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Chapter Twenty-eight...


     "You remember," said Reg, "when you arrived this afternoon
I said   that   times   recently  had  been  dull,  but  for...
interesting reasons?"
     "I remember it vividly," said Dirk, "it  happened  a  mere
ten  minutes  ago. You were standing exactly there as I recall.
Indeed you were wearing the very clothes  with  which  you  are
currently apparelled, and-"
     "Shut  up,  Dirk,"  said  Richard, "let the poor man talk,
will you?"
     Dirk made a slight, apologetic bow.
     "Quite so," said Reg. "Well, the truth is  that  for  many
weeks,  months  even,  I have not used the time machine at all,
because I had the oddest feeling that someone or something  was
trying  to make me do it. It started as the very faintest urge,
and then it seemed to come  at  me  in  stronger  and  stronger
waves. It was extremely disturbing. I had to fight it very hard
indeed because it was trying to make me do something I actually
wanted  to  do. I don't think I would have realised that it was
something outside of me creating this pressure and not just  my
own  wishes asserting themselves if it wasn't for the fact that
I was so wary of allowing myself to do any such thing. As  soon
as  I  began  to  realise  that it was something else trying to
invade me things got really bad and the furniture began to  fly
about.  Quite  damaged my little Georgian writing desk. Look at
the marks on the- "
     "Is that what you were afraid of  last  night,  upstairs?"
asked Richard.
     "Oh  yes,"  said  Reg  in  a  hushed voice, "most terribly
afraid. But it was only that rather nice horse, so that was all
right. I expect it just wandered in when I was out getting some
powder to cover up my suntan."
     "Oh?" said Dirk, "And where  did  you  go  for  that?"  he
asked.  "I  can't  think of many chemists that a horse would be
likely to visit."
     "Oh, there's a planet off in  what's  known  here  as  the
Pleiades where the dust is exactly the right-"
     "You went," said Dirk in a whisper, "to another planet? To
get face powder?"
     "Oh, it's no distance," said Reg cheerfully. "You see, the
actual  distance  between  two  points  in  the  whole  of  the
space/time continuum is  almost  infinitely  smaller  than  the
apparent  distance  between  adjacent  orbits  of  an electron.
Really, it's a lot less far than the chemist,  and  there's  no
waiting  about  at  the till. I never have the right change, do
you? Go for the quantum jump is always my preference. Except of
course that you then get all the trouble  with  the  telephone.
Nothing's ever that easy, is it?"
     He looked bothered for a moment.
     "I think you may be right in what I think you're thinking,
though," he added quietly.
     "Which is?"
     "That I went through a rather elaborate bit of business to
achieve  a  very  small  result.  Cheering  up  a  little girl,
charming, delightful and sad though she was, doesn't seem to be
enough explanation for - well, it was a fairly major  operation
in time= engineering, now that I come to face up to it. There's
no  doubt  that it would have been simpler to compliment her on
her dress. Maybe the... ghost - we are talking of a ghost here,
aren't we?"
     "I think we are, yes," said Dirk slowly.
     "A ghost?" said Richard, "Now come on- "
     "Wait!" said Dirk, abruptly. "Please continue," he said to
Reg.
     "It's possible that the... ghost caught me off my guard. I
was fighting so strenuously against doing  one  thing  that  it
easily tripped me into another-"
     "And now?"
     "Oh, it's gone completely. The ghost left me last night."
     "And  where,  we  wonder,"  said Dirk, turning his gaze on
Richard, "did it go?"
     "No, please," said Richard, "not this. I'm not  even  sure
I've  agreed  we're  talking  about  time machines yet, and now
suddenly it's ghosts?"
     "So what was it," hissed Dirk, "that got into you to  make
you climb the wall?"
     "Well,  you  suggested  that  I  was  under  post-hypnotic
suggestion from someone-"
     "I did not! I  demonstrated  the  power  of  post-hypnotic
suggestion  to  you. But I believe that hypnosis and possession
work in very, very similar ways. You can  be  made  to  do  all
kinds  of  absurd  things,  and will then cheerfully invent the
most transparent rationalisations to explain them to  yourself.
But  - you cannot be made to do something that runs against the
fundamental grain of your character. You will fight.  You  will
resist!"
     Richard  remembered then the sense of relief with which he
had impulsively replaced  the  tape  in  Susan's  machine  last
night.  It had been the end of a struggle which he had suddenly
won. With the sense of another struggle that he was now  losing
he sighed and related this to the others.
     "Exactly!"  exclaimed Dirk. "You wouldn't do it! Now we're
getting somewhere!  You  see,  hypnosis  works  best  when  the
subject  has  some  fundamental sympathy with what he or she is
being asked to do. Find the right subject for your task and the
hypnosis can take a very, very deep hold indeed. And I  believe
the same to be true of possession. So. What do we have?
     "We  have a ghost that wants something done and is looking
for the right person to take possession of to do that for  him.
Professor-"
     "Reg-" said Reg.
     "Reg  -  may  I  ask  you  something  that may be terribly
personal? I will  understand  perfectly  ifyou  don't  want  to
answer,  but  I will just keep pestering you until you do. Just
my methods, you see. You said  there  was  something  that  yo-
found to be a terrible temptation to you. That you wanted to do
but  would not allow yourself, and that the ghost was trying to
make you do? Please. This may be difficult for you, but I think
it would be very helpful if you would tell us what it is."
     "I will not tell you."
     "You must understand how important- "
     "I'll show you instead," said Reg.

     Silhouetted in the gates of St Cedd's stood a large figure
carrying a large heavy black nylon bag. The figure was that  of
Michael  Wenton-Weakes,  the  voice  that  asked  the porter if
Professor Chronotis was currently  in  his  room  was  that  of
Michael  Wenton=  Weakes, the ears that heard the porter say he
was buggered if he knew because the phone seemed to be  on  the
blink  again  was that of Michael Wenton-Weakes, but the spirit
that gazed out of his eyes was his no longer.
     He  had  surrendered  himself   completely.   AIl   doubt,
disparity and confusion had ceased.
     A new mind had him in full possession.
     The spirit that was not Michael Wenton-Weakes surveyed the
college  which  lay before it, to which it had grown accustomed
in the last few frustrating, infuriating weeks.
     Weeks! Mere microsecond blinks.
     Although the spirit -  the  ghost  -  that  now  inhabited
Michael  Wenton-Weakes'  body  had  known  long periods of near
oblivion, sometimes even for centuries at a stretch,  the  time
for  which  it  had  wandered the earth was such that it seemed
only minutes ago that the creatures  which  had  erected  these
walls  had  arrived. Most of his personal eternity - not really
eternity, but a few billion years could easily seem like  it  -
had  been  spent  wandering  across  interminable  mud,  wading
through ceaseless seas, watching with stunned horror  when  the
slimy  things  with legs suddenly had begun to crawl from those
rotting seas - and here they were, suddenly walking  around  as
if they owned the place and complaining about the phones.
     Deep  in a dark and silent part of himself he knew that he
was now mad, had been driven mad almost immediately  after  the
accident  by  the  knowledge  of  what  he  had done and of the
existence he faced, by the memories of his fellows who had died
and who for a while had haunted him even as he had haunted  the
Earth.
     He  knew  that  what  he now had been driven to would have
revolted the self he only infinitesimally remembered, but  that
it  was  the only way for him to end the ceaseless nightmare in
which each second of billions of years had been worse than  the
previous one.
     He hefted the bag and started to walk.
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Chapter Twenty-nine...


