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

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

                                For Ron

                    With grateful thanks to  Sue  Freestone  and  Michael
               Bywater for their support, help and constructive abuse.

                    Anything that happens, happens.
                    Anything that, in happening, causes something else to
               happen, causes something else to happen.
                    Anything that, in happening, causes itself to  happen
               again, happens again.
                    It doesn't do it in chronological order, though.


  The history of the Galaxy has got a little muddled, for a
number of reasons: partly because those who are trying to keep
track of it have got a little muddled, but also because some very
muddling things have been happening anyway.
  One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and
the difficulties involved in trying to exceed it. You can't. Nothing
travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception
of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel
people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were
powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and
were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere
that there wasn't really any point in being there.
  So, by and large, the peoples of the Galaxy tended to languish
in their own local muddles and the history of the Galaxy itself
was, for a long time, largely cosmological.
  Which is not to say that people weren't trying. They tried
sending off fleets of spaceships to do battle or business in
distant parts, but these usually took thousands of years to get
anywhere. By the time they eventually arrived, other forms of
travel had been discovered which made use of hyperspace to
circumvent the speed of light, so that whatever battles it was
that the slower-than-light fleets had been sent to fight had already
been taken care of centuries earlier by the time they actually got
  This didn't, of course, deter their crews from wanting to fight
the battles anyway. They were trained, they were ready, they'd
had a couple of thousand years' sleep, they'd come a long way
to do a tough job and by Zarquon they were going to do it.
  This was when the first major muddles of Galactic history set
in, with battles continually re-erupting centuries after the issues
they had been fought over had supposedly been settled. However,
these muddles were as nothing to the ones which historians had
to try and unravel once time-travel was discovered and battles
started pre-erupting hundreds of years before the issues even
arose. When the Infinite Improbability Drive arrived and whole
planets started turning unexpectedly into banana fruitcake, the
great history faculty of the University of MaxiMegalon finally
gave up, closed itself down and surrendered its buildings to the
rapidly growing joint faculty of Divinity and Water Polo, which
had been after them for years.
  Which is all very well, of course, but it almost certainly
means that no one will ever know for sure where, for instance,
the Grebulons came from, or exactly what it was they wanted.
And this is a pity, because if anybody had known anything about
them, it is just possible that a most terrible catastrophe would
have been averted - or at least would have had to find a different
way to happen.
  Click, hum.
  The huge grey Grebulon reconnaissance ship moved silently
through the black void. It was travelling at fabulous, breath-
taking speed, yet appeared, against the glimmering background
of a billion distant stars to be moving not at all. It was just one
dark speck frozen against an infinite granularity of brilliant night.
On board the ship, everything was as it had been for millennia,
deeply dark and silent.
  Click, hum.
  At least, almost everything.
  Click, click, hum.
  Click, hum, click, hum, click, hum.
  Click, click, click, click, click, hum.
  A low level supervising program woke up a slightly higher
level supervising program deep in the ship's semi-somnolent
cyberbrain and reported to it that whenever it went click all it
got was a hum.
  The higher level supervising program asked it what it was
supposed to get, and the low level supervising program said
that it couldn't remember exactly, but thought it was probably
more of a sort of distant satisfied sigh, wasn't it? It didn't know
what this hum was. Click, hum, click, hum. That was all it was
  The higher level supervising program considered this and
didn't like it. It asked the low level supervising program what
exactly it was supervising and the low level supervising program
said it couldn't remember that either, just that it was something
that was meant to go click, sigh every ten years or so, which
usually happened without fail. It had tried to consult its error
look-up table but couldn't find it, which was why it had alerted
the higher level supervising program to the problem.
  The higher level supervising program went to consult one of
its own look-up tables to find out what the low level supervising
program was meant to be supervising.
  It couldn't find the look-up table.
  It looked again. All It got was an error message. It tried
to look up the error message in its error message look-up table
and couldn't find that either. It allowed a couple of nanoseconds
to go by while it went through all this again. Then it woke up its
sector function supervisor.
  The sector function supervisor hit immediate problems. It
called its supervising agent which hit problems too. Within a few
millionths of a second virtual circuits that had lain dormant, some
for years, some for centuries, were flaring into life throughout the
ship. Something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong, but none
of the supervising programs could tell what it was. At every level,
vital instructions were missing, and the instructions about what to
do in the event of discovering that vital instructions were missing,
were also missing.
  Small modules of software - agents - surged through the
logical pathways, grouping, consulting, re-grouping. They quickly
established that the ship's memory, all the way back to its central
mission module, was in tatters. No amount of interrogation could
determine what it was that had happened. Even the central mis-
sion module itself seemed to be damaged.
  This made the whole problem very simple to deal with.
Replace the central mission module. There was another one,
a backup, an exact duplicate of the original. It had to be
physically replaced because, for safety reasons, there was no
link whatsoever between the original and its backup. Once the
central mission module was replaced it could itself supervise the
reconstruction of the rest of the system in every detail, and all
would be well.
  Robots were instructed to bring the backup central mission
module from the shielded strong room, where they guarded it,
to the ship's logic chamber for installation.
  This involved the lengthy exchange of emergency codes and
protocols as the robots interrogated the agents as to the authen-
ticity of the instructions. At last the robots were satisfied that
all procedures were correct. They unpacked the backup central
mission module from its storage housing, carried it out of the
storage chamber, fell out of the ship and went spinning off into
the void.
  This provided the first major clue as to what it was that
was wrong.
  Further investigation quickly established what it was that had
happened. A meteorite had knocked a large hole in the ship. The
ship had not previously detected this because the meteorite had
neatly knocked out that part of the ship's processing equipment
which was supposed to detect if the ship had been hit by a
  The first thing to do was to try to seal up the hole. This turned
out to be impossible, because the ship's sensors couldn't see that
there was a hole, and the supervisors which should have said that
the sensors weren't working properly weren't working properly
and kept saying that the sensors were fine. The ship could only
deduce the existence of the hole from the fact that the robots
had clearly fallen out of it, taking its spare brain, which would
have enabled it to see the hole, with them.
  The ship tried to think intelligently about this, failed, and then
blanked out completely for a bit. It didn't realise it had blanked
out, of course, because it had blanked out. It was merely surprised
to see the stars jump. After the third time the stars jumped the
ship finally realised that it must be blanking out, and that it was
time to take some serious decisions.
  It relaxed.
  Then it realised it hadn't actually taken the serious decisions
yet and panicked. It blanked out again for a bit. When it awoke
again it sealed all the bulkheads around where it knew the unseen
hole must be.
  It clearly hadn't got to its destination yet, it thought, fitfully,
but since it no longer had the faintest idea where its destina-
tion was or how to reach it, there seemed to be little point
in continuing. It consulted what tiny scraps of instructions it
could reconstruct from the tatters of its central mission mod-
  'Your !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! year mission is to !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, !!!!!,
  !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, land !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! a safe distance !!!!! !!!!!
monitor it !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! . . .'
  All of the rest was complete garbage.
  Before it blanked out for good the ship would have to pass
on those instructions, such as they were, to its more primitive
subsidiary systems.
  It must also revive all of its crew.
  There was another problem. While the crew was in hibernation,
the minds of all of its members, their memories, their identities
and their understanding of what they had come to do, had all
been transferred into the ship's central mission module for safe
keeping. The crew would not have the faintest idea of who they
were or what they were doing there. Oh well.
  Just before it blanked out for the final time, the ship realised
that its engines were beginning to give out too.
  The ship and its revived and confused crew coasted on under
the control of its subsidiary automatic systems, which simply
looked to land wherever they could find to land and monitor
whatever they could find to monitor.
  As far as finding something to land on was concerned, they
didn,t do very well. The planet they found was desolately cold
and lonely, so achingly far from the sun that should warm it, that
it took all of the Envir-O-Form machinery and LifeSupport-O-
Systems they carried with them to render it, or at least enough
parts of it, habitable. There were better planets nearer in, but
the ship's Strateej-O-Mat was obviously locked into Lurk mode
and chose the most distant and unobtrusive planet and, further-
more, would not be gainsaid by anybody other than the ship's
Chief Strategic Officer. Since everybody on the ship had lost
their minds no one knew who the Chief Strategic Officer was
or, even if he could have been identified, how he was supposed
to go about gainsaying the ship's Strateej-O-Mat.
  As far as finding something to monitor was concerned, though,
they hit solid gold.


  One of the extraordinary things about life is the sort of places
it's prepared to put up with living. Anywhere it can get some
kind of a grip, whether it's the intoxicating seas of Santraginus
V, where the fish never seem to care whatever the heck kind
of direction they swim in, the fire storms of Frastra where, they
say, life begins at 40,000 degrees, or just burrowing around in
the lower intestine of a rat for the sheer unadulterated hell of
it, life will always find a way of hanging on in somewhere.
  It will even live in New York, though it's hard to know why.
In the winter time the temperature falls well below the legal
minimum, or rather it would do if anybody had the common
sense to set a legal minimum. The last time anybody made a
list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers,
common sense snuck in at number 79.
  In the summer it's too darn hot. It,s one thing to be the sort
of life form that thrives on heat and finds, as the Frastrans do,
that the temperature range between 40,000 and 40,004 is very
equable, but it's quite another to be the sort of animal that has
  to wrap itself up in lots of other animals at one point in your
planet's orbit, and then find, half an orbit later, that your skin's
  Spring is over-rated. A lot of the inhabitants of New York
will honk on mightily about the pleasures of spring, but if they
actually knew the first thing about the pleasures of spring they
would know of at least five thousand nine hundred and eighty-
three better places to spend it than New York, and that's just
on the same latitude.
  Fall, though, is the worst. Few things are worse than fall in
New York. Some of the things that live in the lower intestines of
rats would disagree, but most of the things that live in the lower
intestines of rats are highly disagreeable anyway, so their opinion
can and should be discounted. When it's fall in New York, the air
smells as if someone,s been frying goats in it, and if you are keen
to breathe, the best plan is to open a window and stick your head
in a building.
  Tricia McMillan loved New York. She kept on telling herself
this over and over again. The Upper West Side. Yeah. Mid Town.
Hey, great retail. SoHo. The East Village. Clothes. Books. Sushi.
Italian. Delis. Yo.
  Movies. Yo also. Tricia had just been to see Woody Allen's
new movie which was all about the angst of being neurotic in New
York. He had made one or two other movies that had explored
the same theme, and Tricia wondered if he had ever considered
moving, but heard that he had set his face against the idea. So:
more movies, she guessed.
  Tricia loved New York because loving New York was a good
career move. It was a good retail move, a good cuisine move,
not a good taxi move or a great quality of pavement move, but
definitely a career move that ranked amongst the highest and the
best. Tricia was a TV anchor person, and New York was where
most of the world's TV was anchored. Tricia's TV anchoring had
been done exclusively in Britain up to that point: regional news,
then breakfast news, early evening news. She would have been
called, if the language allowed, a rapidly rising anchor, but . . .
hey, this is television, what does it matter? She was a rapidly rising
anchor. She had what it took: great hair, a profound understand-
ing of strategic lip gloss, the intelligence to understand the world
and a tiny secret interior deadness which meant she didn't care.
Everybody has their moment of great opportunity in life. If you
happen to miss the one you care about, then everything else in
life becomes eerily easy.
  Tricia had only ever missed one opportunity. These days it
didn't even make her tremble quite so much as it used to to
think about it. She guessed it was that bit of her that had gone
  NBS needed a new anchor. Mo Minetti was leaving the
US/AM breakfast show to have a baby. She had been offered a
mind-bubbling amount of money to have it on the show, but she
had declined, unexpectedly, on grounds of personal privacy and
taste. Teams of NBS lawyers had sieved through her contract to
see if these constituted legitimate grounds, but in the end, reluc-
tantly, they had to let her go. This was, for them, particularly
galling because normally 'reluctantly letting someone go' was an
expression that had its boot on quite another foot.
  The word was out that maybe, just maybe, a British accent
would fit. The hair, the skin tone and the bridgework would have
to be up to American network standards, but there had been a
lot of British accents up there thanking their mothers for their
Oscars, a lot of British accents singing on Broadway, and some
unusually big audiences tuning in to British accents in wigs on
Masterpiece Theatre. British accents were telling jokes on David
Letterman and Jay Leno. Nobody understood the jokes but they
were really responding to the accents, so maybe it was time, just
maybe. A British accent on US/AM. Well, hell.
  That was why Tricia was here. This was why loving New
York was a great career move.
  It wasn't, of course, the stated reason. Her TV company
back in the UK would hardly have stumped up the air fare
and hotel bill for her to go job hunting in Manhattan. Since
she was chasing something like ten times her present salary, they
might have felt that she could have forked out her own expenses,
but she'd found a story, found a pretext, kept very quiet about
anything ulterior, and they'd stumped up for the trip. A business
class ticket, of course, but her face was known and she,d smiled
herself an upgrade. The right moves had got her a nice room at
the Brentwood and here she was, wondering what to do next.
  The word on the street was one thing, making contact was
another. She had a couple of names, a couple of numbers, but all
it took was being put on indeterminate hold a couple of times and
she was back at square one. She'd put out feelers, left messages,
but so far none had been returned. The actual job she had come
to do she had done in a morning; the imagined job she was after
was only shimmering tantalisingly on an unreachable horizon.
  She caught a cab from the movie theatre back to the Brent-
wood. The cab couldn,t get close to the kerb because a big stretch
limo was hogging all the available space and she had to squeeze
her way past it. She walked out of the fetid, goat-frying air and
into the blessed cool of the lobby. The fine cotton of her blouse
was sticking like grime to her skin. Her hair felt as if she,d bought
it at a fairground on a stick. At the front desk she asked if there
were any messages, grimly expecting none. There was one.
  Oh . . .
  It had worked. She had gone out to the movie specifically
in order to make the phone ring. She couldn't bear sitting in
a hotel room waiting.
  She wondered. Should she open the message down here?
Her clothes were itching and she longed to take them all off
and just lie on the bed. She had turned the air conditioning way
down to its bottom temperature setting, way up to its top fan
setting. What she wanted more than anything else in the world
at the moment was goose pimples. Then a hot shower, then a
cool one, then lying on a towel, on the bed again, drying in the
air conditioning. Then reading the message. Maybe more goose
pimples. Maybe all sorts of things.
  No. What she wanted more than anything else in the world
was a job in American television at ten times her current salary.
More than anything else in the world. In the world. What she
wanted more than anything else at all was no longer a live issue.
  She sat on a chair in the lobby, under a kentia palm, and
opened the little cellophane-windowed envelope.
  'Please call,' it said. 'Not happy,' and gave a number. The
name was Gail Andrews.
  Gail Andrews.
  It wasn't a name she was expecting. It caught her unawares.
She recognised it, but couldn't immediately say why. Was she
Andy Martin's secretary? Hilary Bass's assistant? Martin and
Bass were the two major contact calls she had made, or tried
to make, at NBS. And what did 'Not happy' mean?
  'Not happy?'
  She was completely bewildered. Was this Woody Allen trying
to contact her under an assumed name? It was a 212 area code
number. So it was someone in New York. Who was not happy.
Well, that narrowed it down a bit, didn't it?
  She went back to the receptionist at the desk.
  'I have a problem with this message you just gave me,, she
said. 'Someone I don't know has tried to call me and says she,s
not happy.'
  The receptionist peered at the note with a frown.
  'Do you know this person?' he said.
  'No,' Tricia said.
  'Hmmm,' said the receptionist. 'Sounds like she's not happy
about something.'
  'Yes,' said Tricia.
  'Looks like there's a name here,' said the receptionist. 'Gail
Andrews. Do you know anybody of that name?'
  'No.' said Tricia.
'Any idea what she's unhappy about?'
  'No,' said Tricia.
  'Have you called the number? There's a number here.'
  'No,' said Tricia, 'you only just gave me the note. I'm just
trying to get some more information before I ring back. Perhaps
I could talk to the person who took the call?'
  'Hmmm,' said the receptionist, scrutinising the note carefully.
'I don't think we have anybody called Gail Andrews here.'
  'No, I realise that,' said Tricia. 'I just - '
  'I'm Gail Andrews.'
  The voice came from behind Tricia. She turned round.
  'I'm sorry?'
  'I'm Gail Andrews. You interviewed me this morning.'
  'Oh. Oh good heavens yes,' said Tricia, slightly flustered.
  'I left the message for you a few hours ago. I hadn't heard
so I came by. I didn't want to miss you.'
  'Oh. No. Of course,' said Tricia, trying hard to get up to speed.
  'I don't know about this,' said the receptionist' for whom
speed was not an issue. 'Would you like me to try this number
for you now?'
  'No' that'll be fine, thanks,' said Tricia. 'I can handle it now.'
  'I can call this room number here for you if that'll help,'
said the receptionist, peering at the note again.
  'No, that won't be necessary, thanks,' said Tricia. 'That's
my own room number. I'm the one the message was for. I
think we've sorted this out now.'
  'You have a nice day now,' said the receptionist.
  Tricia didn't particularly want to have a nice day. She was busy.
  She also didn't want to talk to Gail Andrews. She had a very
strict cut-off point as far as fraternising with the Christians was
concerned. Her colleagues called her interview subjects Chris-
tians and would often cross themselves when they saw one
walking innocently into the studio to face Tricia, particularly
if Tricia was smiling warmly and showing her teeth.
  She turned and smiled frostily, wondering what to do.
  Gail Andrews was a well groomed woman in her mid-forties.
Her clothes fell within the boundaries defined by expensive good
taste, but were definitely huddled up at the floatier end of those
boundaries. She was an astrologer - a famous and' if rumour were
true, influential astrologer, having allegedly influenced a number
of decisions made by the late President Hudson, including every-
thing from which flavour of cream whip to have on which day of
the week, to whether or not to bomb Damascus.
  Tricia had savaged her more than somewhat. Not on the
grounds of whether or not the stories about the President were
true, that was old hat now. At the time Ms Andrews had emphati-
cally denied advising President Hudson on anything other than
personal, spiritual or dietary matters, which did not, apparently
include the bombing of Damascus. ('NOTHING PERSONAL,
DAMASCUS!' the tabloids had hooted at the time.)
  No, this was a neat topical little angle that Tricia had come
up with about the whole issue of astrology itself. Ms Andrews
had not been entirely ready for it. Tricia, on the other hand,
was not entirely ready for a re-match in the hotel lobby. What
to do?
  'I can wait for you in the bar, if you need a few minutes,'
said Gail Andrews. 'But I would like to talk to you, and I'm
leaving the city tonight.'
  She seemed to be slightly anxious about something rather
than aggrieved or irate.
  'OK,' said Tricia. 'Give me ten minutes.'
  She went up to her room. Apart from anything else she
had so little faith in the ability of the guy on the message desk
at reception to deal with anything as complicated as a message
that she wanted to be doubly certain that there wasn't a note
under the door. It wouldn't be the first time that messages at
the desk and messages under the door had been completely at
odds with each other.
  There wasn't one.
  The message light on the phone was flashing though.
  She hit the message button and got the hotel operator.
  'You have a message from Gary Andress,' said the operator.
  'Yes?' said Tricia. An unfamiliar name. 'What does it say.'
  'Not hippy,' said the operator.
  'Not what?' said Tricia.
  'Hippy. What it says. Guy says he's not a hippy. I guess
he wanted you to know that. You want the number?'
  As she started to dictate the number Tricia suddenly realised
that this was just a garbled version of the message she had already
  'OK, OK,' she said. 'Are there any other messages for me?'
  'Room number?'
  Tricia couldn't work out why the operator should suddenly
ask for her number this late in the conversation, but gave it
to her anyway.
  'McMillan' Tricia McMillan.' Tricia spelt it, patiently.
  'Not Mr MacManus?'
  'No more messages for you.' Click.
  Tricia sighed and dialled again. This time she gave her name
and room number all over again, up front. The operator showed
not the slightest glimmer of recognition that they had been speak-
ing less than ten seconds ago.
  'I'm going to be in the bar,' Tricia explained. 'In the bar.
If a phone call comes through for me,' please would you put
it through to me in the bar?'
  They went through it all a couple more times till Tricia was
certain that everything that possibly could be clear was as clear
as it possibly could be.
  She showered, put on fresh clothes and retouched her makeup
with the speed of a professional, and, looking at her bed with a
sigh, left the room again.
  She had half a mind just to sneak off and hide.
  No. Not really.
  She had a look at herself in the mirror in the elevator lobby
while she was waiting. She looked cool and in charge, and if she
could fool herself she could fool anybody.
  She was just going to have to tough it out with Gail Andrews.
OK, she had given her a hard time. Sorry but that's the game
we're all in - that sort of thing. Ms Andrews had agreed to do
the interview because she had a new book out and TV exposure
was free publicity. But there's no such thing as a free launch.
No, she edited that line out again.
  What had happened was this:
  Last week astronomers had announced that they had at last
discovered a tenth planet, out beyond the orbit of Pluto. They
had been searching for it for years, guided by certain orbital
anomalies in the outer planets, and now they'd found it and they
were all terribly pleased, and everyone was terribly happy for
them and so on. The planet was named Persephone, but rapidly
nicknamed Rupert after some astronomer's parrot - there was
some tediously heart-warming story attached to this - and that
was all very wonderful and lovely.
  Tricia had followed the story with, for various reasons, con-
siderable interest.
  Then, while she had been casting around for a good excuse to
go to New York at her TV company's expense she had happened
to notice a press release about Gail Andrews, and her new book,
You and Your Planets.
  Gail Andrews was not exactly a household name, but the
moment you mentioned President Hudson, cream whips and the
amputation of Damascus (the world had moved on from surgi-
cal strikes. The official term had in fact been 'Damascectomy',
meaning the 'taking out' of Damascus), everyone remembered
who you meant.
  Tricia saw an angle here which she quickly sold to her producer.
  Surely the notion that great lumps of rock whirling in space
knew something about your day that you didn't must take a bit
  of a knock from the fact that there was suddenly a new lump of
rock out there that nobody had known about before.
  That must throw a few calculations out, mustn't it?
  What about all those star charts and planetary motions and
so? We all knew (apparently) what happened when Neptune
was in Virgo, and so on, but what about when Rupert was
rising? Wouldn't the whole of astrology have to be rethought?
Wouldn't now perhaps be a good time to own up that it was
all just a load of hogwash and instead take up pig-farming, the
principles of which were founded on some kind of rational basis?
If we'd known about Rupert three years ago, might President
Hudson have been eating the boysenberry flavour on Thursday
rather than Friday? Might Damascus still be standing? That sort
of thing.
  Gail Andrews had taken it all reasonably well. She was
just starting to recover from the initial onslaught, when she
made the rather serious mistake of trying to shake Tricia off by
talking smoothly about diurnal arcs, right ascensions and some
of the more abstruse areas of three-dimensional trigonometry.
  To her shock she discovered that everything she delivered to
Tricia came right back at her with more spin on it than she could
cope with. Nobody had warned Gail that being a TV bimbo was.
for Tricia, her second stab at a role in life. Behind her Chanel lip
gloss, her coupe sauvage and her crystal blue contact lenses lay a
brain that had acquired for itself, in an earlier, abandoned phase
of her life, a first class degree in mathematics and a doctorate in
  As she was getting into the elevator Tricia, slightly preoccupied,
realised she had left her bag in her room and wondered whether
to duck back out and get it. No. It was probably safer where it
was and there wasn't behind her.
  Besides, she told herself, taking a deep breath. if life had
taught her anything it was this:
  Never go back for your bag.
  As the elevator went down she stared up at the ceiling in
a rather intent way. Anyone who didn't know Tricia McMillan
better would have said that that was exactly the way people
sometimes stared upwards when they were trying to hold back
tears. She must have been staring at the tiny security video camera
mounted up in the corner.
  She marched rather briskly out of the elevator a minute later,
and went up to the reception desk again.
  'Now' I'm going to write this out,' she said, 'because I
don't want anything to go wrong.'
  She wrote her name in large letters on a piece of paper,
then her room number' then 'IN THE BAR' and gave it to
the receptionist' who looked at it.
  'That's in case there's a message for me. OK?'
  The receptionist continued to look at it.
  'You want me to see if she's in her room?, he said.
  Two minutes later, Tricia swivelled into the bar seat next to
Gail Andrews, who was sitting in front of a glass of white wine.
  'You struck me as the sort of person who preferred to sit
up at the bar rather than demurely at a table,' she said.
  This was true, and caught Tricia a little by surprise.
  'Vodka?' said Gail.
  'Yes,' said Tricia, suspiciously. She just stopped herself asking,
'How did you know?' but Gail answered anyway.
  'I asked the barman,' she said, with a kindly smile.
  The barman had her vodka ready for her and slid it charmingly
across the glossy mahogany.
  'Thank you,' said Tricia, stirring it sharply.
  She didn't know quite what to make out of all this sudden
niceness and was determined not to be wrong-footed by it. People
in New York were not nice to each other without reason.
  'Ms Andrews,' she said, firmly, 'I'm sorry that you're not
  happy. I know you probably feel I was a bit rough with you this
morning, but astrology is, after all, just popular entertainment,
which is fine. It's part of showbiz and it's a part that you have
done well out of and good luck to you. It's fun. It's not a science
though' and it shouldn't be mistaken for one. I think that's some-
thing we both managed to demonstrate very successfully together
this morning, while at the same time generating some popular
entertainment, which is what we both do for a living. I'm sorry
if you have a problem with that.'
  'I'm perfectly happy,' said Gail Andrews.
  'Oh,' said Tricia, not quite certain what to make of this.
'It said in your message that you were not happy.,
  'No,' said Gail Andrews. 'I said in my message that I thought
you were not happy, and I was just wondering why.
  Tricia felt as if she had been kicked in the back of the
head. She blinked.
  'What?' she said quietly.
  'To do with the stars. You seemed very angry and unhappy
about something to do with stars and planets when we were
having our discussion, and it's been bothering me, which is why
I came to see if you were all right.'
  Tricia stared at her. 'Ms Andrews-' she started' and then
realised that the way she had said it sounded exactly angry and
unhappy and rather undermined the protest she had been trying
to make.
  'Please call me Gail' if that's OK.'
  Tricia just looked bewildered.
  'I know that astrology isn't a science,' said Gail. 'Of course
it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or,
what's that strange thing you British play?'
  'Er, cricket? Self-loathing?'
  'Parliamentary democracy. The rules just kind of got there.
They don't make any kind of sense except in terms of them-
selves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of
processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of
stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about
stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for
all the difference it would make. It's just a way of thinking about
a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emerge.
The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are,
the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a
piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets
you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above
it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not
important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So
you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just to do
with people thinking about people.
  'So when you got so, I don't know, so emotionally focused
on stars and planets this morning, I began to think, she's not
angry about astrology, she really is angry and unhappy about
actual stars and planets. People usually only get that unhappy
and angry when they've lost something. That's all I could think
and I couldn't make any more sense of it than that. So I came
to see if you were OK.'
  Tricia was stunned.
  One part of her brain had already got started on all sorts
of stuff. It was busy constructing all sorts of rebuttals to do
with how ridiculous newspaper horoscopes were and the sort of
statistical tricks they played on people. But gradually it petered
out, because it realised that the rest of her brain wasn't listening.
She had been completely stunned.
  She had just been told, by a total stranger, something she'd
kept completely secret for seventeen years.
  She turned to look at Gail
  'I . . .'
  She stopped.
  A tiny security camera up behind the bar had turned to
follow her movement. This completely flummoxed her. Most
people would not have noticed it. It was not designed to be
noticed. It was not designed to suggest that nowadays even an
expensive and elegant hotel in New York couldn't be sure that
its clientele wasn't suddenly going to pull a gun or not wear a tie.
But carefully hidden though it was behind the vodka, it couldn't
deceive the finely honed instinct of a TV anchor person, which
was to know exactly when a camera was turning to look at her.
  'Is something wrong?' asked Gail.
  'No, I . . . I have to say that you've rather astonished me,'
said Tricia. She decided to ignore the security camera. It was
just her imagination playing tricks with her because she had
television so much on her mind today. It wasn't the first time it
had happened. A traffic monitoring camera, she was convinced,
had swung round to follow her as she walked past it, and a secu-
rity camera in Bloomingdales had seemed to make a particular
point of watching her trying on hats. She was obviously going
dotty. She had even imagined that a bird in Central Park had
been peering at her rather intently.
  She decided to put it out of her mind and took a sip of
her vodka. Someone was walking round the bar asking people
if they were Mr MacManus.
  'OK,' she said, suddenly blurting it out. 'I don't know how
you worked it out, but . . .'
  'I didn't work it out, as you put it. I just listened to what
you were saying.'
  'What I lost, I think, was a whole other life.'
  'Everybody does that. Every moment of every day. Every
single decision we make, every breath we draw, opens some
doors and closes many others. Most of them we don't notice.
Some we do. Sounds like you noticed one.'
  'Oh yes, I noticed,' said Tricia. 'All right. Here it is. It's
very simple. Many years ago I met a guy at a party. He said he
was from another planet and did I want to go along with him. I
said, yes, OK. It was that kind of party. I said to him to wait
while I went to get my bag and then I'd be happy to go off to
another planet with him. He said I wouldn't need my bag. I said
he obviously came from a very backward planet or he'd know
that a woman always needed to take her bag with her. He got a
bit impatient, but I wasn't gong to be a complete pushover just
because he said he was from another planet.
  'I went upstairs. Took me a while to find my bag, and then
there was someone else in the bathroom. Came down and he
was gone.'
  Tricia paused.
  'And . . . ?' said Gail.
  'The garden door was open. I went outside. There were
lights. Some kind of gleaming thing. I was just in time to see
it rise up into the sky, shoot silently up through the clouds and
disappear. That was it. End of story. End of one life, beginning
of another. But hardly a moment of this life goes by that I don't
wonder about some other me. A me that didn't go back for her
bag. I feel like she's out there somewhere and I'm walking in
her shadow.'
  A member of the hotel staff was now going round the bar
asking people if they were Mr Miller. Nobody was.
  'You really think this . . . person was from another planet?'
asked Gail.
  'Oh, certainly. There was the spacecraft. Oh, and also he
had two heads.'
  'Two? Didn't anybody else notice?'
  'It was a fancy dress party.'
  'I see . . .'
  'And he had a bird cage over it, of course. With a cloth over
the cage. Pretended he had a parrot. He tapped on the cage and
it did a lot of stupid "Pretty Polly" stuff and squawking and so
on. Then he pulled the cloth back for a moment and roared with
laughter. There was another head in there, laughing along with
him. It was a worrying moment I can tell you.'
  'I think you probably did the right thing, dear, don't you?'
said Gail.
  'No,' said Tricia. 'No I don't. And I couldn't carry on doing
what I was doing either. I was an astrophysicist, you see. You
can't be an astrophysicist properly if you've actually met someone
from another planet who's got a second head that pretends to be
a parrot. You just can't do it. I couldn't at least.'
  'I can see it would be hard. And that's probably why you
tend to be a little hard on other people who talk what sounds
like complete nonsense.'
  'Yes,' said Tricia. 'I expect you're right. I'm sorry.'
  'That's OK.'
  'You're the first person I've ever told this, by the way.'
  'I wondered. You married?'
  'Er, no. So hard to tell these days isn't it? But you're right
to ask because that was probably the reason. I came very close
a few times, mostly because I wanted to have a kid. But every guy
ended up asking why I was constantly looking over his shoulder.
What do you tell someone? At one point I even thought I might
just go to a sperm bank and take pot luck. Have somebody's child
at random.'
  'You can't seriously do that, can you?'
  Tricia laughed. 'Probably not. I never quite went and found
out for real. Never quite did it. Story of my life. Never quite
did the real thing. That's why I'm in television I guess. Nothing
is real.
  'Excuse me lady, your name Tricia McMillan'!'
  Tricia looked round in surprise. There was a man standing
there in a chauffeur's hat.
  'Yes,' she said, instantly pulling herself back together again.
  'Lady, I been looking for you for about an hour. Hotel said
they didn't have anybody of that name, but I checked back with
Mr Martin's office and they said that this was definitely where
you staying. So I ask again, they still say they never heard of
you, so I get them to page you anyway and they can't find you.
In the end I get the office to FAX a picture of you through to
the car and have a look myself.'
  He looked at his watch.
  'May be a bit late now, but do you want to go anyway?'
  Tricia was stunned.
  'Mr Martin? You mean Andy Martin at NBS?'
  'That's correct, lady. Screen test for USIAM.'
  Tricia shot up out of her seat. She couldn't even bear to
think of all the messages she'd heard for Mr MacManus and
Mr Miller.
  'Only we have to hurry,' said the chauffeur. 'As I heard it Mr
Martin thinks it might be worth trying a British accent. His boss
at the network is dead against the idea. That's Mr Zwingler, and
I happen to know he's flying out to the coast this evening because
I'm the one has to pick him up and take him to the airport.'
  'OK,' said Tricia, 'I'm ready. Let's go.'
  'OK, lady. It's the big limo out the front.'
  Tricia turned back to Gail. 'I'm sorry,' she said.
  'Go! Go!' said Gail. 'And good luck. I've enjoyed meeting
  Tricia made to reach for her bag for some cash.
  'Damn,' she said. She'd left it upstairs.
  'Drinks are on me,' insisted Gail. 'Really. It's been very
  Tricia sighed.
  'Look, I'm really sorry about this morning and . . .
  'Don't say another word. I'm fine. It's only astrology. It's
harmless. It's not the end of the world.'
  'Thanks.' On an impulse Tricia gave her a hug.
  'You got everything?' said the chauffeur. 'You don't want
to pick up your bag or anything?'
  'If there's one thing that life's taught me,' said Tricia, 'it's
never go back for your bag.'
  Just a little over an hour later, Tricia sat on one of the pair of
beds in her hotel room. For a few minutes she didn't move. She
just stared at her bag, which was sitting innocently on top of the
other bed.
  In her hand was a note from Gail Andrews, saying, 'Don't
be too disappointed. Do ring if you want to talk about it. If I
were you I'd stay in at home tomorrow night. Get some rest.
But don't mind me, and don't worry. It's only astrology. It's not
the end of the world. Gail.'
  The chauffeur had been dead right. In fact the chauffeur
seemed to know more about what was going on inside NBS than
any other single person she had encountered in the organisation.
Martin had been keen, Zwingler had not. She had had her one
shot at proving Martin right and she had blown it.
  Oh well. Oh well, oh well, oh well.
  Time to go home. Time to phone the airline and see if
she could still get the red-eye back to Heathrow tonight. She
reached for the big phone directory.
  Oh. First things first.
  She put down the directory again, picked up her handbag,
and took it through to the bathroom. She put it down and took
out the small plastic case which held her contact lenses, without
which she had been unable properly to read either the script or
the autocue.
  As she dabbed each tiny plastic cup into her eyes she reflected
that if there was one thing life had taught her it was that there
are times when you do not go back for your bag and other times
when you do. It had yet to teach her to distinguish between the
two types of occasion.


  The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has, in what we laughingly
call the past, had a great deal to say on the subject of parallel
universes. Very little of this is, however, at all comprehensible
to anyone below the level of Advanced God, and since it is
now well-established that all known gods came into existence
a good three millionths of a second after the Universe began
rather than, as they usually claimed, the previous week, they
already have a great deal of explaining to do as it is, and are
therefore not available for comment on matters of deep physics
at this time.
  One encouraging thing the Guide does have to say on the
subject of parallel universes is that you don't stand the remotest
chance of understanding it. You can therefore say 'What?' and
'Eh?' and even go cross-eyed and start to blither if you like
without any fear of making a fool of yourself.
  The first thing to realise about parallel universes, the Guide
says, is that they are not parallel.
  It is also important to realise that they are not, strictly speaking,
universes either, but it is easiest if you try and realise that a little
later, after you've realised that everything you've realised up to
that moment is not true.
  The reason they are not universes is that any given universe
is not actually a thing as such, but is just a way of looking at
what is technically known as the WSOGMM, or Whole Sort of
General Mish Mash. The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash
doesn't actually exist either, but is just the sum total of all the
different ways there would be of looking at it if it did.
  The reason they are not parallel is the same reason that the
sea is not parallel. It doesn't mean anything. You can slice the
Whole Sort of General Mish Mash any way you like and you will
generally come up with something that someone will call home.
  Please feel free to blither now.
  The Earth with which we are here concerned, because of its
particular orientation in the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash,
was hit by a neutrino that other Earths were not.
  A neutrino is not a big thing to be hit by.
  In fact it's hard to think of anything much smaller by which
one could reasonably hope to be hit. And it's not as if being
hit by neutrinos was in itself a particularly unusual event for
something the size of the Earth. Far from it. It would be an
unusual nanosecond in which the Earth was not hit by several
billion passing neutrinos.
  It all depends on what you mean by 'hit', of course, seeing as
matter consists almost entirely of nothing at all. The chances of
a neutrino actually hitting something as it travels through all this
howling emptiness are roughly comparable to that of dropping a
ball bearing at random from a cruising 747 and hitting, say, an
egg sandwich.
  Anyway, this neutrino hit something. Nothing terribly impor-
tant in the scale of things, you might say. But the problem with
saying something like that is that you would be talking cross-
eyed badger spit. Once something actually happens somewhere
in something as wildly complicated as the Universe, Kevin knows
where it will all end up - where 'Kevin' is any random entity that
doesn't know nothin' about nothin'.
  This neutrino struck an atom.
  The atom was part of a molecule. The molecule was part
of a nucleic acid. The nucleic acid was part of a gene. The
gene was part of a genetic recipe for growing . . . and so on.
The upshot was that a plant ended up growing an extra leaf. In
Essex. Or what would, after a lot of palaver and local difficulties
of a geological nature, become Essex.
  The plant was a clover. It threw its weight, or rather its seed,
around extremely effectively and rapidly became the world's
dominant type of clover. The precise causal connection between
this tiny biological happenstance, and a few other minor vari-
ations that exist in that slice of the Whole Sort of General
Mish Mash - such as Tricia McMillan failing to leave with
Zaphod Beeblebrox, abnormally low sales of pecan-flavoured
ice-cream and the fact that the Earth on which all this occurred
did not get demolished by the Vogons to make way for a new
hyperspace bypass - is currently sitting at number 4,763,984,132
on the research project priority list at what was once the History
Department of the University of MaxiMegalon, and no one cur-
rently at the prayer meeting by the poolside appears to feel any
sense of urgency about the problem.


