The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide: Five Complete Novels and One Story | Chapter 5 of 9

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Singing, Take me apart, take me apart, You must be off your head, And if you try to take me apart to get me there, I'll stay right here in bed.

... and so on. Another favorite song was much shorter:

I teleported home one night, With Ron and Sid and Meg, Ron stole Meggie's heart away, And I got Sidney's leg.

Arthur felt the waves of pain slowly receding, though he was still aware of a dull stomping throb. Slowly, carefully, he stood up. "Can you hear a dull stomping throb?" said Ford Prefect. Arthur span round and wobbled uncertainly. Ford Prefect was approaching looking red eyed and pasty. "Where are we?" gasped Arthur. Ford looked around. They were standing in a long curving corridor which stretched out of sight in both directions. The outer steel wall-which was painted in that sickly shade of pale green which they use in schools, hospitals and mental asylums to keep the inmates subdued-curved over the tops of their heads where it met the inner perpendicular wall which, oddly enough was covered in dark brown hessian wall weave. The floor was of dark green ribbed rubber. Ford moved over to a very thick dark transparent panel set in the outer wall. It was several layers deep, yet through it he could see pinpoints of distant stars. "I think we're in a spaceship of some kind," he said. Down the corridor came the sound of a dull stomping throb. "Trillian?" called Arthur nervously, "Zaphod?" Ford shrugged. "Nowhere about," he said, "I've looked. They could be anywhere. An unprogrammed teleport can throw you light years in any direction. Judging by the way I feel I should think we've travelled a very long way indeed." "How do you feel?" "Bad." "Do you think they're..." "Where they are, how they are, there's no way we can know and no way we can do anything about it. Do what I do." "What?" "Don't think about it." Arthur turned this thought over in his mind, reluctantly saw the wisdom of it, tucked it up and put it away. He took a deep breath. "Footsteps!" exclaimed Ford suddenly. "Where?" "That noise. That stomping throb. Pounding feet. Listen!" Arthur listened. The noise echoed round the corridor at them from an indeterminate distance. It was the muffled sound of pounding footsteps, and it was noticeably louder. "Let's move," said Ford sharply. They both moved-in opposite directions. "Not that way," said Ford, "that's where they're coming from." "No it's not," said Arthur, "They're coming from that way." "They're not, they're..." They both stopped. They both turned. They both listened intently. They both agreed with each other. They both set off into opposite directions again. Fear gripped them. From both directions the noise was getting louder. A few yards to their left another corridor ran at right angles to the inner wall. They ran to it and hurried along it. It was dark, immensely long and, as they passed down it, gave them the impression that it was getting colder and colder. Other corridors gave off it to the left and right, each very dark and each subjecting them to sharp blasts of icy air as they passed. They stopped for a moment in alarm. The further down the corridor they went, the louder became the sound of pounding feet. They pressed themselves back against the cold wall and listened furiously. The cold, the dark and the drumming of disembodied feet was getting to them badly. Ford shivered, partly with the cold, but partly with the memory of stories his favourite mother used to tell him when he was a mere slip of a Betelgeusian, ankle high to an Arcturan Megagrasshopper: stories of dead ships, haunted hulks that roamed restlessly round the obscurer regions of deep space infested with demons or the ghosts of forgotten crews; stories too of incautious travellers who found and entered such ships; stories of...-then Ford remembered the brown hessian wall weave in the first corridor and pulled himself together. However ghosts and demons may choose to decorate their death hulks, he thought to himself, he would lay any money you liked it wasn't with hessian wall weave. He grasped Arthur by the arm. "Back the way we came," he said firmly and they started to retrace their steps. A moment later they leap like startled lizards down the nearest corridor junction as the owners of the drumming feet suddenly hove into view directly in front of them. Hidden behind the corner they goggled in amazement as about two dozen overweight men and women pounded past them in track suits panting and wheezing in a manner that would make a heart surgeon gibber. Ford Prefect stared after them. "Joggers!" he hissed, as the sound of their feet echoed away up and down the network of corridors. "Joggers?" whispered Arthur Dent. "Joggers," said Ford Prefect with a shrug. The corridor they were concealed in was not like the others. It was very short, and ended at a large steel door. Ford examined it, discovered the opening mechanism and pushed it wide. The first thing that hit their eyes was what appeared to be a coffin. And the next four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine things that hit their eyes were also coffins.

Chapter 23

The vault was low ceilinged, dimly lit and gigantic. At the far end, about three hundred yards away an archway let through to what appeared to be a similar chamber, similarly occupied. Ford Prefect let out a low whistle as he stepped down on to the floor of the vault. "Wild," he said. "What's so great about dead people?" asked Arthur, nervously stepping down after him. "Dunno," said Ford, "Let's find out shall we?" On closer inspection the coffins seemed to be more like sarcophagi. They stood about waist high and were constructed of what appeared to be white marble, which is almost certainly what it was-something that only appeared to be white marble. The tops were semi-translucent, and through them could dimly be perceived the features of their late and presumably lamented occupants. They were humanoid, and had clearly left the troubles of whatever world it was they came from far behind them, but beyond that little else could be discerned. Rolling slowly round the floor between the sarcophagi was a heavy, oily white gas which Arthur at first thought might be there to give the place a little atmosphere until he discovered that it also froze his ankles. The sarcophagi too were intensely cold to the touch. Ford suddenly crouched down beside one of them. He pulled a corner of his towel out of his satchel and started to rub furiously at something. "Look, there's a plaque on this one," he explained to Arthur, "It's frosted over." He rubbed the frost clear and examined the engraved characters. To Arthur they looked like the footprints of a spider that had had one too many of whatever it is that spiders have on a night out, but Ford instantly recognized an early form of Galactic Eezeereed. "It says 'Golgafrincham Ark Fleet, Ship B, Hold Seven, Telephone Sanitizer Second Class'-and a serial number." "A telephone sanitizer?" said Arthur, "a dead telephone sanitizer?" "Best kind." "But what's he doing here?" Ford peered through the top at the figure within. "Not a lot," he said, and suddenly flashed one of those grins of his which always made people think he'd been overdoing things recently and should try to get some rest. He scampered over to another sarcophagus. A moment's brisk towel work and he announced: "This one's a dead hairdresser. Hoopy!" The next sarcophagus revealed itself to be the last resting place of an advertising account executive; the one after that contained a second-hand car salesman, third class. An inspection hatch let into the floor suddenly caught Ford's attention, and he squatted down to unfasten it, thrashing away at the clouds of freezing gas that threatened to envelope him. A thought occurred to Arthur. "If these are just coffins," he said, "Why are they kept so cold?" "Or, indeed, why are they kept anyway," said Ford tugging the hatchway open. The gas poured down through it. "Why in fact is anyone going to all the trouble and expense of carting five thousand dead bodies through space?" "Ten thousand," said Arthur, pointing at the archway through which the next chamber was dimly visible. Ford stuck his head down through the floor hatchway. He looked up again. "Fifteen thousand," he said, "there's another lot down there." "Fifteen million," said a voice. "That's a lot," said Ford, "A lot a lot." "Turn around slowly," barked the voice, "and put your hands up. Any other move and I blast you into tiny tiny bits." "Hello?" said Ford, turning round slowly, putting his hands up and not making any other move. "Why," said Arthur Dent, "isn't anyone ever pleased to see us?"

Standing silhouetted in the doorway through which they had entered the vault was the man who wasn't pleased to see them. His displeasure was communicated partly by the barking hectoring quality of his voice and partly by the viciousness with which he waved a long silver Kill-O-Zap gun at them. The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. "Make it evil," he'd been told. "Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with." Ford and Arthur looked at the gun unhappily. The man with the gun moved from the door and circled round them. As he came into the light they could see his black and gold uniform on which the buttons were so highly polished that they shone with an intensity that would have made an approaching motorist flash his lights in annoyance. He gestured at the door. "Out," he said. People who can supply that amount of fire power don't need to supply verbs as well. Ford and Arthur went out, closely followed by the wrong end of the Kill-O-Zap gun and the buttons. Turning into the corridor they were jostled by twenty-four oncoming joggers, now showered and changed, who swept on past them into the vault. Arthur turned to watch them in confusion. "Move!" screamed their captor. Arthur moved. Ford shrugged and moved. In the vault the joggers went to twenty-four empty sarcophagi along the side wall, opened them, climbed in, and fell into twenty-four dreamless sleeps.

Chapter 24

"Er, captain..." "Yes, Number One?" "Just heard a sort of report thingy from Number Two." "Oh, dear." High up in the bridge of the ship, the Captain stared out into the infinite reaches of space with mild irritation. From where he reclined beneath a wide domed bubble he could see before and above them the vast panorama of stars through which they were moving-a panorama that had thinned out noticably during the course of the voyage. Turning and looking backwards, over the vast two-mile bulk of the ship he could see the far denser mass of stars behind them which seemed to form almost a solid band. This was the view through the Galactic centre from which they were travelling, and indeed had been travelling for years, at a speed that he couldn't quite remember at the moment, but he knew it was terribly fast. It was something approaching the speed of something or other, or was it three times the speed of something else? Jolly impressive anyway. He peered into the bright distance behind the ship, looking for something. He did this every few minutes or so, but never found what he was looking for. He didn't let it worry him though. The scientist chaps had been very insistent that everything was going to be perfectly alright providing nobody panicked and everybody got on and did their bit in an orderly fashion. He wasn't panicking. As far as he was concerned everything was going splendidly. He dabbed at his shoulder with a large frothy sponge. It crept back into his mind that he was feeling mildly irritated about something. Now what was all that about? A slight cough alerted him to the fact that the ship's first officer was still standing nearby. Nice chap, Number One. Not of the very brightest, had the odd spot of difficulty doing up his shoe laces, but jolly good officer material for all that. The Captain wasn't a man to kick a chap when he was bending over trying to do up his shoe laces, however long it took him. Not like that ghastly Number Two, strutting about all over the place, polishing his buttons, issuing reports every hour: "Ship's still moving, Captain." "Still on course, Captain." "Oxygen levels still being maintained, Captain." "Give it a miss," was the Captain's vote. Ah yes, that was the thing that had been irritating him. He peered down at Number One. "Yes, Captain, he was shouting something or other about having found some prisoners..." The Captain thought about this. Seemed pretty unlikely to him, but he wasn't one to stand in his officers' way. "Well, perhaps that'll keep him happy for a bit," he said, "He's always wanted some."

Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent trudged onwards up the ship's apparently endless corridors. Number Two marched behind them barking the occasional order about not making any false moves or trying any funny stuff. They seemed to have passed at least a mile of continuous brown hessian wall weave. Finally they reached a large steel door which slid open when Number Two shouted at it. They entered. To the eyes of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, the most remarkable thing about the ship's bridge was not the fifty foot diameter hemispherical dome which covered it, and through which the dazzling display of stars shone down on them: to people who have eaten at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, such wonders are commonplace. Nor was it the bewildering array of instruments that crowded the long circumferential wall around them. To Arthur this was exactly what spaceships were traditionally supposed to look like, and to Ford it looked thoroughly antiquated: it confirmed his suspicions that Disaster Area's stuntship had taken them back at least a million, if not two million, years before their own time. No, the thing that really caught them off balance was the bath. The bath stood on a six foot pedestal of rough hewn blue water crystal and was of a baroque monstrosity not often seen outside the Maximegalon Museum of Diseased Imaginings. An intestinal jumble of plumbing had been picked out in gold leaf rather than decently buried at midnight in an unmarked grave; the taps and shower attachment would have made a gargoyle jump. As the dominant centrepiece of a starship bridge it was terribly wrong, and it was with the embittered air of a man who knew this that Number Two approached it. "Captain, sir!" he shouted through clenched teeth-a difficult trick but he'd had years during which to perfect it. A large genial face and a genial foam covered arm popped up above the rim of the monstrous bath. "Ah, hello, Number Two," said the Captain, waving a cheery sponge, "having a nice day?" Number Two snapped even further to attention than he already was. "I have brought you the prisoners I located in freezer bay seven, sir!" he yapped. Ford and Arthur coughed in confusion. "Er... hello," they said. The Captain beamed at them. So Number Two had really found some prisoners. Well, good for him, thought the Captain, nice to see a chap doing what he's best at. "Oh, hello there," he said to them, "Excuse me not getting up, having a quick bath. Well, jynnan tonnyx all round then. Look in the fridge Number one." "Certainly sir." It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian "chinanto/mnigs" which is ordinary water server at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan "tzjin-anthony-ks" which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds. What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs. Number Two stood before the Captain's bathtub trembling with frustration. "Don't you want to interrogate the prisoners sir?" he squealed. The Captain peered at him in bemusement. "Why on Golgafrincham should I want to do that?" he asked. "To get information out of them, sir! To find out why they came here!" "Oh no, no, no," said the Captain, "I expect they just dropped in for a quick jynnan tonnyx, don't you?" "But sir, they're my prisoners! I must interrogate them!" The Captain looked at them doubtfully. "Oh all right," he said, "if you must. Ask them what they want to drink." A hard cold gleam came into Number Two's eyes. He advanced slowly on Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. "All right, you scum," he growled, "you vermin..." He jabbed Ford with the Kill-O-Zap gun. "Steady on, Number Two," admonished the Captain gently. "What do you want to drink?!!" Number Two screamed. "Well the jynnan tonnyx sounds very nice to me," said Ford, "What about you Arthur?" Arthur blinked. "What? Oh, er, yes," he said. "With ice or without?" bellowed Number Two. "Oh, with please," said Ford. "Lemon??!!" "Yes please," said Ford, "and do you have any of those little biscuits? You know, the cheesy ones?" "I'm asking the questions!!!!" howled Number Two, his body quaking with apoplectic fury. "Er, Number Two..." said the Captain softly. "Sir?!" "Push off, would you, there's a good chap. I'm trying to have a relaxing bath." Number Two's eyes narrowed and became what are known in the Shouting and Killing People trade as cold slits, the idea presumably being to give your opponent the impression that you have lost your glasses or are having difficulty keeping awake. Why this is frightening is an, as yet, unresolved problem. He advanced on the captain, his (Number Two's) mouth a thin hard line. Again, tricky to know why this is understood as fighting behaviour. If, whilst wandering through the jungle of Traal, you were suddenly to come upon the fabled Ravenous Bugblatter Beast, you would have reason to be grateful if its mouth was a thin hard line rather than, as it usually is, a gaping mass of slavering fangs. "May I remind you sir," hissed Number Two at the Captain, "that you have now been in that bath for over three years?!" This final shot delivered, Number Two spun on his heel and stalked off to a corner to practise darting eye movements in the mirror. The Captain squirmed in his bath. He gave Ford Prefect a lame smile. "Well you need to relax a lot in a job like mine," he said. Ford slowly lowered his hands. It provoked no reaction. Arthur lowered his. Treading very slowly and carefully, Ford moved over to the bath pedestal. He patted it. "Nice," he lied. He wondered if it was safe to grin. Very slowly and carefully, he grinned. It was safe. "Er..." he said to the Captain. "Yes?" said the Captain. "I wonder," said Ford, "could I ask you actually what your job is in fact?" A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He span round. It was the first officer. "Your drinks," he said. "Ah, thank you," said Ford. He and Arthur took their jynnan tonnyx. Arthur sipped his, and was surprised to discover it tasted very like a whisky and soda. "I mean, I couldn't help noticing," said Ford, also taking a sip, "the bodies. In the hold." "Bodies?" said the Captain in surprise. Ford paused and thought to himself. Never take anything for granted, he thought. Could it be that the Captain doesn't know he's got fifteen million dead bodies on his ship? The Captain was nodding cheerfully at him. He also appeared to be playing with a rubber duck. Ford looked around. Number Two was staring at him in the mirror, but only for an instant: his eyes were constantly on the move. The first officer was just standing there holding the drinks tray and smiling benignly. "Bodies?" said the Captain again. Ford licked his lips. "Yes," he said, "All those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold." The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed. "Oh they're not dead," he said, "Good Lord no, no they're frozen. They're going to be revived." Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked. Arthur seemed to come out of a trance. "You mean you've got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?" he said. "Oh yes," said the Captain, "Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We're going to colonize another planet." Ford wobbled very slightly. "Exciting isn't it?" said the Captain. "What, with that lot?" said Arthur. "Ah, now don't misunderstand me," said the Captain, "we're just one of the ships in the Ark Fleet. We're the 'B' Ark you see. Sorry, could I just ask you to run a bit more hot water for me?" Arthur obliged, and a cascade of pink frothy water swirled around the bath. The Captain let out a sigh of pleasure. "Thank you so much my dear fellow. Do help yourselves to more drinks of course." Ford tossed down his drink, took the bottle from the first officer's tray and refilled his glass to the top. "What," he said, "is a 'B' Ark?" "This is," said the Captain, and swished the foamy water around joyfully with the duck. "Yes," said Ford, "but..." "Well what happened you see was," said the Captain, "our planet, the world from which we have come, was, so to speak, doomed." "Doomed?" "Oh yes. So what everyone thought was, let's pack the whole population into some giant spaceships and go and settle on another planet." Having told this much of his story, he settled back with a satisfied grunt. "You mean a less doomed one?" promoted Arthur. "What did you say dear fellow?" "A less doomed planet. You were going to settle on." "Are going to settle on, yes. So it was decided to build three ships, you see, three Arks in Space, and... I'm not boring you am I?" "No, no," said Ford firmly, "it's fascinating." "You know it's delightful," reflected the Captain, "to have someone else to talk to for a change." Number Two's eyes darted feverishly about the room again and then settled back on the mirror, like a pair of flies briefly distracted from their favourite prey of months old meat. "Trouble with a long journey like this," continued the Captain, "is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you're going to say next." "Only half the time?" asked Arthur in surprise. The Captain thought for a moment. "Yes, about half I'd say. Anyway-where's the soap?" He fished around and found it. "Yes, so anyway," he resumed, "the idea was that into the first ship, the 'A' ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or 'C' ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the 'B' ship-that's us-would go everyone else, the middlemen you see." He smiled happily at them. "And we were sent off first," he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune. The little bathing tune, which had been composed for him by one of his world's most exciting and prolific jingle writer (who was currently asleep in hold thirty-six some nine hundred yards behind them) covered what would otherwise have been an awkward moment of silence. Ford and Arthur shuffled their feet and furiously avoided each other's eyes. "Er..." said Arthur after a moment, "what exactly was it that was wrong with your planet then?" "Oh, it was doomed, as I said," said the Captain, "Apparently it was going to crash into the sun or something. Or maybe it was that the moon was going to crash into us. Something of the kind. Absolutely terrifying prospect whatever it was." "Oh," said the first officer suddenly, "I thought it was that the planet was going to be invaded by a gigantic swarm of twelve foot piranha bees. Wasn't that it?" Number Two span around, eyes ablaze with a cold hard light that only comes with the amount of practise he was prepared to put in. "That's not what I was told!" he hissed, "My commanding officer told me that the entire planet was in imminent danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star goat!" "Oh really..." said Ford Prefect. "Yes! A monstrous creature from the pit of hell with scything teeth ten thousand miles long, breath that would boil oceans, claws that could tear continents from their roots, a thousand eyes that burned like the sun, slavering jaws a million miles across, a monster such as you have never... never... ever..." "And they made sure they sent you lot off first did they?" inquired Arthur. "Oh yes," said the Captain, "well everyone said, very nicely I thought, that it was very important for morale to feel that they would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean." "Oh yes," agreed Ford, "I can see that would be very important. And the other ships, er... they followed on after you did they?" For a moment the Captain did not answer. He twisted round in his bath and gazed backwards over the huge bulk of the ship towards the bright galactic centre. He squinted into the inconceivable distance. "Ah. Well it's funny you should say that," he said and allowed himself a slight frown at Ford Prefect, "because curiously enough we haven't heard a peep out of them since we left five years ago... but they must be behind us somewhere." He peered off into the distance again. Ford peered with him and gave a thoughtful frown. "Unless of course," he said softly, "they were eaten by the goat..." "Ah yes..." said the Captain with a slight hesitancy creeping into his voice, "the goat..." His eyes passed over the solid shapes of the instruments and computers that lined the bridge. They winked away innocently at him. He stared out at the stars, but none of them said a word. He glanced at his first and second officers, but they seemed lost in their own thoughts for a moment. He glanced at Ford Prefect who raised his eyebrows at him. "It's a funny thing you know," said the Captain at last, "but now that I actually come to tell the story to someone else... I mean does it strike you as odd Number Two?" "Errrrrrrrrrrr..." said Number Two. "Well," said Ford, "I can see that you've got a lot of things you're going to talk about, so, thanks for the drinks, and if you could sort of drop us off at the nearest convenient planet..." "Ah, well that's a little difficult you see," said the Captain, "because our trajectory thingy was preset before we left Golgafrincham, I think partly because I'm not very good with figures..." "You mean we're stuck here on this ship?" exclaimed Ford suddenly losing patience with the whole charade, "When are you meant to be reaching this planet you're meant to be colonizing?" "Oh, we're nearly there I think," said the Captain, "any second now. It's probably time I was getting out of this bath in fact. Oh, I don't know though, why stop just when I'm enjoying it?" "So we're actually going to land in a minute?" "Well not so much land, in fact, not actually land as such, no... er..." "What are you talking about?" said Ford sharply. "Well," said the Captain, picking his way through the words carefully, "I think as far as I can remember we were programmed to crash on it." "Crash?" shouted Ford and Arthur. "Er, yes," said the Captain, "yes, it's all part of the plan I think. There was a terribly good reason for it which I can't quite remember at the moment. It was something to with... er..." Ford exploded. "You're a load of useless bloody loonies!" he shouted. "Ah yes, that was it," beamed the Captain, "that was the reason."