     Deep  in the rain forest it was doing what it usually does
in rain forzsts, which was raining: hence the name.
     It was a gentle, persistent rain, not the  heavy  slashing
which  would  come  later  in  the  year, in the hot season. It
formed a fine dripping mist through which the occasional  shaft
of  sunlight  would  break, be softened and pass through on its
way towards the wet bark of a calvaria tree on which  it  would
settle  and  glisten.  Sometimes  it  would  do  this next to a
butterfly or a tiny motionless sparkling lizard, and  then  the
effect would be almost unbearable.
     Away  up  in  the  high  canopy  of  the  trees an utterly
extraordinary thought would suddenly  strike  a  bird,  and  it
would  go  flapping  wildly  through the branches and settle at
last in a different and altogether better tree where  it  would
sit  and  consider  things  again  more  calmly  until the same
thought came along and struck it again, or it was time to eat.
     The air was full  of  scents  -  the  light  fragrance  of
flowers, and the heavy odour of the sodden mulch with which the
floor of the forest was carpeted.
     Confusions  of  roots tangled through the mulch, moss grew
on them, insects crawled.
     In a space in the forest, on an empty patch of wet  ground
between a circle of craning trees, appeared quietly and without
fuss a plain white door. After a few seconds it opened a little
way  with  a  slight squeak. A tall thin man looked out, looked
around, blinked in surprise, and quietly pulled the door closed
again.
     A few seconds later the door opened again and  Reg  looked
out.
     "It's real," he said, "I promise you. Come out and see for
yourself."  Walking out into the forest, he turned and beckoned
the other two to follow him.
     Dirk stepped boldly through, seemed disconcerted for about
the length of time it takes to blink twice, and then  announced
that  he saw exactly how it worked, that it was obviously to do
with the  unreal  numbers  that  lay  between  minimum  quantum
distances  and  defined  the  fractal  contours of the enfolded
Universe and he was only astonished at himself for  not  having
thought of it himself.
     "Like  the  catflap," said Richard from the doorway behind
him.
     "Er, yes, quite so," said Dirk, taking off his  spectacles
and  leaning against a tree wiping them, "you spotted of course
that  I  was  lying.  A  perfectly  natural   reflex   in   the
circumstances  as  I think you'll agree. Perfectly natural." He
squinted slightly and put his spectacles back on. They began to
mist up again almost immediately.
     "Astounding," he admitted.
     Richard stepped through more hesitantly and stood  rocking
for a moment with one foot still on the floor in Reg's room and
the  other  on  the  wet  earth  of the forest. Then he stepped
forward and committed himself fully.
     His lungs instantly filled with the heady vapours and  his
mind  with the wonder of the place. He turned and looked at the
doorway through which he had walked. It was stiIl  a  perfectly
ordinary door frame with a perfectly ordinary little white door
swinging  open  in  it,  but  it  was standing free in the open
forest, and through it could clearly he seen the  room  he  had
just stepped out of.
     He  walked wonderingly round the back of the door, testing
each foot on the muddy ground, not so much for fear of slipping
as for fear that it might simply not be there. From  behind  it
was  just  a  perfectly  ordinary  open door frame, such as you
might fail to find in any perfectly ordinary  rain  forest.  He
walked  through  the  door  from behind, and looking back again
could once more see, as if he had  just  stepped  out  of  them
again,  the  college  rooms  of Professor Urban Chronotis of St
Cedd's College, Cambridge, which must  be  thousands  of  miles
away. Thousands? Where were they?
     He  peered  off  through the trees and thought he caught a
slight shimmer in the distance, between the trees.
     "Is that the sea?" he asked.
     "You can see it a  little  more  clearly  from  up  here,"
called  Reg,  who  had  walked  on  a  little way up a slippery
incline and was  now  leaning,  puffing,  against  a  tree.  He
pointed.
     The  other two followed him up, pulling themselves noisily
through  the  branches  and  causing  a  lot  of   cawing   and
complaining from unseen birds high above.
     "The Pacific?" asked Dirk.
     "The Indian Ocean," said Reg.
     Dirk wiped his glasses again and had another look.
     "Ah, yes, of course," he said.
     "Not Madagascar?" said Richard. "I've been there-"
     "Have  you?"  said  Reg.  "One  of  the most beautiful and
astonishing places on Earth, and one that is also full  of  the
most appalling... temptations for me. No."
     His voice trembled slightly, and he cleared his throat.
     "No,"  he  continued,  "Madagascar  is - let me see, which
direction are we - where's the sun?  Yes.  That  way.  Westish.
Madagascar  is  about  five hundred miles roughly west of here.
The island of Rиunion lies roughly in-between."
     "Er, what's the place called?" said Dirk suddenly, rapping
his knuckles on the tree and frightening a lizard. "Place where
that stamp comes from, er - Mauritius."
     "Stamp?" said Reg.
     "Yes, you must know," said Dirk, "very famous stamp. Can't
remember anything about it, but it comes from here.  Mauritius.
Famous for its very remarkable stamp, all brown and smudged and
you  could  buy  Blenheim  Palace  with it. Or am I thinking of
British Guiana?"
     "Only you," said Richard, "know what you are thinking of."
     "Is it Mauritius?"
     "It is," said Reg, "it is Mauritius."
     "But you don't collect stamps?"
     "No."
     "What on earth's that?" said Richard suddenly,  but
Dirk  carried  on with his thought to Reg, "Pity, you could get
some nice first-day covers, couldn't you?"
     Reg shrugged. "Not really interested," he said.
     Richard slithered back down the slope behind them.
     "So what's the great attraction here?"  said  Dirk.  "It's
not,  I have to confess, what I was expecting. Very nice in its
way, of course, all this nature, but I'm a city boy myself, I'm
afraid." He cleaned his glasses once again and pushed them back
up his nose.
     He started backwards at what he saw, and heard  a  strange
little  chuckle  from  Reg. Just in front of the door back into
Reg's room, the most  extraordinary  confrontation  was  taking
place.
     A  large cross bird was looking at Richard and Richard was
looking at a large cross bird. Richard was looking at the  bird
as  if  it was the most extraordinary thing he had ever seen in
his life, and the bird was looking at Richard as if defying him
to find its beak even remotely funny.
     Once it had satisfied itself that Richard did  not  intend
to  laugh,  the  bird  regarded him instead with a sort of grim
irritable tolerance and wondered if he was just going to  stand
there  or actually do something useful and feed it. It padded a
couple of steps back and a couple of steps to the side and then
just a single step forward  again,  on  great  waddling  yellow
feet. It then looked at him again, impatiently, and squarked an
impatient squark.
     The  bird  then  bent forward and scraped its great absurd
red beak across the ground as if to give Richard the idea  that
this might be a good area to look for things to give it to eat.
     "It eats the nuts of the calvaria tree," called out Reg to
Richard.
     The  big bird looked sharply up at Reg in annoyance, as if
to say that it was perfectly clear to any idiot what it ate. It
then looked back at Richard oce more and stuck  its  head
on  one  side  as if it had suddenly been struck by the thought
that perhaps it was an idiot it had to deal with, and  that  it
might need to reconsider its strategy accordingly.
     "There  are  one  or two on the ground behind you," called
Reg softly.
     In a trance of astonishment Richard turned  awkwardly  and
saw  one  or  two  large  nuts lying on the ground. He bent and
picked one up, glancing up at Reg, who gave  him  a  reassuring
nod.
     Tentatively  Richard held the thing out to the bird, which
leant forward and pecked it sharply from between  his  fingers.
Then,  because Richard's hand was still stretched out, the bird
knocked it irritably aside with its beak.
     Once Richard had withdrawn to a  respectful  distance,  it
stretched  its neck up, closed its large yellow eyes and seemed
to gargle gracelessly as it shook the nut down  its  neck  into
its maw.
     It  appeared  then  to  be  at  least partially satisfied.
Whereas befone it had been a cross dodo, it was at least now  a
cross,  fed  dodo, which was probably about as much as it could
hope for in this life.
     It made a slow, waddling, on-the-spot turn and padded back
into the forest whence it had come, as if  defying  RicharМ  to
find  the  little tuft of curly feathers stuck up on top of its
backside even remotely funny.
     "I only come to look," said Reg  in  a  small  voice,  and
glancing  at him Dirk was discomfited to see that the old man's
eyes were brimming with tears which he  quickly  brushed  away.
"Really, it is not for me to interfere-"
     Richard came scurrying breathlessly up to them.
     "Was that a dodo?" he exclaimed.
     "Yes," said Reg, "one of only three left at this time. The
year is
1676. They will all be dead within four years, and after that no
one will ever see them again. Come," he said, "let us go."

