Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

                                Book 1

                                        for Jonny Brock and Clare Gorst
                                        and  all  other   Arlingtonians
                                        for  tea, sympathy, and  a sofa

    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  apedescended  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 not her story.
    But it is the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and  some  of
its consequences.
    It is also the story of a book, a book called The Hitch Hiker's Guide
to the Galaxy - not an Earth book, never published on Earth, and until the
terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or heard of by any Earthman.
    Nevertheless, a wholly remarkable book.
    in fact it was probably the most remarkable book ever to come out  of
the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor - of which no Earthman had  ever
heard either.
    Not only is it  a  wholly  remarkable  book,  it  is  also  a  highly
successful one - more popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better
selling  than  Fifty  More  Things  to  do  in  Zero  Gravity,  and   more
controversial than Oolon Colluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters
Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this
God Person Anyway?
    In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of
the Galaxy, the Hitch Hiker's  Guide  has  already  supplanted  the  great
Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository  of  all  knowledge  and
wisdom, for though it  has  many  omissions  and  contains  much  that  is
apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older,  more
pedestrian work in two important respects.
    First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has  the  words  Don't
Panic inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
    But the story of this terrible, stupid Thursday,  the  story  of  its
extraordinary consequences, and the story of how  these  consequences  are
inextricably intertwined with this remarkable book begins very simply.
    It begins with a house.

                            Chapter 1

    The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village.  It
stood on its own and looked over a broad spread of West Country  farmland.
Not a remarkable house by any means -  it  was  about  thirty  years  old,
squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the  front
of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to  please  the
    The only person for whom the house was in any way special was  Arthur
Dent, and that was only because it happened to be the one he lived in.  He
had lived in it for about three years, ever since  he  had  moved  out  of
London because it made him nervous and irritable. He was about  thirty  as
well, dark haired and never quite at ease with  himself.  The  thing  that
used to worry him most was the fact that people always  used  to  ask  him
what he was looking so worried about. He worked in local  radio  which  he
always used to tell his friends was  a  lot  more  interesting  than  they
probably thought. It was, too - most of his friends worked in advertising.
    It hadn't properly registered with Arthur that the council wanted  to
knock down his house and build an bypass instead.
    At eight o'clock on Thursday morning Arthur didn't feel very good. He
woke up blearily, got up, wandered  blearily  round  his  room,  opened  a
window, saw a bulldozer, found  his  slippers,  and  stomped  off  to  the
bathroom to wash.
    Toothpaste on the brush - so. Scrub.
    Shaving mirror-pointing at the ceiling. He adjusted it. For a  moment
it reflected a second bulldozer  through  the  bathroom  window.  Properly
adjusted, it reflected Arthur Dent's bristles. He shaved them off, washed,
dried, and stomped off to the kitchen to find something pleasant to put in
his mouth.
    Kettle, plug, fridge, milk, coffee. Yawn.
    The word bulldozer wandered through his mind for a moment  in  search
of something to connect with.
    The bulldozer outside the kitchen window was quite a big one.
    He stared at it.
    - Yellow, - he thought and stomped off back to  his  bedroom  to  get
    Passing the bathroom he stopped to drink a large glass of water,  and
another. He began to suspect that he was hung over. Why was he hung  over?
Had he been drinking the night before? He supposed that he must have been.
He caught a glint in the shaving mirror. "Yellow," he thought and  stomped
on to the bedroom.
    He stood and thought. The pub, he  thought.  Oh  dear,  the  pub.  He
vaguely  remembered  being  angry,  angry  about  something  that   seemed
important. He'd been telling people about it, telling people about  it  at
great length, he rather suspected: his clearest visual recollection was of
glazed looks on other people's faces. Something about a new bypass he  had
just found out about. It had been in the pipeline for months only  no  one
seemed to have known about it. Ridiculous. He took a  swig  of  water.  It
would sort itself out, he'd decided, no one wanted a bypass,  the  council
didn't have a leg to stand on. It would sort itself out.
    God what a terrible hangover it had earned him though. He  looked  at
himself in the wardrobe mirror. He stuck  out  his  tongue.  "Yellow,"  he
thought. The word yellow wandered through his mind in search of  something
to connect with.
    Fifteen seconds later he was out of the house and lying in front of a
big yellow bulldozer that was advancing up his garden path.
    Mr. L Prosser was, as they say, only human. In other words he  was  a
carbon-based life form descended from an ape.  More  specifically  he  was
forty, fat and shabby and worked for the local council. Curiously  enough,
though he didn't know it, he was also a  direct  male-line  descendant  of
Genghis Khan, though intervening generations  and  racial  mixing  had  so
juggled his genes that he had no  discernible  Mongoloid  characteristics,
and the only vestiges left in Mr. L Prosser of his mighty ancestry were  a
pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for little fur hats.
    He was by no means a great warrior: in fact he was a nervous  worried
man. Today he was particularly nervous and worried because  something  had
gone seriously wrong with his job - which was to see  that  Arthur  Dent's
house got cleared out of the way before the day was out.
    - Come off it, Mr. Dent, - he said, - you can't  win  you  know.  You
can't lie in front of the bulldozer indefinitely. - He tried to  make  his
eyes blaze fiercely but they just wouldn't do it.
    Arthur lay in the mud and squelched at him.
    - I'm game, - he said, - we'll see who rusts first.
    - I'm afraid you're going to have to accept it, -  said  Mr.  Prosser
gripping his fur hat and rolling it round the top  of  his  head,  -  this
bypass has got to be built and it's going to be built!
    - First I've heard of it, - said Arthur,  -  why's  it  going  to  be
    Mr. Prosser shook his finger at him for a bit, then stopped  and  put
it away again.
    - What do you mean, why's it got to be built? - he  said.  -  It's  a
bypass. You've got to build bypasses.
    Bypasses are devices which allow some people to drive from point A to
point B very fast whilst other people dash from point B to  point  A  very
fast. People living at point C, being a point  directly  in  between,  are
often given to wonder what's so great about point A that so many people of
point B are so keen to get there, and what's so great about point  B  that
so many people of point A are so keen to get there. They often  wish  that
people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted  to
    Mr. Prosser wanted to be at point  D.  Point  D  wasn't  anywhere  in
particular, it was just any convenient point a very long way  from  points
A, B and C. He would have a nice little cottage at point D, with axes over
the door, and spend a pleasant amount of time at point E, which  would  be
the nearest pub to point D. His wife of course wanted climbing roses,  but
he wanted axes. He didn't know why - he just liked axes. He flushed  hotly
under the derisive grins of the bulldozer drivers.
    He shifted  his  weight  from  foot  to  foot,  but  it  was  equally
uncomfortable on each. Obviously somebody had been appallingly incompetent
and he hoped to God it wasn't him.
    Mr. Prosser said:
    - You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at  the
appropriate time you know.
    - Appropriate time? - hooted Arthur. - Appropriate time? The first  I
knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him
if he'd come to clean the windows and he said no he'd come to demolish the
house. He didn't tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped  a
couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me.
    - But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the  local  planning
office for the last nine month.
    - Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see  them,
yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone  out  of  your  way  to  call
attention to them had  you?  I  mean  like  actually  telling  anybody  or
    - But the plans were on display...
    - On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.
    - That's the display department.
    - With a torch.
    - Ah, well the lights had probably gone.
    - So had the stairs.
    - But look, you found the notice didn't you?
    - Yes, - said Arthur, - yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of
a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with  a  sign  on  the
door saying Beware of the Leopard.
    A cloud passed overhead. It cast a shadow over Arthur Dent as he  lay
propped up on his elbow in the cold mud. It  cast  a  shadow  over  Arthur
Dent's house. Mr. Prosser frowned at it.
    - It's not as if it's a particularly nice house, - he said.
    - I'm sorry, but I happen to like it.
    - You'll like the bypass.
    - Oh shut up, - said Arthur Dent. - Shut up and  go  away,  and  take
your bloody bypass with you. You haven't got a leg to  stand  on  and  you
know it.
    Mr. Prosser's mouth opened and closed a couple  of  times  while  his
mind was for a moment filled with  inexplicable  but  terribly  attractive
visions of Arthur Dent's house being consumed with fire and Arthur himself
running screaming from the blazing ruin with at least three  hefty  spears
protruding from his back. Mr. Prosser was often bothered with visions like
these and they made him feel very nervous. He stuttered for a  moment  and
then pulled himself together.
    - Mr. Dent, - he said.
    - Hello? Yes? - said Arthur.
    - Some factual information for you. Have you any idea how much damage
that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?
    - How much? - said Arthur.
    - None at  all,  -  said  Mr.  Prosser,  and  stormed  nervously  off
wondering why his brain was filled with  a  thousand  hairy  horsemen  all
shouting at him.
    By a curious coincidence, None at all is exactly how  much  suspicion
the ape-descendant Arthur Dent had that one of his closest friends was not
descended from an ape, but was in fact from a small planet in the vicinity
of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he usually claimed.
    Arthur Dent had never, ever suspected this.
    This friend of his had first arrived on the planet some fifteen Earth
years previously, and he had worked  hard  to  blend  himself  into  Earth
society - with, it must be said, some success. For instance he  had  spent
those fifteen years pretending to be an  out  of  work  actor,  which  was
plausible enough.
    He had made one careless blunder though, because he had skimped a bit
on his preparatory research. The information he had gathered had  led  him
to choose the name "Ford Prefect" as being nicely inconspicuous.
    He was not conspicuously tall, his features  were  striking  but  not
conspicuously handsome. His  hair  was  wiry  and  gingerish  and  brushed
backwards from the temples. His skin seemed to be  pulled  backwards  from
the nose. There was something very slightly odd  about  him,  but  it  was
difficult to say what it was. Perhaps it was that his  eyes  didn't  blink
often enough and when you talked to him for any length of time  your  eyes
began involuntarily to water on his behalf. Perhaps it was that he  smiled
slightly too broadly and gave people the unnerving impression that he  was
about to go for their neck.
    He struck most of the friends he had made on Earth as  an  eccentric,
but a harmless one -  an  unruly  boozer  with  some  oddish  habits.  For
instance he would often gatecrash university parties, get badly drunk  and
start making fun of any astrophysicist he could find till  he  got  thrown
    Sometimes he would get seized with oddly distracted moods  and  stare
into the sky as if hypnotized until someone asked him what he  was  doing.
Then he would start guiltily for a moment, relax and grin.
    - Oh, just looking for flying saucers, - he would joke  and  everyone
would laugh and ask him what sort of flying saucers he was looking for.
    - Green ones! - he would reply with a wicked grin, laugh wildly for a
moment and then suddenly lunge for the nearest bar  and  buy  an  enormous
round of drinks.
    Evenings like this usually ended badly. Ford would  get  out  of  his
skull on whisky, huddle into a corner with some girl and explain to her in
slurred phrases that honestly the colour  of  the  flying  saucers  didn't
matter that much really.
    Thereafter, staggering semi-paralytic down the night streets he would
often ask passing policemen if  they  knew  the  way  to  Betelgeuse.  The
policemen would usually say something like:
    - Don't you think it's about time you went off home sir?
    - I'm trying to baby, I'm  trying  to,  -  is  what  Ford  invariably
replied on these occasions.
    In  fact  what  he  was  really  looking  out  for  when  he   stared
distractedly into the night sky was any kind of flying saucer at all.  The
reason he said green was that green was the traditional  space  livery  of
the Betelgeuse trading scouts.
    Ford Prefect was desperate that any flying saucer at all would arrive
soon because fifteen years was a  long  time  to  get  stranded  anywhere,
particularly somewhere as mindboggingly dull as the Earth.
    Ford wished that a flying saucer would arrive soon  because  he  knew
how to flag flying saucers down and get lifts from them. He  knew  how  to
see the Marvels of the Universe for less than thirty  Altairan  dollars  a
    In fact, Ford  Prefect  was  a  roving  researcher  for  that  wholly
remarkable book The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    Human beings are  great  adaptors,  and  by  lunchtime  life  in  the
environs of Arthur's house had settled  into  a  steady  routine.  It  was
Arthur's accepted role to lie squelching  in  the  mud  making  occasional
demands to see his lawyer, his mother or a good book; it was Mr. Prosser's
accepted role to tackle Arthur with the occasional new ploy  such  as  the
For the Public Good talk, the March of Progress talk, the They Knocked  My
House Down Once You  Know,  Never  Looked  Back  talk  and  various  other
cajoleries and threats; and it was the bulldozer drivers accepted role  to
sit around drinking coffee and experimenting with union regulations to see
how they could turn the situation to their financial advantage.
    The Earth moved slowly in its diurnal course.
    The sun was beginning to dry out the mud Arthur lay in.
    A shadow moved across him again.
    - Hello Arthur, - said the shadow.
    Arthur looked up and squinting into the sun was startled to see  Ford
Prefect standing above him.
    - Ford! Hello, how are you?
    - Fine, - said Ford, - look, are you busy?
    - Am I busy? - exclaimed Arthur. - Well,  I've  just  got  all  these
bulldozers and things to lie in front of because they'll  knock  my  house
down if I don't, but other than that... well, no not especially, why?
    They don't have sarcasm on Betelgeuse, and Ford Prefect often  failed
to notice it unless he was concentrating. He said,
    - Good, is there anywhere we can talk?
    - What? - said Arthur Dent.
    For a few seconds Ford seemed to ignore him, and stared fixedly  into
the sky like a rabbit trying to get run over by a car.  Then  suddenly  he
squatted down beside Arthur.
    - We've got to talk, - he said urgently.
    - Fine, - said Arthur, - talk.
    - And drink, - said Ford. - It's vitally important that we  talk  and
drink. Now. We'll go to the pub in the village.
    He looked into the sky again, nervous, expectant.
    - Look, don't  you  understand?  -  shouted  Arthur.  He  pointed  at
Prosser. - That man wants to knock my house down!
    Ford glanced at him, puzzled.
    - Well he can do it while you're away can't he? - he asked.
    - But I don't want him to!
    - Ah.
    - Look, what's the matter with you Ford? - said Arthur.
    - Nothing. Nothing's the matter. Listen to me - I've got to tell  you
the most important thing you've ever heard. I've got to tell you now,  and
I've got to tell you in the saloon bar of the Horse and Groom.
    - But why?
    - Because you are going to need a very stiff drink.
    Ford stared at Arthur, and Arthur was astonished  to  find  that  his
will was beginning to weaken. He didn't realize that this was  because  of
an old drinking game that Ford learned to play  in  the  hyperspace  ports
that served the madranite mining belts in the star system of Orion Beta.
    The game was not unlike the Earth game called Indian  Wrestling,  and
was played like this:
    Two contestants would sit either side of a table,  with  a  glass  in
front of each of them.
    Between them would be placed a bottle of Janx Spirit (as immortalized
in that ancient Orion mining song:
       Oh don't give me none more of that Old Janx Spirit
       No, don't you give me none more of that Old Janx Spirit
       For my head will fly, my tongue will lie,
                                    my eyes will fry and I may die
       Won't you pour me one more of that sinful Old Janx Spirit").
    Each of the two contestants would then concentrate their will on  the
bottle and attempt to tip it  and  pour  spirit  into  the  glass  of  his
opponent - who would then have to drink it.
    The bottle would then be refilled. The game would  be  played  again.
And again.
    Once you started to lose you would probably keep losing, because  one
of the effects of Janx spirit is to depress telepsychic power.
    As soon as a predetermined quantity  had  been  consumed,  the  final
loser would have  to  perform  a  forfeit,  which  was  usually  obscenely
    Ford Prefect usually played to lose.
    Ford stared at Arthur, who began to think that perhaps he did want to
go to the Horse and Groom after all.
    - But what about my house?.. - he asked plaintively.
    Ford looked across to Mr. Prosser,  and  suddenly  a  wicked  thought
struck him.
    - He wants to knock your house down?
    - Yes, he wants to build...
    - And he can't because you're lying in front of the bulldozers?
    - Yes, and...
    - I'm sure we can come to some arrangement, - said Ford. - Excuse me!
he shouted.
    Mr. Prosser (who was arguing  with  a  spokesman  for  the  bulldozer
drivers about whether or not  Arthur  Dent  constituted  a  mental  health
hazard, and how much they should get paid if he did) looked around. He was
surprised and slightly alarmed to find that Arthur had company.
    - Yes? Hello? - he called. - Has Mr. Dent come to his senses yet?
    - Can we for the moment, - called Ford, - assume that he hasn't?
    - Well? - sighed Mr. Prosser.
    - And can we also assume, - said  Ford,  -  that  he's  going  to  be
staying here all day?
    - So?
    - So all your men are going to  be  standing  around  all  day  doing
    - Could be, could be...
    - Well, if you're resigned to doing that anyway, you  don't  actually
need him to lie here all the time do you?
    - What?
    - You don't, - said Ford patiently, - actually need him here.
    Mr. Prosser thought about this.
    - Well no, not as such... - he said, - not exactly need... -  Prosser
was worried. He thought that one of them wasn't making a lot of sense.
    Ford said,
    - So if you would just like to take it as  read  that  he's  actually
here, then he and I could slip off down to the pub for half an  hour.  How
does that sound?
    Mr. Prosser thought it sounded perfectly potty.
    - That sounds perfectly reasonable, - he said in a reassuring tone of
voice, wondering who he was trying to reassure.
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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 Hitch Hiker'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 Hitch Hiker'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
    - 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,
    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 Hitch  Hiker'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 Hitch Hiker'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-tohand-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
    - 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  exact  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.
    The huge yellow machines began to sink downward and to move faster.
    Ford knew they were there. This wasn't the way he had wanted it.
    Running up the lane, Arthur had nearly reached his house.  He  didn't
notice how cold it had suddenly become, he  didn't  notice  the  wind,  he
didn't notice the sudden irrational  squall  of  rain.  He  didn't  notice
anything but the caterpillar bulldozers crawling over the rubble that  had
been his home.
    - You barbarians! - he yelled. - I'll sue the council for every penny
it's got! I'll have you  hung,  drawn  and  quartered!  And  whipped!  And
boiled... until... until... until you've had enough.
    Ford was running after him very fast. Very very fast.
    - And then I'll do it  again!  -  yelled  Arthur.  -  And  when  I've
finished I will take all the little bits, and I will jump on them!
    Arthur didn't notice that the men were running from  the  bulldozers;
he didn't notice that Mr. Prosser was staring  hectically  into  the  sky.
What Mr.  Prosser  had  noticed  was  that  huge  yellow  somethings  were
screaming through the clouds. Impossibly huge yellow somethings.
    - And I will carry  on  jumping  on  them,  -  yelled  Arthur,  still
running, - until I get blisters, or I can  think  of  anything  even  more
unpleasant to do, and then...
    Arthur tripped, and fell headlong, rolled  and  landed  flat  on  his
back. At last he noticed that something was  going  on.  His  finger  shot
    - What the hell's that? - he shrieked.
    Whatever it was raced across the sky in  monstrous  yellowness,  tore
the sky apart with mind-buggering noise and leapt off  into  the  distance
leaving the gaping air to shut behind it with a bang that drove your  ears
six feet into your skull.
    Another one followed and did the same thing only louder.
    It's difficult to say exactly what the people on the surface  of  the
planet were doing now, because they didn't  really  know  what  they  were
doing themselves. None of it made a lot of sense -  running  into  houses,
running out of houses, howling noiselessly at the noise.  All  around  the
world city streets exploded with people, cars slewed into  each  other  as
the noise fell on them and then rolled off like a tidal  wave  over  hills
and valleys, deserts and oceans, seeming to flatten everything it hit.
    Only one man stood and watched the sky, stood with  terrible  sadness
in his eyes and rubber bungs  in  his  ears.  He  knew  exactly  what  was
happening and had known ever since his Sub-Etha  Sens-OMatic  had  started
winking in the dead of night beside his pillar and woken him with a start.
It was what he had waited for all these years, but when he had  deciphered
the signal pattern sitting alone in his small dark  room  a  coldness  had
gripped him and squeezed his heart. Of all the races in all of the  Galaxy
who could have come and said a big hello  to  planet  Earth,  he  thought,
didn't it just have to be the Vogons.
    Still he knew what he had to do. As the Vogon craft screamed  through
the air high above him he opened his satchel. He  threw  away  a  copy  of
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he  threw  away  a  copy  of
Godspell: He wouldn't need them where he was going. Everything was  ready,
everything was prepared.
    He knew where his towel was.
    A sudden silence hit the Earth. If anything it  was  worse  than  the
noise. For a while nothing happened.
    The great ships hung motionless in the  air,  over  every  nation  on
Earth. Motionless they hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky,  a  blasphemy
against nature. Many people went straight into shock as their minds  tried
to encompass what they were looking at. The ships hung in the sky in  much
the same way that bricks don't.
    And still nothing happened.
    Then there was a slight whisper, a sudden spacious  whisper  of  open
ambient  sound.  Every  hi  fi  set  in  the  world,  every  radio,  every
television, every cassette recorder, every woofer,  every  tweeter,  every
mid-range driver in the world quietly turned itself on.
    Every tin can, every dust bin, every window, every  car,  every  wine
glass, every sheet of rusty metal  became  activated  as  an  acoustically
perfect sounding board.
    Before the Earth passed away it was going to be treated to  the  very
ultimate in sound reproduction, the greatest public  address  system  ever
built. But there was no concert, no  music,  no  fanfare,  just  a  simple
    - People of Earth, your attention please, - a voice said, and it  was
wonderful. Wonderful perfect quadrophonic sound with distortion levels  so
low as to make a brave man weep.
    - This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace  Planning
Council, - the voice continued. - As you will no doubt be aware, the plans
for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building
of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and  regrettably
your planet is one of those scheduled for  demolition.  The  process  will
take slightly less that two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.
    The PA died away.
    Uncomprehending terror settled on the watching people of  Earth.  The
terror moved slowly through the gathered  crowds  as  if  they  were  iron
fillings on a sheet of board and a magnet was moving beneath  them.  Panic
sprouted again, desperate fleeing panic, but there was nowhere to flee to.
    Observing this, the Vogons turned on their PA again. It said:
    - There's no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning
charts and demolition orders have been on display in your  local  planning
department on Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've  had
plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and  it's  far  too  late  to
start making a fuss about it now.
    The PA fell silent again and its echo drifted off  across  the  land.
The huge ships turned slowly in the sky with easy power. On the  underside
of each a hatchway opened, an empty black space.
    By this time somebody somewhere must have manned a radio transmitter,
located a wavelength and broadcasted a message back to the Vogon ships, to
plead on behalf of the planet. Nobody ever heard what they said, they only
heard the reply. The PA slammed  back  into  life  again.  The  voice  was
annoyed. It said:
    - What do you mean you've never been to Alpha Centauri? For  heaven's
sake mankind, it's only four light years away you know. I'm sorry, but  if
you can't be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that's your own
    - Energize the demolition beams.
    Light poured out into the hatchways.
    - I don't know, - said the  voice  on  the  PA,  -  apathetic  bloody
planet, I've no sympathy at all. - It cut off.
    There was a terrible ghastly silence.
    There was a terrible ghastly noise.
    There was a terrible ghastly silence.
    The Vogon Constructor fleet coasted away into the inky starry void.

