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Chapter Fifteen

The first month, getting to know each other, was a little difficult.

The second month, trying to come to terms with what they'd got to know about each other in the first month, was much easier.

The third month, when the box arrived, was very tricky indeed.

At the beginning, it was a problem even trying to explain what a month was. This had been a pleasantly simple matter for Arthur, here on Lamuella. The days were just a little over twenty-five hours long, which basically meant an extra hour in bed every single day and, of course, having regularly to reset his watch, which Arthur rather enjoyed doing.

He also felt at home with the number of suns and moons which Lamuella had --- one of each --- as opposed to some of the planets he'd fetched up on from time to time which had had ridiculous numbers of them.

The planet orbited its single sun every three hundred days, which was a good number because it meant the year didn't drag by. The moon orbited Lamuella just over nine times a year, which meant that a month was a little over thirty days, which was absolutely perfect because it gave you a little more time to get things done in. It was not merely reassuringly like Earth, it was actually rather an improvement.

Random, on the other hand, thought she was trapped in a recurring nightmare. She would have crying fits and think the moon was out to get her. Every night it was there, and then, when it went, the sun came out and followed her. Over and over again.

Trillian had warned Arthur that Random might have some difficulty in adjusting to a more regular lifestyle than she had been used to up till now, but Arthur hadn't been ready for actual howling at the moon.

He hadn't been ready for any of this of course.

His daughter?

His daughter? He and Trillian had never even --- had they? He was absolutely convinced he would have remembered. What about Zaphod?

`Not the same species, Arthur,' Trillian had answered. `When I decided I wanted a child they ran all sorts of genetic tests on me and could find only one match anywhere. It was only later that it dawned on me. I double checked and I was right. They don't usually like to tell you, but I insisted.'

`You mean you went to a DNA bank?' Arthur had asked, pop-eyed.

`Yes. But she wasn't quite as random as her name suggests, because, of course, you were the only homo sapiens donor. I must say, though, it seems you were quite a frequent flyer.'

Arthur had stared wide-eyed at the unhappy looking girl who was slouching awkwardly in the door-frame looking at him.

`But when... how long...?'

`You mean, what age is she?'

`Yes.'

`The wrong one.'

`What do you mean?'

`I mean that I haven't any idea.'

`What?'

`Well, in my time line I think it's about ten years since I had her, but she's obviously quite a lot older than that. I spend my life going backwards and forwards in time, you see. The job. I used to take her with me when I could, but it just wasn't always possible. Then I used to put her into day care time zones, but you just can't get reliable time tracking now. You leave them there in the morning, you've simply no idea how old they'll be in the evening. You complain till you're blue in the face but it doesn't get you anywhere. I left her at one of the places for a few hours once, and when I came back she'd passed puberty. I've done all I can, Arthur, it's over to you. I've got a war to cover.'

The ten seconds that passed after Trillian left were about the longest of Arthur Dent's life. Time, we know, is relative. You can travel light years through the stars and back, and if you do it at the speed of light then, when you return, you may have aged mere seconds while your twin brother or sister will have aged twenty, thirty, forty or however many years it is, depending on how far you travelled.

This will come to you as a profound personal shock, particularly if you didn't know you had a twin brother or sister. The seconds that you have been absent for will not have been sufficient time to prepare you for the shock of new and strangely distended family relationships when you return.

Ten seconds' silence was not enough time for Arthur to reassemble his whole view of himself and his life in a way that suddenly included an entire new daughter of whose merest existence he had had not the slightest inkling of a suspicion when he had woken that morning. Deep, emotional family ties cannot be constructed in ten seconds, however far and fast you travel away from them, and Arthur could only feel helpless, bewildered and numb as he looked at the girl standing in his doorway, staring at his floor.

He supposed that there was no point in pretending not to be hopeless.

He walked over and he hugged her.

`I don't love you,' he said. `I'm sorry. I don't even know you yet. But give me a few minutes.'

We live in strange times.

We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity of infinite recursion and say things like, `Oh, hi Ed! Nice tan. How's Carol?' involves a great deal of filtering skill for which all conscious entities have eventually to develop a capacity in order to protect themselves from the contemplation of the chaos through which they seethe and tumble. So give your kid a break, OK?

Extract from Practical Parenting in a Fractally Demented Universe

`What's this?'

