The hitchhikers guide to.., p.15
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       The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, p.15
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         Part #1 of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
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  "No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that."

  "Everyone?" said Arthur. "Well, if everyone has that perhaps it means something! Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know . . ."

  "Maybe. Who cares?" said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. "Perhaps I'm old and tired," he continued, "but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway."

  He rummaged around in a pile of debris and pulled out a large perspex block with his name on it and a model of Norway moulded into it.

  "Where's the sense in that?" he said. "None that I've been able to make out. I've been doing fjords in all my life. For a fleeting moment they become fashionable and I get a major award."

  He turned it over in his hands with a shrug and tossed it aside carelessly, but not so carelessly that it didn't land on something soft.

  "In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it's not equatorial enough. Equatorial!" He gave a hollow laugh. "What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

  "And are you?"

  "No. That's where it all falls down of course."

  "Pity," said Arthur with sympathy. "It sounded like quite a good lifestyle otherwise."

  Somewhere on the wall a small white light flashed.

  "Come," said Slartibartfast, "you are to meet the mice. Your arrival on the planet has caused considerable excitement. It has already been hailed, so I gather, as the third most improbable event in the history of the Universe."

  "What were the first two?"

  "Oh, probably just coincidences," said Slartibartfast carelessly. He opened the door and stood waiting for Arthur to follow.

  Arthur glanced around him once more, and then down at himself, at the sweaty dishevelled clothes he had been lying in the mud in on Thursday morning.

  "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," he muttered to himself.

  "I beg your pardon?" said the old man mildly.

  "Oh nothing," said Arthur, "only joking."

  Chapter 31

  It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

  For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.

  The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

  A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jewelled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

  The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.

  Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.

  Eventually of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy--now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.

  For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across--which happened to be the Earth--where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

  Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

  "It's just life," they say.

  A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old Magrathean to a doorway. They left the car and went through the door into a waiting room full of glass-topped tables and perspex awards. Almost immediately, a light flashed above the door at the other side of the room and they entered.

  "Arthur! You're safe!" a voice cried.

  "Am I?" said Arthur, rather startled. "Oh good."

  The lighting was rather subdued and it took him a moment or so to see Ford, Trillian and Zaphod sitting round a large table beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats and bizarre fruits. They were stuffing their faces.

  "What happened to you?" demanded Arthur.

  "Well," said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle, "our hosts here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to make it up to us. Here," he said hoiking out a lump of evil smelling meat from a bowl, "have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet. It's delicious if you happen to like that sort of thing."

  "Hosts?" said Arthur. "What hosts? I don't see any . . ."

  A small voice said, "Welcome to lunch, Earth creature."

  Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.

  "Ugh!" he said. "There are mice on the table!"

  There was an awkward silence as everyone looked pointedly at Arthur.

  He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like whisky glasses on the table. He heard the silence and glanced around at everyone.

  "Oh!" he said, with sudden realization. "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite prepared for . . ."

  "Let me introduce you," said Trillian. "Arthur, this is Benji mouse."

  "Hi," said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky-glass like affair, and it moved forward slightly.

  "And this is Frankie mouse."

  The other mouse said, "Pleased to meet you," and did likewise.

  Arthur gaped.

  "But aren't they . . ."

  "Yes," said Trillian, "they are the mice I brought with me from the Earth."

  She looked him in the eye and Arthur thought he detected the tiniest resigned shrug.

  "Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Megadonkey?" she said.

  Slartibartfast coughed politely.

  "Er, excuse me," he said.

  "Yes, thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benji mouse sharply, "you may go."

  "What? Oh . . . er, very well," said the old man, slightly taken aback, "I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then."

  "Ah, well, in fact, that won't be necessary," said Frankie mouse. "It looks very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any longer." He swivelled his pink little eyes. "Not now that we have found a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was destroyed."

  "What?" cried Slartibartfast, aghast. "You can't mean that! I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"

  "Well perhaps you can take a quick skiing holiday before you dismantle them," said Frankie, acidly.

  "Skiing holiday!" cried the old man. "Those glaciers are works of art! Elegantly sculptured contours, soaring pinnacles of ice, deep majestic ravines! It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high art!"

  "Thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benji firmly. "That will be all."

