that. I was drooling but I made myself wait. And then I got thinking of... oh, barbecues we used to have. That place Will Hammersmith had on Long Island, with a barbecue pit big enough to roast a whole pig in. We'd be sitting on the porch in the dusk with big drinks in our hands, talking about surgical techniques or golf scores or something. And the breeze would pick up and drift the sweet smell of roasting pork over to us. Judas Iscariot, the sweet smell of roasting pork.

    Feb?

    Took the other leg at the knee. Sleepy all day. “Doctor was this operation necessay?” Haha. Shaky hands, like an old man. Hate them. Blood under the fingernails. Scabs. Remember that model in med school with the glass belly? I feel like that. Only I don't want to look. No way no how. I remember Dom used to say that. Waltz up to you on the street comer in his Hiway Outlaws club jacket. You'd say Dom how'd you make out with her'? And Dom would say no way no how. Shee. Old Dom. I wish I'd stayed right in the neighborhood. This sucks so bad as Dom would say. haha.

    But I understand, you know, that with the proper therapy, and prosthetics, I could be as good as new. I could come back here and tell people “This. Is where it. Happened.”

    Hahaha!

    February 23 (?)

    Found a dead fish. Rotten and stinking. Ate it anyway. Wanted to puke, wouldn't let myself. I will survive. So lovely stoned, the sunsets.

    February

    Don't dare but have to. But how can I tie off the femoral artery that high up? It's as big as a fucking turnpike up there.

    Must, somehow. I've marked across the top of the thigh, the part that is still meaty. I made the mark with this pencil.

    I wish I could stop drooling.

    Fe

    You... deserve... a break today... sooo... get up and get away... to McDonald's,.. two all-beef patties... special sauce... lettuce... pickles... onions... on a... sesame seed bun...

    Dee... deedee... dundadee...

    Febba

    Looked at my face in the water today. Nothing but a skin-covered skull. Am I insane yet? I must be. I'm a monster now, a freak. Nothing left below the groin. Just a freak. A head attached to a torso dragging itself along the sand by the elbows. A crab. A stoned crab. Isn't that what they call themselves now? Hey man I'm just a poor stoned crab can you spare me a dime.

    Hahahaha

    They say you are what you eat and if so I HAVEN'T CHANGED A BIT! Dear God shock-trauma shock-trauma THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SHOCK-TRAUMA

    HA

    Fe/40?

    Dreaming about my father. When he was drunk he lost all his English. Not that he had anything worth saying anyway. Fucking dipstick. I was so glad to get out of your house Daddy you fucking greaseball dipstick nothing cipher zilcho zero. I knew I'd made it. I walked away from you, didn't I? I walked on my hands.

    But there's nothing left for them to cut off. Yesterday I took my earlobes

    left hand washes the right don't let your left hand know what your right hands doing one potato two potato three potato four we got a refrigerator with a store-more door hahaha.

    Who cares, this hand or that. good food good meat good God let's eat.

    lady fingers they taste just like lady fingers

    11

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    The Beggar and the Diamond

    Strephen King

    AUTHOR’s NOTE:

    This little story—a Hindu parable in its original form—was first told to me by Mr. Surendra Patel, of Scarsdale, New York. I have adapted it freely and apologize to those who know it in its true form, where Lord Shiva and his wife, Parvati, are the major characters.

    One day the archangel Uriel came to God with a downcast face. “What troubles you?” God asked.

    “I have seen something very sad,” Uriel replied, and then pointed between his feet. “down there.”

    “On earth?” God asked with a smile. “Oh! No shortage of sadness there! Well, let us see.”

    They bent over together. Far below they saw a ragged figure trudging slowly along a country road on the outskirts of Chandrapur. He was very thin, this figure, and his legs and arms were covered with sores. Dogs frequently chased after him, barking, but the figure never turned to strike at them with his staff even when they nipped at his heels; he simply trudged onward, favoring his right leg as he walked. At one point a number of handsome, well-fed children with wicked smiling faces boiled out of a large house and threw stones at the ragged man when he held his empty begging bowl out to them.

    “Go away, you nasty thing!” one of them cried. “Go away into the fields and die!”

    At this, the archangel Uriel burst into tears.

    “Now, now,” God said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I thought you were made of sterner stuff.”

    “Yes, no doubt,” Uriel said, drying his eyes. “It’s just that the fellow down there seems to sum up everything which has ever gone wrong for all the sons and daughters of the earth.”

    “Of course he does,” God replied. “That is Ramu, and that is his job. When he dies, another will hold it. It is an honorable job.”

    “Perhaps,” Uriel said, covering his eyes with a shudder, “but I cannot bear to watch him do it.

    His sorrow fills my heart with darkness.”

    “Darkness is not allowed here,” said God, “and therefore I must take steps to change what has brought it to you. Look here, my good archangel.”

    Uriel looked and saw that God was holding a diamond as big as a peacock’s egg.

    “A diamond of this size and quality will feed Ramu for the rest of his life, and keep his descendants unto the seventh generation,” God remarked. “It is, in fact, the finest on the earth. Now . . . let us see . . .” He leaned forward on His hands and knees, held the diamond out between two gauzy clouds, and let it drop. He and Uriel marked its fall closely, watching as it struck the center of the road upon which Ramu walked.

    The diamond was so large and so heavy that Ramu would no doubt have heard it strike the earth had he been a younger man, but his hearing had failed quite severely in the last few years, along with his lungs and his back and his kidneys. Only his eyesight remained as keen as it had been when he was one-and-twenty.

    As he struggled up a rise in the road, unaware of the huge diamond which lay gleaming and flashing on the far side in the hazy sunshine, Ramu sighed deeply . . . then stopped, bent over his staff, as his sigh turned into a fit of coughing. He held onto his staff with both hands, trying to weather the fit, and just as it was easing, the staff—old and dry and almost as worn-out as Ramu himself—snapped with a dry crack, pitching Ramu into the dust.

    He lay there, looking up at the sky and wondering why God was so cruel. “I have outlived all those I loved the most,” he thought, “ “but not those I hate. I have grown so old and ugly that the dogs bark at me and the children throw stones at me. I have had nothing but scraps to eat these last three months, and no decent meal with family and friends for ten years or more. I am a wanderer on the face of the earth with no home to call my own; tonight I will sleep under a tree or a hedge with no roof to keep the rain off. I am covered with sores, my back aches, and when I pass water I see blood where no blood should be. My heart is as empty as my begging bowl.”

    Ramu slowly got to his feet, unaware that less than sixty feet and a dry bulge of land hid his still-keen glance from the world’s largest diamond, and looked up at the hazy blue sky. “God, I am unlucky,” he said. “I do not hate You, but I fear You are not my friend, nor any man’s friend.”

    Having said this, he felt a little better and resumed his trudge, pausing only to pick up the longer piece of his broken staff. As he walked, he began to reproach himself for his self-pity and for his ungrateful prayer.

    “For I do have a few things to be grateful for,” he reasoned. “The day is extraordinarily beautiful, for one thing, and although I have failed in many respects, my vision remains keen.

    Think how terrible it would be if I were blind!”