     Behind  the  stoutly  locked  outer  door  in  the  corner
staircase in the Second Court of St Cedd's College, where  only
a  millisecond  earlier  there had been a slight flicker as the
inner door departed, there was another slight  flicker  as  the
inner door now returned.
     Walking  through  the  dark  evening  towards it the large
figure  of  Michael  Wenton-Weakes  looked  up  at  the  corner
windows.  If any slight flicker had been visible, it would have
gone unnoticed in the dim dancing firelight that  spilled  from
the window.
     The  figure  then  looked up into the darkness of the sky,
looking for what it knew to be there though there was  not  the
slightest chance of seeing it, even on a clear night which this
was  not. The orbits of Earth were now so cluttered with pieces
of junk and debris that one more item among them - even such  a
large  one  as  this  was  -  would pass perpetually unnoticed.
Indeed, it had done so, though its influence had from  time  to
time exerted itself. From time to time. When the waves had been
strong.  Not  for  nearly  two  hundred  years had they been so
strong as now they were again.
     And all at last was now in place. The perfect carrier  had
been found.
     The  perfect  carrier  moved his footsteps onwards through
the court.
     The Professor himself had seemed  the  perfect  choice  at
first,  but  that  attempt  had ended in frustration, fury, and
then= inspiration! Bring a Monk to Earth! They were designed to
believe anything, to  be  completely  malleable.  It  could  be
suborned to undertake the task with the greatest of ease.
     Unfortunately,   however,   this  one  had  proved  to  be
completely hopeless. Getting it to believe something  was  very
easy. Getting it to continue to believe the same thing for more
than  five  minutes  at  a  time  had proved to be an even more
impossible task than that of getting the Professor to  do  what
he fundamentally wanted to do but wouldn't allow himself.
     Then  another  failure and then, miraculously, the perfect
carrier had come at last.
     The perfect carrier had already proved that it would  have
no compunction in doing what would have to be done.
     Damply, clogged in mist, the moon struggled in a corner of
the sky to rise. At the window, a shadow moved.
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Chapter Thirty...


     From  the window overlooking Second Court Dirk watched the
moon. "We shall not," he said, "have long to wait."
     "To wait for what?" said Richard.
     Dirk turned.
     "For the ghost," he said, "to return to us. Professor  -,"
he added to Reg, who was sitting anxiously by the fire, "do you
have  ny  brandy,  French  cigarettes  or  worry  beads in your
rooms?"
     "No," said Reg.
     "Then I  shall  have  to  fret  unaided,"  said  Dirk  and
returned to staring out of the window.
     "I have yet to be convinced," said Richard, "that there is
not some other explanation than that of... ghosts to-"
     "Just  as  you  required actually to see a time machine in
operation before you could accept it," returned Dirk. "Richard,
I commend you on your scepticism, but even the  sceptical  mind
must  be  prepared  to accept the unacceptable when there is no
alternative. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like  a  duck,
we  have  at  least  to consider the possibility that we have a
small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands."
     "Then what is a ghost?"
     "I think that a ghost... " said Dirk, "is someone who died
either violently or unexpectedly with  unfinished  business  on
his,  her  =  or its - hands. Who cannot rest until it has been
finished, or put right."
     He tumed to face them again.
     "Which is why," he said, "a time machine would have such a
fascination for a ghost once it knew of its existence.  A  time
machine  provides  the  means to put right what, in the ghost's
opinion, went wrong in the past. To free it.
     "Which is why it will be back.  It  tried  first  to  take
possession  of  Reg  himself,  but  he  resisted. Then came the
incident with the conjuring trick,  the  face  powder  and  the
horse  in  the  bathroom which I-" he paused - "which even I do
not understand, though I intend to if it  kills  me.  And  then
you,  Richard,  appear  on the scene. The ghost deserts Reg and
concentrates instead on you. Almost immediately there occurs an
odd but significant incident. You do something  that  you  then
wish you hadn't done.
     "I  refer,  of course, to the phone call you made to Susan
and left on her answerrng machine.
     "The ghost seizes its chance and tries to  induce  you  to
undo  it.  To, as it were, go back into the past and erase that
message - to change the mistake you had made. Just  to  see  if
you would do it. Just to see if it was in your character.
     "If  it  had  been,  you  would  now  be totally under its
control. But at the very last second your nature  rebelled  and
you would not do it. And so the ghost gives you up as a bad job
and deserts you in turn. It must find someone else.
     "How long has it been doing this? I do not know. Does this
now make  sense to you? Do you recognise the truth of what I am
saying?"
     Richard turned cold.
     "Yes," he said, "I think you must be absolutely right."
     "And at what moment, then,"  said  Dirk,  "did  the  ghost
leave you?"
     Richard swallowed.
     "When  Michael  Wenton-Weakes  walked out of the room," he
said.
     "So I wonder," said Dirk quietly, "what possibilities  the
ghost  saw  in him. I wonder whether this time it found what it
wanted. I believe we shall not have long to wait."
     There was a knock on the door.
     When it opened, there stood Michael Wenton-Weakes.
     He said simply, "Please, I need your help."
     Reg and Richard stared at Dirk, and then at Michael.
     "Do you mind if I put this down somewhere?" said  Michael.
"It's rather heavy. Full of scuba-diving equipment."

     "Oh,  I  see,"  said Susan, "oh well, thanks, Nicola, I'll
try that fingering. I'm sure he only put the E  flat  in  there
just  to  annoy  people.  Yes,  I've  been  at  it  solidly all
afternoon. Some of those semiquaver runs in the second movement
are absolute bastards. Well, yes, it helped take my mind off it
all. No, no news.  It's  all  just  mystifying  and  absolutely
horrible.  I  don't  want even to = look, maybe I'll give you a
call again later and see how you're feeling. I know,  yes,  you
never   know   which   is  worse,  do  you,  the  illness,  the
antibiotics,  or  the  doctor's  bedside  manner.  Look   after
yourself,  or at least, make sure Simon does. Tell him to bring
you gallons of hot lemon. OK. Well, I'll  talk  to  you  later.
Keep warm. Bye now."
     She  put the phone down and returned to her cello. She had
hardly started to reconsider the problem of  the  irritating  E
flat  when the phone went again. She had simply left it off the
hook for the afternoon, but had forgotten to do so again  after
making her own call.
     With  a  sigh  she propped up the cello, put down the bow,
and went to the phone again.
     "Hello?" she demanded.
     Again, there was nothing, just  a  distant  cry  of  wind.
Irritably, she slammed the receiver back down once more.
     She  waited  a few seconds for the line to clear, and then
was about to take the phone off the hook  once  more  when  she
realised that perhaps Richard might need her.
     She hesitated.
     She  admitted  to  herself  that she hadn't been using the
answering machine, because she  usually  just  put  it  on  for
Gordon's  convenience,  and that was something of which she did
not currently wish to be reminded.
     Still, she put the answering machine on, turned the volume
right down, and returned again to the E flat  that  Mozart  had
put in only to annoy cellists.

     In  the  darkness of the offices of Dirk Gently's Holistic
Detective Agency, Gordon Way  clumsily  fumbled  the  telephone
receiver  back  on  to  its rest and sat slumped in the deepest
dejection. He didn't even stop himself  slumping  all  the  way
through the seat until he rested lightly on the floor.
     Miss  Pearce  had  fled  the  office  the  first  time the
telephone had started actually using itself, her patience  with
all  this  sort  of  thing finally exhausted again, since which
time Gordon  had  had  the  office  to  himself.  However,  his
attempts to contact anybody had failed completely.
     Or rather, his attempts to contact Susan, which was all he
cared  about. It was Susan he had been speaking to when he died
and he knew he had somehow to speak to her again. But  she  had
left her phone off the hook most of the afternoon and even when
she had answered she could not hear him.
     He  gave  up.  He roused himself from the floor, stood up,
and slipped out and down into the darkening streets. He drifted
aimlessly for a while, went for a walk on the canal, which  was
a  trick that palled very quickly, and then wandered back up to
the street again.
     The houses with light and life streaming from  them  upset
him  most  particularly since the welcome they seemed to extend
would not be extended to him. He wondered if anyone would  mind
if  he  simply  slipped into their house and watched television
for the evening. He wouldn't be any trouble.
     Or a cinema.
     That would be better, he could go to the cinema.
     He turned with  more  positive,  if  still  insubstantial,
footsteps into Noel Road and started to walk up it.
     Noel  Road,  he  thought.  It  rang a vague bell. He had a
feeling that he had recently had some dealings with someone  in
Noel Road. Who was it?
     His  thoughts  were  interrupted  by  a terrible scream of
horror that rang through the street. He stood  stock  still.  A
few  seconds  later a door flew open a few yards from him and a
woman ran out of it, wild-eyed and howling.
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Chapter Thirty-one...


