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


Chapter Eleven

Stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

``Pleased to be of service.''

``Shut up.''

``Thank you.''

Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

``Thank you for making a simple door very happy.''

``Hope your diodes rot.''

``Thank you. Have a nice day.''

Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

Whirrr.

``It is my pleasure to open for you ...''

``Zark off.''

``... and my satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.''

``I said zark off.''

``Thank you for listening to this message.''

Stomp stomp stomp stomp.

``Wop.''

Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said ``wop'' to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said ``wop'' to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors. It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said ``wop'', which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship.

It was dark. Most of the ship's non-essential systems were closed down. It was drifting in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected ``wop''?

He looked about him, up the corridor and down the corridor. It was all in deep shadow. There were just the very dim pinkish outlines of the doors which glowed in the dark and pulsed whenever they spoke, though he had tried every way he could think of of stopping them.

The lights were off so that his heads could avoid looking at each other, because neither of them was currently a particularly engaging sight, and nor had they been since he had made the error of looking into his soul.

It had indeed been an error. It had been late one night --- of course.

It had been a difficult day --- of course.

There had been soulful music playing on the ship's sound system --- of course.

And he had, of course, been slightly drunk.

In other words, all the usual conditions which bring on a bout of soul-searching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error.

Standing now, silent and alone in the dark corridor he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other was the way to go.

He listened but could hear nothing.

All there had been was the ``wop''.

It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge. There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn't think he was an awfully good person to be in control.

The first shock of that moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul.

In fact he'd always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of somethings, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had giving him a severe jolt.

And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn't the totally wonderful object which he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again.

Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

``Freedom,'' he said aloud.

Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom.

``I can't cope with it,'' he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well.

He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

``You're drinking too much,'' said Trillian.

His heads collided trying to sort out the four of her he could now see into a whole position. He gave up and looked at the navigation screen and was astonished to see a quite phenomenal number of stars.

``Excitement and adventure and really wild things,'' he muttered.

``Look,'' she said in a sympathetic tone of voice, and sat down near him, ``it's quite understandable that you're going to feel a little aimless for a bit.''

He boggled at her. He had never seen anyone sit on their own lap before.

``Wow,'' he said. He had another drink.

``You've finished the mission you've been on for years.''

``I haven't been on it. I've tried to avoid being on it.''

``You've still finished it.''

He grunted. There seemed to be a terrific party going on in his stomach.

``I think it finished me,'' he said. ``Here I am, Zaphod Beeblebrox, I can go anywhere, do anything. I have the greatest ship in the know sky, a girl with whom things seem to be working out pretty well ...''

``Are they?''

``As far as I can tell I'm not an expert in personal relationships ...''

Trillian raised her eyebrows.

``I am,'' he added, ``one hell of a guy, I can do anything I want only I just don't have the faintest idea what.''

He paused.

``One thing,'' he further added, ``has suddenly ceased to lead to another'' --- in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid gracelessly off his chair.

Whilst he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship's copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkenness.

``Go to it,'' it said, ``and good luck.''

It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that.

Then she found the entry on Han Wavel, an exotic holiday planet, and one of the wonders of the Galaxy.

Han Wavel is a world which consists largely of fabulous ultra-luxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain.

The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against. Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizzarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there.

Terrific, thought Trillian to herself, and within a few hours the great white running-shoe ship was slowly powering down out of the sky beneath a hot brilliant sun towards a brightly coloured sandy spaceport. The ship was clearly causing a sensation on the ground, and Trillian was enjoying herself. She heard Zaphod moving around and whistling somewhere in the ship.

``How are you?'' she said over the general intercom.

``Fine,'' he said brightly, ``terribly well.''

``Where are you?''

``In the bathroom.''

``What are you doing?''

``Staying here.''

After an hour or two it became plain that he meant it and the ship returned to the sky without having once opened its hatchway.

``Heigh ho,'' said Eddie the Computer.

Trillian nodded patiently, tapped her fingers a couple of times and pushed the intercom switch.

``I think that enforced fun is probably not what you need at this point.''

``Probably not,'' replied Zaphod from wherever he was.

``I think a bit of physical challenge would help draw you out of yourself.''

``Whatever you think, I think,'' said Zaphod.

``Recreational Impossibilities'' was a heading which caught Trillian's eye when, a short while later, she sat down to flip through the Guide again, and as the Heart of Gold rushed at improbable speeds in an indeterminate direction, she sipped a cup of something undrinkable from the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser and read about how to fly.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

There is an art, it says, or rather a knack to flying.

The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy.

All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.

That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.

Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it's the second point, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.

Bob and float, float and bob.

Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher.

Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.

They are most likely to say something along the lines of, ``Good God, you can't possibly be flying!''

It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher.

Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.

Do not wave at anybody.

When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.

You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.

You will also learn how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the crucial moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

Trillian read this longingly, but reluctantly decided that Zaphod wasn't really in the right frame of mind for attempting to fly, or for walking through mountains or for trying to get the Brantisvogan Civil Service to acknowledge a change-of-address card, which were the other things listed under the heading ``Recreational Impossibilities''.

