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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Adams Douglas
 

«Life, the Universe and Everything», Douglas Adams

for Sally

 

Chapter 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.


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