So Long, And Thanks For All The FishDouglas Adams
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
( The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - 4 )
The quest continues in the fourth volume in the ever-popular Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Against all odds, at the eleventh hour, and in the unlikeliest place of all, the intrepid Arthur Dent finds the girl of his dreams. After eight years and about 100,000 lightyears of intergalactic travel, he is looking a little down-at-the-heels himself, and she is heavily sedated because she thinks she is a hedgehog. She is also in the company of a brother that Arthur wouldn't wish on a Vogon. But they are both in search of God's Final Message to His Creation, and hey, this time they might actually find it.
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
to Rick and Heidi for the loan of their stable event
to Mogens and Andy and all at Huntsham Court for a number of unstable events
and especially to Sonny Metha for being stable through all events.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.
This is her story.
That evening it was dark early, which was normal for the time of year. It was cold and windy, which was normal.
It started to rain, which was particularly normal.
A spacecraft landed, which was not.
There was nobody around to see it except some spectacularly stupid quadrupeds who hadn't the faintest idea what to make of it, or whether they were meant to make anything of it, or eat it, or what. So they did what they did to everything which was to run away from it and try to hide under each other, which never worked.
It slipped down out of the clouds, seemingly balanced on a single beam of light.
From a distance you would scarcely have noticed it through the lightning and the storm clouds, but seen from close to it was strangely beautiful--a grey craft of elegantly sculpted form: quite small.
Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.
You'd probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and didn't tell anybody anything they didn't already know - except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing had eventually to be scrapped.
The craft slid quietly down through the rain, its dim operating lights wrapping it in tasteful rainbows. It hummed very quietly, a hum which became gradually louder and deeper as it approached the ground, and which at an altitude of six inches became a heavy throb.
At last it dropped and was quiet.
A hatchway opened. A short flight of steps unfolded itself.
A light appeared in the opening, a bright light streaming out into the wet night, and shadows moved within.
A tall figure appeared in the light, looked around, flinched, and hurried down the steps, carrying a large shopping bag under its arm.
It turned and gave a single abrupt wave back at the ship. Already the rain was streaming through its hair.
"Thank you," he called out, "thank you very..."
He was interrupted by a sharp crack of thunder. He glanced up apprehensively, and in response to a sudden thought quickly started to rummage through the large plastic shopping bag, which he now discovered had a hole in the bottom.
It had large characters printed on the side which read (to anyone who could decipher the Centaurian alphabet) DUTY FREE MEGA-MARKET, PORT BRASTA, ALPHA CENTAURI. BE LIKE THE TWENTY-SECOND ELEPHANT WITH HEATED VALUE IN SPACE-BARK!
"Hold on!" the figure called, waving at the ship.
The steps, which had started to fold themselves back through the hatchway, stopped, re-unfolded, and allowed him back in.
He emerged again a few seconds later carrying a battered and threadbare towel which he shoved into the bag.
He waved again, hoisted the bag under his arm, and started to run for the shelter of some trees as, behind him, the spacecraft had already begun its ascent.
Lightning flitted through the sky and made the figure pause for a moment, and then hurry onwards, revising his path to give the trees a wide berth. He moved swiftly across the ground, slipping here and there, hunching himself against the rain which was falling now with ever-increasing concentration, as if being pulled from the sky.
His feet sloshed through the mud. Thunder grumbled over the hills. He pointlessly wiped the rain off his face and stumbled on.
Not lightning this time, but more diffused and dimmer lights which played slowly over the horizon and faded.
The figure paused again on seeing them, and then redoubled his steps, making directly towards the point on the horizon at which they had appeared.
And now the ground was becoming steeper, sloping upwards, and after another two or three hundred yards it led at last to an obstacle. The figure paused to examine the barrier and then dropped the bag he was carrying over it before climbing over himself.
Hardly had the figure touched the ground on the other side when there came sweeping out of the rain towards him a machine, lights streaming through the wall of water. The figure pressed back as the machine streaked towards him. It was a low bulbous shape, like a small whale surfing - sleek, grey and rounded and moving at terrifying speed.
The figure instinctively threw up his hands to protect himself, but was hit only by a sluice of water as the machine swept past and off into the night.