    To prove this to himself, Ramu closed his eyes tightly and shuffled along with his broken staff stretched out in front of him, as a blind man uses his cane. The darkness was terrible, stifling, and disorienting. He soon had no idea if he was moving on as he had been, or if he was wandering off to one side of the road or the other, and might soon go tumbling into the ditch.

    The thought of what could happen to his old, brittle bones in such a fall frightened him, but he kept his eyes firmly shut and continued to forge ahead.

    “This is just the thing to cure you of your ingratitude, old fellow!” he told himself. “You will spend the rest of the day remembering that you may be a beggar, but at least you are not a blind beggar, and you will be happy!”

    Ramu did not walk into the ditch on either side, but he did begin to drift off to the right of the road as he topped the rise and started down the far side, and this was how he walked past the huge diamond which lay glowing in the dust; his left foot missed it by less than two inches.

    Thirty yards or so farther on, Ramu opened his eyes. Bright summer sunshine flooded them, and seemed to flood his mind, as well. He looked with gladness at the dusty blue sky, the dusty yellow fields, the beaten-silver track of the road upon which he walked. He marked the passage of a bird from one tree to the next with laughter, and although he never turned once to see the huge diamond, which lay close behind him, his sores and his aching back were forgotten.

    “Thank God for sight!” he cried. “Thank God for that, at least! Perhaps I shall see something of value on the road—an old bottle worth money in the bazaar, or even a coin—but even if I do not, I shall look my fill. Thank God for sight! Thank God for God!”

    And, well satisfied, he set off again, leaving the diamond behind. God then reached down and scooped it up, replacing it beneath the mountain in Africa from which He had taken it. Almost as an afterthought (if God can be said to have afterthoughts), He plucked up an ironwood branch from the veldt and dropped it onto the Chandrapur Road, as He had dropped the diamond.

    “The difference is,” God told Uriel, “our friend Ramu will find the branch, and it will serve him as a staff for the rest of his days.”

    Uriel looked at God (as nearly as anyone—even an archangel—can look at that burning face, at least) uncertainly. “Have You given me a lesson, Lord?”

    “I don’t know,” God responded blandly. “Have I?”



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    The Call of the Wild

    Jack London  

    I Into the Primitive

    Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, But for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

    Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half-hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by graveled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious scale than at the front.

    There were great stables, where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miler's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.

    And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here he had lived the four years of his life. It was true, there were other dogs. There could not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but they did not count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, or lived obscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion of Toots, the Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless, strange creatures that rarely put nose out of doors or set foot to ground. On the other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score of them at least, who yelped fearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out of the windows at them and protected by a legion of housemaids armed with brooms and mops.

    But Buck was neither house dog nor kennel dog. The whole realm was his. He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge's sons; I he escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge's daughters, on long twilight or early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge's feet before the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge's grandsons on his back, or rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wild adventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, and the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king—king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller's place, humans included.

    His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge's inseparable companion, and Buck bid fair to follow in the way of his father. He was not so large—he weighed only one hundred and forty pounds—for his mother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog. Nevertheless, one hundred and forty pounds, to which was added the dignity that comes of good living and universal respect, enabled him to carry himself in right royal fashion. During the four years since his puppyhood he had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, was even a trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes become because of their insular situation. But he had saved himself by not becoming a mere pampered house dog. Hunting and kindred outdoor delights had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, as to the cold-tubbing races, the love of water had been a tonic and a health preserver.

    And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when the Klondike strike dragged men from all the world into the frozen North. But Buck did not read the newspapers, and he did not know that Manuel, one of the gardener's helpers, was an undesirable acquaintance. Manuel had one besetting sin. He loved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in his gambling, he had one besetting weakness—faith in a system; and this made his damnation certain. For to play a system requires money, while the wages of a gardener's helper do not lap over the needs of a wife and numerous progeny.

    B The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Association, and the boys were busy organizing an athletic club, on the memorable night of Manuel's treachery. No one saw him and Buck go off through the orchard on what Buck imagined was merely a stroll. And with the exception of a solitary man, no one saw them arrive at the little flag station known as College Park. This man talked with Manuel, and money chinked between them.

    “You might wrap up the goods before you deliver them,” the stranger said gruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around Buck's neck under the collar.

    “Twist it, and you'll choke him plenty,” said Manuel, and the stranger grunted a ready affirmative.

    Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an unwonted performance but he had learned to trust in men he knew, and to give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when the ends of the rope were placed in the stranger's hands, he growled menacingly. He had merely intimated his displeasure, in his pride believing that to intimate was to command. But to his surprise the rope tightened around his neck, shutting off his breath. In a quick rage he sprang at the man, who met him halfway, grappled him close by the throat, and with a deft twist threw him over on his back. Then the rope tightened mercilessly, while Buck struggled in a fury, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never in all his life had he been so vilely treated, and never in all his life had he been so angry. But his strength ebbed, his eyes glazed, and he knew nothing when the train was flagged and the two men threw him into the baggage car.

    The next he knew, he was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting and that he was being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarse shriek of a locomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. He had traveled too often with the Judge not to know the sensation of riding in a baggage car. He opened his eyes, and into them came the unbridled anger of a kidnaped king. The man sprang for his throat, but Buck was too quick for him. His jaws closed on the hand, nor did they relax till his senses were choked out of him once more.

    “Yep, has fits,” the man said, hiding his mangled hand from the baggage man, who had been attracted by the sounds of struggle. “I'm taking him up for the boss to 'Frisco. A crack dog doctor there thinks that he can cure him.” Concerning that night's ride, the man spoke most eloquently for himself, in a little shed back of a saloon on the San Francisco water front.

    “All I get is fifty for it,” he grumbled, “and I wouldn't do it over for a thousand, cold cash.” His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouser leg was ripped from knee to ankle.

    “How much did the other mug get?” the saloon-keeper demanded.

    “A hundred,” was the reply. “Wouldn't take a sou less, so help me.”

    “That makes a hundred and fifty,” the saloon-keeper calculated, “and he's worth it, or I'm a squarehead.” The kidnaper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his lacerated hand. “If I don't get hydrophobia—”

    “It'll be because you was born to hang,” laughed the saloon-keeper. “Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight,” he added.

    Dazed, suffering intolerable pain from throat and tongue, with the life half throttled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors. But he was thrown down and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filing the heavy brass collar from off his neck. Then the rope was removed, and he was flung into a cage-like crate.

    There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrath and wounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did they want with him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pent up in this narrow crate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by the vague sense of impending calamity.

    Several times during the night he sprang to his feet when the shed door rattled open, expecting to see the Judge, or the boys at least. But each time it was the bulging face of the saloon-keeper that peered in at him by the sickly light of a tallow candle. And each time the joyful bark that trembled in Buck's throat was twisted into a savage growl.

    But the saloon-keeper let him alone, and in the morning four men entered and picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for they were evil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged at them through the bars.

    They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he promptly assailed with his teeth till he realized that was what they wanted. Whereupon he lay down sullenly and allowed the crate to be lifted into a wagon. Then he, and the crate in which he was imprisoned, began a passage through many hands.

