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 10:13 pm

Chapter 13

The ship dropped quietly to land on the edge of the wide clearing, a hundred yards or so from the village.

It arrived suddenly and unexpectedly but with a minimum of fuss. One moment it was a perfectly ordinary late afternoon in the early autumn -- the leaves were just beginning to turn red and gold, the river was beginning to swell again with the rains from the mountains in the north, the plumage of the pikka birds was beginning to thicken in anticipation of the coming winter frosts, any day now the Perfectly Normal Beasts would start their thunderous migration across the plains, and Old Thrashbarg was beginning to mutter to himself as he hobbled his way around the village, a muttering which meant that he was rehearsing and elaborating the stories that he would tell of the past year once the evenings had drawn in and people had no choice but to gather around the fire and listen to him and grumble and say that that wasn't how they remembered it -- and the next moment there was a spaceship sitting there, gleaming in the warm autumn sun.

It hummed for a bit and then stopped.

It wasn't a big spaceship. If the villagers had been experts on space ships they would have known at once that it was a pretty nifty one, a small, sleek Hrundi four-berth runabout with just about every optional extra in the brochure except Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis, which only wimps went for. You can't get a good tight, sharp curve around a trilateral time axis with Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis. All right, it's a bit safer, but it makes the handling go all sogg.

The villagers didn't know all that, of course. Most of them here on the remote planet of Lamuella had never seen a spaceship, certainly not one that was all in one piece, and as it shone warmly in the evening light it was just the most extraordinary thing they had come across since the day Kirp caught a fish with a head at both ends.

Everybody had fallen silent.

Whereas a moment before two or three dozen people had been wandering about, chattering, chopping wood, carrying water, teasing the pikka birds or just amiably trying to stay out of Old Thrashbarg's way, suddenly all activity died away and everybody turned to look at the strange object in amazement.

Or, not quite everybody. The pikka birds tended to be amazed by completely different things. A perfectly ordinary leaf lying unexpectedly on a stone would cause them to skitter off in paroxysms of confusion; sunrise always took them completely by surprise every morning, but the arrival of an alien craft from another world simply failed to engage any part of their attention. They continued to kar and rit and huk as they pecked for seeds on the ground; the river continued with its quiet, spacious burbling.

Also, the noise of loud and tuneless singing from the last hut on the left continued unabated.

Suddenly, with a slight click and a hum, a door folded itself outward and downward from the spaceship. Then, for a minute or two, nothing further seemed to happen, other than the loud singing from the last hut on the left, and the thing just sat there.

Some of the villagers, particularly the boys, began to edge forward a little bit to have a closer look. Old Thrashbarg tried to shoo them back. This was exactly the sort of thing that Old Thrashbarg didn't like to have happening. He hadn't foretold it, not even slightly, and even though he would be able to wrestle the whole thing into his continuing story somehow or other, it really was all getting a bit much to deal with.

He strode forward, pushed the boys back and raised his arms and his ancient knobbly staff into the air. The long warm light of the evening sun caught him nicely. He prepared to welcome whatever gods these were as if he had been expecting them all along.

Still nothing happened.

Gradually it became clear that there was some kind of argument going on inside the craft. Time went by and Old Thrashbarg's arms were beginning to ache.

Suddenly the ramp folded itself back up again.

That made it easy for Thrashbarg. They were demons and he had repulsed them. The reason he hadn't foretold it was that prudence and modesty forbade.

Almost immediately a different ramp folded itself out on the other side of the craft from where Thrashbarg was standing, and two figures at last emerged on it, still arguing with each other and ignoring everybody, even Thrashbarg, whom they wouldn't even have noticed from where they were standing.

Old Thrashbarg chewed angrily on his beard.

To continue to stand there with his arms upraised? To kneel with his head bowed forward and his staff held out pointing at them? To fall backward as if overcome in some titanic inner struggle? Perhaps just to go off to the woods and live in a tree for a year without speaking to anyone?

He opted just to drop his arms smartly as if he had done what he meant to do. They were really hurting, so he didn't have much choice. He made a small, secret sign he had just invented toward the ramp, which had closed, and then made three and a half steps backward, so he could at least get a good look at whoever these people were and then decide what to do next.

The taller one was a very good-looking woman wearing soft and crumply clothes. Old Thrashbarg didn't know this, but they were made of Rymplon ™, a new synthetic fabric which was terrific for space travel because it looked its absolute best when it was all creased and sweaty.

The shorter one was a girl. She was awkward and sullen looking and was wearing clothes which looked their absolute worst when they were all creased and sweaty, and what was more, she almost certainly knew it.

All eyes watched them, except for the pikka birds, which had their own things to watch.

The woman stood and looked around her. She had a purposeful air about her. There was obviously something in particular she wanted, but she didn't know exactly where to find it. She glanced from face to face among the villagers assembled curiously around her without apparently seeing what she was looking for.

Thrashbarg had no idea how to play this at all and decided to resort to chanting. He threw back his head and began to wail, but was instantly interrupted by a fresh outbreak of song from the hut of the Sandwich Maker: the last one on the left. The woman looked around sharply, and gradually a smile came over her face. Without so much as a glance at Old Thrashbarg, she started to walk toward the hut.

***

There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the right bread, for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the Baker and eventually they had created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light, moist and having the best of that fine nutty flavor which best enhanced the savor of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.

There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise relationships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished sandwich -- here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise of succulence and savor that is the hallmark of a truly intense sandwich experience.

The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven, would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow sweeping movements through the air, trying one knife after another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.

Three knives altogether were required. First, there was the knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade, which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness and grace of spread.

The chief among the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife. It must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist onto the beautifully proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would now be accomplished.

The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant, who would then add a few slices of new cumber and fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also skillful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven.

And so the Sandwich Maker sang as he worked.

He was using the last of the year's salted meat. It was a little past its best now, but still the rich savor of Perfectly Normal Beast meat was something unsurpassed in any of the Sandwich Maker's previous experience. Next week it was anticipated that the Perfectly Normal Beasts would appear again for their regular migration, whereupon the whole village would once again be plunged into frenetic action: hunting the Beasts, killing perhaps six, maybe even seven dozen of the thousands that thundered past. Then the Beasts must be rapidly butchered and cleaned, most of the meat salted to keep it through the winter months until the return migration in the spring, which would replenish their supplies.

The very best of the meat would be roasted straight away for the feast that marked the Autumn Passage. The celebrations would last for three days of sheer exuberance, dancing and stories that Old Thrashbarg would tell of how the hunt had gone, stories that he would have been busy sitting making up in his hut while the rest of the village was out doing the actual hunting.

And then the very, very best of the meat would be saved from the feast and delivered cold to the Sandwich Maker. And the Sandwich Maker would exercise on it the skills that he had brought to them from the gods, and make the exquisite Sandwiches of the Third season, of which the whole village would partake before beginning, the next day, to prepare themselves for the rigors of the coming winter.

Today he was just making ordinary sandwiches, if such delicacies, so lovingly crafted, could ever be called ordinary. Today his assistant was away so the Sandwich Maker was applying his own garnish, which he was happy to do. He was happy with just about everything in fact.

He sliced, he sang. He flipped each slice of meat neatly onto a slice of bread, trimmed it and assembled all the trimmings into their jigsaw. A little salad, a little sauce, another slice of bread, another sandwich, another verse of "Yellow Submarine."

"Hello, Arthur."

The Sandwich Maker almost sliced his thumb off.

***

The villagers had watched in consternation as the woman had marched boldly to the hut of the Sandwich Maker. The Sandwich Maker had been sent to them by Almighty Bob in a burning fiery chariot. This, at least, was what Thrashbarg said, and Thrashbarg was the authority on these things. So, at least, Thrashbarg claimed, and Thrashbarg was ... and so on and so on. It was hardly worth arguing about.

A few villagers wondered why Almighty Bob would send his only begotten Sandwich Maker in a burning fiery chariot rather than perhaps in one that might have landed quietly without destroying half the forest, filling it with ghosts and also injuring the Sandwich Maker quite badly. Old Thrashbarg said that it was the ineffable will of Bob, and when they asked him what "ineffable" meant, he said look it up.

This was a problem because Old Thrashbarg had the only dictionary and he wouldn't let them borrow it. They asked him why not and he said that it was not for them to know the will of Almighty Bob, and when they asked him why not again, he said because he said so. Anyway, somebody sneaked into Old Thrashbarg's hut one day while he was out having a swim and looked up "ineffable." "Ineffable" apparently meant "unknowable, indescribable, unutterable, not to be known or spoken about." So that cleared that up.

At least they had got the sandwiches.

One day Old Thrashbarg said that Almighty Bob had decreed that he, Thrashbarg, was to have first pick of the sandwiches. The villagers asked him when this had happened, exactly, and Thrashbarg said it had happened yesterday, when they weren't looking. "Have faith," Old Thrashbarg said, "or burn!"

They let him have first pick of the sandwiches. It seemed easiest.

***

And now this woman had just arrived out of nowhere and gone straight for the Sandwich Maker's hut. His fame had obviously spread, though it was hard to know where to since, according to Old Thrashbarg, there wasn't anywhere else. Anyway, wherever it was she had come from, presumably somewhere ineffable, she was here now and was in the Sandwich Maker's hut. Who was she? And who was the strange girl who was hanging around outside the hut moodily and kicking at stones and showing every sign of not wanting to be there? It seemed odd that someone should come all the way from somewhere ineffable in a chariot that was obviously a vast improvement on the burning fiery one that had brought them the Sandwich Maker, if she didn't even want to be here.

They all looked to Thrashbarg, but he was on his knees mumbling and looking very firmly up into the sky and not catching anybody else's eye until he'd thought of something.

"Trillian!" said the Sandwich Maker, sucking his bleeding thumb. "What ...? Who ...? When ...? Where ...?"

"Exactly the questions I was going to ask you," said Trillian, looking around Arthur's hut. It was neatly laid out with his kitchen utensils. There were some fairly basic cupboards and shelves, and a basic bed in the corner. A door at the back of the room led to something that Trillian couldn't see because the door was closed. "Nice," she said, but in an inquiring tone of voice. She couldn't quite make out what the setup was.

"Very nice," said Arthur. "Wonderfully nice. I don't know when I've ever been anywhere nicer. I'm happy here. They like me, I make sandwiches for them, and ... er, well, that's it really. They like me and I make sandwiches for them."

"Sounds, er ..."

"Idyllic," said Arthur, firmly. "It is. It really is. I don't expect you'd like it very much, but for me it's, well, it's perfect. Look, sit down, please, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything, er, a sandwich?"

Trillian picked up a sandwich and looked at it. She sniffed it carefully.

"Try it," said Arthur, "it's good."

Trillian took a nibble, then a bite and munched on it thoughtfully.

"It is good," she said, looking at it.

"My life's work," said Arthur, trying to sound proud and hoping he didn't sound like a complete idiot. He was used to being revered a bit and was having to go through some unexpected mental gear changes.

"What's the meat in it?" asked Trillian.

"Ah yes, that's, um, that's Perfectly Normal Beast."

"It's what?"

"Perfectly Normal Beast. It's a bit like a cow, or rather a bull. Kind of like a buffalo in fact. Large, charging sort of animal."

"So what's odd about it?"

"Nothing, it's Perfectly Normal."

"I see."

"It's just a bit odd where it comes from."

Trillian frowned, and stopped chewing.

"Where does it come from?" she said with her mouth full. She wasn't going to swallow until she knew.

"Well, it's not just a matter of where it comes from, it's also where it goes to. It's all right, it's perfectly safe to swallow. I've eaten tons of it. It's great. Very succulent. Very tender. Slightly sweet flavor with a long dark finish."

Trillian still hadn't swallowed.

"Where," she said, "does it come from, and where does it go to?"

"They come from a point just slightly to the east of the Hondo Mountains. They're the big ones behind us here, you must have seen them as you came in, and then they sweep in their thousands across the great Anhondo Plains and, er, well, that's it really. That's where they come from. That's where they go."

Trillian frowned. There was something she wasn't quite getting about this.

"I probably haven't made it quite clear," said Arthur. "When I say they come from a point to the east of the Hondo Mountains, I mean that that's where they suddenly appear. Then they sweep across the Anhondo Plains and, well, vanish really. We have about six days to catch as many of them as we can before they disappear. In the spring they do it again, only the other way around, you see."

Reluctantly, Trillian swallowed. It was either that or spit it out, and it did in fact taste pretty good.

"I see," she said, once she had reassured herself that she didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects. "And why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?"

"Well, I think because otherwise people might think it was a bit odd. I think Old Thrashbarg called them that. He says that they come from where they come from and they go to where they go to and that it's Bob's will and that's all there is to it."

"Who --"

"Just don't even ask."

"Well, you look well on it."

"I feel well. You look well."

"I'm well. I'm very well."

"Well, that's good."

"Yes."

"Good."

"Good."

"Nice of you to drop in."

"Thanks."

"Well," said Arthur, casting around himself. Astounding how hard it was to think of anything to say to someone after all this time.

"I expect you're wondering how I found you," said Trillian.

"Yes!" said Arthur. "I was wondering exactly that. How did you find me?"

"Well, as you may or may not know, I now work for one of the big Sub-Etha broadcasting networks that --"

"I did know that," said Arthur, suddenly remembering. "Yes, you've done very well. That's terrific. Very exciting. Well done. Must be a lot of fun. "

"Exhausting."

"All that rushing around. I expect it must be, yes."

"We have access to virtually every kind of information. I found your name on the passenger list of the ship that crashed."

Arthur was astonished.

"You mean they knew about the crash?"

"Well, of course they knew. You don't have a whole spaceliner disappear without someone knowing about it."

"But you mean, they knew where it had happened? They knew I'd survived?"

"Yes."

"But nobody's ever been to look or search or rescue. There's been absolutely nothing."

"Well, there wouldn't be. It's a whole complicated insurance thing. They just bury the whole thing. Pretend it never happened. The insurance business is completely screwy now. You know they've reintroduced the death penalty for insurance company directors?"

"Really?" said Arthur. "No, I didn't. For what offense?"

Trillian frowned.

"What do you mean, offense?"

"I see."

Trillian gave Arthur a long look, and then, in a new tone of voice, said, "It's time for you to take responsibility, Arthur."

Arthur tried to understand this remark. He found it often took a moment or so before he saw exactly what it was that people were driving at, so he let a moment or two pass at a leisurely rate. Life was so pleasant and relaxed these days, there was time to let things sink in. He let it sink in.

He still didn't quite understand what she meant, though, so in the end he had to say so.

Trillian gave him a cool smile and then turned back to the door of the hut.

"Random?" she called. "Come in. Come and meet your father."
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:13 pm

Chapter 14

As the Guide folded itself back into a smooth, dark dish, Ford realized some pretty hectic stuff. Or at least he tried to realize it, but it was too hectic to take in all in one go. His head was hammering, his ankle was hurting, and though he didn't like to be a wimp about his ankle, he always found that intense multidimensional logic was something he understood best in the bath. He needed time to think about this. Time, a tall drink, and some kind of rich, foamy oil.

He had to get out of here. He had to get the Guide out of here. He didn't think they'd make it together.

He glanced wildly around the room.

Think, think, think. It had to be something simple and obvious. If he was right in his nasty lurking suspicion that he was dealing with nasty, lurking Vogons, then the more simple and obvious, the better.

Suddenly he saw what he needed.

He wouldn't try to beat the system, he would just use it. The frightening thing about the Vogons was their absolute mindless determination to do whatever mindless thing it was they were determined to do. There was never any point in trying to appeal to their reason because they didn't have one. However, if you kept your nerve you could sometimes exploit their blinkered, bludgeoning insistence on being bludgeoning and blinkered. It wasn't merely that their left hand didn't always know what their right hand was doing, so to speak; quite often their right hand had a pretty hazy notion as well.

Did he dare just post the thing to himself?

