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THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE

Chapter 16

At the bar, Zaphod was rapidly becoming as tired as a newt. His heads knocked together and his smiles were coming out of sync. He was miserably happy.

"Zaphod," said Ford, "while you're still capable of speech, would you care to tell me what the photon happened? Where have you been? Where have we been? Small matter, but I'd like it cleared up." 

Zaphod's left head sobered up, leaving his right to sink further into the obscurity of drink.

"Yeah," he said, "I've been around. They want me to find the man who rules the Universe, but I don't care to meet him. I believe the man can't cook."

His left head watched his right head saying this and then nodded.

"True," it said, "have another drink."

Ford had another Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the drink which has been described as the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging -- expensive and bad for the head. Whatever had happened, Ford decided, he didn't really care too much.

"Listen, Ford," said Zaphod, "everything's cool and froody."

"You mean everything's under control."

"No," said Zaphod, "I do not mean everything's under control. That would not be cool and froody. If you want to know what happened let's just say I had the whole situation in my pocket. Okay?"

Ford shrugged.

Zaphod giggled into his drink. It frothed up over the side of the glass and started to eat its way into the marble bar top.

A wild-skinned sky-gypsy approached them and played electric violin at them until Zaphod gave him a lot of money and he agreed to go away  again.

The gypsy approached Arthur and Trillian sitting in another part of the bar.

"I don't know what this place is," said Arthur, "but I think it gives me the creeps."

"Have another drink," said Trillian. "Enjoy yourself."

"Which?" said Arthur. "The two are mutually exclusive."

"Poor Arthur, you're not really cut out for this life, are you?"

"You call this life?"

"You're beginning to sound like Marvin."

"Marvin's the clearest thinker I know. How do you think we make this violinist go away?"

The waiter approached.

"Your table is ready," he said.

***

Seen from the outside, which it never is, the Restaurant resembles a giant glittering starfish beached on a forgotten rock. Each of its arms houses the bars, the kitchens, the force-field generators which protect the entire structure and the decayed hunk of planet on which it sits, and the Time Turbines which slowly rock the whole affair backward and forward across the crucial moment. 

In the center sits the gigantic golden dome, almost a complete globe, and it was into this area that Zaphod, Ford, Arthur and Trillian now passed.

At least five tons of glitter alone had gone into it before them, and covered every available surface. The other surfaces were not available because they were already encrusted with jewels, precious seashells from Santraginus, gold leaf, mosaic tiles, lizard skins and a million unidentifiable embellishments and decorations. Glass glittered, silver shone, gold gleamed, Arthur Dent goggled.

"Wowee," said Zaphod. "Zappo."

"Incredible!" breathed Arthur. "The people ... The things ...!"

"The things," said Ford Prefect quietly, "are also people."

"The people ..." resumed Arthur, "the ... other people ..."

"The lights ...!" said Trillian.

"The tables ..." said Arthur.

"The clothes ...!" said Trillian.

The waiter thought they sounded like a couple of bailiffs.

"The End of the Universe is very popular," said Zaphod threading his way unsteadily through the throng of tables, some made of marble, some of rich ultramahogany, some even of platinum, and at each a party of exotic creatures chatting among themselves and studying menus.

"People like to dress up for it," continued Zaphod. "Gives it a sense of occasion."

The tables were fanned out in a large circle around a central stage area where a small band was playing light music, at least a thousand tables was Arthur's guess, and interspersed among them were swaying palms, hissing fountains, grotesque statuary, in short, all the paraphernalia common to all restaurants where little expense has been spared to give the impression that no expense has been spared. Arthur glanced round, half expecting to see someone making an American Express commercial.

Zaphod lurched into Ford, who lurched back into Zaphod.

"Wowee," said Zaphod.

"Zappo," said Ford.

"My great-granddaddy must have really screwed up the computer's works, you know," said Zaphod. "I told it to take us to the nearest place to eat and it sends us to the End of the Universe. Remind me to be nice to it one day."

He paused.

"Hey, everybody's here you know. Everybody who was anybody."

"Was?" said Arthur

"At the End of the Universe you have to use the past tense a lot," said Zaphod, "'cause everything's been done, you know. Hi, guys," he called out to a nearby party of giant iguana lifeforms. "How did you do?"

"Is that Zaphod Beeblebrox?" asked one iguana of another iguana.

"I think so," replied the second iguana.

"Well, doesn't that just take the biscuit," said the first iguana.

"Funny old thing, life," said the second iguana.

"It's what you make it," said the first and they lapsed back into silence. They were waiting for the greatest show in the Universe.

"Hey, Zaphod," said Ford, grabbing for his arm and, on account of the third Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, missing. He pointed a swaying finger.  "There's an old mate of mine," he said. "Hotblack Desiato! See the man at the platinum table with the platinum suit on?"

Zaphod tried to follow Ford's finger with his eyes but it made him feel dizzy. Finally he saw.

"Oh yeah," he said, then recognition came a moment later. "Hey," he said, "did that guy ever make it megabig! Wow, bigger than the biggest  thing ever. Other than me."

"Who's he supposed to be?" asked Trillian.

"Hotblack Desiato?" said Zaphod in astonishment. "You don't know?  You never heard of Disaster Area?"

"No," said Trillian, who hadn't.

"The biggest," said Ford, "loudest ..."

"... rock band in the history of ..." he searched for the word.

"... history itself," said Zaphod.

"No," said Trillian.

"Zowee," said Zaphod, "here we are at the End of the Universe and you haven't even lived yet. Did you miss out."

He led her off to where the waiter had been waiting all this time at the table. Arthur followed them feeling very lost and alone. 

Ford waded off through the throng to renew an old acquaintance.

"Hey, er, Hotblack," he called out, "how you doing? Great to see you big boy, how's the noise? You're looking great, really very, very fat and  unwell. Amazing." He slapped the man on the back and was mildly surprised that it seemed to elicit no response. The Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters swilling around inside him told him to plunge on regardless.

"Remember the old days?" he said. "We used to hang out, right? The Bistro Illegal, remember? Slim's Throat Emporium? The Evildrome Boozarama, great days, eh?"

Hotblack Desiato offered no opinion as to whether they were great days or not. Ford was not perturbed.

"And when we were hungry we'd pose as public health inspectors, you remember that? And go around confiscating meals and drinks, right? Till we got food poisoning. Oh, and then there were the long nights of talking and drinking in those smelly rooms above the Cafe Lou in Gretchen Town, New Betel, and you were always in the next room trying to write songs on your ajuitar and we all hated them. And you said you didn't care, and we said we did because we hated them so much." Ford's eyes were beginning to mist over.

"And you said you didn't want to be a star," he continued, wallowing in nostalgia, "because you despised the star system. And we said -- Hadra and  Sulijoo and me -- that we didn't think you had the option. And what do you do now? You buy star systems!"

He turned and solicited the attention of those at nearby tables.

"Here," he said, "is a man who buys star systems!"

