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


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:04 pm

Chapter 35

They went to Arthur's house in the West Country, shoved a couple of towels and stuff in a bag, and then sat down to do what every galactic hitchhiker ends up spending most of his time doing.

They waited for a flying saucer to come by.

"Friend of mine did this for fifteen years," said Arthur one night as they sat forlornly watching the sky.

"Who was that?"

"Called Ford Prefect."

He caught himself doing something he had never really expected to do again.

He wondered where Ford Prefect was.

By an extraordinary coincidence the following day there were two reports in the paper, one concerning the most astonishing incident with a flying saucer, and the other about a series of unseemly riots in pubs.

Ford Prefect turned up the day after that looking hungover and complaining that Arthur never answered the phone.

In fact he looked extremely ill, not merely as if he'd been pulled through a hedge backward, but as if the hedge was being simultaneously pulled backward through a combine harvester. He staggered into Arthur's sitting room, waving aside all offers of support, which was an error, because the effort of waving caused him to lose his balance altogether and Arthur eventually had to drag him to the sofa.

"Thank you," said Ford, "thank you very much. Have you ..." he said, and fell asleep for three hours.

" ... the faintest idea," he continued suddenly, when he revived, "how hard it is to tap into the British phone system from the Pleiades? I can see that you haven't, so I'll tell you," he said, "over the very large mug of black coffee that you are about to make me."

He followed Arthur wobbily into the kitchen.

"Stupid operators keep asking you where you're calling from and you try and tell them Letchworth and they say you couldn't be if you're coming in on that circuit. What are you doing?"

"Making you some black coffee."

"Oh." Ford seemed oddly disappointed. He looked about the place forlornly.

"What's this?" he said.

"Rice Krispies."

"And this?"


"I see," said Ford, solemnly, and put the two items back down, on top of the other, but that didn't seem to balance properly, so he put the other on top of the one and that seemed to work.

"A little space-lagged," he said. "What was I saying?"

"About not phoning from Letchworth."

"I wasn't. I explained this to the lady. 'Bugger Letchworth,' I said, 'if that's your attitude. I am in fact calling from a sales scoutship of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, currently on the sub-light-speed leg of a journey between the stars known to your world, though not necessarily to you, dear lady.' I said 'dear lady,' "explained Ford Prefect, "because I didn't want her to be offended by my implication that she was an ignorant cretin --"

"Tactful," said Arthur Dent.

"Exactly," said Ford, "tactful."

He frowned.

"Space-lag," he said, "is very bad for sub-clauses. You'll have to assist me again," he continued, "by reminding me what I was talking about."

"'Between the stars,'" said Arthur, "'known to your world, though not necessarily to you, dear lady, as --'"

"Pleiades Epsilon and Pleiades Zeta," concluded Ford triumphantly. "This conversation lark is quite a gas, isn't it?"

"Have some coffee."

"Thank you, no. 'And the reason,' I said, 'why I am bothering you with it rather than just dialing direct as I could, because we have some pretty sophisticated telecommunications equipment out here in the Pleiades, I can tell you, is that the penny-pinching son of a starbeast piloting this son of a starbeast starship insists that I call collect. Can you believe that?'"

"And could she?"

"I don't know. She had hung up," said Ford, "by this time. So! What do you suppose," he asked fiercely, "I did next?"

"I've no idea, Ford," said Arthur.

"Pity," said Ford, "I was hoping you could remind me. I really hate those guys, you know. They really are the creeps of the cosmos, buzzing round the celestial infinite with their junky little machines that never work properly or, when they do, perform functions that no sane man would require of them and," he added savagely, "go beep to tell you when they've done it!"

This was perfectly true, and a very respectable view widely held by right-thinking people, who are largely recognizable as being right-thinking people by the mere fact that they hold this view.

The Hitchhiker s Guide to the Galaxy, in a moment of reasoned lucidity which is almost unique among its current tally of five million, nine hundred and seventy-three thousand, five hundred and nine pages, says of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation products that "it is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all.

"In other words -- and this is the rock-solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxywide success is founded -- their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."

"And this guy," ranted Ford, "was on a drive to sell more of them! His five-year mission to seek out and explore strange new worlds, and sell Advanced Music Substitute Systems to their restaurants, elevators, and wine bars! Or if they didn't have restaurants, elevators, and wine bars yet, to artificially accelerate their civilization growth until they bloody well did have! Where's that coffee!"

"I threw it away."

"Make some more. I have now remembered what I did next. I saved civilization as we know. I knew it was something like that."

He stumbled determinedly back into the sitting room, where he seemed to carry on talking to himself, tripping over the furniture and making beep-beep noises.

A couple of minutes later, wearing his very placid face, Arthur followed him.

Ford looked stunned.

"Where have you been?" he demanded.

"Making some coffee," said Arthur, still wearing his very placid face. He had long ago realized that the only way of being in Ford's company successfully was to keep a large stock of very placid faces and wear them at all times.

"You missed the best bit!" raged Ford. "You missed the bit where I jumped the guy! Now," he said, "I shall have to jump him all over again!"

He hurled himself recklessly at a chair and broke it.

"It was better," he said sullenly, "last time," and waved vaguely in the direction of another broken chair which he had already got trussed up on the dining table.

"I see," said Arthur, casting a placid eye over the trussed-up wreckage, "and, er, what are all the ice cubes for?"

"What?" screamed Ford. "What? You missed that bit, too? That's the suspended animation facility! I put the guy in the suspended animation facility. Well, I had to, didn't I?"

"So it would seem," said Arthur, in his placid voice.

"Don't touch that!!!" yelled Ford.

Arthur, who was about to replace the phone, which was for some mysterious reason lying on the table, off the hook, paused, placidly.

"Okay," said Ford, calming down, "listen to it."

Arthur put the phone to his ear.

"It's the speaking clock," he said.

"Beep, beep, beep," said Ford, "beep, beep, beep."

"I see," said Arthur, with every ounce of placidness he could muster. "Beep, beep, beep," said Ford, "is exactly what is being heard all over that guy's ship, while he sleeps, in the ice, going slowly round a little known moon of Sesefras Magna. The London speaking clock!"

"I see," said Arthur again, and decided that now was the time to ask the big one.

"Why?" he said, acidly.

"With a bit of luck," said Ford, "the phone bill will bankrupt the buggers."

He threw himself, sweating, onto the sofa.

"Anyway," he said, "dramatic arrival, don't you think?"
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:04 pm

Chapter 36

The flying saucer in which Ford Prefect had stowed away had stunned the world.

Finally there was no doubt, no possibility of mistake, no hallucinations, no mysterious CIA agents found floating in reservoirs.

This time it was real, it was definite. It was quite definitely definite.

It had come down with a wonderful disregard for anything beneath it and crushed a large area of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, including much of Harrods.

The thing was massive, nearly a mile across, some said, dull silver in color, pitted, scorched, and disfigured with the scars of unnumbered vicious space battles fought with savage forces by the light of suns unknown to man.

A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nichols, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower.

After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.

It held up a hand.

"I come in peace," it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, "take me to your Lizard."

Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.

"It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see ..."

"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"

"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

"I did," said Ford. "It is."

"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"

"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"


"I said," said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, "have you got any gin?"

"I'll look. Tell me about the lizards."

Ford shrugged again.

"Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them," he said. "They're completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it."

"But that's terrible," said Arthur.

"Listen, bud," said Ford, "if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say 'That's terrible' I wouldn't be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin. But I haven't and I am. Anyway, what are you looking so placid and moon-eyed for? Are you in love?"

Arthur said yes, he was, and said it placidly.

"With someone who knows where the gin bottle is? Do I get to meet her?"

He did because Fenchurch came in at that moment with a pile of newspapers she'd been into the village to buy. She stopped in astonishment at the wreckage on the table and the wreckage from Betelgeuse on the sofa. "Where's the gin?" said Ford to Fenchurch, and to Arthur, "What happened to Trillian, by the way?"

"Er, this is Fenchurch," said Arthur, awkwardly. "There was nothing with Trillian, you must have seen her last."

"Oh yeah," said Ford, "she went off with Zaphod somewhere, They had some kids or something. At least," he added, "I think that's what they were. Zaphod's calmed down a lot, you know."

"Really?" said Arthur, clustering hurriedly round Fenchurch to relieve her of the shopping.

"Yeah," said Ford, "at least one of his heads is now saner than an emu on acid."

"Arthur, who is this?" said Fenchurch.

"Ford Prefect," said Arthur. "I may have mentioned him in passing."
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:04 pm

Chapter 37

For a total of three days and nights the giant silver robot stood in stunned amazement straddling the remains of Knightsbridge, swaying slightly and trying to work out a number of things.

Government deputations came to see it, ranting journalists by the truckload asked each other questions on the air about what they thought of it all, flights of fighter bombers tried pathetically to attack it -- but no lizards appeared. It scanned the horizon slowly.

At night it was at its most spectacular, floodlit by the teams of television crews who covered it continuously as it continuously did nothing.

It thought and thought and eventually reached a conclusion.

It would have to send out its service robots.

It should have thought of that before, but it was having a number of problems.

The tiny flying robots came screeching out of the hatchway one afternoon in a terrifying cloud of metal. They roamed the surrounding terrain, frantically attacking some things and defending others.

One of them at last found a pet shop with some lizards, but it instantly defended the pet shop for democracy so savagely that little in the area survived.

A turning point came when a crack team of flying screechers discovered the zoo in Regent's Park, and most particularly the reptile house.

Learning a little caution from their previous mistakes in the pet shop, the flying drills and fretsaws brought some of the larger and fatter iguanas to the giant silver robot, who tried to conduct high-level talks with them.

Eventually the robot announced to the world that despite the full, frank, and wide-ranging exchange of views, the high-level talks had broken down, the lizards had been retired, and that it, the robot, would take a short holiday somewhere and for some reason selected Bournemouth.

Ford Prefect, watching it on TV, nodded, laughed, and had another beer. Immediate preparations were made for its departure.

The flying toolkits screeched and sawed and drilled and fried things with light throughout the day and all through the nighttime, and in the morning, stunningly, a giant mobile gantry started to roll westward on several roads simultaneously with the robot standing on it, supported within the gantry.

