The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It
has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many
different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of
travellers and researchers.
The introduction begins like this:
"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how
vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long
way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.
Listen..." and so on.
(After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell you
things you really need to know, like the fact that the fabulously
beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative
erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance
between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet
is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave: so every time
you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.)
To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of distances
between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for the Guide's
introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider for a moment a
peanut in reading and a small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such
The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the
Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races thousands
of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time to journey between
the stars. It takes eight minutes from the star Sol to the place where the
Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol's nearest stellar
neighbour, Alpha Proxima.
For light to reach the other side of the Galaxy, for it to reach
Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand years.
The record for hitch hiking this distance is just under five years,
but you don't get to see much on the way.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy says that if you hold a lungful
of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty
seconds. However it goes on to say that what with space being the mind
boggling size it is the chances of getting picked up by another ship
within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and
sixty-seven thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.
By a totally staggering coincidence that is also the telephone number
of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party and met a
very nice girl whom he totally failed to get off with - she went off with
Though the planet Earth, the Islington flat and the telephone have
all now been demolished, it is comforting to reflect that they are all in
some small way commemorated by the fact that twenty-nine seconds later
Ford and Arthur were rescued.
A computer chatted to itself in alarm as it noticed an airlock open
and close itself for no apparent reason.
This was because Reason was in fact out to lunch.
A hole had just appeared in the Galaxy. It was exactly a nothingth of
a second long, a nothingth of an inch wide, and quite a lot of million
light years from end to end.
As it closed up lots of paper hats and party balloons fell out of it
and drifted off through the universe. A team of seven threefoot-high
market analysts fell out of it and died, partly of asphyxication, partly
Two hundred and thirty-nine thousand lightly fried eggs fell out of
it too, materializing in a large woobly heap on the faminestruck land of
Poghril in the Pansel system.
The whole Poghril tribe had died out from famine except for one last
man who died of cholesterol poisoning some weeks later.
The nothingth of a second for which the hole existed reverberated
backwards and forwards through time in a most improbable fashion.
Somewhere in the deeply remote past it seriously traumatized a small
random group of atoms drifting through the empty sterility of space and
made them cling together in the most extraordinarily unlikely patterns.
These patterns quickly learnt to copy themselves (this was part of what
was so extraordinary of the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble
on every planet they drifted on to. That was how life began in the
Five wild Event Maelstroms swirled in vicious storms of unreason and
spewed up a pavement.
On the pavement lay Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent gulping like
"There you are," gasped Ford, scrabbling for a fingerhold on the
pavement as it raced through the Third Reach of the Unknown, "I told you
I'd think of something."
"Oh sure," said Arthur, "sure."
"Bright idea of mine," said Ford, "to find a passing spaceship and
get rescued by it."
The real universe arched sickeningly away beneath them. Various
pretend ones flitted silently by, like mountain goats. Primal light
exploded, splattering space-time as with gobbets of junket. Time
blossomed, matter shrank away. The highest prime number coalesced quietly
in a corner and hid itself away for ever.
"Oh come off it," said Arthur, "the chances against it were
"Don't knock it, it worked," said Ford.
"What sort of ship are we in?" asked Arthur as the pit of eternity
yawned beneath them.
"I don't know," said Ford, "I haven't opened my eyes yet."
"No, nor have I," said Arthur.
The Universe jumped, froze, quivered and splayed out in several
Arthur and Ford opened their eyes and looked about in considerable
"Good god," said Arthur, "it looks just like the sea front at
"Hell, I'm relieved to hear you say that," said Ford.
"Because I thought I must be going mad."
"Perhaps you are. Perhaps you only thought I said it."
Ford thought about this.
"Well, did you say it or didn't you?" he asked.
"I think so," said Arthur.
"Well, perhaps we're both going mad."
"Yes," said Arthur, "we'd be mad, all things considered, to think
this was Southend."
"Well, do you think this is Southend?"
"So do I."
"Therefore we must be mad."
"Nice day for it."
"Yes," said a passing maniac.
"Who was that?" asked Arthur
"Who - the man with the five heads and the elderberry bush full of
"I don't know. Just someone."
They both sat on the pavement and watched with a certain unease as
huge children bounced heavily along the sand and wild horses thundered
through the sky taking fresh supplies of reinforced railings to the
"You know," said Arthur with a slight cough, "if this is Southend,
there's something very odd about it..."
"You mean the way the sea stays steady and the buildings keep washing
up and down?" said Ford. "Yes I thought that was odd too. In fact," he
continued as with a huge bang Southend split itself into six equal
segments which danced and span giddily round each other in lewd and
licentious formation, "there is something altogether very strange going
Wild yowling noises of pipes and strings seared through the wind, hot
doughnuts popped out of the road for ten pence each, horrid fish stormed
out of the sky and Arthur and Ford decided to make a run for it.
They plunged through heavy walls of sound, mountains of archaic
thought, valleys of mood music, bad shoe sessions and footling bats and
suddenly heard a girl's voice.
It sounded quite a sensible voice, but it just said, "Two to the
power of one hundred thousand to one against and falling," and that was
Ford skidded down a beam of light and span round trying to find a
source for the voice but could see nothing he could seriously believe in.
"What was that voice?" shouted Arthur.
