Status20 Success
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

for Jonny Brock and Clare Gorst 
and all other Arlingtoniansfor tea, sympathy, and a sofa

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable  end  of
the  western  spiral  arm  of  the Galaxy lies a small unregarded
yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two  million  miles
is  an  utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-
descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that  they  still
think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most
of  the  people  on  it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these
were  largely  concerned with the movements of small green pieces
of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't  the  small
green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people  were  mean,  and
most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a  big
mistake  in  coming  down  from the trees in the first place. And
some said that even the trees had been a bad move,  and  that  no
one should ever have left the oceans.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after  one  man
had  been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be
nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on  her  own  in  a
small  cafe  in  Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that
had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how  the
world  could  be  made  a  good and happy place. This time it was
right, it would work, and no one would  have  to  get  nailed  to

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone  to  tell  anyone-
about  it,  a  terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea
was lost forever.

This is not her story.

But it is the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and  some
of its consequences.

It is also the story of a book, a book called The  Hitch  Hiker's
Guide  to  the  Galaxy  -  not  an Earth book, never published on
Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or
heard of by any Earthman.

Nevertheless, a wholly remarkable book.

in fact it was probably the most remarkable book ever to come out
of  the  great  publishing  houses  of  Ursa  Minor - of which no
Earthman had ever heard either.

Not only is it a wholly remarkable book,  it  is  also  a  highly
successful  one  -  more  popular  than  the  Celestial Home Care
Omnibus, better selling than Fifty More  Things  to  do  in  Zero
Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid's trilogy of
philosophical blockbusters Where God Went  Wrong,  Some  More  of
God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway?

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on  the  Outer  Eastern
Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitch Hiker's Guide has already supplanted
the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the  standard  repository  of
all  knowledge  and  wisdom, for though it has many omissions and
contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly  inaccurate,
it  scores  over the older, more pedestrian work in two important

First, it is slightly cheaper; and  secondly  it  has  the  words
Don't Panic inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

But the story of this terrible, stupid Thursday, the story of its
extraordinary   consequences,   and   the  story   of  how  these
consequences are inextricably intertwined  with  this  remarkable
book begins very simply.

It begins with a house.

The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village.
It  stood  on  its  own  and  looked  over a broad spread of West
Country farmland. Not a remarkable house by any means  -  it  was
about  thirty  years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and
had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion  which
more or less exactly failed to please the eye.

The only person for whom the house was in  any  way  special  was
Arthur  Dent, and that was only because it happened to be the one
he lived in. He had lived in it for about three years, ever since
he  had  moved  out  of  London  because  it made him nervous and
irritable. He was about thirty as well,  dark  haired  and  never-
quite at ease with himself. The thing that used to worry him most
was the fact that people always used  to  ask  him  what  he  was
looking  so  worried  about.  He  worked  in local radio which he
always used to tell his friends was a lot more  interesting  than
they  probably  thought. It was, too - most of his friends worked
in advertising.

It hadn't properly registered with Arthur that the council wanted
to knock down his house and build an bypass instead.

At eight o'clock on Thursday  morning  Arthur  didn't  feel  very
good.  He  woke  up blearily, got up, wandered blearily round his
room, opened a window, saw a bulldozer, found his  slippers,  and
stomped off to the bathroom to wash.

Toothpaste on the brush - so. Scrub.

Shaving mirror - pointing at the ceiling. He adjusted it.  For  a
moment  it  reflected  a  second  bulldozer  through the bathroom
window. Properly adjusted, it reflected Arthur  Dent's  bristles.
He shaved them off, washed, dried, and stomped off to the kitchen
to find something pleasant to put in his mouth.

Kettle, plug, fridge, milk, coffee. Yawn.

The word bulldozer wandered through his  mind  for  a  moment  in
search of something to connect with.

The bulldozer outside the kitchen window was quite a big one.

He stared at it.

"Yellow," he thought and stomped off back to his bedroom  to  get

Passing the bathroom he stopped to drink a large glass of  water,
and  another.  He began to suspect that he was hung over. Why was
he hung over? Had he been drinking the night before? He  supposed
that  he must have been. He caught a glint in the shaving mirror.
"Yellow," he thought and stomped on to the bedroom.

He stood and thought. The pub, he thought. Oh dear, the  pub.  He
vaguely remembered being angry, angry about something that seemed
important. He'd been telling  people  about  it,  telling  people
about  it  at  great  length,  he  rather suspected: his clearest
visual recollection was of glazed looks on other people's  faces.
Something  about a new bypass he had just found out about. It had
been in the pipeline for months only no one seemed to have  known
about  it.  Ridiculous.  He  took  a swig of water. It would sort
itself out, he'd decided, no one wanted  a  bypass,  the  council
didn't have a leg to stand on. It would sort itself out.

God what a terrible hangover it had earned him though. He  looked
at  himself  in  the  wardrobe  mirror.  He stuck out his tongue.
"Yellow," he thought. The word yellow wandered through  his  mind
in search of something to connect with.

Fifteen seconds later he was out of the house and lying in  front
of a big yellow bulldozer that was advancing up his garden path.
Mr L Prosser was, as they say, only human. In other words he  was
a carbon-based life form descended from an ape. More specifically
he was forty, fat and shabby and worked for  the  local  council.
Curiously  enough, though he didn't know it, he was also a direct
male-line  descendant  of  Genghis   Khan,   though   intervening
generations  and  racial  mixing had so juggled his genes that he
had  no  discernible  Mongoloid  characteristics,  and  the  only
vestiges  left  in  Mr  L  Prosser  of his mighty ancestry were a
pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for  little
fur hats.

He was by no means a great warrior: in  fact  he  was  a  nervous
worried  man.  Today  he  was  particularly  nervous  and worried
because something had gone seriously wrong with his job  -  which
was  to  see  that Arthur Dent's house got cleared out of the way
before the day was out.

"Come off it, Mr Dent,", he said, "you can't win  you  know.  You
can't  lie  in  front of the bulldozer indefinitely." He tried to
make his eyes blaze fiercely but they just wouldn't do it.

Arthur lay in the mud and squelched at him.

"I'm game," he said, "we'll see who rusts first."

"I'm afraid you're going to have to accept it," said  Mr  Prosser
gripping  his  fur  hat and rolling it round the top of his head,
"this bypass has got to be built and it's going to be built!"

"First I've heard of it," said Arthur,  "why's  it  going  to  be

Mr Prosser shook his finger at him for a bit,  then  stopped  and
put it away again.

"What do you mean, why's it got to be built?" he  said.  "It's  a
bypass. You've got to build bypasses."

Bypasses are devices which allow some people to drive from  point
A  to  point B very fast whilst other people dash from point B to
point A very fast. People  living  at  point  C,  being  a  point
directly  in  between,  are often given to wonder what's so great
about point A that so many people of point B are so keen  to  get
there,  and  what's so great about point B that so many people of
point A are so keen to get there. They  often  wish  that  people
would  just  once and for all work out where the hell they wanted
to be.

Mr Prosser wanted to be at point D. Point D  wasn't  anywhere  in
particular, it was just any convenient point a very long way from
points A, B and C. He would have a nice little cottage  at  point
D,  with  axes over the door, and spend a pleasant amount of time
at point E, which would be the nearest pub to point D.  His  wife
of  course  wanted  climbing roses, but he wanted axes. He didn't
know why - he  just  liked  axes.  He  flushed  hotly  under  the
derisive grins of the bulldozer drivers.

He shifted his weight from foot  to  foot,  but  it  was  equally
uncomfortable  on  each.  Obviously somebody had been appallingly
incompetent and he hoped to God it wasn't him.

Mr Prosser said: "You were quite entitled to make any suggestions
or protests at the appropriate time you know."

"Appropriate time?" hooted Arthur. "Appropriate time? The first I
knew  about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I
asked him if he'd come to clean the windows and he said  no  he'd
come  to  demolish  the house. He didn't tell me straight away of
course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged  me
a fiver. Then he told me."

"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning
office for the last nine month."

"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went  straight  round  to  see
them,  yesterday  afternoon.  You hadn't exactly gone out of your
way to call attention to them  had  you?  I  mean  like  actually
telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display ..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the  cellar  to  find

"That's the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in  the  bottom
of  a  locked  filing  cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a
sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."

A cloud passed overhead. It cast a shadow over Arthur Dent as  he
lay  propped  up  on  his elbow in the cold mud. It cast a shadow
over Arthur Dent's house. Mr Prosser frowned at it.

"It's not as if it's a particularly nice house," he said.

"I'm sorry, but I happen to like it."

"You'll like the bypass."

"Oh shut up," said Arthur Dent. "Shut up and go  away,  and  take
your  bloody  bypass  with you. You haven't got a leg to stand on
and you know it."

Mr Prosser's mouth opened and closed a couple of times while  his
mind  was  for  a  moment  filled  with inexplicable but terribly
attractive visions of Arthur Dent's  house  being  consumed  with
fire  and  Arthur himself running screaming from the blazing ruin
with at least three hefty spears protruding  from  his  back.  Mr
Prosser  was often bothered with visions like these and they made
him feel very nervous. He stuttered for a moment and then  pulled
himself together.

"Mr Dent," he said.

"Hello? Yes?" said Arthur.

"Some factual information for you. Have you  any  idea  how  much
damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight
over you?"

"How much?" said Arthur.

"None at  all,"  said  Mr  Prosser,  and  stormed  nervously  off
wondering why his brain was filled with a thousand hairy horsemen
all shouting at him.

By a curious  coincidence,  None  at  all  is  exactly  how  much
suspicion  the  ape-descendant  Arthur  Dent  had that one of his
closest friends was not descended from an ape, but  was  in  fact
from  a  small  planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from
Guildford as he usually claimed.

Arthur Dent had never, ever suspected this.

This friend of his had first arrived on the planet  some  fifteen
Earth  years  previously, and he had worked hard to blend himself
into Earth society - with, it must be  said,  some  success.  For
instance he had spent those fifteen years pretending to be an out
of work actor, which was plausible enough.

He had made one careless blunder though, because he had skimped a
bit  on his preparatory research. The information he had gathered
had led him to choose the name "Ford  Prefect"  as  being  nicely

He was not conspicuously tall, his features were striking but not
conspicuously  handsome.  His  hair  was  wiry  and gingerish and
brushed backwards from the temples. His skin seemed to be  pulled
backwards  from  the  nose. There was something very slightly odd
about him, but it was difficult to say what it  was.  Perhaps  it
was  that  his eyes didn't blink often enough and when you talked
to him for any length of time your eyes  began  involuntarily  to
water  on  his behalf. Perhaps it was that he smiled slightly too
broadly and gave people the  unnerving  impression  that  he  was
about to go for their neck.

He struck most of  the  friends  he  had  made  on  Earth  as  an
eccentric,  but  a  harmless  one  --  an unruly boozer with some
oddish habits. For instance he would often  gatecrash  university
parties,   get   badly   drunk   and  start  making  fun  of  any
astrophysicist he could find till he got thrown out.

Sometimes he would get seized with  oddly  distracted  moods  and
stare  into the sky as if hypnotized until someone asked him what
he was doing. Then he would start guiltily for  a  moment,  relax
and grin.
"Oh, just looking for flying saucers," he would joke and everyone
would  laugh  and  ask  him  what  sort  of flying saucers he was
looking for.

"Green ones!" he would reply with a wicked grin, laugh wildly for
a  moment  and then suddenly lunge for the nearest bar and buy an
enormous round of drinks.

Evenings like this usually ended badly. Ford would get out of his
skull  on whisky, huddle into a corner with some girl and explain
to her in slurred phrases that honestly the colour of the  flying
saucers didn't matter that much really.

Thereafter, staggering semi-paralytic down the night  streets  he
would  often  ask  passing  policemen  if  they  knew  the way to
Betelgeuse. The  policemen  would  usually  say  something  like,
"Don't you think it's about time you went off home sir?"

"I'm trying to baby, I'm trying  to,"  is  what  Ford  invariably
replied on these occasions.

In fact what he  was  really  looking  out  for  when  he  stared
distractedly  into the night sky was any kind of flying saucer at
all. The reason he said green was that green was the  traditional
space livery of the Betelgeuse trading scouts.

Ford Prefect was desperate that any flying saucer  at  all  would
arrive soon because fifteen years was a long time to get stranded
anywhere, particularly somewhere as  mindboggingly  dull  as  the

Ford wished that a flying saucer would  arrive  soon  because  he
knew  how to flag flying saucers down and get lifts from them. He
knew how to see the Marvels of the Universe for less than  thirty
Altairan dollars a day.

In fact, Ford Prefect was a roving  researcher  for  that  wholly
remarkable book The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Human beings are great adaptors, and by  lunchtime  life  in  the
environs  of Arthur's house had settled into a steady routine. It
was Arthur's accepted role to lie squelching in  the  mud  making
occasional  demands to see his lawyer, his mother or a good book;
it was Mr Prosser's accepted  role  to  tackle  Arthur  with  the
occasional  new  ploy  such  as the For the Public Good talk, the
March of Progress talk, the They Knocked My House Down  Once  You
Know,  Never  Looked  Back  talk and various other cajoleries and
threats; and it was the bulldozer drivers' accepted role  to  sit
around  drinking  coffee and experimenting with union regulations
to see how they could  turn  the  situation  to  their  financial

The Earth moved slowly in its diurnal course.

The sun was beginning to dry out the mud Arthur lay in.

A shadow moved across him again.

"Hello Arthur," said the shadow.
Arthur looked up and squinting into the sun was startled  to  see
Ford Prefect standing above him.

"Ford! Hello, how are you?"

"Fine," said Ford, "look, are you busy?"

"Am I busy?" exclaimed Arthur. "Well, I've  just  got  all  these
bulldozers and things to lie in front of because they'll knock my
house down if I don't, but other  than  that  ...  well,  no  not
especially, why?"

They don't have sarcasm on Betelgeuse,  and  Ford  Prefect  often
failed  to notice it unless he was concentrating. He said, "Good,
is there anywhere we can talk?"

"What?" said Arthur Dent.

For a few seconds Ford seemed to ignore him, and  stared  fixedly
into  the sky like a rabbit trying to get run over by a car. Then
suddenly he squatted down beside Arthur.

"We've got to talk," he said urgently.

"Fine," said Arthur, "talk."

"And drink," said Ford. "It's vitally important that we talk  and
drink. Now. We'll go to the pub in the village."

He looked into the sky again, nervous, expectant.

"Look, don't you  understand?"  shouted  Arthur.  He  pointed  at
Prosser. "That man wants to knock my house down!"

Ford glanced at him, puzzled.

"Well he can do it while you're away can't he?" he asked.

"But I don't want him to!"


"Look, what's the matter with you Ford?" said Arthur.

"Nothing. Nothing's the matter. Listen to me - I've got  to  tell
you  the most important thing you've ever heard. I've got to tell
you now, and I've got to tell you in the saloon bar of the  Horse
and Groom."

"But why?"

"Because you are going to need a very stiff drink."

Ford stared at Arthur, and Arthur was astonished to find that his
will  was  beginning  to  weaken. He didn't realize that this was
because of an old drinking game that Ford learned to play in  the
hyperspace  ports  that  served the madranite mining belts in the
star system of Orion Beta.
The game was not unlike the Earth game called  Indian  Wrestling,
and was played like this:

Two contestants would sit either side of a table, with a glass in
front of each of them.

Between them  would  be  placed  a  bottle  of  Janx  Spirit  (as
immortalized  in that ancient Orion mining song "Oh don't give me
none more of that Old Janx Spirit/ No, don't  you  give  me  none
more  of  that  Old  Janx Spirit/ For my head will fly, my tongue
will lie, my eyes will fry and I may die/ Won't you pour  me  one
more of that sinful Old Janx Spirit").

Each of the two contestants would then concentrate their will  on
the  bottle  and attempt to tip it and pour spirit into the glass
of his opponent - who would then have to drink it.

The bottle would then be  refilled.  The  game  would  be  played
again. And again.

Once you started to lose you would probably keep losing,  because
one  of  the  effects  of  Janx  spirit is to depress telepsychic

As soon as a predetermined quantity had been consumed, the  final
loser  would  have  to  perform  a  forfeit,  which  was  usually
obscenely biological.

Ford Prefect usually played to lose.

Ford stared at Arthur, who began to think  that  perhaps  he  did
want to go to the Horse and Groom after all.

"But what about my house ...?" he asked plaintively.

Ford looked across to Mr Prosser, and suddenly a  wicked  thought
struck him.

"He wants to knock your house down?"

"Yes, he wants to build ..."

"And he can't because you're lying in front of the bulldozers?"

"Yes, and ..."

"I'm sure we can come to some arrangement,"  said  Ford.  "Excuse
me!" he shouted.

Mr Prosser (who was arguing with a spokesman  for  the  bulldozer
drivers  about  whether  or  not Arthur Dent constituted a mental
health hazard, and how much they  should  get  paid  if  he  did)
looked around. He was surprised and slightly alarmed to find that
Arthur had company.

"Yes? Hello?" he called. "Has Mr Dent come to his senses yet?"

"Can we for the moment," called Ford, "assume that he hasn't?"
"Well?" sighed Mr Prosser.

"And can we also assume," said  Ford,  "that  he's  going  to  be
staying here all day?"


"So all your men are going to be standing around  all  day  doing

"Could be, could be ..."

"Well, if  you're  resigned  to  doing  that  anyway,  you  don't
actually need him to lie here all the time do you?"


"You don't," said Ford patiently, "actually need him here."

Mr Prosser thought about this.

"Well no, not as  such...",  he  said,  "not  exactly  need  ..."
Prosser  was worried. He thought that one of them wasn't making a
lot of sense.

Ford said, "So if you would just like to take  it  as  read  that
he's  actually here, then he and I could slip off down to the pub
for half an hour. How does that sound?"

Mr Prosser thought it sounded perfectly potty.

"That sounds perfectly reasonable," he said in a reassuring  tone
of voice, wondering who he was trying to reassure.

"And if you want to pop off for a quick one yourself  later  on,"
said Ford, "we can always cover up for you in return."

"Thank you very much," said Mr Prosser who no longer knew how  to
play  this  at  all,  "thank you very much, yes, that's very kind
..." He frowned, then smiled, then tried  to  do  both  at  once,
failed,  grasped hold of his fur hat and rolled it fitfully round
the top of his head. He could only assume that he had just won.

"So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would  just  like  to  come
over here and lie down ..."

"What?" said Mr Prosser.

"Ah, I'm sorry," said Ford, "perhaps I hadn't made  myself  fully
clear.  Somebody's  got to lie in front of the bulldozers haven't
they? Or there won't be anything to stop  them  driving  into  Mr
Dent's house will there?"

"What?" said Mr Prosser again.

"It's very simple," said Ford, "my client, Mr Dent, says that  he
will  stop  lying  here in the mud on the sole condition that you
come and take over from him."
"What are you talking about?" said Arthur, but  Ford  nudged  him
with his shoe to be quiet.

"You want me," said Mr Prosser, spelling out this new thought  to
himself, "to come and lie there ..."


"In front of the bulldozer?"


"Instead of Mr Dent."


"In the mud."

"In, as you say it, the mud."

As soon as Mr Prosser realized  that  he  was  substantially  the
loser  after  all,  it  was  as if a weight lifted itself off his
shoulders: this was more like the world as he knew it. He sighed.

"In return for which you will take Mr Dent with you down  to  the

"That's it," said Ford. "That's it exactly."

Mr Prosser took a few nervous steps forward and stopped.


"Promise," said Ford. He turned to Arthur.

"Come on," he said to him, "get up and let the man lie down."

Arthur stood up, feeling as if he was in a dream.

Ford beckoned to Prosser who sadly, awkwardly, sat  down  in  the
mud.  He  felt  that his whole life was some kind of dream and he
sometimes wondered whose it was and whether  they  were  enjoying
it. The mud folded itself round his bottom and his arms and oozed
into his shoes.

Ford looked at him severely.

"And no sneaky knocking down Mr Dent's house  whilst  he's  away,
alright?" he said.

"The mere thought," growled Mr Prosser,  "hadn't  even  begun  to
speculate,"  he  continued,  settling  himself  back,  "about the
merest possibility of crossing my mind."

He saw the bulldozer driver's  union  representative  approaching
and  let his head sink back and closed his eyes. He was trying to
marshal his arguments for proving that he did not now  constitute
a  mental  health  hazard  himself. He was far from certain about
this - his mind seemed to be full of noise,  horses,  smoke,  and
the  stench of blood. This always happened when he felt miserable
and put upon, and he  had  never  been  able  to  explain  it  to
himself.  In a high dimension of which we know nothing the mighty
Khan bellowed with rage, but Mr Prosser  only  trembled  slightly
and whimpered. He began to fell little pricks of water behind the
eyelids. Bureaucratic cock-ups,  angry  men  lying  in  the  mud,
indecipherable  strangers  handing  out inexplicable humiliations
and an unidentified army of horsemen laughing at him in his  head
- what a day.

What a day. Ford Prefect knew that it didn't  matter  a  pair  of
dingo's  kidneys  whether  Arthur's house got knocked down or not

Arthur remained very worried.

"But can we trust him?" he said.

"Myself I'd trust him to the end of the Earth," said Ford.

"Oh yes," said Arthur, "and how far's that?"

"About twelve minutes away,"  said  Ford,  "come  on,  I  need  a

Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about  alcohol.
It  says  that  alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by
the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect
on certain carbon-based life forms.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions  alcohol.  It
says  that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle

It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is  like
having  your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round
a large gold brick.

The Guide also tells you on which planets the best  Pan  Galactic
Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one
and what voluntary organizations exist to help  you  rehabilitate

The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself.

Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit, it says.

Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus  V
-  Oh that Santraginean sea water, it says. Oh those Santraginean

Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into  the  mixture
(it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).

Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through  it,  in
memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the
Marshes of Fallia.

Over the back of a silver spoon  float  a  measure  of  Qualactin
Hypermint  extract,  redolent of all the heady odours of the dark
Qualactin Zones, subtle sweet and mystic.

Drop in the tooth of an Algolian  Suntiger.  Watch  it  dissolve,
spreading  the  fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of
the drink.

Sprinkle Zamphuor.

Add an olive.

Drink ... but ... very carefully ...

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy sells  rather  better  than
the Encyclopedia Galactica.

"Six pints of bitter," said Ford Prefect to  the  barman  of  the
Horse and Groom. "And quickly please, the world's about to end."

The barman of the Horse and Groom didn't  deserve  this  sort  of
treatment,  he  was a dignified old man. He pushed his glasses up
his nose and blinked at Ford Prefect. Ford ignored him and stared
out  of  the  window,  so the barman looked instead at Arthur who
shrugged helplessly and said nothing.

So the barman said, "Oh  yes  sir?  Nice  weather  for  it,"  and
started pulling pints.

He tried again.

"Going to watch the match this afternoon then?"

Ford glanced round at him.

"No, no point," he said, and looked back out of the window.

"What's that, foregone conclusion then you reckon sir?" said  the
barman. "Arsenal without a chance?"

"No, no," said Ford, "it's just that the world's about to end."

"Oh yes sir, so you said," said  the  barman,  looking  over  his
glasses  this  time  at  Arthur.  "Lucky escape for Arsenal if it

Ford looked back at him, genuinely surprised.

"No, not really," he said. He frowned.

The barman breathed in heavily. "There you are sir,  six  pints,"
he said.

Arthur smiled at him wanly and  shrugged  again.  He  turned  and
smiled  wanly at the rest of the pub just in case any of them had
heard what was going on.
None of them had, and none of them could understand what  he  was
smiling at them for.