It was illuminated briefly by another flicker of lightning crossing the sky, which allowed the soaked figure by the roadside a split-second to read a small sign at the back of the machine before it disappeared.
To the figure's apparent incredulous astonishment the sign read, "My other car is also a Porsche."
Rob McKeena was a miserable bastard and he knew it because h
e'd had a lot of people point it out to him over the years and he saw no reason to disagree with them except the obvious one which was that he liked disagreeing with people, particularly people he disliked, which included, at the last count, everyone.
He heaved a sigh and shoved down a gear.
The hill was beginning to steepen and his lorry was heavy with Danish thermostatic radiator controls.
It wasn't that he was naturally predisposed to be so surly, at least he hoped not. It was just the rain which got him down, always the rain.
It was raining now, just for a change.
It was a particular type of rain he particularly disliked, particularly when he was driving. He had a number for it. It was rain type 17.
He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred different words for snow, without which their conversation would probably have got very monotonous. So they would distinguish between thin snow and thick snow, light snow and heavy snow, sludgy snow, brittle snow, snow that came in flurries, snow that came in drifts, snow that came in on the bottom of your neighbour's boots all over your nice clean igloo floor, the snows of winter, the snows of spring, the snows you remember from your childhood that were so much better than any of your modern snow, fine snow, feathery snow, hill snow, valley snow, snow that falls in the morning, snow that falls at night, snow that falls all of a sudden just when you were going out fishing, and snow that despite all your efforts to train them, the huskies have pissed on.
Rob McKeena had two hundred and thirty-one different types of rain entered in his little book, and he didn't like any of them.
He shifted down another gear and the lorry heaved its revs up. It grumbled in a comfortable sort of way about all the Danish thermostatic radiator controls it was carrying.
Since he had left Denmark the previous afternoon, he had been through types 33 (light pricking drizzle which made the roads slippery), 39 (heavy spotting), 47 to 51 (vertical light drizzle through to sharply slanting light to moderate drizzle freshening), 87 and 88 (two finely distinguished varieties of vertical torrential downpour), 100 (post-downpour squalling, cold), all the seastorm types between 192 and 213 at once, 123, 124, 126, 127 (mild and intermediate cold gusting, regular and syncopated cab-drumming), 11 (breezy droplets), and now his least favourite of all, 17.
Rain type 17 was a dirty blatter battering against his windscreen so hard that it didn't make much odds whether he had his wipers on or off.
He tested this theory by turning them off briefly, but as it turned out the visibility did get quite a lot worse. It just failed to get better again when he turned them back on.
In fact one of the wiper blades began to flap off.
Swish swish swish flop swish flop swish swish flop swish flop swish flop flop flop scrape.
He pounded his steering wheel, kicked the floor, thumped his cassette player till it suddenly started playing Barry Manilow, thumped it again till it stopped, and swore and swore and swore and swore and swore.
It was at the very moment that his fury was peaking that there loomed swimmingly in his headlights, hardly visible through the blatter, a figure by the roadside.
A poor bedraggled figure, strangely attired, wetter than an otter in a washing machine, and hitching.
"Poor miserable sod," thought Rob McKeena to himself, realizing that here was somebody with a better right to feel hard done by than himself, "must be chilled to the bone. Stupid to be out hitching on a filthy night like this. All you get is cold, wet, and lorries driving through puddles at you."
He shook his head grimly, heaved another sigh, gave the wheel a turn and hit a large sheet of water square on.
"See what I mean?" he thought to himself as he ploughed swiftly through it. "You get some right bastards on the road."
Splattered in his rear mirror a couple of seconds later was the reflection of the hitch-hiker, drenched by the roadside.
For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about feeling bad about feeling good about it and, satisfied, drove on into the night.
At least it made up for having been finally overtaken by that Porsche he had been diligently blocking for the last twenty miles.
And as he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKeena was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.
The next two lorries were not driven by Rain Gods, but they did exactly the same thing.
The figure trudged, or rather sloshed, onwards till the hill resumed and the treacherous sheet of water was left behind.
After a while the rain began to ease and the moon put in a brief appearance from behind the clouds.