Hotblack Desiato made no attempt either to confirm or deny this fact, and the attention of the temporary audience waned rapidly. 

"I think someone's drunk," muttered a purple bushlike being into his wineglass.

Ford staggered slightly, and sat down heavily on the chair facing Hotblack Desiato.

"What's that number you do?" he said, unwisely grabbing at a bottle for support and tipping it over -- into a nearby glass as it happened. Not to waste a happy accident, he drained the glass.

"That really huge number," he continued, "how does it go? 'Bwarm!  Bwarm! Baderrl!' something, and in the stage act you do it ends up with this ship crashing right into the sun, and you actually do it!"

Ford crashed his fist into his other hand to illustrate this feat graphically. He knocked the bottle over again.

"Ship! Sun! Wham bang!" he cried. "I mean forget lasers and stuff, you guys are into solar flares and real sunburn! Oh, and terrible songs."

His eyes followed the stream of liquid glugging out of the bottle onto the table. Something ought to be done about it, he thought.

"Hey, you want a drink?" he said. It began to sink into his squelching mind that something was missing from this reunion, and that the missing something was in some way connected with the fact that the fat man sitting opposite him in the platinum suit and the silvery hat had not yet said "Hi, Ford" or "Great to see you after all this time," or in fact anything at all.  More to the point he had not yet even moved.

"Hotblack?" said Ford.

A large meaty hand landed on his shoulder from behind and pushed him aside. He slid gracelessly off his seat and peered upward to see if he could spot the owner of this discourteous hand. The owner was not hard to spot, on account of his being something of the order of seven feet tall and not slightly built with it. In fact he was built the way one builds leather sofas, shiny, lumpy and with lots of solid stuffing. The suit into which the man's body had been stuffed looked as if its only purpose in life was to demonstrate how difficult it was to get this sort of body into a suit. The face had the texture of an orange and the color of an apple, but there the resemblance to anything sweet ended.

"Kid ..." said a voice which emerged from the man's mouth as if it had been having a really rough time down in his chest.

"Er, yeah?" said Ford conversationally. He staggered back to his feet again and was disappointed that the top of his head didn't come further up  he man's body.

"Beat it," said the man.

"Oh yeah?" said Ford, wondering how wise he was being. "And who are you?"

The man considered this for a moment. He wasn't used to being asked this sort of question. Nevertheless, after a while he came up with an  answer.

"I'm the guy who's telling you to beat it," he said, "before you get it beaten for you."

"Now listen," said Ford nervously -- he wished his head would stop spinning, settle down and get to grips with the situation -- "Now listen," he  continued, "I am one of Hotblack's oldest friends and ..."

He glanced at Hotblack Desiato, who still hadn't moved so much as an eyelash.

"... and ..." said Ford again, wondering what would be a good word to say after "and."

The large man came up with a whole sentence to go after "and." He said it.

"And I am Mr. Desiato's bodyguard," it went, "and I am responsible for his body, and I am not responsible for yours, so take it away before it gets damaged."

"Now wait a minute," said Ford.

"No minutes!" boomed the bodyguard. "No waiting! Mr. Desiato speaks to no one!"

"Well, perhaps you'd let him say what he thinks about the matter himself," said Ford.

"He speaks to no one!" bellowed the bodyguard.

Ford glanced anxiously at Hotblack again and was forced to admit to himself that the bodyguard seemed to have the facts on his side. There was still not the slightest sign of movement, let alone keen interest in Ford's welfare.

"Why?" said Ford. "What's the matter with him?"

The bodyguard told him.

Chapter 17

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy notes that Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones, are generally held to be not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but in fact the loudest noise of any kind at all. Regular concert goers judge that the best sound balance is usually to be heard from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles from the stage, while the musicians themselves play their instruments by remote control from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stays in orbit around the  planet -- or more frequently around a completely different planet.

Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.

Many worlds have now banned their act altogether, sometimes for artistic reasons, but most commonly because the band's public address  ystem contravenes local strategic arms limitations treaties.

This has not, however, stopped their earnings from pushing back the boundaries of pure hypermathematics, and their chief research accountant has recently been appointed Professor of Neomathematics at the University of Maximegalon, in recognition of both his General and his Special Theories of Disaster Area Tax Returns, in which he proves that the whole fabric of the space-time continuum is not merely curved, it is in fact totally bent.

***

Ford staggered back to the table where Zaphod, Arthur and Trillian were sitting waiting for the fun to begin.

"Gotta have some food," said Ford.

"Hi, Ford," said Zaphod. "You speak to the big noise boy?"

Ford waggled his head noncommittally.

"Hotblack? I sort of spoke to him, yeah."

"What'd he say?"

"Well, not a lot really. He's ... er ..."

"Yeah?"

"He's spending a year dead for tax reasons. I've got to sit down."

He sat down.

The waiter approached.

"Would you like to see the menu?" he said. "Or would you like to meet the Dish of the Day?"

"Huh?" said Ford.

"Huh?" said Arthur.

"Huh?" said Trillian.

"That's cool," said Zaphod. "We'll meet the meat."

***

In a small room in one of the arms of the Restaurant complex a tall, thin, gangling figure pulled aside a curtain and oblivion looked him in the face.

It was not a pretty face, perhaps because oblivion had looked him in it so many times. It was too long for a start, the eyes too sunken and hooded, the cheeks too hollow, his lips were too thin and too long, and when they parted his teeth looked too much like a recently polished bay window. The hands that held the curtain were long and thin too: they were also cold.  They lay lightly along the folds of the curtain and gave the impression that if he didn't watch them like a hawk they would crawl away of their own  accord and do something unspeakable in a corner.

He let the curtain drop and the terrible light that had played on his features went off to play somewhere more healthy. He prowled around his small chamber like a mantis contemplating an evening's preying, finally settling on a rickety chair by a trestle table, where he leafed through a few sheets of jokes.

A bell rang.

He pushed the thin sheaf of papers aside and stood up. His hands brushed limply over some of the one million rainbow-colored sequins with which his jacket was festooned, and he was gone through the door.

In the Restaurant the lights dimmed, the band quickened its pace, a single spotlight stabbed down into the darkness of the stairway that led up to the center of the stage.

Up the stairs bounded a tall brilliantly colored figure. He burst onto the stage, tripped lightly up to the microphone, removed it from its stand with one swoop of his long thin hand and stood for a moment bowing left and  right to the audience, acknowledging their applause and displaying to them his bay window. He waved to his particular friends in the audience even though there weren't any there, and waited for the applause to die down. 

He held up his hand and smiled a smile that stretched not merely from ear to ear, but seemed to extend some way beyond the mere confines of his face.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen!" he cried. "Thank you very much. Thank you so much."

He eyed them with a twinkling eye.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "the Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy thousand million billion years and will be ending in a little over half an hour. So, welcome one and all to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!"

With a gesture he deftly conjured another round of spontaneous applause. With another gesture he cut it.