A man sitting next to Ford at the bar  looked  at  the  two  men,
looked  at the six pints, did a swift burst of mental arithmetic,
arrived at an answer he liked and grinned a stupid  hopeful  grin
at them.

"Get off," said Ford, "They're ours,"  giving  him  a  look  that
would have an Algolian Suntiger get on with what it was doing.

Ford slapped a five-pound note on the bar.  He  said,  "Keep  the

"What, from a fiver? Thank you sir."

"You've got ten minutes left to spend it."

The barman simply decided to walk away for a bit.

"Ford," said Arthur, "would you please tell me what the  hell  is
going on?"

"Drink up," said Ford, "you've got three pints to get through."

"Three pints?" said Arthur. "At lunchtime?"

The man next to ford grinned and  nodded  happily.  Ford  ignored
him. He said, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."

"Very deep," said  Arthur,  "you  should  send  that  in  to  the
Reader's Digest. They've got a page for people like you."

"Drink up."

"Why three pints all of a sudden?"

"Muscle relaxant, you'll need it."

"Muscle relaxant?"

"Muscle relaxant."

Arthur stared into his beer.

"Did I do anything wrong today,"  he  said,  "or  has  the  world
always  been  like this and I've been too wrapped up in myself to

"Alright," said Ford, "I'll try to  explain.  How  long  have  we
known each other?"

"How long?" Arthur thought. "Er, about five years, maybe six," he
said. "Most of it seemed to make some sense at the time."

"Alright," said Ford. "How would you react if I said that I'm not
from  Guildford  after  all, but from a small planet somewhere in
the vicinity of Betelgeuse?"
Arthur shrugged in a so-so sort of way.

"I don't know," he said, taking a pull of beer.  "Why  -  do  you
think it's the sort of thing you're likely to say?"

Ford gave up. It really wasn't worth  bothering  at  the  moment,
what with the world being about to end. He just said:

"Drink up."

He added, perfectly factually:

"The world's about to end."

Arthur gave the rest of the pub another wan smile.  The  rest  of
the  pub  frowned  at  him. A man waved at him to stop smiling at
them and mind his own business.

"This must be Thursday," said Arthur musing to  himself,  sinking
low over his beer, "I never could get the hang of Thursdays."

On this particular Thursday, something was moving quietly through
the  ionosphere  many  miles  above  the  surface  of the planet;
several somethings in fact,  several  dozen  huge  yellow  chunky
slablike  somethings,  huge as office buildings, silent as birds.
They soared with ease, basking in electromagnetic rays  from  the
star Sol, biding their time, grouping, preparing.

The planet beneath them was almost perfectly oblivious  of  their
presence,  which  was just how they wanted it for the moment. The
huge yellow somethings went unnoticed at Goonhilly,  they  passed
over  Cape  Canaveral  without  a  blip, Woomera and Jodrell Bank
looked straight through them - which was a pity  because  it  was
exactly  the  sort  of  thing  they'd  been looking for all these

The only place they registered at all was on a small black device
called  a  Sub-Etha  Sens-O-Matic  which  winked  away quietly to
itself. It nestled in the darkness inside a leather satchel which
Ford Prefect wore habitually round his neck. The contents of Ford
Prefect's satchel were quite interesting in fact and  would  have
made any Earth physicist's eyes pop out of his head, which is why
he always concealed them by keeping a couple of dog-eared scripts
for plays he pretended he was auditioning for stuffed in the top.
Besides the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic  and  the  scripts  he  had  an
Electronic  Thumb - a short squat black rod, smooth and matt with
a couple of flat switches and dials at one end;  he  also  had  a
device  which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator.
This had about a hundred tiny flat press  buttons  and  a  screen
about  four  inches  square on which any one of a million "pages"
could be summoned  at  a  moment's  notice.  It  looked  insanely
complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic
cover it fitted into had the words Don't Panic printed on  it  in
large friendly letters. The other reason was that this device was
in fact that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the
great  publishing  corporations of Ursa Minor - The Hitch Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy. The reason why it was published in the  form
of  a  micro  sub  meson  electronic component is that if it were
printed in normal book form, an interstellar  hitch  hiker  would
require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around

Beneath that in Ford  Prefect's  satchel  were  a  few  biros,  a
notepad, and a largish bath towel from Marks and Spencer.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say  on
the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most  massively  useful  thing  an
interstellar  hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical
value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across
the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant
marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling  the  heady  sea
vapours;  you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so
redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it  to  sail  a  mini
raft  down  the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-
hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or
to  avoid  the  gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a
mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it,
it  can't  see  you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can
wave your towel in emergencies  as  a  distress  signal,  and  of
course  dry  yourself  off  with it if it still seems to be clean

More importantly, a towel has immense  psychological  value.  For
some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a
hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically  assume
that  he  is  also  in  possession of a toothbrush, face flannel,
soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string,  gnat
spray,  wet  weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the
strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of  these  or  a
dozen  other  items  that the hitch hiker might accidentally have
"lost". What the strag will think is that any man who  can  hitch
the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle
against terrible odds, win through, and  still  knows  where  his
towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking  slang,  as  in
"Hey,  you  sass  that  hoopy  Ford  Prefect? There's a frood who
really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet,
have   sex  with;  hoopy:  really  together  guy;  frood:  really
amazingly together guy.)

Nestling quietly on top of the towel in Ford  Prefect's  satchel,
the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic began to wink more quickly. Miles above
the surface of the planet the huge yellow somethings began to fan
out.  At  Jodrell  Bank,  someone  decided it was time for a nice
relaxing cup of tea.

"You got a towel with you?" said Ford Prefect suddenly to Arthur.

Arthur, struggling through his third pint, looked round at him.

"Why? What, no  ...  should  I  have?"  He  had  given  up  being
surprised, there didn't seem to be any point any longer.

Ford clicked his tongue in irritation.

"Drink up," he urged.

At that moment the dull sound of a rumbling  crash  from  outside
filtered  through the low murmur of the pub, through the sound of
the jukebox, through the sound of the man next to Ford hiccupping
over the whisky Ford had eventually bought him.

Arthur choked on his beer, leapt to his feet.

"What's that?" he yelped.

"Don't worry," said Ford, "they haven't started yet."

"Thank God for that," said Arthur and relaxed.

"It's probably just your house being knocked  down,"  said  Ford,
drowning his last pint.

"What?" shouted Arthur. Suddenly Ford's spell was broken.  Arthur
looked wildly around him and ran to the window.

"My God they are! They're knocking my house down. What  the  hell
am I doing in the pub, Ford?"

"It hardly makes any difference at this stage," said  Ford,  "let
them have their fun."

"Fun?" yelped Arthur. "Fun!" He quickly checked out of the window
again that they were talking about the same thing.

"Damn their fun!" he hooted and ran  out  of  the  pub  furiously
waving  a  nearly  empty beer glass. He made no friends at all in
the pub that lunchtime.

"Stop, you vandals! You home wreckers!" bawled Arthur. "You  half
crazed Visigoths, stop will you!"

Ford would have to go after him. Turning quickly to the barman he
asked for four packets of peanuts.

"There you are sir," said the barman, slapping the packets on the
bar, "twenty-eight pence if you'd be so kind."

Ford was very kind - he gave the barman another  five-pound  note
and told him to keep the change. The barman looked at it and then
looked at Ford. He suddenly shivered: he experienced a  momentary
sensation  that  he didn't understand because no one on Earth had
ever experienced it before. In moments  of  great  stress,  every
life  form  that  exists  gives  out a tiny sublimal signal. This
signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense  of
how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth it is
never possible to be further than  sixteen  thousand  miles  from
your birthplace, which really isn't very far, so such signals are
too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this  moment  under
great  stress,  and  he was born 600 light years away in the near
vicinity of Betelgeuse.

The  barman  reeled  for   a   moment,   hit   by   a   shocking,
incomprehensible sense of distance. He didn't know what it meant,
but he looked at Ford Prefect with a new sense of respect, almost

"Are you serious, sir?" he said in a small whisper which had  the
effect  of  silencing  the  pub.  "You think the world's going to

"Yes," said Ford.

"But, this afternoon?"

Ford had recovered himself. He was at his flippest.

"Yes,"  he  said  gaily,  "in  less  than  two  minutes  I  would

The barman couldn't believe the conversation he was  having,  but
he couldn't believe the sensation he had just had either.

"Isn't there anything we can do about it then?" he said.

"No, nothing," said Ford, stuffing the peanuts into his pockets.

Someone in the hushed  bar  suddenly  laughed  raucously  at  how
stupid everyone had become.

The man sitting next to Ford was a bit sozzled by now.  His  eyes
waved their way up to Ford.

"I thought," he said, "that if the world was going to end we were
meant to lie down or put a paper bag over our head or something."

"If you like, yes," said Ford.

"That's what they told us in the army," said  the  man,  and  his
eyes began the long trek back down to his whisky.

"Will that help?" asked the barman.

"No," said Ford and gave him a friendly smile.  "Excuse  me,"  he
said, "I've got to go." With a wave, he left.

The pub was silent for a moment longer, and then,  embarrassingly
enough,  the man with the raucous laugh did it again. The girl he
had dragged along to the pub with him had  grown  to  loathe  him
dearly  over the last hour or so, and it would probably have been
a great satisfaction to her to know that in a minute and  a  half
or so he would suddenly evaporate into a whiff of hydrogen, ozone
and carbon monoxide. However, when the moment came she  would  be
too busy evaporating herself to notice it.

The barman cleared his throat. He heard himself say:

"Last orders, please."
The huge yellow machines began  to  sink  downward  and  to  move

Ford knew they were there. This wasn't the way he had wanted it.

Running up the lane, Arthur had  nearly  reached  his  house.  He
didn't  notice  how cold it had suddenly become, he didn't notice
the wind, he didn't notice the sudden irrational squall of  rain.
He didn't notice anything but the caterpillar bulldozers crawling
over the rubble that had been his home.

"You barbarians!" he yelled. "I'll  sue  the  council  for  every
penny  it's  got!  I'll  have  you hung, drawn and quartered! And
whipped! And boiled ... until ...  until  ...  until  you've  had

Ford was running after him very fast. Very very fast.

"And then I'll do  it  again!"  yelled  Arthur.  "And  when  I've
finished  I  will  take  all  the little bits, and I will jump on

Arthur  didn't  notice  that  the  men  were  running  from   the
bulldozers;   he  didn't  notice  that  Mr  Prosser  was  staring
hectically into the sky. What Mr Prosser  had  noticed  was  that
huge   yellow  somethings  were  screaming  through  the  clouds.
Impossibly huge yellow somethings.

"And I will carry on  jumping  on  them,"  yelled  Arthur,  still
running,  "until  I get blisters, or I can think of anything even
more unpleasant to do, and then ..."

Arthur tripped, and fell headlong, rolled and landed flat on  his
back.  At last he noticed that something was going on. His finger
shot upwards.

"What the hell's that?" he shrieked.

Whatever it was raced across the  sky  in  monstrous  yellowness,
tore  the  sky apart with mind-buggering noise and leapt off into
the distance leaving the gaping air to shut behind it with a bang
that drove your ears six feet into your skull.

Another one followed and did the same thing only louder.

It's difficult to say exactly what the people on the  surface  of
the  planet  were doing now, because they didn't really know what
they were doing themselves. None of it made  a  lot  of  sense  -
running  into  houses, running out of houses, howling noiselessly
at the noise. All around the world  city  streets  exploded  with
people, cars slewed into each other as the noise fell on them and
then rolled off like a tidal wave over hills and valleys, deserts
and oceans, seeming to flatten everything it hit.

Only one man stood and  watched  the  sky,  stood  with  terrible
sadness in his eyes and rubber bungs in his ears. He knew exactly
what was happening and had known ever since his Sub-Etha  Sens-O-
Matic  had started winking in the dead of night beside his pillar
and woken him with a start. It was what he  had  waited  for  all
these  years,  but  when  he  had  deciphered  the signal pattern
sitting alone in his small dark room a coldness had  gripped  him
and squeezed his heart. Of all the races in all of the Galaxy who
could have come and said a big hello to planet Earth, he thought,
didn't it just have to be the Vogons.

Still he knew what he had to do.  As  the  Vogon  craft  screamed
through  the  air  high above him he opened his satchel. He threw
away a copy of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor  Dreamcoat,  he
threw away a copy of Godspell: He wouldn't need them where he was
going. Everything was ready, everything was prepared.

He knew where his towel was.

A sudden silence hit the Earth. If anything it was worse than the
noise. For a while nothing happened.

The great ships hung motionless in the air, over every nation  on
Earth.  Motionless  they  hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky, a
blasphemy against nature. Many people went straight into shock as
their  minds  tried  to  encompass what they were looking at. The
ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

And still nothing happened.

Then there was a slight whisper, a  sudden  spacious  whisper  of
open  ambient  sound.  Every hi fi set in the world, every radio,
every television, every cassette recorder,  every  woofer,  every
tweeter,  every  mid-range  driver  in  the  world quietly turned
itself on.

Every tin can, every dust bin, every  window,  every  car,  every
wine  glass,  every  sheet  of rusty metal became activated as an
acoustically perfect sounding board.

Before the Earth passed away it was going to be  treated  to  the
very  ultimate in sound reproduction, the greatest public address
system ever built.  But  there  was  no  concert,  no  music,  no
fanfare, just a simple message.

"People of Earth, your attention please," a voice  said,  and  it
was   wonderful.   Wonderful   perfect  quadrophonic  sound  with
distortion levels so low as to make a brave man weep.

"This is  Prostetnic  Vogon  Jeltz  of  the  Galactic  Hyperspace
Planning  Council," the voice continued. "As you will no doubt be
aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions  of  the
Galaxy  require  the  building  of  a  hyperspatial express route
through your star system, and regrettably your planet is  one  of
those  scheduled  for  demolition. The process will take slightly
less that two of your Earth minutes. Thank you."

The PA died away.

Uncomprehending terror settled on the watching people  of  Earth.
The  terror  moved  slowly through the gathered crowds as if they
were iron fillings on a sheet of board and a  magnet  was  moving
beneath  them. Panic sprouted again, desperate fleeing panic, but
there was nowhere to flee to.
Observing this, the Vogons turned on their PA again. It said:

"There's no point in acting  all  surprised  about  it.  All  the
planning  charts  and  demolition  orders have been on display in
your local planning department on Alpha  Centauri  for  fifty  of
your  Earth  years,  so  you've  had  plenty of time to lodge any
formal complaint and it's far too late to  start  making  a  fuss
about it now."

The PA fell silent again and its  echo  drifted  off  across  the
land. The huge ships turned slowly in the sky with easy power. On
the underside of each a hatchway opened, an empty black space.

By  this  time  somebody  somewhere  must  have  manned  a  radio
transmitter,  located a wavelength and broadcasted a message back
to the Vogon ships, to plead on behalf of the planet. Nobody ever
heard  what  they said, they only heard the reply. The PA slammed
back into life again. The voice was annoyed. It said:

"What do you mean  you've  never  been  to  Alpha  Centauri?  For
heaven's  sake mankind, it's only four light years away you know.
I'm sorry, but if you can't be bothered to take  an  interest  in
local affairs that's your own lookout.

"Energize the demolition beams."

Light poured out into the hatchways.

"I don't know," said the  voice  on  the  PA,  "apathetic  bloody
planet, I've no sympathy at all." It cut off.

There was a terrible ghastly silence.

There was a terrible ghastly noise.

There was a terrible ghastly silence.

The Vogon Constructor fleet coasted away  into  the  inky  starry

Far away on the opposite spiral arm of the Galaxy,  five  hundred
thousand  light  years  from  the  star  Sol,  Zaphod Beeblebrox,
President of the Imperial Galactic Government,  sped  across  the
seas  of  Damogran, his ion drive delta boat winking and flashing
in the Damogran sun.

Damogran the  hot;  Damogran  the  remote;  Damogran  the  almost
totally unheard of.

Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.

The boat sped on across the water. It would be some  time  before
it   reached   its   destination  because  Damogran  is  such  an
inconveniently  arranged  planet.  It  consists  of  nothing  but
middling  to  large  desert  islands separated by very pretty but
annoyingly wide stretches of ocean.

The boat sped on.

Because of  this  topological  awkwardness  Damogran  has  always
remained  a  deserted  planet.  This is why the Imperial Galactic
Government chose Damogran for the Heart of Gold project,  because
it was so deserted and the Heart of Gold was so secret.

The boat zipped and skipped across the  sea,  the  sea  that  lay
between  the  main  islands of the only archipelago of any useful
size on the whole planet. Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his  way  from
the  tiny  spaceport  on  Easter Island (the name was an entirely
meaningless coincidence - in Galacticspeke,  easter  means  small
flat  and  light  brown)  to  the  Heart of Gold island, which by
another meaningless coincidence was called France.

One of the side effects of work on the Heart of Gold was a  whole
string of pretty meaningless coincidences.

But it was not in any way a coincidence that today,  the  day  of
culmination  of  the project, the great day of unveiling, the day
that the Heart  of  Gold  was  finally  to  be  introduced  to  a
marvelling Galaxy, was also a great day of culmination for Zaphod
Beeblebrox. It was for the sake of this day  that  he  had  first
decided  to  run  for  the  Presidency, a decision which had sent
waves of astonishment throughout the  Imperial  Galaxy  -  Zaphod
Beeblebrox?   President?  Not  the  Zaphod  Beeblebrox?  Not  the
President? Many had seen it as a clinching proof that  the  whole
of known creation had finally gone bananas.

Zaphod grinned and gave the boat an extra kick of speed.

Zaphod Beeblebrox,  adventurer,  ex-hippy,  good  timer,  (crook?
quite  possibly),  manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal
relationships, often thought to be completely out to lunch.


No one had gone bananas, not in that way at least.

Only six people in the entire Galaxy understood the principle  on
which  the  Galaxy  was  governed, and they knew that once Zaphod
Beeblebrox had announced his intention to run as President it was
more  or  less  a  fait  accompli:  he  was  the ideal Presidency

What they completely failed to  understand  was  why  Zaphod  was
doing it.

He banked sharply, shooting a wild wall of water at the sun.

Today was the day; today was the day when they would realize what
Zaphod  had  been  up  to.  Today  was  what  Zaphod Beeblebrox's
Presidency was all  about.  Today  was  also  his  two  hundredth
birthday, but that was just another meaningless coincidence.

As he skipped his boat across the  seas  of  Damogran  he  smiled
quietly  to  himself  about  what a wonderful exciting day it was
going to be. He relaxed and spread his two arms lazily across the
seat back. He steered with an extra arm he'd recently fitted just
beneath his right one to help improve his ski-boxing.

"Hey," he cooed to himself, "you're a real cool boy you." But his
nerves sang a song shriller than a dog whistle.

The island of France was about  twenty  miles  long,  five  miles
across  the  middle, sandy and crescent shaped. In fact it seemed
to exist not so much as an island in its own right  as  simply  a
means  of  defining  the  sweep  and  curve  of  a huge bay. This
impression was heightened by the fact that the inner coastline of
the  crescent consisted almost entirely of steep cliffs. From the
top of the cliff the land sloped slowly down five  miles  to  the
opposite shore.

On top of the cliffs stood a reception committee.

It consisted in large part of the engineers and  researchers  who
had built the Heart of Gold - mostly humanoid, but here and there
were a few reptiloid atomineers, two or  three  green  slyph-like
maximegalacticans,  an  octopoid  physucturalist  or  two  and  a
Hooloovoo (a Hooloovoo is a super-intelligent shade of the  color
blue).  All except the Hooloovoo were resplendent in their multi-
colored ceremonial lab coats; the Hooloovoo had been  temporarily
refracted into a free standing prism for the occasion.

There was a mood of immense excitement thrilling through  all  of
them.  Together  and between them they had gone to and beyond the
furthest limits of physical laws,  restructured  the  fundamental
fabric  of  matter,  strained,  twisted  and  broken  the laws of
possibility and impossibility, but still the greatest  excitement
of  all  seemed to be to meet a man with an orange sash round his
neck. (An orange sash  was  what  the  President  of  the  Galaxy
traditionally  wore.) It might not even have made much difference
to them if they'd known exactly how much power the  President  of
the  Galaxy actually wielded: none at all. Only six people in the
Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic  President  was  not  to
wield power but to attract attention away from it.

Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job.

The  crowd  gasped,  dazzled  by  sun  and  seemanship,  as   the
Presidential speedboat zipped round the headland into the bay. It
flashed and shone as  it  came  skating  over  the  sea  in  wide
skidding turns.

In fact it didn't need to touch the water at all, because it  was
supported  on  a  hazy  cushion  of  ionized atoms - but just for
effect it was fitted with thin finblades which could  be  lowered
into  the  water.  They  slashed sheets of water hissing into the
air, carved deep gashes into the sea  which  swayed  crazily  and
sank  back foaming into the boat's wake as it careered across the

Zaphod loved effect: it was what he was best at.

He twisted the wheel sharply, the boat slewed  round  in  a  wild
scything  skid beneath the cliff face and dropped to rest lightly
on the rocking waves.

Within seconds he ran out onto the deck and waved and grinned  at
over  three  billion  people.  The  three  billion people weren't
actually there, but they watched his every  gesture  through  the
eyes  of a small robot tri-D camera which hovered obsequiously in
the air nearby. The antics of the President always made amazingly
popular tri-D; that's what they were for.

He grinned again. Three billion and six people  didn't  know  it,
but today would be a bigger antic than anyone had bargained for.

The robot camera homed in for a close up on the more  popular  of
his  two  heads  and  he  waved again. He was roughly humanoid in
appearance except for the extra head  and  third  arm.  His  fair
tousled  hair  stuck  out  in  random  directions,  his blue eyes
glinted with something completely unidentifiable, and  his  chins
were almost always unshaven.

A twenty-foot-high transparent globe floated next  to  his  boat,
rolling  and  bobbing, glistening in the brilliant sun. Inside it
floated a wide semi-circular sofa  upholstered  in  glorious  red
leather:  the more the globe bobbed and rolled, the more the sofa
stayed perfectly still, steady as an upholstered rock. Again, all
done for effect as much as anything.

Zaphod stepped through the wall of the globe and relaxed  on  the
sofa.  He  spread his two arms lazily along the back and with the
third brushed some dust off his knee.  His  heads  looked  about,
smiling;  he put his feet up. At any moment, he thought, he might

Water boiled up beneath the bubble, it seethed and  spouted.  The
bubble  surged  into  the  air,  bobbing and rolling on the water
spout. Up, up it climbed, throwing stilts of light at the  cliff.
Up  it  surged  on  the  jet,  the water falling from beneath it,
crashing back into the sea hundreds of feet below.

Zaphod smiled, picturing himself.

A thoroughly ridiculous  form  of  transport,  but  a  thoroughly
beautiful one.

At the top of the cliff the globe wavered for a moment, tipped on
to  a railed ramp, rolled down it to a small concave platform and
riddled to a halt.

To tremendous applause  Zaphod  Beeblebrox  stepped  out  of  the
bubble, his orange sash blazing in the light.

The President of the Galaxy had arrived.

He waited for the applause to die down, then raised his hands  in

"Hi," he said.

A government spider sidled up to him and  attempted  to  press  a
copy  of his prepared speech into his hands. Pages three to seven
of the original version were at the moment  floating  soggily  on
the  Damogran sea some five miles out from the bay. Pages one and
two had been salvaged by a Damogran Frond Crested Eagle  and  had
already  become  incorporated  into  an extraordinary new form of
nest which the eagle had invented. It was constructed largely  of
papier  m@ch@ and it was virtually impossible for a newly hatched
baby eagle to break out of it. The Damogran Frond  Crested  Eagle
had  heard of the notion of survival of the species but wanted no
truck with it.

