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Chapter Thirty-four

Life, the Universe and Everything

And at the end they travelled again.

There was a time when Arthur Dent would not. He said that the Bistromathic Drive had revealed to him that time and distance were one, that mind and Universe were one, that perception and reality were one, and that the more one travelled the more one stayed in one place, and that what with one thing and another he would rather just stay put for a while and sort it all out in his mind, which was now at one with the Universe so it shouldn't take too long, and he could get a good rest afterwards, put in a little flying practice and learn to cook which he had always meant to do. The can of Greek olive oil was now his most prized possession, and he said that the way it had unexpectedly turned up in his life had again given him a certain sense of the oneness of things which made him feel that ...

He yawned and fell asleep.

In the morning as they prepared to take him to some quiet and idyllic planet where they wouldn't mind him talking like that they suddenly picked up a computer-driven distress call and diverted to investigate.

A small but apparently undamaged spacecraft of the Merida class seemed to be dancing a strange little jig through the void. A brief computer scan revealed that the ship was fine, its computer was fine, but that its pilot was mad.

``Half-mad, half-mad,'' the man insisted as they carried him, raving, aboard.

He was a journalist with the Siderial Daily Mentioner. They sedated him and sent Marvin in to keep him company until he promised to try and talk sense.

``I was covering a trial,'' he said at last, ``on Argabuthon.''

He pushed himself up on to his thin wasted shoulders, his eyes stared wildly. His white hair seemed to be waving at someone it knew in the next room.

``Easy, easy,'' said Ford. Trillian put a soothing hand on his shoulder.

The man sank back down again and stared at the ceiling of the ship's sick bay.

``The case,'' he said, ``is now immaterial, but there was a witness ... a witness ... a man called ... called Prak. A strange and difficult man. They were eventually forced to administer a drug to make him tell the truth, a truth drug.''

His eyes rolled helplessly in his head.

``They gave him too much,'' he said in a tiny whimper. ``They gave him much too much.'' He started to cry. ``I thing the robots must have jogged the surgeon's arm.''

``Robots?'' said Zaphod sharply. ``What robots?''

``Some white robots,'' whispered the man hoarsely, ``broke into the courtroom and stole the judge's sceptre, the Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice, nasty Perspex thing. I don't know why they wanted it.'' He began to cry again. ``And I think they jogged the surgeon's arm ...''

He shook his head loosely from side to side, helplessly, sadly, his eyes screwed up in pain.

``And when the trial continued,'' he said in a weeping whisper, ``they asked Prak a most unfortunate thing. They asked him,'' he paused and shivered, ``to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. Only, don't you see?''

He suddenly hoisted himself up on to his elbows again and shouted at them.

``They'd given him much too much of the drug!''

He collapsed again, moaning quietly. ``Much too much too much too much too ...''

The group gathered round his bedside glanced at each other. there were goose pimples on backs.

``What happened?'' said Zaphod at last.

``Oh, he told it all right,'' said the man savagely, ``for all I know he's still telling it now. Strange, terrible things ... terrible, terrible!'' he screamed.

They tried to calm him, but he struggled to his elbows again.

``Terrible things, incomprehensible things,'' he shouted, ``things that would drive a man mad!''

He stared wildly at them.

``Or in my case,'' he said, ``half-mad. I'm a journalist.''

``You mean,'' said Arthur quietly, ``that you are used to confronting the truth?''

``No,'' said the man with a puzzled frown. ``I mean that I made an excuse and left early.''

He collapsed into a coma from which he recovered only once and briefly.

On that one occasion, they discovered from him the following:

When it became clear that Prak could not be stopped, that here was truth in its absolute and final form, the court was cleared.

Not only cleared, it was sealed up, with Prak still in it. Steel walls were erected around it, and, just to be on the safe side, barbed wire, electric fences, crocodile swamps and three major armies were installed, so that no one would ever have to hear Prak speak.

``That's a pity,'' said Arthur. ``I'd like to hear what he had to say. Presumably he would know what the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer is. It's always bothered me that we never found out.''

``Think of a number,'' said the computer, `` any number.''

Arthur told the computer the telephone number of King's Cross railway station passenger inquiries, on the grounds that it must have some function, and this might turn out to be it.

The computer injected the number into the ship's reconstituted Improbability Drive.

In Relativity, Matter tells Space how to curve, and Space tells Matter how to move.