"I am your host for tonight," he said. "My name is Max Quordlepleen ..." (Everybody knew this, his act was famous throughout the  known Galaxy, but he said it for the fresh applause it generated, which he acknowledged with a disclaiming smile and wave.) "... and I've just come  straight from the very very other End of Time, where I've been hosting a show at the Big Bang Burger Bar -- where I can tell you we had a very exciting evening, ladies and gentlemen -- and I will be with you right through this historic occasion, the End of History itself!"

Another burst of applause died away quickly as the lights dimmed down further. On every table candles ignited themselves spontaneously, eliciting a slight gasp from all the diners and wreathing them in a thousand tiny flickering lights and a million intimate shadows. A tremor of excitement thrilled through the darkened Restaurant as the vast golden dome above them began very very slowly to dim, to darken, to fade.

Max's voice was hushed as he continued.

"So, ladies and gentlemen," he breathed, "the candles are lit, the band plays softly and as the force-shielded dome above us fades into transparency, revealing a dark and sullen sky hung heavy with the ancient light of  livid swollen stars, I can see we're all in for a fabulous evening's apocalypse!"

Even the soft tootling of the band faded away as stunned shock descended on all those who had not seen this sight before.

A monstrous, grisly light poured in on them

-- a hideous light

-- a boiling, pestilential light

-- a light that would have disfigured hell.

The Universe was coming to an end.

For a few interminable seconds the Restaurant spun silently through the raging void. Then Max spoke again.

"For those of you who ever hoped to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said, "this is it."

The band struck up again.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," cried Max, "I'll be back with you again in just a moment, and meanwhile I leave you in the very capable hands of Mr. Reg Nullify and his Cataclysmic Combo. Big hand please, ladies and gentlemen, for Reg and the boys!"

The baleful turmoil of the skies continued.

Hesitantly the audience began to clap and after a moment or so normal conversation resumed. Max began his round of the tables, swapping jokes, shouting with laughter, earning his living.

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

"Good evening," it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, "I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body? It  harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters into a more comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.

Its gaze was met by looks of startled bewilderment from Arthur and Trillian, a resigned shrug from Ford Prefect and naked hunger from  Zaphod Beeblebrox.

"Something off the shoulder perhaps?" suggested the animal. "Braised in a white wine sauce?"

"Er, your shoulder?" said Arthur in a horrified whisper.

"But naturally my shoulder, sir," mooed the animal contentedly, "nobody else's is mine to offer."

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal's shoulder appreciatively.

"Or the rump is very good," murmured the animal. "I've been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there's a lot of good meat there."  It gave a mellow grunt, gurgled again and started to chew the cud. It swallowed the cud again.

"Or a casserole of me perhaps?" it added.

"You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?" whispered Trillian to Ford.

"Me?" said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes. "I don't mean anything."

"That's absolutely horrible," exclaimed Arthur, "the most revolting thing I've ever heard."

"What's the problem, Earthman?" said Zaphod, now transferring his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

"I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing there inviting me to," said Arthur. "It's heartless."

"Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten," said Zaphod.

"That's not the point," Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. "All right," he said, "maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ..."

The Universe raged about him in its death throes.

"I think I'll just have a green salad," he muttered.

"May I urge you to consider my liver?" asked the animal, "it must be very rich and tender by now, I've been force-feeding myself for months."

"A green salad," said Arthur emphatically.

"A green salad?" said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.

"Are you going to tell me," said Arthur, "that I shouldn't have green salad?"

"Well," said the animal, "I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am."

It managed a very slight bow.

"Glass of water please," said Arthur.

"Look," said Zaphod, "we want to eat, we don't want to make a meal of the issues. Four rare steaks please, and hurry. We haven't eaten in five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years."

The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle.

"A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good," it said. "I'll just nip off and shoot myself."

He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur.

"Don't worry, sir," he said, "I'll be very humane."

It waddled unhurriedly off to the kitchen.

A matter of minutes later the waiter arrived with four huge steaming steaks. Zaphod and Ford wolfed straight into them without a second's hesitation. Trillian paused, then shrugged and started into hers.

"Hey, Earthman," said Zaphod with a malicious grin on the face that wasn't stuffing itself, "what's eating you?"

And the band played on.

All around the Restaurant people and things relaxed and chatted. The air was filled with talk of this and that, and with the mingled scents of exotic plants, extravagant foods and insidious wines. For an infinite number of miles in every direction the universal cataclysm was gathering to a stupefying climax. Glancing at his watch, Max returned to the stage with a flourish.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen," he beamed, "is everyone having one last wonderful time?"

"Yes," called out the sort of people who call out "yes" when comedians ask them if they're having a wonderful time.

"That's wonderful," enthused Max, "absolutely wonderful. And as the photon storms gather in swirling crowds around us, preparing to tear apart the last of the red hot suns, I know you're all going to settle back and enjoy with me what I know we will all find an immensely exciting and terminal experience."

He paused. He caught the audience with a glittering eye.

"Believe me, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "there is nothing penultimate about this one."

He paused again. Tonight his timing was immaculate. Time after time he had done this show, night after night. Not that the word night had any meaning here at the extremity of time. All there was was the endless repetition of the final moment, as the Restaurant rocked slowly forward  over the brink of time's farthest edge -- and back again. This "night" was good though, the audience was writhing in the palm of his sickly hand. His voice dropped. They had to strain to hear him.

"This," he said, "really is the absolute end, the final chilling desolation, in which the whole majestic sweep of creation becomes extinct. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the proverbial 'it.' "

He dropped his voice still lower. In the stillness, a fly would not have dared clear its throat.

"After this," he said, "there is nothing. Void. Emptiness. Oblivion. Absolute nothing ..."

His eyes glittered again -- or did they twinkle?

"Nothing ... except, of course, for the desserts and a fine selection of Aldebaran liqueurs!"

The band gave him a music sting. He wished they wouldn't, he didn't need it, not an artist of his caliber. He could play the audience like his own musical instrument. They were laughing with relief. He followed on.

"And for once," he cried cheerily, "you don't need to worry about having a hangover in the morning -- because there won't be any more  mornings!"

He beamed at his happy, laughing audience. He glanced up at the sky, going through the same death routine every night, but his glance was only for a fraction of a second. He trusted it to do its job, as one professional trusts another.

"And now," he said, strutting about the stage, "at the risk of putting a damper on the wonderful sense of doom and futility here this evening, I would like to welcome a few parties."

He pulled a card from his pocket.

"Do we have" --he put up a hand to hold back the cheers -- "Do we have a party here from the Zansellquasure Flamarion Bridge Club from beyond the Vortvoid of Qvarne? Are they here?"

A rousing cheer came from the back, but he pretended not to hear. He peered around trying to find them.

"Are they here?" he asked again, to elicit a louder cheer.

He got it, as he always did.

"Ah, there they are. Well, last bids, lads -- and no cheating, remember this is a very solemn moment."

