The hitchhikers guide to.., p.8
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       The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, p.8

         Part #1 of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
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  Zaphod Beeblebrox paced nervously up and down the cabin, brushing his hands over pieces of gleaming equipment and giggling with excitement.

  Trillian sat hunched over a clump of instruments reading off figures. Her voice was carried round the Tannoy system of the whole ship.

  "Five to one against and falling . . ." she said, "four to one against and falling . . . three to one . . . two . . . one . . . probability factor of one to one . . . we have normality, I repeat we have normality." She turned her microphone off--then turned it back on, with a slight smile and continued: "Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax. You will be sent for soon."

  Zaphod burst out in annoyance: "Who are they, Trillian?"

  Trillian span her seat round to face him and shrugged.

  "Just a couple of guys we seem to have picked up in open space," she said. "Section ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."

  "Yeah, well, that's a very sweet thought, Trillian," complained Zaphod, "but do you really think it's wise under the circumstances? I mean, here we are on the run and everything, we must have the police of half the Galaxy after us by now, and we stop to pick up hitchhikers. OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?"

  He tapped irritably at a control panel. Trillian quietly moved his hand before he tapped anything important. Whatever Zaphod's qualities of mind might include--dash, bravado, conceit--he was mechanically inept and could easily blow the ship up with an extravagant gesture. Trillian had come to suspect that the main reason why he had had such a wild and successful life that he never really understood the significance of anything he did.

  "Zaphod," she said patiently, "they were floating unprotected in open space . . . you wouldn't want them to have died, would you?"

  "Well, you know . . . no. Not as such, but . . ."

  "Not as such? Not die as such? But?" Trillian cocked her head on one side.

  "Well, maybe someone else might have picked them up later."

  "A second later and they would have been dead."

  "Yeah, so if you'd taken the trouble to think about the problem a bit longer it would have gone away."

  "You'd been happy to let them die?"

  "Well, you know, not happy as such, but . . ."

  "Anyway," said Trillian, turning back to the controls, "I didn't pick them up."

  "What do you mean? Who picked them up then?"

  "The ship did."

  "Huh?"

  "The ship did. All by itself."

  "Huh?"

  "Whilst we were in Improbability Drive."

  "But that's incredible."

  "No Zaphod. Just very very improbable."

  "Er, yeah."

  "Look, Zaphod," she said, patting his arm, "don't worry about the aliens. They're just a couple of guys, I expect. I'll send the robot down to get them and bring them up here. Hey, Marvin!"

  In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled about imperceptibly. It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about five pounds heavier that it actually was, and made what an outside observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room. It stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left shoulder.

  "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed," it said. Its voice was low and hopeless.

  "Oh God," muttered Zaphod and slumped into a seat.

  "Well," said Trillian in a bright compassionate tone, "here's something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."

  "It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."

  "Marvin!" warned Trillian.

  "Alright," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"

  "Go down to number two entry bay and bring the two aliens up here under surveillance."

  With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre--nothing you could actually take offence at--Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror of all things human.

  "Just that?" he said.

  "Yes," said Trillian firmly.

  "I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.

  Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

  "She's not asking you to enjoy it," he shouted, "just do it, will you?"

  "Alright," said Marvin like the tolling of a great cracked bell, "I'll do it."

  "Good . . ." snapped Zaphod, "great . . . thank you . . ."

  Marvin turned and lifted his flat-topped triangular red eyes up towards him.

  "I'm not getting you down at all, am I?" he said pathetically.

  "No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . ."

  "I wouldn't like to think that I was getting you down."

  "No, don't worry about that," the lilt continued, "you just act as comes naturally and everything will be just fine."

  "You're sure you don't mind?" probed Marvin.

  "No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . . just part of life."

  Marvin flashed him an electronic look.

  "Life," said Marvin, "don't talk to me about life."

  He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin. With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him "I don't think I can stand that robot much longer, Zaphod," growled Trillian.

  The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.

  Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

  The pink cubicle had winked out of existence, the monkeys had sunk away to a better dimension. Ford and Arthur found themselves in the embarkation area of the ship. It was rather smart.

  "I think the ship's brand new," said Ford.

  "How can you tell?" asked Arthur. "Have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?"

  "No, I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor. It's a lot of 'the Universe can be yours' stuff. Ah! Look, I was right."

  Ford jabbed at one of the pages and showed it to Arthur.

  "It says: 'Sensational new breakthrough in Improbability Physics. As soon as the ship's drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through every point in the Universe. Be the envy of other major governments.' Wow, this is big league stuff."

  Ford hunted excitedly through the technical specs of the ship, occasionally gasping with astonishment at what he read--clearly Galactic astrotechnology had moved ahead during the years of his exile.

  Arthur listened for a short while, but being unable to understand the vast majority of what Ford was saying he began to let his mind wander, trailing his fingers along the edge of an incomprehensible computer bank, he reached out and pressed an invitingly large red button on a nearby panel. The panel lit up with the words Please do not press this button again. He shook himself.

  "Listen," said Ford, who was still engrossed in the sales brochure, "they make a big thing of the ship's cybernetics. 'A new generation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers, with the new GPP feature.' "

  "GPP feature?" said Arthur. "What's that?"

  "Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."

  "Oh," said Arthur, "sounds ghastly."

  A voice behind them said, "It is." The voice was low and hopeless and accompanied by a slight clanking sound. They span round and saw an abject steel man standing hun
ched in the doorway.

  "What?" they said.

  "Ghastly," continued Marvin, "it all is. Absolutely ghastly. Just don't even talk about it. Look at this door," he said, stepping through it. The irony circuits cut into his voice modulator as he mimicked the style of the sales brochure. "All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done."

  As the door closed behind them it became apparent that it did indeed have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. "Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!" it said.

  Marvin regarded it with cold loathing whilst his logic circuits chattered with disgust and tinkered with the concept of directing physical violence against it. Further circuits cut in saying, Why bother? What's the point? Nothing is worth getting involved in. Further circuits amused themselves by analysing the molecular components of the door, and of the humanoids' brain cells. For a quick encore they measured the level of hydrogen emissions in the surrounding cubic parsec of space and then shut down again in boredom. A spasm of despair shook the robot's body as he turned.

  "Come on," he droned, "I've been ordered to take you down to the bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't."

  He turned and walked back to the hated door.

  "Er, excuse me," said Ford following after him, "which government owns this ship?"

  Marvin ignored him.

  "You watch this door," he muttered, "it's about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates."

  With an ingratiating little whine the door slit open again and Marvin stomped through.

  "Come on," he said.

  The others followed quickly and the door slit back into place with pleased little clicks and whirrs.

  "Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation," said Marvin and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved corridor that stretched out before them. " 'Let's build robots with Genuine People Personalities,' they said. So they tried it out with me. I'm a personality prototype. You can tell, can't you?"

  Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.

  "I hate that door," continued Marvin. "I'm not getting you down at all, am I?"

  "Which government . . ." started Ford again.

  "No government owns it," snapped the robot, "it's been stolen."

  "Stolen?"

  "Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.

  "Who by?" asked Ford.

  "Zaphod Beeblebrox."

  Something extraordinary happened to Ford's face. At least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up on it in a jumbled mess. His left leg, which was in mid stride, seemed to have difficulty in finding the floor again. He stared at the robot and tried to entangle some dartoid muscles.

  "Zaphod Beeblebrox . . . ?" he said weakly.

  "Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless. "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh God, I'm so depressed. Here's another of those self-satisfied door. Life! Don't talk to me about life."

  "No one ever mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably. "Ford, are you alright?"

  Ford stared at him. "Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?" he said.

  Chapter 12

  A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wavebands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive--you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme.

  Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again. More gunk music, but this time it was a background to a news announcement. The news was always heavily edited to fit the rhythms of the music.

