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 10:07 pm

Chapter 3

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has, in what we laughingly call the past, had a great deal to say on the subject of parallel universes. Very little of this is, however, at all comprehensible to anyone below the level of Advanced God, and since it is now well established that all known gods came into existence a good three millionths of a second after the Universe began rather than, as they usually claimed, the previous week, they already have a great deal of explaining to do as it is, and are therefore not available for comment on matters of deep physics at this time.

One encouraging thing the Guide does have to say on the subject of parallel universes is that you don't stand the remotest chance of understanding it. You can therefore say "What?" and "Eh?" and even go cross-eyed and start to blither if you like without any fear of making a fool of yourself.

The first thing to realize about parallel universes, the Guide says, is that they are not parallel.

It is also important to realize that they are not, strictly speaking, universes either, but it is easiest if you don't try to realize that until a little later, after you've realized that everything you've realized up to that moment is not true.

The reason they are not universes is that any given universe is not actually a thing as such, but is just a way of looking at what is technically known as the WSOGMM, or Whole Sort of General Mish Mash. The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash doesn't actually exist either, but is just the sum total of all the different ways there would be of looking at it if it did.

The reason they are not parallel is the same reason that the sea is not parallel. It doesn't mean anything. You can slice the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash any way you like and you will generally come up with something that someone will call home.

Please feel free to blither now.

* * *

The Earth with which we are here concerned, because of its particular orientation in the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash, was hit by a neutrino that other Earths were not.

A neutrino is not a big thing to be hit by.

In fact it's hard to think of anything much smaller by which one could reasonably hope to be hit. And it's not as if being hit by neutrinos was in itself a particularly unusual event for something the size of the Earth. Far from it. It would be an unusual nanosecond in which the Earth was not hit by several billion passing neutrinos.

It all depends on what you mean by "hit," of course, seeing as matter consists almost entirely of nothing at all. The chances of a neutrino actually hitting something as it travels through all this howling emptiness are roughly comparable to that of dropping a ball bearing at random from a cruising 747 and hitting, say, an egg sandwich.

Anyway, this neutrino hit something. Nothing terribly important in the scale of things, you might say. But the problem with saying something like that is that you would be talking cross-eyed badger spit. Once something actually happens somewhere in something as wildly complicated as the Universe, Kevin knows where it will all end up- -- where "Kevin" is any random entity that doesn't know nothin' about nothin'.

This neutrino struck an atom.

The atom was part of a molecule. The molecule was part of a nucleic acid. The nucleic acid was part of a gene. The gene was part of a genetic recipe for growing ... and so on. The upshot was that a plant ended up growing an extra leaf. In Essex. Or what would, after a lot of palaver and local difficulties of a geological nature, become Essex.

The plant was a clover. It threw its weight, or rather its seed, around extremely effectively and rapidly became the world's dominant type of clover. The precise causal connection between this tiny biological happenstance and a few other minor variations that exist in that slice of the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash -- such as Tricia McMillan failing to leave with Zaphod Beeblebrox, abnormally low sales of pecan-flavored ice cream and the fact that the Earth on which all this occurred did not get demolished by the Vogons to make way for a new hyperspace bypass -- is currently sitting at number 4,763,984,132 on the research project priority list at what was once the history department of the University of MaxiMegalon, and no one currently at the prayer meeting by the poolside appears to feel any sense of urgency about the problem.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:08 pm

Chapter 4

Tricia began to feel that the world was conspiring against her. She knew that this was a perfectly normal way to feel after an overnight flight going east, when you suddenly have a whole other mysteriously threatening day to deal with for which you are not the least bit prepared. But still.

There were marks on her lawn.

She didn't really care about marks on her lawn very much. Marks on her lawn could go and take a running jump as far as she was concerned. It was Saturday morning. She had just got home from New York feeling tired, crabby and paranoid, and all she wanted to do was go to bed with the radio on quietly and gradually fall asleep to the sound of Ned Sherrin being terribly clever about something.

But Eric Bartlett was not going to let her get away with not making a thorough inspection of the marks. Eric was the old gardener who came in from the village on Saturday mornings to poke around at her garden with a stick. He didn't believe in people coming in from New York first thing in the morning. Didn't hold with it. Went against nature. He believed in virtually everything else, though.

"Probably them space aliens," he said, bending over and prodding at the edges of the small indentations with his stick. "Hear a lot about space aliens these days. I expect it's them."

"Do you?" said Tricia, looking furtively at her watch. Ten minutes, she reckoned. Ten minutes she'd be able to stay standing up. Then she would simply keel over, whether she was in her bedroom or still out here in the garden. That was if she just had to stand. If she also had to nod intelligently and say "Do you?" from time to time, it might cut it down to five.

"Oh yes," said Eric. "They come down here, land on your lawn and then buzz off again, sometimes with your cat. Mrs. Williams at the post office, her cat, you know the ginger one? It got abducted by space aliens. Course, they brought it back the next day but it were in a very odd mood. Kept prowling around all morning, and then falling asleep in the afternoon. Used to be the other way round, is the point. Sleep in the morning, prowl in the afternoon. Jet lag, you see, from being in an interplanetary craft."

"I see," said Tricia.

"They dyed it tabby, too, she says. These marks are exactly the sort of marks that their landing pods would probably make."

"You don't think it's the lawn mower?" asked Tricia.

"If the marks were more round, I'd say, but these are just off-round, you see. Altogether more alien in shape."

"It's just that you mentioned the lawn mower was playing up and needed fixing or it might start gouging holes in the lawn."

"I did say that, Miss Tricia, and I stand by what I said. I'm not saying it's not the lawn mower for definite, I'm just saying what seems to be more likely given the shapes of the holes. They come in over these trees, you see, in their landing pods ..."

"Eric ..." said Tricia, patiently.

"Tell you what, though, Miss Tricia," said Eric, "I will take a look at the mower, like I meant to last week, and leave you to get on with whatever you're wanting to."

"Thank you, Eric," said Tricia. "I'm going to bed now, in fact. Help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen."

"Thank you, Miss Tricia, and good luck to you," said Eric. He bent over and picked something from the lawn.

"There," he said. "Three-leaf clover. Good luck, you see."

He peered at it closely to check that it was a real three-leaf clover and not just a regular four-leaf one that one of the leaves had fallen off. "If I were you, though, I'd watch for signs of alien activity in the area." He scanned the horizon keenly. "Particularly from over there in the Henley direction."

"Thank you, Eric," said Tricia, again. "I will."

She went to bed and dreamed fitfully of parrots and other birds. In the afternoon she got up and prowled around restlessly, not certain what to do with the rest of the day, or indeed the rest of her life. She spent at least an hour dithering trying to make up her mind whether to head up into town and go to Stavro's for the evening. This was the currently fashionable spot for high-flying media people, and seeing a few friends there might help her ease herself back into the swing of things. She decided at last she would go. It was good. It was fun there. She was very fond of Stavro himself, who was a Greek with a German father -- a fairly odd combination. Tricia had been to the Alpha a couple of nights earlier, which was Stavro's original club in New York, now run by his brother Karl, who thought of himself as German with a Greek mother. Stavro would be very happy to be told that Karl was making a bit of a pig's ear of running the New York club, so Tricia would go and make him happy. There was little love lost between Stavro and Karl Mueller.

Okay. That's what she would do.

She then spent another hour dithering about what to wear. At last she settled on a smart little black dress she'd got in New York. She phoned a friend to see who was likely to be at the club that evening, and was told that it was closed this evening for a private wedding party.

She thought that trying to live life according to any plan you actually work out is like trying to buy ingredients for a recipe from the supermarket. You get one of those carts, which simply will not go in the direction you push it, and end up just having to buy completely different stuff. What do you do with it? What do you do with the recipe? She didn't know.

Anyway, that night an alien spacecraft landed on her lawn.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:08 pm

Chapter 5

She watched it coming in from over the Henley direction with mild curiosity at first, wondering what those lights were. Living, as she did, not a million miles from Heathrow, she was used to seeing lights in the sky. Not usually so late in the evening, or so low, though, which was why she was mildly curious.

When whatever it was began to come closer and closer, her curiosity began to turn to bemusement.

Hmmm, she thought, which was about as far as she could get with thinking. She was still feeling dopey and jet-lagged and the messages that one part of her brain was busy sending to another were not necessarily arriving on time or the right way up. She left the kitchen, where she'd been fixing herself a coffee, and went to open the back door, which led out to the garden. She took a deep breath of cool evening air, stepped outside and looked up.

There was something roughly the size of a large camper van parked about a hundred feet above her lawn.

It was really there. Hanging there. Almost silent.

Something moved deep inside her.

Her arms dropped slowly down to her side. She hardly noticed the scalding coffee slopping over her foot. She was hardly breathing as slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, the craft came downward. Its lights were playing softly over the ground as if probing and feeling it. They played over her.

It seemed beyond all hope that she should be given her chance again. Had he found her? Had he come back?

The craft dropped down and down until at last it had settled quietly on her lawn. It didn't look exactly like the one she had seen departing all those years ago, she thought, but flashing lights in the night sky are hard to resolve into clear shapes.


Then a click and a hum.

Then another click and another hum. Click hum, click hum.

A doorway slid open, spilling light toward her across the lawn.

She waited, tingling.

A figure stood silhouetted in the light, then another, and another.

Wide eyes blinked slowly at her. Hands were slowly raised in greeting.

"McMillan?" a voice said at last, a strange, thin voice that managed the syllables with difficulty. "Tricia McMillan. Ms. Tricia McMillan?"

"Yes," said Tricia, almost soundlessly.

"We have been monitoring you."

"M ... monitoring? Me?"


They looked at her for a while, their large eyes moving up and down her very slowly.

"You look smaller in real life," one said at last.

"What?" said Tricia.


"I ... I don't understand," said Tricia. She hadn't expected any of this, of course, but even for something she hadn't expected to begin with, it wasn't going the way she expected. At last she said, "Are you ... are you from ... Zaphod?"

This question seemed to cause a little consternation among the three figures. They conferred with one another in some skittering language of their own and then turned back to her.

"We don't think so. Not as far as we know," said one.

"Where is Zaphod?" said another, looking up into the night sky.

"I ... I don't know," said Tricia, helplessly.

"It is far from here? Which direction? We don't know."

Tricia realized with a sinking heart that they had no idea who she was talking about. Or even what she was talking about. And she had no idea what they were talking about. She put her hopes tightly away again and snapped her brain back into gear. There was no point in being disappointed. She had to wake up to the fact that she had here the journalistic scoop of the century. What should she do? Go back into the house for a video camera? Wouldn't they just be gone when she got back? She was thoroughly confused as to strategy Keep' em talking, she thought. Figure it out later.

"You've been monitoring ... me.""

"All of you. Everything on your planet. TV. Radio. Telecommunications. Computers. Video circuitry. Warehouses."


"Car parks. Everything. We monitor everything."

Tricia stared at them.

"That must be very boring, isn't it?" she blurted out.


"So why ..."

"Except ..."

"Yes? Except what?"

"Game shows. We quite like game shows."

There was a terribly long silence as Tricia looked at the aliens and the aliens looked at her.

"There's something I would just like to get from indoors," said Tricia, very deliberately. "Tell you what. Would you, or one of you, like to come inside with me and have a look?"

"Very much," they all said, enthusiastically.

All three of them stood, slightly awkwardly in her sitting room, as she hurried around picking up a video camera, a 35mm camera, a tape recorder, every recording medium she could grab hold of. They were all thin and, under domestic lighting conditions, a sort of dim purplish green.

"I really won't be a second, guys," Tricia said, as she rummaged through some drawers for spare tapes and films.

The aliens were looking at the shelves that held her CDs and her old records. One of them nudged one of the others very slightly.

"Look," he said. "Elvis."

Tricia stopped, and stared at them all over again.

"You like Elvis?" she said.

"Yes," they said.

"Elvis Presley?"


She shook her head in bewilderment as she tried to stuff a new tape into her video camera.

"Some of your people," said one of her visitors, hesitantly, "think that Elvis has been kidnapped by space aliens."

"What?" said Tricia. "Has he?"

"It is possible."

"Are you telling me that you have kidnapped Elvis?" gasped Tricia. She was trying to keep cool enough not to foul up her equipment, but this was all almost too much for her.

"No. Not us," said her guests. "Aliens. It is a very interesting possibility. We talk of it often."

"I must get this down," Tricia muttered to herself. She checked that her video was properly loaded and working now. She pointed the camera at them. She didn't put it up to her eye because she didn't want to freak them out. But she was sufficiently experienced to be able to shoot accurately from the hip.

"Okay," she said. "Now tell me slowly and carefully who you are. You first," she said to the one on the left. "What's your name?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know."


"I see," said Tricia. "And what about you other two?"

"We don't know."

"Good. Okay. Perhaps you can tell me where you are from?"

They shook their heads.

"You don't know where you're from?"

They shook their heads again."

"So," said Tricia. "What are you ... er ..."

She was floundering but, being a professional, kept the camera steady while she did it.

"We are on a mission," said one of the aliens.

"A mission? A mission to do what?"

"We do not know."

Still she kept the camera steady.

"So what are you doing here on Earth, then?"

"We have come to fetch you."

Rock steady, rock steady. Could have been on a tripod. She wondered if she should be using a tripod, in fact. She wondered that because it gave her a moment or two to digest what they had just said. No, she thought, hand-held gave her more flexibility. She also thought, Help, what am I going to do?

"Why," she asked, calmly, "have you come to fetch me?"

"Because we have lost our minds."