"I don't know," yelled Ford, "I don't know. It sounded like a
measurement of probability."
"Probability? What do you mean?"
"Probability. You know, like two to one, three to one, five to four
against. It said two to the power of one hundred thousand to one against.
That's pretty improbable you know."
A million-gallon vat of custard upended itself over them without
"But what does it mean?" cried Arthur.
"What, the custard?"
"No, the measurement of probability!"
"I don't know. I don't know at all. I think we're on some kind of
"I can only assume," said Arthur, "that this is not the firstclass
Bulges appeared in the fabric of space-time. Great ugly bulges.
"Haaaauuurrgghhh..." said Arthur as he felt his body softening and
bending in unusual directions. "Southend seems to be melting away... the
stars are swirling... a dustbowl... my legs are drifting off into the
sunset... my left arm's come off too." A frightening thought struck him:
"Hell," he said, "how am I going to operate my digital watch now?" He
wound his eyes desperately around in Ford's direction.
"Ford," he said, "you're turning into a penguin. Stop it."
Again came the voice.
"Two to the power of seventy-five thousand to one against and
Ford waddled around his pond in a furious circle.
"Hey, who are you," he quacked. "Where are you? What's going on and
is there any way of stopping it?"
"Please relax," said the voice pleasantly, like a stewardess in an
airliner with only one wing and two engines one of which is on fire, "you
are perfectly safe."
"But that's not the point!" raged Ford. "The point is that I am now a
perfectly save penguin, and my colleague here is rapidly running out of
"It's alright, I've got them back now," said Arthur.
"Two to the power of fifty thousand to one against and falling," said
"Admittedly," said Arthur, "they're longer than I usually like them,
"Isn't there anything," squawked Ford in avian fury, "you feel you
ought to be telling us?"
The voice cleared its throat. A giant petit four lolloped off into
"Welcome," the voice said, "to the Starship Heart of Gold."
The voice continued.
"Please do not be alarmed," it said, "by anything you see or hear
around you. You are bound to feel some initial ill effects as you have
been rescued from certain death at an improbability level of two to the
power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against - possibly
much higher. We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of
twenty-five thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring
normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway. Thank you.
Two to the power of twenty thousand to one against and falling."
The voice cut out.
Ford and Arthur were in a small luminous pink cubicle.
Ford was wildly excited.
"Arthur!" he said, "this is fantastic! We've been picked up by a ship
powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive! This is incredible! I heard
rumors about it before! They were all officially denied, but they must
have done it! They've built the Improbability Drive! Arthur, this is...
Arthur? What's happening?"
Arthur had jammed himself against the door to the cubicle, trying to
hold it closed, but it was ill fitting. Tiny furry little hands were
squeezing themselves through the cracks, their fingers were inkstained;
tiny voices chattered insanely.
Arthur looked up.
"Ford!" he said, "there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who
want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out."
The Infinite Improbability Drive is a wonderful new method of
crossing vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second,
without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.
It was discovered by a lucky chance, and then developed into a
governable form of propulsion by the Galactic Government's research team
This, briefly, is the story of its discovery.
The principle of generating small amounts of finite improbability by
simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 SubMeson Brain to an
atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say
a nice hot cup of tea) were of course well understood - and such
generators were often used to break the ice at parties by making all the
molecules in the hostess's undergarments leap simultaneously one foot to
the left, in accordance with the Theory of Indeterminacy.
Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for
this - partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because
they didn't get invited to those sort of parties.
Another thing they couldn't stand was the perpetual failure they
encountered in trying to construct a machine which could generate the
infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the
mind-paralysing distances between the furthest stars, and in the end they
grumpily announced that such a machine was virtually impossible.
Then, one day, a student who had been left to sweep up the lab after
a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning this way:
If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility,
then it must logically be a finite improbability. So all I have to do in
order to make one is to work out exactly how improbable it is, feed that
figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of
really hot tea... and turn it on!
He did this, and was rather startled to discover that he had managed
to create the long sought after golden Infinite Improbability generator
out of thin air.
It startled him even more when just after he was awarded the Galactic
Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched by a rampaging mob
of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they
really couldn't stand was a smartass.
The Improbability-proof control cabin of the Heart of Gold looked
like a perfectly conventional spaceship except that it was perfectly clean
because it was so new. Some of the control seats hadn't had the plastic
wrapping taken off yet. The cabin was mostly white, oblong, and about the
size of a smallish restaurant. In fact it wasn't perfectly oblong: the two
long walls were raked round in a slight parallel curve, and all the angles
and corners were contoured in excitingly chunky shapes. The truth of the
matter is that it would have been a great deal simpler and more practical
to build the cabin as an ordinary three-dimensional oblong rom, but then
the designers would have got miserable. As it was the cabin looked
excitingly purposeful, with large video screens ranged over the control
and guidance system panels on the concave wall, and long banks of
computers set into the convex wall. In one corner a robot sat humped, its
gleaming brushed steel head hanging loosely between its gleaming brushed
steel knees. It too was fairly new, but though it was beautifully
constructed and polished it somehow looked as if the various parts of its
more or less humanoid body didn't quite fit properly. In fact they fitted
perfectly well, but something in its bearing suggested that they might
have fitted better.
