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Chapter Five

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was not a pleasant sight, even for other Vogons. His highly domed nose rose high above a small piggy forehead. His dark green rubbery skin was thick enough for him to play the game of Vogon Civil Service politics, and play it well, and waterproof enough for him to survive indefinitely at sea depths of up to a thousand feet with no ill effects.

Not that he ever went swimming of course. His busy schedule would not allow it. He was the way he was because billions of years ago when the Vogons had first crawled out of the sluggish primeval seas of Vogsphere, and had lain panting and heaving on the planet's virgin shores... when the first rays of the bright young Vogsol sun had shone across them that morning, it was as if the forces of evolution ad simply given up on them there and then, had turned aside in disgust and written them off as an ugly and unfortunate mistake. They never evolved again; they should never have survived.

The fact that they did is some kind of tribute to the thick-willed slug-brained stubbornness of these creatures. Evolution? they said to themselves, Who needs it?, and what nature refused to do for them they simply did without until such time as they were able to rectify the grosser anatomical inconveniences with surgery.

Meanwhile, the natural forces on the planet Vogsphere had been working overtime to make up for their earlier blunder. They brought forth scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing their shells with iron mallets; tall aspiring trees with breathtaking slenderness and colour which the Vogons cut down and burned the crab meat with; elegant gazelle-like creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes which the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as transport because their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway.

Thus the planet Vogsphere whiled away the unhappy millennia until the Vogons suddenly discovered the principles of interstellar travel. Within a few short Vog years every last Vogon had migrated to the Megabrantis cluster, the political hub of the Galaxy and now formed the immensely powerful backbone of the Galactic Civil Service. They have attempted to acquire learning, they have attempted to acquire style and social grace, but in most respects the modern Vogon is little different from his primitive forebears. Every year they import twenty-seven thousand scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs from their native planet and while away a happy drunken night smashing them to bits with iron mallets.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was a fairly typical Vogon in that he was thoroughly vile. Also, he did not like hitch hikers.

Somewhere in a small dark cabin buried deep in the intestines of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz's flagship, a small match flared nervously. The owner of the match was not a Vogon, but he knew all about them and was right to be nervous. His name was Ford Prefect. <footnote 2>

He looked about the cabin but could see very little; strange monstrous shadows loomed and leaped with the tiny flickering flame, but all was quiet. He breathed a silent thank you to the Dentrassis. The Dentrassis are an unruly tribe of gourmands, a wild but pleasant bunch whom the Vogons had recently taken to employing as catering staff on their long haul fleets, on the strict understanding that they keep themselves very much to themselves.

This suited the Dentrassis fine, because they loved Vogon money, which is one of the hardest currencies in space, but loathed the Vogons themselves. The only sort of Vogon a Dentrassi liked to see was an annoyed Vogon.

It was because of this tiny piece of information that Ford Prefect was not now a whiff of hydrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide.

He heard a slight groan. By the light of the match he saw a heavy shape moving slightly on the floor. Quickly he shook the match out, reached in his pocket, found what he was looking for and took it out. He crouched on the floor. The shape moved again.

Ford Prefect said: ``I bought some peanuts.''

Arthur Dent moved, and groaned again, muttering incoherently.

``Here, have some,'' urged Ford, shaking the packet again, ``if you've never been through a matter transference beam before you've probably lost some salt and protein. The beer you had should have cushioned your system a bit.''

``Whhhrrrr...'' said Arthur Dent. He opened his eyes.

``It's dark,'' he said.

``Yes,'' said Ford Prefect, ``it's dark.''

``No light,'' said Arthur Dent. ``Dark, no light.''

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about human beings was their habit of continually stating and repeating the obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical and decided he quite liked human beings after all, but he always remained desperately worried about the terrible number of things they didn't know about.

``Yes,'' he agreed with Arthur, ``no light.'' He helped Arthur to some peanuts. ``How do you feel?'' he asked.

``Like a military academy,'' said Arthur, ``bits of me keep on passing out.''

Ford stared at him blankly in the darkness.

``If I asked you where the hell we were,'' said Arthur weakly, ``would I regret it?''

