The hitchhikers guide to.., p.3
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       The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, p.3

         Part #1 of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
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  "And if you want to pop off for a quick one yourself later on," said Ford, "we can always cover up for you in return."

  "Thank you very much," said Mr. Prosser who no longer knew how to play this at all, "thank you very much, yes, that's very kind . . ." He frowned, then smiled, then tried to do both at once, failed, grasped hold of his fur hat and rolled it fitfully round the top of his head. He could only assume that he had just won.

  "So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would just like to come over here and lie down . . ."

  "What?" said Mr. Prosser.

  "Ah, I'm sorry," said Ford, "perhaps I hadn't made myself fully clear. Somebody's got to lie in front of the bulldozers, haven't they? Or there won't be anything to stop them driving into Mr. Dent's house, will there?"

  "What?" said Mr. Prosser again.

  "It's very simple," said Ford, "my client, Mr. Dent, says that he will stop lying here in the mud on the sole condition that you come and take over from him."

  "What are you talking about?" said Arthur, but Ford nudged him with his shoe to be quiet.

  "You want me," said Mr. Prosser, spelling out this new thought to himself, "to come and lie there . . ."

  "Yes."

  "In front of the bulldozer?"

  "Yes."

  "Instead of Mr. Dent."

  "Yes."

  "In the mud."

  "In, as you say it, the mud."

  As soon as Mr. Prosser realized that he was substantially the loser after all, it was as if a weight lifted itself off his shoulders: this was more like the world as he knew it. He sighed.

  "In return for which you will take Mr. Dent with you down to the pub?"

  "That's it," said Ford. "That's it exactly."

  Mr. Prosser took a few nervous steps forward and stopped.

  "Promise?"

  "Promise," said Ford. He turned to Arthur.

  "Come on," he said to him, "get up and let the man lie down."

  Arthur stood up, feeling as if he was in a dream.

  Ford beckoned to Prosser who sadly, awkwardly, sat down in the mud. He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. The mud folded itself round his bottom and his arms and oozed into his shoes.

  Ford looked at him severely.

  "And no sneaky knocking down Mr. Dent's house whilst he's away, alright?" he said.

  "The mere thought," growled Mr. Prosser, "hadn't even begun to speculate," he continued, settling himself back, "about the merest possibility of crossing my mind."

  He saw the bulldozer driver's union representative approaching and let his head sink back and closed his eyes. He was trying to marshal his arguments for proving that he did not now constitute a mental health hazard himself. He was far from certain about this--his mind seemed to be full of noise, horses, smoke, and the stench of blood. This always happened when he felt miserable and put upon, and he had never been able to explain it to himself. In a high dimension of which we know nothing the mighty Khan bellowed with rage, but Mr. Prosser only trembled slightly and whimpered. He began to fell little pricks of water behind the eyelids. Bureaucratic cock-ups, angry men lying in the mud, indecipherable strangers handing out inexplicable humiliations and an unidentified army of horsemen laughing at him in his head--what a day.

  What a day. Ford Prefect knew that it didn't matter a pair of dingo's kidneys whether Arthur's house got knocked down or not now.

  Arthur remained very worried.

  "But can we trust him?" he said.

  "Myself I'd trust him to the end of the Earth," said Ford.

  "Oh yes," said Arthur, "and how far's that?"

  "About twelve minutes away," said Ford, "come on, I need a drink."

  Chapter 2

  Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

  It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

  The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards.

  The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself.

  Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit, it says.

  Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V--Oh that Santraginean sea water, it says. Oh those Santraginean fish!!!

  Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).

  Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.

  Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odours of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle sweet and mystic.

  Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.

  Sprinkle Zamphuor.

  Add an olive.

  Drink . . . but . . . very carefully . . .

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.

  "Six pints of bitter," said Ford Prefect to the barman of the Horse and Groom. "And quickly please, the world's about to end."

  The barman of the Horse and Groom didn't deserve this sort of treatment, he was a dignified old man. He pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked at Ford Prefect. Ford ignored him and stared out of the window, so the barman looked instead at Arthur who shrugged helplessly and said nothing.