                              Chapter 4

    Far away on the opposite spiral  arm  of  the  Galaxy,  five  hundred
thousand light years from the star Sol, Zaphod  Beeblebrox,  President  of
the Imperial Galactic Government, sped across the seas  of  Damogran,  his
ion drive delta boat winking and flashing in the Damogran sun.
    Damogran the hot; Damogran the remote; Damogran  the  almost  totally
unheard of.
    Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.
    The boat sped on across the water. It would be some  time  before  it
reached  its  destination  because  Damogran  is  such  an  inconveniently
arranged planet. It consists of  nothing  but  middling  to  large  desert
islands separated by very pretty but annoyingly wide stretches of ocean.
    The boat sped on.
    Because of this topological awkwardness Damogran has always  remained
a deserted planet. This is why  the  Imperial  Galactic  Government  chose
Damogran for the Heart of Gold project, because it was so deserted and the
Heart of Gold was so secret.
    The boat zipped and skipped across the sea, the sea that lay  between
the main islands of the only archipelago of any useful size on  the  whole
planet. Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter
Island  (the  name  was  an  entirely   meaningless   coincidence   -   in
Galacticspeke, easter means small flat and light brown) to  the  Heart  of
Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.
    One of the side effects of work on the Heart  of  Gold  was  a  whole
string of pretty meaningless coincidences.
    But it was not in any way  a  coincidence  that  today,  the  day  of
culmination of the project, the great day of unveiling, the day  that  the
Heart of Gold was finally to be introduced to  a  marvelling  Galaxy,  was
also a great day of culmination for Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was for the sake
of this day that he had  first  decided  to  run  for  the  Presidency,  a
decision which had sent waves  of  astonishment  throughout  the  Imperial
Galaxy - Zaphod Beeblebrox? President? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not  the
President? Many had seen it as a clinching proof that the whole  of  known
creation had finally gone bananas.
    Zaphod grinned and gave the boat an extra kick of speed.
    Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippy, good  timer,  (crook?  quite
possibly), manic self-publicist, terribly bad at  personal  relationships,
often thought to be completely out to lunch.
    No one had gone bananas, not in that way at least.
    Only six people in the entire  Galaxy  understood  the  principle  on
which the Galaxy was governed, and they knew that once  Zaphod  Beeblebrox
had announced his intention to run as President it was more or less a fait
accompli: he was the ideal Presidency fodder
    The term Imperial is kept though it is now an anachronism. The  hereditary
Emperor is nearly dead and has been so for many  centuries.  In  the  last
moments of his dying coma he was locked in a statis field which keeps  him
in a state of perpetual unchangingness. All his heirs are now  long  dead,
and this means that without any  drastic  political  upheaval,  power  has
simply and effectively moved a rung or two down the  ladder,  and  is  now
seen to be vested in a body which used to act simply as  advisers  to  the
Emperor - an elected Governmental assembly headed by a  President  elected
by that assembly. In fact it vests in no such place.
    The President in particular is very much a figurehead - he wields  no
real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but  the
qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but  those
of finely judged outrage. For  this  reason  the  President  is  always  a
controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His
job is not to wield power but to draw attention away  from  it.  On  those
criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most  successful  Presidents  the
Galaxy has ever had - he has already spent two  of  his  ten  Presidential
years in prison for fraud. Very very few people realize that the President
and the Government have virtually no power at all, and of these  very  few
people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded.  Most  of
the others secretly believe that the ultimate decision-making  process  is
handled by a computer. They couldn't be more wrong.>
    What they completely failed to understand was why  Zaphod  was  doing
    He banked sharply, shooting a wild wall of water at the sun.
    Today was the day; today was the day when  they  would  realize  what
Zaphod had been up to. Today was what Zaphod Beeblebrox's  Presidency  was
all about. Today was also his two hundredth birthday, but  that  was  just
another meaningless coincidence.
    As he skipped his boat across the seas of Damogran he smiled  quietly
to himself about what a wonderful exciting day it  was  going  to  be.  He
relaxed and spread his two arms lazily across the seat  back.  He  steered
with an extra arm he'd recently fitted just beneath his right one to  help
improve his ski-boxing.
    - Hey, - he cooed to himself, - you're a real cool boy you. - But his
nerves sang a song shriller than a dog whistle.
    The island of France was about twenty miles long, five  miles  across
the middle, sandy and crescent shaped. In fact it seemed to exist  not  so
much as an island in its own right as simply a means of defining the sweep
and curve of a huge bay. This impression was heightened by the  fact  that
the inner coastline of the crescent consisted  almost  entirely  of  steep
cliffs. From the top of the cliff the land sloped slowly down  five  miles
to the opposite shore.
    On top of the cliffs stood a reception committee.
    It consisted in large part of the engineers and researchers  who  had
built the Heart of Gold - mostly humanoid, but here and there were  a  few
reptiloid atomineers, two or three green slyph-like maximegalacticans,  an
octopoid  physucturalist  or  two  and  a  Hooloovoo  (a  Hooloovoo  is  a
super-intelligent shade of the color blue). All except the Hooloovoo  were
resplendent in their multicolored ceremonial lab coats; the Hooloovoo  had
been temporarily refracted into a free standing prism for the occasion.
    There was a mood of immense excitement thrilling through all of them.
Together and between them they had gone to and beyond the furthest  limits
of physical laws, restructured the fundamental fabric of matter, strained,
twisted and broken the laws of possibility and  impossibility,  but  still
the greatest excitement of all seemed to be to meet a man with  an  orange
sash round his neck. (An orange sash was what the President of the  Galaxy
traditionally wore.) It might not even have made much difference  to  them
if they'd known exactly  how  much  power  the  President  of  the  Galaxy
actually wielded: none at all. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the
job of the Galactic President was  not  to  wield  power  but  to  attract
attention away from it.
    Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job.
    The crowd gasped, dazzled by sun and seemanship, as the  Presidential
speedboat zipped round the headland into the bay. It flashed and shone  as
it came skating over the sea in wide skidding turns.
    In fact it didn't need to touch the water  at  all,  because  it  was
supported on a hazy cushion of ionized atoms - but just for effect it  was
fitted with thin finblades which could be lowered  into  the  water.  They
slashed sheets of water hissing into the air, carved deep gashes into  the
sea which swayed crazily and sank back foaming into the boat's wake as  it
careered across the bay.
    Zaphod loved effect: it was what he was best at.
    He twisted the wheel  sharply,  the  boat  slewed  round  in  a  wild
scything skid beneath the cliff face and dropped to rest  lightly  on  the
rocking waves.
    Within seconds he ran out onto the deck and waved and grinned at over
three billion people. The three billion people weren't actually there, but
they watched his every gesture through the eyes of  a  small  robot  tri-D
camera which hovered obsequiously in the air nearby.  The  antics  of  the
President always made amazingly popular tri-D; that's what they were for.
    He grinned again. Three billion and six people didn't  know  it,  but
today would be a bigger antic than anyone had bargained for.
    The robot camera homed in for a close up on the more popular  of  his
two heads and he waved again. He was roughly humanoid in appearance except
for the extra head and third arm. His  fair  tousled  hair  stuck  out  in
random  directions,  his  blue  eyes  glinted  with  something  completely
unidentifiable, and his chins were almost always unshaven.
    A twenty-foot-high  transparent  globe  floated  next  to  his  boat,
rolling and bobbing, glistening in the brilliant sun. Inside it floated  a
wide semi-circular sofa upholstered in glorious red leather: the more  the
globe bobbed and rolled, the more the sofa stayed perfectly still,  steady
as an upholstered rock. Again, all done for effect as much as anything.
    Zaphod stepped through the wall of the globe and relaxed on the sofa.
He spread his two arms lazily along the back and with  the  third  brushed
some dust off his knee. His heads looked about, smiling; he put  his  feet
up. At any moment, he thought, he might scream.
    Water boiled up beneath the  bubble,  it  seethed  and  spouted.  The
bubble surged into the air, bobbing and rolling on the water spout. Up, up
it climbed, throwing stilts of light at the cliff. Up  it  surged  on  the
jet, the water falling  from  beneath  it,  crashing  back  into  the  sea
hundreds of feet below.
    Zaphod smiled, picturing himself.
    A thoroughly ridiculous form of transport, but a thoroughly beautiful
    At the top of the cliff the globe wavered for a moment, tipped on  to
a railed ramp, rolled down it to a small concave platform and riddled to a
    To tremendous applause Zaphod Beeblebrox stepped out of  the  bubble,
his orange sash blazing in the light.
    The President of the Galaxy had arrived.
    He waited for the applause to die down,  then  raised  his  hands  in
    - Hi, - he said.
    A government spider sidled up to him and attempted to press a copy of
his prepared speech into his hands. Pages three to seven of  the  original
version were at the moment floating soggily on the Damogran sea some  five
miles out from the bay. Pages one and two had been salvaged by a  Damogran
Frond  Crested  Eagle  and  had  already  become  incorporated   into   an
extraordinary new form of nest  which  the  eagle  had  invented.  It  was
constructed largely of papier m@ch@ and it was virtually impossible for  a
newly hatched baby eagle to break out of it. The  Damogran  Frond  Crested
Eagle had heard of the notion of survival of the  species  but  wanted  no
truck with it.
    Zaphod Beeblebrox would not be needing his set speech and  he  gently
deflected the one being offered him by the spider.
    - Hi, - he said again.
    Everyone beamed at him, or, at least, nearly everyone. He singled out
Trillian from the crowd. Trillian was a gird that  Zaphod  had  picked  up
recently whilst visiting a planet, just for fun, incognito. She was  slim,
darkish, humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a  full  mouth,  an  odd
little nob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes. With her red head  scarf
knotted in that particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress  she
looked vaguely Arabic. Not that anyone there had ever heard of an Arab  of
course. The Arabs had very recently ceased to exist, and  even  when  they
had existed they were five hundred thousand  light  years  from  Damogran.
Trillian wasn't anybody in particular, or so Zaphod claimed. She just went
around with him rather a lot and told him what she thought of him.
    - Hi honey, - he said to her.
    She flashed him a quick tight smile and looked away. Then she  looked
back for a moment and smiled more warmly - but by this time he was looking
at something else.
    - Hi, - he said to a small knot of creatures from the press who  were
standing nearby wishing that he would stop saying Hi and get on  with  the
quotes. He grinned at them particularly because he  knew  that  in  a  few
moments he would be giving them one hell of a quote.
    The next thing he said though was not a lot of use to  them.  One  of
the officials of the party had irritably decided that  the  President  was
clearly not in a mood to read the deliciously turned speech that had  been
written for him, and had flipped the switch on the remote  control  device
in his pocket. Away in front of them a huge white dome that bulged against
the sky cracked down in the middle, split, and slowly folded  itself  down
into the ground. Everyone gasped although they had known perfectly well it
was going to do that because they had built it that way.
    Beneath it lay uncovered a  huge  starship,  one  hundred  and  fifty
metres long, shaped  like  a  sleek  running  shoe,  perfectly  white  and
mindboggingly beautiful. At the heart of it, unseen, lay a small gold  box
which carried within it the most brain-wretching device ever conceived,  a
device which made this starship unique in the history  of  the  galaxy,  a
device after which the ship had been named - The Heart of Gold.
    - Wow, - said Zaphod Beeblebrox to the Heart of  Gold.  There  wasn't
much else he could say.
    He said it again because he knew it would annoy the press.
    - Wow.
    The crowd turned their faces back towards him expectantly. He  winked
at Trillian who raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes at him. She  knew
what he was about to say and thought him a terrible showoff.
    - That is really amazing, - he said. - That really is truly  amazing.
That is so amazingly amazing I think I'd like to steal it.
    A marvellous Presidential quote, absolutely true to form.  The  crowd
laughed appreciatively, the newsmen gleefully  punched  buttons  on  their
Sub-Etha News-Matics and the President grinned.
    As he grinned his heart screamed unbearably and he fingered the small
Paralyso-Matic bomb that nestled quietly in his pocket.
    Finally he could bear it no more. He lifted his heads up to the  sky,
let out a wild whoop in major thirds, threw the bomb to the ground and ran
forward through the sea of suddenly frozen smiles.

                               Chapter 5

    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was not  a  pleasant  sight,  even  for  other
Vogons. His highly domed nose rose high above a small piggy forehead.  His
dark green rubbery skin was thick enough for him to play the game of Vogon
Civil Service politics, and play it well, and waterproof enough for him to
survive indefinitely at sea depths of up to a thousand feet  with  no  ill
    Not that he ever went swimming of course. His busy schedule would not
allow it. He was the way he was because billions of  years  ago  when  the
Vogons had first crawled out of the sluggish primeval seas  of  Vogsphere,
and had lain panting and heaving on the planet's virgin shores... when the
first rays of the bright young Vogsol  sun  had  shone  across  them  that
morning, it was as if the forces of evolution ad simply given up  on  them
there and then, had turned aside in disgust and written  them  off  as  an
ugly and unfortunate mistake. They never evolved again; they should  never
have survived.
    The fact that they did is some kind of tribute  to  the  thick-willed
slug-brained stubbornness of these creatures. Evolution? -  they  said  to
themselves, - Who needs it?, - and what nature refused to do for them they
simply did without until such time  as  they  were  able  to  rectify  the
grosser anatomical inconveniences with surgery.
    Meanwhile, the natural  forces  on  the  planet  Vogsphere  had  been
working overtime to make up for their earlier blunder. They brought  forth
scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs, which  the  Vogons  ate,  smashing
their shells with iron mallets;  tall  aspiring  trees  with  breathtaking
slenderness and colour which the Vogons cut down and burned the crab  meat
with; elegant gazellelike creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes  which
the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as  transport  because
their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway.
    Thus the planet Vogsphere whiled away the unhappy millennia until the
Vogons suddenly discovered the principles of interstellar travel. Within a
few short Vog years every last  Vogon  had  migrated  to  the  Megabrantis
cluster, the political hub of the Galaxy  and  now  formed  the  immensely
powerful backbone of the Galactic Civil Service. They  have  attempted  to
acquire learning, they have attempted to acquire style and  social  grace,
but in most respects  the  modern  Vogon  is  little  different  from  his
primitive  forebears.  Every  year  they  import   twenty-seven   thousand
scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs from their native planet and  while
away a happy drunken night smashing them to bits with iron mallets.
    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was a fairly typical  Vogon  in  that  he  was
thoroughly vile. Also, he did not like hitch hikers.
    Somewhere in a small dark cabin buried  deep  in  the  intestines  of
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz's flagship, a small  match  flared  nervously.  The
owner of the match was not a Vogon, but he knew all  about  them  and  was
right to be nervous. His name was Ford Prefect.
    Betelgeusian dialect, now virtually extinct  since  the  Great  Collapsing
Hrung Disaster of Gal. /Sid./ Year 03758  which  wiped  out  all  the  old
Praxibetel communities on Betelgeuse Seven. Ford's father was the only man
on the entire planet to survive the Great Collapsing Hrung disaster, by an
extraordinary  coincidence  that  he  was  never  able  satisfactorily  to
explain. The whole episode is shrouded in deep mystery:  in  fact  no  one
ever knew what a Hrung was nor why it had chosen to collapse on Betelgeuse
Seven particularly. Ford's father, magnanimously waving aside  the  clouds
of suspicion that had inevitably settled  around  him,  came  to  live  on
Betelgeuse Five where he both fathered and uncled Ford; in memory  of  his
now dead race he christened him in the ancient Praxibetel tongue.
    Because Ford never learned to  say  his  original  name,  his  father
eventually died of shame, which is still a terminal disease in some  parts
of the Galaxy. The other kids at school nicknamed him  Ix,  which  in  the
language  of  Betelgeuse  Five  translates  as  "boy  who  is   not   able
satisfactorily to explain what a Hrung is, nor why  it  should  choose  to
collapse on Betelgeuse Seven">.
    He looked  about  the  cabin  but  could  see  very  little;  strange
monstrous shadows loomed and leaped with the tiny  flickering  flame,  but
all was quiet. He breathed a silent  thank  you  to  the  Dentrassis.  The
Dentrassis are an unruly tribe of gourmands, a  wild  but  pleasant  bunch
whom the Vogons had recently taken to employing as catering staff on their
long haul fleets, on the strict understanding that  they  keep  themselves
very much to themselves.
    This suited the Dentrassis fine,  because  they  loved  Vogon  money,
which is one of the hardest currencies in space, but  loathed  the  Vogons
themselves. The only sort of Vogon a Dentrassi liked to see was an annoyed
    It was because of this tiny piece of information  that  Ford  Prefect
was not now a whiff of hydrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide.
    He heard a slight groan. By the light of the match  he  saw  a  heavy
shape moving slightly on the  floor.  Quickly  he  shook  the  match  out,
reached in his pocket, found what he was looking for and took it  out.  He
crouched on the floor. The shape moved again.
    Ford Prefect said:
    - I bought some peanuts.
    Arthur Dent moved, and groaned again, muttering incoherently.
    - Here, have some, - urged Ford,  shaking  the  packet  again,  -  if
you've never  been  through  a  matter  transference  beam  before  you've
probably lost some  salt  and  protein.  The  beer  you  had  should  have
cushioned your system a bit.
    - Whhhrrrr... - said Arthur Dent. He opened his eyes.
    - It's dark, - he said.
    - Yes, - said Ford Prefect, - it's dark.
    - No light, - said Arthur Dent. - Dark, no light.
    One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand
about human beings was their habit of continually  stating  and  repeating
the obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or  Oh  dear  you
seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are  you  alright?  At  first
Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour.  If  human
beings don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably
seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation  he  abandoned
this theory in favour of a new one. If they don't keep on exercising their
lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while  he  abandoned
this one as well as being obstructively cynical and decided he quite liked
human beings after all, but he always remained desperately  worried  about
the terrible number of things they didn't know about.
    - Yes, - he agreed with Arthur, - no light. -  He  helped  Arthur  to
some peanuts. - How do you feel? - he asked.
    - Like a military academy, - said  Arthur,  -  bits  of  me  keep  on
passing out.
    Ford stared at him blankly in the darkness.
    - If I asked you where the hell we were,  -  said  Arthur  weakly,  -
would I regret it?
    Ford stood up.
    - We're safe, - he said.
    - Oh good, - said Arthur.
    - We're in a small galley cabin,  -  said  Ford,  -  in  one  of  the
spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
    - Ah, - said Arthur, - this is obviously some strange  usage  of  the
word safe that I wasn't previously aware of.
    Ford struck another match to help him  search  for  a  light  switch.
Monstrous shadows leaped and loomed again. Arthur struggled  to  his  feet
and hugged himself apprehensively. Hideous alien shapes seemed  to  throng
about him, the air was thick with musty smells which sidled into his lungs
without identifying themselves, and a low irritating hum  kept  his  brain
from focusing.
    - How did we get here? - he asked, shivering slightly.
    - We hitched a lift, - said Ford.
    - Excuse me? - said Arthur. - Are you trying to tell me that we  just
stuck out our thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck  his  head  out
and said, Hi fellas,  hop  right  in.  I  can  take  you  as  far  as  the
Basingstoke roundabout?
    - Well, - said Ford, - the Thumb's an electronic sub-etha  signalling
device, the roundabout's at Barnard's  Star  six  light  years  away,  but
otherwise, that's more or less right.
    - And the bug-eyed monster?
    - Is green, yes.
    - Fine, - said Arthur, - when can I get home?
    - You can't, - said Ford Prefect, and found the light switch.
    - Shade your eyes... - he said, and turned it on.
    Even Ford was surprised.
    - Good grief, - said Arthur, - is  this  really  the  interior  of  a
flying saucer?
    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz heaved his unpleasant  green  body  round  the
control  bridge.  He  always  felt  vaguely  irritable  after  demolishing
populated planets. He wished that someone would come and tell him that  it
was all wrong so that he could shout at them and feel better.  He  flopped
as heavily as he could on to his control seat in the hope  that  it  would
break and give him something to be genuinely angry about, but it only gave
a complaining sort of creak.
    - Go away! - he shouted at a young Vogon guard who entered the bridge
at that moment. The guard vanished immediately, feeling  rather  relieved.
He was glad it wouldn't now be him who delivered the  report  they'd  just
received. The report was an official release which said that  a  wonderful
new form of spaceship drive  was  at  this  moment  being  unveiled  at  a
government research base on  Damogran  which  would  henceforth  make  all
hyperspatial express routes unnecessary.
    Another door slid open, but this time the Vogon captain didn't  shout
because it was the door from the  galley  quarters  where  the  Dentrassis
prepared his meals. A meal would be most welcome.
    A huge furry creature bounded through the door with his  lunch  tray.
It was grinning like a maniac.
    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was delighted. He knew that when  a  Dentrassi
looked that pleased with itself there was something going on somewhere  on
the ship that he could get very angry indeed about.
    Ford and Arthur stared about them.
    - Well, what do you think? - said Ford.
    - It's a bit squalid, isn't it?
    Ford frowned at the grubby mattress, unwashed cups and unidentifiable
bits of smelly alien underwear that lay around the cramped cabin.
    - Well, this is a working ship, you see, - said Ford. - These are the
Dentrassi sleeping quarters.
    - I thought you said they were called Vogons or something.
    - Yes, - said Ford, - the Vogons run the ship, the Dentrassis are the
cooks, they let us on board.
    - I'm confused, - said Arthur.
    - Here, have a look at this, - said Ford. He sat down on one  of  the
mattresses and rummaged about in his satchel. Arthur prodded the  mattress
nervously and then sat on it himself: in fact he had  very  little  to  be
nervous  about,  because  all  mattresses   grown   in   the   swamps   of
Squornshellous Zeta are very thoroughly killed and dried before being  put
to service. Very few have ever come to life again.
    Ford handed the book to Arthur.
    - What is it? - asked Arthur.
    - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's  a  sort  of  electronic
book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's  its
    Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.
    - I like the cover, - he said. - Don't Panic. It's the first  helpful
or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day.
    - I'll show you how it works, - said Ford. He snatched it from Arthur
who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark and  pulled  it
out of its cover.
    - You press this button here you see and the screen lights up  giving
you the index.
    A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began  to
flicker across the surface.
    - You want to know about Vogons, so I  enter  that  name  so.  -  His
fingers tapped some more keys. - And there we are.
    The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.
    Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the screen and words
began to undulate across it. At the same time, the book began to speak the
entry as well in a still quiet measured voice. This is what the book said.
    - Vogon Constructor Fleets. Here is what to do if you want to  get  a
lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in
the Galaxy - not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic,  officious
and  callous.  They  wouldn't  even  lift  a  finger  to  save  their  own
grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of  Traal  without  orders
signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found,  subjected
to public inquiry, lost  again,  and  finally  buried  in  soft  peat  and
recycled as firelighters.
    - The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your  finger
down his throat, and  the  best  way  to  irritate  him  is  to  feed  his
grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.
    - On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.
    Arthur blinked at it.
    - What a strange book. How did we get a lift then?
    - That's the point, it's out of date now, - said  Ford,  sliding  the
book back into its cover. - I'm doing  the  field  research  for  the  New
Revised Edition, and one of the things I'll have to include is a bit about
how the Vogons now employ Dentrassi cooks which gives us a  rather  useful
little loophole.
    A pained expression crossed Arthur's face.
    - But who are the Dentrassi? - he said.
    - Great guys, - said Ford. - They're the  best  cooks  and  the  best
drink mixers and they don't give a  wet  slap  about  anything  else.  And
they'll always help hitch hikers aboard,  partly  because  they  like  the
company, but mostly because it annoys the Vogons.  Which  is  exactly  the
sort of thing you need to know  if  you're  an  impoverished  hitch  hiker
trying to see the marvels of the Universe for less  than  thirty  Altairan
Dollars a day. And that's my job. Fun, isn't it?
    Arthur looked lost.
    - It's amazing, - he said and frowned at one of the other mattresses.
    - Unfortunately I got stuck on the Earth for  rather  longer  than  I
intended, - said Ford. - I came for a  week  and  got  stuck  for  fifteen
    - But how did you get there in the first place then?
    - Easy, I got a lift with a teaser.
    - A teaser?
    - Yeah.
    - Er, what is...
    - A teaser? Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing  to  do.  They
cruise around looking for planets which haven't made interstellar  contact
yet and buzz them.
    - Buzz them? - Arthur began to feel that  Ford  was  enjoying  making
life difficult for him.
    - Yeah, - said Ford, - they buzz them. They find some  isolated  spot
with very few people around, then land right by some  poor  soul  whom  no
one's ever going to believe and then strut up and down  in  front  of  him
wearing silly antennae on their heads and making beep beep noises.  Rather
childish really. - Ford leant back on the mattress with his  hands  behind
his head and looked infuriatingly pleased with himself.
    - Ford, - insisted Arthur, - I don't know if this sounds like a silly
question, but what am I doing here?
    - Well you know that, - said Ford. - I rescued you from the Earth.
    - And what's happened to the Earth?
    - Ah. It's been demolished.
    - Has it, - said Arthur levelly.
    - Yes. It just boiled away into space.
    - Look, - said Arthur, - I'm a bit upset about that.
    Ford frowned to himself and seemed to roll  the  thought  around  his
    - Yes, I can understand that, - he said at last.
    - Understand that! - shouted Arthur. - Understand that! -
    Ford sprang up.
    - Keep looking at the book! - he hissed urgently.
    - What?
    - Don't Panic.
    - I'm not panicking!
    - Yes you are.
    - Alright so I'm panicking, what else is there to do?
    - You just come along with me and have a good time.  The  Galaxy's  a
fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear.
    - I beg your pardon? - asked Arthur, rather politely he thought.
    Ford was holding up a small glass jar which quite clearly had a small
yellow fish wriggling around in it. Arthur blinked at him. He wished there
was something simple and recognizable he could grasp  hold  of.  He  would
have felt  safe  if  alongside  the  Dentrassi  underwear,  the  piles  of
Squornshellous mattresses and the man from Betelgeuse holding up  a  small
yellow fish and offering to put it in his ear he had been able to see just
a small packet of corn flakes. He couldn't, and he didn't feel safe.
    Suddenly a violent noise leapt at them from no source that  he  could
identify. He gasped in terror at what sounded like a man trying to  gargle
whilst fighting off a pack of wolves.
    - Shush! - said Ford. - Listen, it might be important.
    - Im... important?
    - It's the Vogon captain making an announcement on the T'annoy.
    - You mean that's how the Vogons talk?
    - Listen!
    - But I can't speak Vogon!
    - You don't need to. Just put that fish in your ear.
    Ford, with a lightning movement, clapped his hand  to  Arthur's  ear,
and he had the sudden sickening sensation of the fish slithering deep into
his aural tract. Gasping with horror he scrabbled at his ear for a  second
or so, but then slowly turned goggle-eyed with wonder. He was experiencing
the aural equivalent of looking at a  picture  of  two  black  silhouetted
faces and suddenly seeing it as a picture of a white  candlestick.  Or  of
looking at a lot of coloured dots on  a  piece  of  paper  which  suddenly
resolve themselves into the figure six and  mean  that  your  optician  is
going to charge you a lot of money for a new pair of glasses.
    He was still listening to the howling gargles, he knew that, only now
it had taken on the semblance of perfectly straightforward English.
    This is what he heard...

