The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

  "That's high. They're two lucky lucky guys."


  "But relative to what we were doing when the ship picked them up . . ."

  Trillian punched up the figures. They showed two-to-the power-of-Infinity-minus-one (an irrational number that only has a conventional meaning in Improbability physics).

  ". . . it's pretty low," continued Zaphod with a slight whistle.

  "Yes," agreed Trillian, and looked at him quizzically.

  "That's one big whack of Improbability to be accounted for. Something pretty improbable has got to show up on the balance sheet if it's all going to add up into a pretty sum."

  Zaphod scribbled a few sums, crossed them out and threw the pencil away.

  "Bat's dots, I can't work it out."


  Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and gritted his teeth.

  "OK," he said. "Computer!"

  The voice circuits sprang to life again.

  "Why hello there!" they said (ticker tape, ticker tape). "All I want to do is make your day nicer and nicer and nicer . . ."

  "Yeah well shut up and work something out for me."

  "Sure thing," chattered the computer, "you want a probability forecast based on . . ."

  "Improbability data, yeah."

  "OK," the computer continued. "Here's an interesting little notion. Did you realize that most people's lives are governed by telephone numbers?"

  A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's faces and on to the other one.

  "Have you flipped?" he said.

  "No, but you will when I tell you that . . ."

  Trillian gasped. She scrabbled at the buttons on the Improbability flight path screen.

  "Telephone number?" she said. "Did that thing say telephone number?"

  Numbers flashed up on the screen.

  The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.

  "What I was about to say was that . . ."

  "Don't bother, please," said Trillian.

  "Look, what is this?" said Zaphod.

  "I don't know," said Trillian, "but those aliens--they're on the way up to the bridge with that wretched robot. Can we pick them up on any monitor cameras?"

  Chapter 13

  Marvin trudged on down the corridor, still moaning.

  ". . . and then of course I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left hand side . . ."

  "No?" said Arthur grimly as he walked along beside him. "Really?"

  "Oh yes," said Marvin, "I mean I've asked for them to be replaced but no one ever listens."

  "I can imagine."

  Vague whistling and humming noises were coming from Ford. "Well well well," he kept saying to himself, "Zaphod Beeblebrox . . ."

  Suddenly Marvin stopped, and held up a hand.

  "You know what's happened now, of course?"

  "No, what?" said Arthur, who didn't want to know.

  "We've arrived at another of those doors."

  There was a sliding door let into the side of the corridor. Marvin eyed it suspiciously.

  "Well?" said Ford impatiently. "Do we go through?"

  "Do we go through?" mimicked Marvin. "Yes. This is the entrance to the bridge. I was told to take you to the bridge. Probably the highest demand that will be made on my intellectual capacities today, I shouldn't wonder."

  Slowly, with great loathing, he stepped towards the door, like a hunter stalking his prey. Suddenly it slid open.

  "Thank you," it said, "for making a simple door very happy."

  Deep in Marvin's thorax gears ground.

  "Funny," he intoned funerally, "how just when you think life can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does."

  He heaved himself through the door and left Ford and Arthur staring at each other and shrugging their shoulders. From inside they heard Marvin's voice again.

  "I suppose you want to see the aliens now," he said. "Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?"

  "Yeah, just show them in, would you, Marvin?" came another voice.

  Arthur looked at Ford and was astonished to see him laughing.

  "What's . . . ?"

  "Shhh," said Ford, "come in."

  He stepped through into the bridge.

  Arthur followed him in nervously and was astonished to see a man lolling back in a chair with his feet on a control console picking the teeth in his right-hand head with his left hand. The right-hand head seemed to be thoroughly preoccupied with this task, but the left-hand one was grinning a broad, relaxed, nonchalant grin. The number of things that Arthur couldn't believe he was seeing was fairly large. His jaw flapped about at a loose end for a while.

  The peculiar man waved a lazy wave at Ford and with an appalling affectation of nonchalance said, "Ford, hi, how are you? Glad you could drop in."

  Ford was not going to be outcooled.

  "Zaphod," he drawled, "great to see you, you're looking well, the extra arm suits you. Nice ship you've stolen."

  Arthur goggled at him.

  "You mean you know this guy?" he said, waving a wild finger at Zaphod.

  "Know him!" exclaimed Ford, "he's . . ." he paused, and decided to do the introductions the other way round.

  "Oh, Zaphod, this is a friend of mine, Arthur Dent," he said, "I saved him when his planet blew up."

  "Oh sure," said Zaphod, "hi, Arthur, glad you could make it." His right-hand head looked round casually, said "hi" and went back to having his teeth picked.

  Ford carried on. "And Arthur," he said, "this is my semi-cousin Zaphod Beeb . . ."

  "We've met," said Arthur sharply.