Ford stood up. ``We're safe,'' he said.

``Oh good,'' said Arthur.

``We're in a small galley cabin,'' said Ford, ``in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.''

``Ah,'' said Arthur, ``this is obviously some strange usage of the word safe that I wasn't previously aware of.''

Ford struck another match to help him search for a light switch. Monstrous shadows leaped and loomed again. Arthur struggled to his feet and hugged himself apprehensively. Hideous alien shapes seemed to throng about him, the air was thick with musty smells which sidled into his lungs without identifying themselves, and a low irritating hum kept his brain from focusing.

``How did we get here?'' he asked, shivering slightly.

``We hitched a lift,'' said Ford.

``Excuse me?'' said Arthur. ``Are you trying to tell me that we just stuck out our thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck his head out and said, Hi fellas, hop right in. I can take you as far as the Basingstoke roundabout?''

``Well,'' said Ford, ``the Thumb's an electronic sub-etha signalling device, the roundabout's at Barnard's Star six light years away, but otherwise, that's more or less right.''

``And the bug-eyed monster?''

``Is green, yes.''

``Fine,'' said Arthur, ``when can I get home?''

``You can't,'' said Ford Prefect, and found the light switch.

``Shade your eyes ...'' he said, and turned it on.

Even Ford was surprised.

``Good grief,'' said Arthur, ``is this really the interior of a flying saucer?''

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz heaved his unpleasant green body round the control bridge. He always felt vaguely irritable after demolishing populated planets. He wished that someone would come and tell him that it was all wrong so that he could shout at them and feel better. He flopped as heavily as he could on to his control seat in the hope that it would break and give him something to be genuinely angry about, but it only gave a complaining sort of creak.

``Go away!'' he shouted at a young Vogon guard who entered the bridge at that moment. The guard vanished immediately, feeling rather relieved. He was glad it wouldn't now be him who delivered the report they'd just received. The report was an official release which said that a wonderful new form of spaceship drive was at this moment being unveiled at a government research base on Damogran which would henceforth make all hyperspatial express routes unnecessary.

Another door slid open, but this time the Vogon captain didn't shout because it was the door from the galley quarters where the Dentrassis prepared his meals. A meal would be most welcome.

A huge furry creature bounded through the door with his lunch tray. It was grinning like a maniac.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was delighted. He knew that when a Dentrassi looked that pleased with itself there was something going on somewhere on the ship that he could get very angry indeed about.

Ford and Arthur stared about them.

``Well, what do you think?'' said Ford.

``It's a bit squalid, isn't it?''

Ford frowned at the grubby mattress, unwashed cups and unidentifiable bits of smelly alien underwear that lay around the cramped cabin.

``Well, this is a working ship, you see,'' said Ford. ``These are the Dentrassi sleeping quarters.''

``I thought you said they were called Vogons or something.''

``Yes,'' said Ford, ``the Vogons run the ship, the Dentrassis are the cooks, they let us on board.''

``I'm confused,'' said Arthur.

``Here, have a look at this,'' said Ford. He sat down on one of the mattresses and rummaged about in his satchel. Arthur prodded the mattress nervously and then sat on it himself: in fact he had very little to be nervous about, because all mattresses grown in the swamps of Squornshellous Zeta are very thoroughly killed and dried before being put to service. Very few have ever come to life again.

Ford handed the book to Arthur.

``What is it?'' asked Arthur.

``The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's its job.''

Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.

``I like the cover,'' he said. ``Don't Panic. It's the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day.''

``I'll show you how it works,'' said Ford. He snatched it from Arthur who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark and pulled it out of its cover.

``You press this button here you see and the screen lights up giving you the index.''

A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.

``You want to know about Vogons, so I enter that name so.'' His fingers tapped some more keys. ``And there we are.''

The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.

Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the screen and words began to undulate across it. At the same time, the book began to speak the entry as well in a still quiet measured voice. This is what the book said.

``Vogon Constructor Fleets. Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy --- not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat and recycled as firelighters.

``The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your finger down his throat, and the best way to irritate him is to feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

``On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.''

