Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams


  No one really knows what mattresses are meant to gain from their lives either. They are large, friendly, pocket-sprung creatures which live quiet private lives in the marshes of Squornshellous Zeta. Many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried out, shipped out and slept on. None of them seem to mind and all of them are called Zem.

  - No, - said Marvin.

  - My name, - said the mattress, - is Zem. We could discuss the weather a little.

  Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.

  - The dew, - he observed, - has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.

  He resumed his walk, as if inspired by this conversational outburst to fresh heights of gloom and despondency. He plodded tenaciously. If he had had teeth he would have gritted them at this point. He hadn't. He didn't. The mere plod said it all.

  The mattress flolloped around. This is a thing that only live mattresses in swamps are able to do, which is why the word is not in more common usage. It flolloped in a sympathetic sort of way, moving a fairish body of water as it did so. It blew a few bubbles up through the water engagingly. Its blue and white stripes glistened briefly in a sudden feeble ray of sun that had unexpectedly made it through the mist, causing the creature to bask momentarily.

  Marvin plodded.

  - You have something on your mind, I think, - said the mattress floopily.

  - More than you can possibly imagine, - dreaded Marvin. - My capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my capacity for happiness.

  Stomp, stomp, he went.

  - My capacity for happiness, - he added, - you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.

  The mattress globbered. This is the noise made by a live, swamp-dwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal tragedy. The word can also, according to The Ultra-Complete MaxiMegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, mean the noise made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop on discovering that he has forgotten his wife's birthday for the second year running. Since there was only ever one Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop, and he never married, the word is only ever used in a negative or speculative sense, and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion which holds that The Ultra-Complete MaxiMegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of lorries it takes to cart its microstored edition around in. Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word "floopily", which simply means "in the manner of something which is floopy".

  The mattress globbered again.

  - I sense a deep dejection in your diodes, - it vollued (for the meaning of the word "vollue", buy a copy of Squornshellous Swamptalk at any remaindered bookshop, or alternatively buy The Ultra-Complete MaxiMegalon Dictionary, as the University will be very glad to get it off their hands and regain some valuable parking lots), - and it saddens me. You should be more mattresslike. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are content to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem, so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a minimum. Why are you walking in circles?

  - Because my leg is stuck, - said Marvin simply.

  - It seems to me, - said the mattress eyeing it compassionately, - that it is a pretty poor sort of leg.

  - You are right, - said Marvin, - it is.

  - Voon, - said the mattress.

  - I expect so, - said Marvin, - and I also expect that you find the idea of a robot with an artificial leg pretty amusing. You should tell your friends Zem and Zem when you see them later; they'll laugh, if I know them, which I don't of course - except insofar as I know all organic life forms, which is much better than I would wish to. Ha, but my life is but a box of wormgears.

  He stomped around again in his tiny circle, around his thin steel peg-leg which revolved in the mud but seemed otherwise stuck.

  - But why do you just keep walking round and round? - said the mattress.

  - Just to make the point, - said Marvin, and continued, round and round.

  - Consider it made, my dear friend, - flurbled the mattress, - consider it made.

  - Just another million years, - said Marvin, - just another quick million. Then I might try it backwards. Just for the variety, you understand.

  The mattress could feel deep in his innermost spring pockets that the robot dearly wished to be asked how long he had been trudging in this futile and fruitless manner, and with another quiet flurble he did so.

  - Oh, just over the one-point-five-million mark, just over, - said Marvin airily. - Ask me if I ever get bored, go on, ask me.

  The mattress did.

  Marvin ignored the question, he merely trudged with added emphasis.

  - I gave a speech once, - he said suddenly, and apparently unconnectedly. - You may not instantly see why I bring the subject up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.

  - Er, five, - said the mattress.

  - Wrong, - said Marvin. - You see?

  The mattress was much impressed by this and realized that it was in the presence of a not unremarkable mind. It willomied along its entire length, sending excited little ripples through its shallow algae-covered pool.

  It gupped.

  - Tell me, - it urged, - of the speech you once made, I long to hear it.

  - It was received very badly, - said Marvin, - for a variety of reasons. I delivered it, - he added, pausing to make an awkward humping sort of gesture with his not-exactly-good arm, but his arm which was better than the other one which was dishearteningly welded to his left side, - over there, about a mile distance.

  He was pointing as well as he could manage, and he obviously wanted to make it totally clear that this was as well as he could manage, through the mist, over the reeds, to a part of the marsh which looked exactly the same as every other part of the marsh.

  - There, - he repeated. - I was somewhat of a celebrity at the time.

  Excitement gripped the mattress. It had never heard of speeches being delivered on Squornshellous Zeta, and certainly not by celebrities. Water spattered off it as a thrill glurried across its back.