     Richard had never liked Michael Wenton-Weakes and he liked
him even less with a ghost in him. He couldn't say why, he  had
nothing against ghosts personally, didn't think a person should
be judged adversely simply for being dead, but - he didn't like
it.
     Nevertheless,  it  was hard not to feel a little sorry for
him.
     Michael sat forlornly on a stool with his elbow resting on
the large table and his head resting on his fingers. He  looked
ill  and  haggard.  He looked deeply tired. He looked pathetic.
His story had been a harrowing  one,  and  concluded  with  his
attempts to possess first Reg and then Richard.
     "You were," he concluded, "right. Entirely."
     He  said this last to Dirk, and Dirk grimaced as if trying
not to beam with triumph too many times in a day.
     The voice was Michael's and  yet  it  was  not  Michael's.
Whatever  timbre a voice acquires through a billion or so years
of dread and isolation, this voice  had  acquired  it,  and  it
filled  those  who  heard it with a dizzying chill akin to that
which clutches the mind and stomach when standing on a cliff at
night.
     He turned his eyes on Reg and on Richard, and  the  effect
of  the  eyes,  too,  was  one  that  provoked pity and terror.
Richard had to look away.
     "I owe you both an apology," said the ghost within Michael
"which I offer you from the depths of my heart, and  only  hope
that   as   you  come  to  understand  the  desperation  of  my
predicament, and the hope which this  machine  offers  me,  you
will  understand  why I have acted as I have, and that you will
find it within yourselves to forgive me. And to help me. I  beg
you."
     "Give the man a whisky," said Dirk gruffly.
     "Haven't  got  any whisky," said Reg. "Er, port? There's a
bottle or so of Margaux I could open. Very fine one. Should  be
chambrиd  for  an  hour, but I can do that of course, it's very
easy, I -"
     "Will you help me?" interrupted the ghost.
     Reg bustled to fetch some port and some glasses.
     "Why have you taken over the body of this man?" said Dirk.
     "I need to have a voice with which to  speak  and  a  body
with which to act. No harm will come to him, no harm -"
     "Let  me  ask  the question again. Why have you taken over
the body of this man?" insisted Dirk.
     The ghost made Michael's body shrug.
     "He  was  willing.  Both  of  these  two  gentlemen  quite
understandably  resisted  being.  .  .  well, hypnotised - your
analogy is fair. This one? Well, I think his sense of  self  is
at  a low ebb, and he has acquiesced. I am very grateful to him
and will not do him any harm."
     "His sense of self," repeated Dirk thoughtfully, "is at  a
low ebb."
     "I suppose that is probably true," said Richard quietly to
Dirk.  "He seemed very depressed last night. The one thing that
was important to him had been taken away because he,  well,  he
wasn't  really very good at it. Although he's proud I expect he
was probably quite receptive to  the  idea  of  actually  being
wanted for something."
     "Hmmm,"  said  Dirk, and said it again. He said it a third
time with feeling. Then he whirled  round  and  barked  at  the
figure on the stool.
     "Michael Wenton-Weakes!"
     Michael's head jolted back and he blinked.
     "Yes?"  he  said, in his normal lugubrious voice. His eyes
followed Dirk as he moved.
     "You can hear me," said Dirk,  "and  you  can  answer  for
yourself?"
     "Oh, yes," said Michael, "most certainly I can."
     "This...  being,  this  spirit. You know he is in you? You
accept his presence? You are a willing party to what he  wishes
to do?"
     "That  is  correct.  I  was  much  moved by his account of
himself, and am very willing to help him. In fact I think it is
right for me to do so."
     "All right," said Dirk with a snap of  his  fingers,  "you
can go."
     Michael's  head slumped forward suddenly, and then after a
second or so it slowly rose again, as if being pumped  up  from
inside like a tyre.
     The ghost was back in possession.
     Dirk  took  hold of a chair, spun it round and sat astride
it facing the ghost in Michael, peering intently into its eyes.
     "Again," he said, "tell me again. A quick snap account."
     Michael's body tensed slightly. It reached out  to  Dirk's
arm.
     "Don't - touch me!" snapped Dirk. "Just tell me the facts.
The first time you try and make me feel sorry for you I'll poke
you in  the eye. Or at least, the one you've borrowed. So leave
out all the stuff that sounded like... er -"
     "Coleridge," said Richard suddenly,  "it  sounded  exactly
like  Coleridge. It was like `The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'.
Well bits of it were."
     Dirk frowned. "Coleridge?" he said.
     "I tried to tell him my story," admitted the ghost, "I -"
     "Sorry," said Dirk, "you'll have to excuse me - I've never
cross-examined a four-billion-year-old  ghost  before.  Are  we
talking  Samuel Taylor here? Are you saying you told your story
to Samuel Taylor Coleridge?"
     "I was able to enter his mind at... certain times. When he
was in an impressionable state."
     "You mean when he was on laudanum?" said Richard.
     "That is correct. He was more relaxed then."
     "I'll say," snorted Reg, "I sometimes encountered him when
he was  quite  astoundingly  relaxed.  Look,  I'll  make   some
coffee."
     He  disappeared  into the kitchen, where he could be heard
laughing to himself.
     "It's another world," muttered Richard to himself, sitting
down ad shaking his head.
     "But unfortunately when he  was  fully  in  possession  of
himself  I, so to speak, was not," said the ghost, "and so that
failed. And what he wrote was very garbled."
     "Discuss," said Richard, to himself, raising his eyebrows.
     "Professor," called out Dirk, "this may sound absurd. Did=
Coleridge ever try to... er... use your time machine? Feel free
ta discuss the question in any way which appeals to you."
     "Well, do you know," said Reg, looking round the door, "he
did come in prying around on one occasion, but I think  he  was
in a great deal too relaxed a state to do anything."
     "I  see,"  said  Dirk. "But why," he added turning back to
the strange figure of Michael slumped on its stool, "why has it
taken you so long to find someone?"
     "For long, long periods I am  very  weak,  almost  totally
non=  existent,  and  unable  to influence anything at all. And
then, of course, before that time there  was  no  time  machine
here, and... no hope for me at all -"
     "Perhaps  ghosts  exist  like  wave  patterns,"  suggested
Richard, "like interference patterns between  the  actual  with
the  possible. There would be irregular peaks and troughs, like
in a musical waveform."
     The ghost snapped Michael's eyes around to Richard.
     "You..." he said, "you wrote that article..."
     "Er, yes -"
     "It moved me very greatly," said the ghost, with a  sudden
remorseful  longing  in  his voice which seemed to catch itself
almost as much by surprise as it did its listeners.
     "Oh. I see," said Richard, "Well, thank  you.  You  didn't
like  it  so much last time you mentioned it. Well, I know that
wasn't you as such -"
     Richard sat back frowning to himself.
     "So," said Dirk, "to return to the beginning -"
     The ghost gathered Michael's breath for  him  and  started
again. "We were on a ship -" it said.
     "A spaceship."
     "Yes. Out from Salaxala, a world in... well, very far from
here.  A  violent and troubled place. We - a party of some nine
dozen of us - set out, as people frequently did, to find a  new
world  for  ourselves.  All  the  planets  in  this system were
completely unsuitable for our purpose, but we stopped  on  this
world to replenish some necessary mineral supplies.
     "Unfortunately  our  landing  ship  was damaged on its way
into the atmosphere.  Damaged  quite  badly,  but  still  quite
reparable.
     "I  was  the  engineer  on  board  and  it  fell  to me to
supervise the task of repairing the ship and  preparing  it  to
return  to  our  main  ship.  Now,  in order to understand what
happened next you must  know  something  of  the  nature  of  a
highly-automated  society. There is no task that cannot be done
more easily with the aid of advanced computerisation. And there
were some very specific problems associated with a trip with an
aim such as ours -"
     "Which was?" said Dirk sharply.
     The ghost in Michael blinked as if the answer was obvious.
     "Well, to find a new and better world on  which  we  could
aIl  live in freedom, peace and harmony forever, of course," he
said.
     Dirk raised his eyebrows.
     "Oh,  that,"  he  said.  "You'd  thought  this   all   out
carefully, I assume."
     "We'd  had it thought out for us. We had with us some very
specialised devices for helping us to continue  to  believe  in
the  purpose  of  the trip even when things got difficult. They
generally worked very well, but I think  we  probably  came  to
rely on them too much."
     "What on earth were they?" said Dirk.
     "It's  probably  hard for you to understand how reassuring
they were. And that was why I made my  fatal  mistake.  When  I
wanted to know whether or not it was safe to take off, I didn't
want to know that it might not be safe. I just wanted to
be  reassured  that  it  was.  So instead of checking it
myself, you see, I sent out one of the Electric Monks."
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Chapter Thirty-two...