                               Chapter 6

    - Howl howl gargle howl gargle howl howl howl gargle howl gargle howl
howl gargle gargle howl gargle gargle gargle howl  slurrp  uuuurgh  should
have a good time. Message repeats. This is your captain speaking, so  stop
whatever you're doing and pay attention. First  of  all  I  see  from  our
instruments that we have a couple of hitchhikers  aboard.  Hello  wherever
you are. I just want to make it totally clear that  you  are  not  at  all
welcome. I worked hard to get where  I  am  today,  and  I  didn't  become
captain of a Vogon constructor ship simply so I could turn it into a  taxi
service for a load of degenerate freeloaders. I have  sent  out  a  search
party, and as soon that they find you I will put  you  off  the  ship.  If
you're very lucky I might read you some of my poetry first.
    - Secondly, we are about to jump into hyperspace for the  journey  to
Barnard's Star. On arrival we will stay in dock  for  a  seventy-two  hour
refit, and no one's to leave the ship during  that  time.  I  repeat,  all
planet leave is cancelled. I've just had an  unhappy  love  affair,  so  I
don't see why anybody else should have a good time. Message ends.
    The noise stopped.
    Arthur discovered to his embarrassment that he was lying curled up in
a small ball on the floor with his arms wrapped round his head. He  smiled
    - Charming man, - he said. - I wish I  had  a  daughter  so  I  could
forbid her to marry one...
    - You wouldn't need to, said Ford. - They've got as much  sex  appeal
as a road accident. No, don't move, - he added as Arthur began  to  uncurl
himself, - you'd better be prepared for the  jump  into  hyperspace.  It's
unpleasantly like being drunk.
    - What's so unpleasant about being drunk?
    - You ask a glass of water.
    Arthur thought about this.
    - Ford, - he said.
    - Yeah?
    - What's this fish doing in my ear?
    - It's translating for you. It's a Babel fish. Look it up in the book
if you like.
    He tossed over The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and then  curled
himself up into a foetal ball to prepare himself for the jump.
    At that moment the bottom fell out of Arthur's mind.
    His eyes turned inside out. His feet began to leak out of the top  of
his head.
    The room folded flat about him, spun around, shifted out of existence
and left him sliding into his own navel.
    They were passing through hyperspace.
    - The Babel fish, said The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly,
- is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest  thing  in  the
Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy not from its carrier but from those
around it.  It  absorbs  all  unconscious  mental  frequencies  from  this
brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of
its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious  thought
frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech  centres  of  the
brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if
you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly  understand  anything
said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear
decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed  into  your  mind  by  your
Babel fish.
    - Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything  so
mindboggingly useful  could  have  evolved  purely  by  chance  that  some
thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and  clinching  proof  of  the
non-existence of God.
    The argument goes something like this:
    - I refuse to prove that I exist, - says  God,  -  for  proof  denies
faith, and without faith I am nothing.
    - But, - says Man, - The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it?  It
could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and  so  therefore,
by your own arguments, you don't. QED.
    - Oh dear, - says God, - I hadn't thought of  that,  -  and  promptly
vanished in a puff of logic.
    - Oh, that was easy, - says Man, and for an encore goes on  to  prove
that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
    - Most leading theologians claim that this  argument  is  a  load  of
dingo's kidneys, but that didn't  stop  Oolon  Colluphid  making  a  small
fortune when he used it as the central theme of his bestselling book  Well
That About Wraps It Up For God.
    - Meanwhile,  the  poor  Babel  fish,  by  effectively  removing  all
barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused
more and bloddier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
    Arthur let out a low groan. He was horrified  to  discover  that  the
kick through hyperspace hadn't killed him. He was now six light years from
the place that the Earth would have been if it still existed.
    The Earth.
    Visions of it swam sickeningly through his nauseated mind. There  was
no way his imagination could feel the impact of  the  whole  Earth  having
gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents
and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he  had
been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he  had
been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket  before  and  felt  a
sudden stab - the  supermarket  was  gone,  everything  in  it  was  gone.
Nelson's Column had gone! Nelson's Column had gone and there would  be  no
outcry, because there was no one left to  make  an  outcry.  From  now  on
Nelson's Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind
- his mind, stuck here in this dank smelly steel-lined spaceship.  A  wave
of claustrophobia closed in on him.
    England no longer existed. He'd got that - somehow he'd  got  it.  He
tried again. America, he thought, has  gone.  He  couldn't  grasp  it.  He
decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He'd never
seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, had sunk for
ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he  said  to
himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonalds, he thought. There  is
no longer any such thing as a McDonald's hamburger.
    He passed out. When he came round a second  later  he  found  he  was
sobbing for his mother.
    He jerked himself violently to his feet.
    - Ford!
    Ford looked up from where he was  sitting  in  a  corner  humming  to
himself. He always found the actual travelling-through-space part of space
travel rather trying.
    - Yeah? - he said.
    - If you're a researcher on this book thing and you  were  on  Earth,
you must have been gathering material on it.
    - Well, I was able to extend the original entry a bit, yes.
    - Let me see what it says in this edition then, I've got to see it.
    - Yeah OK. - He passed it over again.
    Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop  his  hands  shaking.  He
pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen  flashed  and  swirled
and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.
    - It doesn't have an entry! - he burst out.
    Ford looked over his shoulder.
    - Yes it does, - he said, - down there, see  at  the  bottom  of  the
screen, just under Eccentrica Gallumbits,  the  triple-breasted  whore  of
Eroticon 6.
    Arthur followed Ford's finger, and saw where it was pointing.  For  a
moment it still didn't register, then his mind nearly blew up.
    - What? Harmless? Is that all it's got to say? Harmless! One word!
    Ford shrugged.
    - Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and  only  a
limited amount of space in the book's microprocessors, - he said, - and no
one knew much about the Earth of course.
    - Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit.
    - Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to  the  editor.
He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improvement.
    - And what does it say now? - asked Arthur.
    - Mostly harmless, - admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough.
    - Mostly harmless! - shouted Arthur.
    - What was that noise? - hissed Ford.
    - It was me shouting, - shouted Arthur.
    - No! Shut up! - said Ford. I think we're in trouble.
    - You think we're in trouble!
    Outside the door were the sounds of marching feet.
    - The Dentrassi? - whispered Arthur.
    - No, those are steel tipped boots, - said Ford.
    There was a sharp ringing rap on the door.
    - Then who is it? - said Arthur.
    - Well, - said Ford, - if we're lucky it's just the  Vogons  come  to
throw us in to space.
    - And if we're unlucky?
    - If we're unlucky, - said  Ford  grimly,  -  the  captain  might  be
serious  in  his  threat  that  he's  going to read us some of his  poetry

                               Chapter 7

    Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe.
    The second worst is that of the Azagoths of Kria. During a recitation
by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode  To  A  Small
Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer  Morning"  four  of
his audience died of internal haemorrhaging,  and  the  President  of  the
Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs
off. Grunthos is reported  to  have  been  "disappointed"  by  the  poem's
reception, and was about to embark on a reading  of  his  twelvebook  epic
entitled My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in  a
desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leapt straight up through
his neck and throttled his brain.
    The very worst poetry of all perished along with  its  creator  Paula
Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction
of the planet Earth.
    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz smiled very slowly. This was done not so  much
for effect as because he was trying to remember  the  sequence  of  muscle
movements. He had had a terribly therapeutic yell at his prisoners and was
now feeling quite relaxed and ready for a little callousness.
    The prisoners sat in Poetry Appreciation Chairs - strapped in. Vogons
suffered no illusions as to the regard their works were generally held in.
Their  early  attempts  at  composition  had  been  part  of   bludgeoning
insistence that they be accepted as a properly evolved and cultured  race,
but now the only thing that kept them going was sheer bloodymindedness.
    The sweat stood out cold on Ford Prefect's brow, and slid  round  the
electrodes strapped to his temples. These were attached to  a  battery  of
electronic  equipment  -  imagery   intensifiers,   rhythmic   modulators,
alliterative residulators and simile dumpers - all  designed  to  heighten
the experience of the poem and make sure that not a single nuance  of  the
poet's thought was lost.
    Arthur Dent sat and quivered. He had no idea what he was in for,  but
he knew that he hadn't liked anything that had happened so far and  didn't
think things were likely to change.
    The Vogon began to read - a fetid little passage of his own devising.
    - Oh frettled gruntbuggly... - he began. Spasms wracked Ford's body -
this was worse than ever he'd been prepared for.
    - ...thy micturations are to me! As  plurdled  gabbleblotchits  on  a
lurgid bee.
    - Aaaaaaarggggghhhhhh! - went Ford Prefect, wrenching his  head  back
as lumps of pain thumped through it. He could dimly see beside him  Arthur
lolling and rolling in his seat. He clenched his teeth.
    - Groop I implore  thee,  -  continued  the  merciless  Vogon,  -  my
foonting turlingdromes.
    His voice was rising to a horrible pitch of impassioned stridency.
    - And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,| Or  I  will
rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!
    - Nnnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyuuuuuuurrrrrrrggggggghhhhh! - cried  Ford  Prefect
and threw one final spasm as the electronic enhancement of the  last  line
caught him full blast across the temples. He went limp.
    Arthur lolled.
    - Now Earthlings... - whirred the Vogon (he  didn't  know  that  Ford
Prefect was in fact from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and
wouldn't have cared if he had) - I  present  you  with  a  simple  choice!
Either die in the vacuum of space, or...  -  he  paused  for  melodramatic
effect, - tell me how good you thought my poem was!
    He threw himself backwards into a huge leathery bat-shaped  seat  and
watched them. He did the smile again.
    Ford was rasping for breath. He rolled his  dusty  tongue  round  his
parched mouth and moaned.
    Arthur said brightly:
    - Actually I quite liked it.
    Ford turned and gaped. Here was an approach that had quite simply not
occurred to him.
    The Vogon raised a surprised eyebrow that  effectively  obscured  his
nose and was therefore no bad thing.
    - Oh good... - he whirred, in considerable astonishment.
    - Oh yes, - said Arthur, - I thought that some  of  the  metaphysical
imagery was really particularly effective.
    Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around
this totally new concept. Were they really going to be  able  to  bareface
their way out of this?
    - Yes, do continue... - invited the Vogon.
    - Oh... and er...  interesting  rhythmic  devices  too,  -  continued
Arthur, - which seemed to counterpoint the... er... er... - He floundered.
    Ford leaped to his rescue, hazarding "counterpoint the surrealism  of
the underlying metaphor of the... er..." He floundered too, but Arthur was
ready again.
    - ...humanity of the...
    - Vogonity, - Ford hissed at him.
    - Ah yes, Vogonity (sorry) of the poet's compassionate soul, - Arthur
felt he was on a home stretch now, - which contrives through the medium of
the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come  to  terms
with the fundamental dichotomies of  the  other,  -  (he  was  reaching  a
triumphant crescendo...) - and one is  left  with  a  profound  and  vivid
insight into... into... er... - (... which suddenly gave out on him.) Ford
leaped in with the coup de grace:
    - Into whatever it was the poem was about! - he yelled.  Out  of  the
corner of his mouth: - Well done, Arthur, that was very good.
    The Vogon perused them. For a moment his embittered racial  soul  had
been touched, but he thought no - too little too late. His voice  took  on
the quality of a cat snagging brushed nylon.
    - So what you're saying is that I write poetry because underneath  my
mean callous heartless exterior I really just want to be loved, - he said.
He paused. - Is that right?
    Ford laughed a nervous laugh.
    - Well I mean yes, - he said, - don't we all, deep down, you  know...
    The Vogon stood up.
    - No, well you're completely wrong, - he said, - I just write  poetry
to throw my mean callous heartless exterior into sharp relief.  I'm  going
to throw you off the ship anyway. Guard!  Take  the  prisoners  to  number
three airlock and throw them out!
    - What? - shouted Ford.
    A huge young Vogon guard stepped forward and yanked them out of their
straps with his huge blubbery arms.
    - You can't throw us into space, - yelled Ford,  -  we're  trying  to
write a book.
    - Resistance is useless! - shouted the Vogon guard back  at  him.  It
was the first phrase he'd learnt when he joined the Vogon Guard Corps.
    The captain watched with detached amusement and then turned away.
    Arthur stared round him wildly.
    - I don't want to die now! - he yelled. - I've still got a  headache!
I don't want to go to heaven  with  a  headache,  I'd  be  all  cross  and
wouldn't enjoy it!
    The guard grasped  them  both  firmly  round  the  neck,  and  bowing
deferentially towards his captain's back, hoiked them both protesting  out
of the bridge. A steel door closed and the captain was on his  own  again.
He hummed quietly and mused to himself, lightly fingering his notebook  of
    - Hmmmm, - he said, - counterpoint the surrealism of  the  underlying
metaphor... - He considered this for a moment, and then  closed  the  book
with a grim smile.
    - Death's too good for them, - he said.
    The long steel-lined corridor echoed to the feeble struggles  of  the
two humanoids clamped firmly under rubbery Vogon armpits.
    - This is great, - spluttered Arthur, - this is really terrific.  Let
go of me you brute!
    The Vogon guard dragged them on.
    - Don't you worry, - said Ford, -  I'll  think  of  something.  -  He
didn't sound hopeful.
    - Resistance is useless! - bellowed the guard.
    - Just don't say things like that, - stammered Ford. - How can anyone
maintain a positive mental attitude if you're saying things like that?
    - My God, - complained Arthur, -  you're  talking  about  a  positive
mental attitude and you haven't even had your planet demolished  today.  I
woke up this morning and thought I'd have a nice relaxed day, do a bit  of
reading, brush the dog... It's now just after four in  the  afternoon  and
I'm already thrown out of an alien spaceship  six  light  years  from  the
smoking remains of the Earth! - He spluttered and  gurgled  as  the  Vogon
tightened his grip.
    - Alright, - said Ford, - just stop panicking.
    - Who said anything about panicking? -  snapped  Arthur.  -  This  is
still just the culture shock. You wait till I've  settled  down  into  the
situation and found my bearings. Then I'll start panicking.
    - Arthur you're getting hysterical. Shut up! - Ford tried desperately
to think, but was interrupted by the guard shouting again.
    - Resistance is useless!
    - And you can shut up as well! - snapped Ford.
    - Resistance is useless!
    - Oh give it a rest, - said Ford. He twisted his  head  till  he  was
looking straight up into his captor's face. A thought struck him.
    - Do you really enjoy this sort of thing? - he asked suddenly.
    The Vogon stopped dead and a look of immense stupidity seeped  slowly
over his face.
    - Enjoy? - he boomed. - What do you mean?
    - What I mean, - said Ford, - is does it give you a  full  satisfying
life? Stomping around, shouting, pushing people out of spaceships...
    The Vogon stared up at the low steel ceiling and his eyebrows  almost
rolled over each other. His mouth slacked. Finally he said,
    - Well the hours are good...
    - They'd have to be, - agreed Ford.
    Arthur twisted his head to look at Ford.
    - Ford, what are you doing? - he asked in an amazed whisper.
    - Oh, just trying to take an interest in the world around me,  OK?  -
he said. - So the hours are pretty good then? - he resumed.
    The Vogon stared down at him as sluggish thoughts  moiled  around  in
the murky depths.
    - Yeah, - he said, - but now you come to  mention  it,  most  of  the
actual minutes are pretty lousy.  Except...  -  he  thought  again,  which
required looking at the ceiling - except some  of  the  shouting  I  quite
like. - He filled his lungs and bellowed, - Resistance is...
    - Sure, yes, - interrupted Ford hurriedly, - you're good at  that,  I
can tell. But if it's mostly lousy, - he said,  slowly  giving  the  words
time to reach their mark, - then why do you do it? What is it? The  girls?
The leather? The machismo? Or do you just find that coming to  terms  with
the mindless tedium of it all presents an interesting challenge?
    - Er... - said the guard, - er... er... I dunno. I think I just  sort
of... do it really. My aunt said that spaceship guard was  a  good  career
for a young Vogon - you know, the uniform, the lowslung stun ray  holster,
the mindless tedium...
    - There you are Arthur, - said Ford with the air of someone  reaching
the conclusion of his argument, - you think you've got problems.
    Arthur rather thought he had. Apart from the unpleasant business with
his home planet the Vogon guard had  half-throttled  him  already  and  he
didn't like the sound of being thrown into space very much.
    - Try and understand his problem, - insisted Ford. - Here he is  poor
lad, his entire life's  work  is  stamping  around,  throwing  people  off
    - And shouting, - added the guard.
    - And shouting, sure, - said Ford patting the  blubbery  arm  clamped
round his neck in friendly condescension, - ...and he  doesn't  even  know
why he's doing it!
    Arthur agreed this was very sad. He did  this  with  a  small  feeble
gesture, because he was too asphyxicated to speak.
    Deep rumblings of bemusement came from the guard.
    - Well. Now you put it like that I suppose...
    - Good lad! - encouraged Ford.
    - But alright, - went on the rumblings, - so what's the alternative?
    - Well, - said Ford, brightly but slowly, - stop doing it of  course!
Tell them, - he went on, - you're not going to do it anymore. - He felt he
had to add something to that, but for the moment the guard seemed to  have
his mind occupied pondering that much.
    - Eerrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... - said the guard, - erm, well that
doesn't sound that great to me.
    Ford suddenly felt the moment slipping away.
    - Now wait a minute, - he said, - that's  just  the  start  you  see,
there's more to it than that you see...
    But at that moment the guard  renewed  his  grip  and  continued  his
original purpose of lugging his prisoners to the airlock. He was obviously
quite touched.
    - No, I think if it's all the same to you, - he said,  -  I'd  better
get you both shoved into this airlock and then go and  get  on  with  some
other bits of shouting I've got to do.
    It wasn't all the same to Ford Prefect after all.
    - Come on now... but look! - he said, less slowly, less brightly.
    - Huhhhhgggggggnnnnnnn... - said Arthur without any clear inflection.
    - But hang on, - pursued Ford, - there's music and art and things  to
tell you about yet! Arrrggghhh!
    - Resistance is useless, - bellowed the guard, and then added, -  You
see if I keep it up I can  eventually  get  promoted  to  Senior  Shouting
Officer, and there aren't usually  many  vacancies  for  non-shouting  and
non-pushing-people-about officers, so I think I'd better stick to  what  I
    They had now reached the airlock - a large circular steel hatchway of
massive strength and weight let into the inner  skin  of  the  craft.  The
guard operated a control and the hatchway swung smoothly open.
    - But thanks for taking an interest, - said the Vogon  guard.  -  Bye
now. He flung Ford and Arthur through the hatchway into the small  chamber
within. Arthur lay panting for breath. Ford scrambled round and flung  his
shoulder uselessly against the reclosing hatchway.
    - But listen, - he shouted to the guard, - there's a whole world  you
don't know anything about... here how about this? - Desperately he grabbed
for the only bit of culture he knew offhand - he hummed the first  bar  of
Beethoven's Fifth.
    - Da da da dum! Doesn't that stir anything in you?
    - No, - said the guard, - not really. But I'll mention it to my aunt.
    If he said anything further after that  it  was  lost.  The  hatchway
sealed itself tight, and all sound was lost but the faint distant  hum  of
the ship's engines.
    They were in a brightly polished cylindrical chamber about  six  feet
in diameter and ten feet long.
    - Potentially bright lad I thought, - he said and slumped against the
curved wall.
    Arthur was still lying in the curve of the floor where he had fallen.
He didn't look up. He just lay panting.
    - We're trapped now aren't we?
    - Yes, - said Ford, - we're trapped.
    - Well didn't you think of anything? I  thought  you  said  you  were
going to think of something. Perhaps you thought of something  and  didn't
    - Oh yes, I thought of something, - panted  Ford.  Arthur  looked  up
    - But unfortunately, - continued Ford, - it rather involved being  on
the other side of this airtight hatchway. - He  kicked  the  hatch  they'd
just been through.
    - But it was a good idea was it?
    - Oh yes, very neat.
    - What was it?
    - Well I hadn't worked out the details yet. Not  much  point  now  is
    - So... er, what happens next?
    - Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in
a few moments and  we  will  shoot  out  into  deep  space  I  expect  and
asphyxicate. If you take a lungful of air with you you can last for up  to
thirty seconds of course... - said Ford. He stuck  his  hands  behind  his
back, raised his eyebrows and started to hum an  old  Betelgeusian  battle
hymn. To Arthur's eyes he suddenly looked very alien.
    - So this is it, - said Arthur, - we're going to die.
    - Yes, - said Ford, - except... no! Wait  a  minute!  -  he  suddenly
lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur's line of  vision.  -
What's this switch? - he cried.
    - What? Where? - cried Arthur twisting round.
    - No, I was only fooling, - said Ford, - we are going  to  die  after
    He slumped against the wall again and carried on the tune from  where
he left off.
    - You know, - said Arthur, -  it's  at  times  like  this,  when  I'm
trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of
asphyxication in deep space that I really wish I'd  listened  to  what  my
mother told me when I was young.
    - Why, what did she tell you?
    - I don't know, I didn't listen.
    - Oh. - Ford carried on humming.
    - This is terrific, - Arthur thought to himself,  -  Nelson's  Column
has gone, McDonald's have gone, all that's left is me and the words Mostly
Harmless. Any second now all that will be left  is  Mostly  Harmless.  And
yesterday the planet seemed to be going so well.
    A motor whirred.
    A slight hiss built into a deafening roar of rushing air as the outer
hatchway opened on to an empty  blackness  studded  with  tiny  impossibly
bright points of light. Ford and Arthur popped into outer space like corks
from a toy gun.

