42 is the answer, but what’s the question anyway? Copyright Jochen Lembke 2008, after motifs of Douglas Adams.
The first six edited chapters!
Fotos: I’ve bought a digital camera at Aldi, it was very cheap, but it has quite a special feature, you can focus on "infinity". So I did, when I pointed the camera one clear night at the sky – and look what amazing photos I got! Unfortunately I forgot to embed copyright and so those guys from Hubble snatched them and claimed that they have made them! Outrageous, isn’t it?
Arthur slotted home a new magazine and re-applied pressure to the trigger. The powerful weapon roared back into life; its energies discharging throughout the oncoming enemy. Anyone hit by the concentrated energy, as it poured through them in titanic tracks, stood a puppets chance in hell of survival as they were instantly shredded to bits.
Arthur felt a little queasy.
He had not really wanted to do this. Wiping out another being? With his own hand? And for a moment he had even actually enjoyed it.
The smoke cleared. The smoldering ceased. The adversary had worn a protective screen; he was completely unscathed. Now, he had the gall to point his weapon at Arthur! The powerful weapon roared into life; its energies discharging throughout him. Hit by the concentrated energy, as it poured through him in titanic tracks, he stood a puppets chance in hell of survival, he was instantly shredded to bits.
If he hadn’t worn a protective screen, too, which he had.
The adversaries regarded each other over the distance between them.
"Well, this can last," Arthur thought to himself.
"Well, this can last," the other one thought to himself.
"We want to negotiate with you!" Arthur yelled.
"Yeah, right! I thought you wanted to wax us!" came the reply.
"Do you mind if I tell you something?" Arthur asked.
"I’m not sure why I should bother pinning my ears back for you, you blithering idiot! But if you really must tell me what you’re thinking, stop taxing my patience and spit it out for crying out loud!"
"Yes we did, well do, well did…" Arthur uncrossed his eyes, "Let me start again. Yes we did want to ‘wax’ you, but you did give us a hard time, y’know… Anyway in our limitless naivety, we did think that if we took you out of the equation everything would be much easier." Arthur stopped, as if to make a point. "Yet, since that doesn’t seem to have worked, we’re going to have to negotiate instead. Which is sensible logic, right?"
I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking ‘Hold on a minute, what, erm… what…what’s going on here’
You’re also thinking ‘What’s… going on here… how can this be?’
And probably ‘Not Arthur… not the Arthur… not the Arthur Dent? And if so… well, right, if so… why is he acting like an intergalactic John Wayne? Wasn’t he, well, always a little confused and disoriented and deprived of tea… and such?’
Maybe you’re thinking ‘Okay, how could this be possible anyway? Didn’t the fifth volume end when the Guide stopped all of this discontinuing probability-axis’ nonsense, by the use of temporal reverse engineering and such (while the Vogon captain watched on with a flatulent noise of satisfaction, as the Earth finally dissolved herself into thin air)’
Or perhaps ‘Moreover, didn’t this include Arthur and the others, who were, happily or unhappily, for good or worse, gathered together on nowhere else then Stavro Mueller Beta at that particular time, hm?
How could there then be a sequel to it, eh?’
You want to know? That’s what you’re asking yourself, right?
Well, don’t mess with the improbability-drive, that’s all I can say. Yes, you heard that right – never mess with it. The consequences, for those it holds in its claws, could be disastrous. Not only did this ominous drive cause all those calamities to all the protagonists throughout all of the five volumes, but that is barely the half of it – even just to mention it can be quite dangerous, let alone write about it!
It has messed up the readers quite a bit too, hasn’t it? (You might say and you may have a point there).
But that’s still not all of it, not by a long shot.
The really mind-boggling bit is that it has lead to even further improbabilities; that after the seemingly-final fifth volume, a sequel has now been written. Written by a different chronicler of events then the author of the first five books, of all things.
No, that’s not weird. You want to hear the weird bit?
The new chronicler is German.
Now, that’s weird!
It’s really something, this improbability-drive thingy, isn’t it?
But enough pre-amble, let us begin at the best place to start; nowhere else, but at the start of this new story. Which begins very simply.
It also begins with a house.
The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village.
It stood on its own and looked out on a broad spread of West Country farmland.
Not a remarkable house by any means – it was about thirty years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion that more or less exactly failed to please the eye.
The only person for whom the house was in any way special was Arthur Dent and that was only because it happened to be the one he lived in.
He had done so for about thirty years, except for an interruption of some years (he didn’t know it exactly himself).
Arthur was in his mid fifties.
Not only had he moved out of London because it made him nervous and irritable, but he was no longer working in radio because it made him nervous and irritable.
Overall, most things had made him nervous and irritable, since… well, since the… affair a couple of years ago…
Arthur now led a rather drawn reclusive life, received a small pension, and had enough of his own savings to live quite comfortably.
So financial worries weren’t a problem.
What his problem was… well, this affair then. This affair, the memories of which he couldn’t quite piece together.
There were these dreams, for one thing.
There was this feeling of somehow not being sorted out quite well, yes, not only not being sorted out, but maybe even being not quite right in the head. The reason, which made his way out of working world quite effortless.
