The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online
"This," said Slartibartfast, "is where we make most of our planets you see."
"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 of us."
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 finger on.
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 destruction."
"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 platypuses, but . . ."
"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 pan-dimensional 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 that 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 own . . ."
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 ten-million-year research programme . . .
"Let me tell you the whole story. It'll take a little time."
"Time," said Arthur weakly, "is not currently one of my problems."
There are of course many problems connected with life, of which some of the most popular are Why are people born? Why do they die? Why do they want to spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?
Many many millions of years ago a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings (whose physical manifestation in their own pan-dimensional universe is not dissimilar to our own) got so fed up with the constant bickering about the meaning of life which used to interrupt their favourite pastime of Brockian Ultra Cricket (a curious game which involved suddenly hitting people for no readily apparent reason and then running away) that they decided to sit down and solve their problems once and for all.
And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before the data banks had been connected up it had started from I think therefore I am and got as far as the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off.
It was the size of a small city.
Its main console was installed in a specially designed executive office, mounted on an enormous executive desk of finest ultramahogany topped with rich ultrared leather. The dark carpeting was discreetly sumptuous, exotic pot plants and tastefully engraved prints of the principal computer programmers and their families were deployed liberally about the room, and stately windows looked out upon a tree-lined public square.
On the day of the Great On-Turning two soberly dressed programmers with brief cases arrived and were shown discreetly into the office. They were aware that this day they would represent their entire race in its greatest moment, but they conducted themselves calmly and quietly as they seated themselves deferentially before the desk, opened their brief cases and took out their leather-bound notebooks.
Their names were Lunkwill and Fook.
For a few moments they sat in respectful silence, then, after exchanging a quiet glance with Fook, Lunkwill leaned forward and touched a small black panel.
The subtlest of hums indicated that the massive computer was now in total active mode. After a pause it spoke to them in a voice rich resonant and deep.
It said: "What is this great task for which I, Deep Thought, the second greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space have been called into existence?"
Lunkwill and Fook glanced at each other in surprise.
"Your task, O Computer . . ." began Fook.
"No, wait a minute, this isn't right," said Lunkwill, worried. "We distinctly designed this computer to be the greatest one ever and we're not making do with second best. Deep Thought," he addressed the computer, "are you not as we designed you to be, the greatest most powerful computer in all time?"
"I described myself as the second greatest," intoned Deep Thought, "and such I am."