    Clerks in the express office took charge of him; he was carted about in another wagon; a truck carried him, with an assortment of boxes and parcels, upon a ferry steamer; he was trucked off the steamer into a great railway depot, and finally he was deposited in an express car.

    For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the tail of shrieking locomotives; and for two days and nights Buck neither ate nor drank. In his anger he had met the first advances of the express messengers with growls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When he flung himself against the bars, quivering and frothing, they laughed at him and taunted him. They growled and barked like detestable dogs, mewed, and flapped their arms and crowed. It was all very silly, he knew; but therefore the more outrage to his dignity, and his anger waxed and waxed.

    He did not mind the hunger so much, but the lack of water caused him severe suffering and fanned his wrath to fever-pitch. For that matter, high-strung and finely sensitive, the ill treatment had flung him into a fever, which was fed by the inflammation of his parched and swollen throat and tongue.

    He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had given them an unfair advantage; but now that it was off, he would show them. They would never get another rope around his neck. Upon that he was resolved.

    For two days and nights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first fell foul of him. His eyes turned bloodshot, and he was metamorphosed into a raging fiend. So changed was he that the Judge himself would not have recognized him; and the express messengers breathed with relief when they bundled him off the train at Seattle.

    Four men gingerly carried the crate from the wagon into a small, high-walled back yard. A stout man, with a red sweater that sagged generously at the neck, came out and signed the book for the driver. That was the man, Buck divined, the next tormentor, and he hurled himself savagely against the bars. The man smiled grimly, and brought a hatchet and a club.

    “You ain't going to take him out now?” the driver asked.

    “Sure,” the man replied, driving the hatchet into the crate for a pry.

    There was an instantaneous scattering of the four men who had carried it in, and from safe perches on top the wall they prepared to watch the performance.

    Buck rushed at the splintering wood, sinking his teeth into it, surging and wrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the outside, he was there on the inside, snarling and growling, as furiously anxious to get out as the man in the red sweater was calmly intent on getting him out.

    “Now, you red-eyed devil,” he said, when he had made an opening sufficient for the passage of Buck's body. At the same time he dropped the hatchet and shifted the club to his right hand.

    And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for the spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his bloodshot eyes. Straight at the man he launched his one hundred and forty pounds of fury, surcharged with the pent passion of two days and nights. In mid-air, just as his jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that checked his body and brought his teeth together with an agonizing clip. He whirled over, fetching the ground on his back and side. He had never been struck by a club in his life, and did not understand.

    With a snarl that was part bark and more scream he was again on his feet and launched into the air. And again the shock came and he was brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was aware that it was the club, but His madness knew no caution. A dozen times he charged, and as often the club broke the charge and smashed him down.

    M After a particularly fierce blow he crawled to his feet, too dazed to rush. He staggered limply about, the blood flowing from nose and mouth and ears, his beautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver. Then the man advanced and deliberately dealt him a frightful blow on the nose. All the pain he had endured was nothing compared with the exquisite agony of this. With a roar that was almost lion-like in its ferocity, he again hurled himself at the man. But the man, shifting the club from right to left, cooly caught him by the under jaw, at the same time wrenching downward and backward. Buck described a complete circle in the air, and half of another, then crashed to the ground on his head and chest.

    For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he had purposely withheld for so long, and Buck crumpled up and went down, knocked utterly senseless.

    “He's no slouch at dog-breaking, that's what I say,” one of the men on the wall cried with enthusiasm.

    “Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays,” was the reply of the driver, as he climbed on the wagon and started the horses.

    Buck's senses came back to him, but not his strength.

    He lay where he had fallen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.

    “'Answers to the name of Buck,'” the man soliloquized, quoting from the saloon-keeper's letter which had announced the consignment of the crate and contents. “Well, Buck, my boy,” he went on in a genial voice, “we've had our little ruction, and the best thing we can do is to let it go at that. You've learned your place, and I know mine. Be a good dog and all will go well and the goose hang high. Be a bad dog, and I'll whale the stuffing outa you.

    Understand?” As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly pounded, and though Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the hand, he endured it without protest.

    When the man brought him water, he drank eagerly, and later bolted a generous meal of raw meat, chuck by chunk, from the man's hand.

    He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken.

    He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his afterlife he never forgot it. That club was a revelation.

    It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused.

    As the days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.

    Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly, wheedlingly, and in all kinds of fashions to the man in the red sweater. And at such times that money passed between them the strangers took one or more of the dogs away with them.

    Buck wondered where they went, for they never came back; but the fear of the future was strong upon him, and he was glad each time when he was not selected.

    Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened man who spat broken English and many strange and uncouth exclamations which Buck could not understand.

    “Sacredam!” he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck.

    “Dat one dam bully dog! Eh? How much?”

    “Three hundred, and a present at that,” was the prompt reply of the man in the red sweater. “And seeing it's government money, you ain't got no kick coming, eh, Perrault?”

    Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been boomed skyward by the unwonted demand, it was not an unfair sum for so fine an animal. The Canadian Government would be no loser, nor would its dispatches travel the slower. Perrault knew dogs, when he looked at Buck he knew that he was one in a thousand—“One in ten thousand,” he commented mentally.

    Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when Curly, a good-natured Newfoundland, and he were led away by the little weazened man. That was the last he saw of the man in the red sweater, and as Curly and he looked at receding Seattle from the deck of the Narwhal, it was the last he saw of the warm Southland. Curly and he were taken below by Perrault and turned over to a black-faced giant called Francois. Perrault was a French Canadian, and swarthy; but Francois was a French Canadian half-breed, and twice as swarthy. They were a new kind of men to Buck (of which he was destined to see many more), and while he developed no affection for them, he none the less grew honestly to respect them. He speedily learned that Perrault and Francois were fair men, calm and impartial in administering justice, and too wise in the way of dogs to be fooled by dogs.

    In the 'tween-decks of the Narwhal, Buck and Curly joined two other dogs. One of them was a big, snow-white fellow from Spitzbergen who had been brought away by a whaling captain, and who had later accompanied a Geological Survey into the Barrens.

    He was friendly, in a treacherous sort of way, smiling into one's face the while he meditated some underhand trick, as, for instance, when he stole from Buck's food at the first meal. As Buck sprang to punish him, the lash of Francois' whip sang through the air, reaching the culprit first; and nothing remained to Buck but to recover the bone. That was fair of Francois, he decided, and the half-breed began his rise in Buck's estimation.

    The other dog made no advances, nor received any; also, he did not attempt to steal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose fellow, and he showed Curly plainly that all he desired was to be left alone, and further, that there would be trouble if he were not left alone. “Dave” he was called, and he ate and slept, or yawned between times, and took interest in nothing, not even when the Narwhal crossed Queen Charlotte Sound and rolled and pitched and bucked like a thing possessed. When Buck and Curly grew excited, half-wild with fear, he raised his head as though annoyed, favored them with a incurious glance, yawned, and went to sleep again.

