Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams


  He peered at the dim pink outline of the door, and discovered that in the darkness of the corridor he could just about make out the Sensor Field which extended out into the corridor and told the door when there was someone there for whom it must open and to whom it must make a cheery and pleasant remark.

  He pressed himself hard back against the wall and edged himself towards the door, flattening his chest as much as he possibly could to avoid brushing against the very, very dim perimeter of the field. He held his breath, and congratulated himself on having lain in bed sulking for the last few days rather than trying to work out his feelings on chest expanders in the ship's gym.

  He then realized he was going to have to speak at this point.

  He took a series of very shallow breaths, and then said as quickly and as quietly as he could:

  - Door, if you can hear me, say so very, very quietly.

  Very, very quietly, the door murmured:

  - I can hear you.

  - Good. Now, in a moment, I'm going to ask you to open. When you open I do not want you to say that you enjoyed it, OK?

  - OK.

  - And I don't want you to say to me that I have made a simple door very happy, or that it is your pleasure to open for me and your satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done, OK?

  - OK.

  - And I do not want you to ask me to have a nice day, understand?

  - I understand.

  - OK, - said Zaphod, tensing himself, - open now.

  The door slid open quietly. Zaphod slipped quietly through. The door closed quietly behind him.

  - Is that the way you like it, Mr. Beeblebrox? - said the door out loud.

  - I want you to imagine, - said Zaphod to the group of white robots who swung round to stare at him at that point, - that I have an extremely powerful Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in my hand.

  There was an immensely cold and savage silence. The robots regarded him with hideously dead eyes. They stood very still. There was something intensely macabre about their appearance, especially to Zaphod who had never seen one before or even known anything about them. The Krikkit Wars belonged to the ancient past of the Galaxy, and Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him, and since his teaching computer had been an integral part of this plot it had eventually had all its history circuits wiped and replaced with an entirely different set of ideas which had then resulted in it being scrapped and sent to a home for Degenerate Cybermats, whither it was followed by the girl who had inadvertently fallen deeply in love with the unfortunate machine, with the result (a) that Zaphod never got near her and (b) that he missed out on a period of ancient history that would have been of inestimable value to him at this moment.

  He stared at them in shock.

  It was impossible to explain why, but their smooth and sleek white bodies seemed to be the utter embodiment of clean, clinical evil. From their hideously dead eyes to their powerful lifeless feet, they were clearly the calculated product of a mind that wanted simply to kill. Zaphod gulped in cold fear.

  They had been dismantling part of the rear bridge wall, and had forced a passage through some of the vital innards of the ship. Through the tangled wreckage Zaphod could see, with a further and worse sense of shock, that they were tunnelling towards the very heart of the ship, the heart of the Improbability Drive that had been so mysteriously created out of thin air, the Heart of Gold itself.

  The robot closest to him was regarding him in such a way as to suggest that it was measuring every smallest particle of his body, mind and capability. And when it spoke, what it said seemed to bear this impression out. Before going on to what it actually said, it is worth recording at this point that Zaphod was the first living organic being to hear one of these creatures speak for something over ten billion years. If he had paid more attention to his ancient history lessons and less to his organic being, he might have been more impressed by this honour.

  The robot's voice was like its body, cold, sleek and lifeless. It had almost a cultured rasp to it. It sounded as ancient as it was.

  It said:

  - You do have a Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in your hand.

  Zaphod didn't know what it meant for a moment, but then he glanced down at his own hand and was relieved to see that what he had found clipped to a wall bracket was indeed what he had thought it was.

  - Yeah, - he said in a kind of relieved sneer, which is quite tricky, - well, I wouldn't want to overtax your imagination, robot. - For a while nobody said anything, and Zaphod realized that the robots were obviously not here to make conversation, and that it was up to him.

  - I can't help noticing that you have parked your ship, - he said with a nod of one of his heads in the appropriate direction, - through mine.

  There was no denying this. Without regard for any kind of proper dimensional behaviour they had simply materialized their ship precisely where they wanted it to be, which meant that it was simply locked through the Heart of Gold as if they were nothing more than two combs.

  Again, they made no response to this, and Zaphod wondered if the conversation would gather any momentum if he phrased his part of it in the form of questions.

  - ...haven't you? - he added.

  - Yes, - replied the robot.

