Read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Online

Authors: Douglas Adams

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The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (5 page)

BOOK: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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“But can we trust him?” he said.

“Myself I’d trust him to the end of the Earth,” said Ford.

“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “and how far’s that?”

“About twelve minutes away,” said Ford, “come on, I need a drink.”

Chapter 2

H
ere’s what the
Encyclopedia Galactica
bas to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colorless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms
.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
.

It says that the effect of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick
.

The
Guide
also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterward
.

The
Guide
even tells you how you can mix one yourself
.

Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol’ Janx Spirit, it says
.

Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V—Oh, that Santraginean seawater, it says. Oh, those Santraginean fish!

Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost)
.

Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy bikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia
.

Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet and mystic
.

Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink
.

Sprinkle Zamphuor
.

Add an olive
.

Drink … but … very carefully

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
sells rather better than the
Encyclopedia Galactica.

“Six pints of bitter,” said Ford Prefect to the barman of the Horse and Groom. “And quickly please, the world’s about to end.”

The barman of the Horse and Groom didn’t deserve this sort of
treatment; he was a dignified old man. He pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked at Ford Prefect. Ford ignored him and stared out the window, so the barman looked instead at Arthur, who shrugged helplessly and said nothing.

So the barman said, “Oh yes, sir? Nice weather for it,” and started pulling pints.

He tried again. “Going to watch the match this afternoon then?”

Ford glanced round at him.

“No, no point,” he said, and looked back out the window.

“What’s that, foregone conclusion then, you reckon, sir?” said the barman. “Arsenal without a chance?”

“No no,” said Ford, “it’s just that the world’s about to end.”

“Oh yes, sir, so you said,” said the barman, looking over his glasses this time at Arthur. “Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did.”

Ford looked back at him, genuinely surprised.

“No, not really,” he said. He frowned.

The barman breathed in heavily. “There you are, sir, six pints,” he said.

Arthur smiled at him wanly and shrugged again. He turned and smiled wanly at the rest of the pub just in case any of them had heard what was going on.

None of them had, and none of them could understand what he was smiling at them for.

A man sitting next to Ford at the bar looked at the two men, looked at the six pints, did a swift burst of mental arithmetic, arrived at an answer he liked and grinned a stupid hopeful grin at them.

“Get off,” said Ford, “they’re ours,” giving him a look that would have made an Algolian Suntiger get on with what it was doing.

Ford slapped a five-pound note on the bar. He said, “Keep the change.”

“What, from a fiver? Thank you, sir.”

“You’ve got ten minutes left to spend it.”

The barman decided simply to walk away for a bit.

“Ford,” said Arthur, “would you please tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Drink up,” said Ford, “you’ve got three pints to get through.”

“Three pints?” said Arthur. “At lunchtime?”

The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily. Ford ignored him. He said, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

“Very deep,” said Arthur, “you should send that in to the
Reader’s Digest
. They’ve got a page for people like you.”

“Drink up.”

“Why three pints all of a sudden?”

“Muscle relaxant, you’ll need it.”

“Muscle relaxant?”

“Muscle relaxant.”

Arthur stared into his beer.

“Did I do anything wrong today,” he said, “or has the world always been like this and I’ve been too wrapped up in myself to notice?”

“All right,” said Ford, “I’ll try to explain. How long have we known each other?”

“How long?” Arthur thought. “Er, about five years, maybe six,” he said. “Most of it seemed to make some kind of sense at the time.”

“All right,” said Ford. “How would you react if I said that I’m not from Guildford after all, but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse?”

Arthur shrugged in a so-so sort of way.

“I don’t know,” he said, taking a pull of beer. “Why, do you think it’s the sort of thing you’re likely to say?”

Ford gave up. It really wasn’t worth bothering at the moment, what with the world being about to end. He just said, “Drink up.”

He added, perfectly factually, “The world’s about to end.”

Arthur gave the rest of the pub another wan smile. The rest of the pub frowned at him. A man waved at him to stop smiling at them and mind his own business.

“This must be Thursday,” said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Chapter 3

O
n this particular Thursday, something was moving quietly through the ionosphere many miles above the surface of the planet; several somethings in fact, several dozen huge yellow chunky slablike somethings, huge as office blocks, silent as birds. They soared with ease, basking in electromagnetic rays from the star Sol, biding their time, grouping, preparing.