  So the barman said, "Oh yes, sir? Nice weather for it," and started pulling pints.

  He tried again.

  "Going to watch the match this afternoon then?"

  Ford glanced round at him.

  "No, no point," he said, and looked back out of the window.

  "What's that, foregone conclusion then you reckon, sir?" said the barman. "Arsenal without a chance?"

  "No, no," said Ford, "it's just that the world's about to end."

  "Oh yes, sir, so you said," said the barman, looking over his glasses this time at Arthur. "Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did."

  Ford looked back at him, genuinely surprised.

  "No, not really," he said. He frowned.

  The barman breathed in heavily. "There you are, sir, six pints," he said.

  Arthur smiled at him wanly and shrugged again. He turned and smiled wanly at the rest of the pub just in case any of them had heard what was going on.

  None of them had, and none of them could understand what he was smiling at them for.

  A man sitting next to Ford at the bar looked at the two men, looked at the six pints, did a swift burst of mental arithmetic, arrived at an answer he liked and grinned a stupid hopeful grin at them.

  "Get off," said Ford, "They're ours," giving him a look that would have an Algolian Suntiger get on with what it was doing.

  Ford slapped a five-pound note on the bar. He said, "Keep the change."

  "What, from a fiver? Thank you, sir."

  "You've got ten minutes left to spend it."

  The barman simply decided to walk away for a bit.

  "Ford," said Arthur, "would you please tell me what the hell is going on?"

  "Drink up," said Ford, "you've got three pints to get through."

  "Three pints?" said Arthur. "At lunchtime?"

  The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily. Ford ignored him. He said, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."

  "Very deep," said Arthur, "you should send that in to the Reader's Digest. They've got
a page for people like you."

  "Drink up."

  "Why three pints all of a sudden?"

  "Muscle relaxant, you'll need it."

  "Muscle relaxant?"

  "Muscle relaxant."

  Arthur stared into his beer.

  "Did I do anything wrong today," he said, "or has the world always been like this and I've been too wrapped up in myself to notice?"

  "Alright," said Ford, "I'll try to explain. How long have we known each other?"

  "How long?" Arthur thought. "Er, about five years, maybe six," he said. "Most of it seemed to make some sense at the time."

  "Alright," said Ford. "How would you react if I said that I'm not from Guildford after all, but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse?"

  Arthur shrugged in a so-so sort of way.

  "I don't know," he said, taking a pull of beer. "Why--do you think it's the sort of thing you're likely to say?"

  Ford gave up. It really wasn't worth bothering at the moment, what with the world being about to end. He just said:

  "Drink up."

  He added, perfectly factually:

  "The world's about to end."

  Arthur gave the rest of the pub another wan smile. The rest of the pub frowned at him. A man waved at him to stop smiling at them and mind his own business.

  "This must be Thursday," said Arthur musing to himself, sinking low over his beer, "I never could get the hang of Thursdays."

  Chapter 3

  On this particular Thursday, something was moving quietly through the ionosphere many miles above the surface of the planet; several somethings in fact, several dozen huge yellow chunky slablike somethings, huge as office buildings, silent as birds. They soared with ease, basking in electromagnetic rays from the star Sol, biding their time, grouping, preparing.

  The planet beneath them was almost perfectly oblivious of their presence, which was just how they wanted it for the moment. The huge yellow somethings went unnoticed at Goonhilly, they passed over Cape Canaveral without a blip, Woomera and Jodrell Bank looked straight through them--which was a pity because it was exactly the sort of thing they'd been looking for all these years.

  The only place they registered at all was on a small black device called a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic which winked away quietly to itself. It nestled in the darkness inside a leather satchel which Ford Prefect wore habitually round his neck. The contents of Ford Prefect's satchel were quite interesting in fact and would have made any Earth physicist's eyes pop out of his head, which is why he always concealed them by keeping a couple of dog-eared scripts for plays he pretended he was auditioning for stuffed in the top. Besides the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic and the scripts he had an Electronic Thumb--a short squat black rod, smooth and matt with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end; he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million "pages" could be summoned at a moment's notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words Don't Panic printed on it in large friendly letters. The other reason was that this device was in fact that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor--The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitch hiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in.