Of course, looking around at today’s world in the year 2006, he didn’t feel he was the only one, but more the rule than the exception. Crooks, lunatics, maniacs – and that’s just the folks responsible for keeping the world going round! Not to mention the rest.
Moreover, strangers everywhere, everywhere strangers, nothing familiar was to be seen anymore.
England wasn’t the same anymore, one sometimes had the feeling… yes, sometimes one had the feeling to be on an entirely different and strange planet, to be surrounded by aliens.
Therefore, Arthur Dent lived in his house, sometimes had funny dreams, yet enjoyed his quiet life. He used to go to the pub next to him regularly, the Horse and Grooms, to drink English beer, sometimes too much of it during the course of which he tended to come out with some very, very strange mutterings, albeit mostly incoherent, played darts with his friends, and, right before the pub was closed, tunelessly bawled along to his friend’s merry chorus of the British national anthem.
Yesterday, Wednesday, had been one of these evenings too.
So that’s why, Thursday morning, eight o’clock, Arthur didn’t feel very good. He woke up blearily, got up, wandered blearily round his room, opened a window, saw a bulldog, found his slippers and stomped off to the bathroom to wash.
Toothpaste on the brush – so. Scrub.Shaving mirror – pointing at the ceiling. He adjusted it. For a moment it reflected a second bulldog through the bathroom window. Properly adjusted it reflected Arthur Dent’s bristles. He shaved them off, washed, dried, and stomped off to the kitchen to find something pleasant to put in his mouth.Kettle, plug, fridge, milk, coffee. Yawn.
The word bulldog wandered through his mind for a moment in search of something to connect with.The bulldog outside the kitchen was quite a big one. He stared at it.
‘Good’, he thought and stomped off to his bedroom to get dressed.
Passing the bathroom he stopped to drink a large glass of water and then another. He began to suspect that he was hung over. Why was he hung over? Had he been drinking the night before? He supposed that he must have been. He caught a glint in the shaving mirror. ‘Good’, he thought and stomped on to the bedroom. ‘These are my bulldogs and I’ve got two of them.’
One should be protected against this riff-raff of foreigners.
In the bedroom he stood and thought. The pub, he thought, oh dear, the pub.
Then, it all came back to him.
The talk. His talk. His talk of spaceships, aliens, parallel Earths. The weirdest stuff, as usual, came to light when he was off the hook, stone drunk, causing him to slide back down into the dangerous abysses that took him back…Back to those endless therapy sessions and years of being kept in clinics. Eventually they had somehow knocked him back into shape to some extent, to the point that he could accept that his grasp on reality had slipped. That he must have been imagining things that do not exist.
To that, he had to react.
They don’t believe me? he had said to himself. Very well, I won’t believe myself then either. I must be looking for something I can believe in.
Arthur put on his Union Jack costume and walked out into the garden, where he was happily greeted by his bulldogs.
He saluted in front of the flag, as he did every morning.
The flag was quite a big one.
The biggest British flag up and down in the entire neighbourhood.
As he did every Thursday, Arthur took the 11.42 morning train and read his copy of the Sun, the Guardian having long since become too left-wing and intellectual for his taste. As he let his eyes settle for a moment next to the alluring commentaries of the page-three-girl, he saw a small article (for the tiny minority of Sun-readers who would take note of any articles at all, being neither large, nor in possession of alluring commentaries).
"World formula finally found!"
A short explanation followed, stating that this was the one formula searched for since time immemorial, into which all formulas of the world would fit – along with the astonishingly simple solution; one had only to enter into the right-hand side of the equation – right after the "equals" sign – the number forty-two. Something about this article caught Arthur’s attention, mostly because it all sounded so convincing, but in particular, the part about the number forty-two appealed to him for reasons he didn’t quite understand. It seemed somehow compellingly logical.
Then he thought about the present day.
Like every Thursday, he was meeting his friends of the National Circle in London.
The program was ever the same, roughly. They would march around in the City of London, protest against the constant thread of initiation of the Euro and kick up a little row.
Well, it was about to bring Britain back on its knees!
Fill up the channel tunnel again!
Oh yeah, Arthur thought grimly, while the bus he took from the station was circling around Piccadilly Circus, that would show them! The seat he was sitting on, Arthur now saw, had a graffiti on it, actually a number, as if all seats would be numbered – forty-two. Funny, he thought, forty-two time and time again, as if this number really was of some significance. (Quite likely he would have found it odder still were he to have counted the number of passengers, for there were exactly forty-two.)
The bus drove along the road, slowed down due to traffic and he soon had jumped off the platform behind – for some odd reason too there was still such a thing.
Arthur entered the "Drunken Sailor", the pub, where they all met, the usual mess of voices and the usual mess of right-winged slogans summed up to the usual dull mess of murmur. Here it was from where they set out. Moreover, here it was where they had a few, for a start.
Today, he should go easy on the drink, he thought as he stepped forward to the counter, for it had just occurred to him that his friend Ford Prefect would come around for a visit tomorrow.
Ford’s a rather odd person, he thought furthermore, odd but totally inconspicuous, an unemployed actor, like so many, from Guildford, miraculous how he could have supported himself all these years. Well, whatever.
