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Chapter Ten

The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.

Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do.

For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the large forest planet Oglaroon, the entire ``intelligent'' population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death and the importance of birth control, fight a few extremely minor wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches.

In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the Galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing, which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is.

For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says ``You are here.''

The grey plain stretched before Zaphod, a ruined, shattered plain. The wind whipped wildly over it.

Visible in the middle was the steel pimple of the dome. This, gathered Zaphod, was where he was going. This was the Total Perspective Vortex.

As he stood and gazed bleakly at it, a sudden inhuman wail of terror emanated from it as of a man having his soul burnt from his body. It screamed above the wind and died away.

Zaphod started with fear and his blood seemed to turn to liquid helium.

``Hey, what was that?'' he muttered voicelessly.

``A recording,'' said Gargravarr, ``of the last man who was put in the Vortex. It is always played to the next victim. A sort of prelude.''

``Hey, it really sounds bad ...'' stammered Zaphod, ``couldn't we maybe slope off to a party or something for a while, think it over?''

``For all I know,'' said Gargravarr's ethereal voice, ``I'm probably at one. My body that is. It goes to a lot of parties without me. Says I only get in the way. Hey ho.''

``What is all this with your body?'' said Zaphod, anxious to delay whatever it was that was going to happen to him.

``Well, it's ... it's busy you know,'' said Gargravarr hesitantly.

``You mean it's got a mind of its own?'' said Zaphod.

There was a long and slightly chilly pause before Gargravarr spoke again.

``I have to say,'' he replied eventually, ``that I find that remark in rather poor taste.''

Zaphod muttered a bewildered and embarrassed apology.

``No matter,'' said Gargravarr, ``you weren't to know.''

The voice fluttered unhappily.

``The truth is,'' it continued in tones which suggested he was trying very hard to keep it under control, ``the truth is that we are currently undergoing a period of legal trial separation. I suspect it will end in divorce.''

The voice was still again, leaving Zaphod with no idea of what to say. He mumbled uncertainly.

``I think we are probably not very well suited,'' said Gargravarr again at length, ``we never seemed to be happy doing the same things. We always had the greatest arguments over sex and fishing. Eventually we tried to combine the two, but that only led to disaster, as you can probably imagine. And now my body refuses to let me in. It won't even see me ...''

He paused again, tragically. The wind whipped across the plain.

``It says I only inhibit it. I pointed out that in fact I was meant to inhibit it, and it said that that was exactly the sort of smart alec remark that got right up a body's left nostril, and so we left it. It will probably get custody of my forename.''

``Oh ...'' said Zaphod faintly, ``and what's that?''

``Pizpot,'' said the voice, ``My name is Pizpot Gargravarr. Says it all really doesn't it?''

``Errr ...'' said Zaphod sympathetically.

``And that is why I, as a disembodied mind, have this job, Custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex. No one will ever walk on the ground of this planet. Except the victims of the Vortex --- they don't really count I'm afraid.''

``Ah ...''

``I'll tell you the story. Would you like to hear it?''

``Er ...''

``Many years ago this was a thriving, happy planet --- people, cities shops, a normal world. Except that on the high streets of these cities there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary. And slowly, insidiously, the numbers of these shoe shops were increasing. It's a well known economic phenomenon but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make and the worse and more unwearable they became. And the worse they were to wear, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops proliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops. Result --- collapse, ruin and famine. Most of the population died out. Those few who had the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds --- you've seen one of them --- who cursed their feet, cursed the ground, and vowed that none should walk on it again. Unhappy lot. Come, I must take you to the Vortex.''

Zaphod shook his head in bemusement and stumbled forward across the plain.

``And you,'' he said, ``you come from this hellhole pit do you?''

``No no,'' said Gargravarr, taken aback, ``I come from the Frogstar World C. Beautiful place. Wonderful fishing. I flit back there in the evenings. Though all I can do now is watch. The Total Perspective Vortex is the only thing on this planet with any function. It was built here because no one else wanted it on their doorstep.''

At that moment another dismal scream rent the air and Zaphod shuddered.

``What can do that to a guy?'' he breathed.

``The Universe,'' said Gargravarr simply, ``the whole infinite Universe. The infinite suns, the infinite distances between them, and yourself an invisible dot on an invisible dot, infinitely small.''

``Hey, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox, man, you know,'' muttered Zaphod trying to flap the last remnants of his ego.

Gargravarr made no reply, but merely resumed his mournful humming till they reached the tarnished steel dome in the middle of the plain.

As they reached it, a door hummed open in the side, revealing a small darkened chamber within.

``Enter,'' said Gargravarr.

Zaphod started with fear.

``Hey, what, now?'' he said.

``Now.''

Zaphod peered nervously inside. The chamber was very small. It was steel-lined and there was hardly space in it for more than one man.

``It ... er ... it doesn't look like any kind of Vortex to me,'' said Zaphod.

``It isn't,'' said Gargravarr, ``it's just the elevator. Enter.''

With infinite trepidation Zaphod stepped into it. He was aware of Gargravarr being in the elevator with him, though the disembodied man was not for the moment speaking.

The elevator began its descent.

``I must get myself into the right frame of mind for this,'' muttered Zaphod.

``There is no right frame of mind,'' said Gargravarr sternly.

``You really know how to make a guy feel inadequate.''

``I don't. The Vortex does.''

At the bottom of the shaft, the rear of the elevator opened up and Zaphod stumbled out into a smallish, functional, steel-lined chamber.

At the far side of it stood a single upright steel box, just large enough for a man to stand in.

It was that simple.

It connected to a small pile of components and instruments via a single thick wire.

``Is that it?'' said Zaphod in surprise.

``That is it.''

Didn't look too bad, thought Zaphod.

``And I get in there do I?'' said Zaphod.

``You get in there,'' said Gargravarr, ``and I'm afraid you must do it now.''

``OK, OK,'' said Zaphod.

He opened the door of the box and stepped in.

Inside the box he waited.

After five seconds there was a click, and the entire Universe was there in the box with him.


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