Zaphod Beeblebrox would not be needing  his  set  speech  and  he
gently deflected the one being offered him by the spider.

"Hi," he said again.

Everyone beamed at him, or, at least, nearly everyone. He singled
out  Trillian from the crowd. Trillian was a gird that Zaphod had
picked up recently  whilst  visiting  a  planet,  just  for  fun,
incognito.  She  was  slim, darkish, humanoid, with long waves of
black hair, a full mouth,  an  odd  little  nob  of  a  nose  and
ridiculously  brown eyes. With her red head scarf knotted in that
particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress she  looked
vaguely  Arabic.  Not that anyone there had ever heard of an Arab
of course. The Arabs had very recently ceased to exist, and  even
when they had existed they were five hundred thousand light years
from Damogran. Trillian  wasn't  anybody  in  particular,  or  so
Zaphod  claimed.  She  just went around with him rather a lot and
told him what she thought of him.

"Hi honey," he said to her.

She flashed him a quick tight smile and  looked  away.  Then  she
looked  back  for  a  moment and smiled more warmly - but by this
time he was looking at something else.

"Hi," he said to a small knot of creatures  from  the  press  who
were standing nearby wishing that he would stop saying Hi and get
on with the quotes. He grinned at them  particularly  because  he
knew  that in a few moments he would be giving them one hell of a

The next thing he said though was not a lot of use to  them.  One
of  the  officials  of  the  party had irritably decided that the
President was clearly not in  a  mood  to  read  the  deliciously
turned  speech that had been written for him, and had flipped the
switch on the remote control device in his pocket. Away in  front
of  them  a  huge  white dome that bulged against the sky cracked
down in the middle, split, and slowly folded itself down into the
ground. Everyone gasped although they had known perfectly well it
was going to do that because they had built it that way.

Beneath it lay uncovered a huge starship, one hundred  and  fifty
metres  long,  shaped  like a sleek running shoe, perfectly white
and mindboggingly beautiful. At the heart of it,  unseen,  lay  a
small  gold  box which carried within it the most brain-wretching
device ever conceived, a device which made this  starship  unique
in  the  history of the galaxy, a device after which the ship had
been named - The Heart of Gold.
"Wow", said Zaphod Beeblebrox to the Heart of Gold. There  wasn't
much else he could say.

He said it again because he knew it would annoy the press.


The crowd turned their faces back  towards  him  expectantly.  He
winked  at  Trillian who raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes
at him. She knew what he was about  to  say  and  thought  him  a
terrible showoff.

"That is really amazing," he said. "That really is truly amazing.
That is so amazingly amazing I think I'd like to steal it."

A marvellous Presidential quote, absolutely  true  to  form.  The
crowd  laughed  appreciatively,  the  newsmen  gleefully  punched
buttons on their Sub-Etha News-Matics and the President grinned.

As he grinned his heart screamed unbearably and he  fingered  the
small Paralyso-Matic bomb that nestled quietly in his pocket.

Finally he could bear it no more. He lifted his heads up  to  the
sky,  let out a wild whoop in major thirds, threw the bomb to the
ground and ran forward through the sea of suddenly frozen smiles.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was not a pleasant sight, even  for  other
Vogons.  His  highly  domed  nose  rose  high above a small piggy
forehead. His dark green rubbery skin was thick enough for him to
play  the game of Vogon Civil Service politics, and play it well,
and waterproof enough for him  to  survive  indefinitely  at  sea
depths of up to a thousand feet with no ill effects.

Not that he ever went swimming of course. His busy schedule would
not allow it. He was the way he was because billions of years ago
when the Vogons had first crawled out of  the  sluggish  primeval
seas  of  Vogsphere,  and  had  lain  panting  and heaving on the
planet's virgin shores... when the first rays of the bright young
Vogsol  sun  had shone across them that morning, it was as if the
forces of evolution ad simply given up on them  there  and  then,
had  turned  aside in disgust and written them off as an ugly and
unfortunate mistake. They never evolved again; they should  never
have survived.

The fact that they did is some kind  of  tribute  to  the  thick-
willed  slug-brained  stubbornness of these creatures. Evolution?
they said to themselves, Who needs it?, and what  nature  refused
to  do  for  them they simply did without until such time as they
were able to rectify the grosser anatomical  inconveniences  with

Meanwhile, the natural forces on the planet  Vogsphere  had  been
working  overtime  to  make  up  for  their earlier blunder. They
brought forth scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs,  which  the
Vogons  ate,  smashing  their  shells  with  iron  mallets;  tall
aspiring trees with breathtaking slenderness and colour which the
Vogons  cut  down and burned the crab meat with; elegant gazelle-
like creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes which  the  Vogons
would  catch  and  sit  on. They were no use as transport because
their backs would snap instantly, but  the  Vogons  sat  on  them

Thus the planet Vogsphere whiled away the unhappy millennia until
the  Vogons  suddenly  discovered  the principles of interstellar
travel. Within a  few  short  Vog  years  every  last  Vogon  had
migrated  to  the  Megabrantis  cluster, the political hub of the
Galaxy and now formed the  immensely  powerful  backbone  of  the
Galactic  Civil Service. They have attempted to acquire learning,
they have attempted to acquire style and  social  grace,  but  in
most  respects  the  modern  Vogon  is  little different from his
primitive forebears. Every year they import twenty-seven thousand
scintillating  jewelled  scuttling crabs from their native planet
and while away a happy drunken night smashing them to  bits  with
iron mallets.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was a fairly typical Vogon in that he  was
thoroughly vile. Also, he did not like hitch hikers.

Somewhere in a small dark cabin buried deep in the intestines  of
Prostetnic   Vogon   Jeltz's   flagship,  a  small  match  flared
nervously. The owner of the match was not a Vogon,  but  he  knew
all  about  them  and  was right to be nervous. His name was Ford

He looked about the cabin but  could  see  very  little;  strange
monstrous  shadows  loomed  and  leaped  with the tiny flickering
flame, but all was quiet. He breathed a silent thank you  to  the
Dentrassis.  The  Dentrassis  are an unruly tribe of gourmands, a
wild but pleasant bunch whom the Vogons  had  recently  taken  to
employing  as  catering  staff  on their long haul fleets, on the
strict understanding that  they  keep  themselves  very  much  to

This suited the Dentrassis fine, because they loved Vogon  money,
which  is one of the hardest currencies in space, but loathed the
Vogons themselves. The only sort of Vogon a  Dentrassi  liked  to
see was an annoyed Vogon.

It was because of  this  tiny  piece  of  information  that  Ford
Prefect  was  not  now  a  whiff  of  hydrogen,  ozone and carbon

He heard a slight groan. By the light of the match he saw a heavy
shape  moving  slightly  on the floor. Quickly he shook the match
out, reached in his pocket, found what he  was  looking  for  and
took it out. He crouched on the floor. The shape moved again.

Ford Prefect said: "I bought some peanuts."

Arthur Dent moved, and groaned again, muttering incoherently.

"Here, have some," urged Ford,  shaking  the  packet  again,  "if
you've  never  been  through  a  matter  transference beam before
you've probably lost some salt and  protein.  The  beer  you  had
should have cushioned your system a bit."
"Whhhrrrr..." said Arthur Dent. He opened his eyes.

"It's dark," he said.

"Yes," said Ford Prefect, "it's dark."

"No light," said Arthur Dent. "Dark, no light."

One of the things  Ford  Prefect  had  always  found  hardest  to
understand  about  human  beings  was  their habit of continually
stating and repeating the obvious, as in  It's  a  nice  day,  or
You're  very  tall,  or  Oh  dear  you seem to have fallen down a
thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first  Ford  had  formed  a
theory  to  account  for  this strange behaviour. If human beings
don't keep  exercising  their  lips,  he  thought,  their  mouths
probably   seize  up.  After  a  few  months'  consideration  and
observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new  one.  If
they  don't  keep  on  exercising  their  lips, he thought, their
brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well
as  being  obstructively cynical and decided he quite liked human
beings after all, but  he  always  remained  desperately  worried
about the terrible number of things they didn't know about.

"Yes," he agreed with Arthur, "no light."  He  helped  Arthur  to
some peanuts. "How do you feel?" he asked.

"Like a military academy," said  Arthur,  "bits  of  me  keep  on
passing out."

Ford stared at him blankly in the darkness.

"If I asked you where the hell  we  were,"  said  Arthur  weakly,
"would I regret it?"

Ford stood up. "We're safe," he said.

"Oh good," said Arthur.

"We're in a small galley  cabin,"  said  Ford,  "in  one  of  the
spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet."

"Ah," said Arthur, "this is obviously some strange usage  of  the
word safe that I wasn't previously aware of."

Ford struck another match to help him search for a light  switch.
Monstrous  shadows  leaped  and loomed again. Arthur struggled to
his feet and hugged himself apprehensively. Hideous alien  shapes
seemed  to  throng about him, the air was thick with musty smells
which sidled into his lungs without identifying themselves, and a
low irritating hum kept his brain from focusing.

"How did we get here?" he asked, shivering slightly.

"We hitched a lift," said Ford.

"Excuse me?" said Arthur. "Are you trying to tell me that we just
stuck  out  our  thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck his
head out and said, Hi fellas, hop right in. I can take you as far
as the Basingstoke roundabout?"

"Well," said Ford, "the Thumb's an electronic sub-etha signalling
device,  the roundabout's at Barnard's Star six light years away,
but otherwise, that's more or less right."

"And the bug-eyed monster?"

"Is green, yes."

"Fine," said Arthur, "when can I get home?"

"You can't," said Ford Prefect, and found the light switch.

"Shade your eyes ..." he said, and turned it on.

Even Ford was surprised.

"Good grief," said Arthur, "is this  really  the  interior  of  a
flying saucer?"

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz heaved his unpleasant green body round the
control   bridge.   He   always   felt  vaguely  irritable  after
demolishing populated planets. He wished that someone would  come
and tell him that it was all wrong so that he could shout at them
and feel better. He flopped as heavily as  he  could  on  to  his
control  seat  in  the  hope  that  it  would  break and give him
something to be  genuinely  angry  about,  but  it  only  gave  a
complaining sort of creak.

"Go away!" he shouted at a young  Vogon  guard  who  entered  the
bridge  at  that  moment. The guard vanished immediately, feeling
rather relieved. He was glad it wouldn't now be him who delivered
the  report  they'd  just  received.  The  report was an official
release which said that a wonderful new form of  spaceship  drive
was  at  this moment being unveiled at a government research base
on Damogran which would henceforth make all hyperspatial  express
routes unnecessary.

Another door slid open, but this time the  Vogon  captain  didn't
shout  because it was the door from the galley quarters where the
Dentrassis prepared his meals. A meal would be most welcome.

A huge furry creature bounded through the  door  with  his  lunch
tray. It was grinning like a maniac.

Prostetnic Vogon  Jeltz  was  delighted.  He  knew  that  when  a
Dentrassi  looked  that  pleased  with itself there was something
going on somewhere on the ship  that  he  could  get  very  angry
indeed about.

Ford and Arthur stared about them.

"Well, what do you think?" said Ford.

"It's a bit squalid, isn't it?"

Ford  frowned  at  the  grubby  mattress,   unwashed   cups   and
unidentifiable bits of smelly alien underwear that lay around the
cramped cabin.

"Well, this is a working ship, you see," said  Ford.  "These  are
the Dentrassi sleeping quarters."

"I thought you said they were called Vogons or something."

"Yes," said Ford, "the Vogons run the ship,  the  Dentrassis  are
the cooks, they let us on board."

"I'm confused," said Arthur.

"Here, have a look at this," said Ford. He sat down on one of the
mattresses  and rummaged about in his satchel. Arthur prodded the
mattress nervously and then sat on it himself:  in  fact  he  had
very  little to be nervous about, because all mattresses grown in
the swamps of Squornshellous Zeta are very thoroughly killed  and
dried  before  being  put  to service. Very few have ever come to
life again.

Ford handed the book to Arthur.

"What is it?" asked Arthur.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a sort of  electronic
book.  It  tells  you everything you need to know about anything.
That's its job."

Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.

"I like the cover," he said. "Don't Panic. It's the first helpful
or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day."

"I'll show you how it works," said  Ford.  He  snatched  it  from
Arthur who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark
and pulled it out of its cover.

"You press this button here you see  and  the  screen  lights  up
giving you the index."

A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began
to flicker across the surface.

"You want to know about Vogons, so I enter  that  name  so."  His
fingers tapped some more keys. "And there we are."

The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared  in  green  across  the

Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the  screen  and
words  began  to  undulate  across it. At the same time, the book
began to speak the entry as well in a still quiet measured voice.
This is what the book said.

"Vogon Constructor Fleets. Here is what to do if you want to  get
a  lift  from  a  Vogon:  forget  it.  They  are  one of the most
unpleasant races in the Galaxy --  not  actually  evil,  but  bad
tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even
lift a finger to save their own grandmothers  from  the  Ravenous
Bugblatter  Beast  of  Traal without orders signed in triplicate,
sent in, sent back, queried, lost,  found,  subjected  to  public
inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat and recycled
as firelighters.

"The best way to get a drink out of a  Vogon  is  to  stick  your
finger  down  his  throat, and the best way to irritate him is to
feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

"On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you."

Arthur blinked at it.

"What a strange book. How did we get a lift then?"

"That's the point, it's out of date now," said Ford, sliding  the
book  back  into its cover. "I'm doing the field research for the
New Revised Edition, and one of the things I'll have  to  include
is  a  bit  about how the Vogons now employ Dentrassi cooks which
gives us a rather useful little loophole."

A pained expression crossed  Arthur's  face.  "But  who  are  the
Dentrassi?" he said.

"Great guys," said Ford. "They're the best  cooks  and  the  best
drink  mixers and they don't give a wet slap about anything else.
And they'll always help hitch hikers aboard, partly because  they
like  the company, but mostly because it annoys the Vogons. Which
is exactly the sort of thing  you  need  to  know  if  you're  an
impoverished  hitch  hiker  trying  to  see  the  marvels  of the
Universe for less than thirty Altairan Dollars a day. And  that's
my job. Fun, isn't it?"

Arthur looked lost.

"It's  amazing,"  he  said  and  frowned  at  one  of  the  other

"Unfortunately I got stuck on the Earth for rather longer than  I
intended,"  said  Ford.  "I  came  for  a  week and got stuck for
fifteen years."

"But how did you get there in the first place then?"

"Easy, I got a lift with a teaser."

"A teaser?"


"Er, what is ..."

"A teaser? Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They
cruise around looking for planets which haven't made interstellar
contact yet and buzz them."

"Buzz them?" Arthur began to feel that Ford was  enjoying  making
life difficult for him.
"Yeah", said Ford, "they buzz them. They find some isolated  spot
with  very  few  people around, then land right by some poor soul
whom no one's ever going to believe and then strut up and down in
front  of  him  wearing  silly antennae on their heads and making
beep beep noises. Rather childish really." Ford leant back on the
mattress  with his hands behind his head and looked infuriatingly
pleased with himself.

"Ford," insisted Arthur, "I don't know  if  this  sounds  like  a
silly question, but what am I doing here?"

"Well you know that," said Ford. "I rescued you from the Earth."

"And what's happened to the Earth?"

"Ah. It's been demolished."

"Has it," said Arthur levelly.

"Yes. It just boiled away into space."

"Look," said Arthur, "I'm a bit upset about that."

Ford frowned to himself and seemed to roll the thought around his

"Yes, I can understand that," he said at last.

"Understand that!" shouted Arthur. "Understand that!"

Ford sprang up.

"Keep looking at the book!" he hissed urgently.


"Don't Panic."

"I'm not panicking!"

"Yes you are."

"Alright so I'm panicking, what else is there to do?"

"You just come along with me and have a good time. The Galaxy's a
fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear."

"I beg your pardon?" asked Arthur, rather politely he thought.

Ford was holding up a small glass jar which quite clearly  had  a
small  yellow fish wriggling around in it. Arthur blinked at him.
He wished there was something simple and  recognizable  he  could
grasp hold of. He would have felt safe if alongside the Dentrassi
underwear, the piles of Squornshellous  mattresses  and  the  man
from  Betelgeuse  holding  up a small yellow fish and offering to
put it in his ear he had been able to see just a small packet  of
corn flakes. He couldn't, and he didn't feel safe.

Suddenly a violent noise leapt at them from  no  source  that  he
could  identify.  He  gasped in terror at what sounded like a man
trying to gargle whilst fighting off a pack of wolves.

"Shush!" said Ford. "Listen, it might be important."

"Im ... important?"

"It's the Vogon captain making an announcement on the T'annoy."

"You mean that's how the Vogons talk?"


"But I can't speak Vogon!"

"You don't need to. Just put that fish in your ear."

Ford, with a lightning movement, clapped  his  hand  to  Arthur's
ear,  and  he  had  the  sudden  sickening  sensation of the fish
slithering deep into his aural  tract.  Gasping  with  horror  he
scrabbled  at  his ear for a second or so, but then slowly turned
goggle-eyed with wonder. He was experiencing the aural equivalent
of  looking  at  a  picture  of  two  black silhouetted faces and
suddenly seeing it as a picture of a  white  candlestick.  Or  of
looking  at  a  lot  of  coloured  dots on a piece of paper which
suddenly resolve themselves into the figure  six  and  mean  that
your  optician  is  going  to charge you a lot of money for a new
pair of glasses.

He was still listening to the howling gargles, he knew that, only
now  it  had  taken on the semblance of perfectly straightforward

This is what he heard ...

"Howl howl gargle howl gargle howl howl howl gargle  howl  gargle
howl  howl  gargle  gargle  howl gargle gargle gargle howl slurrp
uuuurgh should have a good time. Message repeats.  This  is  your
captain   speaking,   so  stop  whatever  you're  doing  and  pay
attention. First of all I see from our instruments that we have a
couple of hitchhikers aboard. Hello wherever you are. I just want
to make it totally clear that you  are  not  at  all  welcome.  I
worked  hard to get where I am today, and I didn't become captain
of a Vogon constructor ship simply so I could turn it into a taxi
service  for  a load of degenerate freeloaders. I have sent out a
search party, and as soon that they find you I will put  you  off
the ship. If you're very lucky I might read you some of my poetry

"Secondly, we are about to jump into hyperspace for  the  journey
to  Barnard's  Star.  On  arrival  we  will  stay  in  dock for a
seventy-two hour refit, and no one's to  leave  the  ship  during
that time. I repeat, all planet leave is cancelled. I've just had
an unhappy love affair, so I don't see why  anybody  else  should
have a good time. Message ends."
The noise stopped.

Arthur discovered to his embarrassment that he was  lying  curled
up  in  a small ball on the floor with his arms wrapped round his
head. He smiled weakly.

"Charming man," he said. "I wish I had  a  daughter  so  I  could
forbid her to marry one ..."

"You wouldn't need to," said  Ford.  "They've  got  as  much  sex
appeal  as  a  road accident. No, don't move," he added as Arthur
began to uncurl himself, "you'd better be prepared for  the  jump
into hyperspace. It's unpleasantly like being drunk."

"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"

"You ask a glass of water."

Arthur thought about this.

"Ford," he said.


"What's this fish doing in my ear?"

"It's translating for you. It's a Babel fish. Look it up  in  the
book if you like."

He tossed over The Hitch Hiker's Guide to  the  Galaxy  and  then
curled  himself  up into a foetal ball to prepare himself for the

At that moment the bottom fell out of Arthur's mind.

His eyes turned inside out. His feet began to leak out of the top
of his head.

The room folded flat about  him,  spun  around,  shifted  out  of
existence and left him sliding into his own navel.

They were passing through hyperspace.

"The Babel fish," said The Hitch  Hiker's  Guide  to  the  Galaxy
quietly,  "is  small,  yellow  and  leech-like,  and probably the
oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on  brainwave  energy  not
from  its  carrier  but  from  those  around  it.  It absorbs all
unconscious mental frequencies  from  this  brainwave  energy  to
nourish  itself  with.  It  then  excretes  into  the mind of its
carrier a telepathic matrix formed  by  combining  the  conscious
thought  frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech
centres of the brain  which  has  supplied  them.  The  practical
upshot  of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear
you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form  of
language.  The  speech  patterns  you  actually  hear  decode the
brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your  Babel

"Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that  anything
so  mind\-bog\-gin\-gly useful could have evolved purely by chance that
some thin\-kers have chosen to see it as the  final  and  clinching
proof of the non-existence of God.

"The argument goes something like this: `I refuse to prove that I
exist,' says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am

"`But,' says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway,  isn't  it?
It  could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so
therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'

"`Oh dear,' says God, `I hadn't thought of  that,'  and  promptly
vanished in a puff of logic.

"`Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for  an  encore  goes  on  to
prove  that  black  is  white and gets himself killed on the next
zebra crossing.

"Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a  load  of
dingo's  kidneys,  but  that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a
small fortune when he used it as the central theme of  his  best-
selling book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

"Meanwhile, the poor Babel  fish,  by  effectively  removing  all
barriers  to  communication between different races and cultures,
has caused more and bloddier  wars  than  anything  else  in  the
history of creation."

Arthur let out a low groan. He was horrified to discover that the
kick  through  hyperspace hadn't killed him. He was now six light
years from the place that the Earth would have been if  it  still

The Earth.

Visions of it swam sickeningly through his nauseated mind.  There
was  no  way  his  imagination could feel the impact of the whole
Earth having gone, it was too big. He  prodded  his  feelings  by
thinking  that  his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction.
He thought of all the people he had been close to.  No  reaction.
Then  he  thought  of  a  complete  stranger he had been standing
behind in the queue at the supermarket before and felt  a  sudden
stab  -  the  supermarket  was  gone,  everything in it was gone.
Nelson's Column had gone! Nelson's  Column  had  gone  and  there
would  be  no  outcry,  because  there was no one left to make an
outcry. From now on Nelson's Column only  existed  in  his  mind.
England  only  existed in his mind - his mind, stuck here in this
dank smelly  steel-lined  spaceship.  A  wave  of  claustrophobia
closed in on him.

England no longer existed. He'd got that - somehow he'd  got  it.
He  tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn't grasp
it. He decided to start smaller again.  New  York  has  gone.  No
reaction.  He'd  never  seriously believed it existed anyway. The
dollar, he thought, had sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every
Bogart  movie  has  been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave
him a nasty knock. McDonalds, he thought. There is no longer  any
such thing as a McDonald's hamburger.
He passed out. When he came round a second later he found he  was
sobbing for his mother.

He jerked himself violently to his feet.


Ford looked up from where he was sitting in a corner  humming  to
himself. He always found the actual travelling-through-space part
of space travel rather trying.

"Yeah?" he said.

"If you're a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth,
you must have been gathering material on it."

"Well, I was able to extend the original entry a bit, yes."

"Let me see what it says in this edition then, I've  got  to  see

"Yeah OK." He passed it over again.

Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He
pressed  the  entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and
swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.

"It doesn't have an entry!" he burst out.

Ford looked over his shoulder.

"Yes it does," he said, "down there, see at  the  bottom  of  the
screen,  just  under  Eccentrica  Gallumbits, the triple-breasted
whore of Eroticon 6."

Arthur followed Ford's finger, and saw where it was pointing. For
a moment it still didn't register, then his mind nearly blew up.

"What? Harmless? Is that all  it's  got  to  say?  Harmless!  One

Ford shrugged.

"Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and  only
a  limited  amount  of  space  in the book's microprocessors," he
said, "and no one knew much about the Earth of course."

"Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit."