Westward it crawled, like a strange carnival buzzed around by its servants and helicopters and news coaches, scything through the land until at last it came to Bournemouth, where the robot slowly freed itself of its transport system's embraces and went and lay for ten days on the beach.

It was, of course, by far the most exciting thing that had ever happened to Bournemouth.

Crowds gathered daily along the perimeter which was staked out and guarded as the robot's recreation area, and tried to see what it was doing.

Motorboats prowled up and down the shore to see what it was doing.

It was doing nothing. It was lying on the beach. It was lying a little awkwardly on its face.

It was a journalist from a local paper who, late one night, managed to do what no one else in the world so far had managed, which was to strike up a brief intelligible conversation with one of the service robots guarding the perimeter.

It was an extraordinary breakthrough.

"I think there's a story in it," confided the journalist over a cigarette shared through the steel-link fence, "but it needs a good local angle. I've got a little list of questions here," he went on, rummaging awkwardly in an inner pocket. "Perhaps you could get him, it, whatever you call him, to run through them quickly."

The little flying ratchet screwdriver said it would see what it could do and screeched off.

A reply was never forthcoming.

Curiously, however, the questions on the piece of paper more or less exactly matched the questions that were going through the massive battle-scarred industrial-quality circuits of the robot's mind. They were these:

"How do you feel about being a robot?"

"How does it feel to be from outer space?" and,

"How do you like Bournemouth?"

Early the following day things started to be packed up and within a few days it became apparent that the robot was preparing to leave for good.

"The point is," said Fenchurch to Ford, "can you get us on board?"

Ford looked wildly at his watch.

"I have some serious unfinished business to attend to," he exclaimed.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:05 pm

Chapter 38

Crowds thronged as close as they could to the giant silver craft. The immediate perimeter was fenced off and patrolled by the tiny flying service robots. Staked out around that was the army, which had been completely unable to breach that inner perimeter, but were damned if anybody was going to breach them. They in turn were surrounded by a cordon of police, though whether they were there to protect the public from the army or the army from the public, or to guarantee the giant ship's diplomatic immunity and prevent it getting parking tickets was entirely unclear and the subject of much debate.

The inner perimeter fence was now being dismantled. The army stirred uncomfortably, uncertain of how to react to the fact that the reason for their being there seemed as if it were simply going to get up and go.

The giant robot had lurched back aboard the ship at lunchtime, and now it was five o' clock in the afternoon and no further sign had been seen of it. Much had been heard -- more grindings and rumblings from deep within the craft, the music of a million hideous malfunctions; but the sense of tense expectation among the crowd was born of the fact that they tensely expected to be disappointed. This wonderful extraordinary thing had come into their lives, and now it was simply going to go without them.

Two people were particularly aware of this sensation. Arthur and Fenchurch scanned the crowd anxiously, unable to find Ford Prefect in it anywhere, or any sign that he had the slightest intention of being there.

"How reliable is he?" asked Fenchurch in a sinking voice.

"How reliable?" asked Arthur. He gave a hollow laugh. "How shallow is the ocean?" he asked. "How cold is the sun?"

The last parts of the robot's gantry transport were being carried on board, and the few remaining sections of the perimeter fence were now stacked at the bottom of the ramp waiting to follow them. The soldiers on guard round the ramp bristled meaningfully, orders were barked back and forth, hurried conferences were held, but nothing, of course, could be done about any of it.

Hopelessly, and with no clear plan now, Arthur and Fenchurch pushed forward through the crowd, but since the whole crowd was also trying to push forward through the crowd, this got them nowhere.

And within a few minutes, nothing remained outside the ship; every last link of the fence was aboard. A couple of flying fretsaws and a spirit level seemed to do one last check around the site and then screamed in through the giant hatchway themselves.

A few seconds passed.

The sounds of mechanical disarray from within changed in intensity, and slowly, heavily, the huge steel ramp began to lift itself back out of the Harrods Food Halls. The sound that accompanied it was the sound of thousands of tense, excited people being completely ignored.

"Hold it!"

A megaphone barked from a taxi that screeched to a halt on the edge of the milling crowd.

"There has been," barked the megaphone, "a major scientific break-in! Through. Breakthrough," it corrected itself. The door flew open and a small man from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse leapt out wearing a white coat.

"Hold it!" he shouted again, and this time brandished a short squat black rod with lights on it. The lights winked briefly, the ramp paused in its ascent, and then in obedience to the signals from the Thumb (which half the electronic engineers in the Galaxy are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming, while the other half are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming the jamming signals), slowly ground its way downward again.

Ford Prefect grabbed his megaphone from out of the taxi and started bawling at the crowd through it.

"Make way," he shouted, "make way, please, this is a major scientific breakthrough! You and you, get the equipment from the taxi."

Completely at random he pointed at Arthur and Fenchurch, who wrestled their way back out of the crowd and clustered urgently round the taxi.

"All right, I want you to clear a passage, please, for some important pieces of scientific equipment," boomed Ford. "Just everybody keep calm. It's all under control, there's nothing to see. It is merely a major scientific breakthrough. Keep calm now. Important scientific equipment. Clear the way."

Hungry for new excitement, delighted at this sudden reprieve from disappointment, the crowd enthusiastically fell back and started to open up.

Arthur was a little surprised to see what was printed on the boxes of important scientific equipment in the back of the taxi.

"Hang your coat over them," he muttered to Fenchurch as he heaved them out to her. Hurriedly, he maneuvered out the large supermarket cart that was also jammed against the back seat. It clattered to the ground, and together they loaded the boxes into it.

"Clear a path, please," shouted Ford again. "Everything's under proper scientific control."

"He said you'd pay," said the taxi driver to Arthur, who dug out some notes and paid him. There was the distant sound of police sirens.

"Move along there," shouted Ford, "and no one will get hurt."

The crowd surged and closed behind them again, as frantically they pushed and hauled the rattling supermarket cart through the rubble toward the ramp.

"It's all right," Ford continued to bellow. "There's nothing to see, it's all over. None of this is actually happening."

"Clear the way, please," boomed a police megaphone from the back of the crowd. "There's been a break-in, clear the way."

"Breakthrough," yelled Ford in competition. "A scientific breakthrough."

"This is the police! Clear the way!"

"Scientific equipment! Clear the way!"

"Police! Let us through!"

"Walkmen!" yelled Ford, and pulled half a dozen miniature tape players from his pockets and tossed them into the crowd. The resulting seconds of utter confusion allowed them to get the supermarket cart to the edge of the ramp, and to haul it up onto the lip of it.

"Hold tight," muttered Ford, and released a button on his Electronic Thumb. Beneath them, the huge ramp shuddered and began slowly to heave its way upward.

"OK, kids," he said as the milling crowd dropped away beneath them and they started to lurch their way along the tilting ramp into the bowels of the ship, "looks like we're on our way."
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:05 pm

Chapter 39

Arthur Dent was irritated to be continually wakened by the sound of gunfire.

Being careful not to wake Fenchurch, who was still managing to sleep fitfully, he slid his way out of the maintenance hatchway that they had fashioned into a kind of bunk for themselves, slung himself down the access ladder, and prowled the corridors moodily.

They were claustrophobic and ill-lit. The lighting circuits buzzed annoyingly.

That wasn't it, though.

He paused and leaned backward as a flying power drill flew past him down the dim corridor with a screech, occasionally clanging against the walls like a confused bee.

That wasn't it either.

He clambered through a bulkhead door and found himself in a large corridor. Acrid smoke was drifting up from one end so he walked toward the other.

He came to an observation monitor let into the wall behind a plate of toughened but still badly scratched Plexiglas.

"Would you turn it down please?" he asked Ford Prefect who was crouching in front of it in the middle of a pile of bits of video equipment he'd taken from a shop window in Tottenham Court Road, having first hurled a small brick through it, and also a heap of empty beer cans. "Shhhh!" hissed Ford, and peered with manic concentration at the screen. He was watching The Magnificent Seven.

"Just a bit," said Arthur.

"No"' shouted Ford. "We're just getting to the good bit! Listen, I finally got it all sorted out, voltage levels, line conversion, everything, and this is the good bit!"

With a sigh and a headache, Arthur sat down beside him and watched the good bit. He listened to Ford's whoops and yells and yeeehays as placidly as he could.

"Ford," he said eventually, when it was all over, and Ford was hunting through a stack of cassettes for the tape of Casablanca, "how come, if ..."

"This is the big one," said Ford. "This is the one I came back for. Do you realize I never saw it all the way through? I always missed the end. I saw half of it again the night before the Vogons came. When they blew the place up I thought I'd never get to see it. Hey, what happened with all that anyway?"

"Just life," said Arthur, and plucked a beer from a six-pack.

"Oh, that again," said Ford. "I thought it might be something like that. I prefer this stuff," he said as Rick's bar flickered onto the screen. "How come if what?"


"You started to say, 'how come if ...'"

"How come if you're so rude about the Earth, that you ... Oh, never mind, let's just watch the movie."

"Exactly," said Ford.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:05 pm

Chapter 40

There remains little still to tell.

Beyond what used to be known as the Limitless Lightfields of Flanux until the Gray Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine were discovered lying behind them, lie the Gray Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine.

Within the Gray Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine lies the star named Zarss, around which orbits the planet Preliumtarn in which is the land of Sevorbeupstry, and it was to the land of Sevorbeupstry that Arthur and Fenchurch came at last, a little tired by the journey.

And in the land of Sevorbeupstry, they came to the Great Red Plain of Rars, which was bounded on the south side by the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains, on the farther side of which, according to the dying words of Prak, they would find in thirty-foot-high letters of fire God's Final Message to His Creation.

According to Prak, if Arthur's memory served him right, the place was guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob, and so, after a manner, it proved to be. He was a little man in a strange hat and he sold them a ticket.

"Keep to the left, please," he said, "keep to the left," and hurried past them on a little scooter.