The planet beneath them was almost perfectly oblivious of their presence, which was just how they wanted it for the moment. The huge yellow something went unnoticed at Goonhilly, they passed over Cape Canaveral without a blip, Woomera and Jodrell Bank looked straight through them, which was a pity because it was exactly the sort of thing they’d been looking for all these years.

The only place they registered at all was on a small black device called a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic which winked away quietly to itself. It nestled in the darkness inside a leather satchel which Ford Prefect habitually wore slung around his neck. The contents of Ford Prefect’s satchel were quite interesting in fact and would have made any Earth physicist’s eyes pop out of his head, which is why he always concealed them by keeping a couple of dogeared scripts for plays he pretended he was auditioning for stuffed in the top. Besides the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic and the scripts he had an Electronic Thumb—a short squat black rod, smooth and matt with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end; he also had a device that looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million “pages” could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words
DON’T PANIC
printed on it in large friendly letters. The other reason was that this device was in fact that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor—
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
. The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in.

Beneath that in Ford Prefect’s satchel were a few ballpoints, a notepad and a largish bath towel from Marks and Spencer.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
has a few things to say on the subject of towels
.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough
.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a
strag
(strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with
.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in
“Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.”
(Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Nestling quietly on top of the towel in Ford Prefect’s satchel, the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic began to wink more quickly. Miles above the surface of the planet the huge yellow somethings began to fan out. At Jodrell Bank, someone decided it was time for a nice relaxing cup of tea.

“You got a towel with you?” said Ford suddenly to Arthur.

Arthur, struggling through his third pint, looked round at him.

“Why? What, no … should I have?” He had given up being surprised, there didn’t seem to be any point any longer.

Ford clicked his tongue in irritation.

“Drink up,” he urged.

At that moment the dull sound of a rumbling crash from outside filtered through the low murmur of the pub, through the sound of the jukebox, through the sound of the man next to Ford hiccupping over the whisky Ford had eventually bought him.

Arthur choked on his beer, leaped to his feet.

“What’s that?” he yelped.

“Don’t worry,” said Ford, “they haven’t started yet.”

“Thank God for that,” said Arthur, and relaxed.

“It’s probably just your house being knocked down,” said Ford, downing his last pint.

“What?” shouted Arthur. Suddenly Ford’s spell was broken. Arthur looked wildly around him and ran to the window.

“My God, they are! They’re knocking my house down. What the hell am I doing in the pub, Ford?”

“It hardly makes any difference at this stage,” said Ford, “let them have their fun.”

“Fun?” yelped Arthur. “Fun!” He quickly checked out the window again that they were talking about the same thing.

“Damn their fun!” he hooted, and ran out of the pub furiously waving a nearly empty beer glass. He made no friends at all in the pub that lunchtime.

“Stop, you vandals! You home wreckers!” bawled Arthur. “You half-crazed Visigoths, stop, will you!”

Ford would have to go after him. Turning quickly to the barman he asked for four packets of peanuts.

“There you are, sir,” said the barman, slapping the packets on the bar, “twenty-eight pence if you’d be so kind.”

Ford was very kind—he gave the barman another five-pound note and told him to keep the change. The barman looked at it and then looked at Ford. He suddenly shivered: he experienced a momentary sensation that he didn’t understand because no one on Earth had ever experienced it before. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth it is never possible to be farther than sixteen thousand miles from your
birthplace, which really isn’t very far, so such signals are too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born six hundred light-years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse.

The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance. He didn’t know what it meant, but he looked at Ford Prefect with a new sense of respect, almost awe.

“Are you serious, sir?” he said in a small whisper which had the effect of silencing the pub. “You think the World’s going to end?”

“Yes,” said Ford.

“But, this afternoon.”

Ford had recovered himself. He was at his flippest.

“Yes,” he said gaily, “in less than two minutes I would estimate.”

The barman couldn’t believe this conversation he was having, but he couldn’t believe the sensation he had just had either.

“Isn’t there anything we can do about it then?” he said.

“No, nothing,” said Ford, stuffing the peanuts into his pocket.

Someone in the hushed bar suddenly laughed raucously at how stupid everyone had become.

BOOK: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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