"Oh yes, well I managed to  transmit  a  new  entry  off  to  the
editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improvement."

"And what does it say now?" asked Arthur.

"Mostly harmless," admitted  Ford  with  a  slightly  embarrassed

"Mostly harmless!" shouted Arthur.
"What was that noise?" hissed Ford.

"It was me shouting," shouted Arthur.

"No! Shut up!" said Ford. I think we're in trouble."

"You think we're in trouble!"

Outside the door were the sounds of marching feet.

"The Dentrassi?" whispered Arthur.

"No, those are steel tipped boots," said Ford.

There was a sharp ringing rap on the door.

"Then who is it?" said Arthur.

"Well," said Ford, "if we're lucky it's just the Vogons  come  to
throw us in to space."

"And if we're unlucky?"

"If we're unlucky," said  Ford  grimly,  "the  captain  might  be
serious  in  his  threat  that  he's going to read us some of his
poetry first ..."

Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe.

The second worst is that  of  the  Azagoths  of  Kria.  During  a
recitation  by  their  Poet  Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his
poem "Ode To A Small Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One
Midsummer   Morning"  four  of  his  audience  died  of  internal
haemorrhaging,  and  the  President  of  the  Mid-Galactic   Arts
Nobbling  Council  survived  by  gnawing one of his own legs off.
Grunthos is reported to have been "disappointed"  by  the  poem's
reception,  and  was  about to embark on a reading of his twelve-
book epic entitled My Favourite Bathtime  Gurgles  when  his  own
major  intestine,  in  a  desperate  attempt  to  save  life  and
civilization, leapt straight up through his  neck  and  throttled
his brain.

The very worst poetry of all  perished  along  with  its  creator
Paula  Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in
the destruction of the planet Earth.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz smiled very slowly. This was done  not  so
much for effect as because he was trying to remember the sequence
of muscle movements. He had had a terribly  therapeutic  yell  at
his  prisoners  and was now feeling quite relaxed and ready for a
little callousness.

The prisoners sat in Poetry Appreciation  Chairs  --strapped  in.
Vogons  suffered  no  illusions as to the regard their works were
generally held in. Their early attempts at composition  had  been
part  of  bludgeoning  insistence  that  they  be  accepted  as a
properly evolved and cultured race, but now the only  thing  that
kept them going was sheer bloodymindedness.

The sweat stood out cold on Ford Prefect's brow, and  slid  round
the  electrodes strapped to his temples. These were attached to a
battery of electronic equipment - imagery intensifiers,  rhythmic
modulators,  alliterative  residulators  and simile dumpers - all
designed to heighten the experience of the  poem  and  make  sure
that not a single nuance of the poet's thought was lost.

Arthur Dent sat and quivered. He had no idea what he was in  for,
but  he  knew  that he hadn't liked anything that had happened so
far and didn't think things were likely to change.

The Vogon began to read - a  fetid  little  passage  of  his  own

"Oh frettled gruntbuggly ..." he  began.  Spasms  wracked  Ford's
body - this was worse than ever he'd been prepared for.

"... thy micturations are to me | As plurdled gabbleblotchits  on
a lurgid bee."

"Aaaaaaarggggghhhhhh!" went Ford Prefect, wrenching his head back
as  lumps  of  pain thumped through it. He could dimly see beside
him Arthur lolling and rolling  in  his  seat.  He  clenched  his

"Groop I  implore  thee,"  continued  the  merciless  Vogon,  "my
foonting turlingdromes."

His  voice  was  rising  to  a  horrible  pitch  of   impassioned
stridency.    "And    hooptiously   drangle   me   with   crinkly
bindlewurdles,| Or I will rend thee in the  gobberwarts  with  my
blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!"

"Nnnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyuuuuuuurrrrrrrggggggghhhhh!" cried Ford Prefect
and  threw  one  final spasm as the electronic enhancement of the
last line caught him full blast across the temples. He went limp.

Arthur lolled.

"Now Earthlings ..." whirred the Vogon (he didn't know that  Ford
Prefect  was  in  fact  from  a  small  planet in the vicinity of
Betelgeuse, and wouldn't have cared if he  had)  "I  present  you
with  a simple choice! Either die in the vacuum of space, or ..."
he paused for melodramatic effect, "tell me how good you  thought
my poem was!"

He threw himself backwards into a huge leathery  bat-shaped  seat
and watched them. He did the smile again.

Ford was rasping for breath. He rolled his dusty tongue round his
parched mouth and moaned.

Arthur said brightly: "Actually I quite liked it."

Ford turned and gaped. Here was an approach that had quite simply
not occurred to him.

The Vogon raised a surprised eyebrow  that  effectively  obscured
his nose and was therefore no bad thing.

"Oh good ..." he whirred, in considerable astonishment.

"Oh yes," said Arthur, "I thought that some of  the  metaphysical
imagery was really particularly effective."

Ford continued to stare at him, slowly  organizing  his  thoughts
around  this  totally  new  concept. Were they really going to be
able to bareface their way out of this?

"Yes, do continue ..." invited the Vogon.

"Oh ... and er ... interesting rhythmic devices  too,"  continued
Arthur,  "which  seemed to counterpoint the ... er ... er ..." He

Ford leaped to his rescue, hazarding "counterpoint the surrealism
of  the underlying metaphor of the ... er ..." He floundered too,
but Arthur was ready again.

"... humanity of the ..."

"Vogonity," Ford hissed at him.

"Ah yes, Vogonity (sorry)  of  the  poet's  compassionate  soul,"
Arthur  felt  he  was  on  a  home  stretch now, "which contrives
through the medium of the  verse  structure  to  sublimate  this,
transcend   that,   and   come  to  terms  with  the  fundamental
dichotomies  of  the  other,"  (he  was  reaching  a   triumphant
crescendo ...) "and one is left with a profound and vivid insight
into ... into ... er ..." (... which suddenly gave out  on  him.)
Ford leaped in with the coup de gr@ce:

"Into whatever it was the poem was about!" he yelled. Out of  the
corner of his mouth: "Well done, Arthur, that was very good."

The Vogon perused them. For a moment his embittered  racial  soul
had  been  touched,  but he thought no - too little too late. His
voice took on the quality of a cat snagging brushed nylon.

"So what you're saying is that I write poetry because  underneath
my  mean  callous  heartless  exterior  I  really just want to be
loved," he said. He paused. "Is that right?"

Ford laughed a nervous laugh. "Well I mean yes," he said,  "don't
we all, deep down, you know ... er ..."

The Vogon stood up.

"No, well you're completely wrong," he said, "I just write poetry
to  throw  my  mean callous heartless exterior into sharp relief.
I'm going to throw you off  the  ship  anyway.  Guard!  Take  the
prisoners to number three airlock and throw them out!"

"What?" shouted Ford.
A huge young Vogon guard stepped forward and yanked them  out  of
their straps with his huge blubbery arms.

"You can't throw us into space," yelled Ford,  "we're  trying  to
write a book."

"Resistance is useless!" shouted the Vogon guard back at him.  It
was  the  first phrase he'd learnt when he joined the Vogon Guard

The captain watched with detached amusement and then turned away.

Arthur stared round him wildly.

"I don't want to die now!" he yelled. "I've still got a headache!
I  don't  want  to go to heaven with a headache, I'd be all cross
and wouldn't enjoy it!"

The guard grasped them both firmly round  the  neck,  and  bowing
deferentially  towards  his  captain's  back,  hoiked  them  both
protesting out of the bridge. A steel door closed and the captain
was  on  his  own  again. He hummed quietly and mused to himself,
lightly fingering his notebook of verses.

"Hmmmm," he said, "counterpoint the surrealism of the  underlying
metaphor  ..."  He  considered this for a moment, and then closed
the book with a grim smile.

"Death's too good for them," he said.

The long steel-lined corridor echoed to the feeble  struggles  of
the two humanoids clamped firmly under rubbery Vogon armpits.

"This is great," spluttered Arthur, "this is really terrific. Let
go of me you brute!"

The Vogon guard dragged them on.

"Don't you worry," said  Ford,  "I'll  think  of  something."  He
didn't sound hopeful.

"Resistance is useless!" bellowed the guard.

"Just don't say things  like  that,"  stammered  Ford.  "How  can
anyone  maintain  a  positive  mental  attitude  if you're saying
things like that?"

"My God," complained Arthur, "you're  talking  about  a  positive
mental  attitude  and you haven't even had your planet demolished
today. I woke up this morning and thought I'd have a nice relaxed
day,  do  a bit of reading, brush the dog ... It's now just after
four in the afternoon and I'm already  thrown  out  of  an  alien
spaceship six light years from the smoking remains of the Earth!"
He spluttered and gurgled as the Vogon tightened his grip.

"Alright," said Ford, "just stop panicking."

"Who said anything about panicking?"  snapped  Arthur.  "This  is
still  just  the  culture  shock. You wait till I've settled down
into the  situation  and  found  my  bearings.  Then  I'll  start

"Arthur  you're  getting  hysterical.  Shut   up!"   Ford   tried
desperately  to  think, but was interrupted by the guard shouting

"Resistance is useless!"

"And you can shut up as well!" snapped Ford.

"Resistance is useless!"

"Oh give it a rest," said Ford. He twisted his head till  he  was
looking straight up into his captor's face. A thought struck him.

"Do you really enjoy this sort of thing?" he asked suddenly.

The Vogon stopped dead and a look  of  immense  stupidity  seeped
slowly over his face.

"Enjoy?" he boomed. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean," said Ford, "is does it give you a full  satisfying
life? Stomping around, shouting, pushing people out of spaceships

The Vogon stared up at the low steel  ceiling  and  his  eyebrows
almost  rolled  over  each  other.  His mouth slacked. Finally he
said, "Well the hours are good ..."

"They'd have to be," agreed Ford.

Arthur twisted his head to look at Ford.

"Ford, what are you doing?" he asked in an amazed whisper.

"Oh, just trying to take an interest in the world around me, OK?"
he said. "So the hours are pretty good then?" he resumed.

The Vogon stared down at him as sluggish thoughts  moiled  around
in the murky depths.

"Yeah," he said, "but now you come to mention  it,  most  of  the
actual  minutes  are  pretty lousy. Except ..." he thought again,
which required looking at the  ceiling  -  "except  some  of  the
shouting  I  quite  like."  He  filled  his  lungs  and bellowed,
"Resistance is ..."

"Sure, yes," interrupted Ford hurriedly, "you're good at that,  I
can  tell.  But if it's mostly lousy," he said, slowly giving the
words time to reach their mark, "then why do you do it?  What  is
it?  The  girls?  The  leather? The machismo? Or do you just find
that coming to terms with the mindless tedium of it all  presents
an interesting challenge?"

"Er ..." said the guard, "er ... er ... I dunno. I think  I  just
sort of ... do it really. My aunt said that spaceship guard was a
good career for a young Vogon - you know, the uniform,  the  low-
slung stun ray holster, the mindless tedium ..."

"There you are  Arthur,"  said  Ford  with  the  air  of  someone
reaching  the  conclusion  of his argument, "you think you've got

Arthur rather thought he had. Apart from the unpleasant  business
with  his  home  planet  the  Vogon  guard had half-throttled him
already and he didn't like the sound of being thrown  into  space
very much.

"Try and understand his problem," insisted Ford. "Here he is poor
lad,  his  entire life's work is stamping around, throwing people
off spaceships ..."

"And shouting," added the guard.

"And shouting, sure," said Ford patting the blubbery arm  clamped
round  his  neck  in  friendly condescension, "... and he doesn't
even know why he's doing it!"

Arthur agreed this was very sad. He did this with a small  feeble
gesture, because he was too asphyxicated to speak.

Deep rumblings of bemusement came from the guard.

"Well. Now you put it like that I suppose ..."

"Good lad!" encouraged Ford.

"But  alright,"  went  on   the   rumblings,   "so   what's   the

"Well," said Ford, brightly but slowly, "stop doing it of course!
Tell  them,"  he went on, "you're not going to do it anymore." He
felt he had to add something to that,  but  for  the  moment  the
guard seemed to have his mind occupied pondering that much.

"Eerrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ..." said the  guard, 
"erm, well that doesn't sound that great to me."

Ford suddenly felt the moment slipping away.

"Now wait a minute," he said, "that's just  the  start  you  see,
there's more to it than that you see ..."

But at that moment the guard renewed his grip and  continued  his
original  purpose of lugging his prisoners to the airlock. He was
obviously quite touched.

"No, I think if it's all the same to you," he said,  "I'd  better
get you both shoved into this airlock and then go and get on with
some other bits of shouting I've got to do."

It wasn't all the same to Ford Prefect after all.

"Come on now ... but look!" he said, less slowly, less brightly.
"Huhhhhgggggggnnnnnnn  ..."  said  Arthur   without   any   clear

"But hang on," pursued Ford, "there's music and art and things to
tell you about yet! Arrrggghhh!"

"Resistance is useless," bellowed the guard, and then added, "You
see  if  I  keep  it  up  I can eventually get promoted to Senior
Shouting Officer, and there aren't  usually  many  vacancies  for
non-shouting  and  non-pushing-people-about  officers, so I think
I'd better stick to what I know."

They had now  reached  the  airlock  -  a  large  circular  steel
hatchway  of  massive strength and weight let into the inner skin
of the craft. The guard operated a control and the hatchway swung
smoothly open.

"But thanks for taking an interest," said the Vogon  guard.  "Bye
now."  He  flung  Ford  and  Arthur through the hatchway into the
small  chamber  within.  Arthur  lay  panting  for  breath.  Ford
scrambled  round  and  flung  his  shoulder uselessly against the
reclosing hatchway.

"But listen," he shouted to the guard, "there's a whole world you
don't  know  anything about ... here how about this?" Desperately
he grabbed for the only bit of  culture  he  knew  offhand  -  he
hummed the first bar of Beethoven's Fifth.

"Da da da dum! Doesn't that stir anything in you?"

"No," said the guard, "not really. But  I'll  mention  it  to  my

If he said anything further after that it was lost. The  hatchway
sealed itself tight, and all sound was lost but the faint distant
hum of the ship's engines.

They were in a brightly polished cylindrical  chamber  about  six
feet in diameter and ten feet long.

"Potentially bright lad I thought," he said and  slumped  against
the curved wall.

Arthur was still lying in the curve of the  floor  where  he  had
fallen. He didn't look up. He just lay panting.

"We're trapped now aren't we?"

"Yes," said Ford, "we're trapped."

"Well didn't you think of anything? I thought you said  you  were
going to think of something. Perhaps you thought of something and
didn't notice."

"Oh yes, I thought of something," panted Ford. Arthur  looked  up

"But unfortunately," continued Ford, "it rather involved being on
the  other  side  of this airtight hatchway." He kicked the hatch
they'd just been through.

"But it was a good idea was it?"

"Oh yes, very neat."

"What was it?"

"Well I hadn't worked out the details yet. Not much point now  is

"So ... er, what happens next?"

"Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically
in  a  few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect
and asphyxicate. If you take a lungful of air with  you  you  can
last  for up to thirty seconds of course ..." said Ford. He stuck
his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows and started to hum
an  old  Betelgeusian  battle  hymn. To Arthur's eyes he suddenly
looked very alien.

"So this is it," said Arthur, "we're going to die."

"Yes," said Ford, "except ... no! Wait  a  minute!"  he  suddenly
lunged  across  the  chamber at something behind Arthur's line of
vision. "What's this switch?" he cried.

"What? Where?" cried Arthur twisting round.

"No, I was only fooling," said Ford, "we are going to  die  after

He slumped against the wall again and carried on  the  tune  from
where he left off.

"You know," said Arthur, "it's  at  times  like  this,  when  I'm
trapped  in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about
to die of asphyxication in deep space  that  I  really  wish  I'd
listened to what my mother told me when I was young."

"Why, what did she tell you?"

"I don't know, I didn't listen."

"Oh." Ford carried on humming.

"This is terrific," Arthur thought to himself,  "Nelson's  Column
has  gone,  McDonald's  have  gone, all that's left is me and the
words Mostly Harmless. Any second now all that will  be  left  is
Mostly  Harmless.  And yesterday the planet seemed to be going so

A motor whirred.

A slight hiss built into a deafening roar of rushing air  as  the
outer  hatchway opened on to an empty blackness studded with tiny
impossibly bright points of light. Ford and  Arthur  popped  into
outer space like corks from a toy gun.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the  Galaxy  is  a  wholly  remarkable
book.  It  has  been compiled and recompiled many times over many
years  and  under  many  different   editorships.   It   contains
contributions   from   countless   numbers   of   travellers  and

The introduction begins like this:

"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how
vastly  hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's
a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just  peanuts
to space. Listen ..." and so on.

(After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell
you  things  you  really  need  to  know,  like the fact that the
fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so  worried  about
the  cumulative  erosion  by ten billion visiting tourists a year
that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the  amount
you  excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your
bodyweight when you leave: so every time you go to  the  lavatory
it is vitally important to get a receipt.)

To be fair though, when  confronted  by  the  sheer  enormity  of
distances   between   the   stars,  better  minds  than  the  one
responsible for the  Guide's  introduction  have  faltered.  Some
invite  you  to  consider  for a moment a peanut in reading and a
small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.

The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into
the human imagination.

Even light, which travels  so  fast  that  it  takes  most  races
thousands  of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time
to journey between the stars. It takes  eight  minutes  from  the
star  Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years
more to arrive at Sol's nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Proxima.

For light to reach the other side of the Galaxy, for it to  reach
Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand

The record for hitch hiking this  distance  is  just  under  five
years, but you don't get to see much on the way.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy says that  if  you  hold  a
lungful  of  air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for
about thirty seconds. However it goes on to say  that  what  with
space  being  the mind boggling size it is the chances of getting
picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two  to
the  power  of two hundred and sixty-seven thousand seven hundred
and nine to one against.

By a totally staggering coincidence that is  also  the  telephone
number of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good
party and met a very nice girl whom he totally failed to get  off
with - she went off with a gatecrasher.
Though the planet Earth, the Islington  flat  and  the  telephone
have  all  now  been demolished, it is comforting to reflect that
they are all in some small way  commemorated  by  the  fact  that
twenty-nine seconds later Ford and Arthur were rescued.

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

This was because Reason was in fact out to lunch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, nor have I," said Arthur.

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

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

"Good god," said Arthur, "it looks just like  the  sea  front  at

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


"Because I thought I must be going mad."

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

Ford thought about this.

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

"I think so," said Arthur.

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

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

"Well, do you think this is Southend?"

"Oh yes."

"So do I."

"Therefore we must be mad."

"Nice day for it."

"Yes," said a passing maniac.

"Who was that?" asked Arthur

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

"I don't know. Just someone."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What was that voice?" shouted Arthur.

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

"Probability? What do you mean?"

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

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

"But what does it mean?" cried Arthur.

"What, the custard?"

"No, the measurement of probability!"

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

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

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

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

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

Again came the voice.

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

Ford waddled around his pond in a furious circle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The voice continued.

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

The voice cut out.

Ford and Arthur were in a small luminous pink cubicle.

Ford was wildly excited.

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

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

Arthur looked up.

"Ford!" he said, "there's an infinite number of  monkeys  outside
who  want  to  talk  to  us  about this script for Hamlet they've
worked out."

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

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

This, briefly, is the story of its discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It startled him even more when just  after  he  was  awarded  the
Galactic  Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched
by a rampaging mob of  respectable  physicists  who  had  finally
realized  that  the  one  thing  they really couldn't stand was a

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

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

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

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

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

Trillian span her seat round to face him and shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The ship did."


"The ship did. All by itself."

"Whilst we were in Improbability Drive."

"But that's incredible."

"No Zaphod. Just very very improbable."

"Er, yeah."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Marvin!" warned Trillian.

"Alright," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"

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

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

"Just that?" he said.

"Yes," said Trillian firmly.

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

Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Marvin flashed him an electronic look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."

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

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

"What?" they said.

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

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

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

"Come on," he droned, "I've been ordered to take you down to  the
bridge.  Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to
take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction?  'Cos  I

He turned and walked back to the hated door.

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

Marvin ignored him.

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

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

"Come on," he said.

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

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

Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.

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

"Which government ..." started Ford again.

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


"Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.

"Who by?" asked Ford.

"Zaphod Beeblebrox."

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

"Zaphod Beeblebrox ...?" he said weakly.

"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself
on  regardless. "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway
so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh God I'm so  depressed.
Here's  another of those self-satisfied door. Life! Don't talk to
me about life."
"No one ever mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably. "Ford, are
you alright?"

Ford stared at him. "Did that robot say  Zaphod  Beeblebrox?"  he

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

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

"... and news brought to you here  on  the  sub-etha  wave  band,
broadcasting  around  the  galaxy  around  the clock," squawked a
voice, "and we'll be saying a big hello to all  intelligent  life
forms  everywhere  ... and to everyone else out there, the secret
is to bang the rocks together, guys. And of course, the big  news
story  tonight  is the sensational theft of the new Improbability
Drive prototype ship by none other than Galactic President Zaphod
Beeblebrox. And the question everyone's asking is ... has the big
Z finally flipped? Beeblebrox,  the  man  who  invented  the  Pan
Galactic  Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, once described
by Eccentrica Gallumbits as the Best Bang since the Big One,  and
recently  voted  the  Wort  Dressed  Sentinent Being in the Known
Universe for the seventh time ... has he got an answer this time?
We  asked his private brain care specialist Gag Halfrunt ..." The
music swirled and dived for a moment.  Another  voice  broke  in,
presumably  Halfrunt.  He  said: "Vell, Zaphod's jist zis guy you
know?" but got no further because an electric pencil flew  across
the  cabin  and  through  the  radio's on/off sensitive airspace.
Zaphod turned and glared at Trillian - she had thrown the pencil.

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

Trillian was tapping her fingers on a screenful of figures.

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

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

"You hear enough about yourself as it is."

"I'm very insecure. We know that."
"Can we drop your ego for a moment? This is important."

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

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

"What couple of guys?"

"The couple of guys we picked up."

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

"We picked them up in sector ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha."

"Yeah?" said Zaphod and blinked.

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

"Mmmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha?"

"Well?" said Trillian.

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

"Which one?"

"Any one."

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

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

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

"Hey ... Yeah!" said Zaphod.

"Well?" she said.

"Well what?"

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

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

She ignored this.

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

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


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

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

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

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

The computer continued, brash and cheery as  if  it  was  selling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"OK," he said. "Computer!"

The voice circuits sprang to life again.

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

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

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

"Improbability data, yeah."

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

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

"Have you flipped?" he said.

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

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

"Telephone number?" she  said.  "Did  that  thing  say  telephone
Numbers flashed up on the screen.

The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.

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

"Don't bother please," said Trillian.

"Look, what is this?" said Zaphod.

"I don't know," said Trillian, "but those aliens - they're on the
way  up  to the bridge with that wretched robot. Can we pick them
up on any monitor cameras?"

Marvin trudged on down the corridor, still moaning.

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

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

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

"I can imagine."

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

Suddenly Marvin stopped, and held up a hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep in Marvin's thorax gears ground.

"Funny," he intoned funerally, "how  just  when  you  think  life
can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does."
He heaved himself through the  door  and  left  Ford  and  Arthur
staring  at each other and shrugging their shoulders. From inside
they heard Marvin's voice again.

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

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

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

"What's ...?"

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

He stepped through into the bridge.

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

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

Ford was not going to be outcooled.

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

Arthur goggled at him.

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

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

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

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

Ford carried on. "And Arthur," he said, "this is  my  semi-cousin
Zaphod Beeb ..."

"We've met," said Arthur sharply.

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

"Err ... what?"

"I said we've met."

