Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams


  The town appeared to consist mostly of fairly low buildings made of white stone. The skyline was of gentle pleasing curves.

  The sun had nearly set.

  As if out of nowhere, music began. Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

  A voice said, "This..." Slartibartfast tugged at a switch and it stopped.

  - I will tell you about it, - he said quietly.

  The place was peaceful. Arthur felt happy. Even Ford seemed cheerful. They walked a short way in the direction of the town, and the Informational Illusion of the grass was pleasant and springy under their feet, and the Informational Illusion of the flowers smelt sweet and fragrant. Only Slartibartfast seemed apprehensive and out of sorts.

  He stopped and looked up.

  It suddenly occurred to Arthur that, coming as this did at the end, so to speak, or rather the beginning of all the horror they had just blurredly experienced, something nasty must be about to happen. He was distressed to think that something nasty could happen to somewhere as idyllic as this. He too glanced up. There was nothing in the sky.

  - They're not about to attack here, are they? - he said. He realized that this was merely a recording he was walking through, but he still felt alarmed.

  - Nothing is about to attack here, - said Slartibartfast in a voice which unexpectedly trembled with emotion. - This is where it all started. This is the place itself. This is Krikkit.

  He stared up into the sky.

  The sky, from one horizon to another, from east to west, from north to south, was utterly and completely black.

  Chapter 11

  Stomp stomp.

  Whirrr.

  - Pleased to be of service.

  - Shut up.

  - Thank you.

  Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.

  Whirrr.

  - Thank you for making a simple door very happy.

  - Hope your diodes rot.

  - Thank you. Have a nice day.

  Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

  Whirrr.

  - It is my pleasure to open for you...

  - Zark off.

  -...and my satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.

  - I said zark off.

  - Thank you for listening to this message.

  Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

  - Wop.

  Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said "wop" to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said "wop" to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors. It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said "wop", which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship.

  It was dark. Most of the ship's non-essential systems were closed down. It was drifting in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected "wop"?

  He looked about him, up the corridor and down the corridor. It was all in deep shadow. There were just the very dim pinkish outlines of the doors which glowed in the dark and pulsed whenever they spoke, though he had tried every way he could think of of stopping them.

  The lights were off so that his heads could avoid looking at each other, because neither of them was currently a particularly engaging sight, and nor had they been since he had made the error of looking into his soul.

  It had indeed been an error. It had been late one night - of course.

  It had been a difficult day - of course.

  There had been soulful music playing on the ship's sound system - of course.

  And he had, of course, been slightly drunk.

  In other words, all the usual conditions which bring on a bout of soul-searching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error.

  Standing now, silent and alone in the dark corridor he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other was the way to go.

  He listened but could hear nothing.

  All there had been was the "wop".

  It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

  He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge. There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn't think he was an awfully good person to be in control.

  The first shock of that moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul.

  In fact he'd always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of somethings, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had giving him a severe jolt.

  And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn't the totally wonderful object which he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again.

  Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

  - Freedom, - he said aloud.

  Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom.

  - I can't cope with it, - he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

  He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well.

  He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

  - You're drinking too much, - said Trillian.

  His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole position. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars.

  - Excitement and adventure and really wild things, - he muttered.

  - Look, - she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him, - it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit.

  He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before.

  - Wow, - he said. He had another drink.

  - You've finished the mission you've been on for years.

  - I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it.

  - You've still finished it.

  He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach.

  - I think it finished me, - he said. - Here I am, Zaphod Beeblebrox, I can go anywhere, do anything. I have the greatest ship in the known sky, a girl with whom things seem to be working out pretty well...

  - Are they?

  - As far as I can tell I'm not an expert in personal relationships

  Trillian raised her eyebrows.

  - I am, - he added, - one hell of a guy, I can do anything I want only I just don't have the faintest idea what.

  He paused.

  - One thing, - he further added, - has suddenly ceased to lead to another - in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid gracelessly off his chair.

  Whilst he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness.

  - Go to it, - it said, - and good luck.

  It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that.

  Then she found the entry on Han Wavel, an exotic holiday planet, and one of the wonders of the Galaxy.

  Han
Wavel is a world which consists largely of fabulous ultraluxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain.

  The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against. Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizzarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there.

  Terrific, thought Trillian to herself, and within a few hours the great white running-shoe ship was slowly powering down out of the sky beneath a hot brilliant sun towards a brightly coloured sandy spaceport. The ship was clearly causing a sensation on the ground, and Trillian was enjoying herself. She heard Zaphod moving around and whistling somewhere in the ship.

  - How are you? - she said over the general intercom.

  - Fine, - he said brightly, - terribly well.

  - Where are you?

  - In the bathroom.

  - What are you doing?

  - Staying here.

  After an hour or two it became plain that he meant it and the ship returned to the sky without having once opened its hatchway.

  - Heigh ho, - said Eddie the Computer.

  Trillian nodded patiently, tapped her fingers a couple of times and pushed the intercom switch.

  - I think that enforced fun is probably not what you need at this point.

  - Probably not, - replied Zaphod from wherever he was.

  - I think a bit of physical challenge would help draw you out of yourself.