They realized they were not the first to pass that way, for the path that led around the left of the Great Red Plain was well worn and dotted with booths. At one they bought a box of fudge, which had been baked in an oven in a cave in the mountain, which was heated by the fire of the letters that formed God's Final Message to His Creation. At another they bought some postcards. The letters had been blurred with an airbrush, "So as not to spoil the Big Surprise!" it said on the reverse.

"Do you know what the message is?" they asked the wizened little lady in the booth.

"Oh yes," she piped cheerily, "oh yes!"

She waved them on.

Every twenty miles or so there was a little stone hut with showers and sanitary facilities, but the going was tough, and the high sun baked down on the Great Red Plain, and the Great Red Plain rippled in the heat.

"Is it possible," asked Arthur at one of the larger booths, "to rent one of those little scooters? Like the one Lajestic Ventrawhatsit had?"

"The scooters," said the little lady who was serving at the ice cream bar, "are not for the devout."

"Oh well, that's easy then," said Fenchurch, "we're not particularly devout. We're just interested."

"Then you must turn back now," said the little lady severely, and when they demurred, sold them a couple of Final Message sun hats and a photograph of themselves with their arms tight around each other on the Great Red Plain of Rars.

They drank a couple of sodas in the shade of the booth and then trudged out into the sun again.

"We're running out of barrier cream," said Fenchurch after a few more miles. "We can go to the next booth, or we can return to the previous one which is nearer, but means we have to retrace our steps."

They stared ahead at the distant black speck winking in the heat haze; they looked behind themselves. They elected to go on.

They then discovered that they were not only not the first to make this journey, but that they were not the only ones making it now.

Some way ahead of them an awkward low shape was heaving itself wretchedly along the ground, stumbling painfully slowly, half limping, half crawling.

It was moving so slowly that before too long they caught the creature up and could see that it was made of worn, scarred, and twisted metal.

It groaned at them as they approached it, collapsing in the hot, dry dust.

"So much time," it groaned, "oh, so much time. And pain as well, so much of that, and so much time to suffer in it, too. One or the other on its own I could probably manage. It's the two together that really get me down. Oh, hello, you again."

"Marvin?" said Arthur sharply, crouching down beside it. "Is that you?"

"You were always one," groaned the aged husk of the robot, "for the superintelligent question, weren't you?"

"What is it?" whispered Fenchurch in alarm, crouching behind Arthur, and grasping his arm.

"He's sort of an old friend," said Arthur, "I --"

"Friend!" croaked the robot pathetically. The word died away in a kind of dry crackle and flakes of rust fell out of his mouth. "You'll have to excuse me while I try and remember what the word means. My memory banks are not what they were, you know, and any word which falls into disuse for a few zillion years has to get shifted down into auxiliary memory backup. Ah, here it comes."

The robot's battered head snapped up a bit as if in thought.

"Hmm," he said, "what a curious concept."

He thought a little longer.

"No," he said at last, "don't think I ever came across one of those. Sorry, can't help you there."

He scraped a knee along pathetically in the dust, and then tried to twist himself up onto his misshapen elbows.

"Is there any last service you would like me to perform for you perhaps?" he asked in a kind of hollow rattle. "A piece of paper that perhaps you would like me to pick up for you? Or maybe you would like me," he continued, "to open a door?"

His head scratched round in its rusty neck bearings and seemed to scan the distant horizon.

"Don't seem to be any doors around at present," he said, "but I'm sure that if we waited long enough, someone would build one. And then," he said slowly, twisting his head around to see Arthur again, "I could open it for you. I'm quite used to waiting, you know."

"Arthur," hissed Fenchurch in his ear sharply, "you never told me of this. What have you done to this poor creature?"

"Nothing," insisted Arthur sadly, "he's always like this --"

"Ha!" snapped Marvin. "Ha!" he repeated, "what do you know of always? You say 'always' to me, who, because of the silly little errands your organic life forms keep on sending me through time on, am now thirty-seven times older than the Universe itself? Pick your words with a little more care," he coughed, "and tact."

He rasped his way through a coughing fit and resumed.

"Leave me," he said, "go on ahead, leave me to struggle painfully on my way. My time at last is nearly come. My race is nearly run. I fully expect," he said, feebly waving them on with a broken finger, "to come in last. It would be fitting. Here I am, brain the size --"

"Shut up," said Arthur.

Between them they picked him up despite his feeble protests and insults. The metal was so hot it nearly blistered their fingers, but he weighed now surprisingly little, and hung limply between their arms.

They carried him with them along the path that ran along the left of the Great Red Plain of Rars toward the south-encircling mountains of Quentulus Quazgar.

Arthur attempted to explain to Fenchurch, but was too often interrupted by Marvin's dolorous cybernetic ravings.

They tried to see if they could get him some spare parts at one of the booths, and some soothing oil, but Marvin would have none of it.

"I'm all spare parts," he droned.

"Let me be!" he groaned.

"Every part of me," he moaned, "has been replaced at least fifty times ... except ..." He seemed almost imperceptibly to brighten for a moment. His head bobbed between them with the effort of memory. "Do you remember, the first time you ever met me," he said at last to Arthur, "I had been given the intellect-stretching task of taking you up to the bridge? I mentioned to you that I had this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side? That I had asked for them to be replaced but they never were?"

He left a longish pause before he continued. They carried him on between them, under the baking sun that hardly ever seemed to move, let alone set.

"See if you can guess," said Marvin, when he judged that the pause had become embarrassing enough, "which parts of me were never replaced? Go on, see if you can guess.

"Ouch," he added, "ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch."

At last they reached the last of the little booths, set Marvin down between them, and rested in the shade. Fenchurch bought some cuff links for Russell, cuff links that had set in them little polished pebbles which had been picked up from the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains, directly underneath the letters of fire in which were written God's Final Message to His Creation.

Arthur flipped through a little rack of devotional tracts on the counter, little meditations on the meaning of the Message.

"Ready?" he said to Fenchurch, who nodded.

They heaved up Marvin between them.

They rounded the foot of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains, and there was the Message written in blazing letters along the crest of the mountain. There was a little observation vantage point with a rail built along the top of a large rock facing it, from which you could get a good view. It had a little pay telescope for looking at the letters in detail, but no one would ever use it because the letters burned with the divine brilliance of the heavens and would, if seen through a telescope, have severely damaged the retina and optic nerve.

They gazed at God's Final Message to His Creation in wonderment, and were slowly and ineffably filled with a great sense of peace, and of final and complete understanding.

Fenchurch sighed. "Yes," she said, "that was it."

They had been staring at it for fully ten minutes before they became aware that Marvin, hanging between their shoulders, was in difficulties. The robot could no longer lift his head, had not read the message. They lifted his head, but he complained that his vision circuits had almost gone. They found a coin and helped him to the telescope. He complained and insulted them, but they helped him look at each individual letter in turn. The first letter was a "w," the second an "e." Then there was a gap. An "a" followed, then a "p," an "o," and an "I."

Marvin paused for a rest.

After a few moments they resumed and let him see the "o," the "g," the "i," the "z", and the "e."

The next two words were "for" and "the." The last one was a long one, and Marvin needed another rest before he could tackle it.

It started with "i," then "n," then "c." Next came an "o" and an "n," followed by a "v," an "e," another "n," and an "i."

After a final pause, Marvin gathered his strength for the last stretch.

He read the "e," the "n," the "c," and at last the final "e," and staggered back into their arms.

"I think," he murmured at last from deep within his corroding, rattling thorax, "I feel good about it."

The lights went out in his eyes for absolutely the very last time ever.

Luckily, there was a stall nearby where you could rent scooters from guys with green wings.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:06 pm


One of the greatest benefactors of all lifekind was a man who couldn't keep his mind on the job at hand.



One of the foremost genetic engineers of his or any other generation, including a number he had designed himself?

Without a doubt.

The problem was that he was far too interested in things which he shouldn't be interested in, at least, as people would tell him, not now.

He was also, partly because of this, of a rather irritable disposition.

So when his world was threatened by terrible invaders from a distant star, who were still a fair way off but traveling fast, he, Blart Versenwald III (his name was Blart Versenwald III which is not strictly relevant, but quite interesting because -- never mind, that was his name and we can talk about why it's interesting later), was sent into guarded seclusion by the masters of his race with instructions to design a breed of fanatical superwarriors to resist and vanquish the feared invaders, do it quickly and, they told him, "Concentrate!"

So he sat by a window and looked out at a summer lawn and designed and designed and designed, but inevitably got a little distracted by things, and by the time the invaders were practically in orbit round them, had come up with a remarkable new breed of superfly that could, unaided, figure out how to fly through the open half of a half-open window, and also an off switch for children. Celebrations of these remarkable achievements seemed doomed to be short-lived because disaster was imminent as the alien ships were landing. But, astoundingly, the fearsome invaders who, like most warlike races were only on the rampage because they couldn't cope with things at home, were stunned by Versenwald's extraordinary breakthroughs, joined in the celebrations and were instantly prevailed upon to sign a wide-ranging series of trading agreements and set up a program of cultural exchanges. And, in an astonishing reversal of normal practice in the conduct of such matters, everybody concerned lived happily ever after.

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:06 pm

Young Zaphod Plays It Safe

A large flying craft moved swiftly across the surface of an astoundingly beautiful sea. From mid-morning onward it plied back and forth in great widening arcs, and at last attracted the attention of the local islanders, a peaceful, sea-food-loving people who gathered on the beach and squinted up into the blinding sun, trying to see what was there.

Any sophisticated knowledgeable person, who had knocked about, seen a few things, would probably have remarked on how much the craft looked like a filing cabinet -- a large and recently burgled filing cabinet lying on its back with its drawers in the air and flying.

The islanders, whose experience was of a different kind, were instead struck by how little it looked like a lobster.

They chattered excitedly about its total lack of claws, its stiff unbending back, and the fact that it seemed to experience the greatest difficulty staying on the ground. This last feature seemed particularly funny to them. They jumped up and down on the spot a lot to demonstrate to the stupid thing that they themselves found staying on the ground the easiest thing in the world.

But soon this entertainment began to pall for them. After all, since it was perfectly clear to them that the thing was not a lobster, and since their world was blessed with an abundance of things that were lobsters (a good half dozen of which were now marching succulently up the beach toward them), they saw no reason to waste any more time on the thing but decided instead to adjourn immediately for a late lobster lunch.