Arthur blinked at it.

``What a strange book. How did we get a lift then?''

``That's the point, it's out of date now,'' said Ford, sliding the book back into its cover. ``I'm doing the field research for the New Revised Edition, and one of the things I'll have to include is a bit about how the Vogons now employ Dentrassi cooks which gives us a rather useful little loophole.''

A pained expression crossed Arthur's face. ``But who are the Dentrassi?'' he said.

``Great guys,'' said Ford. ``They're the best cooks and the best drink mixers and they don't give a wet slap about anything else. And they'll always help hitch hikers aboard, partly because they like the company, but mostly because it annoys the Vogons. Which is exactly the sort of thing you need to know if you're an impoverished hitch hiker trying to see the marvels of the Universe for less than thirty Altairan Dollars a day. And that's my job. Fun, isn't it?''

Arthur looked lost.

``It's amazing,'' he said and frowned at one of the other mattresses.

``Unfortunately I got stuck on the Earth for rather longer than I intended,'' said Ford. ``I came for a week and got stuck for fifteen years.''

``But how did you get there in the first place then?''

``Easy, I got a lift with a teaser.''

``A teaser?''

``Yeah.''

``Er, what is ...''

``A teaser? Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets which haven't made interstellar contact yet and buzz them.''

``Buzz them?'' Arthur began to feel that Ford was enjoying making life difficult for him.

``Yeah'', said Ford, ``they buzz them. They find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some poor soul whom no one's ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennae on their heads and making beep beep noises. Rather childish really.'' Ford leant back on the mattress with his hands behind his head and looked infuriatingly pleased with himself.

``Ford,'' insisted Arthur, ``I don't know if this sounds like a silly question, but what am I doing here?''

``Well you know that,'' said Ford. ``I rescued you from the Earth.''

``And what's happened to the Earth?''

``Ah. It's been demolished.''

``Has it,'' said Arthur levelly.

``Yes. It just boiled away into space.''

``Look,'' said Arthur, ``I'm a bit upset about that.''

Ford frowned to himself and seemed to roll the thought around his mind.

``Yes, I can understand that,'' he said at last.

``Understand that!'' shouted Arthur. ``Understand that!''

Ford sprang up.

``Keep looking at the book!'' he hissed urgently.

``What?''

``Don't Panic.''

``I'm not panicking!''

``Yes you are.''

``Alright so I'm panicking, what else is there to do?''

``You just come along with me and have a good time. The Galaxy's a fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear.''

``I beg your pardon?'' asked Arthur, rather politely he thought.

Ford was holding up a small glass jar which quite clearly had a small yellow fish wriggling around in it. Arthur blinked at him. He wished there was something simple and recognizable he could grasp hold of. He would have felt safe if alongside the Dentrassi underwear, the piles of Squornshellous mattresses and the man from Betelgeuse holding up a small yellow fish and offering to put it in his ear he had been able to see just a small packet of corn flakes. He couldn't, and he didn't feel safe.

Suddenly a violent noise leapt at them from no source that he could identify. He gasped in terror at what sounded like a man trying to gargle whilst fighting off a pack of wolves.

``Shush!'' said Ford. ``Listen, it might be important.''

``Im ... important?''

``It's the Vogon captain making an announcement on the T'annoy.''

``You mean that's how the Vogons talk?''

``Listen!''

``But I can't speak Vogon!''

``You don't need to. Just put that fish in your ear.''

Ford, with a lightning movement, clapped his hand to Arthur's ear, and he had the sudden sickening sensation of the fish slithering deep into his aural tract. Gasping with horror he scrabbled at his ear for a second or so, but then slowly turned goggle-eyed with wonder. He was experiencing the aural equivalent of looking at a picture of two black silhouetted faces and suddenly seeing it as a picture of a white candlestick. Or of looking at a lot of coloured dots on a piece of paper which suddenly resolve themselves into the figure six and mean that your optician is going to charge you a lot of money for a new pair of glasses.

He was still listening to the howling gargles, he knew that, only now it had taken on the semblance of perfectly straightforward English.

This is what he heard ...


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