Chapter 25

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the planet of Golgafrincham: It is a planet with an ancient and mysterious history, rich in legend, red, and occasionally green with the blood of those who sought in times gone by to conquer her; a land of parched and barren landscapes, of sweet and sultry air heady with the scent of the perfumed springs that trickle over its hot and dusty rocks and nourish the dark and musty lichens beneath; a land of fevered brows and intoxicated imaginings, particularly amongst those who taste the lichens; a land also of cool and shaded thoughts amongst those who have learnt to forswear the lichens and find a tree to sit beneath; a land also of steel and blood and heroism; a land of the body and of the spirit. This was its history. And in all this ancient and mysterious history, the most mysterious figures of all were without doubt those of the Great Circling Poets of Arium. These Circling Poets used to live in remote mountain passes where they would lie in wait for small bands of unwary travellers, circle round them, and throw rocks at them. And when the travellers cried out, saying why didn't they go away and get on with writing some poems instead of pestering people with all this rock-throwing business, they would suddenly stop, and then break into one of the seven hundred and ninety-four great Song Cycles of Vassilian. These songs were all of extraordinary beauty, and even more extraordinary length, and all fell into exactly the same pattern. The first part of each song would tell how there once went forth from the City of Vassilian a party of five sage princes with four horses. The princes, who are of course brave, noble and wise, travel widely in distant lands, fought giant ogres, pursue exotic philosophies, take tea with weird gods and rescue beautiful monsters from ravening princesses before finally announcing that they have achieved enlightenment and that their wanderings are therefore accomplished. The second, and much longer, part of each song would then tell of all their bickerings about which one of them is going to have to walk back. All this lay in the planet's remote past. It was, however, a descendant of one of these eccentric poets who invented the spurious tales of impending doom which enabled the people of Golgafrincham to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The other two-thirds stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

Chapter 26

That night the ship crash-landed on to an utterly insignificant little green-blue planet which circled a small unregarded yellow sun in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the Galaxy. In the hours preceding the crash Ford Prefect had fought furiously but in vain to unlock the controls of the ship from their pre-ordained flight path. It had quickly become apparent to him that the ship had been programmed to convey its payload safely, in uncomfortably, to its new home but to cripple itself beyond repair in the process. Its screaming, blazing descent through the atmosphere had stripped away most of its superstructure and outer shielding, and its final inglorious bellyflop into a murky swamp had left its crew only a few hours of darkness during which to revive and offload its deep-frozen and unwanted cargo for the ship began to settle almost at once, slowly upending its gigantic bulk in the stagnant slime. Once or twice during the night it was starkly silhouetted against the sky as burning meteors-the detritus of its descent-flashed across the sky. In the grey pre-dawn light it let out an obscene roaring gurgle and sank for ever into the stinking depths. When the sun came up that morning it shed its thin watery light over a vast area heaving with wailing hairdressers, public relations executives, opinion pollsters and the rest, all clawing their way desperately to dry land. A less strong minded sun would probably have gone straight back down again, but it continued to climb its way through the sky and after a while the influence of its warming rays began to have some restoring effect on the feebly struggling creatures. Countless numbers had, unsurprisingly, been lost to the swamp in the night, and millions more had been sucked down with the ship, but those that survived still numbered hundreds of thousands and as the day wore on they crawled out over the surrounding countryside, each looking for a few square feet of solid ground on which to collapse and recover from their nightmare ordeal. Two figures moved further afield. From a nearby hillside Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent watched the horror of which they could not feel a part. "Filthy dirty trick to pull," muttered Arthur. Ford scraped a stick along the ground and shrugged. "An imaginative solution to a problem I'd have thought," he said. "Why can't people just learn to live together in peace and harmony?" said Arthur. Ford gave a loud, very hollow laugh. "Forty-two!" he said with a malicious grin, "No, doesn't work. Never mind." Arthur looked at him as if he'd gone mad and, seeing nothing to indicate the contrary, realized that it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that this had in fact happened. "What do you think will happen to them all?" he said after a while. "In an infinite Universe anything can happen," said Ford, "Even survival. Strange but true." A curious look came into his eyes as they passed over the landscape and then settles again on the scene of misery below them. "I think they'll manage for a while," he said. Arthur looked up sharply. "Why do you say that?" he said. Ford shrugged. "Just a hunch," he said, and refused to be drawn to any further questions. "Look," he said suddenly. Arthur followed his pointing finger. Down amongst the sprawling masses a figure was moving-or perhaps lurching would be a more accurate description. He appeared to be carrying something on his shoulder. As he lurched from prostrate form to prostrate form he seemed to wave whatever the something was at them in a drunken fashion. After a while he gave up the struggle and collapsed in a heap. Arthur had no idea what this was meant to mean to him. "Movie camera," said Ford. "Recording the historic movement." "Well, I don't know about you," said Ford again after a moment, "but I'm off." He sat a while in silence. After a while this seemed to require comment. "Er, when you say you're off, what do you mean exactly?" said Arthur. "Good question," said Ford, "I'm getting total silence." Looking over his shoulder Arthur saw that he was twiddling with knobs on a small box. Ford had already introduced this box as a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic, but Arthur had merely nodded absently and not pursued the matter. In his mind the Universe still divided into two parts-the Earth, and everything else. The Earth having been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass meant that this view of things was a little lopsided, but Arthur tended to cling to that lopsidedness as being his last remaining contact with his home. Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matics belonged firmly in the "everything else" category. "Not a sausage," said Ford, shaking the thing. Sausage, thought Arthur to himself as he gazed listlessly at the primitive world about him, what I wouldn't give for a good Earth sausage. "Would you believe," said Ford in exasperation, "that there are no transmissions of any kind within light years of this benighted tip? Are you listening to me?" "What?" said Arthur. "We're in trouble," said Ford. "Oh," said Arthur. This sounded like month-old news to him. "Until we pick up anything on this machine," said Ford, "our chances of getting off this planet are zero. It may be some freak standing wave effect in the planet's magnetic field-in which case we just travel round and round till we find a clear reception area. Coming?" He picked up his gear and strode off. Arthur looked down the hill. The man with the movie camera had struggled back up to his feet just in time to film one of his colleagues collapsing. Arthur picked a blade of grass and strode off after Ford.

Chapter 27

"I trust you had a pleasant meal?" said Zarniwoop to Zaphod and Trillian as they rematerialized on the bridge of the starship Heart of Gold and lay panting on the floor. Zaphod opened some eyes and glowered at him. "You," he spat. He staggered to his feet and stomped off to find a chair to slump into. He found one and slumped into it. "I have programmed the computer with the Improbability Coordinates pertinent to our journey," said Zarniwoop, "we will arrive there very shortly. Meanwhile, why don't you relax and prepare yourself for the meeting?" Zaphod said nothing. He got up again and marched over to a small cabinet from which he pulled a bottle of old Janx spirit. He took a long pull at it. "And when this is all done," said Zaphod savagely, "it's done, alright? I'm free to go and do what the hell I like and lie on beaches and stuff?" "It depends what transpires from the meeting," said Zarniwoop. "Zaphod, who is this man?" said Trillian shakily, wobbling to her feet, "What's he doing here? Why's he on our ship?" "He's a very stupid man," said Zaphod, "who wants to meet the man who rules the Universe." "Ah," said Trillian taking the bottle from Zaphod and helping herself, "a social climber."

Chapter 28

The major problem-one of the major problems, for there are several-one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem. And so this is the situation we find: a succession of Galactic Presidents who so much enjoy the fun and palaver of being in power that they very rarely notice that they're not. And somewhere in the shadows behind them-who? Who can possibly rule if no one who wants to do it can be allowed to?

Chapter 29

On a small obscure world somewhere in the middle of nowhere in particular-nowhere, that is, that could ever be found, since it is protected by a vast field of unprobability to which only six men in this galaxy have a key-it was raining. It was bucketing down, and had been for hours. It beat the top of the sea into a mist, it pounded the trees, it churned and slopped a stretch of scrubby land near the sea into a mudbath. The rain pelted and danced on the corrugated iron roof of the small shack that stood in the middle of this patch of scrubby land. It obliterated the small rough pathway that led from the shack down to the seashore and smashed apart the neat piles of interesting shells which had been placed there. The noise of the rain on the roof of the shack was deafening within, but went largely unnoticed by its occupant, whose attention was otherwise engaged. He was a tall shambling man with rough straw-coloured hair that was damp from the leaking roof. His clothes were shabby, his back was hunched, and his eyes, though open, seemed closed. In his shack was an old beaten-up armchair, an old scratched table, an old mattress, some cushions and a stove that was small but warm. There was also an old and slightly weatherbeaten cat, and this was currently the focus of the man's attention. He bent his shambling form over it. "Pussy, pussy, pussy," he said, "coochicoochicoochicoo... pussy want his fish? Nice piece of fish... pussy want it?" The cat seemed undecided on the matter. It pawed rather condescendingly at the piece of fish the man was holding out, and then got distracted by a piece of dust on the floor. "Pussy not eat his fish, pussy get thin and waste away, I think," said the man. Doubt crept into his voice. "I imagine this is what will happen," he said, "but how can I tell?" He proffered the fish again. "Pussy think," he said, "eat fish or not eat fish. I think it is better if I don't get involved." He sighed. "I think fish is nice, but then I think that rain is wet, so who am I to judge?" He left the fish on the floor for the cat, and retired to his seat. "Ah, I seem to see you eating it," he said at last, as the cat exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the speck of dust and pounced on to the fish. "I like it when I see you eat the fish," said the man, "because in my mind you will waste away if you don't." He picked up from the table a piece of paper and the stub of a pencil. He held one in one hand and the other in the other, and experimented with the different ways of bringing them together. He tried holding the pencil under the paper, then over the paper, then next to the paper. He tried wrapping the paper round the pencil, he tried rubbing the stubby end of the pencil against the paper and then he tried rubbing the sharp end of the pencil against the paper. It made a mark, and he was delighted with the discovery, as he was every day. He picked up another piece of paper from the table. This had a crossword on it. He studied it briefly and filled in a couple of clues before losing interest. He tried sitting on one of his hands and was intrigued by the feel of the bones of his hip. "Fish come from far away," he said, "or so I'm told. Or so I imagine I'm told. When the men come, or when in my mind the men come in their six black ships, do they come in your mind too? What do you see pussy?" He looked at the cat, which was more concerned with getting the fish down as rapidly as possible than it was with these speculations. "And when I hear their questions, do you hear questions? What do their voices mean to you? Perhaps you just think they're singing songs to you." He reflected on this, and saw the flaw in the supposition. "Perhaps they are singing songs to you," he said, "and I just think they're asking me questions." He paused again. Sometimes he would pause for days, just to see what it was like. "Do you think they came today?" he said, "I do. There's mud on the floor, cigarettes and whisky on the table, fish on a plate for you and a memory of them in my mind. Hardly conclusive evidence I know, but then all evidence is circumstantial. And look what else they've left me." He reached over to the table and pulled some things off it. "Crosswords, dictionaries, and a calculator." He played with the calculator for an hour, whilst the cat went to sleep and the rain outside continued to pour. Eventually he put the calculator aside. "I think I must be right in thinking they ask me questions," he said, "To come all that way and leave all these things for the privilege of singing songs to you would be very strange behaviour. Or so it seems to me. Who can tell, who can tell." From the table he picked up a cigarette and lit it with a spill from the stove. He inhaled deeply and sat back. "I think I saw another ship in the sky today," he said at last. "A big white one. I've never seen a big white one, just the six black ones. And the six green ones. And the others who say they come from so far away. Never a big white one. Perhaps six small black ones can look like one big white one at certain times. Perhaps I would like a glass of whisky. Yes, that seems more likely." He stood up and found a glass that was lying on the floor by the mattress. He poured in a measure from his whisky bottle. He sat again. "Perhaps some other people are coming to see me," he said.

A hundred yards away, pelted by the torrential rain, lay the Heart of Gold. Its hatchway opened, and three figures emerged, huddling into themselves to keep the rain off their faces. "In there?" shouted Trillian above the noise of the rain. "Yes," said Zarniwoop. "That shack?" "Yes." "Weird," said Zaphod. "But it's in the middle of nowhere," said Trillian, "we must have come to the wrong place. You can't rule the Universe from a shack." They hurried through the pouring rain, and arrived, wet through, at the door. They knocked. They shivered. The door opened. "Hello?" said the man. "Ah, excuse me," said Zarniwoop, "I have reason to believe..." "Do you rule the Universe?" said Zaphod. The man smiled at him. "I try not to," he said, "Are you wet?" Zaphod looked at him in astonishment. "Wet?" he cried, "Doesn't it look as if we're wet?" "That's how it looks to me," said the man, "but how you feel about it might be an altogether different matter. If you feel warmth makes you dry, you'd better come in." They went in. They looked around the tiny shack, Zarniwoop with slight distaste, Trillian with interest, Zaphod with delight. "Hey, er..." said Zaphod, "what's your name?" The man looked at them doubtfully. "I don't know. Why, do you think I should have one? It seems very odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name." He invited Trillian to sit in the chair. He sat on the edge of the chair, Zarniwoop leaned stiffly against the table and Zaphod lay on the mattress. "Wowee!" said Zaphod, "the seat of power!" He tickled the cat. "Listen," said Zarniwoop, "I must ask you some questions." "Alright," said the man kindly, "you can sing to my cat if you like." "Would he like that?" asked Zaphod. "You'd better ask him," said the man. "Does he talk?" said Zaphod. "I have no memory of him talking," said the man, "but I am very unreliable." Zarniwoop pulled some notes out of a pocket. "Now," he said, "you do rule the Universe, do you?" "How can I tell?" said the man. Zarniwoop ticked off a note on the paper. "How long have you been doing this?" "Ah," said the man, "this is a question about the past is it?" Zarniwoop looked at him in puzzlement. This wasn't exactly what he had been expecting. "Yes," he said. "How can I tell," said the man, "that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?" Zarniwoop stared at him. The steam began to rise from his sodden clothes. "So you answer all questions like this?" he said. The man answered quickly. "I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More I cannot say." Zaphod laughed happily. "I'll drink to that," he said and pulled out the bottle of Janx spirit. He leaped up and handed the bottle to the ruler of the Universe, who took it with pleasure. "Good on you, great ruler," he said, "tell it like it is." "No, listen to me," said Zarniwoop, "people come to you do they? In ships..." "I think so," said the man. He handed the bottle to Trillian. "And they ask you," said Zarniwoop, "to take decisions for them? About people's lives, about worlds, about economies, about wars, about everything going on out there in the Universe?" "Out there?" said the man, "out where?" "Out there!" said Zarniwoop pointing at the door. "How can you tell there's anything out there," said the man politely, "the door's closed." The rain continued to pound the roof. Inside the shack it was warm. "But you know there's a whole Universe out there!" cried Zarniwoop. "You can't dodge your responsibilities by saying they don't exist!" The ruler of the Universe thought for a long while whilst Zarniwoop quivered with anger. "You're very sure of your facts," he said at last, "I couldn't trust the thinking of a man who takes the Universe-if there is one-for granted." Zarniwoop still quivered, but was silent. "I only decide about my Universe," continued the man quietly. "My Universe is my eyes and my ears. Anything else is hearsay." "But don't you believe in anything?" The man shrugged and picked up his cat. "I don't understand what you mean," he said. "You don't understand that what you decide in this shack of yours affects the lives and fates of millions of people? This is all monstrously wrong!" "I don't know. I've never met all these people you speak of. And neither, I suspect, have you. They only exist in words we hear. It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own Universes of their own eyes and ears." Trillian said: "I think I'm just popping outside for a moment." She left and walked into the rain. "Do you believe other people exist?" insisted Zarniwoop. "I have no opinion. How can I say?" "I'd better see what's up with Trillian," said Zaphod and slipped out. Outside, he said to her: "I think the Universe is in pretty good hands, yeah?" "Very good," said Trillian. They walked off into the rain. Inside, Zarniwoop continued. "But don't you understand that people live or die on your word?" The ruler of the Universe waited for as long as he could. When he heard the faint sound of the ship's engines starting he spoke to cover it. "It's nothing to do with me," he said, "I am not involved with people. The Lord knows I am not a cruel man." "Ah!" barked Zarniwoop, "you say 'The Lord'. You believe in something!" "My cat," said the man benignly, picking it up and stroking it, "I call him The Lord. I am kind to him." "Alright," said Zarniwoop, pressing home his point, "How do you know he exists? How do you know he knows you to be kind, or enjoys what he thinks of as your kindness?" "I don't," said the man with a smile, "I have no idea. It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. Do you behave any differently? Please, I think I am tired." Zarniwoop heaved a thoroughly dissatisfied sigh and looked about. "Where are the other two?" he said suddenly. "What other two?" said the ruler of the Universe, settling back into his chair and refilling his whisky glass. "Beeblebrox and the girl! The two who were here!" "I remember no one. The past is a fiction to account for..." "Stuff it," snapped Zarniwoop and ran out into the rain. There was no ship. The rain continued to churn the mud. There was no sign to show where the ship had been. He hollered into the rain. He turned and ran back to the shack and found it locked. The ruler of the Universe dozed lightly in his chair. After a while he played with the pencil and the paper again and was delighted when he discovered how to make a mark with the one on the other. Various noises continued outside, but he didn't know whether they were real or not. He then talked to his table for a week to see how it would react.