At that exact moment the craft stopped suddenly in mid-air, then upended itself and plunged headlong into the ocean with a great crash of spray which sent them shouting into the trees.

When they reemerged, nervously, a few minutes later, all they were able to see was a smoothly scarred circle of water and a few gulping bubbles. That's odd, they said to each other between mouthfuls of the best lobster to be had anywhere in the Western Galaxy, that's the second time that's happened in a year.


The craft which wasn't a lobster dived direct to a depth of two hundred feet, and hung there in the heavy blueness, while vast masses of water swayed about it. High above, where the water was magically clear, a brilliant formation of fish flashed away. Below, where the light had difficulty reaching, the color of the water sank to a dark and savage blue.

Here, at two hundred feet, the sun streamed feebly. A large, silk-skinned sea-mammal rolled idly by, inspecting the craft with a kind of half interest, as if it had half expected to find something of this kind around about here, and then it slid on up and away toward the rippling light.

The craft waited for a minute or two, taking readings, and then descended another hundred feet. At this depth it was becoming seriously dark. After a moment or two the internal lights of the craft shut down, and in the second or so that passed before the main external beams suddenly stabbed out, the only visible light came from a small hazily illuminated pink sign which read The Beeblebrox Salvage and Really Wild Stuff Corporation.

The huge beams switched downward, catching a vast shoal of silver fish, which swiveled away in silent panic.

In the dim control room, which extended in a broad bow from the craft's blunt prow, four heads were gathered around a computer display that was analyzing the very, very faint and intermittent signals that emanated from deep on the sea bed.

"That's it," said the owner of one of the heads finally.

"Can we be quite sure?" said the owner of another of the heads.

"One hundred percent positive," replied the owner of the first head.

"You're one hundred percent positive that the ship which is crashed on the bottom of this ocean is the ship which you said you were one hundred percent positive could one hundred percent positively never crash?" said the owner of the two remaining heads. "Hey," he put up two of his hands, "I'm only asking."

The two officials from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration responded to this with a very cold stare, but the man with the odd, or rather the even, number of heads missed it. He flung himself back on the pilot couch, opened a couple of beers -- one for himself and the other also for himself -- stuck his feet on the console and said "Hey, baby" through the ultra-glass at a passing fish.

"Mr. Beeblebrox ..." began the shorter and less reassuring of the two officials in a low voice.

"Yup?" said Zaphod, rapping a suddenly empty can down on some of the more sensitive instruments. "You ready to dive? Let's go."

"Mr. Beeblebrox, let us make one thing perfectly clear ..."

"Yeah let's," said Zaphod. "How about this for a start. Why don't you just tell me what's really on this ship."

"We have told you," said the official. "By-products."

Zaphod exchanged weary glances with himself.

"By-products," he said. "By-products of what?"

"Processes," said the official.

"What processes?"

"Processes that are perfectly safe."

"Santa Zarquana Voostra!" exclaimed both of Zaphod's heads in chorus. "So safe that you have to build a zarking fortress ship to take the by-products to the nearest black hole and tip them in! Only it doesn't get there because the pilot takes a detour -- is this right? -- to pick up some lobster ...? OK, so the guy is cool, but ... I mean own up, this is barking time, this is major lunch, this is stool approaching critical mass, this is ... this is ... total vocabulary failure!

"Shut up!" his right head yelled at his left, "we're flanging!"

He got a good calming grip on the remaining beer can.

"Listen, guys," he resumed after a moment's peace and contemplation. The two officials had said nothing. Conversation at this level was not something to which they felt they could aspire. "I just want to know," insisted Zaphod, "what you're getting me into here."

He stabbed a finger at the intermittent readings trickling over the computer screen. They meant nothing to him but he didn't like the look of them at all. They were all squiggly with lots of long numbers and things.

"It's breaking up, is that it?" he shouted. "It's got a hold full of epsilonic radiating aorist rods or something that'll fry this whole space sector for zillions of years back and it's breaking up. Is that the story? Is that what we're going down to find? Am I going to come out of that wreck with even more heads?"

"It cannot possibly be a wreck, Mr. Beeblebrox," insisted the official, "the ship is guaranteed to be perfectly safe. It cannot possibly break up."

"Then why are you so keen to go and look at it?"

"We like to look at things that are perfectly safe."


"Mr. Beeblebrox," said the official, patiently, "may I remind you that you have a job to do?"

"Yeah, well, maybe I don't feel so keen on doing it all of a sudden. What do you think I am, completely without any moral whatsits, what are they called, those moral things?"


"Scruples, thank you, whatsoever? Well?"

The two officials waited calmly. They coughed slightly to help pass the time.

Zaphod sighed a "what is the world coming to" sort of sigh to absolve himself from all blame, and swung himself around in his seat.

"Ship?" he called.

"Yup?" said the ship.

"Do what I do."

The ship thought about this for a few milliseconds and then, after double checking all the seals on its heavy duty bulkheads, it began slowly, inexorably, in the hazy blaze of its lights, to sink to the lowest depths.


Five hundred feet.

A thousand.

Two thousand.

Here, at a pressure of nearly seventy atmospheres, in the chilling depths where no light reaches, nature keeps its most heated imaginings. Two foot-long nightmares loomed wildly into the bleaching light, yawned, and vanished back into the blackness.

Two and a half thousand feet.

At the dim edges of the ship's lights guilty secrets flitted by with their eyes on stalks.

Gradually the topography of the distantly approaching ocean bed resolved with greater and greater clarity on the computer displays until at last a shape could be made out that was separate and distinct from its surroundings. It was like a huge lopsided cylindrical fortress that widened sharply halfway along its length to accommodate the heavy ultraplating with which the crucial storage holds were clad, and which were supposed by its builders to have made this the most secure and impregnable spaceship ever built. Before launch the material structure of this section had been battered, rammed, blasted and subjected to every assault its builders knew it could withstand in order to demonstrate that it could withstand them.

The tense silence in the cockpit tightened perceptibly as it became clear that it was this section that had broken rather neatly in two.

"In fact it's perfectly safe," said one of the officials, "it's built so that even if the ship does break up, the storage holds cannot possibly be breached."


Three thousand, eight hundred and twenty-five feet.

Four Hi-Presh-A Smart Suits moved slowly out of the open hatchway of the salvage craft and waded through the barrage of its lights toward the monstrous shape that loomed darkly out of the sea night. They moved with a sort of clumsy grace, near weightlessness though weighed on by a world of water.

With his right-hand head Zaphod peered up into the black immensities above him and for a moment his mind sang with a silent roar of horror. He glanced to his left and was relieved to see that his other head was busy watching the Brockian Ultra-Cricket broadcasts on the helmet vid without concern. Slightly behind him to his left walked the two officials from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration, slightly in front of him to his right walked the empty suit, carrying their implements and testing the way for them.

They passed the huge rift in the broken backed Starship Billion Year Bunker, and played their flashlights up into it. Mangled machinery loomed between torn and twisted bulkheads, two feet thick. A family of large transparent eels lived in there now and seemed to like it.

The empty suit preceded them along the length of the ship's gigantic murky hull, trying the airlocks. The third one it tested ground open uneasily. They crowded inside it and waited for several long minutes while the pump mechanisms dealt with the hideous pressure that the ocean exerted, and slowly replaced it with an equally hideous pressure of air and inert gases. At last the inner door slid open and they were admitted to a dark outer holding area of the Starship Billion Year Bunker.

Several more high security Titan-O-Hold doors had to be passed through, each of which the officials opened with a selection of quark keys. Soon they were so deep within the heavy security fields that the Ultra-Cricket broadcasts were beginning to fade, and Zaphod had to switch to one of the rock video stations, since there was nowhere that they were not able to reach.

A final doorway slid open, and they emerged into a large sepulchral space. Zaphod played his flashlight against the opposite wall and it fell full on a wild-eyed screaming face.

Zaphod screamed a diminished fifth himself, dropped his light and sat heavily on the floor, or rather on a body which had been lying there undisturbed for around six months and which reacted to being sat on by exploding with great violence. Zaphod wondered what to do about all this, and after a brief but hectic internal debate decided that passing our would be the very thing.

He came to a few minutes later and pretended not to know who he was, where he was or how he had got there, but was not able to convince anybody. He then pretended that his memory suddenly returned with a rush and that the shock caused him to pass out again. but he was helped unwillingly to his feet by the empty suit -- which he was beginning to take a serious dislike to -- and forced to come to terms with his surroundings.

They were dimly and fitfully lit and unpleasant in a number of respects, the most obvious of which was the colorful arrangement of parts of the ship's late lamented Navigation Officer over the floor, walls and ceiling, and especially over the lower half of his, Zaphod's, suit. The effect of this was so astoundingly nasty that we shall not be referring to it again at any point in this narrative -- other than to record briefly the fact that it caused Zaphod to throw up inside his suit, which he therefore removed and swapped. after suitable headgear modifications, with the empty one. Unfortunately the stench of the fetid air in the ship, followed by the sight of his own suit walking around casually draped in rotting intestines was enough to make him throw up in the other suit as well, which was a problem that he and the suit would simply have to live with.

There. All done. No more nastiness.

At least, no more of that particular nastiness.

The owner of the screaming face had calmed down very slightly now and was babbling away incoherently in a large tank of yellow liquid -- an emergency suspension tank.

"It was crazy," he babbled, "crazy! I told him we could always try the lobster on the way back, but he was crazy. Obsessed! Do you ever get like that about lobster? Because I don't. Seems to me it's all rubbery and fiddly to eat, and not that much taste, well I mean is there? I infinitely prefer scallops, and said so. Oh Zarquon, I said so!"

Zaphod stared at this extraordinary apparition, flailing in its tank. The man was attached to all kinds of life-support tubes, and his voice was bubbling out of speakers that echoed insanely around the ship, returning as haunting echoes from deep and distant corridors.

