[1x] Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to
happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again,
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though.
The history of the Galaxy has got a little muddled, for a number of
reasons: partly because those who are trying to keep track of it have got
a little muddled, but also because some very muddling things have been
One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and the difficulties
involved in trying to exceed it. You can't. Nothing travels faster than
the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys
its own special laws. The Hingefreel people of Arkintoofle Minor did
try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn't
work particularly well and were so extremely unwelcome whenever they
arrived anywhere that there wasn't really any point in being there.
So, by and large, the peoples of the Galaxy tended to languish in their
own local muddles and the history of the Galaxy itself was, for a long
time, largely cosmological.
Which is not to say that people weren't trying. They tried sending off
fleets of spaceships to do battle or business in distant parts, but these
usually took thousands of years to get anywhere. By the time they even-
tually arrived, other forms of travel had been discovered which made use
of hyperspace to circumvent the speed of light, so that whatever battles
it was that the slower-than-light fleets had been sent to fight had already
been taken care of centuries earlier by the time they actually got there .
This didn't, of course, deter their crews from wanting to fight the battles
anyway. They were trained, they were ready, they'd had a couple of
thousand years' sleep, they'd come a long way to do a tough job and by
Zarquon they were going to do it.
This was when the first major muddles of Galactic history set in, with
battles continually re-erupting centuries after the issues they had been
fought over had supposedly been settled. However, these muddles were
as nothing to the ones which historians had to try and unravel once
time-travel was discovered and battles started pre-erupting hundreds of
years before the issues even arose. When the Infinite Improbability Drive
arrived and whole planets started turning unexpectedly into banana
fruitcake, the great history faculty of the University of MaxiMegalon
finally gave up, closed itself down and surrendered its buildings to the
rapidly growing joint faculty of Divinity and Water Polo, which had been
after them for years.
Which is all very well, of course, but it almost certainly means that
no one will ever know for sure where, for instance, the Grebulons came
from, or exactly what it was they wanted. And this is a pity, because
if anybody had known anything about them, it is just possible that a
most terrible catastrophe would have been averted - or at least would
have had to find a different way to happen.
The huge grey Grebulon reconnaissance ship moved silently through
the black void. It was travelling at fabulous, breath- taking speed, yet
appeared, against the glimmering background of a billion distant stars
to be moving not at all. It was just one dark speck frozen against an
infinite granularity of brilliant night.
On board the ship, everything was as it had been for millennia, deeply
dark and Silent.
At least, almost everything.
Click, click, hum.
Click, hum, click, hum, click, hum.
Click, click, click, click, click, hum.
A low level supervising program woke up a slightly higher level supervis-
ing program deep in the ship's semi-somnolent cyberbrain and reported
to it that whenever it went click all it got was a hum.
The higher level supervising program asked it what it was supposed to
get, and the low level supervising program said that it couldn't remember
exactly, but thought it was probably more of a sort of distant satisfied
sigh, wasn't it? It didn't know what this hum was. Click, hum, click,
hum. That was all it was getting.
The higher level supervising program considered this and didn't like it. It
asked the low level supervising program what exactly it was supervising
and the low level supervising program said it couldn't remember that
either, just that it was something that was meant to go click, sigh every
ten years or so, which usually happened without fail. It had tried to
consult its error look-up table but couldn't find it, which was why it
had alerted the higher level supervising program to the problem .
The higher level supervising program went to consult one of its own
look-up tables to find out what the low level supervising program was
meant to be supervising.
It couldn't find the look-up table .
It looked again. All it got was an error message. It tried to look up the
error message in its error message look-up table and couldn't find that
either. It allowed a couple of nanoseconds to go by while it went through
all this again. Then it woke up its sector function supervisor.
The sector function supervisor hit immediate problems. It called its su-
pervising agent which hit problems too. Within a few millionths of a
second virtual circuits that had lain dormant, some for years, some for
centuries, were flaring into life throughout the ship. Something, some-
where, had gone terribly wrong, but none of the supervising programs
could tell what it was. At every level, vital instructions were missing,
and the instructions about what to do in the event of discovering that
vital instructions were missing, were also missing.
Small modules of software - agents - surged through the logical path-
ways, grouping, consulting, re-grouping. They quickly established that
the ship's memory, all the way back to its central mission module, was
in tatters. No amount of interrogation could determine what it was that
had happened. Even the central mis- sion module itself seemed to be
This made the whole problem very simple to deal with. Replace the
central mission module. There was another one, a backup, an exact
duplicate of the original. It had to be physically replaced because, for
safety reasons, there was no link whatsoever between the original and
its backup. Once the central mission module was replaced it could itself
supervise the reconstruction of the rest of the system in every detail,
and all would be well.
Robots were instructed to bring the backup central mission module from
the shielded strong room, where they guarded it, to the ship's logic
chamber for installation.
This involved the lengthy exchange of emergency codes and protocols
as the robots interrogated the agents as to the authen- ticity of the
instructions. At last the robots were satisfied that all procedures were
correct. They unpacked the backup central mission module from its stor-
age housing, carried it out of the storage chamber, fell out of the ship
and went spinning off into the void.
This provided the first major clue as to what it was that was wrong.
Further investigation quickly established what it was that had happened.
A meteorite had knocked a large hole in the ship. The ship had not pre-
viously detected this because the meteorite had neatly knocked out that
part of the ship's processing equipment which was supposed to detect if
the ship had been hit by a meteorite.
The first thing to do was to try to seal up the hole. This turned out
to be impossible, because the ship's sensors couldn't see that there was
a hole, and the supervisors which should have said that the sensors
weren't working properly weren't working properly and kept saying that
the sensors were fine. The ship could only deduce the existence of the
hole from the fact that the robots had clearly fallen out of it, taking its
spare brain, which would have enabled it to see the hole, with them.
The ship tried to think intelligently about this, failed, and then blanked
out completely for a bit. It didn't realise it had blanked out, of course,
because it had blanked out. It was merely surprised to see the stars
jump. After the third time the stars jumped the ship finally realised
that it must be blanking out, and that it was time to take some serious
Then it realised it hadn't actually taken the serious decisions yet and
panicked. It blanked out again for a bit. When it awoke again it sealed
all the bulkheads around where it knew the unseen hole must be.
It clearly hadn't got to its destination yet, it thought, fitfully, but since
it no longer had the faintest idea where its destina- tion was or how to
reach it, there seemed to be little point in continuing. It consulted what
tiny scraps of instructions it could reconstruct from the tatters of its
central mission mod- ule.
`Your !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! year mission is to !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, !!!!!
!!!!! !!!!! !!!!!, land !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! a safe distance !!!!! !!!!!
..... ..... ..... .... , land ..... ..... .....monitor it. !!!!! !!!!!
All of the rest was complete garbage.
Before it blanked out for good the ship would have to pass on those
instructions, such as they were, to its more primitive subsidiary systems.
It must also revive all of its crew.
There was another problem. While the crew was in hibernation, the
minds of all of its members, their memories, their identities and their
understanding of what they had come to do, had all been transferred
into the ship's central mission module for safe keeping. The crew would
not have the faintest idea of who they were or what they were doing
there. Oh well.
Just before it blanked out for the final time, the ship realised that its
engines were beginning to give out too.
The ship and its revived and confused crew coasted on under the con-
trol of its subsidiary automatic systems, which simply looked to land
wherever they could find to land and monitor whatever they could find
As far as finding something to land on was concerned, they didn't do very
well. The planet they found was desolately cold and lonely, so achingly
far from the sun that should warm it, that it took all of the Envir-O-
Form machinery and LifeSupport-O- Systems they carried with them to
render it, or at least enough parts of it, habitable. There were better
planets nearer in, but the ship's Strateej-O-Mat was obviously locked
into Lurk mode and chose the most distant and unobtrusive planet and,
further- more, would not be gainsaid by anybody other than the ship's
Chief Strategic Officer. Since everybody on the ship had lost their minds
no one knew who the Chief Strategic Officer was or, even if he could have
been identified, how he was supposed to go about gainsaying the ship's
As far as finding something to monitor was concerned, though, they hit
One of the extraordinary things about life is the sort of places it's pre-
pared to put up with living. Anywhere it can get some kind of a grip,
whether it's the intoxicating seas of Santraginus V, where the fish never
seem to care whatever the heck kind of direction they swim in, the fire
storms of Frastra where, they say, life begins at 40,000 degrees, or just
burrowing around in the lower intestine of a rat for the sheer unadulter-
ated hell of it, life will always find a way of hanging on in somewhere.
It will even live in New York, though it's hard to know why. In the winter
time the temperature falls well below the legal minimum, or rather it
would do if anybody had the common sense to set a legal minimum. The
last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes
of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79.
In the summer it's too darn hot. It's one thing to be the sort of life form
that thrives on heat and finds, as the Frastrans do, that the temperature
range between 40,000 and 40,004 is very equable, but it's quite another
to be the sort of animal that has to wrap itself up in lots of other animals
at one point in your planet's orbit, and then find, half an orbit later,
that your skin's bubbling.
Spring is over-rated. A lot of the inhabitants of New York will honk on
mightily about the pleasures of spring, but if they actually knew the
first thing about the pleasures of spring they would know of at least five
thousand nine hundred and eighty- three better places to spend it than
New York, and that's just on the same latitude.
Fall, though, is the worst. Few things are worse than fall in New York.
Some of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats would disagree,
but most of the things that live in the lower intestines of rats are highly
disagreeable anyway, so their opinion can and should be discounted.
When it's fall in New York, the air smells as if someone's been frying
goats in it, and if you are keen to breathe, the best plan is to open a
window and stick your head in a building.
Tricia McMillan loved New York. She kept on telling herself this over and
over again. The Upper West Side. Yeah. Mid Town. Hey, great retail.
SoHo. The East Village. Clothes. Books. Sushi. Italian. Delis. Yo.
Movies. Yo also. Tricia had just been to see Woody Allen's new movie
which was all about the angst of being neurotic in New York. He had
made one or two other movies that had explored the same theme, and
Tricia wondered if he had ever considered moving, but heard that he
had set his face against the idea. So: more movies, she guessed.
Tricia loved New York because loving New York was a good career move.
It was a good retail move, a good cuisine move, not a good taxi move or a
great quality of pavement move, but definitely a career move that ranked
amongst the highest and the best. Tricia was a TV anchor person, and
New York was where most of the world's TV was anchored. Tricia's TV
anchoring had been done exclusively in Britain up to that point: regional
news, then breakfast news, early evening news. She would have been
called, if the language allowed, a rapidly rising anchor, but... hey, this
is television, what does it matter? She was a rapidly rising anchor. She
had what it took: great hair, a profound understand- ing of strategic lip
gloss, the intelligence to understand the world and a tiny secret interior
deadness which meant she didn't care. Everybody has their moment of
great opportunity in life. If you happen to miss the one you care about,
then everything else in life becomes eerily easy.
Tricia had only ever missed one opportunity. These days it didn't even
make her tremble quite so much as it used to to think about it. She
guessed it was that bit of her that had gone dead.
NBS needed a new anchor. Mo Minetti was leaving the US/AM breakfast
show to have a baby. She had been offered a mind-bubbling amount of
money to have it on the show, but she had declined, unexpectedly, on
grounds of personal privacy and taste. Teams of NBS lawyers had sieved
through her contract to see if these constituted legitimate grounds, but
in the end, reluc- tantly, they had to let her go. This was, for them,
particularly galling because normally `reluctantly letting someone go'
was an expression that had its boot on quite another foot.
The word was out that maybe, just maybe, a British accent would fit.
The hair, the skin tone and the bridgework would have to be up to
American network standards, but there had been a lot of British accents
up there thanking their mothers for their Oscars, a lot of British accents
singing on Broadway, and some unusually big audiences tuning in to
British accents in wigs on Masterpiece Theatre. British accents were
telling jokes on David Letterman and Jay Leno. Nobody understood the
jokes but they were really responding to the accents, so maybe it was
time, just maybe. A British accent on US/AM. Well, hell.
That was why Tricia was here. This was why loving New York was a
great career move.
It wasn't, of course, the stated reason. Her TV company back in the
UK would hardly have stumped up the air fare and hotel bill for her
to go job hunting in Manhattan. Since she was chasing something like
ten times her present salary, they might have felt that she could have
forked out her own expenses, but she'd found a story, found a pretext,
kept very quiet about anything ulterior, and they'd stumped up for the
trip. A business class ticket, of course, but her face was known and she'd
smiled herself an upgrade. The right moves had got her a nice room at
the Brentwood and here she was, wondering what to do next.
The word on the street was one thing, making contact was another.
She had a couple of names, a couple of numbers, but all it took was
being put on indeterminate hold a couple of times and she was back at
square one. She'd put out feelers, left messages, but so far none had been
returned. The actual job she had come to do she had done in a morning;
the imagined job she was after was only shimmering tantalisingly on an
She caught a cab from the movie theatre back to the Brent- wood. The
cab couldn't get close to the kerb because a big stretch limo was hogging
all the available space and she had to squeeze her way past it. She walked
out of the fetid, goat-frying air and into the blessed cool of the lobby.
The fine cotton of her blouse was sticking like grime to her skin. Her
hair felt as if she'd bought it at a fairground on a stick. At the front
desk she asked if there were any messages, grimly expecting none. There
It had worked. She had gone out to the movie specifically in order to
make the phone ring. She couldn't bear sitting in a hotel room waiting.
She wondered. Should she open the message down here? Her clothes were
itching and she longed to take them all off and just lie on the bed. She had
turned the air conditioning way down to its bottom temperature setting,
way up to its top fan setting. What she wanted more than anything else
in the world at the moment was goose pimples. Then a hot shower, then
a cool one, then lying on a towel, on the bed again, drying in the air
conditioning. Then reading the message. Maybe more goose pimples.
Maybe all sorts of things.
No. What she wanted more than anything else in the world was a job in
American television at ten times her current salary. More than anything
else in the world. In the world. What she wanted more than anything
else at all was no longer a live issue.
She sat on a chair in the lobby, under a kentia palm, and opened the
little cellophane-windowed envelope.
`Please call,' it said. `Not happy,' and gave a number. The name was
It wasn't a name she was expecting. It caught her unawares. She recog-
nised it, but couldn't immediately say why. Was she Andy Martin's
secretary? Hilary Bass's assistant? Martin and Bass were the two major
contact calls she had made, or tried to make, at NBS. And what did
`Not happy' mean?
She was completely bewildered. Was this Woody Allen trying to contact
her under an assumed name? It was a 212 area code number. So it was
someone in New York. Who was not happy. Well, that narrowed it down
a bit, didn't it?
She went back to the receptionist at the desk.
`I have a problem with this message you just gave me,' she said. `Someone
I don't know has tried to call me and says she's not happy.'
The receptionist peered at the note with a frown.
`Do you know this person?' he said.
`No,' Tricia said. ` Hmmm,' said the receptionist. `Sounds like she's not
happy about something.'
`Yes,' said Tricia.
`Looks like there's a name here,' said the receptionist. `Gail Andrews.
Do you know anybody of that name?' ` `No,' said Tricia.
`Any idea what she's unhappy about?'
`No,' said Tricia.
`Have you called the number? There's a number here.'
`No,' said Tricia, `you only just gave me the note. I'm just trying to get
some more information before I ring back. Perhaps I could talk to the
person who took the call?'
`Hmmm,' said the receptionist, scrutinising the note carefully. `I don't
think we have anybody called Gail Andrews here.'
`No, I realise that,' said Tricia. `I just -'
`I'm Gail Andrews.'
The voice came from behind Tricia. She turned round.
`I'm Gail Andrews. You interviewed me this morning.'
`Oh. Oh good heavens yes,' said Tricia, slightly flustered.
`I Left the message for you a few hours ago. I hadn't heard so I came
by. I didn't want to miss you.'
`Oh. No. Of course,' said Tricia, trying hard to get up to speed.
`I don't know about this,' said the receptionist, for whom speed was not
an issue. `Would you like me to try this number for you now?'
`No, that'll be fine, thanks,' said Tricia. `I can handle it now.'
`I can call this room number here for you if that'll help,' said the recep-
tionist, peering at the note again.
`No, that won't be necessary, thanks,' said Tricia. `That's my own room
number. I'm the one the message was for. I think we've sorted this out
`You have a nice day now,' said the receptionist.
Tricia didn't particularly want to have a nice day. She was busy.
She also didn't want to talk to Gail Andrews. She had a very strict
cut-off point as far as fraternising with the Christians was concerned.
Her colleagues called her interview subjects Chris- tians and would often
cross themselves when they saw one walking innocently into the studio
to face Tricia, particularly if Tricia was smiling warmly and showing her
She turned and smiled frostily, wondering what to do.
Gail Andrews was a well groomed woman in her mid-forties. Her clothes
fell within the boundaries defined by expensive good taste, but were
definitely huddled up at the floatier end of those boundaries. She was
an astrologer - a famous and, if rumour were true, influential astrologer,
having allegedly influenced a number of decisions made by the late Pres-
ident Hudson, including every- thing from which flavour of cream whip
to have on which day of the week, to whether or not to bomb Damascus.
Tricia had savaged her more than somewhat. Not on the grounds of
whether or not the stories about the President were true, that was old
hat now. At the time Ms Andrews had emphati- cally denied advising
President Hudson on anything other than personal, spiritual or dietary
matters, which did not, apparently include the bombing of Damascus.
(`NOTHING PERSONAL, DAMASCUS!' the tabloids had hooted at
No, this was a neat topical little angle that Tricia had come up with
about the whole issue of astrology itself. Ms Andrews had not been
entirely ready for it. Tricia, on the other hand, was not entirely ready
for a re-match in the hotel lobby. What to do?
`I can wait for you in the bar, if you need a few minutes,' said Gail
Andrews. `But I would like to talk to you, and I'm leaving the city
She seemed to be slightly anxious about something rather than aggrieved
`OK,' said Tricia. `Give me ten minutes.'
She went up to her room. Apart from anything else, she had so little
faith in the ability of the guy on the message desk at reception to deal
with anything as complicated as a message that she wanted to be doubly
certain that there wasn't a note under the door. It wouldn't be the first
time that messages at the desk and messages under the door had been
completely at odds with each other.
There wasn't one.
The message light on the phone was flashing though.
She hit the message button and got the hotel operator.
`You have a message from Gary Andress,' said the operator.
`Yes?' said Tricia. An unfamiliar name. `What does it say.'
`Not hippy,' said the operator.
`Not what?' said Tricia. ` `Hippy. What it says. Guy says he's not a
hippy. I guess he wanted you to know that. You want the number?'
As she started to dictate the number Tricia suddenly realised that this
was just a garbled version of the message she had already had.
`OK, OK,' she said. `Are there any other messages for me?'
Tricia couldn't work out why the operator should suddenly ask for her
number this late in the conversation, but gave it to her anyway.
`McMillan, Tricia McMillan.' Tricia spelt it, patiently.
`Not Mr MacManus?'
`No more messages for you.' Click.
Tricia sighed and dialled again. This time she gave her name and room
number all over again, up front. The operator showed not the slight-
est glimmer of recognition that they had been speak- ing less than ten
`I'm going to be in the bar,' Tricia explained. `In the bar. If a phone
call comes through for me, please would you put it through to me in the
They went through it all a couple more times till Tricia was certain that
everything that possibly could be clear was as clear as it possibly could
She showered, put on fresh clothes and retouched her makeup with the
speed of a professional, and, looking at her bed with a sigh, left the room
She had half a mind just to sneak off and hide.
No. Not really.
She had a look at herself in the mirror in the elevator lobby while she
was waiting. She looked cool and in charge, and if she could fool herself
she could fool anybody.
She was just going to have to tough it out with Gail Andrews. OK, she
had given her a hard time. Sorry but that's the game we're all in - that
sort of thing. Ms Andrews had agreed to do the interview because she
had a new book out and TV exposure was free publicity. But there's no
such thing as a free launch. No, she edited that line out again.
What had happened was this:
Last week astronomers had announced that they had at last discovered a
tenth planet, out beyond the orbit of Pluto. They had been searching for
it for years, guided by certain orbital anomalies in the outer planets, and
now they'd found it and they were all terribly pleased, and everyone was
terribly happy for them and so on. The planet was named Persephone,
but rapidly nicknamed Rupert after some astronomer's parrot - there
was some tediously heart-warming story attached to this - and that was
all very wonderful and lovely.
Tricia had followed the story with, for various reasons, con- siderable
Then, while she had been casting around for a good excuse to go to New
York at her TV company's expense she had happened to notice a press
release about Gail Andrews, and her new book, You and Your Planets.
Gail Andrews was not exactly a household name, but the moment you
mentioned President Hudson, cream whips and the amputation of Dam-
ascus (the world had moved on from surgi- cal strikes. The official term
had in fact been `Damascectomy', meaning the `taking out' of Damas-
cus), everyone remembered who you meant.
Tricia saw an angle here which she quickly sold to her producer.
Surely the notion that great lumps of rock whirling in space knew some-
thing about your day that you didn't must take a bit of a knock from the
fact that there was suddenly a new lump of rock out there that nobody
had known about before.
That must throw a few calculations out, mustn't it?
What about all those star charts and planetary motions and so? We
all knew (apparently) what happened when Neptune was in Virgo, and
so on, but what about when Rupert was rising? Wouldn't the whole of
astrology have to be rethought? Wouldn't now perhaps be a good time
to own up that it was all just a load of hogwash and instead take up pig-
farming, the principles of which were founded on some kind of rational
basis? If we'd known about Rupert three years ago, might President
Hudson have been eating the boysenberry flavour on Thursday rather
than Friday? Might Damascus still be standing? That sort of thing.
Gail Andrews had taken it all reasonably well. She was just starting
to recover from the initial onslaught, when she made the rather serious
mistake of trying to shake Tricia off by talking smoothly about diurnal
arcs, right ascensions and some of the more abstruse areas of three-
To her shock she discovered that everything she delivered to Tricia came
right back at her with more spin on it than she could cope with. Nobody
had warned Gail that being a TV bimbo was, for Tricia, her second stab
at a role in life. Behind her Chanel lip gloss, her coupe sauvage and her
crystal blue contact lenses lay a brain that had acquired for itself, in an
earlier, abandoned phase of her life, a first class degree in mathematics
and a doctorate in astrophysics.
As she was getting into the elevator Tricia, slightly preoccupied, realised
she had left her bag in her room and wondered whether to duck back
out and get it. No. It was probably safer where it was and there wasn't
anything she particularly needed in it. She let the door close behind her.
Besides, she told herself, taking a deep breath, if life had taught her
anything it was this:
Never go back for your bag.
As the elevator went down she stared up at the ceiling in a rather intent
way. Anyone who didn't know Tricia McMillan better would have said
that that was exactly the way people sometimes stared upwards when
they were trying to hold back tears. She must have been staring at the
tiny security video camera mounted up in the corner.
She marched rather briskly out of the elevator a minute later, and went
up to the reception desk again.
`Now, I'm going to write this out,' she said, `because I don't want any-
thing to go wrong.'
She wrote her name in large letters on a piece of paper, then her room
number, then `IN THE BAR' and gave it to the receptionist, who looked
`That's in case there's a message for me. OK?'
The receptionist continued to look at it.
`You want me to see if she's in her room?' he said.
Two minutes later, Tricia swivelled into the bar seat next to Gail An-
drews, who was sitting in front of a glass of white wine.
`You struck me as the sort of person who preferred to sit up at the bar
rather than demurely at a table,' she said.
This was true, and caught Tricia a little by surprise.
`Vodka?' said Gail. ` `Yes,' said Tricia, suspiciously. She just stopped
herself asking, `How did you know?' but Gail answered anyway.
`I asked the barman,' she said, with a kindly smile.
The barman had her vodka ready for her and slid it charmingly across
the glossy mahogany.
`Thank you,' said Tricia, stirring it sharply.
She didn't know quite what to make out of all this sudden niceness and
was determined not to be wrong-footed by it. People in New York were
not nice to each other without reason.
`Ms Andrews,' she said, firmly, `I'm sorry that you're not happy. I know
you probably feel I was a bit rough with you this morning, but astrology
is, after all, just popular entertainment, which is fine. It's part of showbiz
and it's a part that you have done well out of and good luck to you.
It's fun. It's not a science though, and it shouldn't be mistaken for
one. I think that's some- thing we both managed to demonstrate very
successfully together this morning, while at the same time generating
some popular entertainment, which is what we both do for a living. I'm
sorry if you have a problem with that.'
`I'm perfectly happy,' said Gail Andrews.
`Oh,' said Tricia, not quite certain what to make of this. `It said in your
message that you were not happy.'
`No,' said Gail Andrews. `I said in my message that I thought you were
not happy, and I was just wondering why.'
Tricia felt as if she had been kicked in the back of the head. She blinked.
`What?' she said quietly.