    Day and night the ship throbbed to the tireless pulse of the propeller, and though one day was very like another, it was apparent to Buck that the weather was steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, the propeller was quiet, and the Narwhal was pervaded with an atmosphere of excitement.

    He felt it, as did the other dogs, and knew that a change was at hand. Francois leashed them and brought them on deck.

    At the first step upon the cold surface, Buck's feet sank into a white mushy something very like mud. He sprang back with a snort. More of this white stuff was falling through the air. He shook himself, but more of it fell upon him.

    He sniffed it curiously, then licked some up on his tongue. It bit like fire, and the next instant was gone.

    This puzzled him. He tried it again, with the same result.

    The onlookers laughed uproariously, and he felt ashamed, he knew not why, for it was his first snow.

    II. The Law of Club and Fang

    Buck's first day on the Yea beach was like a nightmare.

    Every hour was filled with shock and surprise. He had been suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial. No lazy, sun-kissed life was this, with nothing to do but loaf and be bored.

    He re was neither peace, nor rest, nor a moment's safety.

    All was confusion and action, and every moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative need to be constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang.

    He had never seen dogs fight as these wolfish creatures fought, and his first experience taught him an unforgettable lesson. it is true, it was a vicarious experience, else he would not have lived to profit by it. Curly was the victim. They were camped near the log store, where she, in her friendly way, made advances to a husky dog the size of a full-grown wolf, though not half so large as she. There was no warning, only a leap in like a flash, a metallic clip of teeth, a leap out equally swift, and Curly's face was ripped open from eye to jaw.

    It was the wolf manner of fighting, to strike and leap away; but there was more to it than this. Thirty or forty huskies ran to the spot and surrounded the combatants in an intent and silent circle. Buck did not comprehend that silent intentness, nor the eager way with which they were licking their chops. Curly rushed her antagonist, who struck again and leaped aside. He met her next rush with his chest, in a peculiar fashion that tumbled her off her feet. She never regained them. This was what the onlooking huskies had waited for. They closed in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was buried, screaming with agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies.

    So sudden was it, and so unexpected, that Buck was taken aback. He saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of laughing; and he saw Francois, swinging an axe, spring into the mess of dogs. Three men with clubs were helping him to scatter them. It did not take long. Two minutes from the time Curly went down, the last of her assailants were clubbed off. But she lay there limp and lifeless in the bloody, trampled snow, almost literally torn to pieces, the swart half-breed standing over her and cursing horribly. The scene often came back to Buck to trouble him in his sleep. So that was the way. No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that he never went down. Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again, and from that moment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless hatred.

    Before he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic passing of Curly, he received another shock. Francois fastened upon him an arrangement of straps and buckles. It was a harness, such as he had seen the grooms put on the horses at home. And as he had seen horses work, so he was set to work, hauling Francois on a sled to the forest that fringed the valley, and returning with a load of firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by thus being made a draught animal, he was too wise to rebel. He buckled down with a will and did his best, though it was all new and strange. Francois was stern, demanding instant obedience, and by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience; while Dave, who was an experienced wheeler, nipped Buck's hindquarters whenever he was in error. Spitz was the leader, likewise experienced, and while he could not always get at Buck, he growled sharp reproof now and again, or cunningly threw his weight in the traces to jerk Buck into the way he should go. Buck learned easily, and under the combined tuition of his two mates and Francois made remarkable progress. Ere they returned to camp he knew enough to stop at “ho,” to go ahead at “mush,” to swing wide on the bends, and to keep clear of the wheeler when the loaded sled shot downhill at their heels.

    “Three very good dogs,” Francois told Perrault. “Dat Buck, him pull like hell. I teach him quick as anything.” By afternoon, Perrault, who was in a hurry to be on the trail with his dispatches, returned with two more dogs.

    “Billee” and “Joe” he called them, two brothers, and true huskies both. Sons of the one mother though they were, they were different as day and night. Billee's one fault was his excessive good nature, while Joe was the very opposite, sour and introspective, with a perpetual snarl and a malignant eye. Buck received them in comradely fashion, Dave ignored them, while Spitz proceeded to thrash first one and then the other. Billee wagged his tail appeasingly, turned to run when he saw that appeasement was of no avail, and cried (still appeasingly) when Spitz's sharp teeth scored his flank. But no matter how Spitz circled, Joe whirled around on his heels to face him, mane bristling, ears laid back, lips writhing and snarling, jaws clipping together as fast as he could snap, and eyes diabolically gleaming—the incarnation of belligerent fear. So terrible was his appearance that Spitz was forced to forego disciplining him; but to cover his own discomfiture he turned upon the inoffensive and wailing Billee and drove him to the confines of the camp.

    By evening Perrault secured another dog, an old husky, long and lean and gaunt, with a battle-scarred face and a single eye which flashed a warning of prowess that commanded respect. He was called Solleks, which means the Angry One.

    Like Dave, he asked nothing, gave nothing, expected nothing: and when he marched slowly and deliberately into their midst, even Spitz left him alone. he had one peculiarity which Buck was unlucky enough to discover. He did not like to be approached on his blind side. Of this offense Buck was unwittingly guilty, and the first knowledge he had of his indiscretion was when Solleks whirled upon him and slashed his shoulder to the bone for three inches up and down.

    Forever after Buck avoided his blind side, and to the last of their comradeship had no more trouble. His only apparent ambition, like Dave's, was to be left alone; though, as Buck was afterward to learn, each of them possessed one other and even more vital ambition.

    That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping.

    The tent, illumined by a candle, glowed warmly in the midst of the white plain; and when he, as a matter of course, entered it, both Perrault and Francois bombarded him with curses and cooking utensils, till he recovered from his consternation and fled ignominiously into the outer cold. A chill wind was blowing that nipped him sharply and bit with especial venom into his wounded shoulder. He lay down on the snow and attempted to sleep, but the frost soon drove him shivering to his feet. Miserable and disconsolate, he wandered about among the many tents, only to find that one place was as cold as another. Here and there savage dogs rushed upon him, but he bristled his neck-hair and snarled (for he was learning fast) and they let him go his way unmolested.

    Finally an idea came to him. He would return and see how his own teammates were making out. To his astonishment, they had disappeared. Again he wandered about through the great camp, looking for them, and again he returned. Were they in the tent? No, that could not be, else he would not have been driven out. Then where could they possibly be? With drooping tail and shivering body, very forlorn indeed, he aimlessly circled the tent. Suddenly the snow gave way beneath his fore legs and he sank down. Something wriggled under his feet. He sprang back, bristling and snarling, fearful of the unseen and unknown. But a friendly little yelp reassured him, and he went back to investigate. A whiff of warm air ascended to his nostrils, and there, curled up under the snow in a snug ball, lay Billee. He whined placatingly, squirmed and wriggled to show his good will and intentions, and even ventured, as a bribe for peace, to lick Buck's face with his warm wet tongue.

    Another lesson. So that was the way they did it, eh?

    Buck confidently selected a spot, and with much fuss and wasted effort proceeded to dig a hole for himself. In a trice the heat from his body filled the confined space and he was asleep. The day had been long and arduous, and he slept soundly and comfortably, though he growled and barked and wrestled with bad dreams.

