THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

A few delicious tidbits in here, to which we will add as the hours, days, weeks, months and years go by.

Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:19 pm

Chapter 9

A computer chattered to itself in alarm as it noticed an airlock open and close itself for no apparent reason.

This was because reason was in fact out to lunch.

A hole had just appeared in the Galaxy. It was exactly a nothingth of a second long, a nothingth of an inch wide, and quite a lot of millions of light-years from end to end.

As it closed up, lots of paper hats and party balloons fell out of it and drifted off through the Universe. A team of seven three-foot-high market analysts fell out of it and died, partly of asphyxiation, partly of surprise.

Two hundred and thirty-nine thousand lightly fried eggs fell out of it too, materializing in a large wobbly heap on the famine-struck land of Poghril in the Pansel system.

The whole Poghril tribe had died out from famine except for one last man who died of cholesterol poisoning some weeks later.

The nothingth of a second for which the hole existed reverberated backward and forward through time in a most improbable fashion. Somewhere in the deeply remote past it seriously traumatized a small random group of atoms drifting through the empty sterility of space and made them cling together in the most extraordinarily unlikely patterns. These patterns quickly learned to copy themselves (this was part of what was so extraordinary about the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble on every planet they drifted on to. That was how life began in the Universe.

Five wild Event Maelstroms swirled in vicious storms of unreason and spewed up a pavement.

On the pavement lay Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent gulping like half spent fish.

"There you are," gasped Ford, scrabbling for a finger hold on the pavement as it raced through the Third Reach of the Unknown, "I told you I'd think of something."

"Oh sure," said Arthur, "sure."

"Bright idea of mine," said Ford, "to find a passing spaceship and get rescued by it."

The real Universe arched sickeningly away beneath them. Various pretend ones flitted silently by, like mountain goats. Primal light exploded, splattering space-time as with gobbets of Jell-O. Time blossomed, matter shrank away. The highest prime number coalesced quietly in a corner and hid itself away for ever.

"Oh, come off it," said Arthur, "the chances against it were astronomical."

"Don't knock it, it worked," said Ford.

"What sort of ship are we in?" asked Arthur as the pit of eternity yawned beneath them.

"I don't know," said Ford, "I haven't opened my eyes yet."

"No, nor have I," said Arthur.

The Universe jumped, froze, quivered and splayed out in several unexpected directions.

Arthur and Ford opened their eyes and looked about in considerable surprise.

"Good God," said Arthur, "it looks just like the sea front at Southend."

"Hell, I'm relieved to hear you say that," said Ford.

"Why?"

"Because I thought I must be going mad."

"Perhaps you are. Perhaps you only thought I said it."

Ford thought about this.

"Well, did you say it or didn't you?" he asked.

"I think so," said Arthur.

"Well, perhaps we're both going mad."

"Yes," said Arthur, "we'd be mad, all things considered, to think this was Southend."

"Well, do you think this is Southend?"

"Oh yes."

"So do I."

"Therefore we must be mad."

"Nice day for it."

"Yes," said a passing maniac.

"Who was that?" asked Arthur.

"Who -- the man with the five heads and the elderberry bush full of kippers?"

"Yes."

"I don't know. Just someone."

"Ah."

They both sat on the pavement and watched with a certain unease as huge children bounced heavily along the sand and wild horses thundered through the sky taking fresh supplies of reinforced railings to the Uncertain Areas.

"You know," said Arthur with a slight cough, "if this is Southend, there's something very odd about it ..."

"You mean the way the sea stays steady as a rock and the buildings keep washing up and down?" said Ford. "Yes, I thought that was odd too. In fact," he continued as with a huge bang Southend split itself into six equal segments which danced and spun giddily round each other in lewd and licentious formations, "there is something altogether very strange going on."

Wild yowling noises of pipes and strings seared through the wind, hot doughnuts popped out of the road for ten pence each, horrid fish stormed out of the sky and Arthur and Ford decided to make a run for it.

They plunged through heavy walls of sound, mountains of archaic thought, valleys of mood music, bad shoe sessions and footling bats and suddenly heard a girl's voice.

It sounded quite a sensible voice, but it just said, "Two to the power of one hundred thousand to one against and falling," and that was all.

Ford skidded down a beam of light and spun round trying to find a source for the voice but could see nothing he could seriously believe in.

"What was that voice?" shouted Arthur.

"I don't know," yelled Ford, "I don't know. It sounded like a measurement of probability."

"Probability? What do you mean?"

"Probability. You know, like two to one, three to one, five to four against. It said two to the power of one hundred thousand to one against. That's pretty improbable, you know."

A million-gallon vat of custard upended itself over them without warning.

"But what does it mean?" cried Arthur.

"What, the custard?"

"No, the measurement of improbability!"

"I don't know. I don't know at all. I think we're on some kind of spaceship."

"I can only assume," said Arthur, "that this is not the first-class compartment."

Bulges appeared in the fabric of space-time. Great ugly bulges.

"Haaaauuurrgghhh ..." said Arthur, as he felt his body softening and bending in unusual directions. "Southend seems to be melting away ... the stars are swirling ... a dustbowl ... my legs are drifting off into the sunset ... my left arm's come off too." A frightening thought struck him. "Hell," he said, "how am I going to operate my digital watch now?" He wound his eyes desperately around in Ford's direction.