`To do with the stars. You seemed very angry and unhappy about some-
thing to do with stars and planets when we were having our discussion,
and it's been bothering me, which is why I came to see if you were all
Tricia stared at her. `Ms Andrews - ' she started, and then realised that
the way she had said it sounded exactly angry and unhappy and rather
undermined the protest she had been trying to make.
`Please call me Gail, if that's OK.'
Tricia just looked bewildered.
`I know that astrology isn't a science,' said Gail. `Of course it isn't. It's
just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or, what's that strange
thing you British play?'
`Er, cricket? Self-loathing?'
`Parliamentary democracy. The rules just kind of got there. They don't
make any kind of sense except in terms of them- selves. But when you
start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and
you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the
rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about
ducks and drakes for all the difference it would make. It's just a way of
thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin
to emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they
are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a
piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see
the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now
been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the
means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to
do with astronomy. It's just to do with people thinking about people.
`So when you got so, I don't know, so emotionally focused on stars and
planets this morning, I began to think, she's not angry about astrology,
she really is angry and unhappy about actual stars and planets. People
usually only get that unhappy and angry when they've lost something.
That's all I could think and I couldn't make any more sense of it than
that. So I came to see if you were OK.'
Tricia was stunned.
One part of her brain had already got started on all sorts of stuff. It
was busy constructing all sorts of rebuttals to do with how ridiculous
newspaper horoscopes were and the sort of statistical tricks they played
on people. But gradually it petered out, because it realised that the rest
of her brain wasn't listening. She had been completely stunned.
She had just been told, by a total stranger, something she'd kept com-
pletely secret for seventeen years.
She turned to look at Gail.
A tiny security camera up behind the bar had turned to follow her
movement. This completely flummoxed her. Most people would not have
noticed it. It was not designed to be noticed. It was not designed to
suggest that nowadays even an expensive and elegant hotel in New York
couldn't be sure that its clientele wasn't suddenly going to pull a gun or
not wear a tie. But carefully hidden though it was behind the vodka, it
couldn't deceive the finely honed instinct of a TV anchor person, which
was to know exactly when a camera was turning to look at her.
`Is something wrong?' asked Gail.
`No, I... I have to say that you've rather astonished me,' said Tricia. She
decided to ignore the security camera. It was just her imagination playing
tricks with her because she had television so much on her mind today. It
wasn't the first time it had happened. A traffic monitoring camera, she
was convinced, had swung round to follow her as she walked past it, and
a secu- rity camera in Bloomingdales had seemed to make a particular
point of watching her trying on hats. She was obviously going dotty. She
had even imagined that a bird in Central Park had been peering at her
She decided to put it out of her mind and took a sip of her vodka. Some-
one was walking round the bar asking people if they were Mr MacManus.
`OK,' she said, suddenly blurting it out. `I don't know how you worked
it out, but...'
`I didn't work it out, as you put it. I just listened to what you were
`What I lost, I think, was a whole other life.'
`Everybody does that. Every moment of every day. Every single decision
we make, every breath we draw, opens some doors and closes many
others. Most of them we don't notice. Some we do. Sounds like you
`Oh yes, I noticed,' said Tricia. `All right. Here it is. It's very simple.
Many years ago I met a guy at a party. He said he was from another
planet and did I want to go along with him. I said, yes, OK. It was that
kind of party. I said to him to wait while I went to get my bag and then
I'd be happy to go off to another planet with him. He said I wouldn't
need my bag. I said he obviously came from a very backward planet or
he'd know that a woman always needed to take her bag with her. He
got a bit impatient, but I wasn't gong to be a complete pushover just
because he said he was from another planet.
`I went upstairs. Took me a while to find my bag, and then there was
someone else in the bathroom. Came down and he was gone.'
`And...?' said Gail.
`The garden door was open. I went outside. There were lights. Some kind
of gleaming thing. I was just in time to see it rise up into the sky, shoot
silently up through the clouds and disappear. That was it. End of story.
End of one life, beginning of another. But hardly a moment of this life
goes by that I don't wonder about some other me. A me that didn't go
back for her bag. I feel like she's out there somewhere and I'm walking
in her shadow.'
A member of the hotel staff was now going round the bar asking people
if they were Mr Miller. Nobody was.
`You really think this... person was from another planet?' asked Gail.
`Oh, certainly. There was the spacecraft. Oh, and also he had two heads.'
`Two? Didn't anybody else notice?'
`It was a fancy dress party.'
`And he had a bird cage over it, of course. With a cloth over the cage.
Pretended he had a parrot. He tapped on the cage and it did a lot of
stupid "Pretty Polly" stuff and squawking and so on. Then he pulled the
cloth back for a moment and roared with laughter. There was another
head in there, laughing along with him. It was a worrying moment I can
`I think you probably did the right thing, dear, don't you?' said Gail.
`No,' said Tricia. `No I don't. And I couldn't carry on doing what I was
doing either. I was an astrophysicist, you see. You can't be an astro-
physicist properly if you've actually met someone from another planet
who's got a second head that pretends to be a parrot. You just can't do
it. I couldn't at least.'
`I can see it would be hard. And that's probably why you tend to be a
little hard on other people who talk what sounds like complete nonsense.'
`Yes,' said Tricia. `I expect you're right. I'm sorry.'
`You're the first person I've ever told this, by the way.'
`I wondered. You married?'
`Er, no. So hard to tell these days isn't it? But you're right to ask because
that was probably the reason. I came very close a few times, mostly
because I wanted to have a kid. But every guy ended up asking why I
was constantly looking over his shoulder. What do you tell someone? At
one point I even thought I might just go to a sperm bank and take pot
luck. Have somebody's child at random.'
`You can't seriously do that, can you?'
Tricia laughed. `Probably not. I never quite went and found out for real.
Never quite did it. Story of my life. Never quite did the real thing. That's
why I'm in television I guess. Nothing is real.'
`Excuse me lady, your name Tricia McMillan?'
Tricia looked round in surprise. There was a man standing there in a
`Yes,' she said, instantly pulling herself back together again.
`Lady, I been looking for you for about an hour. Hotel said they didn't
have anybody of that name, but I checked back with Mr Martin's office
and they said that this was definitely where you staying. So I ask again,
they still say they never heard of you, so I get them to page you anyway
and they can't find you. In the end I get the office to FAX a picture of
you through to the car and have a look myself.'
He looked at his watch.
`May be a bit late now, but do you want to go anyway?'
Tricia was stunned.
`Mr Martin? You mean Andy Martin at NBS?'
`That's correct, lady. Screen test for US/AM.'
Tricia shot up out of her seat. She couldn't even bear to think of all the
messages she'd heard for Mr MacManus and Mr Miller.
`Only we have to hurry,' said the chauffeur. `As I heard it Mr Martin
thinks it might be worth trying a British accent. His boss at the network
is dead against the idea. That's Mr Zwingler, and I happen to know he's
flying out to the coast this evening because I'm the one has to pick him
up and take him to the airport.'
`OK,' said Tricia, `I'm ready. Let's go.'
`OK, lady. It's the big limo out the front.'
Tricia turned back to Gail. `I'm sorry,' she said.
`Go! Go!' said Gail. `And good luck. I've enjoyed meeting you.'
Tricia made to reach for her bag for some cash.
`Damn,' she said. She'd left it upstairs.
`Drinks are on me,' insisted Gail. `Really. It's been very interesting.'
`Look, I'm really sorry about this morning and...'
`Don't say another word. I'm fine. It's only astrology. It's harmless. It's
not the end of the world.'
`Thanks.' On an impulse Tricia gave her a hug.
`You got everything?' said the chauffeur. `You don't want to pick up
your bag or anything?'
`If there's one thing that life's taught me,' said Tricia, `it's never go back
for your bag.'
Just a little over an hour later, Tricia sat on one of the pair of beds
in her hotel room. For a few minutes she didn't move. She just stared
at her bag, which was sitting innocently on top of the other bed.
In her hand was a note from Gail Andrews, saying, `Don't be too disap-
pointed. Do ring if you want to talk about it. If I were you I'd stay in
at home tomorrow night. Get some rest. But don't mind me, and don't
worry. It's only astrology. It's not the end of the world. Gail.'
The chauffeur had been dead right. In fact the chauffeur seemed to know
more about what was going on inside NBS than any other single person
she had encountered in the organisation. Martin had been keen, Zwingler
had not. She had had her one shot at proving Martin right and she had
Oh well. Oh well, oh well, oh well.
Time to go home. Time to phone the airline and see if she could still get
the red-eye back to Heathrow. tonight. She reached for the big phone
Oh. First things first.
She put down the directory again, picked up her handbag, and took it
through to the bathroom. She put it down and took out the small plastic
case which held her contact lenses, without which she had been unable
properly to read either the script or the autocue.
As she dabbed each tiny plastic cup into her eyes she reflected that if
there was one thing life had taught her it was that there are times when
you do not go back for your bag and other times when you do. It had
yet to teach her to distinguish between the two types of occasion.
The Hitch Hiker'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
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 un-
derstanding 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 realise about parallel universes, the Guide says, is that
they are not parallel.
It is also important to realise that they are not, strictly speaking, uni-
verses either, but it is easiest if you try and realise that a little later,
after you've realised that everything you've realised 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 particu-
lar 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 ac-
tually 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 impor- tant 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 some-
thing 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 hap-
penstance, and a few other minor vari- ations 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-flavoured
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 cur- rently at the prayer meeting by the
poolside appears to feel any sense of urgency about the problem.
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 prod- ding 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
`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
`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 me
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
`Thank you, Eric,' said Tricia again. `I will.'
She went to bed and dreamt 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 a 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.
OK. 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 super-
market. You get one of those trolleys 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
Anyway, that night an alien spacecraft landed on her lawn.
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 didn't notice the scalding
coffee slopping over her foot. She was hardly breathing as slowly, inch
by inch, foot by foot, the craft came downwards. 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 towards 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
`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 each other 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.
`Is it far from here? Which direction? We don't know.'
Tricia realised 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 cen- tury. 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. Tele- communica-
tions. 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.
`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
`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.
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 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.
`OK,' 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. OK. 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 on it. Her face was
completely immobile, but she did not have the faintest idea what was
going on or what to think about it.
`OK,' 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.'
Tricia didn't know where to start.
Own up, she thought. There's no point in trying to second guess any of
So she said, `But I don't know anything about astrology.'
`Yes. We follow our horoscopes. We are very avid. We see all your news-
papers 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 round 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.'
`OK,' said Tricia. `Right. What is the problem that your leader says you
`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 glim-
mering 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. Amongst 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 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 furthest lim-
its 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 partic-
ular 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.'
Ford Prefect hit the ground running. The ground was about three inches
further 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 dived 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 further from the ven- tilation
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 Hitch Hiker'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 tax, 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 uni- verse.
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 on Ford. He had not been to Saquo-Pilia
Hensha before, and he had liked it. It had a kind of carnival atmosphere
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 every-
body 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 per- sonal 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 bril-
liantly 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 Hitch Hiker's Guide offices rose
above the outskirts of the city, and Ford Prefect 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. 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
He hunkered down behind the storage cabinet, he 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 on to 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 look-
ing 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 manoeuvre inside the towel, and it just twitched
back and forth without being able to turn and face its captor.
Ford hauled it quickly towards him and pinned it down to the ground.
It was beginning to whine pitifully. With one swift and practised move-
ment, 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 which
thinks at least as logically as it does. The easiest way to fool a com-
pletely 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 Sand- wich 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 sand-
wiches, a herring sandwich was placed in front of it. Whereupon the
robot thought to itself, `Ah! A herring sandwich! I like herring sand-
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
her- ring 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
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
criticised as being extremely stupid. They checked their figures and re-
alised 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', `re-
luctance', `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 code governing robot behav- iour 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 which 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 it could then,
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 went quiet and just sat there in a coma.
The chip Ford had taken out was the one which contained the instruc-
tions 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
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 ec-
statically 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, 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
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 recognised 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 remodelled. 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 through the civilised and
post-civilised 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
`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!'
`OK, OK,' 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 man-
agement 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, bub- blingly, froth-
ingly, burstingly true. What a truly ecstasy-induc- ingly correct obser-
`What's happened?' insisted Ford. `Who is this new man- agement?
When did they take over? I... oh, never mind,' he added, as the lit-
tle robot started to gibbet 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 expen- sive 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 towards 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, span, hit
the window, which fortunately was built to withstand rocket attacks,
rebounded, and fell in a bruised and winded heap behind a smart grey
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
`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 indi-
vidual. 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 offence.
`I've been busy,' said Ford, rather weakly. He staggered to his feet, brush-
ing 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
`Who the hell are you?, he demanded.
`I am your new editor-in-chief. That is, if we decide to retain your ser-
vices. 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 round the ceiling and moan-
ing 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 organisation. His drinks trolley is, I
imagine, helping to console him for this fact.'
`Organisation?' yelled Ford. `Organisation? What a bloody stupid word
for a set-up like this!'
`Precisely our sentiments. Under-structured, over-resourced, under-managed,
over-inebriated. 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 on to 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 round 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 tech-
nology. 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 mo-
ment and from this. Billions of them, bifurcating every instant! Every
possible position of every possible electron balloons out into billions of
probabilities! Bil- lions 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 hitch hikers. 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 and sell to it. No. We sell to the affluent business traveller
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 organisation in which Harl occupied it without developing a healthily
paranoid view of life. He took the sensible precaution of hurling himself
backwards, 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 every- thing 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 expiry 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 amongst 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 semi-transparent. If
you held it up to the light you could see a lot of holographically encoded
information and images buried pseudo-inches 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 iden- tity 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
point 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 colours. 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
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 realised before how much sheer titil-
lation 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...'
`OK,' said Ford. `Just spread a little happiness around the security net-
work. 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
Arthur Dent had been in some hell-holes in his life, but he had never
before seen a spaceport which had a sign saying, `Even travelling despon-
dently 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 in crayon. No replacement had been
found for the photograph because no replacement had been found for
the President. There was only one ambition which 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 open- ing words of the first
settlers to arrive there after struggling across light years of space to reach
the furthest unexplored outreaches of the Galaxy. The main town was
called OhWell. 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 other 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 amongst the settlers. What
was the boghog's secret of keeping warm? If anyone had ever learnt the
language the boghogs spoke to each other 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 that 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 recognise 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
which 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 co-ordinates
in space/time. What co-ordinates it occupied in Probability was any-
This, he realised, 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 travelling 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 had 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 had asked him what Galactic Sector
he and Fenchurch had been from and he had said ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha
they had 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 which 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. Every-
body, they said, knew that. They tittered slightly and shook their heads.
As Arthur had 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
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 dishevelled 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 in his thigh, even through the thick layers of leather
padding he wore there. There was a brief, ugly confusion of jabbering and
thrash- ing. 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 backwards, dazed and for-
lorn. It turned anxiously in the corner of the room, its tail tucked up
right under its back legs, and 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, waking mournful little
whimpering noises. It moved its jaw pain- fully. 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 lugu- briously.
`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 OK,
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
A single bird wheeled in the sky above him as he set off back for the
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 OK,
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 grey office cubicles and ex-
ecutive 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 coloured
`InfiniDim Enterprises,' Ford snarled to himself as he stalked rapidly
down one corridor after another. Door after door magi- cally 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 down- wards 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 adven- ture.
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
fulfilment 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 round. 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 importantly, 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, grey and resolutely closed with a
sign on it saying:
NOT EVEN TO AUTHORISED PERSONNEL.
YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME HERE.
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 re-
frigerated and the tasteful grey hessian wall-weave had given way to
brutal grey 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, grey and humming.
This was the nerve centre of the entire Guide.
The computer terminals that lined the grey walls were win- dows on to
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 re-
searchers in every corner of the Galaxy, fed straight up into the network
of sub-editor's offices where they had all the good bits cut out by sec-
retaries 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 depart-
ment 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 half-way 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 anaemic 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 broad-
cast 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 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 moun- tain peaks, heart
stopping ravines, of moons shattering off into sea horses, 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 behaviours, but
his instinct told him to look for the most outstanding feature he could
detect and make towards 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
arch imandrites 3.
He weltered towards 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
1. An ornamental tuft of plumes.
2. A jumbled mass.
3. A cleric ranking below a bishop.
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 inwards 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, counter-intuitively, upwards. And
He threw his shoulders back, let his arms drop, gazed upwards and let
himself be drawn loosely, higher and higher.
Before long, insofar as such terms had any meaning in this virtual uni-
verse, a ledge loomed up ahead of him on which he could grip and on to
which he could clamber.
He rose, he gripped, he clambered.
He panted a little. This was all a little stressful.
He held tightly on to 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 on to as he surveyed the world in which he
The whirling, turning height span 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 him-
self repeatedly that he was just in a graphic rep- resentation of a world.
A virtual universe. A simulated reality. He could snap back out of it at
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 was clinging to the face of an impossibly high peak perched on a
narrow ledge above a drop of brain-swivelling 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
And here they came.
Swooping through virtual space towards 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
authorisation was, what the authorisation of his authorising agent was,
what his inside leg measurement was and so on. Laser light flickered all
over him as if he was 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 a 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 towards the skin
at the nape of his neck when Ford, holding his breath and praying very
slightly, pulled Vann Harl's Ident-i-Eeze out of his pocket and waved it
in front of them.
Instantly every laser was diverted to the little card and Swept backwards
and forwards 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 struc-
ture, more or less. He could have transferred ownership of the entire
organisation into his own name, but he doubted if that would have gone
unnoticed. He didn't want it anyway. It would have meant responsibil-
ity, 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 rationalise its own defences against
the information ever emerging. It was a pro- gramming 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 al-
ready 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 plausi-
ble 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 al-
ready there, which then called themselves when ques- tioned, and so
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 re-
alised that the reason he couldn't find them was that they were working
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 13. 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 had somehow 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
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
had somehow, surreptitiously, 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 23,' 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
upwards. 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.
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 each other, rebuilt the door
, disassembled each other 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.
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 Hitch Hiker'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-away pizza shops, because most mystics were completely inca-
pable 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 any more,' 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 scut-
tled 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 mo-
ment 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
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 Presi- dent. In a speech
he will give tomorrow at...'
`Find another channel,' said the prophet. Arthur pushed the preset but-
`...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
`...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
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 incred- ible. Princess Hooli is looking
radiant in a...'
The prophet swiped the radio off the bench and on to 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 help-
lessly 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 any more. Try next door, but
that's just a suggestion, not formal oracular advice.'
`Next door' was a cave a few hundred yards away and Arthur walked
towards it. Smoke and steam were rising from, respec- tively, 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 goat-like 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 goat-like 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 demeanour, that these were the mo-
ments she lived for.
Arthur watched this exotic performance for a while from a polite dis-
tance, and then at last tried giving a gentle cough to attract her atten-
tion. 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 dread-
fully sorry. I feel a complete idiot and...' He gestured helplessly towards
the small pile of his own vomit lying spread around the entrance to her
`What can I say?' he said. `What can I possibly say?'
This at least had gained her attention. She looked round at him suspi-
ciously, 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
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 violent 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
handsful 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 realise that she was at last saying something to
`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
`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 wittered
on about the ancient mystical arts of the seers and sages of Hawalius,
and wild- ly over-represented the level of accommodation available in
Hawalion. Arthur still carried a copy of The Hitch Hiker'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 x's and j's
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
organisation 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 when he was
sitting on a rock staring at something.
The woman had turned and was walking slowly towards 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 towards 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 enquired 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 some- thing 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 goat-like things. She
spat the lump out on to the pile. She hobbled slowly back to the can. She
tried to unhook it from the sort of tripod-like thing that it was hanging
`Can I help you?' said Arthur, jumping up politely. He hurried over.
Together they disengaged the tin from the tripod and carried it awk-
wardly down the slight slope that led downwards from her cave and
towards 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 realised 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 de-
cided 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
She handed the copies to Arthur.
`This is, er, this your advice then, is it?' said Arthur, leafing through
`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 lungs 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 goat-like things, and started to set about the flies with
vim and vigour.
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
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 centres on some of the more affluent worlds in the
North West ripple of the Galaxy, where the living was easier by a factor
of about seventeen 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
centres 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 towards 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 down-
wards 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 amongst
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 round at him. He seemed surprised to see him.
Arthur couldn't tell if he was surprised and pleased to see him or just
`Are you open?' called Arthur.
The man frowned in incomprehension. Arthur couldn't tell if he couldn't
understand or couldn't hear.
4 See Life, the Universe and Everything, Chapter 18.
`I'll pop over,' called Arthur. `Don't go away.'
He clambered off the small platform and climbed quickly down the spi-
ralling 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 realised 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
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 realised 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 recognised was the one that he
had been on himself when eating his sandwich.
`How did you get over there?' called Arthur in bewilder- ment.
`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 traveller?'
`Yes. Get a beach house.'
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, danc-
ing 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 on to the top of another pole. Either
it was just the heat, thought Arthur, or space was a different shape for
`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
`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
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 uni-
verse. `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 recognise. 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 round
behind his head, `making conversation.' When he brought his hand round
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
`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 per-
haps 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?'
`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 impor- tant,' con-
tinued 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 conse-
quences of the above prayer. Amen..." And that's it. Most of the trouble
people get into in life comes from missing 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.
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 grey crushed leather
sofa was and set up his strategic operational base behind it.
That, at least, was the plan.
Unfortunately the smart grey crushed leather sofa wasn't there.
Why, thought Ford, as he twisted himself round in mid-air, lurched,
dived and scuttled for cover behind Harl's desk, did people have this
stupid obsession with rearranging their office furniture every five min-
Why, for instance, replace a perfectly serviceable if rather muted grey
crushed leather sofa with what appeared to be a small tank?
And who was the big guy with the mobile rocket launcher on his shoul-
der? Someone from head office? Couldn't be. This was head office. At
least it was the head office of the Guide. Where these InfiniDim En-
terprises guys came from Zarquon knew. Nowhere very sunny, judging
from the slug-like colour and texture of their skins. This was all wrong,
thought Ford. People connected with the Guide should come from sunny
There were several of them, in fact, and all of them seemed to be more
heavily armed and armoured than you normally expected corporate ex-
ecutives 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, slug-like 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 armour-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 slug-like 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 for him.
Under the pretext of getting him into a good solid double underpinned
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
`OK,' he said. `I...' He paused.
The big guy with the rocket launcher was turning towards Ford Prefect
and pointing it at him, which Ford couldn't help feeling was wildly
`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 outwards 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 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.
The first thing Arthur Dent had to do, he realised 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
`I hate to be anthropic about this,' he said to the strange thing behind
the desk at the Resettlement Advice Centre 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 on to 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 pa-
per. 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 recognised
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 Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed to work
only fitfully here, which was why he was reduced to making these sorts
of enquiries 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 realise 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 al-
ready 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
`Ah,' he said, and held the picture up to the strange thing behind the
Its eyes squirmed out on stalks and roiled 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 him-
self 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.
`Wish?' the Bartledanian would say at last, in polite bafflement.
`Er, yes,' Arthur would then have said. `I'm just expressing the hope
`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 recognise and respect what he learnt
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 realised 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/second/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 which 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 2. 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, be-
cause 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, toe-
nails, 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 hyperspa-
tial 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 acci- dent 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 per-
fectly 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 afterwards, 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 inter- stellar flight,
was the only one on board who had actually familiarised himself with
the ship's safety procedures in case of an unscheduled landing, and was
therefore the sole survivor. He lay dazed, broken and bleeding in a sort
of fluffy pink plastic cocoon with `Have a nice day' printed in over 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.
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 30 feet per second 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. Hum drum 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 downwards, 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 travelogue 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 Danqueds vertled it. Half a
dozen guys, some towels, a handful of highly sophisticated digital de-
vices, and most importantly a lot of dreams. No. Most importantly a lot
of Fanallan rum. To be completely 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 hitch hiking, 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. Two fingers to the lot of
He was just passing the seventeenth floor now, where the marketing
department hung out. Load of tosspots all arguing about what colour
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 flicking
V-signs 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.' V-signs to them as
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 metamor-
phosed into the corporate monolith (or rather, duolith - mustn't forget
the lawyers) it had become.
Thirteenth floor. Research and development.
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 eleva- tor. 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
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, multi- dimensional 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 depart-
ment 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
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 expect- antly. 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 realised 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 realised 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 im-
mensely 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, grip-
ping to its seams. Other hitch hikers 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 stone wash it. It had a cou-
ple 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 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. OK? Up, Colin!'
Nothing. Or rather a sort of muffled groaning sound from Colin. Ford was
very anxious. They were descending very slow- ly 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, slug-like creatures with rocket launchers were,
it seemed, sliding out of what was usually called thin air. Thin air, as
all experienced Galactic travellers well know, is, in fact, extremely thick
with multi-dimensional 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 mid-air 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
He had an idea.
The armoured slug had hoisted the rocket launcher up on to its shoulder.
