According to Prak, if Arthur’s memory saved him right, the place was guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob, and so, after a manner, it proved to be. He was a little man in a strange hat and he sold them a ticket.
“Keep to the left, please,” he said, “keep to the left,” and hurried on past them on a little scooter.
They realized they were not the first to pass that way, for the path that led around the left of the Great Plain was well-worn and dotted with booths. At one they bought a box of fudge, which had been baked in an oven in a cave in the mountain, which was heated by the fire of the letters that formed God’s Final Message to His Creation. At another they bought some postcards. The letters had been blurred with an airbrush, “so as not to spoil the Big Surprise!” it said on the reverse.
“Do you know what the message is?” they asked the wizened little lady in the booth.
“Oh yes,” she piped cheerily, “oh yes!”
She waved them on.
Every twenty miles or so there was a little stone hut with showers and sanitary facilities, but the going was tough, and the high sun baked down on the Great Red Plain, and the Great Red Plain rippled in the heat.
“Is it possible,” asked Arthur at one of the larger booths, “to rent one of those little scooters? Like the one Lajestic Ventrawhatsit had.”
“The scooters,” said the little lady who was serving at an ice cream bar, “are not for the devout.”
“Oh well, that’s easy then,” said Fenchurch, “we’re not particularly devout. We’re just interested.”
“Then you must turn back now,” said the little lady severely, and when they demurred, sold them a couple of Final Message sunhats and a photograph of themselves with their arms tight around each other on the Great Red Plain of Rars.
They drank a couple of sodas in the shade of the booth and then trudged out into the sun again.
“We’re running out of border cream,” said Fenchurch after a few more miles. “We can go to the next booth, or we can return to the previous one which is nearer, but means we have to retrace our steps again.”
They stared ahead at the distant black speck winking in the heat haze; they looked behind themselves. They elected to go on.
They then discovered that they were not only not the first ones to make this journey, but that they were not the only ones making it now.
Some way ahead of them an awkward low shape was heaving itself wretchedly along the ground, stumbling painfully slowly, half- limping, half-crawling.
It was moving so slowly that before too long they caught the creature up and could see that it was made of worn, scarred and twisted metal.
It groaned at them as they approached it, collapsing in the hot dry dust.
“So much time,” it groaned, “oh so much time. And pain as well, so much of that, and so much time to suffer it in too. One or the other on its own I could probably manage. It’s the two together that really get me down. Oh hello, you again.”
“Marvin?” said Arthur sharply, crouching down beside it. “Is that you?”
“You were always one,” groaned the aged husk of the robot, “for the super-intelligent question, weren’t you?”
“What is it?” whispered Fenchurch in alarm, crouching behind Arthur, and grasping on to his arm. “He’s sort of an old friend,” said Arthur. “I …”
“Friend!” croaked the robot pathetically. The word died away in a kind of crackle and flakes of rust fell out of its mouth. “You’ll have to excuse me while I try and remember what the word means. My memory banks are not what they were you know, and any word which falls into disuse for a few zillion years has to get shifted down into auxiliary memory back-up. Ah, here it comes.”
The robot’s battered head snapped up a bit as if in thought.
“Hmm,” he said, “what a curious concept.”
He thought a little longer.
“No,” he said at last, “don’t think I ever came across one of those. Sorry, can’t help you there.”