                               Chapter 8

    The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It
has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many
different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of
travellers and researchers.
    The introduction begins like this:
    - Space, - it says, - is big. Really big. You just won't believe  how
vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think  it's  a  long
way down the road to the  chemist,  but  that's  just  peanuts  to  space.
Listen... - and so on.
    (After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell you
things you really  need  to  know,  like  the  fact  that  the  fabulously
beautiful planet Bethselamin  is  now  so  worried  about  the  cumulative
erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year  that  any  net  imbalance
between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet
is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave: so  every  time
you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.)
    To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of distances
between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for  the  Guide's
introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider  for  a  moment  a
peanut in reading and a small  walnut  in  Johannesburg,  and  other  such
dizzying concepts.
    The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the
human imagination.
    Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races  thousands
of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time to journey  between
the stars. It takes eight minutes from the star Sol to the place where the
Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol's  nearest  stellar
neighbour, Alpha Proxima.
    For light to reach the other side of the  Galaxy,  for  it  to  reach
Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand years.
    The record for hitch hiking this distance is just under  five  years,
but you don't get to see much on the way.
    The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy says that if you hold a lungful
of air you can survive in the total  vacuum  of  space  for  about  thirty
seconds. However it goes on to say that what with  space  being  the  mind
boggling size it is the chances of  getting  picked  up  by  another  ship
within those thirty seconds are two  to  the  power  of  two  hundred  and
sixty-seven thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.
    By a totally staggering coincidence that is also the telephone number
of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party and met a
very nice girl whom he totally failed to get off with - she went off  with
a gatecrasher.
    Though the planet Earth, the Islington flat and  the  telephone  have
all now been demolished, it is comforting to reflect that they are all  in
some small way commemorated by the fact  that  twenty-nine  seconds  later
Ford and Arthur were rescued.

                               Chapter 9

    A computer chatted to itself in alarm as it noticed an  airlock  open
and close itself for no apparent reason.
    This was because Reason was in fact out to lunch.
    A hole had just appeared in the Galaxy. It was exactly a nothingth of
a second long, a nothingth of an inch wide, and quite  a  lot  of  million
light years from end to end.
    As it closed up lots of paper hats and party balloons fell out of  it
and drifted off through the  universe.  A  team  of  seven  threefoot-high
market analysts fell out of it and died, partly of  asphyxication,  partly
of surprise.
    Two hundred and thirty-nine thousand lightly fried eggs fell  out  of
it too, materializing in a large woobly heap on the faminestruck  land  of
Poghril in the Pansel system.
    The whole Poghril tribe had died out from famine except for one  last
man who died of cholesterol poisoning some weeks later.
    The nothingth of a second for which  the  hole  existed  reverberated
backwards  and  forwards  through  time  in  a  most  improbable  fashion.
Somewhere in the deeply remote  past  it  seriously  traumatized  a  small
random group of atoms drifting through the empty sterility  of  space  and
made them cling together in the most  extraordinarily  unlikely  patterns.
These patterns quickly learnt to copy themselves (this was  part  of  what
was so extraordinary of the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble
on every planet they drifted on  to.  That  was  how  life  began  in  the
    Five wild Event Maelstroms swirled in vicious storms of unreason  and
spewed up a pavement.
    On the pavement  lay  Ford  Prefect  and  Arthur  Dent  gulping  like
half-spent fish.
    - There you are, - gasped Ford, scrabbling for a  fingerhold  on  the
pavement as it raced through the Third Reach of the Unknown, - I told  you
I'd think of something.
    - Oh sure, - said Arthur, - sure.
    - Bright idea of mine, - said Ford, - to find a passing spaceship and
get rescued by it.
    The real universe  arched  sickeningly  away  beneath  them.  Various
pretend ones flitted  silently  by,  like  mountain  goats.  Primal  light
exploded,  splattering  space-time  as  with  gobbets  of   junket.   Time
blossomed, matter shrank away. The highest prime number coalesced  quietly
in a corner and hid itself away for ever.
    - Oh come off it, - said  Arthur,  -  the  chances  against  it  were
    - Don't knock it, it worked, - said Ford.
    - What sort of ship are we in? - asked Arthur as the pit of  eternity
yawned beneath them.
    - I don't know, - said Ford, - I haven't opened my eyes yet.
    - No, nor have I, - said Arthur.
    The Universe jumped, froze,  quivered  and  splayed  out  in  several
unexpected directions.
    Arthur and Ford opened their eyes and looked  about  in  considerable
    - Good god, - said Arthur, - it looks just  like  the  sea  front  at
    - Hell, I'm relieved to hear you say that, - said Ford.
    - Why?
    - Because I thought I must be going mad.
    - Perhaps you are. Perhaps you only thought I said it.
    Ford thought about this.
    - Well, did you say it or didn't you? - he asked.
    - I think so, - said Arthur.
    - Well, perhaps we're both going mad.
    - Yes, - said Arthur, - we'd be mad, all things considered, to  think
this was Southend.
    - Well, do you think this is Southend?
    - Oh yes.
    - So do I.
    - Therefore we must be mad.
    - Nice day for it.
    - Yes, - said a passing maniac.
    - Who was that? - asked Arthur
    - Who - the man with the five heads and the elderberry bush  full  of
    - Yes.
    - I don't know. Just someone.
    - Ah.
    They both sat on the pavement and watched with a  certain  unease  as
huge children bounced heavily along the sand  and  wild  horses  thundered
through the sky taking  fresh  supplies  of  reinforced  railings  to  the
Uncertain Areas.
    - You know, - said Arthur with a slight cough, - if this is Southend,
there's something very odd about it...
    - You mean the way the  sea  stays  steady  and  the  buildings  keep
washing up and down? - said Ford. - Yes I thought that  was  odd  too.  In
fact, - he continued as with a huge bang Southend split  itself  into  six
equal segments which danced and span giddily round each other in lewd  and
licentious formation, - there is something altogether very  strange  going
    Wild yowling noises of pipes and strings seared through the wind, hot
doughnuts popped out of the road for ten pence each, horrid  fish  stormed
out of the sky and Arthur and Ford decided to make a run for it.
    They plunged through heavy  walls  of  sound,  mountains  of  archaic
thought, valleys of mood music, bad shoe sessions and  footling  bats  and
suddenly heard a girl's voice.
    It sounded quite a sensible voice, but it just said,  -  Two  to  the
power of one hundred thousand to one against and falling, - and  that  was
    Ford skidded down a beam of light and span round  trying  to  find  a
source for the voice but could see nothing he could seriously believe in.
    - What was that voice? - shouted Arthur.
    - I don't know, - yelled Ford, - I don't  know.  It  sounded  like  a
measurement of probability.
    - Probability? What do you mean?
    - Probability. You know, like two to one, three to one, five to  four
against. It said two to the power of one hundred thousand to one  against.
That's pretty improbable you know.
    A million-gallon vat of custard  upended  itself  over  them  without
    - But what does it mean? - cried Arthur.
    - What, the custard?
    - No, the measurement of probability!
    - I don't know. I don't know at all. I think we're on  some  kind  of
    - I can  only  assume,  -  said  Arthur,  -  that  this  is  not  the
first-class compartment.
    Bulges appeared in the fabric of space-time. Great ugly bulges.
    - Haaaauuurrgghhh... - said Arthur as he felt his body softening  and
bending in unusual directions. - Southend seems to be melting away...  the
stars are swirling... a dustbowl... my legs  are  drifting  off  into  the
sunset... my left arm's come off too. - A frightening thought struck  him:
- Hell, - he said, - how am I going to operate my digital watch now? -  He
wound his eyes desperately around in Ford's direction.
    - Ford, - he said, - you're turning into a penguin. Stop it.
    Again came the voice.
    - Two to the power  of  seventy-five  thousand  to  one  against  and
    Ford waddled around his pond in a furious circle.
    - Hey, who are you, - he quacked. - Where are you?  What's  going  on
and is there any way of stopping it?
    - Please relax, - said the voice pleasantly, like a stewardess in  an
airliner with only one wing and two engines one of which is on fire, - you
are perfectly safe.
    - But that's not the point! - raged Ford. - The point is  that  I  am
now a perfectly save penguin, and my colleague here is rapidly running out
of limbs!
    - It's alright, I've got them back now, - said Arthur.
    - Two to the power of fifty thousand to one against  and  falling,  -
said the voice.
    - Admittedly, - said Arthur, - they're longer  than  I  usually  like
them, but...
    - Isn't there anything, - squawked Ford in avian fury, - you feel you
ought to be telling us?
    The voice cleared its throat. A giant petit four  lolloped  off  into
the distance.
    - Welcome, - the voice said, - to the Starship Heart of Gold.
    The voice continued.
    - Please do not be alarmed, - it said, - by anything you see or  hear
around you. You are bound to feel some initial ill  effects  as  you  have
been rescued from certain death at an improbability level of  two  to  the
power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one  against  -  possibly
much higher. We are now cruising at  a  level  of  two  to  the  power  of
twenty-five thousand to one against and falling, and we will be  restoring
normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal  anyway.  Thank  you.
Two to the power of twenty thousand to one against and falling.
    The voice cut out.
    Ford and Arthur were in a small luminous pink cubicle.
    Ford was wildly excited.
    - Arthur! - he said, - this is fantastic! We've been picked up  by  a
ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive! This  is  incredible!  I
heard rumors about it before! They were all officially  denied,  but  they
must have done it! They've built the  Improbability  Drive!  Arthur,  this
is... Arthur? What's happening?
    Arthur had jammed himself against the door to the cubicle, trying  to
hold it closed, but it was ill  fitting.  Tiny  furry  little  hands  were
squeezing themselves through the cracks, their  fingers  were  inkstained;
tiny voices chattered insanely.
    Arthur looked up.
    - Ford! - he said, - there's an infinite number  of  monkeys  outside
who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out.

                               Chapter 10

    The Infinite  Improbability  Drive  is  a  wonderful  new  method  of
crossing vast interstellar distances in a  mere  nothingth  of  a  second,
without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.
    It was discovered by a  lucky  chance,  and  then  developed  into  a
governable form of propulsion by the Galactic Government's  research  team
on Damogran.
    This, briefly, is the story of its discovery.
    The principle of generating small amounts of finite improbability  by
simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 SubMeson Brain to an
atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer  (say
a nice hot cup  of  tea)  were  of  course  well  understood  -  and  such
generators were often used to break the ice at parties by making  all  the
molecules in the hostess's undergarments leap simultaneously one  foot  to
the left, in accordance with the Theory of Indeterminacy.
    Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for
this - partly because it was a debasement of science, but  mostly  because
they didn't get invited to those sort of parties.
    Another thing they couldn't stand  was  the  perpetual  failure  they
encountered in trying to construct a  machine  which  could  generate  the
infinite improbability  field  needed  to  flip  a  spaceship  across  the
mind-paralysing distances between the furthest stars, and in the end  they
grumpily announced that such a machine was virtually impossible.
    Then, one day, a student who had been left to sweep up the lab  after
a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning this way:
    If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility,
then it must logically be a finite improbability. So all I have to  do  in
order to make one is to work out exactly how improbable it is,  feed  that
figure into the finite improbability generator, give it  a  fresh  cup  of
really hot tea... and turn it on!
    He did this, and was rather startled to discover that he had  managed
to create the long sought after golden  Infinite  Improbability  generator
out of thin air.
    It startled him even more when just after he was awarded the Galactic
Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched by a rampaging mob
of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they
really couldn't stand was a smartass.

                               Chapter 11

    The Improbability-proof control cabin of the  Heart  of  Gold  looked
like a perfectly conventional spaceship except that it was perfectly clean
because it was so new. Some of the control seats hadn't  had  the  plastic
wrapping taken off yet. The cabin was mostly white, oblong, and about  the
size of a smallish restaurant. In fact it wasn't perfectly oblong: the two
long walls were raked round in a slight parallel curve, and all the angles
and corners were contoured in excitingly chunky shapes. The truth  of  the
matter is that it would have been a great deal simpler and more  practical
to build the cabin as an ordinary three-dimensional oblong rom,  but  then
the designers would have  got  miserable.  As  it  was  the  cabin  looked
excitingly purposeful, with large video screens ranged  over  the  control
and guidance system  panels  on  the  concave  wall,  and  long  banks  of
computers set into the convex wall. In one corner a robot sat humped,  its
gleaming brushed steel head hanging loosely between its  gleaming  brushed
steel knees. It  too  was  fairly  new,  but  though  it  was  beautifully
constructed and polished it somehow looked as if the various parts of  its
more or less humanoid body didn't quite fit properly. In fact they  fitted
perfectly well, but something in its bearing  suggested  that  they  might
have fitted better.
    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 hitch hikers.  OK,
so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good  thinking,
    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
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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
    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 Hitch Hiker'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
    - 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
hunched 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
    - 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 Wort 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:  -  Vell,
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
    - 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 ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha.
    - Yeah? - said Zaphod and blinked.
    Trillian said quietly, - Does that mean anything to you?
    - Mmmmm, - said Zaphod, - ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ 9 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
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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.
    - That's high. They're two lucky lucky guys.
    - Yes.
    - But relative to what we were doing when the ship picked them up...
    Trillian   punched   up   the   figures.   They   showed   tow-to-the
powerof-Infinity-minus-one  (an  irrational  number  that   only   has   a
conventional meaning in Improbability physics).
    - ...it's pretty low, - continued Zaphod with a slight whistle.
    - Yes, - agreed Trillian, and looked at him quizzically.
    - That's  one  big  whack  of  Improbability  to  be  accounted  for.
Something pretty improbable has got to show up on  the  balance  sheet  if
it's all going to add up into a pretty sum.
    Zaphod scribbled a few sums, crossed them out and  threw  the  pencil
    - Bat's dots, I can't work it out.
    - Well?
    Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and  gritted  his
    - OK, - he said. - Computer!
    The voice circuits sprang to life again.
    - Why hello there! - they said (ticker tape, ticker tape).  -  All  I
want to do is make your day nicer and nicer and nicer...
    - Yeah well shut up and work something out for me.
    - Sure thing, - chattered the computer,  -  you  want  a  probability
forecast based on...
    - Improbability data, yeah.
    - OK, - the  computer  continued.  -  Here's  an  interesting  little
notion. Did you realize that most people's lives are governed by telephone
    A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's  faces  and  on  to  the
other one.
    - Have you flipped? - he said.
    - No, but you will when I tell you that...
    Trillian gasped. She scrabbled at the buttons  on  the  Improbability
flight path screen.
    - Telephone number? - she  said.  -  Did  that  thing  say  telephone
    Numbers flashed up on the screen.
    The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.
    - What I was about to say was that...
    - Don't bother please, - said Trillian.
    - Look, what is this? - said Zaphod.
    - I don't know, - said Trillian, - but those aliens - they're on  the
way up to the bridge with that wretched robot. Can we pick them up on  any
monitor cameras?

                               Chapter 13

    Marvin trudged on down the corridor, still moaning.
    - ...and then of course I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes
down my left hand side...
    - No? - said Arthur grimly as he walked along beside him. - Really?
    - Oh yes, - said Marvin, - I mean I've asked for them to be  replaced
but no one ever listens.
    - I can imagine.
    Vague whistling and humming noises were coming from Ford.
    - Well well well, - he kept saying to himself, - Zaphod Beeblebrox...
    Suddenly Marvin stopped, and held up a hand.
    - You know what's happened now of course?
    - No, what? - said Arthur, who didn't what to know.
    - We've arrived at another of those doors.
    There was a sliding door let into the side of  the  corridor.  Marvin
eyed it suspiciously.
    - Well? - said Ford impatiently. - Do we go through?
    - Do we go through? - mimicked Marvin. - Yes. This is the entrance to
the bridge. I was told to take you to the  bridge.  Probably  the  highest
demand that will be made on my intellectual capacities today  I  shouldn't
    Slowly, with great loathing, he stepped  towards  the  door,  like  a
hunter stalking his prey. Suddenly it slid open.
    - Thank you, - it said, - for making a simple door very happy.
    Deep in Marvin's thorax gears ground.
    - Funny, - he intoned funerally, - how just when you think life can't
possibly get any worse it suddenly does.
    He heaved himself through the door and left Ford and  Arthur  staring
at each other and  shrugging  their  shoulders.  From  inside  they  heard
Marvin's voice again.
    - I suppose you want to see the aliens now, - he said. - Do you  want
me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?
    - Yeah, just show them in would you Marvin? - came another voice.
    Arthur looked at Ford and was astonished to see him laughing.
    - What's...?
    - Shhh, - said Ford, - come in.
    He stepped through into the bridge.
    Arthur followed him in nervously and was  astonished  to  see  a  man
lolling back in a chair with his feet on a  control  console  picking  the
teeth in his right-hand head with  his  left  hand.  The  right-hand  head
seemed to be thoroughly preoccupied with this task, but the left-hand  one
was grinning a broad, relaxed, nonchalant grin. The number of things  that
Arthur couldn't believe he was seeing was fairly large.  His  jaw  flapped
about at a loose end for a while.
    The peculiar man waved a lazy wave at  Ford  and  with  an  appalling
affectation of nonchalance said,
    - Ford, hi, how are you? Glad you could drop in.
    Ford was not going to be outcooled.
    - Zaphod, - he drawled, - great to see you, you're looking well,  the
extra arm suits you. Nice ship you've stolen.
    Arthur goggled at him.
    - You mean you know this guy? - he said,  waving  a  wild  finger  at
    - Know him! - exclaimed Ford, - he's... - he paused, and  decided  to
do the introductions the other way round.
    - Oh, Zaphod, this is a friend of mine, Arthur Dent, - he said,  -  I
saved him when his planet blew up.
    - Oh sure, - said Zaphod, - hi Arthur, glad you could make it. -  His
right-hand head looked round casually, said "hi" and went back  to  having
his teeth picked.
    Ford carried on.
    - And Arthur, - he said, - this is my semi-cousin Zaphod Beeb...
    - We've met, - said Arthur sharply.
    When you're cruising down the road in the fast lane  and  you  lazily
sail past a few hard driving cars and  are  feeling  pretty  pleased  with
yourself and then accidentally change down from fourth to first instead of
third thus making your engine leap out of your bonnet  in  a  rather  ugly
mess, it tends to throw you off your stride in much the same way that this
remark threw Ford Prefect off his.
    - Err... what?
    - I said we've met.
    Zaphod gave an awkward start of surprise and jabbed a gum sharply.
    - Hey... er, have we? Hey... er...
    Ford rounded on Arthur with an angry flash in his eyes. Now  he  felt
he was back on home ground he suddenly began  to  resent  having  lumbered
himself with this ignorant primitive who knew as much about the affairs of
the Galaxy as an Ilford-based gnat knew about life in Peking.
    - What do you mean you've met?  -  he  demanded.  -  This  is  Zaphod
Beeblebrox from Betelgeuse Five you know, not  bloody  Martin  Smith  from
    - I don't care, - said Arthur coldly. We've met,  haven't  we  Zaphod
Beeblebrox - or should I say... Phil?
    - What! - shouted Ford.
    - You'll have to remind me, - said Zaphod. - I've a  terrible  memory
for species.
    - It was at a party, - pursued Arthur.
    - Yeah, well I doubt that, - said Zaphod.
    - Cool it will you Arthur! - demanded Ford.
    Arthur would not be deterred.
    - A party six months ago. On Earth... England...
    Zaphod shook his head with a tight-lipped smile.
    - London, - insisted Arthur, - Islington.
    - Oh, - said Zaphod with a guilty start, - that party.
    This wasn't fair on Ford at all. He  looked  backwards  and  forwards
between Arthur and Zaphod.
    - What? - he said to Zaphod.
    - You don't mean to say you've been on that miserable planet as  well
do you?
    - No, of course not, - said Zaphod breezily. - Well, I may have  just
dropped in briefly, you know, on my way somewhere...
    - But I was stuck there for fifteen years!
    - Well I didn't know that did I?
    - But what were you doing there?
    - Looking about, you know.
    - He gatecrashed a party, - persisted Arthur, trembling with anger, -
a fancy dress party...
    - It would have to be, wouldn't it? - said Ford.
    - At this party, - persisted Arthur, - was a girl... oh well, look it
doesn't matter now. The whole place has gone up in smoke anyway...
    - I wish you'd stop sulking about that bloody planet, - said Ford.  -
Who was the lady?
    - Oh just somebody. Well alright, I wasn't doing very well with  her.
I'd been trying all evening. Hell, she was  something  though.  Beautiful,
charming, devastatingly intelligent, at last I'd got her to myself  for  a
bit and was plying her with a bit of talk when this friend of yours barges
up and says Hey doll, is this guy boring you? Why don't  you  talk  to  me
instead? I'm from a different planet. - I never saw her again.
    - Zaphod? - exclaimed Ford.
    - Yes, - said Arthur, glaring at him and trying not to feel  foolish.
- He only had the two arms and the one head and he  called  himself  Phil,
    - But you must admit he did turn out to be  from  another  planet,  -
said Trillian wandering into sight at the other end  of  the  bridge.  She
gave Arthur a pleasant smile which settled on him like a ton of bricks and
then turned her attention to the ship's controls again.
    There was silence for a few seconds, and then out  of  the  scrambled
mess of Arthur's brain crawled some words.
    - Tricia McMillian? - he said. - What are you doing here?
    - Same as you, - she said, - I hitched  a  lift.  After  all  with  a
degree in Maths and another in astrophysics what else was there to do?  It
was either that or the dole queue again on Monday.
    - Infinity minus one, - chattered the computer, -  Improbability  sum
now complete.
    Zaphod looked about him, at Ford, at Arthur, and then at Trillian.
    - Trillian, - he said, - is this sort of thing going to happen  every
time we use the Improbability drive?
    - Very probably, I'm afraid, - she said.