"Ford," he said, "you're turning into a penguin. Stop it."

Again came the voice.

"Two to the power of seventy-five thousand to one against and falling."

Ford waddled around his pond in a furious circle.

"Hey, who are you?" he quacked. "Where are you? What's going on and is there any way of stopping it?"

"Please relax," said the voice pleasantly, like a stewardess in an airliner with only one wing and two engines, one of which is on fire, "you are perfectly safe."

"But that's not the point!" raged Ford. "The point is that I am now a perfectly safe penguin, and my colleague here is rapidly running out of limbs!"

"It's all right, I've got them back now," said Arthur.

"Two to the power of fifty thousand to one against and falling," said the voice.

"Admittedly," said Arthur, "they're longer than I usually like them, but ..."

"Isn't there anything," squawked Ford in avian fury, "you feel you ought to be telling us?"

The voice cleared its throat. A giant petit four lolloped off into the distance.

"Welcome," the voice said, "to the Starship Heart of Gold."

***

The voice continued.

"Please do not be alarmed," it said, "by anything you see or hear around you. You are bound to feel some initial ill effects as you have been rescued from certain death at an improbability level of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against -- possibly much higher. We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of twenty-five thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway. Thank you. Two to the power of twenty thousand to one against and falling."

The voice cut out.

Ford and Arthur were in a small luminous pink cubicle.

Ford was wildly excited.

"Arthur!" he said, "this is fantastic! We've been picked up by a ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive! This is incredible! I heard rumors about it before! They were all officially denied, but they must have done it! They've built the Improbability Drive! Arthur, this is ... Arthur? What's happening?"

Arthur had jammed himself against the door to the cubicle, trying to hold it closed, but it was ill fitting. Tiny furry little hands were squeezing themselves through the cracks, their fingers were ink-stained; tiny voices chattered insanely.

Arthur looked up.

"Ford!" he said, "there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out."
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:19 pm

Chapter 10

The Infinite Improbability Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.

It was discovered by a lucky chance, and then developed into a governable form of propulsion by the Galactic Government's research team on Damogran.

This, briefly, is the story of its discovery.

The principle of generating small amounts of finite improbability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea) were of course well understood -- and such generators were often used to break the ice at parties by making all the molecules in the hostess's undergarments leap simultaneously one foot to the left, in accordance with the Theory of Indeterminacy.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for this, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sorts of parties.

Another thing they couldn't stand was the perpetual failure they encountered in trying to construct a machine which could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the mind-paralyzing-distances between the farthest stars, and in the end they grumpily announced that such a machine was virtually impossible.

Then, one day, a student who had been left to sweep up the lab after a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning this way:

If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility, then it must logically be a finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out exactly how improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea ... and turn it on!

He did this, and was rather startled to discover that he had managed to create the long-sought-after golden Infinite Improbability generator out of thin air.

It startled him even more when just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn't stand was a smart-ass.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:20 pm

Chapter 11

The improbability-proof control cabin of the Heart of Gold looked like a perfectly conventional spaceship except that it was perfectly clean because it was so new. Some of the control seats hadn't had the plastic wrapping taken off yet. The cabin was mostly white, oblong, and about the size of a smallish restaurant. In fact it wasn't perfectly oblong: the two long walls were raked round in a slight parallel curve, and all the angles and corners of the cabin were contoured in excitingly chunky shapes. The truth of the matter is that it would have been a great deal simpler and more practical to build the cabin as an ordinary three-dimensional oblong room, but then the designers would have got miserable. As it was the cabin looked excitingly purposeful, with large video screens ranged over the control and guidance system panels on the concave wall, and long banks of computers set into the convex wall. In one corner a robot sat humped, its gleaming brushed steel head hanging loosely between its gleaming brushed steel knees. It too was fairly new, but though it was beautifully constructed and polished it somehow looked as if the various parts of its more or less humanoid body didn't quite fit properly. In fact they fitted perfectly well, but something in its bearing suggested that they might have fitted better.

Zaphod Beeblebrox paced nervously up and down the cabin, brushing his hands over pieces of gleaming equipment and giggling with excitement.

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

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

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

Trillian spun her seat round to face him and shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You'd have been happy to let them die?"

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

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

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

"The ship did."

"Huh?"

"The ship did. All by itself."

"Huh?"

"While we were in Improbability Drive."

"But that's incredible."

"No, Zaphod. Just very very improbable."

"Er, yeah."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Marvin!" warned Trillian.

"All right," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"

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

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

"Just that?" he said.

"Yes," said Trillian firmly.

"I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.

Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvin flashed her an electronic look.

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

He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin. With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him.

"I don't think I can stand that robot much longer, Zaphod," growled Trillian.

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."

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

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

"What?" they said.

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

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

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

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

He turned and walked back to the hated door.

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

Marvin ignored him.

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

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

"Come on," he said.

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

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

Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.

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

"Which government ..." started Ford again.

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

"Stolen?"

"Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.

"Who by?" asked Ford.

"Zaphod Beeblebrox."

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

"Zapbod Beeblebrox ...?" he said weakly.

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

"No one even mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably. "Ford, are you all right?"

Ford stared at him. "Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?" he said.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:20 pm

Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

Trillian was tapping her finger on a screenful of figures.

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

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

"You hear enough about yourself as it is."