Did he dare just put it in the system and let the Vogons work out how to get the thing to him while at the same time they were busy, as they probably would be, tearing the building apart to find out where he'd hidden it?

Yes.

Feverishly, he packed it. He wrapped it. He labeled it. With a moment's pause to wonder if he was really doing the right thing, he committed the package to the building's internal mail chute.

"Colin," he said, turning to the little, hovering ball. "I am going to abandon you to your fate."

"I'm so happy ," said Colin.

"Make the most of it," said Ford. "Because what I want you to do is to nursemaid that package out of the building. They'll probably incinerate you when they find you, and I won't be here to help. It will be very, very nasty for you, and that's just too bad. Got it?"

"I gurgle with pleasure," said Colin.

"Go!" said Ford.

Colin obediently dove down the mail chute in pursuit of his charge. Now Ford had only himself to worry about, but that was still quite a substantial worry. There were noises of heavy running footsteps outside the door, which he had taken the precaution of locking and shifting a large filing cabinet in front of.

He was worried that everything had gone so smoothly. Everything had fitted terribly well. He had hurtled through the day with reckless abandon and yet everything had worked out with uncanny neatness. Except for his shoe. He was bitter about his shoe. That was an account that was going to have to be settled.

With a deafening roar the door exploded inward. In the turmoil of smoke and dust he could see large, sluglike creatures hurrying through.

So everything was going well, was it? Everything was working out as if the most extraordinary luck was on his side? Well, he'd see about that.

In a spirit of scientific inquiry he hurled himself out of the window again.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:14 pm

Chapter 15

The first month, getting to know each other, was a little difficult.

The second month, trying to come to terms with what they'd got to know about each other in the first month, was much easier.

The third month, when the box arrived, was very tricky indeed.

At the beginning, it was a problem even trying to explain what a month was. This had been a pleasantly simple matter for Arthur, here on Lamuella. The days were just a little over twenty-five hours long, which basically meant an extra hour in bed every single day and, of course, having regularly to reset his watch, which Arthur rather enjoyed doing.

He also felt at home with the number of suns and moons which Lamuella had -- one of each -- as opposed to some of the planets he'd fetched up from time to time which had had ridiculous numbers of them.

The planet orbited its single sun every three hundred days, which was a good number because it meant the year didn't drag by. The moon orbited Lamuella just over nine times a year, which meant that a month was a little over thirty days, which was absolutely perfect because it gave you a little more time to get things done in. It was not merely reassuringly like Earth, it was actually rather an improvement.

Random, on the other hand, thought she was trapped in a recurring nightmare. She would have crying fits and think the moon was out to get her. Every night it was there, and then, when it went, the sun came out and followed her. Over and over again.

Trillian had warned Arthur that Random might have some difficulty in adjusting to a more regular lifestyle than she had been used to up till now, but Arthur hadn't been ready for actual howling at the moon.

He hadn't been ready for any of this of course.

His daughter?

His daughter? He and Trillian had never even -- had they? He was absolutely convinced he would have remembered. What about Zaphod?

"Not the same species, Arthur," Trillian had answered. "When I decided I wanted a child they ran all sorts of genetic tests on me and could find only one match anywhere. It was only later that it dawned on me. I double-checked and I was right. They don't usually like to tell you, but I insisted."

"You mean you went to a DNA bank?" Arthur had asked, pop-eyed.

"Yes. But she wasn't quite as random as her name suggests, because, of course, you were the only homo sapiens donor. I must say, though, it seems you were quite a frequent flyer."

Arthur had stared wide-eyed at the unhappy-looking girl who was slouching awkwardly in the door frame looking at him.

"But when ... how long ...?"

"You mean, what age is she?"

"Yes."

"The wrong one."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I haven't any idea."

"What?"

"Well, in my time line I think it's about ten years since I had her, but she's obviously quite a lot older than that. I spend my life going backward and forward in time, you see. The job. I used to take her with me when I could, but it just wasn't always possible. Then I used to put her into day-care time zones, but you just can't get reliable time tracking now. You leave them there in the morning, you've simply no idea how old they'll be in the evening. You complain till you're blue in the face but it doesn't get you anywhere. I left her at one of the places for a few hours once, and when I came back she'd passed puberty. I've done all I can, Arthur, it's over to you. I've got a war to cover."

***

The ten seconds that passed after Trillian left were about the longest of Arthur Dent's life. Time, we know, is relative. You can travel light years through the stars and back, and if you do it at the speed of light then, when you return, you may have aged mere seconds while your twin brother or sister will have aged twenty, thirty, forty or however many years it is, depending on how far you traveled.

This will come to you as a profound personal shock, particularly if you didn't know you had a twin brother or sister. The seconds that you have been absent for will not have been sufficient time to prepare you for the shock of new and strangely distended family relationships when you return.

Ten seconds' silence was not enough time for Arthur to reassemble his whole view of himself and his life in a way that suddenly included an entire new daughter of whose merest existence he had not the slightest inkling of a suspicion when he had woken that morning. Deep, emotional family ties cannot be constructed in ten seconds, however far and fast you travel away from them, and Arthur could only feel hopeless, bewildered and numb as he looked at the girl standing in his doorway, staring at his floor.

He supposed that there was no point in pretending not to be hopeless.

He walked over and he hugged her.

"I don't love you," he said. "I'm sorry. I don't even know you yet. But give me a few minutes."

We live in strange times.

We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity of infinite recursion and say things like, "Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How's Carol?" involves a great deal of filtering skill for which all conscious entities have eventually to develop a capacity in order to protect themselves from the contemplation of the chaos through which they seethe and tumble. So give your kid a break, okay?

Extract from Practical Parenting in a Fractally Demented Universe

"What's this?"

Arthur had almost given up. That is to say, he was not going to give up. He was absolutely not going to give up. Not now. Not ever. But if he had been the sort of person who was going to give up, this was probably the time he would have done it.

Not content with being surly, bad tempered, wanting to go and play in the Paleozoic era, not seeing why they had to have the gravity on the whole time and shouting at the sun to stop following her, Random had also used his carving knife to dig up stones to throw at the pikka birds for looking at her like that.

Arthur didn't even know if Lamuella had had a Paleozoic era. According to Old Thrashbarg, the planet had been found fully formed in the navel of a giant earwig at four-thirty one Vroonday afternoon, and although Arthur, as a seasoned Galactic traveler with good O- level passes in physics and geography, had fairly serious doubts about this, it was rather a waste of time trying to argue with Old Thrashbarg and there had never been much point before.

He sighed as he sat nursing the chipped and bent knife. He was going to love her if it killed him, or her, or both. It wasn't easy being a father. He knew that no one had ever said it was going to be easy, but that wasn't the point because he'd never asked about being one in the first place.

He was doing his best. Every moment that he could wrest away from making sandwiches he was spending with her, talking to her, walking with her, sitting on the hill with her watching the sun go down over the valley in which the village nestled, trying to find out about her life, trying to explain to her about his. It was a tricky business. The common ground between them, apart from the fact that they had almost identical genes, was about the size of a pebble. Or rather, it was about the size of Trillian and of her they had slightly differing views.

"What's this?"

He suddenly realized she had been talking to him and he hadn't noticed. Or rather, he had not recognized her voice.

Instead of the usual tone of voice in which she spoke to him, which was bitter and truculent, she was just asking him a simple question.

He looked around in surprise.

She was sitting there on a stool in the corner of the hut in that rather hunched way she had, knees together, feet splayed out, with her dark hair hanging down over her face as she looked at something she had cradled in her hands.

Arthur went over to her, a little nervously.

Her mood swings were very unpredictable but so far they'd all been between different types of bad ones. Outbreaks of bitter recrimination would give way without warning to abject self-pity and then long bouts of sullen despair which were punctuated with sudden acts of mindless violence against inanimate objects and demands to go to electric clubs.

Not only were there no electric clubs on Lamuella, there were no clubs at all and, in fact, no electricity. There was a forge and a bakery, a few carts and a well, but those were the high watermark of Lamuellian technology, and a fair number of Random's unquenchable rages were directed against the sheer incomprehensible backwardness of the place.

She could pick up Sub-Etha TV on a small Flex-O-Panel which had been surgically implanted in her wrist, but that didn't cheer her up at all because it was full of news of insanely exciting things happening in every other part of the Galaxy than here. It would also give her frequent news of her mother, who had dumped her to go off and cover some war which now seemed not to have happened, or at least to have gone all wrong in some way because of the absence of any proper intelligence gathering. It also gave her access to lots of great adventure shows featuring all sorts of fantastically expensive spaceships crashing into each other.

The villagers were absolutely hypnotized by all these wonderful magic images flashing over her wrist. They had only ever seen one spaceship crash, and it had been so frightening, violent and shocking and had caused so much horrible devastation, fire and death that, stupidly, they had never realized it was entertainment.

Old Thrashbarg had been so astonished by it that he had instantly seen Random as an emissary from Bob, but had fairly soon afterward decided that in fact she had been sent as a test of his faith, if not of his patience. He was also alarmed at the number of spaceship crashes he had to start incorporating into his holy stories if he was to hold the attention of the villagers, and not have them rushing off to peer at Random's wrist all the time.

At the moment she was not peering at her wrist. Her wrist was turned off. Arthur squatted down quietly beside her to see what she was looking at.

It was his watch. He had taken it off when he'd gone to shower under the local waterfall, and Random had found it and was trying to work it out.

"It's just a watch," he said. "It's to tell the time."

"I know that," she said. "But you keep on fiddling with it, and it still doesn't tell the right time. Or even anything like it."

She brought up the display on her wrist panel, which automatically produced a readout of local time. Her wrist panel had quietly got on with the business of measuring the local gravity and orbital momentum, and had noticed where the sun was and tracked its movement in the sky, all within the first few minutes of Random's arrival. It had then quickly picked up clues from its environment as to what the local unit conventions were and reset itself appropriately. It did this sort of thing continually, which was particularly valuable if you did a lot of traveling in time as well as space.

Random frowned at her father's watch, which didn't do any of this.

Arthur was very fond of it. It was a better one than he would ever have afforded himself. He had been given it on his twenty-second birthday by a rich and guilt-ridden godfather who had forgotten every single birthday he had had up till then, and also his name. It had the day, the date, the phases of the moon; it had "To Albert on his twenty-first birthday" and the wrong date engraved on the battered and scratched surface of its back in letters that were still just about visible.

The watch had been through a considerable amount of stuff in the last few years, most of which would fall well outside the warranty. He didn't suppose, of course, that the warranty had especially mentioned that the watch was guaranteed to be accurate only within the very particular gravitational and magnetic fields of the Earth, and so long as the day was twenty-four hours long and the planet didn't explode and so on. These were such basic assumptions that even the lawyers would have missed them.

Luckily his watch was a wind-up one, or at least, a self-winder. Nowhere else in the Galaxy would he have found batteries of precisely the dimensions and power specifications that were perfectly standard on Earth.

"So what are all these numbers?" asked Random.

Arthur took it from her.

"These numbers around the edge mark the hours. In the little window on the right it says THU, which means Thursday, and the number is fourteen, which means it's the fourteenth day of the month of MAY, which is what it says in this window over here.

"And this sort of crescent-shaped window at the top tells you about the phases of the moon. In other words it tells you how much of the moon is lit up at night by the sun, which depends on the relative positions of the sun and the moon and, well ... the Earth."

"The Earth," said Random.

"Yes."

"And that's where you came from, and where Mum came from?"

"Yes."

Random took the watch back from him and looked at it again, clearly baffled by something. Then she held it up to her ear and listened in puzzlement.

"What's that noise?"

"It's ticking. That's the mechanism that drives the watch. It's called clockwork. It's all kind of interlocking cogs and springs that work to turn the hands around at exactly the right speed to mark the hours and minutes and days and so on."

Random carried on peering at it.

"There's something puzzling you," said Arthur. "What is it?"

"Yes," said Random, at last. "Why's it all in hardware?"

***

Arthur suggested they go for a walk. He felt there were things they should discuss, and for once Random seemed, if not precisely amenable and willing, then at least not growling.

From Random's point of view this was also all very weird. It wasn't that she wanted to be difficult, as such, it was just that she didn't know how or what else to be.

Who was this guy? What was this life she was supposed to lead? What was this world she was supposed to lead it in? And what was this universe that kept coming at her through her eyes and ears? What was it for? What did it want?

She'd been born in a spaceship that had been going from somewhere to somewhere else, and when it had got to somewhere else, somewhere else had only turned out to be another somewhere that you had to get to somewhere else again from, and so on.

It was her normal expectation that she was supposed to be somewhere else. It was normal for her to feel that she was in the wrong place.

Then, constant time travel had only compounded this problem and had led to the feeling that she was not only always in the wrong place, but she was also almost always there at the wrong time.

She didn't notice that she felt this, because it was the only way she ever felt, just as it never seemed odd to her that nearly everywhere she went she needed either to wear weights or antigravity suits and usually special apparatus for breathing as well. The only places you could ever feel were right were worlds you designed for yourself to inhabit -- virtual realities in the electric clubs. It had never occurred to her that the real Universe was something you could actually fit into.

And that included this Lamuella place her mother had dumped her in. And it also included this person who had bestowed on her this precious and magical gift of life in return for a seat upgrade. It was just as well he had turned out to be rather kind and friendly or there would have been trouble. Really. She'd got a specially sharpened stone in her pocket she could cause a lot of trouble with.

It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's point of view without the proper training.

***

They sat on the spot that Arthur particularly liked, on the side of a hill overlooking the valley. The sun was going down over the village.

The only thing that Arthur wasn't quite so fond of was being able to see a little way into the next valley, where a deep, dark, mangled furrow in the forest marked the spot where his ship had crashed. But maybe that was what kept bringing him back here. There were plenty of spots from which you could survey the lush rolling countryside of Lamuella, but this was the one he was drawn to, with its nagging dark spot of fear and pain nestling just on the edge of his vision.

He had never been there again since he had been pulled out of the wreckage.

Wouldn't.

Couldn't bear it.

In fact he had gone some of the way back to it the very next day, while he was still numb and spinning with shock. He had a broken leg, a couple of broken ribs, some bad burns and was not really thinking coherently but had insisted that the villagers take him, which, uneasily, they had. He had not managed to get right to the actual spot where the ground had bubbled and melted, however, and had at last hobbled away from the horror forever.

Soon, word had got around that the whole area was haunted and no one had ventured back there ever since. The land was full of beautiful, verdant and delightful valleys -- no point in going to a highly worrying one. Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into the future.

***

Random cradled the watch in her hands, slowly turning it to let the long light of the evening sun shine warmly in the scratches and scuffs of the thick glass. It fascinated her watching the spidery little second hand ticking its way around. Every time it completed a full circle, the longer of the two main hands had moved on exactly to the next of the sixty small divisions around the dial. And when the long hand had made its own full circle, the smaller hand had moved on to the next of the main digits.

"You've been watching it for over an hour," said Arthur, quietly.

"I know," she said. "An hour is when the big hand has gone all the way around, yes?"

"That's right."

"Then I've been watching it for an hour and seventeen ... minutes."

She smiled with a deep and mysterious pleasure and moved very slightly so that she was resting just a little against his arm. Arthur felt that a small sigh escaped from him that had been pent up inside his chest for weeks. He wanted to put his arm around his daughter's shoulders, but felt it was too early yet and that she would shy away from him. But something was working. Something was easing inside her. The watch meant something to her that nothing in her life had so far managed to do. Arthur was not sure that he had really understood what it was yet, but he was profoundly pleased and relieved that something had reached her.

"Explain to me again," said Random.

"There's nothing really to it," said Arthur. "Clockwork was something that developed over hundreds of years --"

"Earth years."

"Yes. It became finer and finer and more and more intricate. It was highly skilled and delicate work. It had to be made very small, and it had to carry on working accurately however much you waved it around or dropped it."

"But only on one planet?"

