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 (61 page)

BOOK: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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“They are both,” said Slartibartfast, without looking up, “in the room of Informational Illusions. I think that your young lady friend is trying to understand some problems of Galactic history. I think the potato chips are probably helping her.”

Chapter 24

I
t is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.

For instance, there was once an insanely aggressive race of people called the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax. That was just the name of their race. The name of their army was something quite horrific. Luckily they lived even farther back in Galactic history than anything we have so far encountered—twenty billion years ago—when the Galaxy was young and fresh, and every idea worth fighting for was a new one.

And fighting was what the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were good at, and being good at it, they did it a lot. They fought their enemies (i.e., everybody else), they fought each other. Their planet was a complete wreck. The surface was littered with abandoned cities that were surrounded by abandoned war machines, which were in turn surrounded by deep bunkers in which the Silastic Armorfiends lived and squabbled with each other.

The best way to pick a fight with a Silastic Armorfiend of Striterax was just to be born. They didn’t like it, they got resentful. And when an Armorfiend got resentful, someone got hurt. An exhausting way of life, one might think, but they did seem to have an awful lot of energy. The best way of dealing with a Silastic Armorfiend was to put him in a room on his own, because sooner or later he would simply beat himself up.

Eventually they realized that this was something they were going to have to sort out, and they passed a law decreeing that anyone who had to carry a weapon as part of his normal Silastic work (policemen, security guards, primary school teachers, etc.) had to spend at least forty-five minutes every day punching a sack of potatoes in order to work off his or her surplus aggression.

For a while this worked well, until someone thought that it would be much more efficient and less time-consuming if they just shot the potatoes instead.

This led to a renewed enthusiasm for shooting all sorts of things, and they all got very excited at the prospect of their first major war for weeks.

Another achievement of the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax is that they were the first race who ever managed to shock a computer.

It was a gigantic spaceborne computer called Hactar, which to this day is remembered as one of the most powerful ever built. It was the first to be built like a natural brain, in that every cellular particle of it carried the pattern of the whole within it, which enabled it to think more flexibly and imaginatively, and also, it seemed, to be shocked.

The Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax were engaged in one of their regular wars with the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and were not enjoying it as much as usual because it involved an awful lot of trekking through the Radiation Swamps of Cwulzenda and across the Fire Mountains of Frazfraga, neither of which terrains they felt at home in.

So when the Strangulous Stillettans of Jajazikstak joined in the fray and forced them to fight another front in the Gamma Caves of Carfrax and the Ice Storms of Varlengooten, they decided that enough was enough, and they ordered Hactar to design for them an Ultimate Weapon.

“What do you mean,” asked Hactar, “by Ultimate?”

To which the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax said, “Read a bloody dictionary,” and plunged back into the fray.

So Hactar designed an Ultimate Weapon. It was a very, very small bomb that was simply a junction box in hyperspace which would, when activated, connect the heart of every major sun with the heart of every other major sun simultaneously and thus turn the entire Universe into one gigantic hyperspatial supernova.

When the Silastic Armorfiends tried to use it to blow up a Strangulous Stillettan munitions dump in one of the Gamma Caves, they were extremely irritated that it didn’t work, and said so.

Hactar had been shocked by the whole idea.

He tried to explain that he had been thinking about this Ultimate Weapon business, and had worked out that there was no conceivable consequence of not setting the bomb off that was worse than the known consequence of setting it off, and he had therefore taken the liberty of introducing a small flaw into the design of the bomb, and he hoped that everyone involved would, on sober reflection, feel that …

The Silastic Armorfiends disagreed and pulverized the computer.

Later they thought better of it, and destroyed the faulty bomb as well.

Then, pausing only to smash the hell out of the Strenuous Garfighters of Stug, and the Strangulous Stillettans of Jajazikstak, they then went on to find an entirely new way of blowing themselves up, which was a profound
relief to everyone else in the Galaxy, particularly the Garfighters, the Stillettans and the potatoes.

Trillian had watched all this, as well as the story of Krikkit. She emerged from the room of Informational Illusions thoughtfully, just in time to discover that they had arrived too late.

Chapter 25

E
ven as the starship
Bistromath
flickered into objective being on the top of a small cliff on the mile-wide asteroid that pursued a lonely and eternal path in orbit around the enclosed star system of Krikkit, its crew was aware that they were in time only to be witnesses to an unstoppable historic event.

They didn’t realize they were going to see two.

They stood cold, lonely and helpless on the cliff edge and watched the activity below. Lances of light wheeled in sinister arcs against the void from a point only about a hundred yards below and in front of them.

They stared into the blinding event.

An extension of the ship’s field enabled them to stand there by once again exploiting the mind’s predisposition to have tricks played on it: the problems of falling up off the tiny mass of the asteroid, or of not being able to breathe simply became Somebody Else’s.

The white Krikkit warship was parked among the stark gray crags of the asteroid, alternately flaring under arc lights or disappearing in shadow. The black shadows cast by the hard rocks danced together in wild choreography as the arc lights swept around them.

The eleven white robots were bearing, in procession, the Wikkit Key out into the middle of a circle of swinging lights.

The Wikkit Key had been rebuilt. Its components shone and glittered: the Steel Pillar (or Marvin’s leg) of Strength and Power, the Golden Bail (or heart of the Infinite Improbability Drive) of Prosperity, the Plastic Pillar (or Argabuthon Scepter of Justice) of Science and Reason, the Silver Bail (or Rory Award for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Belgium” in a Serious Screenplay) and the now reconstituted Wooden Pillar (or Ashes of a burnt stump signifying the death of English cricket) of Nature and Spirituality.

“I suppose there is nothing we can do at this point?” asked Arthur nervously.

“No,” sighed Slartibartfast.