Zaphod Beeblebrox paced nervously up and down the cabin, brushing his
hands over pieces of gleaming equipment and giggling with excitement.
Trillian sat hunched over a clump of instruments reading off figures.
Her voice was carried round the Tannoy system of the whole ship.
"Five to one against and falling..." she said, "four to one against
and falling... three to one... two... one... probability factor of one to
one... we have normality, I repeat we have normality." She turned her
microphone off - then turned it back on, with a slight smile and
continued: "Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own
problem. Please relax. You will be sent for soon."
Zaphod burst out in annoyance: "Who are they Trillian?"
Trillian span her seat round to face him and shrugged.
"Just a couple of guys we seem to have picked up in open space," she
said. "Section ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."
"Yeah, well that's a very sweet thought Trillian," complained Zaphod,
"but do you really think it's wise under the circumstances? I mean, here
we are on the run and everything, we must have the police of half the
Galaxy after us by now, and we stop to pick up hitch hikers. OK, so ten
out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?"
He tapped irritably at a control panel. Trillian quietly moved his
hand before he tapped anything important. Whatever Zaphod's qualities of
mind might include - dash, bravado, conceit - he was mechanically inept
and could easily blow the ship up with an extravagant gesture. Trillian
had come to suspect that the main reason why he had had such a wild and
successful life that he never really understood the significance of
anything he did.
"Zaphod," she said patiently, "they were floating unprotected in open
space... you wouldn't want them to have died would you?"
"Well, you know... no. Not as such, but..."
"Not as such? Not die as such? But?" Trillian cocked her head on one
"Well, maybe someone else might have picked them up later."
"A second later and they would have been dead."
"Yeah, so if you'd taken the trouble to think about the problem a bit
longer it would have gone away."
"You'd been happy to let them die?"
"Well, you know, not happy as such, but..."
"Anyway," said Trillian, turning back to the controls, "I didn't pick
"What do you mean? Who picked them up then?"
"The ship did."
"The ship did. All by itself."
"Whilst we were in Improbability Drive."
"But that's incredible."
"No Zaphod. Just very very improbable."
"Look Zaphod," she said, patting his arm, "don't worry about the
aliens. They're just a couple of guys I expect. I'll send the robot down
to get them and bring them up here. Hey Marvin!"
In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled
about imperceptibly. It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about
five pounds heavier that it actually was, and made what an outside
observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room. It
stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left
"I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed," it said. Its
voice was low and hopeless.
"Oh God," muttered Zaphod and slumped into a seat.
"Well," said Trillian in a bright compassionate tone, "here's
something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."
"It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."
"Marvin!" warned Trillian.
"Alright," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"
"Go down to number two entry bay and bring the two aliens up here
With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of
pitch and timbre - nothing you could actually take offence at - Marvin
managed to convey his utter contempt and horror of all things human.
"Just that?" he said.
"Yes," said Trillian firmly.
"I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.
Zaphod leaped out of his seat.
"She's not asking you to enjoy it," he shouted, "just do it will
"Alright," said Marvin like the tolling of a great cracked bell,
"I'll do it."
"Good..." snapped Zaphod, "great... thank you..."
Marvin turned and lifted his flat-topped triangular red eyes up
"I'm not getting you down at all am I?" he said pathetically.
"No no Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really..."
"I wouldn't like to think that I was getting you down."
"No, don't worry about that," the lilt continued, "you just act as
comes naturally and everything will be just fine."
"You're sure you don't mind?" probed Marvin.
"No no Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really... just
part of life."
"Marvin flashed him an electronic look.
"Life," said Marvin, "don't talk to me about life."
He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin.
With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him
"I don't think I can stand that robot much longer Zaphod," growled
The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus
designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius
Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division
of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll
be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote
to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone
interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.
Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had
the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the
future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics
Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the
wall when the revolution came."
The pink cubicle had winked out of existence, the monkeys had sunk
away to a better dimension. Ford and Arthur found themselves in the
embarkation area of the ship. It was rather smart.
"I think the ship's brand new," said Ford.
"How can you tell?" asked Arthur. "Have you got some exotic device
for measuring the age of metal?"
"No, I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor. It's a lot
of `the Universe can be yours' stuff. Ah! Look, I was right."
Ford jabbed at one of the pages and showed it to Arthur.
"It says: Sensational new breakthrough in Improbability Physics. As
soon as the ship's drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through
every point in the Universe. Be the envy of other major governments. Wow,
this is big league stuff."
Ford hunted excitedly through the technical specs of the ship,
occasionally gasping with astonishment at what he read - clearly Galactic
astrotechnology had moved ahead during the years of his exile.
Arthur listened for a short while, but being unable to understand the
vast majority of what Ford was saying he began to let his mind wander,
trailing his fingers along the edge of an incomprehensible computer bank,
he reached out and pressed an invitingly large red button on a nearby
panel. The panel lit up with the words Please do not press this button
again. He shook himself.
"Listen," said Ford, who was still engrossed in the sales brochure,
"they make a big thing of the ship's cybernetics. A new generation of
Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers, with the new GPP
"GPP feature?" said Arthur. "What's that?"
"Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."
"Oh," said Arthur, "sounds ghastly."
A voice behind them said, "It is." The voice was low and hopeless and
accompanied by a slight clanking sound. They span round and saw an abject
steel man standing hunched in the doorway.
