The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online

Page 15

  "No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that."

  "Everyone?" said Arthur. "Well, if everyone has that perhaps it means something! Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know . . ."

  "Maybe. Who cares?" said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. "Perhaps I'm old and tired," he continued, "but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway."

  He rummaged around in a pile of debris and pulled out a large perspex block with his name on it and a model of Norway moulded into it.

  "Where's the sense in that?" he said. "None that I've been able to make out. I've been doing fjords in all my life. For a fleeting moment they become fashionable and I get a major award."

  He turned it over in his hands with a shrug and tossed it aside carelessly, but not so carelessly that it didn't land on something soft.

  "In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it's not equatorial enough. Equatorial!" He gave a hollow laugh. "What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

  "And are you?"

  "No. That's where it all falls down of course."

  "Pity," said Arthur with sympathy. "It sounded like quite a good lifestyle otherwise."

  Somewhere on the wall a small white light flashed.

  "Come," said Slartibartfast, "you are to meet the mice. Your arrival on the planet has caused considerable excitement. It has already been hailed, so I gather, as the third most improbable event in the history of the Universe."

  "What were the first two?"

  "Oh, probably just coincidences," said Slartibartfast carelessly. He opened the door and stood waiting for Arthur to follow.

  Arthur glanced around him once more, and then down at himself, at the sweaty dishevelled clothes he had been lying in the mud in on Thursday morning.

  "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," he muttered to himself.

  "I beg your pardon?" said the old man mildly.

  "Oh nothing," said Arthur, "only joking."

  Chapter 31

  It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

  For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.

  The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

  A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jewelled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

  The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.

  Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.

  Eventually of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy--now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.

  For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across--which happened to be the Earth--where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

  Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

  "It's just life," they say.

  A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old Magrathean to a doorway. They left the car and went through the door into a waiting room full of glass-topped tables and perspex awards. Almost immediately, a light flashed above the door at the other side of the room and they entered.

  "Arthur! You're safe!" a voice cried.

  "Am I?" said Arthur, rather startled. "Oh good."

  The lighting was rather subdued and it took him a moment or so to see Ford, Trillian and Zaphod sitting round a large table beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats and bizarre fruits. They were stuffing their faces.

  "What happened to you?" demanded Arthur.

  "Well," said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle, "our hosts here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to make it up to us. Here," he said hoiking out a lump of evil smelling meat from a bowl, "have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet. It's delicious if you happen to like that sort of thing."

  "Hosts?" said Arthur. "What hosts? I don't see any . . ."

  A small voice said, "Welcome to lunch, Earth creature."

  Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.

  "Ugh!" he said. "There are mice on the table!"

  There was an awkward silence as everyone looked pointedly at Arthur.

  He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like whisky glasses on the table. He heard the silence and glanced around at everyone.

  "Oh!" he said, with sudden realization. "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite prepared for . . ."

  "Let me introduce you," said Trillian. "Arthur, this is Benji mouse."

  "Hi," said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky-glass like affair, and it moved forward slightly.

  "And this is Frankie mouse."

  The other mouse said, "Pleased to meet you," and did likewise.

  Arthur gaped.

  "But aren't they . . ."

  "Yes," said Trillian, "they are the mice I brought with me from the Earth."

  She looked him in the eye and Arthur thought he detected the tiniest resigned shrug.

  "Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Megadonkey?" she said.

  Slartibartfast coughed politely.

  "Er, excuse me," he said.

  "Yes, thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benji mouse sharply, "you may go."

  "What? Oh . . . er, very well," said the old man, slightly taken aback, "I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then."

  "Ah, well, in fact, that won't be necessary," said Frankie mouse. "It looks very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any longer." He swivelled his pink little eyes. "Not now that we have found a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was destroyed."

  "What?" cried Slartibartfast, aghast. "You can't mean that! I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"

  "Well perhaps you can take a quick skiing holiday before you dismantle them," said Frankie, acidly.

  "Skiing holiday!" cried the old man. "Those glaciers are works of art! Elegantly sculptured contours, soaring pinnacles of ice, deep majestic ravines! It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high art!"

  "Thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benji firmly. "That will be all."

  "Yes, sir," said the old man coldly, "thank you very much. Well,