The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online

Page 8



  Zaphod Beeblebrox paced nervously up and down the cabin, brushing his hands over pieces of gleaming equipment and giggling with excitement.

  Trillian sat hunched over a clump of instruments reading off figures. Her voice was carried round the Tannoy system of the whole ship.

  "Five to one against and falling . . ." she said, "four to one against and falling . . . three to one . . . two . . . one . . . probability factor of one to one . . . we have normality, I repeat we have normality." She turned her microphone off--then turned it back on, with a slight smile and continued: "Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax. You will be sent for soon."

  Zaphod burst out in annoyance: "Who are they, Trillian?"

  Trillian span her seat round to face him and shrugged.

  "Just a couple of guys we seem to have picked up in open space," she said. "Section ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."

  "Yeah, well, that's a very sweet thought, Trillian," complained Zaphod, "but do you really think it's wise under the circumstances? I mean, here we are on the run and everything, we must have the police of half the Galaxy after us by now, and we stop to pick up hitchhikers. OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?"

  He tapped irritably at a control panel. Trillian quietly moved his hand before he tapped anything important. Whatever Zaphod's qualities of mind might include--dash, bravado, conceit--he was mechanically inept and could easily blow the ship up with an extravagant gesture. Trillian had come to suspect that the main reason why he had had such a wild and successful life that he never really understood the significance of anything he did.

  "Zaphod," she said patiently, "they were floating unprotected in open space . . . you wouldn't want them to have died, would you?"

  "Well, you know . . . no. Not as such, but . . ."

  "Not as such? Not die as such? But?" Trillian cocked her head on one side.

  "Well, maybe someone else might have picked them up later."

  "A second later and they would have been dead."

  "Yeah, so if you'd taken the trouble to think about the problem a bit longer it would have gone away."

  "You'd been happy to let them die?"

  "Well, you know, not happy as such, but . . ."

  "Anyway," said Trillian, turning back to the controls, "I didn't pick them up."

  "What do you mean? Who picked them up then?"

  "The ship did."

  "Huh?"

  "The ship did. All by itself."

  "Huh?"

  "Whilst we were in Improbability Drive."

  "But that's incredible."

  "No Zaphod. Just very very improbable."

  "Er, yeah."

  "Look, Zaphod," she said, patting his arm, "don't worry about the aliens. They're just a couple of guys, I expect. I'll send the robot down to get them and bring them up here. Hey, Marvin!"

  In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled about imperceptibly. It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about five pounds heavier that it actually was, and made what an outside observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room. It stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left shoulder.

  "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed," it said. Its voice was low and hopeless.

  "Oh God," muttered Zaphod and slumped into a seat.

  "Well," said Trillian in a bright compassionate tone, "here's something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."

  "It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."

  "Marvin!" warned Trillian.

  "Alright," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"

  "Go down to number two entry bay and bring the two aliens up here under surveillance."

  With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre--nothing you could actually take offence at--Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror of all things human.

  "Just that?" he said.

  "Yes," said Trillian firmly.

  "I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.

  Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

  "She's not asking you to enjoy it," he shouted, "just do it, will you?"

  "Alright," said Marvin like the tolling of a great cracked bell, "I'll do it."

  "Good . . ." snapped Zaphod, "great . . . thank you . . ."

  Marvin turned and lifted his flat-topped triangular red eyes up towards him.

  "I'm not getting you down at all, am I?" he said pathetically.

  "No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . ."

  "I wouldn't like to think that I was getting you down."

  "No, don't worry about that," the lilt continued, "you just act as comes naturally and everything will be just fine."

  "You're sure you don't mind?" probed Marvin.

  "No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . . just part of life."

  Marvin flashed him an electronic look.

  "Life," said Marvin, "don't talk to me about life."

  He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin. With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him "I don't think I can stand that robot much longer, Zaphod," growled Trillian.

  The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.

  Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

  The pink cubicle had winked out of existence, the monkeys had sunk away to a better dimension. Ford and Arthur found themselves in the embarkation area of the ship. It was rather smart.

  "I think the ship's brand new," said Ford.

  "How can you tell?" asked Arthur. "Have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?"

  "No, I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor. It's a lot of 'the Universe can be yours' stuff. Ah! Look, I was right."

  Ford jabbed at one of the pages and showed it to Arthur.

  "It says: 'Sensational new breakthrough in Improbability Physics. As soon as the ship's drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through every point in the Universe. Be the envy of other major governments.' Wow, this is big league stuff."

  Ford hunted excitedly through the technical specs of the ship, occasionally gasping with astonishment at what he read--clearly Galactic astrotechnology had moved ahead during the years of his exile.

  Arthur listened for a short while, but being unable to understand the vast majority of what Ford was saying he began to let his mind wander, trailing his fingers along the edge of an incomprehensible computer bank, he reached out and pressed an invitingly large red button on a nearby panel. The panel lit up with the words Please do not press this button again. He shook himself.

  "Listen," said Ford, who was still engrossed in the sales brochure, "they make a big thing of the ship's cybernetics. 'A new generation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers, with the new GPP feature.' "

  "GPP feature?" said Arthur. "What's that?"

  "Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."

  "Oh," said Arthur, "sounds ghastly."

  A voice behind them said, "It is." The voice was low and hopeless and accompanied by a slight clanking sound. They span round and saw an abject steel man standing hun