  Beneath that in Ford Prefect's satchel were a few biros, a notepad, and a largish bath towel from Marks and Spencer.

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

  A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value--you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you--daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

  More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

  Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

  Nestling quietly on top of the towel in Ford Prefect's satchel, the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic began to wink more quickly. Miles above the surface of the planet the huge yellow somethings began to fan out. At Jodrell Bank, someone decided it was time for a nice relaxing cup of tea.

  "You got a towel with you?" said Ford Prefect suddenly to Arthur.

  Arthur, struggling through his third pint, looked round at him.

  "Why? What, no . . . should I have?" He had given up being surprised, there didn't seem to be any point any longer.

  Ford clicked his tongue in irritation.

  "Drink up," he urged.

  At that moment the dull sound of a rumbling crash from outside filtered through the low murmur of the pub, through the sound of the jukebox, through the sound of the man next to Ford hiccupping over the whisky Ford had eventually bought him.

  Arthur choked on his beer, leapt to his feet.

  "What's that?" he yelped.

  "Don't worry," said Ford, "they haven't started yet."

  "Thank God for that," said Arthur and relaxed.

  "It's probably just your house being knocked down," said Ford, drowning his last pint.

  "What?" shouted Arthur. Suddenly Ford's spell was broken. Arthur looked wildly around him and ran to the window.

  "My God, they are! They're knocking my house down. What the hell am I doing in the pub, Ford?"

  "It hardly makes any difference at this stage," said Ford, "let them have their fun."

  "Fun?" yelped Arthur. "Fun!" He quickly checked out of the window again that they were talking about the same thing.

  "Damn their fun!" he hooted and ran out of the pub furiously waving a nearly empty beer glass. He made no friends at all in the pub that lunchtime.

  "Stop, you vandals! You home wreckers!" bawled Arthur. "You half crazed Visigoths, stop will you!"

  Ford would have to go after him. Turning quickly to the barman he asked for four packets of peanuts.

  "There you are, sir," said the barman, slapping the packets on the bar, "twenty-eight pence if you'd be so kind."

  Ford was very kind--he gave the barman another five-pound note and told him to keep the change. The barman looked at it and then looked at Ford. He suddenly shivered: he experienced a momentary sensation that he didn't understand because no one on Earth had ever experienced it before. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny sublimal signal. This signal simply communicates an exac
t and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth it is never possible to be further than sixteen thousand miles from your birthplace, which really isn't very far, so such signals are too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born 600 light years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse.

  The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance. He didn't know what it meant, but he looked at Ford Prefect with a new sense of respect, almost awe.

  "Are you serious, sir?" he said in a small whisper which had the effect of silencing the pub. "You think the world's going to end?"

  "Yes," said Ford.

  "But, this afternoon?"

  Ford had recovered himself. He was at his flippest.

  "Yes," he said gaily, "in less than two minutes I would estimate."

  The barman couldn't believe the conversation he was having, but he couldn't believe the sensation he had just had either.

  "Isn't there anything we can do about it then?" he said.

  "No, nothing," said Ford, stuffing the peanuts into his pockets.

  Someone in the hushed bar suddenly laughed raucously at how stupid everyone had become.

  The man sitting next to Ford was a bit sozzled by now. His eyes waved their way up to Ford.

  "I thought," he said, "that if the world was going to end we were meant to lie down or put a paper bag over our head or something."

  "If you like, yes," said Ford.

  "That's what they told us in the army," said the man, and his eyes began the long trek back down to his whisky.

  "Will that help?" asked the barman.

  "No," said Ford and gave him a friendly smile. "Excuse me," he said, "I've got to go." With a wave, he left.

  The pub was silent for a moment longer, and then, embarrassingly enough, the man with the raucous laugh did it again. The girl he had dragged along to the pub with him had grown to loathe him dearly over the last hour or so, and it would probably have been a great satisfaction to her to know that in a minute and a half or so he would suddenly evaporate into a whiff of hydrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide. However, when the moment came she would be too busy evaporating herself to notice it.

  The barman cleared his throat. He heard himself say:

  "Last orders, please."

 
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