     The brass piaque on  the  red  door  in  Peckender  Street
glittered as it reflected the yellow light of a street lamp. It
glared  for a moment as it reflected the violent flashing light
of a passing police car sweeping by.
     It dimmed slightly as a pale, pale wraith slipped silently
through it. It glimmered as it dimmed, because the  wraith  was
trembling with such ten-ible agitation.
     In  the  dark  hallway  the ghost of Gordon Way paused. He
needed something to lean on for support, and  of  course  there
was  nothing.  He tried to get a grip on himself, but there was
nothing to get a grip on. He retched at the horror of  what  he
had  seen, but there was, of course, nothing in his stomach. He
half stumbled, half swam up the stairs,  like  a  drowning  man
trying to grapple for a grip on the water.
     He  staggered  through the wall, through the desk, through
the door, and tried to compose and settle himself in  front  of
the desk in Dirk's office.
     If anyone had happened into the office a few minutes later
- a night  cleaner  perhaps,  if  Dirk Gently had ever employed
one, which he didn't on the grounds that they wished to be paid
and he did not wish to pay them,  or  a  burglar,  perhaps,  if
there  had  been  anything  in the office worth burgling, which
there wasn't - they would have seen  the  following  sight  and
been amazed by it.
     The  receiver  of  the  large  red  telephone  on the desk
suddenly rocked and tumbled off its rest on to the desk top.
     A dialling tone started to burr. Then, one by  one,  seven
of  the  large, easily pushed buttons depressed themselves, and
after the very long pause which the  British  telephone  system
allows  you within which to gather your thoughts and forget who
it is you're phoning, the sound of a phone ringing at the other
end of the line eould be heard.
     After a couple of rings there was a click, a whirr, and  a
sound  as of a machine dravring breath. Then a voice started to
say, "Hello, this is Susan. I can't come to the phone right  at
the  moment  because  I'm trying to get an E flat right, but if
you'd like to leave your name..."

     "So then, on the say so of an - I can hardly bring  myself
to  utter  the  words  -  Electric  Monk," said Dirk in a voice
ringing with derision, "you attempt to launch the ship  and  to
your utter astonishment it explodes. Since when -?"
     "Since when," said the ghost, abjectly, "I have been alone
on this  planet. Alone with the knowledge of what I had done to
my fellows on the ship. All, all alone..."
     "Yes, skip that, I  said,"  snapped  Dirk  angrily.  "What
about  the main ship? That presumably went on and continued its
search for -"
     "No."
     "Then what happened to it?"
     "Nothing. It's still there."
     "Still there?"
     Dirk leapt to his feet and whirled off to pace  the  room,
his brow furiously furrowed.
     "Yes."  Michael's  head drooped a little, but he looked up
pitieously at Reg and at Richard. "All of us  were  aboard  the
landing  craft.  At  first  I  felt myself to be haunted by the
ghosts of the rest, but it was  only  in  my  imagination.  For
millions of years, and then billions, I stalked the mud utterly
alone. It is impossible for you to conceive of even the tiniest
part  of  the  torment of such eternity. Then," he added, "just
recently life arose on the planet. Life. Vegetation, things  in
the sea, then, at last, you. Intelligent life. I turn to you to
release me from the torment I have endured."
     Michael's  head sank abjectly on to his chest for some few
seconds. Then slowly, wobblingly, it rose and  stared  at  them
again, with yet darker fires in his eyes.
     "Take  me  back," he said, "I beg you, take me back to the
landing craft. Let me undo what was done. A word from  me,  and
it  can be undone, the repairs properly made, the landing craft
can then return to the main ship, we can  be  on  our  way,  my
torment  will  be extinguished, and I will cease to be a burden
to you. I beg you."
     There was a short silence while his plea hung in the air.
     "But that can't work, can it?" said  Richard.  "If  we  do
that,  then  this  won't  have  happened. Don't we generate all
sorts of paradoxes?"
     Reg stirred himself from thought. "No worse than many that
exist already," he said. "If the Universe came to an end  every
time  there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it,
it would never have got beyond the first picosecond.  And  many
of  course  don't.  It's like a human body, you see. A few cuts
and bruises here and  there  don't  hurt  it.  Not  even  major
surgery  if  it's  done  properly.  Paradoxes are just the scar
tissue. Time and space  heal  themselves  up  around  them  and
people  simply remember a version of events which makes as much
sense as they require it to make.
     "That isn't to say that if you get involved in a paradox a
few things won't strike you as being very odd,  but  if  you've
got  through life without that already happening to you, then I
don't know which Universe you've been living in, but  it  isn't
this one."
     "Well, if that's the case," said Richard, "why were you so
fierce about not doing anything to save the dodo?"
     Reg  sighed.  "You  don't  understand  at  all.  The  dodo
wouldn't have died if I hadn't  worked  so  hard  to  save  the
coelacanth."
     "The  coelacanth?  The prehistoric fish? But how could one
possibly affect the other?"
     "Ah. Now there you're asking. The  complexities  of  cause
and  effect  defy  analysis.  Not  only is the continuum like a
human body, it is also very  like  a  piece  of  badly  put  up
wallpaper.  Push  down  a bubble somewhere, another one pops up
somewhere  else.  There  are  no  more  dodos  because  of   my
interference. In the end I imposed the rule on myself because I
simply  couldn't  bear  it any more. The only thing that really
gets hurt when you try and change time is yourself." He  smiled
bleakly, and looked away.
     Then  he  added, after a long moment's reflection, "No, it
can be done. I'm just cynical because it's gone wrong  so  many
times.  This poor fellow's story is a very pathetic one, and it
can do no harm to put an end to  his  misery.  It  happened  so
very,  very  long  ago  on a dead planet. If we do this we will
each  remember  whatever  it  is  that  has  happened   to   us
individually.  Too  bad  if the rest of the world doesn't quite
agree. It will hardly be the first time."
     Michael's head bowed.
     "You're very silent, Dirk," said Richard.
     Dirk glared arigrily at him. "I want to see this ship," he
demanded.

     In the darkness, the red telephone  receiver  slipped  and
slid  fitfully  back across the desk. If anybody had been there
to see it they might just have discerned a shape that moved it.
     It shone only very faintly, less than would the hands of a
luminous watch. It seemed more as if the darkness around it was
just that much darker and the ghostly shape sat within it  like
thickened scar tissue beneath the surface of the night.
     Gordon  grappled  one  last  time  wьth  the  recalcitrant
receьver. At length he got a final grip and slipped it up on to
the top of the instrument.
     From there it fell back on to its  rest  and  disconnected
the  call. At the same moment the ghost of Gordon Way, his last
call finally completed, fell back to his own rest and vanished.
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Chapter Thirty-three...