He lapped up the laughter.

"And do we also have, do we have ... a party of minor deities from the Halls of Asgard?"

Away to his right came a rumble of thunder. Lightning arced across the stage. A small group of hairy men with helmets sat looking very pleased with themselves, and raised their glasses to him.

Has-beens, he thought to himself.

"Careful with that hammer, sir," he said.

They did their trick with the lightning again. Max gave them a very thin-lipped smile.

"And thirdly," he said, "thirdly a party of Young Conservatives from Sirius B, are they here?"

A party of smartly dressed young dogs stopped throwing rolls at each other and started throwing rolls at the stage. They yapped and barked unintelligibly.

"Yes," said Max, "well, this is all your fault, you realize that?"

And finally," said Max, quieting the audience down and putting on his solemn face, "finally I believe we have with us here tonight, a party of  believers, very devout believers, from the Church of the Second Coming of the Great Prophet Zarquon."

There were about twenty of them, sitting right out on the edge of the floor, ascetically dressed, sipping mineral water nervously and staying apart from the festivities. They blinked resentfully as the spotlight was turned on them.

"There they are," said Max, "sitting there, patiently. He said he'd come again, and he's kept you waiting a long time, so let's hope he's hurrying fellas, because he's only got eight minutes left!"

The party of Zarquon's followers sat rigid, refusing to be buffeted by the waves of uncharitable laughter which swept over them. 

Max restrained his audience.

"No, but seriously though, folks, seriously though, no offense meant. No, I know we shouldn't make fun of deeply held beliefs, so I think a big hand please for the Great Prophet Zarquon ..."

The audience clapped respectfully.

" ... wherever he's gone to!"

He blew a kiss to the stony-faced party and returned to the center of the stage.

He grabbed a tall stool and sat on it.

"It's marvelous though," he rattled on, "to see so many of you here tonight -- no, isn't it though? Yes, absolutely marvelous. Because I know that so many of you come here time and time again, which I think is really wonderful, to come and watch this final end of everything, and then return home to your own eras ... and raise families, strive for new and better societies, fight terrible wars for what you know to be right ... It really gives one hope for the future of all lifekind. Except of course" -- he waved at the blitzing turmoil above and around them -- "that we know it hasn't got one ..."

Arthur turned to Ford -- he hadn't quite got this place worked out in his mind.

"Look, surely," he said, "if the Universe is about to end ... don't we go with it?"

Ford gave him a three-Pan-Galactic-Gargle-Blaster look, in other words a rather unsteady one.

"No," he said, "look," he said, ''as soon as you come into this dive you get held in this sort of amazing force-shielded temporal warp thing. I think."

"Oh," said Arthur. He turned his attention back to a bowl of soup he'd managed to get from the waiter to replace his steak.

"Look," said Ford. "I'll show you."

He grabbed at a napkin off the table and fumbled hopelessly with it.

"Look," he said again, "imagine this napkin, right, as the temporal Universe, right? And this spoon as a transductional mode in the matter  curve ... "

It took him a while to say this last part, and Arthur hated to interrupt him.

"That's the spoon I was eating with," he said.

"All right," said Ford, "imagine this spoon" -- he found a small wooden spoon on a tray of relishes -- "this spoon" -- but found it rather tricky to pick up -- "no, better still this fork ..."

"Hey, would you let go of my fork?" snapped Zaphod.

"All right," said Ford, "all right, all right. Why don't we say ... why don't we say that this wineglass is the temporal Universe ..."

"What, the one you've just knocked on the floor?"

"Did I do that?"

"Yes."

"All right," said Ford, "forget that. I mean ...I mean, look, do you know -- do you know how the Universe actually began for a kick off?"

"Probably not," said Arthur, who wished he'd never embarked on any of this.

"All right," said Ford, "imagine this. Right. You get this bath. Right. A large round bath. And it's made of ebony."

"Where from?" said Arthur. "Harrods was destroyed by the Vogons."

"Doesn't matter."

"So you keep saying."

"Listen."

"All right."

"You get this bath, see? Imagine you've got this bath. And it's ebony. And it's conical."

"Conical?" said Arthur. "What sort of ..."

"Shhh!" said Ford. "It's conical. So what you do is, you see, you fill it with fine white sand, all right? Or sugar. Fine white sand, and/or sugar.  Anything. Doesn't matter. Sugar's fine. And when it's full, you pull the  plug out ... are you listening?"

"I'm listening."

"You pull the plug out, and it all just twirls away, twirls away you see, out of the plughole."

"I see."

"You don't see. You don't see at all. I haven't got to the clever bit yet. You want to hear the clever bit?"

"Tell me the clever bit."

"I'll tell you the clever bit."

Ford thought for a moment, trying to remember what the clever bit was.

"The clever bit," he said, "is this. You film it happening."

"Clever," agreed Arthur.

"You get a movie camera, and you film it happening."

"Clever."

"That's not the clever bit. This is the clever bit, I remember now that this is the clever bit. The clever bit is that you then thread the film in the projector ... backward!"

"Backward?"

"Yes. Threading it backward is definitely the clever bit. So then, you just sit and watch it, and everything just appears to spiral upward out of the plughole and fill the bath. See?"

"And that's how the Universe began, is it?" said Arthur.

"No," said Ford, "but it's a marvelous way to relax."

He reached for his wineglass.

"Where's my wineglass?" he said.

"It's on the floor."

"Ah."

Tipping back his chair to look for it, Ford collided with the small green waiter who was approaching the table carrying a portable telephone.

Ford excused himself to the waiter explaining that it was because he was extremely drunk.

The waiter said that that was quite all right and that he perfectly understood.

Ford thanked the waiter for his kind indulgence, attempted to tug his forelock, missed by six inches and slid under the table. 

"Mr. Zaphod Beeblebrox?" inquired the waiter.

"Er, yeah?" said Zaphod, glancing up from his third steak.

"There is a phone call for you."

"Hey, what?"

"A phone call, sir."

"For me? Here? Hey, but who knows where I am?"

One of his minds raced. The other dawdled lovingly over the food it was still shoveling in.

"Excuse me if I carryon, won't you?" said his eating head and carried on.

There were now so many people after him he'd lost count. He shouldn't have made such a conspicuous entrance. Hell, why not though, he thought. How do you know you're having fun if there's no one watching you have it?

"Maybe somebody here tipped off the Galactic Police," said Trillian. "Everyone saw you come in."

"You mean they want to arrest me over the phone?" said Zaphod. "Could be. I'm a pretty dangerous dude when I'm cornered."

"Yeah," said the voice from under the table, "you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel."

"Hey, what is this, Judgment Day?" snapped Zaphod.

"Do we get to see that as well?" asked Arthur nervously.

"I'm in no hurry," muttered Zaphod. "Okay, so who's the cat on the phone?" He kicked Ford. "Hey, get up there, kid," he said to him. "I may  need you."

"I am not," said the waiter, "personally acquainted with the metal  gentleman in question, sir ..."