Chapter 30

The stars came out that night, dazzling in their brilliance and clarity. Ford and Arthur had walked more miles than they had any means of judging and finally stopped to rest. The night was cool and balmy, the air pure, the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic totally silent. A wonderful stillness hung over the world, a magical calm which combined with the soft fragrances of the woods, the quiet chatter of insects and the brilliant light of the stars to soothe their jangled spirits. Even Ford Prefect, who had seen more worlds than he could count on a long afternoon, was moved to wonder if this was the most beautiful he had ever seen. All that day they had passed through rolling green hills and valleys, richly covered with grasses, wild scented flowers and tall thickly leaved trees, the sun had warmed them, light breezes had kept them cool, and Ford Prefect had checked his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic at less and less frequent intervals, and had exhibited less and less annoyance at its continued silence. He was beginning to think he liked it here. Cool though the night air was they slept soundly and comfortably in the open and awoke a few hours later with the light dewfall feeling refreshed but hungry. Ford had stuffed some small rolls into his satchel at Milliways and they breakfasted off those before moving on. So far they had wandered purely at random, but now they struck out firmly eastwards, feeling that if they were going to explore this world they should have some clear idea of where they had come from and where they were going. Shortly before noon they had their first indication that the world they had landed on was not an uninhabited one: a half glimpsed face amongst the trees, watching them. It vanished at the moment they both saw it, but the image they were both left with was of a humanoid creature, curious to see them but not alarmed. Half an hour later they glimpsed another such face, and ten minutes after that another. A minute later they stumbled into a wide clearing and stopped short. Before them in the middle of the clearing stood a group of about two dozen men and women. They stood still and quiet facing Ford and Arthur. Around some of the women huddled some small children and behind the group was a ramshackle array of small dwellings made of mud and branches. Ford and Arthur held their breath. The tallest of the men stood a little over five feet high, they all stooped forward slightly, had longish arms and lowish foreheads, and clear bright eyes with which they stared intently at the strangers. Seeing that they carried no weapons and made no move towards them, Ford and Arthur relaxed slightly. For a while the two groups simply stared at each other, neither side making any move. The natives seemed puzzled by the intruders, and whilst they showed no sign of aggression they were quite clearly not issuing any invitations. For a full two minutes nothing continued to happen. After two minutes Ford decided it was time something happened. "Hello," he said. The women drew their children slightly closer to them. The men made hardly any discernible move and yet their whole disposition made it clear that the greeting was not welcome-it was not resented in any great degree, it was just not welcome. One of the men, who had been standing slightly forward of the rest of the group and who might therefore have been their leader, stepped forward. His face was quiet and calm, almost serene. "Ugghhhuuggghhhrrrr uh uh ruh uurgh," he said quietly. This caught Arthur by surprise. He had grown so used to receiving an instantaneous and unconscious translation of everything he heard via the Babel Fish lodged in his ear that he had ceased to be aware of it, and he was only reminded of its presence now by the fact that it didn't seem to be working. Vague shadows of meaning had flickered at the back of his mind, but there was nothing he could get any firm grasp on. He guessed, correctly as it happens, that these people had as yet evolved no more than the barest rudiments of language, and that the Babel Fish was therefore powerless to help. He glanced at Ford, who was infinitely more experienced in these matters. "I think," said Ford out of the corner of his mouth, "he's asking us if we'd mind walking on round the edge of the village." A moment later, a gesture from the man-creature seemed to confirm this. "Ruurgggghhhh urrgggh; urgh urgh (uh ruh) rruurruuh ug," continued the man-creature. "The general gist," said Ford, "as far as I can make out, is that we are welcome to continue our journey in any way we like, but if we would walk round his village rather than through it would make them all very happy." "So what do we do?" "I think we make them happy," said Ford. Slowly and watchfully they walked round the perimeter of the clearing. This seemed to go down very well with the natives who bowed to them very slightly and then went about their business. Ford and Arthur continued their journey through the wood. A few hundred yards past the clearing they suddenly came upon a small pile of fruit lying in their path-berries that looked remarkably like raspberries and blackberries, and pulpy, green skinned fruit that looked remarkably like pears. So far they had steered clear of the fruit and berries they had seen, though the trees and bushed were laden with them. "Look at it this way," Ford Prefect had said, "fruit and berries on strange planets either make you live or make you die. Therefore the point at which to start toying with them is when you're going to die if you don't. That way you stay ahead. The secret of healthy hitch-hiking is to eat junk food." They looked at the pile that lay in their path with suspicion. It looked so good it made them almost dizzy with hunger. "Look at it this way," said Ford, "er..." "Yes?" said Arthur. "I'm trying to think of a way of looking at it which means we get to eat it," said Ford. The leaf-dappled sun gleamed on the pulp skins of the things which looked like pears. The things which looked like raspberries and strawberries were fatter and riper than any Arthur had ever seen, even in ice cream commercials. "Why don't we eat them and think about it afterwards?" he said. "Maybe that's what they want us to do." "Alright, look at it this way..." "Sounds good so far." "It's there for us to eat. Either it's good or it's bad, either they want to feed us or to poison us. If it's poisonous and we don't eat it they'll just attack us some other way. If we don't eat, we lose out either way." "I like the way you're thinking," said Ford, "Now eat one." Hesitantly, Arthur picked up one of those things that looked like pears. "I always thought that about the Garden of Eden story," said Ford. "Eh?" "Garden of Eden. Tree. Apple. That bit, remember?" "Yes of course I do." "Your God person puts an apple tree in the middle of a garden and says do what you like guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting 'Gotcha'. It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it." "Why not?" "Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end." "What are you talking about?" "Never mind, eat the fruit." "You know, this place almost looks like the Garden of Eden." "Eat the fruit." "Sounds quite like it too." Arthur took a bite from the thing which looked like a pear. "It's a pear," he said. A few moments later, when they had eaten the lot, Ford Prefect turned round and called out. "Thank you. Thank you very much," he called, "you're very kind." They went on their way.

For the next fifty miles of their journey eastward they kept on finding the occasional gift of fruit lying in their path, and though they once or twice had a quick glimpse of a native man-creature amongst the trees, they never again made direct contact. They decided they rather liked a race of people who made it clear that they were grateful simply to be left alone. The fruit and berries stopped after fifty miles, because that was where the sea started. Having no pressing calls on their time they built a raft and crossed the sea. It was reasonably calm, only about sixty miles wide and they had a reasonably pleasant crossing, landing in a country that was at least as beautiful as the one they had left. Life was, in short, ridiculously easy and for a while at least they were able to cope with the problems of aimlessness and isolation by deciding to ignore them. When the craving for company became too great they would know where to find it, but for the moment they were happy to feel that the Golgafrinchans were hundreds of miles behind them. Nevertheless, Ford Prefect began to use his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic more often again. Only once did he pick up a signal, but that was so faint and from such enormous distance that it depressed him more than the silence that had otherwise continued unbroken. On a whim they turned northwards. After weeks of travelling they came to another sea, built another raft and crossed it. This time it was harder going, the climate was getting colder. Arthur suspected a streak of masochism in Ford Prefect-the increasing difficulty of the journey seemed to give him a sense of purpose that was otherwise lacking. He strode onwards relentlessly. Their journey northwards brought them into steep mountainous terrain of breathtaking sweep and beauty. The vast, jagged, snow covered peaks ravished their senses. The cold began to bite into their bones. They wrapped themselves in animal skins and furs which Ford Prefect acquired by a technique he once learned from a couple of ex-Pralite monks running a Mind-Surfing resort in the Hills of Hunian. The galaxy is littered with ex-Pralite monks, all on the make, because the mental control techniques the Order have evolved as a form of devotional discipline are, frankly, sensational-and extraordinary numbers of monks leave the Order just after they have finished their devotional training and just before they take their final vows to stay locked in small metal boxes for the rest of their lives. Ford's technique seemed to consist mainly of standing still for a while and smiling. After a while an animal-a deer perhaps-would appear from out of the trees and watch him cautiously. Ford would continue to smile at it, his eyes would soften and shine, and he would seem to radiate a deep and universal love, a love which reached out to embrace all of creation. A wonderful quietness would descend on the surrounding countryside, peaceful and serene, emanating from this transfigured man. Slowly the deer would approach, step by step, until it was almost nuzzling him, whereupon Ford Prefect would reach out to it and break its neck. "Pheromone control," he said it was, "you just have to know how to generate the right smell."

Chapter 31

A few days after landing in this mountainous land they hit a coastline which swept diagonally before them from the south-west to the north-east, a coastline of monumental grandeur: deep majestic ravines, soaring pinnacles of ice-fjords. For two further days they scrambled and climbed over the rocks and glaciers, awe-struck with beauty. "Arthur!" yelled Ford suddenly. It was the afternoon of the second day. Arthur was sitting on a high rock watching the thundering sea smashing itself against the craggy promontories. "Arthur!" yelled Ford again. Arthur looked to where Ford's voice had come from, carried faintly in the wind. Ford had gone to examine a glacier, and Arthur found him there crouching by the solid wall of blue ice. He was tense with excitement-his eyes darted up to meet Arthur's. "Look," he said, "look!" Arthur looked. He saw the solid wall of blue ice. "Yes," he said, "it's a glacier. I've already seen it." "No," said Ford, "you've looked at it, you haven't seen it. Look!" Ford was pointing deep into the heart of the ice. Arthur peered-he saw nothing but vague shadows. "Move back from it," insisted Ford, "look again." Arthur moved back and looked again. "No," he said, and shrugged. "What am I supposed to be looking for?" And suddenly he saw it. "You see it?" He saw it. His mouth started to speak, but his brain decided it hadn't got anything to say yet and shut it again. His brain then started to contend with the problem of what his eyes told it they were looking at, but in doing so relinquished control of the mouth which promptly fell open again. Once more gathering up the jaw, his brain lost control of his left hand which then wandered around in an aimless fashion. For a second or so the brain tried to catch the left hand without letting go of the mouth and simultaneously tried to think about what was buried in the ice, which is probably why the legs went and Arthur dropped restfully to the ground. The thing that had been causing all this neural upset was a network of shadows in the ice, about eighteen inches beneath the surface. Looked at it from the right angle they resolved into the solid shapes of letters from an alien alphabet, each about three feet high; and for those, like Arthur, who couldn't read Magrathean there was above the letters the outline of a face hanging in the ice. It was an old face, thin and distinguished, careworn but not unkind. It was the face of the man who had won an award for designing the coastline they now knew themselves to be standing on.

Chapter 32

A thin whine filled the air. It whirled and howled through the trees upsetting the squirrels. A few birds flew off in disgust. The noise danced and skittered round the clearing. It whooped, it rasped, it generally offended. The Captain, however, regarded the lone bagpiper with an indulgent eye. Little could disturb his equanimity; indeed, once he had got over the loss of his gorgeous bath during that unpleasantness in the swamp all those months ago he had begun to find his new life remarkably congenial. A hollow had been scooped out of a large rock which stood in the middle of the clearing, and in this he would bask daily whilst attendants sloshed water over him. Not particularly warm water, it must be said, as they hadn't yet worked out a way of heating it. Never mind, that would come, and in the meantime search parties were scouring the countryside far and wide for a hot spring, preferably one in a nice leafy glade, and if it was near a soap mine-perfection. To those who said that they had a feeling soap wasn't found in mines, the Captain had ventured to suggest that perhaps that was because no one had looked hard enough, and this possibility had been reluctantly acknowledged. No, life was very pleasant, and the greatest thing about it was that when the hot spring was found, complete with leafy glade en suite, and when in the fullness of time the cry came reverberating across the hills that the soap mine had been located and was producing five hundred cakes a day it would be more pleasant still. It was very important to have things to look forward to. Wail, wail, screech, wail, howl, honk, squeak went the bagpipes, increasing the Captain's already considerable pleasure at the thought that any moment now they might stop. That was something he looked forward to as well. What else was pleasant, he asked himself? Well, so many things: the red and gold of the trees, now that autumn was approaching; the peaceful chatter of scissors a few feet from his bath where a couple of hairdressers were exercising their skills on a dozing art director and his assistant; the sunlight gleaming off the six shiny telephones lined up along the edge of his rock-hewn bath. The only thing nicer than a phone that didn't ring all the time (or indeed at all) was six phones that didn't ring all the time (or indeed at all). Nicest of all was the happy murmur of all the hundreds of people slowly assembling in the clearing around him to watch the afternoon committee meeting. The Captain punched his rubber duck playfully on the beak. The afternoon committee meetings were his favourite.

Other eyes watched the assembling crowds. High in a tree on the edge of the clearing squatted Ford Prefect, lately returned from foreign climes. After his six month journey he was lean and healthy, his eyes gleamed, he wore a reindeer-skin coat; his beard was as thick and his face as bronzed as a country-rock singer's. He and Arthur Dent had been watching the Golgafrinchans for almost a week now, and Ford had decided to stir things up a bit. The clearing was now full. Hundreds of men and women lounged around, chatting, eating fruit, playing cards and generally having a fairly relaxed time of it. Their track suits were now all dirty and even torn, but they all had immaculately styled hair. Ford was puzzled to see that many of them had stuffed their track suits full of leaves and wondered if this was meant to be some form of insulation against the coming winter. Ford's eyes narrowed. They couldn't be interested in botany of a sudden could they? In the middle of these speculations the Captain's voice rose above the hubbub. "Alright," he said, "I'd like to call this meeting to some sort of order if that's at all possible. Is that alright with everybody?" He smiled genially. "In a minute. When you're all ready." The talking gradually died away and the clearing fell silent, except for the bagpiper who seemed to be in some wild and uninhabitable musical world of his own. A few of those in his immediate vicinity threw some leaves to him. If there was any reason for this then it escaped Ford Prefect for the moment. A small group of people had clustered round the Captain and one of them was clearly beginning to speak. He did this by standing up, clearing his throat and then gazing off into the distance as if to signify to the crowd that he would be with them in a minute. The crowd of course were riveted and all turned their eyes on him. A moment of silence followed, which Ford judged to be the right dramatic moment to make his entry. The man turned to speak. Ford dropped down out of the tree. "Hi there," he said. The crowd swivelled round. "Ah my dear fellow," called out the Captain, "Got any matches on you? Or a lighter? Anything like that?" "No," said Ford, sounding a little deflated. It wasn't what he'd prepared. He decided he'd better be a little stronger on the subject. "No I haven't," he continued, "No matches. Instead I bring you news..." "Pity," said the Captain, "We've all run out you see. Haven't had a hot bath in weeks." Ford refused to be headed off. "I bring you news," he said, "of a discovery that might interest you." "Is it on the agenda?" snapped the man whom Ford had interrupted. Ford smiled a broad country-rock singer smile. "Now, come on," he said. "Well I'm sorry," said the man huffily, "but speaking as a management consultant of many years' standing, I must insist on the importance of observing the committee structure." Ford looked round the crowd. "He's mad you know," he said, "this is a prehistoric planet." "Address the chair!" snapped the management consultant. "There isn't chair," explained Ford, "there's only a rock." The management consultant decided that testiness was what the situation now called for. "Well, call it a chair," he said testily. "Why not call it a rock?" asked Ford. "You obviously have no conception," said the management consultant, not abandoning testiness in favour of good old fashioned hauteur, "of modern business methods." "And you have no conception of where you are," said Ford. A girl with a strident voice leapt to her feet and used it. "Shut up, you two," she said, "I want to table a motion." "You mean boulder a motion," tittered a hairdresser. "Order, order!" yapped the management consultant. "Alright," said Ford, "let's see how you are doing." He plonked himself down on the ground to see how long he could keep his temper. The Captain made a sort of conciliatory harrumphing noise. "I would like to call to order," he said pleasantly, "the five hundred and seventy-third meeting of the colonization committee of Fintlewoodlewix..." Ten seconds, thought Ford as he leapt to his feet again. "This is futile," he exclaimed, "five hundred and seventy-three committee meetings and you haven't even discovered fire yet!" "If you would care," said the girl with the strident voice, "to examine the agenda sheet..." "Agenda rock," trilled the hairdresser happily. "Thank you, I've made that point," muttered Ford. "... you... will... see..." continued the girl firmly, "that we are having a report from the hairdressers' Fire Development Sub-Committee today." "Oh... ah-" said the hairdresser with a sheepish look which is recognized the whole Galaxy over as meaning "Er, will next Tuesday do?" "Alright," said Ford, rounding on him, "what have you done? What are you going to do? What are your thoughts on fire development?" "Well I don't know," said the hairdresser, "All they gave me was a couple of sticks..." "So what have you done with them?" Nervously, the hairdresser fished in his track suit top and handed over the fruits of his labour to Ford. Ford held them up for all to see. "Curling tongs," he said. The crowd applauded. "Never mind," said Ford, "Rome wasn't burnt in a day." The crowd hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about, but they loved it nevertheless. They applauded. "Well, you're obviously being totally naive of course," said the girl, "When you've been in marketing as long as I have you'll know that before any new product can be developed it has to be properly researched. We've got to find out what people want from fire, how they relate to it, what sort of image it has for them." The crowd were tense. They were expecting something wonderful from Ford. "Stick it up your nose," he said. "Which is precisely the sort of thing we need to know," insisted the girl, "Do people want fire that can be applied nasally?" "Do you?" Ford asked the crowd. "Yes!" shouted some. "No!" shouted others happily. They didn't know, they just thought it was great. "And the wheel," said the Captain, "What about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project." "Ah," said the marketing girl, "Well, we're having a little difficulty there." "Difficulty?" exclaimed Ford, "Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!" The marketing girl soured him with a look. "Alright, Mr. Wiseguy," she said, "you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should have." The crowd went wild. One up to the home team, they thought. Ford shrugged his shoulders and sat down again. "Almighty Zarquon," he said, "have none of you done anything?" As if in answer to his question there was a sudden clamour of noise from the entrance to the clearing. The crowd couldn't believe the amount of entertainment they were getting this afternoon: in marched a squad of about a dozen men dressed in the remnants of their Golgafrincham 3rd Regiment dress uniforms. About half of them still carried Kill-O-Zap guns, the rest now carried spears which they struck together as they marched. They looked bronzed, healthy, and utterly exhausted and bedraggled. They clattered to a halt and banged to attention. One of them fell over and never moved again. "Captain, sir!" cried Number Two-for he was their leader-"Permission to report sir!" "Yes, alright Number Two, welcome back and all that. Find any hot springs?" said the Captain despondently. "No sir!" "Thought you wouldn't." Number Two strode through the crowd and presented arms before the bath. "We have discovered another continent!" "When was this?" "It lies across the sea..." said Number Two, narrowing his eyes significantly, "to the east!" "Ah." Number Two turned to face the crowd. He raised his gun above his head. This is going to be great, thought the crowd. "We have declared war on it!" Wild abandoned cheering broke out in all corners of the clearing-this was beyond all expectation. "Wait a minute," shouted Ford Prefect, "wait a minute!" He leapt to his feet and demanded silence. After a while he got it, or at least the best silence he could hope for under the circumstances: the circumstances were that the bagpiper was spontaneously composing a national anthem. "Do we have to have the piper?" demanded Ford. "Oh yes," said the Captain, "we've given him a grant." Ford considered opening this idea up for debate but quickly decided that that way madness lay. Instead he slung a well judged rock at the piper and turned to face Number Two. "War?" he said. "Yes!" Number Two gazed contemptuously at Ford Prefect. "On the next continent?" "Yes! Total warfare! The war to end all wars!" "But there's no one even living there yet!" Ah, interesting, thought the crowd, nice point. Number Two's gaze hovered undisturbed. In this respect his eyes were like a couple of mosquitos that hover purposefully three inches from your nose and refuse to be deflected by arm thrashes, fly swats or rolled newspapers. "I know that," he said, "but there will be one day! So we have left an open-ended ultimatum." "What?" "And blown up a few military installations." The Captain leaned forward out of his bath. "Military installations Number Two?" he said. For a moment the eyes wavered. "Yes sir, well potential military installations. Alright... trees." The moment of uncertainty passed-his eyes flickered like whips over his audience. "And," he roared, "we interrogated a gazelle!" He flipped his Kill-O-Zap gun smartly under his arm and marched off through the pandemonium that had now erupted throughout the ecstatic crowd. A few steps was all he managed before he was caught up and carried shoulder high for a lap of honour round the clearing. Ford sat and idly tapped a couple of stones together. "So what else have you done?" he inquired after the celebrations had died down. "We have started a culture," said the marketing girl. "Oh yes?" said Ford. "Yes. One of our film producers is already making a fascinating documentary about the indigenous cavemen of the area." "They're not cavemen." "They look like cavemen." "Do they live in caves?" "Well..." "They live in huts." "Perhaps they're having their caves redecorated," called out a wag from the crowd. Ford rounded on him angrily. "Very funny," he said, "but have you noticed that they're dying out?" On their journey back, Ford and Arthur had come across two derelict villages and the bodies of many natives in the woods, where they had crept away to die. Those that still lived were stricken and listless, as if they were suffering some disease of the spirit rather than the body. They moved sluggishly and with an infinite sadness. Their future had been taken away from them. "Dying out!" repeated Ford. "Do you know what that means?" "Er... we shouldn't sell them any life insurance?" called out the wag again. Ford ignored him, and appealed to the whole crowd. "Can you try and understand," he said, "that it's just since we've arrived that they've started dying out!" "In fact that comes over terribly well in this film," said the marketing girl, "and just gives it that poignant twist which is the hallmark of the really great documentary. The producer's very committed." "He should be," muttered Ford. "I gather," said the girl, turning to address the Captain who was beginning to nod off, "that he wants to make one about you next, Captain." "Oh really?" he said, coming to with a start, "that's awfully nice." "He's got a very strong angle on it, you know, the burden of responsibility, the loneliness of command..." The Captain hummed and hahed about this for a moment. "Well, I wouldn't overstress that angle, you know," he said finally, "one's never alone with a rubber duck." He held the duck aloft and it got an appreciative round from the crowd. All the while, the Management Consultant had been sitting in stony silence, his finger tips pressed to his temples to indicate that he was waiting and would wait all day if it was necessary. At this point he decided he would not wait all day after all, he would merely pretend that the last half hour hadn't happened. He rose to his feet. "If," he said tersely, "we could for a moment move on to the subject of fiscal policy..." "Fiscal policy!" whooped Ford Prefect, "Fiscal policy!" The Management Consultant gave him a look that only a lungfish could have copied. "Fiscal policy..." he repeated, "that is what I said." "How can you have money," demanded Ford, "if none of you actually produces anything? It doesn't grow on trees you know." "If you would allow me to continue..." Ford nodded dejectedly. "Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich." Ford stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed. "But we have also," continued the Management Consultant, "run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying one ship's peanut." Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. The Management Consultant waved them down. "So in order to obviate this problem," he continued, "and effectively revaluate the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and... er, burn down all the forests. I think you'll all agree that's a sensible move under the circumstances." The crowd seemed a little uncertain about this for a second or two until someone pointed out how much this would increase the value of the leaves in their pockets whereupon they let out whoops of delight and gave the Management Consultant a standing ovation. The accountants amongst them looked forward to a profitable Autumn. "You're all mad," explained Ford Prefect. "You're absolutely barmy," he suggested. "You're a bunch of raving nutters," he opined. The tide of opinion started to turn against him. What had started out as excellent entertainment had now, in the crowd's view, deteriorated into mere abuse, and since this abuse was in the main directed at them they wearied of it. Sensing this shift in the wind, the marketing girl turned on him. "Is it perhaps in order," she demanded, "to inquire what you've been doing all these months then? You and that other interloper have been missing since the day we arrived." "We've been on a journey," said Ford, "We went to try and find out something about this planet." "Oh," said the girl archly, "doesn't sound very productive to me." "No? Well have I got news for you, my love. We have discovered this planet's future." Ford waited for this statement to have its effect. It didn't have any. They didn't know what he was talking about. He continued. "It doesn't matter a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything, it won't make a scrap of difference. Your future history has already happened. Two million years you've got and that's it. At the end of that time your race will be dead, gone and good riddance to you. Remember that, two million years!" The crowd muttered to itself in annoyance. People as rich as they had suddenly become shouldn't be obliged to listen to this sort of gibberish. Perhaps they could tip the fellow a leaf or two and he would go away. They didn't need to bother. Ford was already stalking out of the clearing, pausing only to shake his head at Number Two who was already firing his Kill-O-Zap gun into some neighbouring trees. He turned back once. "Two million years!" he said and laughed. "Well," said the Captain with a soothing smile, "still time for a few more baths. Could someone pass me the sponge? I just dropped it over the side."