Arthur had almost given up. That is to say, he was not going to give up. He was absolutely not going to give up. Not now. Not ever. But if he had been the sort of person who was going to give up, this was probably the time he would have done it.

Not content with being surly, bad-tempered, wanting to go and play in the paleozoic era, not seeing why they had to have the gravity on the whole time and shouting at the sun to stop following her, Random had also used his carving knife to dig up stones to throw at the pikka birds for looking at her like that.

Arthur didn't even know if Lamuella had had a paleozoic era. According to Old Thrashbarg the planet had been found fully-formed in the navel of a giant earwig at four-thirty one Vroonday afternoon, and although Arthur, as a seasoned galactic traveller with good `O' level passes in Physics and Geography, had fairly serious doubts about this, it was rather a waste of time trying to argue with Old Thrashbarg and there had never been much point before.

He sighed as he sat nursing the chipped and bent knife. He was going to love her if it killed him, or her, or both. It wasn't easy being a father. He knew that no one had ever said it was going to be easy, but that wasn't the point because he'd never asked about being one in the first place.

He was doing his best. Every moment that he could wrest away from making sandwiches he was spending with her, talking to her, walking with her, sitting on the hill with her watching the sun go down over he valley in which the village nestled, trying to find out about her life, trying to explain to her about his. It was a tricky business. The common ground between them, apart from the fact that they had almost identical genes, was about the size of a pebble. Or rather, it was about the size of Trillian and of her they had slightly differing views.

`What's this?'

He suddenly realised she had been talking to him and he hadn't noticed. Or rather he had not recognized her voice.

Instead of the usual tone of voice in which she spoke to him, which was bitter and truculent, she was just asking him a simple question.

He looked round in surprise.

She was sitting there on a stool in the corner of the hut in that rather hunched way she had, knees together, feet splayed out, with her dark hair hanging down over her face as she looked at something she had cradled in her hands.

Arthur went over to her, a little nervously.

Her mood swings were very unpredictable but so far they'd all been between different types of bad ones. Outbreaks of bitter recrimination would give way without warning to abject self-pity and then long bouts of sullen despair which were punctuated with sudden acts of mindless violence against inanimate objects and demands to go to electric clubs.

Not only were there no electric clubs on Lamuella, there were no clubs at all and, in fact, no electricity. There was a forge and a bakery, a few carts and a well, but those were the high water mark of Lamuellan technology, and a fair number of Random's unquenchable rages were directed against the sheer incomprehensible backwardness of the place.

She could pick up Sub-Etha TV on a small Flex-O-Panel which had been surgically implanted in her wrist, but that didn't cheer her up at all because it was full of news of insanely exciting things happening in every other part of the Galaxy than here. It would also give her frequent news of her mother, who had dumped her to go off and cover some war which now seemed not to have happened, or at least to have gone all wrong in some way because of the absence of any proper intelligence gathering. It also gave her access to lots of great adventure shows featuring all sorts of fantastically expensive spaceships crashing into each other.

The villagers were absolutely hypnotised by all these wonderful magic images flashing over her wrist. They had only ever seen one spaceship crash, and it had been so frightening, violent and shocking and had caused so much horrible devastation, fire and death that, stupidly, they had never realised it was entertainment.

Old Thrashbarg had been so astonished by it that he had instantly seen Random as an emissary from Bob, but had fairly soon afterwards decided that in fact she had been sent as a test of his faith, if not of his patience. He was also alarmed at the number of spaceship crashes he had to start incorporating into his holy stories if he was to hold the attention of the villagers, and not have them rushing off to peer at Random's wrist all the time.

At the moment she was not peering at her wrist. Her wrist was turned off. Arthur squatted down quietly beside her to see what she was looking at.

It was his watch. He had taken it off when he'd gone to shower under the local waterfall, and Random had found it and was trying to work it out.

`It's just a watch,' he said. `It's to tell the time.'

`I know that,' she said. `But you keep on fiddling with it, and it still doesn't tell the right time. Or even anything like it.'

She brought up the display on her wrist panel, which automatically produced a readout of local time. Her wrist panel had quietly got on with the business of measuring the local gravity and orbital momentum, and had noticed where the sun was and tracked its movement in the sky, all within the first few minutes of Random's arrival. It had then quickly picked up clues from its environment as to what the local unit conventions were and reset itself appropriately. It did this sort of thing continually, which was particularly valuable if you did a lot of travelling in time as well as space.