The Heart of Gold told space to get knotted, and parked itself neatly within the inner steel perimeter of the Argabuthon Chamber of Law.

The courtroom was an austere place, a large dark chamber, clearly designed for Justice rather than, for instance, for Pleasure. You wouldn't hold a dinner party here --- at least, not a successful one. The decor would get your guests down.

The ceilings were high, vaulted and very dark. Shadows lurked there with grim determination. The panelling for the walls and benches, the cladding of the heavy pillars, all were carved from the darkest and most severe trees in the fearsome Forest of Arglebard. The massive black Podium of Justice which dominated the centre of the chamber was a monster of gravity. If a sunbeam had ever managed to slink this far into the Justice complex of Argabuthon it would have turned around and slunk straight back out again.

Arthur and Trillian were the first in, whilst Ford and Zaphod bravely kept a watch on their rear.

At first it seemed totally dark and deserted. their footsteps echoed hollowly round the chamber. This seemed curious. All the defences were still in position and operative around the outside of the building, they had run scan checks. Therefore, they had assumed, the truth-telling must still be going on.

But there was nothing.

Then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they spotted a dull red glow in a corner, and behind the glow a live shadow. They swung a torch round on to it.

Prak was lounging on a bench, smoking a listless cigarette.

``Hi,'' he said, with a little half-wave. His voice echoed through the chamber. He was a little man with scraggy hair. He sat with his shoulders hunched forward and his head and knees kept jiggling. He took a drag of his cigarette.

They stared at him.

``What's going on?'' said Trillian.

``Nothing,'' said the man and jiggled his shoulders.

Arthur shone his torch full on Prak's face.

``We thought,'' he said, ``that you were meant to be telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth.''

``Oh, that,'' said Prak. ``Yeah. I was. I finished. There's not nearly as much of it as people imagine. Some of it's pretty funny, though.''

He suddenly exploded in about three seconds of manical laughter and stopped again. he sat there, jiggling his head and knees. He dragged on his cigarette with a strange half-smile.

Ford and Zaphod came forward out of the shadows.

``Tell us about it,'' said Ford.

``Oh, I can't remember any of it now,'' said Prak. ``I thought of writing some of it down, but first I couldn't find a pencil, and then I thought, why bother?''

There was a long silence, during which they thought they could feel the Universe age a little. Prak stared into the torchlight.

``None of it?'' said Arthur at last. ``You can remember none of it?''

``No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that.''

Suddenly he was hooting with laughter again and stamping his feet on the ground.

``You would not believe some of the things about frogs,'' he gasped. ``Come on let's go and find ourselves a frog. Boy, will I ever see them in a new light!'' He leapt to his feet and did a tiny little dance. Then he stopped and took a long drag at his cigarette.

``Let's find a frog I can laugh at,'' he said simply. ``Anyway, who are you guys?''

``We came to find you,'' said Trillian, deliberately not keeping the disappointment out of her voice. ``My name is Trillian.''

Prak jiggled his head.

``Ford Prefect,'' said Ford Prefect with a shrug.

Prak jiggled his head.

``And I,'' said Zaphod, when he judged that the silence was once again deep enough to allow an announcement of such gravity to be tossed in lightly, ``am Zaphod Beeblebrox.''

Prak jiggled his head.

``Who's this guy?'' said Prak jiggling his shoulder at Arthur, who was standing silent for a moment, lost in disappointed thoughts.

``Me?'' said Arthur. ``Oh, my name's Arthur Dent.''

Prak's eyes popped out of his head.

``No kidding?'' he yelped. ``You are Arthur Dent? The Arthur Dent?''

He staggered backwards, clutching his stomach and convulsed with fresh paroxysms o laughter.

``Hey, just think of meeting you!'' he gasped. ``Boy,'' he shouted, ``you are the most ... wow, you just leave the frogs standing!''

he howled and screamed with laughter. He fell over backwards on to the bench. He hollered and yelled in hysterics. He cried with laughter, he kicked his legs in the air, he beat his chest. Gradually he subsided, panting. He looked at them. He looked at Arthur. He fell back again howling with laughter. Eventually he fell asleep.

Arthur stood there with his lips twitching whilst the others carried Prak comatose on to the ship.

``Before we picked up Prak,'' said Arthur, ``I was going to leave. I still want to, and I think I should do so as soon as possible.''

The others nodded in silence, a silence which was only slightly undermined by the heavily muffled and distant sound of hysterical laughter which came drifting from Prak's cabin at the farthest end of the ship.