He ordered a beer at the bar. The barman’s name was John Miller and he had an air about him. Not so much "it’s best not to tangle with him", but "tangling is out of question anyway, be glad if he hasn’t a knuckle sandwich at the ready for you". So Arthur tried to put keep himself on good terms with him. There they were, all right, right-winged slogan-shouters, boozers – his best friends. Yet occasionally they seemed odd to him.
Next to him at the counter Martin and Smith stood. They were both from Croydon and had obviously spent little time in downing their first beer.
"If this world isn’t just crazy", Martin now said, "the fish, who went ashore back then had to carry the ocean along in themselves and were hence obliged to drink water to take effect against evaporation."
"Well, this is nothing", replied Smith, "the dolphins, for example, are descendants of the fish that went ashore. And because they saw there aren’t enough job perspectives and chances for ascension, they were the first drop-outs; they went back to the ocean to sulk."
Obviously, he hadn’t spent too much time on his second beer either. "Stupid enough they had lost the ability to breathe within water, which is why they have to come back to the hated land each time to do so."
"Really smart dolphins", Arthur now interfered, "have realised though that it will do just to stick up its head over water-level." Something about the mention of dolphins caused Arthur’s ears to prick up. Something about the events at the back of his mind, perhaps? If he only could think it over properly, might it not help to get his head straight? On the other hand, he might just end up back in therapy. Better let it lie, he thought. "That would be just the same", he hastily said instead, "as if an office worker, working his way up into management, loses interest on the way, deciding instead to cover himself in body paint, look for a nice place somewhere in the Burmese jungle and become a guru." Am I making any sense at all? Just keep on talking, Arthur thought, that’s what the others do. "Except on Thursday evenings he’s otherwise engaged, teaching management skills on the internet."
The barman brought the beer and gave him a not too unfriendly look. Still tangling was out of the question; maybe the tangle in reach was just too thick and too difficult to survey.
Now Martin and Smith actually took notice of Arthur for the first time.
The former took a sip, gazed at him levelly, as if to consider first whether Arthur insights would be a valuable addition to their conversation. Clearly deciding in Arthur’s favour, he calmly stated, "The forest, I say, is a metaphor for this country." He took a considered sip. "The trees all struggle towards the light, putting their backs into growing higher and higher, all because every other tree is doing just the same thing. They grow and develop a canopy, trying to catch more sunlight. Now we, when we walk around in the forest, look at ugly thirty feet high trunks on which no leaves are growing, simply because the trees are not communicating. If they would do so, they could just go ahead and say, ‘okay, it’s agreed then – we all grow six feet at the most, then develop a canopy and nobody is allowed to break that convention.’ But it would all break down as soon as trees from elsewhere start to grow there, not knowing there was any convention."
"He’s crazy", the barman said, laughing though, and placed a beer next to him, tapped his shoulder briefly, kept close.
"No, I don’t think he’s crazy", Arthur argued on the spot making the tangle even more difficult to
entangle. "He’s just deviating a little from the norm. Yet looking at the norm I realise it’s deviating enormously from the norm I wish for. So that’s why I in fact wish for something which deviates from the existing norm." What rubbish was he uttering? What on earth did it have to do with the problem of foreign invasion?
"He’s the one who is mad", Martin said to the barman.
"No, I am just deviating a little from the norm."
"How about both of you cranks shut up?" suggested the barman.
Arthur could very well imagine that the barman would have had to listen to all sorts of similar discussions from his patrons. Arthur considered telling him, "But this is the job you have chosen", but he was sure the answer would be, "I haven’t chosen this job; it’s the one that was left over." So he decided against bringing it up.
Instead, he listened to Smith who had now changed the subject, "Last year in Thailand, shortly after New-Year, after the tidal-wave, I was at a bar with someone. This fellow said, ‘Well, well, so the old year has washed away too, finally.’ Washed away… haha!"
"Just like that one", Martin replied, "well, that other man said, ‘all right, so it was me lying jolly rotten lazy on the beach at Phuket", whereas another one, right away, ‘Yeah, I can very well imagine ‘jolly rotten’, but are you sure about the ‘lazy’?"
"That’s a good one!"
The balance of the conversation, previously predominantly funny and only slightly embarrassing shifted more in favour of the latter. They toasted one another and took nice little vulgarities into their heads at the expenses of little, brown Asian-dwelling people, that now "were getting rich by donations".
Well, Arthur thought, I suppose I should go along with it. I should drink my beer and just go along with it. Yet there he was, standing up!
Producing a little indignant speech!
About "fashionable catastrophes", about sensation-seeking and greedy gaping at disasters, which is the uglier side of compassion, about people arranging video tapes from the news with "best of horror", about waves of willingness for donation, which would die away soon when it was no longer a subject in television and that people should think in longer terms more. There are many other projects making sense, which now were totally cut of from funding.
The barman looked increasingly cross.
He almost reached out for his neck.
Arthur was confused.
Where were these ideas from that were suddenly leaping to his mind?
Wasn’t this the right place to do so, exchanging bigoted views with like-minded fellows?
Arthur went all in.
"God save the queen", he yelled around and raised his beer-glass. "We are Englishmen. We should be thankful for that." He got a roaring cheer for that. "We know how to queue!" yelled Arthur. "We got Beckham, with that-one-from-the Spice Girls! We got Prince Harry and his brother Prince Harry Potter and we got Prince Charles!"