"Excuse me," said Tricia, "I'm going to have to get a tripod."

They seemed happy enough to stand there doing nothing while Tricia quickly found a tripod and mounted the camera to it. Her face was completely immobile, but she did not have the faintest idea what was going on or what to think about it.

"Okay," she said, when she was ready. "Why ..."

"We liked your interview with the astrologer."

"You saw it?"

"We see everything. We are very interested in astrology. We like it. It is very interesting. Not everything is interesting. Astrology is interesting. What the stars tell us. What the stars foretell. We could do with some information like that."

"But ..."

Tricia didn't know where to start.

Own up, she thought. There's no point in trying to second-guess any of this stuff.

So she said, "But I don't know anything about astrology."

"We do."

"You do?"

"Yes. We follow our horoscopes. We are very avid. We see all your newspapers and your magazines and are very avid with them. But our leader says we have a problem."

"You have a leader?"


"What's his name?"

"We do not know."

"What does he say his name is, for Christ's sake? Sorry, I'll need to edit that. What does he say his name is?"

"He does not know."

"So how do you all know he's the leader?"

"He seized control. He said someone has to do something around here."

"Ah!" said Tricia, seizing on a clue. "Where is 'here'?"



"Your people call it Rupert. The tenth planet from your sun. We have settled there for many years. It is highly cold and uninteresting there. But good for monitoring."

"Why are you monitoring us?"

"It is all we know to do."

"Okay," said Tricia. "Right. What is the problem that your leader says you have?"


"I beg your pardon?"

"Astrology is a very precise science. We know this."

"Well ..." said Tricia, then left it at that.

"But it is precise for you here on Earth."

"Ye ... e ... s ..." She had a horrible feeling she was getting a vague glimmering of something.

"So when Venus is rising in Capricorn, for instance, that is from Earth. How does that work if we are out on Rupert? What if the Earth is rising in Capricorn? It is hard for us to know. Among the things we have forgotten, which we think are many and profound, is trigonometry."

"Let me get this straight," said Tricia. "You want me to come with you to ... Rupert ..."


"To recalculate your horoscopes for you to take account of the relative positions of Earth and Rupert?"


"Do I get an exclusive?"


"I'm your girl," said Tricia, thinking that at the very least she could sell it to the National Enquirer.

As she boarded the craft that would take her off to the farthest limits of the solar system, the first thing that met her eyes was a bank of video monitors across which thousands of images were sweeping. A fourth alien was sitting watching them, but was focused on one particular screen that held a steady image. It was a replay of the impromptu interview which Tricia had just conducted with his three colleagues. He looked up when he saw her apprehensively climbing in.

"Good evening, Ms. McMillan," he said. "Nice camera work."
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:09 pm

Chapter 6

Ford Prefect hit the ground running. The ground was about three inches farther from the ventilation shaft than he remembered it, so he misjudged the point at which he would hit the ground, started running too soon, stumbled awkwardly and twisted his ankle. Damn! He ran off down the corridor anyway, hobbling slightly.

All over the building, alarms were erupting into their usual frenzy of excitement. He dove for cover behind the usual storage cabinets, glanced around to check that he was unseen and started rapidly to fish around inside his satchel for the usual things he needed.

His ankle, unusually, was hurting like hell.

The ground was not only three inches farther from the ventilation shaft than he remembered, it was also on a different planet than he remembered, but it was the three inches that had caught him by surprise. The offices of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were quite often shifted at very short notice to another planet, for reasons of local climate, local hostility, power bills or taxes, but they were always reconstructed exactly the same way, almost to the very molecule. For many of the company's employees, the layout of their offices represented the only constant they knew in a severely distorted personal universe.

Something, though, was odd.

This was not in itself surprising, thought Ford as he pulled out his lightweight throwing towel. Virtually everything in his life was, to a greater or lesser extent, odd. It was just that this was odd in a slightly different way than he was used to things being odd, which was, well, strange. He couldn't quite get it into focus immediately.

He got out his no. 3-gauge prising tool.

The alarms were going in the same old way that he knew well. There was a kind of music to them that he could almost hum along to. That was all very familiar. The world outside had been a new one to Ford. He had not been to Saquo-Pilia Hensha before, and he liked it. It had a kind of carnival atmosphere to it.

He took from his satchel a toy bow and arrow, which he had bought in a street market.

He had discovered that the reason for the carnival atmosphere on Saquo Pilia Hensha was that the local people were celebrating the annual feast of the Assumption of St. Antwelm. St. Antwelm had been, during his lifetime, a great and popular king who had made a great and popular assumption. What King Antwelm had assumed was that what everybody wanted, all other things being equal, was to be happy and enjoy themselves and have the best possible time together. On his death he had willed his entire personal fortune to financing an annual festival to remind everyone of this, with lots of good food and dancing and very silly games like Hunt the Wocket. His Assumption had been such a brilliantly good one that he was made into a saint for it. Not only that, but all the people who had previously been made saints for doing things like being stoned to death in a thoroughly miserable way or living upside down in barrels of dung were instantly demoted and were now thought to be rather embarrassing.

The familiar H-shaped building of the Hitchhiker's Guide offices rose above the outskirts of the city, and Ford Prefect, on arriving at it, had broken into it in the familiar way. He always entered via the ventilation system rather than the main lobby because the main lobby was patrolled by robots whose job it was to quiz incoming employees about their expense accounts. Ford Prefect's expense accounts were notoriously complex and difficult affairs and he had found, on the whole, that the lobby robots were ill-equipped to understand the arguments he wished to put forward in relation to them, and he preferred, therefore, to make his entrance by another route.

This meant setting off nearly every alarm in the building, but not the one in the accounts department, which was the way that Ford preferred it.

He hunkered down behind the storage cabinet, licked the rubber suction cup of the toy arrow and then fitted it to the string of the bow.

Within about thirty seconds a security robot the size of a small melon came flying down the corridor at about waist height, scanning left and right for anything unusual as it did so.

With impeccable timing Ford shot the toy arrow across its path. The arrow flew across the corridor and stuck, wobbling, on the opposite wall. As it flew, the robot's sensors locked onto it instantly and the robot twisted through ninety degrees to follow it, see what the hell it was and where it was going.

This bought Ford one precious second, during which the robot was looking in the opposite direction from him. He hurled the towel over the flying robot and caught it.

Because of the various sensory protuberances with which the robot was festooned, it couldn't maneuver inside the towel, and it just twitched back and forth without being able to turn and face its captor.

Ford hauled it quickly toward him and pinned it down to the ground. It was beginning to whine pitifully. With one swift and practiced movement, Ford reached under the towel with his no. 3-gauge prising tool and flipped off the small plastic panel on top of the robot, which gave access to its logic circuits.

Now logic is a wonderful thing but it has, as the processes of evolution discovered, certain drawbacks.

Anything that thinks logically can be fooled by something else that thinks at least as logically as it does. The easiest way to fool a completely logical robot is to feed it the same stimulus sequence over and over again so it gets locked in a loop. This was best demonstrated by the famous Herring Sandwich experiments conducted millennia ago at MISPWOSO (the MaxiMegalon Institute of Slowly and Painfully Working Out the Surprisingly Obvious).

A robot was programmed to believe that it liked herring sandwiches. This was actually the most difficult part of the whole experiment. Once the robot had been programmed to believe that it liked herring sandwiches, a herring sandwich was placed in front of it. Whereupon the robot thought to itself, Ah! A herring sandwich! I like herring sandwiches.

It would then bend over and scoop up the herring sandwich in its herring sandwich scoop, and then straighten up again. Unfortunately for the robot, it was fashioned in such a way that the action of straightening up caused the herring sandwich to slip straight back off its herring sandwich scoop and fall on to the floor in front of the robot. Whereupon the robot thought to itself, Ah! A herring sandwich ..., etc., and repeated the same action over and over and over again. The only thing that prevented the herring sandwich from getting bored with the whole damn business and crawling off in search of other ways of passing the time was that the herring sandwich, being just a bit of dead fish between a couple of slices of bread, was marginally less alert to what was going on than was the robot.

The scientists at the Institute thus discovered the driving force behind all change, development and innovation in life, which was this: herring sandwiches. They published a paper to this effect, which was widely criticized as being extremely stupid. They checked their figures and realized that what they had actually discovered was "boredom," or rather, the practical function of boredom. In a fever of excitement they then went on to discover other emotions like "irritability," "depression," "reluctance," "ickiness" and so on. The next big breakthrough came when they stopped using herring sandwiches, whereupon a whole welter of new emotions became suddenly available to them for study, such as "relief," "joy," "friskiness," "appetite," "satisfaction," and most important of all, the desire for "happiness."

This was the biggest breakthrough of all.

Vast wodges of complex computer codes governing robot behavior in all possible contingencies could be replaced very simply. All that robots needed was the capacity to be either bored or happy, and a few conditions that needed to be satisfied in order to bring those states about. They would then work the rest out for themselves.

The robot that Ford had got trapped under his towel was not, at the moment, a happy robot. It was happy when it could move about. It was happy when it could see other things. It was particularly happy when it could see other things moving about, particularly if the other things were moving about doing things they shouldn't do because then it could, with considerable delight, report them.

Ford would soon fix that.

He squatted over the robot and held it between his knees. The towel was still covering all of its sensory mechanisms, but Ford had now got its logic circuits exposed. The robot was whirring grungily and pettishly, but it could only fidget, it couldn't actually move. Using the prising tool, Ford eased a small chip out from its socket. As soon as it came out, the robot suddenly went quiet and just sat there in a coma.

The chip Ford had taken out was the one that contained the instructions for all the conditions that had to be fulfilled in order for the robot to feel happy. The robot would be happy when a tiny electrical charge from a point just to the left of the chip reached another point just to the right of the chip. The chip determined whether the charge got there or not.

Ford pulled out a small length of wire that had been threaded into the towel. He dug one end of it into the top left hole of the chip socket and the other into the bottom right hole.

That was all it took. Now the robot would be happy whatever happened.

Ford quickly stood up and whisked the towel away. The robot rose ecstatically into the air, pursuing a kind of wriggly path.

It turned and saw Ford.

"Mr. Prefect, sir! I'm so happy to see you!"

"Good to see you, little fella," said Ford.

The robot rapidly reported back to its central control that everything was now for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and the alarms rapidly quelled themselves and life returned to normal.

At least, almost to normal.

There was something odd about the place.

The little robot was gurgling with electric delight. Ford hurried on down the corridor, letting the thing bob along in his wake telling him how delicious everything was, and how happy it was to be able to tell him that.

Ford, however, was not happy.

He passed faces of people he didn't know. They didn't look like his sort of people. They were too well groomed. Their eyes were too dead. Every time he thought he saw someone he recognized in the distance and hurried along to say hello, it would turn out to be someone else, with an altogether neater hairstyle and a much more thrusting, purposeful look than, well, than anybody Ford knew.

A staircase had been moved a few inches to the left. A ceiling had been lowered slightly. A lobby had been remodeled. All these things were not worrying in themselves, though they were a little disorienting. The thing that was worrying was the decor. It used to be brash and glitzy. Expensive -- because the Guide sold so well throughout the civilized and postcivilized Galaxy -- but expensive and fun. Wild games machines lined the corridors. Insanely painted grand pianos hung from ceilings, vicious sea creatures from the planet Viv reared up out of pools in tree-filled atria, robot butlers in stupid shirts roamed the corridors seeking whose hands they might press frothing drinks into. People used to have pet vastdragons on leads and pterospondes on perches in their offices. People knew how to have a good time, and if they didn't there were courses they could sign up for which would put that right.

There was none of that, now.

Somebody had been through the place doing some iniquitous kind of taste job on it.

Ford turned sharply into a small alcove, cupped his hand and yanked the flying robot in with him. He squatted down and peered at the burbling cybernaut.

"What's been happening here?" he demanded.

"Oh, just the nicest things, sir, just the nicest possible things. Can I sit on your lap, please?"

"No," said Ford, brushing the thing away. It was overjoyed to be spurned in this way and started to bob and burble and swoon. Ford grabbed it again and stuck it firmly in the air a foot in front of his face. It tried to stay where it was put but couldn't help quivering slightly.

"Something's changed, hasn't it?" Ford hissed.

"Oh yes," squealed the little robot, "in the most fabulous and wonderful way. I feel so good about it."

"Well, what was it like before, then?"


"But you like the way it's changed?" demanded Ford.

"I like everything, " moaned the robot. "Especially when you shout at me like that. Do it again, please."

"Just tell me what's happened!"

"Oh, thank you, thank you!"

Ford sighed.

"Okay, okay," panted the robot. "The Guide has been taken over. There's a new management. It's all so gorgeous I could just melt. The old management was also fabulous of course, though I'm not sure if I thought so at the time."

"That was before you had a bit of wire stuck in your head."

"How true. How wonderfully true. How wonderfully, bubblingly, frothingly, burstingly true. What a truly ecstasy-inducingly correct observation."

"What's happened?" insisted Ford. "Who is this new management? When did they take over? I ... oh, never mind," he added, as the little robot started to gibber with uncontrollable joy and rub itself against his knee. "I'll go and find out for myself."

* * *

Ford hurled himself at the door of the editor-in-chief's office, tucked himself into a tight ball as the frame splintered and gave way, rolled rapidly across the floor to where the drinks trolley laden with some of the Galaxy's most potent and expensive beverages habitually stood, seized hold of the trolley and, using it to give himself cover, trundled it and himself across the main exposed part of the office floor to where the valuable and extremely rude statue of Leda and the Octopus stood and took shelter behind it. Meanwhile the little security robot, entering at chest height, was suicidally delighted to draw gunfire away from Ford.

