Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
Previous Next Index


Chapter Thirty-one

It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said ``I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle,'' a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.

The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jewelled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.

Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.

Eventually of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy --- now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.

For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across --- which happened to be the Earth --- where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

``It's just life,'' they say.

A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old Magrathean to a doorway. They left the car and went through the door into a waiting room full of glass-topped tables and perspex awards. Almost immediately, a light flashed above the door at the other side of the room and they entered.

``Arthur! You're safe!'' a voice cried.

``Am I?'' said Arthur, rather startled. ``Oh good.''

The lighting was rather subdued and it took him a moment or so to see Ford, Trillian and Zaphod sitting round a large table beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats and bizarre fruits. They were stuffing their faces.

``What happened to you?'' demanded Arthur.

``Well,'' said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle, ``our guests here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to make it up to us. Here,'' he said hoiking out a lump of evil smelling meat from a bowl, ``have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet. It's delicious if you happen to like that sort of thing.''

``Hosts?'' said Arthur. ``What hosts? I don't see any ...''

A small voice said, ``Welcome to lunch, Earth creature.''

Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.

``Ugh!'' he said. ``There are mice on the table!''

There was an awkward silence as everyone looked pointedly at Arthur.

He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like whisky glasses on the table. He heard the silence and glanced around at everyone.

``Oh!'' he said, with sudden realization. ``Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite prepared for ...''

``Let me introduce you,'' said Trillian. ``Arthur this is Benji mouse.''

``Hi,'' said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky-glass like affair, and it moved forward slightly.

``And this is Frankie mouse.''

The other mouse said, ``Pleased to meet you,'' and did likewise.

Arthur gaped.

``But aren't they ...''

``Yes,'' said Trillian, ``they are the mice I brought with me from the Earth.''

She looked him in the eye and Arthur thought he detected the tiniest resigned shrug.

``Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Megadonkey?'' she said.

Slartibartfast coughed politely.

``Er, excuse me,'' he said.

``Yes, thank you Slartibartfast,'' said Benji mouse sharply, ``you may go.''

``What? Oh ... er, very well,'' said the old man, slightly taken aback, ``I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then.''

``Ah, well in fact that won't be necessary,'' said Frankie mouse. ``It looks very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any longer.'' He swivelled his pink little eyes. ``Not now that we have found a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was destroyed.''

``What?'' cried Slartibartfast, aghast. ``You can't mean that! I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!''

``Well perhaps you can take a quick skiing holiday before you dismantle them,'' said Frankie, acidly.

``Skiing holiday!'' cried the old man. ``Those glaciers are works of art! Elegantly sculptured contours, soaring pinnacles of ice, deep majestic ravines! It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high art!''

``Thank you Slartibartfast,'' said Benji firmly. ``That will be all.''

``Yes sir,'' said the old man coldly, ``thank you very much. Well, goodbye Earthman,'' he said to Arthur, ``hope the lifestyle comes together.''

With a brief nod to the rest of the company he turned and walked sadly out of the room.

Arthur stared after him not knowing what to say.

``Now,'' said Benji mouse, ``to business.''

Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.

``To business!'' they said.

``I beg your pardon?'' said Benji.

Ford looked round.

``Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast,'' he said.

The two mice scuttled impatiently around in their glass transports. Finally they composed themselves, and Benji moved forward to address Arthur.

``Now, Earth creature,'' he said, ``the situation we have in effect is this. We have, as you know, been more or less running your planet for the last ten million years in order to find this wretched thing called the Ultimate Question.''

``Why?'' said Arthur, sharply.

``No --- we already thought of that one,'' said Frankie interrupting, ``but it doesn't fit the answer. Why? --- Forty-Two ... you see, it doesn't work.''

``No,'' said Arthur, ``I mean why have you been doing it?''

``Oh, I see,'' said Frankie. ``Well, eventually just habit I think, to be brutally honest. And this is more or less the point --- we're sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite frankly gives me the screaming heeby jeebies, you know what I mean? It was by the merest lucky chance that Benji and I finished our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday, and have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good offices of your friends.''

``Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension,'' put in Benji.

``Since when,'' continued his murine colleague, ``we have had an offer of a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in our own dimensional neck of the woods, and we're very much inclined to take it.''

``I would, wouldn't you Ford?'' said Zaphod promptingly.

``Oh yes,'' said Ford, ``jump at it, like a shot.''

Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this was leading up to.

``But we've got to have a product you see,'' said Frankie, ``I mean ideally we still need the Ultimate Question in some form or other.''

Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.

``You see,'' he said, ``if they're just sitting there in the studio looking very relaxed and, you know, just mentioning that they happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and then eventually have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two, then the show's probably quite short. No follow-up, you see.''

``We have to have something that sounds good,'' said Benji.

``Something that sounds good?'' exclaimed Arthur. ``An Ultimate Question that sounds good? From a couple of mice?''

The mice bristled.

``Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity of pure research, yes the pursuit of truth in all its forms, but there comes a point I'm afraid where you begin to suspect that if there's any real truth, it's that the entire multi-dimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs. And if it comes to a choice between spending yet another ten million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking the money and running, then I for one could do with the exercise,'' said Frankie.

``But ...'' started Arthur, hopelessly.

``Hey, will you get this, Earthman,'' interrupted Zaphod. ``You are a last generation product of that computer matrix, right, and you were there right up to the moment your planet got the finger, yeah?''

``Er ...''

``So your brain was an organic part of the penultimate configuration of the computer programme,'' said Ford, rather lucidly he thought.

``Right?'' said Zaphod.

``Well,'' said Arthur doubtfully. He wasn't aware of ever having felt an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one of his problems.

``In other words,'' said Benji, steering his curious little vehicle right over to Arthur, ``there's a good chance that the structure of the question is encoded in the structure of your brain --- so we want to buy it off you.''

``What, the question?'' said Arthur.

``Yes,'' said Ford and Trillian.

``For lots of money,'' said Zaphod.

``No, no,'' said Frankie, ``it's the brain we want to buy.''

``What!''

``I thought you said you could just read his brain electronically,'' protested Ford.

``Oh yes,'' said Frankie, ``but we'd have to get it out first. It's got to be prepared.''

``Treated,'' said Benji.

``Diced.''

``Thank you,'' shouted Arthur, tipping up his chair and backing away from the table in horror.

``It could always be replaced,'' said Benji reasonably, ``if you think it's important.''

``Yes, an electronic brain,'' said Frankie, ``a simple one would suffice.''

``A simple one!'' wailed Arthur.

``Yeah,'' said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, ``you'd just have to program it to say What? and I don't understand and Where's the tea? --- who'd know the difference?''

``What?'' cried Arthur, backing away still further.

``See what I mean?'' said Zaphod and howled with pain because of something that Trillian did at that moment.

``I'd notice the difference,'' said Arthur.

``No you wouldn't,'' said Frankie mouse, ``you'd be programmed not to.''

Ford made for the door.

``Look, I'm sorry, mice old lads,'' he said. ``I don't think we've got a deal.''

``I rather think we have to have a deal,'' said the mice in chorus, all the charm vanishing fro their piping little voices in an instant. With a tiny whining shriek their two glass transports lifted themselves off the table, and swung through the air towards Arthur, who stumbled further backwards into a blind corner, utterly unable to cope or think of anything.

Trillian grabbed him desperately by the arm and tried to drag him towards the door, which Ford and Zaphod were struggling to open, but Arthur was dead weight --- he seemed hypnotized by the airborne rodents swooping towards him.

She screamed at him, but he just gaped.

With one more yank, Ford and Zaphod got the door open. On the other side of it was a small pack of rather ugly men who they could only assume were the heavy mob of Magrathea. Not only were they ugly themselves, but the medical equipment they carried with them was also far from pretty. They charged.

So --- Arthur was about to have his head cut open, Trillian was unable to help him, and Ford and Zaphod were about to be set upon by several thugs a great deal heavier and more sharply armed than they were.

All in all it was extremely fortunate that at that moment every alarm on the planet burst into an earsplitting din.


Previous Next Index