"I'm very insecure. We know that."

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

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

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

"What couple of guys?"

"The couple of guys we picked up."

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

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

"Yeah?" said Zaphod, and blinked.

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

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

"Well?" said Trillian.

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

"Which one?"

"Anyone."

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

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

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

"Hey ... yeah!" said Zaphod.

"Well?" she said.

"Well what?"

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

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

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

She ignored this.

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

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

"Yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's high. They're two lucky lucky guys."

"Yes."

"But relative to what we were doing when the ship picked them up ..."

Trillian punched up the figures. They showed two-to-the-power-of Infinity-minus-one to one against (an irrational number that only has a conventional meaning in Improbability Physics).

"It's pretty low," continued Zaphod with a slight whistle.

"Yes," agreed Trillian, and looked at him quizzically.

"That's one big whack of Improbability to be accounted for. Something pretty improbable has got to show up on the balance sheet if it's all going to add up into a pretty sum."

Zaphod scribbled a few sums, crossed them out and threw the pencil away.

"Bat's dos, I can't work it out."

"Well?"

Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and gritted his teeth.

"Okay," he said. "Computer!"

The voice circuits sprang to life again.

"Why, hello there"' they said (ticker tape, ticker tape). " All I want to do is make your day nicer and nicer and nicer ..."

"Yeah, well, shut up and work something out for me."

"Sure thing," chattered the computer, "you want a probability forecast based on ..."

"Improbability data, yeah."

"Okay," the computer continued. "Here's an interesting little notion. Did you realize that most people's lives are governed by telephone numbers?"

A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's faces and on to the other one.

"Have you flipped?" he said.

"No, but you will when I tell you that ..."

Trillian gasped. She scrabbled at the buttons on the Improbability flight path screen.

"Telephone number?" she said. "Did that thing say telephone number?"

Numbers flashed up on the screen.

The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.

"What I was about to say was that ..."

"Don't bother, please," said Trillian.

"Look, what is this?" said Zaphod.

"I don't know," said Trillian, "but those aliens -- they're on the way up to the bridge with that wretched robot. Can we pick them up on any monitor cameras?"
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:20 pm

Chapter 13

Marvin trudged on down the corridor, still moaning.

"And then of course I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left-hand side ..."

"No?" said Arthur grimly as he walked along beside him. "Really?"

"Oh yes," said Marvin, "I mean I've asked for them to be replaced but no one ever listens."

"I can imagine."

Vague whistling and humming noises were coming from Ford. "Well well well," he kept saying to himself, "Zaphod Beeblebrox ..."

Suddenly Marvin stopped, and held up a hand.

"You know what's happened now, of course?"

"No, what?" said Arthur, who didn't want to know.

"We've arrived at another of those doors."

There was a sliding door let into the side of the corridor. Marvin eyed it suspiciously.

"Well?" said Ford impatiently. "Do we go through?"

"Do we go through?" mimicked Marvin. "Yes. This is the entrance to the bridge. I was told to take you to the bridge. Probably the highest demand that will be made on my intellectual capacities today, I shouldn't wonder."

Slowly, with great loathing, he stepped toward the door, like a hunter stalking his prey. Suddenly it slid open.

"Thank you," it said, "for making a simple door very happy."

Deep in Marvin's thorax gears ground.

"Funny," he intoned funereally, "how just when you think life can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does."

He heaved himself through the door and left Ford and Arthur staring at each other and shrugging their shoulders. From inside they heard Marvin's voice again.

"I suppose you'll want to see the aliens now," he said. "Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?

"Yeah, just show them in, would you, Marvin?" came another voice.

Arthur looked at Ford and was astonished to see him laughing.

"What's ...?"

"Shhh," said Ford, "come on in."

He stepped through into the bridge.

Arthur followed him in nervously and was astonished to see a man lolling back in a chair with his feet on a control console picking the teeth in his right-hand head with his left hand. The right-hand head seemed to be thoroughly preoccupied with this task, but the left-hand one was grinning a broad, relaxed, nonchalant grin. The number of things that Arthur couldn't believe he was seeing was fairly large. His jaw flopped about at a loose end for a while.

The peculiar man waved a lazy wave at Ford and with an appalling affectation of nonchalance said, "Ford, hi, how are you? Glad you could drop in."

Ford was not going to be outcooled.

"Zaphod," he drawled, "great to see you, you're looking well, the extra arms suits you. Nice ship you've stolen."

Arthur goggled at him.

"You mean you know this guy?" he said, waving a wild finger at Zaphod.

"Know him!" exclaimed Ford, "he's ..." he paused, and decided to do the introductions the other way round.

"Oh, Zaphod, this is a friend of mine, Arthur Dent," he said, "I saved him when his planet blew up."

"Oh sure," said Zaphod, "hi, Arthur, glad you could make it." His right-hand head looked round casually, said "hi" and went back to having its teeth picked.

Ford carried on. " And Arthur," he said, "this is my semicousin Zaphod Beeb ..."

"We've met," said Arthur sharply.

When you're cruising down the road in the fast lane and you lazily sail past a few hard-driving cars and are feeling pretty pleased with yourself and then accidentally change down from fourth to first instead of third thus making your engine leap out of your hood in a rather ugly mess, it tends to throw you off your stride in much the same way that this remark threw Ford Prefect off his.

