The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


  "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 excitement.

  "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 Galaxy.

  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 after?"

  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.

  Chapter 17

  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.

&n
bsp; "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 Ford.) ". . . 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, computer?"

  "I got it," said the computer and gave the ship an extra kick of speed.

  They waited.

  After a second or so came the fanfare once again, and then the voice.

  "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. Now."

  Arthur looked round the nervous faces of his companions.

  "Well, I suppose we'd better be going then, hadn't we?" he suggested.

  "Shhh!" said Zaphod. "There's absolutely nothing to be worried about."

  "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 cold.

  "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 shocking.

  "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 on.

  "As a matter of interest," said Trillian, "what are we going to do?"

  "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?"

  "No."

  "Trillian, can you?"

  "No."

  "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 Hitchhiker'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 assured.

  "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 destruction.

  "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?"

  "Yes."

  "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 ceiling.

  "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.

  Chapter 18

  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.

 
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