"What?" they said.
"Ghastly," continued Marvin, "it all is. Absolutely ghastly. Just
don't even talk about it. Look at this door," he said, stepping through
it. The irony circuits cut into his voice modulator as he mimicked the
style of the sales brochure. "All the doors in this spaceship have a
cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and
their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done."
As the door closed behind them it became apparent that it did indeed
have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. "Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!" it
Marvin regarded it with cold loathing whilst his logic circuits
chattered with disgust and tinkered with the concept of directing physical
violence against it Further circuits cut in saying, Why bother? What's the
point? Nothing is worth getting involved in. Further circuits amused
themselves by analysing the molecular components of the door, and of the
humanoids' brain cells. For a quick encore they measured the level of
hydrogen emissions in the surrounding cubic parsec of space and then shut
down again in boredom. A spasm of despair shook the robot's body as he
"Come on," he droned, "I've been ordered to take you down to the
bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you
down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't."
He turned and walked back to the hated door.
"Er, excuse me," said Ford following after him, "which government
owns this ship?"
Marvin ignored him.
"You watch this door," he muttered, "it's about to open again. I can
tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates."
With an ingratiating little whine the door slit open again and Marvin
"Come on," he said.
The others followed quickly and the door slit back into place with
pleased little clicks and whirrs.
"Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics
Corporation," said Marvin and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved
corridor that stretched out before them. "Let's build robots with Genuine
People Personalities," they said. So they tried it out with me. I'm a
personality prototype. You can tell can't you?"
Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.
"I hate that door," continued Marvin. "I'm not getting you down at
all am I?"
"Which government..." started Ford again.
"No government owns it," snapped the robot, "it's been stolen."
"Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.
"Who by?" asked Ford.
Something extraordinary happened to Ford's face. At least five
entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up
on it in a jumbled mess. His left leg, which was in mid stride, seemed to
have difficulty in finding the floor again. He stared at the robot and
tried to entangle some dartoid muscles.
"Zaphod Beeblebrox?.." he said weakly.
"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on
regardless. "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't
know why I bother to say it, oh God I'm so depressed. Here's another of
those self-satisfied door. Life! Don't talk to me about life."
"No one ever mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably. "Ford, are you
Ford stared at him. "Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?" he said.
A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin
as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wavebands for news of himself. The
machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been
operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the
technology became more sophisticated the controls were made
touch-sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers;
now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the
components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but
meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep
listening to the same programme.
Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again. More gunk music,
but this time it was a background to a news announcement. The news was
always heavily edited to fit the rhythms of the music.
"... and news brought to you here on the sub-etha wave band,
broadcasting around the galaxy around the clock," squawked a voice, "and
we'll be saying a big hello to all intelligent life forms everywhere...
and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together,
guys. And of course, the big news story tonight is the sensational theft
of the new Improbability Drive prototype ship by none other than Galactic
President Zaphod Beeblebrox. And the question everyone's asking is... has
the big Z finally flipped? Beeblebrox, the man who invented the Pan
Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, once described by
Eccentrica Gallumbits as the Best Bang since the Big One, and recently
voted the Wort Dressed Sentinent Being in the Known Universe for the
seventh time... has he got an answer this time? We asked his private brain
care specialist Gag Halfrunt..." The music swirled and dived for a moment.
Another voice broke in, presumably Halfrunt. He said: "Vell, Zaphod's jist
zis guy you know?" but got no further because an electric pencil flew
across the cabin and through the radio's on/off sensitive airspace. Zaphod
turned and glared at Trillian - she had thrown the pencil.
"Hey," he said, what do you do that for?"
Trillian was tapping her fingers on a screenful of figures.
"I've just thought of something," she said.
"Yeah? Worth interrupting a news bulletin about me for?"
"You hear enough about yourself as it is."
"I'm very insecure. We know that."
"Can we drop your ego for a moment? This is important."
"If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it
caught and shot now." Zaphod glared at her again, then laughed.
"Listen," she said, "we picked up those couple of guys..."
"What couple of guys?"
"The couple of guys we picked up."
"Oh, yeah," said Zaphod, "those couple of guys."
"We picked them up in sector ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha."
"Yeah?" said Zaphod and blinked.
Trillian said quietly, "Does that mean anything to you?"
"Mmmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha?"
"Well?" said Trillian.
"Er... what does the Z mean?" said Zaphod.
One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her
relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him
pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to
be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else
to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact
that he actually didn't understand what was going on, and really being
genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite
clearly was so - but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence
the act. He proffered people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This
above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no
longer be bothered to argue about it.
She sighed and punched up a star map on the visiscreen so she could
make it simple for him, whatever his reasons for wanting it to be that
"There," she pointed, "right there."
"Hey... Yeah!" said Zaphod.
"Well?" she said.
Parts of the inside of her head screamed at other parts of the inside
of her head. She said, very calmly, "It's the same sector you originally
picked me up in."
He looked at her and then looked back at the screen.
"Hey, yeah," he said, "now that is wild. We should have zapped
straight into the middle of the Horsehead Nebula. How did we come to be
there? I mean that's nowhere."
She ignored this.
"Improbability Drive," she said patiently. "You explained it to me
yourself. We pass through every point in the Universe, you know that."