"And Camilla, of course", someone added, a little less loud, "oh, well."
The barman went to a corner, came back with something in his hands.
"Here", he said to Arthur, handing him over a book, "my autobiography; very small edition, just for friends!"
Arthur, still in some kind of haze, read the title with difficulty.
"Tangle with me!" it said.
Insertion – 1
Once upon a time, there was a cheerful, little energy being, belonging to a flock of energy beings, roaming the cosmos. The energy they spent they gathered from the light of stars or from any given energy-source. When the beings become bigger and bigger, since they absorbed more energy than needed, they just separate. That’s was what just had happened and the newly originated cheerful, little energy being now was getting the world explained by his father. Right now, it was about matter.
Actually, the cheerful little energy being had no problems imagining matter. It plainly and simply was the basic nightmare of each and every energy being; it was energy having lost all of its freedom and was now imprisoned until the very end of all times.
It shuddered.It already knew atoms were built of protons and electrons, each imprisoned energy quantum. Atoms formed themselves on grounds of their different attributes to structures, called molecules, those formed themselves to organic structures and those again to complex units, called cells, by organic beings. A cell was the smallest independent unit of life that could exist as single cell or in formations, multi-cell organisms that could become so complex that they, finally, at the end of a long evolution, could even develop something like spirit and intelligence – thus they just had finally arrived at a point where energy has yet been ever since, yes, has been since the beginning of cosmos itself.
It chuckled a little, cheerful energy-being chuckle, this lesson it had already understood quite well, what else would daddy tell him?
"Now we’ve seen, what’s to become of matter in general", said him. (Of course, he didn’t say this, since no human being ever knows how energy beings communicate with each other, but they do it anyway.)
"Shall we have a look, what’s about it in particular? Do you feel like visiting a planet some when?"
"Yees!" said the cheerful, little energy being, excited as a human child, when daddy is going to take it along to the zoo at weekend.
"Ermm… yes." The big energy being thought for a moment. "I guess we’ll take this one. We travel to it right away and on the trip I’ll tell you something about it."
The two energy beings started their journey at once.
Ford wasn’t on his own, someone was accompanying him.
A young chap of about twenty years, who appeared strangely familiar to Arthur, but whom he couldn’t properly place. One of the many faces from his past, maybe?
Arthur wasn’t particularly on form this morning anyway, he was terribly hung-over. He and the lads had been away until the small hours of the night, so he had had to take a taxi to get home afterwards. Arthur was drinking tea with Ford and his companion, after Arthur had cleaned up the mess on his coffee table. His "Titanic Collector’s Edition" – DVD had occupied the whole space on it. This movie with Kate and Leo was one of his favourites; one Arthur liked to watch time and time again. He was relating the story of yesterday’s events, albeit somewhat censored.
Ford took a sip of tea while listening, one of the many exotic types of which Arthur always had a generous stash. (His almost compulsive stockpiling of tea-supplies was as if the result of having once run out completely, and he was afraid of doing so again.) "So…", Ford slowly and carefully then began, which made it apparent he was about to touch a delicate subject, "how are your dreams doing? Something new?"
A little pause arose, as little pauses do, when delicate subjects are touched up the world over.
"I’ve got particularly weird dreams at present", Arthur finally declared. He hesitated, decided then to come out with what he had just dreamt last night. If only his dreams wouldn’t be as quite dam realistic as they were, as realistic as if… "You know what occurs regularly at present in them? An, erm, travel-guide. A very special travel-guide, about hitch-hiking through the galaxy; as if you would be able to hitch to anywhere, just have to stick out your thumb. Funny, isn’t it? It’s called Hitch-Hikers Guide and looks roughly like…"
Arthur was about to give a full-length description of this completely irrelevant item, this product of his overheated fantasy and opened his mouth to do so.
Yet Ford reached casually into his pocket instead and laid something on the table.
"You mean… like this?"
On the table there lay the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
On its cover was written, in large friendly letters, "Don’t panic".
Arthur still sat there with his mouth gaping.
Ford grinned maliciously.
"What’s up, Arthur? You look shocked. But you don’t have the whole picture yet, but I will give it to you now. He pointed towards the unknown visitor, who at the same time leaned forward politely. "May I introduce to you…"
Yet Arthur almost knew somehow what was coming, because, one way or another, this person was very familiar to him, it appeared to him as if he had seen him already for many times, not in this young version nevertheless, but in a much older one.
"…our mutual friend Slartibartfast."
Arthur’s gaze found its way to Slartibartfast, who was smiling at him in a friendly fashion, but was not altogether ready to settle there for a while. It slipped off again, slid briefly over to Ford, who was as usual sporting an over exaggerated grin and then on to the item which was lying at the table. An intergalactic travel-guide for hitch-hiking in outer space. It was a few seconds before he realised his gaze had come to rest upon the lettering on the front of the book; "Don’t Panic", printed in big, friendly lettering."
Which again, proved to be very good advice.
To Zaphod Beeblebrox the boghogs of NowWhat? made a complete different impression as they did to Arthur, back then.
He admired them for their toughness and the fierce joy with which they lived their scant existence. Though the boghogs possessed as close to no joy of life at all, except they could bite other beings forcefully in their upper thighs, Zaphod Beeblebrox did not possess any joy of life whatsoever, and to bite other beings forcefully in their upper thighs he just lacked the appropriate set of jaws.