  Tricia began to feel that the world was conspiring against her.
She knew that this was a perfectly normal way to feel after an
overnight flight going east, when you suddenly have a whole
other mysteriously threatening day to deal with for which you
are not the least bit prepared. But still.
  There were marks on her lawn.
  She didn't really care about marks on her lawn very much.
Marks on her lawn could go and take a running jump as far as
she was concerned. It was Saturday morning. She had just got
home from New York feeling tired, crabby and paranoid, and
all she wanted to do was go to bed with the radio on quietly and
gradually fall asleep to the sound of Ned Sherrin being terribly
clever about something.
  But Eric Bartlett was not going to let her get away with not
making a thorough inspection of the marks. Eric was the old
gardener who came in from the village on Saturday mornings
to poke around at her garden with a stick. He didn't believe
in people coming in from New York first thing in the morning.
Didn't hold with it. Went against nature. He believed in virtually
everything else, though.
  'Probably them space aliens,' he said, bending over and prod-
ding at the edges of the small indentations with his stick. 'Hear
a lot about space aliens these days. I expect it's them.'
  'Do you?' said Tricia, looking furtively at her watch. Ten
minutes, she reckoned. Ten minutes she'd be able to stay
standing up. Then she would simply keel over, whether she
was in her bedroom or still out here in the garden. That was
if she just had to stand. If she also had to nod intelligently and
say 'Do you?' from time to time, it might cut it down to five.
  'Oh yes,' said Eric. 'They come down here, land on your lawn,
and then buzz off again, sometimes with your cat. Mrs Williams
at the Post Office, her cat - you know the ginger one? - it got
abducted by space aliens. Course, they brought it back the next
day but it were in a very odd mood. Kept prowling around all
morning, and then falling asleep in the afternoon. Used to be
the other way round, is the point. Sleep in the morning, prowl in
the afternoon. Jet lag, you see, from being in an interplanetary
  'I see, said Tricia.
  'They dyed it tabby, too, she says. These marks are exactly
the sort of marks that their landing pods would probably make.'
  'You don't think it's the lawn mower?' asked Tricia.
  'If the marks were more round, I'd say, but these are just
off-round, you see. Altogether more alien in shape.'
  'It's just that you mentioned the lawn mower was playing
up and needed fixing or it might start gouging holes in the
  'I did say that, Miss Tricia, and I stand by what I said.
I'm not saying it's not the lawn mower for definite, I'm just
saying what seems to me more likely given the shapes of the
holes. They come in over these trees, you see, in their landing
pods . . .'
  'Eric . . . ,' said Tricia, patiently.
  'Tell you what, though, Miss Tricia,' said Eric, 'I will take a
look at the mower, like I meant to last week, and leave you to
get on with whatever you're wanting to.'
  'Thank you, Eric,' said Tricia. 'I'm going to bed now, in
fact. Help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen.'
  'Thank you, Miss Tricia, and good luck to you,' said Eric.
He bent over and picked something from the lawn.
  'There,' he said. 'Three-leaf clover. Good luck you see.'
  He peered at it closely to check that it was a real three-leaf
clover and not just a regular four-leaf one that one of the leaves
had fallen off. 'If I were you, though, I'd watch for signs of alien
activity in the area.' He scanned the horizon keenly. 'Particularly
from over there in the Henley direction.'
  'Thank you, Eric,' said Tricia again. 'I will.'
  She went to bed and dreamt fitfully of parrots and other birds.
In the afternoon she got up and prowled around restlessly, not
certain what to do with the rest of the day, or indeed the rest of
her life. She spent at least an hour dithering, trying to make up
her mind whether to head up into town and go to Stavro's for the
evening. This was the currently fashionable spot for high-flying
media people, and seeing a few friends there might help her ease
herself back into the swing of things. She decided at last she would
go. It was good. It was fun there. She was very fond of Stavro
himself, who was a Greek with a German father- a fairly odd
combination. Tricia had been to the Alpha a couple of nights
earlier, which was Stavro's original club in New York, now run
by his brother Karl, who thought of himself as a German with a
Greek mother. Stavro would be very happy to be told that Karl
was making a bit of a pig's ear of running the New York club,
so Tricia would go and make him happy. There was little love
lost between Stavro and Karl Mueller.
  OK. That's what she would do.
  She then spent another hour dithering about what to wear.
At last she settled on a smart little black dress she'd got in New
York. She phoned a friend to see who was likely to be at the
club that evening, and was told that it was closed this evening
for a private wedding party.
  She thought that trying to live life according to any plan you
actually work out is like trying to buy ingredients for a recipe from
the supermarket. You get one of those trolleys which simply will
not go in the direction you push it and end up just having to buy
completely different stuff. What do you do with it? What do you
do with the recipe? She didn't know.
  Anyway, that night an alien spacecraft landed on her lawn.


  She watched it coming in from over the Henley direction with
mild curiosity at first, wondering what those lights were. Living,
as she did, not a million miles from Heathrow, she was used to
seeing lights in the sky. Not usually so late in the evening, or so
low, though, which was why she was mildly curious.
  When whatever it was began to come closer and closer her
curiosity began to turn to bemusement.
  'Hmmm,' she thought, which was about as far as she could get
with thinking. She was still feeling dopey and jet-lagged and the
messages that one part of her brain was busy sending to another
were not necessarily arriving on time or the right way up. She left
the kitchen where she'd been fixing herself a coffee and went to
open the back door which led out to the garden. She took a deep
breath of cool evening air, stepped outside and looked up.
  There was something roughly the size of a large camper
van parked about a hundred feet above her lawn.
  It was really there. Hanging there. Almost silent.
  Something moved deep inside her.
  Her arms dropped slowly down to her side. She didn't notice
the scalding coffee slopping over her foot. She was hardly
breathing as slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, the craft came
downwards. Its lights were playing softly over the ground as if
probing and feeling it. They played over her.
  It seemed beyond all hope that she should be given her
chance again. Had he found her? Had he come back?
  The craft dropped down and down until at last it had settled
quietly on her lawn. It didn't look exactly like the one she had
seen departing all those years ago, she thought, but flashing lights
in the night sky are hard to resolve into clear shapes.
  Then a click and a hum.
  Then another click and another hum. Click hum, click hum.
  A doorway slid open, spilling light towards her across the
  She waited, tingling.
  A figure stood silhouetted in the light, then another, and
  Wide eyes blinked slowly at her. Hands were slowly raised
in greeting.
  'McMillan?' a voice said at last, a strange, thin voice that
managed the syllables with difficulty. 'Tricia McMillan. Ms Tricia
  'Yes,' said Tricia, almost soundlessly.
  'We have been monitoring you.'
  'M . . . monitoring? Me?'
  They looked at her for a while, their large eyes moving
up and down her very slowly.
  'You look smaller in real life,' one said at last.
  'What?' said Tricia.
  'I . . . I don't understand,' said Tricia. She hadn't expected any
of this, of course, but even for something she hadn't expected to
begin with it wasn't going the way she expected. At last she said,
'Are you . . . are you from . . . Zaphod?'
  This question seemed to cause a little consternation among the
three figures. They conferred with each other in some skittering
language of their own and then turned back to her.
  'We don't think so. Not as far as we know,' said one.
  'Where is Zaphod?' said another, looking up into the night sky.
'I . . . I don't know,' said Tricia, helplessly.
  'Is it far from here? Which direction? We don't know.'
  Tricia realised with a sinking heart that they had no idea
who she was talking about. Or even what she was talking about.
And she had no idea what they were talking about. She put her
hopes tightly away again and snapped her brain back into gear.
There was no point in being disappointed. She had to wake up
to the fact that she had here the journalistic scoop of the cen-
tury. What should she do? Go back into the house for a video
camera? Wouldn't they just be gone when she got back? She
was thoroughly confused as to strategy. Keep 'em talking, she
thought. Figure it out later.
  'You've been monitoring . . . me?'
  'All of you. Everything on your planet. TV. Radio. Tele-
communications. Computers. Video circuitry. Warehouses.'
  'What? '
  'Car parks. Everything. We monitor everything.'
  Tricia stared at them.
  'That must be very boring, isn't it?' she blurted out.
'So why . . .
'Except . . .
'Yes? Except what'
  'Game shows. We quite like game shows.'
  There was a terribly long silence as Tricia looked at the
aliens and the aliens looked at her.
  'There's something I would just like to get from indoors,'
said Tricia very deliberately. 'Tell you what. Would you, or
one of you, like to come inside with me and have a look?'
  'Very much,' they all said, enthusiastically.
  All three of them stood, slightly awkwardly in her sitting room,
as she hurried around picking up a video camera, a 35mm camera,
a tape recorder, every recording medium she could grab hold of.
They were all thin and, under domestic lighting conditions, a sort
of dim purplish green.
  'I really won't be a second, guys,' Tricia said, as she rummaged
through some drawers for spare tapes and films.
  The aliens were looking at the shelves that held her CDs
and her old records. One of them nudged one of the others
very slightly.
  'Look,' he said. 'Elvis.'
  Tricia stopped, and stared at them all over again.
  'You like Elvis?' she said.
  'Yes,' they said.
  'Elvis Presley?'
  She shook her head in bewilderment as she tried to stuff
a new tape into her video camera.
  'Some of your people,' said one of her visitors, hesitantly,
'think that Elvis has been kidnapped by space aliens.'
  'What?' said Tricia. 'Has he?'
  'It is possible.'
  'Are you telling me that you have kidnapped Elvis?' gasped
Tricia. She was trying to keep cool enough not to foul up her
equipment, but this was all almost too much for her.
  'No. Not us,' said her guests. 'Aliens. It is a very interesting
possibility. We talk of it often.'
  'I must get this down,' Tricia muttered to herself. She checked
her video was properly loaded and working now. She pointed the
camera at them. She didn't put it up to her eye because she didn't
want to freak them out. But she was sufficiently experienced to
be able to shoot accurately from the hip.
'OK,' she said. 'Now tell me slowly and carefully who you
are. You first,' she said to the one on the left. 'What's your
'I don't know.
  'You don't know.
  'I see,' said Tricia. 'And what about you other two?'
'We don't know.'
  'Good. OK. Perhaps you can tell me where you are from?'
They shook their heads.
  'You don't know where you're from?'
They shook their heads again.
'So,' said Tricia. 'What are you . . . er . . .'
  She was floundering but, being a professional, kept the camera
steady while she did it.
  'We are on a mission,' said one of the aliens.
'A mission? A mission to do what?'
'We do not know.'
Still she kept the camera steady.
  'So what are you doing here on Earth, then?'
'We have come to fetch you.'
  Rock steady, rock steady. Could have been on a tripod. She
wondered if she should be using a tripod, in fact. She wondered
that because it gave her a moment or two to digest what they had
just said. No, she thought, hand-held gave her more flexibility.
She also thought, help, what am I going to do?
  'Why,' she asked, calmly, 'have you come to fetch me?'
'Because we have lost our minds.'
'Excuse me,' said Tricia, 'I'm going to have to get a tripod.'
  They seemed happy enough to stand there doing nothing
while Tricia quickly found a tripod and mounted the camera on
it. Her face was completely immobile, but she did not have the
faintest idea what was going on or what to think about it.
'OK,' she said, when she was ready. 'Why . . .'
'We liked your interview with the astrologer.'
  'You saw it?'
  'We see everything. We are very interested in astrology.
We like it. It is very interesting. Not everything is interesting.
Astrology is interesting. What the stars tell us. What the stars
foretell. We could do with some information like that '
'But . . .
  Tricia didn't know where to start.
  Own up, she thought. There's no point in trying to second
guess any of this stuff.
  So she said, 'But I don't know anything about astrology.'
  'We do.'
  'You do?'
  'Yes. We follow our horoscopes. We are very avid. We see
all your newspapers and your magazines and are very avid with
them. But our leader says we have a problem.'
  'You have a leader?'
  'What's his name?'
  'We do not know.'
  'What does he say his name is, for Christ's sake? Sorry
I'll need to edit that. What does he say his name is?'
  'He does not know.'
  'So how do you all know he's the leader?'
  'He seized control. He said someone has to do something
round here.'
  'Ah!' said Tricia, seizing on a clue. 'Where is "here"?'
  'Your people call it Rupert. The tenth planet from your
sun. We have settled there for many years. It is highly cold
and uninteresting there. But good for monitoring.'
  'Why are you monitoring us?'
  'It is all we know to do.'
  'OK,' said Tricia. 'Right. What is the problem that your
leader says you have?'
  'Triangulation. '
  'I beg your pardon?'
  'Astrology is a very precise science. We know this.'
  'Well . . .' said Tricia, then left it at that.
  'But it is precise for you here on Earth.'
  'Ye . . . e . . . s . . .' She had a horrible feeling she was
getting a vague glimmering of something.
  'So when Venus is rising in Capricorn, for instance, that
is from Earth. How does that work if we are out on Rupert?
What if the Earth is rising in Capricorn? It is hard for us to
know. Amongst the things we have forgotten, which we think
are many and profound, is trigonometry.'
  'Let me get this straight,' said Tricia. 'You want me to
come with you to . . . Rupert . . .
  'To recalculate your horoscopes for you to take account of
the relative positions of Earth and Rupert?'
  Do I get an exclusive?'
  'I'm your girl,' said Tricia, thinking that at the very least
she could sell it to the National Enquirer.
  As she boarded the craft that would take her off to the furthest
limits of the Solar System, the first thing that met her eyes was
a bank of video monitors across which thousands of images were
sweeping. A fourth alien was sitting watching them, but was
focused on one particular screen that held a steady image. It
was a replay of the impromptu interview which Tricia had just
conducted with his three colleagues. He looked up when he saw
her apprehensively climbing in.
  'Good evening, Ms McMillan,' he said. 'Nice camera work.'


  Ford Prefect hit the ground running. The ground was about three
inches further from the ventilation shaft than he remembered it
so he misjudged the point at which he would hit the ground,
started running too soon, stumbled awkwardly and twisted his
ankle. Damn! He ran off down the corridor anyway, hobbling
  All over the building, alarms were erupting into their usual
frenzy of excitement. He dived for cover behind the usual storage
cabinets, glanced around to check that he was unseen, and started
rapidly to fish around inside his satchel for the usual things he
  His ankle, unusually, was hurting like hell.
  The ground was not only three inches further from the ven-
tilation shaft than he remembered, it was also on a different
planet than he remembered, but it was the three inches that
had caught him by surprise. The offices of the Hitch Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy were quite often shifted at very short
notice to another planet, for reasons of local climate, local
hostility, power bills or tax, but they were always reconstructed
exactly the same way, almost to the very molecule. For many of
the company's employees, the layout of their offices represented
the only constant they knew in a severely distorted personal uni-
  Something, though, was odd.
  This was not in itself surprising, thought Ford as he pulled
out his lightweight throwing towel. Virtually everything in his
life was, to a greater or lesser extent, odd. It was just that this
was odd in a slightly different way than he was used to things
being odd, which was, well, strange. He couldn't quite get it into
focus immediately.
  He got out his No.3 gauge prising tool.
  The alarms were going in the same old way that he knew
well. There was a kind of music to them that he could almost
hum along to. That was all very familiar. The world outside had
been a new one on Ford. He had not been to Saquo-Pilia Hensha
before, and he had liked it. It had a kind of carnival atmosphere
to it.
  He took from his satchel a toy bow and arrow which he
had bought in a street market.
  He had discovered that the reason for the carnival atmosphere
on Saquo-Pilia Hensha was that the local people were celebrating
the annual feast of the Assumption of St Antwelm. St Antwelm
had been, during his lifetime, a great and popular king who had
made a great and popular assumption. What King Antwelm had
assumed was that what everybody wanted, all other things being
equal, was to be happy and enjoy themselves and have the best
possible time together. On his death he had willed his entire per-
sonal fortune to financing an annual festival to remind everyone
of this, with lots of good food and dancing and very silly games
like Hunt the Wocket. His Assumption had been such a brilliantly
good one that he was made into a saint for it. Not only that, but all
the people who had previously been made saints for doing things
like being stoned to death in a thoroughly miserable way or living
upside down in barrels of dung were instantly demoted and were
now thought to be rather embarrassing.
  The familiar H-shaped building of the Hitch Hiker's Guide
offices rose above the outskirts of the city, and Ford Prefect
had broken into it in the familiar way. He always entered via the
ventilation system rather than the main lobby because the main
lobby was patrolled by robots whose job it was to quiz incoming
employees about their expense accounts. Ford Prefect's expense
accounts were notoriously complex and difficult affairs and he had
found, on the whole, that the lobby robots were ill-equipped to
understand the arguments he wished to put forward in relation to
them. He preferred, therefore, to make his entrance by another
  This meant setting off nearly every alarm in the building, but
not the one in the accounts department, which was the way that
Ford preferred it.
  He hunkered down behind the storage cabinet, he licked
the rubber suction cup of the toy arrow, and then fitted it
to the string of the bow.
  Within about thirty seconds a security robot the size of a
small melon came flying down the corridor at about waist height,
scanning left and right for anything unusual as it did so.
  With impeccable timing Ford shot the toy arrow across its
path. The arrow flew across the corridor and stuck, wobbling,
on the opposite wall. As it flew, the robot's sensors locked on
to it instantly and the robot twisted through ninety degrees to
follow it, see what the hell it was and where it was going.
  This bought Ford one precious second, during which the
robot was looking in the opposite direction from him. He
hurled the towel over the flying robot and caught it.
  Because of the various sensory protuberances with which the
robot was festooned, it couldn't manoeuvre inside the towel, and
it just twitched back and forth without being able to turn and face
its captor.
  Ford hauled it quickly towards him and pinned it down to
the ground. It was beginning to whine pitifully. With one swift
and practised movement, Ford reached under the towel with his
No.3 gauge prising tool and flipped off the small plastic panel on
top of the robot which gave access to its logic circuits.
  Now logic is a wonderful thing but it has, as the processes
of evolution discovered, certain drawbacks.
  Anything that thinks logically can be fooled by something
else which thinks at least as logically as it does. The easiest
way to fool a completely logical robot is to feed it the same
stimulus sequence over and over again so it gets locked in a
loop. This was best demonstrated by the famous Herring Sand-
wich experiments conducted millennia ago at MISPWOSO (The
MaxiMegalon Institute of Slowly and Painfully Working Out the
Surprisingly Obvious).
  A robot was programmed to believe that it liked herring
sandwiches. This was actually the most difficult part of the
whole experiment. Once the robot had been programmed to
believe that it liked herring sandwiches, a herring sandwich was
placed in front of it. Whereupon the robot thought to itself, 'Ah!
A herring sandwich! I like herring sandwiches.'
  It would then bend over and scoop up the herring sandwich
in its herring sandwich scoop, and then straighten up again.
Unfortunately for the robot, it was fashioned in such a way that
the action of straightening up caused the herring sandwich to slip
straight back off its herring sandwich scoop and fall on to the floor
in front of the robot. Whereupon the robot thought to itself, 'Ah!
A herring sandwich . . .' etc., and repeated the same action over
and over and over again. The only thing that prevented the her-
ring sandwich from getting bored with the whole damn business
and crawling off in search of other ways of passing the time was
that the herring sandwich, being just a bit of dead fish between
a couple of slices of bread, was marginally less alert to what was
going on than was the robot.
  The scientists at the Institute thus discovered the driving
force behind all change, development and innovation in life,
which was this: herring sandwiches. They published a paper
to this effect, which was widely criticised as being extremely
stupid. They checked their figures and realised that what they
had actually discovered was 'boredom', or rather, the practical
function of boredom. In a fever of excitement they then went
on to discover other emotions, like 'irritability', 'depression',
'reluctance', 'ickiness' and so on. The next big breakthrough came
when they stopped using herring sandwiches, whereupon a whole
welter of new emotions became suddenly available to them for
study, such as 'relief', 'joy', 'friskiness', 'appetite', 'satisfaction',
and most important of all, the desire for 'happiness'.
  This was the biggest breakthrough of all.
  Vast wodges of complex computer code governing robot behav-
iour in all possible contingencies could be replaced very simply.
All that robots needed was the capacity to be either bored or
happy, and a few conditions that needed to be satisfied in order
to bring those states about. They would then work the rest out
for themselves.
  The robot which Ford had got trapped under his towel was
not, at the moment a happy robot. It was happy when it could
move about. It was happy when it could see other things. It was
particularly happy when it could see other things moving about,
particularly if the other things were moving about doing things
they shouldn't do because it could then, with considerable delight,
report them.
  Ford would soon fix that.
  He squatted over the robot and held it between his knees. The
towel was still covering all of its sensory mechanisms, but Ford
had now got its logic circuits exposed. The robot was whirring
grungily and pettishly, but it could only fidget, it couldn't actually
move. Using the prising tool, Ford eased a small chip out from its
socket. As soon as it came out, the robot went quiet and just sat
there in a coma.
  The chip Ford had taken out was the one which contained
the instructions for all the conditions that had to be fulfilled in
order for the robot to feel happy. The robot would be happy
when a tiny electrical charge from a point just to the left of the
chip reached another point just to the right of the chip. The chip
determined whether the charge got there or not.
  Ford pulled out a small length of wire that had been threaded
into the towel. He dug one end of it into the top left hole of the
chip socket and the other into the bottom right hole.
  That was all it took. Now the robot would be happy whatever
  Ford quickly stood up and whisked the towel away. The
robot rose ecstatically into the air, pursuing a kind of wriggly
  It turned and saw Ford.
  'Mr Prefect, sir! I'm so happy to see you!'
  'Good to see you, little fella,' said Ford.
  The robot rapidly reported back to its central control that
everything was now for the best in this best of all possible
worlds, the alarms rapidly quelled themselves, and life returned
to normal.
  At least, almost to normal.
  There was something odd about the place.
  The little robot was gurgling with electric delight. Ford hurried
on down the corridor, letting the thing bob along in his wake
telling him how delicious everything was, and how happy it was
to be able to tell him that.
  Ford, however, was not happy.
  He passed faces of people he didn't know. They didn't look
like his sort of people. They were too well groomed. Their
eyes were too dead. Every time he thought he saw someone
he recognised in the distance, and hurried along to say hello,
it would turn out to be someone else, with an altogether neater
hairstyle and a much more thrusting, purposeful look than, well,
than anybody Ford knew.
  A staircase had been moved a few inches to the left. A
ceiling had been lowered slightly. A lobby had been remodelled.
All these things were not worrying in themselves, though they
were a little disorienting. The thing that was worrying was the
decor. It used to be brash and glitzy. Expensive - because the
Guide sold so well through the civilised and post-civilised Galaxy
- but expensive and fun. Wild games machines lined the corridors.
Insanely painted grand pianos hung from ceilings, vicious sea
creatures from the planet Viv reared up out of pools in tree-filled
atria, robot butlers in stupid shirts roamed the corridors seeking
whose hands they might press frothing drinks into. People used
to have pet vastdragons on leads and pterospondes on perches in
their offices. People knew how to have a good time, and if they
didn't there were courses they could sign up for which would put
that right.
  There was none of that now.
  Somebody had been through the place doing some iniquitous
kind of taste job on it.
  Ford turned sharply into a small alcove, cupped his hand
and yanked the flying robot in with him. He squatted down
and peered at the burbling cybernaut.
  'What's been happening here?' he demanded.
  'Oh just the nicest things, sir, just the nicest possible things.
Can I sit on your lap, please?'
  'No,' said Ford, brushing the thing away. It was overjoyed
to be spurned in this way and started to bob and burble and
swoon. Ford grabbed it again and stuck it firmly in the air a
foot in front of his face. It tried to stay where it was put but
couldn't help quivering slightly.
  'Something's changed, hasn't it?' Ford hissed.
  'Oh yes,' squealed the little robot, 'in the most fabulous
and wonderful way. I feel so good about it.'
  'Well what was it like before, then?'
  'Scrumptious. '
  'But you like the way it's changed?' demanded Ford.
  'I like everything,' moaned the robot. 'Especially when you
shout at me like that. Do it again, please.'
  'Just tell me what's happened!'
  'Oh thank you, thank you!'
  Ford sighed.
  'OK, OK,' panted the robot. 'The Guide has been taken over.
There's a new management. It's all so gorgeous I could just melt.
The old management was also fabulous of course, though I'm not
sure if I thought so at the time.'
  'That was before you had a bit of wire stuck in your head.'
  'How true. How wonderfully true. How wonderfully, bub-
blingly, frothingly, burstingly true. What a truly ecstasy-induc-
ingly correct observation.'
  'What's happened?' insisted Ford. 'Who is this new man-
agement? When did they take over? I . . . oh, never mind,' he
added, as the little robot started to gibber with uncontrollable
joy and rub itself against his knee. 'I'll go and find out for myself.'
  Ford hurled himself at the door of the editor-in-chief's office,
tucked himself into a tight ball as the frame splintered and
gave way, rolled rapidly across the floor to where the drinks
trolley laden with some of the Galaxy's most potent and expen-
sive beverages habitually stood, seized hold of the trolley and,
using it to give himself cover, trundled it and himself across the
main exposed part of the office floor to where the valuable and
extremely rude statue of Leda and the Octopus stood, and took
shelter behind it. Meanwhile the little security robot, entering at
chest height, was suicidally delighted to draw gunfire away from
  That, at least, was the plan, and a necessary one. The current
editor-in-chief, Stagyar-zil-Doggo, was a dangerously unbalanced
man who took a homicidal view of contributing staff turning up in
his office without pages of fresh, proofed copy, and had a battery
of laser guided guns linked to special scanning devices in the door
frame to deter anybody who was merely bringing extremely good
reasons why they hadn't written any. Thus was a high level of
output maintained.
  Unfortunately the drinks trolley wasn't there.
  Ford hurled himself desperately sideways and somersaulted
towards the statue of Leda and the Octopus, which also wasn't
there. He rolled and hurtled around the room in a kind of random
panic, tripped, span, hit the window, which fortunately was built
to withstand rocket attacks, rebounded, and fell in a bruised and
winded heap behind a smart grey crushed leather sofa, which
hadn't been there before.
  After a few seconds he slowly peeked up above the top of the
sofa. As well as there being no drinks trolley and no Leda and
the Octopus, there had also been a startling absence of gunfire.
He frowned. This was all utterly wrong.
  'Mr Prefect, I assume,' said a voice.
  The voice came from a smooth-faced individual behind a
large ceramo-teak-bonded desk. Stagyar-zil-Doggo may well have
been a hell of an individual, but no one, for a whole variety of
reasons, would ever have called him smooth-faced. This was not
  'I assume from the manner of your entrance that you do not
have new material for the, er, Guide, at the moment,' said the
smooth-faced individual. He was sitting with his elbows resting
on the table and holding his fingertips together in a manner
which, inexplicably, has never been made a capital offence.
  'I've been busy,' said Ford, rather weakly. He staggered
to his feet, brushing himself down. Then he thought, what the
hell was he saying things weakly for? He had to get on top of
this situation. He had to find out who the hell this person was,
and he suddenly thought of a way of doing it.
  'Who the hell are you?' he demanded.
  'I am your new editor-in-chief. That is, if we decide to
retain your services. My name is Vann Harl.' He didn't put his
hand out. He just added, 'What have you done to that security
robot? '
  The little robot was rolling very, very slowly round the ceiling
and moaning quietly to itself.
'I've made it very happy,' snapped Ford. 'It's a kind of
mission I have. Where's Stagyar? More to the point, where's
his drinks trolley?'
  'Mr zil-Doggo is no longer with this organisation. His drinks
trolley is, I imagine, helping to console him for this fact.'
  'Organisation?' yelled Ford. 'Organisation? What a bloody
stupid word for a set-up like this!'
  'Precisely our sentiments. Under-structured, over-resourced,
under-managed, over-inebriated. And that,' said Harl, 'was just
the editor.'
  'I'll do the jokes,' snarled Ford.
  'No,' said Harl. 'You will do the restaurant column.'
  He tossed a piece of plastic on to the desk in front of
him. Ford did not move to pick it up.
  'You what?' said Ford.
  'No. Me Harl. You Prefect. You do restaurant column. Me
editor. Me sit here tell you you do restaurant column. You get?'
  'Restaurant column?' said Ford, too bewildered to be really
angry yet.
  'Siddown, Prefect,' said Harl. He swung round in his swivel
chair, got to his feet, and stood staring out at the tiny specks
enjoying the carnival twenty-three stories below.
  'Time to get this business on its feet, Prefect,' he snapped.
'We at InfiniDim Enterprises are . . .'
  'You at what?'
  'InfiniDim Enterprises. We have bought out the Guide.'
  'We spent millions on that name, Prefect. Start liking it
or start packing.'
  Ford shrugged. He had nothing to pack.
  'The Galaxy is changing,' said Harl. 'We've got to change
with it. Go with the market. The market is moving up. New
aspirations. New technology. The future is . . .'
  'Don't tell me about the future,' said Ford. 'I've been all over
the future. Spend half my time there. It's the same as anywhere
else. Anywhen else. Whatever. Just the same old stuff in faster
cars and smellier air.'
  'That's one future,' said Harl. 'That's your future, if you
accept it. You've got to learn to think multi-dimensionally.
There are limitless futures stretching out in every direction from
this moment - and from this moment and from this. Billions of
them, bifurcating every instant! Every possible position of every
possible electron balloons out into billions of probabilities! Bil-
lions and billions of shining, gleaming futures! You know what
that means?'
  'You're dribbling down your chin.'
  'Billions and billions of markets!'
  'I see,' said Ford. 'So you sell billions and billions of Guides.'
  'No,' said Harl, reaching for his handkerchief and not finding
one. 'Excuse me,' he said, 'but this gets me so excited.' Ford
handed him his towel.
  'The reason we don't sell billions and billions of Guides,'
continued Harl, after wiping his mouth, 'is the expense. What we
do is we sell one Guide billions and billions of times. We exploit
the multidimensional nature of the Universe to cut down on
manufacturing costs. And we don't sell to penniless hitch hikers.
What a stupid notion that was! Find the one section of the market
that, more or less by definition, doesn't have any money, and try
and sell to it. No. We sell to the affluent business traveller and
his vacationing wife in a billion, billion different futures. This is
the most radical, dynamic and thrusting business venture in the
entire multidimensional infinity of space/time/probability ever.'
  'And you want me to be its restaurant critic,' said Ford.
  'We would value your input.'
  'Kill!' shouted Ford. He shouted it at his towel.
  The towel leapt up out of Harl's hands.
  This was not because it had any motive force of its own,
but because Harl was so startled at the idea that it might.
The next thing that startled him was the sight of Ford Prefect
hurtling across the desk at him fists first. In fact Ford was just
lunging for the credit card, but you don't get to occupy the sort
of position that Harl occupied in the sort of organisation in
which Harl occupied it without developing a healthily paranoid
view of life. He took the sensible precaution of hurling himself
backwards, and striking his head a sharp blow on the rocket-proof
glass, then subsided into a series of worrying and highly personal
  Ford lay on the desk, surprised at how swimmingly every-
thing had gone. He glanced quickly at the piece of plastic he
now held in his hand- it was a Dine-O-Charge credit card with
his name already embossed on it, and an expiry date two years
from now, and was possibly the single most exciting thing Ford
had ever seen in his life - then he clambered over the desk to
see to Harl.
  He was breathing fairly easily. It occurred to Ford that he
might breathe more easily yet without the weight of his wallet
bearing down on his chest, so he slipped it out of Harl's breast
pocket and flipped through it. Fair amount of cash. Credit tokens.
Ultragolf club membership. Other club memberships. Photos of
someone's wife and family - presumably Harl's, but it was hard
to be sure these days. Busy executives often didn't have time
for a full-time wife and family and would just rent them for
weekends .
  He couldn't believe what he'd just found.
  He slowly drew out from the wallet a single and insanely
exciting piece of plastic that was nestling amongst a bunch of
  It wasn't insanely exciting to look at. It was rather dull in
fact. It was smaller and a little thicker than a credit card and
semi-transparent. If you held it up to the light you could see
a lot of holographically encoded information and images buried
pseudo-inches deep beneath its surface.
  It was an Ident-i-Eeze, and was a very naughty and silly
thing for Harl to have Iying around in his wallet, though it was
perfectly understandable. There were so many different ways in
which you were required to provide absolute proof of your iden-
tity these days that life could easily become extremely tiresome
just from that factor alone, never mind the deeper existential
problems of trying to function as a coherent consciousness in an
epistemologically ambiguous physical universe. Just look at cash
point machines, for instance. Queues of people standing around
waiting to have their fingerprints read, their retinas scanned, bits
of skin scraped from the nape of the neck and undergoing instant
(or nearly instant- a good six or seven seconds in tedious
reality) genetic analysis, then having to answer trick questions
about members of their family they didn't even remember they
had, and about their recorded preferences for tablecloth colours.
And that was just to get a bit of spare cash for the weekend. If
you were trying to raise a loan for a jetcar, sign a missile treaty
or pay an entire restaurant bill things could get really trying.
  Hence the Ident-i-Eeze. This encoded every single piece of
information about you, your body and your life into one all-
purpose machine-readable card that you could then carry around
in your wallet, and therefore represented technology's greatest
triumph to date over both itself and plain common sense.
  Ford pocketed it. A remarkably good idea had just occurred
to him. He wondered how long Harl would remain unconscious.
  'Hey!' he shouted to the little melon-sized robot still slobbering
with euphoria up on the ceiling. 'You want to stay happy?'
  The robot gurgled that it did.
  'Then stick with me and do everything I tell you without fail.'
  The robot said that it was quite happy where it was up
on the ceiling thank you very much. It had never realised
before how much sheer titillation there was to be got from a
good ceiling and it wanted to explore its feelings about ceilings
in greater depth.
  'You stay there,' said Ford, 'and you'll soon be recaptured
and have your conditional chip replaced. You want to stay
happy, come now.'
  The robot let out a long heartfelt sigh of impassioned tristesse
and sank reluctantly away from the ceiling.
  'Listen,' said Ford, 'can you keep the rest of the security
system happy for a few minutes?'
  'One of the joys of true happiness,' trilled the robot, 'is
sharing. I brim, I froth, I overflow with . . .'
  'OK,' said Ford. 'Just spread a little happiness around the
security network. Don't give it any information. Just make it
feel good so it doesn't feel the need to ask for any.'
  He picked up his towel and ran cheerfully for the door.
Life had been a little dull of late. It showed every sign now
of becoming extremely froody.


