LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING
"So you see," said Slartibartfast, slowly stirring his artificially constructed coffee, and thereby also stirring the whirlpool interfaces between real and unreal numbers, between the interactive perceptions of mind and universe, and thus generating the restructured matrices of implicitly enfolded subjectivity that allowed his ship to reshape the very concept of time and space, "how it is."
"Yes," said Arthur.
"Yes," said Ford.
"What do I do," said Arthur, "with this piece of chicken?"
Slartibartfast glanced at him, gravely.
"Toy with it," he said, "toy with it."
He demonstrated with his own piece.
Arthur did so, and felt the slight tingle of a mathematical function thrilling through the chicken leg as it moved four-dimensionally through what Slartibartfast had assured him was five-dimensional space.
"Overnight," said Slartibartfast, "the whole population of Krikkit was transformed from being charming, delightful, intelligent ..."
"... if whimsical ..." interpolated Arthur.
"... ordinary people," said Slartibartfast, "into charming, delightful, intelligent ..."
"... whimsical ..."
"... manic xenophobes. The idea of a Universe didn't fit into their world picture, so to speak. They simply couldn't cope with it. And so, charmingly, delightfully, intelligently, whimsically if you like, they decided to destroy it. What's the matter now?"
"I don't like this wine very much," said Arthur, sniffing it.
"Well, send it back. It's all part of the mathematics of it."
Arthur did so. He didn't like the topography of the waiter's smile, but he'd never liked graphs anyway.
"Where are we going?" said Ford.
"Back to the room of Informational illusions," said Slartibartfast, rising and patting his mouth with the mathematical representation of a paper napkin, "for the second half."
The people of Krikkit," said His High Judgmental Supremacy, Judiciary Pag, L.I.V.R. (the Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed), Chairman of the Board of Judges at the Krikkit War Crimes Trial, "are, well, you know, they're just a bunch of real sweet guys, you know, who just happen to want to kill everybody. Hell, I feel the same way some mornings.
"Okay," he continued, swinging his feet up onto the bench in front of him and pausing a moment to pick a thread off his Ceremonial Beach Loafers, "so you wouldn't necessarily want to share a Galaxy with these guys."
This was true.
The Krikkit attack on the Galaxy had been stunning. Thousands and thousands of huge Krikkit warships had leaped suddenly out of hyperspace and simultaneously attacked thousands and thousands of major worlds, first seizing vital material supplies for building the next wave, and then calmly zapping those worlds out of existence.
The Galaxy, which had been enjoying a period of unusual peace and prosperity at the time, reeled like a man getting mugged in a meadow.
"I mean," continued Judiciary Pag, gazing round the ultramodern (this was ten billion years ago, when ultramodern meant lots of stainless steel and brushed concrete) and huge courtroom, "these guys are just obsessed."
This, too, was true, and is the only explanation anyone has yet managed to come up with for the unimaginable speed with which the people of Krikkit had pursued their new and absolute purpose -- the destruction of everything that wasn't Krikkit.
It is also the only explanation for their bewilderingly sudden grasp of all the hypertechnology involved in building their thousands of spaceships, and their millions of lethal white robots.
These had really struck terror into the hearts of everyone who had encountered them -- in most cases, however, the terror was extremely short-lived, as was the person experiencing the terror. They were savage, single-minded flying battle machines. They wielded formidable multifunctional battleclubs that brandished one way knocked down buildings, brandished another way fired blistering Omni-Destructo Zap rays, and brandished a third way launched a hideous arsenal of grenades, ranging from minor incendiary devices to Maxi-Slorta Hypernuclear Devices that could take out a major sun. Simply striking the grenades with the battleclubs simultaneously primed them and launched them with phenomenal accuracy over distances ranging from mere yards to hundreds of thousands of miles.
"Okay," said Judiciary Pag again, "so we won." He paused and chewed a little gum. "We won," he repeated, "but that's no big deal. I mean a medium-sized Galaxy against one little world, and how long did it take us? Clerk of the Court?"
"M'lud?" said the severe little man in black, rising.
"How long, kiddo?"
"It is a trifle difficult, m'lud, to be precise in this matter. Time and distance ..."
"Relax, guy, be vague."
"I hardly like to be vague, m'lud, over such a ..."
"Bite the bullet and be it."
The Clerk of the Court blinked at him. It was clear that like most of the Galactic legal profession he found Judiciary Pag (or Zipo Bibrok 5x 108 as his private name was known, inexplicably, to be) a rather distressing figure. He was clearly a bounder and a cad. He seemed to think because he was the possessor of the finest legal mind ever discovered that gave him the right to behave exactly as he liked, and unfortunately he appeared to be right.
"Er, well, m'lud, very approximately, two thousand years," the Clerk murmured unhappily.
"And how many guys zilched out?"
