Read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Online

Authors: Douglas Adams

Tags: #Retail, #Personal, #004 Top 100 Sci-Fi

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (10 page)

BOOK: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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“What I mean,” said Ford, “is does it give you a full, satisfying life? Stomping around, shouting, pushing people out of spaceships …”

The Vogon stared up at the low steel ceiling and his eyebrows almost rolled over each other. His mouth slacked. Finally he said, “Well, the hours are good.…”

“They’d have to be,” agreed Ford.

Arthur twisted his head round to look at Ford.

“Ford, what are you doing?” he asked in an amazed whisper.

“Oh, just trying to take an interest in the world around me, okay?” he said. “So the hours are pretty good then?” he resumed.

The Vogon stared down at him as sluggish thoughts moiled around in the murky depths.

“Yeah,” he said, “but now you come to mention it, most of the actual minutes are pretty lousy. Except …” he thought again, which required looking at the ceiling, “except some of the shouting I quite like.” He filled his lungs and bellowed, “Resistance is …”

“Sure, yes,” interrupted Ford hurriedly, “you’re good at that, I can tell. But if it’s mostly lousy,” he said, slowly giving the words time to reach their mark, “then why do you do it? What is it? The girls? The leather? The machismo? Or do you just find that coming to terms with the mindless tedium of it all presents an interesting challenge?”

Arthur looked backward and forward between them in bafflement.

“Er …” said the guard, “er … er … I dunno. I think I just sort of … do it really. My aunt said that spaceship guard was a good career for a young Vogon—you know, the uniform, the low-slung stun ray holster, the mindless tedium …”

“There you are, Arthur,” said Ford with the air of someone reaching the conclusion of his argument, “you think you’ve got problems.”

Arthur rather thought he had. Apart from the unpleasant business with his home planet the Vogon guard had half-throttled him already and he didn’t like the sound of being thrown into space very much.

“Try and understand
his
problem,” insisted Ford. “Here he is, poor lad, his entire life’s work is stamping around, throwing people off spaceships …”

“And shouting,” added the guard.

“And shouting, sure,” said Ford, patting the blubbery arm clamped
round his neck in friendly condescension, “and he doesn’t even know why he’s doing it!”

Arthur agreed this was very sad. He did this with a small feeble gesture, because he was too asphyxiated to speak.

Deep rumblings of bemusement came from the guard.

“Well. Now you put it like that I suppose …”

“Good lad!” encouraged Ford.

“But all right,” went on the rumblings, “so what’s the alternative?”

“Well,” said Ford, brightly but slowly, “stop doing it, of course! Tell them,” he went on, “you’re not going to do it any more.” He felt he ought to add something to that, but for the moment the guard seemed to have his mind occupied pondering that much.

“Eerrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …” said the guard, “erm, well, that doesn’t sound that great to me.”

Ford suddenly felt the moment slipping away.

“Now wait a minute,” he said, “that’s just the start, you see, there’s more to it than that, you see.…”

But at that moment the guard renewed his grip and continued his original purpose of lugging his prisoners to the airlock. He was obviously quite touched.

“No, I think if it’s all the same to you,” he said, “I’d better get you both shoved into this airlock and then go and get on with some other bits of shouting I’ve got to do.”

It wasn’t all the same to Ford Prefect at all.

“Come on now … but look!” he said, less slowly, less brightly.

“Huhhhhggggggnnnnnnn …” said Arthur without any clear inflection.

“But hang on,” pursued Ford, “there’s music and art and things to tell you about yet! Arrggghhh!”

“Resistance is useless,” bellowed the guard, and then added, “You see, if I keep it up I can eventually get promoted to Senior Shouting Officer, and there aren’t usually many vacancies for nonshouting and nonpushing-people-about officers, so I think I’d better stick to what I know.”

They had now reached the airlock—a large circular steel hatchway of massive strength and weight let into the inner skin of the craft. The guard operated a control and the hatchway swung smoothly open.