     Swinging slowly round in the shadow of the Earth, just one
more piece of debris among that which  Hoated  now  forever  in
high  orbit,  was  one  dark  shape  that  was  larger and m-re
regularly formed than the rest. And far, far older.
     For four billion years it had  continued  to  absorb  data
from  the  world  below  it,  scanning,  analysing, processing.
Occasionally it sent pieces back if it thought they would help,
if it  thought  they  might  be  received.  But  otherwise,  it
watched,  it  listened,  it recorded. Not the lapping of a wave
nor the beating of a heart escaped its attention.
     Otherwise, nothing inside it had moved  for  four  billion
years, except for the air which circulated still, and the motes
of  dust  within  the air that danced and danced and danced and
danced... and danced.
     It was only a very slight disturbance that  occurred  now.
Quietly,  without  fuss, like a dew drop precipitating from the
air on to a leaf, there appeared in  a  wall  which  had  stood
blank  and  grey  for  four  billion  years,  a  door. A plain,
ordinary white= panelled door with a small dented brass handle.
     This quiet event, too, was recorded  and  incorporated  in
the   continual   stream  of  data  processing  that  the  ship
ceaselessly performed. Not only the arrival of  the  door,  but
the  arrival of those behind the door, the way they looked, the
way they moved, the  way  they  felt  about  being  there.  All
processed, all recorded, all transformed.
     After a moment or two had passed, the door opened.
     Within  it  could be seen a room unlike any on the ship. A
room of wooden floors, of shabby upholstery, a room in which  a
fire danced. And as the fire danced, its data danced within the
ship's  computers, and the motes of dust in the air also danced
with it.
     A figure stood in the doorway - a large lugubrious  figure
with  a  strange  light that danced now in its eyes. It stepped
forward across the threshold into the ship, and  its  face  was
suddenly  suffused  with a calm for which it had longed but had
thought never again to experience.
     Following him stepped out a smaller, older man  with  hair
that  was white and wayward. He stopped and blinked with wonder
as he passed from out of the realm of his  room  and  into  the
realm  of  the  ship. Following him came a third man, impatient
and tense, with a large leather  overcoat  that  flapped  about
him.  He,  too,  stopped  and  was  momentarily  bewildered  by
something  he  didn't  understa¦d.  With  a  look  of   deepest
puzzlement  on  his face he walked forward and looked around at
the grey and dusty walls of the ancient ship.
     At last came a fourth man, tall and thin. He stooped as he
walked out of the door, and then instantly stopped as if he had
walked into a wall.
     He had walked into a wall, of a kind.
     He stood transfixed. If anyone had  been  looking  at  his
face  at  that  moment,  it would have been abundantly clear to
them that the single  most  astonishing  event  of  this  man's
entire existence was currently happening to him.
     When  slowly  he began to move it was with a curious gait,
as if he was swimming very slowly. Each tiniest movement of his
head seemed to bring fresh floods of awe and astonishment  into
his  face.  Tears  welled in his eyes, and he became breathless
with gasping wonder.
     Dirk turned to look at him, to hurry him along.
     "What's the matter?" he called above the noise.
     "The... music..." whispered Richard.
     The air was full of music. So full  it  seemed  there  was
room  for nothing else. And each particle of air seemed to have
its own music, so that as Richard moved his head he heard a new
and different music, though the new and different music  fitted
quite perfectly with the music that lay beside it in the air.
     The   modulations  from  one  to  another  were  perfectly
accomplished  -  astonishing  leaps  to   distant   keys   made
effortlessly  in the mere shifting of the head. New themes, new
strands of melody, all perfectly and astoundingly proportioned,
constantly involved themselves into the  continuing  web.  Huge
slow  waves  of  movement,  faster dances that thrilled through
them, tiny scintillating scampers that danced  on  the  dances,
long  tangled  tunes  whose  ends were so like their beginnings
that they twisted around upon themselves,  turned  inside  out,
upside  down,  and  then  rushed  off  again on the back of yet
another dancing melody in a distant part of the ship.
     Richard staggered against the wall.
     Dirk hurried to grab him.
     "Come on," he said, brusquely, "what's the  matter?  Can't
you stand the music? It's a bit loud, isn't it? For God's sake,
pull  yourself  together.  There's something here I still don't
understand. It's not right. Come on -"
     He tugged Richard after him, and then had to  support  him
as   Richard's   mind   sank  further  and  further  under  the
overwhelming weight of music. The visions that  were  woven  in
his mind by the million thrilling threads of music as they were
pulled through it, were increasingly a welter of chaos, but the
more  the  chaos  burgeoned  the  more it fitted with the other
chaos, and the next greater chaos, until it all became  a  vast
exploding ball of harmony expanding in his mind faster than any
mind could deal with.
     And then it was all much simpler.
     A  single  tune  danced  through  his  mind  and  all  his
attention rested upon it. It was a tune  that  seethed  through
the  magical  flood,  shaped  it,  formed  it, lived through it
hugely, lived through it minutely, was  its  very  essence.  It
bounced  and  trilled  along,  at first a little tripping tune,
then it slowed, then it danced again but with more  difficulty,
seemed  to  founder  in eddies of doubt and confusion, and then
suddenly revealed that the eddies were just the  first  ripples
of a huge new wave of energy surging up joyfully from beneath.
     Richard began very, very slowly to faint.

     He lay very still.
     He  felt he was an old sponge steeped in paraffin and left
in the sun to dry.
     He felt like the body of an old horse  burning  hazily  in
the  sun. He dreamed of oil, thin and fragrant, of dark heaving
seas. He was on a white beach, drunk with fish, stupefied  with
sand,   bleached,  drowsing,  pummelled  with  light,  sinking,
estimating the density of vapour  clouds  in  distant  nebulae,
spinning  with dead delight. He was a pump spouting fresh water
in the springtime, gushing into  a  mound  of  reeking  newmown
grass. Sounds, almost unheard, burned away like distant sleep.
     He  ran and was falling. The lights of a harbour spun into
night. The sea like a dark spirit  slapped  infinitesimally  at
the  sand, glimmering, unconscious. Out where it was deeper and
colder he sank easily with the  heavy  sea  swelling  like  oil
around  his ears, and was disturbed only by a distant burr burr
as of the phoae ringing.
     He knew he had been listening to the music of life itself.
The music of light dancing on water that rippled with the  wind
and the tides, of the life that moved through the water, of the
life that moved on the land, warmed by the light.
     He  continued  to  lie  very  still.  He  continued  to be
disturbed by a distant burr burr as of a phone ringing.
     Gradually he became aware that the distant burr burr as of
a phone ringing was a phone ringing.
     He sat up sharply.
     He was lying on a small crumpled bed  in  a  small  untidy
panelled room that he knew he recognised but couldn't place. It
was  cluttered  with  books and shoes. He blinked at it and was
blank.
     The phone by the bed was ringing. He picked it up.
     "Hello?" he said.
     "Richard!" It was Susan's voice,  utterly  distraught.  He
shook his head and had no recollection of anything useful.
     "Hello?" he said again.
     "Richard, is that you? Where are you?"
     "Er, hold on, I'll go and look."
     He  put the receiver down on the crumpled sheets, where it
lay squawking, climbed shakily off the bed,  staggered  to  the
door and opened it.
     Here  was a bathroom. He peered at it suspiciously. Again,
he recognised it but felt that there was something missing.  Oh
yes. There should be a horse in it. Or at least, there had been
a  horse  in  it  the  last time he had seen it. He crossed the
bathroom tloor and went out of the other door. He found his way
shakily down the stairs and into Reg's main room.
     He was surprised by what he saw when he got there.
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Chapter Thirty-four...