  - Whatever you think, I think, - said Zaphod.

  "Recreational Impossibilities" was a heading which caught Trillian's eye when, a short while later, she sat down to flip through the Guide again, and as the Heart of Gold rushed at improbable speeds in an indeterminate direction, she sipped a cup of something undrinkable from the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser and read about how to fly.

  The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

  There is an art, it says, or rather a knack to flying.

  The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

  Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it.

  The first part is easy.

  All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.

  That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.

  Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

  Clearly, it's the second point, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

  One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

  It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

  If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

  This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.

  Bob and float, float and bob.

  Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher.

  Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.

  They are most likely to say something along the lines of, "Good God, you can't possibly be flying!"

  It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

  Waft higher and higher.

  Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.

  Do not wave at anybody.

  When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.

  You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.

  You will also learn how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt.

  There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the crucial moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

  Trillian read this longingly, but reluctantly decided that Zaphod wasn't really in the right frame of mind for attempting to fly, or for walking through mountains or for trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change-of-address card, which were the other things listed under the heading "Recreational Impossibilities".

  Instead, she flew the ship to Allosimanius Syneca, a world of ice, snow, mind-hurtling beauty and stunning cold. The trek from the snow plains of Liska to the summit of the Ice Crystal Pyramids of Sastantua is long and gruelling, even with jet skis and a team of Syneca Snowhounds, but the view from the top, a view which takes in the Stin Glacier Fields, the shimmering Prism Mountains and the far ethereal dancing icelights, is one which first freezes the mind and then slowly releases it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty, and Trillian, for one, felt that she could do with a bit of having her mind slowly released to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty.

  They went into a low orbit. There lay the silver-white beauty of Allosimanius Syneca beneath them. Zaphod stayed in bed with one head stuck under a pillow and the other doing crosswords till late into the night.

  Trillian nodded patiently again, counted to a sufficiently high number, and told herself that the important thing now was just to get Zaphod talking.

  She prepared, by dint of deactivating all the robot kitchen synthomatics, the most fabulously delicious meal she could contrive - delicately oiled meals, scented fruits, fragrant cheeses, fine Aldebaran wines.

  She carried it through to him and asked if he felt like talking things through.

  - Zark off, - said Zaphod.

  Trillian nodded patiently to herself, counted to an even higher number, tossed the tray lightly aside, walked to the transport room and just teleported herself the hell out of his life.

  She didn't even programme any coordinates, she hadn't the faintest idea where she was going, she just went - a random row of dots flowing through the Universe.

  - Anything, - she said to herself as she left, - is better than this.

  - Good job too, - muttered Zaphod to himself, turned over and failed to go to sleep.

  The next day he restlessly paced the empty corridors of the ship, pretending not to look for her, though he knew she wasn't there. He ignored the computer's querulous demands to know just what the hell was going on around here by fitting a small electronic gag across a pair of its terminals.

  After a while he began to turn down the lights. There was nothing to see. Nothing was about to happen.

  Lying in bed one night - and night was now virtually continuous on the ship - he decided to pull himself together, to get things into some kind of perspective. He sat up sharply and started to pull clothes on. He decided that there must be someone in the Universe feeling more wret
ched, miserable and forsaken than himself, and he determined to set out and find him.

  Halfway to the bridge it occurred to him that it might be Marvin, and he returned to bed.

  It was a few hours later than this, as he stomped disconsolately about the darkened corridors swearing at cheerful doors, that he heard the "wop" said, and it made him very nervous.

  He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis. He laid his fingertips against the wall and felt an unusual vibration. And now he could quite clearly hear slight noises, and could hear where they were coming from - they were coming from the bridge.

  - Computer? - he hissed.

  - Mmmm? - said the computer terminal nearest him, equally quietly.

  - Is there someone on this ship?

  - Mmmmm, - said the computer.

  - Who is it?

  - Mmmmm mmm mmmmm, - said the computer.

  - What?

  - Mmmmm mmmm mm mmmmmmmm.

  Zaphod buried one of his faces in two of his hands.

  - Oh, Zarquon, - he muttered to himself. Then he stared up the corridor towards the entrance to the bridge in the dim distance from which more and purposeful noises were coming, and in which the gagged terminals were situated.

  - Computer, - he hissed again.

  - Mmmmm?

  - When I ungag you...

  - Mmmmm.

  - Remind me to punch myself in the mouth.

  - Mmmmm mmm?

  - Either one. Now just tell me this. One for yes, two for no. Is it dangerous?

  - Mmmmm.

  - It is?

  - Mmmm.

  - You didn't just go "mmmm" twice?

  - Mmmm mmmm.

  - Hmmmm.

  He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it, which was true.

  He was within two yards of the door to the bridge when he suddenly realized to his horror that it was going to be nice to him, and he stopped dead. He hadn't been able to turn off the doors' courtesy voice circuits.

  This doorway to the bridge was concealed from view within it because of the excitingly chunky way in which the bridge had been designed to curve round, and he had been hoping to enter unobserved.

  He leant despondently back against the wall again and said some words which his other head was quite shocked to hear.

 
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