The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online
Ford shouted out, "Hey, listen! I think we've got enough problems on our own having you shooting at us, so if you could avoid laying your problems on us as well, I think we'd all find it easier to cope!"
Another pause, and then the loud hailer again.
"Now see here, guy," said the voice on the loud hailer, "you're not dealing with any dumb two-bit trigger-pumping morons with low hairlines, little piggy eyes and no conversation, we're a couple of intelligent caring guys that you'd probably quite like if you met us socially! I don't go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging about it afterwards in seedy space-rangers bars, like some cops I could mention! I go around shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about it afterwards for hours to my girlfriend!"
"And I write novels!" chimed in the other cop. "Though I haven't had any of them published yet, so I better warn you, I'm in a meeeean mood!"
Ford's eyes popped halfway out of their sockets. "Who are these guys?" he said.
"Dunno," said Zaphod, "I think I preferred it when they were shooting."
"So are you going to come quietly," shouted one of the cops again, "or are you going to let us blast you out?"
"Which would you prefer?" shouted Ford.
A millisecond later the air about them started to fry again, as bolt after bolt of Kill-O-Zap hurled itself into the computer bank in front of them.
The fusillade continued for several seconds at unbearable intensity.
When it stopped, there were a few seconds of near quietness as the echoes died away.
"You still there?" called one of the cops.
"Yes," they called back.
"We didn't enjoy doing that at all," shouted the other cop.
"We could tell," shouted Ford.
"Now, listen to this, Beeblebrox, and you better listen good!"
"Why?" shouted Back Zaphod.
"Because," shouted the cop, "it's going to be very intelligent, and quite interesting and humane! Now either you all give yourselves up now and let us beat you up a bit, though not very much of course because we are firmly opposed to needless violence, or we blow up this entire planet and possibly one or two others we noticed on our way out here!"
"But that's crazy!" cried Trillian. "You wouldn't do that!"
"Oh yes we would," shouted the cop, "wouldn't we?" he asked the other one.
"Oh yes, we'd have to, no question," the other one called back.
"But why?" demanded Trillian.
"Because there are some things you have to do even if you are an enlightened liberal cop who knows all about sensitivity and everything!"
"I just don't believe these guys," muttered Ford, shaking his head.
One cop shouted to the other, "Shall we shoot them again for a bit?"
"Yeah, why not?"
They let fly another electric barrage.
The heat and noise was quite fantastic. Slowly, the computer bank was beginning to disintegrate. The front had almost all melted away, and thick rivulets of molten metal were winding their way back towards where they were squatting. They huddled further back and waited for the end.
But the end never came, at least not then.
Quite suddenly the barrage stopped, and the sudden silence afterwards was punctuated by a couple of strangled gurgles and thuds.
The four stared at each other.
"What happened?" said Arthur.
"They stopped," said Zaphod with a shrug.
"Dunno, do you want to go and ask them?"
"Hello?" called out Ford.
"Perhaps it's a trap."
"They haven't the wit."
"What were those thuds?"
They waited for a few more seconds.
"Right," said Ford, "I'm going to have a look."
He glanced round at the others.
"Is no one going to say, No you can't possibly, let me go instead?"
They all shook their heads.
"Oh well," he said, and stood up.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. Ford peered through the thick smoke that was billowing out of the burning computer.
Cautiously he stepped out into the open.
Still nothing happened.
Twenty yards away he could dimly see through the smoke the space-suited figure of one of the cops. He was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. Twenty yards in the other direction lay the second man. No one else was anywhere to be seen.
This struck Ford as being extremely odd.
Slowly, nervously, he walked towards the first one. The body lay reassuringly still as he approached it, and continued to lie reassuringly still as he reached it and put his foot down on the Kill-O-Zap gun that still dangled from its limp fingers.
He reached down and picked it up, meeting no resistance.
The cop was quite clearly dead.
A quick examination revealed him to be from Blagulon Kappa--he was a methane-breathing life form, dependent on his space suit for survival in the thin oxygen atmosphere of Magrathea.
The tiny life-support system computer on his backpack appeared unexpectedly to have blown up.
Ford poked around in it in considerable astonishment. These miniature suit computers usually had the full back-up of the main computer back on the ship, with which they were directly linked through the sub-etha. Such a system was fail-safe in all circumstances other than total feedback malfunction, which was unheard of.
He hurried over to the other prone figure, and discovered that exactly the same impossible thing had happened to him, presumably simultaneously.
He called the others over to look. They came, shared his astonishment, but not his curiosity.
"Let's get shot out of this hole," said Zaphod. "If whatever I'm supposed to be looking for is here, I don't want it." He grabbed the second Kill-O-Zap gun, blasted a perfectly harmless accounting computer and rushed out into the corridor, followed by the others. He very nearly blasted hell out of an aircar that stood waiting for them a few yards away.
The aircar was empty, but Arthur recognized it as belonging to Slartibartfast.
It had a note from him pinned to part of its sparse instrument panel. The note had an arrow drawn on it, pointing at one of the controls.
It said, This is probably the best button to press.
The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17 through the steel tunnels that lead out onto the appalling surface of the planet which was now in the grip of yet another drear morning twilight. Ghastly grey lights congealed on the land.
R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental wellbeing and not being more than say five minutes late. It is therefore clearly an almost infinitely variable figure according to circumstances, since the first two factors vary not only with speed taken as an absolute, but also with awareness of the third factor. Unless handled with tranquility this equation can result in considerable stress, ulcers and even death.
R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.
The aircar flung itself through the air at R17 and above, deposited them next to the Heart of Gold which stood starkly on the frozen ground like a bleached bone, and then precipitately hurled itself back in the direction whence they had come, presumably on important business of its own.
Shivering, the four of them stood and looked at the ship.
Beside it stood another one.
It was the Blagulon Kappa policecraft, a bulbous sharklike affair, slate green in colour and smothered with black stencilled letters of varying degrees of size and unfriendliness. The letters informed anyone who cared to read them as to where the ship was from, what section of the police it was assigned to, and where the power feeds should be connect