Chapter 33

A mile or so away through the wood, Arthur Dent was too busily engrossed with what he was doing to hear Ford Prefect approach. What he was doing was rather curious, and this is what it was: on a wide flat piece of rock he had scratched out the shape of a large square, subdivided into one hundred and sixty-nine smaller squares, thirteen to a side. Furthermore he had collected together a pile of smallish flattish stones and scratched the shape of a letter on to each. Sitting morosely round the rock were a couple of the surviving local native men whom Arthur Dent was trying to introduce the curious concept embodied in these stones. So far they had not done well. They had attempted to eat some of them, bury others and throw the rest of them away. Arthur had finally encouraged one of them to lay a couple of stones on the board he had scratched out, which was not even as far as he'd managed to get the day before. Along with the rapid deterioration in the morale of these creatures, there seemed to be a corresponding deterioration in their actual intelligence. In an attempt to egg them along, Arthur set out a number of letters on the board himself, and then tried to encourage the natives to add some more themselves. It was not going well. Ford watched quietly from beside a nearby tree. "No," said Arthur to one of the natives who had just shuffled some of the letters round in a fit of abysmal dejection, "Q scores ten you see, and it's on a triple word score, so... look, I've explained the rules to you... no no, look please, put down that jawbone... alright, we'll start again. And try to concentrate this time." Ford leaned his elbow against the tree and his hand against his head. "What are you doing, Arthur?" he asked quietly. Arthur looked up with a start. He suddenly had a feeling that all this might look slightly foolish. All he knew was that it had worked like a dream on him when he was a child. But things were different then, or rather would be. "I'm trying to teach the cavemen to play Scrabble," he said. "They're not cavemen," said Ford. "They look like cavemen." Ford let it pass. "I see," he said. "It's uphill work," said Arthur wearily, "the only word they know is grunt and they can't spell it." He sighed and sat back. "What's that supposed to achieve?" asked Ford. "We've got to encourage them to evolve! To develop!" Arthur burst out angrily. He hoped that the weary sigh and then the anger might do something to counteract the overriding feeling of foolishness from which he was currently suffering. It didn't. He jumped to his feet. "Can you imagine what a world would be like descended from those... cretins we arrived with?" he said. "Imagine?" said Ford, rising his eyebrows. "We don't have to imagine. We've seen it." "But..." Arthur waved his arms about hopelessly. "We've seen it," said Ford, "there's no escape." Arthur kicked at a stone. "Did you tell them what we've discovered?" he asked. "Hmmmm?" said Ford, not really concentrating. "Norway," said Arthur, "Slartibartfast's signature in the glacier. Did you tell them?" "What's the point?" said Ford, "What would it mean to them?" "Mean?" said Arthur, "Mean? You know perfectly well what it means. It means that this planet is the Earth! It's my home! It's where I was born!" "Was?" said Ford. "Alright, will be." "Yes, in two million years' time. Why don't you tell them that? Go and say to them, 'Excuse me, I'd just like to point out that in two million years' time I will be born just a few miles from here.' See what they say. They'll chase you up a tree and set fire to it." Arthur absorbed this unhappily. "Face it," said Ford, "those zeebs over there are your ancestors, not these poor creatures here." He went over to where the apemen creatures were rummaging listlessly with the stone letters. He shook his head. "Put the Scrabble away, Arthur," he said, "it won't save the human race, because this lot aren't going to be the human race. The human race is currently sitting round a rock on the other side of this hill making documentaries about themselves." Arthur winced. "There must be something we can do," he said. A terrible sense of desolation thrilled through his body that he should be here, on the Earth, the Earth which had lost its future in a horrifying arbitrary catastrophe and which now seemed set to lose its past as well. "No," said Ford, "there's nothing we can do. This doesn't change the history of the Earth, you see, this is the history of the Earth. Like it or leave it, the Golgafrinchans are the people you are descended from. In two million years they get destroyed by the Vogons. History is never altered you see, it just fits together like a jigsaw. Funny old thing, life, isn't it?" He picked up the letter Q and hurled it into a distant pivet bush where it hit a young rabbit. The rabbit hurtled off in terror and didn't stop till it was set upon and eaten by a fox which choked on one of its bones and died on the bank of a stream which subsequently washed it away. During the following weeks Ford Prefect swallowed his pride and struck up a relationship with a girl who had been a personnel officer on Golgafrincham, and he was terribly upset when she suddenly passed away as a result of drinking water from a pool that had been polluted by the body of a dead fox. The only moral it is possible to draw from this story is that one should never throw the letter Q into a pivet bush, but unfortunately there are times when it is unavoidable. Like most of the really crucial things in life, this chain of events was completely invisible to Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. They were looking sadly at one of the natives morosely pushing the other letters around. "Poor bloody caveman," said Arthur. "They're not..." "What?" "Oh never mind." The wretched creature let out a pathetic howling noise and banged on the rock. "It's all been a bit of waste of time for them, hasn't it?" said Arthur. "Uh uh urghhhhh," muttered the native and banged on the rock again. "They've been outevolved by telephone sanitizers." "Urgh, gr gr, gruh!" insisted the native, continuing to bang on the rock. "Why does he keep banging on the rock?" said Arthur. "I think he probably wants you to Scrabble with him again," said Ford, "he's pointing at the letters." "Probably spelt crzjgrdwldiwdc again, poor bastard. I keep on telling him there's only one g in crzjgrdwldiwdc." The native banged on the rock again. They looked over his shoulder. Their eyes popped. There amongst the jumble of letters were eight that had been laid out in a clear straight line. They spelt two words. The words were these: "Forty-Two." "Grrrurgh guh guh," explained the native. He swept the letters angrily away and went and mooched under a nearby tree with his colleague. Ford and Arthur stared at him. Then they stared at each other. "Did that say what I thought it said?" they both said to each other. "Yes," they both said. "Forty-two," said Arthur. "Forty-two," said Ford. Arthur ran over to the two natives. "What are you trying to tell us?" he shouted. "What's it supposed to mean?" One of them rolled over on the ground, kicked his legs up in the air, rolled over again and went to sleep. The other bounded up the tree and threw horse chestnuts at Ford Prefect. Whatever it was they had to say, they had already said it. "You know what this means," said Ford. "Not entirely." "Forty-two is the number Deep Thought gave as being the Ultimate Answer." "Yes." And the Earth is the computer Deep Thought designed and built to calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer." "So we are led to believe." "And organic life was part of the computer matrix." "If you say so." "I do say so. That means that these natives, these apemen are an integral part of the computer program, and that we and the Golgafrinchans are not." "But the cavemen are dying out and the Golgafrinchans are obviously set to replace them." "Exactly. So do you see what this means?" "What?" "Cock up," said Ford Prefect. Arthur looked around him. "This planet is having a pretty bloody time of it," he said. Ford puzzled for a moment. "Still, something must have come out of it," he said at last, "because Marvin said he could see the Question printed in your brain wave patterns." "But..." "Probably the wrong one, or a distortion of the right one. It might give us a clue though if we could find it. I don't see how we can though." They moped about for a bit. Arthur sat on the ground and started pulling up bits of grass, but found that it wasn't an occupation he could get deeply engrossed in. It wasn't grass he could believe in, the trees seemed pointless, the rolling hills seemed to be rolling to nowhere and the future seemed just a tunnel to be crawled through. Ford fiddled with his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. It was silent. He sighed and put it away. Arthur picked up one of the letter stones from his home-made Scrabble set. It was a T. He sighed and out it down again. The letter he put down next to it was an I. That spelt IT. He tossed another couple of letters next to them They were an S and an H as it happened. By a curious coincidence the resulting word perfectly expressed the way Arthur was feeling about things just then. He stared at it for a moment. He hadn't done it deliberately, it was just a random chance. His brain got slowly into first gear. "Ford," he said suddenly, "look, if that Question is printed in my brain wave patterns but I'm not consciously aware of it it must be somewhere in my unconscious." "Yes, I suppose so." "There might be a way of bringing that unconscious pattern forward." "Oh yes?" "Yes, by introducing some random element that can be shaped by that pattern." "Like how?" "Like by pulling Scrabble letters out of a bag blindfolded." Ford leapt to his feet. "Brilliant!" he said. He tugged his towel out of his satchel and with a few deft knots transformed it into a bag. "Totally mad," he said, "utter nonsense. But we'll do it because it's brilliant nonsense. Come on, come on." The sun passed respectfully behind a cloud. A few small sad raindrops fell. They piled together all the remaining letters and dropped them into the bag. They shook them up. "Right," said Ford, "close your eyes. Pull them out. Come on come on, come on." Arthur closed his eyes and plunged his hand into the towelful of stones. He jiggled them about, pulled out four and handed them to Ford. Ford laid them along the ground in the order he got them. "W," said Ford, "H, A, T... What!" He blinked. "I think it's working!" he said. Arthur pushed three more at him. "D, O, Y... Doy. Oh perhaps it isn't working," said Ford. "Here's the next three." "O, U, G... Doyoug... It's not making sense I'm afraid." Arthur pulled another two from the bag. Ford put them in place. "E, T, doyouget... Do you get!" shouted Ford, "it is working! This is amazing, it really is working!" "More here." Arthur was throwing them out feverishly as fast as he could go. "I, F," said Ford, "Y, O, U,... M, U, L, T, I, P, L, Y,... What do you get if you multiply,... S, I, X,... six, B, Y, by, six by... what do you get if you multiply six by... N, I, N, E,... six by nine..." He paused. "Come on, where's the next one?" "Er, that's the lot," said Arthur, "that's all there were." He sat back, nonplussed. He rooted around again in the knotted up towel but there were no more letters. "You mean that's it?" said Ford. "That's it." "Six by nine. Forty-two." "That's it. That's all there is."

Chapter 34

The sun came out and beamed cheerfully at them. A bird sang. A warm breeze wafted through the trees and lifted the heads of the flowers, carrying their scent away through the woods. An insect droned past on its way to do whatever it is that insects do in the late afternoon. The sound of voices lilted through the trees followed a moment later by two girls who stopped in surprise at the sight of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent apparently lying on the ground in agony, but in fact rocking with noiseless laughter. "No, don't go," called Ford Prefect between gasps, "we'll be with you in a moment." "What's the matter?" asked one of the girls. She was the taller and slimmer of the two. On Golgafrincham she had been a junior personnel officer, but hadn't liked it much. Ford pulled himself together. "Excuse me," he said, "hello. My friend and I were just contemplating the meaning of life. Frivolous exercise." "Oh it's you," said the girl, "you made a bit of a spectacle of yourself this afternoon. You were quite funny to begin with but you did bang on a bit." "Did I? Oh yes." "Yes, what was all that for?" asked the other girl, a shorter round-faced girl who had been an art director for a small advertising company on Golgafrincham. Whatever the privations of this world were, she went to sleep every night profoundly grateful for the fact that whatever she had to face in the morning it wouldn't be a hundred almost identical photographs of moodily lit tubes of toothpaste. "For? For nothing. Nothing's for anything," said Ford Prefect happily. "Come and join us. I'm Ford, this is Arthur. We were just about to do nothing at all for a while but it can wait." The girls looked at them doubtfully. "I'm Agda," said the tall one, "this is Mella." "Hello Agda, hello Mella," said Ford. "Do you talk at all?" said Mella to Arthur. "Oh, eventually," said Arthur with a smile, "but not as much as Ford." "Good." There was a slight pause. "What did you mean," asked Agda, "about only having two million years? I couldn't make sense of what you were saying." "Oh that," said Ford, "it doesn't matter." "It's just that the world gets demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass," said Arthur with a shrug, "but that's two million years away, and anyway it's just Vogons doing what Vogons do." "Vogons?" said Mella. "Yes, you wouldn't know them." "Where'd you get this idea from?" "It really doesn't matter. It's just like a dream from the past, or the future." Arthur smiled and looked away. "Does it worry you that you don't talk any kind of sense?" asked Agda. "Listen, forget it," said Ford, "forget all of it. Nothing matters. Look, it's a beautiful day, enjoy it. The sun, the green of the hills, the river down in the valley, the burning trees." "Even if it's only a dream, it's a pretty horrible idea," said Mella, "destroying a world just to make a bypass." "Oh, I've heard of worse," said Ford, "I read of one planet off in the seventh dimension that got used as a ball in a game of intergalactic bar billiards. Got potted straight into a black hole. Killed ten billion people." "That's mad," said Mella. "Yes, only scored thirty points too." Agda and Mella exchanged glances. "Look," said Agda, "there's a party after the committee meeting tonight. You can come along if you like." "Yeah, OK," said Ford. "I'd like to," said Arthur.

Many hours later Arthur and Mella sat and watched the moon rise over the dull red glow of the trees. "That story about the world being destroyed..." began Mella. "In two million years, yes." "You say it as if you really think it's true." "Yes, I think it is. I think I was there." She shook her head in puzzlement. "You're very strange," she said. "No, I'm very ordinary," said Arthur, "but some very strange things have happened to me. You could say I'm more differed from than differing." "And that other world your friend talked about, the one that got pushed into a black hole." "Ah, that I don't know about. It sounds like something from the book." "What book?" Arthur paused. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," he said at last. "What's that?" "Oh, just something I threw into the river this evening. I don't think I'll be wanting it any more," said Arthur Dent.

DOUGLAS ADAMS

LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING

for Sally

Chapter 1

The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was. It wasn't just that the cave was cold, it wasn't just that it was damp and smelly. It was the fact that the cave was in the middle of Islington and there wasn't a bus due for two million years. Time is the worst place, so to speak, to get lost in, as Arthur Dent could testify, having been lost in both time and space a good deal. At least being lost in space kept you busy. He was stranded in prehistoric Earth as the result of a complex sequence of events which had involved him being alternately blown up and insulted in more bizarre regions of the Galaxy than he ever dreamt existed, and though his life had now turned very, very, very quiet, he was still feeling jumpy. He hadn't been blown up now for five years. Since he had hardly seen anyone since he and Ford Prefect had parted company four years previously, he hadn't been insulted in all that time either. Except just once. It had happened on a spring evening about two years previously. He was returning to his cave just a little after dusk when he became aware of lights flashing eerily through the clouds. He turned and stared, with hope suddenly clambering through his heart. Rescue. Escape. The castaway's impossible dream-a ship. And as he watched, as he stared in wonder and excitement, a long silver ship descended through the warm evening air, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology. It alighted gently on the ground, and what little hum it had generated died away, as if lulled by the evening calm. A ramp extended itself. Light streamed out. A tall figure appeared silhouetted in the hatchway. It walked down the ramp and stood in front of Arthur. "You're a jerk, Dent," it said simply. It was alien, very alien. It had a peculiar alien tallness, a peculiar alien flattened head, peculiar slitty little alien eyes, extravagantly draped golden ropes with a peculiarly alien collar design, and pale grey-green alien skin which had about it that lustrous shine which most grey-green faces can only acquire with plenty of exercise and very expensive soap. Arthur boggled at it. It gazed levelly at him. Arthur's first sensations of hope and trepidation had instantly been overwhelmed by astonishment, and all sorts of thoughts were battling for the use of his vocal chords at this moment. "Whh...?" he said. "Bu... hu... uh..." he added. "Ru... ra... wah... who?" he managed finally to say and lapsed into a frantic kind of silence. He was feeling the effects of having not said anything to anybody for as long as he could remember. The alien creature frowned briefly and consulted what appeared to be some species of clipboard which he was holding in his thin and spindly alien hand. "Arthur Dent?" it said. Arthur nodded helplessly. "Arthur Philip Dent?" pursued the alien in a kind of efficient yap. "Er... er... yes... er... er," confirmed Arthur. "You're a jerk," repeated the alien, "a complete asshole." "Er..." The creature nodded to itself, made a peculiar alien tick on its clipboard and turned briskly back towards the ship. "Er..." said Arthur desperately, "er..." "Don't give me that!" snapped the alien. It marched up the ramp, through the hatchway and disappeared into the ship. The ship sealed itself. It started to make a low throbbing hum. "Er, hey!" shouted Arthur, and started to run helplessly towards it. "Wait a minute!" he called. "What is this? What? Wait a minute!" The ship rose, as if shedding its weight like a cloak to the ground, and hovered briefly. It swept strangely up into the evening sky. It passed up through the clouds, illuminating them briefly, and then was gone, leaving Arthur alone in an immensity of land dancing a helplessly tiny little dance. "What?" he screamed. "What? What? Hey, what? Come back here and say that!" He jumped and danced until his legs trembled, and shouted till his lungs rasped. There was no answer from anyone. There was no one to hear him or speak to him.

The alien ship was already thundering towards the upper reaches of the atmosphere, on its way out into the appalling void which separates the very few things there are in the Universe from each other. Its occupant, the alien with the expensive complexion, leaned back in its single seat. His name was Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. He was a man with a purpose. Not a very good purpose, as he would have been the first to admit, but it was at least a purpose and it did at least keep him on the move. Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged was-indeed, is-one of the Universe's very small number of immortal beings. Those who are born immortal instinctively know how to cope with it, but Wowbagger was not one of them. Indeed he had come to hate them, the load of serene bastards. He had had his immortality thrust upon him by an unfortunate accident with an irrational particle accelerator, a liquid lunch and a pair of rubber bands. The precise details of the accident are not important because no one has ever managed to duplicate the exact circumstances under which it happened, and many people have ended up looking very silly, or dead, or both, trying. Wowbagger closed his eyes in a grim and weary expression, put some light jazz on the ship's stereo, and reflected that he could have made it if it hadn't been for Sunday afternoons, he really could have done. To begin with it was fun, he had a ball, living dangerously, taking risks, cleaning up on high-yield long-term investments, and just generally outliving the hell out of everybody. In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2.55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul. So things began to pall for him. The merry smiles he used to wear at other people's funerals began to fade. He began to despise the Universe in general, and everyone in it in particular. This was the point at which he conceived his purpose, the thing which would drive him on, and which, as far as he could see, would drive him on forever. It was this. He would insult the Universe. That is, he would insult everybody in it. Individually, personally, one by one, and (this was the thing he really decided to grit his teeth over) in alphabetical order. When people protested to him, as they sometimes had done, that the plan was not merely misGuided but actually impossible because of the number of people being born and dying all the time, he would merely fix them with a steely look and say, "A man can dream can't he?" And so he started out. He equipped a spaceship that was built to last with the computer capable of handling all the data processing involved in keeping track of the entire population of the known Universe and working out the horrifically complicated routes involved. His ship fled through the inner orbits of the Sol star system, preparing to slingshot round the sun and fling itself out into interstellar space. "Computer," he said. "Here," yipped the computer. "Where next?" "Computing that." Wowbagger gazed for a moment at the fantastic jewellery of the night, the billions of tiny diamond worlds that dusted the infinite darkness with light. Every one, every single one, was on his itinerary. Most of them he would be going to millions of times over. He imagined for a moment his itinerary connecting up all the dots in the sky like a child's numbered dots puzzle. He hoped that from some vantage point in the Universe it might be seen to spell a very, very rude word.