"Er ... what?" he said.

"I said we've met."

Zaphod gave an awkward start of surprise and jabbed a gum sharply. "Hey ... er, have we? Hey ... er ..."

Ford rounded on Arthur with an angry flash in his eyes. Now he felt he was back on home ground he suddenly began to resent having lumbered himself with this ignorant primitive who knew as much about the affairs of the Galaxy as an Ilford-based gnat knew about life in Peking.

"What do you mean you've met?" he demanded. "This is Zaphod Beeblebrox from Betelgeuse Five, you know, not bloody Martin Smith from Croydon."

"I don't care," said Arthur coldly. "We've met, haven't we, Zaphod Beeblebrox -- or should I say ... Phil?"

"What?" shouted Ford.

"You'll have to remind me," said Zaphod. "I've a terrible memory for species."

"It was at a party," pursued Arthur.

"Yeah, well, I doubt that," said Zaphod.

"Cool it, will you, Arthur!" demanded Ford.

Arthur would not be deterred. "A party six months ago. On Earth ... England ..."

Zaphod shook his head with a tight-lipped smile.

"London," insisted Arthur, "Islington."

"Oh," said Zaphod with a guilty start, "that party."

This wasn't fair on Ford at all. He looked backward and forward between Arthur and Zaphod. "What?" he said to Zaphod. "You don't mean to say you've been on that miserable little planet as well, do you?"

"No, of course not," said Zaphod breezily. "Well, I may have just dropped in briefly, you know, on my way somewhere ..."

"But I was stuck there for fifteen years!"

"Well, I didn't know that, did I?"

"But what were you doing there?"

"Looking about, you know."

"He gate-crashed a party," said Arthur, trembling with anger, "a fancy dress party ..."

"It would have to be, wouldn't it?" said Ford.

"At this party," persisted Arthur, "was a girl ... oh, well, look, it doesn't matter now. The whole place has gone up in smoke anyway ..."

"I wish you'd stop sulking about that bloody planet," said Ford. "Who was the lady?"

"Oh, just somebody. Well all right, I wasn't doing very well with her. I'd been trying all evening. Hell, she was something though. Beautiful, charming, devastatingly intelligent, at last I'd got her to myself for a bit and was plying her with a bit of talk when this friend of yours barges up and says 'Hey, doll, is this guy boring you? Why don't you talk to me instead? I'm from a different planet.' I never saw her again."

"Zaphod?" exclaimed Ford.

"Yes," said Arthur, glaring at him and trying not to feel foolish. "He only had the two arms and the one head and he called himself Phil, but ..."

"But you must admit he did turn out to be from another planet," said Trillian, wandering into sight at the other end of the bridge. She gave Arthur a pleasant smile which settled on him like a ton of bricks and then turned her attention to the ship's controls again.

There was silence for a few seconds, and then out of the scrambled mess of Arthur's brain crawled some words.

"Tricia McMillan?" he said. "What are you doing here?"

"Same as you," she said, "I hitched a lift. After all, with a degree in math and another in astrophysics what else was there to do? It was either that or the dole queue again on Monday."

"Infinity minus one," chattered the computer. "Improbability sum now complete."

Zaphod looked about him, at Ford, at Arthur, and then at Trillian.

"Trillian," he said, "is this sort of thing going to happen every time we use the Improbability Drive?"

"Very probably, I'm afraid," she said.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:21 pm

Chapter 14

The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on conventional photon drive. Its crew of four were ill at ease knowing that they had been brought together not of their own volition or by simple coincidence, but by some curious perversion of physics -- as if relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed the relationships between atoms and molecules.

As the ship's artificial night closed in they were each grateful to retire to separate cabins and try to rationalize their thoughts.

Trillian couldn't sleep. She sat on a couch and stared at a small cage which contained her last and only links with Earth -- two white mice that she had insisted Zaphod let her bring. She had expected never to see the planet again, but she was disturbed by her negative reaction to the news of the planet's destruction. It seemed remote and unreal and she could find no thoughts to think about it. She watched the mice scurrying round the cage and running furiously in their little plastic treadwheels till they occupied her whole attention. Suddenly she shook herself and went back on to the bridge to watch over the tiny flashing lights and figures that charted the ship's progress through the void. She wished she knew what it was she was trying not to think about.

Zaphod couldn't sleep. He also wished he knew what it was that he wouldn't let himself think about. For as long as he could remember he'd suffered from a vague nagging feeling of being not all there. Most of the time he was able to put this thought aside and not worry about it, but it had been reawakened by the sudden, inexplicable arrival of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Somehow it seemed to conform to a pattern that he couldn't see.

Ford couldn't sleep. He was too excited about being back on the road again. Fifteen years of virtual imprisonment were over, just as he was finally beginning to give up hope. Knocking about with Zaphod for a bit promised to be a lot of fun, though there seemed to be something faintly odd about his semicousin that he couldn't put his finger on. The fact that he had become President of the Galaxy was frankly astonishing, as was the manner of his leaving the post. Was there a reason behind it? There would be no point in asking Zaphod, he never appeared to have a reason for anything he did at all: he had turned unfathomability into an art form. He attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

Arthur slept: he was terribly tired.

***

There was a tap at Zaphod's door. It slid open.

"Zaphod ...?"

"Yeah?"