"Metal?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you say metal?"

"Yes, sir. I said that I am not personally acquainted with the metal gentleman in question ..."

"Okay, carry on."

"But I am informed that he has been awaiting your return for a considerable number of millennia. It seems you left here somewhat  precipitately." 

"Left here?" said Zaphod. "Are you being strange? We only just arrived here."

"Indeed, sir," persisted the waiter doggedly, "but before you arrived here, sir, I understand that you left here."

Zaphod tried this in one brain, then in the other.

"You're saying," he said, "that before we arrived here, we left here?"

This is going to be a long night, thought the waiter.

"Precisely, sir," he said.

"Put your analyst on danger money, baby," advised Zaphod.

"No, wait a minute," said Ford, emerging above table level again, "where exactly is here?"

"To be absolutely exact, sir, it is Frogstar World B."

"But we just left there," protested Zaphod. "We left there and came to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

"Yes, sir," said the waiter, feeling that he was now into the home stretch and running well, "the one was constructed on the ruins of the other."

"Oh," said Arthur brightly, "you mean we've traveled in time but not in space."

"Listen, you semievolved simian," cut in Zaphod, "go climb a tree will you?"

Arthur bristled.

"Go bang your heads together, four-eyes," he advised Zaphod.

"No, no," the waiter said to Zaphod, "your monkey has got it right, sir."

Arthur stuttered in fury and said nothing apposite, or indeed coherent.

"You jumped forward ... I believe five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years while staying in exactly the same place," explained the waiter. He smiled. He had a wonderful feeling that he had finally won though against what had seemed to be insuperable odds.

"That's it!" said Zaphod. "I got it. I told the computer to send us to the nearest place to eat, that's exactly what it did. Give or take five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years or whatever, we never moved.  Neat."

They all agreed this was very neat.

"But who," said Zaphod, "is the cat on the phone?"

"Whatever happened to Marvin?" said Trillian.

Zaphod clapped his hands to his heads.

"The Paranoid Android! I left him moping about on Frogstar World B."

"When was this?"

"Well, er, five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years ago I suppose," said Zaphod. "Hey, er, hand me the raprod, Plate Captain."

The little waiter's eyebrows wandered about his forehead in confusion.

"I beg your pardon, sir?" he said.

"The phone, waiter," said Zaphod, grabbing it off him. "Shee, you guys are so unhip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off."

"Indeed, sir."

"Hey, Marvin, is that you?" said Zaphod into the phone. "How you doing, kid?"

There was a long pause before a thin low voice came up the line.

Zaphod cupped his hand over the phone.

"It's Marvin," he said.

"Hey, Marvin," he said into the phone again, "we're having a great time. Food, wine, a little personal abuse and the Universe going foom.  Where can we find you?" 

Again the pause.

"You don't have to pretend to be interested in me you know," said Marvin at last. "I know perfectly well I'm only a menial robot."

"Okay, okay," said Zaphod, "but where are you?"

"'Reverse primary thrust, Marvin,' that's what they say to me, 'open airlock number three, Marvin. Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?' Can I pick up that piece of paper! Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to ..."

"Yeah, yeah," sympathized Zaphod hardly at all.

"But I'm quite used to being humiliated," droned Marvin, "I can even go and stick my head in a bucket of water if you like. Would you like me to go and stick my head in a bucket of water? I've got one ready. Wait a  minute."

"Er, hey, Marvin ..." interrupted Zaphod, but it was too late. Sad little clunks and gurgles came up the line.

"What's he saying?" asked Trillian.

"Nothing," said Zaphod, "he just phoned up to wash his head at us."

"There," said Marvin, coming back on the line and bubbling a bit, "I hope that gave satisfaction ..."

"Yeah, yeah," said Zaphod, "now will you please tell us where you are?"

"I'm in the parking lot," said Marvin.

"The parking lot?" said Zaphod. "What are you doing there?"

"Parking cars, what else does one do in a parking lot?"

"Okay, hang in there, we'll be right down."

In one movement Zaphod leaped to his feet, threw down the phone and wrote "Hotblack Desiato" on the bill.

"Come on, guys," he said, "Marvin's in the parking lot. Let's get on down."

"What's he doing in the parking lot?" asked Arthur.

"Parking cars, what else? Dum dum."

"But what about the End of the Universe? We'll miss the big moment."

"I've seen it. It's rubbish," said Zaphod, "nothing but a gnab gib."

"A what?"

"Opposite of a big bang. Come on, let's get zappy."

Few of the other diners paid them any attention as they weaved their way through the Restaurant to the exit. Their eyes were riveted on the horror of the skies.

"An interesting effect to watch for," Max was telling them, "is in the upper left-hand quadrant of the sky, where if you look very carefully you can see the star system Hastromil boiling away into the ultraviolet. Anyone here from Hastromil?"

There were one or two slightly hesitant cheers from somewhere at the back.

"Well," said Max beaming cheerfully at them, "it's too late to worry about whether you left the gas on now."

Chapter 18

The main reception foyer was almost empty but Ford nevertheless weaved his way through it.

Zaphod grasped him firmly by the arm and maneuvered him into a cubicle standing to one side of the entrance hall.

"What are you doing to him?" asked Arthur.

"Sobering him up," said Zaphod and pushed a coin into a slot. Lights flashed, gases swirled.

"Hi," said Ford stepping out a moment later, "where are we going?"

"Down to the parking lot, come on."

"What about the personnel Time Teleports?" said Ford. "Get us straight back to the Heart of Gold. "

"Yeah, but I've cooled on that ship. Zarniwoop can have it. I don't want to play his games. Let's see what we can find."

A Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporter took them down deep into the substrata beneath the Restaurant. They were glad to see it had been vandalized and didn't try to make them happy as well as take them down.

At the bottom of the shaft the elevator doors opened and a blast of cold stale air hit them.

The first thing they saw on leaving the elevator was a long concrete wall with over fifty doors in it offering lavatory facilities for all of fifty major life forms. Nevertheless, like every parking lot in the Galaxy throughout the entire history of parking lots, this parking lot smelled predominantly of impatience.

They turned a corner and found themselves on a moving catwalk that traversed a vast cavernous space that stretched off into the dim distance.

It was divided off into bays each of which contained a spaceship belonging to one of the diners upstairs, some smallish and utilitarian mass production models, others vast shining limoships, the playthings of the very rich.

Zaphod's eyes sparkled with something that may or may not have been avarice as he passed over them. In fact it's best to be clear on this point -- avarice is definitely what it was.

"There he is," said Trillian. "Marvin, down there."

They looked where she was pointing. Dimly they could see a small metal figure listlessly rubbing a small rag on one remote corner of a giant silver suncruiser.

At short intervals along the moving catwalk, wide transparent tubes led down to floor level. Zaphod stepped off the catwalk into one of these and floated gently downward. The others followed. Thinking back to this later, Arthur Dent thought it was the single most enjoyable experience of his travels in the Galaxy.