  When you're cruising down the road in the fast lane and you lazily sail past a few hard driving cars and are feeling pretty pleased with yourself and then accidentally change down from fourth to first instead of third thus making your engine leap out of your bonnet in a rather ugly mess, it tends to throw you off your stride in much the same way that this remark threw Ford Prefect off his.

  "Err . . . what?"

  "I said we've met."

  Zaphod gave an awkward start of surprise and jabbed a gum sharply.

  "Hey . . . er, have we? Hey . . . er . . ."

  Ford rounded on Arthur with an angry flash in his eyes. Now he felt he was back on home ground he suddenly began to resent having lumbered himself with this ignorant primitive who knew as much about the affairs of the Galaxy as an Ilford-based gnat knew about life in Peking.

  "What do you mean you've met?" he demanded. "This is Zaphod Beeblebrox from Betelgeuse Five, you know, not bloody Martin Smith from Croydon."

  "I don't care," said Arthur coldly. "We've met, haven't we, Zaphod Beeblebrox--or should I say . . . Phil?"

  "What!" shouted Ford.

  "You'll have to remind me," said Zaphod. "I've a terrible memory for species."

  "It was at a party," pursued Arthur.

  "Yeah, well, I doubt that," said Zaphod.

  "Cool it, will you, Arthur!" demanded Ford.

  Arthur would not be deterred. "A party six months ago. On Earth . . . England . . ."

  Zaphod shook his head with a tight-lipped smile.

  "London," insisted Arthur, "Islington."

  "Oh," said Zaphod with a guilty start, "that party."

  This wasn't fair on Ford at all. He looked backwards and forwards between Arthur and Zaphod. "What?" he said to Zaphod. "You don't mean to say you've been on that miserable planet as well, do you?"

  "No, of course not," said Zaphod breezily. "Well, I may have just dropped in briefly, you know, on my way somewhere . . ."

  "But I was stuck there for fifteen years!"

  "Well, I didn't know that, did I?"

  "But what were you doing there?"

  "Looking about, you know."

  "He gatecrashed a party," persisted Arthur, trembling with anger, "a fancy dress party . . ."

  "It would have to be, wouldn't it?" said Ford.

  "At this party," persiste
d Arthur, "was a girl . . . oh well, look it doesn't matter now. The whole place has gone up in smoke anyway . . ."

  "I wish you'd stop sulking about that bloody planet," said Ford. "Who was the lady?"

  "Oh, just somebody. Well, alright, I wasn't doing very well with her. I'd been trying all evening. Hell, she was something though. Beautiful, charming, devastatingly intelligent, at last I'd got her to myself for a bit and was plying her with a bit of talk when this friend of yours barges up and says 'Hey doll, is this guy boring you? Why don't you talk to me instead? I'm from a different planet.' I never saw her again."

  "Zaphod?" exclaimed Ford.

  "Yes," said Arthur, glaring at him and trying not to feel foolish. "He only had the two arms and the one head and he called himself Phil, but . . ."

  "But you must admit he did turn out to be from another planet," said Trillian wandering into sight at the other end of the bridge. She gave Arthur a pleasant smile which settled on him like a ton of bricks and then turned her attention to the ship's controls again.

  There was silence for a few seconds, and then out of the scrambled mess of Arthur's brain crawled some words.

  "Tricia McMillian?" he said. "What are you doing here?"

  "Same as you," she said, "I hitched a lift. After all with a degree in Maths and another in astrophysics what else was there to do? It was either that or the dole queue again on Monday."

  "Infinity minus one," chattered the computer, "Improbability sum now complete."

  Zaphod looked about him, at Ford, at Arthur, and then at Trillian.

  "Trillian," he said, "is this sort of thing going to happen every time we use the Improbability drive?"

  "Very probably, I'm afraid," she said.

  Chapter 14

  The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on conventional photon drive. Its crew of four were ill at ease knowing that they had been brought together not of their own volition or by simple coincidence, but by some curious principle of physics--as if relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed the relationships between atoms and molecules.

  As the ship's artificial night closed in they were each grateful to retire to separate cabins and try to rationalize their thoughts.

  Trillian couldn't sleep. She sat on a couch and stared at a small cage which contained her last and only links with Earth--two white mice that she had insisted Zaphod let her bring. She had expected not to see the planet again, but she was disturbed by her negative reaction to the planet's destruction. It seemed remote and unreal and she could find no thoughts to think about it. She watched the mice scurrying round the cage and running furiously in their little plastic treadwheels till they occupied her whole attention. Suddenly she shook herself and went back to the bridge to watch over the tiny flashing lights and figures that charted the ship's progress through the void. She wished she knew what it was she was trying not to think about.