"Well, that was where it was made, you see. It was never expected to go anywhere else and deal with different suns and moons and magnetic fields and things. I mean the thing still goes perfectly well, but it doesn't really mean much this far from Switzerland."

"From where?"

"Switzerland. That's where these were made. Small hilly country. Tiresomely neat. The people who made them didn't really know there were other worlds."

"Quite a big thing not to know."

"Well, yes."

"So where did they come from?"

"They, that is we ... we just sort of grew there. We evolved on the Earth. From, I don't know, some kind of sludge or something."

"Like this watch."

"Um. I don't think the watch grew out of sludge."

"You don't understand."'

Random suddenly leapt to her feet, shouting.

"You don't understand! You don't understand me, you don't understand anything! I hate you for being so stupid!"

She started to run hectically down the hill, still clutching the watch and shouting that she hated him.

Arthur jumped up, startled and at a loss. He started to run after her through the stringy and clumpy grass. It was hard and painful for him. When he had broken his leg in the crash, it had not been a clean break, and it had not healed cleanly. He was stumbling and wincing as he ran.

Suddenly she turned and faced him, her face dark with anger.

She brandished the watch at him. "You don't understand that there's somewhere this belongs? Somewhere it works? Somewhere that it fits?"

She turned and ran again. She was fit and fleet-footed and Arthur could not remotely keep up with her.

It wasn't that he had not expected being a father to be this difficult, it was that he hadn't expected to be a father at all, particularly not suddenly and unexpectedly on an alien planet.

Random turned to shout at him again. For some reason he stopped each time she did.

"Who do you think I am?" she demanded angrily. "Your upgrade? Who do you think Mum thought I was? Some sort of ticket to the life she didn't have?"

"I don't know what you mean by that," said Arthur, panting and hurting.

"You don't know what anybody means by anything!"

"What do you mean?"

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"

"Tell me! Please tell me! What does she mean by saying 'the life she didn't have'?"

"She wished she'd stayed on Earth! She wished she hadn't gone off with that stupid brain-dead fruit gum, Zaphod! She thinks she would have had a different life!"

"But," said Arthur, "she would have been killed! She would have been killed when the world was destroyed!"

"That's a different life, isn't it?"

"That's ..."

"She wouldn't have had to have me! She hates me!"

"You can't mean that! How could anyone possibly, er, I mean ..."

"She had me because I was meant to make things fit for her. That was my job. But I fitted even worse than she did! So she just shut me off and carried on with her stupid life."

"What's stupid about her life? She's fantastically successful, isn't she? She's all over time and space, all over the Sub-Etha TV networks ..."

"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

Random turned and ran off again. Arthur couldn't keep up with her and at last he had to sit down for a bit and let the pain in his leg subside. The turmoil in his head he didn't know what to do with at all.

***

He hobbled into the village an hour later. It was getting dark. The villagers he passed said hello, but there was a sense of nervousness and of not quite knowing what was going on or what to do about it in the air. Old Thrashbarg had been seen pulling on his beard a fair bit and looking at the moon, and that was not a good sign either.

Arthur went into his hut.

Random was sitting hunched quietly over the table.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."

"That's all right," said Arthur as gently as he knew how. "It's good to, well, to have a little chat. There's so much we have to learn and understand about each other, and life isn't, well, it isn't all just tea and sandwiches ..."

"I'm so sorry," she said again, sobbing.

Arthur went up to her and put his arm around her shoulder. She didn't resist or pull away. Then Arthur saw what it was she was so sorry about.

In the pool of light thrown by a Lamuellan lantern lay Arthur's watch. Random had forced the back off it with the back edge of the butter-spreading knife and all of the minute cogs and springs and levers were lying in a tiny cockeyed mess where she'd been fiddling with them.

"I just wanted to see how it worked," said Random, "how it all fitted together. I'm so sorry! I can't get it back together. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'll get it repaired! Really! I'll get it repaired!"

***

The following day Thrashbarg came around and said all sorts of Bob stuff. He tried to exert a calming influence by inviting Random to let her mind dwell on the ineffable mystery of the giant earwig, and Random said there was no giant earwig and Thrashbarg went very cold and silent and said she would be cast into outer darkness. Ran-dom said good, she had been born there, and the next day the parcel arrived.

***

This was all getting a bit eventful.

In fact, when the parcel arrived, delivered by a kind of robot drone that dropped out of the sky making droning robot noises, it brought with it a sense, which gradually began to permeate through the whole village, that it was almost one event too many.

It wasn't the robot drone's fault. All it required was Arthur Dent's signature or thumbprint, or just a few scrapings of skin cells from the nape of his neck, and it would be on its way again. It hung around waiting, not quite sure what all this resentment was about. Meanwhile, Kirp had caught another fish with a head at both ends, but on closer inspection it turned out that it was in fact two fish cut in half and sewn together rather badly, so not only had Kirp failed to rekindle any great interest in two-headed fish, but he had seriously cast doubt on the authenticity of the first one. Only the pikka birds seemed to feel that everything was exactly normal.

The robot drone got Arthur's signature and made its escape. Arthur bore the parcel back to his hut and sat and looked at it.

"Let's open it!" said Random, who was feeling much more cheerful this morning now that everything around her had got thoroughly weird, but Arthur said no.

"Why not?"

"It's not addressed to me."

"Yes it is."

"No it isn't. It's addressed to ... well, it's addressed to Ford Prefect, in care of me."

"Ford Prefect? Is he the one who --"

"Yes," said Arthur, tartly.

"I've heard about him."

"I expect you have."

"Let's open it anyway. What else are we going to do?"

"I don't know," said Arthur, who really wasn't sure.

He had taken his damaged knives over to the forge bright and early that morning and Strinder had had a look at them and said that he would see what he could do.

They had tried the usual business of waving the knives through the air, feeling for the point of balance and the point of flex and so on, but the joy was gone from it, and Arthur had a sad feeling that his sandwich-making days were probably numbered.

He hung his head.

The next appearance of the Perfectly Normal Beasts was imminent, but Arthur felt that the usual festivities of hunting and feasting were going to be rather muted and uncertain. Something had happened here on Lamuella, and Arthur had a horrible feeling that it was him.

"What do you think it is?" urged Random, turning the parcel over in her hands.

"I don't know," said Arthur. "Something bad and worrying, though."

"How do you know?" Random protested.

"Because anything that's to do with Ford Prefect is bound to be worse and more worrying than something that isn't," said Arthur. "Believe me."

"You're upset about something, aren't you?" said Random.

Arthur sighed.

"I'm just feeling a little jumpy and unsettled, I think," said Arthur.

"I'm sorry," said Random, and put the package down again. She could see that it really would upset him if she opened it. She would just have to do it when he wasn't looking.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:14 pm

Chapter 16

Arthur wasn't quite certain which he noticed as being missing first. When he noticed that the one wasn't there, his mind instantly leapt to the other and he knew immediately that they were both gone and that something insanely bad and difficult to deal with would happen as a result.

Random was not there. And neither was the parcel.

He had left it up on a shelf all day, in plain view. It was an exercise in trust.

He knew that one of the things he was supposed to do as a parent was to show trust in his child, to build a sense of trust and confidence into the bedrock of relationship between them. He had had a nasty feeling that that might be an idiotic thing to do, but he did it anyway, and sure enough it had turned out to be an idiotic thing to do. You live and learn. At any rate, you live.

You also panic.

Arthur ran out of the hut. It was the middle of the evening. The light was getting dim and a storm was brewing. He could not see her anywhere, nor any sign of her. He asked. No one had seen her. He asked again. No one else had seen her. They were going home for the night. A little wind was whipping around the edge of the village, picking things up and tossing them around in a dangerously casual manner.

He found Old Thrashbarg and asked him. Thrashbarg looked at him stonily, and then pointed in the one direction that Arthur had dreaded and had therefore instinctively known was the way she would have gone.

So now he knew the worst.

She had gone where she thought he would not follow her.

He looked up at the sky, which was sullen, streaked and livid, and reflected that it was the sort of sky that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse wouldn't feel like a bunch of complete idiots riding out of.

With a heavy sense of the utmost foreboding he set off on the track that led to the forest in the next valley. The first heavy blobs of rain began to hit the ground as Arthur tried to drag himself to some sort of run.

***

Random reached the crest of the hill and looked down into the next valley. It had been a longer and harder climb than she had anticipated. She was a little worried that doing the trip at night was not that great an idea, but her father had been mooching around near the hut all day trying to pretend to either her or himself that he wasn't guarding the parcel. At last he'd had to go over to the forge to talk with Strinder about the knives, and Random had seized her opportunity and done a runner with the parcel.

It was perfectly clear that she couldn't just open the thing there, in the hut, or even in the village. He might have come across her at any moment. Which meant that she had to go where she wouldn't be followed.

She could stop where she was now. She had gone this way in the hope that he wouldn't follow her, and even if he did he would never find her up in the wooded parts of the hill with night drawing in and the rain starting.

All the way up, the parcel had been jiggling under her arm. It was a satisfyingly hunky sort of thing: a box with a square top about the length of her forearm on each side, and about the length of her hand deep, wrapped up in brown plasper with an ingenious new form of self-knotting string. It didn't rattle as she shook it, but she sensed that its weight was concentrated excitingly at the center.

Having come so far, though, there was a certain satisfaction in not stopping here, but carrying on down into what seemed to be almost a forbidden area -- where her father's ship had come down. She wasn't exactly certain what the word "haunted" meant, but it might be fun to find out. She would keep going and save the parcel for when she got there.

It was getting darker, though. She hadn't used her tiny electric torch yet, because she didn't want to be visible from a distance. She would have to use it now, but it probably didn't matter now, since she would be on the other side of the hill that divided the valleys from each other.

She turned her torch on. Almost at the same moment a fork of lightning ripped across the valley into which she was heading and startled her considerably. As the darkness shuddered back around her and a clap of thunder rolled out across the land, she felt suddenly rather small and lost with just a feeble pencil of light bobbing in her hand. Perhaps she should stop after all and open the parcel here. Or maybe she should go back and come out again tomorrow. It was only a momentary hesitation, though. She knew there was no going back tonight and sensed that there was no going back ever.

She headed on down the side of the hill. The rain was beginning to pick up now. Where a short while ago it had been a few heavy blobs, it was settling in for a good pour now, hissing in the trees, and the ground was getting slippery under her feet.

At least, she thought, it was the rain hissing in the trees. Shadows were leaping and leering at her as her light bobbed through the trees. Onward and downward.

She hurried on for another ten or fifteen minutes, soaked to the skin now and shivering, and gradually became aware that there seemed to be some other light somewhere ahead of her. It was very faint and she wasn't certain if she was imagining it or not. She turned off her torch to see. There did seem to be some sort of dim glow ahead. She couldn't tell what it was. She turned her torch back on and continued down the hill, toward whatever it was.

There was something wrong with the woods, though.

She couldn't immediately say what it was, but they didn't seem like sprightly healthy woods looking forward to a good spring. The trees were lolling at sickly angles and had a sort of pallid, blighted look about them. Random more than once had the worrying sensation that they were trying to reach toward her as she passed them, but it was just a trick of the way that her light caused their shadows to flicker and lurch.

Suddenly, something fell out of a tree in front of her. She leapt backward with alarm, dropping both the torch and the box as she did so. She went down into a crouch, pulling the specially sharpened rock out of her pocket.

The thing that had fallen out of the tree was moving. The torch was lying on the ground and pointing toward it, and a vast, grotesque shadow was slowly lurching through the light toward her. She could hear faint rustling and screeching noises over the steady hiss of the rain. She scrabbled on the ground for the torch, found it and shone it directly at the creature.

At the same moment another dropped from a tree just a few feet away. She swung the torch wildly from one to the other. She held her rock up, ready to throw.

They were quite small in fact. It was the angle of the light that had made them loom so large. Not only small, but small, furry and cuddly. And there was another, dropping from the trees. It fell through the beam of light, so she saw it quite clearly.

It fell neatly and precisely, turned and then, like the other two, started slowly and purposefully to advance on Random.

She stayed rooted to the spot. She still had her rock poised and ready to throw, but was increasingly conscious of the fact that the things she had it poised and ready to throw at were squirrels. Or, at least, squirrellike things. Soft, warm, cuddly squirrellike things advancing on her in a way she wasn't at all certain she liked.

She shone her torch directly on the first of them. It was making aggressive, hectoring, screeching noises and carrying in one of its little fists a small tattered piece of wet, pink rag. Random hefted her rock menacingly in her hand, but it made no impression at all on the squirrel advancing on her with its wet piece of rag.

She backed away. She didn't know at all how to deal with this. If they had been vicious snarling slavering beasts with glistening fangs, she would have pitched into them with a will, but squirrels behaving like this she couldn't quite handle.

She backed away again. The second squirrel was starting to make a flanking maneuver around to her right. Carrying a cup. Some kind of acorn thing. The third was right behind it and making its own advance. What was it carrying? Some little scrap of soggy paper, Random thought.

She stepped back again, caught her ankle against the root of a tree and fell over backward.

Instantly the first squirrel darted forward and was on top of her, advancing along her stomach with cold purpose in its eyes, and a piece of wet rag in its fist.

Random tried to jump up, but only managed to jump about an inch. The startled movement of the squirrel on her stomach startled her in return. The squirrel froze, gripping her skin through her soaking shirt with its tiny claws. Then slowly, inch by inch, it made its way up her, stopped and proffered her the rag.

She felt almost hypnotized by the strangeness of the thing and its tiny glinting eyes. It proffered her the rag again. It pushed it at her repeatedly, screeching insistently, till at last, nervously, hesitantly, she took the thing from it. It continued to watch her intently, its eyes darting all over her face. She had no idea what to do. Rain and mud were streaming down her face and she had a squirrel sitting on her. She wiped some mud out of her eyes with the rag.

The squirrel shrieked triumphantly, grabbed the rag back, leapt off her and ran scampering into the dark, enclosing night, darted up into a tree, dived into a hole in the trunk, settled back and lit a cigarette.

Meanwhile Random was trying to fend off the squirrel with the acorn cup full of rain and the one with the paper. She shuffled backward on her bottom.

"No!" she shouted. "Go away!"

They darted back, in fright, and then darted right forward again with their gifts. She brandished her rock at them. "Go!" she yelled.

The squirrels scampered around in consternation. Then one darted straight at her, dropped the acorn cup in her lap, turned and ran off into the night. The other stood quivering for a moment, then put its scrap of paper neatly down in front of her and disappeared as well.

She was alone again, but trembling with confusion. She got unsteadily to her feet, picked up her rock and her parcel, then paused and picked up the scrap of paper as well. It was so soggy and dilapidated it was hard to make out what it was. It seemed just to be a fragment of an in-flight magazine.

Just as Random was trying to understand exactly what it was that this all meant, a man walked out into the clearing in which she was standing, raised a vicious-looking gun and shot her.

***

Arthur was thrashing around hopelessly two or three miles behind her, on the upward side of the hill.

Within minutes of setting out he had gone back again and equipped himself with a lamp. Not an electric one. The only electric light in the place was the one that Random had brought with her. This was a kind of dim hurricane lamp: a perforated metal canister from Strinder's forge, which contained a reservoir of inflammable fish oil, a wick of knotted dried grass and was wrapped in a translucent film made from dried membranes from the gut of a Perfectly Normal Beast.

It had now gone out.

Arthur jiggled around with it in a thoroughly pointless kind of a way for a few seconds. There was clearly no way he was going to get the thing suddenly to burst into flame again in the middle of a rainstorm, but it's impossible not to make a token effort. Reluctantly he threw the thing aside.

What to do? This was hopeless. He was absolutely sodden, his clothes heavy and billowing with the rain, and now he was lost in the dark as well.

For a brief second he was lost in the blinding light, and then he was lost in the dark again.

The sheet of lightning had at least shown him that he was very close to the brow of the hill. Once he had breasted that he would ... well, he wasn't certain what he would do. He'd have to work that out when he got there.