Random frowned at her father's watch, which didn't do any of this.

Arthur was very fond of it. It was a better one than he would ever have afforded himself. He had been given it on his twenty-second birthday by a rich and guilt-ridden godfather who had forgotten every single birthday he had had up till then, and also his name. It had the day, the date, the phases of the moon; it had `To Albert on his twenty-first birthday' and the wrong date engraved on the battered and scratched surface of its back in letters that were still just about visible.

The watch had been through a considerahle amount of stuff in the last few years, most of which would fall well outside the warranty. He didn't suppose, of course, that the warranty had especially mentioned that the watch was guaranteed to be accurate only within the very particular gravitational and magnetic fields of the Earth, and so long as the day was twenty-four hours long and the planet didn't explode and so on. These were such basic assumptions that even the lawyers would have missed them.

Luckily his watch was a wind-up one, or at least, a self-winder. Nowhere else in the Galaxy would he have found batteries of precisely the dimensions and power specifications that were perfectly standard on Earth.

`So what are all these numbers?' asked Random.

Arthur took it from her.

`These numbers round the edge mark the hours. In the little window on the right it says THU, which means Thursday, and the number is 14, which means it's the fourteenth day of the month of MAY which is what it says in this window over here.

`And this sort of crescent-shaped window at the top tells you about the phases of the moon. In other words it tells you how much of the moon is lit up at night by the sun, which depends on the relative positions of the Sun and the Moon and, well... the Earth.'

`The Earth,' said Random.

`Yes.'

`And that's where you came from, and where Mum came from.'

`Yes.'

Random took the watch back from him and looked at it again, clearly baffled by something. Then she held it up to her ear and listened in puzzlement.

`What's that noise?'

`It's ticking. That's the mechanism that drives the watch. It's called clockwork. It's all kind of interlocking cogs and springs that work to turn the hands round at exactly the right speed to mark the hours and minutes and days and so on.'

Random carried on peering at it.

`There's something puzzling you,' said Arthur. `What is it?'

`Yes,' said Random, at last. `Why's it all in hardware?'

Arthur suggested they went for a walk. He felt there were things they should discuss, and for once Random seemed, if not precisely amenable and willing, then at least not growling.

From Random's point of view this was also all very weird. It wasn't that she wanted to be difficult, as such, it was just that she didn't know how or what else to be.

Who was this guy? What was this life she was supposed to lead? What was this world she was supposed to lead it in? And what was this universe that kept coming at her through her eyes and ears? What was it for? What did it want?

She'd been born in a spaceship that had been going from somewhere to somewhere else, and when it had got to somewhere else, somewhere else had only turned out to be another somewhere that you had to get to somewhere else again from, and so on.

It was her normal expectation that she was supposed to be somewhere else. It was normal for her to feel that she was in the wrong place.

Then, constant time travel had only compounded this problem, and had led to the feeling that she was not only always in the wrong place, but she was also almost always there at the wrong time.

She didn't notice that she felt this, because it was the only way she ever felt, just as it never seemed odd to her that nearly everywhere she went she needed either to wear weights or anti-gravity suits and usually special apparatus for breathing as well. The only places you could ever feel right were worlds you designed for yourself to inhabit --- virtual realities in the electric clubs. It had never occurred to her that the real Universe was something you could actually fit into.

And that included this Lamuella place her mother had dumped her in. And it also included this person who had bestowed on her this precious and magical gift of life in return for a seat upgrade. It was just as well he had turned out to be rather kind and friendly or there would have been trouble. Really. She'd got a specially sharpened stone in her pocket she could cause a lot of trouble with.

It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's point of view without the proper training. They sat on the spot that Arthur particularly liked, on the side of a hill overlooking the valley. The sun was going down over the village.

The only thing that Arthur wasn't quite so fond of was being able to see a little way into the next valley, where a deep dark mangled furrow in the forest marked the spot where his ship had crashed. But maybe that was what kept bringing him back here. There were plenty of spots from which you could survey the lush rolling countryside of Lamuella, but this was the one he was drawn to, with its nagging dark spot of fear and pain nestling just on the edge of his vision.

He had never been there again since he had been pulled out of the wreckage.

Wouldn't.

Couldn't bear it.