"Two grillion, m'lud." The Clerk sat down. A hydrospectic photo of him at this point would have revealed that he was steaming slightly.
Judiciary Pag gazed once more around the courtroom, wherein were assembled hundreds of the very highest officials of the entire Galactic administration, all in their ceremonial uniforms or bodies, depending on metabolism and custom. Behind a wall of Zap-Proof Crystal stood a representative group of the people of Krikkit, looking with calm, polite loathing at all the aliens gathered to pass judgment on them. This was the most momentous occasion in legal history and Judiciary Pag knew it.
He took out his chewing gum and stuck it under his chair.
"That's a whole lotta stiffs," he said quietly.
The grim silence in the courtroom seemed in accord with this view.
"So, like I said, these are a bunch of really sweet guys, but you wouldn't want to share a Galaxy with them, not if they're just gonna keep at it, not if they're not gonna learn to relax a little. I mean it's just gonna be continual nervous time, isn't it, right? Pow, pow, pow, when are they next coming at us? Peaceful coexistence is just right out, right? Get me some water somebody, thank you."
He sat back and sipped reflectively.
"Okay," he said, "hear me, hear me. It's like, these guys, you know, are entitled to their own view of the Universe. And according to their view, which the Universe forced on them, right, they did right. Sounds crazy, but I think you'll agree. They believe in ..."
He consulted a piece of paper that he found in the back pocket of his judicial jeans.
"They believe in 'peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.'"
"I've heard a lot worse," he said.
He scratched his crotch reflectively.
"Freeeow," he said. He took another sip of water, then held it up to the light and frowned at it. He twisted it around.
"Hey, is there something in this water?" he said.
"Er, no, m'lud," said the Court Usher, who had brought it to him, rather nervously.
"Then take it away," snapped judiciary Pag, "and put something in it. I got an idea."
He pushed away the glass, and leaned forward.
"Hear me, hear me," he said.
The solution was brilliant, and went like this:
The planet of Krikkit was to be encased for perpetuity in an envelope of Slo-Time, inside which life would continue almost infinitely slowly. All light would be deflected around the envelope so that it would remain invisible and impenetrable. Escape from the envelope would be utterly impossible unless it was unlocked from the outside.
When the rest of the Universe came to its final end, when the whole of creation reached its dying fall (this was all, of course, in the days before it was known that the end of the Universe would be a spectacular catering venture) and life and matter ceased to exist, then the planet of Krikkit and its sun would emerge from its Slo-Time envelope and continue a solitary existence, such as it craved, in the twilight of the Universal void.
The Lock would be on an asteroid that would slowly orbit the envelope.
The Key would be the symbol of the Galaxy -- the Wikkit Gate.
By the time the applause in the court had died down, Judiciary Pag was already in the Sens-O-Shower with a rather nice member of the jury that he'd slipped a note to half an hour earlier.
Two months later, Zipo Bibrok 5 x 108 had cut the bottoms off his Galactic State jeans, and was spending part of the enormous fee his judgments commanded lying on a jeweled beach having Essence of Qualactin rubbed into his back by the same rather nice member of the jury. She was a Soolfinian girl from beyond the Cloudworlds of Yaga. She had skin like lemon silk and was very interested in legal bodies.
"Did you hear the news?" she said.
"Weeeeelaaaaah!" said Zipo Bibrok 5 x 108, and you would have had to have been there to know exactly why he said this. None of this was on the tape of Informational Illusions and is all based on hearsay.
"No," he added, when the thing that had made him say "Weeeeelaaaaah" had stopped happening. He moved his body around slightly to catch the first rays of the third and greatest of primeval Vod's three suns that was creeping over the ludicrously beautiful horizon, and the sky now glittered with some of the greatest tanning power ever known.
A fragrant breeze wandered up from the quiet sea, trailed along the beach and drifted back to sea again, wondering where to go next. On a mad impulse it went up to the beach again. It drifted back to sea.
"I hope it isn't good news," muttered Zipo Bibrok 5 x 108, "'cos I don't think I could bear it."
"Your Krikkit judgment was carried out today," said the girl sumptuously. There was no need to say such a straightforward thing sumptuously, but she went ahead and did it anyway because it was that sort of day. "I heard it on the radio," she said, "when I went back to the ship for the oil."
"Uh-huh," murmured Zipo and rested his head back on the jeweled sand.
"Something happened," she said --
"Just after the Slo-Time envelope was locked," she said, and paused a moment from rubbing in the Essence of Qualactin, "a Krikkit warship that had been missing, presumed destroyed, turned out to be just missing after all. It appeared and tried to seize the Key."
Zipo sat up sharply.
"Hey, what?" he said.
"It's all right," she said in a voice that would have calmed the Big Bang down, "apparently there was a short battle. The Key and the warship were disintegrated and blasted into the space-time continuum. Apparently they are lost forever."