"Hey, Marvin," said Zaphod, striding over toward to him. "Hey, kid, are we pleased to see you."

Marvin turned, and insofar as it is possible for a totally inert metal face to look reproachful, this is what it did.

"No you're not," he said, "no one ever is."

"Suit yourself," said Zaphod and turned away to ogle the ships. Ford went with him.

Only Trillian and Arthur actually went up to Marvin.

"No, really we are," said Trillian and patted him in a way that he disliked intensely, "hanging around waiting for us all this time." 

"Five hundred and seventy-six thousand million, three thousand five hundred and seventy-nine years," said Marvin. "I counted them."

"Well, here we are now," said Trillian, feeling -- quite correctly in Marvin's view -- that it was a slightly foolish thing to say.

"The first ten million years were the worst," said Marvin, "and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline."

He paused just long enough to make them feel they ought to say something, and then interrupted.

"It's the people you meet in this job that really get you down," he said and paused again.

Trillian cleared her throat.

"Is that ...

"The best conversation I had was over forty million years ago," continued Marvin.

Again the pause.

"Oh d--"

"And that was with a coffee machine."

He waited.

"That's a --"

"You don't like talking to me do you?" said Marvin in a low desolate tone.

Trillian talked to Arthur instead.

***

Farther down the chamber Ford Prefect had found something of which he very much liked the look, several such things in fact.

"Zaphod," he said in a quiet voice, "just look at some of these little star trolleys ..."

Zaphod looked and liked.

The craft they were looking at was in fact pretty small but extraordinary, and very much a rich kid's toy. It was not much to look at. It  resembled nothing so much as a paper dart about twenty feet long made of thin but tough metal foil. At the rear end was a small horizontal two-man cockpit. It had a tiny charm-drive engine, which was not capable of moving it at any great speed. The thing it did have, however, was a heat-sink.

The heat-sink had a mass of some two thousand billion tons and was contained within a black hole mounted in an electromagnetic field situated halfway along the length of the ship, and this heat-sink enabled the craft to be maneuvered to within a few miles of a yellow sun, there to catch and ride the solar flares that burst out from its surface.

Flare riding is one of the most exotic and exhilarating sports in existence, and those who can dare and afford to do it are among the most lionized men in the Galaxy. It is also of course stupefyingly dangerous -- those who don't die riding invariably die of sexual exhaustion at one of the Daedalus Club's Apres-Flare parties.

Ford and Zaphod looked and passed on.

"And this baby," said Ford, "the tangerine star buggy with the black sunbusters ..."

Again, the star buggy was a small ship -- a totally misnamed one in fact, because the one thing it couldn't manage was interstellar distances.  Basically it was a sporty planet hopper dolled up to look like something it wasn't. Nice lines though. They passed on. 

The next one was a big one and thirty yards long -- a coach-limoship and obviously designed with one aim in mind, that of making the beholder sick with envy. The paintwork and accessory detail clearly said "Not only am I rich enough to afford this ship, I am also rich enough not to take it seriously." It was wonderfully hideous.

"Just look at it," said Zaphod, "multicluster quark drive, perspulex running boards. Got to be a Lazlar Lyricon custom job."

He examined every inch,

"Yes," he said, "look, the infrapink lizard emblem on the neutrino cowling. Lazlar's trademark. The man has no shame."

"I was passed by one of these mothers once, out by the Axel Nebula," said Ford. "I was going flat out and this thing just strolled past me, star drive hardly ticking over. Just incredible."

Zaphod whistled appreciatively.

"Ten seconds later," said Ford, "it smashed straight into the third moon of Jaglan Beta."

"Yeah, right?"

"Amazing-looking ship though. Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow."

Ford looked round the other side.

"Hey, come see," he called out, "there's a big mural painted on this side.  A bursting sun-Disaster Area's trademark. This must be Hotblack's ship.  Lucky old bugger. They do this terrible song you know which ends with a stuntship crashing into the sun. Meant to be an amazing spectacle.  Expensive in stuntships though."

Zaphod's attention however was elsewhere. His attention was riveted on the ship standing next to Hotblack Desiato's limo. His mouths hung open.

"That," he said, "that ... is really bad for the eyes ..."

Ford looked. He too stood astonished.

It was a ship of classic, simple design, like a flattened salmon, twenty yards long, very clean, very sleek. There was just one remarkable thing about it.

"It's so ... black!" said Ford Prefect. "You can hardly make out its  shape ... light just seems to fall into it!"

Zaphod said nothing. He had simply fallen in love.

The blackness of it was so extreme that it was almost impossible to tell how close you were standing to it.

"Your eyes just slide off it ..." said Ford in wonder. It was an emotional moment. He bit his lip.

Zaphod moved forward to it, slowly, like a man possessed -- or more accurately like a man who wanted to possess. His hand reached out to  stroke it. His hand stopped. His hand reached out to stroke it again. His hand stopped again.

"Come and feel this surface," he said in a hushed voice.

Ford put his hand out to feel it. His hand stopped.

"You ... you can't ..." he said.

"See?" said Zaphod. "It's just totally frictionless. This must be one mother of a mover ..."

He turned to look at Ford seriously. At least, one of his heads did- -- he other stayed gazing in awe at the ship.

"What do you reckon, Ford?" he said.

"You mean ... er" -- Ford looked over his shoulder -- "you mean stroll off with it? You think we should?"

"No."

"Nor do I."

"But we're going to, aren't we?"

"How can we not?"

They gazed a little longer, till Zaphod suddenly pulled himself together.

"We better shift soon," he said. "In a moment or so the Universe will have ended and all the Captain Creeps will be pouring down here to find their bourge-mobiles."

"Zaphod," said Ford.

"Yeah?"

"How do we do it?"

"Simple," said Zaphod. He turned. "Marvin!" he called.

Slowly, laboriously and with a million little clanking and creaking noises that he had learned to simulate, Marvin turned round to answer the summons.

"Come on over here," said Zaphod. "We've got a job for you."

Marvin trudged toward them.

"I won't enjoy it," he said.

"Yes, you will," enthused Zaphod, "there's a whole new life stretching out ahead of you."

"Oh, not another one," groaned Marvin.

"Will you shut up and listen!" hissed Zaphod. "This time there's going to be excitement and adventure and really wild things."

"Sounds awful," Marvin said.

"Marvin! All I'm trying to ask you ..."

"I suppose you want me to open this spaceship for you?"

"What? Er ... yes. Yeah, that's right," said Zaphod jumpily. He was keeping at least three eyes on the entrance. Time was short.

"Well, I wish you'd just tell me rather than try to engage my enthusiasm," said Marvin, "because I haven't got one."

He walked on up to the ship, touched it, and a hatchway swung open.

Ford and Zaphod stared at the opening.

"Don't mention it," said Marvin. "Oh, you didn't." He trudged away again.

Arthur and Trillian clustered around.

"What's happening?" asked Arthur.