In fact he had gone some of the way back to it the very next day, while he was still numb and spinning with shock. He had a broken leg, a couple of broken ribs, some bad burns and was not really thinking coherently but had insisted that the villagers take him, which, uneasily, they had. He had not managed to get right to the actual spot where the ground had bubbled and melted, however, and had at last hobbled away from the horror for ever.

Soon, word had got around that the whole area was haunted and no one had ventured back there ever since. The land was full of beautiful, verdant and delightful valleys --- no point in going to a highly worrying one. Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into the future.

Random cradled the watch in her hands, slowly turning it to let the long light of the evening sun shine warmly in the scratches and scuffs of the thick glass. It fascinated her watching the spidery little second hand ticking its way round. Every time it completed a full circle, the longer of the two main hands had moved on exactly to the next of the sixty small divisions round the dial. And when the long hand had made its own full circle. the smaller hand had moved on to the next of the main digits.

`You've been watching it for over an hour.' said Arthur, quietly.

`I know, she said. `An hour is when the big hand has gone all the way round, yes?'

`That's right.'

`Then I've been watching it for an hour and seventeen... minutes.'

She smiled with a deep and mysterious pleasure and moved very slightly so that she was resting just a little. against his arm. Arthur felt a small sigh escape from him that had been pent up inside his chest for weeks. He wanted to put his arm around his daughter's shoulders, but felt it was too early yet and that she would shy away from him. But something was working. Something was easing inside her. The watch meant something to her that nothing in her life had so far managed to do. Arthur was not sure that he had really understood what it was yet, but he was profoundly pleased and relieved that something had reached her.

`Explain to me again,' said Random.

`There's nothing really to it,' said Arthur. `Clockwork was something that developed over hundreds of years...'

`Earth years.'

`Yes. It became finer and finer and more and more intricate. It was highly skilled and delicate work. It had to be made very small, and it had to carry on working accurately however much you waved it around or dropped it.'

`But only on one planet?'

`Well, that was where it was made, you see. It was never expected to go anywhere else and deal with different suns and moons and magnetic fields and things. I mean the thing still goes perfectly well, but it doesn't really mean much this far from Switzerland.'

`From where?'

`Switzerland. That's where these were made. Small hilly country. Tiresomely neat. The people who made them didn't really know there were other worlds.'

`Quite a big thing not to know.'

`Well, yes.'

`So where did they come from?'

`They, that is we... we just sort of grew there. We evolved on the Earth. From, I don't know, some kind of sludge or something.'

`Like this watch.'

`Um. I don't think the watch grew out of sludge.'

`You don't understand!'

Random suddenly leaped to her feet, shouting.

`You don't understand! You don't understand me, you don't understand anything! I hate you for being so stupid!'

She started to run hectically down the hill, still clutching the watch and shouting that she hated him.

Arthur jumped up, startled and at a loss. He started to run after her through the stringy and clumpy grass. It was hard and painful for him. When he had broken his leg in the crash, it had not been a clean break, and it had not healed cleanly. He was stumbling and wincing as he ran.

Suddenly she turned and faced him, her face dark with anger.

She brandished the watch at him. `You don't understand that there's somewhere this belongs? Somewhere it works? Somewhere that it fits?'

She turned and ran again. She was fit and fleet-footed and Arthur could not remotely keep up with her.

It wasn't that he had not expected being a father to be this difficult, it was that he hadn't expected to be a father at all, particularly not suddenly and unexpectedly on an alien planet.

Random turned to shout at him again. For some reason he stopped each time she did.

`Who do you think I am?' she demanded angrily. `Your upgrade? Who do you think Mum thought I was? Some sort of ticket to the life she didn't have?'

`I don't know what you mean by that,' said Arthur, panting and hurting.

`You don't know what anybody means by anything!'

`What do you mean?'

`Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!'

`Tell me! Please tell me! What does she mean by saying the life she didn't have?'

`She wished she'd stayed on Earth! She wished she hadn't gone off with that stupid brain-dead fruit gum, Zaphod! She thinks she would have had a different life!'

`But,' said Arthur, `she would have been killed! She would have been killed when the world was destroyed!'

`That's a different life isn't it?'

`That's...'

`She wouldn't have had to have me! She hates me!'

`You can't mean that! How could anyone possibly, er, I mean...'

`She had me because I was meant to make things fit for her. That was my job. But I fitted even worse than she did! So she just shut me off and carried on with her stupid life.'