  ". . . and news brought to you here on the sub-etha wave band, broadcasting around the galaxy around the clock," squawked a voice, "and we'll be saying a big hello to all intelligent life forms everywhere . . . and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys. And of course, the big news story tonight is the sensational theft of the new Improbability Drive prototype ship by none other than Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox. And the question everyone's asking is . . . has the big Z finally flipped? Beeblebrox, the man who invented the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, once described by Eccentrica Gallumbits as the Best Bang since the Big One, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentinent Being in the Known Universe for the seventh time . . . has he got an answer this time? We asked his private brain care specialist Gag Halfrunt . . ."

  The music swirled and dived for a moment. Another voice broke in, presumably Halfrunt. He said: "Well, Zaphod's jist zis guy you know?" but got no further because an electric pencil flew across the cabin and through the radio's on/off sensitive airspace. Zaphod turned and glared at Trillian--she had thrown the pencil.

  "Hey," he said, "what do you do that for?"

  Trillian was tapping her fingers on a screenful of figures.

  "I've just thought of something," she said.

  "Yeah? Worth interrupting a news bulletin about me for?"

  "You hear enough about yourself as it is."

  "I'm very insecure. We know that."

  "Can we drop your ego for a moment? This is important."

  "If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now." Zaphod glared at her again, then laughed.

  "Listen," she said, "we picked up those couple of guys . . ."

  "What couple of guys?"

  "The couple of guys we picked up."

  "Oh, yeah," said Zaphod, "those couple of guys."

  "We picked them up in sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."

  "Yeah?" said Zaphod and blinked.

  Trillian said quietly, "Does that mean anything to you?"

  "Mmmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha?"

  "Well?" said Trillian.

  "Er . . . what does the Z mean?" said Zaphod.

  "Which one?"

  "Any one."

  One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn't understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so--but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence the act. He proffered people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it.

  She sighed and punched up a star map on the visiscreen so she could make it simple for him, whatever his reasons for wanting it to be that way.

  "There," she pointed, "right there."

  "Hey . . . Yeah!" said Zaphod.

  "Well?" she said.

  "Well what?"

  Parts of the inside of her head screamed at other parts of the inside of her head. She said, very calmly, "It's the same sector you originally picked me up in."

  He looked at her and then looked back at the screen.

  "Hey, yeah," he said, "now that is wild. We should have zapped straight into the middle of the Horsehead Nebula. How did we come to be there? I mean that's nowhere."

  She ignored this.

  "Improbability Drive," she said patiently. "You explained it to me yourself. We pass through
every point in the Universe, you know that."

  "Yeah, but that's one wild coincidence, isn't it?"

  "Yes."

  "Picking someone up at that point? Out of the whole of the Universe to choose from? That's just too . . . I want to work this out. Computer!"

  The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Shipboard Computer which controlled and permeated every particle of the ship switched into communication mode.

  "Hi there!" it said brightly and simultaneously spewed out a tiny ribbon of ticker tape just for the record. The ticker tape said, Hi there!

  "Oh God," said Zaphod. He hadn't worked with this computer for long but had already learned to loathe it.

  The computer continued, brash and cheery as if it was selling detergent.

  "I want you to know that whatever your problem, I am here to help you solve it."

  "Yeah, yeah," said Zaphod. "Look, I think I'll just use a piece of paper."

  "Sure thing," said the computer, spilling out its message into a waste bin at the same time, "I understand. If you ever want . . ."

  "Shut up!" said Zaphod, and snatching up a pencil sat down next to Trillian at the console.

  "OK, OK . . ." said the computer in a hurt tone of voice and closed down its speech channel again.

  Zaphod and Trillian pored over the figures that the Improbability flight path scanner flashed silently up in front of them.

  "Can we work out," said Zaphod, "from their point of view what the Improbability of their rescue was?"

  "Yes, that's a constant," said Trillian, "two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred and nine to one against."

 
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