A Renault drove by, and its driver made frantic and complex signals to the trudging figure to indicate that he would have been delighted to give the figure a lift, only he couldn't this time because he wasn't going in the direction that the figure wanted to go, whatever direction that might be, and he was sure the figure would understand. He concluded the signalling with a cheery thumbs-up sign, as if to say that he hoped the figure felt really fine about being cold and almost terminally wet, and he would catch him the next time around.
The figure trudged on. A Fiat passed and did exactly the same as the Renault.
A Maxi passed on the other side of the road and flashed its lights at the slowly plodding figure, though whether this was meant to convey a "Hello" or a "Sorry we're going the other way" or a "Hey look, there's someone in the rain, what a jerk" was entirely unclear. A green strip across the top of the windscreen indicated that whatever the message was, it came from Steve and Carola.
The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying "And another thing..." twenty minutes after admitting he's lost the argument.
The air was clearer now, the night cold. Sound travelled rather well. The lost figure, shivering desperately, presently reached a junction, where a side road turned off to the left. Opposite the turning stood a signpost which the figure suddenly hurried to and studied with feverish curiosity, only twisting away from it as another car passed suddenly.
The first whisked by with complete disregard, the second flashed meaninglessly. A Ford Cortina passed and put on its brakes.
Lurching with surprise, the figure bundled his bag to his chest and hurried forward towards the car, but at the last moment the Cortina span its wheels in the wet and carreered off up the road rather amusingly.
The figure slowed to a stop and stood there, lost and dejected.
As it chanced, the following day the driver of the Cortina went into hospital to have his appendix out, only due to a rather amusing mix up the surgeon removed his leg in error, and before the appendectomy could be rescheduled, the appendicitis complicated into an entertainingly serious case of peritonitis and justice, in its way, was served.
The figure trudged on.
A Saab drew to a halt beside him.
Its window wound down and a friendly voice said, "Have you come far?"
The figure turned toward it. He stopped and grasped the handle of the door.
The figure, the car and its door handle were all on a planet called the Earth, a world whose entire entry in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comprised the two words "Mostly harmless".
The man who wrote this entry was called Ford Prefect, and he was at this precise moment on a far from harmless world, sitting in a far from harmless bar, recklessly causing trouble.
Whether it was because he was drunk, ill or suicidally insane would not have been apparent to a casual observer, and indeed there were no casual observers in the Old Pink Dog Bar on the lower South Side of Han Dold City because it wasn't the sort of place you c
ould afford to do things casually in if you wanted to stay alive. Any observers in the place would have been mean hawklike observers, heavily armed, with painful throbbings in their heads which caused them to do crazy things when they observed things they didn't like.
One of those nasty hushes had descended on the place, a sort of missile crisis sort of hush.
Even the evil-looking bird perched on a rod in the bar had stopped screeching out the names and addresses of local contract killers, which was a service it provided for free.
All eyes were on Ford Prefect. Some of them were on stalks.
The particular way in which he was choosing to dice recklessly with death today was by trying to pay for a drinks bill the size of a small defence budget with an American Express Card, which was not acceptable anywhere in the known Universe.
"What are you worried about?" he asked in a cheery kind of voice. "The expiration date? Have you guys never heard of Neo-Relativity out here? There's whole new areas of physics which can take care of this sort of thing. Time dilation effects, temporal relastatics..."
"We are not worried about the expiration date," said the man to whom he addressed these remarks, who was a dangerous barman in a dangerous city. His voice was a low soft purr, like the low soft purr made by the opening of an ICBM silo. A hand like a side of meat tapped on the bar top, lightly denting it.
"Well, that's good then," said Ford, packing his satchel and preparing to leave.
The tapping finger reached out and rested lightly on the shoulder of Ford Prefect. It prevented him from leaving.
Although the finger was attached to a slablike hand, and the hand was attached to a clublike forearm, the forearm wasn't attached to anything at all, except in the metaphorical sense that it was attached by a fierce doglike loyalty to the bar which was its home. It had previously been more conventionally attached to the original owner of the bar, who on his deathbed had unexpectedly bequeathed it to medical science. Medical science had decided they didn't like the look of it and had bequeathed it right back to the Old Pink Dog Bar.