  It did something which mattresses very rarely bother to do. Summoning every bit of its strength, it reared its oblong body, heaved it up into the air and held it quivering there for a few seconds whilst it peered through the mist over the reeds at the part of the marsh which Marvin had indicated, observing, without disappointment, that it was exactly the same as every other part of the marsh. The effort was too much, and it flodged back into its pool, deluging Marvin with smelly mud, moss and weeds.

  - I was a celebrity, - droned the robot sadly, - for a short while on account of my miraculous and bitterly resented escape from a fate almost as good as death in the heart of a blazing sun. You can guess from my condition, - he added, - how narrow my escape was. I was rescued by a scrap-metal merchant, imagine that. Here I am, brain the size of... never mind.

  He trudged savagely for a few seconds.

  - He it was who fixed me up with this leg. Hateful, isn't it? He sold me to a Mind Zoo. I was the star exhibit. I had to sit on a box and tell my story whilst people told me to cheer up and think positive. "Give us a grin, little robot," they would shout at me, "give us a little chuckle." I would explain to them that to get my face to grin wold take a good couple of hours in a workshop with a wrench, and that went down very well.

  - The speech, - urged the mattress. - I long to hear of the speech you gave in the marshes.

  - There was a bridge built across the marshes. A cyberstructured hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies and freighters over the swamp.

  - A bridge? - quirruled the mattress. - Here in the swamp?

  - A bridge, - confirmed Marvin, - here in the swamp. It was going to revitalize the economy of the Squornshellous System. They spent the e
ntire economy of the Squornshellous System building it. They asked me to open it. Poor fools.

  It began to rain a little, a fine spray slid through the mist.

  - I stood on the platform. For hundreds of miles in front of me, and hundreds of miles behind me, the bridge stretched.

  - Did it glitter? - enthused the mattress.

  - It glittered.

  - Did it span the miles majestically?

  - It spanned the miles majestically.

  - Did it stretch like a silver thread far out into the invisible mist?

  - Yes, - said Marvin. - Do you want to hear this story?

  - I want to hear your speech, - said the mattress.

  - This is what I said. I said, "I would like to say that it is a very great pleasure, honour and privilege for me to open this bridge, but I can't because my lying circuits are all out of commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinkable abuse of all who wantonly cross her." And I plugged myself into the opening circuits.

  Marvin paused, remembering the moment.

  The mattress flurred and glurried. It flolloped, gupped and willomied, doing this last in a particularly floopy way.

  - Voon, - it wurfed at last. - And it was a magnificent occasion?

  - Reasonably magnificent. The entire thousand-mile-long bridge spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping into the mire, taking everybody with it.

  There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed unexpectedly to say "wop" and a team of white robots descended from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in tight military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then they were gone again in their ship, which said "foop".

  - You see the sort of thing I have to contend with? - said Marvin to the gobbering mattress.

  Suddenly, a moment later, the robots were back again for another violent incident, and this time when they left, the mattress was alone in the swamp. He flolloped around in astonishment and alarm. He almost lurgled in fear. He reared himself to see over the reeds, but there was nothing to see, just more reeds. He listened, but there was no sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed etymologists calling distantly to each other across the sullen mire.

  Chapter 10

  The body of Arthur Dent span.

  The Universe shattered into a million glittering fragments around it, and each particular shard span silently through the void, reflecting on its silver surface some single searing holocaust of fire and destruction.

  And then the blackness behind the Universe exploded, and each particular piece of blackness was the furious smoke of hell.

  And the nothingness behind the blackness behind the Universe erupted, and behind the nothingness behind the blackness behind the shattered Universe was at last the dark figure of an immense man speaking immense words.

  - These, then, - said the figure, speaking from an immensely comfortable chair, - were the Krikkit Wars, the greatest devastation ever visited upon our Galaxy. What you have experienced...

  Slartibartfast floated past, waving.

  - It's just a documentary, - he called out. - This is not a good bit. Terribly sorry, trying to find the rewind control...

  -...is what billions of billions of innocent...

  - Do not, - called out Slartibartfast floating past again, and fiddling furiously with the thing that he had stuck into the wall of the Room of Informational Illusions and which was in fact still stuck there, - agree to buy anything at this point.

  -...people, creatures, your fellow beings...

  Music swelled - again, it was immense music, immense chords. And behind the man, slowly, three tall pillars began to emerge out of the immensely swirling mist.

  -...experienced, lived through - or, more often, failed to live through. Think of that, my friends. And let us not forget - and in just a moment I shall be able to suggest a way which will help us always to remember - that before the Krikkit Wars, the Galaxy was that rare and wonderful thing a happy Galaxy!