He limped forward and upward.

A few minutes later he knew that he was standing panting at the top. There was some kind of dim glow in the distance below him. He had no idea what it was, and indeed he hardly liked to think. It was the only thing he had to make toward, though, so he started to make his way, stumbling, lost and frightened, toward it.

***

The flash of lethal light passed straight through Random and, about two seconds later, so did the man who had shot it. Other than that he paid her no attention whatsoever. He had shot someone standing behind her, and when she turned to look, he was kneeling over the body and going through its pockets.

The tableau froze and vanished. It was replaced a second later by a giant pair of teeth framed by immense and perfectly glossed red lips. A huge blue brush appeared out of nowhere and started, foamily, to scrub at the teeth, which continued to hang there gleaming in the shimmering curtain of rain.

Random blinked at it twice before she got it.

It was a commercial. The guy who had shot her was part of a holographic in-flight movie. She must now be very close to where the ship had crashed. Obviously some of its systems were more indestructible than others.

The next half-mile of the journey was particularly troublesome. Not only did she have the cold and the rain and the night to contend with, but also the fractured and thrashing remains of the ship's on-board entertainment system. Spaceships and jetcars and helipods crashed and exploded continuously around her, illuminating the night, villainous people in strange hats smuggled dangerous drugs through her, and the combined orchestra and chorus of the Hallapolis State Opera performed the closing March of the AnjaQantine Star Guard from Act IV of Rizgar's Blamwellamum of Woont in a little glade somewhere off to her left.

And then she was standing on the lip of a very nasty-looking and bubbly-edged crater. There was still a faint warm glow coming from what would otherwise have looked like an enormous piece of caramelized chewing gum in the center of the pit: the melted remains of a great spaceship.

She stood looking at it for a longish while, and then at last started to walk along and around the edge of the crater. She was no longer certain what she was looking for, but kept moving anyway, keeping the horror of the pit to her left.

The rain was beginning to ease off a little, but it was still extremely wet, and since she didn't know what it was that was in the box, whether it was perhaps something delicate or damageable, she thought that she ought to find somewhere reasonably dry to open it. She hoped she hadn't already damaged it by dropping it.

She played her torch around the surrounding trees, which were thin on the ground here, and mostly charred and broken. In the middle distance she thought she could see a jumbled outcrop of rock that might provide some shelter, and she started to pick her way toward it. All around she found the detritus that had been ejected from the ship as it broke up, before the final fireball.

After she had moved two or three hundred yards from the edge of the crater, she came across the tattered fragments of some fluffy pink material, sodden, muddied and drooping among the broken trees. She guessed, correctly, that this must be the remains of the escape cocoon that had saved her father's life. She went and looked at it more closely, and then noticed something close to it on the ground, half-covered in mud.

She picked it up and wiped the mud off it. It was some kind of electronic device the size of a small book. Feebly glowing on its cover, in response to her touch, were some large friendly letters. They said DON'T PANIC. She knew what this was. It was her father's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

She felt instantly reassured by it, turned her head up to the thundery sky and let some rain wash over her face and into her mouth. She shook her head and hurried on toward the rocks. Clambering up and over them, she almost immediately found the perfect thing. The mouth of a cave. She played her torch into its interior. It seemed to be dry and safe. Picking her way carefully, she walked in. It was quite spacious, but didn't go that deep. Exhausted and relieved, she sat on a convenient rock, put the box down in front of her and started immediately to open it.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:14 pm

Chapter 17

For a long period of time there was much speculation and controversy about where the so-called "missing matter" of the Universe had got to. All over the Galaxy the science departments of all the major universities were acquiring more and elaborate equipment to probe and search the hearts of distant galaxies, and then the very center and the very edges of the whole Universe, but when eventually it was tracked down it turned out in fact to be all the stuff which the equipment had been packed in.

There was quite a large quantity of missing matter in the box, little soft round white pellets of missing matter, which Random discarded for future generations of physicists to track down and discover all over again once the findings of the current generation of physicists had been lost and forgotten about.

Out of the pellets of missing matter she lifted the featureless black disk. She put it down on a rock beside her and sifted among all the missing matter to see if there was anything else, a manual or some attachments or something, but there was nothing else at all. Just the black disk.

She shone the torch on it.

As she did so, cracks began to appear along its apparently featureless surface. Random backed away nervously, but then saw that the thing, whatever it was, was merely unfolding itself.

The process was wonderfully beautiful. It was extraordinarily elaborate, but also simple and elegant. It was like a piece of self-opening origami, or a rosebud blooming into a rose in just a few seconds.

Where just a few moments earlier there had been a smoothly curved black disk, there was now a bird. A bird, hovering there.

Random continued to back away from it, carefully and watchfully.

It was a little like a pikka bird, only rather smaller. That is to say, in fact it was larger, or to be more exact, precisely the same size or, at least, not less than twice the size. It was also both a lot bluer and a lot pinker than pikka birds, while at the same time being perfectly black. There was also something very odd about it, which Random couldn't immediately make out.

It certainly shared with pikka birds the impression it gave that it was watching something that you couldn't see.

Suddenly it vanished.

Then, just as suddenly, everything went black. Random dropped into a tense crouch, feeling for the specially sharpened rock in her pocket again. Then the blackness receded and rolled itself up into a ball, and then the blackness was the bird again. It hung in the air in front of her, beating its wings slowly and staring at her.

"Excuse me," it said suddenly, "I just have to calibrate myself. Can you hear me when I say this?"

"When you say what?" demanded Random.

"Good," said the bird. "And can you hear me when I say this?" It spoke this time at a much higher pitch.

"Yes, of course I can!" said Random.

"And can you hear me when I say this?" it said, this time in a sepulchrally deep voice.

"Yes!"

There was then a pause.

"No, obviously not," said the bird after a few seconds. "Good, well, your hearing range is obviously between sixteen and twenty KHz. So. Is this comfortable for you?" it said in a pleasant light tenor. "No uncomfortable harmonics screeching away in the upper register? Obviously not. Good. I can use those as data channels. Now. How many of me can you see?"

Suddenly the air was full of nothing but interlocking birds. Random was well used to spending time in virtual realities, but this was something far weirder than anything she had previously encountered. It was as if the whole geometry of space was redefined in seamless bird shapes.

Random gasped and flung her arms around her face, her arms moving through bird-shaped space.

"Hmmm, obviously way too many," said the bird. "How about now?"

It concertinaed into a tunnel of birds, as if it was a bird caught between parallel mirrors, reflecting infinitely into the distance.

"What are you?" shouted Random.

"We'll come to that in a minute," said the bird. "Just how many, please?"

"Well, you're sort of ..." Random gestured helplessly off into the distance.

"I see, still infinite in extent, but at least we're homing in on the right dimensional matrix. Good. No, the answer is an orange and two lemons."

"Lemons?"

"If I have three lemons and three oranges and I lose two oranges and a lemon, what do I have left?"

"Huh?"

"Okay, so you think that time flows that way, do you? Interesting. Am I still infinite?" it asked, ballooning this way and that in space. "Am I infinite now? How yellow am I?"

Moment by moment the bird was going through mind-mangling transformations of shape and extent.

"I can't ..." said Random, bewildered.

"You don't have to answer, I can tell from watching you now. So. Am I your mother? Am I a rock? Do I seem huge, squishy and sinuously intertwined? No? How about now? Am I going backward?"

For once the bird was perfectly still and steady.

"No, " said Random.

"Well, I was in fact, I was moving backward in time. Hmmm. Well, I think we've sorted all that out now. If you'd like to know, I can tell you that in your universe you move freely in three dimensions that you call space. You move in a straight line in a fourth, which you call time, and stay rooted to one place in a fifth, which is the first fundamental of probability. After that it gets a bit complicated, and there's all sorts of stuff going on in dimensions thirteen to twenty-two that you really wouldn't want to know about. All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the first place. I can easily not say words like 'damn' if it offends you."

"Say what you damn well like."

"I will."

"What the hell are you?" demanded Random.

"I am the Guide. In your universe I am your Guide. In fact I inhabit what is technically known as the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash, which means ... well, let me show you."

It turned in midair and swooped out of the cave, and then perched on a rock, just beneath an overhang, out of the rain, which was getting heavier again.

"Come on," it said, "watch this."

Random didn't like being bossed around by a bird, but she followed it to the mouth of the cave anyway, still fingering the rock in her pocket.

"Rain," said the bird. "You see? Just rain."

"I know what rain is."

Sheets of the stuff were sweeping through the night, moonlight sifting through it.

"So what is it?"

"What do you mean, what is it? Look, who are you? What were you doing in that box? Why have I spent a night running through the forest fending off demented squirrels to find that all I've got at the end of it is a bird asking me what rain is? It's just water falling through the bloody air, that's what it is. Anything else you want to know or can we go home now?"

There was a long pause before the bird answered, "You want to go home?"

"I haven't got a home!" Random almost shocked herself, she screamed the words so loudly.

"Look into the rain ..." said the bird Guide.

"I'm looking into the rain! What else is there to look at?"

"What do you see?"

"What do you mean, you stupid bird? I just see a load of rain. It's just water, falling."

"What shapes do you see in the water?"

"Shapes? There aren't any shapes. It's just, just ..."

"Just a mish mash," said the bird Guide.

"Yes ..."

"Now what do you see?"

Just on the very edge of visibility a thin faint beam fanned out of the bird's eyes. In the dry air beneath the overhang there was nothing to see. Where the beam hit the drops of rain as they fell through it, there was a flat sheet of light, so bright and vivid it seemed solid.

"Oh, great. A laser show," said Random, fractiously. "Never seen one of those before, of course, except at about five million rock concerts."

"Tell me what you see!"

"Just a flat sheet! Stupid bird."

"There's nothing there that wasn't there before. I'm just using light to draw your attention to certain drops at certain moments. Now what do you see?"

The light shut off.

"Nothing."

"I'm doing exactly the same thing, but with ultraviolet light. You can't see it."

"So what's the point of showing me something I can't see?"

"So that you understand that just because you see something, it doesn't mean to say it's there. And if you don't see something, it doesn't mean to say it's not there. It's only what your senses bring to your attention."

"I'm bored with this," said Random, and then gasped.

Hanging in the rain was a giant and very vivid three-dimensional image of her father looking startled about something.

***

About two miles away behind Random, her father, struggling his way through the woods, suddenly stopped. He was startled to see an image of himself looking startled about something hanging brightly in the rain-filled air about two miles away. About two miles away some distance to the right of the direction in which he was heading.

He was almost completely lost, was convinced he was going to die of cold and wet and exhaustion and was beginning to wish he could just get on with it. He had just been brought an entire golfing magazine by a squirrel, as well, and his brain was beginning to howl and gibber.

Seeing a huge bright image of himself light up in the sky told him that, on balance, he was probably right to howl and gibber but probably wrong as far as the direction he was heading was concerned. Taking a deep breath, he turned and headed off toward the inexplicable light show.

***

"Okay, so what's that supposed to prove?" demanded Random. It was the fact that the image was her father that had startled her rather than the appearance of the image itself. She had seen her first hologram when she was two months old and had been put in it to play. She had seen her most recent one about half an hour ago playing the March of the AnjaQantine Star Guard.

"Only that it's no more there or not there than the sheet was," said the bird. "It's just the interaction of water from the sky moving in one direction, with light at frequencies your senses can detect moving in another. It makes an apparently solid image in your mind. But it's all just images in the Mish Mash. Here's another one for you."

"My mother!" said Random.

"No," said the bird.

"I know my mother when I see her!"

The image was of a woman emerging from a spacecraft inside a large, gray hangarlike building. She was being escorted by a group of tall, thin purplish-green creatures. It was definitely Random's mother. Well, almost definitely. Trillian wouldn't have been walking quite so uncertainly in low gravity, or looking around her at a boring old life-support environment with quite such a disbelieving look on her face, or carrying such a quaint old camera.

"So who is it?" demanded Random.

"She is part of the extent of your mother on the probability axis," said the bird Guide.

"I haven't the faintest idea what you mean."

"Space, time and probability all have axes along which it is possible to move."

"Still dunno. Though I think ... No. Explain."

"I thought you wanted to go home."

"Explain!"

"Would you like to see your home?"

"See it? It was destroyed!"

"It is discontinuous along the probability axis. Look!"

Something very strange and wonderful now swam into view in the rain. It was a huge bluish-greenish globe, misty and cloud-covered, turning with majestic slowness against a black, starry background.

"Now you see it," said the bird. "Now you don't."

***

A little less than two miles away now, Arthur Dent stood still in his tracks. He could not believe what he could see, hanging there, shrouded in rain, but brilliant and vividly real against the night sky -- the Earth. He gasped at the sight of it. Then, at the moment he gasped, it disappeared again. Then it appeared again. Then, and this was the bit that made him give up and stick straws in his hair, it turned into a sausage.

* * *

Random was also bewildered at the sight of this huge blue and green and watery and misty sausage hanging above her. And now it was a string of sausages, or rather it was a string of sausages in which many of the sausages were missing. The whole brilliant string turned and spun in a bewildering dance in the air and then gradually slowed, grew insubstantial and faded into the glistening darkness of the night.

"What was that?" asked Random, in a small voice.

"A glimpse along the probability axis of a discontinuously probable object."

"I see."

"Most objects mutate and change along their axis of probability, but the world of your origin does something slightly different. It lies on what you might call a fault line in the landscape of probability, which means that at many probability coordinates the whole of it simply ceases to exist. It has an inherent instability, which is typical of anything that lies within what are usually designated the Plural sectors. Make sense?"

"No."

"Want to go and see for yourself?"

"To ... Earth?"

"Yes."

"Is that possible?"

The bird Guide did not answer at once. It spread its wings and, with an easy grace, ascended into the air and flew out into the rain, which, once again, was beginning to lighten.

It soared ecstatically up into the night sky, lights flashed around it, dimensions dithered in its wake. It swooped and turned and looped and turned again and came at last to rest two feet in front of Random's face, its wings beating slowly and silently.

***

It spoke to her again.

"Your universe is vast to you. Vast in time, vast in space. That's because of the filters through which you perceive it. But I was built with no filters at all, which means I perceive the Mish Mash which contains all possible universes but which has, itself, no size at all. For me, anything is possible. I am omniscient and omnipotent, extremely vain and, what is more, I come in a handy self-carrying package. You have to work out how much of the above is true."

A slow smile spread over Random's face.

"You bloody little thing. You've been winding me up!"

"As I said, anything is possible."

Random laughed. "Okay," she said. "Let's try and go to Earth. Let's go to Earth at some point on its, er ..."

"Probability axis?"

"Yes. Where it hasn't been blown up. Okay. So you're the Guide. How do we get a lift?"

"Reverse engineering."

"What?"

"Reverse engineering. To me the flow of time is irrelevant. You decide what you want. I then merely make sure that it has already happened."

"You're joking."

"Anything is possible."

Random frowned. "You are joking, aren't you?"

"Let me put it another way," said the bird. "Reverse engineering enables us to shortcut all the business of waiting for one of the horribly few spaceships that passes through your galactic sector every year or so to make up its mind about whether or not it feels like giving you a lift. You want a lift, a ship arrives and gives you one. The pilot may think he has any one of a million reasons why he has decided to stop and pick you up. The real reason is that I have determined that he will."

"This is you being extremely vain, isn't it, little bird?"

The bird was silent.

"Okay," said Random. "I want a ship to take me to Earth."

"Will this one do?"

It was so silent that Random had not noticed the descending space ship until it was nearly on top of her.

***

Arthur had noticed it. He was a mile away now and closing. Just after the illuminated sausage display had drawn to its conclusion, he had noticed the faint glimmerings of further lights coming down out of the clouds and had, to begin with, assumed it to be another piece of flashy son et lumiere.

It took a moment or so for it to dawn on him that it was an actual spaceship, and a moment or too longer for him to realize that it was dropping directly down to where he assumed his daughter to be. That was when, rain or no rain, old leg injury or no leg injury, darkness or no darkness, he suddenly started really to run.