Trillian stood outlined in the oval of light.

"I think we just found what you came to look for."

"Hey, yeah?"

***

Ford gave up the attempt to sleep. In the corner of his cabin was a small computer screen and keyboard. He sat at it for a while and tried to compose a new entry for the Guide on the subject of Vogons but couldn't think of anything vitriolic enough so he gave that up too, wrapped a robe round himself and went for a walk to the bridge.

As he entered he was surprised to see two figures hunched excitedly over the instruments.

"See? The ship's about to move into orbit," Trillian was saying. "There's a planet out there. It's at the exact coordinates you predicted."

Zaphod heard a noise and looked up.

"Ford!" he hissed. "Hey, come and take a look at this."

Ford went and had a look at it. It was a series of figures flickering over a screen.

"You recognize those Galactic coordinates?" said Zaphod.

"No."

"I'll give you a clue. Computer!"

"Hi, gang!" enthused the computer. "This is getting real sociable, isn't it?"

"Shut up," said Zaphod, "and show up the screens."

Light on the bridge sank. Pinpoints of light played across the consoles and reflected in four pairs of eyes that stared up at the external monitor screens.

There was absolutely nothing on them.

"Recognize that?" whispered Zaphod.

Ford frowned.

"Er, no," he said.

"What do you see?"

"Nothing."

"Recognize it?"

"What are you talking about?"

"We're in the Horsehead Nebula. One whole vast dark cloud."

"And I was meant to recognize that from a blank screen?"

"Inside a dark nebula is the only place in the Galaxy you'd see a dark screen."

"Very good."

Zaphod laughed. He was clearly very excited about something, almost childishly so.

"Hey, this is really terrific, this is just far too much!"

"What's so great about being stuck in a dust cloud?" said Ford.

"What would you reckon to find here?" urged Zaphod.

"Nothing."

"No stars? No planets?"

"No."

"Computer!" shouted Zaphod, "rotate angle of vision through one-eighty degrees and don't talk about it!"

For a moment it seemed that nothing was happening, then a brightness glowed at the edge of the huge screen. A red star the size of a small plate crept across it followed quickly by another one -- a binary system. Then a vast crescent sliced into the corner of the picture -- a red glare shading away into deep black, the night side of the planet.

"I've found it!" cried Zaphod, thumping the console. "I've found it!"

Ford stared at it in astonishment.

"What is it?" he said.

"That ..." said Zaphod, "is the most improbable planet that ever existed."
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:21 pm

Chapter 15

(Excerpt from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, page 634784, section 5a. Entry: Magrathea)

Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax free. Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward among the farthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before -- and thus was the Empire forged.

Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor -- at least no one worth speaking of And for all the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on. None of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.

And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea, where hyperspatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets -- gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes -- all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.

But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion hungry worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they labored into the night over smug little treatises on the value of a planned political economy.

Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.

In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:21 pm

Chapter 16

Arthur awoke to the sound of argument and went to the bridge. Ford was waving his arms about.

"You're crazy, Zaphod," he was saying, "Magrathea is a myth, a fairy story, it's what parents tell their kids about at night if they want them to grow up to become economists, it's ..."

"And that's what we are currently in orbit about," insisted Zaphod.

"Look, I can't help what you may personally be in orbit around," said Ford, "but this ship ..."

"Computer!" shouted Zaphod.

"Oh no ..."

"Hi there! This is Eddie, your shipboard computer, and I'm feeling just great, guys, and I know I'm just going to get a bundle of kicks out of any program you care to run through me."

Arthur looked inquiringly at Trillian. She motioned him to come on in but keep quiet.

"Computer," said Zaphod, "tell us what our present trajectory is."

"A real pleasure, feller," it burbled; "we are currently in orbit at an altitude of three hundred miles around the legendary planet of Magrathea."

"Proving nothing," said Ford. "I wouldn't trust that computer to speak my weight."

"I can do that for you, sure," enthused the computer, punching out more ticker tape. "I can even work out your personality problems to ten decimal places if it will help."

Trillian interrupted.

"Zaphod," she said, "any minute now we will be swinging round to the daylight side of this planet," adding, "whatever it turns out to be."

"Hey, what do you mean by that? The planet's where I predicted it would be, isn't it?"

"Yes, I know there's a planet there. I'm not arguing with anyone, it's just that I wouldn't know Magrathea from any other lump of cold rock. Dawn's coming up if you want it."

"Okay, okay," muttered Zaphod, "let's at least give our eyes a good time. Computer!"

"Hi there! What can I ..."

"Just shut up and give us a view of the planet again."

A dark featureless mass once more filled the screens -- the planet rolling away beneath them.

They watched for a moment in silence, but Zaphod was fidgety with excitement.

"We are now traversing the night side ..." he said in a hushed voice. The planet rolled on.

"The surface of the planet is now three hundred miles beneath us ..." he continued. He was trying to restore a sense of occasion to what he felt should have been a great moment. Magrathea! He was piqued by Ford's skeptical reaction. Magrathea!

"In a few seconds," he continued, "we should see ... there!"

The moment carried itself. Even the most seasoned star tramp can't help but shiver at the spectacular drama of a sunrise seen from space, but a binary sunrise is one of the marvels of the Galaxy.

