THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.
For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said, "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style," a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.
The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.
A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.
The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapor, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style drifted across the conference table.
Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.
Eventually, of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy -- now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.
For thousands more years, the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came cross -- which happened to be the Earth -- where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.
Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.
"It's just life," they say.
A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old Magrathean to a doorway. They left the car and went through the door into a waiting room full of glass-topped tables and Plexiglas awards. Almost immediately a light flashed above the door at the other side of the room and they entered.
"Arthur! You're safe!" a voice cried.
"Am I?" said Arthur, rather startled. "Oh, good."
The lighting was rather subdued and it took him a moment or so to see Ford, Trillian and Zaphod sitting round a large table beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats and bizarre fruits. They were stuffing their faces.
"What happened to you?" demanded Arthur.
"Well," said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle, "our guests here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to make it up to us. Here," he said, hoicking out a lump of evil-smelling meat from a bowl, "have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet. It's delicious if you happen to like that sort of thing."
"Hosts?" said Arthur. "What hosts? I don't see any ..."
A small voice said, "Welcome to lunch, Earth creature."
Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.
"Ugh!" he said. "There are mice on the table!"
There was an awkward silence as everyone looked pointedly at Arthur.
He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like whisky glasses on the table. He heard the silence and glanced around at everyone.
"Oh!" he said, with sudden realization. "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite prepared for ..."
"Let me introduce you," said Trillian. "Arthur, this is Benjy mouse."
"Hi," said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky glasslike affair, and it moved forward slightly.
"And this is Frankie mouse."
The other mouse said, "Pleased to meet you," and did likewise.
"But aren't they ..."
"Yes," said Trillian, "they are the mice I brought with me from the Earth."
She looked him in the eye and Arthur thought he detected the tiniest resigned shrug.
"Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Mega-Donkey?" she said.
Slartibartfast coughed politely.
"Er, excuse me," he said.
"Yes, thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benjy mouse sharply, "you may go."
"What? Oh ... er, very well," said the old man, slightly taken aback, "I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then."
"Ah, well; in fact that won't be necessary," said Frankie mouse. "It looks very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any longer." He swiveled his pink little eyes. "Not now that we have found a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was destroyed."
"What?" cried Slartibartfast, aghast. "You can't mean that! I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"
"Well, perhaps you can take a quick skiing holiday before you dismantle them," said Frankie acidly.
"Skiing holiday!" cried the old man. "Those glaciers are works of art! Elegantly sculpted contours, soaring pinnacles of ice, deep majestic ravines! It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high art!"
"Thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benjy firmly. "That will be all."
"Yes, sir," said the old man coldly, "thank you very much. Well, goodbye, Earthman," he said to Arthur, "hope the life-style comes together."
With a brief nod to the rest of the company he turned and walked sadly out of the room.
Arthur stared after him, not knowing what to say.
"Now," said Benjy mouse, "to business."
Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.
"To business!" they said.
"I beg your pardon?" said Benjy.
Ford looked round.
"Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast," he said.
The two mice scuttled impatiently around in their glass transports. Finally they composed themselves, and Benjy moved forward to address Arthur.
"Now, Earth creature," he said, "the situation we have in effect is this. We have, as you know, been more or less running your planet for the last ten million years in order to find this wretched thing called the Question to the Ultimate Answer."
"Why?" said Arthur sharply.
"No -- we already thought of that one," said Frankie interrupting, "but it doesn't fit the answer. Why? Forty-two ... you see, it doesn't work."
"No," said Arthur, "I mean, why have you been doing it?"
"Oh, I see," said Frankie. "Well, eventually just habit I think, to be brutally honest. And this is more or less the point -- we're sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite frankly gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, you know what I mean? It was by the merest lucky chance that Benjy and I finished our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday, and have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good offices of your friends."
"Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension," put in Benjy.
"Since then," continued his murine colleague, "we have had an offer of a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in our own dimensional neck of the woods, and we're very much inclined to take it."