Zaphod gave an  awkward  start  of  surprise  and  jabbed  a  gum

"Hey ... er, have we? Hey ... er ..."

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

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

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

"What!" shouted Ford.

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

"It was at a party," pursued Arthur.

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

"Cool it will you Arthur!" demanded Ford.

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

Zaphod shook his head with a tight-lipped smile.

"London," insisted Arthur, "Islington."

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

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

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

"But I was stuck there for fifteen years!"

"Well I didn't know that did I?"
"But what were you doing there?"

"Looking about, you know."

"He gatecrashed a party," persisted Arthur, trembling with anger,
"a fancy dress party ..."

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

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

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

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

"Zaphod?" exclaimed Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Very probably, I'm afraid," she said.

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

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

Trillian couldn't sleep. She sat on a couch and stared at a small
cage  which  contained  her  last and only links with Earth - two
white mice that she had insisted Zaphod let her  bring.  She  had
expected  not  to  see the planet again, but she was disturbed by
her negative  reaction to the  planet's  destruction.  It  seemed
remote  and  unreal and she could find no thoughts to think about
it. She watched the mice scurrying round  the  cage  and  running
furiously  in their little plastic treadwheels till they occupied
her whole attention. Suddenly she shook herself and went back  to
the  bridge  to  watch  over the tiny flashing lights and figures
that charted the ship's progress through the void. She wished she
knew what it was she was trying not to think about.

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

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

Arthur slept: he was terribly tired.

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

"Zaphod ...?"


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

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

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

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

Zaphod heard a noise and looked up.

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

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

"You recognize those Galactic coordinates?" said Zaphod.


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

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

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

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

There was absolutely nothing on them.

"Recognize that?" whispered Zaphod.

Ford frowned.

"Er, no," he said.

"What do you see?"


"Recognize it?"

"What are you talking about?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"No stars? No planets?"


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

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

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

Ford stared at it in astonishment.

"What is it?" he said.

"That ..." said Zaphod, "is the most improbable planet that  ever

(Excerpt from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Page 634784,
Section 5a, Entry: Magrathea)

Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and  glorious
days  of  the  former  Galactic  Empire,  life was wild, rich and
largely tax free.

Mighty starships plied their way  between  exotic  suns,  seeking
adventure  and  reward  amongst  the furthest reaches of Galactic
space. In those days spirits were brave, the  stakes  were  high,
men  were  real  men,  women  were  real  women,  and small furry
creatures from Alpha Centauri were  real  small  furry  creatures
from  Alpha  Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to
do mighty deeds, to boldly split  infinitives  that  no  man  had
split before - and thus was the Empire forged.

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

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

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

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

In these enlightened days of course, no one believes  a  word  of

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

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

"And that's what we are  currently  in  orbit  around,"  insisted

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

"Computer!" shouted Zaphod.

"Oh no ..."

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

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

"Computer,"  said  Zaphod,  "tell  us  again  what  our   present
trajectory is."
"A real pleasure feller," it burbled, "we are currently in  orbit
at an altitude of three hundred miles around the legendary planet
of Magrathea."

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

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

Trillian interrupted.

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

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

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

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

"Hi there! What can I ..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the utter blackness stabbed a  sudden  point  of  blinding
light.  It  crept  up  by slight degrees and spread sideways in a
thin crescent blade, and within seconds two  suns  were  visible,
furnaces  of  light,  searing  the black edge of the horizon with
white fire. Fierce shafts of colour  streaked  through  the  thin
atmosphere beneath them.
"The fires of dawn ... !" breathed  Zaphod.  "The  twin  suns  of
Soulianis and Rahm ... !"

"Or whatever," said Ford quietly.

"Soulianis and Rahm!" insisted Zaphod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, it was very very old.

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

"Well, even supposing it is ..."

"It is," said Zaphod.

"Which it isn't," continued Ford.  "What  do  you  want  with  it
anyway? There's nothing there."
"Not on the surface," said Zaphod.

"Alright, just supposing there's something. I take it you're  not
here for the sheer industrial archaeology of it all. What are you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The planet in question is in fact the legendary Magrathea.

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

In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved, no
revelation  will yet be made concerning whose upper arm sustained
the bruise. This fact may safely be made the subject of  suspense
since it is of no significance whatsoever.

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

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

"Is it safe?" he said.

"Magrathea's been dead for five million years," said Zaphod,  "of
course  it's  safe.  Even  the  ghosts will have settled down and
raised  families  by  now."  At  which  point   a   strange   and
inexplicable sound thrilled suddenly through the bridge - a noise
as of a distant fanfare; a hollow, reedy, insubstantial sound. It
preceded   a   voice   that   was   equally   hollow,  reedy  and
insubstantial. The voice said "Greetings to you ..."

Someone from the dead planet was talking to them.

"Computer!" shouted Zaphod.

"Hi there!"

"What the photon is it?"

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

"A what? A recording?"

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

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

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

("A voice from ancient Magrathea!" shouted Zaphod. "OK, OK," said

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

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

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

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

They waited.

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

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

Arthur looked round the nervous faces of his companions.

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

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

"Then why's everyone so tense?"

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

This time the fanfare was quite perfunctory, the voice distinctly

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

The voice snapped off.

"Oh," said Trillian.

"Er ..." said Arthur.

"Well?" said Ford.

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

"Missiles? Don't make me laugh."

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

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

Zaphod stared at them in astonishment.

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

"Terrific," said Arthur.

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

"Yes. We're going to die."

"Yes, but apart from that."

"Apart from that?"

"It means we must be on to something!"

"How soon can we get off it?"

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

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

"Just keep cool," said Zaphod.

"Is that all?" shouted Arthur.

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

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

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

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

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

"Can you fly her?" asked Ford pleasantly.

"No, can you?"


"Trillian, can you?"


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

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

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

"You got it," said the computer.

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

Zaphod stared at them wildly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The computer started to sing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"... is a golden sky ..."

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

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

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

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

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

"Well we are aren't we?"

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

A thought struck Arthur. He struggled to his feet.

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

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

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

"Though your dreams be tossed and blown ..." sand Eddie.

Arthur scrambled up on to one end of the excitingly chunky pieces
of  moulded  contouring  where  the  curve  of  the  wall met the

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

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

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

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

The next thing that happened  was  a  mid-mangling  explosion  of
noise and light.

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

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

"Well I was just saying," said Arthur lounging by  a  small  fish
pool,  "there's this Improbability Drive switch over here ..." he
waved at where it had been. There was a potted plant there now.
"But where are we?" said Ford  who  was  sitting  on  the  spiral
staircase,  a  nicely  chilled Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in his

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

Zaphod leapt out of his seat.

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

A new and astounding image appeared in the mirrors.

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

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

Zaphod stared at Arthur.

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

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

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

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

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

"But ..."

"I said forget it."

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

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

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

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

Er, excuse me, who am I?

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

What do I mean by who am I?

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

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

No. Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so  much  to  find  out
about,  so  much  to  look  forward  to,  I'm  quite  dizzy  with
anticipation ... \hspace{1cm} Or is it the wind?

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

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

I wonder if it will be friends with me?

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

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

"Are we taking this robot  with  us?"  said  Ford,  looking  with
distaste at Marvin who was standing in an awkward hunched posture
in the corner under a small palm tree.

Zaphod glanced away from the mirror  screens  which  presented  a
pa\-no\-ra\-mic  view  of  the blighted landscape on which the Heart of
Gold had now landed.

"Oh, the Paranoid Android," he said. "Yeah, we'll take him."

"But what are supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?"

"You think you've  got  problems,"  said  Marvin  as  if  he  was
addressing  a newly occupied coffin, "what are you supposed to do
if you are a manically  depressed  robot?  No,  don't  bother  to
answer  that,  I'm fifty thousand times more intelligent than you
and even I don't know the answer. It gives  me  a  headache  just
trying to think down to your level."

Trillian burst in through the door from her cabin.

"My white mice have escaped!" she said.

An expression of deep worry and concern failed to cross either of
Zaphod's faces.

"Nuts to your white mice," he said.

Trillian glared an upset glare at him, and disappeared again.

It is possible that  her  remark  would  have  commanded  greater
attention  had  it been generally realized that human beings were
only the third most intelligent life form present on  the  planet
Earth,  instead  of (as was generally thought by most independent
observers) the second.

"Good afternoon boys."

The voice was oddly familiar,  but  oddly  different.  It  had  a
matriarchal  twang.  It  announced  itself  to  the  crew as they
arrived at the airlock hatchway that would let them  out  on  the
planet surface.

They looked at each other in puzzlement.

"It's the computer," explained Zaphod. "I discovered  it  had  an
emergency  back-up  personality  that  I  thought  might work out

"Now this is going to be your first day  out  on  a  strange  new
planet,"  continued Eddie's new voice, "so I want you all wrapped
up snug and warm,  and  no  playing  with  any  naughty  bug-eyed

Zaphod tapped impatiently on the hatch.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I think we might  be  better  off  with  a
slide rule."

"Right!" snapped the computer. "Who said that?"

"Will you open the exit  hatch  please,  computer?"  said  Zaphod
trying not to get angry.

"Not until whoever  said  that  owns  up,"  urged  the  computer,
stamping a few synapses closed.
"Oh God," muttered Ford, slumped against a bulkhead  and  started
to  count  to  ten.  He  was  desperately  worried  that  one day
sentinent life forms  would  forget  how  to  do  this.  Only  by
counting   could   humans   demonstrate   their  independence  of

"Come on," said Eddie sternly.

"Computer ..." began Zaphod ...

"I'm  waiting,"  interrupted  Eddie.  "I  can  wait  all  day  if
necessary ..."

"Computer ..." said Zaphod again, who had been trying to think of
some subtle piece of reasoning to put the computer down with, and
had decided not to bother competing with it on  its  own  ground,
"if  you  don't  open  that  exit  hatch  this moment I shall zap
straight off to your major data banks and reprogram  you  with  a
very large axe, got that?"

Eddie, shocked, paused and considered this.

Ford  carried  on  counting  quietly.  This  is  about  the  most
aggressive  thing  you  can  do  to a computer, the equivalent of
going up to a human being and saying Blood ...  blood  ...  blood
... blood ...

Finally Eddie said quietly,  "I  can  see  this  relationship  is
something  we're  all going to have to work at," and the hatchway

An icy wind ripped into them, they hugged themselves  warmly  and
stepped down the ramp on to the barren dust of Magrathea.

"It'll all end in tears, I know it," shouted Eddie after them and
closed the hatchway again.

A few minutes later he opened and closed the  hatchway  again  in
response to a command that caught him entirely by surprise.

Five figures wandered slowly over the blighted land. Bits  of  it
were  dullish  grey,  bits  of  it  dullish brown, the rest of it
rather less interesting to look  at.  It  was  like  a  dried-out
marsh,  now  barren of all vegetation and covered with a layer of
dust about an inch thick. It was very cold.

Zaphod was clearly rather depressed about it. He stalked  off  by
himself  and  was  soon lost to sight behind a slight rise in the

The wind stung Arthur's eyes and ears, and  the  stale  thin  air
clasped his throat. However, the thing stung most was his mind.

"It's fantastic ..." he said, and his own voice rattled his ears.
Sound carried badly in this thin atmosphere.
"Desolate hole if you ask me," said Ford. "I could have more  fun
in  a  cat  litter."  He  felt  a mounting irritation. Of all the
planets in all the star systems of all the  Galaxy  -  didn't  he
just  have  to turn up at a dump like this after fifteen years of
being a castaway? Not even  a  hot  dog  stand  in  evidence.  He
stooped  down  and  picked up a cold clot of earth, but there was
nothing underneath it worth crossing thousands of light years  to
look at.

"No," insisted Arthur, "don't you understand, this is  the  first
time  I've  actually stood on the surface of another planet ... a
whole alien world ...! Pity it's such a dump though."

Trillian hugged herself, shivered and  frowned.  She  could  have
sworn  she saw a slight and unexpected movement out of the corner
of her eye, but when she glanced in that direction all she  could
see  was the ship, still and silent, a hundred yards or so behind

She was relieved when a second or so later they caught  sight  of
Zaphod  standing on top of the ridge of ground and waving to them
to come and join him.

He seemed to be excited, but they couldn't clearly hear  what  he
was saying because of the thinnish atmosphere and the wind.

As they approached the ridge of higher ground they  became  aware
that  it  seemed  to  be  circular - a crater about a hundred and
fifty yards wide. Round the outside of  the  crater  the  sloping
ground  was  spattered with black and red lumps. They stopped and
looked at a piece. It was wet. It was rubbery.

With horror they suddenly realized that it was fresh whalemeat.

At the top of the crater's lip they met Zaphod.

"Look," he said, pointing into the crater.

In the centre lay the exploded carcass of a  lonely  sperm  whale
that  hadn't  lived  long enough to be disappointed with its lot.
The silence was only disturbed by the slight  involuntary  spasms
of Trillian's throat.

"I suppose there's no point  in  trying  to  bury  it?"  murmured
Arthur, and then wished he hadn't.

"Come," said Zaphod and started back down into the crater.

"What, down there?" said Trillian with severe distaste.

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "come on, I've got something to show you."

"We can see it," said Trillian.

"Not that," said Zaphod, "something else. Come on."

They all hesitated.

"Come on," insisted Zaphod, "I've found a way in."
"In?" said Arthur in horror.

"Into the interior of the planet!  An  underground  passage.  The
force  of the whale's impact cracked it open, and that's where we
have to go. Where no man has trod these five million years,  into
the very depths of time itself ..."

Marvin started his ironical humming again.

Zaphod hit him and he shut up.

With little shudders of disgust they all followed Zaphod down the
incline  into  the  crater,  trying  very hard not to look at its
unfortunate creator.

"Life," said Marvin dolefully, "loathe it or ignore it, you can't
like it."

The ground had caved in where the whale had hit  it  revealing  a
network  of  galleries  and  passages,  now largely obstructed by
collapsed rubble and entrails. Zaphod had made a start clearing a
way into one of them, but Marvin was able to do it rather faster.
Dank air wafted out of its dark recesses, and as Zaphod  shone  a
torch into it, little was visible in the dusty gloom.

"According to the legends," he said, "the Magratheans lived  most
of their lives underground."

"Why's that?" said Arthur. "Did the surface become  too  polluted
or overpopulated?"

"No, I don't think so," said Zaphod. "I think  they  just  didn't
like it very much."

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" said Trillian  peering
nervously  into  the  darkness. "We've been attacked once already
you know."

"Look kid, I promise you the live population of  this  planet  is
nil  plus  the four of us, so come on, let's get on in there. Er,
hey Earthman ..."

"Arthur," said Arthur.

"Yeah could you just sort of keep this robot with you  and  guard
this end of the passageway. OK?"

"Guard?" said Arthur. "What from? You just said  there's  no  one

"Yeah, well, just for safety, OK?" said Zaphod.

"Whose? Yours or mine?"

"Good lad. OK, here we go."

Zaphod scrambled down into the passage, followed by Trillian  and
"Well I hope you all have a really  miserable  time,"  complained

"Don't worry," Marvin assured him, "they will."

In a few seconds they had disappeared from view.

Arthur stamped around in a huff, and then decided that a  whale's
graveyard is not on the whole a good place to stamp around in.

Marvin eyed him balefully for a moment, and then  turned  himself

Zaphod marched quickly down the passageway, nervous as hell,  but
trying  to  hide  it by striding purposefully. He flung the torch
beam around. The walls were covered in dark tiles and  were  cold
to the touch, the air thick with decay.

"There, what did I tell you?"  he  said.  "An  inhabited  planet.
Magrathea,"  and  he  strode  on through the dirt and debris that
littered the tile floor.

Trillian was reminded  unavoidably  of  the  London  Underground,
though it was less thoroughly squalid.

At intervals along the walls the tiles gave way to large  mosaics
- simple angular patterns in bright colours. Trillian stopped and
studied one of them but could not interpret any  sense  in  them.
She called to Zaphod.

"Hey, have you any idea what these strange symbols are?"

"I think they're just strange symbols of some kind," said Zaphod,
hardly glancing back.

Trillian shrugged and hurried after him.

>From time to time a doorway led either to the left or right  into
smallish  chambers  which  Ford discovered to be full of derelict
computer equipment. He dragged Zaphod into one to  have  a  look.
Trillian followed.

"Look," said Ford, "you reckon this is Magrathea ..."

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "and we heard the voice, right?"

"OK, so I've bought the  fact  that  it's  Magrathea  -  for  the
moment.  What  you  have  so far said nothing about is how in the
Galaxy you found it. You didn't just look it up in a star  atlas,
that's for sure."

"Research.  Government  archives.  Detective  work.   Few   lucky
guesses. Easy."

"And then you stole the Heart of Gold to come  and  look  for  it

"I stole it to look for a lot of things."
"A lot of things?" said Ford in surprise. "Like what?"

"I don't know."


"I don't know what I'm looking for."

"Why not?"

"Because ... because ... I think it might be because if I knew  I
wouldn't be able to look for them."

"What, are you crazy?"

"It's a  possibility  I  haven't  ruled  out  yet,"  said  Zaphod
quietly.  "I  only  know as much about myself as my mind can work
out under its current conditions. And its current conditions  are
not good."

For a long time nobody said anything as Ford gazed at Zaphod with
a mind suddenly full of worry.

"Listen old friend, if you want to ..." started Ford eventually.

"No, wait ... I'll tell you something," said Zaphod. "I freewheel
a lot. I get an idea to do something, and, hey, why not, I do it.
I reckon I'll  become  President  of  the  Galaxy,  and  it  just
happens, it's easy. I decide to steal this ship. I decide to look
for Magrathea, and it all just happens. Yeah, I work out  how  it
can  best  be  done,  right,  but  it always works out. It's like
having a Galacticredit card which keeps  on  working  though  you
never  send off the cheques. And then whenever I stop and think -
why did I want to do something? - how did I work out  how  to  do
it?  - I get a very strong desire just to stop thinking about it.
Like I have now. It's a big effort to talk about it."

Zaphod paused for a while. For a while there was silence. Then he
frowned  and  said,  "Last night I was worrying about this again.
About the fact that part of my mind  just  didn't  seem  to  work
properly.  Then it occurred to me that the way it seemed was that
someone else was using my mind to have good ideas  with,  without
telling  me  about  it.  I put the two ideas together and decided
that maybe that somebody had locked off part of my mind for  that
purpose, which was why I couldn't use it. I wondered if there was
a way I could check.

"I went to the ship's medical bay and  plugged  myself  into  the
encephelographic  screen.  I  went  through every major screening
test on both my heads - all the tests I had to go  through  under
government  medical  officers before my nomination for Presidency
could be properly  ratified.  They  showed  up  nothing.  Nothing
unexpected  at least. They showed that I was clever, imaginative,
irresponsible, untrustworthy,  extrovert,  nothing  you  couldn't
have  guessed.  And  no  other  anomalies. So I started inventing
further tests,  completely  at  random.  Nothing.  Then  I  tried
superimposing  the  results  from  one head on top of the results
from the other head. Still nothing. Finally I got silly,  because
I'd  given  it all up as nothing more than an attack of paranoia.
Last thing I did before I packed it in was take the  superimposed
picture and look at it through a green filter. You remember I was
always superstitious about the color green when I was  a  kid?  I
always wanted to be a pilot on one of the trading scouts?"

Ford nodded.

"And there it was," said Zaphod, "clear as day. A  whole  section
in  the middle of both brains that related only to each other and
not to anything else around them. Some bastard had cauterized all
the  synapses  and  electronically traumatised those two lumps of

Ford stared at him, aghast. Trillian had turned white.

"Somebody did that to you?" whispered Ford.


"But have you any idea who? Or why?"

"Why? I can only guess. But I do know who the bastard was."

"You know? How do you know?"

"Because they left  their  initials  burnt  into  the  cauterized
synapses. They left them there for me to see."

Ford stared at him in horror and felt his skin begin to crawl.

"Initials? Burnt into your brain?"


"Well, what were they, for God's sake?"

Zaphod looked at him in silence  again  for  a  moment.  Then  he
looked away.

"Z.B.," he said.

At that moment a steel shutter slammed down behind them  and  gas
started to pour into the chamber.

"I'll tell you about it later," choked Zaphod as all three passed

On the surface of Magrathea Arthur wandered about moodily.

Ford had thoughtfully left him his  copy  of  The  Hitch  Hiker's
Guide  to the Galaxy to while away the time with. He pushed a few
buttons at random.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a very  unevenly  edited
book and contains many passages that simply seemed to its editors
like a good idea at the time.

One of these (the one Arthur now came across) supposedly  relates
the  experiences  of  one Veet Voojagig, a quiet young student at
the University of Maximegalon, who pursued a  brilliant  academic
career  studying  ancient  philology, transformational ethics and
the wave harmonic theory  of  historical  perception,  and  then,
after  a  night  of  drinking  Pan  Galactic Gargle Blasters with
Zaphod Beeblebrox, became increasingly obsessed with the  problem
of  what  had happened to all the biros he'd bought over the past
few years.

There followed a long period of painstaking research during which
he  visited  all  the  major  centres of biro loss throughout the
galaxy and eventually came up with a quaint little  theory  which
quite caught the public imagination at the time. Somewhere in the
cosmos,  he  said,  along  with  all  the  planets  inhabited  by
humanoids,    reptiloids,    fishoids,   walking   treeoids   and
superintelligent shades of the colour  blue,  there  was  also  a
planet entirely given over to biro life forms. And it was to this
planet that unattended biros would make their way, slipping  away
quietly  through  wormholes  in  space to a world where they knew
they could enjoy  a  uniquely  biroid  lifestyle,  responding  to
highly  biro-oriented  stimuli,  and  generally  leading the biro
equivalent of the good life.

And as theories go this was all very fine and pleasant until Veet
Voojagig  suddenly claimed to have found this planet, and to have
worked there for a while driving a  limousine  for  a  family  of
cheap green retractables, whereupon he was taken away, locked up,
wrote a book, and was finally sent into tax exile, which  is  the
usual  fate  reserved for those who are determined to make a fool
of themselves in public.

When one day an expedition was sent to  the  spatial  coordinates
that  Voojagig had claimed for this planet they discovered only a
small asteroid inhabited  by  a  solitary  old  man  who  claimed
repeatedly  that nothing was true, though he was later discovered
to be lying.

There did, however, remain the question of  both  the  mysterious
60,000  Altairan  dollars  paid yearly into his Brantisvogan bank
account, and of  course  Zaphod  Beeblebrox's  highly  profitable
second-hand biro business.

Arthur read this, and put the book down.

The robot still sat there, completely inert.

Arthur got up and walked to the top  of  the  crater.  He  walked
around  the  crater.  He  watched two suns set magnificently over

He went back down into the crater. He woke the robot  up  because
even  a  manically  depressed  robot  is  better  to talk to than

"Night's falling," he said. "Look robot,  the  stars  are  coming
>From the heart of a dark nebula it is possible to  see  very  few
stars, and only very faintly, but they were there to be seen.

The robot obediently looked at them, then looked back.

"I know," he said. "Wretched isn't it?"

"But that sunset! I've never seen anything like it in my  wildest
dreams  ...  the  two suns! It was like mountains of fire boiling
into space."

"I've seen it," said Marvin. "It's rubbish."

"We only ever had the one sun at  home,"  persevered  Arthur,  "I
came from a planet called Earth you know."

"I know," said Marvin, "you keep going on  about  it.  It  sounds

"Ah no, it was a beautiful place."

"Did it have oceans?"

"Oh yes," said Arthur with  a  sigh,  "great  wide  rolling  blue
oceans ..."

"Can't bear oceans," said Marvin.

