Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

  The man, with horrified confusion in eyes, nodded feebly.

  - You're a no-good dumbo nothing, - whispered the creature. - I thought you should know that before you went.

  Chapter 5

  Important facts from Galactic history, number two: (Reproduced from the Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of popular Galactic History.) Since this Galaxy began, vast civilizations have risen and fallen, risen and fallen, risen and fallen so often that it's quite tempting to think that life in the Galaxy must be (a) something akin to seasick - space-sick, time sick, history sick or some such thing, and (b) stupid.

  Chapter 6

  It seemed to Arthur as if the whole sky suddenly just stood aside and let them through.

  It seemed to him that the atoms of his brain and the atoms of the cosmos were streaming through each other.

  It seemed to him that he was blown on the wind of the Universe, and that the wind was him.

  It seemed to him that he was one of the thoughts of the Universe and that the Universe was a thought of his.

  It seemed to the people at Lord's Cricket Ground that another North London restaurant had just come and gone as they so often do, and that this was Somebody Else's Problem.

  - What happened? - whispered Arthur in considerable awe.

  - We took off, - said Slartibartfast.

  Arthur lay in startled stillness on the acceleration couch. He wasn't certain whether he had just got space-sickness or religion.

  - Nice mover, - said Ford in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the degree to which he had been impressed by what Slartibartfast's ship had just done, - shame about the decor.

  For a moment or two the old man didn't reply. He was staring at the instruments with the air of one who is trying to convert fahrenheit to centigrade in his head whilst his house is burning down. Then his brow cleared and he stared for a moment at the wide panoramic screen in front of him, which displayed a bewildering complexity of stars streaming like silver threads around them.

  His lips moved as if he was trying to spell something. Suddenly his eyes darted in alarm back to his instruments, but then his expression merely subsided into a steady frown. He looked back up at the screen. He felt his own pulse. His frown deepened for a moment, then he relaxed.

  - It's a mistake to try and understand mathematics, - he said, - they only worry me. What did you say?

  - Decor, - said Ford. - Pity about it.

  - Deep in the fundamental heart of mind and Universe, - said Slartibartfast, - there is a reason.

  Ford glanced sharply around. He clearly thought this was taking an optimistic view of things.

  The interior of the flight deck was dark green, dark red, dark brown, cramped and moodily lit. Inexplicably, the resemblance to a small Italian bistro had failed to end at the hatchway. Small pools of light picked out pot plants, glazed tiles and all sorts of little unidentifiable brass things.

  Rafia-wrapped bottles lurked hideously in the shadows.

  The instruments which had occupied Slartibartfast's attention seemed to be mounted in the bottom of bottles which were set in concrete.

  Ford reached out and touched it.

  Fake concrete. Plastic. Fake bottles set in fake concrete.

  The fundamental heart of mind and Universe can take a running jump, he thought to himself, this is rubbish. On the other hand, it could not be denied that the way the ship had moved made the Heart of Gold seem like an electric pram.

  He swung himself off the couch. He brushed himself down. He looked at Arthur who was singing quietly to himself. He looked at the screen and recognized nothing. He looked at Slartibartfast.

  - How far did we just travel? - he said.

  - About... - said Slartibartfast, - about two thirds of the way across the Galactic disc, I would say, roughly. Yes, roughly two thirds, I think.

  - It's a strange thing, - said Arthur quietly, - that the further and faster one travels across the Universe, the more one's position in it seems to be largely immaterial, and one is filled with a profound, or rather emptied of a...

  - Yes, very strange, - said Ford. - Where are we going?

  - We are going, - said Slartibartfast, - to confront an ancient nightmare of the Universe.

  - And where are you going to drop us off?

  - I will need your help.

  - Tough. Look, there's somewhere you can take us where we can have fun, I'm trying to think of it, we can get drunk and maybe listen to some extremely evil music. Hold on, I'll look it up. - He dug out his copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and tipped through those parts of the index primarily concerned with sex and drugs and rock and roll.

  - A curse has arisen from the mists of time, - said Slartibartfast.