"I would, wouldn't you, Ford?" said Zaphod promptingly.
"Oh yes," said Ford, "jump at it, like a shot."
Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this was leading up to.
"But we've got to have product, you see," said Frankie. "I mean, ideally we still need the Question to the Ultimate Answer in some form or other." Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.
"You see," he said, "if they're just sitting there in the studio looking very relaxed and, you know, just mentioning that they happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and then eventually have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two, then the show's probably quite short. No follow-up, you see."
"We have to have something that sounds good," said Benjy.
"Something that sounds good?" exclaimed Arthur. "A Question to the Ultimate Answer that sounds good? From a couple of mice?"
The mice bristled.
"Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity of pure research, yes the pursuit of truth in all its forms, but there comes a point I'm afraid where you begin to suspect that if there's any real truth, it's that the entire multidimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs. And if it comes to a choice between spending yet another ten million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking the money and running, then I for one could do with the exercise," said Frankie.
"But ..." started Arthur, hopelessly.
"Hey, will you get this, Earthman," interrupted Zaphod. "You are a last generation product of that computer matrix, right, and you were there right up to the moment your planet got the finger, yeah?"
"So your brain was an organic pan of the penultimate configuration of the computer program," said Ford, rather lucidly he thought.
"Right?" said Zaphod.
"Well," said Arthur doubtfully. He wasn't aware of ever having felt an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one of his problems.
"In other words," said Benjy, steering his curious little vehicle right over to Arthur, "there's a good chance that the structure of the question is encoded in the structure of your brain -- so we want to buy it off you."
"What, the question?" said Arthur.
"Yes," said Ford and Trillian.
"For lots of money," said Zaphod.
"No, no," said Frankie, "it's the brain we want to buy."
"Well, who would miss it?" inquired Benjy.
"I thought you said you could just read his brain electronically," protested Ford.
"Oh yes," said Frankie, "but we'd have to get it out first. It's got to be prepared."
"Treated," said Benjy.
"Thank you," shouted Arthur, tipping up his chair and backing away from the table in horror.
"It could always be replaced," said Benjy reasonably, "if you think it's important.
"Yes, an electronic brain," said Frankie, "a simple one would suffice."
"A simple one!" wailed Arthur.
"Yeah," said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, "you'd just have to program it to say What? and I don't understand and Where's the tea? Who'd know the difference?"
"What?" cried Arthur, backing away still farther.
"See what I mean?" said Zaphod, and howled with pain because of something that Trillian did at that moment.
"I'd notice the difference," said Arthur.
"No, you wouldn't," said Frankie mouse, "you'd be programmed not to."
Ford made for the door.
"Look, I'm sorry, mice, old lads," he said. "I don't think we've got a deal."
"I rather think we have to have a deal," said the mice in chorus, all the charm vanishing from their piping little voices in an instant. With a tiny whining shriek their two glass transports lifted themselves off the table, and swung through the air toward Arthur, who stumbled farther backward into a blind corner, utterly unable to cope or think of anything.
Trillian grabbed him desperately by the arm and tried to drag him toward the door, which Ford and Zaphod were struggling to open, but Arthur was deadweight -- he seemed hypnotized by the airborne rodents swooping toward him.
She screamed at him, but he just gaped.
With one more yank, Ford and Zaphod got the door open. On the other side of it was a small pack of rather ugly men who they could only assume were the heavy mob of Magrathea. Not only were they ugly themselves, but the medical equipment they carried with them was also far from pretty. They charged.
So -- Arthur was about to have his head cut open,Trillian was unable to help him and Ford and Zaphod were about to be set upon by several thugs a great deal heavier and more sharply armed than they were.
All in all it was extremely fortunate that at that moment every alarm on the planet burst into an ear-splitting din.
Emergency! Emergency!" blared the klaxons throughout Magrathea. "Hostile ship has landed on planet. Armed intruders in section SA. Defense stations, defense stations!"
