The night was cool. The dull, thudding, mind-disintegrating beats of relentless dance music punched its way into the harmless atmosphere, headbutting the silence aside in favour for a hideous din that carried throughout the city. At various points along the dimly-lit, grimy streets, groups of aliens laughed and joked raucously with each other, cheerful goodwill occasionally descending into mindless violence when one tentacled being sniffed the wrong way at another, even more tentacled being. There was a unanimous 'Weekend party' feeling in the air, despite the fact that on this planet, every night felt like 'Weekend party' night.

'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' has this to say about Narrinyter Splarg- "For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. In accordance with this theory, for every day of repetitive, mind-numbing office work, there is the party planet of Narrinyter Splarg.

Long ago abandoned as a useful mining planet, colonisation opportunity or even decent place to park the ship, the planet's tourist trade was suddenly increased when an ingenious plan was thought up to reduce the 'yob' culture on the many planets in the galaxy. Instead of trying to arrest or reform the 'yobs', an anonymous genius thought, why not concentrate all of them in one place? Hence, Narrinyter Splarg became the yob centre of the Universe, boasting fights, booze, loose women, even looser men and practically falling apart at the seams small furry things from Alpha Centauri.

As a direct consequence of this plan, Narrinyter Splarg also became the dance-music centre of the Universe. Any hitchhikers who find themselves heading for the planet are advised to stock up on earmuffs.

Ford shivered as he stepped out onto the streets. Crisp clear air made a startling change from the sticky, grinding, heated atmosphere of the nightclub, somewhat akin to having strong mouthwash thrown in the face. He glanced around, a little surprised at the lack of people in his vicinity. Everyone was inside, either getting seriously wasted, cruising for a partner in a seedy nightspot or (Zarquon forbid) having a quiet evening in. Well, almost everyone.

It had been with some exasperation that he had discovered, earlier in the evening, that Arthur had gone missing shortly after they'd landed. Normally, this wouldn't bother him. Despite his other flaws, the Earthman had an uncanny way of being able to find the ship no matter how inebriated he was. Unfortunately, Ford had noticed his friend becoming much more quiet and withdrawn recently. The word 'tea' barely passed his lips, and he had stopped reacting whenever anyone referred to him as a monkey or (Zaphod's favourite) a 'semi-evolved simian'.

The last time he'd seen Arthur like that had been when a friend of his died of cancer. He'd refused to speak to anyone for days and the night of the funeral, Ford had found him lying unconscious on the floor of an alley surrounded by broken glass and stinking of whisky. It turned out he hadn't been mugged, just got too drunk to hold the bottle properly and collapsed into a stupor.

Needless to say, they had never spoken about the incident and Arthur was soon back his normal, unremarkable but generally content self. But now he'd gone missing again, and Ford didn't like to think what the whisky available on Narrinyter Splarg would do to him. He had no idea what had triggered the strange behaviour, but he didn't really have time to think about it, he'd been searching now for a while- surely he'd find the Earthman soon. It was unlikely (but not impossible) that Arthur had disappeared, and he probably hadn't been kidnapped either. Having said that, Arthur was a lot better looking than some of the species currently on the planet (in Ford's opinion, anyway). And not many beings in the Universe were adverse to a quickie up against a wall with a drunken, incoherent stranger if they looked half-decent.

Mentally cursing his elusive friend, the Betelgeusian increased his pace as he headed down the street, ears carefully attuned for any off-key singing or complaining- the two sounds that usually accompanied Arthur when he was drunk.

It wasn't long before he heard something that sounded remarkably like Arthur. He began to jog, following his excellent sense of hearing. Reaching, surprise surprise, a dingy alley, he peered around the wall to see his friend stood with his back pressing into the wall. He was mostly obscured from Ford's view by the form of a rather large and many-limbed creature that seemed to be holding him there. Most people observing this situation, especially on the 'yob planet', would assume that both parties were thoroughly happy with what was going on. However, Ford had known Arthur for quite a few years now and it only took him a few seconds to see that his friend's wriggling was not, in fact, 'Get On With It You Horny Sex-Beast' but rather was 'Oh God What's Happening Someone Please Help Me'.