The computer beeped tunelessly to indicate that it had finished its calculations. "Folfanga," it said. It beeped. "Fourth world of the Folfanga system," it continued. It beeped again. "Estimated journey time, three weeks," it continued further. It beeped again. "There to meet with a small slug," it beeped, "of the genus A-Rth-Urp-Hil-Ipdenu." "I believe," it added, after a slight pause during which it beeped, "that you had decided to call it a brainless prat." Wowbagger grunted. He watched the majesty of creation outside his window for a moment or two. "I think I'll take a nap," he said, and then added, "what network areas are we going to be passing through in the next few hours?" The computer beeped. "Cosmovid, Thinkpix and Home Brain Box," it said, and beeped. "Any movies I haven't seen thirty thousand times already?" "No." "Uh." "There's Angst in Space. You've only seen that thirty-three thousand five hundred and seventeen times." "Wake me for the second reel." The computer beeped. "Sleep well," it said. The ship fled on through the night.

Meanwhile, on Earth, it began to pour with rain and Arthur Dent sat in his cave and had one of the most truly rotten evenings of his entire life, thinking of things he could have said to the alien and swatting flies, who also had a rotten evening. The next day he made himself a pouch out of rabbit skin because he thought it would be useful to keep things in.

Chapter 2

This morning, two years later than that, was sweet and fragrant as he emerged from the cave he called home until he could think of a better name for it or find a better cave. Though his throat was sore again from his early morning yell of horror, he was suddenly in a terrifically good mood. He wrapped his dilapidated dressing gown tightly around him and beamed at the bright morning. The air was clear and scented, the breeze flitted lightly through the tall grass around his cave, the birds were chirruping at each other, the butterflies were flitting about prettily, and the whole of nature seemed to be conspiring to be as pleasant as it possibly could. It wasn't all the pastoral delights that were making Arthur feel so cheery, though. He had just had a wonderful idea about how to cope with the terrible lonely isolation, the nightmares, the failure of all his attempts at horticulture, and the sheer futurelessness and futility of his life here on prehistoric Earth, which was that he would go mad. He beamed again and took a bite out of a rabbit leg left over from his supper. He chewed happily for a few moments and then decided formally to announce his decision. He stood up straight and looked the world squarely in the fields and hills. To add weight to his words he stuck the rabbit bone in his hair. He spread his arms out wide. "I will go mad!" he announced. "Good idea," said Ford Prefect, clambering down from the rock on which he had been sitting. Arthur's brain somersaulted. His jaw did press-ups. "I went mad for a while," said Ford, "did me no end of good." "You see," said Ford, "-..." "Where have you been?" interrupted Arthur, now that his head had finished working out. "Around," said Ford, "around and about." He grinned in what he accurately judged to be an infuriating manner. "I just took my mind off the hook for a bit. I reckoned that if the world wanted me badly enough it would call back. It did." He took out of his now terribly battered and dilapidated satchel his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. "At least," he said, "I think it did. This has been playing up a bit." He shook it. "If it was a false alarm I shall go mad," he said, "again." Arthur shook his head and sat down. He looked up. "I thought you must be dead..." he said simply. "So did I for a while," said Ford, "and then I decided I was a lemon for a couple of weeks. A kept myself amused all that time jumping in and out of a gin and tonic." Arthur cleared his throat, and then did it again. "Where," he said, "did you...?" "Find a gin and tonic?" said Ford brightly. "I found a small lake that thought it was a gin and tonic, and jumped in and out of that. At least, I think it thought it was a gin and tonic." "I may," he added with a grin which would have sent sane men scampering into trees, "have been imagining it." He waited for a reaction from Arthur, but Arthur knew better than that. "Carry on," he said levelly. "The point is, you see," said Ford, "that there is no point in driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later." "And this is you sane again, is it?" said Arthur. "I ask merely for information." "I went to Africa," said Ford. "Yes?" "Yes." "What was that like?" "And this is your cave is it?" said Ford. "Er, yes," said Arthur. He felt very strange. After nearly four years of total isolation he was so pleased and relieved to see Ford that he could almost cry. Ford was, on the other hand, an almost immediately annoying person. "Very nice," said Ford, in reference to Arthur's cave. "You must hate it." Arthur didn't bother to reply. "Africa was very interesting," said Ford, "I behaved very oddly there." He gazed thoughtfully into the distance. "I took up being cruel to animals," he said airily. "But only," he added, "as a hobby." "Oh yes," said Arthur, warily. "Yes," Ford assured him. "I won't disturb you with the details because they would-" "What?" "Disturb you. But you may be interested to know that I am singlehandedly responsible for the evolved shape of the animal you came to know in later centuries as a giraffe. And I tried to learn to fly. Do you believe me?" "Tell me," said Arthur. "I'll tell you later. I'll just mention that the Guide says..." "The...?" "Guide. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You remember?" "Yes. I remember throwing it in the river." "Yes," said Ford, "but I fished it out." "You didn't tell me." "I didn't want you to throw it in again." "Fair enough," admitted Arthur. "It says?" "What?" "The Guide says?" "The Guide says there is an art to flying," said Ford, "or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." He smiled weakly. He pointed at the knees of his trousers and held his arms up to show the elbows. They were all torn and worn through. "I haven't done very well so far," he said. He stuck out his hand. "I'm very glad to see you again, Arthur," he added. Arthur shook his head in a sudden access of emotion and bewilderment. "I haven't seen anyone for years," he said, "not anyone. I can hardly even remember how to speak. I keep forgetting words. I practise you see. I practise by talking to... talking to... what are those things people think you're mad if you talk to? Like George the Third." "Kings?" suggested Ford. "No, no," said Arthur. "The things he used to talk to. We're surrounded by them for heaven's sake. I've planted hundreds myself. They all died. Trees! I practise by talking to trees. What's that for?" Ford still had his hand stuck out. Arthur looked at it with incomprehension. "Shake," prompted Ford. Arthur did, nervously at first, as if it might turn out to be a fish. Then he grasped it vigorously with both hands in an overwhelming flood of relief. He shook it and shook it. After a while Ford found it necessary to disengage. They climbed to the top of a nearby outcrop of rock and surveyed the scene around them. "What happened to the Golgafrinchans?" asked Ford. Arthur shrugged. "A lot of them didn't make it through the winter three years ago," he said, "and the few who remained in the spring said they needed a holiday and set off on a raft. History says that they must have survived..." "Huh," said Ford, "well well." He stuck his hands on his hips and looked round again at the empty world. Suddenly, there was about Ford a sense of energy and purpose. "We're going," he said excitedly, and shivered with energy. "Where? How?" said Arthur. "I don't know," said Ford, "but I just feel that the time is right. Things are going to happen. We're on our way." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I have detected," he said, "disturbances in the wash." He gazed keenly into the distance and looked as if he would quite like the wind to blow his hair back dramatically at that point, but the wind was busy fooling around with some leaves a little way off. Arthur asked him to repeat what he had just said because he hadn't quite taken his meaning. Ford repeated it. "The wash?" said Arthur. "The space-time wash," said Ford, and as the wind blew briefly past at that moment, he bared his teeth into it. Arthur nodded, and then cleared his throat. "Are we talking about," he asked cautiously, "some sort of Vogon laundromat, or what are we talking about?" "Eddies," said Ford, "in the space-time continuum." "Ah," nodded Arthur, "is he? Is he?" He pushed his hands into the pocket of his dressing gown and looked knowledgeably into the distance. "What?" said Ford. "Er, who," said Arthur, "is Eddy, then, exactly?" Ford looked angrily at him. "Will you listen?" he snapped. "I have been listening," said Arthur, "but I'm not sure it's helped." Ford grasped him by the lapels of his dressing gown and spoke to him as slowly and distinctly and patiently as if he were somebody from a telephone company accounts department. "There seem..." he said, "to be some pools..." he said, "of instability..." he said, "in the fabric..." he said... Arthur looked foolishly at the cloth of his dressing gown where Ford was holding it. Ford swept on before Arthur could turn the foolish look into a foolish remark. "... in the fabric of space-time," he said. "Ah, that," said Arthur. "Yes, that," confirmed Ford. They stood there alone on a hill on prehistoric Earth and stared each other resolutely in the face. "And it's done what?" said Arthur. "It," said Ford, "has developed pools of instability." "Has it?" said Arthur, his eyes not wavering for a moment. "It has," said Ford with a similar degree of ocular immobility. "Good," said Arthur. "See?" said Ford. "No," said Arthur. There was a quiet pause. "The difficulty with this conversation," said Arthur after a sort of pondering look had crawled slowly across his face like a mountaineer negotiating a tricky outcrop, "is that it's very different from most of the ones I've had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees. They weren't like this. Except perhaps some of the ones I've had with elms which sometimes get a bit bogged down." "Arthur," said Ford. "Hello? Yes?" said Arthur. "Just believe everything I tell you, and it will all be very, very simple." "Ah, well I'm not sure I believe that." They sat down and composed their thoughts. Ford got out his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. It was making vague humming noises and a tiny light on it was flickering faintly. "Flat battery?" said Arthur. "No," said Ford, "there is a moving disturbance in the fabric of space-time, an eddy, a pool of instability, and it's somewhere in our vicinity." "Where?" Ford moved the device in a slow lightly bobbing semi-circle. Suddenly the light flashed. "There!" said Ford, shooting out his arm. "There, behind that sofa!" Arthur looked. Much to his surprise, there was a velvet paisley-covered Chesterfield sofa in the field in front of them. He boggled intelligently at it. Shrewd questions sprang into his mind. "Why," he said, "is there a sofa in that field?" "I told you!" shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. "Eddies in the space-time continuum!" "And this is his sofa, is it?" asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses. "Arthur!" shouted Ford at him, "that sofa is there because of the space-time instability I've been trying to get your terminally softened brain to get to grips with. It's been washed out of the continuum, it's space-time jetsam, it doesn't matter what it is, we've got to catch it, it's our only way out of here!" He scrambled rapidly down the rocky outcrop and made off across the field. "Catch it?" muttered Arthur, then frowned in bemusement as he saw that the Chesterfield was lazily bobbing and wafting away across the grass. With a whoop of utterly unexpected delight he leapt down the rock and plunged off in hectic pursuit of Ford Prefect and the irrational piece of furniture. They careered wildly through the grass, leaping, laughing, shouting instructions to each other to head the thing off this way or that way. The sun shone dreamily on the swaying grass, tiny field animals scattered crazily in their wake. Arthur felt happy. He was terribly pleased that the day was for once working out so much according to plan. Only twenty minutes ago he had decided he would go mad, and now he was already chasing a Chesterfield sofa across the fields of prehistoric Earth. The sofa bobbed this way and that and seemed simultaneously to be as solid as the trees as it drifted past some of them and hazy as a billowing dream as it floated like a ghost through others. Ford and Arthur pounded chaotically after it, but it dodged and weaved as if following its own complex mathematical topography, which it was. Still they pursued, still it danced and span, and suddenly turned and dipped as if crossing the lip of a catastrophe graph, and they were practically on top of it. With a heave and a shout they leapt on it, the sun winked out, they fell through a sickening nothingness, and emerged unexpectedly in the middle of the pitch at Lord's Cricked Ground, St John's Wood, London, towards the end of the last Test Match of the Australian Series in the year 198-, with England needing only twenty-eight runs to win.

Important facts from Galactic history, number one: (reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.)

The night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe.