Out of the utter blackness stabbed a sudden point of blinding light. It crept up by slight degrees and spread sideways in a thin crescent blade, and within seconds two suns were visible, furnaces of light, searing the black edge of the horizon with white fire. Fierce shafts of color streaked through the thin atmosphere beneath them.

"The fires of dawn ...!" breathed Zaphod. "The twin suns of Soulianis and Rahm ...!"

"Or whatever," said Ford quietly.

"Soulianis and Rahm!" insisted Zaphod.

The suns blazed into the pitch of space and a low ghostly music floated through the bridge: Marvin was humming ironically because he hated humans so much.

As Ford gazed at the spectacle of light before them excitement burned inside him, but only the excitement of seeing a strange new planet; it was enough for him to see it as it was. It faintly irritated him that Zaphod had to impose some ludicrous fantasy onto the scene to make it work for him. All this Magrathea nonsense seemed juvenile. Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

All this Magrathea business seemed totally incomprehensible to Arthur. He edged up to Trillian and asked her what was going on.

"I only know what Zaphod's told me," she whispered. "Apparently Magrathea is some kind of legend from way back which no one seriously believes in. Bit like Atlantis on Earth, except that the legends say the Magratheans used to manufacture planets."

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.

"Is there any tea on this spaceship?" he asked.

More of the planet was unfolding beneath them as the Heart of Gold streaked along its orbital path. The suns now stood high in the black sky, the pyrotechnics of dawn were over, and the surface of the planet appeared bleak and forbidding in the common light of day -- gray, dusty and only dimly contoured. It looked dead and cold as a crypt. From time to time promising features would appear on the distant horizon -- ravines, maybe mountains, maybe even cities -- but as they approached the lines would soften and blur into anonymity and nothing would transpire. The planet's surface was blurred by time, by the slow movement of the thin stagnant air that had crept across it for century upon century.

Clearly, it was very very old.

A moment of doubt came to Ford as he watched the gray landscape move beneath them. The immensity of time worried him, he could feel it as a presence. He cleared his throat.

"Well, even supposing it is ..."

"It is," said Zaphod.

"Which it isn't," continued Ford. "What do you want with it anyway? There's nothing there."

"Not on the surface," said Zaphod.

"All right, just supposing there's something, I take it you're not here for the sheer industrial archeology of it all. What are you after?"

One of Zaphod's heads looked away. The other one looked round to see what the first was looking at, but it wasn't looking at anything very much.

"Well," said Zaphod airily, "it's partly the curiosity, partly a sense of adventure, but mostly I think it's the fame and the money ..."

Ford glanced at him sharply. He got a very strong impression that Zaphod hadn't the faintest idea why he was there at all.

"You know, I don't like the look of that planet at all," said Trillian, shivering.

"Ah, take no notice," said Zaphod; "with half the wealth of the former Galactic Empire stored on it somewhere it can afford to look frumpy."

Bullshit, thought Ford. Even supposing this was the home of some ancient civilization now gone to dust, even supposing a number of exceedingly unlikely things, there was no way that vast treasures of wealth were going to be stored there in any form that would still have meaning now. He shrugged.

"I think it's just a dead planet," he said.

"The suspense is killing me," said Arthur testily.

***

Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the Galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advance.

The planet in question is in fact the legendary Magrathea.

The deadly missile attack shortly to be launched by an ancient automatic defense system will result merely in the breakage of three coffee cups and a mouse cage, the bruising of somebody's upper arm, and the untimel creation and sudden demise of a bowl of petunias and an innocent sperm whale.

In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved, no revelation will yet be made concerning whose upper arm sustains the bruise. This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:22 pm

Chapter 17

After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur's mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with. He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject's brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The Nutri-Matic was designed and manufactured by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation whose complaints department now covers all the major landmasses of the first three planets in the Sirius Tau Star system.

Arthur drank the liquid and found it reviving. He glanced up at the screens again and watched a few more hundred miles of barren grayness slide past. It suddenly occurred to him to ask a question that had been bothering him.

"Is it safe?" he said.

"Magrathea's been dead for five million years," said Zaphod; "of course it's safe. Even the ghosts will have settled down and raised families by now."

At which point a strange and inexplicable sound thrilled suddenly through the bridge -- a noise as of a distant fanfare; a hollow, reedy, insubstantial sound. It preceded a voice that was equally hollow, reedy and insubstantial. The voice said, "Greetings to you ..."

Someone from the dead planet was talking to them.

"Computer!" shouted Zaphod.

"Hi there!"

"What the photon is it?"

"Oh, just some five-million-year-old tape that's being broadcast at us."

"A what? A recording?"

"Shush!" said Ford. "It's carrying on."

The voice was old, courteous, almost charming, but was underscored with quite unmistakable menace.

"This is a recorded announcement, " it said, ''as I'm afraid we're all out at the moment. The commercial council of Magrathea thanks you for your esteemed visit ..."

("A voice from ancient Magrathea!" shouted Zaphod. "Okay, okay," said Ford.)

" ... but regrets," continued the voice, "that the entire planet is temporarily closed for business. Thank you. If you would care to leave your name and the address of a planet where you can be contacted, kindly speak when you hear the tone."

A short buzz followed, then silence.

"They want to get rid of us," said Trillian nervously. "What do we do?"

"It's just a recording," said Zaphod. "We keep going. Got that, computer?"