"That was where I went wrong," the madman yelled, "I actually said that I preferred scallops and he said it was because I hadn't had real lobster like they did where his ancestors came from, which was here, and he'd prove it. He said it was no problem, he said the lobster here was worth a whole journey, let alone the small diversion it would take to get here, and he swore he could handle the ship in the atmosphere, but it was madness, madness!" he screamed, and paused with his eyes rolling, as if the word had rung some kind of bell in his mind. "The ship went right out of control! I couldn't believe what we were doing and just to prove a point about lobster which is really so overrated as a food, I'm sorry to go on about lobsters so much, I'll try and stop in a minute, but they've been on my mind so much for the months I've been in this tank, can you imagine what it's like to be stuck in a ship with the same guys for months eating junk food when all one guy will talk about is lobster and then spend six months floating by yourself in a tank thinking about it. I promise I will try and shut up about the lobsters, I really will. Lobsters, lobsters, lobsters -- enough! I think I'm the only survivor. I'm the only one who managed to get to an emergency tank before we went down. I sent out the Mayday and then we hit. It's a disaster, isn't it? A total disaster, and all because the guy liked lobsters. How much sense am I making? It's really hard for me to tell."

He gazed at them beseechingly, and his mind seemed to sway slowly back down to earth like a falling leaf. He blinked arid looked at them oddly like a monkey peering at a strange fish. He scrabbled curiously with his wrinkled up fingers at the glass side of the tank. Tiny, thick yellow bubbles loosed themselves from his mouth and nose, caught briefly in his swab of hair and strayed on upward.

"Oh Zarquon, oh heavens," he mumbled pathetically to himself, "I've been found. I've been rescued ..."

"Well," said one of the officials, briskly, "you've been found at least." He strode over to the main computer bank in the middle of the chamber and started checking quickly through the ship's main monitor circuits for damage reports.

"The aorist rod chambers are intact," he said.

"Holy dingo's dos," snarled Zaphod, "there are aorist rods on board ...!"

Aorist rods were devices used in a now happily abandoned form of energy production. When the hunt for new sources of energy had at one point got particularly frantic, one bright young chap suddenly spotted that one place which had never used up all its available energy -- the past. And with the sudden rush of blood to the head that such insights tend to induce, he invented a way of mining it that very same night, and within a year huge tracts of the past were being drained of all their energy and simply wasting away. Those who claimed that the past should be left unspoiled were accused of indulging in an extremely expensive form of sentimentality. The past provided a very cheap, plentiful and clean source of energy, there could always be a few Natural Past Reserves set up if anyone wanted to pay for their upkeep, and as for the claim that draining the past impoverished the present, well, maybe it did, slightly, but the effects were immeasurable and you really had to keep a sense of proportion.

It was only when it was realized that the present really was being impoverished, and that the reason for it was that those selfish plundering wastrel bastards up in the future were doing exactly the same thing, that everyone realized that every single aorist rod, and the terrible secret of how they were made, would have to be utterly and forever destroyed. They claimed it was for the sake of their grandparents and grandchildren, but it was of course for the sake of their grandparent's grandchildren, and their grandchildren's grandparents.

The official from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration gave a dismissive shrug.

"They're perfectly safe," he said. He glanced up at Zaphod and suddenly said with uncharacteristic frankness, "There's worse than that on board. At least," he added, tapping at one of the computer screens, "I hope it's on board."

The other official rounded on him sharply.

"What the hell do you think you're saying?" he snapped.

The first shrugged again. He said, "It doesn't matter. He can say what he likes. No one would believe him. It's why we chose to use him rather than do anything official, isn't it? The more wild the story he tells, the more it'll sound like he's some hippy adventurer making it up. He can even say that we said this and it'll make him sound like a paranoid." He smiled pleasantly at Zaphod who was seething in his nasty suit. "You may accompany us," he told him, "if you wish."


"You see?" said the official, examining the ultra-titanium outer seals of the aorist rod hold. "Perfectly secure, perfectly safe."

He said the same thing as they passed holds containing chemical weapons so powerful that a teaspoonful could fatally infect an entire planet.

He said the same thing as they passed holds containing zeta-active compounds so powerful that a teaspoonful could blow up a whole planet.

He said the same thing as they passed holds containing theta-active compounds so powerful that a teaspoonful could irradiate a whole planet.

"I'm glad I'm not a planet," muttered Zaphod.

"You'd have nothing to fear," assured the official from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration. "planets are very safe. Provided," he added -- and paused. They were approaching the hold nearest to the point where the back of the Starship Billion Year Bunker was broken. The corridor here was twisted and deformed, and the floor was damp and sticky in patches.

"Ho hum," he said, "ho very much hum."

"What's in this hold?" demanded Zaphod.

"By-products," said the official, clamming up again.

"By-products ...," insisted Zaphod, quietly, "of what?"

Neither official answered. instead, they examined the hold door very carefully and saw that its seals were twisted apart by the forces that had deformed the whole corridor. One of them touched the door lightly, it swung open to his touch. There was darkness inside, with just a couple of dim yellow lights deep within it.

"Of what?" hissed Zaphod.

The leading official turned to the other.

"There's an escape capsule," he said, "that the crew were to use to abandon ship before jettisoning it into the black hole," he said. "I think it would be good to know that it's still there." The other official nodded and left without a word.

The first official quietly beckoned Zaphod in. The large dim yellow lights glowed about twenty feet from them.

"The reason," he said, quietly, "why everything else in this ship is, I maintain, safe, is that no one is really crazy enough to use them. No one. At least no one that crazy would ever get near them. Anyone that mad or dangerous rings very deep alarm bells. People may be stupid but they're not that stupid."

"By-products," hissed Zaphod again, he had to hiss in order that his voice shouldn't be heard to tremble, "of what."

"Er, Designer People."

"What? "

"The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation was awarded a huge research grant to design and produce synthetic personalities to order. The results were uniformly disastrous. All the 'people' and 'personalities' turned out to be amalgams of characteristics that simply could not co-exist in naturally occurring life forms. Most of them were just poor pathetic misfits, but some were deeply, deeply dangerous. Dangerous because they didn't ring alarm bells in other people. They could walk through situations the way that ghosts walk through walls, because no one spotted the danger.

"The most dangerous of all were three identical ones -- they were put in this hold, to be blasted, with this ship, right out of this universe. They are not evil, in fact they are rather simple and charming. But they are the most dangerous creatures that ever lived because there is nothing they will not do if allowed, and nothing they will not be allowed to do ..."

Zaphod looked at the dim yellow lights, the two dim yellow lights. As his eyes became accustomed to the light he saw that the two lights framed a third space where something was broken. Wet sticky patches gleamed dully on the floor.

Zaphod and the official walked cautiously toward the lights. At that moment, four words came crashing into the helmet headsets from the other official.

"The capsule is gone," he said tersely.

"Trace it," snapped Zaphod's companion. "Find exactly where it has gone. We must know where it has gone!"

Zaphod slid aside a large ground-glass door. Beyond it lay a tank full of thick yellow liquid, and floating in it was a man, a kindly looking man with lots of pleasant laugh lines around his face. He seemed to be floating quite contentedly and smiling to himself.

Another terse message suddenly came through his helmet headset. The planet toward which the escape capsule had headed had already been identified. It was in Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha.

The kindly looking man in the tank seemed to be babbling gently to himself, just as the co-pilot had been in his tank. Little yellow bubbles beaded on the man's lips. Zaphod found a small speaker by the tank and turned it on. He heard the man babbling gently about a shining city on a hill.

He also heard the official from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration issue instructions that the planet in ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha must be made "perfectly safe."
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:07 pm

Mostly Harmless

For Ron
With grateful thanks to Sue Freestone and Michael Bywater for their support, help and constructive abuse.
Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though.

Chapter 1

The history of the Galaxy has got a little muddled, for a number of reasons: partly because those who are trying to keep track of it have got a little muddled, but also because some very muddling things have been happening anyway.

One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and the difficulties involved in trying to exceed it. You can't. Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere that there wasn't really any point in being there.

So, by and large, the peoples of the Galaxy tended to languish in their own local muddles and the history of the Galaxy itself was, for a long time, largely cosmological.

Which is not to say that people weren't trying. They tried sending off fleets of spaceships to do battle or business in distant parts, but these usually took thousands of years to get anywhere. By the time they eventually arrived, other forms of travel had been discovered which made use of hyperspace to circumvent the speed of light, so that whatever battles it was that the slower-than-light fleets had been sent to fight had already been taken care of centuries earlier by the time they actually got there.

This didn't, of course, deter their crews from wanting to fight the battles anyway. They were trained, they were ready, they'd had a couple of thousand years' sleep, they'd come a long way to do a tough job and, by Zarquon, they were going to do it.

This was when the first major Muddles of Galactic history set in, with battles continually re-erupting centuries after the issues they had been fought over had supposedly been settled. However, these muddles were as nothing to the ones which historians had to try and unravel once time-travel was discovered and battles started preerupting hundreds of years before the issues even arose. When the Infinite Improbability Drive arrived and whole planets started unexpectedly turning into banana fruitcake, the great history faculty of the university of MaxiMegalon finally gave up, closed itself down and surrendered its buildings to the rapidly growing joint faculty of Divinity and Water Polo, which had been after them for years.

Which is all very well, of course, but it almost certainly means that no one will ever know for sure where, for instance, the Grebulons came from, or exactly what it was they wanted. And this is a pity because, if anybody had known anything about them, it is just possible that a most terrible catastrophe would have been averted -- or, at least, would have had to find a different way to happen.


Click, hum.

The huge gray Grebulon reconnaissance ship moved silently through the black void. It was traveling at fabulous, breathtaking speed, yet appeared, against the glimmering background of a billion distant stars to be moving not at all. It was just one dark speck frozen against an infinite granularity of brilliant night.

On board the ship, everything was as it had been for millennia, deeply dark and silent.

Click, hum.

At least, almost everything.

Click, click, hum.

Click, hum, click, hum, click, hum.

Click, click, click, click, click, hum.


A low-level supervising program woke up a slightly higher-level supervising program deep in the ship's semisomnolent cyberbrain and reported to it that whenever it went click all it got was a hum. The higher-level supervising program asked it what it was supposed to get, and the low-level supervising program said that it couldn't remember what it was meant to get, exactly, but thought it was probably more of a sort of distant satisfied sigh, wasn't it? It didn't know what this hum was. Click, hum, click, hum. That was all it was getting.