  - Yes, I expect so, - said Ford. - Hey, - he said, lighting accidentally on one particular reference entry, - Eccentrica Gallumbits, did you ever meet her? The triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six. Some people say her erogenous zones start some four miles from her actual body. Me, I disagree, I say five.

  - A curse, - said Slartibartfast, - which will engulf the Galaxy in fire and destruction, and possibly bring the Universe to a premature doom. I mean it, - he added.

  - Sounds like a bad time, - said Ford, - with look I'll be drunk enough not to notice. Here, - he said, stabbing his finger at the screen of the Guide, - would be a really wicked place to go, and I think we should. What do you say, Arthur? Stop mumbling mantras and pay attention. There's important stuff you're missing here.

  Arthur pushed himself up from his couch and shook his head.

  - Where are we going? - he said.

  - To confront an ancient night.

  - Can it, - said Ford. - Arthur, we are going out into the Galaxy to have some fun. Is that an idea you can cope with?

  - What's Slartibartfast looking so anxious about? - said Arthur.

  - Nothing, - said Ford.

  - Doom, - said Slartibartfast. - Come, - he added, with sudden authority, - there is much I must show and tell you.

  He walked towards a green wrought-iron spiral staircase set incomprehensibly in the middle of the flight deck and started to ascend. Arthur, with a frown, followed.

  Ford slung the Guide sullenly back into his satchel.

  - My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fibre, - he muttered to himself, - and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.

  Nevertheless, he stomped up the stairs behind them.

  What they found upstairs was just stupid, or so it seemed, and Ford shook his head, buried his face in his hands and slumped against a pot plant, crushing it against the wall.

  - The central computational area, - said Slartibartfast unperturbed, - this is where every calculation affecting the ship in any way is performed. Yes I know what it looks like, but it is in fact a complex four-dimensional topographical map of a series of highly complex mathematical functions.

  - It looks like a joke, - said Arthur.

  - I know what it looks like, - said Slartibartfast, and went into it. As he did so, Arthur had a sudden vague flash of what it might mean, but he refused to believe it. The Universe could not possibly work like that, he thought, cannot possibly. That, he thought to himself, would be as absurd as... he terminated that line of thinking. Most of the really absurd things he could think of had already happened.

  And this was one of them.

  It was a large glass cage, or box - in fact a room.

  In it was a table, a long one. Around it were gathered about a dozen chairs, of the bentwood style. On it was a tablecloth - a grubby, red and white check tablecloth, scarred with the occasional cigarette burn, each, presumably, at a precise calculated mathematical position.

  And on the tablecloth sat some half-eaten Italian meals, hedged about with half-eaten breadsticks and half-drunk glasses of wine, and toyed with listlessly by robots.

  It was all completely artificial. The robot customers were attended by a robot waiter, a robot wine waite
r and a robot maetre d'. The furniture was artificial, the tablecloth artificial, and each particular piece of food was clearly capable of exhibiting all the mechanical characteristics of, say, a pollo sorpreso, without actually being one.

  And all participated in a little dance together - a complex routine involving the manipulation of menus, bill pads, wallets, cheque books, credit cards, watches, pencils and paper napkins, which seemed to be hovering constantly on the edge of violence, but never actually getting anywhere.

  Slartibartfast hurried in, and then appeared to pass the time of day quite idly with the maetre d', whilst one of the customer robots, an autorory, slid slowly under the table, mentioning what he intended to do to some guy over some girl.

  Slartibartfast took over the seat which had been thus vacated and passed a shrewd eye over the menu. The tempo of the routine round the table seemed somehow imperceptibly to quicken. Arguments broke out, people attempted to prove things on napkins. They waved fiercely at each other, and attempted to examine each other's pieces of chicken. The waiter's hand began to move on the bill pad more quickly than a human hand could manage, and then more quickly than a human eye could follow. The pace accelerated. Soon, an extraordinary and insistent politeness overwhelmed the group, and seconds later it seemed that a moment of consensus was suddenly achieved. A new vibration thrilled through the ship.

  Slartibartfast emerged from the glass room.

  - Bistromathics, - he said. - The most powerful computational force known to parascience. Come to the Room of Informational Illusions.

  He swept past and carried them bewildered in his wake.