That, at least, was the plan, and a necessary one. The current editor-in-chief, Stagyar-zil-Doggo, was a dangerously unbalanced man who took a homicidal view of contributing staff turning up in his office without pages of fresh, proofed copy, and had a battery of laser- guided guns linked to special scanning devices in the door frame to deter anybody who was merely bringing extremely good reasons why they hadn't written any. Thus was a high level of output maintained.

Unfortunately, the drinks trolley wasn't there.

Ford hurled himself desperately sideways and somersaulted toward the statue of Leda and the Octopus, which also wasn't there. He rolled and hurtled around the room in a kind of random panic, tripped, spun, hit the window, which fortunately was built to withstand rocket attacks, rebounded and fell in a bruised and winded heap behind a smart gray crushed-leather sofa, which hadn't been there before.

After a few seconds he slowly peeked up above the top of the sofa. As well as there being no drinks trolley and no Leda and the Octopus, there had also been a startling absence of gunfire. He frowned. This was all utterly wrong.

"Mr. Prefect, I assume," said a voice.

The voice came from a smooth-faced individual behind a large ceramo-teak-bonded desk. Stagyar-zil-Doggo may well have been a hell of an individual, but no one, for a whole variety of reasons, would ever have called him smooth-faced. This was not Stagyar-zil-Doggo.

"I assume from the manner of your entrance that you do not have new material for the, er, Guide, at the moment," said the smooth- faced individual. He was sitting with his elbows resting on the table and holding his fingertips together in a manner which, inexplicably, has never been made a capital offense.

"I've been busy," said Ford, rather weakly. He staggered to his feet, brushing himself down. Then he thought, What the hell was he saying things weakly for? He had to get on top of this situation. He had to find out who the hell this person was, and he suddenly thought of a way of doing it.

"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.

"I am your new editor-in-chief. That is, if we decide to retain your services. My name is Vann Harl." He didn't put his hand out. He just added, "What have you done to that security robot?"

The little robot was rolling very, very slowly around the ceiling and moaning quietly to itself.

"I've made it very happy," snapped Ford. "It's a kind of mission I have. Where's Stagyar? More to the point, where's his drinks trolley?"

"Mr. Zil-Doggo is no longer with this organization. His drinks trolley is, I imagine, helping to console him for this fact."

"Organization?" yelled Ford. "Organization? What a bloody stupid word for a set-up like this!"

"Precisely our sentiments. Understructured, overresourced, undermanaged, overinebriated. And that," said Harl, "was just the editor."

"I'll do the jokes," snarled Ford.

"No," said Harl. "You will do the restaurant column."

He tossed a piece of plastic onto the desk in front of him. Ford did not move to pick it up.

"You what?" said Ford.

"No. Me Harl. You Prefect. You do restaurant column. Me editor. Me sit here tell you you do restaurant column. You get?"

"Restaurant column?" said Ford, too bewildered to be really angry yet.

"Siddown, Prefect," said Harl. He swung around in his swivel chair, got to his feet and stood staring out at the tiny specks enjoying the carnival twenty-three stories below.

"Time to get this business on its feet, Prefect," he snapped. "We at InfiniDim Enterprises are ..."

"You at what?"

"InfiniDim Enterprises. We have bought out the Guide."


"We spent millions on that name, Prefect. Start liking it or start packing."

Ford shrugged. He had nothing to pack.

"The Galaxy is changing," said Harl. "We've got to change with it. Go with the market. The market is moving up. New aspirations. New technology. The future is ..."

"Don't tell me about the future," said Ford. "I've been all over the future. Spend half my time there. It's the same as anywhere else. Anywhen else. Whatever. Just the same old stuff in faster cars and smellier air."

"That's one future," said Harl. "That's your future, if you accept it. You've got to learn to think multi dimensionally. There are limitless futures stretching out in every direction from this moment -- and from this moment and from this. Billions of them, bifurcating every instant! Every possible position of every possible electron balloons out into billions of probabilities! Billions and billions of shining, gleaming futures! You know what that means?"

"You're dribbling down your chin."

"Billions and billions of markets!"

"I see," said Ford. "So you sell billions and billions of Guides."

"No," said Harl, reaching for his handkerchief and not finding one. "Excuse me," he said, "but this gets me so excited." Ford handed him his towel.

"The reason we don't sell billions and billions of Guides, " continued Harl, after wiping his mouth, "is the expense. What we do is we sell one Guide billions and billions of times. We exploit the multidimensional nature of the Universe to cut down on manufacturing costs. And we don't sell to penniless hitchhikers. What a stupid notion that was! Find the one section of the market that, more or less by definition, doesn't have any money, and try to sell to it. No. We sell to the affluent business traveler and his vacationing wife in a billion, billion different futures. This is the most radical, dynamic and thrusting business venture in the entire multidimensional infinity of space-time probability ever."

"And you want me to be its restaurant critic," said Ford.

"We would value your input."

"Kill!" shouted Ford. He shouted it at his towel.

The towel leapt up out of Harl's hands.

This was not because it had any motive force of its own, but because Harl was so startled at the idea that it might. The next thing that startled him was the sight of Ford Prefect hurtling across the desk at him fists first. In fact Ford was just lunging for the credit card, but you don't get to occupy the sort of position that Harl occupied in the sort of organization in which Harl occupied it without developing a healthily paranoid view of life. He took the sensible precaution of hurling himself backward, and striking his head a sharp blow on the rocket-proof glass, then subsided into a series of worrying and highly personal dreams.

Ford lay on the desk, surprised at how swimmingly everything had gone. He glanced quickly at the piece of plastic he now held in his hand -- it was a Dine-O-Charge credit card with his name already embossed on it, and an expiration date two years from now, and was possibly the single most exciting thing Ford had ever seen in his life -- then he clambered over the desk to see to Harl.

He was breathing fairly easily. It occurred to Ford that he might breathe more easily yet without the weight of his wallet bearing down on his chest, so he slipped it out of Harl's breast pocket and flipped through it. Fair amount of cash. Credit tokens. Ultragolf club membership. Other club memberships. Photos of someone's wife and family -- presumably Harl's, but it was hard to be sure these days. Busy executives often didn't have time for a full-time wife and family and would just rent them for weekends.


He couldn't believe what he'd just found.

He slowly drew out from the wallet a single and insanely exciting piece of plastic that was nestling among a bunch of receipts.

It wasn't insanely exciting to look at. It was rather dull in fact. It was smaller and a little thicker than a credit card and semitransparent. If you held it up to the light you could see a lot of holographically encoded information and images buried pseudoinches deep beneath its surface.

It was an Ident-I-Eeze, and was a very naughty and silly thing for Harl to have lying around in his wallet, though it was perfectly understandable. There were so many different ways in which you were required to provide absolute proof of your identity these days that life could easily become extremely tiresome just from that factor alone, never mind the deeper existential problems of trying to function as a coherent consciousness in an epistemologically ambiguous physical universe. Just look at cash machines, for instance. Queues of people standing around waiting to have their fingerprints read, their retinas scanned, bits of skin scraped from the nape of the neck and undergoing instant (or nearly instant -- a good six or seven seconds in tedious reality) genetic analysis, then having to answer trick questions about members of their family they didn't even remember they had and about their recorded preferences for tablecloth colors. And that was just to get a bit of spare cash for the weekend. If you were trying to raise a loan for a jetcar, sign a missile treaty or pay an entire restaurant bill, things could get really trying.

Hence the Ident-I-Eeze. This encoded every single piece of information about you, your body and your life into one all-purpose machine-readable card that you could then carry around in your wallet, and it therefore represented technology's greatest triumph to date over both itself and plain common sense.

Ford pocketed it. A remarkably good idea had just occurred to him. He wondered how long Harl would remain unconscious.

"Hey!" he shouted to the little melon-sized robot still slobbering with euphoria up on the ceiling. "You want to stay happy?"

The robot gurgled that it did.

"Then stick with me and do everything I tell you without fail."

The robot said that it was quite happy where it was up on the ceiling thank you very much. It had never realized before how much sheer titillation there was to be got from a good ceiling and it wanted to explore its feelings about ceilings in greater depth.

"You stay there," said Ford, "and you'll soon be recaptured and have your conditional chip replaced. You want to stay happy, come now."

The robot let out a long heartfelt sigh of impassioned tristesse and sank reluctantly away from the ceiling.

"Listen," said Ford, "can you keep the rest of the security system happy for a few minutes?"

"One of the joys of true happiness," trilled the robot, "is sharing. I brim, I froth, I overflow with ..."

"Okay," said Ford. "Just spread a little happiness around the security network. Don't give it any information. Just make it feel good so it doesn't feel the need to ask for any."

He picked up his towel and ran cheerfully for the door. Life had been a little dull of late. It showed every sign now of becoming extremely froody.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:09 pm

Chapter 7

Arthur Dent had been in some hell holes in his life, but he had never before seen a spaceport that had a sign saying "Even traveling despondently is better than arriving here." To welcome visitors the arrivals hall featured a picture of the president of NowWhat, smiling. It was the only picture anybody could find of him, and it had been taken shortly after he had shot himself, so although the photo had been retouched as well as could be managed, the smile it wore was rather a ghastly one. The side of his head had been drawn back in crayon. No replacement had been found for the photograph because no replacement had been found for the president. There was only one ambition that anyone on the planet ever had, and that was to leave.

Arthur checked himself into a small motel on the outskirts of town and sat glumly on the bed, which was damp, and flipped through the little information brochure, which was also damp. It said that the planet of NowWhat had been named after the opening words of the first settlers to arrive there after struggling across light years of space to reach the farthest unexplored outreaches of the Galaxy. The main town was called Oh Well. There weren't any other towns to speak of. Settlement on NowWhat had not been a success and the sort of people who actually wanted to live on NowWhat were not the sort of people you would want to spend time with.

Trading was mentioned in the brochure. The main trade that was carried out was in the skins of the NowWhattian boghog but it wasn't a very successful one because no one in their right minds would want to buy a NowWhattian boghog skin. The trade only hung on by its fingernails because there was always a significant number of people in the Galaxy who were not in their right minds. Arthur had felt very uncomfortable looking around at some of the other occupants of the small passenger compartment of the ship.

The brochure described some of the history of the planet. Whoever had written it had obviously started out trying to drum up a little enthusiasm for the place by stressing that it wasn't actually cold and wet all the time, but could find little positive to add to this, so the tone of the piece quickly degenerated into savage irony.

It talked about the early years of settlement. It said that the major activities pursued on NowWhat were those of catching, skinning and eating NowWhattian boghogs, which were the only extant form of animal life on NowWhat, all others having long ago died of despair. The boghogs were tiny, vicious creatures, and the small margin by which they fell short of being completely inedible was the margin by which life on the planet subsisted. So what were the rewards, however small, that made life on NowWhat worth living? Well, there weren't any. Not a one. Even making yourself some protective clothing out of boghog skins was an exercise in disappointment and futility, since the skins were unaccountably thin and leaky. This caused a lot of puzzled conjecture among the settlers. What was the boghog's secret of keeping warm? If anyone had ever learned the language the boghogs spoke to one another, they would have discovered that there was no trick. The boghogs were as cold and wet as anyone else on the planet. No one had had the slightest desire to learn the language of the boghogs for the simple reason mat these creatures communicated by biting each other very hard on the thigh. Life on NowWhat being what it was, most of what a boghog might have to say about it could easily be signified by these means.

Arthur flipped through the brochure till he found what he was looking for. At the back there were a few maps of the planet. They were fairly rough and ready because they weren't likely to be of much interest to anyone, but they told him what he wanted to know.

He didn't recognize it at first because the maps were the other way up from the way he would have expected and looked, therefore, thoroughly unfamiliar. Of course, up and down, north and south, are absolutely arbitrary designations, but we are used to seeing things the way we are used to seeing them, and Arthur had to turn the maps upside down to make sense of them.

There was one huge landmass off on the upper left-hand side of the page that tapered down to a tiny waist and then ballooned out again like a large comma. On the right-hand side was a collection of large shapes jumbled familiarly together. The outlines were not exactly the same, and Arthur didn't know if this was because the map was so rough, or because the sea level was higher or because, well, things were just different here. But the evidence was inarguable.

This was definitely the Earth.

Or rather, it most definitely was not.

It merely looked a lot like the Earth and occupied the same coordinates in space-time. What coordinates it occupied in Probability was anybody's guess.

He sighed.

This, he realized, was about as close to home as he was likely to get. Which meant that he was about as far from home as he could possibly be. Glumly he slapped the brochure shut and wondered what on earth he was going to do next.

He allowed himself a hollow laugh at what he had just thought. He looked at his old watch and shook it a bit to wind it. It had taken him, according to his own time scale, a year of hard traveling to get here. A year since the accident in hyperspace in which Fenchurch had completely vanished. One minute she had been sitting there next to him in the SlumpJet; the next minute the ship had done a perfectly normal hyperspace hop and when he had next looked she was not there. The seat wasn't even warm. Her name wasn't even on the passenger list.

The spaceline had been wary of him when he complained. A lot of awkward things happen in space travel, and a lot of them make a lot of money for lawyers. But when they asked him what Galactic Sector he and Fenchurch were from and he said ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, they relaxed completely in a way that Arthur wasn't at all sure he liked. They even laughed a little, though sympathetically, of course. They pointed to the clause in the ticket contract that said that the entities whose lifespans had originated in any of the Plural zones were advised not to travel in hyperspace and did so at their own risk. Everybody, they said, knew that. They tittered slightly and shook their heads.