He fell almost immediately, slid and hurt his knee quite badly on a rock. He slithered back up to his feet and tried again. He had a horrible cold feeling that he was about to lose Random forever. Limping and cursing, he ran. He didn't know what it was that had been in the box, but the name on it had been Ford Prefect, and that was the name he cursed as he ran.

***

The ship was one of the sexiest and most beautiful ones that Random had ever seen.

It was astounding. Silver, sleek, ineffable.

If she didn't know better she would have said it was an RW6. As it settled silently beside her she realized that it actually was an RW6 and she could scarcely breathe for excitement. An RW6 was the sort of thing you only saw in the sort of magazines that were designed to provoke civil unrest.

She was also extremely nervous. The manner and timing of its arrival was deeply unsettling. Either it was the most bizarre coincidence or something very peculiar and worrying was going on. She waited a little tensely for the ship's hatch to open. Her Guide -- she thought of it as hers now -- was hovering lightly over her right shoulder, its wings barely fluttering.

The hatch opened. Just a little dim light escaped. A moment or two passed and a figure emerged. He stood still for a moment or so, obviously trying to accustom his eyes to the darkness. Then he caught sight of Random standing there and seemed a little surprised. He started to walk toward her. Then suddenly he shouted in surprise and started to run at her.

Random was not a good person to take a run at on a dark night when she was feeling a little strung out. She had unconsciously been fingering the rock in her pocket from the moment she saw the craft coming down.

***

Still running, slithering, hurtling, bumping into trees, Arthur saw at last that he was too late. The ship had only been on the ground for about three minutes, and now, silently, gracefully, it was rising up above the trees again, turning smoothly in the fine speckle of rain to which the storm had now abated, climbing, climbing, tipping up its nose and, suddenly, effortlessly, hurtling up through the clouds.

Gone. Random was in it. It was impossible for Arthur to know this, but he just went ahead and knew it anyway. She was gone. He had had his stint at being a parent and could scarcely believe how badly he had done at it. He tried to continue running, but his feet were dragging, his knee was hurting like fury and he knew that he was too late.

He could not conceive that he could feel more wretched and awful than this, but he was wrong.

He limped his way at last to the cave where Random had sheltered and opened the box. The ground bore the indentations of the spacecraft that had landed there only minutes before, but of Random there was no sign. He wandered disconsolately into the cave, found the empty box and piles of missing matter pellets strewn around the place. He felt a little cross about that. He'd tried to teach her about cleaning up after herself. Feeling a bit cross with her about something like that helped him feel less desolate about her leaving. He knew he had no means of finding her.

His foot knocked against something unexpected. He bent down to pick it up, and was thoroughly surprised to discover what it was. It was his old Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. How did that come to be in the cave? He had never returned to collect it from the scene of the crash. He had not wanted to revisit the crash and he had not wanted the Guide again. He had reckoned he was here on Lamuella, making sandwiches, for good. How did it come to be in the cave? It was active. The words on the cover flashed DON'T PANIC at him.

He went out of the cave again into the dim and damp moonlight. He sat on a rock to have a look through the old Guide, and then discovered it wasn't a rock, it was a person.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:15 pm

Chapter 18

Arthur leapt to his feet with a start of fear. It would be hard to say which he was more frightened of: that he might have hurt the person he had inadvertently sat on or that the person he had inadvertently sat on would hurt him back.

There seemed, on inspection, to be little immediate cause for alarm on the second count. Whoever it was he had sat on was unconscious. That would probably go a great deal of the way toward explaining what he was doing lying there. He seemed to be breathing okay, though. Arthur felt his pulse. That was okay as well.

He was lying on his side, half curled up. It was so long ago and far away when Arthur had last done first aid that he really couldn't remember what it was he was supposed to do. The first thing he was supposed to do, he remembered, was to have a first aid kit about his person. Damn.

Should he roll him onto his back or not? Suppose he had any broken bones? Suppose he swallowed his tongue? Suppose he sued him? Who, apart from anything else, was he?

At that moment the unconscious man groaned loudly and rolled himself over.

Arthur wondered if he should --

He looked at him.

He looked at him again.

He looked at him again, just to make absolutely sure.

Despite the fact that he had been thinking he was feeling about as low as he possibly could, he experienced a terrible sinking feeling.

The figure groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. It took him a while to focus, then he blinked and stiffened.

"You!" said Ford Prefect.

"You!" said Arthur Dent.

Ford groaned again.

"What do you need to have explained this time?" he said, and closed his eyes in some kind of despair.

* * *

Five minutes later he was sitting up and rubbing the side of his head, where he had quite a large swelling.

"Who the hell was that woman?" he said. "Why are we surrounded by squirrels, and what do they want?"

"I've been pestered by squirrels all night," said Arthur. "They keep on trying to give me magazines and stuff."

Ford frowned. "Really?" he said.

"And bits of rag."

Ford thought.

"Oh," he said. "Is this near where your ship crashed?"

"Yes," said Arthur. He said it a little tightly.

"That's probably it. Can happen. Ship's cabin robots get destroyed. The cyberminds that control them survive and start infecting the local wildlife. Can turn a whole ecosystem into some kind of helpless thrashing service industry, handing out hot towels and drinks to passersby. Should be a law against it. Probably is. Probably also a law against there being a law against it so everybody can get nice and worked up. Hey ho. What did you say?"

"I said, and the woman is my daughter."

Ford stopped rubbing his head.

"Say that one more time."

"I said," said Arthur, huffily, "the woman is my daughter."

"I didn't know," said Ford, "that you had a daughter."

"Well, there's probably a lot you don't know about me," said Arthur. "Come to mention it, there's probably a lot I don't know about me either."

"Well, well, well. When did this happen then?"

"I'm not quite sure."

"That sounds like more familiar territory," said Ford. "Is there a mother involved?"

"Trillian."

"Trillian? I didn't think that ..."

"No. Look, it's a bit embarrassing."

"I remember she told me once she had a kid but only, sort of, in passing. I'm in touch with her from time to time. Never seen her with the kid."

Arthur said nothing.

Ford started to feel the side of his head again in some bemusement.

"Are you sure this was your daughter?" he said.

"Tell me what happened."

"Phroo. Long story. I was coming to pick up this parcel I'd sent to myself here care of you ..."

"Well, what was that all about?"

"I think it may be something unimaginably dangerous."

"And you sent it to me?" protested Arthur.

"Safest place I could think of. I thought I could rely on you to be absolutely boring and not open it. Anyway, coming in at night I couldn't find this village place. I was going by pretty basic information. I couldn't find any signal of any kind. I guess you don't have signals and stuff here."

"That's what I like about it."

"Then I did pick up a faint signal from your old copy of the Guide, so I homed in on that, thinking that would take me to you. I found I'd landed in some kind of wood. Couldn't figure out what was going on. I get out, and then see this woman standing there. I go up to say hello, then suddenly I see that she's got this thing!"

"What thing?"

"The thing I sent you! The new Guide. The bird thing! You were meant to keep it safe, you idiot, but this woman had the thing right there by her shoulder. I ran forward and she hit me with a rock."

"I see," said Arthur. "What did you do?"

"Well, I fell over, of course. I was very badly hurt. She and the bird started to make off toward my ship. And when I say my ship, I mean an RW6."

"A what?"

"An RW6, for Zark's sake. I've got this great relationship going now between my credit card and the Guide's central computer. You would not believe that ship, Arthur, it's ..."

"So an RW6 is a spaceship, then?"

"Yes! It's -- Oh, never mind. Look, just get some kind of grip, will you, Arthur? Or at least get some kind of catalogue. At this point I was very worried. And, I think, semiconcussed. I was down on my knees and bleeding profusely, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to beg. I said please, for Zark's sake, don't take my ship. And don't leave me stranded in the middle of some primitive zarking forest with no medical help and a head injury. I could be in serious trouble and so could she."

"What did she say?"

"She hit me on the head with the rock again."

"I think I can confirm that that was my daughter."

"Sweet kid."

"You have to get to know her," said Arthur.

"She eases up, does she?"

"No," said Arthur, "but you get a better sense of when to duck."

Ford held his head and tried to see straight.

The sky was beginning to lighten in the west, which was where the sun rose. Arthur didn't particularly want to see it. The last thing he wanted after a hellish night like this one was some blasted day coming along and barging about the place.

"What are you doing in a place like this, Arthur?" demanded Ford.

"Well," said Arthur, "making sandwiches mostly."

"What?"

"I am, probably was, the sandwich maker for a small tribe. It was a bit embarrassing really. When I first arrived, that is, when they rescued me from the wreckage of this super high-technology spacecraft that had crashed on their planet, they were very nice to me and I thought I should help them out a bit. You know, I'm an educated chap from a high-technology culture, I could show them a thing or two. And of course I couldn't. I haven't got the faintest idea, when it comes down to it, of how anything actually works. I don't mean like video recorders, nobody knows how to work those. I mean just something like a pen or an artesian well or something. Not the foggiest. I couldn't help at all. One day I got glum and made myself a sandwich. That suddenly got them all excited. They'd never seen one before. It was just an idea that had never occurred to them, and I happen to quite like making sandwiches, so it all sort of developed from there."

"And you enjoyed that?"

"Well, yes, I think I sort of did, really. Getting a good set of knives, that sort of thing."

"You didn't, for instance, find it mind-witheringly, explosively; astoundingly, blisteringly dull?"

"Well, er, no. Not as such. Not actually blisteringly."

"Odd. I would."

"Well, I suppose we have a different outlook."

"Yes."

"Like the pikka birds."

Ford had no idea what he was talking about and couldn't be bothered to ask. Instead he said, "So how the hell do we get out of this place?"

"Well, I think the simplest way from here is just to follow the way down the valley to the plains, probably take an hour, and then walk around from there. I don't think I could face going back up and over the way I came."

"Walk around where from there?"

"Well, back to the village, I suppose." Arthur sighed a little forlornly.

"I don't want to go to any blasted village!" snapped Ford. "We've got to get out of here!"

"Where? How?"

"I don't know, you tell me. You live here! There must be some way off this zarking planet."

"I don't know. What do you usually do? Sit around and wait for a passing spacecraft, I suppose."

"Oh, yes? And how many spacecraft have visited this zark-forsaken little flea-pit recently?"

"Well, a few years ago there was mine that crashed here by mistake. Then there was, er, Trillian, then the parcel delivery, and now you, and ..."

"Yes, but apart from the usual suspects?"

"Well, er, I think pretty much none, so far as I know. Pretty quiet around here."

As if deliberately to prove him wrong, there was a long, low distant roll of thunder.

Ford leapt to his feet fretfully and started pacing backward and forward in the feeble, painful light of the early dawn, which lay streaked against the sky as if someone had dragged a piece of liver across it.

"You don't understand how important this is," he said.

"What? You mean my daughter out there all alone in the Galaxy? You think I don't ..."

"Can we feel sorry for the Galaxy later?" said Ford. "This is very, very serious indeed. The Guide has been taken over. It's been bought out."

Arthur leapt up. "Oh, very serious," he shouted. "Please fill me in straight away on some corporate publishing politics! I can't tell you how much it's been on my mind of late!"

"You don't understand! There's a whole new Guide!"

"Oh!" shouted Arthur again. "Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm incoherent with excitement! I can hardly wait for it to come out to find out which are the most exciting spaceports to get bored hanging about in some globular cluster I've never heard of. Please, can we rush to a store that's got it right this very instant?"

Ford narrowed his eyes.

"This is that thing you call sarcasm, isn't it?"

"Do you know," bellowed Arthur, "I think it is? I really think it might just be a crazy little thing called sarcasm seeping in at the edges of my manner of speech! Ford, I have had a fucking bad night! Will you please try and take that into account while you consider what fascinating bits of badger-sputumly inconsequential trivia to assail me with next?"

"Try to rest," said Ford. "I need to think."

"Why do you need to think? Can't we just sit and go budumbudumbudum with our lips for a bit? Couldn't we just dribble gently and loll a little bit to the left for a few minutes? I can't stand it, Ford! I can't stand all this thinking and trying to work things out anymore. You may think that I am just standing here barking ..."

"Hadn't occurred to me in fact."

"But I mean it! What is the point? We assume that every time we do anything we know what the consequences will be, i.e., more or less what we intend them to be. This is not only not always correct. It is wildly, crazily, stupidly cross-eyed-blithering-insectly wrong!"

"Which is exactly my point."

"Thank you," said Arthur, sitting down again. "What?"

"Temporal reverse engineering."

Arthur put his head in his hands and shook it gently from side to side.

"Is there any humane way," he moaned, "in which I can prevent you from telling me what temporary reverse bloody-whatsiting is?"

"No," said Ford, "because your daughter is caught up in the middle of it and it is deadly, deadly serious."

Thunder rolled in the pause.

"All right," said Arthur. "Tell me."

"I leapt out of a high-rise office window."

This cheered Arthur up.

"Oh!" he said. "Why don't you do it again?"

"I did."

"Hmmm," said Arthur, disappointed. "Obviously no good came of it."

"The first time I managed to save myself by the most astonishing and -- I say this in all modesty -- fabulous piece of ingenious quick thinking, agility, fancy footwork and self-sacrifice."

"What was the self-sacrifice?"

"I jettisoned half of a much-loved and I think irreplaceable pair of shoes."

"Why was that self-sacrifice?"

"Because they were mine!" said Ford, crossly.

"I think we have different value systems."

"Well, mine's better."

"That's according to your ... oh, never mind. So having saved yourself very cleverly once, you very sensibly went and jumped again. Please don't tell me why. Just tell me what happened if you must."

"I fell straight into the open cockpit of a passing jet towncar whose pilot had just accidentally pushed the eject button when he meant only to change tracks on the stereo. Now, even I couldn't think that that was particularly clever of me."

"Oh, I don't know," said Arthur, wearily. "I expect you probably sneaked into his jetcar the previous night, and set the pilot's least favorite track to play or something."

"No, I didn't," said Ford.

"Just checking."

"Though oddly enough, somebody else did. And this is the nub. You could trace the chain and branches of crucial events and coincidences back and back. Turned out the new Guide had done it. That bird."

"What bird?"

"You haven't seen it?"

"No."

"Oh. It's a lethal little thing. Looks pretty, talks big, collapses wave forms selectively at will."

"What does that mean?"

"Temporal reverse engineering."

"Oh," said Arthur. "Oh yes."

"The question is, who is it really doing it for?"

"I've actually got a sandwich in my pocket," said Arthur, delving. "Would you like a bit?"

"Yeah, okay."

"It's a bit squished and sodden, I'm afraid."

"Never mind."

They munched for a bit.

"It's quite good in fact," said Ford. "What's the meat in it?"

"Perfectly Normal Beast."

"Not come across that one. So, the question is," Ford continued, "who is the bird really doing it for? What's the real game here?"

"Mmm," ate Arthur.

"When I found the bird," continued Ford, "which I did by a series of coincidences that are interesting in themselves, it put on the most fantastic multidimensional display of pyrotechnics I've ever seen. It then said that it would put its services at my disposal in my universe. I said, thanks but no thanks. It said that it would anyway, whether I liked it or not. I said just try it, and it said it would and, indeed, already had done so. I said we'd see about that and it said that we would. That's when I decided to pack the thing up and get it out of there. So I sent it to you for safety."

"Oh yes? Whose?"

"Never you mind. Then, what with one thing and another, I thought it prudent to jump out of the window again, being fresh out of other options at the time. Luckily for me the jetcar was there, otherwise I would have had to fall back on ingenious quick thinking, agility, maybe another shoe or, failing all else, the ground. But it meant that, whether I liked it or not, the Guide was, well, working for me, and that was deeply worrying."

"Why?"

"Because if you've got the Guide, you think that you are the one it's working for. Everything went swimmingly smoothly for me from then on, up to the very moment that I came up against the totty with the rock, then, bang, I'm history. I'm out of the loop."