``We have questioned him,'' continued Arthur, ``or at least, you have questioned him --- I, as you know, can't go near him --- on everything, and he doesn't really seem to have anything to contribute. Just the occasional snippet, and things I don't want to hear about frogs.''

The others tried not to smirk.

``Now, I am the first to appreciate a joke,'' said Arthur and then had to wait for the others to stop laughing.

``I am the first ...'' he stopped again. This time he stopped and listened to the silence. There actually was silence this time, and it had come very suddenly.

Prak was quiet. For days they had lived with constant manical laughter ringing round the ship, only occasionally relieved by short periods of light giggling and sleep. Arthur's very soul was clenched with paranoia.

This was not the silence of sleep. A buzzer sounded. A glance at a board told them that the buzzer had been sounded by Prak.

``He's not well,'' said Trillian quietly. ``The constant laughing is completely wrecking his body.''

Arthur's lips twitched but he said nothing.

``We'd better go and see him,'' said Trillian.

Trillian came out of the cabin wearing her serious face.

``He wants you to go in,'' she said to Arthur, who was wearing his glum and tight-lipped one. He thrust his hands deep into his dressing-gown pockets and tried to think of something to say which wouldn't sound petty. It seemed terribly unfair, but he couldn't.

``Please,'' said Trillian.

He shrugged and went in, taking his glum and tight-lipped face with him, despite the reaction this always provoked from Prak.

He looked down at his tormentor, who was lying quietly on the bed, ashen and wasted. His breathing was very shallow. Ford and Zaphod were standing by the bed looking awkward.

``You wanted to ask me something,'' said Prak in a thin voice and coughed slightly.

Just the cough made Arthur stiffen, but it passed and subsided.

``How do you know that?'' he asked.

Prak shrugged weakly. ``'Cos it's true,`` he said simply.

Arthur took the point.

``Yes,'' he said at last in rather a strained drawl. ``I did have a question. Or rather, what I actually have is an Answer. I wanted to know what the Question was.''

Prak nodded sympathetically, and Arthur relaxed a little.

``It's ... well, it's a long story,'' he said, ``but the Question I would like to know is the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. All we know is that the Answer is Forty-Two, which is a little aggravating.''

Prak nodded again.

``Forty-Two,'' he said. ``Yes, that's right.''

He paused. Shadows of thought and memory crossed his face like the shadows of clouds crossing the land.

``I'm afraid,'' he said at last, ``that the Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same universe.''

He paused again. Disappointment crept into Arthur's face and snuggled down into its accustomed place.

``Except,'' said Prak, struggling to sort a thought out, ``if it happened, it seems that the Question and the Answer would just cancel each other out and take the Universe with them, which would then be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. It is possible that this has already happened,'' he added with a weak smile, ``but there is a certain amount of Uncertainty about it.''

A little giggle brushed through him.

Arthur sat down on a stool.

``Oh well,'' he said with resignation, ``I was just hoping there would be some sort of reason.''

``Do you know,'' said Prak, ``the story of the Reason?''

Arthur said that he didn't, and Prak said that he knew that he didn't.

He told it.

One night, he said, a spaceship appeared in the sky of a planet which had never seen one before. The planet was Dalforsas, the ship was this one. It appeared as a brilliant new star moving silently across the heavens.

Primitive tribesmen who were sitting huddled on the Cold Hillsides looked up from their steaming night-drinks and pointed with trembling fingers, swearing that they had seen a sign, a sign from their gods which meant that they must now arise at last and go and slay the evil Princes of the Plains.

In the high turrets of their palaces, the Princes of the Plains looked up and saw the shining star, and received it unmistakably as a sign from their gods that they must now go and set about the accursed Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides.

And between them, the Dwellers in the Forest looked up into the sky and saw the sigh of the new star, and saw it with fear and apprehension, for though they had never seen anything like it before, they too knew precisely what it foreshadowed, and they bowed their heads in despair.

They knew that when the rains came, it was a sign.

When the rains departed, it was a sign.

When the winds rose, it was a sign.

When the winds fell, it was a sign.

When in the land there was born at midnight of a full moon a goat with three heads, that was a sign.

When in the land there was born at some time in the afternoon a perfectly normal cat or pig with no birth complications at all, or even just a child with a retrousse nose, that too would often be taken as a sign.