                              Chapter 14

    The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on
conventional photon drive. Its crew of four were ill at ease knowing  that
they had been brought together not of their  own  volition  or  by  simple
coincidence,  but  by  some  curious  principle  of  physics   -   as   if
relationships between people  were  susceptible  to  the  same  laws  that
governed the relationships between atoms and molecules.
    As the ship's artificial night closed in they were each  grateful  to
retire to separate cabins and try to rationalize their thoughts.
    Trillian couldn't sleep. She sat on a couch and  stared  at  a  small
cage which contained her last and only links with Earth - two  white  mice
that she had insisted Zaphod let her bring. She had expected  not  to  see
the planet again, but she was disturbed by her negative  reaction  to  the
planet's destruction. It seemed remote and unreal and she  could  find  no
thoughts to think about it. She watched the mice scurrying round the  cage
and running furiously  in  their  little  plastic  treadwheels  till  they
occupied her whole attention. Suddenly she shook herself and went back  to
the bridge to watch over the tiny flashing lights and figures that charted
the ship's progress through the void. She wished she knew what it was  she
was trying not to think about.
    Zaphod couldn't sleep. He also wished he knew what  it  was  that  he
wouldn't let himself think about. For as long as he  could  remember  he'd
suffered from a vague nagging feeling of being not all there. Most of  the
time he was able to put this thought aside and not worry about it, but  it
had been re-awakened by the sudden inexplicable arrival  of  Ford  Prefect
and Arthur Dent. Somehow it  seemed  to  conform  to  a  pattern  that  he
couldn't see.
    Ford couldn't sleep. He was too excited about being back on the  road
again. Fifteen years of virtual imprisonment were over,  just  as  he  was
finally beginning to give up hope. Knocking about with Zaphod  for  a  bit
promised to be a lot of fun, though there seemed to be  something  faintly
odd about his semi-cousin that he couldn't put his  finger  on.  The  fact
that he had become President of the Galaxy was frankly astonishing, as was
the manner of his leaving the post. Was there a reason  behind  it?  There
would be no point in asking Zaphod, he never appeared to have a reason for
anything he did at all: he had turned unfathomably into an  art  form.  He
attacked everything in life with a mixture  of  extraordinary  genius  and
naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.
    Arthur slept: he was terribly tired.
    There was a tap at Zaphod's door. It slid open.
    - Zaphod...?
    - Yeah?
    - I think we just found what you came to look for.
    - Hey, yeah?
    Ford gave up the attempt to sleep. In the corner of his cabin  was  a
small computer screen and keyboard. He sat at it for a while and tried  to
compose a new entry for the Guide on the subject of  Vogons  but  couldn't
think of anything vitriolic enough so he gave that up too, wrapped a  robe
round himself and went for a walk to the bridge.
    As he entered he was surprised to see two figures  hunched  excitedly
over the instruments.
    - See? The ship's about to move into orbit, - Trillian was saying.  -
There's a planet out there. It's at the exact coordinates you predicted.
    Zaphod heard a noise and looked up.
    - Ford! - he hissed. - Hey, come and take a look at this.
    Ford went and had a look at it. It was a series of  figures  flashing
over a screen.
    - You recognize those Galactic coordinates? - said Zaphod.
    - No.
    - I'll give you a clue. Computer!
    - Hi gang! - enthused the computer. - This is getting  real  sociable
isn't it?
    - Shut up, - said Zaphod, - and show up the screens.
    Light on the bridge  sank.  Pinpoints  of  light  played  across  the
consoles and reflected in four  pairs  of  eyes  that  stared  up  at  the
external monitor screens.
    There was absolutely nothing on them.
    - Recognize that? - whispered Zaphod.
    Ford frowned.
    - Er, no, - he said.
    - What do you see?
    - Nothing.
    - Recognize it?
    - What are you talking about?
    - We're in the Horsehead Nebula. One whole vast dark cloud.
    - And I was meant to recognize that from a blank screen?
    - Inside a dark nebula is the only place in the Galaxy  you'd  see  a
dark screen.
    - Very good.
    Zaphod laughed. He was clearly very excited about  something,  almost
childishly so.
    - Hey, this is really terrific, this is just far too much!
    - What's so great about being stuck in a dust cloud? - said Ford.
    - What would you reckon to find here? - urged Zaphod.
    - Nothing.
    - No stars? No planets?
    - No.
    - Computer! - shouted  Zaphod,  -  rotate  angle  of  vision  through
oneeighty degrees and don't talk about it!
    For a moment it seemed that nothing was happening, then a  brightness
glowed at the edge of the huge screen. A red star  the  size  of  a  small
plate crept across it followed quickly by another one - a  binary  system.
Then a vast crescent sliced into the corner of the picture - a  red  glare
shading away into the deep black, the night side of the planet.
    - I've found it! - cried Zaphod, thumping the console. -  I've  found
    Ford stared at it in astonishment.
    - What is it? - he said.
    - That... - said Zaphod, - is the most improbable  planet  that  ever

                              Chapter 15

    (Excerpt from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to  the  Galaxy,  Page  634784,
Section 5a, Entry: Magrathea)
    Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days
of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax free.
    Mighty  starships  plied  their  way  between  exotic  suns,  seeking
adventure and reward amongst the furthest reaches of  Galactic  space.  In
those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men  were  real  men,
women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri  were
real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And  all  dared  to  brave
unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives  that  no
man had split before - and thus was the Empire forged.
    Many men of course became extremely  rich,  but  this  was  perfectly
natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor  -  at
least no one  worth  speaking  of.  And  for  all  the  richest  and  most
successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull  and  niggly,  and
they began to imagine that this was therefore  the  fault  of  the  worlds
they'd settled on - none of them was  entirely  satisfactory:  either  the
climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the  day
was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.
    And thus were created the conditions for a  staggering  new  form  of
specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of  this
industry was the planet Magrathea,  where  hyperspatial  engineers  sucked
matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets  -  gold
planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes  -
all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest
men naturally came to expect.
    But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon  became
the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was  reduced  to
abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and  a
long sullen silence settled over a billion worlds, disturbed only  by  the
pen scratchings of scholars as they laboured  into  the  night  over  smug
little treaties on the value of a planned political economy.
    Magrathea itself disappeared and its  memory  soon  passed  into  the
obscurity of legend.
    In these enlightened days of course, no one believes a word of it.

                               Chapter 16

    Arthur awoke to the sound of argument and went to  the  bridge.  Ford
was waving his arms about.
    - You're crazy, Zaphod, - he was saying, - Magrathea  is  a  myth,  a
fairy story, it's what parents tell their kids about at night if they want
them to grow up to become economists, it's...
    - And that's what we  are  currently  in  orbit  around,  -  insisted
    - Look, I can't help what you may personally be in  orbit  around,  -
said Ford, - but this ship...
    - Computer! - shouted Zaphod.
    - Oh no...
    - Hi there! This is Eddie your shipboard computer,  and  I'm  feeling
just great guys, and I know I'm just going to get a bundle of kicks out of
any programme you care to run through me.
    Arthur looked inquiringly at Trillian. She motioned him to come on in
but keep quiet.
    - Computer,  -  said  Zaphod,  -  tell  us  again  what  our  present
trajectory is.
    - A real pleasure feller, - it burbled, - we are currently  in  orbit
at an altitude of three hundred  miles  around  the  legendary  planet  of
    - Proving nothing, - said Ford. - I wouldn't trust that  computer  to
speak my weight.
    - I can do that for you, sure, - enthused the computer, punching  out
more tickertape. - I can even work out you  personality  problems  to  ten
decimal places if it will help.
    Trillian interrupted.
    - Zaphod, - she said, - any minute now we will be swinging  round  to
the daylight side of this planet, - adding, - whatever it turns out to be.
    - Hey, what do you mean by that? The planet's where  I  predicted  it
would be isn't it?
    - Yes, I know there's a planet there. I'm not  arguing  with  anyone,
it's just that I wouldn't know Magrathea from any other lump of cold rock.
Dawn's coming up if you want it.
    - OK, OK, - muttered Zaphod, - let's at least give our  eyes  a  good
time. Computer!
    - Hi there! What can I...
    - Just shut up and give us a view of the planet again.
    A dark featureless mass once more filled the  screens  -  the  planet
rolling away beneath them.
    They watched for a moment in silence, but  Zaphod  was  fidgety  with
    - We are now traversing the night side...  -  he  said  in  a  hushed
voice. The planet rolled on.
    - The surface of the planet is now three hundred miles beneath  us...
- he continued. He was trying to restore a sense of occasion  to  what  he
felt should have been a great moment. Magrathea! He was piqued  by  Ford's
sceptical reaction. Magrathea!
    - In a few seconds, - he continued, - we should see... there!
    The moment carried itself. Even the most seasoned  star  tramp  can't
help but shiver at the spectacular drama of a sunrise seen from space, but
a binary sunrise is one of the marvels of the Galaxy.
    Out of the utter blackness stabbed a sudden point of blinding  light.
It crept up by slight degrees and  spread  sideways  in  a  thin  crescent
blade, and within seconds  two  suns  were  visible,  furnaces  of  light,
searing the black edge of the horizon with white fire.  Fierce  shafts  of
colour streaked through the thin atmosphere beneath them.
    - The fires of  dawn!..  -  breathed  Zaphod.  -  The  twin  suns  of
Soulianis and Rahm!..
    - Or whatever, - said Ford quietly.
    - Soulianis and Rahm! - insisted Zaphod.
    The suns blazed into the pitch of  space  and  a  low  ghostly  music
floated through the bridge: Marvin was humming ironically because he hated
humans so much.
    As Ford gazed at the spectacle of light before them excitement  burnt
inside him, but only the excitement of seeing a strange new planet, it was
enough for him to see it as it was. It faintly irritated him  that  Zaphod
had to impose some ludicrous fantasy on to the scene to make it  work  for
him. All this Magrathea nonsense seemed juvenile. Isn't it enough  to  see
that a garden is beautiful  without  having  to  believe  that  there  are
fairies at the bottom of it too?
    All  this  Magrathea  business  seemed  totally  incomprehensible  to
Arthur. He edged up to Trillian and asked her what was going on.
    - I only know what Zaphod's told me, - she  whispered.  -  Apparently
Magrathea is some kind of legend from way  back  which  no  one  seriously
believes in. Bit like Atlantis on Earth, except that the legends  say  the
Magratheans used to manufacture planets.
    Arthur blinked at the screens  and  felt  he  was  missing  something
important. Suddenly he realized what it was.
    - Is there any tea on this spaceship? - he asked.
    More of the planet was unfolding beneath them as the  Heart  of  Gold
streaked along its orbital path. The suns now stood high in the black sky,
the pyrotechnics of dawn were over, and the surface of the planet appeared
bleak and forbidding in the common light of day -  grey,  dusty  and  only
dimly contoured. It looked dead and cold as a crypt.  From  time  to  time
promising features would appear on the distant horizon  -  ravines,  maybe
mountains, maybe even cities - but as  they  approached  the  lines  would
soften and blur into anonymity and nothing would transpire.  The  planet's
surface was blurred by time, by the slow movement of the thin stagnant air
that had crept across it for century upon century.
    Clearly, it was very very old.
    A moment of doubt came to Ford as he watched the grey landscape  move
beneath them. The immensity of time worried him, he could  feel  it  as  a
presence. He cleared his throat.
    - Well, even supposing it is...
    - It is, - said Zaphod.
    - Which it isn't, - continued Ford.  -  What  do  you  want  with  it
anyway? There's nothing there.
    - Not on the surface, - said Zaphod.
    - Alright, just supposing there's something. I  take  it  you're  not
here for the sheer industrial archaeology of it all. What are you after?
    One of Zaphod's heads looked away. The other one looked round to  see
what the first was looking at, but it  wasn't  looking  at  anything  very
    - Well, - said Zaphod airily, - it's partly the curiosity,  partly  a
sense of adventure, but mostly I think it's the fame and the money...
    Ford glanced at him sharply. He got a  very  strong  impression  that
Zaphod hadn't the faintest idea why he was there at all.
    - You know I don't like the look  of  that  planet  at  all,  -  said
Trillian shivering.
    - Ah, take no notice, - said Zaphod, - with half the  wealth  of  the
former Galactic Empire stored on  it  somewhere  it  can  afford  to  look
    Bullshit, thought Ford. Even supposing this  was  the  home  of  some
ancient civilization  now  gone  to  dust,  even  supposing  a  number  of
exceedingly unlikely things, there was  no  way  that  vast  treasures  of
wealth were going to be stored there in any form  that  would  still  have
meaning now. He shrugged.
    - I think it's just a dead planet, - he said.
    - The suspense is killing me, - said Arthur testily.
    Stress and nervous tension are now serious  social  problems  in  all
parts of the Galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not  in
any way be exacerbated that the following facts will now  be  revealed  in
    The planet in question is in fact the legendary Magrathea.
    The deadly missile attack  shortly  to  be  launched  by  an  ancient
automatic defence system will result  merely  in  the  breakage  of  three
coffee cups and a micecage, the bruising of somebody's upper arm, and  the
untimely creation and sudden demise of a bowl of petunias and an  innocent
sperm whale.
    In order that some sense of mystery should  still  be  preserved,  no
revelation will yet be made  concerning  whose  upper  arm  sustained  the
bruise. This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since  it  is
of no significance whatsoever.

                              Chapter 17

    After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur's mind was beginning to
reassemble itself from the shellshocked fragments  the  previous  day  had
left him with. He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had  provided  him
with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost,  but  not  quite,
entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When  the
Drink  button  was  pressed  it  made  an  instant  but  highly   detailed
examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis  of  the
subject's metabolism and then sent  tiny  experimental  signals  down  the
neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject's brain  to  see  what
was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite  why  it  did  this
because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that  was  almost,  but
not  quite,  entirely  unlike  tea.  The  Nutri-Matic  was  designed   and
manufactured  by  the  Sirius  Cybernetics  Corporation  whose  complaints
department now covers all the major land masses of the first three planets
in the Sirius Tau Star system.
    Arthur drank the liquid and found it reviving. He glanced up  at  the
screens again and watched a few more  hundred  miles  of  barren  greyness
slide past. It suddenly occurred to him to ask a question which  had  been
bothering him.
    - Is it safe? - he said.
    - Magrathea's been dead for five million years, - said Zaphod,  -  of
course it's safe. Even the  ghosts  will  have  settled  down  and  raised
families by now. -  At  which  point  a  strange  and  inexplicable  sound
thrilled suddenly through the bridge - a noise as of a distant fanfare;  a
hollow, reedy, insubstantial sound. It preceded a voice that  was  equally
hollow, reedy and insubstantial. The voice said - Greetings to you...
    Someone from the dead planet was talking to them.
    - Computer! - shouted Zaphod.
    - Hi there!
    - What the photon is it?
    - Oh, just some five-million-year-old tape that's being broadcast  at
    - A what? A recording?
    - Shush! - said Ford. - It's carrying on.
    The voice was old, courteous, almost charming,  but  was  underscored
with quite unmistakable menace.
    - This is a recorded announcement, - it said, - as I'm  afraid  we're
all out at the moment. The commercial council of Magrathea thanks you  for
your esteemed visit...
    ("A voice from ancient Magrathea!" shouted  Zaphod.  "OK,  OK,"  said
    - ...but regrets, - continued the voice, - that the entire planet  is
temporarily closed for business. Thank you. If you  would  care  to  leave
your name and the address of a planet where you can be  contacted,  kindly
speak when you hear the tone.
    A short buzz followed, then silence.
    - They want to get rid of us, - said Trillian nervously. - What do we
    - It's just a recording, - said Zaphod. - We keep  going.  Got  that,
    - I got it, - said the computer and gave the ship an  extra  kick  of
    They waited.
    After a second or so came the fanfare once again, and then the voice.
    - We would like to assure you that as soon as our business is resumed
announcements will  be  made  in  all  fashionable  magazines  and  colour
supplements, when our clients will once again be able to select  from  all
that's best in contemporary geography. - The menace in the voice took on a
sharper edge. - Meanwhile we thank our clients for their kind interest and
would ask them to leave. Now.
    Arthur looked round the nervous faces of his companions.
    - Well, I suppose  we'd  better  be  going  then,  hadn't  we?  -  he
    - Shhh! - said Zaphod. - There's absolutely  nothing  to  be  worried
    - Then why's everyone so tense?
    - They're just interested! - shouted  Zaphod.  -  Computer,  start  a
descent into the atmosphere and prepare for landing.
    This time the fanfare was quite  perfunctory,  the  voice  distinctly
    - It is most gratifying, - it said, - that your  enthusiasm  for  our
planet continues unabated, and so we would like to  assure  you  that  the
guided missiles currently converging with your ship are part of a  special
service we extend to all of our most enthusiastic clients, and  the  fully
armed nuclear warheads are of course merely a  courtesy  detail.  We  look
forward to your custom in future lives... thank you.
    The voice snapped off.
    - Oh, - said Trillian.
    - Er... - said Arthur.
    - Well? - said Ford.
    - Look, - said Zaphod, - will you get it into your heads? That's just
a recorded message. It's millions of years old. It doesn't  apply  to  us,
get it?
    - What, - said Trillian quietly, - about the missiles?
    - Missiles? Don't make me laugh.
    Ford tapped Zaphod on the shoulder and pointed at  the  rear  screen.
Clear in the distance behind them two silver darts were  climbing  through
the atmosphere towards the ship. A quick change of  magnification  brought
them into close focus - two massively real rockets thundering through  the
sky. The suddenness of it was shocking.
    - I think they're going to have a very good try at  applying  to  us,
said Ford.
    Zaphod stared at them in astonishment.
    - Hey this is terrific! - he said. - Someone down there is trying  to
kill us!
    - Terrific, - said Arthur.
    - But don't you see what this means?
    - Yes. We're going to die.
    - Yes, but apart from that.
    - Apart from that?
    - It means we must be on to something!
    - How soon can we get off it?
    Second by second the image of  the  missiles  on  the  screen  became
larger. They had swung round now on to a direct homing course so that  all
that could be seen of them now was the warheads, head on.
    - As a matter of interest, - said Trillian, - what are  we  going  to
    - Just keep cool, - said Zaphod.
    - Is that all? - shouted Arthur.
    - No, we're also going to... er... take evasive action! - said Zaphod
with a sudden access of panic. - Computer,  what  evasive  action  can  we
    - Er, none I'm afraid, guys, - said the computer.
    - ...or something, - said Zaphod, - ...er... - he said.
    - There seems to be something jamming my guidance system, - explained
the computer brightly, - impact minus forty-five seconds. Please  call  me
Eddie if it will help you to relax.
    Zaphod  tried  to  run  in  several   equally   decisive   directions
    - Right! - he said. - Er... we've got to get manual control  of  this
    - Can you fly her? - asked Ford pleasantly.
    - No, can you?
    - No.
    - Trillian, can you?
    - No.
    - Fine, - said Zaphod, relaxing. - We'll do it together.
    - I can't either, - said Arthur, who felt it was  time  he  began  to
assert himself.
    - I'd guessed that, - said Zaphod. - OK computer, I want full  manual
control now.
    - You got it, - said the computer.
    Several large desk panels slid open and  banks  of  control  consoles
sprang  up  out  of  them,  showering  the  crew  with  bits  of  expanded
polystyrene packaging and balls of rolled-up  cellophane:  these  controls
had never been used before.
    Zaphod stared at them wildly.
    - OK, Ford, - he said, - full retro thrust and ten degrees starboard.
Or something...
    - Good luck guys, - chirped  the  computer,  -  impact  minus  thirty
    Ford leapt to the controls - only a few of them  made  any  immediate
sense to him so he pulled those.  The  ship  shook  and  screamed  as  its
guidance rocked jets tried to push it every which way  simultaneously.  He
released half of them and the ship span round in a tight  arc  and  headed
back the way it had come, straight towards the oncoming missiles.
    Air cushions ballooned out of the walls in an instant as everyone was
thrown against them. For a few  seconds  the  inertial  forces  held  them
flattened and squirming for breath, unable to move. Zaphod  struggled  and
pushed in manic desperation and finally managed a savage kick at  a  small
lever that formed part of the guidance system.
    The lever snapped off. The ship twisted sharply and rocketed upwards.
The crew were hurled violently back across the cabin. Ford's copy  of  The
Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy smashed  into  another  section  of  the
control console with the combined result that the guide started to explain
to anyone who cared to listen about the best ways  of  smuggling  Antarean
parakeet glands out of Antares (an Antarean  parakeet  gland  stuck  on  a
small stick is a revolting but much sought  after  cocktail  delicacy  and
very large sums of money are often paid for them by very rich  idiots  who
want to impress other very rich idiots), and the ship suddenly dropped out
of the sky like a stone.
    It was of course more or less at this moment that  one  of  the  crew
sustained a nasty bruise to the  upper  arm.  This  should  be  emphasized
because, as had already been revealed, they  escape  otherwise  completely
unharmed and the deadly nuclear missiles do not eventually hit  the  ship.
The safety of the crew is absolutely assured.
    - Impact minus twenty seconds, guys... - said the computer.
    - Then turn the bloody engines back on! - bawled Zaphod.
    - OK, sure thing, guys, - said the computer. With a subtle  roar  the
engines cut back in, the ship smoothly  flattened  out  of  its  dive  and
headed back towards the missiles again.
    The computer started to sing.
    - When you walk through the storm... - it whined nasally, - hold your
head up high...
    Zaphod screamed at it to shut up, but his voice was lost in  the  din
of what they quite naturally assumed was approaching destruction.
    - And don't... be afraid... of the dark! - Eddie wailed.
    The ship, in flattening out had in fact flattened out upside down and
lying on the ceiling as they were it was now totally impossible for any of
the crew to reach the guidance systems.
    - At the end of the storm... - crooned Eddie.
    The two missiles loomed massively on the screens  as  they  thundered
towards the ship.
    - ...is a golden sky...
    But by an  extraordinarily  lucky  chance  they  had  not  yet  fully
corrected their flight paths to that of the erratically weaving ship,  and
they passed right under it.
    - And the sweet silver songs  of  the  lark...  Revised  impact  time
fifteen seconds fellas... Walk on through the wind...
    The missiles banked round in a screeching arc and plunged  back  into
    - This is it, - said  Arthur  watching  them.  -  We  are  now  quite
definitely going to die aren't we?
    - I wish you'd stop saying that, - shouted Ford.
    - Well we are aren't we?
    - Yes.
    - Walk on through the rain... - sang Eddie.
    A thought struck Arthur. He struggled to his feet.
    - Why doesn't anyone turn on this Improbability  Drive  thing?  -  he
said. - We could probably reach that.
    - What are you crazy? - said Zaphod.  -  Without  proper  programming
anything could happen.
    - Does that matter at this stage? - shouted Arthur.
    - Though your dreams be tossed and blown... - sand Eddie.
    Arthur scrambled up on to one end of the excitingly chunky pieces  of
moulded contouring where the curve of the wall met the ceiling.
    - Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart...
    - Does anyone know why Arthur can't turn on the Improbability  Drive?
- shouted Trillian.
    - And you'll never walk alone... Impact minus five seconds, it's been
great knowing you guys, God bless... You'll ne... ver... walk... alone!
    - I said, - yelled Trillian, - does anyone know...
    The next thing that happened was a mid-mangling  explosion  of  noise
and light.

