It was the same hill, and yet not the same.
This time it was not an Informational Illusion. This was Krikkit itself and they were standing on it. Near them, behind the trees, stood the strange Italian restaurant which had brought these, their real bodies, to this, the real, present world of Krikkit.
The strong grass under their feet was real, the rich soil real too. The heady fragrances from the tree, too, were real. The night was real night.
Possibly the most dangerous place in the Galaxy for anyone who isn't a Krikkiter to stand. The place that could not countenance the existence of any other place, whose charming, delightful, intelligent inhabitants would howl with fear, savagery and murderous hate when confronted with anyone not their own.
Ford, surprisingly, shuddered.
It was not surprising that he shuddered, it was surprising that he was there at all. But when they had returned Zaphod to his ship Ford had felt unexpectedly shamed into not running away.
Wrong, he thought to himself, wrong wrong wrong. He hugged to himself one of the Zap guns with which they had armed themselves out of Zaphod's armoury.
Trillian shuddered, and frowned as she looked into the sky.
This, too, was not the same. It was no longer blank and empty.
Whilst the countryside around them had changed little in the two thousand years of the Krikkit wars, and the mere five years that had elapsed locally since Krikkit was sealed in its Slo-Time envelope ten billion years ago, the sky was dramatically different.
Dim lights and heavy shapes hung in it.
High in the sky, where no Krikkiter ever looked, were the War Zones, the Robot Zones - huge warships and tower blocks floating in the Nil-O-Grav fields far above the idyllic pastoral lands of the surface of Krikkit.
Trillian stared at them and thought.
"Trillian," whispered Ford Prefect to her.
"Yes?" she said.
"What are you doing?"
"Do you always breathe like that when you're thinking?"
"I wasn't aware that I was breathing."
"That's what worried me."
"I think I know ..." said Trillian.
"Shhhh!" said Slartibartfast in alarm, and his thin trembling hand motioned them further back beneath the shadow of the tree.
Suddenly, as before in the tape, there were lights coming along the hill path, but this time the dancing beams were not from lanterns but electric torches - not in itself a dramatic change, but every detail made their hearts thump with fear. This time there were no lilting whimsical songs about flowers and farming and dead dogs, but hushed voices in urgent debate.
A light moved in the sky with slow weight. Arthur was clenched with a claustrophobic terror and the warm wind caught at his throat.
Within seconds a second party became visible, approaching from the other side of the dark hill. They were moving swiftly and purposefully, their torches swinging and probing around them.
The parties were clearly converging, and not merely with each other. They were converging deliberately on the spot where Arthur and the others were standing.
Arthur heard the slight rustle as Ford Prefect raised his Zap gun to his shoulder, and the slight whimpering cough as Slartibartfast raised his. He felt the cold unfamiliar weight of his own gun, and with shaking hands he raised it.
His fingers fumbled to release the safety catch and engage the extreme danger catch as Ford had shown him. He was shaking so much that if he'd fired at anybody at that moment he probably would have burnt his signature on them.
Only Trillian didn't raise her gun. She raised her eyebrows, lowered them again, and bit her lip in thought.
"Has it occurred to you," she began, but nobody wanted to discuss anything much at the moment.
A light stabbed through the darkness from behind them and they span around to find a third party of Krikkiters behind them, searching them out with their torches.
Ford Prefect's gun crackled viciously, but fire spat back at it and it crashed from his hands.
There was a moment of pure fear, a frozen second before anyone fired again.
And at the end of the second nobody fired.
They were surrounded by pale-faced Krikkiters and bathed in bobbing torch light.
The captives stared at their captors, the captors stared at their captives.
"Hello?" said one of the captors. "Excuse me, but are you ... aliens?"