"Tell me," inquired Arthur,  "do  you  get  on  well  with  other

"Hate them," said Marvin. "Where are you going?"

Arthur couldn't bear any more. He had got up again.

"I think I'll just take another walk," he said.

"Don't blame you," said  Marvin  and  counted  five  hundred  and
ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a
second later.

Arthur slapped  his  arms  about  himself  to  try  and  get  his
circulation  a little more enthusiastic about its job. He trudged
back up the wall of the crater.

Because the atmosphere was so thin and because there was no moon,
nightfall  was very rapid and it was by now very dark. Because of
this, Arthur practically  walked  into  the  old  man  before  he
noticed him.

He was standing with his back to Arthur watching  the  very  last
glimmers  of light sink into blackness behind the horizon. He was
tallish, elderly and dressed in a single long grey robe. When  he
turned  his  face  was  thin  and distinguished, careworn but not
unkind, the sort of face you would  happily  bank  with.  But  he
didn't turn yet, not even to react to Arthur's yelp of surprise.

Eventually the last rays of the sun had vanished completely,  and
he  turned.  His  face  was still illuminated from somewhere, and
when Arthur looked for the source of the light he saw that a  few
yards away stood a small craft of some kind - a small hovercraft,
Arthur guessed. It shed a dim pool of light around it.

The man looked at Arthur, sadly it seemed.

"You choose a cold night to visit our dead planet," he said.

"Who ... who are you?" stammered Arthur.

The man looked away. Again a kind of sadness seemed to cross  his

"My name is not important," he said.

He seemed to have something on his mind. Conversation was clearly
something he felt he didn't have to rush at. Arthur felt awkward.

"I ... er ... you startled me ..." he said, lamely.

The man looked  round  to  him  again  and  slightly  raised  his

"Hmmmm?" he said.

"I said you startled me."

"Do not be alarmed, I will not harm you."

Arthur frowned at him. "But you shot at us! There  were  missiles
..." he said.

The man chuckled slightly.

"An automatic system," he said and gave a  small  sigh.  "Ancient
computers  ranged  in the bowels of the planet tick away the dark
millennia, and the ages hang heavy on their dusty data  banks.  I
think they take the occasional pot shot to relieve the monotony."

He looked gravely at Arthur and said, "I'm a great fan of science
you know."

"Oh ... er, really?" said Arthur, who was beginning to  find  the
man's curious, kindly manner disconcerting.

"Oh, yes," said the old man, and simply stopped talking again.

"Ah," said Arthur, "er ..." He had an odd felling of being like a
man  in  the  act  of  adultery who is surprised when the woman's
husband wanders into the room, changes his trousers, passes a few
idle remarks about the weather and leaves again.

"You seem ill at ease," said the old man with polite concern.

"Er, no ... well,  yes.  Actually  you  see,  we  weren't  really
expecting  to find anybody about in fact. I sort of gathered that
you were all dead or something ..."

"Dead?" said the old man. "Good gracious no, we have but slept."

"Slept?" said Arthur incredulously.

"Yes, through the economic recession you see," said the old  man,
apparently  unconcerned  about  whether  Arthur understood a word
he was talking about or not.

"Er, economic recession?"

"Well you see,  five  million  years  ago  the  Galactic  economy
collapsed, and seeing that custom-made planets are something of a
luxury commodity you see ..."

He paused and looked at Arthur.

"You know we built planets do you?" he asked solemnly.

"Well yes," said Arthur, "I'd sort of gathered ..."

"Fascinating trade," said the old man, and a  wistful  look  came
into  his  eyes,  "doing  the coastlines was always my favourite.
Used to have endless fun doing the little bits in fjords  ...  so
anyway,"  he said trying to find his thread again, "the recession
came and we decided it would save us a lot of bother if  we  just
slept  through  it.  So  we programmed the computers to revive us
when it was all over."

The man stifled a very slight yawn and continued.

"The computers were index linked to  the  Galactic  stock  market
prices  you  see, so that we'd all be revived when everybody else
had rebuilt the economy enough to  afford  our  rather  expensive

Arthur, a regular Guardian reader, was deeply shocked at this.

"That's a pretty unpleasant way to behave isn't it?"

"Is it?" asked the old man mildly. "I'm sorry, I'm a bit  out  of

He pointed down into the crater.

"Is that robot yours?" he said.

"No," came a thin metallic voice from the crater, "I'm mine."

"If you'd call it a robot," muttered Arthur. "It's more a sort of
electronic sulking machine."

"Bring it," said the old man. Arthur was quite surprised to  hear
a  note  of  decision suddenly present in the old man's voice. He
called to Marvin who crawled up the slope making a  big  show  of
being lame, which he wasn't.
"On second thoughts," said the old man, "leave it here. You  must
come  with  me.  Great  things  are afoot." He turned towards his
craft which, though  no  apparent  signal  had  been  given,  now
drifted quietly towards them through the dark.

Arthur looked down at Marvin, who now made an equally big show of
turning  round  laboriously and trudging off down into the crater
again muttering sour nothings to himself.

"Come," called the old man, "come now or you will be late."

"Late?" said Arthur. "What for?"

"What is your name, human?"

"Dent. Arthur Dent," said Arthur.

"Late, as in the late Dentarthurdent," said the old man, sternly.
"It's  a  sort of threat you see." Another wistful look came into
his tired old eyes. "I've never been very good  at  them  myself,
but I'm told they can be very effective."

Arthur blinked at him.

"What an extraordinary person," he muttered to himself.

"I beg your pardon?" said the old man.

"Oh nothing, I'm sorry," said Arthur in embarrassment.  "Alright,
where do we go?"

"In my aircar," said the old man motioning Arthur to get into the
craft which had settled silently next to them. "We are going deep
into the bowels of the planet where even now our  race  is  being
revived from its five-million-year slumber. Magrathea awakes."

Arthur shivered involuntarily as he seated himself  next  to  the
old  man.  The  strangeness of it, the silent bobbing movement of
the craft as it soared into the night sky quite unsettled him.

He looked at the old man, his face illuminated by the  dull  glow
of tiny lights on the instrument panel.

"Excuse me," he said to him, "what is your name by the way?"

"My name?" said the old man, and the same  distant  sadness  came
into  his  face  again.  He  paused.  "My name," he said, "... is

Arthur practically choked.

"I beg your pardon?" he spluttered.

"Slartibartfast," repeated the old man quietly.


The old man looked at him gravely.
"I said it wasn't important," he said.

The aircar sailed through the night.

It is an important and popular fact that things  are  not  always
what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always
assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had
achieved  so  much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst
all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having
a  good  time.  But  conversely, the dolphins had always believed
that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely  the
same reasons.

Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known  of  the  impending
destruction  of  the  planet  Earth and had made many attempts to
alert mankind of the danger; but  most  of  their  communications
were  misinterpreted  as  amusing  attempts to punch footballs or
whistle for tidbits, so they eventually  gave  up  and  left  the
Earth by their own means shortly before the Vogons arrived.

The  last  ever  dolphin  message   was   misinterpreted   as   a
surprisingly  sophisticated  attempt  to  do  a double-backwards-
somersault through a hoop whilst whistling  the  "Star  Sprangled
Banner", but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for
all the fish.

In fact there was only one species on the planet more intelligent
than  dolphins, and they spent a lot of their time in behavioural
research laboratories running round inside wheels and  conducting
frighteningly  elegant  and  subtle  experiments on man. 

The  fact  that  once  again man  completely misinterpreted  this  
relationship was entirely according to these creatures' plans.

Silently the aircar coasted through the cold darkness,  a  single
soft  glow of light that was utterly alone in the deep Magrathean
night. It sped swiftly. Arthur's companion seemed sunk in his own
thoughts,  and  when  Arthur  tried  on  a couple of occasions to
engage him in conversation again he would simply reply by  asking
if he was comfortable enough, and then left it at that.

Arthur tried to gauge the speed at which  they  were  travelling,
but  the  blackness  outside  was  absolute and he was denied any
reference points. The sense of motion was so soft and  slight  he
could almost believe they were hardly moving at all.

Then a tiny glow of light appeared in the far distance and within
seconds  had  grown  so  much in size that Arthur realized it was
travelling towards them at a colossal speed, and he tried to make
out  what  sort  of  craft  it might be. He peered at it, but was
unable to discern any clear shape, and suddenly gasped  in  alarm
as  the  aircraft  dipped  sharply  and  headed downwards in what
seemed certain to be a collision course. Their relative  velocity
seemed  unbelievable,  and  Arthur had hardly time to draw breath
before it was all over. The next thing he was  aware  of  was  an
insane  silver  blur  that seemed to surround him. He twisted his
head sharply round and saw a small black point dwindling  rapidly
in  the  distance behind them, and it took him several seconds to
realize what had happened.

They had plunged into a tunnel in the ground. The colossal  speed
had  been  their  own  relative  to the glow of light which was a
stationary hole in the ground,  the  mouth  of  the  tunnel.  The
insane  blur  of  silver was the circular wall of the tunnel down
which they were shooting, apparently at several hundred miles  an

He closed his eyes in terror.

After a length of time which he made  no  attempt  to  judge,  he
sensed  a  slight  subsidence in their speed and some while later
became aware that they were gradually gliding to a gentle halt.

He opened his eyes again. They were still in the  silver  tunnel,
threading  and  weaving  their  way through what appeared to be a
crisscross  warren  of  converging  tunnels.  When  they  finally
stopped  it  was  in  a  small  chamber  of curved steel. Several
tunnels also had their terminus here, and at the farther  end  of
the  chamber  Arthur  could  see a large circle of dim irritating
light. It was irritating because it played tricks with the  eyes,
it was impossible to focus on it properly or tell how near or far
it was. Arthur guessed (quite wrongly) that  it  might  be  ultra

Slartibartfast turned and regarded Arthur  with  his  solemn  old

"Earthman," he said, "we are now deep in the heart of Magrathea."

"How did you know I was an Earthman?" demanded Arthur.

"These things will become clear to you," said the old man gently,
"at  least,"  he  added  with slight doubt in his voice, "clearer
than they are at the moment."

He continued: "I should warn you that the chamber we are about to
pass  into  does  not  literally exist within our planet. It is a
little too ... large. We are about to pass through a gateway into
a vast tract of hyperspace. It may disturb you."

Arthur made nervous noises.

Slartibartfast  touched  a  button  and   added,   not   entirely
reassuringly. "It scares the willies out of me. Hold tight."

The car shot forward straight  into  the  circle  of  light,  and
suddenly  Arthur  had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked

It wasn't infinity  in  fact.  Infinity  itself  looks  flat  and
uninteresting.  Looking  up  into  the  night sky is looking into
infinity   -   distance   is   incomprehensible   and   therefore
meaningless.  The  chamber  into  which  the  aircar  emerged was
anything but infinite, it was just very very big, so that it gave
the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

Arthur's senses bobbed and span, as, travelling  at  the  immense
speed  he  knew  the aircar attained, they climbed slowly through
the open air leaving the gateway through which they had passed an
invisible pinprick in the shimmering wall behind them.

The wall.

The wall defied the imagination - seduced it and defeated it. The
wall  was so paralysingly vast and sheer that its top, bottom and
sides passed away beyond the reach of sight. The  mere  shock  of
vertigo could kill a man.

The wall appeared perfectly flat. It would take the finest  laser
measuring  equipment  to detect that as it climbed, apparently to
infinity, as it dropped dizzily away, as it planed out to  either
side,  it also curved. It met itself again thirteen light seconds
away. In other words the wall  formed  the  inside  of  a  hollow
sphere, a sphere over three million miles across and flooded with
unimaginable light.

"Welcome," said Slartibartfast as the tiny  speck  that  was  the
aircar,  travelling  now at three times the speed of sound, crept
imperceptibly forward into the mindboggling space, "welcome,"  he
said, "to our factory floor."

Arthur stared about him in a kind  of  wonderful  horror.  Ranged
away  before  them,  at distances he could neither judge nor even
guess  at,  were  a  series  of  curious  suspensions,   delicate
traceries  of metal and light hung about shadowy spherical shapes
that hung in the space.

"This," said Slartibartfast,  "is  where  we  make  most  of  our
planets you see."

"You mean," said Arthur, trying to  form  the  words,  "you  mean
you're starting it all up again now?"

"No no, good heavens no," exclaimed the old man, "no, the  Galaxy
isn't  nearly  rich  enough  to  support  us  yet. No, we've been
awakened to perform just one extraordinary commission   for  very
...  special  clients from another dimension. It may interest you
... there in the distance in front of us."

Arthur followed the old man's finger, till he was  able  to  pick
out the floating structure he was pointing out. It was indeed the
only one of  the  many  structures  that  betrayed  any  sign  of
activity  about  it,  though  this was more a sublimal impression
than anything one could put one's finger on.

At the  moment  however  a  flash  of  light  arced  through  the
structure  and  revealed  in  stark relief the patterns that were
formed on the dark sphere  within.  Patterns  that  Arthur  knew,
rough blobby shapes that were as familiar to him as the shapes of
words, part of the furniture of his mind. For a  few  seconds  he
sat  in  stunned silence as the images rushed around his mind and
tried to find somewhere to settle down and make sense.
Part of his brain told him that he knew perfectly  well  what  he
was  looking  at  and  what the shapes represented whilst another
quite sensibly refused to  countenance  the  idea  and  abdicated
responsibility for any further thinking in that direction.

The flash came again, and this time there could be no doubt.

"The Earth ..." whispered Arthur.

"Well,  the  Earth  Mark  Two  in  fact,"   said   Slartibartfast
cheery. "We're making a copy from our original blueprints."

There was a pause.

"Are you trying  to  tell  me,"  said  Arthur,  slowly  and  with
control, "that you originally ... made the Earth?"

"Oh yes," said Slartibartfast. "Did you ever go to a place ...  I
think it was called Norway?"

"No," said Arthur, "no, I didn't."

"Pity," said Slartibartfast, "that was one of mine. Won an  award
you  know.  Lovely  crinkly edges. I was most upset to hear about
its destruction."

"You were upset!"

"Yes. Five minutes later and it wouldn't have mattered  so  much.
It was a quite shocking cock-up."

"Huh?" said Arthur.

"The mice were furious."

"The mice were furious?"

"Oh yes," said the old man mildly.

"Yes well so I expect were  the  dogs  and  cats  and  duckbilled
platypuses, but ..."

"Ah, but they hadn't paid for it you see, had they?"

"Look," said Arthur, "would it save you a lot of time if  I  just
gave up and went mad now?"

For a while the aircar flew on in awkward silence. Then  the  old
man tried patiently to explain.

"Earthman, the planet you lived on was  commissioned,  paid  for,
and  run  by  mice.  It  was  destroyed  five  minutes before the
completion of the purpose for which it was built, and  we've  got
to build another one."

Only one word registered with Arthur.

"Mice?" he said.
"Indeed Earthman."

"Look, sorry - are we talking about the little white furry things
with  the  cheese fixation and women standing on tables screaming
in early sixties sit coms?"

Slartibartfast coughed politely.

"Earthman," he said, "it is sometimes hard to follow your mode of
speech.  Remember  I  have  been  asleep  inside  this  planet of
Magrathea for five million years and know little of  these  early
sixties  sit  coms  of  which you speak. These creatures you call
mice, you see, they are not quite as they appear. They are merely
the  protrusion  into our dimension of vast hyperintelligent pan-
dimensional beings. The whole business with the  cheese  and  the
squeaking is just a front."

The old man paused, and with a sympathetic frown continued.

"They've been experimenting on you I'm afraid."

Arthur thought about  this  for  a  second,  and  then  his  face

"Ah no," he said, "I see the source of the misunderstanding  now.
No,  look  you  see,  what  happened  was  that  we  used  to  do
experiments  on  them.  They  were  often  used  in   behavioural
research, Pavlov and all that sort of stuff. So what happened was
hat the mice would be set all sorts of tests,  learning  to  ring
bells,  run  around  mazes and things so that the whole nature of
the learning process could be examined. From our observations  of
their  behaviour  we were able to learn all sorts of things about
our own ..."

Arthur's voice tailed off.

"Such subtlety ..." said Slartibartfast, "one has to admire it."

"What?" said Arthur.

"How better to disguise their real natures,  and  how  better  to
guide  your thinking. Suddenly running down a maze the wrong way,
eating the wrong bit of cheese, unexpectedly   dropping  dead  of
myxomatosis, - if it's finely calculated the cumulative effect is

He paused for effect.

"You  see,  Earthman,  they  really   are   particularly   clever
hyperintelligent  pan-dimensional  beings. Your planet and people
have formed the matrix of an  organic  computer  running  a  ten-
million-year research programme ...

"Let me tell you the whole story. It'll take a little time."

"Time,"  said  Arthur  weakly,  "is  not  currently  one  of   my

There are of course many problems connected with life,  of  which
some  of  the  most  popular are Why are people born? Why do they
die? Why do they want to spend so much of  the  intervening  time
wearing digital watches?

Many many millions of years ago a race of  hyperintelligent  pan-
dimensional  beings  (whose  physical  manifestation in their own
pan-dimensional universe is not dissimilar to our own) got so fed
up  with  the  constant bickering about the meaning of life which
used to interrupt  their  favourite  pastime  of  Brockian  Ultra
Cricket  (a  curious  game which involved suddenly hitting people
for no readily apparent reason and then running away)  that  they
decided to sit down and solve their problems once and for all.

And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super computer
which  was  so  amazingly  intelligent  that even before the data
banks had been connected up it had started from I think therefore
I  am  and got as far as the existence of rice pudding and income
tax before anyone managed to turn it off.

It was the size of a small city.

Its main console was installed in a specially designed  executive
office,   mounted   on  an  enormous  executive  desk  of  finest
ultramahagony  topped  with  rich  ultrared  leather.  The   dark
carpeting   was  discreetly  sumptuous,  exotic  pot  plants  and
tastefully engraved prints of the principal computer  programmers
and  their  families  were deployed liberally about the room, and
stately windows looked out upon a tree-lined public square.

On  the  day  of  the  Great  On-Turning  two   soberly   dressed
programmers  with  brief  cases arrived and were shown discreetly
into the office.  They  were  aware  that  this  day  they  would
represent  their  entire  race  in  its greatest moment, but they
conducted themselves calmly and quietly as they seated themselves
deferentially  before the desk, opened their brief cases and took
out their leather-bound notebooks.

Their names were Lunkwill and Fook.

For a few moments they sat in  respectful  silence,  then,  after
exchanging  a quiet glance with Fook, Lunkwill leaned forward and
touched a small black panel.

The subtlest of hums indicated that the massive computer was  now
in  total  active mode. After a pause it spoke to them in a voice
rich resonant and deep.

It said: "What is this great task for which I, Deep Thought,  the
second  greatest  computer in the Universe of Time and Space have
been called into existence?"

Lunkwill and Fook glanced at each other in surprise.

 "Your task, O Computer ..." began Fook.
"No, wait a minute, this isn't right,"  said  Lunkwill,  worried.
"We distinctly designed this computer to be the greatest one ever
and we're not making do  with  second  best.  Deep  Thought,"  he
addressed  the  computer,  "are you not as we designed you to be,
the greatest most powerful computer in all time?"

"I  described  myself  as  the  second  greatest,"  intoned  Deep
Thought, "and such I am."

Another worried look passed between the two programmers. Lunkwill
cleared his throat.

"There must be some mistake," he said, "are you  not  a  greatest
computer  than the Milliard Gargantubrain which can count all the
atoms in a star in a millisecond?"

"The Milliard Gargantubrain?" said Deep Thought with  unconcealed
contempt. "A mere abacus - mention it not."

"And are you  not,"  said  Fook  leaning  anxiously  forward,  "a
greater  analyst  than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh
Galaxy of Light and Ingenuity which can calculate the  trajectory
of  every  single  dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad
Beta sand blizzard?"

"A five-week sand blizzard?" said Deep  Thought  haughtily.  "You
ask  this  of  me  who  have contemplated the very vectors of the
atoms in the Big Bang itself? Molest  me  not  with  this  pocket
calculator stuff."

The two programmers sat in uncomfortable silence  for  a  moment.
Then Lunkwill leaned forward again.

"But are you not," he said, "a more fiendish disputant  than  the
Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler of Ciceronicus 12,
the Magic and Indefatigable?"

"The Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler,"  said  Deep
Thought thoroughly rolling the r's, "could talk all four legs off
an Arcturan MegaDonkey - but only I could persuade it to go for a
walk afterwards."

"Then what," asked Fook, "is the problem?"

"There is no problem," said Deep Thought with magnificent ringing
tones.  "I am simply the second greatest computer in the Universe
of Space and Time."

"But the second?" insisted Lunkwill. "Why do you keep saying  the
second?   You're   surely  not  thinking  of  the  Multicorticoid
Perspicutron Titan Muller are you? Or  the  Pondermatic?  Or  the

Contemptuous lights flashed across the computer's console.

"I spare not  a  single  unit  of  thought  on  these  cybernetic
simpletons!" he boomed. "I speak of none but the computer that is
to come after me!"
Fook was losing  patience.  He  pushed  his  notebook  aside  and
muttered, "I think this is getting needlessly messianic."

"You know nothing of future time," pronounced Deep Thought,  "and
yet  in  my  teeming  circuitry I can navigate the infinite delta
streams of future probability and see that  there  must  one  day
come  a  computer  whose  merest  operational parameters I am not
worthy to calculate, but which it will be my fate  eventually  to

Fook sighed heavily and glanced across to Lunkwill.

"Can we get on and ask the question?" he said.

Lunkwill motioned him to wait.

"What computer is this of which you speak?" he asked.

"I will speak of it no further in this present time,"  said  Deep
Thought.  "Now. Ask what else of me you will that I may function.

They shrugged at each other. Fook composed himself.

"O Deep Thought Computer," he said, "the task  we  have  designed
you  to  perform  is this. We want you to tell us ..." he paused,
"... the Answer!"

"The answer?" said Deep Thought. "The answer to what?"

"Life!" urged Fook.

"The Universe!" said Lunkwill.

"Everything!" they said in chorus.

Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection.

"Tricky," he said finally.

"But can you do it?"

Again, a significant pause.

"Yes," said Deep Thought, "I can do it."

"There is an answer?" said Fook with breathless excitement."

"A simple answer?" added Lunkwill.

"Yes," said Deep Thought. "Life, the  Universe,  and  Everything.
There  is  an  answer.  But," he added, "I'll have to think about

A sudden commotion destroyed the moment: the door flew  open  and
two  angry  men  wearing the coarse faded-blue robes and belts of
the Cruxwan University burst into the room, thrusting  aside  the
ineffectual flunkies who tried to bar their way.
"We demand  admission!"  shouted  the  younger  of  the  two  men
elbowing a pretty young secretary in the throat.

"Come on," shouted the older one, "you can't  keep  us  out!"  He
pushed a junior programmer back through the door.

"We demand that you can't keep us out!" bawled the  younger  one,
though  he was now firmly inside the room and no further attempts
were being made to stop him.

"Who are you?" said Lunkwill, rising angrily from his seat. "What
do you want?"

"I am Majikthise!" announced the older one.

"And I demand that I am Vroomfondel!" shouted the younger one.

Majikthise turned on Vroomfondel. "It's  alright,"  he  explained
angrily, "you don't need to demand that."

"Alright!" bawled Vroomfondel banging on an nearby  desk.  "I  am
Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What
we demand is solid facts!"

"No we don't!"  exclaimed  Majikthise  in  irritation.  "That  is
precisely what we don't demand!"

Scarcely pausing  for  breath,  Vroomfondel  shouted,  "We  don't
demand  solid  facts!  What we demand is a total absence of solid
facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!"