                              Chapter 18

    And the next thing that happened after that was  that  the  Heart  of
Gold continued on its way perfectly  normally  with  a  rather  fetchingly
redesigned interior. It was somewhat larger,  and  done  out  in  delicate
pastel shades of green and blue. In the centre a spiral staircase, leading
nowhere in particular, stood in a spray of ferns and  yellow  flowers  and
next to it a stone sundial pedestal housed  the  main  computer  terminal.
Cunningly deployed lighting and mirrors created the illusion  of  standing
in a conservatory overlooking a  wide  stretch  of  exquisitely  manicured
garden. Around the periphery of the conservatory area stood  marble-topped
tables on intricately beautiful wrought-iron legs. As you gazed  into  the
polished surface of the marble  the  vague  forms  of  instruments  became
visible, and as you touched them the  instruments  materialized  instantly
under your hands. Looked at from the correct angles the  mirrors  appeared
to reflect all the required data readouts, though it was  far  from  clear
where they were reflected from. It was in fact sensationally beautiful.
    Relaxing in a wickerwork sun chair, Zaphod Beeblebrox said:
    - What the hell happened?
    - Well I was just saying, - said Arthur  lounging  by  a  small  fish
pool, - there's this Improbability Drive switch over here... - he waved at
where it had been. There was a potted plant there now.
    - But where are we? -  said  Ford  who  was  sitting  on  the  spiral
staircase, a nicely chilled Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in his hand.
    - Exactly where we were, I think... - said  Trillian,  as  all  about
them the mirrors showed  them  an  image  of  the  blighted  landscape  of
Magrathea which still scooted along beneath them.
    Zaphod leapt out of his seat.
    - Then what's happened to the missiles? - he said.
    A new and astounding image appeared in the mirrors.
    - They would appear, - said Ford doubtfully, - to have turned into  a
bowl of petunias and a very surprised looking whale...
    - At an Improbability Factor, - cut in Eddie, who  hadn't  changed  a
bit, - of eight million seven hundred and sixty-seven thousand one hundred
and twenty-eight to one against.
    Zaphod stared at Arthur.
    - Did you think of that, Earthman? - he demanded.
    - Well, - said Arthur, - all I did was...
    - That's very good thinking you know. Turn on the Improbability Drive
for a second without first activating the proofing screens.  Hey  kid  you
just saved our lives, you know that?
    - Oh, - said Arthur, - well, it was nothing really...
    - Was it? - said Zaphod. - Oh well, forget  it  then.  OK,  computer,
take us in to land.
    - But...
    - I said forget it.
    Another thing that got  forgotten  was  the  fact  that  against  all
probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence  several
miles above the surface of an alien planet.
    And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale,  this
poor innocent creature had very little time to  come  to  terms  with  its
identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not  being  a
whale any more.
    This is a complete record of its thoughts from the  moment  it  began
its life till the moment it ended it.
    Ah!.. What's happening? it thought.
    Er, excuse me, who am I?
    Why am I here? What's my purpose in life?
    What do I mean by who am I?
    Calm down, get a grip now... oh! this is  an  interesting  sensation,
what is it? It's a sort of... yawning, tingling sensation in  my...  my...
well I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make
any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I  shall
call the world, so let's call it my stomach.
    Good. Ooooh, it's getting quite strong. And hey,  what's  about  this
whistling roaring sound going past what I'm  suddenly  going  to  call  my
head? Perhaps I can call that... wind! Is that a good  name?  It'll  do...
perhaps I can find a better name for it later when  I've  found  out  what
it's for. It must be something  very  important  because  there  certainly
seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What's this thing?  This...  let's
call it a tail - yeah, tail. Hey! I can can really thrash it about  pretty
good can't I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn't  seem  to  achieve  very
much but I'll probably find out what it's for later on. Now - have I built
up any coherent picture of things yet?
    Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out  about,
so much to look forward to, I'm quite dizzy with anticipation...
    Or is it the wind?
    There really is a lot of that now isn't it?
    And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast?
Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a  big  wide  sounding
name like... ow... ound... round... ground! That's it! That's a good  name
- ground!
    I wonder if it will be friends with me?
    And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.
    Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the  mind  of  the
bowl of petunias as it fell  was  Oh  no,  not  again.  Many  people  have
speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of  petunias  had  thought
that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we  do

                              Chapter 19

    - Are we taking this  robot  with  us?  -  said  Ford,  looking  with
distaste at Marvin who was standing in an awkward hunched posture  in  the
corner under a small palm tree.
    Zaphod glanced  away  from  the  mirror  screens  which  presented  a
panoramic view of the blighted landscape on which the Heart  of  Gold  had
now landed.
    - Oh, the Paranoid Android, - he said. - Yeah, we'll take him.
    - But what are supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?
    - You think  you've  got  problems,  -  said  Marvin  as  if  he  was
addressing a newly occupied coffin, - what are you supposed to do  if  you
are a manically depressed robot? No, don't  bother  to  answer  that,  I'm
fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don't  know  the
answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.
    Trillian burst in through the door from her cabin.
    - My white mice have escaped! - she said.
    An expression of deep worry and concern failed  to  cross  either  of
Zaphod's faces.
    - Nuts to your white mice, - he said.
    Trillian glared an upset glare at him, and disappeared again.
    It is possible that her remark would have commanded greater attention
had it been generally realized that human beings were only the third  most
intelligent life form present on the planet  Earth,  instead  of  (as  was
generally thought by most independent observers) the second.
    - Good afternoon boys.
    The  voice  was  oddly  familiar,  but  oddly  different.  It  had  a
matriarchal twang. It announced itself to the crew as they arrived at  the
airlock hatchway that would let them out on the planet surface.
    They looked at each other in puzzlement.
    - It's the computer, - explained Zaphod. - I  discovered  it  had  an
emergency back-up personality that I thought might work out better.
    - Now this is going to be your first day out on a strange new planet,
- continued Eddie's new voice, - so I want you all  wrapped  up  snug  and
warm, and no playing with any naughty bug-eyed monsters.
    Zaphod tapped impatiently on the hatch.
    - I'm sorry, - he said, - I think we might be better off with a slide
    - Right! - snapped the computer. - Who said that?
    - Will you open the exit hatch please, computer? - said Zaphod trying
not to get angry.
    - Not until whoever said that owns up, - urged the computer, stamping
a few synapses closed.
    - Oh God, - muttered Ford, slumped against a bulkhead and started  to
count to ten. He was desperately worried that one day sentinent life forms
would forget how to do this. Only by  counting  could  humans  demonstrate
their independence of computers.
    - Come on, - said Eddie sternly.
    - Computer... - began Zaphod...
    - I'm waiting,  -  interrupted  Eddie.  -  I  can  wait  all  day  if
    - Computer... - said Zaphod again, who had been trying  to  think  of
some subtle piece of reasoning to put the  computer  down  with,  and  had
decided not to bother competing with it on its own ground, - if you  don't
open that exit hatch this moment I shall zap straight off  to  your  major
data banks and reprogram you with a very large axe, got that?
    Eddie, shocked, paused and considered this.
    Ford carried on counting quietly. This is about the  most  aggressive
thing you can do to a computer, the equivalent of  going  up  to  a  human
being and saying Blood... blood... blood... blood...
    Finally Eddie  said  quietly,  -  I  can  see  this  relationship  is
something we're all going to have to work at, - and the hatchway opened.
    An icy wind ripped into  them,  they  hugged  themselves  warmly  and
stepped down the ramp on to the barren dust of Magrathea.
    - It'll all end in tears, I know it, - shouted Eddie after  them  and
closed the hatchway again.
    A few minutes later he  opened  and  closed  the  hatchway  again  in
response to a command that caught him entirely by surprise.

                              Chapter 20

    Five figures wandered slowly over the blighted land. Bits of it  were
dullish grey, bits of it  dullish  brown,  the  rest  of  it  rather  less
interesting to look at. It was like a dried-out marsh, now barren  of  all
vegetation and covered with a layer of dust about an inch  thick.  It  was
very cold.
    Zaphod was clearly rather depressed  about  it.  He  stalked  off  by
himself and was soon lost to sight behind a slight rise in the ground.
    The wind stung Arthur's eyes and ears, and the stale thin air clasped
his throat. However, the thing stung most was his mind.
    - It's fantastic... - he said, and his own voice  rattled  his  ears.
Sound carried badly in this thin atmosphere.
    - Desolate hole if you ask me, - said Ford. - I could have  more  fun
in a cat litter. - He felt a mounting irritation. Of all  the  planets  in
all the star systems of all the Galaxy - didn't he just have to turn up at
a dump like this after fifteen years of being a castaway? Not even  a  hot
dog stand in evidence. He stooped down and picked up a cold clot of earth,
but there was nothing underneath it  worth  crossing  thousands  of  light
years to look at.
    - No, - insisted Arthur, - don't you understand, this  is  the  first
time I've actually stood on the surface of another planet... a whole alien
world!.. Pity it's such a dump though.
    Trillian hugged herself, shivered and frowned. She could  have  sworn
she saw a slight and unexpected movement out of the corner of her eye, but
when she glanced in that direction all she could see was the  ship,  still
and silent, a hundred yards or so behind them.
    She was relieved when a second or  so  later  they  caught  sight  of
Zaphod standing on top of the ridge of ground and waving to them  to  come
and join him.
    He seemed to be excited, but they couldn't clearly hear what  he  was
saying because of the thinnish atmosphere and the wind.
    As they approached the ridge of higher ground they became aware  that
it seemed to be circular - a crater about a hundred and fifty yards  wide.
Round the outside of the crater the  sloping  ground  was  spattered  with
black and red lumps. They stopped and looked at a piece. It  was  wet.  It
was rubbery.
    With horror they suddenly realized that it was fresh whalemeat.
    At the top of the crater's lip they met Zaphod.
    - Look, - he said, pointing into the crater.
    In the centre lay the exploded carcass of a lonely sperm  whale  that
hadn't lived long enough to be disappointed with its lot. The silence  was
only disturbed by the slight involuntary spasms of Trillian's throat.
    - I suppose there's no point in trying to bury it? - murmured Arthur,
and then wished he hadn't.
    - Come, - said Zaphod and started back down into the crater.
    - What, down there? - said Trillian with severe distaste.
    - Yeah, - said Zaphod, - come on, I've got something to show you.
    - We can see it, - said Trillian.
    - Not that, - said Zaphod, - something else. Come on.
    They all hesitated.
    - Come on, - insisted Zaphod, - I've found a way in.
    - In? - said Arthur in horror.
    - Into the interior of the planet! An underground passage. The  force
of the whale's impact cracked it open, and that's where  we  have  to  go.
Where no man has trod these five million years, into the  very  depths  of
time itself...
    Marvin started his ironical humming again.
    Zaphod hit him and he shut up.
    With little shudders of disgust they all  followed  Zaphod  down  the
incline into the crater, trying very hard not to look at  its  unfortunate
    - Life, - said Marvin dolefully, - loathe it or ignore it, you  can't
like it.
    The ground had caved in where  the  whale  had  hit  it  revealing  a
network of galleries and passages, now  largely  obstructed  by  collapsed
rubble and entrails. Zaphod had made a start clearing a way  into  one  of
them, but Marvin was able to do it rather faster. Dank air wafted  out  of
its dark recesses, and as Zaphod shone a torch into it, little was visible
in the dusty gloom.
    - According to the legends, - he said, - the Magratheans  lived  most
of their lives underground.
    - Why's that? - said Arthur. - Did the surface become too polluted or
    - No, I don't think so, - said Zaphod. - I  think  they  just  didn't
like it very much.
    - Are you sure you know what you're doing? -  said  Trillian  peering
nervously into the darkness. - We've been attacked once already you know.
    - Look kid, I promise you the live population of this planet  is  nil
plus  the  four  of  us,  so  come  on,  let's  get  on  in there. Er, hey
    - Arthur, - said Arthur.
    - Yeah could you just sort of keep this robot with you and guard this
end of the passageway. OK?
    - Guard? - said Arthur. - What from? You just  said  there's  no  one
    - Yeah, well, just for safety, OK? - said Zaphod.
    - Whose? Yours or mine?
    - Good lad. OK, here we go.
    Zaphod scrambled down into the  passage,  followed  by  Trillian  and
    - Well I hope you all have a  really  miserable  time,  -  complained
    - Don't worry, - Marvin assured him, - they will.
    In a few seconds they had disappeared from view.
    Arthur stamped around in a huff, and  then  decided  that  a  whale's
graveyard is not on the whole a good place to stamp around in.
    Marvin eyed him balefully for a moment, and then turned himself off.
    Zaphod marched quickly down the  passageway,  nervous  as  hell,  but
trying to hide it by  striding  purposefully.  He  flung  the  torch  beam
around. The walls were covered in dark tiles and were cold to  the  touch,
the air thick with decay.
    - There, what did I tell you? -  he  said.  -  An  inhabited  planet.
Magrathea, - and he strode on through the dirt and  debris  that  littered
the tile floor.
    Trillian was reminded unavoidably of the London  Underground,  though
it was less thoroughly squalid.
    At intervals along the walls the tiles gave way to  large  mosaics  -
simple angular patterns in bright colours. Trillian  stopped  and  studied
one of them but could not interpret any  sense  in  them.  She  called  to
    - Hey, have you any idea what these strange symbols are?
    - I think they're just strange symbols of some kind, -  said  Zaphod,
hardly glancing back.
    Trillian shrugged and hurried after him.
    From time to time a doorway led either to  the  left  or  right  into
smallish chambers which Ford discovered to be full  of  derelict  computer
equipment. He dragged Zaphod into one to have a look. Trillian followed.
    - Look, - said Ford, - you reckon this is Magrathea...
    - Yeah, - said Zaphod, - and we heard the voice, right?
    - OK, so I've bought the fact that it's Magrathea - for  the  moment.
What you have so far said nothing about is how in the Galaxy you found it.
You didn't just look it up in a star atlas, that's for sure.
    - Research. Government archives. Detective work. Few  lucky  guesses.
    - And then you stole the Heart of Gold to come and look for it with?
    - I stole it to look for a lot of things.
    - A lot of things? - said Ford in surprise. - Like what?
    - I don't know.
    - What?
    - I don't know what I'm looking for.
    - Why not?
    - Because... because... I think it might  be  because  if  I  knew  I
wouldn't be able to look for them.
    - What, are you crazy?
    - It's a possibility I haven't ruled out yet, - said Zaphod  quietly.
- I only know as much about myself as my  mind  can  work  out  under  its
current conditions. And its current conditions are not good.
    For a long time nobody said anything as Ford gazed at Zaphod  with  a
mind suddenly full of worry.
    - Listen old friend, if you want to... - started Ford eventually.
    - No, wait... I'll tell you something, - said Zaphod. - I freewheel a
lot. I get an idea to do something, and, hey, why not, I do it.  I  reckon
I'll become President of the Galaxy, and it just  happens,  it's  easy.  I
decide to steal this ship. I decide to look for Magrathea, and it all just
happens. Yeah, I work out how it can best be done, right,  but  it  always
works out. It's like having a Galacticredit card which  keeps  on  working
though you never send off the cheques. And then whenever I stop and  think
why did I want to do something? - how did I work out how to do it? - I get
a very strong desire just to stop thinking about it. Like I have now. It's
a big effort to talk about it.
    Zaphod paused for a while. For a while there  was  silence.  Then  he
frowned and said,
    - Last night I was worrying about this again.  About  the  fact  that
part of my mind just didn't seem to work properly. Then it occurred to  me
that the way it seemed was that someone else was using  my  mind  to  have
good ideas with, without telling me about it. I put the two ideas together
and decided that maybe that somebody had locked off part of  my  mind  for
that purpose, which was why I couldn't use it. I wondered if there  was  a
way I could check.
    - I went to the ship's  medical  bay  and  plugged  myself  into  the
encephelographic screen. I went through every major screening test on both
my heads - all the tests I had to  go  through  under  government  medical
officers before my nomination for Presidency could be  properly  ratified.
They showed up nothing. Nothing unexpected at least. They  showed  that  I
was clever, imaginative, irresponsible, untrustworthy, extrovert,  nothing
you couldn't have guessed. And no other anomalies. So I started  inventing
further tests, completely at random. Nothing. Then I  tried  superimposing
the results from one head on top of the results from the other head. Still
nothing. Finally I got silly, because I'd given it all up as nothing  more
than an attack of paranoia. Last thing I did before I  packed  it  in  was
take the superimposed picture and look at it through a green  filter.  You
remember I was always superstitious about the color green  when  I  was  a
kid? I always wanted to be a pilot on one of the trading scouts?
    Ford nodded.
    - And there it was, - said Zaphod, - clear as day. A whole section in
the middle of both brains that related only  to  each  other  and  not  to
anything else around them. Some bastard had cauterized  all  the  synapses
and electronically traumatised those two lumps of cerebellum.
    Ford stared at him, aghast. Trillian had turned white.
    - Somebody did that to you? - whispered Ford.
    - Yeah.
    - But have you any idea who? Or why?
    - Why? I can only guess. But I do know who the bastard was.
    - You know? How do you know?
    - Because   they  left  their  initials  burnt  into  the  cauterized
synapses. They left them there for me to see.
    Ford stared at him in horror and felt his skin begin to crawl.
    - Initials? Burnt into your brain?
    - Yeah.
    - Well, what were they, for God's sake?
    Zaphod looked at him in silence again for a moment.  Then  he  looked
    - Z.B., - he said.
    At that moment a steel shutter  slammed  down  behind  them  and  gas
started to pour into the chamber.
    - I'll tell you about it later, - choked Zaphod as all  three  passed

                               Chapter 21

    On the surface of Magrathea Arthur wandered about moodily.
    Ford had thoughtfully left him his copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to
the Galaxy to while away the time with. He pushed a few buttons at random.
    The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a very unevenly edited  book
and contains many passages that simply seemed to its editors like  a  good
idea at the time.
    One of these (the one Arthur now came across) supposedly relates  the
experiences of one Veet Voojagig, a quiet young student at the  University
of Maximegalon, who pursued a brilliant academic career  studying  ancient
philology,  transformational  ethics  and  the  wave  harmonic  theory  of
historical perception, and then, after a night of  drinking  Pan  Galactic
Gargle Blasters with Zaphod Beeblebrox, became increasingly obsessed  with
the problem of what had happened to all the biros  he'd  bought  over  the
past few years.
    There followed a long period of painstaking research during which  he
visited all the major centres of  biro  loss  throughout  the  galaxy  and
eventually came up with a quaint little  theory  which  quite  caught  the
public imagination at the time. Somewhere in the cosmos,  he  said,  along
with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking
treeoids and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, there was also  a
planet entirely given over to biro life forms. And it was to  this  planet
that unattended biros would make their way, slipping away quietly  through
wormholes in space to a world where they knew they could enjoy a  uniquely
biroid  lifestyle,  responding  to  highly  biro-oriented   stimuli,   and
generally leading the biro equivalent of the good life.
    And as theories go this was all very fine  and  pleasant  until  Veet
Voojagig suddenly claimed to have found this planet, and  to  have  worked
there for a while  driving  a  limousine  for  a  family  of  cheap  green
retractables, whereupon he was taken away, locked up, wrote  a  book,  and
was finally sent into tax exile, which is  the  usual  fate  reserved  for
those who are determined to make a fool of themselves in public.
    When one day an expedition was sent to the spatial  coordinates  that
Voojagig had claimed for this planet they discovered only a small asteroid
inhabited by a solitary old man who claimed repeatedly  that  nothing  was
true, though he was later discovered to be lying.
    There did, however, remain the question of both the mysterious 60,000
Altairan dollars paid yearly into his Brantisvogan bank  account,  and  of
course Zaphod Beeblebrox's highly profitable second-hand biro business.
    Arthur read this, and put the book down.
    The robot still sat there, completely inert.
    Arthur got up and walked to the top of the crater. He  walked  around
the crater. He watched two suns set magnificently over Magrathea.
    He went back down into the crater. He woke the robot up because  even
a manically depressed robot is better to talk to than nobody.
    - Night's falling, - he said. - Look robot, the stars are coming out.
    From the heart of a dark nebula it is possible to see very few stars,
and only very faintly, but they were there to be seen.
    The robot obediently looked at them, then looked back.
    - I know, - he said. - Wretched isn't it?
    - But that sunset! I've never seen anything like  it  in  my  wildest
dreams... the two suns! It was like mountains of fire boiling into space.
    - I've seen it, - said Marvin. - It's rubbish.
    - We only ever had the one sun at home, - persevered Arthur, - I came
from a planet called Earth you know.
    - I know, - said Marvin, - you keep going  on  about  it.  It  sounds
    - Ah no, it was a beautiful place.
    - Did it have oceans?
    - Oh yes, - said Arthur with  a  sigh,  -  great  wide  rolling  blue
    - Can't bear oceans, - said Marvin.
    - Tell me, - inquired Arthur, - do you get on well with other robots?
    - Hate them, - said Marvin. - Where are you going?
    Arthur couldn't bear any more. He had got up again.
    - I think I'll just take another walk, - he said.
    - Don't blame you,  -  said  Marvin  and  counted  five  hundred  and
ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again  a  second
    Arthur slapped his arms about himself to try and get his  circulation
a little more enthusiastic about its job. He trudged back up the  wall  of
the crater.
    Because the atmosphere was so thin and because  there  was  no  moon,
nightfall was very rapid and it was by now very  dark.  Because  of  this,
Arthur practically walked into the old man before he noticed him.

                              Chapter 22

    He was standing with his  back  to  Arthur  watching  the  very  last
glimmers of light sink into blackness behind the horizon. He was  tallish,
elderly and dressed in a single long grey robe. When he  turned  his  face
was thin and distinguished, careworn but not unkind, the sort of face  you
would happily bank with. But he didn't turn yet,  not  even  to  react  to
Arthur's yelp of surprise.
    Eventually the last rays of the sun had vanished completely,  and  he
turned. His face was still illuminated from  somewhere,  and  when  Arthur
looked for the source of the light he saw that a few yards  away  stood  a
small craft of some kind - a small hovercraft, Arthur guessed. It  shed  a
dim pool of light around it.
    The man looked at Arthur, sadly it seemed.
    - You choose a cold night to visit our dead planet, - he said.
    - Who... who are you? - stammered Arthur.
    The man looked away. Again a kind of  sadness  seemed  to  cross  his
    - My name is not important, - he said.
    He seemed to have something on his  mind.  Conversation  was  clearly
something he felt he didn't have to rush at. Arthur felt awkward.
    - I... er... you startled me... - he said, lamely.
    The man looked round to him again and slightly raised his eyebrows.
    - Hmmmm? - he said.
    - I said you startled me.
    - Do not be alarmed, I will not harm you.
    Arthur frowned at him.
    - But you shot at us! There were missiles... - he said.
    The man chuckled slightly.
    - An automatic system, - he said and gave a  small  sigh.  -  Ancient
computers ranged in the bowels of the planet tick away the dark millennia,
and the ages hang heavy on their dusty data banks. I think they  take  the
occasional pot shot to relieve the monotony.
    He looked gravely at Arthur and said,
    - I'm a great fan of science you know.
    - Oh... er, really? - said Arthur, who  was  beginning  to  find  the
man's curious, kindly manner disconcerting.
    - Oh, yes, - said the old man, and simply stopped talking again.
    - Ah, - said Arthur, - er... - He had an odd felling of being like  a
man in the act of adultery who  is  surprised  when  the  woman's  husband
wanders into the room, changes his trousers, passes  a  few  idle  remarks
about the weather and leaves again.
    - You seem ill at ease, - said the old man with polite concern.
    - Er, no... well, yes. Actually you see, we weren't really  expecting
to find anybody about in fact. I sort of gathered that you were  all  dead
or something...
    - Dead? - said the old man. - Good gracious no, we have but slept.
    - Slept? - said Arthur incredulously.
    - Yes, through the economic recession you see, - said  the  old  man,
apparently unconcerned about whether  Arthur  understood  a  word  he  was
talking about or not.
    - Er, economic recession?
    - Well  you  see,  five   million  years  ago  the  Galactic  economy
collapsed, and seeing that custom-made planets are something of  a  luxury
commodity you see...
    He paused and looked at Arthur.
    - You know we built planets do you? - he asked solemnly.
    - Well yes, - said Arthur, - I'd sort of gathered...
    - Fascinating trade, - said the old man, and a wistful look came into
his eyes, - doing the coastlines was always my  favourite.  Used  to  have
endless fun doing the little bits in fjords... so anyway, - he said trying
to find his thread again, - the recession came and  we  decided  it  would
save us a lot of bother if we just slept through it. So we programmed  the
computers to revive us when it was all over.
    The man stifled a very slight yawn and continued.
    - The computers were index linked to the Galactic stock market prices
you see, so that we'd all be revived when everybody else had  rebuilt  the
economy enough to afford our rather expensive services.
    Arthur, a regular Guardian reader, was deeply shocked at this.
    - That's a pretty unpleasant way to behave isn't it?
    - Is it? - asked the old man mildly. - I'm sorry, I'm a  bit  out  of
    He pointed down into the crater.
    - Is that robot yours? - he said.
    - No, - came a thin metallic voice from the crater, - I'm mine.
    - If you'd call it a robot, - muttered Arthur. - It's more a sort  of
electronic sulking machine.
    - Bring it, - said the old man. Arthur was quite surprised to hear  a
note of decision suddenly present in the old man's  voice.  He  called  to
Marvin who crawled up the slope making a big show of being lame, which  he
    - On second thoughts, - said the old man, - leave it here.  You  must
come with me. Great things are afoot. - He turned towards his craft which,
though no apparent signal had been given, now drifted quietly towards them
through the dark.
    Arthur looked down at Marvin, who now made an  equally  big  show  of
turning round laboriously and trudging off  down  into  the  crater  again
muttering sour nothings to himself.
    - Come, - called the old man, - come now or you will be late.
    - Late? - said Arthur. - What for?
    - What is your name, human?
    - Dent. Arthur Dent, - said Arthur.
    - Late, as in the late Dentarthurdent, - said the old man, sternly. -
It's a sort of threat you see. - Another wistful look came into his  tired
old eyes. - I've never been very good at them myself, but  I'm  told  they
can be very effective.
    Arthur blinked at him.
    - What an extraordinary person, - he muttered to himself.
    - I beg your pardon? - said the old man.
    - Oh nothing, I'm sorry, - said Arthur in embarrassment.  -  Alright,
where do we go?
    - In my aircar, - said the old man motioning Arthur to get  into  the
craft which had settled silently next to them. - We are  going  deep  into
the bowels of the planet where even now our race is being revived from its
five-million-year slumber. Magrathea awakes.
    Arthur shivered involuntarily as he seated himself next  to  the  old
man. The strangeness of it, the silent bobbing movement of the craft as it
soared into the night sky quite unsettled him.
    He looked at the old man, his face illuminated by the  dull  glow  of
tiny lights on the instrument panel.
    - Excuse me, - he said to him, - what is your name by the way?
    - My name? - said the old man, and the same distant sadness came into
his face again. He paused. - My name, - he said, - ...is Slartibartfast.
    Arthur practically choked.
    - I beg your pardon? - he spluttered.
    - Slartibartfast, - repeated the old man quietly.
    - Slartibartfast?
    The old man looked at him gravely.
    - I said it wasn't important, - he said.
    The aircar sailed through the night.