  Arthur Dent had been in some hell-holes in his life, but he had
never before seen a spaceport which had a sign saying, 'Even
travelling despondently is better than arriving here.' To welcome
visitors the arrivals hall featured a picture of the President of
NowWhat, smiling. It was the only picture anybody could find
of him, and it had been taken shortly after he had shot himself
so although the photo had been retouched as well as could be
managed the smile it wore was rather a ghastly one. The side
of his head had been drawn back in in crayon. No replacement
had been found for the photograph because no replacement had
. been found for the President. There was only one ambition which
anyone on the planet ever had, and that was to leave.
  Arthur checked himself into a small motel on the outskirts of
town, and sat glumly on the bed, which was damp, and flipped
through the little information brochure, which was also damp. It
said that the planet of NowWhat had been named after the open-
ing words of the first settlers to arrive there after struggling across
light years of space to reach the furthest unexplored outreaches of
the Galaxy. The main town was called OhWell. There weren't any
other towns to speak of. Settlement on NowWhat had not been
a success and the sort of people who actually wanted to live on
NowWhat were not the sort of people you would want to spend
time with.
  Trading was mentioned in the brochure. The main trade that
was carried out was in the skins of the NowWhattian boghog but
it wasn't a very successful one because no one in their right minds
would want to buy a NowWhattian boghog skin. The trade only
hung on by its fingernails because there was always a significant
number of people in the Galaxy who were not in their right minds.
Arthur had felt very uncomfortable looking around at some of
the other occupants of the small passenger compartment of the
  The brochure described some of the history of the planet.
Whoever had written it had obviously started out trying to drum
up a little enthusiasm for the place by stressing that it wasn't
actually cold and wet all the time, but could find little positive
to add to this so the tone of the piece quickly degenerated into
savage irony.
  It talked about the early years of settlement. It said that the
major activities pursued on NowWhat were those of catching,
skinning and eating NowWhattian boghogs, which were the only
extant form of animal life on NowWhat, all other having long
ago died of despair. The boghogs were tiny, vicious creatures,
and the small margin by which they fell short of being completely
inedible was the margin by which life on the planet subsisted.
So what were the rewards, however small, that made life on
NowWhat worth living? Well, there weren't any. Not a one.
Even making yourself some protective clothing out of boghog
skins was an exercise in disappointment and futility, since the
skins were unaccountably thin and leaky. This caused a lot of
puzzled conjecture amongst the settlers. What was the boghog's
secret of keeping warm? If anyone had ever learnt the language
the boghogs spoke to each other they would have discovered
that there was no trick. The boghogs were as cold and wet as
anyone else on the planet. No one had had the slightest desire
to learn the language of the boghogs for the simple reason that
these creatures communicated by biting each other very hard on
the thigh. Life on NowWhat being what it was, most of what a
boghog might have to say about it could easily be signified by
these means.
  Arthur flipped through the brochure till he found what he
was looking for. At the back there were a few maps of the
planet. They were fairly rough and ready because they weren't
likely to be of much interest to anyone, but they told him what
he wanted to know.
  He didn't recognise it at first because the maps were the
other way up from the way he would have expected and looked,
therefore, thoroughly unfamiliar. Of course, up and down, north
and south, are absolutely arbitrary designations, but we are used
to seeing things the way we are used to seeing them, and
Arthur had to turn the maps upside-down to make sense of
  There was one huge landmass off on the upper left-hand
side of the page which tapered down to a tiny waist and then
ballooned out again like a large comma. On the right-hand side
was a collection of large shapes jumbled familiarly together. The
outlines were not exactly the same, and Arthur didn't know if this
was because the map was so rough, or because the sea-level was
higher or because, well, things were just different here. But the
evidence was inarguable.
  This was definitely the Earth.
  Or rather, it most definitely was not.
  It merely looked a lot like the Earth and occupied the same
co-ordinates in space/time. What co-ordinates it occupied in
Probability was anybody's guess.
  He sighed.
  This, he realised, was about as close to home as he was
likely to get. Which meant that he was about as far from home
as he could possibly be. Glumly he slapped the brochure shut
and wondered what on earth he was going to do next.
  He allowed himself a hollow laugh at what he had just
thought. He looked at his old watch, and shook it a bit to wind it.
It had taken him, according to his own time-scale, a year of hard
travelling to get here. A year since the accident in hyperspace in
which Fenchurch had completely vanished. One minute she had
been sitting there next to him in the SlumpJet; the next minute
the ship had done a perfectly normal hyperspace hop and when
he had next looked she was not there. The seat wasn't even
warm. Her name wasn't even on the passenger list.
  The spaceline had been wary of him when he had complained.
A lot of awkward things happen in space travel, and a lot of them
make a lot of money for lawyers. But when they had asked him
what Galactic Sector he and Fenchurch had been from and he
had said ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha they had relaxed completely in a
way that Arthur wasn't at all sure he liked. They even laughed
a little, though sympathetically, of course. They pointed to the
clause in the ticket contract which said that the entities whose
lifespans had originated in any of the Plural zones were advised
not to travel in hyperspace and did so at their own risk. Every-
body, they said, knew that. They tittered slightly and shook their
  As Arthur had left their offices he found he was trembling
slightly. Not only had he lost Fenchurch in the most complete
and utter way possible, but he felt that the more time he spent
away out in the Galaxy the more it seemed that the number of
things he didn't know anything about actually increased.
  Just as he was lost for a moment in these numb memories a
knock came on the door of his motel room, which then opened
immediately. A fat and dishevelled man came in carrying Arthur's
one small case.
  He got as far as, 'Where shall I put-' when there was
a sudden violent flurry and he collapsed heavily against the
door, trying to beat off a small and mangy creature that had
leapt snarling out of the wet night and buried its teeth in his
thigh, even through the thick layers of leather padding he wore
there. There was a brief, ugly confusion of jabbering and thrash-
ing. The man shouted frantically and pointed. Arthur grabbed a
hefty stick that stood next to the door expressly for this purpose
and beat at the boghog with it.
  The boghog suddenly disengaged and limped backwards, dazed
and forlorn. It turned anxiously in the corner of the room, its tail
tucked up right under its back legs, and stood looking nervously
up at Arthur, jerking its head awkwardly and repeatedly to one
side. Its jaw seemed to be dislocated. It cried a little and scraped
its damp tail across the floor. By the door, the fat man with
Arthur's suitcase was sitting and cursing, trying to staunch the
flow of blood from his thigh. His clothes were already wet from
the rain.
  Arthur stared at the boghog, not knowing what to do. The
boghog looked at him questioningly. It tried to approach him,
making mournful little whimpering noises. It moved its jaw pain-
fully. It made a sudden leap for Arthur's thigh, but its dislocated
jaw was too weak to get a grip and it sank, whining sadly, down
to the floor. The fat man jumped to his feet, grabbed the stick,
beat the boghog's brains into a sticky, pulpy mess on the thin
carpet, and then stood there breathing heavily as if daring the
animal to move again, just once.
  A single boghog eyeball sat looking reproachfully at Arthur
from out of the mashed ruins of its head.
  'What do you think it was trying to say?' asked Arthur
in a small voice.
  'Ah, nothing much,' said the man. 'Just its way of trying
to be friendly. This is just our way of being friendly back,'
he added, gripping the stick.
  'When's the next flight out?' asked Arthur.
  'Thought you'd only just arrived,' said the man.
  'Yes,' said Arthur. 'It was only going to be a brief visit.
I just wanted to see if this was the right place or not. Sorry.'
'You mean you're on the wrong planet?' said the man lugu-
briously. 'Funny how many people say that. Specially the people
who live here.' He eyed the remains of the boghog with a deep,
ancestral resentment.
  'Oh no,' said Arthur, 'it's the right planet all right.' He
picked up the damp brochure Iying on the bed and put it in
his pocket. 'It's OK, thanks, I'll take that,' he said, taking his
case from the man. He went to the door and looked out into
the cold, wet night.
  'Yes, it's the right planet, all right,' he said again. 'Right
planet, wrong universe.'
  A single bird wheeled in the sky above him as he set off
back for the spaceport.


  Ford had his own code of ethics. It wasn't much of one, but it
was his and he stuck by it, more or less. One rule he made was
never to buy his own drinks. He wasn't sure if that counted as an
ethic, but you have to go with what you've got. He was also firmly
and utterly opposed to all and any forms of cruelty to any animals
whatsoever except geese. And furthermore he would never steal
from his employers.
  Well, not exactly steal.
  If his accounts supervisor didn't start to hyperventilate and
put out a seal-all-exits security alert when Ford handed in his
expenses claim then Ford felt he wasn't doing his job properly.
But actually stealing was another thing. That was biting the hand
that feeds you. Sucking very hard on it, even nibbling it in an
affectionate kind of a way was OK, but you didn't actually bite
it. Not when that hand was the Guide. The Guide was something
sacred and special.
  But that, thought Ford as he ducked and weaved his way
down through the building, was about to change. And they
had only themselves to blame. Look at all this stuff. Lines of
neat grey office cubicles and executive workstation pods. The
whole place was dreary with the hum of memos and minutes of
meetings flitting through its electronic networks. Out in the street
they were playing Hunt the Wocket for Zark's sake, but here in
the very heart of the Guide offices no one was even recklessly
kicking a ball around the corridors or wearing inappropriately
coloured beachware.
  'InfiniDim Enterprises,' Ford snarled to himself as he stalked
rapidly down one corridor after another. Door after door magi-
cally opened to him without question. Elevators took him happily
to places they should not. Ford was trying to pursue the most
tangled and complicated route he could, heading generally down-
wards through the building. His happy little robot took care of
everything, spreading waves of acquiescent joy through all the
security circuits it encountered.
  Ford thought it needed a name and decided to call it Emily
Saunders, after a girl he had very fond memories of. Then he
thought that Emily Saunders was an absurd name for a security
robot, and decided to call it Colin instead, after Emily's dog.
  He was moving deep into the bowels of the building now,
into areas he had never entered before, areas of higher and
higher security. He was beginning to encounter puzzled looks
from the operatives he passed. At this level of security you
didn't even call them people anymore. And they were probably
doing stuff that only operatives would do. When they went home
to their families in the evening they became people again, and
when their little children looked up to them with their sweet
shining eyes and said 'Daddy, what did you do all day today?'
they just said, 'I performed my duties as an operative,' and left
it at that.
  The truth of the matter was that all sorts of highly dodgy
stuff went on behind the cheery, happy-go-lucky front that the
Guide liked to put up - or used to like to put up before this new
InfiniDim Enterprises bunch marched in and started to make the
whole thing highly dodgy. There were all kinds of tax scams and
rackets and graft and shady deals supporting the shining edifice,
and down in the secure research and data-processing levels of
the building was where it all went on.
  Every few years the Guide would set up its business, and
indeed its building on a new world, and all would be sunshine
and laughter for a while as the Guide would put down its roots
in the local culture and economy, provide employment, a sense
of glamour and adventure and, in the end, not quite as much
actual revenue as the locals had expected.
  When the Guide moved on, taking its building with it, it
left a little like a thief in the night. Exactly like a thief in
the night in fact. It usually left in the very early hours of
the morning, and the following day there always turned out
to be a very great deal of stuff missing. Whole cultures and
economies would collapse in its wake, often within a week,
leaving once thriving planets desolate and shell-shocked but
still somehow feeling they had been part of some great adven-
  The 'operatives' who shot puzzled glances at Ford as he
marched on into the depths of the building's most sensitive
areas were reassured by the presence of Colin, who was flying
along with him in a buzz of emotional fulfilment and easing his
path for him at every stage.
  Alarms were starting to go off in other parts of the building.
Perhaps that meant that Vann Harl had already been discovered,
which might be a problem. Ford had been hoping he would be
able to slip the Ident-i-Eeze back into his pocket before he came
round. Well, that was a problem for later, and he didn't for the
moment have the faintest idea how he was going to solve it. For
the moment he wasn't going to worry. Wherever he went with
little Colin, he was surrounded by a cocoon of sweetness and
light and, most importantly, willing and acquiescent elevators
and positively obsequious doors.
  Ford even began to whistle, which was probably his mistake.
Nobody likes a whistler, particularly not the divinity that shapes
our ends.
  The next door wouldn't open.
  And that was a pity, because it was the very one that Ford
had been making for. It stood there before him, grey and
resolutely closed with a sign on it saying:
  Colin reported that the doors had been getting generally a
lot grimmer down in these lower reaches of the building.
  They were about ten stories below ground level now. The
air was refrigerated and the tasteful grey hessian wall-weave
had given way to brutal grey bolted steel walls. Colin's rampant
euphoria had subsided into a kind of determined cheeriness. He
said that he was beginning to tire a little. It was taking all his
energy to pump the slightest bonhomie whatsoever into the doors
down here.
  Ford kicked at the door. It opened.
  'Mixture of pleasure and pain,' he muttered. 'Always does
the trick.'
  He walked in and Colin flew in after him. Even with a
wire stuck straight into his pleasure electrode his happiness
was a nervous kind of happiness. He bobbed around a little.
  The room was small, grey and humming.
  This was the nerve centre of the entire Guide.
  The computer terminals that lined the grey walls were win-
dows on to every aspect of the Guide's operations. Here, on the
left-hand side of the room, reports were gathered over the Sub-
Etha-Net from field researchers in every corner of the Galaxy,
fed straight up into the network of sub-editor's offices where they
had all the good bits cut out by secretaries because the sub-editors
were out having lunch. The remaining copy would then be shot
across to the other half of the building - the other leg of the 'H'
- which was the legal department. The legal department would
cut out anything that was still even remotely good from what
remained and fire it back to the offices of the executive editors,
who were also out at lunch. So the editors' secretaries would read
it and say it was stupid and cut most of what was left.
  When any of the editors finally staggered in from lunch they
would exclaim 'What is this feeble crap that X' - where X was
the name of the field researcher in question - 'has sent us from
half-way across the bloody Galaxy? What's the point of having
somebody spending three whole orbital periods out in the bloody
Gagrakacka Mind Zones, with all that stuff going on out there,
if this load of anaemic squitter is the best he can be bothered to
send us. Disallow his expenses!'
  'What shall we do with the copy?' the secretary would ask.
  'Ah, put it out over the network. Got to have something
going out there. I've got a headache, I'm going home.'
  So the edited copy would go for one last slash and burn
through the legal department, and then be sent back down
here where it would be broadcast out over the Sub-Etha-Net
for instantaneous retrieval anywhere in the Galaxy. That was
handled by equipment which was monitored and controlled by
the terminals on the right-hand side of the room.
  Meanwhile the order to disallow the researcher's expenses
was relayed down to the computer terminal stuck off in the
right-hand corner, and it was to this terminal that Ford Prefect
now swiftly made his way.
  (If you are reading this on planet Earth then:
  a) Good luck to you. There is an awful lot of stuff you
don't know anything about, but you are not alone in this. It's
just that in your case the consequences of not knowing any of
this stuff are particularly terrible, but then, hey, that's just the
way the cookie gets completely stomped on and obliterated.
  b) Don't imagine you know what a computer terminal is.
A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with
a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and
body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.)
  Ford hurried over to the terminal, sat in front of it and
quickly dipped himself into its universe.
  It wasn't the normal universe he knew. It was a universe of
densely enfolded worlds, of wild topographies, towering moun-
tain peaks, heart stopping ravines, of moons shattering off into
sea horses, hurtful blurting crevices, silently heaving oceans and
bottomless hurtling hooping funts.
  He held still to get his bearings. He controlled his breathing,
closed his eyes and looked again.
  So this was where accountants spent their time. There was
clearly more to them than met the eye. He looked around
carefully, trying not to let it all swell and swim and overwhelm
  He didn't know his way around this universe. He didn't
even know the physical laws that determined its dimensional
extents or behaviours, but his instinct told him to look for the
most outstanding feature he could detect and make towards it.
  Way off in some indistinguishable distance - was it a mile
or a million or a mote in his eye? - was a stunning peak that
overarched the sky, climbed and climbed and spread out in
flowering aigrettes [An ornamental tuft of plumes],
agglomerates [A jumbled mass], and archimandrites
[A cleric ranking below a bishop].
  He weltered towards it, hooling and thurling, and at last
reached it in a meaninglessly long umthingth of time.
  He clung to it, arms outspread, gripping tightly on to its
roughly gnarled and pitted surface. Once he was certain that
he was secure he made the hideous mistake of looking down.
  While he had been weltering, hooling and thurling, the distance
beneath him had not bothered him unduly, but now that he was
  gripping, the distance made his heart wilt and his brain bend.
His fingers were white with pain and tension. His teeth were
grinding and twisting against each other beyond his control. His
eyes turned inwards with waves from the willowing extremities
of nausea.
  With an immense effort of will and faith he simply let go
and pushed.
  He felt himself float. Away. And then, counter-intuitively,
upwards. And upwards.
  He threw his shoulders back, let his arms drop, gazed upwards
and let himself be drawn loosely, higher and higher.
  Before long, insofar as such terms had any meaning in this
virtual universe, a ledge loomed up ahead of him on which he
could grip and on to which he could clamber.
  He rose, he gripped, he clambered.
  He panted a little. This was all a little stressful.
  He held tightly on to the ledge as he sat. He wasn't certain if
this was to prevent himself from falling down off it or rising up
from it, but he needed something to grip on to as he surveyed
the world in which he found himself.
  The whirling, turning height span him and twisted his brain
in upon itself till he found himself, eyes closed, whimpering and
hugging the hideous wall of towering rock.
  He slowly brought his breathing back under control again.
He told himself repeatedly that he was just in a graphic rep-
resentation of a world. A virtual universe. A simulated reality.
He could snap back out of it at any moment.
  He snapped back out of it.
  He was sitting in a blue leatherette foam filled swivel-seated
office chair in front of a computer terminal.
  He relaxed.
  He was clinging to the face of an impossibly high peak perched
on a narrow ledge above a drop of brain-swivelling dimensions.
  It wasn't just the landscape being so far beneath him -
he wished it would stop undulating and waving.
He had to get a grip. Not on the rock wall - that was an
illusion. He had to get a grip on the situation, be able to look
at the physical world he was in while drawing himself out of it
  He clenched inwardly and then, just as he had let go of the
rock face itself, he let go of the idea of the rock face and let
himself just sit there clearly and freely. He looked out at the
world. He was breathing well. He was cool. He was in charge
  He was in a four-dimensional topological model of the Guide's
financial systems, and somebody or something would very shortly
want to know why.
  And here they came.
  Swooping through virtual space towards him came a small
flock of mean and steely-eyed creatures with pointy little heads,
pencil moustaches and querulous demands as to who he was,
what he was doing there, what his authorisation was, what the
authorisation of his authorising agent was, what his inside leg
measurement was and so on. Laser light flickered all over him
as if he was a packet of biscuits at a supermarket check-out. The
heavier duty laser guns were held, for the moment, in reserve.
The fact that all of this was happening in virtual space made no
difference. Being virtually killed by a virtual laser in virtual space
is just as effective as the real thing, because you are as dead as
you think you are.
  The laser readers were becoming very agitated as they flickered
over his fingerprints, his retina and the follicle pattern where his
hair line was receding. They didn't like what they were finding at
all. The chattering and screeching of highly personal and insolent
questions was rising in pitch. A little surgical steel scraper was
reaching out towards the skin at the nape of his neck when
Ford, holding his breath and praying very slightly, pulled Vann
Harl's Ident-i-Eeze out of his pocket and waved it in front of
  Instantly every laser was diverted to the little card and swept
backwards and forwards over it and in it, examining and reading
every molecule.
  Then, just as suddenly, they stopped.
  The entire flock of little virtual inspectors snapped to attention.
  'Nice to see you, Mr Harl,' they said in smarmy unison.
'Is there anything we can do for you?'
  Ford smiled a slow and vicious smile.
  'Do you know,' he said, 'I rather think there is?'
  Five minutes later he was out of there.
  About thirty seconds to do the job, and three minutes thirty
to cover his tracks. He could have done anything he liked in
the virtual structure, more or less. He could have transferred
ownership of the entire organisation into his own name, but he
doubted if that would have gone unnoticed. He didn't want it
anyway. It would have meant responsibility, working late nights
at the office, not to mention massive and time-consuming fraud
investigations and a fair amount of time in j ail . He wanted
something that nobody other than the computer would notice:
that was the bit that took thirty seconds.
  The thing that took three minutes thirty was programming
the computer not to notice that it had noticed anything.
  It had to want not to know about what Ford was up to, and
then he could safely leave the computer to rationalise its own
defences against the information ever emerging. It was a pro-
gramming technique that had been reverse-engineered from the
sort of psychotic mental blocks that otherwise perfectly normal
people had been observed invariably to develop when elected to
high political office.
  The other minute was spent discovering that the computer
system already had a mental block. A big one.
  He would never have discovered it if he hadn't been busy
engineering a mental block himself. He came across a whole
slew of smooth and plausible denial procedures and diversionary
subroutines exactly where he had been planning to install his
own. The computer denied all knowledge of them, of course,
then blankly refused to accept that there was anything even to
deny knowledge of, and was generally so convincing that even
Ford almost found himself thinking he must have made a mistake.
  He was impressed.
  He was so impressed, in fact, that he didn't bother to install
his own mental block procedures, he just set up calls to the ones
that were already there, which then called themselves when ques-
tioned, and so on.
  He quickly set about debugging the little bits of code he had
installed himself, only to discover they weren't there. Cursing,
he searched all over for them, but could find no trace of them
at all.
  He was just about to start installing them all over again when
he realised that the reason he couldn't find them was that they
were working already.
  He grinned with satisfaction.
  He tried to discover what the computer's other mental block
was all about, but it seemed, not unnaturally, to have a mental
block about it. He could no longer find any trace of it at all, in
fact; it was that good. He wondered if he had been imagining
it. He wondered if he had been imagining that it was something
to do with something in the building, and something to do with
the number 13. He ran a few tests. Yes, he had obviously been
imagining it.
  No time for fancy routes now, there was obviously a major
security alert in progress. Ford took the elevator up to the ground
floor to change to the express elevators. He had somehow to get
the Ident-i-Eeze back into Harl's pocket before it was missed.
How, he didn't know.
  The doors of the elevator slid open to reveal a large posse of
security guards and robots poised waiting for it and brandishing
filthy looking weapons.
  They ordered him out.
  With a shrug he stepped forward. They all pushed rudely
past him into the elevator which took them down to continue
their search for him on the lower levels.
  This was fun, thought Ford, giving Colin a friendly pat.
Colin was about the first genuinely useful robot Ford had ever
encountered. Colin bobbed along in the air in front of him in a
lather of cheerful ecstasy. Ford was glad he'd named him after
a dog.
  He was highly tempted just to leave at that point and hope
for the best, but he knew that the best had a far greater chance
of actually occurring if Harl did not discover that his Ident-i-Eeze
was missing. He had somehow, surreptitiously, to return it.
  They went to the express elevators.
  'Hi,' said the elevator they got into.
  'Hi,' said Ford.
  'Where can I take you folks today?' said the elevator.
  'Floor 23,' said Ford.
  'Seems to be a popular floor today,' said the elevator.
  'Hmm,' thought Ford, not liking the sound of that at all.
The elevator lit up the twenty-third floor on its floor display
and started to zoom upwards. Something about the floor display
tweaked at Ford's mind but he couldn't catch what it was and
forgot about it. He was more worried about the idea of the floor
he was going to being a popular one. He hadn't really thought
through how he was going to deal with whatever it was that was
happening up there because he had no idea what he was going
to find. He would just have to busk it.
  They were there.
  The doors slid open.
  Ominous quiet.
  Empty corridor.
  There was the door to Harl's office, with a slight layer of
dust around it. Ford knew that this dust consisted of billions of
tiny molecular robots that had crawled out of the woodwork,
built each other, rebuilt the door, disassembled each other and
then crept back into the woodwork again and just waited for
damage. Ford wondered what kind of life that was, but not for
long because he was a lot more concerned about what his own
life was like at that moment.
  He took a deep breath and started his run.


  Arthur felt at a bit of a loss. There was a whole Galaxy of stuff
out there for him, and he wondered if it was churlish of him to
complain to himself that it lacked just two things: the world he
was born on and the woman he loved.
  Damn it and blast it, he thought, and felt the need of some
guidance and advice. He consulted the Hitch Hiker's Guide to
the Galaxy. He looked up 'guidance' and it said 'See under
ADVICE'. He looked up 'advice' and it said 'see under GUID-
ANCE'. It had been doing a lot of that kind of stuff recently and
he wondered if it was all it was cracked up to be.
  He headed to the outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy where, it
was said, wisdom and truth were to be found, most particularly
on the planet Hawalius, which was a planet of oracles and seers
and soothsayers and also take-away pizza shops, because most
mystics were completely incapable of cooking for themselves.
  However it appeared that some sort of calamity had befallen
this planet. As Arthur wandered the streets of the village where
the major prophets lived, it had something of a crestfallen air.
  He came across one prophet who was clearly shutting up shop
in a despondent kind of way and asked him what was happening.
  'No call for us any more,' he said gruffly as he started to
bang a nail into the plank he was holding across the window of
his hovel.
  'Oh? Why's that?'
  'Hold on to the other end of this and I'll show you.'
  Arthur held up the unnailed end of the plank and the old
prophet scuttled into the recesses of his hovel, returning a
moment or two later with a small Sub-Etha radio. He turned it
on, fiddled with the dial for a moment and put the thing on the
small wooden bench that he usually sat and prophesied on. He
then took hold of the plank again and resumed hammering.
  Arthur sat and listened to the radio.
  '. . . be confirmed,' said the radio.
  'Tomorrow,' it continued, 'the Vice-President of Poffla Vigus,
Roopy Ga Stip, will announce that he intends to run for Presi-
dent. In a speech he will give tomorrow at . . .'
  'Find another channel,' said the prophet. Arthur pushed the
preset button.
  '. . . refused to comment,' said the radio. 'Next week's jobless
totals in the Zabush sector,' it continued, 'will be the worst since
records began. A report published next month says . . .'
  'Find another,' barked the prophet, crossly. Arthur pushed
the button again.
  '. . . denied it categorically,' said the radio. 'Next month's
Royal Wedding between Prince Gid of the Soofling Dynasty
and Princess Hooli of Raui Alpha will be the most spectacular
ceremony the Bjanjy Territories has ever witnessed. Our reporter
Trillian Astra is there and sends us this report.'
  Arthur blinked.
  The sound of cheering crowds and a hubbub of brass bands
erupted from the radio. A very familiar voice said, 'Well Krart,
the scene here in the middle of next month is absolutely incred-
ible. Princess Hooli is looking radiant in a . . .
  The prophet swiped the radio off the bench and on to the
dusty ground, where it squawked like a badly tuned chicken.
  'See what we have to contend with?' grumbled the prophet.
'Here, hold this. Not that, this. No, not like that. This way up.
Other way round, you fool.'
  'I was listening to that,' complained Arthur, grappling help-
lessly with the prophet's hammer.
  'So does everybody. That's why this place is like a ghost
town.' He spat into the dust.
  'No, I mean, that sounded like someone I knew.'
  'Princess Hooli? If I had to stand around saying hello to
everybody who's known Princess Hooli I'd need a new set of
  'Not the Princess,' said Arthur. 'The reporter. Her name's
Trillian. I don't know where she got the Astra from. She's from
the same planet as me. I wondered where she'd got to.'
  'Oh, she's all over the continuum these days. We can't get
the tri-d TV stations out here of course, thank the Great Green
Arkleseizure, but you hear her on the radio, gallivanting here
and there through space/time. She wants to settle down and find
herself a steady era that young lady does. It'll all end in tears.
Probably already has.' He swung with his hammer and hit his
thumb rather hard. He started to speak in tongues.
  The village of oracles wasn't much better.
  He had been told that when looking for a good oracle it
was best to find the oracle that other oracles went to, but he
was shut. There was a sign by the entrance saying, 'I just don't
know any more. Try next door, but that's just a suggestion, not
formal oracular advice.'
  'Next door' was a cave a few hundred yards away and Arthur
walked towards it. Smoke and steam were rising from, respec-
tively, a small fire and a battered tin pot that was hanging over
it. There was also a very nasty smell coming from the pot. At
least, Arthur thought it was coming from the pot. The distended
bladders of some of the local goat-like things were hanging from
a propped-up line drying in the sun, and the smell could have been
coming from them. There was also, a worryingly small distance
away, a pile of discarded bodies of the local goat-like things and
the smell could have been coming from them.
  But the smell could just as easily have been coming from
the old lady who was busy beating flies away from the pile
of bodies. It was a hopeless task because each of the flies was
about the size of a winged bottle top and all she had was a table
tennis bat. Also she seemed half blind. Every now and then, by
chance, her wild thrashing would connect with one of the flies
with a richly satisfying thunk, and the fly would hurtle through
the air and smack itself open against the rock face a few yards
from the entrance to her cave.
  She gave every impression, by her demeanour, that these
were the moments she lived for.
  Arthur watched this exotic performance for a while from
a polite distance, and then at last tried giving a gentle cough
to attract her attention. The gentle cough, courteously meant,
unfortunately involved first inhaling rather more of the local
atmosphere than he had so far been doing and as a result, he
erupted into a fit of raucous expectoration, and collapsed against
the rock face, choking and streaming with tears. He struggled for
breath, but each new breath made things worse. He vomited,
half-choked again, rolled over his vomit, kept rolling for a few
yards, and eventually made it up on to his hands and knees and
crawled, panting, into slightly fresher air.
  'Excuse me,' he said. He got some breath back. 'I really
am most dreadfully sorry. I feel a complete idiot and . . .' He
gestured helplessly towards the small pile of his own vomit Iying
spread around the entrance to her cave.
  'What can I say?' he said. 'What can I possibly say?'
  This at least had gained her attention. She looked round
at him suspiciously, but, being half blind, had difficulty finding
him in the blurred and rocky landscape.
  He waved, helpfully. 'Hello!' he called.
  At last she spotted him, grunted to herself and turned back
to whacking flies.
  It was horribly apparent from the way that currents of air
moved when she did, that the major source of the smell was
in fact her. The drying bladders, the festering bodies and the
noxious potage may all have been making violent contributions
to the atmosphere, but the major olfactory presence was the
woman herself.
  She got another good thwack at a fly. It smacked against
the rock and dribbled its insides down it in what she clearly
regarded, if she could see that far, as a satisfactory manner.
  Unsteadily, Arthur got to his feet and brushed himself down
with a fistful of dried grass. He didn't know what else to do by
way of announcing himself. He had half a mind just to wander
off again, but felt awkward about leaving a pile of his vomit
in front of the entrance to the woman's home. He wondered
what to do about it. He started to pluck up more handsful
of the scrubby dried grass that was to be found here and
there. He was worried, though, that if he ventured nearer
to the vomit he might simply add to it rather than clear it
  Just as he was debating with himself as to what the right
course of action was he began to realise that she was at last
saying something to him.
  'I beg your pardon?' he called out.
  'I said, can I help you?' she said, in a thin, scratchy voice,
that he could only just hear.
  'Er, I came to ask your advice,' he called back, feeling
a bit ridiculous.
  She turned to peer at him, myopically, then turned back,
swiped at a fly and missed.
  'What about?' she said.
  'I beg your pardon?' he said.
  'I said, what about?' she almost screeched.
'Well,' said Arthur. 'Just sort of general advice, really. It
said in the brochure- '
  'Ha! Brochure!' spat the old woman. She seemed to be
waving her bat more or less at random now.
  Arthur fished the crumpled-up brochure from his pocket.
He wasn't quite certain why. He had already read it and she,
he expected, wouldn't want to. He unfolded it anyway in order
to have something to frown thoughtfully at for a moment or
two. The copy in the brochure wittered on about the ancient
mystical arts of the seers and sages of Hawalius, and wild-
ly over-represented the level of accommodation available in
Hawalion. Arthur still carried a copy of The Hitch Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy with him but found, when he consulted
it, that the entries were becoming more abstruse and paranoid
and had lots of x's and j's and {'s in them. Something was wrong
somewhere. Whether it was in his own personal unit, or whether
it was something or someone going terribly amiss, or perhaps just
hallucinating, at the heart of the Guide organisation itself, he
didn't know. But one way or another he was even less inclined
to trust it than usual, which meant that he trusted it not one
bit, and mostly used it for eating his sandwiches off when he
was sitting on a rock staring at something.
  The woman had turned and was walking slowly towards him
now. Arthur tried, without making it too obvious, to judge the
wind direction, and bobbed about a bit as she approached.
  'Advice,' she said. 'Advice, eh?'
  'Er, yes,' said Arthur. 'Yes, that is- '
  He frowned again at the brochure, as if to be certain that
he hadn't misread it and stupidly turned up on the wrong planet
or something. The brochure said 'The friendly local inhabitants
will be glad to share with you the knowledge and wisdom of
the ancients. Peer with them into the swirling mysteries of past
and future time!' There were some coupons as well, but Arthur
had been far too embarrassed actually to cut them out or try to
present them to anybody.
  'Advice, eh,' said the old woman again. 'Just sort of general
advice, you say. On what? What to do with your life, that sort
of thing?'
  'Yes,' said Arthur. 'That sort of thing. Bit of a problem I
sometimes find if I'm being perfectly honest.' He was trying
desperately, with tiny darting movements, to stay upwind of
her. She surprised him by suddenly turning sharply away from
him and heading off towards her cave.
  'You'll have to help me with the photocopier, then,' she said.
  'What?' said Arthur.
  'The photocopier,' she repeated, patiently. 'You'll have to
help me drag it out. It's solar-powered. I have to keep it in
the cave, though, so the birds don't shit on it.
  'I see,' said Arthur.
  'I'd take a few deep breaths if I were you,' muttered the
old woman, as she stomped into the gloom of the cave mouth.
  Arthur did as she advised. He almost hyperventilated in fact.
When he felt he was ready, he held his breath and followed her
  The photocopier was a big old thing on a rickety trolley.
It stood just inside the dim shadows of the cave. The wheels
were stuck obstinately in different directions and the ground
was rough and stony.
  'Go ahead and take a breath outside,' said the old woman.
Arthur was going red in the face trying to help her move the
  He nodded in relief. If she wasn't going to be embarrassed
about it then neither, he was determined, would he. He stepped
outside and took a few breaths, then came back in to do more
heaving and pushing. He had to do this quite a few times till at
last the machine was outside.
  The sun beat down on it. The old woman disappeared back
into her cave again and brought with her some mottled metal
panels, which she connected to the machine to collect the sun's
She squinted up into the sky. The sun was quite bright,
but the day was hazy and vague.
  'It'll take a while,' she said.
  Arthur said he was happy to wait.
  The old woman shrugged and stomped across to the fire.
Above it, the contents of the tin can were bubbling away. She
poked about at them with a stick.
  'You won't be wanting any lunch?' she enquired of Arthur.
  'I've eaten, thanks,' said Arthur. 'No, really. I've eaten.'
  'I'm sure you have,' said the old lady. She stirred with
the stick. After a few minutes she fished a lump of some-
thing out, blew on it to cool it a little, and then put it in
her mouth.
  She chewed on it thoughtfully for a bit.
  Then she hobbled slowly across to the pile of dead goat-like
things. She spat the lump out on to the pile. She hobbled slowly
back to the can. She tried to unhook it from the sort of tripod-like
thing that it was hanging from.
  'Can I help you?' said Arthur, jumping up politely. He hurried
  Together they disengaged the tin from the tripod and carried
it awkwardly down the slight slope that led downwards from her
cave and towards a line of scrubby and gnarled trees, which
marked the edge of a steep but quite shallow gully, from which
a whole new range of offensive smells was emanating.
  'Ready?' said the old lady.
  'Yes . . .' said Arthur, though he didn't know for what.
  'One,' said the old lady.
  'Two,' she said.
  'Three,' she added.
  Arthur realised just in time what she intended. Together
they tossed the contents of the tin into the gully.
  After an hour or two of uncommunicative silence, the old
woman decided that the solar panels had absorbed enough
sunlight to run the photocopier now and she disappeared to
rummage inside her cave. She emerged at last with a few sheaves
of paper and fed them through the machine.
  She handed the copies to Arthur.
  'This is, er, this your advice then, is it?' said Arthur, leafing
through them uncertainly.
  'No,' said the old lady. 'It's the story of my life. You see,
the quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged
against the quality of life they actually lead. Now, as you look
through this document you'll see that I've underlined all the major
decisions I ever made to make them stand out. They're all indexed
and cross-referenced. See? All I can suggest is that if you take
decisions that are exactly opposite to the sort of decisions that
I've taken, then maybe you won't finish up at the end of your
life . . .' she paused, and filled her lungs for a good shout, '. . .
in a smelly old cave like this!'
  She grabbed up her table tennis bat, rolled up her sleeve,
stomped off to her pile of dead goat-like things, and started
to set about the flies with vim and vigour.
  The last village Arthur visited consisted entirely of extremely
high poles. They were so high that it wasn't possible to tell,
from the ground, what was on top of them, and Arthur had to
climb three before he found one that had anything on top of it
at all other than a platform covered with bird droppings.
  Not an easy task. You went up the poles by climbing on
the short wooden pegs that had been hammered into them in
slowly ascending spirals. Anybody who was a less diligent tourist
than Arthur would have taken a couple of snapshots and sloped
right off to the nearest Bar & Grill, where you also could buy a
range of particularly sweet and gooey chocolate cakes to eat in
front of the ascetics. But, largely as a result of this, most of the
ascetics had gone now. In fact they had mostly gone and set up
lucrative therapy centres on some of the more affluent worlds
in the North West ripple of the Galaxy, where the living was
easier by a factor of about seventeen million, and the chocolate
was just fabulous. Most of the ascetics, it turned out, had not
known about chocolate before they took up asceticism. Most of
the clients who came to their therapy centres knew about it all
too well.
  At the top of the third pole Arthur stopped for a breather. He
was very hot and out of breath, since each pole was about fifty or
sixty feet high. The world seemed to swing vertiginously around
him, but it didn't worry Arthur too much. He knew that, logically,
he could not die until he had been to Stavromula Beta
[See Life, the Universe and Everything, Chapter 18], and had
therefore managed to cultivate a merry attitude towards extreme
personal danger. He felt a little giddy perched fifty feet up in the
air on top of a pole, but he dealt with it by eating a sandwich. He
was just about to embark on reading the photocopied life history
of the oracle, when he was rather startled to hear a slight cough
behind him.
  He turned so abruptly that he dropped his sandwich, which
turned downwards through the air and was rather small by the
time it was stopped by the ground.
  About thirty feet behind Arthur was another pole, and, alone
amongst the sparse forest of about three dozen poles, the top of
it was occupied. It was occupied by an old man who, in turn,
seemed to be occupied by profound thoughts that were making
him scowl.
  'Excuse me,' said Arthur. The man ignored him. Perhaps he
couldn't hear him. The breeze was moving about a bit. It was
only by chance that Arthur had heard the slight cough.
  'Hello?' called Arthur. 'Hello!'
  The man at last glanced round at him. He seemed surprised
to see him. Arthur couldn't tell if he was surprised and pleased
to see him or just surprised.
  'Are you open?' called Arthur.
  The man frowned in incomprehension. Arthur couldn't tell
if he couldn't understand or couldn't hear.
  'I'll pop over,' called Arthur. 'Don't go away.'
  He clambered off the small platform and climbed quickly
down the spiralling pegs, arriving at the bottom quite dizzy.
  He started to make his way over to the pole on which
the old man was sitting, and then suddenly realised that he
had disoriented himself on the way down and didn't know for
certain which one it was.
  He looked around for landmarks and worked out which was
the right one.
  He climbed it. It wasn't.
  'Damn,' he said. 'Excuse me!' he called out to the old man
again, who was now straight in front of him and forty feet away.
'Got lost. Be with you in a minute.' Down he went again, getting
very hot and bothered.
  When he arrived, panting and sweating, at the top of the
pole that he knew for certain was the right one he realised that
the man was, somehow or other, mucking him about.
  'What do you want?' shouted the old man crossly at him. He
was now sitting on top of the pole that Arthur recognised was
the one that he had been on himself when eating his sandwich.
  'How did you get over there?' called Arthur in bewilder-
  'You think I'm going to tell you just like that what it took
me forty springs, summers and autumns of sitting on top of a
pole to work out?'
  'What about winter?'
  'What about winter?'
  'Don't you sit on the pole in the winter?'
  'Just because I sit up a pole for most of my life,' said the
man, 'doesn't mean I'm an idiot. I go south in the winter. Got
a beach house. Sit on the chimney stack.'
  'Do you have any advice for a traveller?'
  'Yes. Get a beach house.'
  'I see.'
  The man stared out over the hot, dry scrubby landscape.
From here Arthur could just see the old woman, a tiny speck
in the distance, dancing up and down swatting flies.
  'You see her?' called the old man, suddenly.
  'Yes,' said Arthur. 'I consulted her in fact.'
  'Fat lot she knows. I got the beach house because she turned
it down. What advice did she give you?'
  'Do exactly the opposite of everything she's done.'
  'In other words, get a beach house.'
  'I suppose so,' said Arthur. 'Well, maybe I'll get one.
  The horizon was swimming in a fetid heat haze.
  'Any other advice?' asked Arthur. 'Other than to do with
real estate?'
  'A beach house isn't just real estate. It's a state of mind,'
said the man. He turned and looked at Arthur.
  Oddly, the man's face was now only a couple of feet away.
He seemed in one way to be a perfectly normal shape, but his
body was sitting cross-legged on a pole forty feet away while his
face was only two feet from Arthur's. Without moving his head,
and without seeming to do anything odd at all, he stood up and
stepped on to the top of another pole. Either it was just the heat,
thought Arthur, or space was a different shape for him.
  'A beach house,' he said, 'doesn't even have to be on the
beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate,'
he went on, 'at boundary conditions.'
  'Really?' said Arthur.
  'Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where
body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be
on one side, and look at the other.'
  Arthur got terribly excited. This was exactly the sort of
thing he'd been promised in the brochure. Here was a man who
seemed to be moving through some kind of Escher space saying
really profound things about all sorts of stuff.
  It was unnerving though. The man was now stepping from
pole to ground, from ground to pole, from pole to pole, from
pole to horizon and back: he was making complete nonsense of
Arthur's spatial universe. 'Please stop!' Arthur said, suddenly.
  'Can't take it, huh?' said the man. Without the slightest
movement he was now back, sitting cross-legged, on top of the
pole forty feet in front of Arthur. 'You come to me for advice,
but you can't cope with anything you don't recognise. Hmmm.
So we'll have to tell you something you already know but make
it sound like news, eh? Well, business as usual I suppose.' He
sighed and squinted mournfully into the distance.
  'Where you from, boy?' he then asked.
  Arthur decided to be clever. He was fed up with being
mistaken for a complete idiot by everyone he ever met. 'Tell
you what,' he said. 'You're a seer. Why don't you tell me?'
  The old man sighed again. 'I was just,' he said, passing his
hand round behind his head, 'making conversation.' When he
brought his hand round to the front again, he had a globe of the
Earth spinning on his up-pointed forefinger. It was unmistakable.
He put it away again. Arthur was stunned.
  'How did you- '
  'I can't tell you.'
  'Why not? I've come all this way.'
  'You cannot see what I see because you see what you see.
You cannot know what I know because you know what you
know. What I see and what I know cannot be added to what
you see and what you know because they are not of the same
kind. Neither can it replace what you see and what you know,
because that would be to replace you yourself.'
  'Hang on, can I write this down?' said Arthur, excitedly
fumbling in his pocket for a pencil.
  'You can pick up a copy at the spaceport,' said the old
man. 'They've got racks of the stuff.'
  'Oh,' said Arthur, disappointed. 'Well, isn't there anything
that's perhaps a bit more specific to me?'
  'Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at
all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it,
so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.'
  Arthur looked at him doubtfully. 'Can I get that at the
spaceport, too?' he said.
  'Check it out,' said the old man.
  'It says in the brochure,' said Arthur, pulling it out of his
pocket and looking at it again, 'that I can have a special prayer,
individually tailored to me and my special needs.'
  'Oh, all right,' said the old man. 'Here's a prayer for you.
Got a pencil?'
  'Yes,' said Arthur.
  'It goes like this. Let's see now: "Protect me from knowing what
I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there
are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing
that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to
know about. Amen." That's it. It's what you pray silently inside
yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open.'
  'Hmmm,' said Arthur. 'Well, thank you-'
  'There's another prayer that goes with it that s very Impor-
tant,' continued the old man, 'so you'd better jot this down,
  in, just in case. You can never be too sure. "Lord, lord, lord.
Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen."
And that's it. Most of the trouble people get into in life comes
from missing out that last part.'
  'Ever heard of a place called Stavromula Beta?' asked Arthur.
  'Well, thank you for your help,' said Arthur.
  'Don't mention it,' said the man on the pole, and vanished.