So there was no doubt at all that a new star in the sky was a sign of a particularly spectacular order.

And each new sign signified the same thing --- that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides were about to beat the hell out of each other again.

This in itself wouldn't be so bad, except that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides always elected to beat the hell out of each other in the Forest, and it was always the Dwellers in the Forest who came off worst in these exchanges, though as far as they could see it never had anything to do with them.

And sometimes, after some of the worst of these outrages, the Dwellers in the Forest would send a messenger to either the leader of the Princes of the Plains or the leader of the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides and demand to know the reason for this intolerable behaviour.

And the leader, whichever one it was, would take the messenger aside and explain the Reason to him, slowly and carefully and with great attention to the considerable detail involved.

And the terrible thing was, it was a very good one. It was very clear, very rational, and tough. The messenger would hang his head and feel sad and foolish that he had not realized what a tough and complex place the real world was, and what difficulties and paradoxes had to be embraced if one was to live in it.

``Now do you understand?'' the leader would say.

The messenger would nod dumbly.

``And you see these battles have to take place?''

Another dumb nod.

``And why they have to take place in the forest, and why it is in everybody's best interest, the Forest Dwellers included, that they should?''

``Er ...''

``In the long run.''

``Er, yes.''

And the messenger did understand the Reason, and he returned to his people in the Forest. But as he approached them, as he walked through the Forest and amongst the trees, he found that all he could remember of the Reason was how terribly clear the argument had seemed. What it actually was he couldn't remember at all.

And this, of course, was a great comfort when next the Tribesmen and the Princes came hacking and burning their way through the Forest, killing every Forest Dweller in their way.

Prak paused in his story and coughed pathetically.

``I was the messenger,'' he said, ``after the battles precipitated by the appearance of your ship, which were particularly savage. Many of our people died. I thought I could bring the Reason back. I went and was told it by the leader of the Princes, but on the way back it slipped and melted away in my mind like snow in the sun. That was many years ago, and much has happened since then.''

He looked up at Arthur and giggled again very gently.

``There is one other thing I can remember from the truth drug. Apart from the frogs, and that is God's last message to his creation. Would you like to hear it?''

For a moment they didn't know whether to take him seriously.

``'Strue,`` he said. ''For real. I mean it.``

His chest heaved weakly and he struggled for breath. His head lolled slightly.

``I wasn't very impressed with it when I first knew what it was,'' he said, ``but now I think back to how impressed I was by the Prince's Reason, and how soon afterwards I couldn't recall it at all, I think it might be a lot more helpful. Would you like to know what it is? Would you?''

They nodded dumbly.

``I bet you would. If you're that interested I suggest you go and look for it. It is written in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss in Galactic Sector QQ7 Active J Gamma. It is guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob.''

There was a long silence following this announcement, which was finally broken by Arthur.

``Sorry, it's where?'' he said.

``It is written,'' repeated Prak, ``in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the ...''

``Sorry,'' said Arthur again, ``which mountains?''

``The Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet ...''

``Which land was that? I didn't quite catch it.''

``Sevorbeupstry, on the planet ...''

``Sevorbe-what?''

``Oh, for heaven's sake,'' said Prak and died testily.

In the following days Arthur thought a little about this message, but in the end he decided that he was not going to allow himself to be drawn by it, and insisted on following his original plan of finding a nice little world somewhere to settle down and lead a quiet retired life. Having saved the Universe twice in one day he thought that he could take things a little easier from now on.

They dropped him off on the planet Krikkit, which was now once again an idyllic pastoral world, even if the songs did occasionally get on his nerves.

He spent a lot of time flying.

He learnt to communicate with birds and discovered that their conversation was fantastically boring. It was all to do with wind speed, wing spans, power-to-weight ratios and a fair bit about berries. Unfortunately, he discovered, once you have learnt birdspeak you quickly come to realize that the air is full of it the whole time, just inane bird chatter. There is no getting away from it.

For that reason Arthur eventually gave up the sport and learnt to live on the ground and love it, despite a lot of the inane chatter he heard down there as well.

One day, he was walking through the fields humming a ravishing tune he'd heard recently when a silver spaceship descended from the sky and landed in front of him.

A hatchway opened, a ramp extended, and a tall grey-green alien marched out and approached him.

``Arthur Phili ...'' it said, then glanced sharply at him and down at his clipboard. He frowned. He looked up at him again.

``I've done you before haven't I?'' he said.


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