Ford had never seen Arthur struggling in the former way, but he'd seen the latter hundreds of times. Sudden anger surged up inside and he stalked menacingly down the passage to where his friend was struggling to free himself from the unwanted attentions of the creature. He could now hear a rumbling litany of threats from the muscular form and tiny, almost inaudible whimpers from the human. He tapped the creature on the shoulder. It paused its actions and turned away from where one of its four massive taloned claws was about to rip Arthur's gown off him, neon yellow eyes glaring at Ford.

"Zark off!" it snarled. "I'm busy." It raised its fourth claw threateningly.

Ford glanced at Arthur, whose chest was heaving with rapid, panicked breaths. The Earthman was pinioned at his neck and arms and he swivelled his eyes round to look at Ford, a desperate plea clearly visible. The big alien's body was pressed up against the Englishman's lanky form and was effectively quashing most of his frantic struggles.

The Betelgeusian looked up at the creature again and smiled his widest smile, revealing some very sharp, very pointy teeth and also showing that there were no herbivores in his ancestry. The mound of flesh in front of him flinched away very slightly but kept its limbs firmly in place restraining Arthur.

"Did you hear me? Or are you too stupid to understand? Zark off!" the monster repeated, tensing to make a strike at its opponent.

"I would like you to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say," Ford said lightly, an underlying danger flowing through his voice like a riptide. "That is my friend you are currently holding against that wall. I would be eternally grateful if you would be so good as to release him."

"What? Are you threatening me?" the alien sounded completely disbelieving. "What are you going to do to me, huh?"

Ford's eyes narrowed and he took a step forwards, bringing his hands forwards with his towel clasped firmly in them. "I said let him go."

This is what 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' says about self-defence: "There are many different forms of self-defence that a hitchhikers may wish to read up on. As the Universe is full of different races and approximately 98.5 per cent of these can be hostile, it is recommended that anyone who wishes to travel the Universe with just their native wit and a towel learns how to fight off a heavily armed adversary.

The most obvious school of discipline to master is the non-existent art of Towel Martial Arts, so-called because it is statistically impossible for a school of Martial Arts devoted to towelcraft to exist. This point notwithstanding, there are several planets where dedicated teachers and training academies for hitchhikers can be found. See Chapters 15, 18 and 24.

N.B. It is not recommended for any hitchhiker to go so far as actually carrying a weapon. If for no other reason, certain unscrupulous pilots have been known to accuse perfectly innocent hitchhikers of kidnapping them and forcing them to travel to other destinations at gun/sword/armpoint."

About ten minutes later, two forms emerged from the alleyway, arms wrapped around each other for support. "Well, that was…interesting," Ford commented, trying to break the awkward silence as they headed back to the ship. He took a firmer grip on his friend as Arthur staggered. The human, still a little shaken by what had nearly just happened to him, had obviously been drinking a little too much of something far too strong for him.

Arthur blinked owlishly. "Tha' wuzz 'mazin', F'rd," he replied, intelligently. He stooped a little and unexpectedly lowered his head to rest it on his friend's shoulder. "Never had fren' who'd do tha' fer me," he mumbled, nosing affectionately into Ford's neck.

"Well, not many humans know the Secret Art of Towel Kwon Do," Ford remarked, trying to ignore the slight quickening of his heart rate and the tingle of pleasure that shivered through him. He told himself that Arthur was simply seeking a little unconscious comfort after what just happened. "I'm just glad I got to you before that thing did anything."

The Earthman nodded a little and snuggled further into Ford as they walked. They were silent for the rest of the journey.