  Ford hurled himself at the door of the editor-in-chief's office,
tucked himself into a tight ball as the frame splintered and gave
way once again, rolled rapidly across the floor to where the smart
grey crushed leather sofa was and set up his strategic operational
base behind it.
  That, at least, was the plan
  Unfortunately the smart grey crushed leather sofa wasn't there.
  Why, thought Ford, as he twisted himself round in mid-air,
lurched, dived and scuttled for cover behind Harl's desk, did
people have this stupid obsession with rearranging their office
furniture every five minutes?
  Why, for instance, replace a perfectly serviceable if rather
muted grey crushed leather sofa with what appeared to be a
small tank?
  And who was the big guy with the mobile rocket launcher
on his shoulder? Someone from head office? Couldn't be. This
was head office. At least it was the head office of the Guide.
Where these InfiniDim Enterprises guys came from Zarquon
knew. Nowhere very sunny, judging from the slug-like colour
and texture of their skins. This was all wrong, thought Ford.
People connected with the Guide should come from sunny
  There were several of them, in fact, and all of them seemed
to be more heavily armed and armoured than you normally
expected corporate executives to be, even in today's rough and
tumble business world.
  He was making a lot of assumptions here, of course. He
was assuming that the big, bull-necked, slug-like guys were
in some way connected with InfiniDim Enterprises, but it was
a reasonable assumption and he felt happy about it because
they had logos on their armour-plating which said 'InfiniDim
Enterprises' on them. He had a nagging suspicion that this was
not a business meeting, though. He also had a nagging feeling
that these slug-like creatures were familiar to him in some way.
Familiar, but in an unfamiliar guise.
  Well, he had been in the room for a good two and a half
seconds now, and thought that it was probably about time to
start doing something constructive. He could take a hostage.
That would be good.
  Vann Harl was in his swivel chair, looking alarmed, pale
and shaken. Had probably had some bad news as well as a
nasty bang to the back of his head. Ford leapt to his feet and
made a running grab for him.
  Under the pretext of getting him into a good solid double
underpinned elbow-lock, Ford managed surreptitiously to slip
the Ident-i-Eeze back into Harl's inner pocket.
  He'd done what he came to do. Now he just had to talk
his way out of here.
  'OK,' he said. 'I . . .' He paused.
  The big guy with the rocket launcher was turning towards
Ford Prefect and pointing it at him, which Ford couldn't help
feeling was wildly irresponsible behaviour.
  'I ...' he started again, and then on a sudden impulse
decided to duck.
  There was a deafening roar as flames leapt from the back
of the rocket launcher and a rocket leapt from its front.
  The rocket hurtled past Ford and hit the large plate-glass
window, which billowed outwards in a shower of a million
shards under the force of the explosion. Huge shock waves of
noise and air pressure reverberated around the room, sweeping
a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet and Colin the security robot
out of the window.
  Ah! So they're not totally rocket-proof after all, thought Ford
Prefect to himself. Someone should have a word with somebody
about that. He disentangled himself from Harl and tried to work
out which way to run.
  He was surrounded.
  The big guy with the rocket launcher was moving it up
into position for another shot.
  Ford was completely at a loss for what to do next.
  'Look,' he said in a stern voice. But he wasn't certain how far
saying things like 'Look' in a stern voice was necessarily going to
get him, and time was not on his side. What the hell, he thought,
you're only young once, and threw himself out of the window.
That would at least keep the element of surprise on his side.


  The first thing Arthur Dent had to do, he realised resignedly,
was to get himself a life. This meant he had to find a planet
he could have one on. It had to be a planet he could breathe
on, where he could stand up and sit down without experiencing
gravitational discomfort. It had to be somewhere where the acid
levels were low and the plants didn't actually attack you.
  'I hate to be anthropic about this,' he said to the strange
thing behind the desk at the Resettlement Advice Centre on
Pintleton Alpha, 'but I'd quite like to live somewhere where
the people look vaguely like me as well. You know. Sort of
human . '
  The strange thing behind the desk waved some of its stranger
bits around and seemed rather taken aback by this. It oozed and
glopped off its seat, thrashed its way slowly across the floor,
ingested the old metal filing cabinet and then, with a great
belch, excreted the appropriate drawer. It popped out a couple
of glistening tentacles from its ear, removed some files from the
drawer. sucked the drawer back in and vomited up the cabinet
again. It thrashed its way back across the floor, slimed its way
back up on to the seat and slapped the files on the table.
  'See anything you fancy?' it asked.
  Arthur looked nervously through some grubby and damp
pieces of paper. He was definitely in some backwater part of
the Galaxy here, and somewhere off to the left as far as the
universe he knew and recognised was concerned. In the space
where his own home should have been there was a rotten hick
planet, drowned with rain and inhabited by thugs and boghogs.
Even The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed to work
only fitfully here, which was why he was reduced to making these
sorts of enquiries in these sorts of places. One place he always
asked after was Stavromula Beta, but no one had ever heard of
such a planet.
  The available worlds looked pretty grim. They had little
to offer him because he had little to offer them. He had
been extremely chastened to realise that although he originally
came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and
armagnac he didn't, by himself, know how any of it worked. He
couldn't do it. Left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster.
He could just about make a sandwich and that was it. There was
not a lot of demand for his services.
  Arthur's heart sank. This surprised him, because he thought
it was already about as low as it could possibly be. He closed
his eyes for a moment. He so much wanted to be home. He
so much wanted his own home world, the actual Earth he had
grown up on, not to have been demolished. He so much wanted
none of this to have happened. He so much wanted that when he
opened his eyes again he would be standing on the doorstep of his
little cottage in the west country of England, that the sun would
be shining over the green hills, the post van would be going up
the lane, the daffodils would be blooming in his garden, and in
the distance the pub would be opening for lunch. He so much
wanted to take the newspaper down to the pub and read it over
a pint of bitter. He so much wanted to do the crossword. He so
much wanted to be able to get completely stuck on 17 across.
  He opened his eyes.
  The strange thing was pulsating irritably at him, tapping
some kind of pseudopodia on the desk.
  Arthur shook his head and looked at the next sheet of paper.
  Grim, he thought. And the next.
  Very grim. And the next.
  Oh . . . Now that looked better.
  It was a world called Bartledan. It had oxygen. It had green
hills. It even, it seemed, had a renowned literary culture. But
the thing that most aroused his interest was a photograph of a
small bunch of Bartledanian people, standing around in a village
square, smiling pleasantly at the camera.
  'Ah,' he said, and held the picture up to the strange thing
behind the desk.
  Its eyes squirmed out on stalks and rolled up and down
the piece of paper, leaving a glistening trail of slime all over
  'Yes,' it said with distaste. 'They do look exactly like you.'
  Arthur moved to Bartledan and, using some money he had
made by selling some toenail clippings and spit to a DNA
bank, he bought himself a room in the village featured in the
picture. It was pleasant there. The air was balmy. The people
looked like him and seemed not to mind him being there. They
didn't attack him with anything. He bought some clothes and a
cupboard to put them in.
  He had got himself a life. Now he had to find a purpose in it.
  At first he tried to sit and read. But the literature of Bartledan,
famed though it was throughout this sector of the Galaxy for its
subtlety and grace, didn't seem to be able to sustain his interest.
The problem was that it wasn't actually about human beings after
all. It wasn't about what human beings wanted. The people of
Bartledan were remarkably like human beings to look at, but
when you said 'Good evening' to one, he would tend to look
around with a slight sense of surprise, sniff the air and say that,
yes, he supposed that it probably was a goodish evening now that
Arthur came to mention it.
  'No, what I meant was to wish you a good evening,' Arthur
would say, or rather, used to say. He soon learned to avoid these
conversations. 'I mean that I hope you have a good evening,' he
would add.
  More puzzlement.
  'Wish?' the Bartledanian would say at last, in polite bafflement.
  'Er, yes,' Arthur would then have said. 'I'm just expressing
the hope that . . .'
  'Yes. "
  'What is hope?'
  Good question, thought Arthur to himself, and retreated
back to his room to think about things.
  On the one hand he could only recognise and respect what he
learnt about the Bartledanian view of the universe, which was
that the universe was what the universe was, take it or leave it.
On the other hand he could not help but feel that not to desire
anything, not ever to wish or to hope, was just not natural.
  Natural. There was a tricky word.
  He had long ago realised that a lot of things that he had
thought of as natural, like buying people presents at Christmas,
stopping at red lights or falling at a rate of 32 feet/second/second,
were just the habits of his own world and didn't necessarily work
the same way anywhere else; but not to wish - that really couldn't
be natural, could it? That would be like not breathing.
  Breathing was another thing that the Bartledanians didn't
do, despite all the oxygen in the atmosphere. They just stood
there. Occasionally they ran around and played netball and stuff
(without ever wishing to win though, of course - they would just
play, and whoever won, won), but they never actually breathed.
It was, for some reason, unnecessary. Arthur quickly learned
that playing netball with them was just too spooky. Though they
looked like humans, and even moved and sounded like humans,
they didn't breathe and they didn't wish for things.
  Breathing and wishing for things, on the other hand, was
just about all that Arthur seemed to do all day. Sometimes
he would wish for things so much that his breathing would get
quite agitated, and he would have to go and lie down for a bit.
On his own. In his small room. So far from the world which had
given birth to him that his brain could not even process the sort
of numbers involved without just going limp.
  He preferred not to think about it. He preferred just to sit
and read - or at least he would prefer it if there was anything
worth reading. But nobody in Bartledanian stories ever wanted
anything. Not even a glass of water. Certainly, they would fetch
one if they were thirsty, but if there wasn't one available, they
would think no more about it. He had just read an entire book
in which the main character had, over the course of a week, done
some work in his garden, played a great deal of netball, helped
mend a road, fathered a child on his wife and then unexpectedly
died of thirst just before the last chapter. In exasperation Arthur
had combed his way back through the book and in the end had
found a passing reference to some problem with the plumbing in
Chapter 2. And that was it. So the guy dies. It just happens.
  It wasn't even the climax of the book, because there wasn't
one. The character died about a third of the way through the
penultimate chapter of the book, and the rest of it was just more
stuff about road-mending. The book just finished dead at the one
hundred thousandth word, because that was how long books were
on Bartledan.
  Arthur threw the book across the room, sold the room and
left. He started to travel with wild abandon, trading in more
and more spit, toenails, fingernails, blood, hair, anything that
anybody wanted, for tickets. For semen, he discovered, he could
travel first class. He settled nowhere, but only existed in the
hermetic, twilight world of the cabins of hyperspatial starships,
eating, drinking, sleeping, watching movies, only stopping at
spaceports to donate more DNA and catch the next long-haul
ship out. He waited and waited for another accident to happen.
  The trouble with trying to make the right accident happen
is that it won't. That is not what 'accident' means. The acci-
dent that eventually occurred was not what he had planned
at all. The ship he was on blipped in hyperspace, flickered
horribly between ninety-seven different points in the Galaxy
simultaneously, caught the unexpected gravitational pull of an
uncharted planet in one of them, became ensnared in its outer
atmosphere and began to fall, screaming and tearing, into it.
  The ship's systems protested all the way down that everything
was perfectly normal and under control, but when it went into a
final hectic spin, ripped wildly through half a mile of trees and
finally exploded into a seething ball of flame it became clear that
this was not the case.
  Fire engulfed the forest, boiled into the night, then neatly
put itself out, as all unscheduled fires over a certain size are
now required to do by law. For a short while afterwards, other
small fires flared up here and there as odd pieces of scattered
debris exploded quietly in their own time. Then they too died
  Arthur Dent, because of the sheer boredom of endless inter-
stellar flight, was the only one on board who had actually
familiarised himself with the ship's safety procedures in case
of an unscheduled landing, and was therefore the sole survivor.
He lay dazed, broken and bleeding in a sort of fluffy pink plastic
cocoon with 'Have a nice day' printed in over three thousand
different languages all over it.
  Black, roaring silences swam sickeningly through his shattered
mind. He knew with a kind of resigned certainty that he would
survive, because he had not yet been to Stavromula Beta.
  After what seemed an eternity of pain and darkness, he
became aware of quiet shapes moving around him.
would have been startled by the sight of Ford Prefect dropping
past them to his certain death and flicking V-signs at them.
  Sixteenth floor. Sub-editors. Bastards. What about all that
copy of his they'd cut? Fifteen years of research he'd filed
from one planet alone and they'd cut it to two words. 'Mostly
Harmless.' V-signs to them as well.
  Fifteenth floor. Logistical Administration, whatever that was
about. They all had big cars. That, he thought, was what that
was about.
  Fourteenth floor. Personnel. He had a very shrewd suspicion
that it was they who had engineered his fifteen-year exile while
the Guide metamorphosed into the corporate monolith (or
rather, duolith - mustn't forget the lawyers) it had become.
  Thirteenth floor. Research and development.
  Hang about.
  Thirteenth floor.
  He was having to think rather fast at the moment because
the situation was becoming a little urgent.
  He suddenly remembered the floor display panel in the eleva-
tor. It hadn't had a thirteenth floor. He'd thought no more about
it because, having spent fifteen years on the rather backward
planet Earth where they were superstitious about the number
thirteen, he was used to being in buildings that numbered their
floors without it. No reason for that here, though.
  The windows of the thirteenth floor, he could not help noticing
as he flashed swiftly by them, were darkened.
  What was going on in there? He started to remember all
the stuff that Harl had been talking about. One, new, multi-
dimensional Guide spread across an infinite number of universes.
It had sounded, the way Harl had put it, like wild meaninglessness
dreamed up by the marketing department with the backing of the
accountants. If it was any more real than that then it was a very
weird and dangerous idea. Was it real? What was going on behind
the darkened windows of the sealed-off thirteenth floor?
  Ford felt a rising sense of curiosity, and then a rising sense
of panic. That was the complete list of rising feelings he had. In
every other respect he was falling very rapidly. He really ought
to turn his mind to wondering how he was going to get out of
this situation alive.
  He glanced down. A hundred feet or so below him people
were milling around, some of them beginning to look up expect-
antly. Clearing a space for him. Even temporarily calling off the
wonderful and completely fatuous hunt for wockets.
  He would hate to disappoint them, but about two feet below
him, he hadn't realised before, was Colin. Colin had obviously
been happily dancing attendance and waiting for him to decide
what he wanted to do.
  'Colin!' Ford bawled.
  Colin didn't respond. Ford went cold. Then he suddenly
realised that he hadn't told Colin his name was Colin.
  'Come up here!' Ford bawled.
  Colin bobbed up beside him. Colin was enjoying the ride
down immensely and hoped that Ford was, too.
  Colin's world went unexpectedly dark as Ford's towel suddenly
enveloped him. Colin immediately felt himself get much, much
heavier. He was thrilled and delighted by the challenge that Ford
had presented him with. Just not sure if he could handle it, that
was all.
  The towel was slung over Colin. Ford was hanging from the
towel, gripping to its seams. Other hitch hikers had seen fit to
modify their towels in exotic ways, weaving all kinds of esoteric
tools and utilities and even computer equipment into their fabric.
Ford was a purist. He liked to keep things simple. He carried
a regular towel from a regular domestic soft furnishings shop.
It even had a kind of blue and pink floral pattern despite his
repeated attempts to bleach and stone wash it. It had a couple
of pieces of wire threaded into it, a bit of flexible writing stick,
and also some nutrients soaked into one of the corners of the
fabric so he could suck it in an emergency, but otherwise it was
a simple towel you could dry your face on.
The only actual modification he had been persuaded by a
friend to make to it was to reinforce the seams.
  Ford gripped the seams like a maniac.
  They were still descending, but the rate had slowed.
  'Up, Colin!' he shouted.
  'Your name,' shouted Ford, 'is Colin. So when I shout "Up,
Colin!" I want you, Colin, to go up. OK? Up, Colin!'
  Nothing. Or rather a sort of muffled groaning sound from
Colin. Ford was very anxious. They were descending very slow-
ly now, but Ford was very anxious about the sort of people he
could see assembling on the ground beneath him. Friendly,
local, wocket-hunting types were dispersing, and thick, heavy,
bull-necked, slug-like creatures with rocket launchers were, it
seemed, sliding out of what was usually called thin air. Thin
air, as all experienced Galactic travellers well know, is, in fact,
extremely thick with multi-dimensional complexities.
  'Up,' bellowed Ford again. 'Up! Colin, go up!'
  Colin was straining and groaning. They were now more or
less stationary in the air. Ford felt as if his fingers were breaking.
  ' Up!'
  They stayed put.
  'Up, up, up!'
  A slug was preparing to launch a rocket at him. Ford couldn't
believe it. He was hanging from a towel in mid-air and a slug
was preparing to fire rockets at him. He was running out of
anything he could think of doing and was beginning to get
seriously alarmed.
  This was the sort of predicament that he usually relied on
having the Guide available for to give advice, however infuriating
or glib, but this was not a moment for reaching into his pocket.
And the Guide seemed to be no longer a friend and ally but was
now itself a source of danger. These were the Guide offices he
was hanging outside, for Zark's sake, in danger of his life from
the people who now appeared to own the thing. What had become
of all the dreams he vaguely remembered having on the Bwenelli
Atoll? They should have let it all be. They should have stayed
there. Stayed on the beach. Loved good women. Lived on fish.
He should have known it was all wrong the moment they started
hanging grand pianos over the sea-monster pool in the atrium.
He began to feel thoroughly wasted and miserable. His fingers
were on fire with clenched pain. And his ankle was still hurting.
  Oh thank you, ankle, he thought to himself bitterly. Thank
you for bringing up your problems at this time. I expect you'd
like a nice warm footbath to make you feel better, wouldn't you?
Or at least you'd like me to . . .
  He had an idea.
  The armoured slug had hoisted the rocket launcher up on to
its shoulder. The rocket was presumably designed to hit anything
in its path that moved.
  Ford tried not to sweat because he could feel his grip on
the seams of his towel slipping.
  With the toe of his good foot he nudged and prised at
the heel of the shoe on his hurting foot.
  'Go up, damn you!' Ford muttered hopelessly to Colin, who
was cheerily straining away but unable to rise. Ford worked away
at the heel of his shoe.
  He was trying to judge the timing, but there was no point.
Just go for it. He only had one shot and that was it. He had
now eased the back of his shoe down off his heel. His twisted
ankle felt a little better. Well that was good, wasn't it?
  With his other foot he kicked at the heel of the shoe. It slipped
off his foot and fell through the air. About half a second later a
rocket erupted up from the muzzle of its launcher, encountered
the shoe falling through its path, went straight for it, hit it, and
exploded with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.
  This happened about fifteen feet from the ground.
  The main force of the explosion was directed downwards.
Where, a second earlier, there had been a squad of InfiniDim
Enterprises executives with a rocket launcher standing on an
elegant terraced plaza paved with large slabs of lustrous stone
cut from the ancient alabastrum quarries of Zentalquabula there
was now, instead, a bit of a pit with nasty bits in it.
  A great wump of hot air welled up from the explosion throwing
Ford and Colin violently up into the sky. Ford fought desperately
and blindly to hold on and failed. He turned helplessly upwards
through the sky, reached the peak of a parabola, paused and
then started to fall again. He fell and fell and fell and suddenly
winded himself badly on Colin, who was still rising.
  He clasped himself desperately on to the small spherical
robot. Colin slewed wildly through the air towards the tower of
the Guide offices, trying delightedly to control himself and slow
  The world span sickeningly round Ford's head as they span
and twisted round each other and then, equally sickeningly,
everything suddenly stopped.
  Ford found himself deposited dizzily on a window ledge.
  His towel fell past and he grabbed at it and caught it.
  Colin bobbed in the air inches away from him.
  Ford looked around himself in a bruised, bleeding and breath-
less daze. The ledge was only about a foot wide and he was
perched precariously on it, thirteen stories up.
  He knew they were thirteen stories up because the windows
were dark. He was bitterly upset. He had bought those shoes
for some absurd price in a store on the Lower East Side in New
York. He had, as a result, written an entire essay on the joys of
great footwear, all of which had been jettisoned in the 'Mostly
harmless' debacle. Damn everything.
  And now one of the shoes was gone. He threw his head
back and stared at the sky.
  It wouldn't be such a grim tragedy if the planet in question
hadn't been demolished, which meant that he wouldn't even be
able to get another pair.
  Yes, given the infinite sideways extension of probability there
was, of course, an almost infinite multiplicity of planets Earth,
but, when you came down to it, a major pair of shoes wasn't
something you could just replace by mucking about in multi-
dimensional space/time.
  He sighed.
  Oh well, he'd better make the best of it. At least it had
saved his life. For the time being.
  He was perched on a foot-wide ledge thirteen stories up the
side of a building and he wasn't at all sure that that was worth
a good shoe.
  He stared in woozily through the darkened glass.
  It was as dark and silent as the tomb.
  No. That was a ridiculous thing to think. He'd been to
some great parties in tombs.
  Could he detect some movement? He wasn't quite sure. It
seemed that he could see some kind of weird, flapping shad-
ow. Perhaps it was just blood dribbling over his eyelashes. He
wiped it away. Boy, he'd love to have a farm somewhere, keep
some sheep. He peered into the window again, trying to make
out what the shape was, but he had the feeling, so common in
today's universe, that he was looking into some kind of optical
illusion and that his eyes were just playing silly buggers with him.
  Was there a bird of some kind in there? Was that what
they had hidden away up here on a concealed floor behind
darkened, rocket-proof glass? Someone's aviary? There was
certainly something flapping about in there, but it seemed like
not so much a bird, more a kind of bird-shaped hole in space.
  He closed his eyes, which he'd been wanting to do for a bit
anyway. He wondered what the hell to do next. Jump? Climb?
He didn't think there was going to be any way of breaking in. OK,
the supposedly rocket-proof glass hadn't stood up, when it came
to it, to an actual rocket, but then that had been a rocket that
had been fired at very short range from inside, which probably
wasn't what the engineers who designed it had had in mind. It
didn't mean he was going to be able to break the window here
by wrapping his fist in his towel and punching. What the hell, he
tried it anyway and hurt his fist. It was just as well he couldn't
get a good swing from where he was sitting or he might have
hurt it quite badly. The building had been sturdily reinforced
when it was completely rebuilt after the Frogstar attack, and
was probably the most heavily armoured publishing company in
the business, but there was always, he thought, some weakness
in any system designed by a corporate committee. He had already
found one of them. The engineers who designed the windows had
not expected them to be hit by a rocket from short range from
the inside, so the window had failed.
  So, what would the engineers not be expecting someone
sitting on the ledge outside the window to do?
  He wracked his brains for a moment or so before he got it.
  The thing they wouldn't be expecting him to do was to be
there in the first place. Only an absolute idiot would be sitting
where he was, so he was winning already. A common mistake
that people make when trying to design something completely
foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
  He pulled his newly acquired credit card from his pocket,
slid it into a crack where the window met its surrounding frame,
and did something a rocket would not have been able to do. He
wiggled it around a bit. He felt a catch slip. He slid the window
open and almost fell backwards off the ledge laughing, giving
thanks as he did so for the Great Ventilation and Telephone
Riots of SrDt 3454
The Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454 had
started off as just a lot of hot air. Hot air was, of course, the
problem that ventilation was supposed to solve and generally it
had solved the problem reasonably well up to the point when
someone invented air-conditioning, which solved the problem
far more throbbingly.
  And that was all well and good provided you could stand
the noise and the dribbling until someone else came up with
  something even sexier and smarter than air-conditioning which
was called in-building climate control.
  Now this was quite something.
  The major differences from just ordinary air-conditioning were
that it was thrillingly more expensive, involved a huge amount of
sophisticated measuring and regulating equipment which was far
better at knowing, moment by moment, what kind of air people
wanted to breathe than mere people did.
  It also meant that, to be sure that mere people didn't muck
up the sophisticated calculations which the system was making
on their behalf, all the windows in the buildings were built sealed
shut. This is true.
  While the systems were being installed, a number of people
who were going to work in the buildings found themselves having
conversations with Breathe-o-Smart systems fitters which went
something like this:
  'But what if we want to have the windows open?'
  'You won't want to have the windows open with new Breathe-
  'Yes but supposing we just wanted to have them open for
a little bit?'
  'You won't want to have them open even for a little bit.
The new Breathe-o-Smart system will see to that.'
  'Enjoy Breathe-o-Smart!'
  'OK, so what if the Breathe-o-Smart breaks down or goes
wrong or something?'
  'Ah! One of the smartest features of the Breathe-o-Smart is
that it cannot possibly go wrong. So. No worries on that score.
Enjoy your breathing now, and have a nice day.'
  (It was, of course, as a result of the Great Ventilation and
Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454, that all mechanical or electri-
cal or quantum-mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam
or piston-driven devices, are now required to have a certain
legend emblazoned on them somewhere. It doesn't matter how
small the object is, the designers of the object have got to find
a way of squeezing the legend in somewhere, because it is their
attention which is being drawn to it rather than necessarily that
of the user's.
  The legend is this:
  'The major difference between a thing that might go wrong
and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing
that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to
be impossible to get at or repair.')
  Major heat waves started to coincide, with almost magical
precision, with major failures of the Breathe-o-Smart systems.
To begin with this merely caused simmering resentment and only
a few deaths from asphyxiation.
  The real horror erupted on the day that three events happened
simultaneously. The first event was that Breathe-o-Smart Inc.
issued a statement to the effect that best results were achieved
by using their systems in temperate climates.
  The second event was the breakdown of a Breathe-o-Smart
system on a particularly hot and humid day with the resulting
evacuation of many hundreds of office staff into the street where
they met the third event, which was a rampaging mob of long-
distance telephone operators who had got so twisted with having
to say, all day and every day, 'Thank you for using BS&S' to
every single idiot who picked up a phone that they had finally
taken to the streets with trash cans, megaphones and rifles.
  In the ensuing days of carnage every single window in the city,
rocket-proof or not, was smashed, usually to accompanying cries
of 'Get off the line, asshole! I don't care what number you want,
what extension you're calling from. Go and stick a firework up
your bottom! Yeeehaah! Hoo Hoo Hoo! Velooooom! Squawk!'
and a variety of other animal noises that they didn't get a chance
to practise in the normal line of their work.
  As a result of this, all telephone operators were granted a
constitutional right to say 'Use BS&S and die!' at least once
an hour when answering the phone and all office buildings were
required to have windows that opened, even if only a little bit.
  Another, unexpected result was a dramatic lowering of the
suicide rate. All sorts of stressed and rising executives who had
been forced, during the dark days of the Breathe-o-Smart tyr-
anny, to jump in front of trains or stab themselves, could now
just clamber out on to their own window ledges and leap off at
their leisure. What frequently happened, though, was that in the
moment or two they had to look around and gather their thoughts
they would suddenly discover that all they had really needed was
a breath of air and a fresh perspective on things, and maybe also
a farm on which they could keep a few sheep.
  Another completely unlooked for result was that Ford Prefect,
stranded thirteen stories up a heavily armoured building armed
with nothing but a towel and a credit card was nevertheless able
to clamber through a supposedly rocket-proof window to safety.
  He closed the window neatly after him, having first allowed
Colin to follow him through, and then started to look around
for this bird thing.
  The thing he realised about the windows was this: because
they had been converted into openable windows after they had
first been designed to be impregnable, they were, in fact, much
less secure than if they had been designed as openable windows
in the first place.
  Hey ho, it's a funny old life, he was just thinking to himself,
when he suddenly realised that the room he had gone to all this
trouble to break into was not a very interesting one.
  He stopped in surprise.
  Where was the strange flapping shape? Where was anything
that was worth all this palaver- the extraordinary veil of secrecy
that seemed to lie over this room and the equally extraordinary
sequence of events that had seemed to conspire to get him into
  The room, like every other room in this building now, was
done out in some appallingly tasteful grey. There were a few
charts and drawings on the wall. Most of them were meaningless
to Ford, but then he came across something that was obviously
a mock-up for a poster of some kind.
  There was a kind of bird-like logo on it, and a slogan which said
'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Mk II: the single most
astounding thing of any kind ever. Coming soon to a dimension
near you.' No more information than that.
  Ford looked around again. Then his attention was gradually
drawn to Colin, the absurdly over-happy security robot, who was
cowering in a corner of the room gibbering with what seemed
strangely like fear.
  Odd, thought Ford. He looked around to see what it was that
Colin might have been reacting to. Then he saw something that
he hadn't noticed before, Iying quietly on top of a work bench.
  It was circular and black and about the size of a small side
plate. Its top and its bottom were smoothly convex so that it
resembled a small lightweight throwing discus.
  Its surfaces seemed to be completely smooth, unbroken and
  It was doing nothing.
  Then Ford noticed that there was something written on it.
Strange. There hadn't been anything written on it a moment
ago and now suddenly there was. There just didn't seem to have
been any observable transition between the two states.
  All it said, in small, alarming letters was a single word:
  A moment ago there hadn't been any marks or cracks in
its surface. Now there were. They were growing.
  Panic, the Guide Mk II said. Ford began to do as he was
told. He had just remembered why the slug-like creatures looked
familiar. Their colour scheme was a kind of corporate grey, but
in all other respects they looked exactly like Vogons.


