Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.20
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.20

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
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  The stilled reveller looked at Michael wonderingly. He didn't look like an old hippy. Of course, you never could tell. His own elder brother had once spent a couple of years living in a Druidic commune, eating LSD doughnuts and thinking he was a tree, since when he had gone on to become a director of a merchant bank. The difference, of course, was that he hardly ever still thought he was a tree, except just occasionally, and he had long ago learnt to avoid the particular claret which sometimes triggered off that flashback.

  "There were those who said we would fail," continued Michael in his low tone that carried clearly under the boisterous noise that filled the carriage, "who prophesied that we too carried in us the seed of war, but it was our high resolve and purpose that only art and beauty should flourish, the highest art, the highest beauty--music. We took with us only those who believed, who wished it to be true."

  "But what are you talking about?" asked the wedding guest though not challengingly, for he had fallen under Michael's mesmeric spell. "When was this? Where was this?"

  Michael breathed hard. "Before you were born--" he said at last, "be still, and I will tell you."

  CHAPTER

  27

  There was a long startled silence during which the evening gloom outside seemed to darken appreciably and gather the room into its grip. A trick of the light wreathed Reg in shadows.

  Dirk was, for one of the few times in a life of exuberantly prolific loquacity, wordless. His eyes shone with a child's wonder as they passed anew over the dull and shabby furniture of the room, the panelled walls, the threadbare carpets. His hands were trembling.

  Richard frowned faintly to himself for a moment as if he was trying to work out the square root of something in his head, and then looked back directly at Reg.

  "Who are you?" he asked.

  "I have absolutely no idea," said Reg brightly, "much of my memory's gone completely. I am very old, you see. Startlingly old. Yes, I think if I were to tell you how old I was it would be fair to say that you would be startled. Odds are that so would I, because I can't remember. I've seen an awful lot, you know. Forgotten most of it, thank God. Trouble is, when you start getting to my age, which, as I think I mentioned earlier, is a somewhat startling one--did I say that?"

  "Yes, you did mention it."

  "Good. I'd forgotten whether I had or not. The thing is that your memory doesn't actually get any bigger, and a lot of stuff just falls out. So you see, the major difference between someone of my age and someone of yours is not how much I know, but how much I've forgotten. And after a while you even forget what it is you've forgotten, and after that you even forget that there was something to remember. Then you tend to forget, er, what it was you were talking about."

  He stared helplessly at the teapot.

  "Things you remember..." prompted Richard gently.

  "Smells and earrings."

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "Those are things that linger for some reason," said Reg, shaking his head in a puzzled way. He sat down suddenly. "The earrings that Queen Victoria wore on her Silver Jubilee. Quite startling objects. Toned down in the pictures of the period, of course. The smell of the streets before there were cars in them. Hard to say which was worse. That's why Cleopatra remains so vividly in the memory, of course. A quite devastating combination of earrings and smell. I think that will probably be the last thing that remains when all else has finally fled. I shall sit alone in a darkened room, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything but a little grey old head, and in that little grey old head a peculiar vision of hideous blue and gold dangling things flashing in the light, and the smell of sweat, catfood and death. I wonder what I shall make of it..."

  Dirk was scarcely breathing as he began to move slowly round the room, gently brushing his fingertips over the walls, the sofa, the table.

  "How long," he said, "has this been--"

  "Here?" said Reg. "Just about two hundred years. Ever since I retired."

  "Retired from what?"

  "Search me. Must have been something pretty good, though, what do you think?"

  "You mean you've been in this same set of rooms here for... two hundred years?" murmured Richard. "You'd think someone would notice, or think it was odd."

  "Oh, that's one of the delights of the older Cambridge colleges," said Reg, "everyone is so discreet. If we all went around mentioning what was odd about each other we'd be here till Christmas. Svlad, er--Dirk, my dear fellow, please don't touch that just at the moment."

  Dirk's hand was reaching out to touch the abacus standing on its own on the only clear spot on the big table.

  "What is it?" said Dirk sharply.

  "It's just what it looks like, an old wooden abacus," said Reg. "I'll show you in a moment, but first I must congratulate you on your powers of perception. May I ask how you arrived at the solution?"

  "I have to admit," said Dirk with rare humility, "that I did not. In the end I asked a child. I told him the story of the trick and asked him how he thought it had been done, and he said and I quote, 'It's bleedin' obvious, innit, he must've 'ad a bleedin' time machine.' I thanked the little fellow and gave him a shilling for his trouble. He kicked me rather sharply on the shin and went about his business. But he was the one who solved it. My only contribution to the matter was to see that he must be right. He had even saved me the bother of kicking myself."

  "But you had the perception to think of asking a child," said Reg. "Well then, I congratulate you on that instead."

  Dirk was still eyeing the abacus suspiciously.

  "How... does it work?" he said, trying to make it sound like a casual enquiry.

  "Well, it's really terribly simple," said Reg, "it works any way you want it to. You see, the computer that runs it is a rather advanced one. In fact it is more powerful than the sum total of all the computers on this planet including--and this is the tricky part--including itself. Never really understood that bit myself, to be honest with you. But over ninety-five per cent of that power is used in simply understanding what it is you want it to do. I simply plonk my abacus down there and it understands the way I use it. I think I must have been brought up to use an abacus when I was a... well, a child, I suppose.

