The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online

Page 11



  Relaxing in a wickerwork sun chair, Zaphod Beeblebrox said, "What the hell happened?"

  "Well, I was just saying," said Arthur lounging by a small fish pool, "there's this Improbability Drive switch over here . . ." he waved at where it had been. There was a potted plant there now.

  "But where are we?" said Ford who was sitting on the spiral staircase, a nicely chilled Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in his hand.

  "Exactly where we were, I think . . ." said Trillian, as all about them the mirrors showed them an image of the blighted landscape of Magrathea which still scooted along beneath them.

  Zaphod leapt out of his seat.

  "Then what's happened to the missiles?" he said.

  A new and astounding image appeared in the mirrors.

  "They would appear," said Ford doubtfully, "to have turned into a bowl of petunias and a very surprised looking whale . . ."

  "At an Improbability Factor," cut in Eddie, who hadn't changed a bit, "of eight million seven hundred and sixty-seven thousand one hundred and twenty-eight to one against."

  Zaphod stared at Arthur.

  "Did you think of that, Earthman?" he demanded.

  "Well," said Arthur, "all I did was . . ."

  "That's very good thinking, you know. Turn on the Improbability Drive for a second without first activating the proofing screens. Hey, kid, you just saved our lives, you know that?"

  "Oh," said Arthur, "well, it was nothing really . . ."

  "Was it?" said Zaphod. "Oh well, forget it then. OK, computer, take us in to land."

  "But . . ."

  "I said forget it."

  Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.

  And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more.

  This is a complete record of its thoughts from the moment it began its life till the moment it ended it.

  Ah . . . ! What's happening? it thought.

  Er, excuse me, who am I?

  Hello?

  Why am I here? What's my purpose in life?

  What do I mean by who am I?

  Calm down, get a grip now . . . oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It's a sort of . . . yawning, tingling sensation in my . . . my . . . well I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let's call it my stomach.

  Good. Ooooh, it's getting quite strong. And hey, what's about this whistling roaring sound going past what I'm suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that . . . wind! Is that a good name? It'll do . . . perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what it's for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What's this thing? This . . . let's call it a tail--yeah, tail. Hey! I can really thrash it about pretty good, can't I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn't seem to achieve very much but I'll probably find out what it's for later on. Now--have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?

  No.

  Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I'm quite dizzy with anticipation . . .

  Or is it the wind?

  There really is a lot of that now, isn't it?

  And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like . . . ow . . . ound . . . round . . . ground! That's it! That's a good name--ground!

  I wonder if it will be friends with me?

  And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.

  Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.

  Chapter 19

  "Are we taking this robot with us?" said Ford, looking with distaste at Marvin who was standing in an awkward hunched posture in the corner under a small palm tree.

  Zaphod glanced away from the mirror screens which presented a panoramic view of the blighted landscape on which the Heart of Gold had now landed.

  "Oh, the Paranoid Android," he said. "Yeah, we'll take him."

  "But what are supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?"

  "You think you've got problems," said Marvin as if he was addressing a newly occupied coffin, "what are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don't bother to answer that, I'm fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don't know the answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level."

  Trillian burst in through the door from her cabin.

  "My white mice have escaped!" she said.

  An expression of deep worry and concern failed to cross either of Zaphod's faces.

  "Nuts to your white mice," he said.

  Trillian glared an upset glare at him, and disappeared again.

  It is possible that her remark would have commanded greater attention had it been generally realized that human beings were only the third most intelligent life form present on the planet Earth, instead of (as was generally thought by most independent observers) the second.

  "Good afternoon, boys."

  The voice was oddly familiar, but oddly different. It had a matriarchal twang. It announced itself to the crew as they arrived at the airlock hatchway that would let them out on the planet surface.

  They looked at each other in puzzlement.

  "It's the computer," explained Zaphod. "I discovered it had an emergency back-up personality that I thought might work out better."

  "Now this is going to be your first day out on a strange new planet," continued Eddie's new voice, "so I want you all wrapped up snug and warm, and no playing with any naughty bug-eyed monsters."

  Zaphod tapped impatiently on the hatch.

  "I'm sorry," he said, "I think we might be better off with a slide rule."

  "Right!" snapped the computer. "Who said that?"

  "Will you open the exit hatch please, computer?" said Zaphod trying not to get angry.

  "Not until whoever said that owns up," urged the computer, stamping a few synapses closed.

  "Oh God," muttered Ford, slumped against a bulkhead and started to count to ten. He was desperately worried that one day sentinent life forms would forget how to do this. Only by counting could humans demonstrate their independence of computers.

  "Come on," said Eddie sternly.

  "Computer . . ." began Zaphod . . .

  "I'm waiting," interrupted Eddie. "I can wait all day if necessary . . ."

  "Computer . . ." said Zaphod again, who had been trying to think of some subtle piece of reasoning to put the computer down with, and had decided not to bother competing with it on its own ground, "if you don't open that exit hatch this moment I shall zap straight off to your major data banks and reprogram you with a very large axe, got that?"

  Eddie, shocked, paused and considered this.

  Ford carried on counting quietly. This is about the most aggressive thing you can do to a computer, the equivalent of going up to a human being and saying Blood . . . blood . . . blood . . . blood . . .

  Finally Eddie said quietly, "I can see this relationship is something we're all going to have to work at," and the hatchway opened.

  An icy wind ripped into them, they hugged themselves warmly and stepped down the ramp on to the barren dust of Magrathea.

  "It'll all end in tears, I know it," shouted Eddie after them and closed the hatchway again.

  A few minutes later he opened and closed the hatchway again in response to a command that caught him entirely b