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Four inert bodies sank through spinning blackness. Consciousness had died, cold oblivion pulled the bodies down and down into the pit of unbeing. The roar of silence echoed dismally around them and they sank at last into a dark and bitter sea of heaving red that slowly engulfed them, seemingly for ever.

After what seemed an eternity the sea receded and left them lying on a cold hard shore, the flotsam and jetsam of the stream of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Cold spasms shook them, lights danced sickeningly around them. The cold hard shore tipped and span and then stood still. It shone darkly - it was a very highly polished cold hard shore.

A green blur watched them disapprovingly.

It coughed.

"Good evening, madam, gentlemen," it said, "do you have a reservation?"

Ford Prefect's consciousness snapped back like elastic, making his brain smart. He looked up woozily at the green blur.

"Reservation?" he said weakly. "Yes, sir," said the green blur.

"Do you need a reservation for the afterlife?"

In so far as it is possible for a green blur to arch its eyebrows disdainfully, this is what the green blur now did.

"Afterlife, sir?" it said.

Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.

"Is this the afterlife?" he stammered.

"Well I assume so," said Ford Prefect trying to work out which way was up. He tested the theory that it must lie in the opposite direction from the cold hard shore on which he was lying, and staggered to what he hoped were his feet.

"I mean," he said, swaying gently, "there's no way we could have survived that blast is there?"

"No," muttered Arthur. He had raised himself on to his elbows but it didn't seem to improve things. He slumped down again.

"No," said Trillian, standing up, "no way at all."

A dull hoarse gurgling sound came from the floor. It was Zaphod Beeblebrox attempting to speak. "I certainly didn't survive," he gurgled, "I was a total goner. Wham bang and that was it."

"Yeah, thanks to you," said Ford, "We didn't stand a chance. We must have been blown to bits. Arms, legs everywhere."

"Yeah," said Zaphod struggling noisily to his feet.

"If the lady and gentlemen would like to order drinks ..." said the green blur, hovering impatiently beside them.

"Kerpow, splat," continued Zaphod, "instantaneously zonked into our component molecules. Hey, Ford," he said, identifying one of the slowly solidifying blurs around him, "did you get that thing of your whole life flashing before you?"

"You got that too?" said Ford, "your whole life?"

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "at least I assume it was mine. I spent a lot of time out of my skulls you know."

He looked at around him at the various shapes that were at last becoming proper shapes instead of vague and wobbling shapeless shapes.

"So ..." he said.

"So what?" said Ford.

"So here we are," said Zaphod hesitantly, "lying dead ..."

"Standing," Trillian corrected him.

"Er, standing dead," continued Zaphod, "in this desolate ..."

"Restaurant," said Arthur Dent who had got to his feet and could now, much to his surprise, see clearly. That is to say, the thing that surprised him was not that he could see, but what he could see.

"Here we are," continued Zaphod doggedly, "standing dead in this desolate ..."

"Five star ..." said Trillian.

"Restaurant," concluded Zaphod.

"Odd isn't it?" said Ford.

"Er, yeah."

"Nice chandeliers though," said Trillian.

They looked about themselves in bemusement.

"It's not so much an afterlife," said Arthur, "more a sort of apres vie."

The chandeliers were in fact a little on the flashy side and the low vaulted ceiling from which they hung would not, in an ideal Universe, have been painted in that particular shade of deep turquoise, and even if it had been it wouldn't have been highlighted by concealed moodlighting. This is not, however, an ideal Universe, as was further evidenced by the eye-crossing patterns of the inlaid marble floor, and the way in which the fronting for the eighty-yard long marble-topped bar had been made. The fronting for the eighty-yard long marble-topped bar had been made by stitching together nearly twenty thousand Antarean Mosaic Lizard skins, despite the fact that the twenty thousand lizards concerned had needed them to keep their insides in.

A few smartly dressed creatures were lounging casually at the bar or relaxing in the richly coloured body-hugging seats that were deployed here and there about the bar area. A young Vl'Hurg officer and his green steaming young lady passed through the large smoked glass doors at the far end of the bar into the dazzling light of the main body of the Restaurant beyond.

Behind Arthur was a large curtained bay window. He pulled aside the corner of the curtain and looked out at a landscape which under normal circumstances would have given Arthur the creeping horrors. These were not, however, normal circumstances, for the thing that froze his blood and made his skin try to crawl up his back and off the top of his head was the sky. The sky was ...

An attendant flunkey politely drew the curtain back into place.

"All in good time, sir," he said.

Zaphod's eyes flashed.

"Hey, hang about you dead guys," he said, "I think we're missing some ultra-important thing here you know. Something somebody said and we missed it."

Arthur was profoundly relieved to turn his attention from what he had just seen.

He said, "I said it was a sort of apres ..."

"Yeah, and don't you wish you hadn't?" said Zaphod, "Ford?"

"I said it was odd."

"Yeah, shrewd but dull, perhaps it was ..."

"Perhaps," interrupted the green blur who had by this time resolved into the shape of a small wizened dark-suited green waiter, "perhaps you would care to discuss the matter over drinks ..."

"Drinks!" cried Zaphod, "that was it! See what you miss if you don't stay alert."

"Indeed sir," said the waiter patiently. "If the lady and gentlemen would care to order drinks before dinner ..."

"Dinner!" Zaphod exclaimed with passion, "Listen, little green person, my stomach could take you home and cuddle you all night for the mere idea."

"... and the Universe," concluded the waiter, determined not to be deflected on his home stretch, "will explode later for your pleasure."

Ford's head swivelled towards him. He spoke with feeling.

"Wow," he said, "What sort of drinks do you serve in this place?"

The waiter laughed a polite little waiter's laugh.

"Ah," he said, "I think sir has perhaps misunderstood me."

"Oh, I hope not," breathed Ford.

The waiter coughed a polite little waiter's cough.

"It is not unusual for our customers to be a little disoriented by the time journey," he said, "so if I might suggest ..."

"Time journey?" said Zaphod.

"Time journey?" said Ford.

"Time journey?" said Trillian.

"You mean this isn't the afterlife?" said Arthur.

The waiter smiled a polite little waiter's smile. He had almost exhausted his polite little waiter repertoire and would soon be slipping into his role of a rather tight lipped and sarcastic little waiter.

"Afterlife sir?" he said, "No sir."

"And we're not dead?" said Arthur.

The waiter tightened his lips.

"Aha, ha," he said, "Sir is most evidently alive, otherwise I would not attempt to serve sir."

In an extraordinary gesture which is pointless attempting to describe, Zaphod Beeblebrox slapped both his foreheads with two of his arms and one of his thighs with the other.

"Hey guys," he said, "This is crazy. We finally did it. We finally got to where we were going. This is Milliways!"

"Yes sir," said the waiter, laying on the patience with a trowel, "this is Milliways - the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

"End of what?" said Arthur.

"The Universe," repeated the waiter, very clearly and unnecessarily distinctly.

"When did that end?" said Arthur.

"In just a few minutes, sir," said the waiter. He took a deep breath. He didn't need to do this since his body was supplied with the peculiar assortment of gases it required for survival from a small intravenous device strapped to his leg. There are times, however, when whatever your metabolism you have to take a deep breath.

"Now, if you would care to order drinks at last," he said, "I will then show you to your table."

Zaphod grinned two manic grins, sauntered over to the bar and bought most of it.

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