"I got it," said the computer and gave the ship an extra kick of speed.

They waited.

After a second or so came the fanfare once again, and then the voice.

"We would like to assure you that as soon as our business is resumed announcements will be made in all fashionable magazines and color supplements, when our clients will once again be able to select from all that s best in contemporary geography." The menace in the voice took on a sharper edge. "Meanwhile, we thank our clients for their kind interest and would ask them to leave. Now."

Arthur looked round the nervous faces of his companions.

"Well, I suppose we'd better be going then, hadn't we?" he suggested.

"Shhh!" said Zaphod. "There's absolutely nothing to be worried about."

"Then why's everyone so tense?"

"They're just interested!" shouted Zaphod. "Computer, start descent into the atmosphere and prepare for landing."

This time the fanfare was quite perfunctory, the voice now distinctly cold.

"It is most gratifying," it said, "that your enthusiasm for our planet continues unabated, and so we would like to assure you that the guided missiles currently converging with your ship are part of a special service we extend to all of our most enthusiastic clients, and the fully armed nuclear warheads are of course merely a courtesy detail. We look forward to your custom in future lives ... Thank you."

The voice snapped off.

"Oh," said Trillian.

"Er ..." said Arthur.

"Well?" said Ford.

"Look," said Zaphod, "will you get it into your heads? That's just a recorded message. It's millions of years old. It doesn't apply to us, get it?"

"What," said Trillian quietly, "about the missiles?"

"Missiles? Don't make me laugh."

Ford tapped Zaphod on the shoulder and pointed at the rear screen. Clear in the distance behind them two silver darts were climbing through the atmosphere toward the ship. A quick change of magnification brought them into close focus -- two massively real rockets thundering through the sky. The suddenness of it was shocking.

"I think they're going to have a very good try at applying to us," said Ford.

Zaphod stared at them in astonishment.

"Hey, this is terrific!" he said. "Someone down there is trying to kill us!"

"Terrific," said Arthur.

"But don't you see what this means?"

"Yes. We're going to die."

"Yes, but apart from that."

"Apart from that?"

"It means we must be on to something!"

"How soon can we get off it?"

Second by second the image of the missiles on the screen grew larger. They had swung round now on to a direct homing course so that all that could be seen of them now was the warheads, head-on.

"As a matter of interest," said Trillian, "what are we going to do?"

"Just keep cool," said Zaphod.

"Is that all?" shouted Arthur.

"No, we're also going to ... er ... take evasive action!" said Zaphod with a sudden access of panic. "Computer, what evasive action can we take?"

"Er, none, I'm afraid, guys," said the computer.

"Or something," said Zaphod, " ... er. .." he said.

"There seems to be something jamming my guidance systems," explained the computer brightly, "impact minus forty-five seconds. Please call me Eddie if it will help you to relax."

Zaphod tried to run in several equally decisive directions simultaneously. "Right!" he said. "Er ... we've got to get manual control of this ship."

"Can you fly her?" asked Ford pleasantly.

"No, can you?"

"No."

"Fine," said Zaphod, relaxing. "We'll do it together."

"I can't either," said Arthur, who felt it was time he began to assert himself.

"I'd guessed that," said Zaphod. "Okay, computer, I want full manual control now."

"You got it," said the computer.

Several large desk panels slid open and banks of control consoles sprang up out of them, showering the crew with bits of expanded polystyrene packaging and balls of rolled-up cellophane: these controls had never been used before.

Zaphod stared at them wildly.

"Okay, Ford," he said, "full retro thrust and ten degrees starboard. Or something ..."

"Good luck, guys," chirped the computer, "impact minus thirty seconds ..."

Ford leaped to the controls -- only a few of them made any immediate sense to him so he pulled those. The ship shook and screamed as its guidance rocket jets tried to push it every which way simultaneously. He released half of them and the ship spun around in a tight arc and headed back the way it had come, straight toward the oncoming missiles.

Air cushions ballooned out of the walls in an instant as everyone was thrown against them. For a few seconds the inertial forces held them flattened and squirming for breath, unable to move. Zaphod struggled and pushed in manic desperation and finally managed a savage kick at a small lever that formed part of the guidance system.

The lever snapped off. The ship twisted sharply and rocketed upward. The crew were hurled violently back across the cabin. Ford's copy of The Hitchhiker s Guide to the Galaxy smashed into another section of the control console with the combined result that the Guide started to explain to anyone who cared to listen about the best ways of smuggling Antarean parakeet glands out of Antares (an Antarean parakeet gland stuck on a small stick is a revolting but much-sought-after cocktail delicacy and very large sums of money are often paid for them by very rich idiots who want to impress other very rich idiots), and the ship suddenly dropped out of the sky like a stone.

***

It was of course more or less at this moment that one of the crew sustained a nasty bruise to the upper arm. This should be emphasized because, as has already been revealed, they escape otherwise completely unharmed and the deadly nuclear missiles do not eventually hit the ship. The safety of the crew is absolutely assured.

"Impact minus twenty seconds, guys ..." said the computer.

"Then turn the bloody engines back on!" bawled Zaphod.

"Oh, sure thing, guys," said the computer. With a subtle roar the engines cut back in, the ship smoothly flattened out of its dive and headed back toward the missiles again.

The computer started to sing

"'When you walk through the storm ...'" it whined nasally, ''hold your bead up high ...'"