“But thanks for taking an interest,” said the Vogon guard. “Bye now.” He flung Ford and Arthur through the hatchway into the small chamber within. Arthur lay panting for breath. Ford scrambled round and flung his shoulder uselessly against the reclosing hatchway.

“But listen,” he shouted to the guard, “there’s a whole world you don’t know anything about … here, how about this?” Desperately he grabbed for the only bit of culture he knew offhand—he hummed the first bar of Beethoven’s “Fifth.”


Da da da dum!
Doesn’t that stir anything in you?”

“No,” said the guard, “not really. But I’ll mention it to my aunt.”

If he said anything further after that it was lost. The hatchway sealed itself tight, and all sound was lost except the faint distant hum of the ship’s engines.

They were in a brightly polished cylindrical chamber about six feet in diameter and ten feet long.

Ford looked round it, panting.

“Potentially bright lad I thought,” he said, and slumped against the curved wall.

Arthur was still lying in the curve of the floor where he had fallen. He didn’t look up. He just lay panting.

“We’re trapped now, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” said Ford, “we’re trapped.”

“Well, didn’t you think of anything? I thought you said you were going to think of something. Perhaps you thought of something and I didn’t notice.”

“Oh yes, I thought of something,” panted Ford.

Arthur looked up expectantly.

“But unfortunately,” continued Ford, “it rather involved being on the other side of this airtight hatchway.” He kicked the hatch they’d just been thrown through.

“But it was a good idea, was it?”

“Oh yes, very neat.”

“What was it?”

“Well, I hadn’t worked out the details yet. Not much point now, is there?”

“So … er, what happens next?” asked Arthur.

“Oh, er, well, the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxiate. If you take a lungful of air with you you can last for up to thirty seconds, of course …” said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur’s eyes he suddenly looked very alien.

“So this is it,” said Arthur, “we are going to die.”

“Yes,” said Ford, “except … no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried.

“What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round.

“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.”

He slumped against the wall again and carried on the tune from where he left off.

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”

“Why, what did she tell you?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

“Oh.” Ford carried on humming.

“This is terrific,” Arthur thought to himself, “Nelson’s Column has gone, McDonald’s has gone, all that’s left is me and the words
Mostly harmless
. Any second now all that will be left is
Mostly harmless
. And yesterday the planet seemed to be going so well.”

A motor whirred.

A slight hiss built into a deafening roar of rushing air as the outer hatchway opened onto an empty blackness studded with tiny, impossibly bright points of light. Ford and Arthur popped into outer space like corks from a toy gun.

Chapter 8

T
he Hitchhiker’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 travelers and researchers
.

The introduction begins like this:

“Space,”
it says
, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly 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 while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory there it is vitally important to get a receipt.)

To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of the 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 dizzying concepts
.

The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination
.

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 to journey from the star Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol’s nearest stellar neighbor, 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 hitchhiking this distance is just under five years, but you don’t get to see much on the way
.

The Hitchhiker’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 does go 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 seventy-six 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 a gate-crasher
.

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
.

Chapter 9

A
computer chattered 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 millions of 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 three-foot-high market analysts fell out of it and died, partly of asphyxiation, partly of surprise.

Two hundred and thirty-nine thousand lightly fried eggs fell out of it too, materializing in a large wobbly heap on the famine-struck 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 backward and forward 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 learned to copy themselves (this was part of what was so extraordinary about the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble on every planet they drifted on to. That was how life began in the Universe.

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 half-spent fish.

“There you are,” gasped Ford, scrabbling for a finger hold 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 Jell-O. 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 astronomical.”

“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 unexpected directions.

Arthur and Ford opened their eyes and looked about in considerable surprise.

“Good God,” said Arthur, “it looks just like the sea front at Southend.”

“Hell, I’m relieved to hear you say that,” said Ford.

“Why?”

“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.”

BOOK: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
4.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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