  "Richard, for instance, would probably want to use his own personal computer. If you put it down there, where the abacus is the machine's computer would simple take charge of it and offer you lots of nice user-friendly time-travel applications complete with pull-down menus and desk accessories if you like. Except that you point to 1066 on the screen and you've got the Battle of Hastings going on outside your door, er, if that's the sort of thing you're interested in."

  Reg's tone of voice suggested that his own interests lay in other areas.

  "It's, er, really quite fun in its way," he concluded. "Certainly better than television and a great deal easier to use than a video recorder. If I miss a programme I just pop back in time and watch it. I'm hopeless fiddling with all those buttons."

  Dirk reacted to this revelation with horror.

  "You have a time machine and you use it for... watching television?"

  "Well, I wouldn't use it at all if I could get the hang of the video recorder. It's a very delicate business, time travel, you know. Full of appalling traps and dangers, if you should change the wrong thing in the past, you could entirely disrupt the course of history.

  "Plus, of course, it mucks up the telephone. I'm sorry," he said to Richard a little sheepishly, "that you were unable to phone your young lady last night. There seems to be something fundamentally inexplicable about the British telephone system, and my time machine doesn't like it. There's never any problem with the plumbing, the electricity, or even the gas. The connection interfaces are taken care of at some quantum level I don't entirely understand, and it's never been a problem.

  "The phone on the other hand is definitely a problem. Every time I use the time machine, which is, of course, hardly at all, partly because of this very problem with the phone, the phone goes
haywire and I have to get some lout from the phone company to come and fix it, and he starts asking stupid questions the answers to which he has no hope of understanding.

  "Anyway, the point is that I have a very strict rule that I must not change anything in the past at all--" Reg sighed--"whatever the temptation."

  "What temptation?" said Dirk, sharply.

  "Oh, it's just a little, er, thing I'm interested in," said Reg, vaguely, "it is perfectly harmless because I stick very strictly to the rule. It makes me sad, though."

  "But you broke your own rule!" insisted Dirk. "Last night! You changed something in the past--"

  "Well, yes," said Reg, a little uncomfortably, "but that was different. Very different. If you had seen the look on the poor child's face. So miserable. She thought the world should be a marvellous place, and all those appalling old dons were pouring their withering scorn on her just because it wasn't marvellous for them anymore.

  "I mean," he added, appealing to Richard, "remember Cawley. What a bloodless old goat. Someone should get some humanity into him even if they have to knock it in with a brick. No, that was perfectly justifiable. Otherwise, I make it a very strict rule--"

  Richard looked at him with dawning recognition of something.

  "Reg," he said politely, "may I give you a little advice?"

  "Of course you may, my dear fellow, I should adore you to," said Reg.

  "If our mutual friend here offers to take you for a stroll along the banks of the River Cam, don't go."

  "What on earth do you mean?"

  "He means," said Dirk earnestly, "that he thinks there may be something a little disproportionate between what you actually did, and your stated reasons for doing it."

  "Oh. Well, odd way of saying it--"

  "Well, he's a very odd fellow. But you see, there sometimes may be other reasons for things you do which you are not necessarily aware of. As in the case of post-hypnotic suggestion--or possession."

  Reg turned very pale.

  "Possession--" he said.

  "Professor--Reg--I believe there was some reason you wanted to see me. What exactly was it?"

  "Cambridge! This is... Cambridge!" came the lilting squawk of the station public address system.

  Crowds of noisy revellers spewed out on to the platform barking and honking at each other.

  "Where's Rodney?" said one, who had clambered with difficulty from the carriage in which the bar was situated. He and his companion looked up and down the platform, totteringly. The large figure of Michael Wenton-Weakes loomed silently past them and out to the exit.

  They jostled their way down the side of the train, looking in through the dirty carriage windows. They suddenly saw their missing companion still sitting, trance-like, in his seat in the now almost empty compartment. They banged on the window and hooted at him. For a moment or two he didn't react, and when he did he woke suddenly in a puzzled way as if seeming not to know where he was.

  "He's pie-eyed!" his companions bawled happily, bundling themselves on to the train again and bundling Rodney back off.

  He stood woozily on the platform and shook his head. Then glancing up he saw through the railings the large bulk of Michael Wenton-Weakes heaving himself and a large heavy bag into a taxi--cab, and he stood for a moment transfixed.

  "'Straordinary thing," he said, "that man. Telling me a long story about some kind of shipwreck."

  "Har har," gurgled one of his two companions, "get any money off you?"

  "What?" said Rodney, puzzled. "No. No, I don't think so. Except it wasn't a shipwreck, more an accident, an explosion--? He seems to think he caused it in some way. Or rather there was an accident, and he caused an explosion trying to put it right and killed everybody. Then he said there was an awful lot of rotting mud for years and years, and then slimy things with legs. It was all a bit peculiar."

  "Trust Rodney! Trust Rodney to pick a madman!"

  "I think he must have been mad. He suddenly went off on a tangent about some bird. He said the bit about the bird was all nonsense. He wished he could get rid of the bit about the bird. But then he said it would be put right. It would all be put right. For some reason I didn't like it when he said that."

  "Should have come along to the bar with us. Terribly funny, we--"

  "I also didn't like the way he said goodbye. I didn't like that at all."

  CHAPTER

  28

  "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 spacetime 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 if you 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 you 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.

 
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