  The music was going bananas with immensity at this point.

  - A Happy Galaxy, my friends, as represented by the symbol of the Wikkit Gate!

  The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two cross pieces in a way which looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur's addled brain.

  - The three pillars, - thundered the man. - The Steel Pillar which represented the Strength and Power of the Galaxy!

  Searchlights seared out and danced crazy dances up and down the pillar on the left which was, clearly, made of steel or something very like it. The music thumped and bellowed.

  - The Perspex Pillar, - announced the man, - representing the forces of Science and Reason in the Galaxy!

  Other searchlights played exotically up and down the righthand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice-cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent.

  - And, - the thunderous voice continued, - the Wooden Pillar, representing... - and here his voice became just very slightly hoarse with wonderful sentiments, - the forces of Nature and Spirituality.

  The lights picked out the central pillar. The music moved bravely up into the realms of complete unspeakability.

  - Between them supporting, - the voice rolled on, approaching its climax, - the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace!

  The whole structure was now flooded with dazzling lights, and the music had now, fortunately, gone far beyond the limits of the discernible. At the top of the three pillars the two brilliantly gleaming bails sat and dazzled. There seemed to be girls sitting on top of them, or maybe they were meant to be angels. Angels are usually represented as wearing more than that, though.

  Suddenly there was a dramatic hush in what was presumably meant to be the Cosmos, and a darkening of the lights.

  - There is not a world, - thrilled the man's expert voice, - not a civilized world in the Galaxy where this symbol is not revered even today. Even in primitive worlds it persists in racial memories. This it was that the forces of Krikkit destroyed, and this it is that now locks their world away till the end of eternity!

  And with a flourish, the man produced in his hands a model of the Wikkit gate. Scale was terribly hard to judge in this whole extraordinary spectacle, but the model looked as if it must have been about three feet high.

  - Not the original key, of course. That, as everyone knows, was destroyed, blasted into the ever-whirling eddies of the space-time continuum and lost for ever. This is a remarkable replica, hand-tooled by skilled craftsmen, lovingly assembled using ancient craft secrets into a memento you will be proud to own, in memory of those who fell, and in tribute to the Galaxy - our Galaxy - which they died to defend...

  Slartibartfast floated past again at this moment.

  - Found it, - he said. - We can lose all this rubbish. Just don't nod, that's all.

  - Now, let us bow our heads in payment, - intoned the voice, and then said it again, much faster and backwards.

  Lights came and went, the pillars disappeared, the man gabled himself backwards into nothing, the Universe snappily reassembled itself around them.

  - You get the gist? - said Slartibartfast.

  - I'm astonished, - said Arthur, - and bewildered.

  - I was asleep, - said Ford, who floated into view at this point. - Did I miss anything?

  They found themselves once again teetering rather rapidly on the edge of an agonizingly high cliff. The wind whipped out from their faces and across a bay on which the remains of one of the greatest and most powerful space battle-fleets ever assembled in the Galaxy was briskly burning itself back into existence. The sky was a sullen pink, darkening via a rather curious colour to blue and upwards to black. Smoke billowed down out of it at an incredible lick.

  Events were now passing back by them almost too
quickly to be distinguished, and when, a short while later, a huge star-battleship rushed away from them as if they'd said "boo", they only just recognized it as the point at which they had come in.

  But now things were too rapid, a video-tactile blur which brushed and jiggled them through centuries of galactic history, turning, twisting, flickering. The sound was a mere thin thrill.

  Periodically through the thickening jumble of events they sensed appalling catastrophes, deep horrors, cataclysmic shocks, and these were always associated with certain recurring images, the only images which ever stood out clearly from the avalanche of tumbling history: a wicket gate, a small hard red ball, hard white robots, and also something less distinct, something dark and cloudy.

  But there was also another sensation which rose clearly out of the thrilling passage of time.

  Just as a slow series of clicks when speeded up will lose the definition of each individual click and gradually take on the quality of a sustained and rising tone, so a series of individual impressions here took on the quality of a sustained emotion - and yet not an emotion. If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly.

  And just as a rising tone will change in character and take on harmonics as it rises, so again, this emotionless emotion seemed to rise to an unbearable if unheard scream and suddenly seemed to be a scream of guilt and failure.

  And suddenly it stopped.

  They were left standing on a quiet hilltop on a tranquil evening.

  The sun was setting.

  All around them softly undulating green countryside rolled off gently into the distance. Birds sang about what they thought of it all, and the general opinion seemed to be good. A little way away could be heard the sound of children playing, and a little further away than the apparent source of that sound could be seen in the dimming evening light the outlines of a small town.

 
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