``And the Vogons came and destroyed it five minutes before the program was completed,'' added Arthur, not unbitterly.
``Yes,'' said the old man, pausing to gaze hopelessly round the room. ``Ten million years of planning and work gone just like that. Ten million years, Earthman ... can you conceive of that kind of time span? A galactic civilization could grow from a single worm five times over in that time. Gone.'' He paused.
``Well that's bureaucracy for you,'' he added.
``You know,'' said Arthur thoughtfully, ``all this explains a lot of things. All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was.''
``No,'' said the old man, ``that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.''
``Everyone?'' said Arthur. ``Well, if everyone has that perhaps it means something! Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know ...''
``Maybe. Who cares?'' said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. ``Perhaps I'm old and tired,'' he continued, ``but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway.''
He rummaged around in a pile of debris and pulled out a large perspex block with his name on it and a model of Norway moulded into it.
``Where's the sense in that?'' he said. ``None that I've been able to make out. I've been doing fjords in all my life. For a fleeting moment they become fashionable and I get a major award.''
He turned it over in his hands with a shrug and tossed it aside carelessly, but not so carelessly that it didn't land on something soft.
``In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it's not equatorial enough. Equatorial!'' He gave a hollow laugh. ``What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day.''
``And are you?''
``No. That's where it all falls down of course.''
``Pity,'' said Arthur with sympathy. ``It sounded like quite a good lifestyle otherwise.''
Somewhere on the wall a small white light flashed.
``Come,'' said Slartibartfast, ``you are to meet the mice. Your arrival on the planet has caused considerable excitement. It has already been hailed, so I gather, as the third most improbable event in the history of the Universe.''
``What were the first two?''
``Oh, probably just coincidences,'' said Slartibartfast carelessly. He opened the door and stood waiting for Arthur to follow.
Arthur glanced around him once more, and then down at himself, at the sweaty dishevelled clothes he had been lying in the mud in on Thursday morning.
``I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle,'' he muttered to himself.
``I beg your pardon?'' said the old man mildly.
``Oh nothing,'' said Arthur, ``only joking.''