"Look at this," said Ford. "Look at the interior of this ship."

"Weirder and weirder," breathed Zaphod.

"It's black," said Ford. "Everything in it is just totally black ..."

***

In the Restaurant, things were fast approaching the moment after which there wouldn't be any more moments.

All eyes were fixed on the dome, other than those of Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard, which were looking intently at Hotblack Desiato, and those of Hotblack Desiato himself which the bodyguard had closed out of respect.

The bodyguard leaned forward over the table. Had Hotblack Desiato been alive, he probably would have deemed this a good moment to lean back, or even go for a short walk. His bodyguard was not a man who improved with proximity. On account of his unfortunate condition, however, Hotblack Desiato remained totally inert.

"Mr. Desiato, sir?" whispered the bodyguard. Whenever he spoke, it  looked as if the muscles on either side of his mouth were clambering over each other to get out of the way.

"Mr. Desiato? Can you hear me?"

Hotblack Desiato, quite naturally, said nothing.

"Hotblack?" hissed the bodyguard.

Again, quite naturally, Hotblack Desiato did not reply. Supernaturally, however, he did.

On the table in front of him a wineglass rattled, and a fork rose an inch or so and tapped against the glass. It settled on the table again. 

The bodyguard gave a satisfied grunt.

"It's time we were going, Mr. Desiato," muttered the bodyguard, "don't want to get caught in the rush, not in your condition. You want to get to the next gig nice and relaxed. There was a really big audience for it. One of the best. Kakrafoon. Five hundred and seventy-six thousand and two million years ago. Had you been looking forward to it?"

The fork rose again, paused, waggled in a noncommittal sort of way and dropped again.

"Ah, come on," said the bodyguard, "it's going to have been great. You knocked 'em cold." The bodyguard would have given Dr. Dan Streetmentioner an apoplectic attack.

"The black ship going into the sun always gets 'em, and the new one's a beauty. Be real sorry to see it go. If we get on down there, I'll set the black ship autopilot and we'll cruise off in the limo. Okay?"

The fork tapped once in agreement, and the glass of wine mysteriously emptied itself.

The bodyguard wheeled Hotblack Desiato's chair out of the Restaurant.

"And now," cried Max from the center of the stage, "the moment you've all been waiting for!" He flung his arms into the air. Behind him, the band went into a frenzy of percussion and rolling synthochords. Max had argued with them about this but they had claimed it was in their contract that that's what they would do. His agent would have to sort it  out.

"The skies begin to boil!" he cried. "Nature collapses into the screaming void! In twenty seconds' time, the Universe itself will be at an end! See where the light of infinity bursts in upon us!"

The hideous fury of destruction blazed about them -- and at that moment a still small trumpet sounded as from an infinite distance. Max's eyes swiveled round to glare at the band. None of them seemed to be playing a trumpet. Suddenly a wisp of smoke was swirling and shimmering on the stage next to him. The trumpet was joined by more trumpets. Over five hundred times Max had done this show, and nothing like this had ever happened before. He drew back in alarm from the swirling smoke, and as he did so, a figure slowly materialized inside, the figure of an ancient man, bearded, robed, and wreathed in light. In his eyes were stars and on his brow a golden crown.

"What's this?" whispered Max, wild-eyed. "What's happening?"

At the back of the Restaurant the stony-faced party from the Church of  the Second Coming of the Great Prophet Zarquon leaped ecstatically to their feet chanting and crying.

Max blinked in amazement. He threw up his arms to the audience.

"A big hand please, ladies and gentlemen," he hollered, "for the Great Prophet Zarquon! He has come! Zarquon has come again!"

Thunderous applause broke out as Max strode across the stage and handed his microphone to the Prophet.

Zarquon coughed. He peered round at the assembled gathering. The stars in his eyes twinkled uneasily. He handled the microphone with  confusion.

"Er ..." he said, "hello. Er, look, I'm sorry I'm a bit late. I've had the most ghastly time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment."

He seemed nervous of the expectant awed hush. He cleared his throat.

"Er, how are we for time?" he said. "Have I just got a min --"

And so the Universe ended.

Chapter 19

One of the major selling points of that wholly remarkable travel book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, apart from its relative cheapness and the fact that it has the words DON'T PANIC written in large friendly letters on its cover, is its compendious and occasionally accurate glossary. The statistics relating to the geo-social nature of the Universe, for instance, are deftly set out between pages nine hundred and thirty-eight thousand three hundred and twenty-four and nine hundred and thirty-eight thousand three hundred  and twenty-six; and the simplistic style in which they are written is partly explained by the fact that the editors, having to meet a publishing deadline,  opied the information off the back of a packet of breakfast cereal, hastily embroidering it with a few footnotes in order to avoid prosecution under the incomprehensibly tortuous Galactic Copyright laws.

It is interesting to note that a later and wilier editor sent the book backward in time through a temporal warp, and then successfully sued the breakfast cereal company for infringement of the same laws.

Here is a sample:

The Universe -- some information to help you live in it.

1 AREA: Infinite.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word "Infinite. "

Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real "wow,  that's big, " time. Infinity is just so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here.

2 IMPORTS: None.

It is impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.

3 EXPORTS: None.

See Imports.

4 POPULATION: None.

It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero.  From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

5 MONETARY UNITS: None.

In fact there are three freely convertible currencies in the Galaxy, but none of them count. The Altairian Dollar has recently collapsed, the Flainian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flainian Pobble Beads, and the Triganic Pu has its own very special problems. Its exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu is simple enough, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu.  Ningis are not negotiable currency, because the Galactibanks refuse to deal in fiddling small change. From this basic premise it is very simple to prove that the Galactibanks are also the product of a deranged imagination.

6 ART: None.

The function of art is to hold the mirror up to nature, and there simply isn't a mirror big enough -- see point one.

7 SEX: None.

Well, in fact there is an awful lot of this, largely because of the total lack of money, trade, banks, art or anything else that might keep all the nonexistent people of the Universe occupied.

However, it is not worth embarking on a long discussion of it now because it really is terribly complicated. For further information see Guide Chapters seven, nine, ten, eleven, fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one to eighty-four inclusive, and in fact most of the rest of the Guide.

Chapter 20

The Restaurant continued existing, but everything else had stopped. Temporal relastatics held it and protected it in a nothingness that wasn't merely a vacuum, it was simply nothing -- there was nothing in which a vacuum could be said to exist.  The force-shielded dome had once again been rendered opaque, the party was over, the diners were leaving, Zarquon had vanished along with the rest of the Universe, the Time Turbines were preparing to pull the Restaurant back across the brink of time in readiness for the lunch sitting, and Max Quordlepleen was back in his small curtained dressing room trying to raise his agent on the tempophone.

In the parking lot stood the black ship, closed and silent.

Into the parking lot came the late Mr. Hotblack Desiato, propelled along the moving catwalk by his bodyguard.