The two mice sniffed irritably round the fragments of their glass transports where they lay shattered on the floor. "Damnation," muttered Frankie mouse, "all that fuss over two pounds of Earthling brain." He scuttled round and about, his pink eyes flashing, his fine white coat bristling with static. "The only thing we can do now," said Benjy, crouching and stroking his whiskers in thought: "is to try and fake a question, invent one that will sound plausible."
"Difficult," said Frankie. He thought. "How about What's yellow and dangerous?"
Benjy considered this for a moment.
"No, no good," he said. "Doesn't fit the answer."
They sank into silence for a few seconds.
"All right," said Benjy. "What do you get if you multiply six by seven?"
"No, no, too literal, too factual," said Frankie, "wouldn't sustain the punter's interest.
Again they thought.
Then Frankie said, "Here's a thought. How many roads must a man walk down?"
"Ah!" said Benjy. "Aha, now that does sound promising!" He rolled the phrase around a little. "Yes," he said, "that's excellent! Sounds very significant without actually tying you down to meaning anything at all. How many roads must a man walk down? Forty-two. Excellent, excellent, that'll fox 'em. Frankie, baby, we are made!"
They performed a scampering dance in their excitement.
Near them on the floor lay several rather ugly men who had been hit about the head with some heavy design awards.
Half a mile away, four figures pounded up a corridor looking for a way out. They emerged into a wide open-plan computer bay. They glanced about wildly.
"Which way you reckon, Zaphod?" said Ford.
"At a wild guess, I' d say down here," said Zaphod, running off down to the right between a computer bank and the wall. As the others started after him he was brought up short by a Kill-O-Zap energy bolt that cracked through the air inches in front of him and fried a small section of adjacent wall.
A voice on a bullhorn said, "Okay, Beeblebrox, hold it right there. We've got you covered."
"Cops!" hissed Zaphod, and spun around in a crouch. "You want to try a guess at all, Ford?"
"Okay, this way," said Ford, and the four of them ran down a gangway between two computer banks.
At the end of the gangway appeared a heavily armored and space-suited figure waving a vicious Kill-O-Zap gun.
"We don't want to shoot you, Beeblebrox!" shouted the figure.
"Suits me fine!" shouted Zaphod back, and dived down a wide gap between two data process units.
The others swerved in behind him.
"There are two of them," said Trillian. "We're cornered."
They squeezed themselves down in an angle between a large computer data bank and the wall.
They held their breath and waited.
Suddenly the air exploded with energy bolts as both the cops opened fire on them simultaneously.
"Hey, they're shooting at us," said Arthur, crouching in a tight ball. "I thought they said they didn't want to do that."
"Yeah, I thought they said that," agreed Ford.
Zaphod stuck a head up for a dangerous moment.
"Hey," he said, "I thought you said you didn't want to shoot us!" and ducked again.
After a moment a voice replied, "It isn't easy being a cop!"
"What did he say?" whispered Ford in astonishment.
"He said it isn't easy being a cop."
"Well, surely that's his problem, isn't it?"
"I'd have thought so."
Ford shouted out, "Hey, listen! I think we've got enough problems of our own having you shooting at us, so if you could avoid laying your problems on us as well, I think we'd all find it easier to cope!"
Another pause, and then the bullhorn again.
"Now see here, guy," said the voice, "you're not dealing with any dumb two-bit trigger-pumping morons with low hairlines, little piggy eyes and no conversation, we're a couple of intelligent caring guys that you'd probably quite like if you met us socially! I don't go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging about it afterward in seedy space-rangers bars, like some cops I could mention! I go around shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about it afterward for hours to my girlfriend!"
"And I write novels!" chimed in the other cop. "Though I haven't had any of them published yet, so I better warn you, I'm in a meeeean mood!"
Ford's eyes popped halfway out of their sockets. "Who are these guys?" he said.