    Nor did he open his eyes till roused by the noises of the waking camp. At first he did not know where he was.

    It had snowed during the night and he was completely buried.

    The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surge of fear swept through him—the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It was a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog and of his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it.

    The muscles of his whole body contracted spasmodically and instinctively, the hair on his neck and shoulders stood on end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounded straight up into the blinding day, the snow flying about him in a flashing cloud. Ere he landed on his feet, he saw the white camp spread out before him and knew where he was and remembered all that had passed from the time he went for a stroll with Manuel to the hole he had dug for himself the night before.

    A shout from Francois hailed his appearance. “What I say?” the dog-driver cried to Perrault.

    “Dat Buck for sure learn quick as anything.” Perrault nodded gravely. As courier for the Canadian Government, bearing important dispatches, he was anxious to secure the best dogs, and he was particularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.

    Three more huskies were added to the team inside an hour, making a total of nine, and before another quarter of an hour had passed they were in harness and swinging up the trail toward the Yea Canyon. Buck was glad to be gone, and though the work was hard he found he did not particularly despise it. he was surprised at the eagerness which animated the whole team and which was communicated to him; but still more surprising was the change wrought in Dave and Solleks. They were new dogs, utterly transformed by the harness. All passiveness and unconcern had dropped from them. They were alert and active, anxious that the work should go well, and fiercely irritable with whatever, by delay or confusion, retarded that work. The toil of the traces seemed the supreme expression of their being, and all that they lived for and the only thing in which they took delight.

    Dave was wheeler or sled dog, pulling in front of him was Buck, then came Sol-leks; the rest of the team was strung out ahead, single file, to the leader, which position was filled by Spitz.

    Buck had been purposely placed between Dave and Sol-leks so that he might receive instruction. Apt scholar that he was, they were equally apt teachers, never allowing him to linger long in error, and enforcing their teaching with their sharp teeth. Dave was fair and very wise. He never nipped Buck without cause, and he never failed to nip him when he stood in need of it. As Francois' whip backed him up, Buck found it to be cheaper to mend his ways than to retaliate. Once, during a brief halt, when he got tangled in the traces and delayed the start, both Dave and Sol-leks flew at him and administered a sound trouncing. The resulting tangle was even worse, but Buck took good care to keep the traces clear thereafter; and ere the day was done, so well had he mastered his work, his mates about ceased nagging him. Francois' whip snapped less frequently, and Perrault even honored Buck by lifting up his feet and carefully examining them.

    It was a hard day's run, up the Canyon, through Sheep Camp, past the Scales and the timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of feet deep, and over the great Chilcoot Divide, which stands between the salt water and the fresh and guards forbiddingly the sad and lonely North.

    They made good time down the chain of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes, and late that night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake Bennett, where thousands of gold-seekers were building boats against the breakup of the ice in the spring. Buck made his hole in the snow and slept the sleep of the exhausted just, but all too early was routed out in the cold darkness and harnessed with his mates to the sled.

    That day they made forty miles, the trail being packed; but the next day, and for many days to follow, they broke their own trail, worked harder, and made poorer time. As a rule, Perrault traveled ahead of the team, packing the snow with webbed shoes to make it easier for them. Francois, guiding the sled at the gee-pole, sometimes exchanged places with him, but not often. Perrault was in a hurry, and he prided himself on his knowledge of ice, which knowledge was indispensable, for the fall ice was very thin, and where there was swift water, there was no ice at all.

    Day after day, for days unending, Buck toiled in the traces. Always, they broke camp in the dark, and the first gray of dawn found them hitting the trail with fresh miles reeled off behind them. And always they pitched camp after dark, eating their bit of fish, and crawling to sleep into the snow. Buck was ravenous. The pound and a half of sundried salmon, which was his ration for each day, seemed to go nowhere. He never had enough, and suffered from perpetual hunger pangs. Yet the other dogs, because they weighed less and were born to the life, received a pound only of the fish and managed to keep in good condition.

    He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old life. A dainty eater, he found that his mates, finishing first, robbed him of his unfinished ration. There was no defending it. While he was fighting off two or three, it was disappearing down the throats of the others. To remedy this, he ate as fast as they; and, so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not above taking what did not belong to him. He watched and learned. When he saw Pike, one of the new dogs, a clever malingerer and thief, slyly steal a slice of bacon when Perrault's back was turned, he duplicated the performance the following day, getting away with the whole chunk. A great uproar was raised, but he was unsuspected; while Dub, an awkward blunderer who was always getting caught, was punished for Buck's misdeed.

    This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence.` It was all well enough in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respect private property and personal feeling; but in the Northland, under the law of club and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and in so far as he observed them he would fail to prosper.

    Not that Buck reasoned it out. He was fit, that was all, and unconsciously he accommodated himself to the new mode of life. All his days, no matter what the odds, he had never run from a fight. But the club of the man in the red sweater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized, he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defense of Judge Miller's riding whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defense of a moral consideration and so save his hide. He did not steal for joy of it, but because of the clamor of his stomach. He did not rob openly, but stole secretly and cunningly, out of respect for club and fang. In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them.

    His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became hard as iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He achieved an internal as well as external economy. He could eat anything, no matter how loathsome or indigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of his stomach extracted the last least particle of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reaches of his body, building it into the toughest and stoutest of tissues. Sight and scent became remarkably keen, while his hearing developed such acuteness that in his sleep he heard the faintest sound and knew whether it heralded peace or peril. He learned to bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected between his toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice over the water hole, he would break it by rearing and striking it with stiff fore legs. His most conspicuous trait was an ability to scent the wind and forecast it a night in advance. No matter how breathless the air when he dug his nest by tree or bank, the wind that later blew inevitably found him to leeward, sheltered and snug.

    And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. It was no task for him to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks.

    They came to him without effort or discovery, as though they had been his always. And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolf-like, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark.

    Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again; and he came because men had found a yellow metal in the North, and because Manuel was a gardener's helper whose wages did not lap over the needs of his wife and divers small copies of himself.

    III. The Dominant Primordial Beast

    The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himself to the new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but he avoided them whenever possible. A certain deliberateness characterized his attitude. He was not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in the bitter hatred between him and Spitz he betrayed no impatience, shunned all offensive acts.

    On the other hand, possibly because he divined in Buck a dangerous rival, Spitz never lost an opportunity of showing his teeth. He even went out of his way to bully Buck, striving constantly to start the fight which could end only in the death of one or the other.

    Early in the trip this might have taken place had it not been for an unwonted accident. At the end of this day they made a bleak and miserable camp on the shore of Lake Le Barge. Driving snow, a wind that cut like a white-hot knife, and darkness, had forced them to grope for a camping place. They could hardly have fared worse. At their backs rose a perpendicular wall of rock, and Perrault and Francois were compelled to make their fire and spread their sleeping robes on the ice of the lake itself. The tent they had discarded at Yea in order to travel light. A few sticks of driftwood furnished them with a fire that thawed down through the ice and left them to eat supper in the dark.

    Close in under the sheltering rock Buck made his nest.