The higher-level supervising program considered this and didn't like it. It asked the low-level supervising program what exactly it was supervising and the low-level supervising program said it couldn't remember that either, just that it was something that was meant to go click, sigh every ten years or so, which usually happened without fail. It had tried to consult its error look-up table but couldn't find it, which was why it had alerted the higher-level supervising program of the problem.

The higher-level supervising program went to consult one of its own look-up tables to find out what the low-level supervising program was meant to be supervising.

It couldn't find the look-up table.


It looked again. All it got was an error message. It tried to look up the error message in its error message look-up table and couldn't find that either. It allowed a couple of nanoseconds to go by while it went through all this again. Then it woke up its sector function supervisor.

The sector function supervisor hit immediate problems. It called its supervising agent, which hit problems too. Within a few millionths of a second virtual circuits that had lain dormant, some for years, some for centuries, were flaring into life throughout the ship. Something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong, but none of the supervising programs could tell what it was. At every level, vital instructions were missing, and the instructions about what to do in the event of discovering that vital instructions were missing, were also missing.

Small modules of software-agents-surged through the logical pathways, grouping, consulting, regrouping. They quickly established that the ship's memory, all the way back to its central mission module, was in tatters. No amount of interrogation could determine what it was that had happened. Even the central mission module itself seemed to be damaged.

This made the whole problem very simple to deal with, in fact. Replace the central mission module. There was another one, a backup, an exact duplicate of the original. It had to be physically replaced because, for safety reasons, there was no link whatsoever between the original and its backup. Once the central mission module was replaced it could itself supervise the reconstruction of the rest of the system in every detail, and all would be well.

Robots were instructed to bring the backup central mission module from the shielded strong room, where they guarded it, to the ship's logic chamber for installation.

This involved the lengthy exchange of emergency codes and protocols as the robots interrogated the agents as to the authenticity of the instructions. At last the robots were satisfied that all procedures were correct. They unpacked the backup central mission module from its storage housing, carried it out of the storage chamber, fell out of the ship and went spinning off into the void.

This provided the first major clue as to what it was that was wrong. Further investigation quickly established what it was that had happened. A meteorite had knocked a large hole in the ship. The ship had not previously detected this because the meteorite had neatly knocked out that part of the ship's processing equipment which was supposed to detect if the ship had been hit by a meteorite.

The first thing to do was to try to seal up the hole. This turned out to be impossible, because the ship's sensors couldn't see that there was a hole, and the supervisors, which should have said that the sensors weren't working properly, weren't working properly and kept saying that the sensors were fine. The ship could only deduce the existence of the hole from the fact that the robots had clearly fallen out of it, taking its spare brain -- which would have enabled it to see the hole -- with them.

The ship tried to think intelligently about this, failed and then blanked out completely for a bit. It didn't realize it had blanked out, of course, because it had blanked out. It was merely surprised to see the stars jump. After the third time the stars jumped, the ship finally realized that it must be blanking out, and that it was time to take some serious decisions.

It relaxed.

Then it realized it hadn't actually taken the serious decisions yet and panicked. It blanked out again for a bit. When it awoke again it sealed all the bulkheads around where it knew the unseen hole must be.

It clearly hadn't got to its destination yet, it thought, fitfully, but since it no longer had the faintest idea where its destination was or how to reach it, there seemed to be little point in continuing. It consulted what tiny scraps of instructions it could reconstruct from the tatters of its central mission module.

"Your !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! year mission is to !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, !!!!!, !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, land !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! a safe distance !!!!! !!!!! monitor it ... !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! ..."

All the rest was complete garbage.

Before it blanked out for good, the ship would have to pass on those instructions, such as they were, to its more primitive subsidiary systems.

It must also revive all of its crew.

There was another problem. While the crew was in hibernation, the minds of all its members, their memories, their identities and their understanding of what they had come to, had all been transferred into the ship's central mission module for safe keeping. The crew would not have the faintest idea of who they were or what they were doing there. Oh well.

Just before it blanked out for the final time, the ship realized that its engines were beginning to give out too.

The ship and its revived and confused crew coasted on under the control of its subsidiary automatic systems, which simply looked to land wherever they could find to land and monitor whatever they could find to monitor.

As far as finding something to land on was concerned, they didn't do very well. The planet they found was desolately cold and lonely, so achingly far from the sun that should warm it, that it took all of the Envir-O-Form machinery and Life-Support-O-Systems they carried with them to render it -- or at least parts of it -- habitable. There were better planets nearer in, but the ship's Strateej-O-Mat was obviously locked into Lurk mode and chose the most distant and unobtrusive planet and, furthermore, would not be gainsaid by anybody other than the ship's Chief Strategic Officer. Since everybody on the ship had lost their minds, no one knew who the Chief Strategic Officer was or, even if he could have been identified, how he was supposed to go about gainsaying the ship's Strateej-O-Mat.

As far as finding something to monitor was concerned, though, they hit solid gold.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:07 pm

Chapter 2

One of the extraordinary things about life is the sort of places it's prepared to put up with living. Anywhere it can get some kind of a grip, whether it's the intoxicating seas of Santraginus V, where the fish never seem to care whatever the heck kind of direction they swim in, the fire storms of Frastra, where, they say, life begins at 40,000 degrees, or just burrowing around in the lower intestine of a rat for the sheer unadulterated hell of it, life will always find a way of hanging on in somewhere.

It will even live in New York, though it's hard to know why. In the wintertime the temperature falls well below the legal minimum, or rather it would do if anybody had the common sense to set a legal minimum. The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79.

In the summer it's too darn hot. It's one thing to be the sort of life form that thrives on heat and finds, as the Frastrans do, that the temperature range between 40,000 and 40,004 is very equable, but it's quite another to be the sort of animal that has to wrap itself up in lots of other animals at one point in your planet's orbit, and then find, half an orbit later, that your skin's bubbling.

Spring is overrated. A lot of the inhabitants of New York will honk on mightily about the pleasures of spring, but if they actually knew the first thing about the pleasures of spring they would know of at least 5,983 better places to spend it than New York, and that's just on the same latitude.

Fall, though, is the worst. Few things are worse than fall in New York. Some of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats would disagree, but most of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats are highly disagreeable anyway, so their opinion can and should be discounted. When it's fall in New York, the air smells as if someone's been frying goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe, the best plan is to open a window and stick your head in a building.

Tricia McMillan loved New York. She kept on telling herself this over and over again. The Upper West Side. Yeah. Midtown. Hey, great retail. SoHo. The East Village. Clothes. Books. Sushi. Italian. Delis. Yo.

Movies. Yo also. Tricia had just been to see Woody Allen's new movie, which was all about the angst of being neurotic in New York. He had made one or two other movies that had explored the same theme, and Tricia wondered if he had ever considered moving, but heard that he had set his face against the idea. So: more movies, she guessed.

Tricia loved New York because loving New York was a good career move. It was a good retail move, a good cuisine move, not a good taxi move or a great quality of pavement move, but definitely a career move that ranked among the highest and the best. Tricia was a TV anchor person, and New York was where most of the world's TV was anchored. Tricia's TV anchoring had been done exclusively in Britain up to that point: regional news, then breakfast news, early evening news. She would have been called, if the language allowed, a rapidly rising anchor, but ... hey, this is television, what does it matter? She was a rapidly rising anchor. She had what it took: great hair, a profound understanding of strategic lip gloss, the intelligence to understand the world and a tiny secret interior deadness which meant she didn't care. Everybody has their moment of great opportunity in life. If you happen to miss the one you care about, then everything else in life becomes eerily easy.

Tricia had only ever missed one opportunity. These days it didn't even make her tremble quite so much as it used to to think about it. She guessed it was that bit of her that had gone dead.

NBS needed a new anchor. Mo Minetti was leaving the "U.S./ A.M." breakfast show to have a baby. She had been offered a mind- bubbling amount of money to have it on the show, but she had declined, unexpectedly, on grounds of personal privacy and taste. Teams of NBS lawyers had sieved through her contract to see if these constituted legitimate grounds, but in the end, reluctantly, they had to let her go. This was, for them, particularly galling because normally, "reluctantly letting someone go" was an expression which had its boot on quite another foot.

The word was out that maybe, just maybe, a British accent would fit. The hair, the skin tone and the bridgework would have to be up to American network standards, but there had been a lot of British accents up there thanking their mothers for their Oscars, a lot of British accents singing on Broadway, some unusually big audiences tuning in to British accents in wigs on "Masterpiece Theatre." British accents were telling jokes on David Letterman and Jay Leno. Nobody understood the jokes but they were really responding to the accents, so maybe it was time, just maybe. A British accent on "U.S./ A.M." Well, hell.

That was why Tricia was here. This was why loving New York was a great career move.

It wasn't, of course, the stated reason. Her TV company back in the U.K. would hardly have stumped up the airfare and hotel bill for her to go job hunting in Manhattan. Since she was chasing something like ten times her present salary, they might have felt that she could have forked out her own expenses, but she'd found a story, found a pretext, kept very quiet about anything ulterior, and they'd stumped up for the trip. A business-class ticket, of course, but her face was known and she'd smiled herself an upgrade. The right moves had got her a nice room at the Brentwood and here she was, wondering what to do next.

The word on the street was one thing, making contact was another. She had a couple of names, a couple of numbers, but all it took was being put on indeterminate hold a couple of times and she was back at square one. She'd put out feelers, left messages, but so far, none had been returned. The actual job she had come to do she had done in a morning, the imagined job she was after was only shimmering tantalizingly on an unreachable horizon.


She caught a cab from the movie theater back to the Brentwood. The cab couldn't get close to the curb because a big stretch limo was hogging all the available space and she had to squeeze her way past it. She walked out of the fetid, goat-frying air and into the blessed cool of the lobby. The fine cotton of her blouse was sticking like grime to her skin. Her hair felt as if she'd bought it at a fairground, on a stick. At the front desk she asked if there were any messages, grimly expecting none. There was one.

