The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online

Page 12



  Ford stared at him, aghast. Trillian had turned white.

  "Somebody did that to you?" whispered Ford.

  "Yeah."

  "But have you any idea who? Or why?"

  "Why? I can only guess. But I do know who the bastard was."

  "You know? How do you know?"

  "Because they left their initials burnt into the cauterized synapses. They left them there for me to see."

  Ford stared at him in horror and felt his skin begin to crawl.

  "Initials? Burnt into your brain?"

  "Yeah."

  "Well, what were they, for God's sake?"

  Zaphod looked at him in silence again for a moment. Then he looked away.

  "Z.B.," he said.

  At that moment a steel shutter slammed down behind them and gas started to pour into the chamber.

  "I'll tell you about it later," choked Zaphod as all three passed out.

  Chapter 21

  On the surface of Magrathea Arthur wandered about moodily.

  Ford had thoughtfully left him his copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to while away the time with. He pushed a few buttons at random.

  The Hitchhiker'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 oceans . . ."

  "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 later.

  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 the crater.

  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.

  Chapter 22

  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 face.

  "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 . . ." he said.

  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 know."

  "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 or something . . ."

  "Dead?" said the old man. "Good gracious me, no, we have but slept."

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