    So snug and warm was it, that he was loath to leave it when Francois distributed the fish which he had first thawed over the fire. But when Buck finished his ration and returned, he found his nest occupied. A warning snarl told him that the trespasser was Spitz. Till now Buck had avoided trouble with his enemy, but this was too much. The beast in him roared. He sprang upon Spitz with a fury which surprised them both, and Spitz particularly, for his whole experience with Buck had gone to teach him that his rival was an unusually timid dog, who managed to hold his own only because of his great weight and size.

    Francois was surprised, too, when they shot out in a tangle from the disrupted nest and he divined the cause of the trouble. “A-a-ah!” he cried to Buck. “Give it to him by Gar! Give it to him, the dirty thief!” Spitz was equally willing. He was crying with sheer rage and eagerness as he circled back and forth for a chance to spring in. Buck was no less eager, and no less cautious, as he likewise circled back and forth for the advantage. But it was then that the unexpected happened, the thing which projected their struggle for supremacy far into the future, past many a weary mile of trail and toil.

    An oath from Perrault, the resounding impact of a club upon a bony frame, and a shrill yelp of pain, heralded the breaking forth of pandemonium. the camp was suddenly discovered to be alive with skulking furry forms—starving huskies, four or five score of them, who had scented the camp from some Indian village. They had crept in while Buck and Spitz were fighting,k and when the two men sprang among them with stout clubs they showed their teeth and fought back. They were crazed by the smell of the food.

    Perrault found one with head buried in the grub-box. His club landed heavily on the gaunt ribs, and the grub-box was capsized on the ground. On the instant a score of the famished brutes were scrambling for the bread and bacon.

    The clubs fell upon them unheeded. They yelped and howled under the rain of blows, but struggled none the less madly till the last crumb had been devoured.

    In the meantime the astonished team-dogs had burst out of their nests only to be set upon by the fierce invaders.

    Never had Buck seen such dogs. It seemed as though their bones would burst through their skins. They were mere skeletons, draped loosely in draggled hides, with blazing eyes and slavered fangs. But the hunger-madness made them terrifying, irresistible. There was no opposing them. The team-dogs were swept back against the cliff at the first onset. Buck was beset by three huskies, and in a trice his head and shoulders were ripped and slashed. The din was frightful. Billee was crying as usual. Dave and Sol-leks, dripping blood from a score of wounds, were fighting bravely side by side. Joe was snapping like a demon. Once his teeth closed on the fore leg of a husky, and he crunched down through the bone. Pike, the malingerer, leaped upon the crippled animal, breaking its neck with a quick flash of teeth and a jerk. Buck got a frothing adversary by the throat, and was sprayed with blood when his teeth sank through the jugular. The warm taste of it in his mouth goaded him to greater fierceness. He flung himself upon another, and at the same time felt teeth sink into his own throat. It was Spitz, treacherously attacking from the side.

    Perrault and Francois, having cleaned out their part of the camp, hurried to save their sled-dogs. The wild wave of famished beasts rolled back before them, and Buck shook himself free. But is was only for a moment. The two men were compelled to run back to save the grub; upon which the huskies returned to the attack on the team. Billee, terrified into bravery, sprang through the savage circle and fled away over the ice. Pike and Dub followed on his heels, with the rest of the team behind. As Buck drew himself together to spring after them, out of the tail of his eye he saw Spitz rush upon him with the evident intention of overthrowing him. Once off his feet and under that mass of huskies, there was no hope for him. But he braced himself to the shock of Spitz's charge, then joined the flight out on the lake.

    Later, the nine team-dogs gathered together and sought shelter in the forest. Though unpursued, they were in a sorry plight. There was not one who was not wounded in four or five places, while some were wounded grievously. Dub was badly injured in a hind leg; Dolly, the last husky added to the team at Yea, had a badly torn throat; Joe had lost an eye; while Billee, the good-natured, with an ear chewed and rent to ribbons, cried and whimpered throughout the night.

    At daybreak they limped warily back to camp, to find the marauders gone and the two men in bad tempers. Fully half their grub supply was gone. The huskies had chewed through the sled lashings and canvas coverings. In fact, nothing, no matter how remotely eatable, had escaped them. They had eaten a pair of Perrault's moose-hide moccasins, chunks out of the leather traces, and even two feet of lash from the end of Francois's whip. He broke from a mournful contemplation of it to look over his wounded dogs.

    “Ah, my friends,” he said softly, “mebbe it make you mad dog, those many bites. Mebbe all mad dog, sacredam!

    What you think, eh, Perrault?” The courier shook his head dubiously. With four hundred miles of trail still between him and Dawson, he could ill afford to have madness break out among his dogs. Two hours of cursing and exertion got the harnesses into shape, and the wound-stiffened team was under way, struggling painfully over the hardest part of the trail they had yet encountered, and for that matter, the hardest between them and Dawson.

    The Thirty Mile River was wide open. Its wild water defied the frost, and it was in the eddies only and in the quiet places that the ice held at all. Six days of exhausting toil were required to cover those thirty terrible miles. And terrible they were, for every foot of them was accomplished at the risk of life to dog and man. A dozen times, Perrault, nosing the way, broke through the ice bridges, being saved by the long pole he carried, which he so held that it fell each time across the hole made by his body. But a cold snap was on, the thermometer registering fifty below zero, and each time he broke through he was compelled for very life to build a fire and dry his garments.

    Nothing daunted him. It was because nothing daunted him that he had been chosen for government courier. He took all manner of risks, resolutely thrusting his little weazened face into the frost and struggling on from dim dawn to dark. He skirted the frowning shores on rim ice that bent and crackled under foot and upon which they dared not halt. Once, the sled broke through, with Dave and Buck, and they were half-frozen and all but drowned by the time they were dragged out. The usual fire was necessary to save them.

    They were coated solidly with ice, and the two men kept them on the run around the fire, sweating and thawing, so close that they were singed by the flames.

    At another time Spitz went through, dragging the whole team after him up to Buck, who strained backward with all his strength, his fore paws on the slippery edge and the ice quivering and snapping all around. But behind him was Dave, likewise straining backward, and behind the sled was Francois, pulling till his tendons cracked.

    Again, the rim ice broke away before and behind, and there was no escape except up the cliff. Perrault scaled it by a miracle, while Francois prayed for just that miracle; and with every thong and sled lashing and the last bit of harness rove into a long rope, the dogs were hoisted, one by one, to the cliff crest. Francois came up last, after the sled and load. Then came the search for a place to descend, which descent was ultimately made by the aid of the rope, and night found them back on the river with a quarter of a mile to the day's credit.

    By the time they made the Hootalinqua and good ice, Buck was played out. The rest of the dogs were in like condition; but Perrault, to make up lost time, pushed them late and early. The first day they covered thirty-five miles to the Big Salmon; the next day thirty-five more to the Little Salmon; the third day forty miles, which brought them well up toward the Five Fingers.