  - Er, OK, - said Zaphod. - So what are you cats doing here?

  Silence.

  - Robots, - said Zaphod, - what are you robots doing here?

  - We have come, - rasped the robot, - for the Gold of the Bail.

  Zaphod nodded. He waggled his gun to invite further elaboration. The robot seemed to understand this.

  - The Gold Bail is part of the Key we seek, - continued the robot, - to release our Masters from Krikkit.

  Zaphod nodded again. He waggled his gun again.

  - The Key, - continued the robot simply, - was disintegrated in time and space. The Golden Bail is embedded in the device which drives your ship. It will be reconstituted in the Key. Our Masters shall be released. The Universal Readjustment will continue.

  Zaphod nodded again.

  - What are you talking about? - he said.

  A slightly pained expression seemed to cross the robot's totally expressionless face. He seemed to be finding the conversation depressing.

  - Obliteration, - it said. - We seek the Key, - it repeated, - we already have the Wooden Pillar, the Steel Pillar and the Perspex Pillar. In a moment we will have the Gold Bail...

  - No you won't.

  - We will, - stated the robot.

  - No you won't. It makes my ship work.

  - In a moment, - repeated the robot patiently, - we will have the Gold Bail...

  - You will not, - said Zaphod.

  - And then we must go, - said the robot, in all seriousness, - to a party.

  - Oh, - said Zaphod, startled. - Can I come?

  - No, - said the robot. - We are going to shoot you.

  - Oh yeah? - said Zaphod, waggling his gun.

  - Yes, - said the robot, and they shot him.

  Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.

  Chapter 12

  - Shhh, - said Slartibartfast. - Listen and watch.

  Night had now fallen on ancient Krikkit. The sky was dark and empty. The only light was coming from the nearby town, from which pleasant convivial sounds were drifting quietly on the breeze. They stood beneath a tree from which heady fragrances wafted around them. Arthur squatted and felt the Informational Illusion of the soil and the grass. He ran it through his fingers. The soil seemed heavy and rich, the grass strong. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was a thoroughly delightful place in all respects.

  The sky was, however, extremely blank and seemed to Arthur to cast a certain chill over the otherwise idyllic, if currently invisible, landscape. Still, he supposed, it's a question of what you're used to.

  He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. Slartib
artfast was quietly directing his attention to something down the other side of the hill. He looked and could just see some faint lights dancing and waving, and moving slowly in their direction.

  As they came nearer, sounds became audible too, and soon the dim lights and noises resolved themselves into a small group of people who were walking home across the hill towards the town.

  They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns which made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex.

  - The Masters of Krikkit, - breathed Slartibartfast in sepulchral tones.

  Coming, as it did, so hard upon the heels of his own thoughts about Essex this remark caused Arthur a moment's confusion. Then the logic of the situation imposed itself on his scattered mind, and he discovered that he still didn't understand what the old man meant.

  - What? - he said.

  - The Masters of Krikkit, - said Slartibartfast again, and if his breathing had been sepulchral before, this time he sounded like someone in Hades with bronchitis.

  Arthur peered at the group and tried to make sense of what little information he had at his disposal at this point.

  The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise they appeared remarkably pleasant; a little whimsical perhaps, one wouldn't necessarily want to spend a long coach journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough. So why all this rasping lungwork from Slartibartfast which would seem more appropriate to a radio commercial for one of those nasty films about chainsaw operators taking their work home with them?

  Then, this Krikkit angle was a tough one, too. He hadn't quite fathomed the connection between what he knew as cricket, and what...

  Slartibartfast interrupted his train of thought at this point as if sensing what was going through his mind.

  - The game you know as cricket, - he said, and his voice still seemed to be wandering lost in subterranean passages, - is just one of those curious freaks of racial memory which can keep images alive in the mind aeons after their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Of all the races on the Galaxy, only the English could possibly revive the memory of the most horrific wars ever to sunder the Universe and transform it into what I'm afraid is generally regarded as an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game.

  - Rather fond of it myself, - he added, - but in most people's eyes you have been inadvertently guilty of the most grotesque bad taste. Particularly the bit about the little red ball hitting the wicket, that's very nasty.

  - Um, - said Arthur with a reflective frown to indicate that his cognitive synapses were coping with this as best as they could, - um.