     The storms of the day before, and of the day before  that,
and  the floods of the previous week, had now abated. The skies
still bulged with rain, but  all  that  actually  fell  in  the
gathering evening gloom was a dreary kind of prickle.
     Some  wind  whipped  across the darkening plain, blundered
through the low hills and gusted across a shallow valley  where
stood  a  structure,  a  kind of tower, alone in a nightmare of
mud, and leaning.
     It was a blackened stump of a  tower.  It  stood  like  an
extrusion  of  magma  from one of the more pestilential pits of
hell, and it leaned at a peculiar angle,  as  if  oppressed  by
something  altogether  more  temble  than  its own considerable
weight. It seemed a dead thing, long ages dead.
     The only movement was that of a river of  mud  that  moved
sluggishly  along  the  bottom  of the valley past the tower. A
mile or so  further  on,  the  river  ran  down  a  ravine  and
disappeared underground.
     But  as  the evening darkenedit became apparent that
the tower was not entirely without life. There was a single dim
red light guttering deep within it.
     It was this scene that Richard was surprised to see from a
small white doorway set in the side of the valley wall,  a  few
hundred yards from the tower.
     "Don't  step  out!"  said  Dirk,  putting  up an arm, "The
atmosphere is poisonous.1'm not sure what's in it but it  would
certainly get your carpets nice and clean."
     Dirk  was standing in the doorway watching the valley with
deep mistrust.
     "Where are we?" asked Richard.
     "Bermuda," said Dirk. "It's a bit complicated."
     "Thank you," said Richard and walked groggily back  across
the room.
     "Excuse  me,"  he  said to Reg, who was busy fussing round
Michael Wenton-Weakes, making sure that the scuba  diving  suit
he  was  wearing  fitted  snuggly everywhere, that the mask was
secure and that the regulator for the air  supply  was  working
properly.
     "Sorry, can I just get past?" said Richard. "Thanks."
     He  climbed  back  up  the  stairs,  went  back into Reg's
bedroom, sat shakily on the edge of the bed and picked  up  the
phone again.
     "Bermuda " he said, "it's a bit complicated."
     Downstairs,  Reg  finished  smearing  Vaseline  on all the
joins of the suit and the few pieces of exposed skin around the
mask, and then announced that all was ready.
     Dirk swung himself away from the door and stood aside with
the utmost bad grace.
     "Well then," he said, "be off with you. Good  riddance.  I
wash  my  hands  of the whole affair. I suppose we will have to
wait here for you to send back the empty, for what it's worth."
He stalked round the sofa with an angry gesture. He didn't like
this. He didn't like any of it. He particularly didn't like Reg
knowing more about space/time than he did. It  made  him  angry
that he didn't know why he didn't like it.
     "My  dear  fellow,"  said  Reg  in  a  conciliatory  tone,
"consider what a very small effort it is for  us  to  help  the
poor  soul.  I'm  sorry if it seems to you an anti-climax after
all your extraordinary feats of deduction. I know you feel that
a mere errand of mercy seems not enough for you, but you should
be more charitable."
     "Charitable, ha!" said Dirk. "I pay my taxes, what more do
you want?"
     He threw himself on to the sofa, ran his hands through his
hair and sulked.
     The possessed figure of Michael shook hands with  Reg  and
said a few words of thanks. Then he walked stiffly to the door,
turned and bowed to them both.
     Dirk  flung  his  head  round  and glared at him, his eyes
flashing behind their spectacles and his  hair  flying  wildly.
The ghost looked at Dirk, and for a moment shivered inside with
apprehension.  A superstitious instinct suddenly made the ghost
wave. He waved Michael's hand round in a circle,  three  times,
and then said a single word.
     "Goodbye," he said.
     With  that  he  turned  again,  gripped  the  sides of the
doorway and stepped resolutely out into the mud, and  into  the
foul and poisonous wind.
     He  paused  for  a  moment to be sure that his footing was
solid, that he had his balance, and then without  another  look
back  he  walked  away from them, out of the reach of the slimy
things with legs, towards his ship.
     "Now, what on earth  did  that  mean?"  said  Dirk,
irritably mimicking the odd triple wave.
     Richard  came  thundering  down the stairs, threw open the
door and plunged into the room, wild-eyed.
     "Ross has been murdered!" he shouted.
     "Who the hell's Ross?" shouted Dirk back at him.
     "Whatsisname Ross, for  God's  sake,"  exclaimed  Richard,
"the new editor of Fathom."
     "What's Fathom?" shouted Dirk again.
     "Michael's bloody magazine, Dirk! Remember? Gordon chucked
Michael  off  the  magazine and gave it to this Ross guy to fun
instead. Michael hated him for that. Well, last  night  Michael
went and bloody murdered him!"
     He paused, panting. "At least," he said, "he was murdered.
And Michael was the only one with any reason to."
     He  ran  to  the door, looked out at the retreating figure
disappearing into the gloom, and spun round again.
     "Is he coming back?" said Richard.
     Dirk leapt to his feet and stood blinking for a moment.
     "That's it..." he said, "that's why Michael was the
perfect subject. That's what I should have been  Iooking
for.  The thing the ghost made him do in order to establish his
hold, the thing he had to be  fundamentally  willing  to
do,  the  thing that would match the ghost's own purpose. Oh my
dear God. He thinks we've supplanted them and  that's  what  he
wants to reverse.
     "He  thinks  this is their world not ours. This was
where they  were  going  to  settle  and  buiId  their  blasted
paradise. It matches every step of the way.
     "You  see," he said, turning on Reg, "what we have done? I
would not be surprised to discover that the accident your  poor
tormented soul out there is trying to reverse is the very thing
which started life on this planet!"
     He  turned  his  eyes suddenly from Reg, who was white and
trembling, back to Richard.
     "When did you hear this?" he said, puzzled.
     "Er,  just  now,"  said  Richard;  "on...  on  the  phone.
Upstairs."
     "What?"
     "It  was  Susan, I don't know how - said she had a message
on her answering machine telling her about  it.  She  said  the
message ... was from - she said it was from Gordon, but I think
she was hysterical. Dirk, what the hell is happening? Where are
we?"
     "We  are  four  bilIion  years in the past," said Reg in a
shaking voice, "please don't ask me why it is  that  the  phone
works  when  we  are  anywhere in the Universe other than where
it's actually connected, that's a matter you will have to  take
up with British Telecom, but -"
     "Damn  and blast British Telecom," shouted Dirk, the words
coming easily from force of habit.  He  ran  to  the  door  and
peered again at the dim shadowy figure trudging through the mud
towards the Salaxalan ship, completely beyond their reach.
     "How long," said Dirk, quite calmly, "would you guess that
it's going  to take that fat self deluding bastard to reach his
ship? Because that is how long we have.
     "Come. Let us sit down. Let us think. We have two  minutes
in  which to decide what we are going to do. After that, I very
much suspect that the three of us, and everything we have  ever
known,  including  the coelacanth and the dodo, dear Professor,
will cease ever to have existed."
     He sat heavily on  the  sofa,  then  stood  up  again  and
removed  MichaeI's  discarded  jacket from under him. As he did
so, a book fell out of the pocket.
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Chapter Thirty-five...


     "l think it's  an  appalling  act  of  desecration,"  said
Richard to Reg, as they sat hiding behind a hedge.
     The  night  was  full  of  summer  smells from the cottage
garden, and the occasional whiff of sea air which  came  in  on
the  light  breezes  that  were  entertaining themselves on the
coast of the Bristol Channel.
     There was a bright moon playing over the sea  off  in  the
distance,  and  by  its  light it was also possible to see some
distance over Exmoor stretching away to the south of them.
     Reg sighed.
     "Yes, maybe," he said, "but I'm  afraid  he's  right,  you
know,  lt  must  be  done.  It  was  the only sure way. All the
instructions were clearly contained in the piece once you  knew
what  you  were looking for. It has to be suppressed. The ghost
will always be around.  In  fact  two  of  him  now.  That  is,
assuming this works. Poor devil. Still, I suppose he brought it
on himself."
     Richard  fretfully  pulled  up  some  blades  of grass and
twisted them between his fingers.
     He held them up to the moonlight, turned them to different
angles, and watched the way light played on them.
     "Such music," he said. "I'm not religious, but if I were I
would say it was like a glimpse into the mind of  God.  Perhaps
it  was  and  I ought to be religious. l have to keep reminding
myself that they didn't create the music, they only created the
instrument which could read the score. And the score  was  life
itself. And it's all up there."
     He  glanced  into  the  sky.  Unconsciously  he started to
quote:

     "Could I revive within me
     Her symphony and song
     To such a deep delight 'twould win me
     That with music loud and long
     I would build that dome in air,
     That sunny dome, those caves of ice!"

     "Hmmm," said Reg to himself, "I wonder if he arrived early
enough."
     "What did you say?"
     "Oh, nothing. Just a thought."
     "Good God, he  can  talk,  can't  he?"  Richard  exclaimed
suddenly. "He's been in there over an hour now. I wonder what's
going on."
     He  got  up  and  looked  over the hedge at the small farm
cottage basking in the moonlight behind  them.  About  an  hour
earlier  Dirk had walked boldly up to the front door and rapped
on it.
     When the door had  opened,  somewhat  reluctantly,  and  a
slightly  dazed face had looked out, Dirk had doffed his absurd
hat and said in a loud voice, "Mr Samuel Coleridge?
     "I was just passing  by,  on  my  way  from  Porlock,  you
understand,  and  I  was  wondering  if  I might trouble you to
vouchsafe me an  interview?  It's  just  for  a  little  parish
broadsheet  I  edit.  Won't take much of your time I promise, I
know you must be busy, famous poet like you, but I do so admire
your work, and... "
     The rest was lost, because by that time Dirk had  effected
his entry and closed the door behind him.
     "Would you excuse me a moment?" said Reg.
     "What?  Oh  sure," said Richard, "I'm just going to have a
look and see what's happening."
     While Reg wandered off behind a tree Richard  pushed  open
the  little gate and was just about to make his way up the path
when he heard the sound of voices approaching  the  front  door
from within.
     He  hurriedly  darted  back,  as the front door started to
open.
     "Well, thank you very much  indeed,  Mr  Coleridge,"  said
Dirk,  as  he  emerged,  fiddling with his hat and bowing, "you
have been most kind and generous  with  your  time,  and  I  do
appreciate  it very much, as I'm sure will my readers. I'm sure
it will work up into a very nice  little  article,  a  copy  of
which you may rest assured I will send you for you to peruse at
your  leisure.  I  will most certainly welcome your comments if
you have any, any points  of  style,  you  know,  hints,  tips,
things of that nature. Well, thank you again, so much, for your
time, I do hope I haven't kept you from anything important -"
     The door slammed violently behind him.
     Dirk   turned   with  another  in  a  long  succession  of
triumphant beams and hurried down the path to Richard.
     "Well, that's put a stop to that," he  said,  patting  his
hands  together, "I think he'd made a start on writing it down,
but he won't remember another word, that's for certain. Where's
the egregious Professor? Ah, there you are. Good  heavens,  I'd
no idea I'd been that long. A most fascinating and entertaining
fellow,  our  Mr  Coleridge, or at least I'm sure he would have
been if I'd given him the chance, but I  was  rather  too  busy
being fascinating myself.
     "Oh,  but  I  did do as you asked, Richard, I asked him at
the end about the albatross and he said what  albatross?  So  I
said, oh it wasn't important, the albatross did not signify. He
said  what  albatross didn't signify, and I said never mind the
albatross, it didn't matter,  and  he  said  it  did  matter  -
someone  comes  to  his house in the middle of the night raving
about albatrosses, he wanted to know  why.  I  said  blast  the
bloody  albatross  and  he  said  he  had a good mind to and he
wasn't certain that that didn't give him an idea for a poem  he
was  working  on.  Much  better,  he said, than being hit by an
asteroid, which he thought was stretching credulity a bit.  And
so I came away.
     "Now. Having saved the entire human race from extinction I
could do with a pizza. What say you to such a proposal?"
     Richard  didn't  offer  an opinion. He was staring instead
with some puzzlement at Reg.
     "Something troubling you?" said Reg, taken aback.
     "That's a good trick," said Richard, "I could  have  sworn
you didn't have a beard before you went behind the tree."
     "Oh  -"  Reg  fingered  the  luxuriant three-inch growth -
"yes," he said, "just carelessness," he said, "carelessness."
     "What have you been up to?"
     "Oh,  just  a  few  adjustments.  A  little  surgery,  you
understand. Nothing drastic."
     A few minutes later as he ushered them into the extra door
that a nearby cowshed had mysteriously acquired, he looked back
up into  the sky behind them, just in time to see a small light
flare up and disappear.
     "Sorry, Richard," he muttered, and followed them in.
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Chapter Thirty Six...