Oh ...


It had worked. She had gone out to the movie specifically in order to make the phone ring. She couldn't bear sitting in a hotel room waiting.

She wondered. Should she open the message down here? Her clothes were itching and she longed to take them all off and just lie on the bed. She had turned the air-conditioning way down to its bottom temperature setting, way up to its top fan setting. What she wanted more than anything else in the world at the moment was goose pimples. Then a hot shower, then a cool one, then lying on a towel, on the bed again, drying in the air-conditioning. Then reading the message. Maybe more goose pimples. Maybe all sorts of things.

No. What she wanted more than anything else in the world was a job in American television at ten times her current salary .More than anything else in the world. In the world. What she wanted more than anything else at all was no longer a live issue.

She sat on a chair in the lobby, under a kentia palm, and opened the little cellophane-windowed envelope.

"Please call," it said. "Not happy," and gave a number. The name was Gail Andrews.

Gail Andrews.

It wasn't a name she was expecting. It caught her unawares. She recognized it, but couldn't immediately say why. Was she Andy Martin's secretary? Hilary Bass's assistant? Martin and Bass were the two major contact calls she had made, or tried to make, at NBS. And what did "Not happy" mean?

"Not happy"?

She was completely bewildered. Was this Woody Allen trying to contact her under an assumed name? It was a 212 area code number. So it was someone in New York. Who was not happy. Well, that narrowed it down a bit, didn't it?

She went back to the receptionist at the desk.

"I have a problem with this message you just gave me," she said. "Someone I don't know has tried to call me and says she's not happy."

The receptionist peered at the note with a frown.

"Do you know this person?" he said.

"No," Tricia said.

"Hmmm," said the receptionist. "Sounds like she's not happy about something."

"Yes," said Tricia.

"Looks like there's a name here," said the receptionist. "Gail Andrews. Do you know anybody of that name?"

"No," said Tricia.

"Any idea what she's unhappy about?"

"No," said Tricia.

"Have you called the number? There's a number here."

"No," said Tricia, "you only just gave me the note. I'm just trying to get some more information before I ring back. Perhaps I could talk to the person who took the call?"

"Hmmm," said the receptionist, scrutinizing the note carefully. "I don't think we have anybody called Gail Andrews here."

"No, I realize that," said Tricia. "I just --"

"Tm Gail Andrews."

The voice came from behind Tricia. She turned around.

"I'm sorry?"

"I'm Gail Andrews. You interviewed me this morning."

"Oh. Oh, good heavens, yes," said Tricia, slightly flustered.

"I left the message for you a few hours ago. I hadn't heard so I came by. I didn't want to miss you."

"Oh. No. Of course," said Tricia, trying hard to get up to speed.

"I don't know about this," said the receptionist, for whom speed was not an issue. "Would you like me to try this number for you now?"

"No, that'll be fine, thanks," said Tricia. "I can handle it now." "I can call this room number here for you if that'll help," said the receptionist, peering at the note again.

"No, that won't be necessary, thanks," said Tricia. "That's my own room number. I'm the one the message was for. I think we've sorted this out now."

"You have a nice day now," said the receptionist.

Tricia didn't particularly want to have a nice day. She was busy. She also didn't want to talk to Gail Andrews. She had a very strict cut- off point as far as fraternizing with the Christians was concerned. Her colleagues called her interview subjects Christians and would often cross themselves when they saw one walking innocently into the studio to face Tricia, particularly if Tricia was smiling warmly and showing her teeth.

She turned and smiled frostily, wondering what to do.

Gail Andrews was a well-groomed woman in her mid-forties. Her clothes fell within the boundaries defined by expensive good taste, but were definitely huddled up at the floatier end of those boundaries. She was an astrologer -- a famous and, if rumor were true, influential astrologer, having allegedly influenced a number of decisions made by the late President Hudson, including everything from which flavor of Cool Whip to have on which day of the week to whether or not to bomb Damascus.

Tricia had savaged her more than somewhat. Not on the grounds of whether or not the stories about the president were true, that was old hat now. At the time Ms. Andrews had emphatically denied advising President Hudson on anything other than personal, spiritual or dietary matters, which did not, apparently, include the bombing of Damascus. (NOTHING PERSONAL, DAMASCUS! the tabloids had hooted at the time.)

No, this was a neat topical little angle that Tricia had come up with about the whole issue of astrology itself. Ms. Andrews had not been entirely ready for it. Tricia, on the other hand, was not entirely ready for a rematch in the hotel lobby. What to do?

"I can wait for you in the bar, if you need a few minutes," said Gail Andrews. "But I would like to talk to you, and I'm leaving the city tonight."

She seemed to be slightly anxious about something rather than aggrieved or irate.

"Okay," said Tricia. "Give me ten minutes."

She went up to her room. Apart from anything else, she had so little faith in the ability of the guy on the message desk at reception to deal with anything so complicated as a message that she wanted to be doubly certain that there wasn't a note under the door. It wouldn't be the first time that messages at the desk and messages under the door had been completely at odds with each other.

There wasn't one.

The message light on the phone was flashing, though.

She hit the message button and got the hotel operator.

"You have a message from Gary Andress," said the operator.

"Yes?" said Tricia. An unfamiliar name. "What does it say."

"Not hippy," said the operator.

"Not what?" said Tricia.

"Hippy. What it says. Guy says he's not a hippy. I guess he wanted you to know that. You want the number?"

As she started to dictate the number Tricia suddenly realized that this was just a garbled version of the message she had already had.

"Okay, okay," she said. "Are there any other messages for me?"

"Room number?"

Tricia couldn't work out why the operator should suddenly ask for her number this late in the conversation, but gave it to her anyway.


"McMillan, Tricia McMillan." Tricia spelled it, patiently.

"Not Mr. MacManus?"


"No more messages for you." Click.

Tricia sighed and dialed again. This time she gave her name and room number all over again, up front. The operator showed not the slightest glimmer of recognition that they had been speaking less than ten seconds ago.

"I'm going to be in the bar," Tricia explained. "In the bar. If a phone call comes through for me, please would you put it through to me in the bar?"


They went through it all a couple more times till Tricia was certain that everything that possibly could be clear was as clear as it possibly could be.

She showered, put on fresh clothes and retouched her makeup with the speed of a professional and, looking at her bed with a sigh, left the room again.

She had half a mind just to sneak off and hide.

No. Not really.

She had a look at herself in the mirror in the elevator lobby while she was waiting. She looked cool and in charge, and if she could fool herself she could fool anybody.

She was just going to have to tough it out with Gail Andrews. Okay, she had given her a hard time. Sorry, but that's the game we're all in -- that sort of thing. Ms. Andrews had agreed to do the interview because she had a new book out and TV exposure was free publicity. But there's no such thing as a free launch. No, she edited that line out again.

What had happened was this:

Last week astronomers had announced that they had at last discovered a tenth planet, out beyond the orbit of Pluto. They had been searching for it for years, guided by certain orbital anomalies in the outer planets, and now they'd found it and they were all terribly pleased, and everyone was terribly happy for them and so on. The planet was named Persephone, but rapidly nicknamed Rupert after some astronomer's parrot -- there was some tediously heartwarming story attached to this -- and that was all very wonderful and lovely.

Tricia had followed the story with, for various reasons, considerable interest.

Then, while she had been casting around for a good excuse to go to New York at her TV company's expense, she had happened to notice a press release about Gail Andrews and her new book, You and Your Planets.

Gail Andrews was not exactly a household name, but the moment you mentioned President Hudson, Cool Whip and the amputation of Damascus (the world had moved on from surgical strikes -- the official term had in fact been "Damascectomy," meaning the "taking out" of Damascus), everyone remembered who you meant.

Tricia saw an angle here which she quickly sold to her producer. Surely the notion that great lumps of rock whirling in space knew something about your day that you didn't must take a bit of a knock from the fact that there was suddenly a new lump of rock out there that nobody had known about before.

That must throw a few calculations out, mustn't it?

What about all those star charts and planetary motions and so on? We all knew (apparently) what happened when Neptune was in Virgo, and so on, but what about when Rupert was rising? Wouldn't the whole of astrology have to be rethought? Wouldn't now perhaps be a good time to own up that it was all just a load of hogwash and instead take up pig farming, the principles of which were founded on some kind of rational basis? If we'd known about Rupert three years ago, might President Hudson have been eating the chocolate flavor on Thursday rather than Friday? Might Damascus still be standing? That sort of thing.

Gail Andrews had taken it all reasonably well. She was just starting to recover from the initial onslaught, when she made the rather serious mistake of trying to shake Tricia off by talking smoothly about diurnal arcs, right ascensions and some of the more abstruse areas of three-dimensional trigonometry.

To her shock she discovered that everything she delivered to Tricia came right back at her with more spin on it than she could cope with. Nobody had warned Gail that being a TV bimbo was, for Tricia, her second stab at a role in life. Behind her Chanel lip gloss, her coupe sauvage and her crystal blue contact lenses lay a brain that had acquired for itself, in an earlier, abandoned phase of her life, a first-class degree in mathematics and a doctorate in astrophysics.


As she was getting into the elevator, Tricia, slightly preoccupied, realized she had left her bag in her room and wondered whether to duck back out and get it. No. It was probably safer where it was and there wasn't anything she particularly needed in it. She let the door close behind her.

Besides, she told herself, taking a deep breath, if life had taught her anything it was this: Never go back for your bag.

As the elevator went down she stared at the ceiling in a rather intent way. Anyone who didn't know Tricia McMillan better would have said that that was exactly the way people sometimes stared upward when they were trying to hold back tears. She must have been staring at the tiny security video camera mounted up in the corner. She marched rather briskly out of the elevator a minute later, and went up to the reception desk again.

"Now, I'm going to write this out," she said, "because I don't want anything to go wrong."

She wrote her name in large letters on a piece of paper, then her room number, then IN THE BAR and gave it to the receptionist, who looked at it.

"That's in case there's a message for me. Okay?"

The receptionist continued to look at it.

"You want me to see if she's in her room?" he said.


Two minutes later, Tricia swiveled into the bar seat next to Gail Andrews, who was sitting in front of a glass of white wine.

