The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online

Page 9



  "That's high. They're two lucky lucky guys."

  "Yes."

  "But relative to what we were doing when the ship picked them up . . ."

  Trillian punched up the figures. They showed two-to-the power-of-Infinity-minus-one (an irrational number that only has a conventional meaning in Improbability physics).

  ". . . it's pretty low," continued Zaphod with a slight whistle.

  "Yes," agreed Trillian, and looked at him quizzically.

  "That's one big whack of Improbability to be accounted for. Something pretty improbable has got to show up on the balance sheet if it's all going to add up into a pretty sum."

  Zaphod scribbled a few sums, crossed them out and threw the pencil away.

  "Bat's dots, I can't work it out."

  "Well?"

  Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and gritted his teeth.

  "OK," he said. "Computer!"

  The voice circuits sprang to life again.

  "Why hello there!" they said (ticker tape, ticker tape). "All I want to do is make your day nicer and nicer and nicer . . ."

  "Yeah well shut up and work something out for me."

  "Sure thing," chattered the computer, "you want a probability forecast based on . . ."

  "Improbability data, yeah."

  "OK," the computer continued. "Here's an interesting little notion. Did you realize that most people's lives are governed by telephone numbers?"

  A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's faces and on to the other one.

  "Have you flipped?" he said.

  "No, but you will when I tell you that . . ."

  Trillian gasped. She scrabbled at the buttons on the Improbability flight path screen.

  "Telephone number?" she said. "Did that thing say telephone number?"

  Numbers flashed up on the screen.

  The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.

  "What I was about to say was that . . ."

  "Don't bother, please," said Trillian.

  "Look, what is this?" said Zaphod.

  "I don't know," said Trillian, "but those aliens--they're on the way up to the bridge with that wretched robot. Can we pick them up on any monitor cameras?"

  Chapter 13

  Marvin trudged on down the corridor, still moaning.

  ". . . and then of course I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left hand side . . ."

  "No?" said Arthur grimly as he walked along beside him. "Really?"

  "Oh yes," said Marvin, "I mean I've asked for them to be replaced but no one ever listens."

  "I can imagine."

  Vague whistling and humming noises were coming from Ford. "Well well well," he kept saying to himself, "Zaphod Beeblebrox . . ."

  Suddenly Marvin stopped, and held up a hand.

  "You know what's happened now, of course?"

  "No, what?" said Arthur, who didn't want to know.

  "We've arrived at another of those doors."

  There was a sliding door let into the side of the corridor. Marvin eyed it suspiciously.

  "Well?" said Ford impatiently. "Do we go through?"

  "Do we go through?" mimicked Marvin. "Yes. This is the entrance to the bridge. I was told to take you to the bridge. Probably the highest demand that will be made on my intellectual capacities today, I shouldn't wonder."

  Slowly, with great loathing, he stepped towards the door, like a hunter stalking his prey. Suddenly it slid open.

  "Thank you," it said, "for making a simple door very happy."

  Deep in Marvin's thorax gears ground.

  "Funny," he intoned funerally, "how just when you think life can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does."

  He heaved himself through the door and left Ford and Arthur staring at each other and shrugging their shoulders. From inside they heard Marvin's voice again.

  "I suppose you want to see the aliens now," he said. "Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?"

  "Yeah, just show them in, would you, Marvin?" came another voice.

  Arthur looked at Ford and was astonished to see him laughing.

  "What's . . . ?"

  "Shhh," said Ford, "come in."

  He stepped through into the bridge.

  Arthur followed him in nervously and was astonished to see a man lolling back in a chair with his feet on a control console picking the teeth in his right-hand head with his left hand. The right-hand head seemed to be thoroughly preoccupied with this task, but the left-hand one was grinning a broad, relaxed, nonchalant grin. The number of things that Arthur couldn't believe he was seeing was fairly large. His jaw flapped about at a loose end for a while.

  The peculiar man waved a lazy wave at Ford and with an appalling affectation of nonchalance said, "Ford, hi, how are you? Glad you could drop in."

  Ford was not going to be outcooled.

  "Zaphod," he drawled, "great to see you, you're looking well, the extra arm suits you. Nice ship you've stolen."

  Arthur goggled at him.

  "You mean you know this guy?" he said, waving a wild finger at Zaphod.

  "Know him!" exclaimed Ford, "he's . . ." he paused, and decided to do the introductions the other way round.

  "Oh, Zaphod, this is a friend of mine, Arthur Dent," he said, "I saved him when his planet blew up."

  "Oh sure," said Zaphod, "hi, Arthur, glad you could make it." His right-hand head looked round casually, said "hi" and went back to having his teeth picked.

  Ford carried on. "And Arthur," he said, "this is my semi-cousin Zaphod Beeb . . ."

  "We've met," said Arthur sharply.

  When you're cruising down the road in the fast lane and you lazily sail past a few hard driving cars and are feeling pretty pleased with yourself and then accidentally change down from fourth to first instead of third thus making your engine leap out of your bonnet in a rather ugly mess, it tends to throw you off your stride in much the same way that this remark threw Ford Prefect off his.

  "Err . . . what?"

  "I said we've met."

  Zaphod gave an awkward start of surprise and jabbed a gum sharply.

  "Hey . . . er, have we? Hey . . . er . . ."

  Ford rounded on Arthur with an angry flash in his eyes. Now he felt he was back on home ground he suddenly began to resent having lumbered himself with this ignorant primitive who knew as much about the affairs of the Galaxy as an Ilford-based gnat knew about life in Peking.

  "What do you mean you've met?" he demanded. "This is Zaphod Beeblebrox from Betelgeuse Five, you know, not bloody Martin Smith from Croydon."

  "I don't care," said Arthur coldly. "We've met, haven't we, Zaphod Beeblebrox--or should I say . . . Phil?"

  "What!" shouted Ford.

  "You'll have to remind me," said Zaphod. "I've a terrible memory for species."

  "It was at a party," pursued Arthur.

  "Yeah, well, I doubt that," said Zaphod.

  "Cool it, will you, Arthur!" demanded Ford.

  Arthur would not be deterred. "A party six months ago. On Earth . . . England . . ."

  Zaphod shook his head with a tight-lipped smile.

  "London," insisted Arthur, "Islington."

  "Oh," said Zaphod with a guilty start, "that party."

  This wasn't fair on Ford at all. He looked backwards and forwards between Arthur and Zaphod. "What?" he said to Zaphod. "You don't mean to say you've been on that miserable planet as well, do you?"

  "No, of course not," said Zaphod breezily. "Well, I may have just dropped in briefly, you know, on my way somewhere . . ."

  "But I was stuck there for fifteen years!"

  "Well, I didn't know that, did I?"

  "But what were you doing there?"

  "Looking about, you know."

  "He gatecrashed a party," persisted Arthur, trembling with anger, "a fancy dress party . . ."

  "It would have to be, wouldn't it?" said Ford.

  "At this party," persiste