She smiled, and squeezed a little more Essence of Qualactin onto her fingertips. He relaxed and lay back down.
"Do what you did a moment or two ago," he murmured.
"That?" she said.
"No, no," he said, "that."
She tried again.
"That?" she asked.
Again, you had to be there.
The fragrant breeze drifted up from the sea again.
A magician wandered along the beach, but no one needed him.
Nothing is lost forever," said Slartibartfast, his face flickering redly in the light of the candle that the robot waiter was trying to take away, "except for the Cathedral of Chalesm."
"The what?" said Arthur with a start.
"The Cathedral of Chalesm," repeated Slartibartfast. "It was during the course of my researches at the Campaign for Real Time that I ..."
"The what?" said Arthur again.
The old man paused and gathered his thoughts, for what he hoped would be one last onslaught on this story. The robot waiter moved through the space-time matrices in a way that spectacularly combined the surly with the obsequious, made a snatch for the candle and got it. They had the check, had argued convincingly about who had the cannelloni and how many bottles of wine they had had, and, as Arthur had been dimly aware, had thereby successfully maneuvered the ship out of subjective space and into parking orbit round a strange planet. The waiter was now anxious to complete his part of the charade and clear the bistro.
"All will become clear," said Slartibartfast.
"In a minute. Listen. The time streams are now very polluted. There's a lot of muck floating about in them, flotsam and jetsam, and more and more of it is now being regurgitated into the physical world. Eddies in the space-time continuum, you see."
"So I hear," said Arthur.
"Look, where are we going?" said Ford, pushing his chair back from the table with impatience, "because I'm eager to get there."
"We are going," said Slartibartfast, in a slow, measured voice, "to try to prevent the war robots of Krikkit from regaining the whole of the Key they need to unlock the planet of Krikkit from the Slo-Time envelope and release the rest of their army and their mad Masters."
"It's just," said Ford, "that you mentioned a party."
"I did," said Slartibartfast, and hung his head.
He realized that it had been a mistake, because the idea seemed to exercise a strange and unhealthy fascination on the mind of Ford Prefect. The more Slartibartfast unraveled the dark and tragic story of Krikkit and its people, the more Ford Prefect wanted to drink a lot and dance with girls.
The old man felt that he should not have mentioned the party until he absolutely had to. But there it was, the fact was out, and Ford Prefect had attached himself to it the way an Arcturan Megaleech attaches itself to its victim before biting his head off and making off with his spaceship.
"When," said Ford eagerly, "do we get there?"
"When I've finished telling you why we have to go there."
"I know why I'm going," said Ford, and leaned back, sticking his hands behind his head. He did one of his smiles that made people twitch.
Slartibartfast had hoped for an easy retirement.
He had been planning to learn to play the octaventral heebiephone, a pleasantly futile task, he knew, because he had the wrong number of mouths.
He had also been planning to write an eccentric and relentlessly inaccurate monograph on the subject of equatorial fjords in order to set the record wrong about one or two matters he saw as important.
Instead, he had somehow got talked into doing some part-time work for the Campaign for Real Time and had started to take it all seriously for the first time in his life. As a result he now found himself spending his fast declining years combating evil and trying to save the Galaxy.
He found it exhausting work and sighed heavily.
"Listen," he said, "at Camtim ..."
"What?" said Arthur.
"The Campaign for Real Time, which I will tell you about later. I noticed that five pieces of jetsam that had in relatively recent times plopped back into existence seemed to correspond to the five pieces of the missing Key. Only two I could trace exactly -- the Wooden Pillar, which appeared on your planet, and the Silver Bail. It seems to be at some sort of party. We must go there to retrieve it before the Krikkit robots find it, or who knows what may happen."
"No," said Ford firmly, "we must go to the party in order to drink a lot and dance with girls."
"But haven't you understood everything I ..."
"Yes," said Ford, with sudden and unexpected fierceness, "I've understood it all perfectly well. That's why I want to have as many drinks and dance with as many girls as possible while there are still any left. If everything you've shown us is true ..."
"True? Of course it's true."
"... then we don't stand a whelk's chance in a supernova."
"A what?" said Arthur sharply again. He had been following the conversation doggedly up to this point, and was keen not to lose the thread now.
"A whelk's chance in a supernova," repeated Ford without losing momentum, "the ..."
"What's a whelk got to do with a supernova?" said Arthur.
"It doesn't," said Ford levelly, "stand a chance in one."
He paused to see if the matter was now cleared up. The freshly puzzled looks clambering across Arthur's face told him that it wasn't.
"A supernova," said Ford as quickly and as clearly as he could, "is a star that explodes at almost half the speed of light and burns with the brightness of a billion suns and then collapses as a superheavy neutron star. It's a star that burns up other stars, got it? Nothing stands a chance in a supernova."