  Chapter 7

  The Bistromatic Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors.

  Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.

  The first non-absolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

  The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else's Problem field.

  The third and most mysterious piece of non-absoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table, and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a sub-phenomenon in this field.)

  The baffling discrepancies which used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously. They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashness, tiredness, emotionality, or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories - not in reputable laboratories at least.

  And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth became finally apparent, and it was this:

  Numbers written on restaurant bills within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.

  This single fact took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of maths was put back by years.

  Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much what the man in the street would have said:

  - Oh yes, I could have told you that, - about. Then some phrases like "Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks" were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it.

  The small groups of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the Universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theatre grant and went away.

  Chapter 8

  - In space travel, you see, - said Slartibartfast, as he fiddled with some instruments in the Room of Informational Illusions, - in space travel...

  He stopped and looked about him.

  The Room of Informational Illusions was a welcome relief after the visual monstrosities of the central computational area. There was nothing in it. No information, no illusions, just themselves, white walls and a few small instruments which looked as if they were meant to plug into something which Slartibartfast couldn't find.

  - Yes? - urged Arthur. He had picked up Slartibartfast's sense of urgency but didn't know what to do with it.

  - Yes what? - said the old man.

  - You were saying?

  Slartibartfast looked at him sharply.

  - The numbers, - he said, - are awful. - He resumed his search.

  Arthur nodded wisely to himself. After a while he realized that this wasn't getting him anywhere and decided that he would say "what?" after all.

  - In space travel, - repeated Slartibartfast, - all the numbers are awful.

  Arthur nodded again and looked round to Ford for help, but Ford was practising being sullen and getting quite good at it.

  - I was only, - said Slartibartfast with a sigh, - trying to save you the trouble of asking me why all the ship's computations were being done on a waiter's bill pad.

  Arthur frowned.

  - Why, - he said, - were all the ship's computations being done on a wait... -

  He stopped.

  Slartibartfast said:

  - Because in space travel all the numbers are awful.

  He could tell that he wasn't getting his point across.

  - Listen, - he said. - On a waiter's bill pad numbers dance. You must have encountered the phenomenon.

  - Well...

  - On a waiter's bill pad, - said Slartibartfast, - reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible, within certain parameters.

  - What parameters?

  - It's impossible to say, - said Slartibartfast. - That's one of them. Strange but true. At least, I think it's strange, - he added, - and I'm assured that it's true.

  At that moment he located the slot in the wall for which he had been searching, and clicked the instrument he was holding into it.

  - Do not be alarmed, - he said, and then suddenly darted an alarmed look at himself, and lunged back, - it's...

  They didn't hear what he said, because at that moment the ship winked out of existence around them and a star-battle-ship the size of a small Midlands industrial city plunged out of the sundered night towards them, star lasers ablaze.

  They gaped, pop-eyed, and were unable to scream.

  Chapter 9

  Another world, another day, another dawn.

  The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently.

  Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and
managed to look small, cold and slightly damp.

  There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.

  The moment passed as it regularly did on Squornshellous Zeta, without incident.

  The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees were grey with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless like held breath.

  Nothing moved.

  There was silence.

  The sun struggled feebly with the mist, tried to impart a little warmth here, shed a little light there, but clearly today was going to be just another long haul across the sky.

  Nothing moved.

  Again, silence.

  Nothing moved.


  Very often on Squornshellous Zeta, whole days would go on like this, and this was indeed going to be one of them.

  Fourteen hours later the sun sank hopelessly beneath the opposite horizon with a sense of totally wasted effort.

  And a few hours later it reappeared, squared its shoulders and started on up the sky again.

  This time, however, something was happening. A mattress had just met a robot.

  - Hello, robot, - said the mattress.

  - Bleah, - said the robot and continued what it was doing, which was walking round very slowly in a very tiny circle.

  - Happy? - said the mattress.

  The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it quizzically. It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked back at him with wide eyes.

  After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to walk round in tight circles.

  - We could have a conversation, - said the mattress, - would you like that?

  It was a large mattress, and probably one of quite high quality. Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of ratchet screwdriver fruit it quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin which crumbles into dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of hole for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, is presumably working on it.

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