"But who the devil are you?" exclaimed an outraged Fook.

"We," said Majikthise, "are Philosophers."

"Though we may not be," said Vroomfondel waving a warning  finger
at the programmers.

"Yes we are," insisted Majikthise. "We are quite definitely  here
as  representatives  of  the  Amalgamated  Union of Philosophers,
Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons, and  we  want  this
machine off, and we want it off now!"

"What's the problem?" said Lunkwill.

"I'll tell you  what  the  problem  is  mate,"  said  Majikthise,
"demarcation, that's the problem!"

"We demand," yelled Vroomfondel, "that demarcation may or may not
be the problem!"

"You just let the machines get on with  the  adding  up,"  warned
Majikthise,  "and  we'll  take care of the eternal verities thank
you very much. You want to check your legal position you do mate.
Under  law  the  Quest  for  Ultimate  Truth is quite clearly the
inalienable  prerogative of your  working  thinkers.  Any  bloody
machine  goes  and  actually finds it and we're straight out of a
job aren't we? I mean what's the use of our sitting up  half  the
night  arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine
only goes and  gives  us  his  bleeding  phone  number  the  next

"That's right!" shouted Vroomfondel, "we demand  rigidly  defined
areas of doubt and uncertainty!"

Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.

"Might I make  an  observation  at  this  point?"  inquired  Deep

"We'll go on strike!" yelled Vroomfondel.

"That's  right!"  agreed  Majikthise.  "You'll  have  a  national
Philosopher's strike on your hands!"

The hum level in the room suddenly increased as several ancillary
bass  driver  units,  mounted  in  sedately  carved and varnished
cabinet speakers around the room, cut in to give  Deep  Thought's
voice a little more power.

"All I wanted  to  say,"  bellowed  the  computer,  "is  that  my
circuits  are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer
to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything -"
he  paused  and  satisfied  himself  that  he  now had everyone's
attention, before continuing more  quietly,  "but  the  programme
will take me a little while to run."

Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.

"How long?" he said.

"Seven and a half million years," said Deep Thought.

Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other.

"Seven and a half million years ...!" they cried in chorus.

"Yes," declaimed Deep Thought, "I said I'd have  to  think  about
it,  didn't  I? And it occurs to me that running a programme like
this is bound to create an enormous amount of  popular  publicity
for  the whole area of philosophy in general. Everyone's going to
have their own theories about what answer I'm eventually to  come
up  with,  and who better to capitalize on that media market than
you yourself? So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other
violently  enough  and  slagging  each  other  off in the popular
press, you can keep yourself on the gravy  train  for  life.  How
does that sound?"

The two philosophers gaped at him.

"Bloody  hell,"  said  Majikthise,  "now  that  is  what  I  call
thinking.  Here Vroomfondel, why do we never think of things like

"Dunno," said Vroomfondel in an awed whisper, "think  our  brains
must be too highly trained Majikthise."

So saying, they turned on their heels and walked out of the  door
and into a lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams.

"Yes, very  salutary,"  said  Arthur,  after  Slartibartfast  had
related  the  salient  points  of  the story to him, "but I don't
understand what all this has got to do with the  Earth  and  mice
and things."

"That is but the first half of the story Earthman," said the  old
man.  "If  you  would  care to discover what happened seven and a
half millions later, on the great day of the Answer, allow me  to
invite  you  to  my  study  where  you  can experience the events
yourself on our Sens-O-Tape records. That  is  unless  you  would
care  to  take  a  quick stroll on the surface of New Earth. It's
only half completed I'm afraid - we haven't even finished burying
the  artificial dinosaur skeletons in the crust yet, then we have
the Tertiary and Quarternary Periods of the Cenozoic Era  to  lay
down, and ..."

"No thank you," said Arthur, "it wouldn't be quite the same."

"No," said Slartibartfast, "it  won't  be,"  and  he  turned  the
aircar round and headed back towards the mind-numbing wall.

Slartibartfast's study was a total mess, like the results  of  an
explosion  in  a  public  library.  The  old  man frowned as they
stepped in.

"Terribly unfortunate," he said, "a diode  blew  in  one  of  the
life-support  computers.  When  we  tried  to revive our cleaning
staff we discovered they'd been dead for nearly  thirty  thousand
years.  Who's  going to clear away the bodies, that's what I want
to know. Look why don't you sit yourself down over there and  let
me plug you in?"

He gestured Arthur towards a chair which looked as if it had been
made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus.

"It was made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus," explained the
old  man as he pottered about fishing bits of wire out from under
tottering piles of paper  and  drawing  instruments.  "Here,"  he
said,  "hold  these," and passed a couple of stripped wire end to

The instant he took hold of them a  bird  flew  straight  through

He was suspended in mid-air and  totally  invisible  to  himself.
Beneath him was a pretty treelined city square, and all around it
as far as the eye could see were white concrete buildings of airy
spacious  design  but  somewhat  the  worse  for wear - many were
cracked and stained with rain. Today however the sun was shining,
a  fresh  breeze  danced  lightly  through the trees, and the odd
sensation  that  all  the  buildings  were  quietly  humming  was
probably  caused  by the fact that the square and all the streets
around it were thronged with cheerful excited people. Somewhere a
band  was playing, brightly coloured flags were fluttering in the
breeze and the spirit of carnival was in the air.

Arthur felt extraordinarily lonely stuck up in the air  above  it
all without so much as a body to his name, but before he had time
to reflect on this a voice rang out across the square and  called
for everyone's attention.

A man standing on a brightly dressed  dais  before  the  building
which  clearly dominated the square was addressing the crowd over
a Tannoy.

"O people waiting in the Shadow of Deep Thought!" he  cried  out.
"Honoured Descendants of Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the Greatest
and Most Truly Interesting Pundits the Universe  has  ever  known
... The Time of Waiting is over!"

Wild cheers broke out amongst the  crowd.  Flags,  streamers  and
wolf whistles sailed through the air. The narrower streets looked
rather like centipedes rolled over on their backs and frantically
waving their legs in the air.

"Seven and a half million years our  race  has  waited  for  this
Great  and  Hopefully  Enlightening Day!" cried the cheer leader.
"The Day of the Answer!"

Hurrahs burst from the ecstatic crowd.

"Never again," cried the man, "never again will we wake up in the
morning  and  think Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Does it
really, cosmically speaking, matter if I don't get up and  go  to
work?  For today we will finally learn once and for all the plain
and simple answer to all these nagging little problems  of  Life,
the Universe and Everything!"

As the crowd erupted once again,  Arthur  found  himself  gliding
through the air and down towards one of the large stately windows
on the first floor of the building behind the dais from which the
speaker was addressing the crowd.

He experienced a moment's panic as  he  sailed  straight  through
towards  the  window,  which  passed when a second or so later he
found  he  had  gone  right  through  the  solid  glass   without
apparently touching it.

No one in the room remarked on his  peculiar  arrival,  which  is
hardly  surprising  as  he wasn't there. He began to realize that
the whole experience  was  merely  a  recorded  projection  which
knocked six-track seventy-millimetre into a cocked hat.

The room was much as Slartibartfast had described  it.  In  seven
and  a  half  million  years  it  had  been well looked after and
cleaned regularly every century or so. The ultramahagony desk was
worn  at  the edges, the carpet a little faded now, but the large
computer terminal sat in sparkling glory on  the  desk's  leather
top, as bright as if it had been constructed yesterday.
Two severely dressed men sat respectfully before the terminal and

"The time is nearly upon us," said one, and Arthur was  surprised
to  see a word suddenly materialize in thin air just by the man's
neck. The word was Loonquawl, and it flashed a  couple  of  times
and  the  disappeared again. Before Arthur was able to assimilate
this the other man spoke and the word  Phouchg  appeared  by  his

"Seventy-five thousand generations ago, our  ancestors  set  this
program in motion," the second man said, "and in all that time we
will be the first to hear the computer speak."

"An awesome prospect, Phouchg," agreed the first man, and  Arthur
suddenly   realized   that  he  was  watching  a  recording  with

"We are the ones who will hear," said Phouchg, "the answer to the
great question of Life ...!"

"The Universe ...!" said Loonquawl.

"And Everything ...!"

"Shhh," said Loonquawl with  a  slight  gesture,  "I  think  Deep
Thought is preparing to speak!"

There was a moment's expectant pause whilst panels slowly came to
life  on  the  front  of  the  console. Lights flashed on and off
experimentally and settled down into a  businesslike  pattern.  A
soft low hum came from the communication channel.

"Good morning," said Deep Thought at last.

"Er ... Good morning, O Deep Thought," said Loonquawl  nervously,
"do you have ... er, that is ..."

"An answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically. "Yes.
I have."

The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not  been
in vain.

"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.

"There really is one," confirmed Deep Thought.

"To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the  Universe  and


Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had
been  a  preparation  for  it, they had been selected at birth as
those who would witness  the  answer,  but  even  so  they  found
themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.

"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonquawl.
"I am."


"Now," said Deep Thought.

They both licked their dry lips.

"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought, "that you're going to
like it."

"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg. "We must know it! Now!"

"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.

"Yes! Now ..."

"Alright," said the computer and settled into silence again.  The
two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.

"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.

"Tell us!"

"Alright," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the  Great  Question

"Yes ...!"

"Of Life, the Universe and Everything ..." said Deep Thought.

"Yes ...!"

"Is ..." said Deep Thought, and paused.

"Yes ...!"

"Is ..."

"Yes ...!!!...?"

"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

It was a long time before anyone spoke.

Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea  of  tense
expectant faces down in the square outside.

"We're going to get lynched aren't we?" he whispered.

"It was a tough assignment," said Deep Thought mildly.

"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've  got  to  show
for seven and a half million years' work?"
"I checked it very thoroughly,"  said  the  computer,  "and  that
quite  definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite
honest with you, is that you've never  actually  known  what  the
question is."

"But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate  Question  of  Life,
the Universe and Everything!" howled Loonquawl.

"Yes," said Deep Thought with the air of one  who  suffers  fools
gladly, "but what actually is it?"

A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the
computer and then at each other.

"Well, you know, it's just Everything ... Everything ..." offered
Phouchg weakly.

"Exactly!" said Deep Thought. "So  once  you  do  know  what  the
question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

"Oh terrific," muttered Phouchg flinging aside his  notebook  and
wiping away a tiny tear.

"Look, alright, alright," said Loonquawl, "can  you  just  please
tell us the Question?"

"The Ultimate Question?"


"Of Life, the Universe, and Everything?"


Deep Thought pondered this for a moment.

"Tricky," he said.

"But can you do it?" cried Loonquawl.

Deep Thought pondered this for another long moment.

Finally: "No," he said firmly.

Both men collapsed on to their chairs in despair.

"But I'll tell you who can," said Deep Thought.

They both looked up sharply.

"Who?" "Tell us!"

Suddenly Arthur began to feel his apparently  non-existent  scalp
begin  to  crawl as he found himself moving slowly but inexorably
forward towards the console, but it was only a dramatic  zoom  on
the part of whoever had made the recording he assumed.

"I speak of none other than the computer that is  to  come  after
me,"  intoned  Deep  Thought,  his voice regaining its accustomed
declamatory  tones.  "A   computer   whose   merest   operational
parameters  I  am not worthy to calculate - and yet I will design
it for you. A computer which can calculate the  Question  to  the
Ultimate   Answer,   a  computer  of  such  infinite  and  subtle
complexity that organic  life  itself  shall  form  part  of  its
operational  matrix.  And  you yourselves shall take on new forms
and go down into the computer to  navigate  its  ten-million-year
program!  Yes!  I shall design this computer for you. And I shall
name it also unto you. And it shall be called ... The Earth."

Phouchg gaped at Deep Thought.

"What a dull name," he said and great incisions appeared down the
length  of  his  body.  Loonquawl too suddenly sustained horrific
gashed from nowhere. The Computer console blotched  and  cracked,
the  walls  flickered  and  crumbled and the room crashed upwards
into its own ceiling ...

Slartibartfast was standing in front of Arthur  holding  the  two

"End of the tape," he explained.

"Zaphod! Wake up!"


"Hey come on, wake up."

"Just let me stick to what I'm good at,  yeah?"  muttered  Zaphod
and rolled away from the voice back to sleep.

"Do you want me to kick you?" said Ford.

"Would it give you a lot of pleasure?" said Zaphod, blearily.


"Nor me. So what's the point? Stop  bugging  me."  Zaphod  curled
himself up.

"He got a double dose of the gas," said Trillian looking down  at
him, "two windpipes."

"And stop talking," said Zaphod,  "it's  hard  enough  trying  to
sleep  anyway.  What's  the matter with the ground? It's all cold
and hard."

"It's gold," said Ford.

With an amazingly  balletic  movement  Zaphod  was  standing  and
scanning  the  horizon,  because that was how far the gold ground
stretched in every direction,  perfectly  smooth  and  solid.  It
gleamed  like  ...  it's  impossible  to say what it gleamed like
because nothing in the Universe gleams in quite the same way that
a planet of solid gold does.
"Who put all that there?" yelped Zaphod, goggle-eyed.

"Don't get excited," said Ford, "it's only a catalogue."

"A who?"

"A catalogue," said Trillian, "an illusion."

"How can you say that?" cried Zaphod, falling to  his  hands  and
knees  and staring at the ground. He poked it and prodded it with
his fingernail. It was very heavy and very  slightly  soft  -  he
could  mark  it  with his fingernail. It was very yellow and very
shiny, and when he breathed on it his breath evaporated off it in
that  very  peculiar  and  special way that breath evaporates off
solid gold.

"Trillian and I came round a while ago," said Ford.  "We  shouted
and  yelled  till  somebody came and then carried on shouting and
yelling till they got fed up and put us in their planet catalogue
to keep us busy till they were ready to deal with us. This is all

Zaphod stared at him bitterly.

"Ah, shit," he said, "you wake me up from my own  perfectly  good
dream to show me somebody else's." He sat down in a huff.

"What's that series of valleys over there?" he said.

"Hallmark," said Ford. "We had a look."

"We didn't wake you earlier," said Trillian. "The last planet was
knee deep in fish."


"Some people like the oddest things."

"And before that," said Ford, "we  had  platinum.  Bit  dull.  We
thought you'd like to see this one though."

Seas of light glared at them in one  solid  blaze  wherever  they

"Very pretty," said Zaphod petulantly.

In the sky a huge green catalogue number appeared.  It  flickered
and changed, and when they looked around again so had the land.

As with one voice they all went, "Yuch."

The sea was purple. The beach they were on was composed  of  tiny
yellow  and  green pebbles - presumably terribly precious stones.
The mountains in the distance seemed soft and undulating with red
peaks.  Nearby  stood  a  solid  silver beach table with a frilly
mauve parasol and silver tassles.

In the sky a huge sign appeared, replacing the catalogue  number.
It  said,  Whatever  your tastes, Magrathea can cater for you. We
are not proud.

And five hundred entirely naked women dropped out of the  sky  on

In a moment the scene vanished and  left  them  in  a  springtime
meadow full of cows.

"Ow!" said Zaphod. "My brains!"

"You want to talk about it?" said Ford.

"Yeah, OK," said Zaphod, and all three sat down and  ignored  the
scenes that came and went around them.

"I figure this," said Zaphod. "Whatever happened to  my  mind,  I
did  it.  And I did it in such a way that it wouldn't be detected
by the government screening tests. And I wasn't to know  anything
about it myself. Pretty crazy, right?"

The other two nodded in agreement.

"So I reckon, what's so secret that I can't let  anybody  know  I
know  it,  not  the Galactic Government, not even myself? And the
answer is I don't  know.  Obviously.  But  I  put  a  few  things
together  and  I can begin to guess. When did I decide to run for
President? Shortly after the death of President Yooden Vranx. You
remember Yooden, Ford?"

"Yeah," said Ford, "he was that guy we met when we were kids, the
Arcturan  captain. He was a gas. He gave us conkers when you bust
your way into his megafreighter. Said you were the  most  amazing
kid he'd ever met."

"What's all this?" said Trillian.

"Ancient history," said Ford, "when  we  were  kids  together  on
Betelgeuse. The Arcturan megafreighters used to carry most of the
bulky trade between the Galactic Centre and the outlying  regions
The  Betelgeuse  trading  scouts used to find the markets and the
Arcturans would supply them. There was  a  lot  of  trouble  with
space  pirates  before they were wiped out in the Dordellis wars,
and the megafreighters had to be equipped with the most fantastic
defence  shields known to Galactic science. They were real brutes
of ships, and huge. In orbit round a planet  they  would  eclipse
the sun.

"One day, young Zaphod here decides to raid  one.  On  a  tri-jet
scooter designed for stratosphere work, a mere kid. I mean forget
it, it was crazier than a mad monkey. I went along for  the  ride
because  I'd  got  some  very safe money on him not doing it, and
didn't want him coming back with fake evidence. So what  happens?
We  got  in  his  tri-jet  which  he had souped up into something
totally other, crossed three parsecs in a matter of  weeks,  bust
our  way  into a megafreighter I still don't know how, marched on
to the bridge waving toy pistols and demanded conkers.  A  wilder
thing  I have not known. Lost me a year's pocket money. For what?
"The captain was this really amazing  guy,  Yooden  Vranx,"  said
Zaphod.  "He  gave us food, booze - stuff from really weird parts
of the Galaxy - lots of conkers of course, and we  had  just  the
most  incredible  time.  Then  he  teleported  us  back. Into the
maximum security wing of Betelgeuse state prison. He was  a  cool
guy. Went on to become President of the Galaxy."

Zaphod paused.

The scene around them was  currently  plunged  into  gloom.  Dark
mists   swirled   round   them   and  elephantine  shapes  lurked
indistinctly in the shadows. The air was occasionally  rent  with
the  sounds  of  illusory beings murdering other illusory beings.
Presumably enough people must have liked this sort  of  thing  to
make it a paying proposition.

"Ford," said Zaphod quietly.


"Just before Yooden died he came to see me."

"What? You never told me."


"What did he say? What did he come to see you about?"

"He told me about the Heart of Gold.  It  was  his  idea  that  I
should steal it."

"His idea?"

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "and the only possible way  of  stealing  it
was to be at the launching ceremony."

Ford gaped at him in astonishment for a moment, and  then  roared
with laughter.

"Are you telling me," he said,  "that  you  set  yourself  up  to
become President of the Galaxy just to steal that ship?"

"That's it," said Zaphod with the sort of  grin  that  would  get
most people locked away in a room with soft walls.

"But why?" said Ford. "What's so important about having it?"

"Dunno," said Zaphod, "I think if I'd consciously known what  was
so  important about it and what I would need it for it would have
showed up on the brain screening tests and  I  would  never  have
passed.  I  think  Yooden  told me a lot of things that are still
locked away."

"So you think you went and mucked about inside your own brain  as
a result of Yooden talking to you?"

"He was a hell of a talker."
"Yeah, but Zaphod old mate, you want to look after  yourself  you

Zaphod shrugged.

"I mean, don't you have any inkling of the reasons for all this?"
asked Ford.

Zaphod thought hard about this and doubts  seemed  to  cross  his

"No," he said at last, "I don't seem to be  letting  myself  into
any of my secrets. Still," he added on further reflection, "I can
understand that. I wouldn't trust myself  further  than  I  could
spit a rat."

A moment later, the last planet in the  catalogue  vanished  from
beneath them and the solid world resolved itself again.

They were sitting in a  plush  waiting  room  full  of  glass-top
tables and design awards.

A tall Magrathean man was standing in front of them.

"The mice will see you now," he said.

"So there you have it," said Slartibartfast, making a feeble  and
perfunctory  attempt  to clear away some of the appalling mess of
his study. He picked up a paper from the top of a pile, but  then
couldn't  think  of anywhere else to put it, so he but it back on
top of the original pile which promptly fell over. "Deep  Thought
designed the Earth, we built it and you lived on it."

"And the Vogons came and destroyed it  five  minutes  before  the
program was completed," added Arthur, not unbitterly.

"Yes," said the old man, pausing to  gaze  hopelessly  round  the
room.  "Ten  million  years  of  planning and work gone just like
that. Ten million years, Earthman ... can you  conceive  of  that
kind  of  time  span?  A  galactic civilization could grow from a
single worm five times over in that time. Gone." He paused.

"Well that's bureaucracy for you," he added.

"You know," said Arthur thoughtfully, "all this explains a lot of
things.  All  through my life I've had this strange unaccountable
feeling that something was going on in the world, something  big,
even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."

"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly  normal  paranoia.
Everyone in the Universe has that."

"Everyone?" said Arthur. "Well, if everyone has that  perhaps  it
means  something!  Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know
"Maybe. Who cares?" said Slartibartfast  before  Arthur  got  too
excited. "Perhaps I'm old and tired," he continued, "but I always
think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are
so  absurdly  remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the
sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design
coastlines. I got an award for Norway."

He rummaged around in a pile of debris and  pulled  out  a  large
perspex  block  with his name on it and a model of Norway moulded
into it.

"Where's the sense in that?" he said. "None that I've  been  able
to  make  out.  I've  been  doing  fjords  in  all my life. For a
fleeting moment they become fashionable and I get a major award."

He turned it over in his hands with a shrug and tossed  it  aside
carelessly,  but  not  so  carelessly  that  it  didn't  land  on
something soft.

"In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa
to  do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I
happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to  think  that
they  give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me
it's not equatorial enough. Equatorial!" He gave a hollow  laugh.
"What  does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things
of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

"And are you?"

"No. That's where it all falls down of course."

"Pity," said Arthur with sympathy. "It sounded like quite a  good
lifestyle otherwise."

Somewhere on the wall a small white light flashed.

"Come," said Slartibartfast, "you are  to  meet  the  mice.  Your
arrival  on the planet has caused considerable excitement. It has
already been hailed, so I gather, as the  third  most  improbable
event in the history of the Universe."

"What were the first two?"

"Oh, probably just coincidences," said Slartibartfast carelessly.
He opened the door and stood waiting for Arthur to follow.

Arthur glanced around him once more, and then down at himself, at
the sweaty dishevelled clothes he had been lying in the mud in on
Thursday morning.

"I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," he
muttered to himself.

"I beg your pardon?" said the old man mildly.

"Oh nothing," said Arthur, "only joking."

It is of course well known that careless talk  costs  lives,  but
the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said "I seem  to  be
having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," a freak wormhole
opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum  and  carried
his  words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of
space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike  beings  were
poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.

The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

A dreadful silence  fell  across  the  conference  table  as  the
commander  of  the  Vl'hurgs,  resplendent  in his black jewelled
battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt  leader  squatting
opposite  him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with
a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers  poised  to
unleash  electric death at his single word of command, challenged
the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and  at  that
very  moment  the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty
with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.

Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the  most  dreadful
insult  imaginable,  and  there  was  nothing  for it but to wage
terrible war for centuries.

Eventually of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated  over
a  few  thousand  years, it was realized that the whole thing had
been a ghastly mistake, and so the  two  opposing  battle  fleets
settled  their  few  remaining  differences  in order to launch a
joint attack on our own Galaxy - now positively identified as the
source of the offending remark.

For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across  the  empty
wastes  of  space  and  finally  dived  screaming on to the first
planet they came across - which happened to be the Earth -  where
due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet
was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in  the
history  of  the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on
all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

"It's just life," they say.

A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old  Magrathean  to  a
doorway.  They  left  the  car  and  went through the door into a
waiting room full of  glass-topped  tables  and  perspex  awards.
Almost  immediately,  a light flashed above the door at the other
side of the room and they entered.

"Arthur! You're safe!" a voice cried.

"Am I?" said Arthur, rather startled. "Oh good."