"I see," said Arthur.
"So why a whelk particularly?"
"Why not a whelk? Doesn't matter."
Arthur accepted this, and Ford continued, picking up his early fierce momentum as best he could.
"The point is," he said, "that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur -- particularly and especially Arthur -- are just dilettantes, eccentrics, layabouts if you like."
Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.
"..." is as far as he got.
"We're not obsessed by anything, you see," insisted Ford.
"And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win."
"I care about lots of things," said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.
"Well," said the old man, "life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords."
"Would you die for them?"
"Fjords?" blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. "No."
"Wouldn't see the point, to be honest."
"And I still can't see the connection," said Arthur, "with whelks."
Ford could feel the conversation slipping out of his control, and refused to be sidetracked by anything at this point.
"The point is," he hissed, "that we are not obsessive people, and we don't stand a chance against ..."
"Except for your sudden obsession with whelks," pursued Arthur, "which I still haven't understood."
"Will you please leave whelks out of it?"
"I will if you will," said Arthur. "You brought the subject up."
"It was an error," said Ford, "forget them. The point is this."
He leaned forward and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers.
"What was I talking about?" he said wearily.
"Let's just go down to the party," said Slartibartfast, "for whatever reason." He stood up, shaking his head.
"I think that's what I was trying to say," said Ford.
For some unexplained reason, the teleport cubicles were in the bathroom.
Time travel is increasingly regarded as a menace. History is being polluted.
The Encyclopedia Galactica has much to say on the theory and practice of time travel, most of which is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't spent at least four lifetimes studying advanced hyper-mathematics, and since it was impossible to do this before time travel was invented, there is a certain amount of confusion as to how the idea was arrived at in the first place. One rationalization of this problem states that time travel was, by its very nature, discovered simultaneously at all periods of history, but this is clearly bunk.
The trouble is that a lot of history is now quite clearly bunk as well.
Here is an example. It may not seem to be an important one to some people, but to others it is crucial. It is certainly significant in that it was this single event that caused the Campaign for Real Time to be set up in the first place (or is it last? It depends which way round you see history as happening, and this, too, is now an increasingly vexed question).
There is, or was, a poet. His name was Lallafa, and he wrote what are widely regarded throughout the Galaxy as the finest poems in existence, the Songs of the Long Land.
They are/were unspeakably wonderful. That is to say, you couldn't speak very much of them at once without being so overcome with emotion, truth and a sense of the wholeness and oneness of things that you wouldn't pretty soon need a brisk walk round the block, possibly pausing at a bar on the way back for a quick glass of perspective and soda. They were that good.
Lallafa had lived in the forests of the Long Lands of Effa. He lived there, and he wrote his poems there. He wrote them on pages made of dried habra leaves, without the benefit of education or correcting fluid. He wrote about the light in the forest, and what he thought about that. He wrote about the darkness in the forest, and what he thought about that. He wrote about the girl who had left him and precisely what he thought about that.
Long after his death his poems were found and wondered over. News of them spread like morning sunlight. For centuries they illuminated and watered the lives of many people whose lives might otherwise have been darker and dryer.
Then, shortly after the invention of time travel, some major correcting fluid manufacturers wondered whether his poems might have been better still if he had had access to some high-quality correcting fluid, and whether he might be persuaded to say a few words to that effect.
They traveled the time waves; they found him. They explained the situation -- with some difficulty -- to him, and did indeed persuade him. In fact they persuaded him to such effect that he became extremely rich at their hands, and the girl about whom he was otherwise destined to write with such precision never got around to leaving him, and in fact they moved out of the forest to a rather nice pad in town and he frequently commuted to the future to do talk shows, on which he sparkled wittily.
He never got around to writing the poems, of course, which was a problem, but an easily solved one. The manufacturers of correcting fluid simply packed him off for a week somewhere with a copy of a later edition of his book and stacks of dried habra leaves to copy them out onto, making the odd deliberate mistake and correction on the way.
Many people now say that the poems are suddenly worthless. Others argue that they are exactly the same as they always were, so what's changed? The first people say that that isn't the point. They aren't quite certain what the point is, but they are quite sure that that isn't it. They set up the Campaign for Real Time to try to stop this sort of thing going on. Their case was considerably strengthened by the fact that a week after they had set themselves up, news broke that not only had the great Cathedral of Chalesm been pulled down in order to build a new ion refinery, but that the construction of the refinery had taken so long, and had had to extend so far back into the past in order to allow ion production to start on time, that the Cathedral of Chalesm had now never been built in the first place. Picture postcards of the cathedral suddenly became immensely valuable.
So a lot of history is now gone forever. The Campaigners for Real Time claim that just as easy travel eroded the differences between one country and another, and between one world and another, so time travel is now eroding the differences between one age and another. "The past," they say, "is now truly like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there."