The rocket was presumably designed to hit anything in its path that
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 prised 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
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 downwards. Where, a sec-
ond 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
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 upwards 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 on to the small spherical robot. Colin
slewed wildly through the air towards the tower of the Guide offices,
trying delightedly to control himself and slow down.
The world span sickeningly round Ford's head as they span and twisted
round each other and then, equally sickeningly, everything suddenly
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 breath- less 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
Yes, given the infinite sideways extension of probability there was, of
course, an almost infinite multiplicity of planets Earth, but, when you
came down to it, a major pair of shoes wasn't something you could just
replace by mucking about in multi- dimensional space/time.
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 the tomb.
No. That was a ridiculous thing to think. He'd been to some great parties
Could he detect some movement? He wasn't quite sure. It seemed that
he could see some kind of weird, flapping shad- ow. 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
Was there a bird of some kind in there? Was that what they had hid-
den 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. OK, 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 armoured 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 is to underestimate the
ingenuity of complete fools.
He pulled his newly acquired credit card from his pocket, slid it into a
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 backwards 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 ven-
tilation was supposed to solve and generally it had solved the problem
reasonably well up to the point when 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
Now this was quite something.
The major differences from just ordinary air-conditioning were that it
was thrillingly more expensive, 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 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 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.'
`OK, so what if the Breathe-o-Smart breaks down or goes wrong or
`Ah! One of the smartest features of the Breathe-o-Smart is that it can-
not possibly go wrong. So. No worries on that score. Enjoy your breath-
ing 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 electri- cal or quantum-
mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam or piston-driven devices, are
now requited 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 which 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
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 as-
The real horror erupted on the day that three events happened simul-
taneously. The first event was that Breathe-o-Smart Inc. issued a state-
ment 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 practise 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 tyr- anny, to jump in front of
trains or stab themselves, could now just clamber out on to 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 armoured 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 realised 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 realised 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 grey. 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
There was a kind of bird-like logo on it, and a slogan which said `The
Hitch Hiker'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 sud-
denly 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 begin to do as he was told. He had
just remembered why the slug-like creatures looked familiar. Their colour
scheme was a kind of corporate grey, but in all other respects they looked
exactly like Vogons.
The ship dropped quietly to land on the edge of the wide clearing, a
hundred yards or so from the village.
It arrived suddenly and unexpectedly but with a minimum of fuss. One
moment it was a perfectly ordinary late afternoon in the early autumn
- the leaves were just beginning to turn red and gold, the river was be-
ginning to swell again with the rains from the mountains in the north,
the plumage of the pikka birds was begin- ning to thicken in antici-
pation of the coming winter frosts, any day now the Perfectly Normal
Beasts would start their thunderous migration across the plains, and
Old Thrashbarg was beginning to mutter to himself as he hobbled his
way around the village, a muttering which meant that he was rehearsing
and elaborating the stories that he would tell of the past year once the
evenings had drawn in and people had no choice but to gather round the
fire and listen to him and grumble and say that that wasn't how they re-
membered it - and the next moment there was a spaceship sitting there,
gleaming in the warm autumn sun.
It hummed for a bit and then stopped.
It wasn't a big spaceship. If the villagers had been experts on spaceships
they would have known at once that it was a pretty nifty one, a small
sleek Hrundi four-berth runabout with just about every optional extra
in the brochure except Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis, which only wimps
went for. You can't get a good tight, sharp curve round a tri-lateral time
axis with Advanced Vectoid Stabilisis. All right, it's a bit safer, but it
makes the handling go all soggy.
The villagers didn't know all that, of course. Most of them here on the
remote planet of Lamuella had never seen a spaceship, certainly not one
that was all in one piece, and as it shone warmly in the evening light it
was just the most extraordinary thing they had come across since the
day Kirp caught a fish with a head at both ends.
Everybody had fallen silent.
Whereas a moment before two or three dozen people had been wander-
ing about, chattering, chopping wood, carrying water, teasing the pikka
birds, or just amiably trying to stay out of Old Thrashbarg's way, sud-
denly all activity died away and everybody turned to look at the strange
object in amazement.
Or, not quite everybody. The pikka birds tended to be amazed by com-
pletely different things. A perfectly ordinary leaf lying unexpectedly on
a stone would cause them to skitter off in par- oxysms of confusion;
sunrise took them completely by surprise every morning, but the arrival
of an alien craft from another world simply failed to engage any part of
their attention. They continued to kar and rit and huk as they pecked
for seeds on the ground; the river continued with its quiet, spacious
Also, the noise of loud and tuneless singing from the last hut on the left
Suddenly, with a slight click and a hum, a door folded itself outwards
and downwards from the spaceship. Then, for a minute or two, nothing
further seemed to happen, other than the loud singing from the last hut
on the left, and the thing just sat there.
Some of the villagers, particularly the boys, began to edge forward a
little bit to have a closer look. Old Thrashbarg tried to shoo them back.
This was exactly the sort of thing that Old Thrashbarg didn't like to
have happening. He hadn't foretold it, not even slightly, and even though
he would be able to wrestle the whole thing into his continuing story
somehow or other, it really was all getting a bit much to deal with.
He strode forward, pushed the boys back, and raised his arms and his
ancient knobbly staff into the air. The long warm light of the evening sun
caught him nicely. He prepared to welcome whatever gods these were as
if he had been expecting them all along.
Still nothing happened.
Gradually it became clear that there was some kind of argument going
on inside the craft. Time went by and Old Thrashbarg's arms were
beginning to ache.
Suddenly the ramp folded itself back up again. That made it easy for
Thrashbarg. They were demons and he had repulsed them. The reason
he hadn't foretold it was that prudence and modesty forbade.
Almost immediately a different ramp folded itself out on the other side
of the craft from where Thrashbarg was standing, and two figures at
last emerged on it, still arguing with each other and ignoring everybody,
even Thrashbarg, whom they wouldn't even have noticed from where
they were standing.
Old Thrashbarg chewed angrily on his beard.
To continue to stand there with his arms upraised? To kneel with his
head bowed forward and his staff held out pointing at them? To fall
backwards as if overcome in some titanic inner struggle? Perhaps just
to go off to the woods and live in a tree for a year without speaking to
He opted just to drop his arms smartly as if he had done what he meant
to do. They were really hurting so he didn't have much choice. He made
a small, secret sign he had just invented towards the ramp which had
closed and then made three and a half steps backwards, so he could at
least get a good look at whoever these people were and then decide what
to do next.
The taller one was a very good looking woman wearing soft and crum-
ply clothes. Old Thrashbarg didn't know this, but they were made of
Rymplon TM, a new synthetic fabric which was terrific for space travel
because it looked its absolute best when it was all creased and sweaty.
The shorter one was a girl. She was awkward and sullen looking, and
was wearing clothes which looked their absolute worst when they were
all creased and sweaty, and what was more she almost certainly knew
All eyes watched them, except for the pikka birds, which had their own
things to watch.
The woman stood and looked around her. She had a purposeful air about
her. There was obviously something in particular she wanted, but she
didn't know exactly where to find it. She glanced from face to face among
the villagers assembled curiously around her without apparently seeing
what she was looking for.
Thrashbarg had no idea how to play this at all, and decided to resort to
chanting. He threw back his head and began to wail, but was instantly
interrupted by a fresh outbreak of song from the hut of the Sandwich
Maker: the last one on the left. The woman looked round sharply, and
gradually a smile came over her face. Without so much as a glance at
Old Thrashbarg she started to walk towards the hut.
There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given
to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but
the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the
right bread for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months
in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the baker and even-
tually they had between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency
that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light,
moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced the savour
of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.
There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise rela-
tionships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness
which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished
sandwich: here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness,
generosity and that promise of succulence and savour that is the hall-
mark of a truly intense sandwich experience.
The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that
the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven,
would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing
knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength,
keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated,
theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the
Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against
the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow
sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after another, com-
paring the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness
of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.
Three knives altogether were required. First there was the knife for the
slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade which imposed a clear
and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife,
which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it.
Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination
of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the
maximum smoothness and grace of spread.
The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was
the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through
which it moved, as did the bread knife; it must work with it, be guided by
the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency
and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main
hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a
smooth flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread
slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic
that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with
rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the
knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of
pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape
of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always
effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which
fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings,
and the main act of creation would be accomplished.
The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant
who would then add a few slices of newcumber and fladish and a touch
of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and
cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not
that these were not also skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to
be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the
Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was
an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his
fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood,
those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker
was very heaven.
And so the Sandwich Maker sang as he worked.
He was using the last of the year's salted meat. It was a little past its
best now, but still the rich savour of Perfectly Normal Beast meat was
something unsurpassed in any of the Sandwich Maker's previous expe-
rience. Next week it was anticipated that the Perfectly Normal Beasts
would appear again for their regu- lar migration, whereupon the whole
village would once again be plunged into frenetic action: hunting the
Beasts, killing perhaps six, maybe even seven dozen of the thousands
that thundered past. Then the Beasts must be rapidly butchered and
cleaned, with most of the meat salted to keep it through the winter
months until the return migration in the spring, which would replenish
The very best of the meat would be roasted straight away for the feast
that marked the Autumn Passage. The celebrations would last for three
days of sheer exuberance, dancing and stories that Old Thrashbarg
would tell of how the hunt had gone, stories that he would have been
busy sitting making up in his hut while the rest of the village was out
doing the actual hunting.
And then the very, very best of the meat would be saved from the feast
and delivered cold to the Sandwich Maker. And the Sandwich Maker
would exercise on it the skills that he had brought to them from the gods,
and make the exquisite Sandwiches of the Third Season, of which the
whole village would partake before beginning, the next day, to prepare
themselves for the rigours of the coming winter.
Today he was just making ordinary sandwiches, if such deli- cacies, so
lovingly crafted, could ever be called ordinary. Today his assistant was
away so the Sandwich Maker was applying his own garnish, which he
was happy to do. He was happy with just about everything in fact.
He sliced, he sang. He flipped each slice of meat neatly on to a slice
of bread, trimmed it and assembled all the trimmings into their jigsaw.
A little salad, a little sauce, another slice of bread, another sandwich,
another verse of Yellow Submarine.
`Hello , Arthur.'
The Sandwich Maker almost sliced his thumb off.
The villagers had watched in consternation as the woman had marched
boldly to the hut of the Sandwich Maker. The Sandwich Maker had been
sent to them by Almighty Bob in a burning fiery chariot. This, at least,
was what Thrashbarg said, and Thrashbarg was the authority on these
things. So, at least, Thrashbarg claimed, and Thrashbarg was... and so
on and so on. It was hardly worth arguing about.
A few villagers wondered why Almighty Bob would send his onlie begot-
ten Sandwich Maker in a burning fiery chariot rather than perhaps in
one that might have landed quietly without destroying half the forest,
filling it with ghosts and also injuring the Sandwich Maker quite badly.
Old Thrashbarg said that it was the ineffable will of Bob, and when they
asked him what ineffable meant he said look it up.
This was a problem because Old Thrashbarg had the only dictionary and
he wouldn't let them borrow it. They asked him why not and he said that
it was not for them to know the will of Almighty Bob, and when they
asked him why not again he said because he said so. Anyway, somebody
sneaked into Old Thrashbarg's hut one day while he was out having a
swim and looked up `ineffable'. `Ineffable' apparently meant `unknow-
able, indescribable, unutterable, not to be known or spoken about'. So
that cleared that up.
At least they had got the sandwiches.
One day Old Thrashbarg said that Almighty Bob had decreed that he,
Thrashbarg, was to have first pick of the sandwiches. The villagers asked
him when this had happened, exactly, and Thrashbarg said it had hap-
pened yesterday, when they weren't looking. `Have faith,' Old Thrash-
barg said, `or burn!' They let him have first pick of the sandwiches. It
And now this woman had just arrived out of nowhere, and gone straight
for the Sandwich Maker's hut. His fame had obviously spread, though
it was hard to know where to since, according to Old Thrashbarg, there
wasn't anywhere else. Anyway, wherever it was she had come from, pre-
sumably somewhere ineffable, she was here now and was in the Sandwich
Maker's hut. Who was she? And who was the strange girl who was hang-
ing around outside the hut moodily and kicking at stones and showing
every sign of not wanting to be there? It seemed odd that someone should
come all the way from somewhere ineffable in a chariot that was obvi-
ously a vast improvement on the burning fiery one which had brought
them the Sandwich Maker, if she didn't even want to be here?
They all looked to Thrashbarg, but he was on his knees mumbling and
looking very firmly up into the sky and not catching anybody else's eye
until he'd thought of something.
`Trillian!' said the Sandwich Maker, sucking his bleeding thumb. `What...?
Who...? When...? Where...?'
`Exactly the questions I was going to ask you,' said Trillian, looking
around Arthur's hut. It was neatly laid out with his kitchen utensils.
There were some fairly basic cupboards and shelves, and a basic bed in
the corner. A door at the back of the room led to something Trillian
couldn't see because the door was closed. `Nice,' she said, but in an
enquiring tone of voice. She couldn't quite make out what the set-up
`Very nice,' said Arthur. `Wonderfully nice. I don't know when I've ever
been anywhere nicer. I'm happy here. They like me, I make sandwiches
for them, and... er, well that's it really. They like me and I make sand-
wiches for them.'
`Idyllic,' said Arthur, firmly. `It is. It really is. I don't expect you'd like
it very much, but for me it's, well, it's perfect. Look, sit down, please,
make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything, er, a sandwich?'
Trillian picked up a sandwich and looked at it. She sniffed it carefully.
`Try it,' said Arthur, `it's good.'
Trillian took a nibble, then a bite and munched on it thought- fully.
`It is good,' she said, looking at it.
`My life's work,' said Arthur, trying to sound proud and hoping he didn't
sound like a complete idiot. He was used to being revered a bit, and was
having to go through some unexpected mental gear changes.
`What's the meat in it?' asked Trillian.
`Ah yes, that's, um, that's Perfectly Normal Beast.'
`Perfectly Normal Beast. It's a bit like a cow, or rather a bull. Kind of
like a buffalo in fact. Large, charging sort of animal.'
`So what's odd about it?'
`Nothing, it's Perfectly Normal.'
`It's just a bit odd where it comes from.'
Tricia frowned, and stopped chewing.
`Where does it come from?' she asked with her mouth full. She wasn't
going to swallow until she knew.
`Well it's not just a matter of where it comes from, it's also where it
goes to. It's all right, it's perfectly safe to swallow. I've eaten tons of
it. It's great. Very succulent. Very tender. Slightly sweet flavour with a
long dark finish.'
Trillian still hadn't swallowed.
`Where,' she said, `does it come from, and where does it go to?'
`They come from a point just slightly to the east of the Hondo Moun-
tains. They're the big ones behind us here, you must have seen them as
you came in, and then they sweep in their thousands across the great
Anhondo plains and, er, well that's it really. That's where they come
from. That's where they go.'
Trillian frowned. There was something she wasn't quite getting about
`I probably haven't made it quite clear,' said Arthur. `When I say they
come from a point to the east of the Hondo Moun- tains, I mean that
that's where they suddenly appear. Then they sweep across the Anhondo
plains and, well, vanish really. We have about six days to catch as many
of them as we can before they disappear. In the spring they do it again
only the other way round, you see.'
Reluctantly, Trillian swallowed. It was either that or spit it out, and it
did in fact taste pretty good.
`I see,' she said, once she had reassured herself that she didn't seem to
be suffering any ill effects. `And why are they called Perfectly Normal
`Well, I think because otherwise people might think it was a bit odd. I
think Old Thrashbarg called them that. He says that they come from
where they come from and they go to where they go to and that it's
Bob's will and that's all there is to it.'
`Just don't even ask.'
`Well, you look well on it.'
`I feel well. You look well.'
`I'm well. I'm very well.'
`Well, that's good.'
`Nice of you to drop in.'
`Well,' said Arthur, casting around himself. Astounding how hard it was
to think of anything to say to someone after all this time.
`I expect you're wondering how I found you,' said Trillian.
`Yes!' said Arthur. `I was wondering exactly that. How did you find me?'
`Well, as you may or may not know, I now work for one of the big
Sub-Etha broadcasting networks that -'
`I did know that,' said Arthur, suddenly remembering. `Yes, you've done
very well. That's terrific. Very exciting. Well done. Must be a lot of fun.'
`All that rushing around. I expect it must be, yes.'
`We have access to virtually every kind of information. I found your
name on the passenger list of the ship that crashed.'
Arthur was astonished.
`You mean they knew about the crash?'
`Well, of course they knew. You don't have a whole spaceliner disappear
without someone knowing about it.'
`But you mean, they knew where it had happened? They knew I'd sur-
`But nobody's ever been to look or search or rescue. There's been abso-
`Well there wouldn't be. It's a whole complicated insurance thing. They
just bury the whole thing. Pretend it never happened. The insurance
business is completely screwy now. You know they've reintroduced the
death penalty for insurance company directors?'
`Really?' said Arthur. `No I didn't. For what offence?'
`What do you mean, offence?'
Trillian gave Arthur a long look, and then, in a new tone of voice, said,
`It's time for you to take responsibility, Arthur.'
Arthur tried to understand this remark. He found it often took a moment
or so before he saw exactly what it was that people were driving at, so
he let a moment or two pass at a leisurely rate. Life was so pleasant and
relaxed these days, there was time to let things sink in. He let it sink in.
He still didn't quite understand what she meant, though, so in the end
he had to say so.
Trillian gave him a cool smile and then turned back to the door of the
`Random?' she called. `Come in. Come and meet your father.'
As the Guide folded itself back into a smooth, dark disk, Ford realised
some pretty hectic stuff. Or at least he tried to realise it, but it was
too hectic to take in all in one go. His head was hammering, his ankle
was hurting, and though he didn't like to be a wimp about his ankle,
he always found that intense multi- dimensional logic was something he
understood best in the bath. He needed time to think about this. Time,
a tall drink, and some kind of rich, foamy oil.
He had to get out of here. He had to get the Guide out of here. He didn't
think they'd make it together.
He glanced wildly round the room.
Think, think, think. It had to be something simple and obvious. If he
was right in his nasty lurking suspicion that he was dealing with nasty,
lurking Vogons, then the more simple and obvious the better.
Suddenly he saw what he needed.
He wouldn't try to beat the system, he would just use it. The frightening
thing about the Vogons was their absolute mindless determination to
do whatever mindless thing it was they were determined to do. There
was never any point in trying to appeal to their reason because they
didn't have any. However, if you kept your nerve you could sometimes
exploit their blinkered, bludgeoning insistence on being bludgeoning and
blinkered. It wasn't merely that their left hand didn't always know what
their right hand was doing, so to speak; quite often their right hand had
a pretty hazy notion as well.
Did he dare just post the thing to himself?
Did he dare just put it in the system and let the Vogons work out how
to get the thing to him while at the same time they were busy, as they
probably would be, tearing the building apart to find out where he'd
Feverishly, he packed it. He wrapped it. He labelled it. With a moment's
pause to wonder if he was really doing the right thing, he committed the
package to the building's internal mail chute.
`Colin,' he said, turning to the little, hovering ball. `I am going to aban-
don you to your fate.'
`I'm so happy,' said Colin.
`Make the most of it,' said Ford. `Because what I want you to do is to
nursemaid that package out of the building. They'll probably incinerate
you when they find you, and I won't be here to help. It will be very, very
nasty for you, and that's just too bad. Got it?'
`I gurgle with pleasure,' said Colin.
`Go!' said Ford.
Colin obediently dived down the mail chute in pursuit of his charge.
Now Ford had only himself to worry about, but that was still quite a
substantial worry. There were noises of heavy running footsteps outside
the door, which he had taken the precaution of locking and shifting a
large filing cabinet in front of.
He was worried that everything had gone so smoothly. Every- thing
had fitted terribly well. He had hurtled through the day with reckless
abandon and yet everything had worked out with uncanny neatness.
Except for his shoe. He was bitter about his shoe. That was an account
that was going to have to be settled.
With a deafening roar the door exploded inwards. In the turmoil of
smoke and dust he could see large, slug-like creatures hurrying through.
So everything was going well was it? Everything was working out as if
the most extraordinary luck was on his side? Well, he'd see about that.
In a spirit of scientific enquiry he hurled himself out of the window again.
The first month, getting to know each other, was a little difficult.
The second month, trying to come to terms with what they'd got to
know about each other in the first month, was much easier.
The third month, when the box arrived, was very tricky indeed.
At the beginning, it was a problem even trying to explain what a month
was. This had been a pleasantly simple matter for Arthur, here on
Lamuella. The days were just a little over twenty-five hours long, which
basically meant an extra hour in bed every single day and, of course,
having regularly to reset his watch, which Arthur rather enjoyed doing.
He also felt at home with the number of suns and moons which Lamuella
had - one of each - as opposed to some of the planets he'd fetched up on
from time to time which had had ridiculous numbers of them.
The planet orbited its single sun every three hundred days, which was
a good number because it meant the year didn't drag by. The moon
orbited Lamuella just over nine times a year, which meant that a month
was a little over thirty days, which was absolutely perfect because it
gave you a little more time to get things done in. It was not merely
reassuringly like Earth, it was actually rather an improvement.
Random, on the other hand, thought she was trapped in a recurring
nightmare. She would have crying fits and think the moon was out to
get her. Every night it was there, and then, when it went, the sun came
out and followed her. Over and over again.
Trillian had warned Arthur that Random might have some difficulty in
adjusting to a more regular lifestyle than she had been used to up till
now, but Arthur hadn't been ready for actual howling at the moon.
He hadn't been ready for any of this of course.
His daughter? He and Trillian had never even - had they? He was abso-
lutely convinced he would have remembered. What about Zaphod?
`Not the same species, Arthur,' Trillian had answered. `When I decided
I wanted a child they ran all sorts of genetic tests on me and could find
only one match anywhere. It was only later that it dawned on me. I
double checked and I was right. They don't usually like to tell you, but
`You mean you went to a DNA bank?' Arthur had asked, pop-eyed.
`Yes. But she wasn't quite as random as her name suggests, because, of
course, you were the only homo sapiens donor. I must say, though, it
seems you were quite a frequent flyer.'
Arthur had stared wide-eyed at the unhappy looking girl who was slouch-
ing awkwardly in the door-frame looking at him.
`But when... how long...?'
`You mean, what age is she?'
`The wrong one.'
`What do you mean?'
`I mean that I haven't any idea.'
`Well, in my time line I think it's about ten years since I had her, but
she's obviously quite a lot older than that. I spend my life going back-
wards and forwards in time, you see. The job. I used to take her with me
when I could, but it just wasn't always possible. Then I used to put her
into day care time zones, but you just can't get reliable time tracking
now. You leave them there in the morning, you've simply no idea how
old they'll be in the evening. You complain till you're blue in the face
but it doesn't get you anywhere. I left her at one of the places for a few
hours once, and when I came back she'd passed puberty. I've done all I
can, Arthur, it's over to you. I've got a war to cover.'
The ten seconds that passed after Trillian left were about the longest
of Arthur Dent's life. Time, we know, is relative. You can travel light
years through the stars and back, and if you do it at the speed of light
then, when you return, you may have aged mere seconds while your twin
brother or sister will have aged twenty, thirty, forty or however many
years it is, depending on how far you travelled.
This will come to you as a profound personal shock, particularly if you
didn't know you had a twin brother or sister. The seconds that you have
been absent for will not have been sufficient time to prepare you for
the shock of new and strangely distended family relationships when you
Ten seconds' silence was not enough time for Arthur to reassemble his
whole view of himself and his life in a way that suddenly included an
entire new daughter of whose merest exist- ence he had had not the
slightest inkling of a suspicion when he had woken that morning. Deep,
emotional family ties cannot be constructed in ten seconds, however far
and fast you travel away from them, and Arthur could only feel helpless,
bewildered and numb as he looked at the girl standing in his doorway,
staring at his floor.
He supposed that there was no point in pretending not to be hopeless.
He walked over and he hugged her.
`I don't love you,' he said. `I'm sorry. I don't even know you yet. But
give me a few minutes.' We live in strange times. We also live in strange
places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate
our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with
our own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity of in-
finite recursion and say things like, `Oh, hi Ed! Nice tan. How's Carol?'
involves a great deal of filtering skill for which all conscious entities have
eventually to develop a capacity in order to protect themselves from the
contemplation of the chaos through which they seethe and tumble. So
give your kid a break, OK?
Extract from Practical Parenting in a Fractally
Arthur had almost given up. That is to say, he was not going to give up.
He was absolutely not going to give up. Not now. Not ever. But if he
had been the sort of person who was going to give up, this was probably
the time he would have done it.
Not content with being surly, bad-tempered, wanting to go and play in
the paleozoic era, not seeing why they had to have the gravity on the
whole time and shouting at the sun to stop following her, Random had
also used his carving knife to dig up stones to throw at the pikka birds
for looking at her like that.