"Are you referring to my daughter?"

"As politely as I can. She's the next one in the chain who will think that everything is going fabulously for her. She can beat whoever she likes around the head with bits of the landscape, everything will just swim for her until she's done whatever she's supposed to do and then it will be all up for her too. It's reverse temporal engineering, and clearly nobody understood what was being unleashed!"

"Like me, for instance."

"What? Oh, wake up, Arthur. Look, let me try it again. The new Guide came out of the research labs. It made use of this new technology of Unfiltered Perception. Do you know what that means?"

"Look, I've been making sandwiches, for Bob's sake!"

"Who's Bob?"

"Never mind. Just carry on."

"Unfiltered Perception means it perceives everything. Got that? I don't perceive everything. You don't perceive everything. We have filters. The new Guide doesn't have any sense filters. It perceives everything. It wasn't a complicated technological idea. It was just a question of leaving a bit out. Got it?"

"Why don't I just say that I've got it, and then you can carry on regardless."

"Right. Now because the bird can perceive every possible universe, it is present in every possible universe. Yes?"

"Y ... e ... e ... s. Ish."

"So what happens is, the bozos in the marketing and accounting departments say, 'Oh, that sounds good, doesn't that mean we only have to make one of them and then sell it an infinite number of times?' Don't squint at me like that, Arthur, this is how accountants think!"

"That's quite clever, isn't it?"

"No! It is fantastically stupid. Look. The machine's only a little Guide. It's got some quite clever cybertechnology in it, but because it has Unfiltered Perception, any smallest move it makes has the power of a virus. It can propagate throughout space, time and a million other dimensions. Anything can be focused anywhere in any of the universes that you and I move in. Its power is recursive. Think of a computer program. Somewhere, there is one key instruction, and everything else is just functions calling themselves, or brackets billowing out endlessly through an infinite address space. What happens when the brackets collapse? Where's the final 'end if'? Is any of this making sense? Arthur?"

"Sorry, I was nodding off for a moment. Something about the Universe, yes?"

"Something about the Universe, yes," said Ford, wearily. He sat down again.

"All right," he said. "Think about this. You know who I think I saw at the Guide offices? Vogons. Ah. I see I've said a word you understand at last."

Arthur leapt to his feet.

"That noise," he said.

"What noise?"

"The thunder."

"What about it?"

"It isn't thunder. It's the spring migration of the Perfectly Normal Beasts. It's started."

"What are these animals you keep on about?"

"I don't keep on about them. I just put bits of them in sandwiches."

"Why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?"

Arthur told him.

It wasn't often that Arthur had the pleasure of seeing Ford's eyes open wide with astonishment.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:15 pm

Chapter 19

It was a sight that Arthur never quite got used to, or tired of. He and Ford had tracked their way swiftly along the side of the small river that flowed down along the bed of the valley, and when at last they reached the margin of the plains, they pulled themselves up into the branches of a large tree, to get a better view of one of the stranger and more wonderful visions that the Galaxy has to offer.

The great thunderous herd of thousand upon thousand of Perfectly Normal Beasts was sweeping in magnificent array across the Anhondo Plain. In the early pale light of the morning, as the great animals charged through, the fine steam of the sweat of their bodies mingled with the muddy mist churned up by their pounding hooves, their appearance seemed a little unreal and ghostly anyway, but what was heart-stopping about them was where they came from and where they went to, which appeared to be, simply, nowhere.

They formed a solid, charging phalanx roughly a hundred yards wide and half a mile long. The phalanx never moved, except that it exhibited a slight gradual drift sideways and backward for the eight or nine days that it regularly appeared for. But though the phalanx stayed more or less constant, the great beasts of which it was composed charged steadily at upward of twenty miles an hour, appearing suddenly from thin air at one end of the plain, and disappearing equally abruptly at the other end.

No one knew where they came from, no one knew where they went. They were so important to the lives of the Lamuellans, it was almost as if nobody liked to ask. Old Thrashbarg had said on one occasion that sometimes if you received an answer, the question might be taken away. Some of the villagers had privately said that this was the only properly wise thing that they'd ever heard Thrashbarg say, and after a short debate on the matter, had put it down to chance.

The noise of the pounding of the hooves was so intense that it was hard to hear anything else above it.

"What did you say?" shouted Arthur.

"I said," shouted Ford, "this looks like it might be some kind of evidence of dimensional drift."

"Which is what?" shouted Arthur back.

"Well, a lot of people are beginning to worry that spacetime is showing signs of cracking up with everything that's happening to it. There are quite a lot of worlds where you can see how the landmasses have cracked up and moved around just from the weirdly long or meandering routes that migrating animals take. This might be something like that. We live in twisted times. Still, in the absence of a decent spaceport ..."

Arthur looked at him in a kind of frozen way.

"What do you mean?" he said.

"What do you mean, what do I mean?" shouted Ford. "You know perfectly well what I mean. We're going to ride our way out of here."

"Are you seriously suggesting we try to ride a Perfectly Normal Beast?"

"Yeah. See where it goes to."

"We'll be killed! No," said Arthur, suddenly. "We won't be killed. At least I won't. Ford, have you ever heard of a planet called Stavromula Beta?"

Ford frowned. "Don't think so," he said. He pulled out his own battered old copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and accessed it. "Any funny spelling?" he said.

"Don't know. I've only ever heard it said, and that was by someone who had a mouthful of other people's teeth. You remember I told you about Agrajag?"

Ford thought for a moment. "You mean the guy who was convinced you were getting him killed over and over again?"

"Yes. One of the places he claimed I'd got him killed was Stavromula Beta. Someone tries to shoot me, it seems. I duck and Agrajag, or at least one of his many reincarnations, gets hit. It seems that this has definitely happened at some point in time, so, I suppose, I can't get killed at least until after I've ducked on Stavromula Beta. Only no one's ever heard of it."

"Hmm." Ford tried a few other searches of the Hitchhiker's Guide, but drew a blank.

"Nothing," he said.

"I was just ... no, I've never heard of it," said Ford, finally. He wondered why it was ringing a very, very faint bell, though.

"Okay," said Arthur. "I've seen the way the Lamuellan hunters trap Perfectly Normal Beasts. If you spear one in the herd it just gets trampled, so they have to lure them out one at a time for the kill. It's very like the way a matador works, you know, with a brightly colored cape. You get one to charge at you and then step aside and execute a rather elegant swing through with the cape. Have you got anything like a brightly colored cape about you?"

"This do?" said Ford, handing him his towel.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:15 pm

Chapter 20

Leaping onto the back of a one-and-a-half-ton Perfectly Normal Beast migrating through your world at a thundering thirty miles an hour is not as easy as it might at first seem. Certainly it is not as easy as the Lamuellan hunters made it seem, and Arthur Dent was prepared to discover that this might turn out to be the difficult bit.

What he hadn't been prepared to discover, however, was how difficult it was even getting to the difficult bit. It was the bit that was supposed to be the easy bit that turned out to be practically impossible.

They couldn't even catch the attention of a single animal. The Perfectly Normal Beasts were so intent on working up a good thunder with their hooves, heads down, shoulders forward, back legs pounding the ground into porridge, that it would have taken something not merely startling but actually geological to disturb them.

The sheer amount of thundering and pounding was, in the end, more than Arthur and Ford could deal with. After they had spent nearly two hours prancing about doing increasingly foolish things with a medium-sized floral-patterned bath towel, they had not managed to get even one of the great beasts thundering and pounding past them to do so much as glance casually in their direction.

They were within three feet of the horizontal avalanche of sweating bodies. To have been much nearer would have been to risk instant death, chrono-logic or no chrono-logic. Arthur had seen what remained of any Perfectly Normal Beast which, as the result of a clumsy miss-throw by a young and inexperienced Lamuellan hunter, got speared while still thundering and pounding with the herd.

One stumble was all it took. No prior appointment with death on Stavromula Beta, wherever the hell Stavromula Beta was, would save you or anybody else from the thunderous, mangling, pounding of those hooves.

At last, Arthur and Ford staggered back. They sat down, exhausted and defeated, and started to criticize each other's technique with the towel.

"You've got to flick it more," complained Ford. "You need more follow-through from the elbow if you're going to get those blasted creatures to notice anything at all."

"Follow-through?" protested Arthur. "You need more suppleness in the wrist."

"You need more after-flourish," countered Ford.

"You need a bigger towel."

"You need," said another voice, "a pikka bird."

"You what?"

The voice had come from behind them. They turned, and there, standing behind them in the early morning sun, was Old Thrashbarg.

"To attract the attention of a Perfectly Normal Beast," he said, as he walked forward toward them, "you need a pikka bird. Like this."

From under the rough, cassocky robelike thing he wore he drew a small pikka bird. It sat restlessly on Old Thrashbarg's hand and peered intently at Bob knows what darting around about three feet six inches in front of it.

Ford instantly went into the sort of alert crouch he liked to do when he wasn't quite sure what was going on or what he ought to do about it. He waved his arms around very slowly in what he hoped was an ominous manner.

"Who is this?" he hissed.

"It's just Old Thrashbarg," said Arthur, quietly. "And I wouldn't bother with all the fancy movements. He's just as experienced a bluffer as you are. You could end up dancing around each other all day."

"The bird," hissed Ford again. "What's the bird?"

"It's just a bird!" said Arthur, impatiently. "It's like any other bird. It lays eggs and goes ark at things you can't see. Or kar or rit or something."

"Have you seen one lay eggs?" said Ford, suspiciously.

"For heaven's sake, of course I have," said Arthur. "And I've eaten hundreds of them. Make rather a good omelette. The secret is little cubes of cold butter and then whipping it lightly with ..."

"I don't want a zarking recipe," said Ford. "I just want to be sure it's a real bird and not some kind of multidimensional cybernightmare."

He slowly stood up from his crouched position and started to brush himself down. He was still watching the bird, though.

"So," said Old Thrashbarg to Arthur. "Is it written that Bob shall once more take back unto himself the benediction of his once-given Sandwich Maker?"

Ford almost went back into his crouch.

"It's all right," muttered Arthur, "he always talks like that." Aloud, he said, "Ah, venerable Thrashbarg. Um, yes. I'm afraid I think I'm going to have to be popping off now. But young Drimple, my apprentice, will be a fine sandwich maker in my stead. He has the aptitude, a deep love of sandwiches and the skills he has acquired so far, though rudimentary as yet, will, in time, mature, and, er, well, I think he'll work out okay is what I'm trying to say."

Old Thrashbarg regarded him gravely. His old gray eyes moved sadly. He held his arms aloft, one still carrying a bobbing pikka bird, the other his staff.

"O Sandwich Maker from Bob!" he pronounced. He paused, furrowed his brow and sighed as he closed his eyes in pious contemplation. "Life," he said, "will be a very great deal less weird without you!"

Arthur was stunned.

"Do you know," he said, "I think that's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me?"

"Can we get on, please?" said Ford.

Something was already happening. The presence of the pikka bird at the end of Thrashbarg's outstretched arm was sending tremors of interest through the thundering herd. The odd head flicked momentarily in their direction. Arthur began to remember some of the Perfectly Normal Beast hunts he had witnessed. He recalled that as well as the hunter-matadors brandishing their capes there were always others standing behind them holding pikka birds. He had always assumed that, like him, they had just come along to watch.

Old Thrashbarg moved forward, a little closer to the rolling herd. Some of the Beasts were now tossing their heads back with interest at the sight of the pikka bird.

Old Thrashbarg's outstretched arms were trembling.

Only the pikka bird itself seemed to show no interest in what was going on. A few anonymous molecules of air nowhere in particular engaged all of its perky attention.

"Now!" exclaimed Old Thrashbarg at last. "Now you may work them with the towel!"

Arthur advanced with Ford's towel, moving the way the hunter-matadors did, with a kind of elegant strut that did not come at all naturally to him. But now he knew what to do and that it was right. He brandished and flicked the towel a few times, to be ready for the moment, and then he watched.

Some distance away he spotted the Beast he wanted. Head down, it was galloping toward him, right on the very edge of the herd. Old Thrashbarg twitched the bird, the Beast looked up, tossed its head, and then, just as its head was coming down again, Arthur flourished the towel in the Beast's line of sight. It tossed its head again in bemusement, and its eyes followed the movement of the towel.

He had got the Beast's attention.

From that moment on, it seemed the most natural thing to coax and draw the animal toward him. Its head was up, cocked slightly to one side. It was slowing to a canter and then a trot. A few seconds later the huge thing was standing there among them, snorting, panting, sweating and sniffing excitedly at the pikka bird, which appeared not to have noticed its arrival at all. With strange sorts of sweeping movements of his arms, Old Thrashbarg kept the pikka bird in front of the Beast, but always out of its reach and always downward. With strange sorts of sweeping movements of the towel, Arthur kept drawing the Beast's attention this way and that -- always downward.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so stupid in my life," muttered Ford to himself.

At last, the Beast dropped, bemused but docile, to its knees.

"Go!" whispered Old Thrashbarg, urgently, to Ford. "Go! Go now!"

Ford leapt up onto the great creature's back, scrabbling among its thick, knotty fur for purchase, grasping great handfuls of the stuff to hold him steady once he was in position.

"Now, Sandwich Maker! Go!" He performed some elaborate sign and ritual handshake which Arthur couldn't quite get the hang of because Old Thrashbarg had obviously made it up on the spur of the moment, then he pushed Arthur forward. Taking a deep breath, he clambered up behind Ford onto the great, hot, heaving back of the Beast and held on tight. Huge muscles the size of sea lions rippled and flexed beneath him.

Old Thrashbarg held the bird suddenly aloft. The Beast's head swiveled up to follow it. Thrashbarg pushed upward and upward repeatedly with his arms and with the pikka bird; and slowly, heavily, the Perfectly Normal Beast lurched up off its knees and stood, at last, swaying slightly. Its two riders held on fiercely and nervously.

Arthur gazed out over the sea of hurtling animals, straining in an attempt to see where it was they were going, but there was nothing but heat haze.

"Can you see anything?" he said to Ford.

"No." Ford twisted around to glance back, trying to see if there was any clue as to where they had come. Still, nothing.

Arthur shouted down at Thrashbarg.

"Do you know where they come from?" he called. "Or where they're going?"

"The domain of the King!" shouted Old Thrashbarg back.

"King?" shouted Arthur in surprise. "What King?" The Perfectly Normal Beast was swaying and rocking restlessly under him.

"What do you mean, what King?" shouted Old Thrashbarg. "The King."

"It's just that you never mentioned a King," shouted Arthur back, in some consternation.

"What?" shouted Old Thrashbarg. The thrumming of a thousand hooves was very hard to hear over, and the old man was concentrating on what he was doing.

Still holding the bird aloft, he led the Beast slowly around till it was once more parallel with the motion of its great herd. He moved forward. The Beast followed. He moved forward again. The Beast followed again. At last, the Beast was lumbering forward with a little momentum.

"I said you never mentioned a King!" shouted Arthur again.

"I didn't say a King," shouted Old Thrashbarg, "I said the King."

He drew back his arm and then hurled it forward with all his strength, casting the pikka bird up into the air above the herd. This seemed to catch the pikka bird completely by surprise, as it had obviously not been paying any attention at all to what was going on. It took it a moment or two to work out what was happening, then it unfurled its little wings, spread them out and flew.

"Go!" shouted Thrashbarg. "Go and meet your destiny, Sandwich Maker!"

Arthur wasn't so sure about wanting to meet his destiny as such. He just wanted to get to wherever it was they were going so he could get back off this creature again. He didn't feel at all safe up there. The Beast was gathering speed as it followed in the wake of the pikka bird. And then it was in at the fringes of the great tide of animals, and in a moment or two, with its head down, the pikka bird forgotten, it was running with the herd again and rapidly approaching the point at which the herd was vanishing into thin air. Arthur and Ford held on to the great monster for dear life, surrounded on all sides by hurtling mountains of bodies.