Indeed Zaphod had also landed on this planet by an amazingly funny coincidence.
Certainly, fate has a strange sense of humour regarding such matters. "You want so desperately to leave this planet?" it says. "Well, I’ll take good care that you will land on it in the first place."
Despite the fact that through necessity of circumstance, Zaphod’s appearance had changed significantly, it didn’t take long for his secret identity to become common knowledge on this planet too. Yet, instead of Frogstar fighting-units and galactic police appearing to give him a hard time as was usually the case, the inhabitants of NowWhat? offered him, the former Ex-President of the Galaxy, the job of the president of their planet, their thinking being that a man who could manage to rule a whole galaxy could probably even cope with ruling their planet.
Of course the inhabitants could have no way of knowing Zaphod Beeblebrox’s idea of government, which generally consists of passing problems of galactic scale down to his staff (who in turn pass it onto their staff and so on until the problems had themselves spread unsolved back across the entire stretch of the galaxy, returning precisely to their point of origin) so as not to be distracted from enjoying his office, in galactic-scale.
The planet’s inhabitants didn’t mind that he was an intergalactic fugitive. On this planet, even law and order wanted to leave as soon as possible. Zaphod could only wrest himself out of the whole thing by threatening to commit suicide himself, to what they actually did give in at the end. The undesirability of this particular post meant that a sitting president’s only escape from his predicament would be by committing suicide, which had been a palatable option for a fine tradition of former presidents. For the burial of the third successive president who had alleviated himself of the burdens of his office, obsequies of planetary scale had been ordered and any pleasures or pleasurable activities prohibited.
Despite the fact, there never had been any pleasures or pleasurable activities on NowWhat? people didn’t give up hope on it and so they left him in peace.
Entirely in peace.
This meant, of course, that he had to get away from there, unless of course he wanted to starve.
Regrettably, donating sperm, the method by which Arthur had finally accomplished to get away, was inapplicable, for the only way they would accept a donation of sperm would be a none-pleasurable one. To make that sure they would lock him up in a cabin with a boghog. A successful applicant would be the one who came out alive with something in his hands and no one would question too closely as to whose product it actually was.
Zaphod suppressed further speculations with a shudder.
Yet what he could do would be to participate in a towel-fight-tournament, which was organized by a couple of hitch-hikers at the spaceport and to what the police would turn a blind eye to. Because, firstly, as long as there would be not many spectators, it couldn’t be considered as a pleasurable activity and, secondly, there would be some hitch-hikers hopefully biting the dust, meaning the spaceport would be that bit less polluted in the future.
As he walked to the spaceport, he recapitulated his life over the past fifteen years.
It hadn’t altogether worked out too well for him, first the separation from Trillian, then the persecution by the Frogstar-fighters. He really wished it would have had gone the other way, he could have had gotten separated from the Frogstar-fighters and Trillian would have had been on his heels. Or at least he could have been on the bridge of the Heart of Gold to grieve for her in self-pity instead of doing so on this dirt hole of a planet.
However, they had confiscated the ship and he had barely escaped the whole thing. He managed to get away by the skin of his teeth by threatening to blow up the ship, with him inside, if he didn’t get safe conduct. He had been told that they would be dreadfully glad if he would blow himself up, that doing so would make everybody very happy. However, it would be appreciated if he would not do so inside the ship, that perhaps he would kindly look for something less valuable to blow himself up in, and that they would for the time being let him go. For only as fantastically high as the value of the Heart of Gold were the amount of his debts.
At least these dark corners of his mind, his old self, had kept quiet since they had found the ruler of the universe, or as Zaphod liked to think of it, since the mess with the ruler of the universe. On the plus side, he thought cheerfully for a moment, the other guy now has all that on his back. He wished him every joy with it.
His cheerfulness soon dissipated once more, as he went on reflecting about his life. Although he looked rather youthful for a person from Betelgeuse five, given his age, nothing was as it was in the old days. Since the galactic-wide conversion of currency, anything had either gotten more expensive or was by now just cheap junk and hitch-hikers (and least of all those who were on the run or had to hide something, which was of course mostly the case) aren’t looked upon so kindly anymore. The mentality of people seemed to have changed accordingly.
What was about the moons of Jaglan Beta, for instance?
Overrun by group-travellers of huge multi-stellar trusts. To afford a simple glass of fruit-juice a hitch-hiker had to drudge with neurotic elevators for about a whole month.
The brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V?
Plastered with concrete, plastered with souvenir-shops and snack-bars… The heady sea-vapours are now caught on the spot, bottled, and processed into export; even the locals now have none of it anymore.
The stars, which once shone so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon do so no more, simply because since Kakrafoon hosted Disaster Area there is no longer a desert anymore. Nowadays Kakrafoon is a pulsating, fast growing industrial planet and each and every citizen – even the poorest sucker – owns at least three television sets and washing machines, five cars, twenty multi-functional, multi-purpose kitchen machines and gets a case of beer each night, free of charge.What he is about to do with all that stuff is an entire different question but generally he’s fortunately too busy or too tired at night or too drunk at the very least to make up its mind too long about it. The slow, heavy river Moth is nowadays more covered per surface by speedboats, jet-skis and luxurious yachts than a hitch-hikers towel with stains and the fish were either stupid and shredded to bits or clever and had successfully proposed a request for resettlement into quieter waters. Even the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal one can no more watch in open hunting ground or even in reservations, (or be eaten by them – which yet always tended to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience), only rests of them are held captive in the zoo of Traal-City, the entrance to which demanded three weeks of neurotic elevators.
All of these things left Zaphod a bitter Ex-President of the Galaxy.
Maybe just the right state of mind, for the fight that was awaiting him now.
Oh yes, Zaphod was a grim fighter with the towel, a virtuoso therein.
After all, he hadn’t always been President of the Galaxy and hadn’t always been cruising around in the most wonderful ship of the galaxy, but had, in his wild times, hung around in many a rough corner.
Oh yeah, he knew where his towel was.
Only that fifteen years were quite a damn long time to have to permanently keep an eye on it.
Arthur had overcome the initial, brutal shock of it all and was now attempting to cut through the sudden jumble of feelings he was experiencing; and their associated entanglements.
He felt relief.
It was a rather dubious sort of relief. The sort of relief that a man might feel upon discovering that, rather than being paranoid about being the victim of a large-scale conspiracy it was, in fact, a fact that the conspiracy was, in fact, a fact.
He felt satisfaction.
The grim satisfaction of a man, who after five minutes of watching a wasp spoil his enjoyment of tea and cake, gains his revenge by crushing the impertinent insect into a winged pulp. Although fifteen years would be a closer approximation of the time spent in annoyance.
He felt mixed joy.
The mixed joy of a man, who, having been given a leading part in a big budget movie, is told that his aptitude is best matched to that of the non-speaking, fully-masked scary monster part.
He finally felt fading a familiar feeling.
The feeling one might have, having waited in a line – a line that hasn’t moved on at all in an awfully long time, whilst all the others trundle along at a respectable rate of knots – only for all the lines to miraculously vaporize, leaving one left completely alone, as the very last one still waiting.
Yet there was another familiar feeing he still felt and that was the rather unfamiliar feeling of the Babel fish in his ear; Ford had stuck it, once again, into his auditory passage.
He felt all of that after he was done walking up and down the room. Whilst memories he had long pushed aside as "weird stuff, that constantly keeps coming up, yet which is absolutely not to be trusted" rushed back to the forefront of his mind.
"You mean it’s actually true, what I thought I had just imagined?" Arthur proffered. "First Earth was demolished…"
"Then we boarded the Vogon ship," helped Ford.
"And after that we were kicked out into open space, where this fellow Zaphod picked us up…"
"Along with Trillian."
"Trillian, right. Trillian? So does she actually exist, in ‘actual’ reality?"
So, she was no longer simply a component of a wonderful dream in which she had the looks of an angel, but the kind of sinful curves that could only have come from God running out of little wings and halos and then over-compensating for his mistake by severely upping the ante in the foxiness department.
"Then we landed on Magrathea," added Ford.
"And then it was my turn," was Slartibartfast’s very first sentence which, thanks to the Babel fish, he uttered in perfect, accent-free Oxford English. "We found out that Earth was nothing but a computer built by a bunch of mice!"
Arthur remembered this very well. In fact, this particular detail had brought him about one and a half years of security-section; until he was ready to abjure all thoughts of it, or perhaps never get out of there again.
"The Earth had been ordered to be built, by mice?" he was asked. "Who financed it then, the rabbits?"
He could still vividly recall the sound of their laughter ringing in his ears. "And what were we supposed to do if we didn’t like it, eh? Claim it was the cats? Send the dogs round to sort them out? Hahaha…!"
Arthur had given up on it sometimes; had decided that it was best to quit telling anyone any of it.Yes, at times, he even quit believing it himself. Bizarre notions can, after all, attach themselves to a person in this age of television and stimulus satiation. One reads a book, or listens to a show, or watches a programme.
At first, it’s simply a case of trying to remember which channel the movie had been on. Then it’s the task of trying to recall whether it was the movie-version one is vaguely remembering, or if it was the book. Moreover, sometimes it’s difficult to even work out if it was reality or just fiction in the first place; the same as the story about déjà-vu being a sign of increased brain-activity amongst particularly creative people. Goethe was said to have déjà-vu frequently.
"The mice!" said Arthur, "are they here?"
"And then we ended up at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe! Where this animal wanted to be eaten by us…!" Arthur grew more and more excited. He was almost on the right track again.
"Then Marvin arrived; he had been simply biding his time for a couple of billion years. And then the ship that crashed into the sun…"
"Hotblack’s ship, right. Good old Hotblack. I wonder what he’s up to right now? Is he still dead or has he come back to life again?" Ford felt a touch of sentimentality.
"And then the Golgafrinchams! We were hurled back two million years into the past and came to meet the most retarded folks in the galaxy…"
"From which the inhabitants of Earth are descended, let’s not forget that – it explains quite a lot, as well…"
"And then you appeared. You and the sofa…" Ford nodded. "The velvet paisley-covered Chesterfield sofa which bobbed and wafted up and down in the air. The sofa on which we jumped, that put us back into the present time; to a cricket match. Actually… Krikkit! The masters of Krikkit! The flying party; Agrajag! The being which was killed by me a hundred times already. Finally, we made it to… Stavro Mueller Beta! Ford, I was at Stravromula Beta! The place I was supposed to die on. And Ford… The Earth was destroyed again. Only this time with all of us on it, you were there, so you should remember, shouldn’t you?"
"How am I supposed to remember it, if I perished there?"
"I mean…" Arthur pondered for a second. "What about the dolphins, then? Wonko the Wise? What about the bird, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide Mark II and what about Fenchurch? What about Random, Trillian… and Tricia, her double? Oh, I don’t think I can stand all of this. I guess it’s much easier to go mad again. Or to become…"
"The fifty year old, fat, foolish, fiendish fish-wife, living on an early pension, that you’ve become now?"
Ford threw in quickly. "Whose ability to cling to British values and cosiness, whose mania to be safe and sheltered, is nothing more than a reaction to certain happenings that over-taxed him in such a way that he became a little schizophrenic? Supposedly… Do you want to stay that way?"
"Erm… No." Arthur sat down. Before adding, "But I don’t want to set off for outer space again either, if that’s what you mean." He stood up again. "I’m guessing that is what you mean?" Arthur sat down again, then immediately stood up again. "Why did you, Ford, never tell me about it, just watched, how I…"
"Later, Arthur, there is a reason for it, but firstly let us just…"
But Arthur wasn’t going to be stopped. "And where were you throughout all this, Slartibartfast? Why didn’t you show up until now? And how do I know everything has to go helter-skelter again? Because surely the Universe is in grave danger again, or something like that." He made a theatrical gesture. "Quite surely it is!"
"We’ll get to that later, Arthur." Slartibartfast threw in quickly.
But Arthur was having enormous trouble taking him seriously at all. Because while he, himself, had become twenty years older since they had first met, Slartibartfast appeared to have been regressing in years. The Magrathean wasn’t that old, awe-inspiring man with flowing white hair anymore, but a fairly young, sporty guy from whom he wouldn’t easily accept cosmic prophecies anymore. Something he felt should be pointed out immediately. "And how come you’re so bloody young anyway, Slartibartfast?"
"Later, Arthur. Firstly, the Earth is still a gigantic computer ordered by a bunch of mice that, as you well know, are hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings, and built by us Magratheans. It is now, just as it was before; an important junction in this dimension. Although the chronicler of events might not have been entirely up to it anymore, what’s happening to her is still of enormous cosmic importance. Even what you’re doing right now…"
"I’m just stirring my tea."
"Exactly! As I said, even what you’re doing right now might be of more importance than if somewhere at the edge of the Universe…" Slartibartfast paused for a moment (possibly for effect, but more likely due to a bad memory, while Arthur hastily stopped stirring his tea.) "…A black hole is forming." Nodding sagely he added, "Maybe even your woman-problem is, in a cosmic sense, of great importance, Arthur."
Arthur stumbled for the correct response, giving the words time to sink in. Perhaps Slartibartfast was right about that. He had never been a ladies man. Not until this cosmic adventure had begun. And even then he had spent years on prehistoric Earth (alone) and even more years on different planets (as the only one of his species). Moreover, in the years following that it had not been much better for him. "Trillian and you had a child, didn’t you?"
Right. They had a child. Yet before he had had a chance to digest that, they had already stopped having one.
"Maybe she’s still out there? Still not able to get rid of that good-for-nothing Zaphod? Does that leave you cold?"
He couldn’t say it left him feeling warm, that was for sure. Oh, it never did (besides that happy, much-too-early ending intermezzo with Fenchurch; the only woman who has ever accepted him for who he was), but how was he supposed to handle all of it? If things has turned out differently perhaps Zaphod would have killed him in cold blood, or Trillian might have given him the cold shoulder. Definitely no warmth to be had there.
"Maybe you both belong to each other? Maybe the Universe won’t find peace until the two of you have found each other?"
The idea of a cosmic dream marriage floated through Arthur’s mind; Prince-Charles-and-Lady-Di-esque – only that this time with a happy ending.
"Arthur, stop day-dreaming!" Slartibartfast interrupted him, "I need you for a job." He stopped to think for a second, and then added, "Plus the mice still want to know the answer to the question."
Arthur hesitated, briefly. And then for quite a while longer after that.
"I can’t", he finally asserted, sounding rather depressed. "I’m an early pensioner. My problems were so grievous that I was given a sickness certificate which will be effective for the next two hundred years."
Arthur sighed. "That’s why they made the choice to send me into retirement immediately."
"It’s just that there is a certain opportunity…" Slartibartfast, proffered hesitantly, "…Well, look, more on that later on." He began to speak with more determination, vibrancy beginning to fill his face. "Now, pay attention, what was it again, let’s recapitulate! The answer to the question, which is, better formulated, the question to the answer of which the solution is… What?"
"Erm… Forty-two", answered Arthur before the question had had time to be fully digested by his mind.
He’d heard that a lot of late. Really, quite a lot.
"Right. The, uh…" Again Slartibartfast seemed to become momentarily lost in his words. "…mice are back in our dimension, with a keen eye on this planet. This is because the answer, well, respectively, the question, that they had come up with, has worn itself out. Somehow. And it’s stopped bringing them in the ratings in their five-dimensional shows."