Arthur didn't even know if Lamuella had had a paleozoic era. According
to Old Thrashbarg the planet had been found fully-formed in the navel
of a giant earwig at four-thirty one Vroonday afternoon, and although
Arthur, as a seasoned galactic traveller with good `O' level passes in
Physics and Geography, had fairly serious doubts about this, it was
rather a waste of time trying to argue with Old Thrashbarg and there
had never been much point before.
He sighed as he sat nursing the chipped and bent knife. He was going to
love her if it killed him, or her, or both. It wasn't easy being a father. He
knew that no one had ever said it was going to be easy, but that wasn't
the point because he'd never asked about being one in the first place.
He was doing his best. Every moment that he could wrest away from
making sandwiches he was spending with her, talking to her, walking
with her, sitting on the hill with her watching the sun go down over
he valley in which the village nestled, trying to find out about her life,
trying to explain to her about his. It was a tricky business. The common
ground between them, apart from the fact that they had almost identical
genes, was about the size of a pebble. Or rather, it was about the size
of Trillian and of her they had slightly differing views.
He suddenly realised she had been talking to him and he hadn't noticed.
Or rather he had not recognized her voice.
Instead of the usual tone of voice in which she spoke to him, which was
bitter and truculent, she was just asking him a simple question.
He looked round in surprise.
She was sitting there on a stool in the corner of the hut in that rather
hunched way she had, knees together, feet splayed out, with her dark
hair hanging down over her face as she looked at something she had
cradled in her hands.
Arthur went over to her, a little nervously.
Her mood swings were very unpredictable but so far they'd all been
between different types of bad ones. Outbreaks of bitter recrimination
would give way without warning to abject self-pity and then long bouts
of sullen despair which were punctuated with sudden acts of mindless
violence against inanimate objects and demands to go to electric clubs.
Not only were there no electric clubs on Lamuella, there were no clubs
at all and, in fact, no electricity. There was a forge and a bakery, a
few carts and a well, but those were the high water mark of Lamuellan
technology, and a fair number of Random's unquenchable rages were
directed against the sheer incomprehensible backwardness of the place.
She could pick up Sub-Etha TV on a small Flex-O-Panel which had
been surgically implanted in her wrist, but that didn't cheer her up at all
because it was full of news of insanely exciting things happening in every
other part of the Galaxy than here. It would also give her frequent news
of her mother, who had dumped her to go off and cover some war which
now seemed not to have happened, or at least to have gone all wrong in
some way because of the absence of any proper intelligence gathering. It
also gave her access to lots of great adventure shows featuring all sorts
of fantastically expensive spaceships crashing into each other.
The villagers were absolutely hypnotised by all these wonderful magic
images flashing over her wrist. They had only ever seen one spaceship
crash, and it had been so frightening, violent and shocking and had
caused so much horrible devastation, fire and death that, stupidly, they
had never realised it was entertainment.
Old Thrashbarg had been so astonished by it that he had instantly seen
Random as an emissary from Bob, but had fairly soon afterwards decided
that in fact she had been sent as a test of his faith, if not of his patience.
He was also alarmed at the number of spaceship crashes he had to start
incorporating into his holy stories if he was to hold the attention of the
villagers, and not have them rushing off to peer at Random's wrist all
At the moment she was not peering at her wrist. Her wrist was turned
off. Arthur squatted down quietly beside her to see what she was looking
It was his watch. He had taken it off when he'd gone to shower under
the local waterfall, and Random had found it and was trying to work it
`It's just a watch,' he said. `It's to tell the time.'
`I know that,' she said. `But you keep on fiddling with it, and it still
doesn't tell the right time. Or even anything like it.'
She brought up the display on her wrist panel, which auto- matically
produced a readout of local time. Her wrist panel had quietly got on
with the business of measuring the local gravity and orbital momentum,
and had noticed where the sun was and tracked its movement in the
sky, all within the first few minutes of Random's arrival. It had then
quickly picked up clues from its environment as to what the local unit
conventions were and reset itself appropriately. It did this sort of thing
continually, which was particularly valuable if you did a lot of travelling
in time as well as space.
Random frowned at her father's watch, which didn't do any of this.
Arthur was very fond of it. It was a better one than he would ever have
afforded himself. He had been given it on his twenty-second birthday by a
rich and guilt-ridden godfather who had forgotten every single birthday
he had had up till then, and also his name. It had the day, the date,
the phases of the moon; it had `To Albert on his twenty-first birthday'
and the wrong date engraved on the battered and scratched surface of
its back in letters that were still just about visible.
The watch had been through a considerahle amount of stuff in the last
few years, most of which would fall well outside the warranty. He didn't
suppose, of course, that the warranty had especially mentioned that the
watch was guaranteed to be accu- rate only within the very particular
gravitational and magnetic fields of the Earth, and so long as the day
was twenty-four hours long and the planet didn't explode and so on.
These were such basic assumptions that even the lawyers would have
Luckily his watch was a wind-up one, or at least, a self-winder. Nowhere
else in the Galaxy would he have found batteries of pre- cisely the dimen-
sions and power specifications that were perfectly standard on Earth.
`So what are all these numbers?' asked Random.
Arthur took it from her.
`These numbers round the edge mark the hours. In the little window on
the right it says THU, which means Thursday, and the number is 14,
which means it's the fourteenth day of the month of MAY which is what
it says in this window over here.
`And this sort of crescent-shaped window at the top tells you about the
phases of the moon. In other words it tells you how much of the moon
is lit up at night by the sun, which depends on the relative positions of
the Sun and the Moon and, well... the Earth.'
`The Earth,' said Random.
`And that's where you came from, and where Mum came from.'
Random took the watch back from him and looked at it again, clearly
baffled by something. Then she held it up to her ear and listened in
`What's that noise?'
`It's ticking. That's the mechanism that drives the watch. It's called
clockwork. It's all kind of interlocking cogs and springs that work to
turn the hands round at exactly the right speed to mark the hours and
minutes and days and so on.'
Random carried on peering at it.
`There's something puzzling you,' said Arthur. `What is it?'
`Yes,' said Random, at last. `Why's it all in hardware?'
Arthur suggested they went for a walk. He felt there were things they
should discuss, and for once Random seemed, if not precisely amenable
and willing, then at least not growling.
From Random's point of view this was also all very weird. It wasn't that
she wanted to be difficult, as such, it was just that she didn't know how
or what else to be.
Who was this guy? What was this life she was supposed to lead? What
was this world she was supposed to lead it in? And what was this universe
that kept coming at her through her eyes and ears? What was it for?
What did it want?
She'd been born in a spaceship that had been going from somewhere to
somewhere else, and when it had got to some- where else, somewhere
else had only turned out to be another somewhere that you had to get
to somewhere else again from, and so on.
It was her normal expectation that she was supposed to be somewhere
else. It was normal for her to feel that she was in the wrong place.
Then, constant time travel had only compounded this problem, and had
led to the feeling that she was not only always in the wrong place, but
she was also almost always there at the wrong time.
She didn't notice that she felt this, because it was the only way she ever
felt, just as it never seemed odd to her that nearly everywhere she went
she needed either to wear weights or anti-gravity suits and usually special
apparatus for breathing as well. The only places you could ever feel right
were worlds you designed for yourself to inhabit - virtual realities in the
electric clubs. It had never occurred to her that the real Universe was
something you could actually fit into.
And that included this Lamuella place her mother had dumped her in.
And it also included this person who had bestowed on her this precious
and magical gift of life in return for a seat upgrade. It was just as well
he had turned out to be rather kind and friendly or there would have
been trouble. Really. She'd got a specially sharpened stone in her pocket
she could cause a lot of trouble with.
It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's point of
view without the proper training. They sat on the spot that Arthur
particularly liked, on the side of a hill overlooking the valley. The sun
was going down over the village.
The only thing that Arthur wasn't quite so fond of was being able to
see a little way into the next valley, where a deep dark mangled furrow
in the forest marked the spot where his ship had crashed. But maybe
that was what kept bringing him back here. There were plenty of spots
from which you could survey the lush rolling countryside of Lamuella,
but this was the one he was drawn to, with its nagging dark spot of fear
and pain nestling just on the edge of his vision.
He had never been there again since he had been pulled out of the
Couldn't bear it.
In fact he had gone some of the way back to it the very next day, while
he was still numb and spinning with shock. He had a broken leg, a couple
of broken ribs, some bad burns and was not really thinking coherently
but had insisted that the villagers take him, which, uneasily, they had.
He had not managed to get right to the actual spot where the ground
had bubbled and melted, however, and had at last hobbled away from
the horror for ever.
Soon, word had got around that the whole area was haunted and no
one had ventured back there ever since. The land was full of beautiful,
verdant and delightful valleys - no point in going to a highly worrying
one. Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into
Random cradled the watch in her hands, slowly turning it to let the
long light of the evening sun shine warmly in the scratches and scuffs of
the thick glass. It fascinated her watching the spidery little second hand
ticking its way round. Every time it completed a full circle, the longer of
the two main hands had moved on exactly to the next of the sixty small
divisions round the dial. And when the long hand had made its own full
circle. the smaller hand had moved on to the next of the main digits.
`You've been watching it for over an hour.' said Arthur, quietly.
`I know, she said. `An hour is when the big hand has gone all the way
`Then I've been watching it for an hour and seventeen... minutes.'
She smiled with a deep and mysterious pleasure and moved very slightly
so that she was resting just a little. against his arm. Arthur felt a small
sigh escape from him that had been pent up inside his chest for weeks.
He wanted to put his arm around his daughter's shoulders, but felt it was
too early yet and that she would shy away from him. But something was
working. Some- thing was easing inside her. The watch meant something
to her that nothing in her life had so far managed to do. Arthur was
not sure that he had really understood what it was yet, but he was
profoundly pleased and relieved that something had reached her.
`Explain to me again,' said Random.
`There's nothing really to it,' said Arthur. `Clockwork was something
that developed over hundreds of years...'
`Yes. It became finer and finer and more and more intricate. It was
highly skilled and delicate work. It had to be made very small, and it
had to carry on working accurately however much you waved it around
or dropped it.'
`But only on one planet?'
`Well, that was where it was made, you see. It was never expected to
go anywhere else and deal with different suns and moons and magnetic
fields and things. I mean the thing still goes perfectly well, but it doesn't
really mean much this far from Switzerland.'
`Switzerland. That's where these were made. Small hilly coun- try. Tire-
somely neat. The people who made them didn't really know there were
`Quite a big thing not to know.'
`So where did they come from?'
`They, that is we... we just sort of grew there. We evolv- ed on the Earth.
From, I don't know, some kind of sludge or something.'
`Like this watch.'
`Um. I don't think the watch grew out of sludge.'
`You don't understand!'
Random suddenly leaped to her feet, shouting.
`You don't understand! You don't understand me, you don't understand
anything! I hate you for being so stupid!'
She started to run hectically down the hill, still clutching the watch and
shouting that she hated him.
Arthur jumped up, startled and at a loss. He started to run after her
through the stringy and clumpy grass. It was hard and painful for him.
When he had broken his leg in the crash, it had not been a clean break,
and it had not healed cleanly. He was stumbling and wincing as he ran.
Suddenly she turned and faced him, her face dark with anger.
She brandished the watch at him. `You don't understand that there's
somewhere this belongs? Somewhere it works? Somewhere that it fits?'
She turned and ran again. She was fit and fleet-footed and Arthur could
not remotely keep up with her.
It wasn't that he had not expected being a father to be this difficult,
it was that he hadn't expected to be a father at all, particularly not
suddenly and unexpectedly on an alien planet.
Random turned to shout at him again. For some reason he stopped each
time she did.
`Who do you think I am?' she demanded angrily. `Your upgrade? Who
do you think Mum thought I was? Some sort of ticket to the life she
`I don't know what you mean by that,' said Arthur, panting and hurting.
`You don't know what anybody means by anything!'
`What do you mean?'
`Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!'
`Tell me! Please tell me! What does she mean by saying the life she
`She wished she'd stayed on Earth! She wished she hadn't gone off with
that stupid brain-dead fruit gum, Zaphod! She thinks she would have
had a different life!'
`But,' said Arthur, `she would have been killed! She would have been
killed when the world was destroyed!'
`That's a different life isn't it?'
`She wouldn't have had to have me! She hates me!'
`You can't mean that! How could anyone possibly, er, I mean...'
`She had me because I was meant to make things fit for her. That was
my job. But I fitted even worse than she did! So she just shut me off
and carried on with her stupid life.'
`What's stupid about her life? She's fantastically successful, isn't she?
She's all over time and space, all over the Sub-Etha TV networks...'
`Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!'
Random turned and ran off again. Arthur couldn't keep up with her and
at last he had to sit down for a bit and let the pain in his leg subside.
The turmoil in his head he didn't know what to do with at all.
He hobbled into the village an hour later. It was getting dark. The
villagers he passed said hello, but there was a sense of nervousness and
of not quite knowing what was going on or what to do about it in the
air. Old Thrashbarg had been seen pulling on his beard a fair bit and
looking at the moon, and that was not a good sign either.
Arthur went into his hut.
Random was sitting hunched quietly over the table.
`I'm sorry,' she said. `I'm so sorry.'
`That's all right,' said Arthur as gently as he knew how. `It's good to,
well, to have a little chat. There's so much we have to learn and un-
derstand about each other, and life isn't, well it isn't all just tea and
`I'm so sorry,' she said again, sobbing.
Arthur went up to her and put his arm round her shoulder. She didn't
resist or pull away. Then Arthur saw what it was she was so sorry about.
In the pool of light thrown by a Lamuellan lantern lay Arthur's watch.
Random had forced the back off it with the back edge of the butter
spreading knife, and all of the minute cogs and springs and levers were
lying in a tiny cock-eyed mess where she'd been fiddling with them.
`I just wanted to see how it worked,' said Random, `how it all fitted
together. I'm so sorry! I can't get it back together. I'm sorry, I'm sorry,
I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'll get it repaired! Really! I'll get it
The following day Thrashbarg came round and said all sorts of Bob
stuff. He tried to exert a calming influence by inviting Random to let
her mind dwell on the ineffable mystery of the giant earwig, and Ran-
dom said there was no giant earwig and Thrashbarg went very cold and
silent and said she would be cast into outer darkness. Random said good,
she'd been born there, and the next day the parcel arrived.
This was all getting a bit eventful.
In fact, when the parcel arrived, delivered by a kind of robot drone that
dropped out of the sky making droning robot noises, it brought with it
a sense which gradually began to permeate through the whole village,
that it was almost one event too many.
It wasn't the robot drone's fault. All it required was Arthur Dent's
signature or thumb print, or just a few scrapings of skin cells from the
nape of his neck and it would be on its way again. It hung around waiting,
not quite sure what all this resentment was about. Meanwhile, Kirp had
caught another fish with a head at both ends, but on closer inspection
it turned out that it was in fact two fish cut in half and sewn together
rather badly, so not only had Kirp failed to rekindle any great interest
in two-headed fish but he had seriously cast doubt on the authenticity
of the first one. Only the pikka birds seemed to feel that everything was
The robot drone got Arthur's signature and made its escape. Arthur
bore the parcel back to his hut and sat and looked at it.
`Let's open it!' said Random, who was feeling much more cheerful this
morning now that everything around her had got thoroughly weird, but
Arthur said no.
`It's not addressed to me.'
`Yes, it is.'
`No, it isn't. It's addressed to... well, it's addressed to Ford Prefect, in
care of me.'
`Ford Prefect? Is he the one who...'
`Yes,' said Arthur tartly.
`I've heard about him.'
`I expect you have.'
`Let' s open it anyway. What else are we going to do?'
`I don't know,' said Arthur, who really wasn't sure. He had taken his
damaged knives over to the forge bright and early that morning and
Strinder had had a look at them and said that he would see what he
They had tried the usual business of waving the knives through the air,
feeling for the point of balance and the point of flex and so on, but the
joy was gone from it, and Arthur had a sad feeling that his sandwich
making days were probably numbered.
He hung his head.
The next appearance of the Perfectly Normal Beasts was imminent, but
Arthur felt that the usual festivities of hunting and feasting were going
to be rather muted and uncertain. Something had happened here on
Lamuella, and Arthur had a horrible feeling that it was him.
`What do you think it is?' urged Random, turning the parcel over in her
`I don't know, said Arthur. `Something bad and worrying, though.'
`How do you know?' Random protested.
`Because anything to do with Ford Prefect is bound to be worse and
more worrying than something that isn't,' said Arthur. `Believe me.'
`You're upset about something, aren't you?' said Random.
`I'm just feeling a little jumpy and unsettled, I think,' said Arthur.
`I'm sorry,' said Random, and put the package down again. She could
see that it really would upset him if she opened it. She would just have
to do it when he wasn't looking.
Arthur wasn't quite certain which he noticed as being missing first.
When he noticed that the one wasn't there his mind instantly leapt to
the other and he knew immediately that they were both gone and that
something insanely bad and difficult to deal with would happen as a
Random was not there. And neither was the parcel.
He had left it up on a shelf all day, in plain view. It was an exercise in
He knew that one of the things he was supposed to do as a parent was
to show trust in his child, to build a sense of trust and confidence into
the bedrock of relationship between them. He had had a nasty feeling
that that might be an idiotic thing to do, but he did it anyway, and
sure enough it had turned out to be an idiotic thing to do. You live and
learn. At any rate, you live.
You also panic.
Arthur ran out of the hut. It was the middle of the evening. The light was
getting dim and a storm was brewing. He could not see her anywhere,
nor any sign of her. He asked. No one had seen her. He asked again.
No one else had seen her. They were going home for the night . A little
wind was whipping round the edge of the village, picking things up and
tossing them around in a dangerously casual manner.
He found Old Thrashbarg and asked him. Thrashbarg looked at him
stonily, and then pointed in the one direction that Arthur had dreaded,
and had therefore instinctively known was the way she would have gone.
So now he knew the worst.
She had gone where she thought he would not follow her.
He looked up at the sky, which was sullen, streaked and livid, and re-
flected that it was the sort of sky that the Four Horsemen of the Apoc-
alypse wouldn't feel like a bunch of complete idiots riding out of.
With a heavy sense of the utmost foreboding he set off on the track
that led to the forest in the next valley. The first heavy blobs of rain be-
gan to hit the ground as Arthur tried to drag himself to some sort of run.
Random reached the crest of the hill and looked down into the next
valley. It had been a longer and harder climb than she had anticipated.
She was a little worried that doing the trip at night was not that great
an idea, but her father had been mooching around near the hut all day
trying to pretend to either her or himself that he wasn't guarding the
parcel. At last he'd had to go over to the forge to talk with Strinder
about the knives, and Random had seized her opportunity and done a
runner with the parcel.
It was perfectly clear that she couldn't just open the thing there, in the
hut, or even in the village. He might have come across her at any mo-
ment. Which meant that she had to go where she wouldn't be followed.
She could stop where she was now. She had gone this way in the hope
that he wouldn't follow her. and even if he did he would never find her
up in the wooded parts of the hill with night drawing in and the rain
All the way up, the parcel had been jiggling under her arm. It was a
satisfyingly hunky sort of thing: a box with a square top about the
length of her forearm on each side, and about the length of her hand
deep, wrapped up in brown plasper with an ingenious new form of self-
knotting string. It didn't rattle as she shook it, but she sensed that its
weight was concentrated excitingly at the centre.
Having come so far, though, there was a certain satisfaction in not stop-
ping here, but carrying on down into what seemed to be almost a forbid-
den area - where her father's ship had come down. She wasn't exactly
certain what the word `haunted' meant, but it might be fun to find out.
She would keep going and save the parcel up for when she got there.
It was getting darker, though. She hadn't used her tiny electric torch
yet, because she didn't want to be visible from a distance. She would
have to use it now, but it probably didn't matter since she would be on
the other side of the hill which divided the valleys from each other.
She turned her torch on. Almost at the same moment a fork of lightning
ripped across the valley into which she was heading and startled her
considerably. As the darkness shuddered back around her and a clap of
thunder rolled out across the land she felt suddenly rather small and lost
with just a feeble pencil of light bobbing in her hand. Perhaps she should
stop after all and open the parcel here. Or maybe she should go back and
come out again tomorrow. It was only a momentary hesitation, though.
She knew there was no going back tonight, and sensed that there was
no going back ever.
She headed on down the side of the hill. The rain was beginning to pick
up now. Where a short while ago it had been a few heavy blobs it was
settling in for a good pour now, hissing in the trees, and the ground was
getting slippery under her feet.
At least, she thought it was the rain hissing in the trees. Shadows were
leaping and leering at her as her light bobbed through the trees. Onwards
She hurried on for another ten or fifteen minutes, soaked to the skin
now and shivering, and gradually became aware that there seemed to
be some other light somewhere ahead of her. It was very faint and she
wasn't certain if she was imagining it or not. She turned off her torch
to see. There did seem to be some sort of dim glow ahead. She couldn't
tell what it was. She turned her torch back on and continued down the
hill, towards whatever it was.
There was something wrong with the woods though.
She couldn't immediately say what it was, but they didn't seem like
sprightly healthy woods looking forward to a good spring. The trees
were lolling at sickly angles and had a sort of pallid, blighted look about
them. Random more than once had the worrying sensation that they
were trying to reach towards her as she passed them, but it was just a
trick of the way that her light caused their shadows to flicker and lurch.
Suddenly, something fell out of a tree in front of her. She leapt backwards
with alarm, dropping both the torch and the box as she did so. She
went down into a crouch, pulling the specially sharpened rock out of her
The thing that had fallen out of the tree was moving. The torch was ly-
ing on the ground and pointing towards it, and a vast, grotesque shadow
was slowly lurching through the light towards her. She could hear faint
rustling and screeching noises over the steady hiss of the rain. She scrab-
bled on the ground for the torch, found it, and shone it directly at the
At the same moment another dropped from a tree just a few feet away.
She swung the torch wildly from one to another. She held her rock up,
ready to throw.
They were quite small in fact. It was the angle of the light that had made
them loom so large. Not only small. but small, furry and cuddly. And
there was another, dropping from the trees. It fell through the beam of
light, so she saw it quite clearly.
It fell neatly and precisely, turned, and then, like the other two, started
slowly and purposefully to advance on Random.
She stayed rooted to the spot. She still had her rock. poised and ready to
throw, but was increasingly conscious of the fact that the things she had
it poised and ready to throw at were squirrels. Or at least, squirrel-like
things. Soft, warm, cuddly squirrel-like things advancing on her in a way
she wasn't at all certain she liked.
She shone her torch directly on the first of them. It was making aggres-
sive, hectoring, screeching noises, and carrying in one of its little fists
a small tattered piece of wet, pink rag. Random hefted her rock men-
acingly in her hand, but it made no impression at all on the squirrel
advancing on her with its wet piece of rag.
She backed away. She didn't know at all how to deal with this. If they
had been vicious snarling slavering beasts with glistening fangs she would
have pitched into them with a will, but squirrels behaving like this she
couldn't quite handle.
She backed away again. The second squirrel was starting to make a flank-
ing manoeuvre round to her right. Carrying a cup. Some kind of acorn
thing. The third was right behind it and making its own advance. What
was it carrying? Some little scrap of soggy paper, Random thought.
She stepped back again, caught her ankle against the root of a tree and
fell over backwards.
Instantly the first squirrel darted forward and was on top of her, ad-
vancing along her stomach with cold purpose. in its eyes, and a piece of
wet rag in its fist.
Random tried to jump up, but only managed to jump about an inch.
The startled movement of the squirrel on her stomach startled her in
return. The squirrel froze, gripping her skin through her soaking shirt
with its tiny claws. Then slowly, inch by inch, it made its way up her,
stopped, and proffered her the rag.
She felt almost hypnotised by the strangeness of the thing and its tiny
glinting eyes. It proffered her the rag again. It pushed it at her repeatedly,
screeching insistently, till at last, nervously, hesitantly, she took the thing
from it. It continued to watch her intently, its eyes darting all over her
face . She had no idea what to do. Rain and mud were streaming down
her face and she had a squirrel sitting on her. She wiped some mud out
of her eyes with the rag.
The squirrel shrieked triumphantly, grabbed the rag hack, leapt off her,
ran scampering into the dark, enclosing night, darted up into a tree,
dived into a hole in the trunk, settled back and lit a cigarette.
Meanwhile Random was trying to fend off the squirrel with the acorn
cup full of rain and the one with the paper. She shuffled backwards on
`No!' she shouted. `Go away!'
They darted back, in fright, and then darted right forward again with
their gifts. She brandished her rock at them. `Go!' she yelled.
The squirrels scampered round in consternation. Then one darted straight
at her, dropped the acorn cup in her lap, turned and ran off into the
night. The other stood quivering for a moment, then put its scrap of
paper neatly down in front of her and disappeared as well.