"Go! Ride that Beast!" shouted Thrashbarg. His distant voice reverberated faintly in their ears. "Ride that Perfectly Normal Beast! Ride it, ride it!"

Ford shouted in Arthur's ear, "Where did he say we were going?"

"He said something about a King," shouted Arthur in return, holding on desperately.

"What King?"

"That's what I said. He just said the King."

"I didn't know there was a the King," shouted Ford.

"Nor did I," shouted Arthur back.

"Except of course for the King," shouted Ford. "And I don't suppose he meant him."

"What King?" shouted Arthur.

The point of exit was almost upon them. Just ahead of them, Perfectly Normal Beasts were galloping into nothingness and vanishing.

"What do you mean, what King?" shouted Ford. "I don't know what King. I'm only saying that he couldn't possibly mean the King, so I don't know what he means."

"Ford, I don't know what you're talking about."

"So?" said Ford. Then with a sudden rush, the stars came on, turned and twisted around their heads, and then, just as suddenly, turned off again.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:16 pm

Chapter 21

Misty gray buildings loomed and flickered. They bounced up and down in a highly embarrassing way.

What sort of buildings were they?

What were they for? What did they remind her of?

It's so difficult to know what things are supposed to be when you suddenly turn up unexpectedly on a different world, which has a different culture, a different set of the most basic assumptions about life, and also incredibly dull and meaningless architecture.

The sky above the buildings was a cold and hostile black. The stars, which should have been blindingly brilliant points of light this far from the sun, were blurred and dulled by the thickness of the huge shielding bubble. Perspex or something like it. Something dull and heavy anyway.

Tricia wound the tape back again to the beginning.

She knew there was something slightly odd about it.

Well, in fact, there were about a million things that were slightly odd about it, but there was one that was nagging at her and she hadn't quite got it.

She sighed and yawned.

As she waited for the tape to rewind she cleared away some of the dirty polystyrene coffee cups that had accumulated on the editing desk and tipped them into the bin.

She was sitting in a small editing suite at a video production company in Soho. She had DO NOT DISTURB notices plastered all over the door and a block on all incoming calls at the switchboard. This was originally to protect her astonishing scoop, but now it was to protect her from embarrassment.

She would watch the tape all the way through again from the beginning. If she could bear to. She might do some fast forwarding here and there.

It was about four o'clock on Monday afternoon, and she had a kind of sick feeling. She was trying to work out what the cause of this slightly sick feeling was, and there was no shortage of candidates.

First of all, it had all come on top of the overnight flight from New York. The red-eye. Always a killer, that.

Then, being accosted by aliens on her lawn and flown to the planet Rupert. She was not sufficiently experienced in that sort of thing to be able to say for sure that that was always a killer, but she would be prepared to bet that those who went through it regularly cursed it. There were always stress charts being published in magazines. Fifty stress points for losing your job. Seventy-five points for a divorce or changing your hairstyle and so on. None of them ever mentioned being accosted on your lawn by aliens and then being flown to the planet Rupert, but she was sure it was worth a few dozen points.

It wasn't that the journey had been particularly stressful. It had been extremely dull in fact. Certainly it had been no more stressful than the trip she had just taken across the Atlantic and it had taken roughly the same time, about seven hours.

Well, that was pretty astounding, wasn't it? Flying to the outer limits of the solar system in the same time that it took to fly to New York meant they must have some fantastic unheard of form of propulsion in the ship. She quizzed her hosts about it and they agreed that it was pretty good.

"But how does it work?" she had demanded excitedly. She was still quite excited at the beginning of the trip.

She found that part of the tape and played it through to herself. The Grebulons, which is what they called themselves, were politely showing her which buttons they pressed to make the ship go.

"Yes, but what principle does it work on?" she heard herself demand, from behind the camera.

"Oh, you mean is it something like a warp drive or something like that?" they said.

"Yes," persisted Tricia. "What is it?"

"It probably is something of the kind," they said.

"Like what?"

"Warp drive, photon drive, something like that. You'd have to ask the flight engineer."

"Which one is he?"

"We don't know. We have all lost our minds, you see."

"Oh yes," said Tricia, a little faintly. "So you said. Um, how did you lose your minds, exactly, then?"

"We don't know," they said, patiently.

"Because you've lost your minds," echoed Tricia, glumly.

"Would you like to watch television? It is a long flight. We watch television. It is something we enjoy."

All of this riveting stuff was on the tape, and fine viewing it made. First of all the picture quality was extremely poor. Tricia didn't know why this was, exactly. She had a feeling that the Grebulons responded to a slightly different range of light frequencies, and that there had been a lot of ultraviolet around, which was mucking up the video camera. There were a lot of interference patterns and video snow as well. Probably something to do with the warp drive that none of them knew the first thing about.

So what she had on tape, essentially, was a bunch of slightly thin and discolored people sitting around watching televisions that were showing network broadcasts. She had also pointed the camera out of the very tiny viewport near her seat and got a nice, slightly streaky effect of stars. She knew it was real, but it would have taken a good three or four minutes to fake.

In the end she had decided to save her precious videotape for Rupert itself and had simply sat back and watched television with them. She even dozed off for a while.

So part of her sick feeling came from the sense that she had had all that time in an alien spacecraft of astounding technological design, and had spent most of it dozing in front of reruns of " M*A*S*H" and "Cagney and Lacey." But what else was there to do? She had taken some photos as well, of course, all of which had subsequently turned out to be badly fogged when she got them back from the chemist.

Another part of her sick feeling probably came from the landing on Rupert. This at least had been dramatic and hair-raising. The ship had come sweeping in over a dark and somber landscape, a terrain so desperately far removed from the heat and light of its parent sun, Sol, that it seemed like a map of the psychological scars of the mind of an abandoned child.

Lights blazed through the frozen darkness and guided the ship into the mouth of some kind of cave that seemed to bend itself open to accept the small craft.

Unfortunately, because of the angle of their approach, and the depth at which the small, thick viewport was set into the craft's skin, it hadn't been possible to get the video camera to point directly at any of it. She ran through that bit of the tape.

The camera was pointing directly at the sun.

This is normally very bad for a video camera. But when the sun is roughly a third of a billion miles away, it doesn't do any harm. In fact it hardly makes any impression at all. You just get a small point of light right in the middle of the frame, which could be just about anything. It was just one star in a multitude.

Tricia fast-forwarded.

Ah. Now, the next bit had been quite promising. They had emerged out of the ship into a vast, gray hangarlike structure. This was clearly alien technology on a dramatic scale. Huge gray buildings under the dark canopy of the Perspex bubble. These were the same buildings that she had been looking at at the end of the tape. She had taken more footage of them while leaving Rupert a few hours later, just as she was about to reboard the spacecraft for the journey home. What did they remind her of?

Well, as much as anything else they reminded her of a film set from just about any low-budget science-fiction movie of the last twenty years. A lot larger, of course, but it all looked thoroughly tawdry and unconvincing on the video screen. Apart from the dreadful picture quality, she had been struggling with the unexpected effects of gravity that was appreciably lower than on Earth, and she had found it very hard to keep the camera from bouncing around in an embarrassingly unprofessional way. It was therefore impossible to make out any detail.

And now here was the Leader coming forward to greet her, smiling and sticking his hand out.

That was all he was called. The Leader.

None of the Grebulons had names, largely because they couldn't think of any. Tricia discovered that some of them had thought of calling themselves after characters from television programs they had picked up from Earth, but hard as they had tried to call each other Wayne and Bobby and Chuck, some remnant of something lurking deep in the cultural subconscious they had brought with them from the distant stars that were their home must have told them that this really wasn't right and wouldn't do.

The Leader had looked pretty much like all the others. Possibly a bit less thin. He said how much he enjoyed her shows on TV, that he was her greatest fan, how glad he was that she had been able to come along and visit them on Rupert and how much everybody had been looking forward to her coming, how he hoped the flight had been comfortable and so on. There was no particular sense she could detect of being any kind of emissary from the stars or anything.

Certainly, watching it now on videotape, he just looked like some guy in costume and makeup, standing in front of a set that wouldn't hold up too well if you leaned against it.

She sat staring at the screen with her face cradled in her hands, and shaking her head in slow bewilderment.

This was awful.

Not only was this bit awful but she knew what was coming next. It was the bit where the Leader asked if she was hungry after the flight, and would she perhaps like to come and have something to eat? They could discuss things over a little dinner.

She could remember what she was thinking at this point.

Alien food.

***

How was she going to deal with it?

Would she actually have to eat it? Would she have access to some sort of paper napkin she could spit stuff out into? Wouldn't there be all sorts of differential immunity problems?

It turned out to be hamburgers.

Not only did it turn out to be hamburgers, but the hamburgers it turned out to be were very clearly and obviously McDonald's hamburgers which had been reheated in a microwave. It wasn't just the look of them. It wasn't just the smell. It was the polystyrene clamshell packages they came in which had "McDonald's" printed all over them.

"Eat! Enjoy!" said the Leader. "Nothing is too good for our honored guest!"

This was in his private apartment. Tricia looked around it in bewilderment that had bordered on fear but had nevertheless got it all on videotape.

The apartment had a water bed in it. And a Midi hi-fi. And one of those tall electrically illuminated glass things that sit on tabletops and appear to have large globules of sperm floating in them. The walls were covered in velvet.

The Leader lounged against a brown corduroy beanbag chair and squirted breath freshener into his mouth.

Tricia began to feel very scared, suddenly. She was farther from Earth than any human being, to her knowledge, had ever been, and she was with an alien creature who was lounging against a brown corduroy beanbag and squirting breath freshener into his mouth.

She didn't want to make any false moves. She didn't want to alarm him. But there were things she had to know.

"How did you ... where did you get ... this?" she asked, gesturing around the room nervously.

"The decor?" asked the Leader. "Do you like it? It is very sophisticated. We are a sophisticated people, we Grebulons. We buy sophisticated consumer durables ... by mail order."

Tricia had nodded tremendously slowly at this point.

"Mail order ..." she had said.

The Leader chuckled. It was one of those dark chocolate, reassuring, silky chuckles.

"I think you think they ship it here. No! Ha-ha! We have arranged a special box number in New Hampshire. We make regular pick-up visits. Ha-ha!" He lounged back in a relaxed fashion on his beanbag, reached for a reheated French fry and nibbled the end of it, an amused smile playing across his lips.

Tricia could feel her brain beginning to bubble very slightly. She kept the video camera going.

"How do you, well, er, how do you pay for these wonderful ... things?"

The Leader chuckled again.

"American Express," he said with a nonchalant shrug.

Tricia nodded slowly again. She knew that they gave cards exclusively to just about anybody.

"And these?" she said, holding up the hamburger he had presented her with.

"It is very easy," said the Leader. "We stand in line."

Again, Tricia realized with a cold, trickling feeling going down her spine, that explained an awful lot.

***

She hit the fast-forward button again. There was nothing of any use here at all. It was all nightmarish madness. She could have faked something that would have looked more convincing.

Another sick feeling began to creep over her as she watched this hopeless, awful tape, and she began, with slow horror, to realize that it must be the answer.

She must be ...

She shook her head and tried to get a grip.

An overnight flight going east ... The sleeping pills she had taken to get her through it. The vodka she'd had to set the sleeping pills going.

What else? Well. There was seventeen years of obsession that a glamorous man with two heads, one of which was disguised as a parrot in a cage, had tried to pick her up at a party but had then impatiently flown off to another planet in a flying saucer. There suddenly seemed to be all sorts of bothersome aspects to that idea that had never really occurred to her. Never occurred to her. In seventeen years.

She stuffed her fist into her mouth.

She must get help.

Then there had been Eric Bartlett banging on about alien spacecraft landing on her lawn. And before that ... New York had been, well, very hot and stressful. The high hopes and the bitter disappointment. The astrology stuff.

She must have had a nervous breakdown.

That was it. She was exhausted and she had had a nervous breakdown and had started hallucinating some time after she got home. She had dreamed the whole story. An alien race of people dispossessed of their own lives and histories, stuck on a remote outpost of our solar system and filling their cultural vacuum with our cultural junk. Ha! It was nature's way of telling her to check into an expensive medical establishment very quickly.

She was very, very sick. She looked at how many large coffees she'd got through as well, and realized how heavily she was breathing and how fast.

Part of solving any problem, she told herself, was realizing that you had it. She started to bring her breathing under control. She had caught herself in time. She had seen where she was. She was on the way back from whatever psychological precipice she had been on the brink of. She started to calm down, to calm down, to calm down. She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes.

After a while, now that she was breathing normally again, she opened them again.

So where had she got this tape from, then?

* * *

It was still running.

All right. It was a fake.

She had faked it herself, that was it.

It must have been her who had faked it because her voice was all over the sound track, asking questions. Every now and then the camera would swing down at the end of a shot and she would see her own feet in her own shoes. She had faked it and she had no recollection of faking it or any idea of why she had done it.

Her breathing was getting hectic again as she watched the snowy, flickering screen.

She must still be hallucinating.

She shook her head, trying to make it go away. She had no memory of faking any of this very obviously fake stuff. On the other hand she did seem to have memories that were very like the faked stuff. She continued to watch in a bewildered trance.

***

The person she imagined to be called the Leader was questioning her about astrology and she was answering smoothly and calmly. Only she could detect the well-disguised rising panic in her own voice.

The Leader pushed a button and a maroon velvet wall slid aside, revealing a large bank of flat TV monitors.

Each of the monitors was showing a kaleidoscope of different images: a few seconds from a game show, a few seconds from a cop show, a few seconds from a supermarket warehouse security system, a few seconds from somebody's holiday movies, a few seconds of sex, a few seconds of news, a few seconds of comedy. It was clear that the Leader was very proud of all this stuff, and he was waving his hands like a conductor while continuing at the same time to talk complete gibberish.

Another wave of his hands, and all the screens cleared to form one giant computer screen showing in diagrammatic form all the planets of the solar system, mapped out against a background of the stars in their constellations. The display was completely static.

"We have great skills," the Leader was saying. "Great skills in computation, in cosmological trigonometry, in three-dimensional navigational calculus. Great skills. Great, great skills. Only we have lost them. It is too bad. We like to have skills, only they have gone. They are in space somewhere, hurtling. With our names and the details of our homes and loved ones. Please," he said, gesturing her forward to sit at the computer's console, "be skillful for us."

Obviously what happened next was that Tricia quickly set the video camera up on its tripod to capture the whole scene. She then walked into the shot herself and sat down calmly in front of the giant computer display, spent a few moments familiarizing herself with the interface and then started smoothly and competently to pretend that she had the faintest idea what she was doing.

It hadn't been that difficult, in fact.

She was, after all, a mathematician and astrophysicist by training and a television presenter by experience, and what science she had forgotten over the years she was more than capable of making up by bluffing.

The computer she was working on was clear evidence that the Grebulons came from a far more advanced and sophisticated culture than their current vacuous state suggested, and with its aid she was able, within about half an hour, to cobble together a rough working model of the solar system.

It wasn't particularly accurate or anything, but it looked good. The planets were whizzing around in reasonably good simulations of their orbits, and you could watch the movement of the whole piece of virtual cosmological clockwork from any point within the system -- very roughly. You could watch from Earth, you could watch from Mars, etc. You could watch from the surface of the planet Rupert. Tricia had been quite impressed with herself, but also very impressed with the computer system she was working on. The task would probably have taken a year or so of programming, using a computer work-station on Earth.

When she was finished, the Leader came up behind her and watched. He was very pleased and delighted with what she had achieved.

"Good," he said. "And now, please, I would like you to demonstrate how to use the system you have just designed to translate the information in this book for me."

Quietly he put a book down in front of her.

It was You and Your Planets by Gail Andrews.

***

Tricia stopped the tape again.

She was definitely feeling very wobbly indeed. The feeling that she easier or clearer in her head.