                              Chapter 23

    It is an important and popular fact that things are not  always  what
they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed  that
he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved  so  much  -
the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all  the  dolphins  had  ever
done was muck about in the water having a good time. But  conversely,  the
dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than  man
- for precisely the same reasons.
    Curiously enough, the  dolphins  had  long  known  of  the  impending
destruction of the planet Earth  and  had  made  many  attempts  to  alert
mankind  of  the  danger;  but   most   of   their   communications   were
misinterpreted as amusing attempts  to  punch  footballs  or  whistle  for
tidbits, so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own  means
shortly before the Vogons arrived.
    The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted  as  a  surprisingly
sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwardssomersault  through  a  hoop
whilst whistling the "Star Sprangled Banner", but in fact the message  was
this: So long and thanks for all the fish.
    In fact there was only one species on  the  planet  more  intelligent
than dolphins, and they spent a lot of their time in behavioural  research
laboratories running round  inside  wheels  and  conducting  frighteningly
elegant and subtle experiments on  man.  The  fact  that  once  again  man
completely misinterpreted this  relationship  was  entirely  according  to
these creatures' plans.

                              Chapter 24

    Silently the aircar coasted through the cold darkness, a single  soft
glow of light that was utterly alone in the deep Magrathean night. It sped
swiftly. Arthur's companion seemed sunk in  his  own  thoughts,  and  when
Arthur tried on a couple of occasions to engage him in conversation  again
he would simply reply by asking if he was  comfortable  enough,  and  then
left it at that.
    Arthur tried to gauge the speed at which they  were  travelling,  but
the blackness outside was absolute and he was denied any reference points.
The sense of motion was so soft and slight he could  almost  believe  they
were hardly moving at all.
    Then a tiny glow of light appeared in the  far  distance  and  within
seconds had grown so much in size that Arthur realized it  was  travelling
towards them at a colossal speed, and he tried to make out  what  sort  of
craft it might be. He peered at it, but was unable to  discern  any  clear
shape, and suddenly gasped in alarm as the  aircraft  dipped  sharply  and
headed downwards in what seemed certain to be a  collision  course.  Their
relative velocity seemed unbelievable, and Arthur had hardly time to  draw
breath before it was all over. The next thing  he  was  aware  of  was  an
insane silver blur that seemed  to  surround  him.  He  twisted  his  head
sharply round and saw  a  small  black  point  dwindling  rapidly  in  the
distance behind them, and it took him several seconds to realize what  had
    They had plunged into a tunnel in the ground. The colossal speed  had
been their own relative to the glow of light which was a  stationary  hole
in the ground, the mouth of the tunnel. The insane blur of silver was  the
circular wall of the tunnel down which they were shooting,  apparently  at
several hundred miles an hour.
    He closed his eyes in terror.
    After a length of time which he made no attempt to judge, he sensed a
slight subsidence in their speed and some while later  became  aware  that
they were gradually gliding to a gentle halt.
    He opened his eyes again. They  were  still  in  the  silver  tunnel,
threading and weaving their way through what appeared to be  a  crisscross
warren of converging tunnels. When they finally stopped it was in a  small
chamber of curved steel. Several tunnels also had their terminus here, and
at the farther end of the chamber Arthur could see a large circle  of  dim
irritating light. It was irritating because  it  played  tricks  with  the
eyes, it was impossible to focus on it properly or tell how near or far it
was. Arthur guessed (quite wrongly) that it might be ultra violet.
    Slartibartfast turned and regarded Arthur with his solemn old eyes.
    - Earthman, - he said, - we are now deep in the heart of Magrathea.
    - How did you know I was an Earthman? - demanded Arthur.
    - These things will become clear to you, - said the old man gently, -
at least, - he added with slight doubt in his voice, - clearer  than  they
are at the moment.
    He continued:
    - I should warn you that the chamber we are about to pass  into  does
not literally exist within our planet. It is a little too... large. We are
about to pass through a gateway into a vast tract of  hyperspace.  It  may
disturb you.
    Arthur made nervous noises.
    Slartibartfast touched a button and added, not entirely reassuringly.
    - It scares the willies out of me. Hold tight.
    The car shot forward straight into the circle of light, and  suddenly
Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.
    It  wasn't  infinity  in  fact.  Infinity  itself  looks   flat   and
uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking  into  infinity  -
distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The  chamber  into
which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was just very  very
big, so that it gave the impression of infinity far better  than  infinity
    Arthur's senses bobbed and span, as, travelling at the immense  speed
he knew the aircar attained, they climbed  slowly  through  the  open  air
leaving the gateway through which they had passed an invisible pinprick in
the shimmering wall behind them.
    The wall.
    The wall defied the imagination - seduced it  and  defeated  it.  The
wall was so paralysingly vast and sheer that its  top,  bottom  and  sides
passed away beyond the reach of sight. The mere  shock  of  vertigo  could
kill a man.
    The wall appeared perfectly flat. It  would  take  the  finest  laser
measuring equipment to detect that as it climbed, apparently to  infinity,
as it dropped dizzily away, as it planed  out  to  either  side,  it  also
curved. It met itself again thirteen light seconds away.  In  other  words
the wall formed the inside of a hollow sphere, a sphere over three million
miles across and flooded with unimaginable light.
    - Welcome, - said Slartibartfast as  the  tiny  speck  that  was  the
aircar,  travelling  now  at  three  times  the  speed  of  sound,   crept
imperceptibly forward into the mindboggling space, - welcome, - he said, -
to our factory floor.
    Arthur stared about him in a kind of wonderful  horror.  Ranged  away
before them, at distances he could neither judge nor even guess at, were a
series of curious suspensions, delicate traceries of metal and light  hung
about shadowy spherical shapes that hung in the space.
    - This, - said Slartibartfast, - is where we make most of our planets
you see.
    - You mean, - said Arthur, trying to  form  the  words,  -  you  mean
you're starting it all up again now?
    - No no, good heavens no, - exclaimed the old man, - no,  the  Galaxy
isn't nearly rich enough to support us yet. No,  we've  been  awakened  to
perform just one extraordinary commission for very... special clients from
another dimension. It may interest you... there in the distance  in  front
of us.
    Arthur followed the old man's finger, till he was able  to  pick  out
the floating structure he was pointing out. It was indeed the only one  of
the many structures that betrayed any sign of activity  about  it,  though
this was more a sublimal impression than  anything  one  could  put  one's
finger on.
    At the moment however a flash of light arced  through  the  structure
and revealed in stark relief the patterns that were  formed  on  the  dark
sphere within. Patterns that Arthur knew, rough blobby shapes that were as
familiar to him as the shapes of words, part of the furniture of his mind.
For a few seconds he sat in stunned silence as the  images  rushed  around
his mind and tried to find somewhere to settle down and make sense.
    Part of his brain told him that he knew perfectly well  what  he  was
looking at and what the shapes represented whilst another  quite  sensibly
refused to countenance the  idea  and  abdicated  responsibility  for  any
further thinking in that direction.
    The flash came again, and this time there could be no doubt.
    - The Earth... - whispered Arthur.
    - Well, the Earth Mark Two in fact, - said Slartibartfast cheerfully.
- We're making a copy from our original blueprints.
    There was a pause.
    - Are you trying to tell me, - said Arthur, slowly and with  control,
- that you originally... made the Earth?
    - Oh yes, - said Slartibartfast. - Did you ever go to  a  place...  I
think it was called Norway?
    - No, - said Arthur, - no, I didn't.
    - Pity, - said Slartibartfast, - that was one of mine. Won  an  award
you know. Lovely crinkly edges.  I  was  most  upset  to  hear  about  its
    - You were upset!
    - Yes. Five minutes later and it wouldn't have mattered so  much.  It
was a quite shocking cock-up.
    - Huh? - said Arthur.
    - The mice were furious.
    - The mice were furious?
    - Oh yes, - said the old man mildly.
    - Yes well so  I  expect  were  the  dogs  and  cats  and  duckbilled
platypuses, but...
    - Ah, but they hadn't paid for it you see, had they?
    - Look, - said Arthur, - would it save you a lot of time  if  I  just
gave up and went mad now?
    For a while the aircar flew on in awkward silence. Then the  old  man
tried patiently to explain.
    - Earthman, the planet you lived on was commissioned, paid  for,  and
run by mice. It was destroyed five minutes before the  completion  of  the
purpose for which it was built, and we've got to build another one.
    Only one word registered with Arthur.
    - Mice? - he said.
    - Indeed Earthman.
    - Look, sorry - are we talking about the little  white  furry  things
with the cheese fixation and women standing on tables screaming  in  early
sixties sit coms?
    Slartibartfast coughed politely.
    - Earthman, - he said, - it is sometimes hard to follow your mode  of
speech. Remember I have been asleep inside this planet  of  Magrathea  for
five million years and know little of these  early  sixties  sit  coms  of
which you speak. These creatures you call mice,  you  see,  they  are  not
quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of
vast hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. The whole business  with  the
cheese and the squeaking is just a front.
    The old man paused, and with a sympathetic frown continued.
    - They've been experimenting on you I'm afraid.
    Arthur thought about this for a second, and then his face cleared.
    - Ah no, - he said, - I see the source of the  misunderstanding  now.
No, look you see, what happened was that we  used  to  do  experiments  on
them. They were often used in behavioural research, Pavlov  and  all  that
sort of stuff. So what happened was hat the mice would be set all sorts of
tests, learning to ring bells, run around mazes and  things  so  that  the
whole  nature  of  the  learning  process  could  be  examined.  From  our
observations of their behaviour we were able to learn all sorts of  things
about our own...
    Arthur's voice tailed off.
    - Such subtlety... - said Slartibartfast, - one has to admire it.
    - What? - said Arthur.
    - How better to disguise their real natures, and how better to  guide
your thinking. Suddenly running down a maze  the  wrong  way,  eating  the
wrong bit of cheese, unexpectedly dropping dead of myxomatosis, - if  it's
finely calculated the cumulative effect is enormous.
    He paused for effect.
    - You  see,   Earthman,   they   really   are   particularly   clever
hyperintelligent pan-dimensional  beings.  Your  planet  and  people  have
formed the  matrix  of  an  organic  computer  running  a  tenmillion-year
research programme...
    - Let me tell you the whole story. It'll take a little time.
    - Time, - said Arthur weakly, - is not currently one of my problems.

                              Chapter 25

    There are of course many problems connected with life, of which  some
of the most popular are Why are people born? Why do they die? Why do  they
want to spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?
    Many  many  millions  of  years  ago  a  race   of   hyperintelligent
pandimensional  beings  (whose  physical  manifestation   in   their   own
pan-dimensional universe is not dissimilar to our own) got so fed up  with
the constant bickering about the meaning of life which used  to  interrupt
their favourite pastime of Brockian Ultra Cricket (a  curious  game  which
involved suddenly hitting people for no readily apparent reason  and  then
running away) that they decided to sit down and solve their problems  once
and for all.
    And to this end they built themselves  a  stupendous  super  computer
which was so amazingly intelligent that even before  the  data  banks  had
been connected up it had started from I think therefore I am  and  got  as
far as the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone  managed
to turn it off.
    It was the size of a small city.
    Its main console was installed  in  a  specially  designed  executive
office, mounted on an enormous  executive  desk  of  finest  ultramahagony
topped with rich ultrared  leather.  The  dark  carpeting  was  discreetly
sumptuous, exotic  pot  plants  and  tastefully  engraved  prints  of  the
principal computer programmers and their families were deployed  liberally
about the room, and stately windows looked out upon  a  tree-lined  public
    On the day of the Great On-Turning two  soberly  dressed  programmers
with brief cases arrived and were shown discreetly into the  office.  They
were aware that this day they would represent their  entire  race  in  its
greatest moment, but they conducted themselves calmly and quietly as  they
seated themselves deferentially before the desk, opened their brief  cases
and took out their leather-bound notebooks.
    Their names were Lunkwill and Fook.
    For a few  moments  they  sat  in  respectful  silence,  then,  after
exchanging a quiet glance with Fook, Lunkwill leaned forward and touched a
small black panel.
    The subtlest of hums indicated that the massive computer was  now  in
total active mode. After a pause it spoke to them in a voice rich resonant
and deep.
    It said:
    - What is this great task for  which  I,  Deep  Thought,  the  second
greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space have been called  into
    Lunkwill and Fook glanced at each other in surprise.
    - Your task, O Computer... - began Fook.
    - No, wait a minute, this isn't right, - said Lunkwill, worried. - We
distinctly designed this computer to be the greatest one  ever  and  we're
not making do with second best. Deep Thought, - he addressed the computer,
- are you not as we  designed  you  to  be,  the  greatest  most  powerful
computer in all time?
    - I described myself as the second greatest, - intoned Deep  Thought,
- and such I am.
    Another worried look passed between  the  two  programmers.  Lunkwill
cleared his throat.
    - There must be some mistake, - he said, - are  you  not  a  greatest
computer than the Milliard Gargantubrain which can count all the atoms  in
a star in a millisecond?
    - The Milliard Gargantubrain? - said Deep  Thought  with  unconcealed
contempt. - A mere abacus - mention it not.
    - And are you not, - said Fook leaning anxiously forward, - a greater
analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh  Galaxy  of  Light
and Ingenuity which can calculate the  trajectory  of  every  single  dust
particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard?
    - A five-week sand blizzard? - said Deep Thought haughtily. - You ask
this of me who have contemplated the very vectors of the atoms in the  Big
Bang itself? Molest me not with this pocket calculator stuff.
    The two programmers sat in uncomfortable silence for a  moment.  Then
Lunkwill leaned forward again.
    - But are you not, - he said, - a more fiendish  disputant  than  the
Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron  Wrangler  of  Ciceronicus  12,  the
Magic and Indefatigable?
    - The Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron  Wrangler,  -  said  Deep
Thought thoroughly rolling the r's, - could talk  all  four  legs  off  an
Arcturan MegaDonkey - but only I could  persuade  it  to  go  for  a  walk
    - Then what, - asked Fook, - is the problem?
    - There is no problem, - said Deep Thought with  magnificent  ringing
tones. - I am simply the second greatest computer in the Universe of Space
and Time.
    - But the second? - insisted Lunkwill. - Why do you keep  saying  the
second? You're surely not  thinking  of  the  Multicorticoid  Perspicutron
Titan Muller are you? Or the Pondermatic? Or the...
    Contemptuous lights flashed across the computer's console.
    - I  spare   not  a  single  unit  of  thought  on  these  cybernetic
simpletons! - he boomed. - I speak of none but the  computer  that  is  to
come after me!
    Fook was losing patience. He pushed his notebook aside and muttered,
    - I think this is getting needlessly messianic.
    - You know nothing of future time, - pronounced Deep Thought,  -  and
yet in my teeming circuitry I can navigate the infinite delta  streams  of
future probability and see that there must one day come a  computer  whose
merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate, but  which  it
will be my fate eventually to design.
    Fook sighed heavily and glanced across to Lunkwill.
    - Can we get on and ask the question? - he said.
    Lunkwill motioned him to wait.
    - What computer is this of which you speak? - he asked.
    - I will speak of it no further in this present  time,  -  said  Deep
Thought. - Now. Ask what else of me you will that I may function. Speak.
    They shrugged at each other. Fook composed himself.
    - O Deep Thought Computer, - he said, - the task we have designed you
to perform is this. We want you to  tell  us...  -  he  paused,  -  ...the
    - The answer? - said Deep Thought. - The answer to what?
    - Life! - urged Fook.
    - The Universe! - said Lunkwill.
    - Everything! - they said in chorus.
    Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection.
    - Tricky, - he said finally.
    - But can you do it?
    Again, a significant pause.
    - Yes, - said Deep Thought, - I can do it.
    - There is an answer? - said Fook with breathless excitement.
    - A simple answer? - added Lunkwill.
    - Yes, - said Deep Thought. - Life,  the  Universe,  and  Everything.
There is an answer. But, - he added, - I'll have to think about it.
    A sudden commotion destroyed the moment: the door flew open  and  two
angry men wearing the coarse faded-blue robes and  belts  of  the  Cruxwan
University burst into the room, thrusting aside the  ineffectual  flunkies
who tried to bar their way.
    - We demand admission! - shouted the younger of the two men  elbowing
a pretty young secretary in the throat.
    - Come on, - shouted the older one, - you can't keep  us  out!  -  He
pushed a junior programmer back through the door.
    - We demand that you can't keep us out! -  bawled  the  younger  one,
though he was now firmly inside the room  and  no  further  attempts  were
being made to stop him.
    - Who are you? - said Lunkwill, rising angrily from his seat. -  What
do you want?
    - I am Majikthise! - announced the older one.
    - And I demand that I am Vroomfondel! - shouted the younger one.
    Majikthise turned on Vroomfondel.
    - It's alright, - he explained angrily, - you don't  need  to  demand
    - Alright! - bawled Vroomfondel banging on an nearby  desk.  -  I  am
Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that  is  a  solid  fact!  What  we
demand is solid facts!
    - No we don't! -  exclaimed  Majikthise  in  irritation.  -  That  is
precisely what we don't demand!
    Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted,
    - We don't demand solid facts! What we demand is a total  absence  of
solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!
    - But who the devil are you? - exclaimed an outraged Fook.
    - We, - said Majikthise, - are Philosophers.
    - Though we may not be, - said Vroomfondel waving a warning finger at
the programmers.
    - Yes we are, - insisted Majikthise. - We are quite  definitely  here
as representatives  of  the  Amalgamated  Union  of  Philosophers,  Sages,
Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons, and we want this machine  off,  and
we want it off now!
    - What's the problem? - said Lunkwill.
    - I'll tell you what the  problem  is  mate,  -  said  Majikthise,  -
demarcation, that's the problem!
    - We demand, - yelled Vroomfondel, - that demarcation may or may  not
be the problem!
    - You just let the machines get on  with  the  adding  up,  -  warned
Majikthise, - and we'll take care of the eternal verities thank  you  very
much. You want to check your legal position you do  mate.  Under  law  the
Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable  prerogative  of
your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds  it  and
we're straight out of a job aren't we?  I  mean  what's  the  use  of  our
sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be  a  God  if
this machine only goes and gives us his bleeding  phone  number  the  next
    - That's right! - shouted Vroomfondel, - we  demand  rigidly  defined
areas of doubt and uncertainty!
    Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.
    - Might I make an observation at this point? - inquired Deep Thought.
    - We'll go on strike! - yelled Vroomfondel.
    - That's right!  -  agreed  Majikthise.  -  You'll  have  a  national
Philosopher's strike on your hands!
    The hum level in the room suddenly  increased  as  several  ancillary
bass driver units,  mounted  in  sedately  carved  and  varnished  cabinet
speakers around the room, cut in to give Deep  Thought's  voice  a  little
more power.
    - All I wanted to say, - bellowed the computer, - is that my circuits
are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer  to  the  Ultimate
Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything - he paused  and  satisfied
himself that he now  had  everyone's  attention,  before  continuing  more
quietly, - but the programme will take me a little while to run.
    Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.
    - How long? - he said.
    - Seven and a half million years, - said Deep Thought.
    Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other.
    - Seven and a half million years!.. - they cried in chorus.
    - Yes, - declaimed Deep Thought, - I said I'd have to think about it,
didn't I? And it occurs to me that running a programme like this is  bound
to create an enormous amount of popular publicity for the  whole  area  of
philosophy in general. Everyone's going to have their own  theories  about
what answer I'm eventually to come up with, and who better  to  capitalize
on that  media  market  than  you  yourself?  So  long  as  you  can  keep
disagreeing with each other violently enough and slagging each  other  off
in the popular press, you can keep yourself on the gravy train  for  life.
How does that sound?
    The two philosophers gaped at him.
    - Bloody hell, - said Majikthise, - now that is what I call thinking.
Here Vroomfondel, why do we never think of things like that?
    - Dunno, - said Vroomfondel in an awed whisper, -  think  our  brains
must be too highly trained Majikthise.
    So saying, they turned on their heels and walked out of the door  and
into a lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams.

                              Chapter 26

    - Yes, very salutary, - said Arthur, after Slartibartfast had related
the salient points of the story to him, - but I don't understand what  all
this has got to do with the Earth and mice and things.
    - That is but the first half of the story Earthman, -  said  the  old
man. - If you would care to  discover  what  happened  seven  and  a  half
millions later, on the great day of the Answer, allow me to invite you  to
my study where you can experience the events yourself on  our  Sens-O-Tape
records. That is unless you would care to  take  a  quick  stroll  on  the
surface of New Earth. It's only half completed I'm  afraid  -  we  haven't
even finished burying the artificial dinosaur skeletons in the crust  yet,
then we have the Tertiary and Quarternary Periods of the Cenozoic  Era  to
lay down, and...
    - No thank you, - said Arthur, - it wouldn't be quite the same.
    - No, - said Slartibartfast, - it won't  be,  -  and  he  turned  the
aircar round and headed back towards the mind-numbing wall.