She was alone again, but trembling with confusion. She got unsteadily
to her feet, picked up her rock and her parcel, then paused and picked
up the scrap of paper as well. It was so soggy and dilapidated it was
hard to make out what it was. It seemed just to be a fragment of an
Just as Random was trying to understand exactly what it was that this
all meant, a man walked out into the clearing in which she was standing,
raised a vicious-looking gun and shot her.
Arthur was thrashing around hopelessly two or three miles behind her,
on the upward side of the hill.
Within minutes of setting out he had gone back again and equipped
himself with a lamp. Not an electric one. The only electric light in the
place was the one that Random had brought with her. This was a kind of
dim hurricane lamp: a perforated metal canister from Strinder's forge,
which contained a reservoir of inflammable fish oil, a wick of knotted
dried grass and was wrapped in a translucent film made from dried
membranes from the gut of a Perfectly Normal Beast.
It had now gone out.
Arthur jiggled around with it in a thoroughly pointless kind of a way for
a few seconds. There was clearly no way he was going to get the thing
suddenly to burst into flame again in the middle of a rainstorm, but it's
impossible not to make a token effort. Reluctantly he threw the thing
What to do? This was hopeless. He was absolutely sodden, his clothes
heavy and billowing with the rain, and now he was lost in the dark as
For a brief second he was lost in the blinding light, and then he was lost
in the dark again.
The sheet of lightning had at least shown him that he was very close
to the brow of the hill. Once he had breasted that he would... well, he
wasn't certain what he would do. He'd have to work that out when he
He limped forward and upwards.
A few minutes later he knew that he was standing panting at the top.
There was some kind of dim glow in the distance below him. He had no
idea what it was, and indeed he hardly liked to think. It was the only
thing he had to make towards, though, so he started to make his way,
stumbling, lost and frightened towards it.
The flash of lethal light passed straight through Random and, about
two seconds later, so did the man who had shot it. Other than that he
paid her no attention whatsoever. He had shot someone standing behind
her, and when she turned to look, he was kneeling over the body and
going through its pockets.
The tableau froze and vanished. It was replaced a second later by a
giant pair of teeth framed by immense and perfectly glossed red lips. A
huge blue brush appeared out of nowhere and started foamily to scrub
at the teeth, which continued to hang there gleaming in the shimmering
curtain of rain.
Random blinked at it twice before she got it.
It was a commercial. The guy who had shot her was part of a holo-
graphic in-flight movie. She must now be very close to where the ship
had crashed. Obviously some of its systems were more indestructible
The next half-mile of the journey was particularly trouble- some. Not
only did she have the cold and the rain and the night to contend with,
but also the fractured and thrashing remains of the ship's on-board en-
tertainment system. Spaceships and jetcars and helipods crashed and ex-
ploded continuously around her, illuminating the night, villainous people
in strange hats smug- gled dangerous drugs through her, and the com-
bined orchestra and chorus of the Hallapolis State Opera performed the
closing March of the AnjaQantine Star Guard from Act IV of Rizgar's
Blamwellamum of Woont in a little glade somewhere off to her left.
And then she was standing on the lip of a very nasty looking and bubbly-
edged crater. There was still a faint warm glow coming from what would
otherwise have looked like an enormous piece of caramelised chewing
gum in the centre of the pit: the melted remains of a great spaceship.
She stood looking at it for a longish while, and then at last started to
walk along and around the edge of the crater. She was no longer certain
what she was looking for, but kept moving anyway, keeping the horror
of the pit to her left.
The rain was beginning to ease off a little, but it was still extremely wet,
and since she didn't know what it was that was in the box, whether it was
perhaps something delicate or dam- ageable, she thought she ought to
find somewhere reasonably dry to open it. She hoped she hadn't already
damaged it by dropping it.
She played her torch around the surrounding trees, which were thin on
the ground here, and mostly charred and broken. In the middle distance
she thought she could see a jumbled outcrop of rock which might provide
some shelter, and she started to pick her way towards it. All around she
found the detritus that had been ejected from the ship as it broke up,
before the final fireball.
After she had moved two or three hundred yards from the edge of the
crater she came across the tattered fragments of some fluffy pink ma-
terial, sodden, muddied and drooping amongst the broken trees. She
guessed, correctly, that this must be the remains of the escape cocoon
that had saved her father's life. She went and looked at it more closely,
and then noticed something close to it on the ground, half covered in
She picked it up and wiped the mud off it. It was some kind of electronic
device the size of a small book. Feebly glowing on its cover, in response
to her touch, were some large friendly letters. They said DON'T PANIC.
She knew what this was. It was her father's copy of The Hitch Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy.
She felt instantly reassured by it, turned her head up to the thundery
sky and let some. rain wash over her face and into her mouth.
She shook her head and hurried on towards the rocks. Clamber- ing
up and over them she almost immediately found the perfect thing. The
mouth of a cave. She played her torch into its interior. It seemed
to be dry and safe. Picking her way carefully, she walked in. It was
quite spacious, but didn't go that deep. Exhausted and relieved she sat
on a convenient rock, put the box down in front of her and started
immediately to open it.
For a long period of time there was much speculation and controversy
about where the so-called `missing matter' of the Universe had got to. All
over the Galaxy the science depart- ments of all the major universities
were acquiring more and more elaborate equipment to probe and search
the hearts of distant galaxies, and then the very centre and the very
edges of the whole Universe, but when eventually it was tracked down
it turned out in fact to he all the stuff which the equipment had been
There was quite a large quantity of missing matter in the box, little
soft round white pellets of missing matter, which Random discarded for
future generations of physicists to track down and discover all over again
once the findings of the current generation of physicists had been lost
and forgotten about.
Out of the pellets of missing matter she lifted the featureless black disk.
She put it down on a rock beside her and sifted amongst all the missing
matter to see if there was anything else, a manual or some attachments
or something, but there was nothing else at all. Just the black disk.
She shone the torch on it.
As she did so, cracks began to appear along its apparently featureless
surface. Random backed away nervously, but then saw that the thing,
whatever it was, was merely unfolding itself.
The process was wonderfully beautiful. It was extraordinarily elaborate
but also simple and elegant. It was like a piece of self-opening origami,
or a rosebud blooming into a rose in just a few seconds.
Where just a few moments earlier there had been a smoothly curved
black disk there was now a bird. A bird, hovering there.
Random continued to back away from it, carefully and watch- fully.
It was a little like a pikka bird, only rather smaller. That is to say, in
fact it was larger, or to be more exact, precisely the same size or, at
least, not less than twice the size. It was also both a lot bluer and a lot
pinker than pikka birds, while at the same time being perfectly black.
There was also something very odd about it, which Random couldn't
immediately make out.
It certainly shared with pikka birds the impression it gave that it was
watching something that you couldn't see.
Suddenly it vanished.
Then, just as suddenly everything went black. Random drop- ped into
a tense crouch, feeling for the specially sharpened rock in her pocket
again. Then the blackness receded and rolled itself up into a ball and
then the blackness was the bird again. It hung in the air in front of her,
beating its wings slowly and staring at her.
`Excuse me,' it said suddenly, `I just have to calibrate myself. Can you
hear me when I say this?'
`When you say what?' demanded Random.
`Good,' said the bird. `And can you hear me when I say this?' It spoke
this time at a much higher pitch.
`Yes, of course I can!' said Random.
`And can you hear me when I say this?' it said, this time in a sepulchrally
There was then a pause.
`No obviously not,' said the bird after a few seconds. `Good, well your
hearing range is obviously between 20 and 16 KHz. So. Is this com-
fortable for you?' it said in a pleasant light tenor. `No uncomfortable
harmonics screeching away in the upper register? Obviously not. Good.
I can use those as data channels. Now. How many of me can you see?'
Suddenly the air was full of nothing but interlocking birds. Random was
well used to spending time in virtual realities, but this was something
far weirder than anything she had previously encountered. It was as if
the whole geometry of space was redefined in seamless bird shapes.
Random gasped and flung her arms round her face, her arms moving
through bird-shaped space.
`Hmmm, obviously way too many,' said the bird. `How about now?'
It concertina-ed into a tunnel of birds, as if it was a bird caught between
parallel mirrors, reflecting infinitely into the distance.
`What are you?' shouted Random.
`We'll come to that in a minute,' said the bird. `Just how many, please?'
`Well, you're sort of...' Random gestured helplessly off into the distance.
`I see, still infinite in extent, but at least we're homing in on the right
dimensional matrix. Good. No, the answer is an orange and two lemons.'
`If I have three lemons and three oranges and I lose two oranges and a
lemon what do I have left?'
`OK, so you think that time flows that way, do you? Interesting. Am
I still infinite?' it asked, ballooning this way and that in space. `Am I
infinite now? How yellow am I?'
Moment by moment the bird was going through mind-mangling trans-
formations of shape and extent.
`I can't...' said Random bewildered.
`You don't have to answer, I can tell from watching you now. So. Am
I your mother? Am I a rock? Do I seem huge, squishy and sinuously
intertwined? No? How about now? Am I going backwards?'
For once the bird was perfectly still and steady.
`No,' Said Random.
`Well I was in fact, I was moving backwards in time. Hmmm. Well I
think we've sorted all that out now. If you'd like to know, I can tell
you that in your universe you move freely in three dimensions that you
call space. You move in a straight line in a fourth, which you call time,
and stay rooted to one place in a fifth, which is the first fundamental
of probability. After that it gets a hit complicated, and there's all sorts
of stuff going on in dimensions 13 to 22 that you really wouldn't want
to know about. All you really need to know for the moment is that the
universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you
start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the
first place. I can easily not say words like "damn" if it offends you.'
`Say what you damn well like.'
`What the hell are you?' demanded Random.
`I am The Guide. In your universe I am your Guide. In fact I inhabit
what is technically known as the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash
which means... well, let me show you.'
It turned in mid-air and swooped out of the cave, and then perched on
a rock, just beneath an overhang, out of the rain, which was getting
`Come on,' it said, `watch this.'
Random didn't like being bossed around by a bird, but she followed it
to the mouth of the cave anyway, still fingering the rock in her pocket.
`Rain,' said the bird. `You see? Just rain.'
`I know what rain is.'
Sheets of the stuff were sweeping through the night, moonlight sifting
`So what is it?'
`What do you mean, what is it? Look, who are you? What were you
doing in that box? Why have I spent a night running through the forest
fending off demented squirrels to find that all I've got at the end of it is
a bird asking me what rain is. It's just water falling through the bloody
air, that's what it is. Anything else you want to know or can we go home
There was a long pause before the bird answered, `You want to go home?'
`I haven't got a home!' Random almost shocked herself, she screamed
the words so loudly.
`Look into the rain...' said the bird Guide.
`I'm looking into the rain! What else is there to look at?'
`What do you see?'
`What do you mean, you stupid bird? I just see a load of rain. It's just
`What shapes do you see in the water?'
`Shapes? There aren't any shapes. It's just, just...'
`Just a mish mash,' said the bird Guide.
`Now what do you see?'
Just on the very edge of visibility a thin faint beam fanned out of the
bird's eyes. In the dry air beneath the overhang there was nothing to
see. Where the beam hit the drops of rain as they fell through it, there
was a flat sheet of light, so bright and vivid it seemed solid.
`Oh great. A laser show,' said Random fractiously. `Never seen one of
those before, of course, except at about five million rock concerts.'
`Tell me what you see!'
`Just a flat sheet! Stupid bird.'
`There's nothing there that wasn't there before. I'm just using light to
draw your attention to certain drops at certain moments. Now what do
The light shut off.
`I'm doing exactly the same thing, but with ultra-violet light. You can't
`So what's the point of showing me something I can't see?'
`So that you understand that just because you see something, it doesn't
mean to say it's there. And if you don't see something it doesn't mean
to say it's not there, it's only what your senses bring to your attention.'
`I'm bored with this,' said Random, and then gasped.
Hanging in the rain was a giant and very vivid three-dimen- sional image
of her father looking startled about something.
About two miles away behind Random, her father, struggling his way
through the woods suddenly stopped. He was startled to see an image of
himself looking startled about something hanging brightly in the rain-
filled air about two miles away. About two miles away some distance to
the right of the direction in which he was heading.
He was almost completely lost, convinced he was going to die of cold
and wet and exhaustion and beginning to wish he could just get on with
it. He had just been brought an entire golfing magazine by a squirrel, as
well, and his brain. was beginning to howl and gibber.
Seeing a huge bright image of himself light up in the sky told him that, on
balance, he was probably right to howl and gibber but probably wrong
as far as the direction he was heading was concerned.
Taking a deep breath, he turned and headed off towards the inexplicable
`OK, so what's that supposed to prove?' demanded Random. It was
the fact that the image was her father that had startled her rather than
the appearance of the image itself. She had seen her first hologram when
she was two months old and had been put in it to play. She had seen
her most recent one about half an hour ago playing the March of the
AnjaQantine Star Guard.
`Only that it's no more there or not there than the sheet was,' said
the bird. `It's just the interaction of water from the sky moving in one
direction, with light at frequencies your senses can detect moving in
another. It makes an apparently solid image in your mind. But it's all
just images in the Mish Mash. Here's another one for you.'
`My mother!' said Random.
`No,' said the bird.
`I know my mother when I see her!'
The image was of a woman emerging from a spacecraft inside a large,
grey hangar-like building. She was being escorted by a group of tall, thin
purplish-green creatures. It was definite- ly Random's mother. Well, al-
most definitely. Trillian wouldn't have been walking quite so uncertainly
in low gravity, or looking around her at a boring old life-support envi-
ronment with quite such a disbelieving look on her face, or carrying such
a quaint old camera.
`So who is it?' demanded Random.
`She is part of the extent of your mother on the probability axis,' said
the bird Guide.
`I haven't the faintest idea what you mean.'
`Space, time and probability all have axes along which it is possible to
`Still dunno. Though I think... No. Explain.'
`I thought you wanted to go home.'
`Would you like to see your home?'
`See it? It was destroyed!'
`It is discontinuous along the probability axis. Look!'
Something very strange and wonderful now swam into view in the rain.
It was a huge, bluish-greenish globe, misty and cloud-covered, turning
with. majestic slowness against a black, starry background.
`Now you see it,' said the bird. `Now you don't.'
A little less than two miles away, now, Arthur Dent stood still in his
tracks. He could not believe what he could see, hanging there, shrouded
in rain, but brilliant and vividly real against the night sky - the Earth.
He gasped at the sight of it. Then, at the moment he gasped, it disap-
peared again. Then it appeared again. Then, and this was the bit that
made him give up and stick straws in his hair, it turned into a sausage.
Random was also startled by the sight of this huge, blue and green
and watery and misty sausage hanging above her. And now it was a
string of sausages, or rather it was a string of sausages in which many of
the sausages were missing. The whole brilliant string turned and span
in a bewildering dance in the air and then gradually slowed, grew insub-
stantial and faded into the glistening darkness of the night.
`What was that?' asked Random, in a small voice.
`A glimpse along the probability axis of a discontinuously probable ob-
`Most objects mutate and change along their axis of prob- ability, but
the world of your origin does something slightly different. It lies on what
you might call a fault line in the landscape of probability which means
that at many probability co-ordinates, the whole of it simply ceases to
exist. It has an inherent instability, which is typical of anything that lies
within what are usually designated the Plural sectors. Make sense?'
`Want to go and see for yourself?'
`Is that possible?'
The bird Guide did not answer at once. It spread its wings and, with an
easy grace, ascended into the air and flew out into the rain which, once
again, was beginning to lighten.
It soared ecstatically up into the night sky, lights flashed around it,
dimensions dithered in its wake. It swooped and turned and looped and
turned again and came at last to rest two feet in front of Random's face,
its wings beating slowly and silently.
It spoke to her again.
`Your universe is vast to you. Vast in time, vast in space. That's because
of the filters through which you perceive it. But I was built with no
filters at all, which means I perceive the mish mash which contains all
possible universes but which has, itself, no size at all. For me, anything
is possible. I am omniscient and omnipotent, extremely vain, and, what
is more, I come in a handy self-carrying package. You have to work out
how much of the above is true.'
A slow smile spread over Random's face.
`You bloody little thing. You've been winding me up!'
`As I said, anything is possible.'
Random laughed. `OK,' she said. `Let's try and go to Earth. Let's go to
Earth at some point on its, er...'
`Yes. Where it hasn't been blown up. OK. So you're the Guide. How do
we get a lift?'
`Reverse engineering. To me the flow of time is irrelevant. You decide
what you want. I then merely make sure that it has already happened.'
`Anything is possible.'
Random frowned. `You are joking aren't you?'
`Let me put it another way,' said the bird. `Reverse engineering enables
us to shortcut all the business of waiting for one of the horribly few
spaceships that passes through your galactic sector every year or so to
make up its mind about whether or not it feels like giving you a lift. You
want a lift a ship arrives and gives you one. The pilot may think he has
any one of a million reasons why he has decided to stop and pick you
up. The real reason is that I have determined that he will.'
`This is you being extremely vain isn't it, little bird?'
The bird was silent.
`OK,' said Random. `I want a ship to take me to Earth.'
`Will this one do?'
It was so silent that Random had not noticed the descending spaceship
until it was nearly on top of her.
Arthur had noticed it. He was a mile away now and closing. Just af-
ter the illuminated sausage display had drawn to its conclusion he had
noticed the faint glimmerings of further lights coming down out of the
clouds and had, to begin with, assumed it to be another piece of flashy
son et lumiere.
It took a moment or so for it to dawn on him that it was an actual
spaceship, and a moment or two longer for him to realise that it was
dropping directly down to where he assumed his daughter to be. That
was when, rain or no rain, leg injury or no leg injury, darkness or no
darkness, he suddenly started really to run.
He fell almost immediately, slid and hurt his knee quite badly on a rock.
He slithered back up to his feet and tried again. He had a horrible cold
feeling that he was about to lose Random for ever. Limping and cursing,
he ran. He didn't know what it was that had been in the box, but the
name on it had been Ford Prefect, and that was the name he cursed as
The ship was one of the sexiest and most beautiful ones that Random
had ever seen.
It was astounding. Silver, sleek, ineffable.
If she didn't know better she would have said it was an RW6. As it
settled silently beside her she realised that it actually was an RW6 and
she could scarcely breathe for excitement. An RW6 was the sort of thing
you only saw in the sort of magazines that were designed to provoke
She was also extremely nervous. The manner and timing of its arrival
was deeply unsettling. Either it was the most bizarre coincidence or
something very peculiar and worrying was going on. She waited a little
tensely for the ship's hatch to open. Her Guide - she thought of it as
hers now - was hovering lightly over her right shoulder, its wings barely
The hatch opened. Just a little dim light escaped. A moment or two
passed and a figure emerged. He stood still for a moment or so, obviously
trying to accustom his eyes to the darkness. Then he caught sight of
Random standing there, and seemed a little surprised. He started to
walk towards her. Then suddenly he shouted in surprise and started to
run at her.
Random was not a good person to take a run at on a dark night when
she was feeling a little strung out. She had unconsciously been fingering
the rock in her pocket from the moment she saw the craft coming down.
Still running, slithering, hurtling, bumping into trees, Arthur saw at
last that he was too late. The ship had only been on the ground for
about three minutes, and now, silently, gracefully it was rising up above
the trees again, turning smoothly in the fine speckle of rain to which
the storm had now abated, climbing, climbing, tipping up its nose and,
suddenly, effortlessly, hurtling up through the clouds.
Gone. Random was in it. It was impossible for Arthur to know this, but
he just went ahead and knew it anyway. She was gone. He had had his
stint at being a parent and could scarcely believe how badly he had done
at it. He tried to continue run- ning, but his feet were dragging, his knee
was hurting like fury and he knew that he was too late.
He could not conceive that he could feel more wretched and awful than
this, but he was wrong.
He limped his way at last to the cave where Random had sheltered
and opened the box. The ground bore the indentations of the spacecraft
that had landed there only minutes before, but of Random there was
no sign. He wandered disconsolately into the cave, found the empty box
and piles of missing matter pellets strewn around the place. He felt a
little cross about that. He'd tried to teach her about cleaning up after
herself. Feeling a bit cross with her about something like that helped
him feel less desolate about her leaving. He knew he had no means of
His foot knocked against something unexpected. He bent down to pick
it up, and was thoroughly surprised to discover what it was. It was his
old Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. How did that come to be in the
cave? He had never returned to collect it from the scene of the crash. He
had not wanted to revisit the crash and he had not wanted the Guide
again. He had reckoned he was here on Lamuella, making sandwiches
for good. How did it come to be in the cave? It was active. The words
on the cover flashed DON'T PANIC at him.
He went out of the cave again into the dim and damp moonlight. He sat
on a rock to have a look through the old Guide, and then discovered it
wasn't a rock, it was a person.
Arthur leapt to his feet with a start of fear. It would be hard to say
which he was more frightened of: that he. might have hurt the person
he had inadvertently sat on or that the person he had inadvertently sat
on would hurt him back.
There seemed, on inspection, to be little immediate cause for alarm on
the second count. Whoever it was he had sat on was unconscious. That
would probably go a great deal of the way towards explaining what he
was doing lying there. He seemed to be breathing OK, though. Arthur
felt his pulse. That was OK as well.
He was lying on his side, half curled up. It was so long ago and far away
when Arthur had last done First Aid that he really couldn't remember
what it was he was supposed to do. The first thing he was supposed to
do, he remembered, was to have a First Aid kit about his person. Damn.
Should he roll him on to his back or not? Suppose he had any broken
bones? Suppose he swallowed his tongue? Suppose he sued him? Who,
apart from anything else, was he?
At that moment the unconscious man groaned loudly and rolled himself
Arthur wondered if he should -
He looked at him.
He looked at him again.
He looked at him again, just to make absolutely sure.
Despite the fact that he had been thinking he was feeling about as low
as he possibly could, he experienced a terrible sinking feeling.
The figure groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. It took him a while
to focus, then he blinked and stiffened.
`You!' said Ford Prefect.
`You!' said Arthur Dent.
Ford groaned again.
`What do you need to have explained this time?' he said, and closed his
eyes in some kind of despair.
Five minutes later he was sitting up and rubbing the side of his head,
where he had quite a large swelling.
`Who the hell was that woman?' he said. `Why are we sur- rounded by
squirrels, and what do they want?'
`I've been pestered by squirrels all night,' said Arthur. `They keep on
trying to give me magazines and stuff.'
Ford frowned. `Really?' he said.
`And bits of rag.'
`Oh,' he said. `Is this near where your ship crashed?'
`Yes,' said Arthur. He said it a little tightly.
`That's probably it. Can happen. Ship's cabin robots get destroyed.
The cyberminds that control them survive and start infesting the local
wildlife. Can turn a whole ecosystem into some kind of helpless thrash-
ing service industry, handing out hot towels and drinks to passers-by.
Should be a law against it. Probably is. Probably also a law against
there being a law against it so every- body can get nice and worked up.
Hey ho. What did you say?'
`I said, and the woman is my daughter.'
Ford stopped rubbing his head.
`Say that one more time.'
`I said,' said Arthur huffily, `the woman is my daughter.'
`I didn't know,' said Ford, `that you had a daughter.'
`Well, there's probably a lot you don't know about me,' said Arthur.
`Come to mention it, there's probably a lot I don't know about me
`Well, well, well. When did this happen then?'
`I'm not quite sure.'
`That sounds like more familiar territory,' said Ford. `Is there a mother
`Trillian? I didn't think that...'
`No. Look, it's a bit embarrassing.'
`I remember she told me once she had a kid but only, sort of, in passing.
I'm in touch with her from time to time. Never seen her with the kid.'
Arthur said nothing.
Ford started to feel the side of his head again in some bemusement.
`Are you sure this was your daughter?' he said.
`Tell me what happened.'
`Phroo. Long story. I was coming to pick up this parcel I'd sent to myself
here care of you...'
`Well, what was that all about?'
`I think it may be something unimaginably dangerous.'
`And you sent it to me?' protested Arthur.
`Safest place I could think of. I thought I could rely on you to be abso-
lutely boring and not open it. Anyway, coming in at night I couldn't find
this village place. I was going by pretty basic information. I couldn't find
any signal of any kind. I guess you don't have signals and stuff here.'
`That's what I like about it.'
`Then I did pick up a faint signal from your old copy of the Guide, so
I homed in on that, thinking that would take me to you. I found I'd
landed in some kind of wood. Couldn't figure out what was going on. I
get out, and then see this woman standing there. I go up to say hello,
then suddenly I see that she's got this thing!'
`The thing I sent you! The new Guide! The bird thing! You were meant
to keep it safe, you idiot, but this woman had the thing right there by
her shoulder. I ran forward and she hit me with a rock.'
`I see,' said Arthur. `What did you do?'
`Well, I fell over of course. I was very badly hurt. She and the bird started
to make off towards my ship. And when I say my ship, I mean an RW6.'
`An RW6 for Zark's sake. I've got this great relationship going now
between my credit card and the Guide's central computer. You would
not believe that ship, Arthur, it's...'