Chapter 3

It was a charming and delightful day at Lord's as Ford and Arthur tumbled haphazardly out of a space-time anomaly and hit the immaculate turf rather hard. The applause of the crowd was tremendous. It wasn't for them, but instinctively they bowed anyway, which was fortunate because the small red heavy ball which the crowd actually had been applauding whistled mere millimetres over Arthur's head. In the crowd a man collapsed. They threw themselves back to the ground which seemed to spin hideously around them. "What was that?" hissed Arthur. "Something red," hissed Ford back at him. "Where are we?" "Er, somewhere green." "Shapes," muttered Arthur. "I need shapes." The applause of the crowd had been rapidly succeeded by gasps of astonishment, and the awkward titters of hundreds of people who could not yet make up their minds about whether to believe what they had just seen or not. "This your sofa?" said a voice. "What was that?" whispered Ford. Arthur looked up. "Something blue," he said. "Shape?" said Ford. Arthur looked again. "It is shaped," he hissed at Ford, with his brow savagely furrowing, "like a policeman." They remained crouched there for a few moments, frowning deeply. The blue thing shaped like a policeman tapped them both on the shoulders. "Come on, you two," the shape said, "let's be having you." These words had an electrifying effect on Arthur. He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring and shot a series of startled glanced at the panorama around him which had suddenly settled down into something of quite terrifying ordinariness. "Where did you get this from?" he yelled at the policeman shape. "What did you say?" said the startled shape. "This is Lord's Cricket Ground, isn't it?" snapped Arthur. "Where did you find it, how did you get it here? I think," he added, clasping his hand to his brow, "that I had better calm down." He squatted down abruptly in front of Ford. "It is a policeman," he said, "What do we do?" Ford shrugged. "What do you want to do?" he said. "I want you," said Arthur, "to tell me that I have been dreaming for the last five years." Ford shrugged again, and obliged. "You've been dreaming for the last five years," he said. Arthur got to his feet. "It's all right, officer," he said. "I've been dreaming for the last five years. Ask him," he added, pointing at Ford, "he was in it." Having said this, he sauntered off towards the edge of the pitch, brushing down his dressing gown. He then noticed his dressing gown and stopped. He stared at it. He flung himself at the policeman. "So where did I get these clothes from?" he howled. He collapsed and lay twitching on the grass. Ford shook his head. "He's had a bad two million years," he said to the policeman, and together they heaved Arthur on to the sofa and carried him off the pitch and were only briefly hampered by the sudden disappearance of the sofa on the way. Reaction to all this from the crowd were many and various. Most of them couldn't cope with watching it, and listened to it on the radio instead. "Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian," said one radio commentator to another. "I don't think there have been any mysterious materializations on the pitch since, oh since, well I don't think there have been any-have there?-that I recall?" "Edgbaston, 1932?" "Ah, now what happened then..." "Well, Peter, I think it was Canter facing Willcox coming up to bowl from the pavilion end when a spectator suddenly ran straight across the pitch." There was a pause while the first commentator considered this. "Ye... e... s..." he said, "yes, there's nothing actually very mysterious about that, is there? He didn't actually materialize, did he? Just ran on." "No, that's true, but he did claim to have seen something materialize on the pitch." "Ah, did he?" "Yes. An alligator, I think, of some description." "Ah. And had anyone else noticed it?" "Apparently not. And no one was able to get a very detailed description from him, so only the most perfunctory search was made." "And what happened to the man?" "Well, I think someone offered to take him off and give him some lunch, but he explained that he'd already had a rather good one, so the matter was dropped and Warwickshire went on to win by three wickets." "So, not very like this current instance. For those of you who've just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er... two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa-a Chesterfield I think?" "Yes, a Chesterfield." "Have just materialized here in the middle of Lord's Cricket Ground. But I don't think they meant any harm, they've been very good-natured about it, and..." "Sorry, can I interrupt you a moment Peter and say that the sofa has just vanished." "So it has. Well, that's one mystery less. Still, it's definitely one for the record books I think, particularly occurring at this dramatic moment in play, England now needing only twenty-four runs to win the series. The men are leaving the pitch in the company of a police officer, and I think everyone's settling down now and play is about to resume." "Now, sir," said the policeman after they had made a passage through the curious crowd and laid Arthur's peacefully inert body on a blanket, "perhaps you'd care to tell me who you are, where you come from, and what that little scene was all about?" Ford looked at the ground for a moment as if steadying himself for something, then he straightened up and aimed a look at the policeman which hit him with the full force of every inch of the six hundred light-years' distance between Earth and Ford's home near Betelgeuse. "All right," said Ford, very quietly, "I'll tell you." "Yes, well, that won't be necessary," said the policeman hurriedly, "just don't let whatever it was happen again." The policeman turned around and wandered off in search of anyone who wasn't from Betelgeuse. Fortunately, the ground was full of them. Arthur's consciousness approached his body as from a great distance, and reluctantly. It had had some bad times in there. Slowly, nervously, it entered and settled down in to its accustomed position. Arthur sat up. "Where am I?" he said. "Lord's Cricket Ground," said Ford. "Fine," said Arthur, and his consciousness stepped out again for a quick breather. His body flopped back on the grass. Ten minutes later, hunched over a cup of tea in the refreshment tent, the colour started to come back to his haggard face. "How're you feeling?" said Ford. "I'm home," said Arthur hoarsely. He closed his eyes and greedily inhaled the steam from his tea as if it was-well, as far as Arthur was concerned, as if it was tea, which it was. "I'm home," he repeated, "home. It's England, it's today, the nightmare is over." He opened his eyes again and smiled serenely. "I'm where I belong," he said in an emotional whisper. "There are two things I fell which I should tell you," said Ford, tossing a copy of the Guardian over the table at him. "I'm home," said Arthur. "Yes," said Ford. "One is," he said pointing at the date at the top of the paper, "that the Earth will be demolished in two days' time." "I'm home," said Arthur. "Tea," he said, "cricket," he added with pleasure, "mown grass, wooden benches, white linen jackets, beer cans..." Slowly he began to focus on the newspaper. He cocked his head on one side with a slight frown. "I've seen that one before," he said. His eyes wandered slowly up to the date, which Ford was idly tapping at. His face froze for a second or two and then began to do that terribly slow crashing trick which Arctic ice-floes do so spectacularly in the spring. "And the other thing," said Ford, "is that you appear to have a bone in your beard." He tossed back his tea. Outside the refreshment tent, the sun was shining on a happy crowd. It shone on white hats and red faces. It shone on ice lollies and melted them. It shone on the tears of small children whose ice lollies had just melted and fallen off the stick. It shone on the trees, it flashed off whirling cricket bats, it gleamed off the utterly extraordinary object which was parked behind the sight-screens and which nobody appeared to have noticed. It beamed on Ford and Arthur as they emerged blinking from the refreshment tent and surveyed the scene around them. Arthur was shaking. "Perhaps," he said, "I should..." "No," said Ford sharply. "What?" said Arthur. "Don't try and phone yourself up at home." "How did you know...?" Ford shrugged. "But why not?" said Arthur. "People who talk to themselves on the phone," said Ford, "never learn anything to their advantage." "But..." "Look," said Ford. He picked up an imaginary phone and dialled an imaginary dial. "Hello?" he said into the imaginary mouthpiece. "Is that Arthur Dent? Ah, hello, yes. This is Arthur Dent speaking. Don't hang up." He looked at the imaginary mouthpiece in disappointment. "He hung up," he said, shrugged, and put the imaginary phone neatly back on its imaginary hook. "This is not my first temporal anomaly," he added. A glummer look replaced the already glum look on Arthur Dent's face. "So we're not home and dry," he said. "We could not even be said," replied Ford, "to be home and vigorously towelling ourselves off." The game continued. The bowler approached the wicket at a lope, a trot, and then a run. He suddenly exploded in a flurry of arms and legs, out of which flew a ball. The batsman swung and thwacked it behind him over the sight-screens. Ford's eyes followed the trajectory of the ball and jogged momentarily. He stiffened. He looked along the flight path of the ball again and his eyes twitched again. "This isn't my towel," said Arthur, who was rummaging in his rabbit-skin bag. "Shhh," said Ford. He screwed his eyes up in concentration. "I had a Golgafrinchan jogging towel," continued Arthur, "it was blue with yellow stars on it. This isn't it." "Shhh," said Ford again. He covered one eye and looked with the other. "This one's pink," said Arthur, "it isn't yours is it?" "I would like you to shut up about your towel," said Ford. "It isn't my towel," insisted Arthur, "that is the point I am trying to..." "And the time at which I would like you to shut up about it," continued Ford in a low growl, "is now." "All right," said Arthur, starting to stuff it back into the primitively stitched rabbit-skin bag. "I realize that it is probably not important in the cosmic scale of things, it's just odd, that's all. A pink towel suddenly, instead of a blue one with yellow stars." Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to behave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved. What he was doing was this. Regardless of the bemused stares it was provoking from his fellow members of the crowd gathered round the pitch, he was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot. After a moment or two of this he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that's not sure whether it's just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain. "This isn't my bag either," said Arthur suddenly. Ford's spell of concentration was broken. He turned angrily on Arthur. "I wasn't talking about my towel," said Arthur. "We've established that that isn't mine. It's just that the bag into which I was putting the towel which is not mine is also not mine, though it is extraordinarily similar. Now personally I think that that is extremely odd, especially as the bag was one I made myself on prehistoric Earth. These are also not my stones," he added, pulling a few flat grey stones out of the bag. "I was making a collection of interesting stones and these are clearly very dull ones." A roar of excitement thrilled through the crowd and obliterated whatever it was that Ford said in reply to this piece of information. The cricket ball which had excited this reaction fell out of the sky and dropped neatly into Arthur's mysterious rabbit-skin bag. "Now I would say that that was also a very curious event," said Arthur, rapidly closing the bag and pretending to look for the ball on the ground. "I don't think it's here," he said to the small boys who immediately clustered round him to join in the search, "it probably rolled off somewhere. Over there I expect." He pointed vaguely in the direction in which he wished they would push off. One of the boys looked at him quizzically. "You all right?" said the boy. "No," said Arthur. "Then why you got a bone in your beard?" said the boy. "I'm training it to like being wherever it's put." Arthur prided himself on saying this. It was, he thought, exactly the sort of thing which would entertain and stimulate young minds. "Oh," said the small boy, putting his head to one side and thinking about it. "What's your name?" "Dent," said Arthur, "Arthur Dent." "You're a jerk, Dent," said the boy, "a complete asshole." The boy looked past him at something else, to show that he wasn't in any particular hurry to run away, and then wandered off scratching his nose. Suddenly Arthur remembered that the Earth was going to be demolished again in two days' time, and just this once didn't feel too bad about it. Play resumed with a new ball, the sun continued to shine and Ford continued to jump up and down shaking his head and blinking. "Something's on your mind, isn't it?" said Arthur. "I think," said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, "that there's an SEP over there." He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again. "A what?" he said. "An SEP." "An S...?" "... EP." "And what's that?" "Somebody Else's Problem." "Ah, good," said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't. "Over there," said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch. "Where?" said Arthur. "There!" said Ford. "I see," said Arthur, who didn't. "You do?" said Ford. "What?" said Arthur. "Can you see," said Ford patiently, "the SEP?" "I thought you said that was somebody else's problem." "That's right." Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity. "And I want to know," said Ford, "if you can see it." "You do?" "Yes." "What," said Arthur, "does it look like?" "Well, how should I know, you fool?" shouted Ford. "If you can see it, you tell me." Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm. "An SEP," he said, "is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye." "Ah," said Arthur, "then that's why..." "Yes," said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say. "... you've been jumping up and..." "Yes." "... down, and blinking..." "Yes." "... and..." "I think you've got the message." "I can see it," said Arthur, "it's a spaceship." For a moment Arthur was stunned by the reaction this revelation provoked. A roar erupted from the crowd, and from every direction people were running, shouting, yelling, tumbling over each other in a tumult of confusion. He stumbled back in astonishment and glanced fearfully around. Then he glanced around again in even greater astonishment. "Exciting, isn't it?" said an apparition. The apparition wobbled in front of Arthur's eyes, though the truth of the matter is probably that Arthur's eyes were wobbling in front of the apparition. His mouth wobbled as well. "W... w... w... w..." his mouth said. "I think your team have just won," said the apparition. "W... w... w... w..." repeated Arthur, and punctuated each wobble with a prod at Ford Prefect's back. Ford was staring at the tumult in trepidation. "You are English, aren't you?" said the apparition. "W... w... w... w... yes" said Arthur. "Well, your team, as I say, have just won. The match. It means they retain the Ashes. You must be very pleased. I must say, I'm rather fond of cricket, though I wouldn't like anyone outside this planet to hear me saying that. Oh dear no." The apparition gave what looked as if it might have been a mischievous grin, but it was hard to tell because the sun was directly behind him, creating a blinding halo round his head and illuminating his silver hair and beard in a way which was awesome, dramatic and hard to reconcile with mischievous grins. "Still," he said, "it'll all be over in a couple of days, won't it? Though as I said to you when we last met, I was very sorry about that. Still, whatever will have been, will have been." Arthur tried to speak, but gave up the unequal struggle. He prodded Ford again. "I thought something terrible had happened," said Ford, "but it's just the end of the game. We ought to get out. Oh, hello, Slartibartfast, what are you doing here?" "Oh, pottering, pottering," said the old man gravely. "That your ship? Can you give us a lift anywhere?" "Patience, patience," the old man admonished. "OK," said Ford. "It's just that this planet's going to be demolished pretty soon." "I know that," said Slartibartfast. "And, well, I just wanted to make that point," said Ford. "The point is taken." And if you feel that you really want to hang around a cricket pitch at this point..." "I do." "Then it's your ship." "It is." "I suppose." Ford turned away sharply at this point. "Hello, Slartibartfast," said Arthur at last. "Hello, Earthman," said Slartibartfast. "After all," said Ford, "we can only die once." The old man ignored this and stared keenly on to the pitch, with eyes that seemed alive with expressions that had no apparent bearing on what was happening out there. What was happening was that the crowd was gathering itself into a wide circle round the centre of the pitch. What Slartibartfast saw in it, he alone knew. Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals. He was hoping that somebody would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Nöel Coward song called "Mad About the Boy" over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons which he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the "about the boy" bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked. "It's just," he burst out at last, "that if we don't go soon, we might get caught in the middle of it all again. And there's nothing that depresses me more than seeing a planet being destroyed. Except possibly still being on it when it happens. Or," he added in an undertone, "hanging around cricket matches." "Patience," said Slartibartfast again. "Great things are afoot." "That's what you said last time we met," said Arthur. "They were," said Slartibartfast. "Yes, that's true," admitted Arthur. All, however, that seemed to be afoot was a ceremony of some kind. It was being specially staged for the benefit of tv rather than the spectators, and all they could gather about it from where they were standing was what they heard from a nearby radio. Ford was aggressively uninterested. He fretted as he heard it explained that the Ashes were about to be presented to the Captain of the English team out there on the pitch, fumed when told that this was because they had now won them for the nth time, positively barked with annoyance at the information that the Ashes were the remains of a cricket stump, and when, further to this, he was asked to contend with the fact that the cricket stump in question had been burnt in Melbourne, Australia, in 1882, to signify the "death of English cricket", he rounded on Slartibartfast, took a deep breath, but didn't have a chance to say anything because the old man wasn't there. He was marching out on to the pitch with terrible purpose in his gait, his hair, beard and robes swept behind him, looking very much as Moses would have looked if Sinai had been a well-cut lawn instead of, as it is more usually represented, a fiery smoking mountain. "He said to meet him at his ship," said Arthur. "What in the name of zarking fardwarks is the old fool doing?" exploded Ford. "Meeting us at his ship in two minutes," said Arthur with a shrug which indicated total abdication of thought. They started off towards it. Strange sounds reached their ears. They tried not to listen, but could not help noticing that Slartibartfast was querulously demanding that he be given the silver urn containing the Ashes, as they were, he said, "vitally important for the past, present and future safety of the Galaxy", and that this was causing wild hilarity. They resolved to ignore it. What happened next they could not ignore. With a noise like a hundred thousand people saying "wop", a steely white spaceship suddenly seemed to create itself out of nothing in the air directly above the cricket pitch and hung there with infinite menace and a slight hum. Then for a while it did nothing, as if it expected everybody to go about their normal business and not mind it just hanging there. Then it did something quite extraordinary. Or rather, it opened up and let something quite extraordinary come out of it, eleven quite extraordinary things. They were robots, white robots. What was most extraordinary about them was that they appeared to have come dressed for the occasion. Not only were they white, but they carried what appeared to be cricket bats, and not only that, but they also carried what appeared to be cricket balls, and not only that but they wore white ribbing pads round the lower parts of their legs. These last were extraordinary because they appeared to contain jets which allowed these curiously civilized robots to fly down from their hovering spaceship and start to kill people, which is what they did "Hello," said Arthur, "something seems to be happening." "Get to the ship," shouted Ford. "I don't want to know, I don't want to see, I don't want to hear," he yelled as he ran, "this is not my planet, I didn't choose to be here, I don't want to get involved, just get me out of here, and get me to a party, with people I can relate to!" Smoke and flame billowed from the pitch. "Well, the supernatural brigade certainly seems to be out in force here today..." burbled a radio happily to itself. "What I need," shouted Ford, by way of clarifying his previous remarks, "is a strong drink and a peer-group." He continued to run, pausing only for a moment to grab Arthur's arm and drag him along with him. Arthur had adopted his normal crisis role, which was to stand with his mouth hanging open and let it all wash over him. "They're playing cricket," muttered Arthur, stumbling along after Ford. "I swear they are playing cricket. I do not know why they are doing this, but that is what they are doing. They're not just killing people, they're sending them up," he shouted, "Ford, they're sending us up!" It would have been hard to disbelieve this without knowing a great deal more Galactic history than Arthur had so far managed to pick up in his travels. The ghostly but violent shapes that could be seen moving within the thick pall of smoke seemed to be performing a series of bizarre parodies of batting strokes, the difference being that every ball they struck with their bats exploded wherever it landed. The very first one of these had dispelled Arthur's initial reaction, that the whole thing might just be a publicity stunt by Australian margarine manufacturers. And then, as suddenly as it had all started, it was over. The eleven white robots ascended through the seething cloud in a tight formation, and with a few last flashes of flame entered the bowels of their hovering white ship, which, with the noise of a hundred thousand people saying "foop", promptly vanished into the thin air out of which it had wopped. For a moment there was a terrible stunned silence, and then out of the drifting smoke emerged the pale figure of Slartibartfast looking even more like Moses because in spite of the continued absence of the mountain he was at least now striding across a fiery and smoking well-mown lawn. He stared wildly about him until he saw the hurrying figures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect forcing their way through the frightened crowd which was for the moment busy stampeding in the opposite direction. The crowd was clearly thinking to itself about what an unusual day this was turning out to be, and not really knowing which way, if any, to turn. Slartibartfast was gesturing urgently at Ford and Arthur and shouting at them, as the three of them gradually converged on his ship, still parked behind the sight-screens and still apparently unnoticed by the crowd stampeding past it who presumably had enough of their own problems to cope with at that time. "They've garble warble farble!" shouted Slartibartfast in his thin tremulous voice. "What did he say?" panted Ford as he elbowed his way onwards. Arthur shook his head. "'They've...' something or other," he said. "They've table warble farble!" shouted Slartibartfast again. Ford and Arthur shook their heads at each other. "It sounds urgent," said Arthur. He stopped and shouted. "What?" "They've garble warble fashes!" cried Slartibartfast, still waving at them. "He says," said Arthur, "that they've taken the Ashes. That is what I think he says." They ran on. "The...?" said Ford. "Ashes," said Arthur tersely. "The burnt remains of a cricket stump. It's a trophy. That..." he was panting, "is... apparently... what they... have come and taken." He shook his head very slightly as if he was trying to get his brain to settle down lower in his skull. "Strange thing to want to tell us," snapped Ford. "Strange thing to take." "Strange ship." They had arrived at it. The second strangest thing about the ship was watching the Somebody Else's Problem field at work. They could now clearly see the ship for what it was simply because they knew it was there. It was quite apparent, however, that nobody else could. This wasn't because it was actually invisible or anything hyper-impossible like that. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. The ultra-famous sciento-magician Effrafax of Wug once bet his life that, given a year, he could render the great megamountain Magramal entirely invisible. Having spent most of the year jiggling around with immense Lux-O-Valves and Refracto-Nullifiers and Spectrum-Bypass-O-Matics, he realized, with nine hours to go, that he wasn't going to make it. So, he and his friends, and his friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends' friends, and some rather less good friends of theirs who happened to own a major stellar trucking company, put in what now is widely recognized as being the hardest night's work in history, and, sure enough, on the following day, Magramal was no longer visible. Effrafax lost his bet-and therefore his life-simply because some pedantic adjudicating official noticed (a) that when walking around the area that Magramal ought to be he didn't trip over or break his nose on anything, and (b) a suspicious-looking extra moon. The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there. And this is precisely what was happening with Slartibartfast's ship. It wasn't pink, but if it had been, that would have been the least of its visual problems and people were simply ignoring it like anything. The most extraordinary thing about it was that it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro. Ford and Arthur gazed up at it with wonderment and deeply offended sensibilities. "Yes, I know," said Slartibartfast, hurrying up to them at that point, breathless and agitated, "but there is a reason. Come, we must go. The ancient nightmare is come again. Doom confronts us all. We must leave at once." "I fancy somewhere sunny," said Ford. Ford and Arthur followed Slartibartfast into the ship and were so perplexed by what they saw inside it that they were totally unaware of what happened next outside. A spaceship, yet another one, but this one sleek and silver, descended from the sky on to the pitch, quietly, without fuss, its long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology. It landed gently. It extended a short ramp. A tall grey-green figure marched briskly out and approached the small knot of people who were gathered in the centre of the pitch tending to the casualties of the recent bizarre massacre. It moved people aside with quiet, understated authority, and came at last to a man lying in a desperate pool of blood, clearly now beyond the reach of any Earthly medicine, breathing, coughing his last. The figure knelt down quietly beside him. "Arthur Philip Deodat?" asked the figure. The man, with horrified confusion in eyes, nodded feebly. "You're a no-good dumbo nothing," whispered the creature. "I thought you should know that before you went."

Important facts from Galactic history, number two:

(Reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.)

Since this Galaxy began, vast civilizations have risen and fallen, risen and fallen, risen and fallen so often that it's quite tempting to think that life in the Galaxy must be:

(a) something akin to seasick-space-sick, time sick, history sick or some such thing, and (b) stupid.

Chapter 4

It seemed to Arthur as if the whole sky suddenly just stood aside and let them through. It seemed to him that the atoms of his brain and the atoms of the cosmos were streaming through each other. It seemed to him that he was blown on the wind of the Universe, and that the wind was him. It seemed to him that he was one of the thoughts of the Universe and that the Universe was a thought of his. It seemed to the people at Lord's Cricket Ground that another North London restaurant had just come and gone as they so often do, and that this was Somebody Else's Problem. "What happened?" whispered Arthur in considerable awe. "We took off," said Slartibartfast. Arthur lay in startled stillness on the acceleration couch. He wasn't certain whether he had just got space-sickness or religion. "Nice mover," said Ford in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the degree to which he had been impressed by what Slartibartfast's ship had just done, "shame about the decor." For a moment or two the old man didn't reply. He was staring at the instruments with the air of one who is trying to convert fahrenheit to centigrade in his head whilst his house is burning down. Then his brow cleared and he stared for a moment at the wide panoramic screen in front of him, which displayed a bewildering complexity of stars streaming like silver threads around them. His lips moved as if he was trying to spell something. Suddenly his eyes darted in alarm back to his instruments, but then his expression merely subsided into a steady frown. He looked back up at the screen. He felt his own pulse. His frown deepened for a moment, then he relaxed. "It's a mistake to try and understand mathematics," he said, "they only worry me. What did you say?" "Decor," said Ford. "Pity about it." "Deep in the fundamental heart of mind and Universe," said Slartibartfast, "there is a reason." Ford glanced sharply around. He clearly thought this was taking an optimistic view of things. The interior of the flight deck was dark green, dark red, dark brown, cramped and moodily lit. Inexplicably, the resemblance to a small Italian bistro had failed to end at the hatchway. Small pools of light picked out pot plants, glazed tiles and all sorts of little unidentifiable brass things. Rafia-wrapped bottles lurked hideously in the shadows. The instruments which had occupied Slartibartfast's attention seemed to be mounted in the bottom of bottles which were set in concrete. Ford reached out and touched it. Fake concrete. Plastic. Fake bottles set in fake concrete. The fundamental heart of mind and Universe can take a running jump, he thought to himself, this is rubbish. On the other hand, it could not be denied that the way the ship had moved made the Heart of Gold seem like an electric pram. He swung himself off the couch. He brushed himself down. He looked at Arthur who was singing quietly to himself. He looked at the screen and recognized nothing. He looked at Slartibartfast. "How far did we just travel?" he said. "About..." said Slartibartfast, "about two thirds of the way across the Galactic disc, I would say, roughly. Yes, roughly two thirds, I think." "It's a strange thing," said Arthur quietly, "that the further and faster one travels across the Universe, the more one's position in it seems to be largely immaterial, and one is filled with a profound, or rather emptied of a..." "Yes, very strange," said Ford. "Where are we going?" "We are going," said Slartibartfast, "to confront an ancient nightmare of the Universe." "And where are you going to drop us off?" "I will need your help." "Tough. Look, there's somewhere you can take us where we can have fun, I'm trying to think of it, we can get drunk and maybe listen to some extremely evil music. Hold on, I'll look it up." He dug out his copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and tipped through those parts of the index primarily concerned with sex and drugs and rock and roll. "A curse has arisen from the mists of time," said Slartibartfast. "Yes, I expect so," said Ford. "Hey," he said, lighting accidentally on one particular reference entry, "Eccentrica Gallumbits, did you ever meet her? The triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six. Some people say her erogenous zones start some four miles from her actual body. Me, I disagree, I say five." "A curse," said Slartibartfast, "which will engulf the Galaxy in fire and destruction, and possibly bring the Universe to a premature doom. I mean it," he added. "Sounds like a bad time," said Ford, "with luck I'll be drunk enough not to notice. Here," he said, stabbing his finger at the screen of the Guide, "would be a really wicked place to go, and I think we should. What do you say, Arthur? Stop mumbling mantras and pay attention. There's important stuff you're missing here." Arthur pushed himself up from his couch and shook his head. "Where are we going?" he said. "To confront an ancient night-" "Can it," said Ford. "Arthur, we are going out into the Galaxy to have some fun. Is that an idea you can cope with?" "What's Slartibartfast looking so anxious about?" said Arthur. "Nothing," said Ford. "Doom," said Slartibartfast. "Come," he added, with sudden authority, "there is much I must show and tell you." He walked towards a green wrought-iron spiral staircase set incomprehensibly in the middle of the flight deck and started to ascend. Arthur, with a frown, followed. Ford slung the Guide sullenly back into his satchel. "My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fibre," he muttered to himself, "and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes." Nevertheless, he stomped up the stairs behind them. What they found upstairs was just stupid, or so it seemed, and Ford shook his head, buried his face in his hands and slumped against a pot plant, crushing it against the wall. "The central computational area," said Slartibartfast unperturbed, "this is where every calculation affecting the ship in any way is performed. Yes I know what it looks like, but it is in fact a complex four-dimensional topographical map of a series of highly complex mathematical functions." "It looks like a joke," said Arthur. "I know what it looks like," said Slartibartfast, and went into it. As he did so, Arthur had a sudden vague flash of what it might mean, but he refused to believe it. The Universe could not possibly work like that, he thought, cannot possibly. That, he thought to himself, would be as absurd as... he terminated that line of thinking. Most of the really absurd things he could think of had already happened. And this was one of them. It was a large glass cage, or box-in fact a room. In it was a table, a long one. Around it were gathered about a dozen chairs, of the bentwood style. On it was a tablecloth-a grubby, red and white check tablecloth, scarred with the occasional cigarette burn, each, presumably, at a precise calculated mathematical position. And on the tablecloth sat some half-eaten Italian meals, hedged about with half-eaten breadsticks and half-drunk glasses of wine, and toyed with listlessly by robots. It was all completely artificial. The robot customers were attended by a robot waiter, a robot wine waiter and a robot maetre d'. The furniture was artificial, the tablecloth artificial, and each particular piece of food was clearly capable of exhibiting all the mechanical characteristics of, say, a pollo sorpreso, without actually being one. And all participated in a little dance together-a complex routine involving the manipulation of menus, bill pads, wallets, cheque books, credit cards, watches, pencils and paper napkins, which seemed to be hovering constantly on the edge of violence, but never actually getting anywhere. Slartibartfast hurried in, and then appeared to pass the time of day quite idly with the maetre d', whilst one of the customer robots, an autorory, slid slowly under the table, mentioning what he intended to do to some guy over some girl. Slartibartfast took over the seat which had been thus vacated and passed a shrewd eye over the menu. The tempo of the routine round the table seemed somehow imperceptibly to quicken. Arguments broke out, people attempted to prove things on napkins. They waved fiercely at each other, and attempted to examine each other's pieces of chicken. The waiter's hand began to move on the bill pad more quickly than a human hand could manage, and then more quickly than a human eye could follow. The pace accelerated. Soon, an extraordinary and insistent politeness overwhelmed the group, and seconds later it seemed that a moment of consensus was suddenly achieved. A new vibration thrilled through the ship. Slartibartfast emerged from the glass room. "Bistromathics," he said. "The most powerful computational force known to parascience. Come to the Room of Informational Illusions." He swept past and carried them bewildered in his wake.