Once on board the Heart of Gold Ford asked Eddie to tell Zaphod they'd returned (a duty that made the hyperactive computer squeal with delight) and carefully steered Arthur to his room. Once inside, he dumped his friend on the bed and straightened up, stretching his tired muscles. The Secret Art of Towel Kwon Do, though non-existent, was extremely complex and tiring, even for an expert hitchhiker.

Suddenly without the warmth of the other person and rather surprised to find himself lying horizontal on his bed, Arthur lifted his head to look for Ford, and quickly lowered it as the room began to spin around him. He squirmed briefly on the bed, his alcohol-soaked brain processing the risks involved in standing up. He decided against it. "Fooooooord," he slurred plaintively, trying his utmost to look pathetic and pitiful. He began to stretch out with his arms, waving them around in a somewhat inane attempt to encounter his saviour.

Ford turned to see Arthur looking helplessly, ridiculously lost in the middle of the bed. He grinned- it was good that Arthur was a happy, childish drunk. It made up for the fact he was so bloody miserable the rest of the time. He sat on the edge of the bed and caught up Arthur's hands in his own. "Right here, mate."

"Ford," Arthur whispered, tugging at Ford's grip on his hands. "Will th' thin' come back?" Dark brown eyes looked beseechingly up at him. Despite himself, Ford felt his heart melt a little. For a moment, Arthur sounded just like a little boy- a child who'd just come home from school, terrified of a bully who was promising to beat them up next time he saw them.

The Guide researcher's carnivorous grin softened and he allowed himself to be tugged closer to the quivering body. "Nope. Its probably still trying to remember who it is and why it hurts so much."

Arthur continued to gaze up at him, his head cocked in an angle of deep thought, then smiled, letting go of Ford with his right hand and reaching up to touch the face hovering above him. Ford gasped as the hesitant contact caused tiny jolts of electricity to spark against his skin. "You 'ave pretty eyes," Arthur informed him, shyly. "Pretty blue eyes."

Ford took in a deep breath, trying to ignore the fluttering in his stomach. "Arthur, you're drunk," he said, keeping his tone as flat as he could.

"Ford, you're lovely, bu' t'morrow I'll be sober," Arthur misquoted, giggling as he closed his eyes.

The long-fingered hand remained where it was, resting on Ford's cheek. Ford frowned- those fingers felt icy cold. "Arthur," he said, shifting to place the back of his hand on Arthur's forehead. "You feeling alright?" Arthur's face was cold, yet a thin sheen of sweat covered it. Shock probably. He just needed to get warm.

The Earthman didn't answer but protested wordlessly as Ford stood and pulled back the covers on the bed, then manoeuvred him under them. He struggled briefly, then settled down; opening his eyes as Ford tried to pull away. His left hand shot out and grabbed on to the stripy material of Ford's jacket. "Don't leave," he implored, his eyes growing wide and filling with tears.

Mentally, Ford considered altering the entry on humans in the Guide (Mostly Harmless, but beware their 'sick-puppy' looks). He considered reassuring his friend then going to get a stiff drink, but he couldn't go now. Not when Arthur seemed so lost and alone and so obviously needed some comfort. Resignedly, he clambered back onto the bed and sat next to Arthur, leaning his back against the wall. At Arthur's insistence, he shucked out of his jacket and pulled off his shoes to slip under the covers, secretly glad of his jumper and trousers.

The human curled up contentedly around Ford, cuddling in to him. "I wan' a hug," he stated, firmly. Ford complied, wrapping his arm around the Earthman's shoulders and pulling him in close. Just for now, he could pretend.

Arthur's hand rested on his chest and his face was once again snuggled affectionately into Ford's neck. Moist breaths huffed warmly onto Ford's skin as Arthus slowly began to drift off. He was relieved to feel Arthur's skin beginning to warm up as they lay there. "Don' go," Arthur mumbled, drowsily. "It migh' come back."

Ford leaned his head to the side to rest his cheek on the top of Arthur's head. "I won't," he whispered back. "I promise."

And true to his word, Ford Prefect was still there when Arthur woke up next morning, having spent the night in his friend's arms.