`So an RW6 is a spaceship, then?'
`Yes! It's - oh never mind. Look, just get some kind of grip will you,
Arthur? Or at least get some kind of catalogue. At this point I was very
worried. And, I think, semi-concussed. I was down on my knees and
bleeding profusely, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to
beg. I said, please for Zark's sake don't take my ship. And don't leave me
stranded in the middle of some primitive zarking forest with no medical
help and a head injury. I could be in serious trouble and so could she.'
`What did she say?'
`She hit me on the head with the rock again.'
`I think I can confirm that that was my daughter.'
`You have to get to know her,' said Arthur.
`She eases up does she?'
`No,' said Arthur, `but you get a better sense of when to duck.'
Ford held his head and tried to see straight.
The sky was beginning to lighten in the west, which was where the sun
rose. Arthur didn't particularly want to see it. The last thing he wanted
after a hellish night like this one was some blasted day coming along
and barging about the place.
`What are you doing in a place like this, Arthur?' demanded Ford.
`Well,' said Arthur, `making sandwiches mostly.'
`I am, probably was, the sandwich maker for a small tribe. It was a
bit embarrassing really. When I first arrived, that is, when they rescued
me from the wreckage of this super high-technology spacecraft which
had crashed on their planet, they were very nice to me and I thought
I should help them out a bit. You know, I'm an educated chap from
a high-technology culture, I could show them a thing or two. And of
course I couldn't. I haven't got the faintest idea, when it comes down
to it, of how anything actually works. I don't mean like video-recorders,
nobody knows how to work those. I mean just something like a pen or an
artesian well or something. Not the foggiest. I couldn't help at all. One
day I got glum and made myself a sandwich. That suddenly got them
all excited. They'd never seen one before. It was just an idea that had
never occurred to them, and I happen to quite like making sandwiches,
so it all sort of developed from there.'
`And you enjoyed that?'
`Well, yes, I think I sort of did, really. Getting a good set of knives, that
sort of thing.'
`You didn't, for instance, find it mind-witheringly, explosively, astound-
ingly, blisteringly dull?'
`Well, er, no. Not as such. Not actually blisteringly.'
`Odd. I would.'
`Well, I suppose we have a different outlook.'
`Like the pikka birds.'
Ford had no idea what he was talking about and couldn't be bothered
to ask. Instead he said, `So how the hell do we get out of this place?'
`Well I think the simplest way from here is just to follow the way down
the valley to the plains, probably take an hour, and then walk round
from there. I don't think I could face going back up and over the way I
`Walk round where from there?'
`Well, back to the village. I suppose.' Arthur sighed a little forlornly.
`I don't want to go to any blasted village!' snapped Ford.
`We've got to get out of here!'
`I don't know, you tell me. You live here! There must be some way off
this zarking planet.'
`I don't know. What do you usually do? Sit around and wait for a passing
spacecraft, I suppose.'
`Oh yes? And how many spacecraft have visited this zark- forsaken little
`Well, a few years ago there was mine that crashed here by mistake. Then
there was, er, Trillian, then the parcel delivery, and now you, and...'
`Yes, but apart from the usual suspects?'
`Well, er, I think pretty much none, so far as I know. Pretty quiet round
As if deliberately to prove him wrong, there was a long, low distant roll
Ford leapt to his feet fretfully and started pacing backwards and for-
wards in the feeble, painful light of the early dawn which lay streaked
against the sky as if someone had dragged a piece of liver across it.
`You don't understand how important this is,' he said.
`What? You mean my daughter out there all alone in the Galaxy? You
think I don't...'
`Can we feel sorry for the Galaxy later?' said Ford. `This is very, very
serious indeed. The Guide has been taken over. It's been bought out.'
Arthur leapt up. `Oh very serious,' he shouted. `Please fill me in straight
away on some corporate publishing politics! I can't tell you how much
it's been on my mind of late!'
`You don't understand! There's a whole new Guide!'
`Oh!' shouted Arthur again. `Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm incoherent with excite-
ment! I can hardly wait for it to come out to find out which are the most
exciting spaceports to get bored hanging about in in some globular clus-
ter I've never heard of. Please, can we rush to a store that's got it right
this very instant?'
Ford narrowed his eyes.
`This is that thing you call sarcasm, isn't it?'
`Do you know,' bellowed Arthur, `I think it is? I really think it might
just be a crazy little thing called sarcasm seeping in at the edges of my
manner of speech! Ford, I have had a fucking bad night! Will you please
try and take that into account while you consider what fascinating bits
of badger-sputumly inconsequential trivia to assail me with next?'
`Try to rest,' said Ford. `I need to think.'
`Why do you need to think? Can't we just sit and go budum- budum-
budum with our lips for a bit? Couldn't we just dribble gently and loll
a little bit to the left for a few minutes? I can't stand it, Ford! I can't
stand all this thinking and trying to work things out any more. You may
think that I am just standing here barking...'
`Hadn't occurred to me in fact.'
`...but I mean it! What is the point? We assume that every time we do
anything we know what the consequences will be, i.e., more or less what
we intend them to be. This is not only not always correct. It is wildly,
crazily, stupidly cross-eyed-blithering-insectly wrong!'
`Which is exactly my point.'
`Thank you,' said Arthur, sitting down again. `What?'
`Temporal reverse engineering.'
Arthur put his head in his hands and shook it gently from side to side.
`Is there any humane way,' he moaned, `in which I can prevent you from
telling me what temporary reverse bloody-whatsiting is?'
`No,' said Ford, `because your daughter is caught up in the middle of it
and it is deadly, deadly serious.'
Thunder rolled in the pause.
`All right,' said Arthur. `Tell me.'
`I leaped out of a high-rise office window.'
This cheered Arthur up.
`Oh!' he said. `Why don't you do it again?'
`Hmmm,' said Arthur, disappointed. `Obviously no good came of it.'
`The first time I managed to save myself by the most astonish- ing and
- I say this in all modesty - fabulous piece of ingenious quick-thinking,
agility, fancy footwork and self-sacrifice.'
`What was the self-sacrifice?'
`I jettisoned half of a much loved and I think irreplaceable pair of shoes.'
`Why was that self-sacrifice?'
`Because they were mine!' said Ford crossly.
`I think we have different value systems.'
`Well mine's better.'
`That's according to your... oh never mind. So having saved yourself very
cleverly once you very sensibly went and jumped again. Please don't tell
me why. Just tell me what happened if you must.'
`I fell straight into the open cockpit of a passing jet towncar whose pilot
had just accidentally pushed the eject button when he meant only to
change tracks on the stereo. Now, even I couldn't think that that was
particularly clever of me.'
`Oh, I don't know,' said Arthur wearily. `I expect you probably sneaked
into his jetcar the previous night and set the pilot's least favourite track
to play or something.'
`No, I didn't,' said Ford.
`Though oddly enough, somebody else did. And this is the nub. You
could trace the chain and branches of crucial events and coincidences
back and back. Turned out the new Guide had done it. That bird.'
`You haven't seen it?'
`Oh. It's a lethal little thing. Looks pretty, talks big, collapses waveforms
selectively at will.'
`What does that mean?'
`Temporal reverse engineering.'
`Oh,' said Arthur. `Oh yes.'
`The question is, who is it really doing it for?'
`I've actually got a sandwich in my pocket,' said Arthur, delving. `Would
you like a bit?'
`It's a bit squished and sodden, I'm afraid.'
They munched for a bit.
`It's quite good in fact,' said Ford. `What's the meat in it?'
`Perfectly Normal Beast.'
`Not come across that one. So, the question is,' Ford con- tinued, `who
is the bird really doing it for? What's the real game here?'
`Mmm,' ate Arthur.
`When I found the bird,' continued Ford, `which I did by a series of
coincidences that are interesting in themselves, it put on the most fan-
tastic multi-dimensional display of pyrotechnics I've ever seen. It then
said that it would put its services at my disposal in my universe. I said,
thanks but no thanks. It said that it would anyway, whether I liked it
or not. I said just try it, and it said it would and, indeed, already had
done. I said we'd see about that and it said that we would. That's when
I decided to pack the thing up and get it out of there. So I sent it to you
`Oh yes? Whose?'
`Never you mind. Then, what with one thing and another, I thought
it prudent to jump out of the window again, being fresh out of other
options at the time. Luckily for me the jetcar was there otherwise I
would have had to fall back on ingenious quick-thinking, agility, maybe
another shoe or, failing all else, the ground. But it meant that, whether I
liked it or not, the Guide was, well, working for me, and that was deeply
`Because if you've got the Guide you think that you are the one it's
working for. Everything went swimmingly smoothly for me from then
on, up to the very moment that I come up against the totty with the
rock, then, bang, I'm history. I'm out of the loop.'
`Are you referring to my daughter?'
`As politely as I can. She's the next one in the chain who will think that
everything is going fabulously for her. She can beat whoever she likes
around the head with bits of the landscape, everything will just swim for
her until she's done whatever she's supposed to do and then it will be
all up for her too. It's reverse temporal engineering, and clearly nobody
understood what was being unleashed!'
`Like me for instance.'
`What? Oh, wake up, Arthur. Look, let me try it again. The new Guide
came out of the research labs. It made use of this new technology of
Unfiltered Perception. Do you know what that means?'
`Look, I've been making sandwiches for Bob's sake!'
`Never mind. Just carry on.'
`Unfiltered Perception means it perceives everything. Got that? I don't
perceive everything. You don't perceive everything. We have filters. The
new Guide doesn't have any sense filters. It perceives everything. It
wasn't a complicated technological idea. It was just a question of leaving
a bit out. Got it?'
`Why don't I just say that I've got it, and then you can carry on regard-
`Right. Now because the bird can perceive every possible Universe. it is
present in every possible universe. Yes?'
`Y... e... e... s. Ish.'
`So what happens is, the bozos in the marketing and account- ing de-
partments say, oh that sounds good, doesn't that mean we only have to
make one of them and then sell it an infinite number of times? Don't
squint at me like that, Arthur, this is how accountants think!'
`That's quite clever, isn't it?'
`No! It is fantastically stupid. Look. The machine's only a little Guide.
It's got some quite clever cybertechnology in it, but because it has Un-
filtered Perception, any smallest move it makes has the power of a virus.
It can propagate throughout space, time and a million other dimensions.
Anything can be focused anywhere in any of the universes that you and
I move in. Its power is recursive. Think of a computer program. Some-
where, there is one key instruction, and everything else is just functions
calling themselves, or brackets billowing out endlessly through an infi-
nite address space. What happens when the brackets collapse? Where's
the final "end if"? Is any of this making sense? Arthur?'
`Sorry, I was nodding off for a moment. Something about the Universe,
`Something about the Universe, yes,' said Ford, wearily. He sat down
`All right,' he said. `Think about this. You know who I think I saw at
the Guide offices? Vogons. Ah. I see I've said a word you understand at
Arthur leapt to his feet.
`That noise,' he said.
`what about it?'
`It isn't thunder. It's the spring migration of the Perfectly Normal Beasts.
`What are these animals you keep on about?'
`I don't keep on about them. I just put bits of them in sandwiches.'
`Why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?'
Arthur told him.
It wasn't often that Arthur had the pleasure of seeing Ford's eyes open
wide with astonishment.
It was a sight that Arthur never quite got used to, or tired of. He and
Ford had tracked their way swiftly along the side of the small river that
flowed down along the bed of the valley, and when at last they reached
the margin of the plains they pulled themselves up into the branches of a
large tree to get a better view of one of the stranger and more wonderful
visions that the Galaxy has to offer.
The great thunderous herd of thousand upon thousand of Perfectly Nor-
mal Beasts was sweeping in magnificent array across the Anhondo Plain.
In the early pale light of the morning, as the great animals charged
through the fine steam of the sweat of their bodies mingled with the
muddy mist churned up by their pounding hooves, their appearance
seemed a little unreal and ghostly anyway, but what was heart-stopping
about them was where they came from and where they went to, which
appeared to be, simply, nowhere.
They formed a solid, charging phalanx roughly a hundred yards wide
and half a mile long. The phalanx never moved, except that it exhibited
a slight gradual drift sideways and backwards for the eight or nine days
that it regularly appeared for. But though the phalanx stayed more or
less constant, the great beasts of which it was composed charged steadily
at upwards of twenty miles an hour, appearing suddenly from thin air
at one end of the plain, and disappearing equally abruptly at the other
No one knew where they came from, no one knew where they went.
They were so important to the lives of the Lamuellans, it was almost as
if nobody liked to ask. Old Thrashbarg had said on one occasion that
some times if you received an answer, the question might be taken away.
Some of the villagers had privately said that this was the only properly
wise thing they'd ever heard Thrashbarg say, and after a short debate
on the matter, had put it down to chance.
The noise of the pounding of the hooves was so intense that it was hard
to hear anything else above it.
`What did you say?' shouted Arthur.
`I said,' shouted Ford, `this looks like it might be some kind of evidence
of dimensional drift.'
`Which is what?' shouted Arthur back.
`Well, a lot of people are beginning to worry that space/time is showing
signs of cracking up with everything that's happening to it. There are
quite a lot of worlds where you can see how the landmasses have cracked
up and moved around just from the weirdly long or meandering routes
that migrating animals take. This might be something like that. We live
in twisted times. Still, in the absence of a decent spaceport...'
Arthur looked at him in a kind of frozen way.
`What do you mean?' he said.
`What do you mean, what do I mean?' shouted Ford. `You know perfectly
well what I mean. We're going to ride our way out of here.'
`Are you seriously suggesting we try to ride a Perfectly Normal Beast?'
`Yeah. See where it goes to.'
`We'll be killed! No,' said Arthur, suddenly. `We won't be killed. At least
I won't. Ford, have you ever heard of a planet called Stavromula Beta?'
Ford frowned. `Don't think so,' he said. He pulled out his own battered
old copy of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and accessed it. `Any
funny spelling?' he said.
`Don't know. I've only ever heard it said, and that was by someone who
had a mouthful of other people's teeth. You remember I told you about
Ford thought for a moment. `You mean the guy who was convinced you
were getting him killed over and over again?'
`Yes. One of the places he claimed I'd got him killed was Stavromula
Beta. Someone tries to shoot me, it seems. I duck and Agrajag, or at
least, one of his many reincarnations, gets hit. It seems that this has
definitely happened at some point in time so, I suppose, I can't get
killed at least until after I've ducked on Stavromula Beta. Only no one's
ever heard of it.'
`Hmm.' Ford tried a few other searches of the Hitch Hiker's Guide, but
drew a blank.
`Nothing,' he said.
`I was just... no, I've never heard of it,' said Ford finally. He wondered
why it was ringing a very, very faint bell, though.
`OK,' said Arthur. `I've seen the way the Lamuellan hunters trap Per-
fectly Normal Beasts. If you spear one in the herd it just gets trampled,
so they have to lure them out one at a time for the kill. It's very like
the way a matador works, you know, with a brightly coloured cape. You
get one to charge at you and then step aside and execute a rather ele-
gant swing through with the cape. Have you got anything like a brightly
coloured cape about you?'
`This do?' said Ford, handing him his towel.
Leaping on to the back of a one-and-a-half-ton Perfectly Normal Beast
migrating through your world at a thundering thirty miles an hour is
not as easy as it might at first seem. Certainly it is not as easy as
the Lamuellan hunters made it seem, and Arthur Dent was prepared to
discover that this might turn out to be the difficult bit.
What he hadn't been prepared to discover, however, was how difficult
it was even getting to the difficult bit. It was the bit that was supposed
to be the easy bit which turned out to be practically impossible.
They couldn't even catch the attention of a single animal. The Perfectly
Normal Beasts were so intent on working up a good thunder with their
hooves, heads down shoulders forward, back legs pounding the ground
into porridge that it would have taken something not merely startling
but actually geological to disturb them.
The sheer amount of thundering and pending was, in the end, more than
Arthur and Ford could deal with. After they had spent nearly two hours
prancing about doing increasingly foolish things with a medium-sized
floral patterned bath towel, they had not managed to get even one of
the great beasts thundering and pounding past them to do so much as
glance casually in their direction.
They were within three feet of the horizontal avalanche of sweating bod-
ies. To have been much nearer would have been to risk instant death,
chrono-logic or no chrono-logic. Arthur had seen what remained of any
Perfectly Normal Beast which, as the result of a clumsy mis-throw by
a young and inexperienced Lamuellan hunter, got speared while still
thundering and pound- ing with the herd.
One stumble was all it took. No prior appointment with death on Stavro-
mula Beta, wherever the hell Stavromula Beta was, would save you or
anybody else from the thunderous, mangling pounding of those hooves.
At last, Arthur and Ford staggered back. They sat down, exhausted and
defeated, and started to criticise each other's technique with the towel.
`You've got to flick it more,' complained Ford. `You need more follow-
through from the elbow if you're going to get those blasted creatures to
notice anything at all.'
`Follow-through?' protested Arthur. `You need more supple- ness in the
`You need more after-flourish,' countered Ford.
`You need a bigger towel.'
`You need,' said another voice, `a pikka bird.'
The voice had come from behind them. They turned, and there, standing
behind them in the early morning sun, was Old Thrashbarg.
`To attract the attention of a Perfectly Normal Beast,' he said, as he
walked forward towards them, `you need a pikka bird. Like this.'
From under the rough, cassocky robe-like thing he wore he drew a small
pikka bird. It sat restlessly on Old Thrashbarg's hand and peered in-
tently at Bob knows what darting around about three feet six inches in
front of it.
Ford instantly went into the sort of alert crouch he liked to do when he
wasn't quite sure what was going on or what he ought to do about it. He
waved his arms around very slowly in what he hoped was an ominous
`Who is this?' he hissed.
`It's just Old Thrashbarg,' said Arthur quietly. `And I wouldn't bother
with all the fancy movements. He's just as experienced a bluffer as you
are. You could end up dancing around each other all day.'
`The bird,' hissed Ford again. `What's the bird?'
`It's just a bird!' said Arthur impatiently. `It's like any other bird. It lays
eggs and goes ark at things you can't see. Or kar or rit or something.'
`Have you seen one lay eggs?' said Ford, suspiciously.
`For heaven's sake of course I have,' said Arthur. `And I've eaten hun-
dreds of them. Make rather a good omelette. The secret is little cubes
of cold butter and then whipping it lightly with...'
`I don't want a zarking recipe,' said Ford. `I just want to be sure it's a
real bird and not some kind of multi-dimensional cybernightmare.'
He slowly stood up from his crouched position and started to brush
himself down. He was still watching the bird, though.
`So,' said Old Thrashbarg to Arthur. `Is it written that Bob shall once
more take back unto himself the benediction of his once-given sandwich
Ford almost went back into his crouch.
`It's all right,' muttered Arthur, `he always talks like that.' Aloud, he
said, `Ah, venerable Thrashbarg. Um, yes. I'm afraid I think I'm going
to have to be popping off now. But young Drimple, my apprentice, will
be a fine sandwich maker in my stead. He has the aptitude, a deep love
of sandwiches, and the skills he has acquired so far, though rudimentary
as yet, will, in time mature and, er, well, I think he'll work out OK is
what I'm trying to say.'
Old Thrashbarg regarded him gravely. His old grey eyes moved sadly.
He held his arms aloft, one still carrying a bobbing pikka bird, the other
`O Sandwich Maker from Bob!' he pronounced. He paused, furrowed his
brow, and sighed as he closed his eyes in pious contemplation. `Life,' he
said, `will be a very great deal less weird without you!'
Arthur was stunned.
`Do you know,' he said, `I think that's the nicest thing any- body's ever
said to me?'
`Can we get on, please?' said Ford.
Something was already happening. The presence of the pikka bird at
the end of Thrashbarg's outstretched arm was sending tremors of in-
terest through the thundering herd. The odd head flicked momentarily
in their direction. Arthur began to remem- ber some of the Perfectly
Normal Beast hunts he had witnessed. He recalled that as well as the
hunter-matadors brandishing their capes there were always others stand-
ing behind them holding pikka birds. He had always assumed that, like
him, they had just come along to watch.
Old Thrashbarg moved forward, a little closer to the rolling herd. Some
of the Beasts were now tossing their heads back with interest at the sight
of the pikka bird.
Old Thrashbarg's outstretched arms were trembling.
Only the pikka bird itself seemed to show no interest in what was going
on. A few anonymous molecules of air nowhere in particular engaged all
of its perky attention.
`Now!' exclaimed Old Thrashbarg at last. `Now you may work them with
Arthur advanced with Ford's towel, moving the way the hunter-matadors
did, with a kind of elegant strut that did not come at all naturally to
him. But now he knew what to do and that it was right. He brandished
and flicked the towel a few times, to be ready for the moment, and then
Some distance away he spotted the Beast he wanted. Head down, it
was galloping towards him, right on the very edge of the herd. Old
Thrashbarg switched the bird, the Beast looked up, tossed its head, and
then, just as its head was coming down again, Arthur flourished the towel
in the Beast's line of sight. It tossed its head again in bemusement, and
its eyes followed the movement of the towel.
He had got the Beast's attention.
From that moment on, it seemed the most natural thing to coax and
draw the animal towards him. Its head was up, cocked slightly to one
side. It was slowing to a canter and then a trot. A few seconds later
the huge thing was standing there amongst them, snorting, panting,
sweating, and sniffing excitedly at the pikka bird, which appeared not to
have noticed its arrival at all. With strange sort of sweeping movements
of his arms Old Thrashbarg kept the pikka bird in front of the Beast,
but always out of its reach and always downwards. With strange sort
of sweeping movements of the towel, Arthur kept drawing the Beast's
attention this way and that - always downwards.
`I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so stupid in my life,' muttered
Ford to himself.
At last, the Beast dropped, bemused but docile, to its knees.
`Go!' whispered Old Thrashbarg urgently, to Ford. `Go! Go now!'
Ford leapt up on to the great creature's back, scrabbling amongst its
thick knotty fur for purchase, grasping great handfuls of the stuff to
hold him steady once he was in position.
`Now, Sandwich Maker! Go!' He performed some elaborate sign and
ritual handshake which Arthur couldn't quite get the hang of because
Old Thrashbarg had obviously made it up on the spur of the moment,
then he pushed Arthur forward. Taking a deep breath, he clambered up
behind Ford on to the great, hot, heaving back of the beast and held on
tight. Huge muscles the size of sea lions rippled and flexed beneath him.
Old Thrashbarg held the bird suddenly aloft. The Beast's head swivelled
up to follow it. Thrashbarg pushed upwards and upwards repeatedly
with his arms and with the pikka bird; and slowly, heavily the Perfectly
Normal Beast lurched up off its knees and stood, at last, swaying slightly.
Its two riders held on fiercely and nervously.
Arthur gazed out over the sea of hurtling animals, straining in an at-
tempt to see where it was they were going, but there was nothing but
`Can you see anything?' he said to Ford.
`No.' Ford twisted round to glance back, trying to see if there was any
clue as to where they had come from. Still, nothing.
Arthur shouted down at Thrashbarg.
`Do you know where they come from?' he called. `Or where they're go-
`The domain of the King!' shouted Old Thrashbarg back.
`King?' shouted Arthur in surprise. `What King?' The Per- fectly Normal
Beast was swaying and rocking restlessly under him.
`What do you mean, what King?' shouted Old Thrashbarg. `The King.'
`It's just that you never mentioned a King,' shouted Arthur back, in
`What?' shouted Old Thrashbarg. The thrumming of a thou- sand hooves
was very hard to hear over, and the old man was concentrating on what
he was doing.
Still holding the bird aloft, he led the Beast slowly round till it was once
more parallel with the motion of its great herd. He moved forward. The
Beast followed. He moved forward again. The Beast followed again. At
last, the Beast was lumbering for- ward with a little momentum.
`I said you never mentioned a King!' shouted Arthur again.
`I didn't say a King,' shouted Old Thrashbarg, `I said the King.'
He drew back his arm and then hurled it forward with all his strength,
casting the pikka bird up into the air above the herd. This seemed to
catch the pikka bird completely by surprise as it had obviously not been
paying any attention at all to what was going on. It took it a moment or
two to work out what was happening, then it unfurled its little wings,
spread them out, and flew.
`Go!' shouted Thrashbarg. `Go and meet your destiny, Sand- wich Maker!'
Arthur wasn't so sure about wanting to meet his destiny as such. He just
wanted to get to wherever it was they were going so he could get back
off this creature again. He didn't feel at all safe up there. The Beast was
gathering speed as it followed in the wake of the pikka bird. And then
it was in at the fringes of the great tide of animals, and in a moment or
two, with its head down, the pikka bird forgotten, it was running with
the herd again and rapidly approaching the point at which the herd was
vanishing into thin air. Arthur and Ford held on to the great monster
for dear life, surrounded on all sides by hurtling mountains of bodies.