  The ship dropped quietly to land on the edge of the wide
clearing, a hundred yards or so from the village.
  It arrived suddenly and unexpectedly but with a minimum of
fuss. One moment it was a perfectly ordinary late afternoon in
the early autumn - the leaves were just beginning to turn red and
gold, the river was beginning to swell again with the rains from the
mountains in the north, the plumage of the pikka birds was begin-
ning to thicken in anticipation of the coming winter frosts, any day
now the Perfectly Normal Beasts would start their thunderous
migration across the plains, and Old Thrashbarg was beginning
to mutter to himself as he hobbled his way around the village,
a muttering which meant that he was rehearsing and elaborating
the stories that he would tell of the past year once the evenings
had drawn in and people had no choice but to gather round the
fire and listen to him and grumble and say that that wasn't how
they remembered it - and the next moment there was a spaceship
sitting there, gleaming in the warm autumn sun.
  It hummed for a bit and then stopped.
  It wasn't a big spaceship. If the villagers had been experts
on spaceships they would have known at once that it was a
pretty nifty one, a small sleek Hrundi four-berth runabout
with just about every optional extra in the brochure except
Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis, which only wimps went for. You
can't get a good tight, sharp curve round a tri-lateral time axis
with Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis. All right, it's a bit safer, but
it makes the handling go all soggy.
  The villagers didn't know all that, of course. Most of them here
on the remote planet of Lamuella had never seen a spaceship,
certainly not one that was all in one piece, and as it shone warmly
in the evening light it was just the most extraordinary thing they
had come across since the day Kirp caught a fish with a head at
both ends.
  Everybody had fallen silent.
  Whereas a moment before two or three dozen people had
been wandering about, chattering, chopping wood, carrying
water, teasing the pikka birds, or just amiably trying to stay
out of Old Thrashbarg's way, suddenly all activity died away
and everybody turned to look at the strange object in amazement.
  Or, not quite everybody. The pikka birds tended to be amazed
by completely different things. A perfectly ordinary leaf Iying
unexpectedly on a stone would cause them to skitter off in par-
oxysms of confusion; sunrise took them completely by surprise
every morning, but the arrival of an alien craft from another
world simply failed to engage any part of their attention. They
continued to kar and rit and huk as they pecked for seeds on the
ground; the river continued with its quiet, spacious burbling.
  Also, the noise of loud and tuneless singing from the last
hut on the left continued unabated.
  Suddenly, with a slight click and a hum, a door folded itself
outwards and downwards from the spaceship. Then, for a minute
or two, nothing further seemed to happen, other than the loud
singing from the last hut on the left, and the thing just sat there.
  Some of the villagers, particularly the boys, began to edge
forward a little bit to have a closer look. Old Thrashbarg tried
to shoo them back. This was exactly the sort of thing that Old
Thrashbarg didn't like to have happening. He hadn't foretold it,
not even slightly, and even though he would be able to wrestle
the whole thing into his continuing story somehow or other, it
really was all getting a bit much to deal with.
  He strode forward, pushed the boys back, and raised his arms
and his ancient knobbly staff into the air. The long warm light
of the evening sun caught him nicely. He prepared to welcome
whatever gods these were as if he had been expecting them all
  Still nothing happened.
  Gradually it became clear that there was some kind of argument
going on inside the craft. Time went by and Old Thrashbarg's
arms were beginning to ache.
  Suddenly the ramp folded itself back up again.
  That made it easy for Thrashbarg. They were demons and
he had repulsed them. The reason he hadn't foretold it was that
prudence and modesty forbade.
  Almost immediately a different ramp folded itself out on the
other side of the craft from where Thrashbarg was standing, and
two figures at last emerged on it, still arguing with each other
and ignoring everybody, even Thrashbarg, whom they wouldn't
even have noticed from where they were standing.
  Old Thrashbarg chewed angrily on his beard.
  To continue to stand there with his arms upraised? To kneel
with his head bowed forward and his staff held out pointing at
them? To fall backwards as if overcome in some titanic inner
struggle? Perhaps just to go off to the woods and live in a tree
for a year without speaking to anyone?
  He opted just to drop his arms smartly as if he had done
what he meant to do. They were really hurting so he didn't
have much choice. He made a small, secret sign he had just
invented towards the ramp which had closed and then made
three and a half steps backwards, so he could at least get a
good look at whoever these people were and then decide what
to do next.
  The taller one was a very good looking woman wearing
soft and crumply clothes. Old Thrashbarg didn't know this, but
they were made of RymplonTM, a new synthetic fabric which was
terrific for space travel because it looked its absolute best when
it was all creased and sweaty.
  The shorter one was a girl. She was awkward and sullen
looking, and was wearing clothes which looked their absolute
worst when they were all creased and sweaty, and what was
more she almost certainly knew it.
  All eyes watched them, except for the pikka birds, which
had their own things to watch.
  The woman stood and looked around her. She had a purposeful
air about her. There was obviously something in particular she
wanted, but she didn't know exactly where to find it. She glanced
from face to face among the villagers assembled curiously around
her without apparently seeing what she was looking for.
  Thrashbarg had no idea how to play this at all, and decided
to resort to chanting. He threw back his head and began to
wail, but was instantly interrupted by a fresh outbreak of song
from the hut of the Sandwich Maker: the last one on the left.
The woman looked round sharply, and gradually a smile came
over her face. Without so much as a glance at Old Thrashbarg
she started to walk towards the hut
  There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which
it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth.
It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are
many and profound: choosing the right bread for instance. The
Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation
and experiment with Grarp the baker and eventually they had
between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was
dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light,
moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced
the savour of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.
  There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the
precise relationships between the width and height of the slice
and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk
and weight to the finished sandwich: here again, lightness was
a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise
of succulence and savour that is the hallmark of a truly intense
sandwich experience.
  The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were
the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the
Baker at his oven. would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker,
weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and
back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and
balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward,
tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich
Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against
the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making
slow sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after
another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of
another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a
  Three knives altogether were required. First there was the
knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade
which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there
was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number
but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little
too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of
strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness
and grace of spread.
  The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving
knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will
on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife;
it must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to
achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency,
that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat.
The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth
flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread
slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the
magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round
and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more
dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings
into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary
slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings
were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly
and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted
perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings,
and the main act of creation would be accomplished.
  The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his
assistant who would then add a few slices of newcumber and
fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the
topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth
and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also
skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by
a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich
Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was
an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy
of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy
chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to
be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven.
  And so the Sandwich Maker sang as he worked.
  He was using the last of the year's salted meat. It was a little
past its best now, but still the rich savour of Perfectly Normal
Beast meat was something unsurpassed in any of the Sandwich
Maker's previous experience. Next week it was anticipated that
the Perfectly Normal Beasts would appear again for their regu-
lar migration, whereupon the whole village would once again be
plunged into frenetic action: hunting the Beasts, killing perhaps
six, maybe even seven dozen of the thousands that thundered
past. Then the Beasts must be rapidly butchered and cleaned,
with most of the meat salted to keep it through the winter months
until the return migration in the spring, which would replenish
their supplies.
  The very best of the meat would be roasted straight away
for the feast that marked the Autumn Passage. The celebrations
would last for three days of sheer exuberance, dancing and stories
that Old Thrashbarg would tell of how the hunt had gone, stories
that he would have been busy sitting making up in his hut while
the rest of the village was out doing the actual hunting.
  And then the very, very best of the meat would be saved
from the feast and delivered cold to the Sandwich Maker. And
the Sandwich Maker would exercise on it the skills that he
had brought to them from the gods, and make the exquisite
Sandwiches of the Third Season, of which the whole village would
partake before beginning, the next day, to prepare themselves for
the rigours of the coming winter.
  Today he was just making ordinary sandwiches, if such deli-
cacies, so lovingly crafted, could ever be called ordinary. Today
his assistant was away so the Sandwich Maker was applying his
own garnish, which he was happy to do. He was happy with just
about everything in fact.
  He sliced, he sang. He flipped each slice of meat neatly on to
a slice of bread, trimmed it and assembled all the trimmings into
their jigsaw. A little salad, a little sauce, another slice of bread,
another sandwich, another verse of Yellow Submarine.
  'Hello, Arthur.'
  The Sandwich Maker almost sliced his thumb off.
  The villagers had watched in consternation as the woman had
marched boldly to the hut of the Sandwich Maker. The Sandwich
Maker had been sent to them by Almighty Bob in a burning fiery
chariot. This, at least, was what Thrashbarg said, and Thrashbarg
was the authority on these things. So, at least, Thrashbarg
claimed, and Thrashbarg was ... and so on and so on. It
was hardly worth arguing about.
  A few villagers wondered why Almighty Bob would send
his onlie begotten Sandwich Maker in a burning fiery chariot
rather than perhaps in one that might have landed quietly
without destroying half the forest, filling it with ghosts and also
injuring the Sandwich Maker quite badly. Old Thrashbarg said
that it was the ineffable will of Bob, and when they asked him
what ineffable meant he said look it up.
  This was a problem because Old Thrashbarg had the only
dictionary and he wouldn't let them borrow it. They asked him
why not and he said that it was not for them to know the will
of Almighty Bob, and when they asked him why not again he
said because he said so. Anyway, somebody sneaked into Old
Thrashbarg's hut one day while he was out having a swim and
looked up 'ineffable'. 'Ineffable' apparently meant 'unknowable,
indescribable, unutterable, not to be known or spoken about'. So
that cleared that up.
  At least they had got the sandwiches.
  One day Old Thrashbarg said that Almighty Bob had decreed
that he, Thrashbarg, was to have first pick of the sandwiches.
The villagers asked him when this had happened, exactly, and
Thrashbarg said it had happened yesterday, when they weren't
looking. 'Have faith,' Old Thrashbarg said, 'or burn!'
  They let him have first pick of the sandwiches. It seemed
  And now this woman had just arrived out of nowhere, and gone
straight for the Sandwich Maker's hut. His fame had obviously
spread, though it was hard to know where to since, according to
Old Thrashbarg, there wasn't anywhere else. Anyway, wherever
it was she had come from, presumably somewhere ineffable, she
was here now and was in the Sandwich Maker's hut. Who was
she? And who was the strange girl who was hanging around
outside the hut moodily and kicking at stones and showing every
sign of not wanting to be there? It seemed odd that someone
should come all the way from somewhere ineffable in a chariot
that was obviously a vast improvement on the burning fiery one
which had brought them the Sandwich Maker, if she didn't even
want to be here?
  They all looked to Thrashbarg, but he was on his knees
mumbling and looking very firmly up into the sky and not
catching anybody else's eye until he'd thought of something.
  'Trillian!' said the Sandwich Maker, sucking his bleeding thumb.
'What . . . ? Who . . . ? When . . . ? Where . . . ?'
  'Exactly the questions I was going to ask you,' said Trillian,
looking around Arthur's hut. It was neatly laid out with his
kitchen utensils. There were some fairly basic cupboards and
shelves, and a basic bed in the corner. A door at the back of
the room led to something Trillian couldn't see because the door
was closed. 'Nice,' she said, but in an enquiring tone of voice. She
couldn't quite make out what the set-up was.
  'Very nice,' said Arthur. 'Wonderfully nice. I don't know
when I've ever been anywhere nicer. I'm happy here. They
like me, I make sandwiches for them, and . . . er, well that's
it really. They like me and I make sandwiches for them.'
  'Sounds, er . . .'
  'Idyllic,' said Arthur, firmly. 'It is. It really is. I don't expect
you'd like it very much, but for me it's, well, it's perfect. Look, sit
down, please, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything,
er, a sandwich?'
  Trillian picked up a sandwich and looked at it. She sniffed
it carefully.
  'Try it,' said Arthur, 'it's good.'
  Trillian took a nibble, then a bite and munched on it thought-
  'It is good,' she said, looking at it.
  'My life's work,' said Arthur, trying to sound proud and
hoping he didn't sound like a complete idiot. He was used
to being revered a bit, and was having to go through some
unexpected mental gear changes.
  'What's the meat in it?' asked Trillian.
'Ah yes, that's, um, that's Perfectly Normal Beast.'
  'It's what?'
  'Perfectly Normal Beast. It's a bit like a cow, or rather
a bull. Kind of like a buffalo in fact. Large, charging sort
of animal.'
  'So what's odd about it?'
  'Nothing, it's Perfectly Normal.'
  'I see.'
  'It's just a bit odd where it comes from.'
  Tricia frowned, and stopped chewing.
  'Where does it come from?' she asked with her mouth full.
She wasn't going to swallow until she knew.
  'Well it's not just a matter of where it comes from, it's also
where it goes to. It's all right, it's perfectly safe to swallow. I've
eaten tons of it. It's great. Very succulent. Very tender. Slightly
sweet flavour with a long dark finish.'
  Trillian still hadn't swallowed.
  'Where,' she said, 'does it come from, and where does it go to?'
  'They come from a point just slightly to the east of the
Hondo Mountains. They're the big ones behind us here, you
must have seen them as you came in, and then they sweep in
their thousands across the great Anhondo plains and, er, well
that's it really. That's where they come from. That's where they
  Trillian trowned. l here was something she wasn't quite getting
about this.
  'I probably haven't made it quite clear,' said Arthur. 'When
I say they come from a point to the east of the Hondo Moun-
tains, I mean that that's where they suddenly appear. Then they
sweep across the Anhondo plains and, well, vanish really. We
have about six days to catch as many of them as we can before
they disappear. In the spring they do it again only the other way
round, you see.'
  Reluctantly, Trillian swallowed. It was either that or spit
it out, and it did in fact taste pretty good.
  'I see,' she said, once she had reassured herself that she
didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects. 'And why are they
called Perfectly Normal Beasts?'
  'Well, I think because otherwise people might think it was
a bit odd. I think Old Thrashbarg called them that. He says
that they come from where they come from and they go to
where they go to and that it's Bob's will and that's all there is
to it.'
'Who . . .'
  'Just don't even ask.
  'Well, you look well on it.'
  'I feel well. You look well.'
  'I'm well. I'm very well.'
  'Well, that's good.'
  'Nice of you to drop in.'
  hard it was to think of anything to say to someone after all this
  'I expect you're wondering how I found you,' said Trillian.
  'Yes!' said Arthur. 'I was wondering exactly that. How did
you find me?'
  'Well, as you may or may not know, I now work for one
of the big Sub-Etha broadcasting networks that - '
  'I did know that,' said Arthur, suddenly remembering. 'Yes,
you've done very well. That's terrific. Very exciting. Well done.
Must be a lot of fun.'
  'Exhausting . ~
'All that rushing around. I expect it must be, yes.'
  'We have access to virtually every kind of information. I
found your name on the passenger list of the ship that crashed.'
  Arthur was astonished.
  'You mean they knew about the crash?'
  'Well, of course they knew. You don't have a whole spaceliner
disappear without someone knowing about it.'
  'But you mean, they knew where it had happened? They
knew I'd survived?'
  'But nobody's ever been to look or search or rescue. There's
been absolutely nothing.'
  'Well there wouldn't be. It's a whole complicated insurance
thing. They just bury the whole thing. Pretend it never happened.
The insurance business is completely screwy now. You know
they've reintroduced the death penalty for insurance company
  'Really?' said Arthur. 'No I didn't. For what offence?'
  Trillian frowned.
  'What do you mean, offence?'
  'I see.'
  Trillian gave Arthur a long look, and then, in a new tone
of voice, said, 'It's time for you to take responsibility, Arthur.'
  Arthur tried to understand this remark. He found it often
took a moment or so before he saw exactly what it was that
people were driving at, so he let a moment or two pass at a
leisurely rate. Life was so pleasant and relaxed these days, there
was time to let things sink in. He let it sink in.
  He still didn't quite understand what she meant, though,
so in the end he had to say so.
  Trillian gave him a cool smile and then turned back to
the door of the hut.
  'Random?' she called. 'Come in. Come and meet your father.'


  As the Guide folded itself back into a smooth, dark disk, Ford
realised some pretty hectic stuff. Or at least he tried to realise
it, but it was too hectic to take in all in one go. His head was
hammering, his ankle was hurting, and though he didn't like to
be a wimp about his ankle, he always found that intense multi-
dimensional logic was something he understood best in the bath.
He needed time to think about this. Time, a tall drink, and some
kind of rich, foamy oil.
  He had to get out of here. He had to get the Guide out
of here. He didn't think they'd make it together.
  He glanced wildly round the room.
  Think, think, think. It had to be something simple and obvious.
If he was right in his nasty lurking suspicion that he was dealing
with nasty, lurking Vogons, then the more simple and obvious
the better.
  Suddenly he saw what he needed.
  He wouldn't try to beat the system, he would just use it. The
frightening thing about the Vogons was their absolute mindless
determination to do whatever mindless thing it was they were
determined to do. There was never any point in trying to appeal
to their reason because they didn't have any. However, if you
kept your nerve you could sometimes exploit their blinkered,
bludgeoning insistence on being bludgeoning and blinkered. It
wasn't merely that their left hand didn't always know what their
right hand was doing, so to speak; quite often their right hand
had a pretty hazy notion as well.
  Did he dare just post the thing to himself?
  Did he dare just put it in the system and let the Vogons
work out how to get the thing to him while at the same time
they were busy, as they probably would be, tearing the building
apart to find out where he'd hidden it?
  Feverishly, he packed it. He wrapped it. He labelled it.
With a moment's pause to wonder if he was really doing the
right thing, he committed the package to the building's internal
mail chute.
  'Colin,' he said, turning to the little, hovering ball. 'I am
going to abandon you to your fate.'
  'I'm so happy,' said Colin.
  'Make the most of it,' said Ford. 'Because what I want you
to do is to nursemaid that package out of the building. They'll
probably incinerate you when they find you, and I won't be here
to help. It will be very, very nasty for you, and that's just too
bad. Got it?'
  'I gurgle with pleasure,' said Colin.
  'Go!' said Ford.
  Colin obediently dived down the mail chute in pursuit of his
charge. Now Ford had only himself to worry about, but that was
still quite a substantial worry. There were noises of heavy running
footsteps outside the door, which he had taken the precaution of
locking and shifting a large filing cabinet in front of.
  He was worried that everything had gone so smoothly. Every-
thing had fitted terribly well. He had hurtled through the day
with reckless abandon and yet everything had worked out with
uncanny neatness. Except for his shoe. He was bitter about his
shoe. That was an account that was going to have to be settled.
  With a deafening roar the door exploded inwards. In the
turmoil of smoke and dust he could see large, slug-like creatures
hurrying through.
  So everything was going well was it? Everything was working
out as if the most extraordinary luck was on his side? Well, he'd
see about that.
  In a spirit of scientific enquiry he hurled himself out of
the window again.


  The first month, getting to know each other, was a little difficult.
The second month, trying to come to terms with what they'd
got to know about each other in the first month, was much easier.
  The third month, when the box arrived, was very tricky indeed.
  At the beginning, it was a problem even trying to explain
what a month was. This had been a pleasantly simple matter
for Arthur, here on Lamuella. The days were just a little over
twenty-five hours long, which basically meant an extra hour in
bed every single day and, of course, having regularly to reset his
watch, which Arthur rather enjoyed doing.
  He also felt at home with the number of suns and moons
which Lamuella had - one of each - as opposed to some of
the planets he'd fetched up on from time to time which had
had ridiculous numbers of them.
  The planet orbited its single sun every three hundred days,
which was a good number because it meant the year didn't drag
by. The moon orbited Lamuella just over nine times a year,
which meant that a month was a little over thirty days, which
was absoiutely perfect because it gave you a little more time to
get things done in. It was not merely reassuringly like Earth, it
was actually rather an improvement.
  Random, on the other hand, thought she was trapped in a
recurring nightmare. She would have crying fits and think the
moon was out to get her. Every night it was there, and then,
when it went, the sun came out and followed her. Over and over
  Trillian had warned Arthur that Random might have some
difficulty in adjusting to a more regular lifestyle than she had
been used to up till now, but Arthur hadn't been ready for
actual howling at the moon.
  He hadn't been ready for any of this of course.
  His daughter?
  His daughter? He and Trillian had never even - had they?
He was absolutely convinced he would have remembered. What
about Zaphod?
  'Not the same species, Arthur,' Trillian had answered. 'When
I decided I wanted a child they ran all sorts of genetic tests on
me and could find only one match anywhere. It was only later
that it dawned on me. I double checked and I was right. They
don't usually like to tell you, but I insisted.'
  'You mean you went to a DNA bank?' Arthur had asked,
  'Yes. But she wasn't quite as random as her name suggests,
because, of course, you were the only homo sapiens donor. I
must say, though, it seems you were quite a frequent flyer.'
  Arthur had stared wide-eyed at the unhappy looking girl who
was slouching awkwardly in the door-frame looking at him.
  'But when . . . how long . . . ?'
  'You mean, what age is she?'
  'The wrong one.
  'What do you mean ''
  'I mean that I haven't any idea.'
  ' What?'
  'Well, in my time line I think it's about ten years since I had
her, but she's obviously quite a lot older than that. I spend my
life going backwards and forwards in time, you see. The job. I
used to take her with me when I could, but it just wasn't always
possible. Then I used to put her into day care time zones, but
you just can't get reliable time tracking now. You leave them
there in the morning, you've simply no idea how old they'll be
in the evening. You complain till you're blue in the face but it
doesn't get you anywhere. I left her at one of the places for a
few hours once, and when I came back she'd passed puberty.
I've done all I can, Arthur, it's over to you. I've got a war to
  The ten seconds that passed after Trillian left were about the
longest of Arthur Dent's life. Time, we know, is relative. You
can travel light years through the stars and back, and if you do it
at the speed of light then, when you return, you may have aged
mere seconds while your twin brother or sister will have aged
twenty, thirty, forty or however many years it is, depending on
how far you travelled.
  This will come to you as a profound personal shock, particularly
if you didn't know you had a twin brother or sister. The seconds
that you have been absent for will not have been sufficient time to
prepare you for the shock of new and strangely distended family
relationships when you return.
  Ten seconds' silence was not enough time for Arthur to
reassemble his whole view of himself and his life in a way that
suddenly included an entire new daughter of whose merest exist-
ence he had had not the slightest inkling of a suspicion when he
had woken that morning. Deep, emotional family ties cannot be
constructed in ten seconds, however far and fast you travel away
from them, and Arthur could only feel helpless, bewildered and
numb as he looked at the girl standing in his doorway, staring at
his floor.
  He supposed that there was no point in pretending not to
be hopeless.
  He walked over and he hugged her.
  'I don't love you,' he said. 'I'm sorry. I don't even know
you yet. But give me a few minutes.'
  We live in strange times.
  We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our
  own. The people with whom we populate our universes are
the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our
own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity
of infinite recursion and say things like, 'Oh, hi Ed! Nice tan.
How's Carol?' involves a great deal of filtering skill for which
all conscious entities have eventually to develop a capacity in
order to protect themselves from the contemplation of the
chaos through which they seethe and tumble. So give your
kid a break, OK?
  Extract from Practical Parenting in a Fractally
Demented Universe
  'What's this?'
  Arthur had almost given up. That is to say, he was not
going to give up. He was absolutely not going to give up.
Not now. Not ever. But if he had been the sort of person who
was going to give up, this was probably the time he would have
done it.
  Not content with being surly, bad-tempered, wanting to go
and play in the paleozoic era, not seeing why they had to have
the gravity on the whole time and shouting at the sun to stop
following her, Random had also used his carving knife to dig up
stones to throw at the pikka birds for looking at her like that.
  Arthur didn't even know if Lamuella had had a paleozoic
era. According to Old Thrashbarg the planet had been found
fully-formed in the navel of a giant earwig at four-thirty one
Vroonday afternoon, and although Arthur, as a seasoned galactic
traveller with good 'O' level passes in Physics and Geography,
had fairly serious doubts about this, it was rather a waste of time
trying to argue with Old Thrashbarg and there had never been
much point before.
  He sighed as he sat nursing the chipped and bent knife. He
was going to love her if it killed him, or her, or both. It wasn't
easy being a father. He knew that no one had ever said it was
going to be easy, but that wasn't the point because he'd never
asked about being one in the first place.
  He was doing his best. Every moment that he could wrest
away from making sandwiches he was spending with her, talking
to her, walking with her, sitting on the hill with her watching the
sun go down over the valley in which the village nestled, trying
to find out about her life, trying to explain to her about his. It
was a tricky business. The common ground between them, apart
from the fact that they had almost identical genes, was about the
size of a pebble. Or rather, it was about the size of Trillian and
of her they had slightly differing views.
  'What's this?'
  He suddenly realised she had been talking to him and he
hadn't noticed. Or rather he had not recognised her voice.
  Instead of the usual tone of voice in which she spoke to him,
which was bitter and truculent, she was just asking him a simple
  He looked round in surprise.
  She was sitting there on a stool in the corner of the hut in
that rather hunched way she had, knees together, feet splayed
out, with her dark hair hanging down over her face as she looked
at something she had cradled in her hands.
  Arthur went over to her, a little nervously.
  Her mood swings were very unpredictable but so far they'd
all been between different types of bad ones. Outbreaks of bitter
recrimination would give way without warning to abject self-pity
and then long bouts of sullen despair which were punctuated with
sudden acts of mindless violence against inanimate objects and
demands to go to electric clubs.
  Not only were there no electric clubs on Lamuella, there
were no clubs at all and, in fact, no electricity. There was a
forge and a bakery, a few carts and a well, but those were the
high water mark of Lamuellan technology, and a fair number of
Random's unquenchable rages were directed against the sheer
incomprehensible backwardness of the place.
  She could pick up Sub-Etha TV on a small Flex-O-Panel
which had been surgically implanted in her wrist, but that didn't
cheer her up at all because it was full of news of insanely exciting
things happening in every other part of the Galaxy than here.
It would also give her frequent news of her mother, who had
dumped her to go off and cover some war which now seemed
not to have happened, or at least to have gone all wrong in some
way because of the absence of any proper intelligence gathering.
It also gave her access to lots of great adventure shows featuring
all sorts of fantastically expensive spaceships crashing into each
other .
  The villagers were absolutely hypnotised by all these wonderful
magic images flashing over her wrist. They had only ever seen
one spaceship crash, and it had been so frightening, violent and
shocking and had caused so much horrible devastation, fire and
death that, stupidly, they had never realised it was entertainment.
  Old Thrashbarg had been so astonished by it that he had
instantly seen Random as an emissary from Bob, but had fairly
soon afterwards decided that in fact she had been sent as a test
of his faith, if not of his patience. He was also alarmed at the
number of spaceship crashes he had to start incorporating into
his holy stories if he was to hold the attention of the villagers,
and not have them rushing off to peer at Random's wrist all the
  At the moment she was not peering at her wrist. Her wrist
was turned off. Arthur squatted down quietly beside her to see
what she was looking at.
It was his watch. He had taken it off when he'd gone to
shower under the local waterfall, and Random had found it
and was trying to work it out.
  'It's just a watch,' he said. 'It's to tell the time.'
  'I know that,' she said. 'But you keep on fiddling with it,
and it still doesn't tell the right time. Or even anything like
it. '
  She brought up the display on her wrist panel, which auto-
matically produced a readout of local time. Her wrist panel had
quietly got on with the business of measuring the local gravity
and orbital momentum, and had noticed where the sun was and
tracked its movement in the sky, all within the first few minutes
of Random's arrival. It had then quickly picked up clues from its
environment as to what the local unit conventions were and reset
itself appropriately. It did this sort of thing continually, which was
particularly valuable if you did a lot of travelling in time as well
as space.
  Random frowned at her father's watch, which didn't do any
of this.
  Arthur was very fond of it. It was a better one than he
would ever have afforded himself. He had been given it on
his twenty-second birthday by a rich and guilt-ridden godfather
who had forgotten every single birthday he had had up till then,
and also his name. It had the day, the date, the phases of the
moon; it had 'To Albert on his twenty-first birthday' and the
wrong date engraved on the battered and scratched surface of
its back in letters that were still just about visible.
  The watch had been through a considerable amount of stuff
in the last few years, most of which would fall well outside the
warranty. He didn't suppose, of course, that the warranty had
especially mentioned that the watch was guaranteed to be accu-
rate only within the very particular gravitational and magnetic
fields of the Earth, and so long as the day was twenty-four hours
long and the planet didn't explode and so on. These were such
basic assumptions that even the lawyers would have missed them.
  Luckily his watch was a wind-up one, or at least, a self-winder.
Nowhere else in the Galaxy would he have found batteries of pre-
cisely the dimensions and power specifications that were perfectly
standard on Earth.
  'So what are all these numbers?' asked Random.
  Arthur took it from her.
  'These numbers round the edge mark the hours. In the little
window on the right it says THU, which means Thursday, and
the number is 14, which means it's the fourteenth day of the
month of MAY which is what it says in this window over here.
  'And this sort of crescent-shaped window at the top tells you
about the phases of the moon. In other words it tells you how
much of the moon is lit up at night by the sun, which depends
on the relative positions of the Sun and the Moon and, well . . .
the Earth.'
  'The Earth,' said Random.
  'And that's where you came from, and where Mum came from.'
  Random took the watch back from him and looked at it
again, clearly baffled by something. Then she held it up to
her ear and listened in puzzlement.
  'What's that noise?'
  'It's ticking. That's the mechanism that drives the watch. It's
called clockwork. It's all kind of interlocking cogs and springs
that work to turn the hands round at exactly the right speed to
mark the hours and minutes and days and so on.'
  Random carried on peering at it.
  'There's something puzzling you,' said Arthur. 'What is it?'
  'Yes,' said Random, at last. 'Why's it all in hardware'?'
  Arthur suggested they went for a walk. He felt there were
things they should discuss, and for once Random seemed, if
not precisely amenable and willing, then at least not growling.
From Random's point of view this was also all very weird. It
wasn't that she wanted to be difficult, as such, it was just that
she didn't know how or what else to be.
  Who was this guy? What was this life she was supposed to
lead? What was this world she was supposed to lead it in? And
what was this universe that kept coming at her through her eyes
and ears? What was it for? What did it want?
  She'd been born in a spaceship that had been going from
somewhere to somewhere else, and when it had got to some-
where else, somewhere else had only turned out to be another
somewhere that you had to get to somewhere else again from,
and so on.
  It was her normal expectation that she was supposed to be
somewhere else. It was normal for her to feel that she was in
the wrong place.
  Then, constant time travel had only compounded this problem,
and had led to the feeling that she was not only always in the
wrong place, but she was also almost always there at the wrong
  She didn't notice that she felt this, because it was the only
way she ever felt, just as it never seemed odd to her that
nearly everywhere she went she needed either to wear weights
or anti-gravity suits and usually special apparatus for breathing
as well. The only places you could ever feel right were worlds you
designed for yourself to inhabit - virtual realities in the electric
clubs. It had never occurred to her that the real Universe was
something you could actually fit into.
  And that included this Lamuella place her mother had dumped
her in. And it also included this person who had bestowed on her
this precious and magical gift of life in return for a seat upgrade.
It was just as well he had turned out to be rather kind and friendly
or there would have been trouble. Really. She'd got a specially
sharpened stone in her pocket she could cause a lot of trouble
  It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's
point of view without the proper training.
  They sat on the spot that Arthur particularly liked, on the side
of a hill overlooking the valley. The sun was going down over
the village.
  The only thing that Arthur wasn't quite so fond of was being
able to see a little way into the next valley, where a deep dark
mangled furrow in the forest marked the spot where his ship
had crashed. But maybe that was what kept bringing him back
here. There were plenty of spots from which you could survey
the lush rolling countryside of Lamuella, but this was the one
he was drawn to, with its nagging dark spot of fear and pain
nestling just on the edge of his vision.
  He had never been there again since he had been pulled
out of the wreckage.
  Couldn't bear it.
  In fact he had gone some of the way back to it the very next
day, while he was still numb and spinning with shock. He had
a broken leg, a couple of broken ribs, some bad burns and was
not really thinking coherently but had insisted that the villagers
take him, which, uneasily, they had. He had not managed to
get right to the actual spot where the ground had bubbled and
melted, however, and had at last hobbled away from the horror
for ever.
  Soon, word had got around that the whole area was haunted
and no one had ventured back there ever since. The land was full
of beautiful, verdant and delightful valleys - no point in going to
a highly worrying one. Let the past hold on to itself and let the
Present move forward into the future.
  Random cradled the watch in her hands, slowly turning it
to let the long light of the evening sun shine warmly in the
scratches and scuffs of the thick glass. It fascinated her watching
the spidery little second hand ticking its way round. Every time
it completed a full circle, the longer of the two main hands had
moved on exactly to the next of the sixty small divisions round
the dial. And when the long hand had made its own full circle
the smaller hand had moved on to the next of the main digits.
  'You've been watching it for over an hour,' said Arthur.
  'I know,' she said. 'An hour is when the big hand has gone
all the way round, yes?'
  'That's right.'
  'Then I've been watching it for an hour and seventeen
  She smiled with a deep and mysterious pleasure and moved
very slightly so that she was resting just a little against his arm.
Arthur felt a small sigh escape from him that had been pent up
inside his chest for weeks. He wanted to put his arm around his
daughter's shoulders, but felt it was too early yet and that she
would shy away from him. But something was working. Some-
thing was easing inside her. The watch meant something to her
that nothing in her life had so far managed to do. Arthur was
not sure that he had really understood what it was yet, but he
was profoundly pleased and relieved that something had reached
  'Explain to me again,' said Random.
  'There's nothing really to it,' said Arthur. 'Clockwork was
something that developed over hundreds of years . . .'
  'Earth years.'
  'Yes. It became finer and finer and more and more intricate.
It was highly skilled and delicate work. It had to be made very
small, and it had to carry on working accurately however much
you waved it around or dropped it.'
  'But only on one planet?'
  'Well, that was where it was made, you see. It was never
expected to go anywhere else and deal with different suns and
moons and magnetic fields and things. I mean the thing still
goes perfectly well, but it doesn't really mean much this far
from Switzerland.'
  'From where?'
  'Switzerland. That's where these were made. Small hilly coun-
try. Tiresomely neat. The people who made them didn't really
know there were other worlds.'
  'Quite a big thing not to know.'
  'Well, yes.'
  'So where did they come from?'
  'They, that is we . . . we just sort of grew there. We evolv-
ed on the Earth. From, I don't know, some kind of sludge or
  'Like this watch.'
  'Um. I don't think the watch grew out of sludge.'
  'You don't understand!'
  Random suddenly leaped to her feet, shouting.
  'You don't understand! You don't understand me, you don't
understand anything! I hate you for being so stupid!'
  She started to run hectically down the hill, still clutching
the watch and shouting that she hated him.
  Arthur jumped up, startled and at a loss. He started to run
after her through the stringy and clumpy grass. It was hard and
painful for him. When he had broken his leg in the crash, it had
not been a clean break, and it had not healed cleanly. He was
stumbling and wincing as he ran.
  Suddenly she turned and faced him, her face dark with anger.
  She brandished the watch at him. 'You don't understand
that there's somewhere this belongs? Somewhere it works?
Somewhere that it fits?'
  She turned and ran again. She was fit and fleet-footed and
Arthur could not remotely keep up with her.
  It wasn't that he had not expected being a father to be
this difficult, it was that he hadn't expected to be a father
at all, particularly not suddenly and unexpectedly on an alien
  Random turned to shout at him again. For some reason
he stopped each time she did.
  'Who do you think I am?' she demanded angrily. 'Your
upgrade? Who do you think Mum thought I was? Some sort
of ticket to the life she didn't have?'
  'I don't know what you mean by that,' said Arthur, panting
and hurting.
  'You don't know what anybody means by anything!'
  'What do you mean?'
  'Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!'
  'Tell me ! Please tell me ! What does she mean by saying
the life she didn't have?'
  'She wished she'd stayed on Earth! She wished she hadn't
gone off with that stupid brain-dead fruit gum, Zaphod! She
thinks she would have had a different life!'
  'But,' said Arthur, 'she would have been killed! She would
have been killed when the world was destroyed!'
  'That's a different life isn't it?'
  'That's . . .
  'She wouldn't have had to have me! She hates me!'
  'You can't mean that! How could anyone possibly, er, I
mean . . .
  'She had me because I was meant to make things not for her.
That was my job. But I fitted even worse than she did! So she
just shut me off and carried on with her stupid life.'
  'What's stupid about her life? She's fantastically successful,
isn't she? She's all over time and space, all over the Sub-Etha
TV networks . . .
  'Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!'
  Random turned and ran off again. Arthur couldn't keep up
with her and at last he had to sit down for a bit and let the pain
in his leg subside. The turmoil in his head he didn't know what
to do with at all.
  He hobbled into the village an hour later. It was getting dark. The
villagers he passed said hello, but there was a sense of nervousness
and of not quite knowing what was going on or what to do about
it in the air. Old Thrashbarg had been seen pulling on his beard
a fair bit and looking at the moon, and that was not a good sign
  Arthur went into his hut.
  Random was sitting hunched quietly over the table.
  'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm so sorry.'
  'That's all right,' said Arthur as gently as he knew how. 'It's
good to, well, to have a little chat. There's so much we have to
learn and understand about each other, and life isn't, well it isn't
all just tea and sandwiches . . .'
  'I'm so sorry,' she said again, sobbing.
  Arthur went up to her and put his arm round her shoulder.
She didn't resist or pull away. Then Arthur saw what it was she
was so sorry about.
  In the pool of light thrown by a Lamuellan lantern lay
Arthur's watch. Random had forced the back off it with the
back edge of the butter spreading knife, and all of the minute
cogs and springs and levers were Iying in a tiny cock-eyed mess
where she'd been fiddling with them.
  'I just wanted to see how it worked,' said Random, 'how it
all fitted together. I'm so sorry! I can't get it back together. I'm
sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'll get it
repaired! Really! I'll get it repaired!'
  The following day Thrashbarg came round and said all sorts
of Bob stuff. He tried to exert a calming influence by inviting
Random to let her mind dwell on the ineffable mystery of the
giant earwig, and Random said there was no giant earwig and
Thrashbarg went very cold and silent and said she would be cast
into outer darkness. Random said good, she'd been born there,
and the next day the parcel arrived.
  This was all getting a bit eventful.
  In fact, when the parcel arrived, delivered by a kind of robot
drone that dropped out of the sky making droning robot noises,
it brought with it a sense which gradually began to permeate
through the whole village, that it was almost one event too many.
  It wasn't the robot drone's fault. All it required was Arthur
Dent's signature or thumb print, or just a few scrapings of skin
cells from the nape of his neck and it would be on its way again.
It hung around waiting, not quite sure what all this resentment
was about. Meanwhile, Kirp had caught another fish with a head
at both ends, but on closer inspection it turned out that it was in
fact two fish cut in half and sewn together rather badly, so not
only had Kirp failed to rekindle any great interest in two-headed
fish but he had seriously cast doubt on the authenticity of the
first one. Only the pikka birds seemed to feel that everything
was exactly normal.
  The robot drone got Arthur's signature and made its escape.
Arthur bore the parcel back to his hut and sat and looked at
  'Let's open it!' said Random, who was feeling much more
cheerful this morning now that everything around her had got
thoroughly weird, but Arthur said no.
  'Why not?'
  'It's not addressed to me.'
  'Yes, it is.
  'No, it isn't. It's addressed to . . . well, it's addressed to
Ford Prefect, in care of me.'
'Ford Prefect? Is he the one who . . .
  'Yes,' said Arthur tartly.
  'I've heard about him.
  'I expect you have.
'Let's open it anyway. What else are we going to do?'
  'I don't know,' said Arthur, who really wasn't sure.
  He had taken his damaged knives over to the forge bright
and early that morning and Strinder had had a look at them
and said that he would see what he could do.
  They had tried the usual business of waving the knives through
the air, feeling for the point of balance and the point of flex and
so on, but the joy was gone from it, and Arthur had a sad feeling
that his sandwich making days were probably numbered.
  He hung his head.
  The next appearance of the Perfectly Normal Beasts was
imminent, but Arthur felt that the usual festivities of hunting
and feasting were going to be rather muted and uncertain.
Something had happened here on Lamuella, and Arthur had
a horrible feeling that it was him.
  'What do you think it is?' urged Random, turning the parcel
over in her hands.
  'I don't know,' said Arthur. 'Something bad and worrying,
though. '
  'How do you know?' Random protested.
  'Because anything to do with Ford Prefect is bound to be
worse and more worrying than something that isn't,' said Arthur.
'Believe me.'
  'You're upset about something, aren't you?' said Random.
  Arthur sighed.
  'I'm just feeling a little jumpy and unsettled, I think,' said
  'I'm sorry,' said Random, and put the package down again.
She could see that it really would upset him if she opened it.
She would just have to do it when he wasn't looking.