As Arthur left their offices he found he was trembling slightly. Not only had he lost Fenchurch in the most complete and utter way possible, but he felt that the more time he spent away out in the Galaxy the more it seemed that the number of things he didn't know anything about actually increased.

Just as he was lost for a moment in these numb memories a knock came on the door of his motel room, which then opened immediately. A fat and disheveled man came in carrying Arthur's one small case.

He got as far as "Where shall I put --" when there was a sudden violent flurry and he collapsed heavily against the door, trying to beat off a small and mangy creature that had leapt snarling out of the wet night and buried its teeth into his thigh, even through the thick layers of leather padding he wore there. There was a brief, ugly confusion of jabbering and thrashing. The man shouted frantically and pointed. Arthur grabbed a hefty stick that stood next to the door expressly for this purpose and beat at the boghog with it.

The boghog suddenly disengaged and limped backward, dazed and forlorn. It turned anxiously in the corner of the room, its tail tucked up right under its back legs, and then stood looking nervously up at Arthur, jerking its head awkwardly and repeatedly to one side. Its jaw seemed to be dislocated. It cried a little and scraped its damp tail across the floor. By the door, the fat man with Arthur's suitcase was sitting and cursing, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his thigh. His clothes were already wet from the rain.

Arthur stared at the boghog, not knowing what to do. The boghog looked at him questioningly. It tried to approach him, making mournful little whimpering noises. It moved its jaw painfully. It made a sudden leap for Arthur's thigh, but its dislocated jaw was too weak to get a grip and it sank, whining sadly, down to the floor. The fat man jumped to his feet, grabbed the stick, beat the boghog's brains into a sticky, pulpy mess on the thin carpet, and then stood there breathing heavily as if daring the animal to move again, just once.

A single boghog eyeball sat looking reproachfully at Arthur from out of the mashed ruins of its head.

"What do you think it was trying to say?" asked Arthur in a small voice.

"Ah, nothing much," said the man. "Just its way of trying to be friendly. This is just our way of being friendly back," he added, gripping the stick.

"When's the next flight out?" asked Arthur.

"Thought you'd only just arrived," said the man.

"Yes," said Arthur. "It was only going to be a brief visit. I just wanted to see if this was the right place or not. Sorry."

"You mean you're on the wrong planet?" said the man, lugubriously. "Funny how many people say that. Specially the people who live here." He eyed the remains of the boghog with a deep, ancestral resentment.

"Oh no," said Arthur, "it's the right planet, all right." He picked up the damp brochure lying on the bed and put it in his pocket. "It's okay, thanks, I'll take that," he said, taking his case from the man. He went to the door and looked out into the cold, wet night.

"Yes, it's the right planet, all right," he said again. "Right planet, wrong universe."

A single bird wheeled in the sky above him as he set off back for the spaceport.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:09 pm

Chapter 8

Ford had his own code of ethics. It wasn't much of one, but it was his and he stuck by it, more or less. One rule he made was never to buy his own drinks. He wasn't sure if that counted as an ethic, but you have to go with what you've got. He was also firmly and utterly opposed to all and any forms of cruelty to any animals whatsoever except geese. And furthermore he would never steal from his employers.

Well, not exactly steal.

If his accounts supervisor didn't start to hyperventilate and put out a seal-all-exits security alert when Ford handed in his expenses claim, then Ford felt he wasn't doing his job properly. But actually stealing was another thing. That was biting the hand that feeds you. Sucking very hard on it, even nibbling it in an affectionate kind of a way was okay, but you didn't actually bite it. Not when that hand was the Guide. The Guide was something sacred and special.

But that, thought Ford as he ducked and weaved his way down through the building, was about to change. And they had only themselves to blame. Look at all this stuff. Lines of neat gray office cubicles and executive workstation pods. The whole place was dreary with the hum of memos and minutes of meetings flitting through its electronic networks. Out in the street they were playing Hunt the Wocket, for Zark's sake, but here in the very heart of the Guide offices no one was even recklessly kicking a ball around the corridors or wearing inappropriately colored beachware.

"InfiniDim Enterprises," Ford snarled to himself as he stalked rapidly down one corridor after another. Door after door magically opened to him without question. Elevators took him happily to places they should not. Ford was trying to pursue the most tangled and complicated route he could, heading generally downward through the building. His happy little robot took care of everything, spreading waves of acquiescent joy through all the security circuits it encountered.

Ford thought it needed a name and decided to call it Emily Saunders, after a girl he had very fond memories of. Then he thought that Emily Saunders was an absurd name for a security robot, and decided to call it Colin instead, after Emily's dog.

He was moving deep into the bowels of the building now, into areas he had never entered before, areas of higher and higher security. He was beginning to encounter puzzled looks from the operatives he passed. At this level of security you didn't even call them people anymore. And they were probably doing stuff that only operatives would do. When they went home to their families in the evening they became people again, and when their little children looked up to them with their sweet shining eyes and said, "Daddy, what did you do all day today?" they just said, "I performed my duties as an operative," and left it at that.

The truth of the matter was that all sorts of highly dodgy stuff went on behind the cheery, happy-go-lucky front that the Guide liked to put up -- or used to like to put up before this new InfiniDim Enterprises bunch marched in and started to make the whole thing highly dodgy. There were all kinds of tax scams and rackets and graft and shady deals supporting the shining edifice, and down in the secure research and data processing levels of the building was where it all went on. Every few years the Guide would set up its business, and indeed its building, on a new world, and all would be sunshine and laughter for a while as the Guide would put down its roots in the local culture and economy, provide employment, a sense of glamour and adventure and, in the end, not quite as much actual revenue as the locals had expected.

When the Guide moved on, taking its building with it, it left a little like a thief in the night. Exactly like a thief in the night in fact. It usually left in the very early hours of the morning, and the following day there always turned out to be a very great deal of stuff missing. Whole cultures and economies would collapse in its wake, often within a week, leaving once-thriving planets desolate and shell shocked but still somehow feeling they had been part of some great adventure.

The "operatives" who shot puzzled glances at Ford as he marched on into the depths of the building's most sensitive areas were reassured by the presence of Colin, who was flying along with him in a buzz of emotional fulfillment and easing his path for him at every stage.

Alarms were starting to go off in other parts of the building. Perhaps that meant that Vann Harl had already been discovered, which might be a problem. Ford had been hoping he would be able to slip the Ident-I-Eeze back into his pocket before he came around. Well, that was a problem for later, and he didn't for the moment have the faintest idea how he was going to solve it. For the moment he wasn't going to worry. Wherever he went with little Colin, he was surrounded by a cocoon of sweetness and light and, most important, willing and acquiescent elevators and positively obsequious doors.

Ford even began to whistle, which was probably his mistake. Nobody likes a whistler, particularly not the divinity that shapes our ends.

The next door wouldn't open.

And that was a pity, because it was the very one that Ford had been making for. It stood there before him, gray and resolutely closed with a sign on it saying:


Colin reported that the doors had been getting generally a lot grimmer down in these lower reaches of the building.

They were about ten stories below ground level now. The air was refrigerated and the tasteful gray hessian wall-weave had given way to brutal gray bolted steel walls. Colin's rampant euphoria had subsided into a kind of determined cheeriness. He said that he was beginning to tire a little. It was taking all his energy to pump the slightest bonhomie whatsoever into the doors down here.

Ford kicked at the door. It opened.

"Mixture of pleasure and pain," he muttered. "Always does the trick."

He walked in and Colin flew in after him. Even with a wire stuck straight into his pleasure electrode, his happiness was a nervous kind of happiness. He bobbed around a little.

The room was small, gray and humming.

This was the nerve center of the entire Guide.

The computer terminals that lined the gray walls were windows onto every aspect of the Guide's operations. Here, on the left-hand side of the room, reports were gathered over the Sub-Etha-Net from field researchers in every corner of the Galaxy, fed straight up into the network of sub-editors' offices, where they had all the good bits cut out by secretaries because the sub-editors were out having lunch. The remaining copy would then be shot across to the other half of the building -- the other leg of the H -- which was the legal department. The legal department would cut out anything that was still even remotely good from what remained and fire it back to the offices of the executive editors, who were also out at lunch. So the editors' secretaries would read it and say it was stupid and cut most of what was left.

When any of the editors finally staggered in from lunch they would exclaim, "What is this feeble crap that X" -- where X was the name of the field researcher in question -- "has sent us from halfway across the bloody Galaxy? What's the point of having somebody spending three whole orbital periods out in the bloody Gagrakacka Mind Zones, with all that stuff going on out there, if this load of anemic squitter is the best he can be bothered to send us? Disallow his expenses!"

"What shall we do with the copy?" the secretary would ask.

"Ah, put it out over the network. Got to have something going out there. I've got a headache, I'm going home."

So the edited copy would go for one last slash and burn through the legal department, and then be sent back down here, where it would be broadcast out over the Sub-Etha-Net for instantaneous retrieval anywhere in the Galaxy. That was handled by equipment which was monitored and controlled by the terminals on the right-hand side of the room.

Meanwhile the order to disallow the researcher's expenses was relayed down to the computer terminal stuck off in the upper right-hand corner, and it was to this terminal that Ford Prefect now swiftly made his way.

If you are reading this on planet Earth then:

A. Good luck to you. There is an awful lot of stuff you don't know anything about, but you are not alone in this. It's just that in your case the consequences of not knowing any of this stuff are particularly terrible, but then, hey, that's just the way the cookie gets completely stomped on and obliterated.

B. Don't imagine you know what a computer terminal is.

A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.

Ford hurried over to the terminal, sat in front of it and quickly dipped himself into its universe.

It wasn't the normal universe he knew. It was a universe of densely enfolded worlds, of wild topographies, towering mountain peaks, heart-stopping ravines, of moons shattering off into seahorses, hurtful blurting crevices, silently heaving oceans and bottomless hurtling hooping funts.

He held still to get his bearings. He controlled his breathing, closed his eyes and looked again.

So this was where accountants spent their time. There was clearly more to them than met the eye. He looked around carefully, trying not to let it all swell and swim and overwhelm him.

He didn't know his way around this universe. He didn't even know the physical laws that determined its dimensional extents or behaviors, but his instinct told him to look for the most outstanding feature he could detect and make toward it.

Way off in some indistinguishable distance -- was it a mile or a million or a mote in his eye? -- was a stunning peak that overarched the sky, climbed and climbed and spread out in flowering aigrettes, [1] agglomerates, [2] and archimandrites. [3]

He weltered toward it, hooling and thurling, and at last reached it in a meaninglessly long umthingth of time.

He clung to it, arms outspread, gripping tightly on to its roughly gnarled and pitted surface. Once he was certain that he was secure, he made the hideous mistake of looking down.

While he had been weltering, hooling and thurling, the distance beneath him had not bothered him unduly, but now that he was gripping, the distance made his heart wilt and his brain bend. His fingers were white with pain and tension. His teeth were grinding and twisting against each other beyond his control. His eyes turned inward with waves from the willowing extremities of nausea.

With an immense effort of will and faith he simply let go and pushed.

He felt himself float. Away. And then, counterintuitively, upward. And upward.

He threw his shoulders back, let his arms drop, gazed upward and let himself be drawn loosely, higher and higher.

Before long, insofar as such terms had any meaning in this virtual universe, a ledge loomed up ahead of him on which he could grip and onto which he could clamber.

He rose; he gripped; he clambered.

He panted a little. This was all a little stressful.

He held tightly onto the ledge as he sat. He wasn't certain if this was to prevent himself from falling down off it or rising up from it, but he needed something to grip onto as he surveyed the world in which he found himself.

The whirling, turning height spun him and twisted his brain in upon itself till he found himself, eyes closed, whimpering and hugging the hideous wall of towering rock.

He slowly brought his breathing back under control again. He told himself repeatedly that he was just in a graphic representation of a world. A virtual universe. A simulated reality. He could snap back out of it at any moment.

He snapped back out of it.

He was sitting in a blue leatherette foam-filled, swivel-seated office chair in front of a computer terminal.

He relaxed.

He was clinging to the face of an impossibly high peak perched on a narrow ledge above a drop of brain-swiveling dimensions.

It wasn't just the landscape being so far beneath him -- he wished it would stop undulating and waving.

He had to get a grip. Not on the rock wall -- that was an illusion. He had to get a grip on the situation, be able to look at the physical world he was in while drawing himself out of it emotionally.

He clenched inwardly and then, just as he had let go of the rock face itself, he let go of the idea of the rock face and let himself just sit there clearly and freely. He looked out at the world. He was breathing well. He was cool. He was in charge again.

He was in a four-dimensional topological model of the Guide's financial systems, and somebody or something would very shortly want
to know why.

And here they came.

Swooping through virtual space toward him came a small flock of mean and steely-eyed creatures with pointy little heads, pencil moustaches and querulous demands as to who he was, what he was doing there, what his authorization was, what the authorization of his authorizing agent was, what his inside leg measurement was and so on. Laser light flickered all over him as if he were a packet of biscuits at a supermarket check-out. The heavier-duty laser guns were held, for the moment, in reserve. The fact that all of this was happening in virtual space made no difference. Being virtually killed by virtual laser in virtual space is just as effective as the real thing, because you are as dead as you think you are.

The laser readers were becoming very agitated as they flickered over his fingerprints, his retina and the follicle pattern where his hair line was receding. They didn't like what they were finding at all. The chattering and screeching of highly personal and insolent questions was rising in pitch. A little surgical steel scraper was reaching out toward the skin at the nape of his neck when Ford, holding his breath and praying very slightly, pulled Vann Harl's Indent-I-Eeze out of his pocket and waved it in front of them.