"Dunno," said Zaphod, "I think I preferred it when they were shooting."
"So are you going to come quietly," shouted one of the cops again, "or are you going to let us blast you out?"
"Which would you prefer?" shouted Ford.
A millisecond later the air about them started to fry again, as bolt after bolt of Kill-O-Zap hurled itself into the computer bank in front of them. The fusillade continued for several seconds at unbearable intensity.
When it stopped, there were a few seconds of near-quietness as the echoes died away.
"You still there?" called one of the cops.
"Yes," they called back.
"We didn't enjoy doing that at all," shouted the other cop.
"We could tell," shouted Ford.
"Now, listen to this, Beeblebrox, and you better listen good!"
"Why?" shouted back Zaphod.
"Because," shouted the cop, "it's going to be very intelligent, and quite interesting and humane! Now -- either you all give yourselves up now and let us beat you up a bit, though not very much of course because we are firmly opposed to needless violence, or we blow up this entire planet and possibly one or two others we noticed on our way out here!"
"But that's crazy!" cried Trillian. "You wouldn't do that!"
"Oh yes, we would," shouted the cop, "wouldn't we?" he asked the other one.
"Oh yes, we'd have to, no question," the other one called back.
"But why?" demanded Trillian.
"Because there are some things you have to do even if you are an enlightened liberal cop who knows all about sensitivity and everything!
"I just don't believe these guys," muttered Ford, shaking his head.
One cop shouted to the other, "Shall we shoot them again for a bit?"
"Yeah, why not?"
They let fly another electric barrage.
The heat and noise was quite fantastic. Slowly, the computer bank was beginning to disintegrate. The front had almost all melted away, and thick rivulets of molten metal were winding their way back toward where they were squatting. They huddled farther back and waited for the end.
But the end never came, at least not then.
Quite suddenly the barrage stopped, and the sudden silence afterward was punctuated by a couple of strangled gurgles and thuds.
The four stared at each other.
"What happened?" said Arthur.
"They stopped," said Zaphod with a shrug.
"Dunno, do you want to go and ask them?"
"Hello?" called out Ford.
"Perhaps it's a trap."
"They haven't the wit."
"What were those thuds?"
They waited for a few more seconds.
"Right," said Ford, "I'm going to have a look."
He glanced round at the others.
"Is no one going to say, No, you can't possibly, let me go instead?"
They all shook their heads.
"Oh well," he said, and stood up.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. Ford peered through the thick smoke that was billowing out of the burning computer.
Cautiously he stepped out into the open.
Still nothing happened.
Twenty yards away he could dimly see through the smoke the space suited figure of one of the cops. He was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. Twenty yards in the other direction lay the second man. No one else was anywhere to be seen.
This struck Ford as being extremely odd.
Slowly, nervously, he walked toward the first one. The body lay reassuringly still as he approached it, and continued to lie reassuringly still as he reached it and put his foot down on the Kill-O-Zap gun that still dangled from its limp fingers.
He reached down and picked it up, meeting no resistance.
The cop was quite clearly dead.
A quick examination revealed him to be from Blagulon Kappa -- he was a methane-breathing life form, dependent on his space suit for survival in the thin oxygen atmosphere of Magrathea.
The tiny life-support system computer on his backpack appeared unexpectedly to have blown up.
Ford poked around in it in considerable astonishment. These miniature suit computers usually had the full back-up of the main computer back on the ship, with which they were directly linked through the sub-etha. Such a system was fail-safe in all circumstances other than total feedback malfunction, which was unheard of.
He hurried over to the prone figure, and discovered that exactly the same impossible thing had happened to him, presumably simultaneously.
He called the others over to look. They came, shared his astonishment, but not his curiosity.