  Arthur wasn't quite certain which he noticed as being missing
first. When he noticed that the one wasn't there his mind instantly
leapt to the other and he knew immediately that they were both
gone and that something insanely bad and difficult to deal with
would happen as a result.
  Random was not there. And neither was the parcel.
  He had left it up on a shelf all day, in plain view. It was
an exercise in trust.
  He knew that one of the things he was supposed to do as a
parent was to show trust in his child, to build a sense of trust
and confidence into the bedrock of relationship between them.
He had had a nasty feeling that that might be an idiotic thing to
do, but he did it anyway, and sure enough it had turned out to
be an idiotic thing to do. You live and learn. At any rate, you
  You also panic.
  Arthur ran out of the hut. It was the middle of the evening.
The light was getting dim and a storm was brewing. He could
not see her anywhere, nor any sign of her. He asked. No one
had seen her. He asked again. No one else had seen her. They
were going home for the night. A little wind was whipping round
the edge of the village, picking things up and tossing them around
in a dangerously casual manner.
  He found Old Thrashbarg and asked him. Thrashbarg looked
at him stonily, and then pointed in the one direction that Arthur
had dreaded, and had therefore instinctively known was the way
she would have gone.
  So now he knew the worst.
  She had gone where she thought he would not follow her.
  He looked up at the sky, which was sullen, streaked and livid,
and reflected that it was the sort of sky that the Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse wouldn't feel like a bunch of complete idiots
riding out of.
  With a heavy sense of the utmost foreboding he set off
on the track that led to the forest in the next valley. The first
heavy blobs of rain began to hit the ground as Arthur tried to
drag himself to some sort of run.
  Random reached the crest of the hill and looked down into the
next valley. It had been a longer and harder climb than she had
anticipated. She was a little worried that doing the trip at night
was not that great an idea, but her father had been mooching
around near the hut all day trying to pretend to either her or
himself that he wasn't guarding the parcel. At last he'd had to
go over to the forge to talk with Strinder about the knives, and
Random had seized her opportunity and done a runner with the
  It was perfectly clear that she couldn't just open the thing
there, in the hut, or even in the village. He might have come
across her at any moment. Which meant that she had to go
where she wouldn't be followed.
  She could stop where she was now. She had gone this way
in the hope that he wouldn't follow her, and even if he did he
would never find her up in the wooded parts of the hill with
night drawing in and the rain starting.
  All the way up, the parcel had been jiggling under her arm.
It was a satisfyingly hunky sort of thing: a box with a square top
about the length of her forearm on each side, and about the length
of her hand deep, wrapped up in brown plasper with an ingenious
new form of self-knotting string. It didn't rattle as she shook it,
but she sensed that its weight was concentrated excitingly at the
  Having come so far, though, there was a certain satisfaction
in not stopping here, but carrying on down into what seemed to
be almost a forbidden area- where her father's ship had come
down. She wasn't exactly certain what the word 'haunted' meant,
but it might be fun to find out. She would keep going and save
the parcel up for when she got there.
  It was getting darker, though. She hadn't used her tiny electric
torch yet, because she didn't want to be visible from a distance.
She would have to use it now, but it probably didn't matter since
she would be on the other side of the hill which divided the valleys
from each other.
  She turned her torch on. Almost at the same moment a fork
of lightning ripped across the valley into which she was heading
and startled her considerably. As the darkness shuddered back
around her and a clap of thunder rolled out across the land she
felt suddenly rather small and lost with just a feeble pencil of
light bobbing in her hand. Perhaps she should stop after all
and open the parcel here. Or maybe she should go back and
come out again tomorrow. It was only a momentary hesitation,
though. She knew there was no going back tonight, and sensed
that there was no going back ever.
  She headed on down the side of the hill. The rain was
beginning to pick up now. Where a short while ago it had
been a few heavy blobs it was settling in for a good pour now.
hissing in the trees, and the ground was getting slippery under
her feet.
  At least, she thought it was the rain hissing in the trees.
Shadows were leaping and leering at her as her light bobbed
through the trees. Onwards and downwards.
  She hurried on for another ten or fifteen minutes, soaked to the
skin now and shivering, and gradually became aware that there
seemed to be some other light somewhere ahead of her. It was
very faint and she wasn't certain if she was imagining it or not.
She turned off her torch to see. There did seem to be some sort
of dim glow ahead. She couldn't tell what it was. She turned her
torch back on and continued down the hill, towards whatever it
  There was something wrong with the woods though.
  She couldn't immediately say what it was, but they didn't
seem like sprightly healthy woods looking forward to a good
spring. The trees were lolling at sickly angles and had a sort of
pallid, blighted look about them. Random more than once had
the worrying sensation that they were trying to reach towards
her as she passed them, but it was just a trick of the way that
her light caused their shadows to flicker and lurch.
  Suddenly, something fell out of a tree in front of her. She
leapt backwards with alarm, dropping both the torch and the
box as she did so. She went down into a crouch, pulling the
specially sharpened rock out of her pocket.
  The thing that had fallen out of the tree was moving. The
torch was Iying on the ground and pointing towards it, and a
vast, grotesque shadow was slowly lurching through the light
towards her. She could hear faint rustling and screeching noises
over the steady hiss of the rain. She scrabbled on the ground for
the torch, found it, and shone it directly at the creature.
  At the same moment another dropped from a tree just a few
feet away. She swung the torch wildly from one to another. She
held her rock up, ready to throw.
  They were quite small in fact. It was the angle of the light that
had made them loom so large. Not only small, but small, furry
and cuddly. And there was another, dropping from the trees. It
fell through the beam of light, so she saw it quite clearly.
  It fell neatly and precisely, turned, and then, like the other
two, started slowly and purposefully to advance on Random.
  She stayed rooted to the spot. She still had her rock poised
and ready to throw, but was increasingly conscious of the fact
that the things she had it poised and ready to throw at were
squirrels. Or at least, squirrel-like things. Soft, warm, cuddly
squirrel-like things advancing on her in a way she wasn't at all
certain she liked.
  She shone her torch directly on the first of them. It was
making aggressive, hectoring, screeching noises, and carrying
in one of its little fists a small tattered piece of wet, pink rag.
Random hefted her rock menacingly in her hand, but it made
no impression at all on the squirrel advancing on her with its
wet piece of rag.
  She backed away. She didn't know at all how to deal with this.
If they had been vicious snarling slavering beasts with glistening
fangs she would have pitched into them with a will, but squirrels
behaving like this she couldn't quite handle.
  She backed away again. The second squirrel was starting
to make a flanking manoeuvre round to her right. Carrying a
cup. Some kind of acorn thing. The third was right behind it
and making its own advance. What was it carrying? Some little
scrap of soggy paper, Random thought.
  She stepped back again, caught her ankle against the root
of a tree and fell over backwards.
  Instantly the first squirrel darted forward and was on top of
her, advancing along her stomach with cold purpose in its eyes,
and a piece of wet rag in its fist.
  Random tried to jump up, but only managed to jump about
an inch. The startled movement of the squirrel on her stomach
startled her in return. The squirrel froze, gripping her skin
through her soaking shirt with its tiny claws. Then slowly, inch
by inch, it made its way up her, stopped, and proffered her the
  She felt almost hypnotised by the strangeness of the thing and
its tiny glinting eyes. It proffered her the rag again. It pushed it
at her repeatedly, screeching insistently, till at last, nervously,
hesitantly, she took the thing from it. It continued to watch her
intently, its eyes darting all over her face. She had no idea what
to do. Rain and mud were streaming down her face and she had
a squirrel sitting on her. She wiped some mud out of her eyes
with the rag.
  The squirrel shrieked triumphantly, grabbed the rag back,
leapt off her, ran scampering into the dark, enclosing night,
darted up into a tree, dived into a hole in the trunk, settled
back and lit a cigarette.
  Meanwhile Random was trying to fend off the squirrel with
the acorn cup full of rain and the one with the paper. She
shuffled backwards on her bottom.
  'No!' she shouted. 'Go away!'
  They darted back, in fright, and then darted right forward
again with their gifts. She brandished her rock at them. 'Go!'
she yelled.
  The squirrels scampered round in consternation. Then one
darted straight at her, dropped the acorn cup in her lap, turned
and ran off into the night. The other stood quivering for a
moment, then put its scrap of paper neatly down in front of
her and disappeared as well.
  She was alone again, but trembling with confusion. She got
unsteadily to her feet, picked up her rock and her parcel, then
paused and picked up the scrap of paper as well. It was so soggy
and dilapidated it was hard to make out what it was. It seemed
just to be a fragment of an in-flight magazine.
  Just as Random was trying to understand exactly what it was
that this all meant, a man walked out into the clearing in which
she was standing, raised a vicious-looking gun and shot her.
  Arthur was thrashing around hopelessly two or three miles
behind her, on the upward side of the hill.
Within minutes of setting out he had gone back again and
equipped himself with a lamp. Not an electric one. The only
electric light in the place was the one that Random had brought
with her. This was a kind of dim hurricane lamp: a perforated
metal canister from Strinder's forge, which contained a reservoir
of inflammable fish oil, a wick of knotted dried grass and was
wrapped in a translucent film made from dried membranes from
the gut of a Perfectly Normal Beast.
  It had now gone out.
  Arthur jiggled around with it in a thoroughly pointless kind
of a way for a few seconds. There was clearly no way he was
going to get the thing suddenly to burst into flame again in the
middle of a rainstorm, but it's impossible not to make a token
effort. Reluctantly he threw the thing aside.
  What to do? This was hopeless. He was absolutely sodden,
his clothes heavy and billowing with the rain, and now he was
lost in the dark as well.
  For a brief second he was lost in the blinding light, and
then he was lost in the dark again.
  The sheet of lightning had at least shown him that he was
very close to the brow of the hill. Once he had breasted that
he would . . . well, he wasn't certain what he would do. He'd
have to work that out when he got there.
  He limped forward and upwards.
  A few minutes later he knew that he was standing panting at
the top. There was some kind of dim glow in the distance below
him. He had no idea what it was, and indeed he hardly liked to
think. It was the only thing he had to make towards, though,
so he started to make his way, stumbling, lost and frightened
towards it.
  The flash of lethal light passed straight through Random and,
about two seconds later, so did the man who had shot it. Other
than that he paid her no attention whatsoever. He had shot
someone standing behind her, and when she turned to look.
he was kneeling over the body and going through its pockets.
  The tableau froze and vanished. It was replaced a second
later by a giant pair of teeth framed by immense and perfectly
glossed red lips. A huge blue brush appeared out of nowhere
and started foamily to scrub at the teeth, which continued to
hang there gleaming in the shimmering curtain of rain.
  Random blinked at it twice before she got it.
  It was a commercial. The guy who had shot her was part
of a holographic in-flight movie. She must now be very close to
where the ship had crashed. Obviously some of its systems were
more indestructible than others.
  The next half-mile of the journey was particularly trouble-
some. Not only did she have the cold and the rain and the night
to contend with, but also the fractured and thrashing remains of
the ship's on-board entertainment system. Spaceships and jetcars
and helipods crashed and exploded continuously around her,
illuminating the night, villainous people in strange hats smug-
gled dangerous drugs through her, and the combined orchestra
and chorus of the Hallapolis State Opera performed the closing
March of the AnjaQantine Star Guard from Act IV of Rizgar's
Blamwellamum of Woont in a little glade somewhere off to her
  And then she was standing on the lip of a very nasty looking and
bubbly-edged crater. There was still a faint warm glow coming
from what would otherwise have looked like an enormous piece
of caramelised chewing gum in the centre of the pit: the melted
remains of a great spaceship.
  She stood looking at it for a longish while, and then at
last started to walk along and around the edge of the crater.
She was no longer certain what she was looking for, but kept
moving anyway, keeping the horror of the pit to her left.
  The rain was beginning to ease off a little, but it was still
extremely wet, and since she didn't know what it was that was
in the box, whether it was perhaps something delicate or dam-
ageable, she thought she ought to find somewhere reasonably dry
to open it. She hoped she hadn't already damaged it by dropping
  She played her torch around the surrounding trees, which were
thin on the ground here, and mostly charred and broken. In the
middle distance she thought she could see a jumbled outcrop of
rock which might provide some shelter, and she started to pick
her way towards it. All around she found the detritus that had
been ejected from the ship as it broke up, before the final fireball.
  After she had moved two or three hundred yards from the
edge of the crater she came across the tattered fragments of some
fluffy pink material, sodden, muddied and drooping amongst the
broken trees. She guessed, correctly, that this must be the remains
of the escape cocoon that had saved her father's life. She went and
looked at it more closely, and then noticed something close to it
on the ground, half covered in mud.
  She picked it up and wiped the mud off it. It was some kind of
electronic device the size of a small book. Feebly glowing on its
cover, in response to her touch, were some large friendly letters.
They said DON'T PANIC. She knew what this was. It was her
father's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  She felt instantly reassured by it, turned her head up to the
thundery sky and let some rain wash over her face and into her
  She shook her head and hurried on towards the rocks. Clamber-
ing up and over them she almost immediately found the perfect
thing. The mouth of a cave. She played her torch into its inte-
rior. It seemed to be dry and safe. Picking her way carefully,
she walked in. It was quite spacious, but didn't go that deep.
Exhausted and relieved she sat on a convenient rock, put the
box down in front of her and started immediately to open it.


  For a long period of time there was much speculation and
controversy about where the so-called 'missing matter' of the
Universe had got to. All over the Galaxy the science depart-
ments of all the major universities were acquiring more and
more elaborate equipment to probe and search the hearts of
distant galaxies, and then the very centre and the very edges of
the whole Universe, but when eventually it was tracked down it
turned out in fact to be all the stuff which the equipment had
been packed in.
  There was quite a large quantity of missing matter in the
box, little soft round white pellets of missing matter, which
Random discarded for future generations of physicists to track
down and discover all over again once the findings of the
current generation of physicists had been lost and forgotten
  Out of the pellets of missing matter she lifted the featureless
black disk. She put it down on a rock beside her and sifted
amongst all the missing matter to see if there was anything
else, a manual or some attachments or something, but there
was nothing else at all. Just the black disk.
  She shone the torch on it.
  As she did so, cracks began to appear along its apparently
featureless surface. Random backed away nervously, but then
saw that the thing, whatever it was, was merely unfolding itself.
  The process was wonderfully beautiful. It was extraordinarily
elaborate but also simple and elegant. It was like a piece of
self-opening origami, or a rosebud blooming into a rose in just
a few seconds.
  Where just a few moments earlier there had been a smoothly
curved black disk there was now a bird. A bird, hovering there.
  Random continued to back away from it, carefully and watch-
  It was a little like a pikka bird, only rather smaller. That is
to say, in fact it was larger, or to be more exact, precisely the
same size or, at least, not less than twice the size. It was also
both a lot bluer and a lot pinker than pikka birds, while at the
same time being perfectly black.
  There was also something very odd about it, which Random
couldn't immediately make out.
  It certainly shared with pikka birds the impression it gave
that it was watching something that you couldn't see.
  Suddenly it vanished.
  Then, just as suddenly everything went black. Random drop-
ped into a tense crouch, feeling for the specially sharpened rock
in her pocket again. Then the blackness receded and rolled itself
up into a ball and then the blackness was the bird again. It hung
in the air in front of her, beating its wings slowly and staring at
  'Excuse me,' it said suddenly, 'I just have to calibrate myself.
Can you hear me when I say this?'
  'When you say what?' demanded Random.
  'Good,' said the bird. 'And can you hear me when I say
this?' It spoke this time at a much higher pitch.
  'Yes, of course I can!' said Random.
  'And can you hear me when I say this?' it said, this time
in a sepulchrally deep voice.
  ' Yes!'
  There was then a pause.
  'No obviously not,' said the bird after a few seconds. 'Good,
well your hearing range is obviously between 20 and 16 KHz. So.
Is this comfortable for you?' it said in a pleasant light tenor. 'No
uncomfortable harmonics screeching away in the upper register?
Obviously not. Good. I can use those as data channels. Now.
How many of me can you see?'
  Suddenly the air was full of nothing but interlocking birds.
  Random was well used to spending time in virtual realities, but
this was something far weirder than anything she had previously
encountered. It was as if the whole geometry of space was
redefined in seamless bird shapes.
  Random gasped and flung her arms round her face, her
arms moving through bird-shaped space.
  'Hmmm, obviously way too many,' said the bird. 'How about
  It concertina-ed into a tunnel of birds, as if it was a bird
caught between parallel mirrors, reflecting infinitely into the
  'What are you?' shouted Random.
  'We'll come to that in a minute,' said the bird. 'Just how
many, please?'
  'Well, you're sort of ...' Random gestured helplessly off
into the distance.
  'I see, still infinite in extent, but at least we're homing in
on the right dimensional matrix. Good. No, the answer is an
orange and two lemons.'
  'If I have three lemons and three oranges and I lose two
oranges and a lemon what do I have left?'
  'OK, so you think that time flows that way, do you? Interesting.
Am I still infinite?' it asked, ballooning this way and that in space.
'Am I infinite now? How yellow am I?'
  Moment by moment the bird was going through mind-mangling
transformations of shape and extent.
  'I can't . . .' said Random, bewildered.
  'You don't have to answer, I can tell from watching you
now. So. Am I your mother? Am I a rock? Do I seem huge,
squishy and sinuously intertwined? No? How about now? Am
I going backwards?'
  For once the bird was perfectly still and steady.
  'No,' said Random.
  'Well I was in fact, I was moving backwards in time. Hmmm.
Well I think we've sorted all that out now. If you'd like to know,
I can tell you that in your universe you move freely in three
dimensions that you call space. You move in a straight line in
a fourth, which you call time, and stay rooted to one place in a
fifth, which is the first fundamental of probability. After that it
gets a bit complicated, and there's all sorts of stuff going on in
dimensions 13 to 22 that you really wouldn't want to know about.
All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe
is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start
from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the
first place. I can easily not say words like "damn" if it offends
  'Say what you damn well like.'
  'I will.'
  'What the hell are you?' demanded Random.
  'I am The Guide. In your universe I am your Guide. In fact I
inhabit what is technically known as the Whole Sort of General
Mish Mash which means . . . well, let me show you.'
  It turned in mid-air and swooped out of the cave, and then
perched on a rock, just beneath an overhang, out of the rain,
which was getting heavier again.
  'Come on,' it said, 'watch this.'
  Random didn't like being bossed around by a bird, but she
followed it to the mouth of the cave anyway, still fingering the
rock in her pocket.
  'Rain,' said the bird. 'You see? Just rain.'
  'I know what rain is.'
  Sheets of the stuff were sweeping through the night, moonlight
sifting through it.
  'So what is it?'
  'What do you mean, what is it? Look, who are you? What
were you doing in that box? Why have I spent a night running
through the forest fending off demented squirrels to find that
all I've got at the end of it is a bird asking me what rain
is. It's just water falling through the bloody air, that's what
it is. Anything else you want to know or can we go home
  There was a long pause before the bird answered, 'You
want to go home?'
  'I haven't got a home!' Random almost shocked herself,
she screamed the words so loudly.
  'Look into the rain . . .' said the bird Guide.
  'I'm looking into the rain! What else is there to look at?'
  What do you see?'
  'What do you mean, you stupid bird? I just see a load
of rain. It's just water, falling.'
  'What shapes do you see in the water?'
  'Shapes? There aren't any shapes. It's just, just . . .
  'Just a mish mash,' said the bird Guide.
  'Yes . . .'
  'Now what do you see?'
  Just on the very edge of visibility a thin faint beam fanned out
of the bird's eyes. In the dry air beneath the overhang there was
nothing to see. Where the beam hit the drops of rain as they fell
through it, there was a flat sheet of light, so bright and vivid it
seemed solid.
  'Oh great. A laser show,' said Random fractiously. 'Never
seen one of those before, of course, except at about five million
rock concerts.'
  'Tell me what you see!'
  'Just a flat sheet! Stupid bird.'
  'There's nothing there that wasn't there before. I'm just using
light to draw your attention to certain drops at certain moments.
Now what do you see?'
  The light shut off.
  'I'm doing exactly the same thing, but with ultra-violet light.
You can't see it.'
  'So what's the point of showing me something I can't see?'
  'So that you understand that just because you see something,
it doesn't mean to say it's there. And if you don't see something
it doesn't mean to say it's not there, it's only what your senses
bring to your attention.'
  'I'm bored with this,' said Random, and then gasped.
  Hanging in the rain was a giant and very vivid three-dimen-
sional image of her father looking startled about something.
  About two miles away behind Random, her father, struggling
his way through the woods suddenly stopped. He was startled to
see an image of himself looking startled about something hanging
brightly in the rain-filled air about two miles away. About two
miles away some distance to the right of the direction in which
he was heading.
  He was almost completely lost, convinced he was going to die
of cold and wet and exhaustion and beginning to wish he could
just get on with it. He had just been brought an entire golfing
magazine by a squirrel, as well, and his brain was beginning to
howl and gibber.
  Seeing a huge bright image of himself light up in the sky told
him that, on balance, he was probably right to howl and gibber
but probably wrong as far as the direction he was heading was
  Taking a deep breath, he turned and headed off towards
the inexplicable light show.
  'OK, so what's that supposed to prove?' demanded Random. It
was the fact that the image was her father that had startled her
rather than the appearance of the image itself. She had seen her
first hologram when she was two months old and had been put in
it to play. She had seen her most recent one about half an hour
ago playing the March of the AnjaQantine Star Guard.
  'Only that it's no more there or not there than the sheet
was,' said the bird. 'It's just the interaction of water from the
sky moving in one direction, with light at frequencies your senses
can detect moving in another. It makes an apparently solid image
in your mind. But it's all just images in the Mish Mash. Here's
another one for you.'
  'My mother!' said Random.
  'No,' said the bird.
  'I know my mother when I see her!'
  The image was of a woman emerging from a spacecraft
inside a large, grey hangar-like building. She was being escorted
by a group of tall, thin purplish-green creatures. It was definite-
ly Random's mother. Well, almost definitely. Trillian wouldn't
have been walking quite so uncertainly in low gravity, or looking
around her at a boring old life-support environment with quite
such a disbelieving look on her face, or carrying such a quaint
old camera.
  'So who is it?' demanded Random.
  'She is part of the extent of your mother on the probability
axis,' said the bird Guide.
  'I haven't the faintest idea what you mean.'
  'Space, time and probability all have axes along which it
is possible to move.'
  'Still dunno. Though I think . . . No. Explain.'
  'I thought you wanted to go home.'
  'Explain ! '
  'Would you like to see your home?'
  'See it? It was destroyed!'
  'It is discontinuous along the probability axis. Look!'
  Something very strange and wonderful now swam into view
in the rain. It was a huge, bluish-greenish globe, misty and
cloud-covered, turning with majestic slowness against a black,
starry background.
  'Now you see it,' said the bird. 'Now you don't.'
  A little less than two miles away, now, Arthur Dent stood still
in his tracks. He could not believe what he could see, hanging
there, shrouded in rain, but brilliant and vividly real against the
night sky - the Earth. He gasped at the sight of it. Then, at the
moment he gasped, it disappeared again. Then it appeared again.
Then, and this was the bit that made him give up and stick straws
in his hair, it turned into a sausage.
  Random was also startled by the sight of this huge, blue and
green and watery and misty sausage hanging above her. And
now it was a string of sausages, or rather it was a string of
sausages in which many of the sausages were missing. The whole
brilliant string turned and span in a bewildering dance in the
air and then gradually slowed, grew insubstantial and faded into
the glistening darkness of the night.
  'What was that?' asked Random, in a small voice.
  'A glimpse along the probability axis of a discontinuously
probable object.'
  'I see.'
  'Most objects mutate and change along their axis of prob-
ability, but the world of your origin does something slightly
different. It lies on what you might call a fault line in the
landscape of probability which means that at many probability
co-ordinates, the whole of it simply ceases to exist. It has an
inherent instability, which is typical of anything that lies within
what are usually designated the Plural sectors. Make sense?'
  'No. '
  'Want to go and see for yourself?'
  'To . . . Earth?'
  'Is that possible?'
  The bird Guide did not answer at once. It spread its wings
and, with an easy grace, ascended into the air and flew out into
the rain which, once again, was beginning to lighten.
  It soared ecstatically up into the night sky, lights flashed
around it, dimensions dithered in its wake. It swooped and
turned and looped and turned again and came at last to rest
two feet in front of Random's face, its wings beating slowly and
  It spoke to her again.
  'Your universe is vast to you. Vast in time, vast in space.
That's because of the filters through which you perceive it. But
I was built with no filters at all, which means I perceive the mish
mash which contains all possible universes but which has, itself,
no size at all. For me, anything is possible. I am omniscient
and omnipotent, extremely vain, and, what is more, I come in
a handy self-carrying package. You have to work out how much
of the above is true.'
  A slow smile spread over Random's face.
  'You bloody little thing. You've been winding me up!'
  'As I said, anything is possible.'
  Random laughed. 'OK,' she said. 'Let's try and go to Earth.
Let's go to Earth at some point on its, er . . .
  'Probability axis?'
  'Yes. Where it hasn't been blown up. OK. So you're the
Guide. How do we get a lift?'
  'Reverse engineering.'
  'Reverse engineering. To me the flow of time is irrelevant.
You decide what you want. I then merely make sure that it has
already happened.'
  'You're joking.'
  'Anything is possible.'
  Random frowned. 'You are joking aren't you?'
  'Let me put it another way,' said the bird. 'Reverse engineering
enables us to shortcut all the business of waiting for one of the
horribly few spaceships that passes through your galactic sector
every year or so to make up its mind about whether or not it
feels like giving you a lift. You want a lift, a ship arrives and
gives you one. The pilot may think he has any one of a million
reasons why he has decided to stop and pick you up. The real
reason is that I have determined that he will.'
  'This is you being extremely vain isn't it, little bird?'
  The bird was silent.
  'OK,' said Random. 'I want a ship to take me to Earth.'
  'Will this one do?'
  It was so silent that Random had not noticed the descending
spaceship until it was nearly on top of her.
  Arthur had noticed it. He was a mile away now and closing. Just
after the illuminated sausage display had drawn to its conclusion
he had noticed the faint glimmerings of further lights coming
down out of the clouds and had, to begin with, assumed it to
be another piece of flashy son et lumiЉre.
  It took a moment or so for it to dawn on him that it was
an actual spaceship, and a moment or two longer for him to
realise that it was dropping directly down to where he assumed
his daughter to be. That was when, rain or no rain, leg injury
or no leg injury, darkness or no darkness, he suddenly started
really to run.
  He fell almost immediately, slid and hurt his knee quite badly
on a rock. He slithered back up to his feet and tried again. He
had a horrible cold feeling that he was about to lose Random
for ever. Limping and cursing, he ran. He didn't know what it
was that had been in the box, but the name on it had been Ford
Prefect, and that was the name he cursed as he ran.
  The ship was one of the sexiest and most beautiful ones that
Random had ever seen.
  It was astounding. Silver, sleek, ineffable.
  If she didn't know better she would have said it was an RW6.
As it settled silently beside her she realised that it actually was
an RW6 and she could scarcely breathe for excitement. An RW6
was the sort of thing you only saw in the sort of magazines that
were designed to provoke civil unrest.
  She was also extremely nervous. The manner and timing of
its arrival was deeply unsettling. Either it was the most bizarre
coincidence or something very peculiar and worrying was going
on. She waited a little tensely for the ship's hatch to open. Her
Guide - she thought of it as hers now - was hovering lightly over
her right shoulder, its wings barely fluttering.
  The hatch opened. Just a little dim light escaped. A moment
or two passed and a figure emerged. He stood still for a moment
or so, obviously trying to accustom his eyes to the darkness.
Then he caught sight of Random standing there, and seemed a
little surprised. He started to walk towards her. Then suddenly
he shouted in surprise and started to run at her.
  Random was not a good person to take a run at on a
dark night when she was feeling a little strung out. She had
unconsciously been fingering the rock in her pocket from the
moment she saw the craft coming down.
  Still running, slithering, hurtling, bumping into trees, Arthur
saw at last that he was too late. The ship had only been on the
ground for about three minutes, and now, silently, gracefully it
was rising up above the trees again, turning smoothly in the fine
speckle of rain to which the storm had now abated, climbing,
climbing, tipping up its nose and, suddenly, effortlessly, hurtling
up through the clouds.
  Gone. Random was in it. It was impossible for Arthur to
know this, but he just went ahead and knew it anyway. She was
gone. He had had his stint at being a parent and could scarcely
believe how badly he had done at it. He tried to continue run-
ning, but his feet were dragging, his knee was hurting like fury
and he knew that he was too late.
  He could not conceive that he could feel more wretched
and awful than this, but he was wrong.
  He limped his way at last to the cave where Random had
sheltered and opened the box. The ground bore the indentations
of the spacecraft that had landed there only minutes before, but
of Random there was no sign. He wandered disconsolately into
the cave, found the empty box and piles of missing matter pellets
strewn around the place. He felt a little cross about that. He'd
tried to teach her about cleaning up after herself. Feeling a bit
cross with her about something like that helped him feel less
desolate about her leaving. He knew he had no means of finding
  His foot knocked against something unexpected. He bent
down to pick it up, and was thoroughly surprised to discover
what it was. It was his old Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
How did that come to be in the cave? He had never returned
to collect it from the scene of the crash. He had not wanted to
revisit the crash and he had not wanted the Guide again. He had
reckoned he was here on Lamuella, making sandwiches for good.
How did it come to be in the cave? It was active. The words on
the cover flashed DON'T PANIC at him.
  He went out of the cave again into the dim and damp
moonlight. He sat on a rock to have a look through the old
Guide, and then discovered it wasn't a rock, it was a person.