  - And these, - said Slartibartfast, slipping back into crypt guttural and indicating the group of Krikkit men who had now walked past them, - are the ones who started it all, and it will start tonight. Come, we will follow, and see why.

  They slipped out from underneath the tree, and followed the cheery party along the dark hill path. Their natural instinct was to tread quietly and stealthily in pursuit of their quarry, though, as they were simply walking through a recorded Informational Illusion, they could as easily have been wearing euphoniums and woad for all the notice their quarry would have taken of them.

  Arthur noticed that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad which would have netted McCartney Kent and Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire.

  - You must surely know, - said Slartibartfast to Ford, - what it is that is about to happen?

  - Me? - said Ford. - No.

  - Did you not learn Ancient Galactic History when you were a child?

  - I was in the cybercubicle behind Zaphod, - said Ford, - it was very distracting. Which isn't to say that I didn't learn some pretty stunning things.

  At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party were singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not "under the moon" or "beneath the stars" but "above the grass", which struck Arthur a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewildering black sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.

  - No, - said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, - the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves "We are alone in the Universe." They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank, During the day there is the sun, but you can't look directly at that so they don't. They are hardly aware of the sky. It's as if they had a blind spot which extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

  - You see, the reason why they have never thought "We are alone in the Universe" is that until tonight they don't know about the Universe. Until tonight.

  He moved on, leaving the words ringing in the air behind him.

  - Imagine, - he said, - never even thinking "We are alone" simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there's any other way to be.

  He moved on again.

  - I'm afraid this is going to be a little unnerving, - he added. As he spoke, they became aware of a very thin roaring scream high up in the sightless sky above them. They glanced upwards in alarm, but for a moment or two could see nothing.

  Then Arthur noticed that the people in the party in front of them had heard the noise, but that none of them seemed to know what to so with it. They were glancing around themselves in consternation, left, right, forwards, backwards, even at the ground. It never occurred to them to look upwards.

  The profoundness of the shock and horror they emanated a few moments later when the burning wreckage of a spaceship came hurtling and screaming out of the sky and crashed about half a mile from where they were standing was something that you had to be there to experience.

  Some speak of the Heart of Gold in hushed tones, some of the Starship Bistromath.

  Many speak of the legendary and gigantic Starship Titanic, a majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artifactovol some hundreds of years ago now, and with good reason.

  It was sensationally beautiful, staggeringly huge, and more pleasantly equipped than any ship in what now remains of history (see note below on the Campaign for Real Time) but it had the misfortune to be built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood.

  The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a prototype Improbability Field into it, which was meant, supposedly, to ensure that it was Infinitely Improbable that anything would ever go wrong with any part of the ship.

  They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately.

/>   The Starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale amongst the laserlit tracery of its construction gantries, a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message - an SOS - before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.

  However, the same event which saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proven that more people watched the tri-d coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest achievement ever in the science of audience research.

  Another spectacular media event of that time was the supernova which the star Ysllodins underwent a few hours later. Ysllodins is the star around which most of the Galaxy's major insurance underwriters live, or rather lived.

  But whilst these spaceships, and other great ones which come to mind, such as the Galactic Fleet Battleships - the GSS Daring, the GSS Audacy and the GSS Suicidal Insanity - are all spoken of with awe, pride, enthusiasm, affection, admiration, regret, jealousy, resentment, in fact most of the better known emotions, the one which regularly commands the most actual astonishment was Krikkit One, the first spaceship ever built by the people of Krikkit. This is not because it was a wonderful ship. It wasn't.

  It was a crazy piece of near junk. It looked as if it had been knocked up in somebody's backyard, and this was in fact precisely where it had been knocked up. The astonishing thing about the ship was not that it was one well (it wasn't) but that it was done at all. The period of time which had elapsed between the moment that the people of Krikkit had discovered that there was such a thing as space and the launching of their first spaceship was almost exactly a year.

  Ford Prefect was extremely grateful, as he strapped himself in, that this was just another Informational Illusion, and that he was therefore completely safe. In real life it wasn't a ship he would have set foot in for all the rice wine in China. "Extremely rickety" was one phrase which sprang to mind, and "Please may I get out?" was another.

  - This is going to fly? - said Arthur, giving gaunt looks, at the lashed-together pipework and wiring which festooned the cramped interior of the ship.

 
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