     "Thank you, no," said Richard firmly,  "much  as  I  would
love  the  opportunity to buy you a pizza and watch you eat it,
Dirk, I want to go straight home. I have to see Susan. Is  that
possible,  Reg?  Just  straight  to  my  flat?  I'll come up to
Cambridge next week and collect my car."
     "We are already there," said Reg, "simply step out of  the
door,  and you are home in your own flat. It is early on Friday
evening and the weekend lies before you."
     "Thanks. Er, look, Dirk, I'll see you around, OK? Do I owe
you something`? I don't know."
     Dirk waved the matter aside airily. "You will hear from my
Miss Pearce in due course," he said.
     "Fine, OK, well I'll see you when I've had some rest. It's
been, well, unexpected."
     He walked to the door and opened it. Stepping  outside  he
found  himself  halfway  up  his  own staircase, in the wall of
which the door had materialised.
     He was about to start up the stairs when he  turned  again
as  a  thought struck him. He stepped back in, closing the door
behind him.
     "Reg, could we make one tiny detour?" he said. "I think it
would be a good move if I took Susan out for  a  meal  tonight,
only  the  place  I  have  in mind you have to book in advance.
Could you manage three weeks for me?"
     "Nothing could be easier," said Reg,  and  made  a  subtle
adjustment  to  the  disposition  of  the  beads on the abacus.
"There," he said, "We have travelled backwards  in  time  three
weeks. You know where the phone is."
     Richard hurried up the internal staircase to Reg's bedroom
and phoned  L'Esprit d'Escalier. The mai^tre d' was charmed and
delighted to take his reservation, and looked forward to seeing
him in three weeks' time. Richard went back downstairs  shaking
his head in wonder.
     "I  need  a  weekend  of solid reality," he said. "Who was
that just going out of the door?"
     "That," said Dirk, "was your sofa being delivered. The man
asked if we minded him opening the door so they could manoeuvre
it round and I said we would be delighted."

     It was only a few minutes later that Richard found himself
hunying up the stairs to Susan's flat. As he amved at her front
door he was pleased, as he always was, to hear the  deep  tones
of her cello coming faintly from within. He quietly let himself
in  and  then  as  he  walked  to the door of her music room he
suddenly froze in astonishment. The tune she  was  playing  was
one  he  had heard before. A little tripping tune, that slowed,
then danced again but with more difficulty...
     His face was  so  amazed  that  she  stopped  playing  the
instant she saw him.
     "What's wrong?" she said, alarmed.
     "Where did you get that music?" said Richard in a whisper.
     She  shrugged.  "Well,  from  the  music  shop," she said,
puzzled.  She  wasn't  being  facetious,  she   simply   didn't
understand the question.
     "What is it?"
     "It's from a cantata I'm playing in in a couple of weeks,"
she said, "Bach, number six."
     "Who wrote it?"
     "Well, Bach I expect. If you think about it."
     "Who?"
     "Watch   my   lips.  Bach.  B-A-C-H.  Johannes  Sebastian.
Remember?"
     "No, never heard of him. Who is he? Did he write  anything
else?"
     Susan put down her bow, propped up her cello, stood up and
came over to him.
     "Are you all right?" she said.
     "Er, it's rather hard to tell. What's..."
     He  caught  sight  of  a  pile of music books sitting in a
corner of the room with the same name on the top one. BACH.  He
threw  himself  at the pile and started to scrabble through it.
Book after book  -  J.  S.  BACH.  Cello  sonatas.  Brandenburg
Concertos. A Mass in B Minor.
     He looked up at her in blank incomprehension.
     "I've never seen any of this before," he said.
     "Richard  my  darling,"  she said, putting her hand to his
cheek, "what on  earth's  the  matter?  It's  just  Bach  sheet
music."
     "But  don't you understand?" he said, shaking a handful of
the stuff. "I've never, ever seen any of this before!"
     "Well," she said with mock gravity, "perhaps if you didn't
spend all your time playing with computer music..."
     He looked at her with wild surprise, then  slowly  he  sat
back against the wall and began to laugh hysterically.

     On Monday aftemoon Richard phoned Reg.
     "Reg!" he said. "Your phone is working. Congratulations."
     "Oh  yes,  my  dear  fellow," said Reg, "how delightful to
hear from you. Yes. A very capable young man arrived and  fixed
the  phone  a  little  earlier.  I don't think it will go wrong
again now. Good news, don't you think?"
     "Very good. You got back safely then."
     "Oh yes, thank you. Oh, we had high excitement  here  when
we  returned from dropping you off. Remember the horse? Well he
turned up again with his owner.  They'd  had  some  unfortunate
encounter  with  the  constabulary and wished to be taken home.
Just as well. Dangerous sort of chap to have  on  the  loose  I
think. So. How are you then?
     "Reg. . . The music "
     "Ah,  yes, I thought you'd be pleased. Took a bit of work,
I can tell you. I saved only  the  tiniest  tiniest  scrap,  of
course,  but even so I cheated. It was rather more than one man
could actually do in a lifetime, but I  don't  suppose  anybody
will look at that too seriously."
     "Reg, can't we get some more of it?"
     "Well, no. The ship has gone, and besides -"
     "We could go back in time -"
     "No, well, I told you. They've fixed the phone so it won't
go wrong again."
     "So?"
     "Well, the time machine won't work now. Burnt out. Dead as
a dodo.  I  think  that's it I'm afraid. Probably just as well,
though, don't you think?"

     On Monday, Mrs  Sauskind  phoned  Dirk  Gently's  Holistic
Detective Agency to complain about her bill.
     "I  don't  understand  what  all this is about," she said,
"it's complete nonsense. What's the meaning of it?"
     "My dear Mrs Sauskind," he said, "I can  hardly  tell  you
how  much I have been looking forward to having this exact same
conversation with you yet again. Where shall  we  begin  today?
Which particular item is it that you would like to discuss?"
     "None  of  them,  thank you very much, Mr Gently. I do not
know who you are or why you should think  my  cat  is  missing.
Dear  Roderick  passed away in my arms two years ago and I have
not wished to rplace him."
     "Ah, well Mrs Sauskind," said  Dirk,  "what  you  probably
fail  to  appreciate  is  that  it  is as a direct result of my
efforts that - If I might explain about the  interconnectedness
of  all  "  He stopped. It was pointless. He slowly dropped the
telephone back on its cradle.
     "Miss Pearce!" he called out, "Kindly send out  a  revised
bill would you to our dear Mrs Sauskind. The new bill reads `To
saving human race from total extinction - no charge."'
     He put on his hat and left for the day.
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