Instantly every laser was diverted to the little card and swept backward and forward over it and in it, examining and reading every molecule.

Then, just as suddenly, they stopped.

The entire flock of little virtual inspectors snapped to attention.

"Nice to see you, Mr. Harl," they said in smarmy unison. "Is there anything we can do for you?"

Ford smiled a slow and vicious smile.

"Do you know," he said, "I rather think there is?"


Five minutes later he was out of there

About thirty seconds to do the job, and three minutes thirty to cover his tracks. He could have done anything he liked in the virtual structure, more or less. He could have transferred ownership of the entire organization into his own name, but he doubted if that would have gone unnoticed. He didn't want it anyway. It would have meant responsibility, working late nights at the office, not to mention massive and time-consuming fraud investigations and a fair amount of time in jail. He wanted something that nobody other than the computer would notice: that was the bit that took thirty seconds.

The thing that took three minutes thirty was programming the computer not to notice that it had noticed anything.

It had to want not to know about what Ford was up to, and then he could safely leave the computer to rationalize its own defenses against the information's ever emerging. It was a programming technique that had been reverse-engineered from the sort of psychotic mental blocks that otherwise perfectly normal people had been observed invariably to develop when elected to high political office.

The other minute was spent discovering that the computer system already had a mental block. A big one.

He would never have discovered it if he hadn't been busy engineering a mental block himself. He came across a whole slew of smooth and plausible denial procedures and diversionary subroutines exactly where he had been planning to install his own. The computer denied all knowledge of them, of course, then blankly refused to accept that there was anything even to deny knowledge of and was generally so convincing that even Ford almost found himself thinking he must have made a mistake.

He was impressed.

He was so impressed, in fact, that he didn't bother to install his own mental block procedures, he just set up calls to the ones that were already there, which then called themselves when questioned, and so on.

He quickly set about debugging the little bits of code he had installed himself, only to discover they weren't there. Cursing, he searched all over for them, but could find no trace of them at all.

He was just about to start installing them all over again when he realized that the reason he couldn't find them was that they were working already.

He grinned with satisfaction.

He tried to discover what the computer's other mental block was all about, but it seemed, not unnaturally, to have a mental block about it. He could no longer find any trace of it at all, in fact; it was that good. He wondered if he had been imagining it. He wondered if he had been imagining that it was something to do with something in the building, and something to do with the number thirteen. He ran a few tests. Yes, he had obviously been imagining it.


No time for fancy routes now, there was obviously a major security alert in progress. Ford took the elevator up to the ground floor to change to the express elevators. He somehow had to get the Ident-I-Eeze back into Harl's pocket before it was missed. How, he didn't know.

The doors of the elevator slid open to reveal a large posse of security guards and robots poised waiting for it and brandishing filthy- looking weapons.

They ordered him out.

With a shrug he stepped forward. They all pushed rudely past him into the elevator, which took them down to continue their search for him on the lower levels.

This was fun, thought Ford, giving Colin a friendly pat. Colin was about the first genuinely useful robot Ford had ever encountered. Colin bobbed along in the air in front of him in a lather of cheerful ecstasy. Ford was glad he'd named him after a dog.

He was highly tempted just to leave at that point and hope for the best, but he knew that the best had a far greater chance of actually occurring if Harl did not discover that his Ident-I-Eeze was missing. He somehow, surreptitiously, had to return it.

They went to the express elevators.

"Hi," said the elevator they got into.

"Hi," said Ford.

"Where can I take you folks today?" said the elevator.

"Floor twenty-three," said Ford.

"Seems to be a popular floor today," said the elevator.

Hmm, thought Ford, not liking the sound of that at all. The elevator lit up the twenty-third floor on its floor display and started to zoom upward. Something about the floor display tweaked at Ford's mind but he couldn't catch what it was and forgot about it. He was more worried about the idea of the floor he was going to being a popular one. He hadn't really thought through how he was going to deal with whatever it was that was happening up there because he had no idea what he was going to find. He would just have to busk it.

They were there.

The doors slid open.

Ominous quiet.

Empty corridor.

There was the door to Harl's office, with a slight layer of dust around it. Ford knew that this dust consisted of billions of tiny molecular robots that had crawled out of the woodwork, built one another, rebuilt the door, disassembled one another and then crept back into the woodwork again and just waited for damage. Ford wondered what kind of life that was, but not for long because he was a lot more concerned about what his own life was like at that moment.

He took a deep breath and started his run.



1. An ornamental tuft of plumes.

2. A jumbled mass.

3. A cleric ranking below a bishop.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:10 pm

Chapter 9

Arthur felt at a bit of a loss. There was a whole galaxy of stuff out there for him, and he wondered if it was churlish of him to complain to himself that it lacked just two things: the world he was born on and the woman he loved.

Damn it and blast it, he thought, and felt the need of some guidance and advice. He consulted The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He looked up "guidance" and it said, "See under ADVICE." He looked up "advice" and it said, "See under GUIDANCE." It had been doing a lot of that kind of stuff recently and he wondered if it was all it was cracked up to be.

He headed to the outer Eastern rim of the Galaxy, where, it was said, wisdom and truth were to be found, most particularly on the planet Hawalius, which was a planet of oracles' and seers and soothsayers and also take-out pizza parlors, because most mystics were completely incapable of cooking for themselves.

However, it appeared that some sort of calamity had befallen this planet. As Arthur wandered the streets of the village where the major prophets lived, it had something of a crestfallen air. He came across one prophet who was clearly shutting up shop in a despondent kind of way and asked him what was happening.

"No call for us anymore," he said gruffly as he started to bang a nail into the plank he was holding across the window of his hovel.

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Hold on to the other end of this and I'll show you."

Arthur held up the unnailed end of the plank and the old prophet scuttled into the recesses of his hovel, returning a moment or two later with a small Sub-Etha radio. He turned it on, fiddled with the dial for a moment and put the thing on the small wooden bench that he usually sat and prophesied on. He then took hold of the plank again and resumed hammering.

Arthur sat and listened to the radio.

"... be confirmed," said the radio.

"Tomorrow," it continued, "the vice president of Poffla Vigus, Roopy Ga Stip, will announce that he intends to run for president. In a speech he will give tomorrow at ..."

"Find another channel," said the prophet. Arthur pushed the preset button.

"... refused to comment," said the radio. "Next week's jobless totals in the Zabush sector ," it continued, "will be the worst since records began. A report published next month says ..."

"Find another," barked the prophet, crossly. Arthur pushed the button again.

"... denied it categorically," said the radio. "Next month's royal wedding between Prince Gid of the Soofling dynasty and Princess Hooli of Raui Alpha will be the most spectacular ceremony the Bjanjy Territories has ever witnessed. Our reporter Trillian Astra is there and sends us this report."

Arthur blinked.

The sound of cheering crowds and a hubbub of brass bands erupted from the radio. A very familiar voice said, "Well, Krart, the scene here in the middle of next month is absolutely incredible. Princess Hooli is looking radiant in a ..."

The prophet swiped the radio off the bench and onto the dusty ground, where it squawked like a badly tuned chicken.

"See what we have to contend with?" grumbled the prophet.

"Here, hold this. Not that, this. No, not like that. This way up. Other way 'round, you fool."

"I was listening to that," complained Arthur, grappling helplessly with the prophet's hammer.

"So does everybody. That's why this place is like a ghost town." He spat into the dust.

"No, I mean, that sounded like someone I knew."

"Princess Hooli? If I had to stand around saying hello to everybody who's known Princess Hooli, I'd need a new set of lungs."

"Not the Princess," said Arthur. "The reporter. Her name's Trillian. I don't know where she got the Astra from. She's from the same planet as me. I wondered where she'd got to."

"Oh, she's all over the continuum these days. We can't get the tri-d TV stations out here of course, thank the Great Green Arkleseizure, but you hear her on the radio, gallivanting here and there through space-time. She wants to settle down and find herself a steady era, that young lady does. It'll all end in tears. Probably already has." He swung with his hammer and hit his thumb rather hard. He started to speak in tongues.


The village of oracles wasn't much better.

He had been told that when looking for a good oracle it was best to find the oracle that other oracles went to, but he was shut. There was a sign by the entrance saying, "I just don't know anymore. Try next door [arrow right], but that's just a suggestion, not formal oracular advice."

"Next door" was a cave a few hundred yards away and Arthur walked toward it. Smoke and steam were rising from, respectively, a small fire and a battered tin pot that was hanging over it. There was also a very nasty smell coming from the pot. At least, Arthur thought it was coming from the pot. The distended bladders of some of the local goatlike things were hanging from a propped-up line drying in the sun, and the smell could have been coming from them. There was also, a worryingly small distance away, a pile of discarded bodies of the local goatlike things and the smell could have been coming from them.

But the smell could just as easily have been coming from the old lady who was busy beating flies away from the pile of bodies. It was a hopeless task because each of the flies was about the size of a winged bottle top and all she had was a table tennis bat. Also she seemed half-blind. Every now and then, by chance, her wild thrashing would connect with one of the flies with a richly satisfying thunk, and the fly would hurtle through the air and smack itself open against the rock face a few yards from the entrance to her cave.

She gave every impression, by her demeanor, that these were the moments she lived for.

Arthur watched this exotic performance for a while from a polite distance, and then at last tried giving a gentle cough to attract her attention. The gentle cough, courteously meant, unfortunately involved first inhaling rather more of the local atmosphere than he had so far been doing and, as a result, he erupted into a fit of raucous expectoration and collapsed against the rock face, choking and streaming with tears. He struggled for breath, but each new breath made things worse. He vomited, half-choked again, rolled over his vomit, kept rolling for a few yards and eventually made it up on to his hands and knees and crawled, panting, into slightly fresher air.

"Excuse me," he said. He got some breath back. "I really am most dreadfully sorry. I feel a complete idiot and ..." He gestured helplessly toward the small pile of his own vomit lying spread around the entrance to her cave.

"What can I say?" he said. "What can I possibly say?"

This at least had gained her attention. She looked around at him suspiciously, but, being half-blind, had difficulty finding him in the blurred and rocky landscape.

He waved, helpfully. "Hello!" he called.

At last she spotted him, grunted to herself and turned back to whacking flies.

It was horribly apparent from the way that currents of air moved when she did, that the major source of the smell was in fact her. The drying bladders, the festering bodies and the noxious potage may all have been making valiant contributions to the atmosphere, but the major olfactory presence was the woman herself.

She got another good thwack at a fly. It smacked against the rock and dribbled its insides down it in what she clearly regarded, if she could see that far, as a satisfactory manner.

Unsteadily, Arthur got to his feet and brushed himself down with a fistful of dried grass. He didn't know what else to do by way of announcing himself. He had half a mind just to wander off again, but felt awkward about leaving a pile of his vomit in front of the entrance to the woman's home. He wondered what to do about it. He started to pluck up more handfuls of the scrubby dried grass that was to be found here and there. He was worried, though, that if he ventured nearer to the vomit he might simply add to it rather than clear it up.

Just as he was debating with himself as to what the right course of action was, he began to realize that she was at last saying something to him.

"I beg your pardon?" he called out.

"I said, can I help you?" she said, in a thin, scratchy voice that he could only just hear.

"Er, I came to ask your advice," he called back, feeling a bit ridiculous.

She turned to peer at him, myopically, then turned back, swiped at a fly and missed.

"What about?" she said.

"I beg your pardon?" he said.

"I said, what about?" she almost screeched.

"Well," said Arthur. "Just sort of general advice, really. It said in the brochure --"

"Ha! Brochure!" spat the old woman. She seemed to be waving her bat more or less at random now.

Arthur fished the crumpled-up brochure from his pocket. He wasn't quite certain why. He had already read it and she, he expected, wouldn't want to. He unfolded it anyway in order to have something to frown thoughtfully at for a moment or two. The copy in the brochure twittered on about the ancient mystical arts of the seers and sages of Hawalius, and wildly overrepresented the level of accommodation available in Hawalion. Arthur still carried a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with him but found, when he consulted it, that the entries were becoming more abstruse and paranoid and had lots of xs and js and [s in them. Something was wrong somewhere. Whether it was in his own personal unit, or whether it was something or someone going terribly amiss, or perhaps just hallucinating, at the heart of the Guide organization itself, he didn't know. But one way or another he was even less inclined to trust it than usual, which meant that he trusted it not one bit, and mostly used it for eating his sandwiches off of when he was sitting on a rock staring at something.

The woman had turned and was walking slowly toward him now. Arthur tried, without making it too obvious, to judge the wind direction, and bobbed about a bit as she approached.

"Advice," she said. "Advice, eh?"

"Er, yes," said Arthur. "Yes. That is --"

He frowned again at the brochure, as if to be certain that he hadn't misread it and stupidly turned up on the wrong planet or something. The brochure said, "The friendly local inhabitants will be glad to share with you the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients. Peer with them into the swirling mysteries of past and future time!" There were some coupons as well, but Arthur had been far too embarrassed actually to cut them out or try to present them to anybody.

"Advice, eh?" said the old woman again. "Just sort of general advice, you say. On what? What to do with your life, that sort of thing?"

"Yes," said Arthur. "That sort of thing. Bit of a problem I sometimes find if I'm being perfectly honest." He was trying desperately, with tiny darting movements, to stay upwind of her. She surprised him by suddenly turning sharply away from him and heading off toward her cave.

"You'll have to help me with the photocopier, then," she said.

"What?" said Arthur.

"The photocopier," she repeated, patiently. "You'll have to help me drag it out. It's solar-powered. I have to keep it in the cave, though, so the birds don't shit on it."