"Yeah, but that's one wild coincidence isn't it?"
"Picking someone up at that point? Out of the whole of the Universe
to choose from? That's just too... I want to work this out. Computer!"
The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Shipboard Computer which
controlled and permeated every particle of the ship switched into
"Hi there!" it said brightly and simultaneously spewed out a tiny
ribbon of ticker tape just for the record. The ticker tape said, Hi there!
"Oh God," said Zaphod. He hadn't worked with this computer for long
but had already learned to loathe it.
The computer continued, brash and cheery as if it was selling
"I want you to know that whatever your problem, I am here to help you
"Yeah yeah," said Zaphod. "Look, I think I'll just use a piece of
"Sure thing," said the computer, spilling out its message into a
waste bin at the same time, "I understand. If you ever want..."
"Shut up!" said Zaphod, and snatching up a pencil sat down next to
Trillian at the console.
"OK, OK..." said the computer in a hurt tone of voice and closed down
its speech channel again.
Zaphod and Trillian pored over the figures that the Improbability
flight path scanner flashed silently up in front of them.
"Can we work out," said Zaphod, "from their point of view what the
Improbability of their rescue was?"
"Yes, that's a constant", said Trillian, "two to the power of two
hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred and nine to one against."
"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 tow-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
"Bat's dots, I can't work it out."
Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and gritted his
"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
A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's faces and on to the
"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
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 what 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
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.
"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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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...
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," persisted 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 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
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.
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
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.
"I think we just found what you came to look for."
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
"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.
"Er, no," he said.
"What do you see?"
"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
Zaphod laughed. He was clearly very excited about something, almost
"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 oneeighty
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
(Excerpt from The Hitch Hiker'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.
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.
"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
"A real pleasure feller," it burbled, "we are currently in orbit at
an altitude of three hundred miles around the legendary planet of
"Proving nothing," said Ford. "I wouldn't trust that computer to
speak my weight."
"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."
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Ah, take no notice," said Zaphod, "with half the wealth of the
former Galactic Empire stored on it somewhere it can afford to look
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
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
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.
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
"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.
"What the photon is it?"
"Oh, just some five-million-year-old tape that's being broadcast at
"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
("A voice from ancient Magrathea!" shouted Zaphod. "OK, OK," said
"... 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
"It's just a recording," said Zaphod. "We keep going. Got that,
"I got it," said the computer and gave the ship an extra kick of
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
"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
"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
"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,"
Zaphod stared at them in astonishment.
"Hey this is terrific!" he said. "Someone down there is trying to
"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
"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?"
"Trillian, can you?"
"Fine," said Zaphod, relaxing. "We'll do it together."
"I can't either," said Arthur, who felt it was time he began to
"I'd guessed that," said Zaphod. "OK computer, I want full manual
"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
"Good luck guys," chirped the computer, "impact minus thirty
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
Hitch Hiker'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
"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?"
"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?"
"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
On the surface of Magrathea Arthur wandered about moodily.
Ford had thoughtfully left him his copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to
the Galaxy to while away the time with. He pushed a few buttons at random.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a very unevenly edited book
and contains many passages that simply seemed to its editors like a good
idea at the time.
One of these (the one Arthur now came across) supposedly relates the
experiences of one Veet Voojagig, a quiet young student at the University
of Maximegalon, who pursued a brilliant academic career studying ancient
philology, transformational ethics and the wave harmonic theory of
historical perception, and then, after a night of drinking Pan Galactic
Gargle Blasters with Zaphod Beeblebrox, became increasingly obsessed with
the problem of what had happened to all the biros he'd bought over the
past few years.
There followed a long period of painstaking research during which he
visited all the major centres of biro loss throughout the galaxy and
eventually came up with a quaint little theory which quite caught the
public imagination at the time. Somewhere in the cosmos, he said, along
with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking
treeoids and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, there was also a
planet entirely given over to biro life forms. And it was to this planet
that unattended biros would make their way, slipping away quietly through
wormholes in space to a world where they knew they could enjoy a uniquely
biroid lifestyle, responding to highly biro-oriented stimuli, and
generally leading the biro equivalent of the good life.
And as theories go this was all very fine and pleasant until Veet
Voojagig suddenly claimed to have found this planet, and to have worked
there for a while driving a limousine for a family of cheap green
retractables, whereupon he was taken away, locked up, wrote a book, and
was finally sent into tax exile, which is the usual fate reserved for
those who are determined to make a fool of themselves in public.
When one day an expedition was sent to the spatial coordinates that
Voojagig had claimed for this planet they discovered only a small asteroid
inhabited by a solitary old man who claimed repeatedly that nothing was
true, though he was later discovered to be lying.
There did, however, remain the question of both the mysterious 60,000
Altairan dollars paid yearly into his Brantisvogan bank account, and of
course Zaphod Beeblebrox's highly profitable second-hand biro business.
Arthur read this, and put the book down.
The robot still sat there, completely inert.
Arthur got up and walked to the top of the crater. He walked around
the crater. He watched two suns set magnificently over Magrathea.
He went back down into the crater. He woke the robot up because even
a manically depressed robot is better to talk to than nobody.
"Night's falling," he said. "Look robot, the stars are coming out."