`Go! Ride that Beast!' shouted Thrashbarg. His distant voice reverber-
ated faintly in their ears. `Ride that Perfectly Normal Beast! Ride it,
Ford shouted in Arthur's ear, `Where did he say we were going?'
`He said something about a King,' shouted Arthur in return, holding on
`That's what I said. He just said the King.'
`I didn't know there was a the King,' shouted Ford.
`Nor did I,' shouted Arthur back.
`Except of course for the King,' shouted Ford. `And I don't suppose he
`What King?' shouted Arthur.
The point of exit was almost upon them. Just ahead of them, Perfectly
Normal Beasts were galloping into nothingness and vanishing.
`What do you mean, what King?' shouted Ford. `I don't know what
King. I'm only saying that he couldn't possibly mean the King, so I
don't know what he means.'
`Ford, I don't know what you're talking about.'
`So?' said Ford. Then with a sudden rush, the stars came on, turned and
twisted around their heads, and then, just as suddenly, turned off again.
Misty grey buildings loomed and flickered. They bounced up and down
in a highly embarrassing way.
What sort of buildings were they?
What were they for? What did they remind her of?
It's so difficult to know what things are supposed to be when you sud-
denly turn up unexpectedly on a different world which has a different
culture, a different set of the most basic assumptions about life, and also
incredibly dull and meaningless architecture.
The sky above the buildings was a cold and hostile black. The stars,
which should have been blindingly brilliant points of light this far from
the sun were blurred and dulled by the thickness of the huge shielding
bubble. Perspex or something like it. Something dull and heavy anyway.
Tricia wound the tape back again to the beginning.
She knew there was something slightly odd about it.
Well, in fact, there were about a million things that were slightly odd
about it, but there was one that was nagging at her and she hadn't quite
She sighed and yawned.
As she waited for the tape to rewind she cleared away some of the dirty
polystyrene coffee cups that had accumulated on the editing desk and
tipped them into the bin.
She was sitting in a small editing suite at a video production company in
Soho. She had `Do not disturb' notices plastered all over the door, and
a block on all incoming calls at the switch- board. This was originally
to protect her astonishing scoop, but now it was to protect her from
She would watch the tape all the way through again from the beginning.
If she could bear to. She might do some fast forwarding here and there.
It was about four o'clock on Monday afternoon, and she had a kind of
sick feeling. She was trying to work out what the cause of this slightly
sick feeling was, and there was no shortage of candidates.
First of all, it had all come on top of the overnight flight from New York.
The red eye. Always a killer, that.
Then, being accosted by aliens on her lawn and flown to the planet
Rupert. She was not sufficiently experienced in that sort of thing to
be able to say for sure that that was always a killer, but she would
be prepared to bet that those who went through it regularly cursed
it. There were always stress charts being published in magazines. Fifty
stress points for losing your job. Seventy-five points for a divorce or
changing your hairstyle and so on. None of them ever mentioned being
accosted on your lawn by aliens and then being flown to the planet
Rupert, but she was sure it was worth a few dozen points.
It wasn't that the journey had been particularly stressful. It had been
extremely dull in fact. Certainly it had been no more stressful than the
trip she had just taken across the Atlantic and it had taken roughly the
same time, about seven hours.
Well that was pretty astounding wasn't it? Flying to the outer limits of
the solar system in the same time that it took to fly to New York meant
they must have some fantastic unheard-of form of propulsion in the ship.
She quizzed her hosts about it and they agreed that it was pretty good.
`But how does it work?' she had demanded excitedly. She was still quite
excited at the beginning of the trip.
She found that part of the tape and played it through to herself. The
Grebulons, which is what they called themselves, were politely showing
her which buttons they pressed to make the ship go.
`Yes, but what principle does it work on?' she heard herself demand,
from behind the camera.
`Oh, you mean is it something like a warp drive or something like that?'
`Yes,' persisted Tricia. `What is it?'
`It probably is something of the kind,' they said.
`Warp drive, photon drive, something like that. You'd have to ask the
`Which one is he?'
`We don't know. We have all lost our minds, you see.'
`Oh yes,' said Tricia, a little faintly. `So you said. Um, how did you lose
your minds, exactly , then?.'
`We don't know,' they said, patiently.
`Because you've lost your minds,' echoed Tricia, glumly.
`Would you like to watch television? It is a long flight. We watch televi-
sion. It is something we enjoy.'
All of this riveting stuff was on the tape, and fine. viewing it made. First
of all the picture quality was extremely poor. Tricia didn't know why
this was, exactly. She had a feeling that the Grebulons responded to a
slightly different range of light frequencies, and that there had been a lot
of ultra-violet around which was mucking up the video camera. There
were a lot of interference patterns and video snow as well. Probably
something to do with the warp drive that none of them knew the first
So what she had on tape, essentially, was a bunch of slightly thin and
discoloured people sitting around watching televisions that were showing
network broadcasts. She had also pointed the camera out of the very tiny
viewport near her seat and got a nice, slightly streaky effect of stars. She
knew it was real, but it would have taken a good three or four minutes
In the end she had decided to save her precious videotape for Rupert
itself and had simply sat back and watched television with them. She
had even dozed off for a while.
So part of her sick feeling came from the sense that she had had all that
time in an alien spacecraft of astounding technological design, and had
spent most of it dozing in front of reruns of M*A*S*H and Cagney and
Lacey. But what else was there to do? She had taken some photos as
well, of course, all of which had subsequently turned out to be badly
fogged when she got them back from the chemist.
Another part of her sick feeling probably came from the landing on
Rupert. This at least had been dramatic and hair-raising. The ship had
come sweeping in over a dark and sombre landscape, a terrain so desper-
ately far removed from the heat and light of its parent sun that it seemed
like a map of the psychological scars on the mind of an abandoned child.
Lights blazed through the frozen darkness and guided the ship into the
mouth of some kind of cave that seemed to bend itself open to accept
the small craft.
Unfortunately, because of the angle of their approach, and the depth at
which the small thick viewport was set into the craft's skin, it hadn't
been possible to get the. video camera to point directly at any of it. She
ran through that bit of the tape.
The camera was pointing directly at the sun.
This is normally very bad for a video camera. But when the sun is
roughly a third of a billion miles away it doesn't do any harm. In fact it
hardly makes any impression at all. You just get a small point of light
right in the middle of the frame, which could be just about anything. It
was just one star in a multitude.
Ah. Now, the next bit had been quite promising. They had emerged
out of the ship into a vast, grey, hangar-like structure. This was clearly
alien technology on a dramatic scale. Huge grey buildings under the dark
canopy of the Perspex bubble. These were the same buildings that she
had been looking at at the end of the tape. She had taken more footage
of them while leaving Rupert a few hours later, just as she was about
to reboard the spacecraft for the journey home. What did they remind
Well, as much as anything else they reminded her of a film set from just
about any low-budget science-fiction movie of the last twenty years. A lot
larger, of course, but it all looked thoroughly tawdry and unconvincing
on the video screen. Apart from the dreadful picture quality she had been
struggling with the unexpected effects of gravity that was appreciably
lower than that on Earth, and she had found it very hard to keep the
camera from bouncing around in an embarrassingly unprofessional way.
It was therefore impossible to make out any detail.
And now here was the Leader coming forward to greet her, smiling and
sticking his hand out.
That was all he was called. The Leader.
None of the Grebulons had names, largely because they couldn't think
of any. Tricia discovered that some of them had thought of calling them-
selves after characters from television programmes they had picked up
from Earth, but hard as they had tried to call each other Wayne and
Bobby and Chuck, some remnant of something lurking deep in the cul-
tural subconscious they had brought with them from the distant stars
which were their homes must have told them that this really wasn't right
and wouldn't do.
The Leader had looked pretty much like all the others. Possibly a bit
less thin. He said how much he enjoyed her shows on TV, that he was
her greatest fan, how glad he was that she had been able to come along
and visit them on Rupert and how much everybody had been looking
forward to her coming, how he hoped the flight had been comfortable
and so on. There was no particular sense she could detect of being any
kind of emissary from the stars or anything.
Certainly, watching it now on videotape, he just looked like some guy in
costume and make-up, standing in front of a set that wouldn't hold up
too well if you leant against it.
She sat staring at the screen with her face cradled in her hands, and
shaking her head in slow bewilderment.
This was awful.
Not only was this bit awful but she knew what was coming next. It was
the bit where the Leader asked if she was hungry after the flight, and
would she perhaps like to come and have something to eat? They could
discuss things over a little dinner.
She could remember what she was thinking at this point.
How was she going to deal with it?
Would she actually have to eat it? Would she have access to some sort
of paper napkin she could spit stuff out into? Wouldn't there be all sorts
of differential immunity problems?
It turned out to be hamburgers.
Not only did it turn out to be hamburgers, but the hamburgers it turned
out to be were very clearly and obviously McDonald's hamburgers which
had been reheated in a microwave. It wasn't just the look of them. It
wasn't just the smell. It was the poly- styrene clamshell packages they
came in which had `McDonald's' printed all over them.
`Eat! Enjoy!' said the Leader. `Nothing is too good for our honoured
This was in his private apartment. Tricia had looked around it in be-
wilderment that had bordered on fear but had nevertheless got it all on
The apartment had a waterbed in it. And a Midi hi-fi. And one of
those tall electrically illuminated glass things which sit on table tops
and appear to have large globules of sperm floating about in them. The
walls were covered in velvet.
The leader lounged against a brown corduroy bean bag and squirted
breath-freshener into his mouth.
Tricia began to feel very scared, suddenly. She was further from Earth
than any human being, to her knowledge, had ever been, and she was
with an alien creature, who was lounging against a brown corduroy bean
bag and squirting breath-freshener into his mouth.
She didn't want to make any false moves. She didn't want to alarm him.
But there were things she had to know.
`How did you... where did you get... this?' she asked, gesturing around
the room, nervously.
`The decor?' asked the Leader. `Do you like it? It is very sophisticated.
We are a sophisticated people, we Grebulons. We buy sophisticated con-
sumer durables... by mail order.'
Tricia had nodded tremendously slowly at this point.
`Mail order...' she had said.
The Leader chuckled. It was one of those dark chocolate reassuring silky
`I think you think they ship it here. No! Ha Ha! We have arranged a
special box number in New Hampshire. We make regular pick-up visits.
Ha Ha!' He lounged back in a relaxed fashion on his bean bag, reached
for a reheated french fry and nibbled the end of it, an amused smile
playing across. his lips.
Tricia could feel her brain beginning to bubble very slightly. She kept
the video camera going.
`How do you, well, er, how do you pay for these wonderful ...things?'
The Leader chuckled again.
`American Express,' he said with a nonchalant shrug.
Tricia nodded slowly again. She knew that they gave cards exclusively
to just about anybody.
`And these?' she said, holding up the hamburger he had presented her
`It is very easy,' said the Leader. `We stand in line.'
Again, Tricia realised with a cold, trickling feeling going down her spine,
that explained an awful lot.
She hit the fast forward button again. There was nothing of any use
here at all. It was all nightmarish madness. She could have faked some-
thing that would have looked more convincing.
Another sick feeling began to creep over her as she watched this hopeless
awful tape, and she began, with slow horror, to realise that it must be
She must be...
She shook her head and tried to get a grip.
An overnight flight going East... The sleeping pills she had taken to get
her through it. The vodka she'd had to set the sleeping pills going.
What else? Well. There was seventeen years of obsession that a glam-
orous man with two heads, one of which was disguised as a parrot in a
cage, had tried to pick her up at a party but had then impatiently flown
off to another planet in a flying saucer. There suddenly seemed to be all
sorts of bothersome aspects to that idea that had never really occurred
to her. Never occurred to her. In seventeen years.
She stuffed her fist into her mouth.
She must get help.
Then there had been Eric Bartlett banging on about alien spacecraft
landing on her lawn. And before that... New York had been, well, very
hot and stressful. The high hopes and the bitter disappointment. The
She must have had a nervous breakdown.
That was it. She was exhausted and she had had a nervous breakdown
and had started hallucinating some time after she got home. She had
dreamt the whole story. An alien race of people dispossessed of their own
lives and histories, stuck on a remote outpost of our solar system and
filling their cultural vacuum with our cultural junk. Ha! It was nature's
way of telling her to check into an expensive medical establishment very
She was very, very sick. She looked at how many large coffees she'd got
through as well, and realised how heavily she was breathing and how
Part of solving any problem, she told herself, was realising that you had
it. She started to bring her breathing under control. She had caught
herself in time. She had seen where she was. She was on the way back
from whatever psychological precipice she had been on the brink of. She
started to calm down, to calm down, to calm down. She sat back in the
chair and closed her eyes.
After a while, now that she was breathing normally again, she opened
So where had she got this tape from then?
It was still running.
All right. It was a fake.
She had faked it herself, that was it.
It must have been her who had faked it because her voice was all over
the soundtrack, asking questions. Every now and then the camera would
swing down at the end of a shot and she would see her own feet in her
own shoes. She had faked it and she had no recollection of faking it or
any idea of why she had done it.
Her breathing was getting hectic again as she watched the snowy, flick-
She must still be hallucinating.
She shook her head, trying to make it go away. She had no memory of
faking any of this very obviously fake stuff. On the other hand she did
seem to have memories that were very like the faked stuff. She continued
to watch in a bewildered trance.
The person she imagined to be called the Leader was ques- tioning her
about astrology and she was answering smoothly and calmly. Only she
could detect the well-disguised rising panic in her own voice.
The Leader pushed a button, and a maroon velvet wall slid aside, re-
vealing a large bank of flat TV monitors.
Each of the monitors was showing a kaleidoscope of different images: a
few seconds from a game show, a few seconds from a cop show, a few
seconds from a supermarket warehouse security system, a few seconds
from somebody's holiday movies, a few seconds of sex, a few seconds of
news, a few seconds of comedy. It was clear that the Leader was very
proud of all this stuff and he was waving his hands like a conductor while
continuing at the same time to talk complete gibberish.
Another wave of his hands, and all the screens cleared to form one giant
computer screen showing in diagrammatic form all the planets of the
solar system and mapped out against a background of the stars in their
constellations. The display was completely static.
`We have great skills,' the Leader was saying. `Great skills in compu-
tation, in cosmological trigonometry, in three-dimensional navigational
calculus. Great skills. Great, great skills. Only we have lost them. It is
too bad. We like to have skills only they have gone. They are in space
somewhere, hurtling. With our names and the details of our homes and
loved ones. Please,' he said, gesturing her forward to sit at the com-
puter's console, `be skilful for us.'
Obviously what happened next was that Tricia quickly set the video
camera up on its tripod to capture the whole scene. She then walked
into shot herself and sat down calmly in front of the giant computer
display, spent a few moments familiarising herself with the interface and
then started smoothly and com- petently to pretend that she had the
faintest idea what she was doing.
It hadn't been that difficult, in fact.
She was, after all, a mathematician and astrophysicist by training and
a television presenter by experience, and what science she had forgotten
over the years she was more than capable of making up by bluffing.
The computer she was working on was clear evidence that the Grebulons
came from a far more advanced and sophisticated culture than their
current vacuous state suggested, and with its aid she was able, within
about half an hour, to cobble together a rough working model of the
It wasn't particularly accurate or anything, but it looked good. The
planets were whizzing around in reasonably good simulations of their
orbits, and you could watch the movement of the whole piece of virtual
cosmological clockwork from any point within the system - very roughly.
You could watch from Earth, you could watch from Mars, etc. You could
watch from the surface of the planet Rupert. Tricia had been quite im-
pressed with herself, but also very impressed with the computer system
she was working on. Using a computer workstation on Earth the task
would probably have taken a year or so of programming.
When she was finished, the Leader came up behind her and watched.
He was very pleased and delighted with what she had achieved.
`Good,' he said. `And now, please, I would like you to demonstrate how
to use the system you have just designed to translate the information in
this book for me.'
Quietly he put a book down in front of her.
It was You and Your Planets by Gail Andrews.
Tricia stopped the tape again.
She was definitely feeling very wobbly indeed. The feeling that she was
hallucinating had now receded, but had not left anything any easier or
clearer in her head.
She pushed her seat back from the editing desk and wondered what to
do. Years ago she had left the field of astronomical research because she
knew, without any doubt whatsoever, that she had met a being from
another planet. At a par- ty. And she had also known, without any
doubt whatsoever, that she would have made herself a laughing stock if
she had ever said so. But how could she study cosmology and not say
anything about the single most important thing she knew about it? She
had done the only thing she could do. She had left.
Now she worked in television and the same thing had happened again.
She had videotape, actual videotape of the most astounding story in
the history of, well anything: a forgotten outpost of an alien civilisation
marooned on the outermost planet of our own solar system.
She had the story.
She had been there.
She had seen it.
She had the videotape for God's sake.
And if she ever showed it to anybody, she would be a laughing stock.
How could she prove any of this? It wasn't even worth thinking about.
The whole thing was a nightmare from virtually any angle she cared to
look at it from. Her head was beginning to throb.
She had some aspirin in her bag. She went out of the little editing suite
to the water dispenser down the corridor. She took the aspirin and drank
several cups of water.
The place seemed to be very quiet. Usually there were more people
bustling about the place, or at least some people bustling around the
place. She popped her head round the door of the editing suite next to
hers but there was no one there.
She had gone rather overboard keeping people out of her own suite.
`DO NOT DISTURB,' the notice read. `DO NOT EVEN THINK OF
ENTERING. I DON'T CARE WHAT IT IS. GO AWAY. I'M BUSY!'
When she went back in she noticed that the message light on her phone
extension was winking, and wondered how long it had been on.
`Hello?' she said to the receptionist.
`Oh, Miss McMillan, I'm so glad you called. Everybody's been trying to
reach you. Your TV company. They're desperate to reach you. Can you
`Why didn't you put them through?' said Tricia.
`You said I wasn't to put anybody through for anything. You said I was
to deny that you were even here. I didn't know what to do. I came up
to give you a message, but...'
`OK,' said Tricia, cursing herself. She phoned her office.
`Tricia! Where the haemorrhaging fuck are you?'
`At the editing...'
`I know. What's up?'
`What's up? Only a bloody alien spaceship!'
`Regent's Park. Big silver job. Some girl with a bird. She speaks English
and throws rocks at people and wants someone to repair her watch. Just
Tricia stared at it.
It wasn't a Grebulon ship. Not that she was suddenly an expert on ex-
traterrestrial craft, but this was a sleek and beautiful silver and white
thing about the size of a large ocean-going yacht, which is what it most
resembled. Next to this, the structures of the huge half-dismantled Gre-
bulon ship looked like gun turrets on a battleship. Gun turrets. That's
what those blank grey buildings had looked like. And what was odd
about them was that by the time she passed them again on her way
to reboarding the small Grebulon craft, they had moved. These things
flitted briefly through her head as she ran from the taxi to meet her
`Where's the girl?' she shouted above the noise of helicopters and police
`There!' shouted the producer while the sound engineer hurried to clip
a radio mike to her. `She says her mother and father came from here in
some parallel dimension or something like that, and she's got her father's
watch, and... I don't know. What can I tell you? Busk it. Ask her what
it feels like to be from outer space.'
`Thanks a lot, Ted,' muttered Tricia, checked that her mike was securely
clipped, gave the engineer some level, took a deep breath, tossed her
hair back and switched into her role of pro- fessional reporter, on home
ground, ready for anything.
At least, nearly anything.
She turned to look for the girl. That must be her, with the wild hair and
wild eyes. The girl turned towards her. And stared.
`Mother!' she screamed, and started to hurl rocks at Tricia.
Daylight exploded around them. Hot, heavy sun. A desert plain stretched
out ahead in a haze of heat. They thundered out into it.
`Jump!' shouted Ford Prefect.
`What?' shouted Arthur Dent, holding on for dear life.
There was no reply.
`What did you say?' shouted Arthur again, and then realised that Ford
Prefect was no longer there. He looked around in panic and started to
slip. Realising he couldn't hold on any longer he pushed himself sideways
as hard as he could and rolled into a ball as he hit the ground, rolling,
rolling away from the pounding hooves.
What a day, he thought, as he started furiously coughing dust up out of
his lungs. He hadn't had a day as bad as this since the Earth had been
blown up. He staggered up to his knees , and then up to his feet and
started to run away. He didn't know what from or what to, but running
away seemed a prudent move.
He ran straight into Ford Prefect who was standing there surveying the
`Look,' said Ford. `That is precisely what we need.'
Arthur coughed up some more dust, and wiped some other dust out of
his hair and eyes. He turned, panting, to look at what Ford was looking
It didn't look much like the domain of a King, or the King, or any kind
of King. It looked quite inviting though.
First, the context. This was a desert world. The dusty earth was packed
hard and had neatly bruised every last bit of Arthur that hadn't already
been bruised by the festivities of the previous night. Some way ahead
of them were great cliffs that looked like sandstone, eroded by the wind
and what little rain presumably fell in those parts into wild and fantas-
tic shapes, which matched the fantastic shapes of the giant cacti that
sprouted here and there from the arid, orange landscape.
For a moment Arthur dared to hope they had unexpectedly arrived in
Arizona or New Mexico or maybe South Dakota, but there was plenty
of evidence that this was not the case.
The Perfectly Normal Beasts, for a start, still thundering, still pounding.
They swept up in their tens of thousands from the far horizon, disap-
peared completely for about half a mile, then swept off, thundering and
pounding to the distant horizon opposite.
Then there were the spaceships parked in front of the Bar & Grill. Ah.
The Domain of the King Bar & Grill. Bit of an anti-climax, thought
Arthur to himself.
In fact only one of the spaceships was parked in front of the Domain of
the King Bar & Grill. The other three were in a parking lot by the side
of the Bar and Grill. It was the one in front that caught the eye, though.
Wonderful looking thing. Wild fins all over it, far, far too much chrome
all over the fins and most of the actual bodywork painted in a shocking
pink. It crouched there like an immense brooding insect and looked as if
it was at any moment about to jump on something about a mile away.
The Domain of the King Bar & Grill was slap bang in the middle of
where the Perfectly Normal Beasts would be charging if they didn't
take a minor transdimensional diversion on the way. It stood on its own,
undisturbed. An ordinary Bar & Grill. A truckstop diner. Somewhere in
the middle of nowhere. Quiet. The Domain of the King.
`Gonna buy that spaceship,' said Ford quietly.
`Buy it?' said Arthur. `That's not like you. I thought you usually pinched
`Sometimes you have to show a little respect,' said Ford.
`Probably have to show a little cash as well,' said Arthur. `How the hell
much is that thing worth?'
With a tiny movement, Ford brought his Dine-O-Charge credit card up
out of his pocket. Arthur noticed that the hand holding it was trembling
`I'll teach them to make me the restaurant critic...' breathed Ford.
`What do you mean?' asked Arthur.
`I'll show you,' said Ford with a nasty glint in his eye.
`Let's go and run up a few expenses shall we?'
`Couple beers,' said Ford, `and, I dunno, a couple bacon rolls, whatever
you got, oh and that pink thing outside.'
He flipped his card on the top of the bar and looked around casually.
There was a kind of silence.
There hadn't been a lot of noise before, but there was defi- nitely a
kind of silence now. Even the distant thunder of the Perfectly Normal
Beasts carefully avoiding the Domain of the King seemed suddenly a
`Just rode into town,' said Ford as if nothing was odd about that or
about anything else. He was leaning against the bar at an extravagantly
There were about three other customers in the place, sitting at tables,
nursing beers. About three. Some people would say there were exactly
three, but it wasn't that kind of a place, not the kind of a place that you
felt like being that specific in. There was some big guy setting up some
stuff on the little stage as well. Old drum kit. Couple guitars. Country
and Western kind of stuff.
The barman was not moving very swiftly to get in Ford's order. In fact
he wasn't moving at all.
`Not sure that the pink thing's for sale,' he said at last in the kind of
accent that went on for quite a long time.
`Sure it is,' said Ford. `How much you want?'
`Think of a number, I'll double it.'
`T'ain't mine to sell,' said the barman.
The barman nodded at the big guy setting up on the stage. Big fat guy,
moving slow, balding.
Ford nodded. He grinned.
`OK,' he said. `Get the beers, get the rolls. Keep the tab open.'
Arthur sat at the bar and rested. He was used to not knowing what
was going on. He felt comfortable with it. The beer was pretty good
and made him a little sleepy which he didn't mind at all. The bacon
rolls were not bacon rolls. They were Perfectly Normal Beast rolls. He
exchanged a few professional roll-making remarks with the barman and
just let Ford get on with whatever Ford wanted to do.
`OK,' said Ford, returning to his stool. `It's cool. We got the pink thing.'
The barman was very surprised. `He's selling it to you?'
`He's giving it to us for free,' said Ford, taking a gnaw at his roll. `Hey,
no, keep the tab open though. We have some items to add to it. Good
He took a deep pull of beer.