The lighting was rather subdued and it took him a moment or so to
see  Ford,  Trillian  and  Zaphod  sitting  round  a  large table
beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats and
bizarre fruits. They were stuffing their faces.

"What happened to you?" demanded Arthur.

"Well," said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle,  "our
guests  here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being
generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to  make
it  up  to us. Here," he said hoiking out a lump of evil smelling
meat from a bowl, "have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet. It's delicious
if you happen to like that sort of thing."

"Hosts?" said Arthur. "What hosts? I don't see any ..."

A small voice said, "Welcome to lunch, Earth creature."

Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.

"Ugh!" he said. "There are mice on the table!"

There was an awkward silence  as  everyone  looked  pointedly  at

He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like
whisky  glasses  on  the  table. He heard the silence and glanced
around at everyone.

"Oh!" he said, with sudden realization. "Oh, I'm sorry, I  wasn't
quite prepared for ..."

"Let me introduce you," said  Trillian.  "Arthur  this  is  Benji

"Hi," said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what  must  have
been  a  touch  sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky-glass
like affair, and it moved forward slightly.

"And this is Frankie mouse."

The other mouse said, "Pleased to meet you," and did likewise.

Arthur gaped.

"But aren't they ..."

"Yes," said Trillian, "they are the mice I brought with  me  from
the Earth."

She looked him in the eye and  Arthur  thought  he  detected  the
tiniest resigned shrug.

"Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Megadonkey?"  she

Slartibartfast coughed politely.

"Er, excuse me," he said.
"Yes, thank you Slartibartfast," said Benji mouse  sharply,  "you
may go."

"What? Oh ... er, very well," said the old  man,  slightly  taken
aback, "I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then."

"Ah, well in fact that won't be necessary," said  Frankie  mouse.
"It  looks  very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any
longer." He swivelled his pink little eyes. "Not now that we have
found  a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was

"What?" cried Slartibartfast, aghast. "You can't mean that!  I've
got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"

"Well perhaps you can take a  quick  skiing  holiday  before  you
dismantle them," said Frankie, acidly.

"Skiing holiday!" cried the old man. "Those glaciers are works of
art!  Elegantly  sculptured  contours,  soaring pinnacles of ice,
deep majestic ravines! It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high

"Thank you Slartibartfast," said  Benji  firmly.  "That  will  be

"Yes sir," said the old man coldly, "thank you very  much.  Well,
goodbye  Earthman,"  he said to Arthur, "hope the lifestyle comes

With a brief nod to the rest of the company he turned and  walked
sadly out of the room.

Arthur stared after him not knowing what to say.

"Now," said Benji mouse, "to business."

Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.

"To business!" they said.

"I beg your pardon?" said Benji.

Ford looked round.

"Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast," he said.

The  two  mice  scuttled  impatiently  around  in   their   glass
transports.  Finally  they  composed  themselves, and Benji moved
forward to address Arthur.

"Now, Earth creature," he said, "the situation we have in  effect
is  this.  We  have,  as you know, been more or less running your
planet for the last ten million  years  in  order  to  find  this
wretched thing called the Ultimate Question."

"Why?" said Arthur, sharply.

"No - we already thought of that one," said Frankie interrupting,
"but  it doesn't fit the answer. Why? - Forty-Two ... you see, it
doesn't work."

"No," said Arthur, "I mean why have you been doing it?"

"Oh, I see," said Frankie. "Well, eventually just habit I  think,
to be brutally honest. And this is more or less the point - we're
sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing
it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite
frankly gives me the screaming heeby jeebies,  you  know  what  I
mean? It was by the merest lucky chance that Benji and I finished
our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday,
and  have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good
offices of your friends."

"Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension," put in Benji.

"Since when," continued his murine colleague,  "we  have  had  an
offer  of  a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show
and lecture circuit back in  our  own  dimensional  neck  of  the
woods, and we're very much inclined to take it."

"I would, wouldn't you Ford?" said Zaphod promptingly.

"Oh yes," said Ford, "jump at it, like a shot."

Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this  was  leading  up

"But we've got to have a product you see," said Frankie, "I  mean
ideally  we  still  need  the  Ultimate  Question in some form or

Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.

"You see," he said, "if they're just sitting there in the  studio
looking  very  relaxed  and,  you know, just mentioning that they
happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe  and  Everything,
and  then  eventually  have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two,
then the show's probably quite short. No follow-up, you see."

"We have to have something that sounds good," said Benji.

"Something that sounds  good?"  exclaimed  Arthur.  "An  Ultimate
Question that sounds good? From a couple of mice?"

The mice bristled.

"Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity  of  pure  research,
yes  the  pursuit  of  truth  in all its forms, but there comes a
point I'm afraid where you begin to suspect that if  there's  any
real  truth,  it's  that the entire multi-dimensional infinity of
the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs.
And  if  it  comes  to  a choice between spending yet another ten
million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking
the  money  and  running,  then  I  for  one  could  do  with the
exercise," said Frankie.

"But ..." started Arthur, hopelessly.
"Hey, will you get this, Earthman," interrupted Zaphod. "You  are
a last generation product of that computer matrix, right, and you
were there right up to the moment your  planet  got  the  finger,

"Er ..."

"So  your  brain  was  an  organic  part   of   the   penultimate
configuration  of  the  computer  programme,"  said  Ford, rather
lucidly he thought.

"Right?" said Zaphod.

"Well," said Arthur doubtfully. He wasn't aware  of  ever  having
felt  an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one
of his problems.

"In other words," said Benji, steering his curious little vehicle
right  over  to Arthur, "there's a good chance that the structure
of the question is encoded in the structure of your brain - so we
want to buy it off you."

"What, the question?" said Arthur.

"Yes," said Ford and Trillian.

"For lots of money," said Zaphod.

"No, no," said Frankie, "it's the brain we want to buy."


"I  thought  you   said   you   could   just   read   his   brain
electronical\-ly," pro\-tes\-ted Ford.

"Oh yes," said Frankie, "but we'd have to get it out first.  It's
got to be prepared."

"Treated," said Benji.


"Thank you," shouted Arthur, tipping up  his  chair  and  backing
away from the table in horror.

"It could always be replaced," said  Benji  reasonably,  "if  you
think it's important."

"Yes, an electronic brain," said Frankie,  "a  simple  one  would

"A simple one!" wailed Arthur.

"Yeah," said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, "you'd just have  to
program  it  to  say What? and I don't understand and Where's the
tea? - who'd know the difference?"

"What?" cried Arthur, backing away still further.
"See what I mean?" said Zaphod and howled with  pain  because  of
something that Trillian did at that moment.

"I'd notice the difference," said Arthur.

"No you wouldn't," said Frankie mouse, "you'd be  programmed  not

Ford made for the door.

"Look, I'm sorry, mice old lads," he said. "I don't  think  we've
got a deal."

"I rather think we have to have a deal," said the mice in chorus,
all  the  charm  vanishing  fro  their piping little voices in an
instant. With a tiny whining shriek their  two  glass  transports
lifted  themselves  off  the  table,  and  swung  through the air
towards Arthur, who  stumbled  further  backwards  into  a  blind
corner, utterly unable to cope or think of anything.

Trillian grabbed him desperately by the arm and tried to drag him
towards  the door, which Ford and Zaphod were struggling to open,
but Arthur was dead weight - he seemed hypnotized by the airborne
rodents swooping towards him.

She screamed at him, but he just gaped.

With one more yank, Ford and Zaphod got the  door  open.  On  the
other  side  of  it  was a small pack of rather ugly men who they
could only assume were the heavy mob of Magrathea. Not only  were
they ugly themselves, but the medical equipment they carried with
them was also far from pretty. They charged.

So - Arthur was about to have his head  cut  open,  Trillian  was
unable to help him, and Ford and Zaphod were about to be set upon
by several thugs a great deal heavier and more sharply armed than
they were.

All in all it was extremely fortunate that at that  moment  every
alarm on the planet burst into an earsplitting din.

"Emergency! Emergency!" blared the klaxons throughout  Ma\-gra\-thea.
"Hos\-tile  ship  has  landed on planet. Armed intruders in section
8A. Defence stations, defence stations!"

The two mice sniffed irritably round the fragments of their glass
transports where they lay shattered on the floor.

"Damnation," muttered Frankie mouse,  "all  that  fuss  over  two
pounds of Earthling brain." He scuttled round and about, his pink
eyes flashing, his fine white coat bristling with static.

"The only thing  we  can  do  now,"  said  Benji,  crouching  and
stroking his whiskers in thought, "is to try and fake a question,
invent one that will sound plausible."
"Difficult," said Frankie. He thought. "How about  What's  yellow
and dangerous?"

Benji considered this for a moment.

"No, no good," he said. "Doesn't fit the answer."

They sank into silence for a few seconds.

"Alright," said Benji. "What do you get if you  multiply  six  by

"No, no, too  literal,  too  factual,"  said  Frankie,  "wouldn't
sustain the punters' interest."

Again they thought.

Then Frankie said: "Here's a thought. How many roads must  a  man
walk down?"

"Ah," said Benji. "Aha, now that does sound promising!" He rolled
the  phrase  around  a little. "Yes," he said, "that's excellent!
Sounds very  significant  without  actually  tying  you  down  to
meaning  anything  at  all.  How many roads must a man walk down?
Forty-two. Excellent, excellent, that'll fox 'em.  Frankie  baby,
we are made!"

They performed a scampering dance in their excitement.

Near them on the floor lay several rather ugly men who  had  been
hit about the head with some heavy design awards.

Half a mile away, four figures pounded up a corridor looking  for
a  way out. They emerged into a wide open-plan computer bay. They
glanced about wildly.

"Which way do you reckon Zaphod?" said Ford.

"At a wild guess, I'd say down here," said  Zaphod,  running  off
down  to  the  right between a computer bank and the wall. As the
others started after him he was brought up short by a  Kill-O-Zap
energy  bolt  that cracked through the air inches in front of him
and fried a small section of adjacent wall.

A voice on a loud hailer said,  "OK  Beeblebrox,  hold  it  right
there. We've got you covered."

"Cops!" hissed Zaphod, and span around in a crouch. "You want  to
try a guess at all, Ford?"

"OK, this way," said Ford, and  the  four  of  them  ran  down  a
gangway between two computer banks.

At the end of the gangway appeared a heavily armoured and  space-
suited figure waving a vicious Kill-O-Zap gun.

"We don't want to shoot you, Beeblebrox!" shouted the figure.
"Suits me fine!" shouted Zaphod back and dived down  a  wide  gap
between two data process units.

The others swerved in behind him.

"There are two of them," said Trillian. "We're cornered."

They squeezed  themselves  down  in  an  angle  between  a  large
computer data bank and the wall.

They held their breath and waited.

Suddenly the air exploded with energy  bolts  as  both  the  cops
opened fire on them simultaneously.

"Hey, they're shooting at us," said Arthur, crouching in a  tight
ball, "I thought they said they didn't want to do that."

"Yeah, I thought they said that," agreed Ford.

Zaphod stuck a head up for a dangerous moment.

"Hey," he said, "I thought you said you didn't want to shoot us!"
and ducked again.

They waited.

After a moment a voice replied, "It isn't easy being a cop!"

"What did he say?" whispered Ford in astonishment.

"He said it isn't easy being a cop."

"Well surely that's his problem isn't it?"

"I'd have thought so."

Ford shouted out, "Hey listen! I think we've got enough  problems
on  our  own  having  you  shooting  at us, so if you could avoid
laying your problems on us as well, I  think  we'd  all  find  it
easier to cope!"

Another pause, and then the loud hailer again.

"Now see here, guy," said the voice on the loud  hailer,  "you're
not dealing with any dumb two-bit trigger-pumping morons with low
hairlines, little piggy eyes and no conversation, we're a  couple
of  intelligent caring guys that you'd probably quite like if you
met us socially! I don't go around gratuitously  shooting  people
and  then  bragging  about  it  afterwards in seedy space-rangers
bars, like some cops I could mention! I go around shooting people
gratuitously  and then I agonize about it afterwards for hours to
my girlfriend!"

"And I write novels!" chimed in the other cop. "Though I  haven't
had  any  of  them  published yet, so I better warn you, I'm in a
meeeean mood!"

Ford's eyes popped halfway out of their sockets. "Who  are  these
guys?" he said.

"Dunno," said Zaphod, "I think I  preferred  it  when  they  were

"So are you going to come  quietly,"  shouted  one  of  the  cops
again, "or are you going to let us blast you out?"

"Which would you prefer?" shouted Ford.

A millisecond later the air about them started to fry  again,  as
bolt  after  bolt  of  Kill-O-Zap hurled itself into the computer
bank in front of them.

The  fusillade  continued  for  several  seconds  at   unbearable

When it stopped, there were a few seconds of  near  quietness  ad
the echoes died away.

"You still there?" called one of the cops.

"Yes," they called back.

"We didn't enjoy doing that at all," shouted the other cop.

"We could tell," shouted Ford.

"Now, listen to this, Beeblebrox, and you better listen good!"

"Why?" shouted Back Zaphod.

"Because," shouted the cop, "it's going to be  very  intelligent,
and  quite  interesting  and  humane!  Now  either  you  all give
yourselves up now and let us beat you up a bit, though  not  very
much  of  course  because  we  are  firmly  opposed  to  needless
violence, or we blow up this entire planet and  possibly  one  or
two others we noticed on our way out here!"

"But that's crazy!" cried Trillian. "You wouldn't do that!"

"Oh yes we would," shouted the cop, "wouldn't we?" he  asked  the
other one.

"Oh yes, we'd have to, no question," the other one called back.

"But why?" demanded Trillian.

"Because there are some things you have to do even if you are  an
enlightened  liberal  cop  who  knows  all  about sensitivity and

"I just don't believe these guys,"  muttered  Ford,  shaking  his

One cop shouted to the other, "Shall we shoot them  again  for  a

"Yeah, why not?"
They let fly another electric barrage.

The heat and noise was quite fantastic. Slowly, the computer bank
was  beginning  to  disintegrate. The front had almost all melted
away, and thick rivulets of molten metal were winding  their  way
back towards where they were squatting. They huddled further back
and waited for the end.

But the end never came, at least not then.

Quite suddenly  the  barrage  stopped,  and  the  sudden  silence
afterwards  was  punctuated  by a couple of strangled gurgles and

The four stared at each other.

"What happened?" said Arthur.

"They stopped," said Zaphod with a shrug.


"Dunno, do you want to go and ask them?"


They waited.

"Hello?" called out Ford.

No answer.

"That's odd."

"Perhaps it's a trap."

"They haven't the wit."

"What were those thuds?"


They waited for a few more seconds.

"Right," said Ford, "I'm going to have a look."

He glanced round at the others.

"Is no one going to  say,  No  you  can't  possibly,  let  me  go

They all shook their heads.

"Oh well," he said, and stood up.
For a moment, nothing happened.

Then, after a second or so, nothing  continued  to  happen.  Ford
peered  through  the  thick  smoke  that was billowing out of the
burning computer.

Cautiously he stepped out into the open.

Still nothing happened.

Twenty yards away he  could  dimly  see  through  the  smoke  the
space-suited  figure  of  one  of  the  cops.  He  was lying in a
crumpled heap on the ground. Twenty yards in the other  direction
lay the second man. No one else was anywhere to be seen.

This struck Ford as being extremely odd.

Slowly, nervously, he walked towards the first one. The body  lay
reassuringly  still  as  he  approached  it, and continued to lie
reassuringly still as he reached it and put his foot down on  the
Kill-O-Zap gun that still dangled from its limp fingers.

He reached down and picked it up, meeting no resistance.

The cop was quite clearly dead.

A quick examination revealed him to be from Blagulon Kappa  -  he
was  a  methane-breathing  life form, dependent on his space suit
for survival in the thin oxygen atmosphere of Magrathea.

The tiny life-support system computer on  his  backpack  appeared
unexpectedly to have blown up.

Ford poked around  in  it  in  considerable  astonishment.  These
miniature suit computers usually had the full back-up of the main
computer back on the ship, with which they were  directly  linked
through  the  sub-etha.  Such  a  system  was  fail-safe  in  all
circumstances other than total feedback  malfunction,  which  was
unheard of.

He hurried over to the other prone figure,  and  discovered  that
exactly the same impossible thing had happened to him, presumably

He called  the  others  over  to  look.  They  came,  shared  his
astonishment, but not his curiosity.

"Let's get shot out of this hole," said Zaphod. "If whatever  I'm
supposed  to be looking for is here, I don't want it." He grabbed
the  second  Kill-O-Zap  gun,  blasted   a   perfectly   harmless
accounting computer and rushed out into the corridor, followed by
the others. He very nearly blasted hell out  of  an  aircar  that
stood waiting for them a few yards away.

The aircar was empty, but Arthur recognized it  as  belonging  to

It had a note from him pinned to part of  its  sparse  instrument
panel.  The note had an arrow drawn on it, pointing at one of the

It said, This is probably the best button to press.

The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17  through  the
steel  tunnels  that  lead  out onto the appalling surface of the
planet which was now in the grip of  yet  another  drear  morning
twilight. Ghastly grey lights congealed on the land.

R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of  travel
that  is  consistent  with health, mental wellbeing and not being
more than say five minutes  late.  It  is  therefore  clearly  an
almost  infinitely  variable  figure  according to circumstances,
since the first two factors vary not only with speed taken as  an
absolute,  but  also  with  awareness of the third factor. Unless
handled with tranquility this equation can result in considerable
stress, ulcers and even death.

R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.

The aircar flung  itself  through  the  air  at  R17  and  above,
deposited  them  next to the Heart of Gold which stood starkly on
the frozen ground like a bleached bone,  and  then  precipitately
hurled  itself  back  in  the  direction  whence  they  had come,
presumably on important business of its own.

Shivering, the four of them stood and looked at the ship.

Beside it stood another one.

It was  the  Blagulon  Kappa  policecraft,  a  bulbous  sharklike
affair, slate green in colour and smothered with black stencilled
letters of  varying  degrees  of  size  and  unfriendliness.  The
letters  informed  anyone  who cared to read them as to where the
ship was from, what section of the police it was assigned to, and
where the power feeds should be connected.

It seemed somehow unnaturally dark and silent, even  for  a  ship
whose  two-man  crew  was  at that moment lying asphyxicated in a
smoke-filled chamber several miles beneath the ground. It is  one
of  those curious things that is impossible to explain or define,
but one can sense when a ship is completely dead.

Ford could sense it and found it most mysterious - a ship and two
policemen   seemed  to  have  gone  spontaneously  dead.  In  his
experience the Universe simply didn't work like that.

The other three could sense it too,  but  they  could  sense  the
bitter  cold  even  more  and hurried back into the Heart of Gold
suffering from an acute attack of no curiosity.

Ford stayed, and went to examine the Blagulon ship. As he walked,
he  nearly  tripped over an inert steel figure lying face down in
the cold dust.

"Marvin!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"Don't feel you have to take any notice of me,  please,"  came  a
muffled drone.

"But how are you, metalman?" said Ford.

"Very depressed."

"What's up?"

"I don't know," said Marvin, "I've never been there."

"Why," said Ford squatting down beside him  and  shivering,  "are
you lying face down in the dust?"

"It's a very effective  way  of  being  wretched,"  said  Marvin.
"Don't pretend you want to talk to me, I know you hate me."

"No I don't."

"Yes you do, everybody does.  It's  part  of  the  shape  of  the
Universe.  I only have to talk to somebody and they begin to hate
me. Even robots hate me. If you just ignore me I expect  I  shall
probably go away."

He jacked himself up to his feet and stood resolutely facing  the
opposite direction.

"That  ship  hated  me,"  he  said  dejectedly,  indicating   the

"That ship?" said Ford in sudden excitement.  "What  happened  to
it? Do you know?"

"It hated me because I talked to it."

"You talked to it?" exclaimed Ford. "What do you mean you  talked
to it?"

"Simple. I got very bored and depressed, so I  went  and  plugged
myself in to its external computer feed. I talked to the computer
at great length and explained my view of  the  Universe  to  it,"
said Marvin.

"And what happened?" pressed Ford.

"It committed suicide," said Marvin and stalked off back  to  the
Heart of Gold.

That night, as the Heart of Gold was busy  putting  a  few  light
years  between  itself  and  the Horsehead Nebula, Zaphod lounged
under the small palm tree on the bridge trying to bang his  brain
into  shape  with  massive Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters; Ford and
Trillian sat in a corner discussing life and matters arising from
it; and Arthur took to his bed to flip through Ford's copy of The
Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Since he was going to live  in
the  place,  he reasoned, he'd better start finding out something
about it.

He came across this entry.

It said: 'The History of every major Galactic Civilization  tends
to  pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of
Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How,
Why and Where phases.

"For instance, the first phase is characterized by  the  question
How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the
third by the question Where shall we have lunch?"

He got no further before the ship's intercom buzzed into life.

"Hey Earthman? You hungry kid?" said Zaphod's voice.

"Er, well yes, a little peckish I suppose," said Arthur.

"OK baby, hold tight," said Zaphod. "We'll take in a  quick  bite
at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

{What's President?}

President:  full  title  President  of  the  Imperial  Galactic

The term Imperial is kept though it is now  an  anachronism.  The
hereditary  Emperor  is  nearly  dead  and  has  been so for many
centuries. In the last moments of his dying coma he was locked in
a   statis  field  which  keeps  him  in  a  state  of  perpetual
unchangingness. All his heirs are now long dead, and  this  means
that without any drastic political upheaval, power has simply and
effectively moved a rung or two down the ladder, and is now  seen
to  be  vested  in a body which used to act simply as advisers to
the Emperor -  an  elected  Governmental  assembly  headed  by  a
President  elected  by that assembly. In fact it vests in no such

The President in particular is very much a figurehead - he wields
no  real  power  whatsoever.  He  is  apparently  chosen  by  the
government, but the qualities he is required to display  are  not
those  of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this
reason the President is always a controversial choice, always  an
infuriating  but  fascinating  character. His job is not to wield
power but to draw attention  away  from  it.  On  those  criteria
Zaphod  Beeblebrox  is  one of the most successful Presidents the
Galaxy has ever had -  he  has  already  spent  two  of  his  ten
Presidential  years  in  prison  for  fraud. Very very few people
realize that the President and the Government have  virtually  no
power  at  all, and of these very few people only six know whence
ultimate political power is wielded. Most of the others  secretly
believe that the ultimate decision-making process is handled by a
computer. They couldn't be more wrong.

{About Ford Perfect}

Ford Prefect's original name is only pronuncible in an  obscure
Betelgeusian  dialect,  now  virtually  extinct  since  the Great
Collapsing Hrung Disaster of Gal./Sid./Year 03758 which wiped out
all  the  old  Praxibetel communities on Betelgeuse Seven. Ford's
father was the only man on the entire planet to survive the Great
Collapsing  Hrung  disaster, by an extraordinary coincidence that
he was never able satisfactorily to explain. The whole episode is
shrouded  in  deep mystery: in fact no one ever knew what a Hrung
was nor why  it  had  chosen  to  collapse  on  Betelgeuse  Seven
particularly.  Ford's  father,  magnanimously  waving  aside  the
clouds of suspicion that had inevitably settled around him,  came
to  live  on  Betelgeuse  Five  where he both fathered and uncled
Ford; in memory of his now dead race he  christened  him  in  the
ancient Praxibetel tongue.

Because Ford never learned to say his original name,  his  father
eventually  died  of  shame, which is still a terminal disease in
some parts of the Galaxy. The other kids at school nicknamed  him
Ix,  which  in the language of Betelgeuse Five translates as "boy
who is not able satisfactorily to explain what a  Hrung  is,  nor
why it should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven".