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  So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

  ( The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - 4 )

  Douglas Adams

  The quest continues in the fourth volume in the ever-popular Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Against all odds, at the eleventh hour, and in the unlikeliest place of all, the intrepid Arthur Dent finds the girl of his dreams. After eight years and about 100,000 lightyears of intergalactic travel, he is looking a little down-at-the-heels himself, and she is heavily sedated because she thinks she is a hedgehog. She is also in the company of a brother that Arthur wouldn't wish on a Vogon. But they are both in search of God's Final Message to His Creation, and hey, this time they might actually find it.

  So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

  for Jane

  with thanks

  to Rick and Heidi for the loan of their stable event

  to Mogens and Andy and all at Huntsham Court for a number of unstable events

  and especially to Sonny Metha for being stable through all events.

  Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

  Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

  This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

  And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

  Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

  And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

  Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.

  This is her story.

  Chapter 1

  That evening it was dark early, which was normal for the time of year. It was cold and windy, which was normal.

  It started to rain, which was particularly normal.

  A spacecraft landed, which was not.

  There was nobody around to see it except some spectacularly stupid quadrupeds who hadn't the faintest idea what to make of it, or whether they were meant to make anything of it, or eat it, or what. So they did what they did to everything which was to run away from it and try to hide under each other, which never worked.

  It slipped down out of the clouds, seemingly balanced on a single beam of light.

  From a distance you would scarcely have noticed it through the lightning and the storm clouds, but seen from close to it was strangely beautiful--a grey craft of elegantly sculpted form: quite small.

  Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.

  You'd probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and didn't tell anybody anything they didn't already know - except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing had eventually to be scrapped.

  The craft slid quietly down through the rain, its dim operating lights wrapping it in tasteful rainbows. It hummed very quietly, a hum which became gradually louder and deeper as it approached the ground, and which at an altitude of six inches became a heavy throb.

  At last it dropped and was quiet.

  A hatchway opened. A short flight of steps unfolded itself.

  A light appeared in the opening, a bright light streaming out into the wet night, and shadows moved within.

  A tall figure appeared in the light, looked around, flinched, and hurried down the steps, carrying a large shopping bag under its arm.

  It turned and gave a single abrupt wave back at the ship. Already the rain was streaming through its hair.

  "Thank you," he called out, "thank you very..."

  He was interrupted by a sharp crack of thunder. He glanced up apprehensively, and in response to a sudden thought quickly started to rummage through the large plastic shopping bag, which he now discovered had a hole in the bottom.

  It had large characters printed on the side which read (to anyone who could decipher the Centaurian alphabet) DUTY FREE MEGA-MARKET, PORT BRASTA, ALPHA CENTAURI. BE LIKE THE TWENTY-SECOND ELEPHANT WITH HEATED VALUE IN SPACE-BARK!

  "Hold on!" the figure called, waving at the ship.

  The steps, which had started to fold themselves back through the hatchway, stopped, re-unfolded, and allowed him back in.

  He emerged again a few seconds later carrying a battered and threadbare towel which he shoved into the bag.

  He waved again, hoisted the bag under his arm, and started to run for the shelter of some trees as, behind him, the spacecraft had already begun its ascent.

  Lightning flitted through the sky and made the figure pause for a moment, and then hurry onwards, revising his path to give the trees a wide berth. He moved swiftly across the ground, slipping here and there, hunching himself against the rain which was falling now with ever-increasing concentration, as if being pulled from the sky.

  His feet sloshed through the mud. Thunder grumbled over the hills. He pointlessly wiped the rain off his face and stumbled on.

  More lights.

  Not lightning this time, but more diffused and dimmer lights which played slowly over the horizon and faded.

  The figure paused again on seeing them, and then redoubled his steps, making directly towards the point on the horizon at which they had appeared.

  And now the ground was becoming steeper, sloping upwards, and after another two or three hundred yards it led at last to an obstacle. The figure paused to examine the barrier and then dropped the bag he was carrying over it before climbing over himself.

  Hardly had the figure touched the ground on the other side when there came sweeping out of the rain towards him a machine, lights streaming through the wall of water. The figure pressed back as the machine streaked towards him. It was a low bulbous shape, like a small whale surfing - sleek, grey and rounded and moving at terrifying speed.

  The figure instinctively threw up his hands to protect himself, but was hit only by a sluice of water as the machine swept past and off into the night.

  It was illuminated briefly by another flicker of lightning crossing the sky, which allowed the soaked figure by the roadside a split-second to read a small sign at the back of the machine before it disappeared.

  To the figure's apparent incredulous astonishment the sign read, "My other car is also a Porsche."

  Chapter 2

  Rob McKeena was a miserable bastard and he knew it bec