Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.23
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.23

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
 
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  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 understand. 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 phone 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 floor 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.

  CHAPTER

  34

  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 terrible 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 darkened it 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. I'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 spacetime 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 looking 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 build 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 billion 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 Michael's discarded jacket from under him. As he did so, a book fell out of the pocket.

  CHAPTER

  35

  "I 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, it 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. I 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 wi
thin 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.

 
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