"I see," said Arthur.

"I'd take a few deep breaths if I were you," muttered the old woman, as she stomped into the gloom of the cave mouth.

Arthur did as she advised. He almost hyperventilated in fact. When he felt he was ready, he held his breath and followed her in.

The photocopier was a big old thing on a rickety trolley. It stood just inside the dim shadows of the cave. The wheels were stuck obstinately in different directions and the ground was rough and stony.

"Go ahead and take a breath outside," said the old woman. Arthur was going red in the face trying to help her move the thing.

He nodded in relief. If she wasn't going to be embarrassed about it, then neither, he was determined, would he. He stepped outside and took a few breaths, then came back in to do more heaving and pushing. He had to do this quite a few times till at last the machine was outside.

The sun beat down on it. The old woman disappeared back into her cave again and brought with her some mottled metal panels, which she connected to the machine to collect the sun's energy.

She squinted up into the sky. The sun was quite bright, but the day was hazy and vague.

"It'll take a while," she said.

Arthur said he was happy to wait.

The old woman shrugged and stomped across to the fire. Above it, the contents of the tin can were bubbling away. She poked about at them with a stick.

"You won't be wanting any lunch?" she inquired of Arthur.

"I've eaten, thanks," said Arthur. "No, really. I've eaten."

"I'm sure you have," said the old lady. She stirred with the stick. After a few minutes she fished a lump of something out, blew on it to cool it a little and then put it in her mouth.

She chewed on it thoughtfully for a bit.

Then she hobbled slowly across to the pile of dead goatlike things. She spat the lump out onto the pile. She hobbled slowly back to the can. She tried to unhook it from the sort of tripodlike thing that it was hanging from.

"Can I help you?" said Arthur, jumping up politely. He hurried over.

Together they disengaged the tin from the tripod and carried it awkwardly down the slight slope that led downward from her cave and toward a line of scrubby and gnarled trees, which marked the edge of a steep but quite shallow gully, from which a whole new range of offensive smells was emanating.

"Ready?" said the old lady.

"Yes ..." said Arthur, though he didn't know for what.

"One," said the old lady.

"Two," she said.

"Three," she added.

Arthur realized just in time what she intended. Together they tossed the contents of the tin into the gully.

After an hour or two of uncommunicative silence, the old woman decided that the solar panels had absorbed enough sunlight to run the photocopier now and she disappeared to rummage inside her cave. She emerged at last with a few sheaves of paper and fed them through the machine.

She handed the copies to Arthur.

"This is, er, this is your advice then, is it?" said Arthur, leafing through them uncertainly.

"No," said the old lady. "It's the story of my life. You see, the quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead. Now, as you look through this document you'll see that I've underlined all the major decisions I ever made to make them stand out. They're all indexed and cross-referenced. See? All I can suggest is that if you take decisions that are exactly opposite to the sort of decisions that I've taken, then maybe you won't finish up at the end of your life" -- she paused, and filled her ungs for a good shout -- "in a smelly old cave like this!"

She grabbed up her table tennis bat, rolled up her sleeve, stomped off to her pile of dead goatlike things and started to set about the flies with vim and vigor.


The last village Arthur visited consisted entirely of extremely high poles. They were so high that it wasn't possible to tell, from the ground, what was on top of them, and Arthur had to climb three before he found one that had anything on top of it at all other than a platform covered with bird droppings.

Not an easy task. You went up the poles by climbing on the short wooden pegs that had been hammered into them in slowly ascending spirals. Anybody who was a less diligent tourist than Arthur would have taken a couple of snapshots and sloped right off to the nearest bar & grill, where you also could buy a range of particularly sweet and gooey chocolate cakes to eat in front of the ascetics. But, largely as a result of this, most of the ascetics had gone now. In fact they had mostly gone and set up lucrative therapy centers on some of the more affluent worlds in the Northwest ripple of the Galaxy, where the living was easier by a factor of about 17 million, and the chocolate was just fabulous. Most of the ascetics, it turned out, had not known about chocolate before they took up asceticism. Most of the clients who came to their therapy centers knew about it all too well.

At the top of the third pole Arthur stopped for a breather. He was very hot and out of breath, since each pole was about fifty or sixty feet high. The world seemed to swing vertiginously around him, but it didn't worry Arthur too much. He knew that, logically, he could not die until he had been to Stavromula Beta, [4] and had therefore managed to cultivate a merry attitude toward extreme personal danger. He felt a little giddy perched fifty feet up in the air on top of a pole, but he dealt with it by eating a sandwich. He was just about to embark on reading the photocopied life history of the oracle, when he was rather startled to hear a slight cough behind him.

He turned so abruptly that he dropped his sandwich, which turned downward through the air and was rather small by the time it was stopped by the ground.

About thirty feet behind Arthur was another pole, and, alone among the sparse forest of about three dozen poles, the top of it was occupied. It was occupied by an old man who, in turn, seemed to be occupied by profound thoughts that were making him scowl.

"Excuse me," said Arthur. The man ignored him. Perhaps he couldn't hear him. The breeze was moving about a bit. It was only by chance that Arthur had heard the slight cough.

"Hello?" called Arthur. "Hello!"

The man at last glanced around at him. He seemed surprised to see him. Arthur couldn't tell if he was surprised and pleased to see him or just surprised.

"Are you open?" called Arthur.

The man frowned in incomprehension. Arthur couldn't tell if he couldn't understand or couldn't hear.

"I'll pop over," called Arthur. "Don't go away."

He clambered off the small platform and climbed quickly down the spiraling pegs, arriving at the bottom quite dizzy.

He started to make his way over to the pole on which the old man was sitting, and then suddenly realized that he had disoriented himself on the way down and didn't know for certain which one it was.

He looked around for landmarks and worked out which was the right one.

He climbed it. It wasn't.

"Damn," he said. "Excuse me!" he called out to the old man again, who was now straight in front of him and forty feet away. "Got lost. Be with you in a minute." Down he went again, getting very hot and bothered.

When he arrived, panting and sweating, at the top of the pole that he knew for certain was the right one, he realized that the man was, somehow or other, mucking him about.

"What do you want?" shouted the old man crossly at him. He was now sitting on top of the pole that Arthur recognized was the one that he had been on himself when eating his sandwich.

"How did you get over there?" called Arthur in bewilderment. "You think I'm going to tell you just like that what it took me forty springs, summers and autumns of sitting on top of a pole to work out?"

"What about winter?"

"What about winter?"

"Don't you sit on the pole in the winter?"

"Just because I sit up a pole for most of my life," said the man, "doesn't mean I'm an idiot. I go south in the winter. Got a beach house. Sit on the chimney stack."

"Do you have any advice for a traveler?"

"Yes. Get a beach house."

"I see."

The man stared out over the hot, dry, scrubby landscape. From here Arthur could just see the old woman, a tiny speck in the distance, dancing up and down swatting flies.

"You see her?" called the old man, suddenly.

"Yes," said Arthur. "I consulted her in fact."

"Fat lot she knows. I got the beach house because she turned it down. What advice did she give you?"

"Do exactly the opposite of everything she's done."

"In other words, get a beach house."

"I suppose so," said Arthur. "Well, maybe I'll get one."


The horizon was swimming in a fetid heat haze.

"Any other advice?" asked Arthur. "Other than to do with real estate?"

"A beach house isn't just real estate. It's a state of mind," said the man. He turned and looked at Arthur.

Oddly, the man's face was now only a couple of feet away. He seemed in one way to be a perfectly normal shape, but his body was sitting cross-legged on a pole forty feet away while his face was only two feet from Arthur's. Without moving his head, and without seeming to do anything odd at all, he stood up and stepped onto the top of another pole. Either it was just the heat, thought Arthur, or space was a different shape for him.

"A beach house," he said, "doesn't even have to be on the beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate," he went on, "at boundary conditions."

"Really?" said Arthur.

"Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be on one side, and look at the other."

Arthur got terribly excited. This was exactly the sort of thing he'd been promised in the brochure. Here was a man who seemed to be moving through some kind of Escher space saying really profound things about all sorts of stuff.

It was unnerving, though. The man was now stepping from pole to ground, from ground to pole, from pole to pole, from pole to horizon and back; he was making complete nonsense of Arthur's spatial universe. "Please stop!" Arthur said, suddenly.

"Can't take it, huh?" said the man. Without the slightest movement he was now back, sitting cross-legged, on top of the pole forty feet in front of Arthur. "You come to me for advice, but you can't cope with anything you don't recognize. Hmmm. So we'll have to tell you something you already know but make it sound like news, eh? Well, business as usual, I suppose." He sighed and squinted mournfully into the distance.

"Where you from, boy?" he then asked.

Arthur decided to be clever. He was fed up with being mistaken for a complete idiot by everyone he ever met. "Tell you what," he said. "You're a seer. Why don't you tell me?"

The old man sighed again. "I was just," he said, passing his hand around behind his head, "making conversation." When he brought his hand around to the front again, he had a globe of the Earth spinning on his up-pointed forefinger. It was unmistakable. He put it away again. Arthur was stunned.

"How did you --"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not? I've come all this way."

"You cannot see what I see because you see what you see. You cannot know what I know because you know what you know. What I see and what I know cannot be added to what you see and what you know because they are not of the same kind. Neither can it replace what you see and what you know, because that would be to replace you yourself."

"Hang on, can I write this down?" said Arthur, excitedly fumbling in his pocket for a pencil.

"You can pick up a copy at the spaceport," said the old man. "They've got racks of the stuff."

"Oh," said Arthur, disappointed. "Well, isn't there anything that's perhaps a bit more specific to me?"

"Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you."

Arthur looked at him doubtfully. "Can I get that at the spaceport, too?" he said.

"Check it out," said the old man.

"It says in the brochure," said Arthur, pulling it out of his pocket and looking at it again, "that I can have a special prayer, individually tailored to me and my special needs."

"Oh, all right," said the old man. "Here's a prayer for you. Got a pencil?"

"Yes," said Arthur.

"It goes like this. Let's see now: 'Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.' That's it. It's what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open."

"Hmmm," said Arthur. "Well, thank you --"

"There's another prayer that goes with it that's very important," continued the old man, "so you'd better jot this down, too."


"It goes, 'Lord, lord, lord ...' It's best to put that bit in, just in case. You can never be too sure. 'Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen.' And that's it. Most of the trouble people get into in life comes from leaving out that last part."

"Ever heard of a place called Stavromula Beta?" asked Arthur.


"Well, thank you for your help," said Arthur.

"Don't mention it," said the man on the pole, and vanished.



4. See Life, the Universe and Everything, chapter 18.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:10 pm

Chapter 10

Ford hurled himself at the door of the editor-in-chief's office, tucked himself into a tight ball as the frame splintered and gave way once again, rolled rapidly across the floor to where the smart gray crushed-leather sofa was and set up his strategic operational base behind it.

That, at least, was the plan.

Unfortunately the smart gray crushed-leather sofa wasn't there.

Why, thought Ford, as he twisted himself around in midair, lurched, dove and scuttled for cover behind Harl's desk, did people have this stupid obsession with rearranging their office furniture every five minutes?

Why, for instance, replace a perfectly serviceable if rather muted gray crushed-leather sofa with what appeared to be a small tank? And who was the big guy with the mobile rocket launcher on his shoulder? Someone from head office? Couldn't be. This was head office. At least it was the head office of the Guide. Where these InfiniDim Enterprises guys came from Zarquon knew. Nowhere very sunny, judging from the slug-like color and texture of their skins. This was all wrong, thought Ford. People connected with the Guide should come from sunny places.

There were several of them, in fact, and all of them seemed to be more heavily armed and armored than you normally expected corporate executives to be, even in today's rough-and-tumble business world.

He was making a lot of assumptions here, of course. He was assuming that the big, bull-necked, sluglike guys were in some way connected with InfiniDim Enterprises, but it was a reasonable assumption and he felt happy about it because they had logos on their armor-plating which said "InfiniDim Enterprises" on them. He had a nagging suspicion that this was not a business meeting, though. He also had a nagging feeling that these sluglike creatures were familiar to him in some way. Familiar, but in an unfamiliar guise.

Well, he had been in the room for a good two and a half seconds now and thought that it was probably about time to start doing something constructive. He could take a hostage. That would be good.

Vann Harl was in his swivel chair, looking alarmed, pale and shaken. Had probably had some bad news as well as a nasty bang to the back of his head. Ford leapt to his feet and made a running grab of him.

Under the pretext of getting him into a good solid double under-pinned elbow lock, Ford managed surreptitiously to slip the Ident-I-Eeze back into Harl's inner pocket.


He'd done what he came to do. Now he just had to talk his way out of here.

"Okay," he said. "I ..." He paused.

The big guy with the rocket launcher was turning toward Ford Prefect and pointing it at him, which Ford couldn't help feeling was wildly irresponsible behavior.

"I ..." he started again, and then on a sudden impulse decided to duck.

There was a deafening roar as flames leapt from the back of the rocket launcher and a rocket leapt from its front.

The rocket hurtled past Ford and hit the large plate-glass window, which billowed outward in a shower of a million shards under the force of the explosion. Huge shock waves of noise and air pressure reverberated around the room, sweeping a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet and Colin the security robot out of the window.

Ah! So they're not totally rocket-proof after all, thought Ford Prefect to himself. Someone should have a word with somebody about that. He disentangled himself from Harl and tried to work out which way to run.

He was surrounded.

The big guy with the rocket launcher was moving it up into position again for another shot.

Ford was completely at a loss for what to do next.

"Look," he said in a stern voice. But he wasn't certain how far saying things like "Look" in a stern voice was necessarily going to get him, and time was not on his side. What the hell, he thought, you're only young once, and threw himself out of the window. That would at least keep the element of surprise on his side.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:12 pm

Chapter 11

The first thing Arthur Dent had to do, he realized resignedly, was to get himself a life. This meant he had to find a planet he could have one on. It had to be a planet he could breathe on, where he could stand up and sit down without experiencing gravitational discomfort. It had to be somewhere where the acid levels were low and the plants didn't actually attack you.

"I hate to be anthropic about this," he said to the strange thing behind the desk at the Resettlement Advice Center on Pintleton Alpha, "but I'd quite like to live somewhere where the people look vaguely like me as well. You know. Sort of human."

The strange thing behind the desk waved some of its stranger bits around and seemed rather taken aback by this. It oozed and glopped off its seat, thrashed its way slowly across the floor, ingested the old metal filing cabinet and then, with a great belch, excreted the appropriate drawer. It popped out a couple of glistening tentacles from its ear, removed some files from the drawer, sucked the drawer back in and vomited up the cabinet again. It thrashed its way back across the floor, slimed its way back up onto the seat and slapped the files on the table.

"See anything you fancy?" it asked.

Arthur looked nervously through some grubby and damp pieces of paper. He was definitely in some backwater part of the Galaxy here, and somewhere off to the left as far as the universe he knew and recognized was concerned. In the space where his own home should have been there was a rotten hick planet, drowned with rain and inhabited by thugs and boghogs. Even The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed to work only fitfully here, which was why he was reduced to making these sorts of inquiries in these sorts of places. One place he always asked after was Stavromula Beta, but no one had ever heard of such a planet.

The available worlds looked pretty grim. They had little to offer him because he had little to offer them. He had been extremely chastened to realize that although he originally came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and Armagnac, he didn't, by himself, know how any of it worked. He couldn't do it. Left to his own devices he couldn't build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it. There was not a lot of demand for his services.

Arthur's heart sank. This surprised him, because he thought it was already about as low as it could possibly be. He closed his eyes for a moment. He so much wanted to be home. He so much wanted his own home world, the actual Earth he had grown up on, not to have been demolished. He so much wanted none of this to have happened. He so much wanted that when he opened his eyes again he would be standing on the doorstep of his little cottage in the West Country of England, that the sun would be shining over the green hills, the post van would be going up the lane, the daffodils would be blooming in his garden and in the distance the pub would be opening for lunch. He so much wanted to take the newspaper down to the pub and read it over a pint of bitter. He so much wanted to do the crossword. He so much wanted to be able to get completely stuck on 17 across.

He opened his eyes.

The strange thing was pulsating irritably at him, tapping some kind of pseudopodia on the desk.

Arthur shook his head and looked at the next sheet of paper.

Grim, he thought. And the next.

Very grim. And the next.

Oh ... Now that looked better.

It was a world called Bartledan. It had oxygen. It had green hills. It even, it seemed, had a renowned literary culture. But the thing that most aroused his interest was a photograph of a small bunch of Bartledanian people, standing around in a village square, smiling pleasantly at the camera.

"Ah," he said, and held the picture up to the strange thing behind the desk.

Its eyes squirmed out on stalks and rolled up and down the piece of paper, leaving a glistening trail of slime all over it.

"Yes," it said with distaste. "They do look exactly like you."


Arthur moved to Bartledan and, using some money he had made by selling some toenail clippings and spit to a DNA bank, he bought himself a room in the village featured in the picture. It was pleasant there. The air was balmy. The people looked like him and seemed not to mind him being there. They didn't attack him with anything. He bought some clothes and a cupboard to put them in.

He had got himself a life. Now he had to find a purpose in it.

At first he tried to sit and read. But the literature of Bartledan, famed though it was throughout this sector of the Galaxy for its subtlety and grace, didn't seem to be able to sustain his interest. The problem was that it wasn't actually about human beings after all. It wasn't about what human beings wanted. The people of Bartledan were remarkably like human beings to look at, but when you said "Good evening" to one, he would tend to look around with a slight sense of surprise, sniff the air and say that, yes, he supposed that it probably was a goodish evening now that Arthur came to mention it.

"No, what I meant was to wish you a good evening," Arthur would say, or rather, used to say. He soon learned to avoid these conversations. "I mean that I hope you have a good evening," he would add.

More puzzlement.

"Wish?" the Bartledanian would say at last, in polite bafflement.

"Er, yes," Arthur would then have said. "I'm just expressing the hope that."



"What is hope?"

Good question, thought Arthur to himself, and retreated back to his room to think about things.

On the one hand he could only recognize and respect what he learned about the Bartledanian view of the Universe, which was that the Universe was what the Universe was, take it or leave it. On the other hand he could not help but feel that not to desire anything, not ever to wish or to hope, was just not natural.

Natural. There was a tricky word.

He had long ago realized that a lot of things that he had thought of as natural, like buying people presents at Christmas, stopping at red lights or falling at a rate of 32 feet per second per second, were just the habits of his own world and didn't necessarily work the same way anywhere else; but not to wish -- that really couldn't be natural, could it? That would be like not breathing.

Breathing was another thing that the Bartledanians didn't do, despite all the oxygen in the atmosphere. They just stood there. Occasionally they ran around and played netball and stuff (without ever wishing to win, though, of course -- they would just play and whoever won, won), but they never actually breathed. It was, for some reason, unnecessary. Arthur quickly learned that playing netball with them was just too spooky. Though they looked like humans, and even moved and sounded like humans, they didn't breathe and they didn't wish for things.

Breathing and wishing for things, on the other hand, was just about all that Arthur seemed to do all day. Sometimes he would wish for things so much that his breathing would get quite agitated, and he would have to go and lie down for a bit. On his own. In his small room. So far from the world that had given birth to him that his brain could not even process the sort of numbers involved without just going limp.

He preferred not to think about it. He preferred just to sit and read -- or at least he would prefer it if there was anything worth reading. But nobody in Bartledanian stories ever wanted anything. Not even a glass of water. Certainly, they would fetch one if they were thirsty, but if there wasn't one available, they would think no more about it. He had just read an entire book in which the main character had, over the course of a week, done some work in his garden, played a great deal of netball, helped mend a road, fathered a child on his wife and then unexpectedly died of thirst just before the last chapter. In exasperation Arthur had combed his way back through the book and in the end had found a passing reference to some problem with the plumbing in chapter two. And that was it. So the guy dies. It just happens.

It wasn't even the climax of the book, because there wasn't one. The character died about a third of the way through the penultimate chapter of the book, and the rest of it was just more stuff about road-mending. The book just finished dead at the one hundred thousandth word, because that was how long books were on Bartledan.

Arthur threw the book across the room, sold the room and left. He started to travel with wild abandon, trading in more and more spit, toenails, fingernails, blood, hair, anything that anybody wanted, for tickets. For semen, he discovered, he could travel first class. He settled nowhere, but only existed in the hermetic, twilight world of the cabins of hyperspatial starships, eating, drinking, sleeping, watching movies, only stopping at spaceports to donate more DNA and catch the next long-haul ship out. He waited and waited for another accident to happen.

The trouble with trying to make the right accident happen is that it won't. That is not what "accident" means. The accident that eventually occurred was not what he had planned at all. The ship he was on blipped in hyperspace, flickered horribly between ninety-seven different points in the Galaxy simultaneously, caught the unexpected gravitational pull of an uncharted planet in one of them, became ensnared in its outer atmosphere and began to fall, screaming and tearing, into it.

The ship's systems protested all the way down that everything was perfectly normal and under control, but when it went into a final hectic spin, ripped wildly through half a mile of trees and finally exploded into a seething ball of flame, it became clear that this was not the case.

Fire engulfed the forest, boiled into the night, then neatly put itself out, as all unscheduled fires over a certain size are now required to do by law. For a short while afterward, other small fires flared up here and there as odd pieces of scattered debris exploded quietly in their own time. Then they too died away.

Arthur Dent, because of the sheer boredom of endless interstellar flight was the only one on board who actually had familiarized himself with the ship's safety procedures in case of an unscheduled landing, was the sole survivor. He lay dazed, broken and bleeding in a sort of fluffy pink plastic cocoon with "Have a nice day" printed in more than three thousand different languages all over it.

Black, roaring silences swam sickeningly through his shattered mind. He knew with a kind of resigned certainty that he would survive, because he had not yet been to Stavromula Beta.

After what seemed an eternity of pain and darkness, he became aware of quiet shapes moving around him.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:13 pm

Chapter 12

Ford tumbled through the open air in a cloud of glass splinters and chair parts. Again, he hadn't really thought things through, really, and was just playing it by ear, buying time. At times of major crisis he found it was often quite helpful to have his life flash before his eyes. It gave him a chance to reflect on things, see things in some sort of perspective, and it sometimes furnished him with a vital clue as to what to do next.

There was the ground rushing up to meet him at thirty feet per second, but he would, he thought, deal with that problem when he got to it. First things first.

Ah, here it came. His childhood. Humdrum stuff, he'd been through it all before. Images flashed by. Boring times on Betelgeuse Five. Zaphod Beeblebrox as a kid. Yes, he knew all that. He wished he had some kind of fast forward in his brain. His seventh birthday party, being given his first towel. Come on, come on.

He was twisting and turning downward, the outside air at this height a cold shock to his lungs. Trying not to inhale glass.

Early voyages to other planets. Oh, for Zark's sake, this was like some sort of bloody travelog documentary before the main feature. First beginning to work for the Guide.


Those were the days. They worked out of a hut on the Bwenelli Atoll on Fanalla before the Riktanarqals and the Donqueds vertled it. Half a dozen guys, some towels, a handful of highly sophisticated digital devices and most important a lot of dreams. No. Most important a lot of Fanallan rum. To be absolutely accurate, that Ol' Janx Spirit was the absolute most important thing, then the Fanallan rum and also some of the beaches on the Atoll where the local girls would hang out, but the dreams were important as well. Whatever happened to those?

He couldn't quite remember what the dreams were in fact, but they had seemed immensely important at the time. They had certainly not involved this huge towering office block he was now falling down the side of. All of that had come when some of the original team had started to settle down and get greedy, while he and others had stayed out in the field, researching and hitchhiking and gradually becoming more and more isolated from the corporate nightmare the Guide had inexorably turned into, and the architectural monstrosity it had come to occupy. Where were the dreams in that? He thought of all the corporate lawyers who occupied half of the building, all the "operatives" who occupied the lower levels, and all the sub-editors and their secretaries and their secretaries' lawyers and their secretaries, lawyers' secretaries and, worst of all, the accountants and the marketing department.

He had half a mind just to keep on falling. The finger to the lot of them.

He was just passing the seventeenth floor now, where the marketing department hung out. Load of tosspots all arguing about what color the Guide should be and exercising their infinitely infallible skills of being wise after the event. If any of them had chosen to look out of the window at that moment, they would have been startled by the sight of Ford Prefect dropping past them to his certain death and flipping the finger at them.

Sixteenth floor. Sub-editors. Bastards. What about all that copy of his they'd cut? Fifteen years of research he'd filed from one planet alone and they'd cut it to two words. "Mostly harmless." The finger to them as well.

Fifteenth floor. Logistical Administration, whatever that was about. They all had big cars. That, he thought, was what that was about.

Fourteenth floor. Personnel. He had a very shrewd suspicion that it was they who had engineered his fifteen-year exile while the Guide metamorphosed into the corporate monolith (or rather, duolith -- mustn't forget the lawyers) it had become.

Thirteenth floor. Research and Development.

Hang about.

Thirteenth floor.

He was having to think rather fast at the moment because the situation was becoming a little urgent.

He suddenly remembered the floor-display panel in the elevator. It hadn't had a thirteenth floor. He'd thought no more about it because, having spent fifteen years on the rather backward planet Earth, where they were superstitious about the number thirteen, he was used to being in buildings that numbered their floors without it. No reason for that here, though.

The windows of the thirteenth floor, he could not help noticing as he flashed swiftly by them, were darkened.

What was going on in there? He started to remember all the stuff that Harl had been talking about. One new, multidimensional Guide spread across an infinite number of universes. It had sounded, the way Harl had put it, like wild meaninglessness dreamed up by the marketing department with the backing of the accountants. If it was any more real than that, then it was a very weird and dangerous idea. Was it real? What was going on behind the darkened windows of the sealed-off thirteenth floor?

Ford felt a rising sense of curiosity , and then a rising sense of panic. That was the complete list of rising feelings he had. In every other respect he was falling very rapidly. He really ought to turn his mind to wondering how he was going to get out of this situation alive.

He glanced down. A hundred feet or so below him people were milling around, some of them beginning to look up expectantly. Clearing a space for him. Even temporarily calling off the wonderful and completely fatuous hunt for Wockets.

He would hate to disappoint them, but about two feet below him, he hadn't realized before, was Colin. Colin had obviously been happily dancing attendance and waiting for him to decide what he wanted to do.

"Colin!" Ford bawled.

Colin didn't respond. Ford went cold. Then he suddenly realized that he hadn't told Colin his name was Colin.

"Come up here!" Ford bawled.

Colin bobbed up beside him. Colin was enjoying the ride down immensely and hoped that Ford was, too.

Colin's world went unexpectedly dark as Ford's towel suddenly enveloped him. Colin immediately felt himself get much, much heavier. He was thrilled and delighted by the challenge that Ford had presented him with. Just not sure if he could handle it, that was all.