  Arthur leapt to his feet with a start of fear. It would be
hard to say which he was more frightened of: that he might
have hurt the person he had inadvertently sat on or that the
person he had inadvertently sat on would hurt him back.
  There seemed, on inspection, to be little immediate cause for
alarm on the second count. Whoever it was he had sat on was
unconscious. That would probably go a great deal of the way
towards explaining what he was doing Iying there. He seemed to
be breathing OK, though. Arthur felt his pulse. That was OK as
  He was Iying on his side, half curled up. It was so long ago
and far away when Arthur had last done First Aid that he really
couldn't remember what it was he was supposed to do. The first
thing he was supposed to do, he remembered, was to have a First
Aid kit about his person. Damn.
  Should he roll him on to his back or not? Suppose he had
any broken bones? Suppose he swallowed his tongue? Suppose
he sued him? Who, apart from anything else, was he?
  At that moment the unconscious man groaned loudly and
rolled himself over.
  Arthur wondered if he should -
  He looked at him.
  He looked at him again.
  He looked at him again, just to make absolutely sure.
  Despite the fact that he had been thinking he was feeling
about as low as he possibly could, he experienced a terrible
sinking feeling.
  The figure groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. It
took him a while to focus, then he blinked and stiffened.
  'You!' said Ford Prefect.
  'You!' said Arthur Dent.
  Ford groaned again.
  'What do you need to have explained this time?' he said,
and closed his eyes in some kind of despair.
  Five minutes later he was sitting up and rubbing the side
of his head, where he had quite a large swelling.
  'Who the hell was that woman?' he said. 'Why are we sur-
rounded by squirrels, and what do they want?'
  'I've been pestered by squirrels all night,' said Arthur. 'They
keep on trying to give me magazines and stuff.'
  Ford frowned. 'Really?' he said.
  'And bits of rag.'
  Ford thought.
  'Oh,' he said. 'Is this near where your ship crashed?'
  'Yes,' said Arthur. He said it a little tightly.
  'That's probably it. Can happen. Ship's cabin robots get
destroyed. The cyberminds that control them survive and start
infesting the local wildlife. Can turn a whole ecosystem into some
kind of helpless thrashing service industry, handing out hot towels
and drinks to passers-by. Should be a law against it. Probably is.
Probably also a law against there being a law against it so every-
body can get nice and worked up. Hey ho. What did you say?'
  'I said, and the woman is my daughter.'
  Ford stopped rubbing his head.
  'Say that one more time.'
  'I said,' said Arthur huffily, 'the woman is my daughter.'
  'I didn't know,' said Ford, 'that you had a daughter.'
  'Well, there's probably a lot you don't know about me,
said Arthur. 'Come to mention it, there's probably a lot I
don't know about me either.'
  'Well, well, well. When did this happen then?'
  'I'm not quite sure.'
  'That sounds like more familiar territory,' said Ford. 'Is there
a mother involved?'
  'Trillian? I didn't think that . . .
  'No. Look, it's a bit embarrassing.
  'I remember she told me once she had a kid but only, sort
of, in passing. I'm in touch with her from time to time. Never
seen her with the kid.'
  Arthur said nothing.
  Ford started to feel the side of his head again in some
  'Are you sure this was your daughter?' he said.
  'Tell me what happened.'
  'Phroo. Long story. I was coming to pick up this parcel
I'd sent to myself here care of you . . .
  'Well, what was that all about?'
  'I think it may be something unimaginably dangerous.
  'And you sent it to me?' protested Arthur.
  'Safest place I could think of. I thought I could rely on you
to be absolutely boring and not open it. Anyway, coming in at
night I couldn't find this village place. I was going by pretty basic
information. I couldn't find any signal of any kind. I guess you
don't have signals and stuff here.'
  'That's what I like about it.'
  'Then I did pick up a faint signal from your old copy of the
Guide, so I homed in on that, thinking that would take me to
you. I found I'd landed in some kind of wood. Couldn't figure
out what was going on. I get out, and then see this woman
standing there. I go up to say hello, then suddenly I see that
she's got this thing!'
  'What thing?'
  'The thing I sent you! The new Guide! The bird thing! You
were meant to keep it safe, you idiot, but this woman had the
thing right there by her shoulder. I ran forward and she hit me
with a rock.'
  'I see,' said Arthur. 'What did you do?'
  'Well, I fell over of course. I was very badly hurt. She and
the bird started to make off towards my ship. And when I say
my ship, I mean an RW6.'
  'A what?'
  'An RW6 for Zark's sake. I've got this great relationship
going now between my credit card and the Guide's central
computer. You would not believe that ship, Arthur, it's . . .
  'So an RW6 is a spaceship, then?'
  'Yes! It's - oh never mind. Look, just get some kind of
grip will you, Arthur? Or at least get some kind of catalogue.
At this point I was very worried. And, I think, semi-concussed.
I was down on my knees and bleeding profusely, so I did the
only thing I could think of, which was to beg. I said, please, for
Zark's sake don't take my ship. And don't leave me stranded in
the middle of some primitive zarking forest with no medical help
and a head injury. I could be in serious trouble and so could she.'
  'What did she say?'
  'She hit me on the head with the rock again.'
  'I think I can confirm that that was my daughter.'
  'Sweet kid.'
  'You have to get to know her,' said Arthur.
  'She eases up does she?'
  'No,' said Arthur, 'but you get a better sense of when to duck.'
Ford held his head and tried to see straight.
  The sky was beginning to lighten in the west, which was
where the sun rose. Arthur didn't particularly want to see
it. The last thing he wanted after a hellish night like this
one was some blasted day coming along and barging about the
  'What are you doing in a place like this, Arthur?' demanded
  'Well,' said Arthur, 'making sandwiches mostly.'
  'I am, probably was, the sandwich maker for a small tribe. It
was a bit embarrassing really. When I first arrived, that is, when
they rescued me from the wreckage of this super high-technology
spacecraft which had crashed on their planet, they were very nice
to me and I thought I should help them out a bit. You know, I'm
an educated chap from a high-technology culture, I could show
them a thing or two. And of course I couldn't. I haven't got the
faintest idea, when it comes down to it, of how anything actually
works. I don't mean like video-recorders, nobody knows how to
work those. I mean just something like a pen or an artesian well
or something. Not the foggiest. I couldn't help at all. One day
I got glum and made myself a sandwich. That suddenly got
them all excited. They'd never seen one before. It was just
an idea that had never occurred to them, and I happen to
quite like making sandwiches, so it all sort of developed from
  'And you enjoyed that?'
  'Well, yes, I think I sort of did, really. Getting a good
set of knives, that sort of thing.'
  'You didn't, for instance, find it mind-witheringly, explosively,
astoundingly, blisteringly dull?'
  'Well, er, no. Not as such. Not actually blisteringly.'
  'Odd. I would.'
  'Well, I suppose we have a different outlook.'
  'Like the pikka birds.'
Ford had no idea what he was talking about and couldn't
be bothered to ask. Instead he said, 'So how the hell do we
get out of this place?'
  'Well I think the simplest way from here is just to follow the
way down the valley to the plains, probably take an hour, and
then walk round from there. I don't think I could face going
back up and over the way I came.'
  'Walk round where from there?'
  'Well, back to the village. I suppose.' Arthur sighed a little
  'I don't want to go to any blasted village!' snapped Ford.
'We've got to get out of here!'
  'Where? How?'
  'I don't know, you tell me. You live here! There must be
some way off this zarking planet.'
  'I don't know. What do you usually do? Sit around and
wait for a passing spacecraft, I suppose.'
  'Oh yes? And how many spacecraft have visited this zark-
forsaken little fleapit recently?'
  'Well, a few years ago there was mine that crashed here by
mistake. Then there was, er, Trillian, then the parcel delivery,
and now you, and . . .'
  'Yes, but apart from the usual suspects?'
  'Well, er, I think pretty much none, so far as I know. Pretty
quiet round here.'
  As if deliberately to prove him wrong, there was a long,
low distant roll of thunder.
  Ford leapt to his feet fretfully and started pacing backwards
and forwards in the feeble, painful light of the early dawn which
lay streaked against the sky as if someone had dragged a piece
of liver across it.
  'You don't understand how important this is,' he said.
  'What? You mean my daughter out there all alone in the
Galaxy? You think I don't . . .'
  'Can we feel sorry for the Galaxy later?' said Ford. 'This is
very, very serious indeed. The Guide has been taken over. It's
been bought out.'
  Arthur leapt up. 'Oh very serious,' he shouted. 'Please fill
me in straight away on some corporate publishing politics! I
can't tell you how much it's been on my mind of late!'
  'You don't understand! There's a whole new Guide!'
  'Oh!' shouted Arthur again. 'Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm incoherent
with excitement! I can hardly wait for it to come out to find
out which are the most exciting spaceports to get bored hanging
about in in some globular cluster I've never heard of. Please,
can we rush to a store that's got it right this very instant?'
  Ford narrowed his eyes.
  'This is that thing you call sarcasm, isn't it?'
  'Do you know,' bellowed Arthur, 'I think it is? I really think
it might just be a crazy little thing called sarcasm seeping in at
the edges of my manner of speech! Ford, I have had a fucking
bad night! Will you please try and take that into account while you
consider what fascinating bits of badger-sputumly inconsequential
trivia to assail me with next?'
  'Try to rest,' said Ford. 'I need to think.'
  'Why do you need to think? Can't we just sit and go budum-
budumbudum with our lips for a bit? Couldn't we just dribble
gently and loll a little bit to the left for a few minutes? I can't
stand it, Ford! I can't stand all this thinking and trying to work
things out any more. You may think that I am just standing here
barking . . .'
  'Hadn't occurred to me in fact.'
  ... but I mean it! What is the point? We assume that
every time we do anything we know what the consequences
will be, i.e., more or less what we intend them to be. This
is not only not always correct. It is wildly, crazily, stupidly
cross-eyed-blithering-insectly wrong!'
  'Which is exactly my point.'
  'Thank you,' said Arthur, sitting down again. 'What?'
  'Temporal reverse engineering.'
  Arthur put his head in his hands and shook it gently from
side to side.
  'Is there any humane way,' he moaned, 'in which I can prevent
you from telling me what temporary reverse bloody-whatsiting is?'
  'No,' said Ford, 'because your daughter is caught up in the
middle of it and it is deadly, deadly serious.'
  Thunder rolled in the pause.
  'All right,' said Arthur. 'Tell me.'
  'I leaped out of a high-rise office window.'
  This cheered Arthur up.
  'Oh!' he said. 'Why don't you do it again?'
  'I did.'
  'Hmmm,' said Arthur, disappointed. 'Obviously no good came
of it.'
  'The first time I managed to save myself by the most astonish-
ing and - I say this in all modesty - fabulous piece of ingenious
quick-thinking, agility, fancy footwork and self-sacrifice.'
  'What was the self-sacrifice?'
  'I jettisoned half of a much loved and I think irreplaceable
pair of shoes.'
  'Why was that self-sacrifice?'
  'Because they were mine!' said Ford crossly.
  'I think we have different value systems.'
  'Well mine's better.'
  'That's according to your . . . oh never mind. So having saved
yourself very cleverly once you very sensibly went and jumped
again. Please don't tell me why. Just tell me what happened if
you must.'
  'I fell straight into the open cockpit of a passing jet towncar
whose pilot had just accidentally pushed the eject button when he
meant only to change tracks on the stereo. Now, even I couldn't
think that that was particularly clever of me.'
  'Oh, I don't know,' said Arthur wearily. 'I expect you probably
sneaked into his jetcar the previous night and set the pilot's least
favourite track to play or something.'
  'No, I didn't,' said Ford.
  'Just checking.'
  'Though oddly enough, somebody else did. And this is the
nub. You could trace the chain and branches of crucial events
and coincidences back and back. Turned out the new Guide had
done it. That bird.'
  'What bird?'
  'You haven't seen it?'
  'Oh. It's a lethal little thing. Looks pretty, talks big, collapses
waveforms selectively at will.'
  'What does that mean?'
  'Temporal reverse engineering.'
  'Oh,' said Arthur. 'Oh yes.'
  'The question is, who is it really doing it for?'
  'I've actually got a sandwich in my pocket,' said Arthur,
delving. 'Would you like a bit?'
  'Yeah, OK.'
  'It's a bit squished and sodden, I'm afraid.'
  'Never mind.'
  They munched for a bit.
  'It's quite good in fact,' said Ford. 'What's the meat in it?'
  'Perfectly Normal Beast.'
  'Not come across that one. So, the question is,' Ford con-
tinued, 'who is the bird really doing it for? What's the real game
  'Mmm,' ate Arthur.
  'When I found the bird,' continued Ford, 'which I did by a
series of coincidences that are interesting in themselves, it put
on the most fantastic multi-dimensional display of pyrotechnics
I've ever seen. It then said that it would put its services at my
disposal in my universe. I said, thanks but no thanks. It said that
it would anyway, whether I liked it or not. I said just try it, and
it said it would and, indeed, already had done. I said we'd see
about that and it said that we would. That's when I decided
pack the thing up and get it out of there. So I sent it to you for
  'Oh yes? Whose?'
  'Never you mind. Then, what with one thing and another,
I thought it prudent to jump out of the window again, being
fresh out of other options at the time. Luckily for me the jetcar
was there otherwise I would have had to fall back on ingenious
quick-thinking, agility, maybe another shoe or, failing all else,
the ground. But it meant that, whether I liked it or not, the
Guide was, well, working for me, and that was deeply worrying.'
  'Why? '
  'Because if you've got the Guide you think that you are the
one it's working for. Everything went swimmingly smoothly for
me from then on, up to the very moment that I come up against
the totty with the rock, then, bang, I'm history. I'm out of the
  'Are you referring to my daughter?'
  'As politely as I can. She's the next one in the chain who will
think that everything is going fabulously for her. She can beat
whoever she likes around the head with bits of the landscape,
everything will just swim for her until she's done whatever she's
supposed to do and then it will be all up for her too. It's reverse
temporal engineering, and clearly nobody understood what was
being unleashed!'
  'Like me for instance.'
  'What? Oh, wake up, Arthur. Look, let me try it again.
The new Guide came out of the research labs. It made use
of this new technology of Unfiltered Perception. Do you know
what that means?'
  'Look, I've been making sandwiches for Bob's sake!'
  'Who's Bob?'
  'Never mind. Just carry on.'
  'Unfiltered Perception means it perceives everything. Got
that? I don't perceive everything. You don't perceive everything.
We have filters. The new Guide doesn't have any sense filters. It
perceives everything. It wasn't a complicated technological idea.
It was just a question of leaving a bit out. Got it?'
  'Why don't I just say that I've got it, and then you can
carry on regardless.'
  'Right. Now because the bird can perceive every possible
Universe, it is present in every possible universe. Yes?'
  'Y . . . e . . . e . . . s. Ish.'
  'So what happens is, the bozos in the marketing and account-
ing departments say, oh that sounds good, doesn't that mean
we only have to make one of them and then sell it an infinite
number of times? Don't squint at me like that, Arthur, this is
how accountants think!'
  'That's quite clever, isn't it?'
  'No! It is fantastically stupid. Look. The machine's only a
little Guide. It's got some quite clever cybertechnology in it,
but because it has Unfiltered Perception, any smallest move it
makes has the power of a virus. It can propagate throughout
space, time and a million other dimensions. Anything can be
focused anywhere in any of the universes that you and I move in.
Its power is recursive. Think of a computer program. Somewhere,
there is one key instruction, and everything else is just functions
calling themselves, or brackets billowing out endlessly through an
infinite address space. What happens when the brackets collapse?
Where's the final "end if"? Is any of this making sense? Arthur?'
  'Sorry, I was nodding off for a moment. Something about
the Universe, yes?'
  'Something about the Universe, yes,' said Ford, wearily. He
sat down again.
  'All right,' he said. 'Think about this. You know who I think
I saw at the Guide offices? Vogons. Ah. I see I've said a word
you understand at last.'
  Arthur leapt to his feet.
  'That noise,' he said.
  'What noise?'
  'The thunder.'
  'What about it?'
  'It isn't thunder. It's the spring migration of the Perfectly
Normal Beasts. It's started.'
  'What are these animals you keep on about?'
  'I don't keep on about them. I just put bits of them in
  'Why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?'
  Arthur told him.
  It wasn't often that Arthur had the pleasure of seeing Ford's
eyes open wide with astonishment.


  It was a sight that Arthur never quite got used to, or tired of.
He and Ford had tracked their way swiftly along the side of the
small river that flowed down along the bed of the valley, and
when at last they reached the margin of the plains they pulled
themselves up into the branches of a large tree to get a better
view of one of the stranger and more wonderful visions that the
Galaxy has to offer.
  The great thunderous herd of thousand upon thousand of
Perfectly Normal Beasts was sweeping in magnificent array across
the Anhondo Plain. In the early pale light of the morning, as the
great animals charged through the fine steam of the sweat of
their bodies mingled with the muddy mist churned up by their
pounding hooves, their appearance seemed a little unreal and
ghostly anyway, but what was heart-stopping about them was
where they came from and where they went to, which appeared
to be, simply, nowhere.
  They formed a solid, charging phalanx roughly a hundred yards
wide and half a mile long. The phalanx never moved, except that
it exhibited a slight gradual drift sideways and backwards for the
eight or nine days that it regularly appeared for. But though the
phalanx stayed more or less constant, the great beasts of which
it was composed charged steadily at upwards of twenty miles an
hour, appearing suddenly from thin air at one end of the plain,
and disappearing equally abruptly at the other end.
  No one knew where they came from, no one knew where they
went. They were so important to the lives of the Lamuellans, it
was almost as if nobody liked to ask. Old Thrashbarg had said
on one occasion that sometimes if you received an answer, the
question might be taken away. Some of the villagers had privately
said that this was the only properly wise thing they'd ever heard
Thrashbarg say, and after a short debate on the matter, had put
it down to chance.
  The noise of the pounding of the hooves was so intense
that it was hard to hear anything else above it.
  'What did you say?' shouted Arthur.
  'I said,' shouted Ford, 'this looks like it might be some
kind of evidence of dimensional drift.'
  'Which is what?' shouted Arthur back.
  'Well, a lot of people are beginning to worry that space/time
is showing signs of cracking up with everything that's happening
to it. There are quite a lot of worlds where you can see how the
landmasses have cracked up and moved around just from the
weirdly long or meandering routes that migrating animals take.
This might be something like that. We live in twisted times. Still,
in the absence of a decent spaceport . . .'
  Arthur looked at him in a kind of frozen way.
  'What do you mean?' he said.
  'What do you mean, what do I mean?' shouted Ford. 'You
know perfectly well what I mean. We're going to ride our way
out of here.'
  'Are you seriously suggesting we try to ride a Perfectly Normal
  'Yeah. See where it goes to.
  'We'll be killed! No,' said Arthur, suddenly. 'We won't be
killed. At least I won't. Ford, have you ever heard of a planet
called Stavromula Beta?'
  Ford frowned. 'Don't think so,' he said. He pulled out his
own battered old copy of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
and accessed it. 'Any funny spelling?' he said.
  'Don't know. I've only ever heard it said, and that was
by someone who had a mouthful of other people's teeth. You
remember I told you about Agrajag?'
  Ford thought for a moment. 'You mean the guy who was
convinced you were getting him killed over and over again?'
  'Yes. One of the places he claimed I'd got him killed was
Stavromula Beta. Someone tries to shoot me, it seems. I duck
and Agrajag, or at least, one of his many reincarnations, gets hit.
It seems that this has definitely happened at some point in time
so, I suppose, I can't get killed at least until after I've ducked
on Stavromula Beta. Only no one's ever heard of it.'
  'Hmm.' Ford tried a few other searches of the Hitch Hiker's
Guide, but drew a blank.
  'Nothing,' he said.
  'I was just . . . no, I've never heard of it,' said Ford finally.
He wondered why it was ringing a very, very faint bell, though.
  'OK,' said Arthur. 'I've seen the way the Lamuellan hunters
trap Perfectly Normal Beasts. If you spear one in the herd it just
gets trampled, so they have to lure them out one at a time for
the kill. It's very like the way a matador works, you know, with
a brightly coloured cape. You get one to charge at you and then
step aside and execute a rather elegant swing through with the
cape. Have you got anything like a brightly coloured cape about
  'This do?' said Ford, handing him his towel.


  Leaping on to the back of a one-and-a-half-ton Perfectly Normal
Beast migrating through your world at a thundering thirty miles
an hour is not as easy as it might at first seem. Certainly it is
not as easy as the Lamuellan hunters made it seem, and Arthur
Dent was prepared to discover that this might turn out to be the
difficult bit.
  What he hadn't been prepared to discover, however, was
how difficult it was even getting to the difficult bit. It was the
bit that was supposed to be the easy bit which turned out to be
practically impossible.
  They couldn't even catch the attention of a single animal.
The Perfectly Normal Beasts were so intent on working up a
good thunder with their hooves, heads down, shoulders forward,
back legs pounding the ground into porridge that it would have
taken something not merely startling but actually geological to
disturb them.
  The sheer amount of thundering and pounding was, in the
end. more than Arthur and Ford could deal with. After they had
spent nearly two hours prancing about doing increasingly foolish
things with a medium-sized floral patterned bath towel, they had
not managed to get even one of the great beasts thundering and
pounding past them to do so much as glance casually in their
  They were within three feet of the horizontal avalanche of
sweating bodies. To have been much nearer would have been
to risk instant death, chrono-logic or no chrono-logic. Arthur
had seen what remained of any Perfectly Normal Beast which,
as the result of a clumsy mis-throw by a young and inexperienced
Lamuellan hunter, got speared while still thundering and pound-
ing with the herd.
  One stumble was all it took. No prior appointment with death
on Stavromula Beta, wherever the hell Stavromula Beta was,
would save you or anybody else from the thunderous, mangling
pounding of those hooves.
  At last, Arthur and Ford staggered back. They sat down,
exhausted and defeated, and started to criticise each other's
technique with the towel.
  'You've got to flick it more,' complained Ford. 'You need
more follow-through from the elbow if you're going to get those
blasted creatures to notice anything at all.'
  'Follow-through?' protested Arthur. 'You need more supple-
ness in the wrist.'
  'You need more after-flourish,' countered Ford.
  'You need a bigger towel.'
  'You need,' said another voice, 'a pikka bird.'
  'You what?'
  The voice had come from behind them. They turned, and
there, standing behind them in the early morning sun, was Old
  'To attract the attention of a Perfectly Normal Beast,' he
said, as he walked forward towards them, 'you need a pikka
bird. Like this.'
  From under the rough, cassocky robe-like thing he wore he
drew a small pikka bird. It sat restlessly on Old Thrashbarg's
hand and peered intently at Bob knows what darting around
about three feet six inches in front of it.
  Ford instantly went into the sort of alert crouch he liked to
do when he wasn't quite sure what was going on or what he
ought to do about it. He waved his arms around very slowly
in what he hoped was an ominous manner.
  'Who is this?' he hissed.
  'It's just Old Thrashbarg,' said Arthur quietly. 'And I wouldn't
bother with all the fancy movements. He's just as experienced a
bluffer as you are. You could end up dancing around each other
all day.'
  'The bird,' hissed Ford again. 'What's the bird?'
  'It's just a bird!' said Arthur impatiently. 'It's like any other
bird. It lays eggs and goes ark at things you can't see. Or kar
or rit or something.'
  'Have you seen one lay eggs?' said Ford, suspiciously.
  'For heaven's sake of course I have,' said Arthur. 'And
I've eaten hundreds of them. Make rather a good omelette.
The secret is little cubes of cold butter and then whipping it
lightly with . . .'
  'I don't want a zarking recipe,' said Ford. 'I just want to
be sure it's a real bird and not some kind of multi-dimensional
cybernightmare. '
  He slowly stood up from his crouched position and started
to brush himself down. He was still watching the bird, though.
  'So,' said Old Thrashbarg to Arthur. 'Is it written that Bob
shall once more take back unto himself the benediction of his
once-given sandwich maker?'
  Ford almost went back into his crouch.
  'It's all right,' muttered Arthur, 'he always talks like that.'
Aloud, he said, 'Ah, venerable Thrashbarg. Um, yes. I'm afraid
I think I'm going to have to be popping off now. But young
Drimple, my apprentice, will be a fine sandwich maker in my
stead. He has the aptitude, a deep love of sandwiches, and the
skills he has acquired so far, though rudimentary as yet, will, in
time mature and, er, well, I think he'll work out OK is what I'm
trying to say.'
  Old Thrashbarg regarded him gravely. His old grey eyes
moved sadly. He held his arms aloft, one still carrying a bobbing
pikka bird, the other his staff.
  'O Sandwich Maker from Bob!' he pronounced. He paused,
furrowed his brow, and sighed as he closed his eyes in pious
contemplation. 'Life,' he said, 'will be a very great deal less
weird without you!'
  Arthur was stunned.
  'Do you know,' he said, 'I think that's the nicest thing any-
body's ever said to me?'
  'Can we get on, please?' said Ford.
  Something was already happening. The presence of the pikka
bird at the end of Thrashbarg's outstretched arm was sending
tremors of interest through the thundering herd. The odd head
flicked momentarily in their direction. Arthur began to remem-
ber some of the Perfectly Normal Beast hunts he had witnessed.
He recalled that as well as the hunter-matadors brandishing their
capes there were always others standing behind them holding
pikka birds. He had always assumed that, like him, they had
just come along to watch.
  Old Thrashbarg moved forward, a little closer to the rolling
herd. Some of the Beasts were now tossing their heads back
with interest at the sight of the pikka bird.
  Old Thrashbarg's outstretched arms were trembling.
  Only the pikka bird itself seemed to show no interest in
what was going on. A few anonymous molecules of air nowhere
in particular engaged all of its perky attention.
  'Now!' exclaimed Old Thrashbarg at last. 'Now you may
work them with the towel!'
  Arthur advanced with Ford's towel, moving the way the
hunter-matadors did, with a kind of elegant strut that did not
come at all naturally to him. But now he knew what to do and
that it was right. He brandished and flicked the towel a few
times, to be ready for the moment, and then he watched.
  Some distance away he spotted the Beast he wanted. Head
down, it was galloping towards him, right on the very edge of
the herd. Old Thrashbarg twitched the bird, the Beast looked
up, tossed its head, and then, just as its head was coming down
again, Arthur flourished the towel in the Beast's line of sight. It
tossed its head again in bemusement, and its eyes followed the
movement of the towel.
  He had got the Beast's attention.
  From that moment on, it seemed the most natural thing
to coax and draw the animal towards him. Its head was up,
cocked slightly to one side. It was slowing to a canter and
then a trot. A few seconds later the huge thing was standing
there amongst them, snorting, panting, sweating, and sniffing
excitedly at the pikka bird, which appeared not to have noticed
its arrival at all. With strange sort of sweeping movements of his
arms Old Thrashbarg kept the pikka bird in front of the Beast,
but always out of its reach and always downwards. With strange
sort of sweeping movements of the towel, Arthur kept drawing
the Beast's attention this way and that- always downwards.
  'I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so stupid in
my life,' muttered Ford to himself.
  At last, the Beast dropped, bemused but docile, to its knees.
  'Go!' whispered Old Thrashbarg urgently, to Ford. 'Go! Go
  Ford leapt up on to the great creature's back, scrabbling
amongst its thick knotty fur for purchase, grasping great handfuls
of the stuff to hold him steady once he was in position.
  'Now, Sandwich Maker! Go!' He performed some elaborate
sign and ritual handshake which Arthur couldn't quite get the
hang of because Old Thrashbarg had obviously made it up
on the spur of the moment, then he pushed Arthur forward.
Taking a deep breath, he clambered up behind Ford on to
the great, hot, heaving back of the beast and held on tight.
Huge muscles the size of sea lions rippled and flexed beneath
  Old Thrashbarg held the bird suddenly aloft. The Beast's
head swivelled up to follow it. Thrashbarg pushed upwards
and upwards repeatedly with his arms and with the pikka bird;
and slowly, heavily the Perfectly Normal Beast lurched up off
its knees and stood, at last, swaying slightly. Its two riders held
on fiercely and nervously.
  Arthur gazed out over the sea of hurtling animals, straining
in an attempt to see where it was they were going, but there
was nothing but heat haze.
  'Can you see anything?' he said to Ford.
  'No.' Ford twisted round to glance back, trying to see if
there was any clue as to where they had come from. Still,
  Arthur shouted down at Thrashbarg.
  'Do you know where they come from?' he called. 'Or where
they're going?'
  'The domain of the King!' shouted Old Thrashbarg back.
  'King?' shouted Arthur in surprise. 'What King?' The Per-
fectly Normal Beast was swaying and rocking restlessly under
  'What do you mean, what King?' shouted Old Thrashbarg.
'The King.'
  'It's just that you never mentioned a King,' shouted Arthur
back, in some consternation.
  'What?' shouted Old Thrashbarg. The thrumming of a thou-
sand hooves was very hard to hear over, and the old man was
concentrating on what he was doing.
  Still holding the bird aloft, he led the Beast slowly round till
it was once more parallel with the motion of its great herd. He
moved forward. The Beast followed. He moved forward again.
The Beast followed again. At last, the Beast was lumbering for-
ward with a little momentum.
  'I said you never mentioned a King!' shouted Arthur again.
  'I didn't say a King,' shouted Old Thrashbarg, ' I said the King.'
  He drew back his arm and then hurled it forward with all his
strength, casting the pikka bird up into the air above the herd.
This seemed to catch the pikka bird completely by surprise as it
had obviously not been paying any attention at all to what was
going on. It took it a moment or two to work out what was
happening, then it unfurled its little wings, spread them out,
and flew.
  'Go!' shouted Thrashbarg. 'Go and meet your destiny, Sand-
wich Maker!'
  Arthur wasn't so sure about wanting to meet his destiny
as such. He just wanted to get to wherever it was they were
going so he could get back off this creature again. He didn't
feel at all safe up there. The Beast was gathering speed as it
followed in the wake of the pikka bird. And then it was in at
the fringes of the great tide of animals, and in a moment or two,
with its head down, the pikka bird forgotten, it was running with
the herd again and rapidly approaching the point at which the
herd was vanishing into thin air. Arthur and Ford held on to the
great monster for dear life, surrounded on all sides by hurtling
mountains of bodies.
  'Go! Ride that Beast!' shouted Thrashbarg. His distant voice
reverberated faintly in their ears. 'Ride that Perfectly Normal
Beast! Ride it, ride it!'
  Ford shouted in Arthur's ear, 'Where did he say we were
  'He said something about a King,' shouted Arthur in return,
holding on desperately.
  'What King?'
  'That's what I said. He just said the King.'
  'I didn't know there was a the King,' shouted Ford.
  'Nor did I,' shouted Arthur back.
  'Except of course for the King,' shouted Ford. 'And I don't
suppose he meant him.'
  'What King?' shouted Arthur.
  The point of exit was almost upon them. Just ahead of
them, Perfectly Normal Beasts were galloping into nothingness
and vanishing.
  'What do you mean, what King?' shouted Ford. 'I don't
know what King. I'm only saying that he couldn't possibly
mean the King, so I don't know what he means.'
  'Ford, I don't know what you're talking about.'
  'So?' said Ford. Then with a sudden rush, the stars came
on, turned and twisted around their heads, and then, just as
suddenly, turned off again.


  Misty grey buildings loomed and flickered. They bounced up
and down in a highly embarrassing way.
  What sort of buildings were they?
  What were they for? What did they remind her of?
  It's so difficult to know what things are supposed to be when
you suddenly turn up unexpectedly on a different world which has
a different culture, a different set of the most basic assumptions
about life, and also incredibly dull and meaningless architecture.
  The sky above the buildings was a cold and hostile black.
The stars, which should have been blindingly brilliant points
of light this far from the sun were blurred and dulled by the
thickness of the huge shielding bubble. Perspex or something
like it. Something dull and heavy anyway.
  Tricia wound the tape back again to the beginning.
  She knew there was something slightly odd about it.
  Well, in fact, there were about a million things that were
slightly odd about it, but there was one that was nagging at
her and she hadn't quite got it.
  She sighed and yawned.
  As she waited for the tape to rewind she cleared away some
of the dirty polystyrene coffee cups that had accumulated on the
editing desk and tipped them into the bin.
  She was sitting in a small editing suite at a video production
company in Soho. She had 'Do not disturb' notices plastered all
over the door, and a block on all incoming calls at the switch-
board. This was originally to protect her astonishing scoop, but
now it was to protect her from embarrassment.
  She would watch the tape all the way through again from
the beginning. If she could bear to. She might do some fast
forwarding here and there.
  It was' about four o'clock on Monday afternoon, and she
had a kind of sick feeling. She was trying to work out what the
cause of this slightly sick feeling was, and there was no shortage
of candidates.
  First of all, it had all come on top of the overnight flight
from New York. The red eye. Always a killer, that.
  Then, being accosted by aliens on her lawn and flown to
the planet Rupert. She was not sufficiently experienced in that
sort of thing to be able to say for sure that that was always a
killer, but she would be prepared to bet that those who went
through it regularly cursed it. There were always stress charts
being published in magazines. Fifty stress points for losing your
job. Seventy-five points for a divorce or changing your hairstyle
and so on. None of them ever mentioned being accosted on your
lawn by aliens and then being flown to the planet Rupert, but she
was sure it was worth a few dozen points.
  It wasn't that the journey had been particularly stressful. It
had been extremely dull in fact. Certainly it had been no more
stressful than the trip she had just taken across the Atlantic and
it had taken roughly the same time, about seven hours.
  Well that was pretty astounding wasn't it? Flying to the outer
limits of the solar system in the same time that it took to fly to
New York meant they must have some fantastic unheard-of form
of propulsion in the ship. She quizzed her hosts about it and they
agreed that it was pretty good.
  'But how does it work?' she had demanded excitedly. She
was still quite excited at the beginning of the trip.
  She found that part of the tape and played it through to
herself. The Grebulons, which is what they called themselves,
were politely showing her which buttons they pressed to make
the ship go.
  'Yes, but what principle does it work on?' she heard herself
demand, from behind the camera.
  'Oh, you mean is it something like a warp drive or something
like that?' they said.
  'Yes,' persisted Tricia. 'What is it?'
  'It probably is something of the kind,' they said.
  'Like what?'
  'Warp drive, photon drive, something like that. You'd have
to ask the Flight Engineer.'
  'Which one is he?'
  'We don't know. We have all lost our minds, you see.'
  'Oh yes,' said Tricia, a little faintly. 'So you said. Um,
how did you lose your minds, exactly, then?'
  'We don't know,' they said, patiently.
  'Because you've lost your minds,' echoed Tricia, glumly.
  'Would you like to watch television? It is a long flight.
We watch television. It is something we enjoy.'
  All of this riveting stuff was on the tape, and fine viewing
it made. First of all the picture quality was extremely poor.
Tricia didn't know why this was, exactly. She had a feeling
that the Grebulons responded to a slightly different range of
light frequencies, and that there had been a lot of ultra-violet
around which was mucking up the video camera. There were
a lot of interference patterns and video snow as well. Probably
something to do with the warp drive that none of them knew
the first thing about.
  So what she had on tape, essentially, was a bunch of slightly
thin and discoloured people sitting around watching televisions
that were showing network broadcasts. She had also pointed the
camera out of the very tiny viewport near her seat and got a nice,
slightly streaky effect of stars. She knew it was real, but it would
have taken a good three or four minutes to fake.
  In the end she had decided to save her precious videotape
for Rupert itself and had simply sat back and watched television
with them. She had even dozed off for a while.
  So part of her sick feeling came from the sense that she
had had all that time in an alien spacecraft of astounding
technological design, and had spent most of it dozing in front of
reruns of M*A*S*H and Cagney and Lacey. But what else was
there to do? She had taken some photos as well, of course, all
of which had subsequently turned out to be badly fogged when
she got them back from the chemist.
  Another part of her sick feeling probably came from the landing
on Rupert. This at least had been dramatic and hair-raising. The
ship had come sweeping in over a dark and sombre landscape, a
terrain so desperately far removed from the heat and light of its
parent sun that it seemed like a map of the psychological scars
on the mind of an abandoned child.
  Lights blazed through the frozen darkness and guided the
ship into the mouth of some kind of cave that seemed to bend
itself open to accept the small craft.
  Unfortunately, because of the angle of their approach, and
the depth at which the small thick viewport was set into the
craft's skin, it hadn't been possible to get the video camera to
point directly at any of it. She ran through that bit of the tape.
  The camera was pointing directly at the sun.
  This is normally very bad for a video camera. But when
the sun is roughly a third of a billion miles away it doesn't
do any harm. In fact it hardly makes any impression at all.
You just get a small point of light right in the middle of the
frame, which could be just about anything. It was just one star
in a multitude.
  Tricia fast-forwarded.
  Ah. Now, the next bit had been quite promising. They had
emerged out of the ship into a vast, grey, hangar-like structure.
This was clearly alien technology on a dramatic scale. Huge grey
buildings under the dark canopy of the Perspex bubble. These
were the same buildings that she had been looking at at the end
of the tape. She had taken more footage of them while leaving
Rupert a few hours later, just as she was about to reboard the
spacecraft for the journey home. What did they remind her of?
  Well, as much as anything else they reminded her of a
film set from just about any low-budget science-fiction movie of
the last twenty years. A lot larger, of course, but it all looked
thoroughly tawdry and unconvincing on the video screen. Apart
from the dreadful picture quality she had been struggling with the
unexpected effects of gravity that was appreciably lower than that
on Earth, and she had found it very hard to keep the camera from
bouncing around in an embarrassingly unprofessional way. It was
therefore impossible to make out any detail.
  And now here was the Leader coming forward to greet
her, smiling and sticking his hand out.
  That was all he was called. The Leader.
  None of the Grebulons had names, largely because they
couldn't think of any. Tricia discovered that some of them had
thought of calling themselves after characters from television
programmes they had picked up from Earth, but hard as they
had tried to call each other Wayne and Bobby and Chuck, some
remnant of something lurking deep in the cultural subconscious
they had brought with them from the distant stars which were
their homes must have told them that this really wasn't right and
wouldn't do.
  The Leader had looked pretty much like all the others.
Possibly a bit less thin. He said how much he enjoyed her shows
on TV, that he was her greatest fan, how glad he was that she
had been able to come along and visit them on Rupert and how
much everybody had been looking forward to her coming, how
he hoped the flight had been comfortable and so on. There was
no particular sense she could detect of being any kind of emissary
from the stars or anything.
  Certainly, watching it now on videotape, he just looked like
some guy in costume and make-up, standing in front of a set
that wouldn't hold up too well if you leant against it.
  She sat staring at the screen with her face cradled in her
hands, and shaking her head in slow bewilderment.
  This was awful.
  Not only was this bit awful but she knew what was coming
next. It was the bit where the Leader asked if she was hungry
after the flight, and would she perhaps like to come and have
something to eat? They could discuss things over a little dinner.
  She could remember what she was thinking at this point.
  Alien food.
  How was she going to deal with it?
  Would she actually have to eat it? Would she have access to
some sort of paper napkin she could spit stuff out into? Wouldn't
there be all sorts of differential immunity problems?
  It turned out to be hamburgers.
  Not only did it turn out to be hamburgers, but the hamburgers
it turned out to be were very clearly and obviously McDonald's
hamburgers which had been reheated in a microwave. It wasn't
just the look of them. It wasn't just the smell. It was the poly-
styrene clamshell packages they came in which had 'McDonald's'
printed all over them.
  'Eat! Enjoy!' said the Leader. 'Nothing is too good for our
honoured guest!'
  This was in his private apartment. Tricia had looked around it
in bewilderment that had bordered on fear but had nevertheless
got it all on videotape.
  The apartment had a waterbed in it. And a Midi hi-fi. And
one of those tall electrically illuminated glass things which sit on
table tops and appear to have large globules of sperm floating
about in them. The walls were covered in velvet.
  The leader lounged against a brown corduroy bean bag and
squirted breath-freshener into his mouth.
  Tricia began to feel very scared, suddenly. She was further from
Earth than any human being, to her knowledge, had ever been,
and she was with an alien creature, who was lounging against a
brown corduroy bean bag and squirting breath-freshener into his
  She didn't want to make any false moves. She didn't want
to alarm him. But there were things she had to know.
  'How did you . . . where did you get . . . this?' she asked,
gesturing around the room, nervously.
  'The decor?' asked the Leader. 'Do you like it? It is very
sophisticated. We are a sophisticated people, we Grebulons.
We buy sophisticated consumer durables . . . by mail order.'
  Tricia had nodded tremendously slowly at this point.
  'Mail order . . .' she had said.
  The Leader chuckled. It was one of those dark chocolate
reassuring silky chuckles.
  'I think you think they ship it here. No! Ha Ha! We have
arranged a special box number in New Hampshire. We make
regular pick-up visits. Ha Ha!' He lounged back in a relaxed
fashion on his bean bag, reached for a reheated french fry
and nibbled the end of it, an amused smile playing across his
  Tricia could feel her brain beginning to bubble very slightly.
She kept the video camera going.
  'How do you, well, er, how do you pay for these wonderful
. . . things?'
  The Leader chuckled again.
  'American Express,' he said with a nonchalant shrug.
  Tricia nodded slowly again. She knew that they gave cards
exclusively to just about anybody.
  'And these?' she said, holding up the hamburger he had
presented her with.
  'It is very easy,' said the Leader. 'We stand in line.'
  Again, Tricia realised with a cold, trickling feeling going
down her spine, that explained an awful lot.
  She hit the fast forward button again. There was nothing of any
use here at all. It was all nightmarish madness. She could have
faked something that would have looked more convincing.
  Another sick feeling began to creep over her as she watched
this hopeless awful tape, and she began, with slow horror, to
realise that it must be the answer.
  She must be . . .
  She shook her head and tried to get a grip.
  An overnight flight going East ... The sleeping pills she
had taken to get her through it. The vodka she'd had to set
the sleeping pills going.
  What else? Well. There was seventeen years of obsession that
a glamorous man with two heads, one of which was disguised as
a parrot in a cage, had tried to pick her up at a party but had
then impatiently flown off to another planet in a flying saucer.
There suddenly seemed to be all sorts of bothersome aspects to
that idea that had never really occurred to her. Never occurred
to her. In seventeen years.
  She stuffed her fist into her mouth.
  She must get help.
  Then there had been Eric Bartlett banging on about alien
spacecraft landing on her lawn. And before that . . . New York
had been, well, very hot and stressful. The high hopes and the
bitter disappointment. The astrology stuff.
  She must have had a nervous breakdown.
  That was it. She was exhausted and she had had a nervous
breakdown and had started hallucinating some time after she got
home. She had dreamt the whole story. An alien race of people
dispossessed of their own lives and histories, stuck on a remote
outpost of our solar system and filling their cultural vacuum with
our cultural junk. Ha! It was nature's way of telling her to check
into an expensive medical establishment very quickly.
  She was very, very sick. She looked at how many large
coffees she'd got through as well, and realised how heavily
she was breathing and how fast.
  Part of solving any problem, she told herself, was realising that
you had it. She started to bring her breathing under control. She
had caught herself in time. She had seen where she was. She was
on the way back from whatever psychological precipice she had
been on the brink of. She started to calm down, to calm down,
to calm down. She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes.
  After a while, now that she was breathing normally again,
she opened them again.
  So where had she got this tape from then?
  It was still running.
  All right. It was a fake.
  She had faked it herself, that was it.
  It must have been her who had faked it because her voice
was all over the soundtrack, asking questions. Every now and
then the camera would swing down at the end of a shot and she
would see her own feet in her own shoes. She had faked it and
she had no recollection of faking it or any idea of why she had
done it.
  Her breathing was getting hectic again as she watched the
snowy, flickering screen.
  She must still be hallucinating.
  She shook her head, trying to make it go away. She had no
memory of faking any of this very obviously fake stuff. On the
other hand she did seem to have memories that were very like
the faked stuff. She continued to watch in a bewildered trance.
  The person she imagined to be called the Leader was ques-
tioning her about astrology and she was answering smoothly and
calmly. Only she could detect the well-disguised rising panic in
her own voice.
  The Leader pushed a button, and a maroon velvet wall
slid aside, revealing a large bank of flat TV monitors.
  Each of the monitors was showing a kaleidoscope of different
images: a few seconds from a game show, a few seconds from a
cop show, a few seconds from a supermarket warehouse security
system, a few seconds from somebody's holiday movies, a few
seconds of sex, a few seconds of news, a few seconds of comedy.
It was clear that the Leader was very proud of all this stuff and
he was waving his hands like a conductor while continuing at the
same time to talk complete gibberish.
  Another wave of his hands, and all the screens cleared to
form one giant computer screen showing in diagrammatic form
all the planets of the solar system and mapped out against a
background of the stars in their constellations. The display was
completely static.
  'We have great skills,' the Leader was saying. 'Great skills in
computation, in cosmological trigonometry, in three-dimensional
navigational calculus. Great skills. Great, great skills. Only we
have lost them. It is too bad. We like to have skills only they
have gone. They are in space somewhere, hurtling. With our
names and the details of our homes and loved ones. Please,' he
said, gesturing her forward to sit at the computer's console, 'be
skilful for us.'
  Obviously what happened next was that Tricia quickly set
the video camera up on its tripod to capture the whole scene.
She then walked into shot herself and sat down calmly in front
of the giant computer display, spent a few moments familiarising
herself with the interface and then started smoothly and com-
petently to pretend that she had the faintest idea what she was
  It hadn't been that difficult, in fact.
  She was, after all, a mathematician and astrophysicist by
training and a television presenter by experience, and what
science she had forgotten over the years she was more than
capable of making up by bluffing.
  The computer she was working on was clear evidence that
the Grebulons came from a far more advanced and sophisticated
culture than their current vacuous state suggested, and with its
aid she was able, within about half an hour, to cobble together
a rough working model of the solar system.
  It wasn't particularly accurate or anything, but it looked
good. The planets were whizzing around in reasonably good
simulations of their orbits, and you could watch the movement
of the whole piece of virtual cosmological clockwork from any
point within the system - very roughly. You could watch from
Earth, you could watch from Mars, etc. You could watch from
the surface of the planet Rupert. Tricia had been quite impressed
with herself, but also very impressed with the computer system
she was working on. Using a computer workstation on Earth the
task would probably have taken a year or so of programming.
  When she was finished, the Leader came up behind her and
watched. He was very pleased and delighted with what she had
  'Good,' he said. 'And now, please, I would like you to
demonstrate how to use the system you have just designed
to translate the information in this book for me.'
  Quietly he put a book down in front of her.
  It was You and Your Planets by Gail Andrews.
  Tricia stopped the tape again.
  She was definitely feeling very wobbly indeed. The feeling
that she was hallucinating had now receded, but had not left
anything any easier or clearer in her head.
  She pushed her seat back from the editing desk and wondered
what to do. Years ago she had left the field of astronomical
research because she knew, without any doubt whatsoever,
that she had met a being from another planet. At a par-
ty. And she had also known, without any doubt whatsoever,
that she would have made herself a laughing stock if she had
ever said so. But how could she study cosmology and not
say anything about the single most important thing she knew
about it? She had done the only thing she could do. She had
  Now she worked in television and the same thing had happened
  She had videotape, actual videotape of the most astounding
story in the history of, well anything: a forgotten outpost of an
alien civilisation marooned on the outermost planet of our own
solar system.
  She had the story.
  She had been there.
  She had seen it.
  She had the videotape for God's sake.
  And if she ever showed it to anybody, she would be a
laughing stock.
  How could she prove any of this? It wasn't even worth thinking
about. The whole thing was a nightmare from virtually any angle
she cared to look at it from. Her head was beginning to throb.
  She had some aspirin in her bag. She went out of the little
editing suite to the water dispenser down the corridor. She took
the aspirin and drank several cups of water.
  The place seemed to be very quiet. Usually there were more
people bustling about the place, or at least some people bustling
around the place. She popped her head round the door of the
editing suite next to hers but there was no one there.
  She had gone rather overboard keeping people out of her
own suite. 'DO NOT DISTURB,' the notice read. 'DO NOT
  When she went back in she noticed that the message light
on her phone extension was winking, and wondered how long
it had been on.
  'Hello?' she said to the receptionist.
  'Oh, Miss McMillan, I'm so glad you called. Everybody's
been trying to reach you. Your TV company. They're desperate
to reach you. Can you call them?'
  'Why didn't you put them through'?' said Tricia.
'You said I wasn't to put anybody through for anything. You
said I was to deny that you were even here. I didn't know what
to do. I came up to give you a message, but . . .'
  'OK,' said Tricia, cursing herself. She phoned her office.
  'Tricia! Where the haemorrhaging fuck are you?'
  'At the editing . . .
  'They said . . .'
  'I know. What's up?'
  'What's up? Only a bloody alien spaceship!'
  'What? Where?'
  'Regent's Park. Big silver job. Some girl with a bird. She
speaks English and throws rocks at people and wants someone
to repair her watch. Just get there.'
  Tricia stared at it.
  It wasn't a Grebulon ship. Not that she was' suddenly an
expert on extraterrestrial craft, but this was a sleek and beautiful
silver and white thing about the size of a large ocean-going yacht,
which is what it most resembled. Next to this, the structures of the
huge half-dismantled Grebulon ship looked like gun turrets on a
battleship. Gun turrets. That's what those blank grey buildings
had looked like. And what was odd about them was that by the
time she passed them again on her way to reboarding the small
Grebulon craft, they had moved. These things flitted briefly
through her head as she ran from the taxi to meet her camera
  'Where's the girl?' she shouted above the noise of helicopters
and police sirens.
  'There!' shouted the producer while the sound engineer hurried
to clip a radio mike to her. 'She says her mother and father came
from here in some parallel dimension or something like that, and
she's got her father's watch, and . . . I don't know. What can I
tell you? Busk it. Ask her what it feels like to be from outer
  'Thanks a lot, Ted,' muttered Tricia, checked that her mike
was securely clipped, gave the engineer some level, took a deep
breath, tossed her hair back and switched into her role of pro-
fessional reporter, on home ground, ready for anything.
  At least, nearly anything.
  She turned to look for the girl. That must be her, with
the wild hair and wild eyes. The girl turned towards her. And
  'Mother!' she screamed, and started to hurl rocks at Tricia.


