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Chapter Twenty-nine

``Zaphod! Wake up!''

``Mmmmmwwwwwerrrrr?''

``Hey come on, wake up.''

``Just let me stick to what I'm good at, yeah?'' muttered Zaphod and rolled away from the voice back to sleep.

``Do you want me to kick you?'' said Ford.

``Would it give you a lot of pleasure?'' said Zaphod, blearily.

``No.''

``Nor me. So what's the point? Stop bugging me.'' Zaphod curled himself up.

``He got a double dose of the gas,'' said Trillian looking down at him, ``two windpipes.''

``And stop talking,'' said Zaphod, ``it's hard enough trying to sleep anyway. What's the matter with the ground? It's all cold and hard.''

``It's gold,'' said Ford.

With an amazingly balletic movement Zaphod was standing and scanning the horizon, because that was how far the gold ground stretched in every direction, perfectly smooth and solid. It gleamed like ... it's impossible to say what it gleamed like because nothing in the Universe gleams in quite the same way that a planet of solid gold does.

``Who put all that there?'' yelped Zaphod, goggle-eyed.

``Don't get excited,'' said Ford, ``it's only a catalogue.''

``A who?''

``A catalogue,'' said Trillian, ``an illusion.''

``How can you say that?'' cried Zaphod, falling to his hands and knees and staring at the ground. He poked it and prodded it with his fingernail. It was very heavy and very slightly soft --- he could mark it with his fingernail. It was very yellow and very shiny, and when he breathed on it his breath evaporated off it in that very peculiar and special way that breath evaporates off solid gold.

``Trillian and I came round a while ago,'' said Ford. ``We shouted and yelled till somebody came and then carried on shouting and yelling till they got fed up and put us in their planet catalogue to keep us busy till they were ready to deal with us. This is all Sens-O-Tape.''

Zaphod stared at him bitterly.

``Ah, shit,'' he said, ``you wake me up from my own perfectly good dream to show me somebody else's.'' He sat down in a huff.

``What's that series of valleys over there?'' he said.

``Hallmark,'' said Ford. ``We had a look.''

``We didn't wake you earlier,'' said Trillian. ``The last planet was knee deep in fish.''

``Fish?''

``Some people like the oddest things.''

``And before that,'' said Ford, ``we had platinum. Bit dull. We thought you'd like to see this one though.''

Seas of light glared at them in one solid blaze wherever they looked.

``Very pretty,'' said Zaphod petulantly.

In the sky a huge green catalogue number appeared. It flickered and changed, and when they looked around again so had the land.

As with one voice they all went, ``Yuch.''

The sea was purple. The beach they were on was composed of tiny yellow and green pebbles --- presumably terribly precious stones. The mountains in the distance seemed soft and undulating with red peaks. Nearby stood a solid silver beach table with a frilly mauve parasol and silver tassles.

In the sky a huge sign appeared, replacing the catalogue number. It said, Whatever your tastes, Magrathea can cater for you. We are not proud.

And five hundred entirely naked women dropped out of the sky on parachutes.

In a moment the scene vanished and left them in a springtime meadow full of cows.

``Ow!'' said Zaphod. ``My brains!''

``You want to talk about it?'' said Ford.

``Yeah, OK,'' said Zaphod, and all three sat down and ignored the scenes that came and went around them.

``I figure this,'' said Zaphod. ``Whatever happened to my mind, I did it. And I did it in such a way that it wouldn't be detected by the government screening tests. And I wasn't to know anything about it myself. Pretty crazy, right?''

The other two nodded in agreement.

``So I reckon, what's so secret that I can't let anybody know I know it, not the Galactic Government, not even myself? And the answer is I don't know. Obviously. But I put a few things together and I can begin to guess. When did I decide to run for President? Shortly after the death of President Yooden Vranx. You remember Yooden, Ford?''

``Yeah,'' said Ford, ``he was that guy we met when we were kids, the Arcturan captain. He was a gas. He gave us conkers when you bust your way into his megafreighter. Said you were the most amazing kid he'd ever met.''

``What's all this?'' said Trillian.

``Ancient history,'' said Ford, ``when we were kids together on Betelgeuse. The Arcturan megafreighters used to carry most of the bulky trade between the Galactic Centre and the outlying regions The Betelgeuse trading scouts used to find the markets and the Arcturans would supply them. There was a lot of trouble with space pirates before they were wiped out in the Dordellis wars, and the megafreighters had to be equipped with the most fantastic defence shields known to Galactic science. They were real brutes of ships, and huge. In orbit round a planet they would eclipse the sun.

``One day, young Zaphod here decides to raid one. On a tri-jet scooter designed for stratosphere work, a mere kid. I mean forget it, it was crazier than a mad monkey. I went along for the ride because I'd got some very safe money on him not doing it, and didn't want him coming back with fake evidence. So what happens? We got in his tri-jet which he had souped up into something totally other, crossed three parsecs in a matter of weeks, bust our way into a megafreighter I still don't know how, marched on to the bridge waving toy pistols and demanded conkers. A wilder thing I have not known. Lost me a year's pocket money. For what? Conkers.''

``The captain was this really amazing guy, Yooden Vranx,'' said Zaphod. ``He gave us food, booze --- stuff from really weird parts of the Galaxy --- lots of conkers of course, and we had just the most incredible time. Then he teleported us back. Into the maximum security wing of Betelgeuse state prison. He was a cool guy. Went on to become President of the Galaxy.''

Zaphod paused.

The scene around them was currently plunged into gloom. Dark mists swirled round them and elephantine shapes lurked indistinctly in the shadows. The air was occasionally rent with the sounds of illusory beings murdering other illusory beings. Presumably enough people must have liked this sort of thing to make it a paying proposition.

``Ford,'' said Zaphod quietly.

``Yeah?''

``Just before Yooden died he came to see me.''

``What? You never told me.''

``No.''

``What did he say? What did he come to see you about?''

``He told me about the Heart of Gold. It was his idea that I should steal it.''

``His idea?''

``Yeah,'' said Zaphod, ``and the only possible way of stealing it was to be at the launching ceremony.''

Ford gaped at him in astonishment for a moment, and then roared with laughter.

``Are you telling me,'' he said, ``that you set yourself up to become President of the Galaxy just to steal that ship?''

``That's it,'' said Zaphod with the sort of grin that would get most people locked away in a room with soft walls.

``But why?'' said Ford. ``What's so important about having it?''

``Dunno,'' said Zaphod, ``I think if I'd consciously known what was so important about it and what I would need it for it would have showed up on the brain screening tests and I would never have passed. I think Yooden told me a lot of things that are still locked away.''

``So you think you went and mucked about inside your own brain as a result of Yooden talking to you?''

``He was a hell of a talker.''

``Yeah, but Zaphod old mate, you want to look after yourself you know.''

Zaphod shrugged.

``I mean, don't you have any inkling of the reasons for all this?'' asked Ford.

Zaphod thought hard about this and doubts seemed to cross his minds.

``No,'' he said at last, ``I don't seem to be letting myself into any of my secrets. Still,'' he added on further reflection, ``I can understand that. I wouldn't trust myself further than I could spit a rat.''

A moment later, the last planet in the catalogue vanished from beneath them and the solid world resolved itself again.

They were sitting in a plush waiting room full of glass-top tables and design awards.

A tall Magrathean man was standing in front of them.

``The mice will see you now,'' he said.


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