The towel was slung over Colin. Ford was hanging from the towel, gripping to its seams. Other hitchhikers had seen fit to modify their towels in exotic ways, weaving all kinds of esoteric tools and utilities and even computer equipment into their fabric. Ford was a purist. He liked to keep things simple. He carried a regular towel from a regular domestic soft-furnishings shop. It even had a kind of blue and pink floral pattern despite his repeated attempts to bleach and stonewash it. It had a couple of pieces of wire threaded into it, a bit of flexible writing stick, and also some nutrients soaked into one of the corners of the fabric so he could suck on it in an emergency, but otherwise it was a simple towel you could dry your face on.

The only actual modification he had been persuaded by a friend to make to it was to reinforce the seams.

Ford gripped the seams like a maniac.

They were still descending, but the rate had slowed.

"Up, Colin!" he shouted.


"Your name," shouted Ford, "is Colin. So when I shout, 'Up, Colin!' I want you, Colin, to go up. Okay? Up, Colin!"

Nothing. Or rather a sort of muffled groaning sound from Colin. Ford was very anxious. They were descending very slowly now, but Ford was very anxious about the sort of people he could see assembling on the ground beneath him. Friendly, local, Wocket-hunting types were dispersing, and thick, heavy, bull-necked, sluglike creatures with rocket launchers were, it seemed, sliding out of what was usually called thin air. Thin air, as all experienced Galactic travelers well know, is in fact extremely thick with multidimensional complexities.

"Up," bellowed Ford again. "Up! Colin, go up!"

Colin was straining and groaning. They were now more or less stationary in the air. Ford felt as if his fingers were breaking.


They stayed put.

"Up, up, up!"

A slug was preparing to launch a rocket at him. Ford couldn't believe it. He was hanging from a towel in midair and a slug was preparing to fire rockets at him. He was running out of anything he could think of doing and was beginning to get seriously alarmed.

This was the sort of predicament that he usually relied on having the Guide available for to give advice, however infuriating or glib, but this was not a moment for reaching into his pocket. And the Guide seemed to be no longer a friend and ally but was now itself a source of danger. These were the Guide offices he was hanging outside, for Zark's sake, in danger of his life from the people who now appeared to own the thing. What had become of all the dreams he vaguely remembered having on the Bwenelli Atoll? They should have let it all be. They should have stayed there. Stayed on the beach. Loved good women. Lived on fish. He should have known it was all wrong the moment they started hanging grand pianos over the sea-monster pool in the atrium. He began to feel thoroughly wasted and miserable. His fingers were on fire with clenched pain. And his ankle was still hurting.

Oh, thank you, ankle, he thought to himself bitterly. Thank you for bringing up your problems at this time. I expect you'd like a nice warm footbath to make you feel better, wouldn't you? Or at least you'd like me to ...

He had an idea.

The armored slug had hoisted the rocket launcher up onto its shoulder. The rocket was presumably designed to hit anything in its path that moved.

Ford tried not to sweat because he could feel his grip on the seams of his towel slipping.

With the toe of his good foot he nudged and pried at the heel of the shoe on his hurting foot.

"Go up, damn you!" Ford muttered hopelessly to Colin, who was cheerily straining away but unable to rise. Ford worked away at the heel of his shoe.

He was trying to judge the timing, but there was no point. Just go for it. He only had one shot and that was it. He had now eased the back of his shoe down off his heel. His twisted ankle felt a little better. Well, that was good, wasn't it?

With his other foot he kicked at the heel of the shoe. It slipped off his foot and fell through the air. About half a second later a rocket erupted up from the muzzle of its launcher, encountered the shoe falling through its path, went straight for it, hit it and exploded with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.

This happened about fifteen feet from the ground.

The main force of the explosion was directed downward. Where, a second earlier, there had been a squad of InfiniDim Enterprises executives with a rocket launcher standing on an elegant terraced plaza paved with large slabs of lustrous stone cut from the ancient alabastrum quarries of Zentalquabula, there was now, instead, a bit of a pit with nasty bits in it.

A great wump of hot air welled up from the explosion, throwing Ford and Colin violently up into the sky. Ford fought desperately and blindly to hold on and failed. He turned helplessly upward through the sky, reached the peak of a parabola, paused and then started to fall again. He fell and fell and fell and suddenly winded himself badly on Colin, who was still rising.

He clasped himself desperately onto the small spherical robot. Colin slewed wildly through the air toward the tower of the Guide offices, trying delightedly to control himself and slow down.

The world spun sickeningly around Ford's head as they spun and twisted around each other and then, equally sickeningly, everything suddenly stopped.

Ford found himself deposited dizzily on a window ledge.

His towel fell past and he grabbed at it and caught it.

Colin bobbed in the air inches away from him.

Ford looked around himself in a bruised, bleeding and breathless daze. The ledge was only about a foot wide and he was perched precariously on it, thirteen stories up.


He knew they were thirteen stories up because the windows were dark. He was bitterly upset. He had bought those shoes for some absurd price in a store on the Lower East Side in New York. He had, as a result, written an entire essay on the joys of great footwear, all of which had been jettisoned in the "Mostly harmless" debacle. Damn everything.

And now one of the shoes was gone. He threw his head back and stared at the sky.

It wouldn't be such a grim tragedy if the planet in question hadn't been demolished, which meant that he wouldn't even be able to get another pair.

Yes, given the infinite sideways extension of probability, there was, of course, an almost infinite multiplicity of planets Earth, but, when you come down to it, a major pair of shoes wasn't something you could just replace by mucking about in multidimensional space-time.

He sighed.

Oh well, he'd better make the best of it. At least it had saved his life. For the time being.

He was perched on a foot-wide ledge thirteen stories up the side of a building and he wasn't at all sure that that was worth a good shoe.

He stared in woozily through the darkened glass.

It was as dark and silent as a tomb.

No. That was a ridiculous thing to think. He'd been to some great parties in tombs.

Could he detect some movement? He wasn't quite sure. It seemed that he could see some kind of weird, flapping shadow. Perhaps it was just blood dribbling over his eyelashes. He wiped it away. Boy, he'd love to have a farm somewhere, keep some sheep. He peered into the window again, trying to make out what the shape was, but he had the feeling, so common in today's universe, that he was looking into some kind of optical illusion and that his eyes were just playing silly buggers with him.

Was there a bird of some kind in there? Was that what they had hidden away up here on a concealed floor behind darkened, rocket- proof glass? Someone's aviary? There was certainly something flapping about in there, but it seemed like not so much a bird, more a kind of bird-shaped hole in space.

He closed his eyes, which he'd been wanting to do for a bit anyway. He wondered what the hell to do next. Jump? Climb? He didn't think there was going to be any way of breaking in. Okay, the supposedly rocket-proof glass hadn't stood up, when it came to it, to an actual rocket, but then that had been a rocket that had been fired at very short range from inside, which probably wasn't what the engineers who designed it had had in mind. It didn't mean he was going to be able to break the window here by wrapping his fist in his towel and punching. What the hell, he tried it anyway and hurt his fist. It was just as well he couldn't get a good swing from where he was sitting or he might have hurt it quite badly. The building had been sturdily reinforced when it was completely rebuilt after the Frogstar attack and was probably the most heavily armored publishing company in the business, but there was always, he thought, some weakness in any system designed by a corporate committee. He had already found one of them. The engineers who designed the windows had not expected them to be hit by a rocket from short range from the inside, so the window had failed.

So, what would the engineers not be expecting someone sitting on the ledge outside the window to do?

He wracked his brains for a moment or so before he got it.

The thing they wouldn't be expecting him to do was to be there in the first place. Only an absolute idiot would be sitting where he was, so he was winning already. A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof was to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

He pulled his newly acquired credit card from his pocket, slid it into the crack where the window met its surrounding frame and did something a rocket would not have been able to do. He wiggled it around a bit. He felt a catch slip. He slid the window open and almost fell backward off the ledge laughing, giving thanks as he did so for the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454.


The Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454 had started off as just a lot of hot air. Hot air was, of course, the problem that ventilation was supposed to solve and generally it had solved the problem reasonably well up to the point that someone invented air- conditioning, which solved the problem far more throbbingly.

And that was all well and good, provided you could stand the noise and the dribbling until someone else came up with something even sexier and smarter than air-conditioning, which was called in-building climate control.

Now this was quite something.

The major differences from just ordinary air-conditioning were that it was thrillingly more expensive, and involved a huge amount of sophisticated measuring and regulating equipment which was far better at knowing, moment by moment, what kind of air people wanted to breathe than mere people did.

It also meant that, to be sure that mere people didn't muck up the sophisticated calculations which the system was making on their behalf, all the windows in the buildings were built sealed shut. This is true.

While the systems were being installed, a number of the people who were going to work in the buildings found themselves having conversations with Breathe-O-Smart systems fitters which went something like this:

"But what if we want to have the windows open?"

"You won't want to have the windows open with new Breathe-O-Smart."

"Yes, but supposing we just wanted to have them open even for a little bit?"

"You won't want to have them open even for a little bit. The new Breathe-O-Smart system will see to that."


"Enjoy Breathe-O-Smart!"

"Okay, so what if the Breathe-O-Smart breaks down or goes wrong or something?"

"Ah! One of the smartest features of the Breathe-O-Smart is that it cannot possibly go wrong. So. No worries on that score. Enjoy your breathing now, and have a nice day."

(It was, of course, as a result of the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454, that all mechanical or electrical or quantum- mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam or piston-driven devices, are now required to have a certain legend emblazoned on them somewhere. It doesn't matter how small the object is, the designers of the object have got to find a way of squeezing the legend in somewhere, because it is their attention that is being drawn to it rather than necessarily that of the user's.

The legend is this:

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.")

Major heat waves started to coincide, with almost magical precision, with major failures of the Breathe-O-Smart systems. To begin with, this merely caused simmering resentment and only a few deaths from asphyxiation.

The real horror erupted on the day that three events happened simultaneously. The first event was that Breathe-O-Smart Inc. issued a statement to the effect that best results were achieved by using their systems in temperate climates.

The second event was the breakdown of a Breathe-O-Smart system on a particularly hot and humid day, with the resulting evacuation of many hundreds of office staff into the street where they met the third event, which was a rampaging mob of long-distance telephone operators who had got so twisted with having to say, all day and every day, "Thank you for using BS&S" to every single idiot who picked up a phone that they had finally taken to the streets with trash cans, megaphones and rifles.

In the ensuing days of carnage every single window in the city, rocket-proof or not, was smashed, usually to accompanying cries of "Get off the line, asshole! I don't care what number you want, what extension you're calling from. Go and stick a firework up your bottom! Yeeehaah! Hoo Hoo Hoo! Velooooom! Squawk" and a variety of other animal noises that they didn't get a chance to practice in the normal line of their work.

As a result of this, all telephone operators were granted a constitutional right to say "Use BS&S and die!" at least once an hour when answering the phone and all office buildings were required to have windows that opened, even if only a little bit.

Another, unexpected result was a dramatic lowering of the suicide rate. All sorts of stressed and rising executives who had been forced, during the dark days of the Breathe-O-Smart tyranny, to jump in front of trains or stab themselves could now just clamber out onto their own window ledges and leap off at their leisure. What frequently happened, though, was that in the moment or two they had to look around and gather their thoughts they would suddenly discover that all they had really needed was a breath of air and a fresh perspective on things, and maybe also a farm on which they could keep a few sheep.


Another completely unlooked for result was that Ford Prefect, stranded thirteen stories up a heavily armored building armed with nothing but a towel and a credit card, was nevertheless able to clamber through a supposedly rocket-proof window to safety.

He closed the window neatly after him, having first allowed Colin to follow him through, and then started to look around for this bird thing.

The thing he realized about the windows was this: because they had been converted into openable windows after they had first been designed to be impregnable, they were, in fact, much less secure than if they had been designed as openable windows in the first place.

Hey ho, it's a funny old life, he was just thinking to himself, when he suddenly realized that the room he had gone to all this trouble to break into was not a very interesting one.

He stopped in surprise.

Where was the strange flapping shape? Where was anything that was worth all this palaver -- the extraordinary veil of secrecy that seemed to lie over this room and the equally extraordinary sequence of events that had seemed to conspire to get him into it?

The room, like every other room in this building now, was done out in some appallingly tasteful gray. There were a few charts and drawings on the wall. Most of them were meaningless to Ford, but then he came across something that was obviously a mock-up for a poster of some kind.

There was a kind of birdlike logo on it and a slogan which said, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Mk II: the single most astounding thing of any kind ever. Coming soon to a dimension near you." No more information than that.

Ford looked around again. Then his attention was gradually drawn to Colin, the absurdly over-happy security robot, who was cowering in a corner of the room gibbering with what seemed strangely like fear.

Odd, thought Ford. He looked around to see what it was that Colin might have been reacting to. Then he saw something that he hadn't noticed before, lying quietly on top of a work bench.

It was circular and black and about the size of a small side plate. Its top and its bottom were smoothly convex so that it resembled a small lightweight throwing discus.

Its surfaces seemed to be completely smooth, unbroken and featureless.

It was doing nothing.

Then Ford noticed that there was something written on it. Strange. There hadn't been anything written on it a moment ago and now suddenly there was. There just didn't seem to have been any observable transition between the two states.

All it said, in small, alarming letters, was a single word:


A moment ago there hadn't been any marks or cracks in its surface. Now there were. They were growing.

Panic, the Guide Mk II said. Ford began to do as he was told. He had just remembered why the sluglike creatures looked familiar. Their color scheme was a kind of corporate gray, but in all other respects they looked exactly like Vogons.
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