From the heart of a dark nebula it is possible to see very few stars,
and only very faintly, but they were there to be seen.
The robot obediently looked at them, then looked back.
"I know," he said. "Wretched isn't it?"
"But that sunset! I've never seen anything like it in my wildest
dreams... the two suns! It was like mountains of fire boiling into space."
"I've seen it," said Marvin. "It's rubbish."
"We only ever had the one sun at home," persevered Arthur, "I came
from a planet called Earth you know."
"I know," said Marvin, "you keep going on about it. It sounds awful."
"Ah no, it was a beautiful place."
"Did it have oceans?"
"Oh yes," said Arthur with a sigh, "great wide rolling blue
"Can't bear oceans," said Marvin.
"Tell me," inquired Arthur, "do you get on well with other robots?"
"Hate them," said Marvin. "Where are you going?"
Arthur couldn't bear any more. He had got up again.
"I think I'll just take another walk," he said.
"Don't blame you," said Marvin and counted five hundred and
ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second
Arthur slapped his arms about himself to try and get his circulation
a little more enthusiastic about its job. He trudged back up the wall of
Because the atmosphere was so thin and because there was no moon,
nightfall was very rapid and it was by now very dark. Because of this,
Arthur practically walked into the old man before he noticed him.
He was standing with his back to Arthur watching the very last
glimmers of light sink into blackness behind the horizon. He was tallish,
elderly and dressed in a single long grey robe. When he turned his face
was thin and distinguished, careworn but not unkind, the sort of face you
would happily bank with. But he didn't turn yet, not even to react to
Arthur's yelp of surprise.
Eventually the last rays of the sun had vanished completely, and he
turned. His face was still illuminated from somewhere, and when Arthur
looked for the source of the light he saw that a few yards away stood a
small craft of some kind - a small hovercraft, Arthur guessed. It shed a
dim pool of light around it.
The man looked at Arthur, sadly it seemed.
"You choose a cold night to visit our dead planet," he said.
"Who... who are you?" stammered Arthur.
The man looked away. Again a kind of sadness seemed to cross his
"My name is not important," he said.
He seemed to have something on his mind. Conversation was clearly
something he felt he didn't have to rush at. Arthur felt awkward.
"I... er... you startled me..." he said, lamely.
The man looked round to him again and slightly raised his eyebrows.
"Hmmmm?" he said.
"I said you startled me."
"Do not be alarmed, I will not harm you."
Arthur frowned at him. "But you shot at us! There were missiles..."
The man chuckled slightly.
"An automatic system," he said and gave a small sigh. "Ancient
computers ranged in the bowels of the planet tick away the dark millennia,
and the ages hang heavy on their dusty data banks. I think they take the
occasional pot shot to relieve the monotony."
He looked gravely at Arthur and said, "I'm a great fan of science you
"Oh... er, really?" said Arthur, who was beginning to find the man's
curious, kindly manner disconcerting.
"Oh, yes," said the old man, and simply stopped talking again.
"Ah," said Arthur, "er..." He had an odd felling of being like a man
in the act of adultery who is surprised when the woman's husband wanders
into the room, changes his trousers, passes a few idle remarks about the
weather and leaves again.
"You seem ill at ease," said the old man with polite concern.
"Er, no... well, yes. Actually you see, we weren't really expecting
to find anybody about in fact. I sort of gathered that you were all dead
"Dead?" said the old man. "Good gracious no, we have but slept."
"Slept?" said Arthur incredulously.
"Yes, through the economic recession you see," said the old man,
apparently unconcerned about whether Arthur understood a word he was
talking about or not.
"Er, economic recession?"
"Well you see, five million years ago the Galactic economy collapsed,
and seeing that custom-made planets are something of a luxury commodity
He paused and looked at Arthur.
"You know we built planets do you?" he asked solemnly.
"Well yes," said Arthur, "I'd sort of gathered..."
"Fascinating trade," said the old man, and a wistful look came into
his eyes, "doing the coastlines was always my favourite. Used to have
endless fun doing the little bits in fjords... so anyway," he said trying
to find his thread again, "the recession came and we decided it would save
us a lot of bother if we just slept through it. So we programmed the
computers to revive us when it was all over."
The man stifled a very slight yawn and continued.
"The computers were index linked to the Galactic stock market prices
you see, so that we'd all be revived when everybody else had rebuilt the
economy enough to afford our rather expensive services."
Arthur, a regular Guardian reader, was deeply shocked at this.
"That's a pretty unpleasant way to behave isn't it?"
"Is it?" asked the old man mildly. "I'm sorry, I'm a bit out of
He pointed down into the crater.
"Is that robot yours?" he said.
"No," came a thin metallic voice from the crater, "I'm mine."
"If you'd call it a robot," muttered Arthur. "It's more a sort of
electronic sulking machine."
"Bring it," said the old man. Arthur was quite surprised to hear a
note of decision suddenly present in the old man's voice. He called to
Marvin who crawled up the slope making a big show of being lame, which he
"On second thoughts," said the old man, "leave it here. You must come
with me. Great things are afoot." He turned towards his craft which,
though no apparent signal had been given, now drifted quietly towards them
through the dark.
Arthur looked down at Marvin, who now made an equally big show of
turning round laboriously and trudging off down into the crater again
muttering sour nothings to himself.