`Good beer,' he added. `Good ship too,' he said, eying the big pink and
chrome insect-like thing, bits of which could be seen through the windows
of the bar. `Good everything, pretty much. You know, he said, sitting
back, reflectively, `it's at times like this that you kind of wonder if it's
worth worrying about the fabric of space/time and the causal integrity
of the multi-dimensional probability matrix and the potential collapse
of all wave forms in the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash and all that
sort of stuff that's been bugging me. Maybe I feel that what the big guy
says is right. Just let it all go. What does it matter? Let it go.'
`Which big guy?' said Arthur.
Ford just nodded towards the stage. The big guy was saying `one two'
into the mike a couple of times. Couple other guys were on the stage
now. Drums. Guitar.
The barman, who had been silent for a moment or two, said, `You say
he's letting you have his ship?'
`Yeah,' said Ford. `Let it all go is what he said. Take the ship. Take it
with my blessing. Be good to her. I will he good to her.'
He took a pull at his beer again.
`Like I was saying,' he went on. `It's at times like this that you kind of
think, let it all go. But then you think of guys like InfiniDim Enterprises
and you think, they are not going to get away with it. They are going to
suffer. It is my sacred and holy duty to see those guys suffer. Here, let
me put something on the tab for the singer. I asked for a special request
and we agreed. It's to go on the tab. OK?'
`OK,' said the barman, cautiously. Then he shrugged. `OK, however you
want to do it. How much?'
Ford named a figure. The barman fell over amongst the bottles and
glasses. Ford vaulted quickly over the bar to check that he was all right
and help him back up to his feet. He'd cut his finger and his elbow a
bit and was feeling a little woozy but was otherwise fine. The big guy
started to sing. The barman hobbled off with Ford's credit card to get
`Is there stuff going on here that I don't know about?' said Arthur to
`Isn't there usually?' said Ford.
`No need to be like that,' said Arthur. He began to wake up. `Shouldn't
we be going?' he said suddenly. `Will that ship get us to Earth?'
`Sure will,' said Ford.
`That's where Random will be going!' said Arthur with a start. `We can
follow her! But... er...'
Ford let Arthur get on with thinking things out for himself while he got
out his old edition of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
`But where are we on the probability axis thing?' said Arthur. `Will
the Earth be there or not there? I spent so much time look- ing for
it. All I found was planets that were a bit like it or not at all like it,
though it was clearly the right place because of the continents. The
worst version was called NowWhat where I got bitten by some wretched
little animal. That's how they commu- nicated, you know, by biting each
other. Bloody painful. Then half the time, of course, the Earth isn't even
there because it's been blown up by the bloody Vogons. How much sense
am I making?'
Ford didn't comment. He was listening to something. He passed the
Guide over to Arthur and pointed at the screen. The active entry read
`Earth. Mostly harmless.'
`You mean it's there!' said Arthur excitedly. `The Earth is there! That's
where Random will be going! The bird was showing her the Earth in the
Ford motioned Arthur to shout a little less loudly. He was listening.
Arthur was growing impatient. He'd heard bar singers sing `Love Me
Tender' before. He was a bit surprised to hear it here, right in the middle
of wherever the hell this was, certainly not Earth, but then things tended
not to surprise him these days as much as formerly. The singer was quite
good, as bar singers went, if you liked that sort of thing, but Arthur was
He glanced at his watch. This only served to remind. him that he didn't
have his watch any more. Random had it, or at least the remains of it.
`Don't you think we should be going?' he said, insistently.
`Shhh!' said Ford. `I paid to hear this song.' He seemed to have tears
in his eyes, which Arthur found a bit disturbing. He'd never seen Ford
moved by anything other than very, very strong drink. Probably the
dust. He waited, tapping his fingers irritably, out of time with the music.
The song ended. The singer went on to do `Heartbreak Hotel'.
`Anyway,' Ford whispered, `I've got to review the restaurant.'
`I have to write a review.'
`Write a review? Of this place?'
`Filing the review validates the expenses claim. I've fixed it so that it
happens completely automatically and untraceably. This bill is going
to need some validation,' he added quietly, staring into his beer with a
`For a couple of beers and a roll?'
`And a tip for the singer.'
`Why, how much did you tip him?'
Ford named a figure again.
`I don't know how much that is,' said Arthur. `What's it worth in pounds
sterling? What would it buy you?'
`It would probably buy you, roughly... er...' Ford screwed his eyes up as
he did some calculations in his head. `Switzerland,' he said at last. He
picked up his Hitch Hiker's Guide and started to type.
Arthur nodded intelligently. There were times when he wished he un-
derstood what on earth Ford was talking about, and other times, like
now, when he felt it was probably safer not even to try. He looked over
Ford's shoulder. `This isn't going to take long, is it?' he said.
`Nah,' said Ford. `Piece of piss. Just mention that the rolls were quite
good, the beer good and cold, local wildlife nicely eccentric, the bar
singer the best in the known universe, and that's about it. Doesn't need
much. Just a validation.'
He touched an area on the screen marked ENTER and the message
vanished into the Sub-Etha.
`You thought the singer was pretty good then?'
`Yeah,' said Ford. The barman was returning with a piece of paper,
which seemed to be trembling in his hand.
He pushed it over to Ford with a kind of nervous, reverential twitch.
`Funny thing,' said the barman. `The system rejected it first couple
times. Can't say it surprised me.' Beads of sweat were standing on his
brow. `Then suddenly it's, oh yeah, that's OK, and the system... er,
validates it. Just like that. You wanna ...sign it?'
Ford scanned the form quickly. He sucked his teeth. `This is going to
hurt InfiniDim a lot,' he said, with an appearance of concern. `Oh well,'
he added softly, `screw 'em.'
He signed with a flourish and handed it back to the barman.
`More money,' he said, `than the Colonel made for him in an entire career
of doing crap movies and casino gigs. Just for doing what he does best.
Standing up and singing in a bar. And he negotiated it himself. I think
this is a good moment for him. Tell him I said thanks and buy him a
drink.' He tossed a few coins on the bar. The barman pushed them away.
`I don't think that's necessary,' he said, slightly hoarsely.
`Tis to me,' said Ford. `OK, we are outa here.'
They stood out in the heat and the dust and looked at the big pink
and chrome thing with amazement and admiration. Or at least, Ford
looked at it with amazement and admiration.
Arthur just looked at it. `You don't think it's a bit overdone, do you?'
He said it again when they climbed inside it. The seats and quite a lot
of the controls were covered in fine fur skin or suede. There was a big
gold monogram on the main control panel which just read `EP'.
`You know,' said Ford as he fired up the ship's engines, `I asked him if
it was true that he had been abducted by aliens, and you know what he
`Who?' said Arthur.
`Which King? Oh, we've had this conversation, haven't we?'
`Never mind,' said Ford. `For what it's worth, he said, no. He went of
his own accord.'
`I'm still not sure who we're talking about,' said Arthur. Ford shook his
head. `Look,' he said, `there are some tapes over in the compartment to
your left. Why don't you choose some music and put it on?'
`OK,' said Arthur, and flipped through the cartons. `Do you like Elvis
Presley?' he said.
`Yeah I do as a matter of fact,' said Ford. `Now. I hope this machine can
leap like it looks Like it can.' He engaged the main drive.
`Yeeehaah!' shouted Ford as they shot upwards at face-tearing speed.
The news networks don't like this kind of thing. They regard it as a
waste. An incontrovertible spaceship arrives out of nowhere in the middle
of London and it is sensational news of the highest magnitude. Another
completely different one arrives three and a half hours later and somehow
`ANOTHER SPACECRAFT!' said the headlines and news stand bill-
boards. `THIS ONE'S PINK.' A couple of months later they could have
made a lot more of it. The third spacecraft, half an hour after that, the
little four berth Hrundi runabout, only made it on to the local news.
Ford and Arthur had come screaming down out of the strato- sphere
and parked neatly on Portland Place. It was just after six-thirty in the
evening and there were spaces free. They min- gled briefly with the
crowd that gathered round to ogle, then said loudly that if no one else
was going to call the police they would, and made good their escape.
`Home...' said Arthur, a husky tone creeping into his voice as he gazed,
misty-eyed around him.
`Oh don't get all maudlin on me,' snapped Ford. `We have to find your
daughter and we have to find that bird thing.'
`How?' said Arthur. `This is a planet of five and a half billion people,
`Yes,' said Ford. `But only one of them has just arrived from outer space
in a large silver spaceship accompanied by a mechanical bird. I suggest
we just find a television and some- thing to drink while we watch it. We
need some serious room service.'
They checked into a large two-bedroomed suite at the Langham. Mys-
teriously, Ford's Dine-O-Charge card, issued on a planet over five thou-
sand light years away, seemed to present the hotel's computer with no
Ford hit the phones straight away while Arthur attempted to locate the
`OK,' said Ford. `I want to order up some margaritas please. Couple of
pitchers. Couple of Chef's Salads. And as much foie gras as you've got.
And also London Zoo.'
`She's on the news!' shouted Arthur from the next room.
`That's what I said,' said Ford into the phone. `London Zoo. Just charge
it to the room.'
`She's... Good God!' shouted Arthur. `Do you know who she's being
`Are you having difficulty understanding the English lan- guage?' con-
tinued Ford. `It's the zoo just up the road from here. I don't care if it's
closed this evening. I don't want to buy a ticket, I just want to buy the
zoo. I don't care if you're busy. This is room service, I'm in a room and
I want some service. Got a piece of paper? OK. Here's what I want you
to do. All the animals that can be safely returned to the wild, return
them. Set up some good teams of people to monitor their progress in
the wild, see that they're doing OK.'
`It's Trillian!' shouted Arthur. `Or is it... er... God, I can't stand all
this parallel universe stuff. It's so bloody confusing. It seems to be a
different Trillian. It's Tricia McMillan which is what Trillian used to be
called before... er... Why don't you come and watch, see if you can figure
`Just a second,' Ford shouted, and returned to his negotia- tions with
room service. `Then we'll need some natural reserves for the animals
that can't hack it in the wild,' he said. `Set up a team to work out the
best places to do that. We might need to buy somewhere like Zaire and
maybe some islands. Madagascar. Baffin. Sumatra. Those kind of places.
We'll need a wide variety of habitats. Look, l don't see why you're seeing
this as a problem. Learn to delegate. Hire whoever you want. Get on to
it. I think you'll find my credit is good. And blue cheese dressing on the
salad. Thank you.'
He put the phone down and went through to Arthur, who was sitting
on the edge of his bed watching television.
`I ordered us some foie gras,' said Ford.
`What?' said Arthur, whose attention was entirely focused on the tele-
`I said I ordered us some foie gras.'
`Oh,' said Arthur, vaguely. `Um, I always feel a hit bad about foie gras.
Bit cruel to the geese, isn't it?'
`Fuck 'em,' said Ford, slumping on the bed. `You can't care about every
`Well, that's all very well for you to say, but...'
`Drop it!' said Ford. `If you don't like it I'll have yours. What's happen-
`Chaos!' said Arthur. `Complete chaos! Random keeps on screaming at
Trillian, or Tricia or whoever it is, that she aban- doned her and then
demanding to go to a good night club. Tricia's broken down in tears and
says she's never even met Random let alone given birth to her. Then she
suddenly started howling about someone called Rupert and said that
he had lost his mind or something. I didn't quite follow that bit, to
be honest. Then Random started throwing stuff and they've cut to a
commercial break while they try and sort it all out. Oh! They've just
cut back to the studio! Shut up and watch.'
A rather shaken anchorman appeared on the screen and apologised to
viewers for the disruption of the previous item. He said he didn't have
any very clear news to report, only that the mysterious girl, who called
herself Random Frequent Flyer Dent had left the studio to, er, rest.
Tricia McMillan would be, he hoped, back tomorrow. Meanwhile, fresh
reports of UFO activity were coming in...
Ford leaped up off the bed, grabbed the nearest phone and jabbed at a
`Concierge? You want to own the hotel? It's yours if you can find out for
me in five minutes which clubs Tricia McMillan belongs to. Just charge
the whole thing to this room.'
Away in the inky depths of space invisible movements were being made.
Invisible to any of the inhabitants of the strange and tem- peramen-
tal Plural zone at the focus of which lay the infinitely multitudinous
possibilities of the planet called Earth, but not inconsequential to them.
At the very edge of the solar system, hunkered down on a green leatherette
sofa, staring fretfully at a range of TV and computer screens sat a very
worried Grebulon leader. He was fiddling with stuff. Fiddling with his
book on astrology. Fiddling with the console of his computer. Fiddling
with the displays being fed through to him constantly from all of the
Grebulons' monitoring devices, all of them focused on the planet Earth.
He was distressed. Their mission was to monitor. But to monitor secretly.
He was a bit fed up with his mission, to be honest. He was fairly certain
that his mission must have been to do more than sit around watching
TV for years on end. They certainly had a lot of other equipment with
them that must have had some purpose if only they hadn't accidentally
lost all trace of their purpose. He needed a sense of purpose in life, which
was why he had turned to astrology to fill the yawning gulf that existed
in the middle of his mind and soul. That would tell him something,
Well, it was telling him something.
It was telling him, as far as he could make out, that he was about to
have a very bad month, that things were going to go from bad to worse
if he didn't get a grip on things and start making some positive moves
and thinking things out for himself.
It was true. It was very clear from his star chart which he had worked out
using his astrology book and the computer program which that nice Tri-
cia McMillan had designed for him to re-triangulate all the appropriate
astronomical data. Earth-based astrology had to be entirely recalculated
to yield results that were meaningful to the Grebulons here on the tenth
planet out on the frozen edges of the solar system.
The recalculations showed absolutely clearly and unamhigu- ously that
he was going to have a very bad month indeed, starting with today.
Because today Earth was starting to rise into Capricorn, and that, for
the Grebulon leader, who showed all the character signs of being a classic
Taurus, was very bad indeed.
Now was the time, his horoscope said, for taking positive actions, mak-
ing tough decisions, seeing what needed to be done and doing it. This
was all very difficult for him, but he knew that nobody ever said that
doing tough stuff wasn't tough. The com- puter was already tracking
and predicting the second-by-second location of the planet Earth. He
ordered the great grey turrets to swivel.
Because all of the Grebulon surveillance equipment was focused on the
planet Earth, it failed to spot that there was now another source of data
in the solar system.
Its chances of spotting this other source of data - a massive yellow con-
structor ship - accidentally were practically nil. It was as far from the
sun as Rupert was, but almost diametrically opposite, almost hidden by
The massive yellow constructor ship wanted to be able to monitor events
on Planet Ten without being spotted itself. It had managed this very
There were all sorts of other ways in which this ship was diametrically
opposite to the Grebulons.
Its leader, its Captain, had a very clear idea of what his purpose was.
It was a very simple and plain one and he had been pursuing it in his
simple, plain way for a considerable period of time now.
Anyone who knew of his purpose might have said that it was a pointless
and ugly one, that it wasn't the sort of purpose that enhanced a life, put
a spring in a person's step, made birds sing and flowers bloom. Rather
the reverse in fact. Absolutely the reverse.
It wasn't his job to worry about that, though. It was his job to do his
job, which was to do his job. If that led to a certain narrowness of vision
and circularity of thought then it wasn't his job to worry about such
things. Any such things that came his way were referred to others who
had, in turn, other people to refer such things to.
Many, many light years from here, indeed from anywhere, lies the grim
and long abandoned planet, Vogsphere. Some- where on a fetid, fog-
bound mud bank on this planet there stands, surrounded by the dirty,
broken and empty carapaces of the last few jeweled scuttling crabs, a
small stone monument which marks the place, where it is thought, the
species Vogon Vogonblurtus first arose. On the monument there is carved
an arrow which points away into the fog, under which are inscribed in
plain, simple letters the words `The buck stops there.'
Deep in the bowels of his unsightly yellow ship, the Vogon Captain
grunted as he reached for a slightly faded and dog-eared piece of paper
that lay in front of him. A demolition order.
If you were to unravel exactly where the Captain's job, which was to do
his job which was to do his job, actually began, then it all came down at
last to this piece of paper that had been issued to him by his immediate
superior long ago. The piece of paper had an instruction on it, and his
purpose was to carry out that instruction and put a little tick mark in
the adjacent box when he had carried it out.
He had carried out the instruction once before, but a number of trouble-
some circumstances had prevented him from being able to put the tick
in the little box.
One of the troublesome circumstances was the Plural nature of this
Galactic sector, where the possible continually interfered with the prob-
able. Simple demolition didn't get you any further than pushing down a
bubble under a badly hung strip of wallpaper. Anything you demolished
kept on popping up again. That would soon be taken care of.
Another was a small bunch of people who continually refused to be where
they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. That,
also, would soon be taken care of.
The third was an irritating and anarchic little device called the Hitch
Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That was now well and truly taken care
of and, in fact, through the phenomenal power of temporal reverse en-
gineering, it was now itself the agency through which everything else
would be taken care of. The Captain had merely come to watch the final
act of this drama. He himself did not have to lift a finger.
`Show me,' he said.
The shadowy shape of a bird spread its wings and rose into the air near
him. Darkness engulfed the bridge. Dim lights danced briefly in the black
eyes of the bird as, deep in its instructional address space, bracket after
bracket was final- ly closing, if clauses were finally ending, repeat loops
halting, recursive functions calling themselves for the last few times.
A brilliant vision lit up in the darkness, a watery blue and green vision, a
tube flowing through the air, shaped like a chopped up string of sausages.
With a flatulent noise of satisfaction, the Vogon Captain sat back to
`Just there, number forty-two,' shouted Ford Prefect to the taxi-driver.
The taxi lurched to a halt, and Ford and Arthur jumped out. They
had stopped at quite a number of cash-dispensers on the way, and Ford
chucked a fistful of money through the window at the driver.
The entrance to the club was dark, smart and severe. Only the smallest
little plaque bore its name. Members knew where it was, and if you
weren't a member then knowing where it was wasn't any help to you.
Ford Prefect was not a member of Stavro's though he had once been
to Stavro's other club in New York. He had a very simple method of
dealing with establishments of which he was not a member. He simply
swept in as soon as the door was opened, pointed back at Arthur and
said, `It's OK, he's with me.' He bounded down the dark glossy stairs,
feeling very froody in his new shoes. They were suede and they were
blue, and he was very pleased that in spite of everything else going on
he had been sharp-eyed enough to spot them in a shop window from the
back of a speeding taxi.
`I thought I told you not to come here.'
`What?' said Ford.
A thin, ill-looking man wearing something baggy and Italian was walking
up the stairs past them, lighting a cigarette, and had stopped, suddenly.
`Not you,' he said. `Him.'
He looked straight at Arthur, then seemed to become a little confused.
`Excuse me,' he said. `I think I must have mistaken you for someone
else.' He started on up the stairs again , but almost immediately turned
round once more, even more puzzled. He stared at Arthur.
`Now what?' said Ford.
`What did you say?'
`I said, now what?' repeated Ford irritably.
`Yes, I think so,' said the man and swayed slightly and dropped the book
of matches he'd been carrying. His mouth moved weakly. Then he put
his hand to his forehead.
`Excuse me,' he said, `I'm trying desperately to remember which drug
I've just taken, but it must be one of those ones which mean you can't
He shook his head and turned away again, and went up towards the
`Come on,' said Ford. He hurried on downstairs, with Arthur following
nervously in his wake. The encounter had shaken him badly and he
didn't know why.
He didn't like places like this. For all of the dreams of Earth and home
he had had for years, he now badly missed his hut on Lamuella with his
knives and his sandwiches. He even missed Old Thrashbarg.
It was the most astounding effect. His name was being shouted in stereo.
He twisted to look one way. Up the stairs behind him he saw Trillian
hurrying down towards him in her wonderfully rumpled Rymplon TM.
She was looking suddenly aghast.
He twisted the other way to see what she was looking suddenly aghast
At the bottom of the stairs was Trillian, wearing... No - this was Tricia.
Tricia that he had just seen, hysterical with confusion, on television.
And behind her was Random, looking more wild-eyed than ever. Behind
her in the recesses of the smart, dimly lit club, the other clientele of the
evening formed a frozen tableau, staring anxiously up at the confronta-
tion on the stairs.
For a few seconds everyone stood stock still. Only the music from behind
the bar didn't know to stop throbbing.
`The gun she is holding,' said Ford quietly, nodding slightly towards Ran-
dom, `is a Wabanatta 3. It was in the ship she stole from me. It's quite
dangerous in fact. Just don't move for a moment. Let's just everybody
stay calm and find out what's upsetting her.'
`Where do I fit?' screamed Random suddenly. The hand holding the gun
was trembling fiercely. Her other hand delved into her pocket and pulled
out the remains of Arthur's watch. She shook it at them.
`I thought I would fit here,' she cried, `on the world that made me! But
it turns out that even my mother doesn't know who I am!' She flung the
watch violently aside, and it smashed into the glasses behind the bar,
scattering its innards.
Everyone was very quiet for a moment or two longer.
`Random,' said Trillian quietly from up on the stairs.
`Shut up!' shouted Random. `You abandoned me!'
`Random, it is very important that you listen to me and understand,'
persisted Trillian quietly. `There isn't very much time. We must leave.
We must all leave.'
`What are you talking about? We're always leaving!' She had both hands
on the gun now, and both were shaking. There was no one in particular
she was pointing it at. She was just pointing it at the world in general.
`Listen,' said Trillian again. `I left you because I went to cover a war
for the network. It was extremely dangerous . At least, I thought it
was going to be. I arrived and the war had suddenly ceased to happen.
There was a time anomaly and... listen! Please listen! A reconnaissance
battleship had failed to turn up, the rest of the fleet was scattered in
some farcical disarray. It's happening all the time now.'
`I don't care! I don't want to hear about your bloody job!' shouted
Random. `I want a home! I want to fit somewhere!'
`This is not your home,' said Trillian, still keeping her voice calm. `You
don't have one. We none of us have one. Hardly anybody has one any
more. The missing ship I was just talking about. The people of that
ship don't have a home. They don't know where they are from. They
don't even have any memory of who they are or what they are for. They
are very lost and very confused and very frightened. They are here in
this solar system, and they are about to do something very... misguided
because they are so lost and confused. We... must... leave ... now. I can't
tell you where there is to go to. Perhaps there isn't anywhere. But here
is not the place to be. Please. One more time. Can we go?'
Random was wavering in panic and confusion.
`It's all right,' said Arthur gently. `If I'm here, we're safe. Don't ask me
to explain just now, but I am safe, so you are safe. OK?'
`What are you saying?' said Trillian.
`Let's all just relax,' said Arthur. He was feeling very tranquil. His life
was charmed and none of this seemed real.
Slowly, gradually, Random began to relax, and to let the gun down, inch
Two things happened simultaneously.
The door to the men's room at the top of the stairs opened, and the
man who had accosted Arthur came out, sniffing.
Startled at the sudden movement, Random lifted the gun again just as
a man standing behind her made a grab for it.
Arthur threw himself forward. There was a deafening explo- sion. He
fell awkwardly as Trillian threw herself down over him. The noise died
away. Arthur looked up to see the man at the top of the stairs gazing
down at him with a look of utter stupefaction.
`You...' he said. Then slowly, horribly, he fell apart.
Random threw the gun down and fell to her knees, sobbing. I'm sorry!'
she said. `I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry...'
Tricia went to her. Trillian went to her.
Arthur sat on the stairs with his head between his hands and had not
the faintest idea what to do. Ford was sitting on the stair beneath him.
He picked something up, looked at it with interest, and passed it up to
`This mean anything to you? he said.
Arthur took it. It was the book of matches which the dead man had
dropped. It had the name of the club on it. It had the name of the
proprietor of the club on it. It looked like this:
He stared at it for some time as things began slowly to reassemble them-
selves in his mind. He wondered what he should do, but he only wondered
it idly. Around him people were beginning to rush and shout a lot, but
it was suddenly very clear to him that there was nothing to be done, not
now or ever. Through the new strangeness of noise and light he could
just make out the shape of Ford Prefect sitting back and laughing wildly.
A tremendous feeling of peace came over him. He knew that at last, for
once and for ever, it was now all, finally, over.
In the darkness of the bridge at the heart of the Vogon ship, Prostetnic
Vogon Jeltz sat alone. Lights flared briefly across the external vision
screens that lined one wall. In the air above him the discontinuities in
the blue and green watery sausage shape resolved themselves. Options
collapsed, possibilities folded into each other, and the whole at last re-
solved itself out of existence.
A very deep darkness descended. The Vogon captain sat immersed in it
for a few seconds.
`Light' he said.
There was no response. The bird, too, had crumpled out of all possibility.
The Vogon turned on the light himself. He picked up the piece of paper
again and placed a little tick in the little box. Well, that was done. His
ship slunk off into the inky void.
In spite of having taken what he regarded as an extremely positive piece
of action, the Grebulon Leader ended up having a very bad month after
all. It was pretty much the same as all the previous months except that
there was now nothing on the television any more. He put on a little
light music instead.