Two people were particularly aware of this sensation. Arthur and Fenchurch scanned the crowd anxiously, unable to find Ford Prefect in it anywhere, or any sign that he had the slightest intention of being there.
“How reliable is he?” asked Fenchurch in a sinking voice.
“How reliable?” said Arthur. He gave a hollow laugh. “How shallow is the ocean?” he said. “How cold is the sun?”
The last parts of the robot’s gantry transport were being carried on board, and the few remaining sections of the perimeter fence were now stacked at the bottom of the ramp waiting to follow them. The soldiers on guard round the ramp bristled meaningfully, orders were barked back and forth, hurried conferences were held, but nothing, of course, could be done about any of it.
Hopelessly, and with no clear plan now, Arthur and Fenchurch pushed forward through the crowd, but since the whole crowd was also trying to push forward through the crowd, this got them nowhere.
And within a few minutes more nothing remained outside the ship, every last link of the fence was aboard. A couple of flying fret saws and a spirit level seemed to do one last check around the site, and then screamed in through the giant hatchway themselves.
A few seconds passed.
The sounds of mechanical disarray from within changed in intensity, and slowly, heavily, the huge steel ramp began to lift itself back out of the Harrods Food Halls. The sound that accompanied it was the sound of thousands of tense, excited people being completely ignored.
A megaphone barked from a taxi which screeched to a halt on the edge of the milling crowd.
“There has been,” barked the megaphone, “a major scientific break-in! Through. Breakthrough,” it corrected itself. The door flew open and a small man from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse leapt out wearing a white coat.
“Hold it!” he shouted again, and this time brandished a short squad black rod with lights on it. The lights winked briefly, the ramp paused in its ascent, and then in obedience to the signals from the Thumb (which half the electronic engineers in the galaxy are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming, while the other half are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming the jamming signals), slowly ground its way downwards again.
Ford Prefect grabbed his megaphone from out of the taxi and started bawling at the crowd through it.
“Make way,” he shouted, “make way, please, this is a major scientific breakthrough. You and you, get the equipment from the taxi.”
Completely at random he pointed at Arthur and Fenchurch, who wrestled their way back out of the crowd and clustered urgently round the taxi.
“All right, I want you to clear a passage, please, for some important pieces of scientific equipment,” boomed Ford. “Just everybody keep calm. It’s all under control, there’s nothing to see. It is merely a major scientific breakthrough. Keep calm now. Important scientific equipment. Clear the way.”
Hungry for new excitement, delighted at this sudden reprieve from disappointment, the crowd enthusiastically fell back and started to open up.
Arthur was a little surprised to see what was printed on the boxes of important scientific equipment in the back of the taxi.
“Hang your coat over them,” he muttered to Fenchurch as he heaved them out to her. Hurriedly he manoeuvred out the large supermarket trolley that was also jammed against the back seat. It clattered to the ground, and together they loaded the boxes into it.
“Clear a path, please,” shouted Ford again. “Everything’s under proper scientific control.”
“He said you’d pay,” said the taxi-driver to Arthur, who dug out some notes and paid him. There was the distant sound of police sirens.
“Move along there,” shouted Ford, “and no one will get hurt.”
The crowd surged and closed behind them again, as frantically they pushed and hauled the rattling supermarket trolley through the rubble towards the ramp.
“It’s all right,” Ford continued to bellow. “There’s nothing to see, it’s all over. None of this is actually happening.”
“Clear the way, please,” boomed a police megaphone from the back of the crowd. “There’s been a break-in, clear the way.”