"Come," called the old man, "come now or you will be late."
"Late?" said Arthur. "What for?"
"What is your name, human?"
"Dent. Arthur Dent," said Arthur.
"Late, as in the late Dentarthurdent," said the old man, sternly.
"It's a sort of threat you see." Another wistful look came into his tired
old eyes. "I've never been very good at them myself, but I'm told they can
be very effective."
Arthur blinked at him.
"What an extraordinary person," he muttered to himself.
"I beg your pardon?" said the old man.
"Oh nothing, I'm sorry," said Arthur in embarrassment. "Alright,
where do we go?"
"In my aircar," said the old man motioning Arthur to get into the
craft which had settled silently next to them. "We are going deep into the
bowels of the planet where even now our race is being revived from its
five-million-year slumber. Magrathea awakes."
Arthur shivered involuntarily as he seated himself next to the old
man. The strangeness of it, the silent bobbing movement of the craft as it
soared into the night sky quite unsettled him.
He looked at the old man, his face illuminated by the dull glow of
tiny lights on the instrument panel.
"Excuse me," he said to him, "what is your name by the way?"
"My name?" said the old man, and the same distant sadness came into
his face again. He paused. "My name," he said, "... is Slartibartfast."
Arthur practically choked.
"I beg your pardon?" he spluttered.
"Slartibartfast," repeated the old man quietly.
The old man looked at him gravely.
"I said it wasn't important," he said.
The aircar sailed through the night.
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what
they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that
he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -
the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever
done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the
dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man
- for precisely the same reasons.
Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known of the impending
destruction of the planet Earth and had made many attempts to alert
mankind of the danger; but most of their communications were
misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for
tidbits, so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own means
shortly before the Vogons arrived.
The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly
sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwardssomersault through a hoop
whilst whistling the "Star Sprangled Banner", but in fact the message was
this: So long and thanks for all the fish.
In fact there was only one species on the planet more intelligent
than dolphins, and they spent a lot of their time in behavioural research
laboratories running round inside wheels and conducting frighteningly
elegant and subtle experiments on man. The fact that once again man
completely misinterpreted this relationship was entirely according to
these creatures' plans.
Silently the aircar coasted through the cold darkness, a single soft
glow of light that was utterly alone in the deep Magrathean night. It sped
swiftly. Arthur's companion seemed sunk in his own thoughts, and when
Arthur tried on a couple of occasions to engage him in conversation again
he would simply reply by asking if he was comfortable enough, and then
left it at that.
Arthur tried to gauge the speed at which they were travelling, but
the blackness outside was absolute and he was denied any reference points.
The sense of motion was so soft and slight he could almost believe they
were hardly moving at all.
Then a tiny glow of light appeared in the far distance and within
seconds had grown so much in size that Arthur realized it was travelling
towards them at a colossal speed, and he tried to make out what sort of
craft it might be. He peered at it, but was unable to discern any clear
shape, and suddenly gasped in alarm as the aircraft dipped sharply and
headed downwards in what seemed certain to be a collision course. Their
relative velocity seemed unbelievable, and Arthur had hardly time to draw
breath before it was all over. The next thing he was aware of was an
insane silver blur that seemed to surround him. He twisted his head
sharply round and saw a small black point dwindling rapidly in the
distance behind them, and it took him several seconds to realize what had
They had plunged into a tunnel in the ground. The colossal speed had
been their own relative to the glow of light which was a stationary hole
in the ground, the mouth of the tunnel. The insane blur of silver was the
circular wall of the tunnel down which they were shooting, apparently at
several hundred miles an hour.
He closed his eyes in terror.
After a length of time which he made no attempt to judge, he sensed a
slight subsidence in their speed and some while later became aware that
they were gradually gliding to a gentle halt.
He opened his eyes again. They were still in the silver tunnel,
threading and weaving their way through what appeared to be a crisscross
warren of converging tunnels. When they finally stopped it was in a small
chamber of curved steel. Several tunnels also had their terminus here, and
at the farther end of the chamber Arthur could see a large circle of dim
irritating light. It was irritating because it played tricks with the
eyes, it was impossible to focus on it properly or tell how near or far it
was. Arthur guessed (quite wrongly) that it might be ultra violet.
Slartibartfast turned and regarded Arthur with his solemn old eyes.
"Earthman," he said, "we are now deep in the heart of Magrathea."
"How did you know I was an Earthman?" demanded Arthur.
"These things will become clear to you," said the old man gently, "at
least," he added with slight doubt in his voice, "clearer than they are at
He continued: "I should warn you that the chamber we are about to
pass into does not literally exist within our planet. It is a little
too... large. We are about to pass through a gateway into a vast tract of
hyperspace. It may disturb you."
Arthur made nervous noises.
Slartibartfast touched a button and added, not entirely reassuringly.
"It scares the willies out of me. Hold tight."
The car shot forward straight into the circle of light, and suddenly
Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.
It wasn't infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and
uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity -
distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into
which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was just very very
big, so that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity
Arthur's senses bobbed and span, as, travelling at the immense speed
he knew the aircar attained, they climbed slowly through the open air
leaving the gateway through which they had passed an invisible pinprick in
the shimmering wall behind them.