Arthur un-crinkled his brow and formed his own question. "What was it again?" he asked. "The answer is forty-two, and the question to that, was what now?"
"How many roads must a man walk down." Slartibartfast sniggered. The sound of his muffled laughter was no longer the rasping cackle of an old man, but more akin to the sound of a pair of youngsters laughing over a shared dirty joke. Arthur found it rather disconcerting and wondered how long it would take for him to get used to it.
"It wore itself out, you know? They even composed a nice little song around it; smooth melody, full of feeling; but it wore itself out none-the-less. Nobody wanted to listen to it anymore." He stopped sniggering. "Now they want the real question. And only the Earth – the four-dimensional equivalent of the biggest, ever-to-exist super-computer, in the fifth dimension – can give it to them." Slartibartfast paused again (and this time Arthur was sure that it was for dramatic effect alone). "Thus, they found a way to protect it against all that Vogon mess. And all that reverse engineering and discontinuing probability-axis stuff, too. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that your existence, or better put, the fact that this has ever been endangered, has nothing to do with Stavromula Beta, or Stavro Mueller Beta. Or whatever this Agrajag claimed after a few beers."
Arthur tried to imagine Agrajag – the mad, fat bat that had been so fanatically obsessed with claiming his life – sitting in front of a nice, cool glass of beer with a relaxed view of the world. Nope, it didn’t work.
He wiped the image from his mind. "But I died, didn’t I?" he said, instead.
"Oh, did you, then?"
Arthur was very aware that this was exactly the sort of a question that one is somehow not supposed to be able to answer with the word ‘yes’. In fact, if the correct answer was, indeed, ‘yes’ then one would not be in the position to be able to give this answer anymore; instead one would be lying, pale and motionless on the floor, or the proud bearer of a macabre, undead rictus. Or both. Or, whatever.
"Anyway, I’ve, erm… got a job for you." Slartibartfast hesitated, threw a quick – apparently very amused – glance to the side, at the Titanic-DVD, shut his eyes firmly for a second, sniggered briefly (again) and then added, "For which you seem to be quite well, erm, prepared. I want you to travel back in time and do something there for me."
"Travel back in time? Oh good, I haven’t done that for quite some time!" replied Arthur in faux-cheer.
"And to where, in the past?"
"To the year 1912, of course."
Arthur followed Slartibartfast’s gaze and let his own eyes settle on the object of his attraction. Now they were both staring at James Cameron’s masterpiece.
"Yes." Slartibartfast reached out for DVD and looked at the cover with interest. "April 1912." He elaborated. "Aboard a ship making its maiden voyage on the North-Atlantic."
Arthur continued to stare at the cover of the DVD in Slartibartfast’s hands. "If I say ‘no’ again, you’re just going to answer with ‘yes’ aren’t you?"
"Right, well I won’t then."
A silence followed, which Arthur eventually broke. "I don’t suppose Kate and Leo will be there too, will they?"
Tricia Mcmillan was, for perhaps the first time in her life, almost entirely happy with her lot.
At long last, she was working in her favoured profession. No longer was she that television-tart with lip-gloss and an expensive hair-do, but instead she was engaged in astrophysics; spectrometric analysis of emissions of extra heavy stars of the category three Alpha in the sector Z Gamma of the galaxy-style astrophysics (with symptoms of the dissolution of the Universe).
The red shift – which was possible to observe due to the Doppler Effect (an indicator for the expansion of the Universe that has taken place since the Big Bang) – had actually diminished lately. Not only diminished, but rather drastically diminished. The Universe, it seemed, was shrinking; shrinking at an alarming rate of knots that was more normally associated with the speed of a ravenous dog chasing down the butcher’s delivery boy on a particularly icy January morning in Bristol. In fact, the Universe was less shrinking and more shrivelling in on itself. Even the acceleration of the process was accelerating. Sceptics, as usual meeting trouble halfway, were all already outlining catastrophic scenarios.
Tricia was not a sceptic. However, she knew how to make a diagnosis on the basis of the symptoms; moreover, her capability to do so was in demand by her colleagues. Thankfully, she no longer had to cope with male prejudices and favouritism, because they didn’t exist on this planet. Not that there were no prejudices or favouritism, just that they weren’t the preserve of men anymore. Simply put, there were no men on this planet at all. At least none worth writing home about. Even if she could find an intergalactic stamp.
Although as she’d never had any luck with them anyway, she didn’t feel like she was missing out on them too much. Instead she threw herself into her work with a passion she’d previously only reserved for her Friday night box of chocolates.
The only problem with work was one particularly bitchy female colleague who insisted on throwing stones in her way and doubting her competence in every possible manner and at every possible juncture. She was clearly out to ruin her life, and that fact that she was doing it from a safe distance made it all the more galling. Still one had to admit that this annoyance of hers definitely knew what she was talking about; those publications she wrote – and always signed off with ‘T.M.’ – were the work of a genius in the field.
Strange that they shared their initials, Tricia thought, and yet she knew nothing at all about her nemesis; either who she was, or what drove her.
It was probably nearly as miraculous as they way in which she had arrived on this planet in the first place.
But she couldn’t say for sure as she hadn’t the slightest idea how that had happened either.