Instead, she flew the ship to Allosimanius Syneca, a world of ice, snow, mind-hurtling beauty and stunning cold. The trek from the snow plains of Liska to the summit of the Ice Crystal Pyramids of Sastantua is long and gruelling, even with jet skis and a team of Syneca Snowhounds, but the view from the top, a view which takes in the Stin Glacier Fields, the shimmering Prism Mountains and the far ethereal dancing icelights, is one which first freezes the mind and then slowly releases it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty, and Trillian, for one, felt that she could do with a bit of having her mind slowly released to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty.

They went into a low orbit.

There lay the silverwhite beauty of Allosimanius Syneca beneath them.

Zaphod stayed in bed with one head stuck under a pillow and the other doing crosswords till late into the night.

Trillian nodded patiently again, counted to a sufficiently high number, and told herself that the important thing now was just to get Zaphod talking.

She prepared, by dint of deactivating all the robot kitchen synthomatics, the most fabulously delicious meal she could contrive --- delicately oiled meals, scented fruits, fragrant cheeses, fine Aldebaran wines.

She carried it through to him and asked if he felt like talking things through.

``Zark off,'' said Zaphod.

Trillian nodded patiently to herself, counted to an even higher number, tossed the tray lightly aside, walked to the transport room and just teleported herself the hell out of his life.

She didn't even programme any coordinates, she hadn't the faintest idea where she was going, she just went --- a random row of dots flowing through the Universe.

``Anything,'' she said to herself as she left, ``is better than this.''

``Good job too,'' muttered Zaphod to himself, turned over and failed to go to sleep.

The next day he restlessly paced the empty corridors of the ship, pretending not to look for her, though he knew she wasn't there. He ignored the computer's querulous demands to know just what the hell was going on around here by fitting a small electronic gag across a pair of its terminals.

After a while he began to turn down the lights. There was nothing to see. Nothing was about to happen.

Lying in bed one night --- and night was now virtually continuous on the ship --- he decided to pull himself together, to get things into some kind of perspective. He sat up sharply and started to pull clothes on. He decided that there must be someone in the Universe feeling more wretched, miserable and forsaken than himself, and he determined to set out and find him.

Halfway to the bridge it occurred to him that it might be Marvin, and he returned to bed.

It was a few hours later than this, as he stomped disconsolately about the darkened corridors swearing at cheerful doors, that he heard the ``wop'' said, and it made him very nervous.

He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis. He laid his fingertips against the wall and felt an unusual vibration. And now he could quite clearly hear slight noises, and could hear where they were coming from --- they were coming from the bridge.

``Computer?'' he hissed.

``Mmmm?'' said the computer terminal nearest him, equally quietly.

``Is there someone on this ship?''

``Mmmmm,'' said the computer.

``Who is it?''

Mmmmm mmm mmmmm,`` said the computer.

``What?''

``Mmmmm mmmm mm mmmmmmmm.''

Zaphod buried one of his faces in two of his hands.

``Oh, Zarquon,'' he muttered to himself. Then he stared up the corridor towards the entrance to the bridge in the dim distance from which more and purposeful noises were coming, and in which the gagged terminals were situated.

``Computer,'' he hissed again.

``Mmmmm?''

``When I ungag you ...''

``Mmmmm.''

``Remind me to punch myself in the mouth.''

``Mmmmm mmm?''

``Either one. Now just tell me this. One for yes, two for no. Is it dangerous?''

``Mmmmm.''

``It is?''

``Mmmm.''

``You didn't just go `mmmm' twice?''

``Mmmm mmmm.''

``Hmmmm.''

He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it, which was true.

He was within two yards of the door to the bridge when he suddenly realized to his horror that it was going to be nice to him, and he stopped dead. He hadn't been able to turn off the doors' courtesy voice circuits.

This doorway to the bridge was concealed from view within it because of the excitingly chunky way in which the bridge had been designed to curve round, and he had been hoping to enter unobserved.

He leant despondently back against the wall again and said some words which his other head was quite shocked to hear.

He peered at the dim pink outline of the door, and discovered that in the darkness of the corridor he could just about make out the Sensor Field which extended out into the corridor and told the door when there was someone there for whom it must open and to whom it must make a cheery and pleasant remark.

He pressed himself hard back against the wall and edged himself towards the door, flattening his chest as much as he possibly could to avoid brushing against the very, very dim perimeter of the field. He held his breath, and congratulated himself on having lain in bed sulking for the last few days rather than trying to work out his feelings on chest expanders in the ship's gym.

He then realized he was going to have to speak at this point.

He took a series of very shallow breaths, and then said as quickly and as quietly as he could, ``Door, if you can hear me, say so very, very quietly.''

Very, very quietly, the door murmured, ``I can hear you.''

``Good. Now, in a moment, I'm going to ask you to open. When you open I do not want you to say that you enjoyed it, OK?''

``OK.''