The wall defied the imagination - seduced it and defeated it. The
wall was so paralysingly vast and sheer that its top, bottom and sides
passed away beyond the reach of sight. The mere shock of vertigo could
kill a man.
The wall appeared perfectly flat. It would take the finest laser
measuring equipment to detect that as it climbed, apparently to infinity,
as it dropped dizzily away, as it planed out to either side, it also
curved. It met itself again thirteen light seconds away. In other words
the wall formed the inside of a hollow sphere, a sphere over three million
miles across and flooded with unimaginable light.
"Welcome," said Slartibartfast as the tiny speck that was the aircar,
travelling now at three times the speed of sound, crept imperceptibly
forward into the mindboggling space, "welcome," he said, "to our factory
Arthur stared about him in a kind of wonderful horror. Ranged away
before them, at distances he could neither judge nor even guess at, were a
series of curious suspensions, delicate traceries of metal and light hung
about shadowy spherical shapes that hung in the space.
"This," said Slartibartfast, "is where we make most of our planets
"You mean," said Arthur, trying to form the words, "you mean you're
starting it all up again now?"
"No no, good heavens no," exclaimed the old man, "no, the Galaxy
isn't nearly rich enough to support us yet. No, we've been awakened to
perform just one extraordinary commission for very... special clients from
another dimension. It may interest you... there in the distance in front
Arthur followed the old man's finger, till he was able to pick out
the floating structure he was pointing out. It was indeed the only one of
the many structures that betrayed any sign of activity about it, though
this was more a sublimal impression than anything one could put one's
At the moment however a flash of light arced through the structure
and revealed in stark relief the patterns that were formed on the dark
sphere within. Patterns that Arthur knew, rough blobby shapes that were as
familiar to him as the shapes of words, part of the furniture of his mind.
For a few seconds he sat in stunned silence as the images rushed around
his mind and tried to find somewhere to settle down and make sense.
Part of his brain told him that he knew perfectly well what he was
looking at and what the shapes represented whilst another quite sensibly
refused to countenance the idea and abdicated responsibility for any
further thinking in that direction.
The flash came again, and this time there could be no doubt.
"The Earth..." whispered Arthur.
"Well, the Earth Mark Two in fact," said Slartibartfast cheerfully.
"We're making a copy from our original blueprints."
There was a pause.
"Are you trying to tell me," said Arthur, slowly and with control,
"that you originally... made the Earth?"
"Oh yes," said Slartibartfast. "Did you ever go to a place... I think
it was called Norway?"
"No," said Arthur, "no, I didn't."
"Pity," said Slartibartfast, "that was one of mine. Won an award you
know. Lovely crinkly edges. I was most upset to hear about its
"You were upset!"
"Yes. Five minutes later and it wouldn't have mattered so much. It
was a quite shocking cock-up."
"Huh?" said Arthur.
"The mice were furious."
"The mice were furious?"
"Oh yes," said the old man mildly.
"Yes well so I expect were the dogs and cats and duckbilled
"Ah, but they hadn't paid for it you see, had they?"
"Look," said Arthur, "would it save you a lot of time if I just gave
up and went mad now?"
For a while the aircar flew on in awkward silence. Then the old man
tried patiently to explain.
"Earthman, the planet you lived on was commissioned, paid for, and
run by mice. It was destroyed five minutes before the completion of the
purpose for which it was built, and we've got to build another one."
Only one word registered with Arthur.
"Mice?" he said.
"Look, sorry - are we talking about the little white furry things
with the cheese fixation and women standing on tables screaming in early
sixties sit coms?"
Slartibartfast coughed politely.
"Earthman," he said, "it is sometimes hard to follow your mode of
speech. Remember I have been asleep inside this planet of Magrathea for
five million years and know little of these early sixties sit coms of
which you speak. These creatures you call mice, you see, they are not
quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of
vast hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. The whole business with the
cheese and the squeaking is just a front."
The old man paused, and with a sympathetic frown continued.
"They've been experimenting on you I'm afraid."
Arthur thought about this for a second, and then his face cleared.
"Ah no," he said, "I see the source of the misunderstanding now. No,
look you see, what happened was that we used to do experiments on them.
They were often used in behavioural research, Pavlov and all that sort of
stuff. So what happened was hat the mice would be set all sorts of tests,
learning to ring bells, run around mazes and things so that the whole
nature of the learning process could be examined. From our observations of
their behaviour we were able to learn all sorts of things about our
Arthur's voice tailed off.
"Such subtlety..." said Slartibartfast, "one has to admire it."
"What?" said Arthur.
"How better to disguise their real natures, and how better to guide
your thinking. Suddenly running down a maze the wrong way, eating the
wrong bit of cheese, unexpectedly dropping dead of myxomatosis, - if it's
finely calculated the cumulative effect is enormous."
He paused for effect.
"You see, Earthman, they really are particularly clever
hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings. Your planet and people have
formed the matrix of an organic computer running a tenmillion-year
"Let me tell you the whole story. It'll take a little time."
"Time," said Arthur weakly, "is not currently one of my problems."
fucking hell that book is great
some of the funniest shit i've ever read/seen.
i'm yet to read the others however
i should get to that
although i'm going to start reading Fight Club again once i get it back from my fucking friend who likes to ditch and ignore me(being pissed and bitter sucks)