"Let's get shot of this hole," said Zaphod. "If whatever I'm supposed to be looking for is here, I don't want it." He grabbed the second Kill-O-Zap gun, blasted a perfectly harmless accounting computer and rushed out into the corridor, followed by the others. He very nearly blasted hell out of an aircar that stood waiting for them a few yards away. The aircar was empty, but Arthur recognized it as belonging to Slartibartfast.
It had a note from him pinned to part of its sparse instrument panel. The note had an arrow drawn on it, pointing at one of the controls.
It said, This is probably the best button to press.
The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17 through the steel tunnels that led out on to the appalling surface of the planet which was now in the grip of yet another drear morning twilight. Ghastly gray light congealed on the land.
R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental well-being and not being more than, say, five minutes late. It is therefore clearly an almost infinitly variable figure according to circumstances, since the first two factors vary not only with speed taken as an absolute, but also with awareness of the third factor. Unless handled with tranquility this equation can result in considerable stress, ulcers and even death.
R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.
The aircar flung itself through the air at R17 and above, deposited them next to the Heart of Gold which stood starkly on the frozen ground like a bleached bone, and then precipitately hurled itself back in the direction whence they had come, presumably on important business of its own.
Shivering, the four of them stood and looked at the ship.
Beside it stood another one.
It was the Blagulon Kappa policecraft, a bulbous sharklike affair, slate green in color and smothered with black stenciled letters of varying degrees of size and unfriendliness. The letters informed anyone who cared to read them as to where the ship was from, what section of the police it was assigned to, and where the power feeds should be connected.
It seemed somehow unnaturally dark and silent, even for a ship whose two-man crew was at that moment lying asphyxiated in a smoke- filled chamber several miles beneath the ground. It is one of those curious things that is impossible to explain or define, but one can sense when a ship is completely dead.
Ford could sense it and found it most mysterious -- a ship and two policemen seemed to have gone spontaneously dead. In his experience the Universe simply didn't work like that.
The other three could sense it too, but they could sense the bitter cold even more and hurried back into the Heart of Gold suffering from an acute attack of no curiosity.
Ford stayed, and went to examine the Blagulon ship. As he walked, he nearly tripped over an inert steel figure lying face down in the cold dust.
"Marvin!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"Don't feel you have to take any notice of me, please," came a muffled drone.
"But how are you, metalman?" said Ford.
"I don't know," said Marvin, "I've never been there."
"Why," said Ford squatting down beside him and shivering, "are you lying face down in the dust?"
"It's a very effective way of being wretched," said Marvin. "Don't pretend you want to talk to me, I know you hate me."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do, everybody does. It's part of the shape of the Universe. I only have to talk to somebody and they begin to hate me. Even robots hate me. If you just ignore me I expect I shall probably go away."
He jacked himself up to his feet and stood resolutely facing the opposite direction.
"That ship hated me," he said dejectedly, indicating the policecraft.
"That ship?" said Ford in sudden excitement. "What happened to it? Do you know?"
"It hated me because I talked to it."
"You talked to it?" exclaimed Ford. "What do you mean you talked to it?"
"Simple. I got very bored and depressed, so I went and plugged myself in to its external computer feed. I talked to the computer at great length and explained my view of the Universe to it," said Marvin.
"And what happened?" pressed Ford.
"It committed suicide," said Marvin, and stalked off back to the Heart
That night, as the Heart of Gold was busy putting a few light-years between itself and the Horsehead Nebula, Zaphod lounged under the small palm tree on the bridge trying to bang his brain into shape with massive Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters; Ford and Trillian sat in a corner discussing life and matters arising from it; and Arthur took to his bed to flip through Ford's copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Since he was going to have to live in the place, he reasoned, he'd better start finding out something about it.
He came across this entry.
It said: "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.
"For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?"
He got no further before the ship's intercom buzzed into life.
"Hey, Earthman? You hungry, kid?" said Zaphod's voice.
"Er, well, yes, a little peckish, I suppose," said Arthur.
"Okay, baby, hold tight," said Zaphod. "We'll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."