``And I don't want you to say to me that I have made a simple door very happy, or that it is your pleasure to open for me and your satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done, OK?''

``OK.''

``And I do not want you to ask me to have a nice day, understand?''

``I understand.''

``OK,'' said Zaphod, tensing himself, ``open now.''

The door slid open quietly. Zaphod slipped quietly through. The door closed quietly behind him.

``Is that the way you like it, Mr Beeblebrox?'' said the door out loud.

``I want you to imagine,'' said Zaphod to the group of white robots who swung round to stare at him at that point, ``that I have an extremely powerful Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in my hand.''

There was an immensely cold and savage silence. The robots regarded him with hideously dead eyes. They stood very still. There was something intensely macabre about their appearance, especially to Zaphod who had never seen one before or even known anything about them. The Krikkit Wars belonged to the ancient past of the Galaxy, and Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him, and since his teaching computer had been an integral part of this plot it had eventually had all its history circuits wiped and replaced with an entirely different set of ideas which had then resulted in it being scrapped and sent to a home for Degenerate Cybermats, whither it was followed by the girl who had inadvertently fallen deeply in love with the unfortunate machine, with the result (a) that Zaphod never got near her and (b) that he missed out on a period of ancient history that would have been of inestimable value to him at this moment.

He stared at them in shock.

It was impossible to explain why, but their smooth and sleek white bodies seemed to be the utter embodiment of clean, clinical evil. From their hideously dead eyes to their powerful lifeless feet, they were clearly the calculated product of a mind that wanted simply to kill. Zaphod gulped in cold fear.

They had been dismantling part of the rear bridge wall, and had forced a passage through some of the vital innards of the ship. Through the tangled wreckage Zaphod could see, with a further and worse sense of shock, that they were tunnelling towards the very heart of the ship, the heart of the Improbability Drive that had been so mysteriously created out of thin air, the Heart of Gold itself.

The robot closest to him was regarding him in such a way as to suggest that it was measuring every smallest particle of his body, mind and capability. And when it spoke, what it said seemed to bear this impression out. Before going on to what it actually said, it is worth recording at this point that Zaphod was the first living organic being to hear one of these creatures speak for something over ten billion years. If he had paid more attention to his ancient history lessons and less to his organic being, he might have been more impressed by this honour.

The robot's voice was like its body, cold, sleek and lifeless. It had almost a cultured rasp to it. It sounded as ancient as it was.

It said, ``You do have a Kill-O-Zap blaster pistol in your hand.''

Zaphod didn't know what it meant for a moment, but then he glanced down at his own hand and was relieved to see that what he had found clipped to a wall bracket was indeed what he had thought it was.

``Yeah,'' he said in a kind of relieved sneer, which is quite tricky, ``well, I wouldn't want to overtax your imagination, robot.'' For a while nobody said anything, and Zaphod realized that the robots were obviously not here to make conversation, and that it was up to him.

``I can't help noticing that you have parked your ship,'' he said with a nod of one of his heads in the appropriate direction, ``through mine.''

There was no denying this. Without regard for any kind of proper dimensional behaviour they had simply materialized their ship precisely where they wanted it to be, which meant that it was simply locked through the Heart of Gold as if they were nothing more than two combs.

Again, they made no response to this, and Zaphod wondered if the conversation would gather any momentum if he phrased his part of it in the form of questions.

``... haven't you?'' he added.

``Yes,'' replied the robot.``

``Er, OK,'' said Zaphod. ``So what are you cats doing here?''

Silence.

``Robots,'' said Zaphod, ``what are you robots doing here?''

``We have come,'' rasped the robot, ``for the Gold of the Bail.''

Zaphod nodded. He waggled his gun to invite further elaboration. The robot seemed to understand this.

``The Gold Bail is part of the Key we seek,'' continued the robot, ``to release our Masters from Krikkit.''

Zaphod nodded again. He waggled his gun again.

``The Key,'' continued the robot simply, ``was disintegrated in time and space. The Golden Bail is embedded in the device which drives your ship. It will be reconstituted in the Key. Our Masters shall be released. The Universal Readjustment will continue.''

Zaphod nodded again.

``What are you talking about?'' he said.

A slightly pained expression seemed to cross the robot's totally expressionless face. He seemed to be finding the conversation depressing.

``Obliteration,'' it said. ``We seek the Key,'' it repeated, ``we already have the Wooden Pillar, the Steel Pillar and the Perspex Pillar. In a moment we will have the Gold Bail ...''

``No you won't.''

``We will,'' stated the robot.

``No you won't. It makes my ship work.''

``In a moment,'' repeated the robot patiently, ``we will have the Gold Bail ...''

``You will not,'' said Zaphod.

``And then we must go,'' said the robot, in all seriousness, ``to a party.''

``Oh,'' said Zaphod, startled. ``Can I come?''

``No,'' said the robot. ``We are going to shoot you.''

``Oh yeah?'' said Zaphod, waggling his gun.

``Yes,'' said the robot, and they shot him.

Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.


Previous Next Index