Chapter 5

The Bistromatic Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors. Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants. The first non-absolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up. The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else's Problem field. The third and most mysterious piece of non-absoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table, and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a sub-phenomenon in this field.) The baffling discrepancies which used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously. They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashness, tiredness, emotionality, or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories-not in reputable laboratories at least. And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth became finally apparent, and it was this: Numbers written on restaurant bills within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe. This single fact took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of maths was put back by years. Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much what the man in the street would have said, "Oh yes, I could have told you that," about. Then some phrases like "Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks" were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it. The small groups of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the Universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theatre grant and went away.

Chapter 6

"In space travel, you see," said Slartibartfast, as he fiddled with some instruments in the Room of Informational Illusions, "in space travel..." He stopped and looked about him. The Room of Informational Illusions was a welcome relief after the visual monstrosities of the central computational area. There was nothing in it. No information, no illusions, just themselves, white walls and a few small instruments which looked as if they were meant to plug into something which Slartibartfast couldn't find. "Yes?" urged Arthur. He had picked up Slartibartfast's sense of urgency but didn't know what to do with it. "Yes what?" said the old man. "You were saying?" Slartibartfast looked at him sharply. "The numbers," he said, "are awful." He resumed his search. Arthur nodded wisely to himself. After a while he realized that this wasn't getting him anywhere and decided that he would say "what?" after all. "In space travel," repeated Slartibartfast, "all the numbers are awful." Arthur nodded again and looked round to Ford for help, but Ford was practising being sullen and getting quite good at it. "I was only," said Slartibartfast with a sigh, "trying to save you the trouble of asking me why all the ship's computations were being done on a waiter's bill pad." Arthur frowned. "Why," he said, "were all the ship's computations being done on a wait-" He stopped. Slartibartfast said, "Because in space travel all the numbers are awful." He could tell that he wasn't getting his point across. "Listen," he said. "On a waiter's bill pad numbers dance. You must have encountered the phenomenon." "Well..." "On a waiter's bill pad," said Slartibartfast, "reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible, within certain parameters." "What parameters?" "It's impossible to say," said Slartibartfast. "That's one of them. Strange but true. At least, I think it's strange," he added, "and I'm assured that it's true." At that moment he located the slot in the wall for which he had been searching, and clicked the instrument he was holding into it. "Do not be alarmed," he said, and then suddenly darted an alarmed look at himself, and lunged back, "it's..." They didn't hear what he said, because at that moment the ship winked out of existence around them and a starbattle-ship the size of a small Midlands industrial city plunged out of the sundered night towards them, star lasers ablaze. They gaped, pop-eyed, and were unable to scream.

Chapter 7

Another world, another day, another dawn. The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently. Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small, cold and slightly damp. There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath. The moment passed as it regularly did on Squornshellous Zeta, without incident. The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees were grey with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless like held breath. Nothing moved. There was silence. The sun struggled feebly with the mist, tried to impart a little warmth here, shed a little light there, but clearly today was going to be just another long haul across the sky. Nothing moved. Again, silence. Nothing moved. Silence. Very often on Squornshellous Zeta, whole days would go on like this, and this was indeed going to be one of them. Fourteen hours later the sun sank hopelessly beneath the opposite horizon with a sense of totally wasted effort. And a few hours later it reappeared, squared its shoulders and started on up the sky again. This time, however, something was happening. A mattress had just met a robot. "Hello, robot," said the mattress. "Bleah," said the robot and continued what it was doing, which was walking round very slowly in a very tiny circle. "Happy?" said the mattress. The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it quizzically. It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked back at him with wide eyes. After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to walk round in tight circles. "We could have a conversation," said the mattress, "would you like that?" It was a large mattress, and probably one of quite high quality. Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of ratchet screwdriver fruit it quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin which crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it. No one really knows what mattresses are meant to gain from their lives either. They are large, friendly, pocket-sprung creatures which live quiet private lives in the marshes of Squornshellous Zeta. Many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried out, shipped out and slept on. None of them seem to mind and all of them are called Zem. "No," said Marvin. "My name," said the mattress, "is Zem. We could discuss the weather a little." Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod. "The dew," he observed, "has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning." He resumed his walk, as if inspired by this conversational outburst to fresh heights of gloom and despondency. He plodded tenaciously. If he had had teeth he would have gritted them at this point. He hadn't. He didn't. The mere plod said it all. The mattress flolloped around. This is a thing that only live mattresses in swamps are able to do, which is why the word is not in more common usage. It flolloped in a sympathetic sort of way, moving a fairish body of water as it did so. It blew a few bubbles up through the water engagingly. Its blue and white stripes glistened briefly in a sudden feeble ray of sun that had unexpectedly made it through the mist, causing the creature to bask momentarily. Marvin plodded. "You have something on your mind, I think," said the mattress floopily. "More than you can possibly imagine," dreaded Marvin. "My capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my capacity for happiness." Stomp, stomp, he went. "My capacity for happiness," he added, "you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first." The mattress globbered. This is the noise made by a live, swamp-dwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal tragedy. The word can also, according to the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, mean the noise made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop on discovering that he has forgotten his wife's birthday for the second year running. Since there was only ever one Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop, and he never married, the word is only ever used in a negative or speculative sense, and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion which holds that the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of lorries it takes to cart its microstored edition around in. Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word "floopily", which simply means "in the manner of something which is floopy". The mattress globbered again. "I sense a deep dejection in your diodes," it vollued (for the meaning of the word "vollue", buy a copy of Squornshellous Swamptalk at any remaindered bookshop, or alternatively buy the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary, as the University will be very glad to get it off their hands and regain some valuable parking lots), "and it saddens me. You should be more mattresslike. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are content to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem, so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a minimum. Why are you walking in circles?" "Because my leg is stuck," said Marvin simply. "It seems to me," said the mattress eyeing it compassionately, "that it is a pretty poor sort of leg." "You are right," said Marvin, "it is." "Voon," said the mattress. "I expect so," said Marvin, "and I also expect that you find the idea of a robot with an artificial leg pretty amusing. You should tell your friends Zem and Zem when you see them later; they'll laugh, if I know them, which I don't of course-except insofar as I know all organic life forms, which is much better than I would wish to. Ha, but my life is but a box of wormgears." He stomped around again in his tiny circle, around his thin steel peg-leg which revolved in the mud but seemed otherwise stuck. "But why do you just keep walking round and round?" said the mattress. "Just to make the point," said Marvin, and continued, round and round. "Consider it made, my dear friend," flurbled the mattress, "consider it made." "Just another million years," said Marvin, "just another quick million. Then I might try it backwards. Just for the variety, you understand." The mattress could feel deep in his innermost spring pockets that the robot dearly wished to be asked how long he had been trudging in this futile and fruitless manner, and with another quiet flurble he did so. "Oh, just over the one-point-five-million mark, just over," said Marvin airily. "Ask me if I ever get bored, go on, ask me." The mattress did. Marvin ignored the question, he merely trudged with added emphasis. "I gave a speech once," he said suddenly, and apparently unconnectedly. "You may not instantly see why I bring the subject up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number." "Er, five," said the mattress. "Wrong," said Marvin. "You see?" The mattress was much impressed by this and realized that it was in the presence of a not unremarkable mind. It willomied along its entire length, sending excited little ripples through its shallow algae-covered pool. It gupped. "Tell me," it urged, "of the speech you once made, I long to hear it." "It was received very badly," said Marvin, "for a variety of reasons. I delivered it," he added, pausing to make an awkward humping sort of gesture with his not-exactly-good arm, but his arm which was better than the other one which was dishearteningly welded to his left side, "over there, about a mile distance." He was pointing as well as he could manage, and he obviously wanted to make it totally clear that this was as well as he could manage, through the mist, over the reeds, to a part of the marsh which looked exactly the same as every other part of the marsh. "There," he repeated. "I was somewhat of a celebrity at the time." Excitement gripped the mattress. It had never heard of speeches being delivered on Squornshellous Zeta, and certainly not by celebrities. Water spattered off it as a thrill glurried across its back. It did something which mattresses very rarely bother to do. Summoning every bit of its strength, it reared its oblong body, heaved it up into the air and held it quivering there for a few seconds whilst it peered through the mist over the reeds at the part of the marsh which Marvin had indicated, observing, without disappointment, that it was exactly the same as every other part of the marsh. The effort was too much, and it flodged back into its pool, deluging Marvin with smelly mud, moss and weeds. "I was a celebrity," droned the robot sadly, "for a short while on account of my miraculous and bitterly resented escape from a fate almost as good as death in the heart of a blazing sun. You can guess from my condition," he added, "how narrow my escape was. I was rescued by a scrap-metal merchant, imagine that. Here I am, brain the size of... never mind." He trudged savagely for a few seconds. "He it was who fixed me up with this leg. Hateful, isn't it? He sold me to a Mind Zoo. I was the star exhibit. I had to sit on a box and tell my story whilst people told me to cheer up and think positive. 'Give us a grin, little robot,' they would shout at me, 'give us a little chuckle.' I would explain to them that to get my face to grin would take a good couple of hours in a workshop with a wrench, and that went down very well." "The speech," urged the mattress. "I long to hear of the speech you gave in the marshes." "There was a bridge built across the marshes. A cyberstructured hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies and freighters over the swamp." "A bridge?" quirruled the mattress. "Here in the swamp?" "A bridge," confirmed Marvin, "here in the swamp. It was going to revitalize the economy of the Squornshellous System. They spent the entire economy of the Squornshellous System building it. They asked me to open it. Poor fools." It began to rain a little, a fine spray slid through the mist. "I stood on the platform. For hundreds of miles in front of me, and hundreds of miles behind me, the bridge stretched." "Did it glitter?" enthused the mattress. "It glittered." "Did it span the miles majestically?" "It spanned the miles majestically." "Did it stretch like a silver thread far out into the invisible mist?" "Yes," said Marvin. "Do you want to hear this story?" "I want to hear your speech," said the mattress. "This is what I said. I said, 'I would like to say that it is a very great pleasure, honour and privilege for me to open this bridge, but I can't because my lying circuits are all out of commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinkable abuse of all who wantonly cross her.' And I plugged myself into the opening circuits." Marvin paused, remembering the moment. The mattress flurred and glurried. It flolloped, gupped and willomied, doing this last in a particularly floopy way. "Voon," it wurfed at last. "And it was a magnificent occasion?" "Reasonably magnificent. The entire thousand-mile-long bridge spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping into the mire, taking everybody with it." There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed unexpectedly to say "wop" and a team of white robots descended from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in tight military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then they were gone again in their ship, which said "foop". "You see the sort of thing I have to contend with?" said Marvin to the gobbering mattress. Suddenly, a moment later, the robots were back again for another violent incident, and this time when they left, the mattress was alone in the swamp. He flolloped around in astonishment and alarm. He almost lurgled in fear. He reared himself to see over the reeds, but there was nothing to see, just more reeds. He listened, but there was no sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed etymologists calling distantly to each other across the sullen mire.

Chapter 8

The body of Arthur Dent span. The Universe shattered into a million glittering fragments around it, and each particular shard span silently through the void, reflecting on its silver surface some single searing holocaust of fire and destruction. And then the blackness behind the Universe exploded, and each particular piece of blackness was the furious smoke of hell. And the nothingness behind the blackness behind the Universe erupted, and behind the nothingness behind the blackness behind the shattered Universe was at last the dark figure of an immense man speaking immense words. "These, then," said the figure, speaking from an immensely comfortable chair, "were the Krikkit Wars, the greatest devastation ever visited upon our Galaxy. What you have experienced..." Slartibartfast floated past, waving. "It's just a documentary," he called out. "This is not a good bit. Terribly sorry, trying to find the rewind control..." "... is what billions of billions of innocent..." "Do not," called out Slartibartfast floating past again, and fiddling furiously with the thing that he had stuck into the wall of the Room of Informational Illusions and which was in fact still stuck there, "agree to buy anything at this point." "... people, creatures, your fellow beings..." Music swelled-again, it was immense music, immense chords. And behind the man, slowly, three tall pillars began to emerge out of the immensely swirling mist. "... experienced, lived through-or, more often, failed to live through. Think of that, my friends. And let us not forget-and in just a moment I shall be able to suggest a way which will help us always to remember-that before the Krikkit Wars, the Galaxy was that rare and wonderful thing a happy Galaxy!" The music was going bananas with immensity at this point. "A Happy Galaxy, my friends, as represented by the symbol of the Wikkit Gate!" The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two cross pieces in a way which looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur's addled brain. "The three pillars," thundered the man. "The Steel Pillar which represented the Strength and Power of the Galaxy!" Searchlights seared out and danced crazy dances up and down the pillar on the left which was, clearly, made of steel or something very like it. The music thumped and bellowed. "The Perspex Pillar," announced the man, "representing the forces of Science and Reason in the Galaxy!" Other searchlights played exotically up and down the righthand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice-cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent. "And," the thunderous voice continued, "the Wooden Pillar, representing..." and here his voice became just very slightly hoarse with wonderful sentiments, "the forces of Nature and Spirituality." The lights picked out the central pillar. The music moved bravely up into the realms of complete unspeakability. "Between them supporting," the voice rolled on, approaching its climax, "the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace!" The whole structure was now flooded with dazzling lights, and the music had now, fortunately, gone far beyond the limits of the discernible. At the top of the three pillars the two brilliantly gleaming bails sat and dazzled. There seemed to be girls sitting on top of them, or maybe they were meant to be angels. Angels are usually represented as wearing more than that, though. Suddenly there was a dramatic hush in what was presumably meant to be the Cosmos, and a darkening of the lights. "There is not a world," thrilled the man's expert voice, "not a civilized world in the Galaxy where this symbol is not revered even today. Even in primitive worlds it persists in racial memories. This it was that the forces of Krikkit destroyed, and this it is that now locks their world away till the end of eternity!" And with a flourish, the man produced in his hands a model of the Wikkit gate. Scale was terribly hard to judge in this whole extraordinary spectacle, but the model looked as if it must have been about three feet high. "Not the original key, of course. That, as everyone knows, was destroyed, blasted into the ever-whirling eddies of the space-time continuum and lost for ever. This is a remarkable replica, hand-tooled by skilled craftsmen, lovingly assembled using ancient craft secrets into a memento you will be proud to own, in memory of those who fell, and in tribute to the Galaxy-our Galaxy-which they died to defend..." Slartibartfast floated past again at this moment. "Found it," he said. "We can lose all this rubbish. Just don't nod, that's all." "Now, let us bow our heads in payment," intoned the voice, and then said it again, much faster and backwards. Lights came and went, the pillars disappeared, the man gabled himself backwards into nothing, the Universe snappily reassembled itself around them. "You get the gist?" said Slartibartfast. "I'm astonished," said Arthur, "and bewildered." "I was asleep," said Ford, who floated into view at this point. "Did I miss anything?" They found themselves once again teetering rather rapidly on the edge of an agonizingly high cliff. The wind whipped out from their faces and across a bay on which the remains of one of the greatest and most powerful space battle-fleets ever assembled in the Galaxy was briskly burning itself back into existence. The sky was a sullen pink, darkening via a rather curious colour to blue and upwards to black. Smoke billowed down out of it at an incredible lick. Events were now passing back by them almost too quickly to be distinguished, and when, a short while later, a huge starbattle-ship rushed away from them as if they'd said "boo", they only just recognized it as the point at which they had come in. But now things were too rapid, a video-tactile blur which brushed and jiggled them through centuries of galactic history, turning, twisting, flickering. The sound was a mere thin thrill. Periodically through the thickening jumble of events they sensed appalling catastrophes, deep horrors, cataclysmic shocks, and these were always associated with certain recurring images, the only images which ever stood out clearly from the avalance of tumbling history: a wicket gate, a small hard red ball, hard white robots, and also something less distinct, something dark and cloudy. But there was also another sensation which rose clearly out of the thrilling passage of time. Just as a slow series of clicks when speeded up will lose the definition of each individual click and gradually take on the quality of a sustained and rising tone, so a series of individual impressions here took on the quality of a sustained emotion-and yet not an emotion. If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly-again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly. And just as a rising tone will change in character and take on harmonics as it rises, so again, this emotionless emotion seemed to rise to an unbearable if unheard scream and suddenly seemed to be a scream of guilt and failure. And suddenly it stopped.

They were left standing on a quiet hilltop on a tranquil evening. The sun was setting. All around them softly undulating green countryside rolled off gently into the distance. Birds sang about what they thought of it all, and the general opinion seemed to be good. A little way away could be heard the sound of children playing, and a little further away than the apparent source of that sound could be seen in the dimming evening light the outlines of a small town. The town appeared to consist mostly of fairly low buildings made of white stone. The skyline was of gentle pleasing curves. The sun had nearly set. As if out of nowhere, music began. Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped. A voice said, "This..." Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped. "I will tell you about it," he said quietly. The place was peaceful. Arthur felt happy. Even Ford seemed cheerful. They walked a short way in the direction of the town, and the Informational Illusion of the grass was pleasant and springy under their feet, and the Informational Illusion of the flowers smelt sweet and fragrant. Only Slartibartfast seemed apprehensive and out of sorts. He stopped and looked up. It suddenly occurred to Arthur that, coming as this did at the end, so to speak, or rather the beginning of all the horror they had just blurredly experienced, something nasty must be about to happen. He was distressed to think that something nasty could happen to somewhere as idyllic as this. He too glanced up. There was nothing in the sky. "They're not about to attack here, are they?" he said. He realized that this was merely a recording he was walking through, but he still felt alarmed. "Nothing is about to attack here," said Slartibartfast in a voice which unexpectedly trembled with emotion. "This is where it all started. This is the place itself. This is Krikkit." He stared up into the sky. The sky, from one horizon to another, from east to west, from north to south, was utterly and completely black.