  "Yes, sir," said the old man coldly, "thank you very much. Well,
goodbye, Earthman," he said to Arthur, "hope the lifestyle comes together."

  With a brief nod to the rest of the company he turned and walked sadly out of the room.

  Arthur stared after him not knowing what to say.

  "Now," said Benji mouse, "to business."

  Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.

  "To business!" they said.

  "I beg your pardon?" said Benji.

  Ford looked round.

  "Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast," he said.

  The two mice scuttled impatiently around in their glass transports. Finally they composed themselves, and Benji moved forward to address Arthur.

  "Now, Earth creature," he said, "the situation we have in effect is this. We have, as you know, been more or less running your planet for the last ten million years in order to find this wretched thing called the Ultimate Question."

  "Why?" said Arthur, sharply.

  "No--we already thought of that one," said Frankie interrupting, "but it doesn't fit the answer. Why? Forty-Two . . . you see, it doesn't work."

  "No," said Arthur, "I mean why have you been doing it?"

  "Oh, I see," said Frankie. "Well, eventually, just habit, I think, to be brutally honest. And this is more or less the point--we're sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite frankly gives me the screaming heeby jeebies, you know what I mean? It was by the merest lucky chance that Benji and I finished our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday, and have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good offices of your friends."

  "Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension," put in Benji.

  "Since when," continued his murine colleague, "we have had an offer of a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in our own dimensional neck of the woods, and we're very much inclined to take it."

  "I would, wouldn't you, Ford?" said Zaphod promptingly.

  "Oh yes," said Ford, "jump at it, like a shot."

  Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this was leading up to.

  "But we've got to have a product, you see," said Frankie, "I mean, ideally we still need the Ultimate Question in some form or other."

  Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.

  "You see," he said, "if they're just sitting there in the studio looking very relaxed and, you know, just mentioning that they happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and then eventually have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two, then the show's probably quite short. No follow-up, you see."

  "We have to have something that sounds good," said Benji.

  "Something that sounds good?" exclaimed Arthur. "An Ultimate Question that sounds good? From a couple of mice?"

  The mice bristled.

  "Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity of pure research, yes the pursuit of truth in all its forms, but there comes a point I'm afraid where you begin to suspect that if there's any real truth, it's that the entire multi-dimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs. And if it comes to a choice between spending yet another ten million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking the money and running, then I for one could do with the exercise," said Frankie.

  "But . . ." started Arthur, hopelessly.

  "Hey, will you get this, Earthman," interrupted Zaphod. "You are a last generation product of that computer matrix, right, and you were there right up to the moment your planet got the finger, yeah?"

  "Er . . ."

  "So your brain was an organic part of the penultimate configuration of the computer programme," said Ford, rather lucidly he thought.

  "Right?" said Zaphod.

  "Well," said Arthur doubtfully. He wasn't aware of ever having felt an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one of his problems.

  "In other words," said Benji, steering his curious little vehicle right over to Arthur, "there's a good chance that the structure of the question is encoded in the structure of your brain--so we want to buy it off you."

  "What, the question?" said Arthur.

  "Yes," said Ford and Trillian.

  "For lots of money," said Zaphod.

  "No, no," said Frankie, "it's the brain we want to buy."

  "What!"

  "I thought you said you could just read his brain electronically," protested Ford.

  "Oh yes," said Frankie, "but we'd have to get it out first. It's got to be prepared."

  "Treated," said Benji.

  "Diced."

  "Thank you," shouted Arthur, tipping up his chair and backing away from the table in horror.

  "It could always be replaced," said Benji reasonably, "if you think it's important."

  "Yes, an electronic brain," said Frankie, "a simple one would suffice."

  "A simple one!" wailed Arthur.

  "Yeah," said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, "you'd just have to program it to say What? and I don't understand and Where's the tea? --who'd know the difference?"

  "What?" cried Arthur, backing away still further.

  "See what I mean?" said Zaphod and howled with pain because of something that Trillian did at that moment.

  "I'd notice the difference," said Arthur.

  "No you wouldn't," said Frankie mouse, "you'd be programmed not to."

  Ford made for the door.

  "Look, I'm sorry, mice old lads," he said. "I don't think we've got a deal."