The expression of disappointment that crossed Arthur’s face was a
complete failure and, since he was standing obscured by shadow, he allowed it to collapse into one of relief.

“Pity,” he said.

“We have no weapons,” said Slartibartfast, “stupidly.”

“Damn,” said Arthur, very quietly.

Ford said nothing.

Trillian said nothing, but in a peculiarly thoughtful and distinct way. She was staring at that blankness of the space beyond the asteroid.

The asteroid circled the Dust Cloud that surrounded the Slo-Time envelope that enclosed the world on which lived the people of Krikkit—the Masters of Krikkit and their killer robots.

The helpless group had no way of knowing whether or not the Krikkit robots were aware of their presence. They could only assume they must be, but they felt, quite rightly in the circumstances, that they had nothing to fear. They had a historic task to perform, and their audience could be regarded with contempt.

“Terribly impotent feeling, isn’t it?” said Arthur, but the others ignored him.

In the center of the area of light that the robots were approaching, a square-shaped crack appeared in the ground. The crack defined itself more and more distinctly, and soon it became clear that a block of the ground, about six feet square, was slowly rising.

At the same time, they became aware of some other movement, but it was almost subliminal, and for a moment or two it was not clear what it was that was moving.

Then it became clear.

The asteroid was moving. It was moving in toward the Dust Cloud, as if being hauled inexorably by some celestial angler in its depths.

They were to make in real life the journey through the Cloud that they had already made in the room of Informational Illusions. They stood frozen in silence. Trillian frowned.

An age seemed to pass. Events seemed to pass with spinning slowness, as the leading edge of the asteroid passed into the vague and soft outer perimeter of the Cloud.

And soon they were engulfed in a thin and dancing obscurity. They passed on through it, on and on, dimly aware of vague shapes and whorls indistinguishable in the darkness except in the corner of the eye.

The dust dimmed the shafts of brilliant light. The shafts of brilliant light twinkled on the myriad specks of dust.

Trillian, again, regarded the passage from within her own frowning thoughts.

And they were through it. Whether it had taken a minute or half an hour they weren’t sure, but they were through it and confronted with a fresh blankness, as if space were pinched out of existence in front of them.

And now things moved quickly.

A blinding shaft of light seemed almost to explode from out of the block that had risen three feet out of the ground, and out of that rose a smaller plastic block, dazzling with interior dancing colors.

The block was slotted with deep grooves, three upright and two across, clearly designed to accept the Wikkit Key.

The robots approached the Lock, slotted the Key into its home and stepped back again. The block twisted around of its own accord, and space began to alter.

As space unpinched itself, it seemed agonizingly to twist the eyes of the watchers in their sockets. They found themselves staring, blinded at an unraveled sun that stood now before them where it seemed only seconds before there had not been even empty space. It was a second or two before they were even sufficiently aware of what had happened to throw their hands up over their horrified blinded eyes. In that second or two, they were aware of a tiny speck moving slowly across the eye of that sun.

They staggered back, and heard ringing in their ears the thin and unexpected chant of the robots crying out in unison.

“Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit!”

The sound chilled them. It was harsh, it was cold, it was empty, it was mechanically dismal.

It was also triumphant.

They were so stunned by these two sensory shocks that they almost missed the second historic event.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the only man in history to survive a direct blast attack from the Krikkit robots, ran out of the Krikkit warship brandishing a Zap gun.

“Okay,” he cried, “the situation is totally under control as of this moment in time.”

The single robot guarding the hatchway to the ship silently swung his battleclub, and connected it with the back of Zaphod’s left head.

“Who the zark did that?” said his left head, and lolled sickeningly forward.

His right head gazed keenly into the middle distance.

“Who did what?” it said.

The club connected with the back of his right head.

Zaphod measured his length and rather strange shape on the ground.

Within a matter of seconds the whole event was over. A few blasts from the robots were sufficient to destroy the Lock forever. It split and melted and splayed its contents brokenly, and robots marched grimly and, it almost seemed, in a slightly disheartened manner, back into their warship which, with a “foop,” was gone.

Trillian and Ford ran hectically around and down the steep incline to the dark still body of Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Chapter 26

I
don’t know,” said Zaphod, for what seemed to him like the thirty-seventh time, “they could have killed me, but they didn’t. Maybe they just thought I was a kind of wonderful guy or something. I could understand that.”

The others silently registered their opinions of this theory.

Zaphod lay on the cold floor of the flight deck. His back seemed to wrestle the floor as pain thudded through him and banged at his heads.

“I think,” he whispered, “that there is something wrong with those anodized dudes, something fundamentally weird.”

“They are programmed to kill everybody,” Slartibartfast pointed out.

“That,” wheezed Zaphod between the whacking thuds, “could be it.” He didn’t seem altogether convinced.

“Hey, baby,” he said to Trillian, hoping this would make up for his previous behavior.

“You all right?” she said gently.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m fine.”

“Good,” she said, and walked away to think. She stared at the huge visiscreen over the flight couches and, twisting a switch, she flipped local images over it. One image was the blankness of the Dust Cloud. One was the sun of Krikkit. One was Krikkit itself. She flipped between them fiercely.

“Well, that’s goodbye Galaxy, then,” said Arthur, slapping his knees and standing up.

“No,” said Slartibartfast, gravely, “our course is clear.” He furrowed his brow until you could grow some of the smaller root vegetables in it. He stood up, he paced around. When he spoke again, what he said frightened him so much he had to sit down again.

“We must go down to Krikkit,” he said. A deep sigh shook his old frame and his eyes seemed almost to rattle in their sockets.

“Once again,” he said, “we have failed pathetically. Quite pathetically.”

“That,” said Ford quietly, “is because we don’t care enough. I told you.”

He swung his feet up onto the instrument panel and picked fitfully at something on one of his fingernails.

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