Chapter 9

Stomp stomp. Whirrr. "Pleased to be of service." "Shut up." "Thank you." Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp. Whirrr. "Thank you for making a simple door very happy." "Hope your diodes rot." "Thank you. Have a nice day." Stomp stomp stomp stomp. Whirrr. "It is my pleasure to open for you..." "Zark off." "... and my satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done." "I said zark off." "Thank you for listening to this message." Stomp stomp stomp stomp. "Wop." Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said "wop" to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said "wop" to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors. It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said "wop", which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship. It was dark. Most of the ship's non-essential systems were closed down. It was drifting in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected "wop"? He looked about him, up the corridor and down the corridor. It was all in deep shadow. There were just the very dim pinkish outlines of the doors which glowed in the dark and pulsed whenever they spoke, though he had tried every way he could think of stopping them. The lights were off so that his heads could avoid looking at each other, because neither of them was currently a particularly engaging sight, and nor had they been since he had made the error of looking into his soul. It had indeed been an error. It had been late one night-of course. It had been a difficult day-of course. There had been soulful music playing on the ship's sound system-of course. And he had, of course, been slightly drunk. In other words, all the usual conditions which bring on a bout of soul-searching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error. Standing now, silent and alone in the dark corridor he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other was the way to go. He listened but could hear nothing. All there had been was the "wop". It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word. He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge. There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn't think he was an awfully good person to be in control. The first shock of that moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul. In fact he'd always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of somethings, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had giving him a severe jolt. And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn't the totally wonderful object which he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again. Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right. "Freedom," he said aloud. Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom. "I can't cope with it," he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right. He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well. He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support. "You're drinking too much," said Trillian. His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole position. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars. "Excitement and adventure and really wild things," he muttered. "Look," she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him, "it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit." He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before. "Wow," he said. He had another drink. "You've finished the mission you've been on for years." "I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it." "You've still finished it." He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach. "I think it finished me," he said. "Here I am, Zaphod Beeblebrox, I can go anywhere, do anything. I have the greatest ship in the know sky, a girl with whom things seem to be working out pretty well..." "Are they?" "As far as I can tell I'm not an expert in personal relationships..." Trillian raised her eyebrows. "I am," he added, "one hell of a guy, I can do anything I want only I just don't have the faintest idea what." He paused. "One thing," he further added, "has suddenly ceased to lead to another"-in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid gracelessly off his chair. Whilst he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness. "Go to it," it said, "and good luck." It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that. Then she found the entry on Han Wavel, an exotic holiday planet, and one of the wonders of the Galaxy. Han Wavel is a world which consists largely of fabulous ultra-luxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain. The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against. Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizzarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there. Terrific, thought Trillian to herself, and within a few hours the great white running-shoe ship was slowly powering down out of the sky beneath a hot brilliant sun towards a brightly coloured sandy spaceport. The ship was clearly causing a sensation on the ground, and Trillian was enjoying herself. She heard Zaphod moving around and whistling somewhere in the ship. "How are you?" she said over the general intercom. "Fine," he said brightly, "terribly well." "Where are you?" "In the bathroom." "What are you doing?" "Staying here." After an hour or two it became plain that he meant it and the ship returned to the sky without having once opened its hatchway. "Heigh ho," said Eddie the Computer. Trillian nodded patiently, tapped her fingers a couple of times and pushed the intercom switch. "I think that enforced fun is probably not what you need at this point." "Probably not," replied Zaphod from wherever he was. "I think a bit of physical challenge would help draw you out of yourself." "Whatever you think, I think," said Zaphod. "RECREATIONAL IMPOSSIBILITIES" was a heading which caught Trillian's eye when, a short while later, she sat down to flip through the Guide again, and as the Heart of Gold rushed at improbable speeds in an indeterminate direction, she sipped a cup of something undrinkable from the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser and read about how to fly. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying. There is an art, it says, or rather a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it. The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt. That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard. Clearly, it's the second point, the missing, which presents the difficulties. One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it. It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport. If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner. This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of, "Good God, you can't possibly be flying!" It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right. Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly. DO NOT WAVE AT ANYBODY. When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve. You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway. You will also learn how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt. There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the crucial moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them. Trillian read this longingly, but reluctantly decided that Zaphod wasn't really in the right frame of mind for attempting to fly, or for walking through mountains or for trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change-of-address card, which were the other things listed under the heading "RECREATIONAL IMPOSSIBILITIES". Instead, she flew the ship to Allosimanius Syneca, a world of ice, snow, mind-hurtling beauty and stunning cold. The trek from the snow plains of Liska to the summit of the Ice Crystal Pyramids of Sastantua is long and gruelling, even with jet skis and a team of Syneca Snowhounds, but the view from the top, a view which takes in the Stin Glacier Fields, the shimmering Prism Mountains and the far ethereal dancing icelights, is one which first freezes the mind and then slowly releases it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty, and Trillian, for one, felt that she could do with a bit of having her mind slowly released to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty. They went into a low orbit. There lay the silverwhite beauty of Allosimanius Syneca beneath them. Zaphod stayed in bed with one head stuck under a pillow and the other doing crosswords till late into the night. Trillian nodded patiently again, counted to a sufficiently high number, and told herself that the important thing now was just to get Zaphod talking. She prepared, by dint of deactivating all the robot kitchen synthomatics, the most fabulously delicious meal she could contrive-delicately oiled meals, scented fruits, fragrant cheeses, fine Aldebaran wines. She carried it through to him and asked if he felt like talking things through. "Zark off," said Zaphod. Trillian nodded patiently to herself, counted to an even higher number, tossed the tray lightly aside, walked to the transport room and just teleported herself the hell out of his life. She didn't even programme any coordinates, she hadn't the faintest idea where she was going, she just went-a random row of dots flowing through the Universe. "Anything," she said to herself as she left, "is better than this." "Good job too," muttered Zaphod to himself, turned over and failed to go to sleep. The next day he restlessly paced the empty corridors of the ship, pretending not to look for her, though he knew she wasn't there. He ignored the computer's querulous demands to know just what the hell was going on around here by fitting a small electronic gag across a pair of its terminals. After a while he began to turn down the lights. There was nothing to see. Nothing was about to happen. Lying in bed one night-and night was now virtually continuous on the ship-he decided to pull himself together, to get things into some kind of perspective. He sat up sharply and started to pull clothes on. He decided that there must be someone in the Universe feeling more wretched, miserable and forsaken than himself, and he determined to set out and find him. Halfway to the bridge it occurred to him that it might be Marvin, and he returned to bed. It was a few hours later than this, as he stomped disconsolately about the darkened corridors swearing at cheerful doors, that he heard the "wop" said, and it made him very nervous. He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis. He laid his fingertips against the wall and felt an unusual vibration. And now he could quite clearly hear slight noises, and could hear where they were coming from-they were coming from the bridge. "Computer?" he hissed. "Mmmm?" said the computer terminal nearest him, equally quietly. "Is there someone on this ship?" "Mmmmm," said the computer. "Who is it?" Mmmmm mmm mmmmm," said the computer. "What?" "Mmmmm mmmm mm mmmmmmmm." Zaphod buried one of his faces in two of his hands. "Oh, Zarquon," he muttered to himself. Then he stared up the corridor towards the entrance to the bridge in the dim distance from which more and purposeful noises were coming, and in which the gagged terminals were situated. "Computer," he hissed again. "Mmmmm?" "When I ungag you..." "Mmmmm." "Remind me to punch myself in the mouth." "Mmmmm mmm?" "Either one. Now just tell me this. One for yes, two for no. Is it dangerous?" "Mmmmm." "It is?" "Mmmm." "You didn't just go 'mmmm' twice?" "Mmmm mmmm." "Hmmmm." He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it, which was true. He was within two yards of the door to the bridge when he suddenly realized to his horror that it was going to be nice to him, and he stopped dead. He hadn't been able to turn off the doors' courtesy voice circuits. This doorway to the bridge was concealed from view within it because of the excitingly chunky way in which the bridge had been designed to curve round, and he had been hoping to enter unobserved. He leant despondently back against the wall again and said some words which his other head was quite shocked to hear. He peered at the dim pink outline of the door, and discovered that in the darkness of the corridor he could just about make out the Sensor Field which extended out into the corridor and told the door when there was someone there for whom it must open and to whom it must make a cheery and pleasant remark. He pressed himself hard back against the wall and edged himself towards the door, flattening his chest as much as he possibly could to avoid brushing against the very, very dim perimeter of the field. He held his breath, and congratulated himself on having lain in bed sulking for the last few days rather than trying to work out his feelings on chest expanders in the ship's gym. He then realized he was going to have to speak at this point. He took a series of very shallow breaths, and then said as quickly and as quietly as he could, "Door, if you can hear me, say so very, very quietly." Very, very quietly, the door murmured, "I can hear you." "Good. Now, in a moment, I'm going to ask you to open. When you open I do not want you to say that you enjoyed it, OK?" "OK." "And I don't want you to say to me that I have made a simple door very happy, or that it is your pleasure to open for me and your satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done, OK?" "OK." "And I do not want you to ask me to have a nice day, understand?" "I understand." "OK," said Zaphod, tensing himself, "open now." The door slid open quietly. Zaphod slipped quietly through. The door closed quietly behind him. "Is that the way you like it, Mr. Beeblebrox?" said the door out loud. "I want you to imagine," said Zaphod to the group of white robots who swung round to stare at him at that point, "that I have an extremely powerful Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in my hand." There was an immensely cold and savage silence. The robots regarded him with hideously dead eyes. They stood very still. There was something intensely macabre about their appearance, especially to Zaphod who had never seen one before or even known anything about them. The Krikkit Wars belonged to the ancient past of the Galaxy, and Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him, and since his teaching computer had been an integral part of this plot it had eventually had all its history circuits wiped and replaced with an entirely different set of ideas which had then resulted in it being scrapped and sent to a home for Degenerate Cybermats, whither it was followed by the girl who had inadvertently fallen deeply in love with the unfortunate machine, with the result (a) that Zaphod never got near her and (b) that he missed out on a period of ancient history that would have been of inestimable value to him at this moment. He stared at them in shock. It was impossible to explain why, but their smooth and sleek white bodies seemed to be the utter embodiment of clean, clinical evil. From their hideously dead eyes to their powerful lifeless feet, they were clearly the calculated product of a mind that wanted simply to kill. Zaphod gulped in cold fear. They had been dismantling part of the rear bridge wall, and had forced a passage through some of the vital innards of the ship. Through the tangled wreckage Zaphod could see, with a further and worse sense of shock, that they were tunnelling towards the very heart of the ship, the heart of the Improbability Drive that had been so mysteriously created out of thin air, the Heart of Gold itself. The robot closest to him was regarding him in such a way as to suggest that it was measuring every smallest particle of his body, mind and capability. And when it spoke, what it said seemed to bear this impression out. Before going on to what it actually said, it is worth recording at this point that Zaphod was the first living organic being to hear one of these creatures speak for something over ten billion years. If he had paid more attention to his ancient history lessons and less to his organic being, he might have been more impressed by this honour. The robot's voice was like its body, cold, sleek and lifeless. It had almost a cultured rasp to it. It sounded as ancient as it was. It said, "You do have a Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in your hand." Zaphod didn't know what it meant for a moment, but then he glanced down at his own hand and was relieved to see that what he had found clipped to a wall bracket was indeed what he had thought it was. "Yeah," he said in a kind of relieved sneer, which is quite tricky, "well, I wouldn't want to overtax your imagination, robot." For a while nobody said anything, and Zaphod realized that the robots were obviously not here to make conversation, and that it was up to him. "I can't help noticing that you have parked your ship," he said with a nod of one of his heads in the appropriate direction, "through mine." There was no denying this. Without regard for any kind of proper dimensional behaviour they had simply materialized their ship precisely where they wanted it to be, which meant that it was simply locked through the Heart of Gold as if they were nothing more than two combs. Again, they made no response to this, and Zaphod wondered if the conversation would gather any momentum if he phrased his part of it in the form of questions. "... haven't you?" he added. "Yes," replied the robot." "Er, OK," said Zaphod. "So what are you cats doing here?" Silence. "Robots," said Zaphod, "what are you robots doing here?" "We have come," rasped the robot, "for the Gold of the Bail." Zaphod nodded. He waggled his gun to invite further elaboration. The robot seemed to understand this. "The Gold Bail is part of the Key we seek," continued the robot, "to release our Masters from Krikkit." Zaphod nodded again. He waggled his gun again. "The Key," continued the robot simply, "was disintegrated in time and space. The Golden Bail is embedded in the device which drives your ship. It will be reconstituted in the Key. Our Masters shall be released. The Universal Readjustment will continue." Zaphod nodded again. "What are you talking about?" he said. A slightly pained expression seemed to cross the robot's totally expressionless face. He seemed to be finding the conversation depressing. "Obliteration," it said. "We seek the Key," it repeated, "we already have the Wooden Pillar, the Steel Pillar and the Perspex Pillar. In a moment we will have the Gold Bail..." "No you won't." "We will," stated the robot. "No you won't. It makes my ship work." "In a moment," repeated the robot patiently, "we will have the Gold Bail..." "You will not," said Zaphod. "And then we must go," said the robot, in all seriousness, "to a party." "Oh," said Zaphod, startled. "Can I come?" "No," said the robot. "We are going to shoot you." "Oh yeah?" said Zaphod, waggling his gun. "Yes," said the robot, and they shot him. Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.

Chapter 10

"Shhh," said Slartibartfast. "Listen and watch." Night had now fallen on ancient Krikkit. The sky was dark and empty. The only light was coming from the nearby town, from which pleasant convivial sounds were drifting quietly on the breeze. They stood beneath a tree from which heady fragrances wafted around them. Arthur squatted and felt the Informational Illusion of the soil and the grass. He ran it through his fingers. The soil seemed heavy and rich, the grass strong. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was a thoroughly delightful place in all respects. The sky was, however, extremely blank and seemed to Arthur to cast a certain chill over the otherwise idyllic, if currently invisible, landscape. Still, he supposed, it's a question of what you're used to. He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. Slartibartfast was quietly directing his attention to something down the other side of the hill. He looked and could just see some faint lights dancing and waving, and moving slowly in their direction. As they came nearer, sounds became audible too, and soon the dim lights and noises resolved themselves into a small group of people who were walking home across the hill towards the town. They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns which made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex. "The Masters of Krikkit," breathed Slartibartfast in sepulchral tones. Coming, as it did, so hard upon the heels of his own thoughts about Essex this remark caused Arthur a moment's confusion. Then the logic of the situation imposed itself on his scattered mind, and he discovered that he still didn't understand what the old man meant. "What?" he said. "The Masters of Krikkit," said Slartibartfast again, and if his breathing had been sepulchral before, this time he sounded like someone in Hades with bronchitis. Arthur peered at the group and tried to make sense of what little information he had at his disposal at this point. The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise they appeared remarkably pleasant; a little whimsical perhaps, one wouldn't necessarily want to spend a long coach journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough. So why all this rasping lungwork from Slartibartfast which would seem more appropriate to a radio commercial for one of those nasty films about chainsaw operators taking their work home with them? Then, this Krikkit angle was a tough one, too. He hadn't quite fathomed the connection between what he knew as cricket, and what... Slartibartfast interrupted his train of thought at this point as if sensing what was going through his mind. "The game you know as cricket," he said, and his voice still seemed to be wandering lost in subterranean passages, "is just one of those curious freaks of racial memory which can keep images alive in the mind aeons after their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Of all the races on the Galaxy, only the English could possibly revive the memory of the most horrific wars ever to sunder the Universe and transform it into what I'm afraid is generally regarded as an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game. "Rather fond of it myself," he added, "but in most people's eyes you have been inadvertently guilty of the most grotesque bad taste. Particularly the bit about the little red ball hitting the wicket, that's very nasty." "Um," said Arthur with a reflective frown to indicate that his cognitive synapses were coping with this as best as they could, "um." "And these," said Slartibartfast, slipping back into crypt guttural and indicating the group of Krikkit men who had now walked past them, "are the ones who started it all, and it will start tonight. Come, we will follow, and see why." They slipped out from underneath the tree, and followed the cheery party along the dark hill path. Their natural instinct was to tread quietly and stealthily in pursuit of their quarry, though, as they were simply walking through a recorded Informational Illusion, they could as easily have been wearing euphoniums and woad for all the notice their quarry would have taken of them. Arthur noticed that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad which would have netted McCartney Kent and Essex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire. "You must surely know," said Slartibartfast to Ford, "what it is that is about to happen?" "Me?" said Ford. "No." "Did you not learn Ancient Galactic History when you were a child?" "I was in the cybercubicle behind Zaphod," said Ford, "it was very distracting. Which isn't to say that I didn't learn some pretty stunning things." At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party were singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not "under the moon" or "beneath the stars" but "above the grass", which struck Arthur a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewildering black sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so. "No," said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, "the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves 'We are alone in the Universe.' They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank, During the day there is the sun, but you can't look directly at that so they don't. They are hardly aware of the sky. It's as if they had a blind spot which extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. "You see, the reason why they have never thought 'We are alone in the Universe' is that until tonight they don't know about the Universe. Until tonight." He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him. "Imagine," he said, "never even thinking 'We are alone' simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there's any other way to be." He moved on again. "I'm afraid this is going to be a little unnerving," he added. As he spoke, they became aware of a very thin roaring scream high up in the sightless sky above them. They glanced upwards in alarm, but for a moment or two could see nothing. Then Arthur noticed that the people in the party in front of them had heard the noise, but that none of them seemed to know what to do with it. They were glancing around themselves in consternation, left, right, forwards, backwards, even at the ground. It never occurred to them to look upwards. The profoundness of the shock and horror they emanated a few moments later when the burning wreckage of a spaceship came hurtling and screaming out of the sky and crashed about half a mile from where they were standing was something that you had to be there to experience.

Some speak of the Heart of Gold in hushed tones, some of the Starship Bistromath. Many speak of the legendary and gigantic Starship Titanic, a majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artifactovol some hundreds of years ago now, and with good reason. It was sensationally beautiful, staggeringly huge, and more pleasantly equipped than any ship in what now remains of history (see note below on the Campaign for Real Time) but it had the misfortune to be built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood. The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a prototype Improbability Field into it, which was meant, supposedly, to ensure that it was Infinitely Improbable that anything would ever go wrong with any part of the ship. They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately. The Starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale amongst the laser-lit tracery of its construction gantries, a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message-an SOS-before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure. However, the same event which saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proven that more people watched the tri-d coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest achievement ever in the science of audience research. Another spectacular media event of that time was the supernova which the star Ysllodins underwent a few hours later. Ysllodins is the star around which most of the Galaxy's major insurance underwriters live, or rather lived. But whilst these spaceships, and other great ones which come to mind, such as the Galactic Fleet Battleships-the GSS Daring, the GSS Audacy and the GSS Suicidal Insanity-are all spoken of with awe, pride, enthusiasm, affection, admiration, regret, jealousy, resentment, in fact most of the better known emotions, the one which regularly commands the most actual astonishment was Krikkit One, the first spaceship ever built by the people of Krikkit. This is not because it was a wonderful ship. It wasn't. It was a crazy piece of near junk. It looked as if it had been knocked up in somebody's backyard, and this was in fact precisely where it had been knocked up. The astonishing thing about the ship was not that it was one well (it wasn't) but that it was done at all. The period of time which had elapsed between the moment that the people of Krikkit had discovered that there was such a thing as space and the launching of their first spaceship was almost exactly a year. Ford Prefect was extremely grateful, as he strapped himself in, that this was just another Informational Illusion, and that he was therefore completely safe. In real life it wasn't a ship he would have set foot in for all the rice wine in China. "Extremely rickety" was one phrase which sprang to mind, and "Please may I get out?" was another. "This is going to fly?" said Arthur, giving gaunt looks, at the lashed-together pipework and wiring which festooned the cramped interior of the ship. Slartibartfast assured him that it would, that they were perfectly safe and that it was all going to be extremely instructive and not a little harrowing. Ford and Arthur decided just to relax and be harrowed. "Why not," said Ford, "go mad?" In front of them and, of course, totally unaware of their presence for the very good reason that they weren't actually there, were the three pilots. They had also constructed the ship. They had been on the hill path that night singing wholesome heartwarming songs. Their brains had been very slightly turned by the nearby crash of the alien spaceship. They had spent weeks stripping every tiniest last secret out of the wreckage of that burnt-up spaceship, all the while singing lilting spaceship-stripping ditties. They had then built their own ship and this was it. This was their ship, and they were currently singing a little song about that too, expressing the twin joys of achievement and ownership. The chorus was a little poignant, and told of their sorrow that their work had kept them such long hours in the garage, away from the company of their wives and children, who had missed them terribly but had kept them cheerful by bringing them continual stories of how nicely the puppy was growing up. Pow, they took off. They roared into the sky like a ship that knew precisely what it was doing. "No way," said Ford a while later after they had recovered from the shock of acceleration, and were climbing up out of the planet's atmosphere, "no way," he repeated, "does anyone design and build a ship like this in a year, no matter how motivated. I don't believe it. Prove it to me and I still won't believe it." He shook his head thoughtfully and gazed out of a tiny port at the nothingness outside it. The trip passed uneventfully for a while, and Slartibartfast fastwound them through it. Very quickly, therefore, they arrived at the inner perimeter of the hollow, spherical Dust Cloud which surrounded their sun and home planet, occupying, as it were, the next orbit out. It was more as if there was a gradual change in the texture and consistency of space. The darkness seemed now to thrum and ripple past them. It was a very cold darkness, a very blank and heavy darkness, it was the darkness of the night sky of Krikkit. The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur's heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots which hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical knowledge of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done. The darkness of the cloud buffeted at the ship. Inside was the silence of history. Their historic mission was to find out if there was anything or anywhere on the other side of the sky, from which the wrecked spaceship could have come, another world maybe, strange and incomprehensible though this thought was to the enclosed minds of those who had lived beneath the sky of Krikkit. History was gathering itself to deliver another blow. Still the darkness thrummed at them, the blank enclosing darkness. It seemed closer and closer, thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier. And suddenly it was gone. They flew out of the cloud. They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear. For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round. "It'll have to go," the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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