"You struck me as the sort of person who preferred to sit up at the bar rather than demurely at a table," she said.

This was true, and caught Tricia a little by surprise.

"Vodka?" said Gail.

"Yes," said Tricia, suspiciously. She just stopped herself from asking, How did you know? but Gail answered anyway.

"I asked the barman," she said, with a kindly smile.

The barman had her vodka ready for her and slid it charmingly across the glossy mahogany.

"Thank you," said Tricia, stirring it sharply.

She didn't know quite what to make out of all this sudden niceness and was determined not to be wrong-footed by it. People in New York were not nice to each other without reason.

"Ms. Andrews," she said, firmly, "I'm sorry that you're not happy. I know you probably feel I was a bit rough with you this morning, but astrology is, after all, just popular entertainment, which is fine. It's part of showbiz and it's a part that you have done well out of and good luck to you. It's fun. It's not a science though, and it shouldn't be mistaken for one. I think that's something we both managed to demonstrate very successfully together this morning, while at the same time generating some popular entertainment, which is what we both do for a living. I'm sorry if you have a problem with that."

"I'm perfectly happy," said Gail Andrews.

"Oh," said Tricia, not quite certain what to make of this. "It said in your message that you were not happy."

"No," said Gail Andrews. "I said in my message that I thought you were not happy, and I was just wondering why."

Tricia felt as if she had been kicked in the back of the head. She blinked.

"What?" she said quietly.

"To do with the stars. You seemed very angry and unhappy about something to do with stars and planets when we were having our discussion, and it's been bothering me, which is why I came to see if you were all right."

Tricia stared at her. "Ms. Andrews --" she started, and then realized that the way she had said it sounded exactly angry and unhappy and rather undermined the protest she had been trying to make.

"Please call me Gail, if that's okay."

Tricia just looked bewildered.

"I know that astrology isn't a science," said Gail. "Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or -- what's that strange thing you British play?"

"Er, cricket? Self-loathing?"

"Parliamentary democracy. The rules just kind of got there. They don't make any kind of sense except in terms of themselves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all the difference it would make. It's just a way of thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just to do with people thinking about people.

"So when you got so, I don't know, so emotionally focused on stars and planets this morning, I began to think, she's not angry about astrology, she really is angry and unhappy about actual stars and planets. People usually only get that unhappy and angry when they've lost something. That's all I could think and I couldn't make any more sense of it than that. So I came to see if you were okay."

Tricia was stunned.

One part of her brain had already got started on all sorts of stuff. It was busy constructing all sorts of rebuttals to do with how ridiculous newspaper horoscopes were and the sort of statistical tricks they played on people. But gradually it petered out, because it realized that the rest of her brain wasn't listening. She had been completely stunned.

She had just been told, by a total stranger, something she'd kept completely secret for seventeen years.

She turned to look at Gail.

"I ..."

She stopped.

A tiny security camera up behind the bar had turned to follow her movement. This completely flummoxed her. Most people would not have noticed it. It was not designed to be noticed. It was not designed to suggest that nowadays even an expensive and elegant hotel in New York couldn't be sure that its clientele wasn't suddenly going to pull a gun or not wear a tie. But carefully hidden though it was behind the vodka, it couldn't deceive the finely honed instinct of a TV anchor person, which was to know exactly when a camera was turning to look at her.

"Is something wrong?" asked Gail.

"No, I ... I have to say that you've rather astonished me," said Tricia. She decided to ignore the security TV camera. It was just her imagination playing tricks with her because she had television so much on her mind today. It wasn't the first time it had happened. A traffic-monitoring camera, she was convinced, had swung around to follow her as she walked past it, and a security camera in Bloomingdale's had seemed to make a particular point of watching her trying on hats. She was obviously going dotty. She had even imagined that a bird in Central Park had been peering at her rather intently.

She decided to put it out of her mind and took a sip of her vodka. Someone was walking around the bar asking people if they were Mr. MacManus.

"Okay," she said, suddenly blurting it out. "I don't know how you worked it out, but ..."

"I didn't work it out, as you put it. I just listened to what you were saying."

"What I lost, I think, was a whole other life."

"Everybody does that. Every moment of every day. Every single decision we make, every breath we draw, opens some doors and closes many others. Most of them we don't notice. Some we do. Sounds like you noticed one."

"Oh yes, I noticed," said Tricia. "All right. Here it is. It's very simple. Many years ago I met a guy at a party. He said he was from another planet and did I want to go along with him. I said, yes, okay. It was that kind of party. I said to him to wait while I went to get my bag and then I'd be happy to go off to another planet with him. He said I wouldn't need my bag. I said he obviously came from a very backward planet or he'd know that a woman always needed to take her bag with her. He got a bit impatient, but I wasn't going to be a complete pushover just because he said he was from another planet.

"I went upstairs. Took me a while to find my bag, and then there was someone else in the bathroom. Came down and he was gone."

Tricia paused.

"And ...?" said Gail.

"The garden door was open. I went outside. There were lights. Some kind of gleaming thing. I was just in time to see it rise up into the sky, shoot silently up through the clouds and disappear. That was it. End of story. End of one life, beginning of another. But hardly a moment of this life goes by that I don't wonder about some other me. A me that didn't go back for her bag. I feel like she's out there somewhere and I'm walking in her shadow."

A member of the hotel staff was now going around the bar asking people if they were Mr. Miller. Nobody was.

"You really think this ... person was from another planet?" asked Gail.

"Oh, certainly. There was the spacecraft. Oh, and also he had two heads."

"Two? Didn't anybody else notice?"

"It was a fancy dress party."

"I see ..."

"And he had a bird cage over it, of course. With a cloth over the cage. Pretended he had a parrot. He tapped on the cage and it did a lot of stupid 'Pretty Polly' stuff and squawking and so on. Then he pulled the cloth back for a moment and roared with laughter. There was another head in there, laughing along with him. It was a worrying moment, I can tell you."

"I think you probably did the right thing, dear, don't you?" said Gail.

"No," said Tricia. "No, I don't. And I couldn't carry on doing what I was doing either. I was an astrophysicist, you see. You can't be an astrophysicist properly if you've actually met someone from another planet who's got a second head that pretends to be a parrot. You just can't do it. I couldn't at least."

"I can see it would be hard. And that's probably why you tend to be a little hard on other people who talk what sounds like complete nonsense."

"Yes," said Tricia. "I expect you're right. I'm sorry."

"That's okay."

"You're the first person I've ever told this, by the way."

"I wondered. You married?"

"Er, no. So hard to tell these days, isn't it? But you're right to ask because that was probably the reason. I came very close a few times, mostly because I wanted to have a kid. But every guy ended up asking why I was constantly looking over his shoulder. What do you tell someone? At one point I even thought I might just go to a sperm bank and take pot luck. Have somebody's child at random."

"You can't seriously do that, can you?"

Tricia laughed. "Probably not. I never quite went and found out for real. Never quite did it. Story of my life. Never quite did the real thing. That's why I'm in television, I guess. Nothing is real."

"Excuse me, lady, your name Tricia McMillan?"

Tricia looked around in surprise. There was a man standing there in a chauffeur's hat.

"Yes," she said, instantly pulling herself back together again.

"Lady, I been looking for you for about an hour. Hotel said they didn't have anybody of that name, but I checked back with Mr. Martin's office and they said that this was definitely where you were staying. So I ask again, they still say they never heard of you, so I get them to page you anyway and they can't find you. In the end I get the office to fax a picture of you through to the car and have a look myself."

He looked at his watch.

"May be a bit late now, but do you want to go anyway?"

Tricia was stunned.

"Mr. Martin? You mean Andy Martin at NBS?"

"That's correct, lady. Screen test for 'U.S./A.M.'"

Tricia shot up out of her seat. She couldn't even bear to think of all the messages she'd heard for Mr. MacManus and Mr. Miller.

"Only we have to hurry," said the chauffeur. "As I heard it Mr. Martin thinks it might be worth trying a British accent. His boss at the network is dead against the idea. That's Mr. Zwingler, and I happen to know he's flying out to the coast this evening because I'm the one has to pick him up and take him to the airport."

"Okay," said Tricia, "I'm ready. Let's go."

"Okay, lady. It's the big limo out the front."

Tricia turned back to Gail. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Go! Go!" said Gail. "And good luck. I've enjoyed meeting you."

Tricia made to reach for her bag for some cash.

"Damn," she said. She'd left it upstairs.

"Drinks are on me," insisted Gail. "Really. It's been very interesting."

Tricia sighed.

"Look, I'm really sorry about this morning and ..."

"Don't say another word. I'm fine. It's only astrology. It's harmless. It's not the end of the world."

"Thanks." On an impulse, Tricia gave her a hug.

"You got everything?" said the chauffeur. "You don't want to pick up your bag or anything?"

"If there's one thing that life's taught me," said Tricia, "it's never go back for your bag."

* * *

Just a little over an hour later, Tricia sat on one of the pair of beds in her hotel room. For a few minutes she didn't move. She just stared at her bag, which was sitting innocently on top of the other bed.

In her hand was a note from Gail Andrews, saying, "Don't be too disappointed. Do ring if you want to talk about it. If I were you I'd stay in at home tomorrow night. Get some rest. But don't mind me, and don't worry. It's only astrology. It's not the end of the world. Gail."

The chauffeur had been dead right. In fact the chauffeur seemed to know more about what was going on inside NBS than any other single person she had encountered in the organization. Martin had been keen, Zwingler had not. She had had her one shot at proving Martin right and she had blown it.

Oh well. Oh well, oh well, oh well.

Time to go home. Time to phone the airline and see if she could still get the red-eye back to Heathrow tonight. She reached for the big phone directory.

Oh. First things first.

She put down the directory again, picked up her handbag and took it through to the bathroom. She put it down and took out the small plastic case that held her contact lenses, without which she had been unable to properly read either the script or the autocue.

As she dabbed each tiny plastic cup into her eyes, she reflected that if there was one thing life had taught her, it was that there are some times when you do not go back for your bag and other times when you do. It had yet to teach her to distinguish between the two types of occasions.
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