They descended one of the tubes. As they approached the limoship a hatchway swung down from its side, engaged the wheels of the wheelchair and drew it inside. The bodyguard followed, and having seen his boss safely connected up to his death-support system, moved up to the small  cockpit. Here he operated the remote control system which activated the autopilot in the black ship lying next to the limo, thus causing great relief to Zaphod Beeblebrox who had been trying to start the thing for over ten minutes.

The black ship glided smoothly forward out of its bay, turned and moved down the central causeway swiftly and quietly. At the end it  accelerated rapidly, flung itself into the temporal launch chamber and began the long journey back into the distant past.

***

The Milliways Lunch Menu quotes, by permission, a passage from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The passage is this:

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases.

For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question "How can we eat?",  the second by the question "Why do we eat?", and the third by the question, "Where shall we have lunch?"

***

The Menu goes on to suggest that Milliways, the Restaurant at the End  of the Universe, would be a very agreeable and sophisticated answer to that third question.

What it doesn't go on to say is that though it will usually take a large civilization many thousands of years to pass through the How, Why and Where phases, small social groupings under stressful conditions can pass through them with extreme rapidity. 

"How are we doing?" said Arthur Dent.

"Badly," said Ford Prefect.

"Where are we going?" said Trillian.

"I don't know," said Zaphod Beeblebrox.

"Why not?" demanded Arthur Dent.

"Shut up," suggested Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect.

"Basically, what you're trying to say," said Arthur Dent, ignoring this suggestion, "is that we're out of control."

The ship was rocking and swaying sickeningly as Ford and Zaphod tried to wrest control from the autopilot. The engines howled and whined like tired children in a supermarket.

"It's the wild color scheme that freaks me," said Zaphod whose love affair with this ship had lasted almost three minutes into the flight. "Every time you try to operate one of these weird black controls that are labeled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you  know you've done it. What is this? Some kind of galactic hyperhearse?"

The walls of the swaying cabin were also black, the ceiling was black, the seats -- which were rudimentary since the only important trip this ship was designed for was supposed to be unmanned -- were black, the control panel was black, the instruments were black, the little screws that held them in place were black, the thin tufted nylon floor covering was black, and when they had lifted up a corner of it they had discovered that the foam underlay also was black.

"Perhaps whoever designed it had eyes that responded to different wavelengths," offered Trillian.

"Or didn't have much imagination," muttered Arthur.

"Perhaps," said Marvin, "he was feeling very depressed."

In fact, though they weren't to know it, the decor had been chosen in honor of its owner's sad, lamented, and tax deductible condition.

The ship gave a particularly sickening lurch.

"Take it easy," pleaded Arthur, "you're making me space sick."

"Time sick," said Ford. "We're plummeting backward through time."

"Thank you," said Arthur, "now I think I really am going to be ill."

"Go ahead," said Zaphod, "we could do with a little color about the place."

"This is meant to be polite afterdinner conversation, is it?" snapped Arthur.

Zaphod left the controls to Ford to figure out, and lurched over to Arthur.

"Look, Earthman," he said angrily, "you've got a job to do, right? The Question to the Ultimate Answer, right?"

"What, that thing?" said Arthur. "I thought we'd forgotten about that."

"Not me, baby. Like the mice said, it's worth a lot of money in the right quarters. And it's all locked up in that head thing of yours."

"Yes but --"

"But nothing! Think about it. The Meaning of Life! We get our fingers on that we can hold every shrink in the Galaxy up to ransom, and that's worth a bundle. I owe mine a mint."

Arthur took a deep breath without much enthusiasm.

"All right," he said, "but where do we start? How should I know? They say the Ultimate Answer or whatever is Forty-two, how am I supposed to know what the question is? It could be anything. I mean, what's six times seven?"

Zaphod looked at him hard for a moment. Then his eyes blazed with excitement.

"Forty-two!" he cried.

Arthur wiped his palm across his forehead.

"Yes," he said patiently, "I know that."

Zaphod's faces fell.

"I'm just saying the question could be anything at all," said Arthur, "and I don't see how I'm meant to know."

"Because," hissed Zaphod, "you were there when your planet did the big firework."

"We have a thing on Earth ..." began Arthur.

"Had," corrected Zaphod.

"... called tact. Oh, never mind. Look, I just don't know."

A low voice echoed dully around the cabin.

"I know," said Marvin.

Ford called out from the controls he was still fighting a losing battle with.

"Stay out of this, Marvin," he said. "This is organism talk."

"It's printed in the Earthman's brainwave patterns," continued Marvin, "but I don't suppose you'll be very interested in knowing that."

"You mean," said Arthur, "you mean you can see into my mind?"

"Yes," said Marvin.

Arthur stared in astonishment.

"And ...?" he said.

"It amazes me how you can manage to live in anything that small."

"Ah," said Arthur, "abuse."

"Yes," confirmed Marvin.

"Ah, ignore him," said Zaphod, "he's only making it up."

"Making it up?" said Marvin, swiveling his head in a parody of astonishment. "Why should I want to make anything up? Life's bad  enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it." 

"Marvin," said Trillian in the gentle, kindly voice that only she was still capable of assuming in talking to this misbegotten creature, "if you knew all along, why then didn't you tell us?"

Marvin's head swiveled back to her.

"You didn't ask," he said simply.

"Well, we're asking you now, metal man," said Ford, turning round to look at him.

At that moment the ship suddenly stopped rocking and swaying, the engine pitch settled down to a gentle hum. 

"Hey, Ford," said Zaphod, "that sounds good. Have you worked out the controls on this boat?"

"No," said Ford, "I just stopped fiddling with them. I reckon we just go to wherever this ship is going and get off it fast."

"Yeah, right," said Zaphod.

"I could tell you weren't really interested," murmured Marvin to himself and slumped into a corner and switched himself off.

"Trouble is," said Ford, "that the one instrument in this whole ship that is giving any reading is worrying me. If it is what I think it is, and if it's saying what I think it's saying, then we've already gone too far back into the past. Maybe as much as two million years before our own time."  Zaphod shrugged.

"Time is bunk," he said.

"I wonder who this ship belongs to anyway," said Arthur.

"Me," said Zaphod.

"No. Who it really belongs to."

"Really me," insisted Zaphod, "Look, property is theft, right? Therefore theft is property. Therefore this ship is mine, okay?"

"Tell the ship that," said Arthur.

Zaphod strode over to the console.

"Ship," he said, banging on the panels, "this is your new owner speaking to ..."

He got no further. Several things happened at once.

The ship dropped out of time travel mode and reemerged into real space. All the controls on the console, which had been shut down for the time trip, now lit up.

A large vision screen above the console winked into life revealing a wide starscape and a single very large sun dead ahead of them. 

None of these things, however, were responsible for the fact that Zaphod was at the same moment hurled bodily backward against the rear of the cabin, as were all the others.

They were hurled back by a single thunderous clap of noise that thudded out of the monitor speakers surrounding the vision screen.

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