`What's stupid about her life? She's fantastically successful, isn't she? She's all over time and space, all over the Sub-Etha TV networks...'

`Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!'

Random turned and ran off again. Arthur couldn't keep up with her and at last he had to sit down for a bit and let the pain in his leg subside. The turmoil in his head he didn't know what to do with at all.

He hobbled into the village an hour later. It was getting dark. The villagers he passed said hello, but there was a sense of nervousness and of not quite knowing what was going on or what to do about it in the air. Old Thrashbarg had been seen pulling on his beard a fair bit and looking at the moon, and that was not a good sign either.

Arthur went into his hut.

Random was sitting hunched quietly over the table.

`I'm sorry,' she said. `I'm so sorry.'

`That's all right,' said Arthur as gently as he knew how. `It's good to, well, to have a little chat. There's so much we have to learn and understand about each other, and life isn't, well it isn't all just tea and sandwiches...'

`I'm so sorry,' she said again, sobbing.

Arthur went up to her and put his arm round her shoulder. She didn't resist or pull away. Then Arthur saw what it was she was so sorry about.

In the pool of light thrown by a Lamuellan lantern lay Arthur's watch. Random had forced the back off it with the back edge of the butter spreading knife, and all of the minute cogs and springs and levers were lying in a tiny cock-eyed mess where she'd been fiddling with them.

`I just wanted to see how it worked,' said Random, `how it all fitted together. I'm so sorry! I can't get it back together. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'll get it repaired! Really! I'll get it repaired!'

The following day Thrashbarg came round and said all sorts of Bob stuff. He tried to exert a calming influence by inviting Random to let her mind dwell on the ineffable mystery of the giant earwig, and Random said there was no giant earwig and Thrashbarg went very cold and silent and said she would be cast into outer darkness. Random said good, she'd been born there, and the next day the parcel arrived.

This was all getting a bit eventful.

In fact, when the parcel arrived, delivered by a kind of robot drone that dropped out of the sky making droning robot noises, it brought with it a sense which gradually began to permeate through the whole village, that it was almost one event too many.

It wasn't the robot drone's fault. All it required was Arthur Dent's signature or thumb print, or just a few scrapings of skin cells from the nape of his neck and it would be on its way again. It hung around waiting, not quite sure what all this resentment was about. Meanwhile, Kirp had caught another fish with a head at both ends, but on closer inspection it turned out that it was in fact two fish cut in half and sewn together rather badly, so not only had Kirp failed to rekindle any great interest in two-headed fish but he had seriously cast doubt on the authenticity of the first one. Only the pikka birds seemed to feel that everything was exactly normal.

The robot drone got Arthur's signature and made its escape. Arthur bore the parcel back to his hut and sat and looked at it.

`Let's open it!' said Random, who was feeling much more cheerful this morning now that everything around her had got thoroughly weird, but Arthur said no.

`Why not?'

`It's not addressed to me.'

`Yes, it is.'

`No, it isn't. It's addressed to... well, it's addressed to Ford Prefect, in care of me.'

`Ford Prefect? Is he the one who...'

`Yes,' said Arthur tartly.

`I've heard about him.'

`I expect you have.'

`Let' s open it anyway. What else are we going to do?'

`I don't know,' said Arthur, who really wasn't sure. He had taken his damaged knives over to the forge bright and early that morning and Strinder had had a look at them and said that he would see what he could do.

They had tried the usual business of waving the knives through the air, feeling for the point of balance and the point of flex and so on, but the joy was gone from it, and Arthur had a sad feeling that his sandwich making days were probably numbered.

He hung his head.

The next appearance of the Perfectly Normal Beasts was imminent, but Arthur felt that the usual festivities of hunting and feasting were going to be rather muted and uncertain. Something had happened here on Lamuella, and Arthur had a horrible feeling that it was him.

`What do you think it is?' urged Random, turning the parcel over in her hands.

`I don't know, said Arthur. `Something bad and worrying, though.'

`How do you know?' Random protested.

`Because anything to do with Ford Prefect is bound to be worse and more worrying than something that isn't,' said Arthur. `Believe me.'

`You're upset about something, aren't you?' said Random.

Arthur sighed.

`I'm just feeling a little jumpy and unsettled, I think,' said Arthur.

`I'm sorry,' said Random, and put the package down again. She could see that it really would upset him if she opened it. She would just have to do it when he wasn't looking.


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