  Daylight exploded around them. Hot, heavy sun. A desert plain
stretched out ahead in a haze of heat. They thundered out into
  'Jump!' shouted Ford Prefect.
  'What?' shouted Arthur Dent, holding on for dear life.
  There was no reply.
  'What did you say?' shouted Arthur again, and then realised
that Ford Prefect was no longer there. He looked around in panic
and started to slip. Realising he couldn't hold on any longer he
pushed himself sideways as hard as he could and rolled into a
ball as he hit the ground, rolling, rolling away from the pounding
  What a day, he thought, as he started furiously coughing
dust up out of his lungs. He hadn't had a day as bad as this
since the Earth had been blown up. He staggered up to his
knees, and then up to his feet and started to run away. He
didn't know what from or what to, but running away seemed a
prudent move.
  He ran straight into Ford Prefect who was standing there
surveying the scene.
  'Look,' said Ford. 'That is precisely what we need.'
  Arthur coughed up some more dust, and wiped some other
dust out of his hair and eyes. He turned, panting, to look at
what Ford was looking at.
  It didn't look much like the domain of a King, or the King,
or any kind of King. It looked quite inviting though.
  First, the context. This was a desert world. The dusty earth
was packed hard and had neatly bruised every last bit of Arthur
that hadn't already been bruised by the festivities of the previous
night. Some way ahead of them were great cliffs that looked like
sandstone, eroded by the wind and what little rain presumably
fell in those parts into wild and fantastic shapes, which matched
the fantastic shapes of the giant cacti that sprouted here and there
from the arid, orange landscape.
  For a moment Arthur dared to hope they had unexpectedly
arrived in Arizona or New Mexico or maybe South Dakota, but
there was plenty of evidence that this was not the case.
  The Perfectly Normal Beasts, for a start, still thundering,
still pounding. They swept up in their tens of thousands from
the far horizon, disappeared completely for about half a mile,
then swept off, thundering and pounding to the distant horizon
  Then there were the spaceships parked in front of the Bar
& Grill. Ah. The Domain of the King Bar & Grill. Bit of an
anti-climax, thought Arthur to himself.
  In fact only one of the spaceships was parked in front of
the Domain of the King Bar & Grill. The other three were in
a parking lot by the side of the Bar and Grill. It was the one in
front that caught the eye, though. Wonderful looking thing. Wild
fins all over it, far, far too much chrome all over the fins and most
of the actual bodywork painted in a shocking pink. It crouched
there like an immense brooding insect and looked as if it was at
any moment about to jump on something about a mile away.
The Domain of the King Bar & Grill was slap bang in
the middle of where the Perfectly Normal Beasts would be
charging if they didn't take a minor transdimensional diversion
on the way. It stood on its own, undisturbed. An ordinary Bar
& Grill. A truckstop diner. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Quiet. The Domain of the King.
  'Gonna buy that spaceship,' said Ford quietly.
  'Buy it?' said Arthur. 'That's not like you. I thought you
usually pinched them.'
  'Sometimes you have to show a little respect,' said Ford.
  'Probably have to show a little cash as well,' said Arthur.
'How the hell much is that thing worth?'
  With a tiny movement, Ford brought his Dine-O-Charge
credit card up out of his pocket. Arthur noticed that the hand
holding it was trembling very slightly.
  'I'll teach them to make me the restaurant critic . . .' breathed
  'What do you mean?' asked Arthur.
  'I'll show you,' said Ford with a nasty glint in his eye.
'Let's go and run up a few expenses shall we?'
  'Couple beers,' said Ford, 'and, I dunno, a couple bacon rolls,
whatever you got, oh and that pink thing outside.'
  He flipped his card on the top of the bar and looked around
  There was a kind of silence.
  There hadn't been a lot of noise before, but there was defi-
nitely a kind of silence now. Even the distant thunder of the
Perfectly Normal Beasts carefully avoiding the Domain of the
King seemed suddenly a little muted.
  'Just rode into town,' said Ford as if nothing was odd about
that or about anything else. He was leaning against the bar at
an extravagantly relaxed angle.
  There were about three other customers in the place, sitting
at tables, nursing beers. About three. Some people would say
there were exactly three, but it wasn't that kind of a place, not
the kind of a place that you felt like being that specific in. There
was some big guy setting up some stuff on the little stage as well.
Old drum kit. Couple guitars. Country and Western kind of stuff.
  The barman was not moving very swiftly to get in Ford's
order. In fact he wasn't moving at all.
  'Not sure that the pink thing's for sale,' he said at last
in the kind of accent that went on for quite a long time.
  'Sure it is,' said Ford. 'How much you want?'
  'Well . . .
  'Think of a number, I'll double it.'
  'T'ain't mine to sell,' said the barman.
  'So, whose?'
  The barman nodded at the big guy setting up on the stage.
Big fat guy, moving slow, balding.
  Ford nodded. He grinned.
  'OK,' he said. 'Get the beers, get the rolls. Keep the tab open.'
  Arthur sat at the bar and rested. He was used to not knowing
what was going on. He felt comfortable with it. The beer was
pretty good and made him a little sleepy which he didn't mind
at all. The bacon rolls were not bacon rolls. They were Perfectly
Normal Beast rolls. He exchanged a few professional roll-making
remarks with the barman and just let Ford get on with whatever
Ford wanted to do.
  'OK,' said Ford, returning to his stool. 'It's cool. We got
the pink thing.'
  The barman was very surprised. 'He's selling it to you?'
  'He's giving it to us for free,' said Ford, taking a gnaw at his
roll. 'Hey, no, keep the tab open though. We have some items
to add to it. Good roll.'
  He took a deep pull of beer.
  'Good beer,' he added. 'Good ship, too,' he said, eyeing
the big pink and chrome insect-like thing, bits of which could
be seen through the windows of the bar. 'Good everything,
pretty much. You know,' he said, sitting back, reflectively, 'it's
at times like this that you kind of wonder if it's worth worrying
about the fabric of space/time and the causal integrity of the
multi-dimensional probability matrix and the potential collapse
of all wave forms in the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash and
all that sort of stuff that's been bugging me. Maybe I feel that
what the big guy says is right. Just let it all go. What does it
matter? Let it go.'
  'Which big guy?' said Arthur.
  Ford just nodded towards the stage. The big guy was saying
'one two' into the mike a couple of times. Couple other guys
were on the stage now. Drums. Guitar.
  The barman, who had been silent for a moment or two,
said, 'You say he's letting you have his ship?'
  'Yeah,' said Ford. 'Let it all go is what he said. Take the
ship. Take it with my blessing. Be good to her. I will be good
to her.'
  He took a pull at his beer again.
  'Like I was saying,' he went on. 'It's at times like this that
you kind of think, let it all go. But then you think of guys like
InfiniDim Enterprises and you think, they are not going to get
away with it. They are going to suffer. It is my sacred and holy
duty to see those guys suffer. Here, let me put something on the
tab for the singer. I asked for a special request and we agreed.
It's to go on the tab. OK?'
  'OK,' said the barman, cautiously. Then he shrugged. 'OK,
however you want to do it. How much?'
  Ford named a figure. The barman fell over amongst the
bottles and glasses. Ford vaulted quickly over the bar to check
that he was all right and help him back up to his feet. He'd cut
his finger and his elbow a bit and was feeling a little woozy but
was otherwise fine. The big guy started to sing. The barman
hobbled off with Ford's credit card to get authorisation.
  'Is there stuff going on here that I don't know about?' said
Arthur to Ford.
  'Isn't there usually?' said Ford.
  'No need to be like that,' said Arthur. He began to wake up.
'Shouldn't we be going?' he said suddenly. 'Will that ship get us
to Earth?'
  'Sure will,' said Ford.
  'That's where Random will be going ! ' said Arthur with a
start. 'We can follow her! But . . . er . . .'
  Ford let Arthur get on with thinking things out for himself
while he got out his old edition of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to
the Galaxy.
  'But where are we on the probability axis thing?' said Arthur.
'Will the Earth be there or not there? I spent so much time look-
ing for it. All I found was planets that were a bit like it or not
at all like it, though it was clearly the right place because of the
continents. The worst version was called NowWhat where I got
bitten by some wretched little animal. That's how they commu-
nicated, you know, by biting each other. Bloody painful. Then
half the time, of course, the Earth isn't even there because it's
been blown up by the bloody Vogons. How much sense am I
  Ford didn't comment. He was listening to something. He
passed the Guide over to Arthur and pointed at the screen.
The active entry read 'Earth. Mostly harmless.'
  'You mean it's there!' said Arthur excitedly. 'The Earth
is there! That's where Random will be going! The bird was
showing her the Earth in the rainstorm!'
  Ford motioned Arthur to shout a little less loudly. He was
  Arthur was growing impatient. He'd heard bar singers sing
'Love Me Tender' before. He was a bit surprised to hear it
here, right in the middle of wherever the hell this was, certainly
not Earth, but then things tended not to surprise him these days
as much as formerly. The singer was quite good, as bar singers
went, if you liked that sort of thing, but Arthur was getting fretful.
  He glanced at his watch. This only served to remind him that
he didn't have his watch any more. Random had it, or at least
the remains of it.
  'Don't you think we should be going?' he said, insistently.
  'Shhh!' said Ford. 'I paid to hear this song.' He seemed
to have tears in his eyes, which Arthur found a bit disturbing.
He'd never seen Ford moved by anything other than very, very
strong drink. Probably the dust. He waited, tapping his fingers
irritably, out of time with the music.
  The song ended. The singer went on to do 'Heartbreak Hotel'.
  'Anyway,' Ford whispered, 'I've got to review the restaurant.'
  'I have to write a review.'
  'Write a review? Of this place?'
  'Filing the review validates the expenses claim. I've fixed it so
that it happens completely automatically and untraceably. This
bill is going to need some validation,' he added quietly, staring
into his beer with a nasty smirk.
  'For a couple of beers and a roll?'
  'And a tip for the singer.'
  'Why, how much did you tip him?'
  Ford named a figure again.
  'I don't know how much that is,' said Arthur. 'What's it
worth in pounds sterling? What would it buy you?'
  'It would probably buy you, roughly . . . er . . .' Ford screwed
his eyes up as he did some calculations in his head. 'Switzerland,'
he said at last. He picked up his Hitch Hiker's Guide and started
to type.
  Arthur nodded intelligently. There were times when he wished
he understood what on earth Ford was talking about, and other
times, like now, when he felt it was probably safer not even to
try. He looked over Ford's shoulder. 'This isn't going to take
long, is it?' he said.
  'Nah,' said Ford. 'Piece of piss. Just mention that the rolls
were quite good, the beer good and cold, local wildlife nicely
eccentric, the bar singer the best in the known universe, and
that's about it. Doesn't need much. Just a validation.'
  He touched an area on the screen marked ENTER and
the message vanished into the Sub-Etha.
  'You thought the singer was pretty good then?'
  'Yeah,' said Ford. The barman was returning with a piece
of paper, which seemed to be trembling in his hand.
  He pushed it over to Ford with a kind of nervous, reverential
  'Funny thing,' said the barman. 'The system rejected it first
couple times. Can't say it surprised me.' Beads of sweat were
standing on his brow. 'Then suddenly it's, oh yeah, that's OK,
and the system . . . er, validates it. Just like that. You wanna
. . . sign it'?'
  Ford scanned the form quickly. He sucked his teeth. 'This
is going to hurt InfiniDim a lot,' he said, with an appearance
of concern. 'Oh well,' he added softly, 'screw 'em.'
  He signed with a flourish and handed it back to the barman.
  'More money,' he said, 'than the Colonel made for him
in an entire career of doing crap movies and casino gigs. Just
for doing what he does best. Standing up and singing in a bar.
And he negotiated it himself. I think this is a good moment for
him. Tell him I said thanks and buy him a drink.' He tossed a
few coins on the bar. The barman pushed them away.
  'I don't think that's necessary,' he said, slightly hoarsely.
  'Tis to me,' said Ford. 'OK, we are outa here.'
  They stood out in the heat and the dust and looked at the big
pink and chrome thing with amazement and admiration. Or at
least, Ford looked at it with amazement and admiration.
  Arthur just looked at it. 'You don't think it's a bit overdone,
do you?'
  He said it again when they climbed inside it. The seats
and quite a lot of the controls were covered in fine fur skin
or suede. There was a big gold monogram on the main control
panel which just read 'EP'.
  'You know,' said Ford as he fired up the ship's engines, 'I
asked him if it was true that he had been abducted by aliens,
and you know what he said?'
  'Who?' said Arthur.
  'The King.'
  'Which King? Oh, we've had this conversation, haven't we?'
  'Never mind,' said Ford. 'For what it's worth, he said, no.
He went of his own accord.'
  'I'm still not sure who we're talking about,' said Arthur.
  Ford shook his head. 'Look,' he said, 'there are some tapes
over in the compartment to your left. Why don't you choose
some music and put it on?'
  'OK,' said Arthur, and flipped through the cartons. 'Do
you like Elvis Presley?' he said.
  'Yeah I do as a matter of fact,' said Ford. 'Now. I hope this
machine can leap like it looks like it can.' He engaged the main
  'Yeeehaah!' shouted Ford as they shot upwards at face-tearing
  It could.


  The news networks don't like this kind of thing. They regard it
as a waste. An incontrovertible spaceship arrives out of nowhere
in the middle of London and it is sensational news of the highest
magnitude. Another completely different one arrives three and
a half hours later and somehow it isn't.
  'ANOTHER SPACECRAFT!' said the headlines and news
stand billboards. 'THIS ONE'S PINK.' A couple of months later
they could have made a lot more of it. The third spacecraft, half
an hour after that, the little four berth Hrundi runabout, only
made it on to the local news.
  Ford and Arthur had come screaming down out of the strato-
sphere and parked neatly on Portland Place. It was just after
six-thirty in the evening and there were spaces free. They min-
gled briefly with the crowd that gathered round to ogle, then said
loudly that if no one else was going to call the police they would,
and made good their escape.
  'Home ...' said Arthur, a husky tone creeping into his
voice as he gazed, misty-eyed around him.
'Oh don't get all maudlin on me,' snapped Ford. 'We have
to find your daughter and we have to find that bird thing.'
  'How?' said Arthur. 'This is a planet of five and a half
billion people, and . . .'
  'Yes,' said Ford. 'But only one of them has just arrived
from outer space in a large silver spaceship accompanied by a
mechanical bird. I suggest we just find a television and some-
thing to drink while we watch it. We need some serious room
service '
  They checked into a large two-bedroomed suite at the Langham.
Mysteriously, Ford's Dine-O-Charge card, issued on a planet over
five thousand light years away, seemed to present the hotel's
computer with no problems.
  Ford hit the phones straight away while Arthur attempted
to locate the television.
  'OK,' said Ford. 'I want to order up some margaritas please.
Couple of pitchers. Couple of Chef's Salads. And as much foie
gras as you've got. And also London Zoo.'
  'She's on the news!' shouted Arthur from the next room.
  'That's what I said,' said Ford into the phone. 'London
Zoo. Just charge it to the room.'
  'She's . . . Good God!' shouted Arthur. 'Do you know who
she's being interviewed by?'
  'Are you having difficulty understanding the English lan-
guage?' continued Ford. 'It's the zoo just up the road from
here. I don't care if it's closed this evening. I don't want
to buy a ticket, I just want to buy the zoo. I don't care
if you're busy. This is room service, I'm in a room and I
want some service. Got a piece of paper? OK. Here's what
I want you to do. All the animals that can be safely returned
to the wild, return them. Set up some good teams of people
to monitor their progress in the wild, see that they're doing
  'It's Trillian!' shouted Arthur. 'Or is it . . . er . . . God, I can't
stand all this parallel universe stuff. It's so bloody confusing. it
seems to be a different Trillian. It's Tricia McMillan which is
what Trillian used to be called before . . . er . . . Why don't
you come and watch, see if you can figure it out?'
  'Just a second,' Ford shouted, and returned to his negotia-
tions with room service. 'Then we'll need some natural reserves
for the animals that can't hack it in the wild,' he said. 'Set up a
team to work out the best places to do that. We might need to
buy somewhere like Zaire and maybe some islands. Madagascar.
Baffin. Sumatra. Those kind of places. We'll need a wide variety
of habitats. Look, I don't see why you're seeing this as a problem.
Learn to delegate. Hire whoever you want. Get on to it. I think
you'll find my credit is good. And blue cheese dressing on the
salad. Thank you.'
  He put the phone down and went through to Arthur, who
was sitting on the edge of his bed watching television.
  'I ordered us some foie gras,' said Ford.
  'What?' said Arthur, whose attention was entirely focused
on the television.
  'I said I ordered us some foie gras.'
  'Oh,' said Arthur, vaguely. 'Um, I always feel a bit bad
about foie gras. Bit cruel to the geese, isn't it?'
  'Fuck 'em,' said Ford, slumping on the bed. 'You can't care
about every damn thing.'
  'Well, that's all very well for you to say, but . . .'
  'Drop it!' said Ford. 'If you don't like it I'll have yours.
What's happening?'
  'Chaos!' said Arthur. 'Complete chaos! Random keeps on
screaming at Trillian, or Tricia or whoever it is, that she aban-
doned her and then demanding to go to a good night club. Tricia's
broken down in tears and says she's never even met Random
let alone given birth to her. Then she suddenly started howling
about someone called Rupert and said that he had lost his mind
or something. I didn't quite follow that bit, to be honest. Then
Random started throwing stuff and they've cut to a commercial
break while they try and sort it all out. Oh! They've just cut back
to the studio! Shut up and watch.'
  A rather shaken anchorman appeared on the screen and
apologised to viewers for the disruption of the previous item.
He said he didn't have any very clear news to report, only that
the mysterious girl, who called herself Random Frequent Flyer
Dent had left the studio to, er, rest. Tricia McMillan would be,
he hoped, back tomorrow. Meanwhile, fresh reports of UFO
activity were coming in . . .
  Ford leaped up off the bed, grabbed the nearest phone and
jabbed at a number.
  'Concierge? You want to own the hotel? It's yours if you
can find out for me in five minutes which clubs Tricia McMillan
belongs to. Just charge the whole thing to this room.'


  Away in the inky depths of space invisible movements were
being made.
  Invisible to any of the inhabitants of the strange and tem-
peramental Plural zone at the focus of which lay the infinitely
multitudinous possibilities of the planet called Earth, but not
inconsequential to them.
  At the very edge of the solar system, hunkered down on a
green leatherette sofa, staring fretfully at a range of TV and
computer screens sat a very worried Grebulon leader. He was
fiddling with stuff. Fiddling with his book on astrology. Fiddling
with the console of his computer. Fiddling with the displays
being fed through to him constantly from all of the Grebulons'
monitoring devices, all of them focused on the planet Earth.
  He was distressed. Their mission was to monitor. But to
monitor secretly. He was a bit fed up with his mission, to be
honest. He was fairly certain that his mission must have been
to do more than sit around watching TV for years on end. They
certainly had a lot of other equipment with them that must have
had some purpose if only they hadn't accidentally lost all trace
of their purpose. He needed a sense of purpose in life, which
was why he had turned to astrology to fill the yawning gulf that
existed in the middle of his mind and soul. That would tell him
something, surely.
  Well, it was telling him something.
  It was telling him, as far as he could make out, that he
was about to have a very bad month, that things were going to
go from bad to worse if he didn't get a grip on things and start
making some positive moves and thinking things out for himself.
  It was true. It was very clear from his star chart which
he had worked out using his astrology book and the computer
program which that nice Tricia McMillan had designed for him to
re-triangulate all the appropriate astronomical data. Earth-based
astrology had to be entirely recalculated to yield results that were
meaningful to the Grebulons here on the tenth planet out on the
frozen edges of the solar system.
  The recalculations showed absolutely clearly and unambigu-
ously that he was going to have a very bad month indeed,
starting with today. Because today Earth was starting to rise
into Capricorn, and that, for the Grebulon leader, who showed
all the character signs of being a classic Taurus, was very bad
  Now was the time, his horoscope said, for taking positive
actions, making tough decisions, seeing what needed to be done
and doing it. This was all very difficult for him, but he knew that
nobody ever said that doing tough stuff wasn't tough. The com-
puter was already tracking and predicting the second-by-second
location of the planet Earth. He ordered the great grey turrets
to swivel
  Because all of the Grebulon surveillance equipment was focused
on the planet Earth, it failed to spot that there was now another
source of data in the solar system.
  Its chances of spotting this other source of data - a massive
yellow constructor ship - accidentally were practically nil. It was
as far from the sun as Rupert was, but almost diametrically
opposite, almost hidden by the sun.
  The massive yellow constructor ship wanted to be able to
monitor events on Planet Ten without being spotted itself. It
had managed this very successfully.
  There were all sorts of other ways in which this ship was
diametrically opposite to the Grebulons.
  Its leader, its Captain, had a very clear idea of what his
purpose was. It was a very simple and plain one and he had been
pursuing it in his simple, plain way for a considerable period of
time now.
  Anyone who knew of his purpose might have said that it was
a pointless and ugly one, that it wasn't the sort of purpose that
enhanced a life, put a spring in a person's step, made birds sing
and flowers bloom. Rather the reverse in fact. Absolutely the
  It wasn't his job to worry about that, though. It was his job
to do his job, which was to do his job. If that led to a certain
narrowness of vision and circularity of thought then it wasn't his
job to worry about such things. Any such things that came his
way were referred to others who had, in turn, other people to
refer such things to.
  Many, many light years from here, indeed from anywhere,
lies the grim and long abandoned planet, Vogsphere. Some-
where on a fetid, fog-bound mud bank on this planet there
stands, surrounded by the dirty, broken and empty carapaces
of the last few jeweled scuttling crabs, a small stone monument
which marks the place, where it is thought, the species Vogon
Vogonblurtus first arose. On the monument there is carved an
arrow which points away into the fog, under which are inscribed
in plain, simple letters the words 'The buck stops there.'
  Deep in the bowels of his unsightly yellow ship, the Vogon
Captain grunted as he reached for a slightly faded and dog-eared
piece of paper that lay in front of him. A demolition order.
  If you were to unravel exactly where the Captain's job, which
was to do his job which was to do his job, actually began, then it
all came down at last to this piece of paper that had been issued
to him by his immediate superior long ago. The piece of paper
had an instruction on it, and his purpose was to carry out that
instruction and put a little tick mark in the adjacent box when
he had carried it out.
  He had carried out the instruction once before, but a number
of troublesome circumstances had prevented him from being able
to put the tick in the little box.
  One of the troublesome circumstances was the Plural nature of
this Galactic sector, where the possible continually interfered with
the probable. Simple demolition didn't get you any further than
pushing down a bubble under a badly hung strip of wallpaper.
Anything you demolished kept on popping up again. That would
soon be taken care of.
  Another was a small bunch of people who continually refused
to be where they were supposed to be when they were supposed
to be there. That, also, would soon be taken care of.
  The third was an irritating and anarchic little device called
the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That was now well and
truly taken care of and, in fact, through the phenomenal power
of temporal reverse engineering, it was now itself the agency
through which everything else would be taken care of. The
Captain had merely come to watch the final act of this drama.
He himself did not have to lift a finger.
  'Show me,' he said.
  The shadowy shape of a bird spread its wings and rose
into the air near him. Darkness engulfed the bridge. Dim
lights danced briefly in the black eyes of the bird as, deep in
its instructional address space, bracket after bracket was final-
ly closing, if clauses were finally ending, repeat loops halting,
recursive functions calling themselves for the last few times.
  A brilliant vision lit up in the darkness, a watery blue and
green vision, a tube flowing through the air, shaped like a
chopped up string of sausages.
  With a flatulent noise of satisfaction, the Vogon Captain
sat back to watch.


  'Just there, number forty-two,' shouted Ford Prefect to the
taxi-driver. 'Right here!'
  The taxi lurched to a halt, and Ford and Arthur jumped out.
They had stopped at quite a number of cash-dispensers on the
way, and Ford chucked a fistful of money through the window
at the driver.
  The entrance to the club was dark, smart and severe. Only
the smallest little plaque bore its name. Members knew where
it was, and if you weren't a member then knowing where it was
wasn't any help to you.
  Ford Prefect was not a member of Stavro's though he had
once been to Stavro's other club in New York. He had a very
simple method of dealing with establishments of which he was not
a member. He simply swept in as soon as the door was opened,
pointed back at Arthur and said, 'It's OK, he's with me.'
  He bounded down the dark glossy stairs, feeling very froody
in his new shoes. They were suede and they were blue, and he
was very pleased that in spite of everything else going on he had
been sharp-eyed enough to spot them in a shop window from the
back of a speeding taxi.
  'I thought I told you not to come here.'
  'What?' said Ford.
  A thin, ill-looking man wearing something baggy and Italian
was walking up the stairs past them, lighting a cigarette, and had
stopped, suddenly.
  'Not you,' he said. 'Him.'
  He looked straight at Arthur, then seemed to become a
little confused.
  'Excuse me,' he said. 'I think I must have mistaken you
for someone else.' He started on up the stairs again, but almost
immediately turned round once more, even more puzzled. He
stared at Arthur.
  'Now what?' said Ford.
  'What did you say?'
  'I said, now what?' repeated Ford irritably.
  'Yes, I think so,' said the man and swayed slightly and
dropped the book of matches he'd been carrying. His mouth
moved weakly. Then he put his hand to his forehead.
  'Excuse me,' he said, 'I'm trying desperately to remember
which drug I've just taken, but it must be one of those ones
which mean you can't remember.'
  He shook his head and turned away again, and went up
towards the men's room.
  'Come on,' said Ford. He hurried on downstairs, with Arthur
following nervously in his wake. The encounter had shaken him
badly and he didn't know why.
  He didn't like places like this. For all of the dreams of Earth
and home he had had for years, he now badly missed his hut on
Lamuella with his knives and his sandwiches. He even missed
Old Thrashbarg.
  It was the most astounding effect. His name was being shouted
in stereo.
He twisted to look one way. Up the stairs behind him he saw
Trillian hurrying down towards him in her wonderfully rumpled
RymplonTM. She was looking suddenly aghast.
  He twisted the other way to see what she was looking suddenly
aghast at.
  At the bottom of the stairs was Trillian, wearing .. . No
- this was Tricia. Tricia that he had just seen, hysterical with
confusion, on television. And behind her was Random, looking
more wild-eyed than ever. Behind her in the recesses of the
smart, dimly lit club, the other clientele of the evening formed a
frozen tableau, staring anxiously up at the confrontation on the
  For a few seconds everyone stood stock still. Only the music
from behind the bar didn't know to stop throbbing.
  'The gun she is holding,' said Ford quietly, nodding slightly
towards Random, 'is a Wabanatta 3. It was in the ship she stole
from me. It's quite dangerous in fact. Just don't move for a
moment. Let's just everybody stay calm and find out what's
upsetting her.'
  'Where do I fit?' screamed Random suddenly. The hand
holding the gun was trembling fiercely. Her other hand delved
into her pocket and pulled out the remains of Arthur's watch.
She shook it at them.
  'I thought I would fit here,' she cried, 'on the world that
made me! But it turns out that even my mother doesn't know
who I am!' She flung the watch violently aside, and it smashed
into the glasses behind the bar, scattering its innards.
  Everyone was very quiet for a moment or two longer.
  'Random,' said Trillian quietly from up on the stairs.
  'Shut up!' shouted Random. 'You abandoned me!'
  'Random, it is very important that you listen to me and
understand,' persisted Trillian quietly. 'There isn't very much
time. We must leave. We must all leave.'
  'What are you talking about? We're always leaving!' She had
both hands on the gun now, and both were shaking. There was
no one in particular she was pointing it at. She was just pointing
it at the world in general.
  'Listen,' said Trillian again. 'I left you because I went to cover
a war for the network. It was extremely dangerous. At least, I
thought it was going to be. I arrived and the war had suddenly
ceased to happen. There was a time anomaly and . . . listen!
Please listen! A reconnaissance battleship had failed to turn up,
the rest of the fleet was scattered in some farcical disarray. It's
happening all the time now.'
  'I don't care! I don't want to hear about your bloody job!'
shouted Random. 'I want a home! I want to fit somewhere!'
  'This is not your home,' said Trillian, still keeping her voice
calm. 'You don't have one. We none of us have one. Hardly
anybody has one any more. The missing ship I was just talking
about. The people of that ship don't have a home. They don't
know where they are from. They don't even have any memory
of who they are or what they are for. They are very lost and
very confused and very frightened. They are here in this solar
system, and they are about to do something very . . . misguided
because they are so lost and confused. We . . . must . . . leave
. . . now. I can't tell you where there is to go to. Perhaps there
isn't anywhere. But here is not the place to be. Please. One more
time. Can we go?'
  Random was wavering in panic and confusion.
  'It's all right,' said Arthur gently. 'If I'm here, we're safe.
Don't ask me to explain just now, but I am safe, so you are
safe. OK?'
  'What are you saying?' said Trillian.
  'Let's all just relax,' said Arthur. He was feeling very tranquil.
His life was charmed and none of this seemed real.
  Slowly, gradually, Random began to relax, and to let the
gun down, inch by inch.
  Two things happened simultaneously.
  The door to the men's room at the top of the stairs opened,
and the man who had accosted Arthur came out, sniffing.
  Startled at the sudden movement, Random lifted the gun
again just as a man standing behind her made a grab for it.
  Arthur threw himself forward. There was a deafening explo-
sion. He fell awkwardly as Trillian threw herself down over him.
The noise died away. Arthur looked up to see the man at the top
of the stairs gazing down at him with a look of utter stupefaction.
  'You . . .' he said. Then slowly, horribly, he fell apart.
  Random threw the gun down and fell to her knees, sobbing.
'I'm sorry!' she said. 'I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry . . .'
  Tricia went to her. Trillian went to her.
  Arthur sat on the stairs with his head between his hands and
had not the faintest idea what to do. Ford was sitting on the stair
beneath him. He picked something up, looked at it with interest,
and passed it up to Arthur.
  'This mean anything to you?' he said.
  Arthur took it. It was the book of matches which the dead
man had dropped. It had the name of the club on it. It had the
name of the proprietor of the club on it. It looked like this:
  He stared at it for some time as things began slowly to reassemble
themselves in his mind. He wondered what he should do, but
he only wondered it idly. Around him people were beginning
to rush and shout a lot, but it was suddenly very clear to him
that there was nothing to be done, not now or ever. Through
the new strangeness of noise and light he could just make out
the shape of Ford Prefect sitting back and laughing wildly.
  A tremendous feeling of peace came over him. He knew
that at last, for once and for ever, it was now all, finally, over.
  In the darkness of the bridge at the heart of the Vogon ship,
  Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz sat alone. Lights flared briefly across the
external vision screens that lined one wall. In the air above him
the discontinuities in the blue and green watery sausage shape
resolved themselves. Options collapsed, possibilities folded into
each other, and the whole at last resolved itself out of existence.
  A very deep darkness descended. The Vogon captain sat
immersed in it for a few seconds.
  'Light' he said.
  There was no response. The bird, too, had crumpled out
of all possibility.
  The Vogon turned on the light himself. He picked up the
piece of paper again and placed a little tick in the little box.
  Well, that was done. His ship slunk off into the inky void.
  In spite of having taken what he regarded as an extremely
positive piece of action, the Grebulon Leader ended up having
a very bad month after all. It was pretty much the same as all
the previous months except that there was now nothing on the
television any more. He put on a little light music instead.

Яндекс цитирования