Zaphod screamed at it to shut up, but his voice was lost in the din of what they quite naturally assumed was approaching destruction.

"'And don't ... be afraid ... of the dark!'" Eddie wailed.

The ship, in flattening out, had in fact flattened out upside down and lying on the ceiling as they were it was now totally impossible for any of the crew to reach the guidance systems.

"'At the end of the storm ...'" crooned Eddie.

The two missiles loomed massively on the screens as they thundered toward the ship.

"'Is a golden sky ...'"

But by an extraordinarily lucky chance they had not yet fully corrected their flight paths to that of the erratically weaving ship, and they passed right under it.

"'And the sweet silver song of the lark' ... Revised impact time fifteen seconds, fellas. ...'Walk on through the wind ...'"

The missiles banked round in a screeching arc and plunged back in pursuit.

"This is it," said Arthur watching them. "We are now quite definitely going to die, aren't we?"

"I wish you'd stop saying that," shouted Ford.

"Well, we are, aren't we?"

"Yes."

"'Walk on through the rain ...'" sang Eddie.

A thought struck Arthur. He struggled to his feet.

"Why doesn't anyone turn on this Improbability Drive thing?" he said. "We could probably reach that."

"What are you, crazy?" said Zaphod. "Without proper programming anything could happen."

"Does that matter at this stage?" shouted Arthur.

"'Though your dreams be tossed and blown ...'" sang Eddie.

Arthur scrambled up on to one of the excitingly chunky pieces of molded contouring where the curve of the wall met the ceiling.

"'Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart ...'"

"Does anyone know why Arthur can't turn on the Improbability Drive?" shouted Trillian.

"'And you'll never walk alone.' ... Impact minus five seconds, it's been great knowing you guys, God bless ... 'You'll ne ... ver ... walk ... alone!'"

"I said," yelled Trillian, "does anyone know ..."

The next thing that happened was a mind-mangling explosion of noise and light.
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Re: THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, by Douglas Adams

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:22 pm

Chapter 18

And the next thing that happened after that was that the Heart of Gold continued on its way perfectly normally with a rather fetchingly redesigned interior. It was somewhat larger, and done out in delicate pastel shades of green and blue. In the center a spiral staircase, leading nowhere in particular, stood in a spray of ferns and yellow flowers and next to it a stone sundial pedestal housed the main computer terminal. Cunningly deployed lighting and mirrors created the illusion of standing in a conservatory overlooking a wide stretch of exquisitely manicured garden. Around the periphery of the conservatory area stood marble-topped tables on intricately beautiful wrought-iron legs. As you gazed into the polished surface of the marble the vague forms of instruments became visible, and as you touched them the instruments materialized instantly under your hands. Looked at from the correct angles the mirrors appeared to reflect all the required data read-outs, though it was far from clear where they were reflected from. It was in fact sensationally beautiful.

Relaxing in a wickerwork sun chair, Zaphod Beeblebrox said, "What the hell happened?"

"Well, I was just saying," said Arthur lounging by a small fish pool, "there's this Improbability Drive switch over here ..." he waved at where it had been. There was a potted plant there now.

"But where are we?" said Ford, who was sitting on the spiral staircase, a nicely chilled Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in his hand.

"Exactly where we were, I think ..." said Trillian, as all about them the mirrors suddenly showed them an image of the blighted landscape of Magrathea, which still scooted along beneath them.

Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

"Then what's happened to the missiles?" he said.

A new and astounding image appeared in the mirrors.

"They would appear," said Ford doubtfully, "to have turned into a bowl of petunias and a very surprised-looking whale ..."

"At an Improbability factor," cut in Eddie, who hadn't changed a bit, "of eight million, seven hundred and sixty-seven thousand, one hundred and twenty-eight to one against."

Zaphod stared at Arthur.

"Did you think of that, Earthman?" he demanded.

"Well," said Arthur," all I did was ..."

"That's very good thinking, you know. Turn on the Improbability Drive for a second without first activating the proofing screens. Hey, kid, you just saved our lives, you know that?"

"Oh," said Arthur, "well, it was nothing really ..."

"Was it?" said Zaphod. "Oh well, forget it then. Okay, computer, take us in to land."

"But ..."

"I said forget it."

***

Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.

And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale anymore.

This is a complete record of its thought from the moment it began its life till the moment it ended it.

Ah ...! What's happening? it thought.

Er, excuse me, who am I?

Hello?

Why am I here? What's my purpose in life?

What do I mean by who am I?

Calm down, get a grip now ... oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It's a sort of ... yawning, tingling sensation in my ... my ... well, I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let's call it my stomach.

Good. Ooooh, it's getting quite strong. And hey, what about this whistling roaring sound going past what I'm suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that ... wind! Is that a good name? It'll do ... perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what it's for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What's this thing? This ... let's call it a tail -- yeah, tail. Hey! I can really thrash it about pretty good, can't I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn't seem to achieve very much but I'll probably find out what it's for later on. Now, have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?

No.

Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I'm quite dizzy with anticipation ...

Or is it the wind?

There really is a lot of that now, isn't there?

And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast? Very, very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide. sounding name like ...ow ... ound ... round ... ground! That's it! That's a good name -- ground!

I wonder if it will be friends with me?

***

And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.

***

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.
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