She pushed her seat back from the editing desk and wondered what to do. Years ago she had left the field of astronomical research because she knew, without any doubt whatsoever, that she had met a being from another planet. At a party. And she had also known, without any doubt whatsoever, that she would have made herself a laughingstock if she had ever said so. But how could she study cosmology and not say anything about the single most important thing she knew about it? She had done the only thing she could do. She had left.

Now she worked in television and the same thing had happened again.

She had videotape, actual videotape of the most astounding story in the history of, well, anything: a forgotten outpost of an alien civilization marooned on the outermost planet of our own solar system.

She had the story.

She had been there.

She had seen it.

She had the videotape, for God's sake.

And if she ever showed it to anybody, she would be a laughingstock.

***

How could she prove any of this? It wasn't even worth thinking about. The whole thing was a nightmare from virtually any angle she cared to look at it from. Her head was beginning to throb.

She had some aspirin in her bag. She went out of the little editing suite to the water dispenser down the corridor. She took the aspirin and drank several cups of water.

The place seemed to be very quiet. Usually there were more people bustling about the place, or at least some people bustling around the place. She popped her head around the door of the editing suite next to hers but there was no one there.

She had gone rather overboard keeping people out of her own suite. DO NOT DISTURB, the notice read. DO NOT EVEN THINK OF ENTERING. I DON'T CARE WHAT IT IS. GO AWAY. I'M BUSY!

When she went back in she noticed that the message light on her phone extension was winking and wondered how long it had been on.

"Hello?" she said to the receptionist.

"Oh, Miss McMillan, I'm so glad you called. Everybody's been trying to reach you. Your TV company. They're desperate to reach you. Can you call them?"

"Why didn't you put them through?" said Tricia.

"You said I wasn't to put anybody through for anything. You said I was to deny that you were even here. I didn't know what to do. I came up to give you a message, but ..."

"Okay," said Tricia, cursing herself. She phoned her office.

"Tricia! Where the hemorrhaging fuck are you?"

"At the editing ..."

"They said ..."

"I know. What's up?"

"What's up? Only a bloody alien spaceship!"

"What? Where?"

"Regent's Park. Big silver job. Some girl with a bird. She speaks English and throws rocks at people and wants someone to repair her watch. Just get there."

***

Tricia stared at it.

It wasn't a Grebulon ship. Not that she was suddenly an expert on extraterrestrial craft, but this was a sleek and beautiful silver and white thing about the size of a large oceangoing yacht, which is what it most resembled. Next to this, the structures of the huge half- dismantled Grebulon ship looked like gun turrets on a battleship. Gun turrets. That's what those blank gray buildings had looked like. And what was odd about them was that by the time she passed them again on her way to reboarding the small Grebulon craft, they had moved. These things flitted briefly through her head as she ran from the taxi to meet her camera crew.

"Where's the girl?" she shouted above the noise of helicopters and police sirens.

"There!" shouted the producer while the sound engineer hurried to clip a radio mike to her. "She says her mother and father came from here in some parallel dimension or something like that, and she's got her father's watch, and ... I don't know. What can I tell you? Husk it. Ask her what it feels like to be from outer space."

"Thanks a lot, Ted," muttered Tricia. She checked that her mike was securely clipped, gave the engineer some level, took a deep breath, tossed her hair back and switched into her role of professional reporter, on home ground. ready for anything.

At least, nearly anything.

She turned to look for the girl. That must be her, with the wild hair and wild eyes. The girl turned toward her. And stared.

"Mother!" she screamed, and started to hurl rocks at Tricia.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:16 pm

Chapter 22

Daylight exploded around them. Hot, heavy sun. A desert plain stretched out ahead in a haze of heat. They thundered out into it.

"Jump!" shouted Ford Prefect.

"What?" shouted Arthur Dent, holding on for dear life.

There was no reply.

"What did you say?" shouted Arthur again, and then realized that Ford Prefect was no longer there. He looked around in panic and started to slip. Realizing he couldn't hold on any longer, he pushed himself sideways as hard as he could and rolled into a ball as he hit the ground, rolling, rolling away from the pounding hooves.

What a day, he thought, as he started furiously coughing dust up out of his lungs. He hadn't had a day as bad as this since the Earth had been blown up. He staggered up to his knees, and then up to his feet and started to run away. He didn't know what from or what to, but running away seemed a prudent move.

He ran straight into Ford Prefect, who was standing there surveying the scene.

"Look," said Ford. "That is precisely what we need."

Arthur coughed up some more dust and wiped some other dust out of his hair and eyes. He turned, panting, to look at what Ford was looking at.

It didn't look much like the domain of a King, or the King, or any kind of King. It looked quite inviting, though.

First, the context. This was a desert world. The dusty earth was packed hard and had neatly bruised every last bit of Arthur that hadn't been already bruised by the festivities of the previous night. Some way ahead of them were great cliffs that looked like sandstone, eroded by the wind and what little rain presumably fell in these parts into wild and fantastic shapes, which matched the fantastic shapes of the giant cacti that sprouted here and there from the arid, orange landscape.

For a moment Arthur dared to hope they had unexpectedly arrived in Arizona or New Mexico or maybe South Dakota, but there was plenty of evidence that this was not the case.

The Perfectly Normal Beasts, for a start, were still thundering, still pounding. They swept up in their tens of thousands from the far horizon, disappeared completely for about half a mile, then swept off, thundering and pounding to the distant horizon opposite.

Then there were the spaceships parked in front of the bar & grill. Ah. The Domain of the King Bar & Grill. Bit of an anticlimax, thought Arthur to himself.

In fact only one of the spaceships was parked in front of the Domain of the King Bar & Grill. The other three were in a parking lot by the side of the bar & grill. It was the one in front that caught the eye, though. Wonderful-looking thing. Wild fins all over it, far, far too much chrome all over the fins and most of the actual bodywork painted in a shocking pink. It crouched there like an immense brooding insect and looked as if it was at any moment about to jump on something about a mile away.

The Domain of the King Bar & Grill was slap bang in the middle of where the Perfectly Normal Beasts would be charging if they didn't take a minor transdimensional diversion on the way. It stood on its own, undisturbed. An ordinary bar & grill. A truck-stop diner. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Quiet. The Domain of the King.

"Gonna buy that spaceship," said Ford, quietly.

"Buy it?" said Arthur. "That's not like you. I thought you usually pinched them."

"Sometimes you have to show a little respect," said Ford.

"Probably have to show a little cash as well," said Arthur. "How the hell much is that thing worth?"

With a tiny movement, Ford brought his Dine-O-Charge credit card up out of his pocket. Arthur noticed that the hand holding it was trembling very slightly.

"I'll teach them to make me the restaurant critic ..." breathed Ford.

"What do you mean?" asked Arthur.

"I'll show you," said Ford with a nasty glint in his eye. "Let's go and run up a few expenses, shall we?"

***

"Couple beers," said Ford, "and, I dunno, a couple bacon rolls, whatever you got -- oh, and that pink thing outside."

He flipped his card on the top of the bar and looked around casually.

There was a kind of silence.

There hadn't been a lot of noise before, but there was definitely a kind of silence now. Even the distant thunder of the Perfectly Normal Beasts carefully avoiding the Domain of the King seemed suddenly a little muted.

"Just rode into town," said Ford as if nothing was odd about that or about anything else. He was leaning against the bar at an extravagantly relaxed angle.

There were about three other customers in the place, sitting at tables, nursing beers. About three. Some people would say there were exactly three, but it wasn't that kind of a place, not the kind of a place that you felt like being that specific in. There was some big guy setting up some stuff on the little stage as well. Old drum kit. Couple guitars. Country and Western kind of stuff.

The barman was not moving very swiftly to get in Ford's order. In fact he wasn't moving at all.

"Not sure that the pink thing's for sale," he said at last in the kind of accent that went on for quite a long time.

"Sure it is," said Ford. "How much you want?"

"Well ..."

"Think of a number, I'll double it."

"Tain't mine to sell," said the barman.

"So, whose?"

The barman nodded at the big guy setting up on the stage. Big fat guy, moving slow, balding.

Ford nodded. He grinned.

"Okay," he said. "Get the beers, get the rolls. Keep the tab open."

***

Arthur sat at the bar and rested. He was used to not knowing what was going on. He felt comfortable with it. The beer was pretty good and made him a little sleepy, which he didn't mind at all. The bacon rolls were not bacon rolls. They were Perfectly Normal Beast rolls. He exchanged a few professional roll-making remarks with the barman and just let Ford get on with whatever Ford wanted to do.

"Okay," said Ford, returning to his stool. "It's cool. We got the pink thing."

The barman was very surprised. "He's selling it to you?"

"He's giving it to us for free," said Ford, taking a gnaw at his roll.

"Hey, no, keep the tab open, though. We have some items to add to it. Good roll."

He took a deep pull of beer.

"Good beer," he added. "Good ship, too," he said, eyeing the big pink and chrome insectlike thing, bits of which could be seen through windows of the bar. "Good everything, pretty much. You know," he said, sitting back, reflectively, "it's at times like this that you kind of wonder if it's worth worrying about the fabric of space-time and the causal integrity of the multidimensional probability matrix and the potential collapse of all waveforms in the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash and all that sort of stuff that's been bugging me. Maybe I feel that what the big guy says is right. Just let it all go. What does it matter? Let it go."

"Which big guy?" said Arthur.

Ford just nodded toward the stage. The big guy was saying, "One, two" into the mike a couple of times. Couple other guys were on the stage now. Drums. Guitar.

The barman, who had been silent for a moment or two, said, "You say he's letting you have his ship?"

"Yeah," said Ford. "'Let it all go' is what he said. 'Take the ship. Take it with my blessing. Be good to her.' I will be good to her."

He took a pull at his beer again.

"Like I was saying," he went on. "It's at times like this that you kind of think, let it all go. But then you think of guys like InfiniDim Enterprises and you think, they are not going to get away with it. They are going to suffer. It is my sacred and holy duty to see those guys suffer. Here, let me put something on the tab for the singer. I asked for a special request and we agreed. It's to go on the tab, okay?"

"Okay," said the barman, cautiously. Then he shrugged. "Okay, however you want to do it. How much?"

Ford named a figure. The barman fell over among the bottles and glasses. Ford vaulted quickly over the bar to check that he was all right and help him back up to his feet. He'd cut his finger and his elbow a bit and was feeling a little woozy but was otherwise fine. The big guy started to sing. The barman hobbled off with Ford's credit card to get authorization.

"Is there stuff going on here that I don't know about?" said Arthur to Ford.

"Isn't there usually?" said Ford.

"No need to be like that," said Arthur. He began to wake up. "Shouldn't we be going?" he said, suddenly. "Will that ship get us to Earth?

"Sure will," said Ford.

"That's where Random will be going!" said Arthur with a start. "We can follow her! But ... er ..."

Ford let Arthur get on with thinking things out for himself while he got out his old edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

"But where are we on the probability axis thing?" said Arthur. "Will the Earth be there or not there? I spent so much time looking for it. All I found was planets that were a bit like it or not at all like it, though it was clearly the right place because of the continents. The worst version was called NowWhat, where I got bitten by some wretched little animal. That's how they communicated, you know, by biting each other. Bloody painful. Then half the time, of course, the Earth isn't even there because it's been blown up by the bloody Vogons. How much sense am I making?"

Ford didn't comment. He was listening to something. He passed the Guide over to Arthur and pointed at the screen. The active entry read "Earth. Mostly harmless."

"You mean it's there!" said Arthur, excitedly. "The Earth is there! That's where Random will be going! The bird was showing her the Earth in the rainstorm!"

Ford motioned Arthur to shout a little less loudly. He was listening.

Arthur was growing impatient. He'd heard bar singers sing "Love Me Tender" before. He was a bit surprised to hear it here, right in the middle of wherever the hell this was, certainly not Earth, but then things tended not to surprise him these days as much as formerly. The singer was quite good, as bar singers went, if you liked that sort of thing, but Arthur was getting fretful.

He glanced at his watch. This only served to remind him that he didn't have his watch anymore. Random had it, or at least the remains of it.

"Don't you think we should be going?" he said, insistently.

"Shhh!" said Ford. "I paid to hear this song." He seemed to have tears in his eyes, which Arthur found a bit disturbing. He'd never seen Ford moved by anything other than very, very strong drink. Probably the dust. He waited, tapping his fingers irritably, out of time with the music.

The song ended. The singer went on to do "Heartbreak Hotel."

"Anyway," Ford whispered, "I've got to review the restaurant."

"What?"

"I have to write a review."

"Write a review? Of this place?"

"Filing the review validates the expenses claim. I've fixed it so that it happens completely automatically and untraceably. This bill is going to need some validation," he added, quietly, staring into his beer with a nasty smirk.

"For a couple of beers and a roll?"

"And a tip for the singer."

"Why, how much did you tip him?"

Ford named a figure again.

"I don't know how much that is," said Arthur. "What's it worth in pounds sterling? What would it buy you?"

"It would probably buy you, roughly ... er ..." Ford screwed his eyes up as he did some calculations in his head. "Switzerland," he aid at last. He picked up his Hitchhiker's Guide and started to type.

Arthur nodded intelligently. There were times when he wished he understood what on earth Ford was talking about, and other times, like now, when he felt it was probably safer not even to try. He looked over Ford's shoulder. "This isn't going to take long, is it?" he said.

"Nah," said Ford. "Piece of piss. Just mention that the rolls were quite good, the beer good and cold, local wildlife nicely eccentric, the bar singer the best in the known universe and that's about it. Doesn't need much. Just a validation."

He touched an area on the screen marked "ENTER" and the message vanished into the Sub-Etha.

"You thought the singer was pretty good, then?"

"Yeah," said Ford. The barman was returning with a piece of paper, which seemed to be trembling in his hand.

He pushed it over to Ford with a kind of nervous, reverential twitch.

"Funny thing," said the barman. "The system rejected it first couple times. Can't say it surprised me." Beads of sweat were standing on his brow. "Then suddenly it's, Oh yeah, that's okay, and the system ... er, validates it. Just like that. You wanna ... sign it?"

Ford scanned the form quickly. He sucked his teeth. "This is going to hurt InfiniDim a lot," he said, with an appearance of concern. "Oh well," he added softly, "screw 'em."

He signed with a flourish and handed it back to the barman.

"More money," he said, "than the Colonel made for him in an entire career of doing crap movies and casino gigs. Just for doing what he does best. Standing up and singing in a bar. And he negotiated it himself. I think this is a good moment for him. Tell him I said thanks and buy him a drink." He tossed a few coins on the bar. The barman pushed them away.

"I don't think that's necessary," he said, slightly hoarsely.

"'Tis to me," said Ford. "Okay, we are outta here."

***

They stood out in the heat and the dust and looked at the big pink and chrome thing with amazement and admiration. Or, at least Ford looked at it with amazement and admiration.

Arthur just looked at it. "You don't think it's a bit overdone, do you?"

He said it again when they climbed inside it. The seats and quite a lot of the controls were covered in fine fur skin or suede. There was a big gold monogram on the main control panel which just read "EP."

"You know," said Ford as he fired up the ship's engines, "I asked him if it was true that he had been abducted by aliens, and you know what he said?"

"Who?" said Arthur.

"The King."

"Which King? Oh, we've had this conversation, haven't we?"

"Never mind," said Ford. "For what it's worth, he said no. He went of his own accord."

"I'm still not sure who we're talking about," said Arthur.

Ford shook his head. "Look," he said, "there are some tapes over in the compartment to your left. Why don't you choose some music and put it on?"

"Okay," said Arthur, and flipped through the cartons. "Do you like Elvis Presley?" he said.

"Yeah, I do as a matter of fact," said Ford. "Now. I hope this machine can leap like it looks like it can." He engaged the main drive.

"Yeeehaah!" shouted Ford as they shot upward at face-tearing speed.

It could.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 30832
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

PreviousNext

Return to Fiction

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests

cron