We walked along the purple beach together.
‘You’re tall’ I said.
‘Yes, six feet five inches’ said DNA “And, yes, it was a huge problem at school, or, rather I was a huge problem at school, and, yes, I had to very quickly develop a defensive, and protective, sense of humour, which eventually helped me write The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, and the others, while I was still NYD, or Not Yet Dead, and, yes, I probably did have constricted arteries, and an erratic heartbeat, which lead to my untimely death, as they say, though I imagine most deaths are untimely, whatever that means, and writing the Handbook For The Dead - Don't Panic! and discovered, much to my very happy surprise, and suspicion, I could still write when I was supposed to be dead, and, of course, the conversation with the dolphin, and the Really Big If, which is the reason we’re both here now’
‘Okay. All I said is you’re tall’ I said ‘Sorry if I offended you’
‘That’s all right. I usually only react like that when I’m blind drunk, or under tremendous stress. Anyway, you don’t need to tell tall, or fat, people they’re tall, or fat. They already know’ he paused, then ‘And don’t start on the nose …’
‘It’s a fine nose’ I told him ‘But, when you swim in the sea on your back parallel to the beach, does everyone paddle frantically for the beach?’ I chuckled, then quickly changed the subject ‘What’s that over there?’ I asked, also because I'd genuinely seen something in the distance.
It looked, from a distance, like two people doing something very suspicious on the beach, without so much as a neatly folded towel to cover them up, and one of them, the girl, looked remarkably small, even from here. As we got closer, and the gasping sounds got louder and clearer, DNA suddenly grabbed me and put a hand over my eyes.
‘Um, you don’t want to see this’ he said.
I pushed him away.
‘Come on. I’ve seen people having sex on the beach before’
DNA looked at me.
‘Really?’ he asked ‘Where? No, never mind. Anyway, I didn’t mean that. Not what they’re doing, but who it is doing it’
We were getting closer, and then the girl looked over and saw us, pushed her partner away, and sat up, with a grin on her dirty face, her long matted hair covering most of her immodesty.
‘Bob! How very nice of you to drop in’ the girl said, then nodded at her partner, who was just lying, not even trying to cover himself up, and looking at us with sardonic humour ‘I want you to meet my next ex-lover, Betelgeuse’
‘Anathema’ DNA shook his head ‘This is an unexpected pleasure’
‘I bet!’ she told him, them smiled sweetly at me ‘And who’s this?’
‘Um, he’s not quite sure’ said DNA ‘So, for now, we’re calling him Reader because he was reading my Handbook For The Dead - Don't Panic! when the Really Big If hit’
‘Oh, okay’ said the girl called Anathema, and apparently a little disappointed, and she took my face between her two filthy hands and kissed me hard and long.
‘Yuk!’ I said ‘Get off!’ then I broke away, and spat in disgust ‘If you don’t mind!’
‘Oh, come on! Don’t be so damned Earthly!’ said Anathema ‘Wait till you meet my friend, Euca Lyptus. Her breath can kill at a hundred paces! And her husband, Mentho Lyptus is even worse!’
‘Sorry if I offended you’ I said ‘I seem to be doing that a lot today’
Betelgeuse grinned at DNA.
‘So you were the famous author, Douglas Noel Adams?’ he didn’t extend his hand “I guess you know all about me?’
‘Um, you’d be disappointed if I didn’t, right?’
‘You’re dead right’ Betelgeuse said ‘And talking about dead. Are we, or not?’
‘I don’t believe so’ said DNA ‘I have a heartbeat, a pulse, and respiration. I’m breathing. The same, but different’ he looked up at the sky ‘I’m guessing we’re about 600 light years from Earth, right?’
‘That’s my little scientist! And is the reason I brought you here. We need you to give our Little Improbability Factor prototype, or LIF, a little tweak or two! We’re on Betelgeuse Twelve, about five times the size of Earth and completely abandoned’ she smiled at me ‘To humans it was known as Shambhala, before the Ancients abandoned it, and they left behind a lot of weird stuff’
‘Hey!’ DNA stopped her ‘A Little Improbability Factor prototype. A Little If?’
‘Sure’ she grinned ‘How do you think I brought you here? It was nothing to do with the stupid dolphin’ she nodded, a little disdainfully, at me ‘Though I didn’t expect a hitchhiker’ she grinned at DNA ‘But you know all about that. I needed a scientist to iron out the bugs, and you’re just perfect because I want to punish you for creating all this in the first place. And what better way than getting you to help me destroy the earth?’
‘And that’s only for the test run’ Betelgeuse said, with more than a touch of pride ‘After that we’re going to change everything’ he looked up at the two suns ‘And talking about bugs, it’s almost lunch time’ he started heading to the beach ‘Besides you don’t want to be caught above ground in the afternoon, under two suns, right?’
We followed him, came to a cliff face, and then went into a cave.
‘This is one of the entrances to Argattha, the underground world of Shambhala’ Anathema told us ‘There’s hundreds of thousand miles of underground tunnels, libraries stacked with manuscripts, but we’ve managed to adapt things a little’ she laughed ‘You’ll like it, not a lot ...’ she touched a place on the cave wall.
The cave began to fill with an eerie light.
‘We don’t know how some of the technology works, but its been here for at least thirty thousand years’ said Anathema ‘Stand close together …’