    Buck's feet were not so compact and hard as the feet of the huskies. His had softened during the many generations since the day his last wild ancestor was tamed by a cave dweller or river man. All day long he limped in agony, and camp once made, lay down like a dead dog. Hungry as he was, he would not move to receive his ration of fish, which Francois had to bring to him. Also, the dog-driver rubbed Buck's feet for half an hour each night after supper, and sacrificed the tops of his own moccasins to make four moccasins for Buck. This was a great relief, and Buck caused even the weazened face of Perrault to twist itself into a grin one morning, when Francois forgot the moccasins and Buck lay on his back, his four feet waving appealingly in the air, and refused to budge without them. later his feet grew hard to the trail, and the worn-out footgear was thrown away.

    At the Pelly one morning, as they were harnessing up, dolly, who had never been conspicuous for anything, went suddenly mad. She announced her condition by a long, heart-breaking wolf howl that sent every dog bristling with fear, then sprang straight for Buck. He had never seen a dog go mad, nor did he have any reason to fear madness; yet he knew that here was horror, and fled away from it in a panic. Straight away he raced, with Dolly, panting and frothing, one leap behind; nor could she gain on him, so great was his terror, nor could he leave her, so great was her madness. He plunged through the wooded breast of the island, flew down to the lower end, crossed a back channel filled with rough ice to another island, gained a third island, curved back to the main river, and in desperation started to cross it. And all the time, though he did not look, he could hear her snarling just one leap behind.

    Francois called to him a quarter of a mile away and he doubled back, still one leap ahead, gasping painfully for air and putting all his faith in that Francois would save him. the dog-driver held the axe poised in his hand, and as Buck shot past him the axe crashed down upon mad Dolly's head.

    Buck staggered over against the sled, exhausted, sobbing for breath, helpless. This was Spitz's opportunity. He sprang upon Buck, and twice his teeth sank into his unresisting foe and ripped and tore the flesh to the bone. Then Francois' lash descended, and Buck had the satisfaction of watching Spitz receive the worst whipping as yet administered to any of the team.

    “One devil, dat Spitz,” remarked Perrault. “Some dam day him kill dat Buck.”

    “Dat Buck two devils,” was Francois's rejoinder. “All de time I watch dat Buck I know for sure. Lissen: some dam fine day him get mad like hell and den him chew dat Spitz all up and spit him out on de snow. Sure, I know.” From then on it was war between them. Spitz, as lead-dog and acknowledged master of the team, felt his supremacy threatened by this strange Southland dog.F And strange Buck was to him, for of the many Southland dogs he had known, not one had shown up worthily in camp and on trail. They were all too soft, dying under the toil, the frost, and starvation. Buck was the exception. He alone endured and prospered, matching the husky in strength, savagery, and cunning.E Then he was a masterful dog, and what made him dangerous was the fact that the club of the man in the red sweater had knocked all blind pluck and rashness out of his desire for mastery. He was preeminently cunning, and could bide his time with a patience that was nothing less than primitive.

    It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, because he had been gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace—that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the last gasp, which lures them to die joyfully in the harness, and breaks their hearts if they are cut out of the harness. This was the pride of Dave as wheel-dog, of Sol-leks as he pulled with all his strength; the pride that laid hold of them at break of camp, transforming them from sour and sullen brutes into straining, eager, ambitious creatures; the pride that spurred them on all day and dropped them at pitch of camp at night, letting them fall back into gloomy unrest and discontent. This was the pride that bore up Spitz and made him thrash the sled-dogs who blundered and shirked in the traces or hid away at harness-up time in the morning.

    Likewise it was this pride that made him fear Buck as a possible lead-dog. And this was Buck's pride, too.

    He openly threatened the other's leadership. He came between him and the shirks he should have punished. And he did it deliberately. One night there was a heavy snowfall, and in the morning Pike, the malingerer, did not appear. He was securely hidden in his nest under a foot of snow.

    Francois called him and sought him in vain. Spitz was wild with wrath. He raged through the camp, smelling and digging in every likely place, snarling so frightfully that Pike heard and shivered in his hiding-place.

    But when he was at last unearthed, and Spitz flew at him to punish him, Buck flew with equal rage, in between. So unexpected was it, and so shrewdly managed, that Spitz was hurled backward and off his feet. Pike, who had been trembling abjectly, took heart at this open mutiny, and sprang upon his overthrown leader. Buck, to whom fair play was a forgotten code, likewise sprang upon Spitz. But Francois, chuckling at the incident while unswerving in the administration of justice, brought his lash down upon Buck with all his might. This failed to drive Buck from his prostrate rival, and the butt of the whip was brought into play. Half-stunned by the blow, Buck was knocked backward and the lash laid upon him again and again, while Spitz soundly punished the many times offending Pike.

    In the days that followed, as Dawson grew closer and closer, Buck still continued to interfere between Spitz and the culprits; but he did it craftily, when Francois was not around. With the covert mutiny of Buck, a general insubordination sprang up and increased. Dave and Sol-leks were unaffected, but the rest of the team went from bad to worse. Things no longer went right. There was continual bickering and jangling. Trouble was always afoot, and at the bottom of it was Buck. He kept Francois busy, for the dog-driver was in constant apprehension of the life-and-death struggle between the two which he knew must take place sooner or later; and on more than one night the sounds of quarreling and strife among the other dogs turned him out of his sleeping robe, fearful that Buck and Spitz were at it.

    But the opportunity did not present itself, and they pulled into Dawson one dreary afternoon with the great fight still to come. Here were many men, and countless dogs, and Buck found them all at work. It seemed the ordained order of things that dogs should work. All day they swung up and down the main street in long teams, and in the night their jingling bells still went by. They hauled cabin logs and firewood, freighted up to the mines, and did all manner of work that horses did in the Santa Clara Valley. Here and there Buck met Southland dogs, but in the main they were the wild wolf husky breed. Every night, regularly, at nine, at twelve, and three, they lifted a nocturnal song, a weird and eerie chant, in which it was Buck's delight to join.

    With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead, or the stars leaping in the frost dance, and the land numb and frozen under its pall of snow, this song of the huskies might have been the defiance of life, only it was pitched in minor key, with long-drawn wailings and half-sobs, and was more the pleading of life, the articulate travail of existence. It was an old song, old as the breed itself—one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations, this plaint by which Buck was so strangely stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fear and mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages.

    Seven days from the time they pulled into Dawson, they dropped down the steep bank by the Barracks to the Yukon Trail, and pulled for Yea and Salt Water. Perrault was carrying dispatches if anything more urgent than those he had brought in; also, the travel pride had gripped him, and he purposed to make the record trip of the year. Several things favored him in this. The week's rest had recuperated the dogs and put them in thorough trim. The trail they had broken into the country was packed hard by later journeyers. And further, the police had arranged in two or three places deposits of grub for dog and man, and he was traveling light.