                              Chapter 27

    Slartibartfast's study was a total  mess,  like  the  results  of  an
explosion in a public library. The old man frowned as they stepped in.
    - Terribly unfortunate, - he said, - a  diode  blew  in  one  of  the
life-support computers. When we tried to  revive  our  cleaning  staff  we
discovered they'd been dead for nearly thirty thousand years. Who's  going
to clear away the bodies, that's what I want to know. Look why  don't  you
sit yourself down over there and let me plug you in?
    He gestured Arthur towards a chair which looked as  if  it  had  been
made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus.
    - It was made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus, -  explained  the
old man as he pottered about fishing bits of wire out from under tottering
piles of paper and drawing instruments. - Here, - he said, - hold these, -
and passed a couple of stripped wire end to Arthur.
    The instant he took hold of them a bird flew straight through him.
    He was suspended in mid-air and totally invisible to himself. Beneath
him was a pretty treelined city square, and all around it as  far  as  the
eye could see were white concrete buildings of airy  spacious  design  but
somewhat the worse for wear - many were cracked  and  stained  with  rain.
Today however the sun was shining, a fresh breeze danced  lightly  through
the trees, and the odd sensation  that  all  the  buildings  were  quietly
humming was probably caused by the  fact  that  the  square  and  all  the
streets around it were thronged with cheerful excited people. Somewhere  a
band was playing, brightly coloured flags were fluttering  in  the  breeze
and the spirit of carnival was in the air.
    Arthur felt extraordinarily lonely stuck up in the air above  it  all
without so much as a body to his name, but before he had time  to  reflect
on this a voice rang out across  the  square  and  called  for  everyone's
    A man standing on a brightly dressed dais before the  building  which
clearly dominated the square was addressing the crowd over a Tannoy.
    - O people waiting in the Shadow of Deep Thought! - he cried  out.  -
Honoured Descendants of Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the Greatest and  Most
Truly Interesting Pundits the Universe  has  ever  known...  The  Time  of
Waiting is over!
    Wild cheers broke out amongst the crowd. Flags,  streamers  and  wolf
whistles sailed through the air. The narrower streets looked  rather  like
centipedes rolled over on their backs and frantically waving their legs in
the air.
    - Seven and a half million years our race has waited for  this  Great
and Hopefully Enlightening Day! - cried the cheer leader. - The Day of the
    Hurrahs burst from the ecstatic crowd.
    - Never again, - cried the man, - never again will we wake up in  the
morning and think Who am I? What is my purpose in life?  Does  it  really,
cosmically speaking, matter if I don't get up and go to work? For today we
will finally learn once and for all the plain and  simple  answer  to  all
these nagging little problems of Life, the Universe and Everything!
    As the crowd erupted once again, Arthur found himself gliding through
the air and down towards one of the large stately  windows  on  the  first
floor of  the  building  behind  the  dais  from  which  the  speaker  was
addressing the crowd.
    He experienced a moment's panic as he sailed straight through towards
the window, which passed when a second or so later he found  he  had  gone
right through the solid glass without apparently touching it.
    No one in the room remarked on his peculiar arrival, which is  hardly
surprising as he  wasn't  there.  He  began  to  realize  that  the  whole
experience was  merely  a  recorded  projection  which  knocked  six-track
seventy-millimetre into a cocked hat.
    The room was much as Slartibartfast had described it. In seven and  a
half million years it had been well looked  after  and  cleaned  regularly
every century or so. The ultramahagony desk was worn  at  the  edges,  the
carpet a little  faded  now,  but  the  large  computer  terminal  sat  in
sparkling glory on the desk's leather top, as bright as  if  it  had  been
constructed yesterday.
    Two severely dressed men sat respectfully  before  the  terminal  and
    - The time is nearly upon us, - said one, and Arthur was surprised to
see a word suddenly materialize in thin air just by the  man's  neck.  The
word was Loonquawl, and it flashed a couple of times and  the  disappeared
again. Before Arthur was able to assimilate this the other man  spoke  and
the word Phouchg appeared by his neck.
    - Seventy-five thousand  generations  ago,  our  ancestors  set  this
program in motion, - the second man said, - and in all that time  we  will
be the first to hear the computer speak.
    - An awesome prospect, Phouchg, - agreed the first  man,  and  Arthur
suddenly realized that he was watching a recording with subtitles.
    - We are the ones who will hear, - said Phouchg, - the answer to  the
great question of Life!..
    - The Universe!.. - said Loonquawl.
    - And Everything!..
    - Shhh, - said Loonquawl with  a  slight  gesture,  -  I  think  Deep
Thought is preparing to speak!
    There was a moment's expectant pause whilst  panels  slowly  came  to
life on the front of the console. Lights flashed on and off experimentally
and settled down into a businesslike pattern. A soft low hum came from the
communication channel.
    - Good morning, - said Deep Thought at last.
    - Er... Good morning, O Deep Thought, - said Loonquawl  nervously,  -
do you have... er, that is...
    - An answer for you? - interrupted Deep Thought majestically. -  Yes.
I have.
    The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not  been  in
    - There really is one? - breathed Phouchg.
    - There really is one, - confirmed Deep Thought.
    - To Everything? To the great Question  of  Life,  the  Universe  and
    - Yes.
    Both of the men had been trained for this  moment,  their  lives  had
been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth  as  those  who
would witness the answer, but even so they found  themselves  gasping  and
squirming like excited children.
    - And you're ready to give it to us? - urged Loonquawl.
    - I am.
    - Now?
    - Now, - said Deep Thought.
    They both licked their dry lips.
    - Though I don't think, - added Deep Thought, - that you're going  to
like it.
    - Doesn't matter! - said Phouchg. - We must know it! Now!
    - Now? - inquired Deep Thought.
    - Yes! Now...
    - Alright, - said the computer and settled into  silence  again.  The
two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
    - You're really not going to like it, - observed Deep Thought.
    - Tell us!
    - Alright, - said Deep Thought. - The Answer to the Great Question...
    - Yes!..
    - Of Life, the Universe and Everything... - said Deep Thought.
    - Yes!..
    - Is... - said Deep Thought, and paused.
    - Yes!..
    - Is...
    - Yes!!!?..
    - Forty-two, - said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

                               Chapter 28

    It was a long time before anyone spoke.
    Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg  could  see  the  sea  of  tense
expectant faces down in the square outside.
    - We're going to get lynched aren't we? - he whispered.
    - It was a tough assignment, - said Deep Thought mildly.
    - Forty-two! - yelled Loonquawl. - Is that all you've got to show for
seven and a half million years' work?
    - I checked it very thoroughly, - said the computer, - and that quite
definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to  be  quite  honest  with
you, is that you've never actually known what the question is.
    - But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of  Life,  the
Universe and Everything! - howled Loonquawl.
    - Yes, - said Deep Thought with the air  of  one  who  suffers  fools
gladly, - but what actually is it?
    A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as  they  stared  at  the
computer and then at each other.
    - Well, you know, it's just  Everything...  Everything...  -  offered
Phouchg weakly.
    - Exactly! - said Deep Thought. -  So  once  you  do  know  what  the
question actually is, you'll know what the answer means.
    - Oh terrific, - muttered Phouchg flinging  aside  his  notebook  and
wiping away a tiny tear.
    - Look, alright, alright, - said Loonquawl, -  can  you  just  please
tell us the Question?
    - The Ultimate Question?
    - Yes!
    - Of Life, the Universe, and Everything?
    - Yes!
    Deep Thought pondered this for a moment.
    - Tricky, - he said.
    - But can you do it? - cried Loonquawl.
    Deep Thought pondered this for another long moment.
    Finally: - No, - he said firmly.
    Both men collapsed on to their chairs in despair.
    - But I'll tell you who can, - said Deep Thought.
    They both looked up sharply.
    - Who?
    - Tell us!
    Suddenly Arthur began to feel his apparently non-existent scalp begin
to crawl as he found himself moving slowly but inexorably forward  towards
the console, but it was only a dramatic zoom on the part  of  whoever  had
made the recording he assumed.
    - I speak of none other than the computer that is to come  after  me,
intoned Deep Thought,  his  voice  regaining  its  accustomed  declamatory
tones. - A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to
calculate - and yet I will  design  it  for  you.  A  computer  which  can
calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite
and subtle complexity that organic life itself  shall  form  part  of  its
operational matrix. And you yourselves shall take on new forms and go down
into the computer to navigate its ten-million-year program! Yes!  I  shall
design this computer for you. And I shall name it also unto  you.  And  it
shall be called... The Earth.
    Phouchg gaped at Deep Thought.
    - What a dull name, - he said and great incisions appeared  down  the
length of his body. Loonquawl too suddenly sustained horrific gashed  from
nowhere. The Computer console blotched and cracked,  the  walls  flickered
and crumbled and the room crashed upwards into its own ceiling...
    Slartibartfast was standing in front of Arthur holding the two wires.
    - End of the tape, - he explained.

                               Chapter 29

    - Zaphod! Wake up!
    - Mmmmmwwwwwerrrrr?
    - Hey come on, wake up.
    - Just let me stick to what I'm good at, yeah? - muttered Zaphod  and
rolled away from the voice back to sleep.
    - Do you want me to kick you? - said Ford.
    - Would it give you a lot of pleasure? - said Zaphod, blearily.
    - No.
    - Nor me. So what's the point?  Stop  bugging  me.  -  Zaphod  curled
himself up.
    - He got a double dose of the gas, - said Trillian  looking  down  at
him, - two windpipes.
    - And stop talking, - said Zaphod, - it's hard enough trying to sleep
anyway. What's the matter with the ground? It's all cold and hard.
    - It's gold, - said Ford.
    With an amazingly balletic movement Zaphod was standing and  scanning
the horizon, because that was how far the gold ground stretched  in  every
direction, perfectly smooth and solid. It gleamed like... it's  impossible
to say what it gleamed like because nothing  in  the  Universe  gleams  in
quite the same way that a planet of solid gold does.
    - Who put all that there? - yelped Zaphod, goggle-eyed.
    - Don't get excited, - said Ford, - it's only a catalogue.
    - A who?
    - A catalogue, - said Trillian, - an illusion.
    - How can you say that? - cried Zaphod,  falling  to  his  hands  and
knees and staring at the ground. He poked  it  and  prodded  it  with  his
fingernail. It was very heavy and very slightly soft - he  could  mark  it
with his fingernail. It was very  yellow  and  very  shiny,  and  when  he
breathed on it his breath evaporated off it  in  that  very  peculiar  and
special way that breath evaporates off solid gold.
    - Trillian and I came round a while ago, - said Ford.  -  We  shouted
and yelled till somebody came and then carried  on  shouting  and  yelling
till they got fed up and put us in their planet catalogue to keep us  busy
till they were ready to deal with us. This is all Sens-O-Tape.
    Zaphod stared at him bitterly.
    - Ah, shit, - he said, - you wake me up from my  own  perfectly  good
dream to show me somebody else's. - He sat down in a huff.
    - What's that series of valleys over there? - he said.
    - Hallmark, - said Ford. - We had a look.
    - We didn't wake you earlier, - said Trillian. - The last planet  was
knee deep in fish.
    - Fish?
    - Some people like the oddest things.
    - And before that, - said Ford, -  we  had  platinum.  Bit  dull.  We
thought you'd like to see this one though.
    Seas of light glared at them in one solid blaze wherever they looked.
    - Very pretty, - said Zaphod petulantly.
    In the sky a huge green catalogue number appeared. It  flickered  and
changed, and when they looked around again so had the land.
    As with one voice they all went, - Yuch.
    The sea was purple. The beach they  were  on  was  composed  of  tiny
yellow and green  pebbles  -  presumably  terribly  precious  stones.  The
mountains in the distance seemed  soft  and  undulating  with  red  peaks.
Nearby stood a solid silver beach table with a frilly  mauve  parasol  and
silver tassles.
    In the sky a huge sign appeared, replacing the catalogue  number.  It
said, Whatever your tastes, Magrathea can cater for you. We are not proud.
    And five hundred entirely naked women  dropped  out  of  the  sky  on
    In a moment the scene vanished and left them in a  springtime  meadow
full of cows.
    - Ow! - said Zaphod. - My brains!
    - You want to talk about it? - said Ford.
    - Yeah, OK, - said Zaphod, and all three sat  down  and  ignored  the
scenes that came and went around them.
    - I figure this, - said Zaphod. - Whatever happened to my mind, I did
it. And I did it in such a  way  that  it  wouldn't  be  detected  by  the
government screening tests. And I wasn't to know anything about it myself.
Pretty crazy, right?
    The other two nodded in agreement.
    - So I reckon, what's so secret that I can't let anybody know I  know
it, not the Galactic Government, not even myself?  And  the  answer  is  I
don't know. Obviously. But I put a few things together and I can begin  to
guess. When did I decide to run for President? Shortly after the death  of
President Yooden Vranx. You remember Yooden, Ford?
    - Yeah, - said Ford, - he was that guy we met when we were kids,  the
Arcturan captain. He was a gas. He gave us conkers when you bust your  way
into his megafreighter. Said you were the most amazing kid he'd ever met.
    - What's all this? - said Trillian.
    - Ancient history, - said Ford, -  when  we  were  kids  together  on
Betelgeuse. The Arcturan megafreighters used to carry most  of  the  bulky
trade between the Galactic Centre and the outlying regions The  Betelgeuse
trading scouts used to find the markets and  the  Arcturans  would  supply
them. There was a lot of trouble with space pirates before they were wiped
out in the Dordellis wars, and the megafreighters had to be equipped  with
the most fantastic defence shields known to Galactic  science.  They  were
real brutes of ships, and huge. In orbit round a planet they would eclipse
the sun.
    - One day, young Zaphod here  decides  to  raid  one.  On  a  tri-jet
scooter designed for stratosphere work, a mere kid. I mean forget  it,  it
was crazier than a mad monkey. I went along for the ride because  I'd  got
some very safe money on him not doing it, and didn't want him coming  back
with fake evidence. So what happens? We got in his tri-jet  which  he  had
souped up into something totally other, crossed three parsecs in a  matter
of weeks, bust our way into  a  megafreighter  I  still  don't  know  how,
marched on to the bridge waving toy pistols and demanded conkers. A wilder
thing I have not known. Lost me a year's pocket money. For what? Conkers.
    - The captain was this really  amazing  guy,  Yooden  Vranx,  -  said
Zaphod. - He gave us food, booze - stuff from really weird  parts  of  the
Galaxy - lots of conkers of course, and we had just  the  most  incredible
time. Then he teleported us  back.  Into  the  maximum  security  wing  of
Betelgeuse state prison. He was a cool guy. Went on to become President of
the Galaxy.
    Zaphod paused.
    The scene around them was currently plunged into  gloom.  Dark  mists
swirled round them and  elephantine  shapes  lurked  indistinctly  in  the
shadows. The air was occasionally rent with the sounds of illusory  beings
murdering other illusory beings. Presumably enough people must have  liked
this sort of thing to make it a paying proposition.
    - Ford, - said Zaphod quietly.
    - Yeah?
    - Just before Yooden died he came to see me.
    - What? You never told me.
    - No.
    - What did he say? What did he come to see you about?
    - He told me about the Heart of Gold. It was his idea that  I  should
steal it.
    - His idea?
    - Yeah, - said Zaphod, - and the only possible way of stealing it was
to be at the launching ceremony.
    Ford gaped at him in astonishment for a moment, and then roared  with
    - Are you telling me, - he said, - that you set yourself up to become
President of the Galaxy just to steal that ship?
    - That's it, - said Zaphod with the sort of grin that would get  most
people locked away in a room with soft walls.
    - But why? - said Ford. - What's so important about having it?
    - Dunno, - said Zaphod, - I think if I'd consciously known  what  was
so important about it and what I would need it for it would have showed up
on the brain screening tests and I would never have passed. I think Yooden
told me a lot of things that are still locked away.
    - So you think you went and mucked about inside your own brain  as  a
result of Yooden talking to you?
    - He was a hell of a talker.
    - Yeah, but Zaphod old mate, you want  to  look  after  yourself  you
    Zaphod shrugged.
    - I mean, don't you have any inkling of the  reasons  for  all  this?
asked Ford.
    Zaphod thought hard about this and doubts seemed to cross his minds.
    - No, - he said at last, - I don't seem to be letting myself into any
of my secrets. Still, - he added on further reflection, - I can understand
that. I wouldn't trust myself further than I could spit a rat.
    A moment later, the  last  planet  in  the  catalogue  vanished  from
beneath them and the solid world resolved itself again.
    They were sitting in a plush waiting room full  of  glass-top  tables
and design awards.
    A tall Magrathean man was standing in front of them.
    - The mice will see you now, - he said.

                              Chapter 30

    - So there you have it, - said Slartibartfast, making  a  feeble  and
perfunctory attempt to clear away some of the appalling mess of his study.
He picked up a paper from the top of a pile, but then  couldn't  think  of
anywhere else to put it, so he but it back on top  of  the  original  pile
which promptly fell over. - Deep Thought designed the Earth, we  built  it
and you lived on it.
    - And the Vogons came  and  destroyed  it  five  minutes  before  the
program was completed, - added Arthur, not unbitterly.
    - Yes, - said the old man, pausing to gaze hopelessly round the room.
- Ten million years of planning and work gone just like that. Ten  million
years, Earthman... can you conceive of that kind of time span? A  galactic
civilization could grow from a single worm five times over in  that  time.
Gone. - He paused.
    - Well that's bureaucracy for you, - he added.
    - You know, - said Arthur thoughtfully, - all this explains a lot  of
things. All through my life I've had this  strange  unaccountable  feeling
that something was going on in the world, something  big,  even  sinister,
and no one would tell me what it was.
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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
guests 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
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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
    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
    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
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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
    - 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
    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 fro 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
    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
    - 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 sound 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 spacesuited
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.
    Ford shouted out,
    - Hey listen! I think we've got enough problems on our own having you
shooting at us, so if you could avoid laying your problems on us as  well,
I think we'd all find it easier to cope!
    Another pause, and then the loud hailer again.
    - Now see here, guy, - said the voice on the loud  hailer,  -  you're
not  dealing  with  any  dumb  two-bit  trigger-pumping  morons  with  low
hairlines, little piggy eyes  and  no  conversation,  we're  a  couple  of
intelligent caring guys that you'd probably  quite  like  if  you  met  us
socially! I don't go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging
about it afterwards in seedy space-rangers bars, like some  cops  I  could
mention! I go around shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about
it afterwards for hours to my girlfriend!
    - And I write novels! - chimed in the other cop. - Though  I  haven't
had any of them published yet, so I better warn  you,  I'm  in  a  meeeean
    Ford's eyes popped halfway out of their sockets.
    - Who are these guys? - he said.
    - Dunno, - said Zaphod, - I think  I  preferred  it  when  they  were
    - So are you going to come quietly, - shouted one of the cops  again,
- or are you going to let us blast you out?
    - Which would you prefer? - shouted Ford.
    A millisecond later the air about them started to fry again, as  bolt
after bolt of Kill-O-Zap hurled itself into the computer bank in front  of
    The fusillade continued for several seconds at unbearable intensity.
    When it stopped, there were a few seconds of near  quietness  ad  the
echoes died away.
    - You still there? - called one of the cops.
    - Yes, - they called back.
    - We didn't enjoy doing that at all, - shouted the other cop.
    - We could tell, - shouted Ford.
    - Now, listen to this, Beeblebrox, and you better listen good!
    - Why? - shouted Back Zaphod.
    - Because, - shouted the cop, - it's going to  be  very  intelligent,
and quite interesting and humane! Now either you all  give  yourselves  up
now and let us beat you up a bit, though not very much of  course  because
we are firmly opposed to needless violence, or  we  blow  up  this  entire
planet and possibly one or two others we noticed on our way out here!
    - But that's crazy! - cried Trillian. - You wouldn't do that!
    - Oh yes we would, - shouted the cop, - wouldn't we? - he  asked  the
other one.
    - Oh yes, we'd have to, no question, - the other one called back.
    - But why? - demanded Trillian.
    - Because there are some things you have to do even  if  you  are  an
enlightened liberal cop who knows all about sensitivity and everything!
    - I just don't believe these guys, - muttered Ford, shaking his head.
    One cop shouted to the other:
    - Shall we shoot them again for a bit?
    - Yeah, why not?
    They let fly another electric barrage.
    The heat and noise was quite fantastic. Slowly, the computer bank was
beginning to disintegrate. The front had almost all melted away, and thick
rivulets of molten metal were winding their way back  towards  where  they
were squatting. They huddled further back and waited for the end.

                              Chapter 33

    But the end never came, at least not then.
    Quite suddenly the barrage stopped, and the sudden silence afterwards
was punctuated by a couple of strangled gurgles and thuds.
    The four stared at each other.
    - What happened? - said Arthur.
    - They stopped, - said Zaphod with a shrug.
    - Why?
    - Dunno, do you want to go and ask them?
    - No.
    They waited.
    - Hello? - called out Ford.
    No answer.
    - That's odd.
    - Perhaps it's a trap.
    - They haven't the wit.
    - What were those thuds?
    - Dunno.
    They waited for a few more seconds.
    - Right, - said Ford, - I'm going to have a look.
    He glanced round at the others.
    - Is no one going to say, No you can't possibly, let me go instead?
    They all shook their heads.
    - Oh well, - he said, and stood up.
    For a moment, nothing happened.
    Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. Ford  peered
through the thick smoke that was billowing out of the burning computer.
    Cautiously he stepped out into the open.
    Still nothing happened.
    Twenty  yards  away  he  could  dimly  see  through  the  smoke   the
space-suited figure of one of the cops. He was lying in a crumpled heap on
the ground. Twenty yards in the other direction lay the second man. No one
else was anywhere to be seen.
    This struck Ford as being extremely odd.
    Slowly, nervously, he walked towards the  first  one.  The  body  lay
reassuringly still as he approached it, and continued to lie  reassuringly
still as he reached it and put his foot down on the  Kill-O-Zap  gun  that
still dangled from its limp fingers.
    He reached down and picked it up, meeting no resistance.
    The cop was quite clearly dead.
    A quick examination revealed him to be from Blagulon Kappa - he was a
methane-breathing life form, dependent on his space suit for  survival  in
the thin oxygen atmosphere of Magrathea.
    The tiny  life-support  system  computer  on  his  backpack  appeared
unexpectedly to have blown up.
    Ford poked around in it in considerable astonishment. These miniature
suit computers usually had the full back-up of the main computer  back  on
the ship, with which they were directly linked through the sub-etha.  Such
a system was fail-safe in all  circumstances  other  than  total  feedback
malfunction, which was unheard of.
    He hurried over to  the  other  prone  figure,  and  discovered  that
exactly  the  same  impossible  thing  had  happened  to  him,  presumably
    He  called  the  others  over  to  look.  They   came,   shared   his
astonishment, but not his curiosity.
    - Let's get shot out of this hole, - said Zaphod. - If  whatever  I'm
supposed to be looking for is here, I don't want  it.  -  He  grabbed  the
second Kill-O-Zap gun, blasted a perfectly  harmless  accounting  computer
and rushed out into the corridor, followed by the others. He  very  nearly
blasted hell out of an aircar that stood waiting  for  them  a  few  yards
    The aircar was empty,  but  Arthur  recognized  it  as  belonging  to
    It had a note from him pinned to part of its sparse instrument panel.
The note had an arrow drawn on it, pointing at one of the controls.
    It said, This is probably the best button to press.

                              Chapter 34

    The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17 through the steel
tunnels that lead out onto the appalling surface of the planet  which  was
now in the grip of yet another drear morning twilight. Ghastly grey lights
congealed on the land.
    R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that
is consistent with health, mental wellbeing and not being  more  than  say
five minutes late. It is therefore clearly an almost  infinitely  variable
figure according to circumstances, since the first two  factors  vary  not
only with speed taken as an absolute, but also with awareness of the third
factor. Unless handled  with  tranquility  this  equation  can  result  in
considerable stress, ulcers and even death.
    R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.
    The aircar flung itself through the air at R17 and  above,  deposited
them next to the Heart of Gold which stood starkly on  the  frozen  ground
like a bleached bone, and then precipitately hurled  itself  back  in  the
direction whence they had come, presumably on important  business  of  its
    Shivering, the four of them stood and looked at the ship.
    Beside it stood another one.
    It was the Blagulon Kappa policecraft, a  bulbous  sharklike  affair,
slate green in colour and  smothered  with  black  stencilled  letters  of
varying degrees of size and unfriendliness. The  letters  informed  anyone
who cared to read them as to where the ship was from, what section of  the
police it was assigned to, and where the power feeds should be connected.
    It seemed somehow unnaturally dark and silent, even for a ship  whose
two-man crew was at that  moment  lying  asphyxicated  in  a  smoke-filled
chamber several miles beneath the ground.  It  is  one  of  those  curious
things that is impossible to explain or define, but one can sense  when  a
ship is completely dead.
    Ford could sense it and found it most mysterious -  a  ship  and  two
policemen seemed to have gone spontaneously dead. In  his  experience  the
Universe simply didn't work like that.
    The other three could sense it too, but they could sense  the  bitter
cold even more and hurried back into the Heart of Gold suffering  from  an
acute attack of no curiosity.
    Ford stayed, and went to examine the Blagulon ship. As he walked,  he
nearly tripped over an inert steel figure lying  face  down  in  the  cold
    - Marvin! - he exclaimed. - What are you doing?
    - Don't feel you have to take any notice of  me,  please,  -  came  a
muffled drone.
    - But how are you, metalman? - said Ford.
    - Very depressed.
    - What's up?
    - I don't know, - said Marvin, - I've never been there.
    - Why, - said Ford squatting down beside him and shivering, - are you
lying face down in the dust?
    - It's a very effective way of being wretched, - said Marvin. - Don't
pretend you want to talk to me, I know you hate me.
    - No I don't.
    - Yes you do, everybody does. It's part of the shape of the Universe.
I only have to talk to somebody and they begin to  hate  me.  Even  robots
hate me. If you just ignore me I expect I shall probably go away.
    He jacked himself up to his feet  and  stood  resolutely  facing  the
opposite direction.
    - That  ship   hated  me,  -  he  said  dejectedly,  indicating   the
    - That ship? - said Ford in sudden excitement. - What happened to it?
Do you know?
    - It hated me because I talked to it.
    - You talked to it? - exclaimed Ford. - What do you mean  you  talked
to it?
    - Simple. I got very bored and  depressed,  so  I  went  and  plugged
myself in to its external computer feed. I talked to the computer at great
length and explained my view of the Universe to it, - said Marvin.
    - And what happened? - pressed Ford.
    - It committed suicide, - said Marvin and stalked  off  back  to  the
Heart of Gold.

                              Chapter 35

    That night, as the Heart of Gold was busy putting a few  light  years
between itself and the Horsehead Nebula, Zaphod lounged  under  the  small
palm tree on the bridge trying to bang his brain into shape  with  massive
Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters; Ford and Trillian sat in a corner discussing
life and matters arising from it; and Arthur  took  to  his  bed  to  flip
through Ford's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Since he was
going to live in the place, he reasoned, he'd  better  start  finding  out
something about it.
    He came across this entry.
    It said:
    - The History of every major  Galactic  Civilization  tends  to  pass
through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry
and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.
    - For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question  How
can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the
question Where shall we have lunch?
    He got no further before the ship's intercom buzzed into life.
    - Hey Earthman? You hungry kid? - said Zaphod's voice.
    - Er, well yes, a little peckish I suppose, - said Arthur.
    - OK baby, hold tight, - said Zaphod. - We'll take in a quick bite at
the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

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