  Zaphod couldn't sleep. He also wished he knew what it was that he wouldn't let himself think about. For as long as he could remember he'd suffered from a vague nagging feeling of being not all there. Most of the time he was able to put this thought aside and not worry about it, but it had been re-awakened by the sudden inexplicable arrival of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Somehow it seemed to conform to a pattern that he couldn't see.

  Ford couldn't sleep. He was too excited about being back on the road again. Fifteen years of virtual imprisonment were over, just as he was finally beginning to give up hope. Knocking about with Zaphod for a bit promised to be a lot of fun, though there seemed to be something faintly odd about his semi-cousin that he couldn't put his finger on. The fact that he had become President of the Galaxy was frankly astonishing, as was the manner of his leaving the post. Was there a reason behind it? There would be no point in asking Zaphod, he never appeared to have a reason for anything he did at all: he had turned unfathomably into an art form. He attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

  Arthur slept: he was terribly tired.

  There was a tap at Zaphod's door. It slid open.

  "Zaphod . . . ?"


  "I think we just found what you came to look for."

  "Hey, yeah?"

  Ford gave up the attempt to sleep. In the corner of his cabin was a small computer screen and keyboard. He sat at it for a while and tried to compose a new entry for the Guide on the subject of Vogons but couldn't think of anything vitriolic enough so he gave that up too, wrapped a robe round himself and went for a walk to the bridge.

  As he entered he was surprised to see two figures hunched excitedly over the instruments.

  "See? The ship's about to move into orbit," Trillian was saying. "There's a planet out there. It's at the exact coordinates you predicted."

  Zaphod heard a noise and looked up.

  "Ford!" he hissed. "Hey, come and take a look at this."

  Ford went and had a look at it. It was a series of figures flashing over a screen.

  "You recognize those Galactic coordinates?" said Zaphod.


  "I'll give you a clue. Computer!"

  "Hi, gang!" enthused the computer. "This is getting real sociable, isn't it?"

  "Shut up," said Zaphod, "and show up the screens."

  Light on the bridge sank. Pinpoints of light played across the consoles and reflected in four pairs of eyes that stared up at the external monitor screens.

  There was absolutely nothing on them.

  "Recognize that?" whispered Zaphod.

  Ford frowned.

  "Er, no," he said.

  "What do you see?"


  "Recognize it?"

  "What are you talking about?"

  "We're in the Horsehead Nebula. One whole vast dark cloud."

  "And I was meant to recognize that from a blank screen?"

  "Inside a dark nebula is the only place in the Galaxy you'd see a dark screen."

  "Very good."

  Zaphod laughed. He was clearly very excited about something, almost childishly so.

  "Hey, this is really terrific, this is just far too much!"

  "What's so great about being stuck in a dust cloud?" said Ford.

  "What would you reckon to find here?" urged Zaphod.


  "No stars? No planets?"


  "Computer!" shouted Zaphod, "rotate angle of vision through one-eighty degrees and don't talk about it!"

  For a moment it seemed that nothing was happening, then a brightness glowed at the edge of the huge screen. A red star the size of a small plate crept across it followed quickly by another one--a binary system. Then a vast crescent sliced into the corner of the picture--a red glare shading away into the deep black, the night side of the planet.

  "I've found it!" cried Zaphod, thumping the console. "I've found it!"

  Ford stared at it in astonishment.

  "What is it?" he said.

  "That . . ." said Zaphod, "is the most improbable planet that ever existed."

  (Excerpt from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Page 634784, Section 5a, Entry: Magrathea)

  Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax free.

  Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward amongst the furthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before--and thus was the Empire forged.

  Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor--at least no one worth speaking of.
And for all the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on--none of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.

  And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea, where hyperspatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets--gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes--all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.

  But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they laboured into the night over smug little treaties on the value of a planned political economy.

  Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.

  In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it.

  Chapter 16

  Arthur awoke to the sound of argument and went to the bridge. Ford was waving his arms about.

  "You're crazy, Zaphod," he was saying, "Magrathea is a myth, a fairy story, it's what parents tell their kids about at night if they want them to grow up to become economists, it's . . ."

  "And that's what we are currently in orbit around," insisted Zaphod.

  "Look, I can't help what you may personally be in orbit around," said Ford, "but this ship . . ."

  "Computer!" shouted Zaphod.

  "Oh no . . ."

  "Hi there! This is Eddie your shipboard computer, and I'm feeling just great, guys, and I know I'm just going to get a bundle of kicks out of any programme you care to run through me."

  Arthur looked inquiringly at Trillian. She motioned him to come on in but keep quiet.

  "Computer," said Zaphod, "tell us again what our present trajectory is."

  "A real pleasure, feller," it burbled, "we are currently in orbit at an altitude of three hundred miles around the legendary planet of Magrathea."

  "Proving nothing," said Ford. "I wouldn't trust that computer to speak my weight."

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