  "I rather think we have to have a deal," said the mice in chorus, all the charm vanishing from their piping little voices in an instant. With a tiny whining shriek their two glass transports lifted themselves off the table, and swung through the air towards Arthur, who stumbled further backwards into a blind corner, utterly unable to cope or think of anything.

  Trillian grabbed him desperately by the arm and tried to drag him towards the door, which Ford and Zaphod were struggling to open, but Arthur was dead weight--he seemed hypnotized by the airborne rodents swooping towards him.

  She screamed at him, but he just gaped.

  With one more yank, Ford and Zaphod got the door open. On the other side of it was a small pack of rather ugly men who they could only assume were the heavy mob of Magrathea. Not only were they ugly themselves, but the medical equipment they carried with them was also far from pretty. They charged.

  So--Arthur was about to have his head cut open, Trillian was unable to help him, and Ford and Zaphod were about to be set upon by several thugs a great deal heavier and more sharply armed than they were.

  All in all it was extremely fortunate that at that moment every alarm on the planet burst into an earsplitting din.

  Chapter 32

  " Emergency! Emergency!" blared the klaxons throughout Magrathea. "Hostile ship has landed on planet. Armed intruders in section 8A. Defence stations, defence stations!"

  The two mice sniffed irritably round the fragments of their glass transports where they lay shattered on the floor.

  "Damnation," muttered Frankie mouse, "all that fuss over two pounds of Earthling brain." He scuttled round and about, his pink eyes flashing, his fine white coat bristling with static.

  "The only thing we can do now," said Benji, crouching and stroking his whiskers in thought, "is to try and fake a question, invent one that will sound plausible."

  "Difficult," said Frankie. He thought. "How about What's yellow and dangerous?"

  Benji considered this for a moment.

  "No, no good," he said. "Doesn't fit the answer."

  They sank into silence for a few seconds.

  "Alright," said Benji. "What do you get if you multiply six by seven?"

  "No, no, too literal, too factual," said Frankie, "wouldn't sustain the punters' interest."

  Again they thought.

  Then Frankie said: "Here's a thought. How many roads must a man walk down?"

  "Ah," said Benji. "Aha, now that does s
ound promising!" He rolled the phrase around a little. "Yes," he said, "that's excellent! Sounds very significant without actually tying you down to meaning anything at all. How many roads must a man walk down? Forty-two. Excellent, excellent, that'll fox 'em. Frankie baby, we are made!"

  They performed a scampering dance in their excitement.

  Near them on the floor lay several rather ugly men who had been hit about the head with some heavy design awards.

  Half a mile away, four figures pounded up a corridor looking for a way out. They emerged into a wide open-plan computer bay. They glanced about wildly.

  "Which way do you reckon, Zaphod?" said Ford.

  "At a wild guess, I'd say down here," said Zaphod, running off down to the right between a computer bank and the wall. As the others started after him he was brought up short by a Kill-O-Zap energy bolt that cracked through the air inches in front of him and fried a small section of adjacent wall.

  A voice on a loud hailer said, "OK, Beeblebrox, hold it right there. We've got you covered."

  "Cops!" hissed Zaphod, and span around in a crouch. "You want to try a guess at all, Ford?"

  "OK, this way," said Ford, and the four of them ran down a gangway between two computer banks.

  At the end of the gangway appeared a heavily armoured and space-suited figure waving a vicious Kill-O-Zap gun.

  "We don't want to shoot you, Beeblebrox!" shouted the figure.

  "Suits me fine!" shouted Zaphod back and dived down a wide gap between two data process units.

  The others swerved in behind him.

  "There are two of them," said Trillian. "We're cornered."

  They squeezed themselves down in an angle between a large computer data bank and the wall.

  They held their breath and waited.

  Suddenly the air exploded with energy bolts as both the cops opened fire on them simultaneously.

  "Hey, they're shooting at us," said Arthur, crouching in a tight ball, "I thought they said they didn't want to do that."

  "Yeah, I thought they said that," agreed Ford.

  Zaphod stuck a head up for a dangerous moment.

  "Hey," he said, "I thought you said you didn't want to shoot us!" and ducked again.

  They waited.

  After a moment a voice replied, "It isn't easy being a cop!"

  "What did he say?" whispered Ford in astonishment.

  "He said it isn't easy being a cop."

  "Well, surely that's his problem, isn't it?"

  "I'd have thought so."

 
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