    They made Sixty Mile, which is a fifty-mile run, on the first day; and the second day saw them booming up the Yukon well on their way to Pelly. But such splendid running was achieved not without great trouble and vexation on the part of Francois. The insidious revolt led by Buck had destroyed the solidarity of the team. It no longer was as one dog leaping in the traces. The encouragement Buck gave the rebels led them into all kinds of petty misdemeanors. No more was Spitz a leader greatly to be feared. The old awe departed, and they grew equal to challenging his authority. Pike robbed him of half a fish one night, and gulped it down under the protection of Buck. Another night Dub and Joe fought Spitz and made him forego the punishment they deserved. And even Billee, the good-natured, was less good-natured, and whined not half so placatingly as in former days. Buck never came near Spitz without snarling and bristling menacingly. In fact, his conduct approached that of a bully, and he was given to swaggering up and down before Spitz's very nose.

    The breaking down of discipline likewise affected the dogs in their relations with one another. They quarreled and bickered more than ever among themselves, till at times the camp was a howling bedlam. Dave and Sol-leks alone were unaltered, though they were made irritable by the unending squabbling. Francois swore strange barbarous oaths, and stamped the snow in futile rage, and tore his hair. His lash was always singing among the dogs, but it was of small avail. Directly his back was turned they were at it again.

    He backed up Spitz with his whip, while Buck backed up the remainder of the team. Francois knew he was behind all the trouble, and Buck knew he knew; but Buck was too clever ever again to be caught red-handed. He worked faithfully in the harness, for the toil had become a delight to him; yet it was a greater delight slyly to precipitate a fight amongst his mates and tangle the traces.

    At the mouth of the Tahkeena, one night after supper, Dub turned up a snowshoe rabbit, blundered it, and missed. In a second the whole team was in full cry. A hundred yards away was a camp of the Northwest Police, with fifty dogs, huskies all, who joined the chase. The rabbit sped down the river, turned off into a small creek, up the frozen bed of which it held steadily. It ran lightly on the surface of the snow, while the dogs plowed through by main strength. Buck led the pack, sixty strong, around bend after bend, but he could not gain. He lay down low to the race, whining eagerly, his splendid body flashing forward, leap by leap, in the wan white moonlight. And leap by leap, like some pale frost wraith, the snowshoe rabbit flashed on ahead.

    All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives men out from the sounding cities to forest and plain to kill things by chemically propelled leaden pellets, the bloodlust, the joy to kill—all this was Buck's, only it was infinitely more intimate. He was ranging at the head of the pack, running the wild thing down, the living meat, to kill with his own teeth and wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.

    There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.J This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.

    He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.

    But Spitz, cold and calculating even in his supreme moods, left the pack and cut across a narrow neck of land where the creek made a long bend around. Buck did not know of this, and as he rounded the bend, the frost wraith of a rabbit still flitting before him, he saw another and larger frost wraith leap from the overhanging bank into the immediate path of the rabbit. It was Spitz. The rabbit could not turn, and as the white teeth broke its back in mid air it shrieked as loudly as a stricken man may shriek. At sound of this, the cry of Life plunging down from Life's apex in the grip of Death, the full pack at Buck's heels raised a hell's chorus of delight.

    Buck did not cry out. He did not check himself, but drove in upon Spitz, shoulder to shoulder, so hard that he missed the throat. They rolled over and over in the powdery snow. Spitz gained his feet almost as though he had not been overthrown, slashing Buck down the shoulder and leaping clear. Twice his teeth clipped together, like the steel jaws of a trap, as he backed away for better footing, with lean and lifting lips that writhed and snarled.

    In a flash Buck knew it. The time had come. It was to the death. As they circled about, snarling, ears laid back, keenly watchful for the advantage, the scene came to Buck with a sense of familiarity. He seemed to remember it all—the white woods, and earth, and moonlight, and the thrill of battle. Over the whiteness and silence brooded a ghostly calm. There was not the faintest whisper of air—nothing moved, not a leaf quivered, the visible breaths of the dogs rising slowly and lingering in the frosty air. They had made short work of the snowshoe rabbit, these dogs that were ill-tamed wolves; and they were now drawn up in an expectant circle. They, too, were silent, their eyes only gleaming and their breaths drifting slowly upward. To Buck it was nothing new or strange, this scene of old time. It was as though it had always been, the wonted way of things.

    Spitz was a practiced fighter. From Spitzbergen through the Arctic, and across Canada and the Barrens, he had held his own with all manner of dogs and achieved to mastery over them. Bitter rage was his, but never blind rage. In passion to rend and destroy, he never forgot that his enemy was in like passion to rend and destroy. He never rushed till he was prepared to receive a rush; never attacked till he had first defended that attack.

    In vain Buck strove to sink his teeth in the neck of the big white dog. Wherever his fangs struck for the softer flesh, they were countered by the fangs of Spitz. Fang clashed fang, and lips were cut and bleeding, but Buck could not penetrate his enemy's guard. Then he warmed up and enveloped Spitz in a whirlwind of rushes. Time and time again he tried for the snow-white throat, where life bubbled near to the surface, and each time and every time Spitz slashed him and got away. Then Buck took to rushing, as though for the throat, when, suddenly drawing back his head and curving in from the side, he would drive his shoulder at the shoulder of Spitz, as a ram by which to overthrow him. But instead, Buck's shoulder was slashed down each time as Spitz leaped lightly away.

    Spitz was untouched, while Buck was streaming with blood and panting hard. The fight was growing desperate.

    And all the while the silent and wolfish circle waited to finish off whichever dog went down. As Buck grew winded, Spitz took to rushing, and he kept him staggering for footing. Once Buck went over, and the whole circle of sixty dogs started up; but he recovered himself, almost in mid air, and the circle sank down again and waited.

    But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness — imagination. He fought by instinct, but he could fight by head as well he rushed, as though attempting the old shoulder trick, but at the last instant swept low to the snow and in. His teeth closed on Spitz's left fore leg. There was a crunch of breaking bone, and the white dog faced him on three legs. Thrice he tried to knock him over, then repeated the trick and broke the right fore leg. Despite the pain and helplessness, Spitz struggled madly to keep up. He saw the silent circle, with gleaming eyes, lolling tongues, and silvery breaths drifting upward, closing in upon him as he had seen similar circles close in upon beaten antagonists in the past. Only this time he was the one who was beaten.

    There was no hope for him. Buck was inexorable.

    Mercy was a thing reserved for gentler climes. He maneuvered for the final rush. The circle had tightened till he could feel the breaths of the huskies on his flanks.

    He could see them, beyond Spitz and to either side, half-crouching for the spring, their eyes fixed upon him. A pause seemed to fall. Every animal was motionless as though turned to stone. Only Spitz quivered and bristled as he staggered back and forth, snarling with horrible menace, as though to frighten off impending death. Then Buck sprang in and out; but while he was in, shoulder had at last squarely met shoulder. The dark circle became a dot on the moon flooded snow as Spitz disappeared from view.

    Buck stood and looked on, the successful champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and found it good.

    IV. Who Has Won to Mastership

    “Eh? What I say? I speak true when I say dat Buck two devils.” This was Francois's speech next morning when he discovered Spitz missing and Buck covered with wounds. He drew him to the fire and by its light pointed them out.

    “Dat Spitz fight like hell,” said Perrault, as he surveyed the gaping rips and cuts.

    “An' dat Buck fight like two hells,” was Francois's answer. “And now we make good time. No more Spitz, no more trouble, sure.&