Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.22
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.22

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
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  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.



  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 chambred 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 and 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 to 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 all 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."



  The brass plaque 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 terrible 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 could be heard.

  After a couple of rings there was a click, a whirr, and a sound as of a machine drawing 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..."


  "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 mo
re 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 angrily 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 with the recalcitrant receiver. 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.



  Swinging slowly round in the shadow of the Earth, just one more piece of debris among that which floated now forever in high orbit, was one dark shape that was larger and more 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.

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