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Chapter Eighteen

Arthur leapt to his feet with a start of fear. It would be hard to say which he was more frightened of: that he. might have hurt the person he had inadvertently sat on or that the person he had inadvertently sat on would hurt him back.

There seemed, on inspection, to be little immediate cause for alarm on the second count. Whoever it was he had sat on was unconscious. That would probably go a great deal of the way towards explaining what he was doing lying there. He seemed to be breathing OK, though. Arthur felt his pulse. That was OK as well.

He was lying on his side, half curled up. It was so long ago and far away when Arthur had last done First Aid that he really couldn't remember what it was he was supposed to do. The first thing he was supposed to do, he remembered, was to have a First Aid kit about his person. Damn.

Should he roll him on to his back or not? Suppose he had any broken bones? Suppose he swallowed his tongue? Suppose he sued him? Who, apart from anything else, was he?

At that moment the unconscious man groaned loudly and rolled himself over.

Arthur wondered if he should ---

He looked at him.

He looked at him again.

He looked at him again, just to make absolutely sure.

Despite the fact that he had been thinking he was feeling about as low as he possibly could, he experienced a terrible sinking feeling.

The figure groaned again and slowly opened his eyes. It took him a while to focus, then he blinked and stiffened.

`You!' said Ford Prefect.

`You!' said Arthur Dent.

Ford groaned again.

`What do you need to have explained this time?' he said, and closed his eyes in some kind of despair.

Five minutes later he was sitting up and rubbing the side of his head, where he had quite a large swelling.

`Who the hell was that woman?' he said. `Why are we surrounded by squirrels, and what do they want?'

`I've been pestered by squirrels all night,' said Arthur. `They keep on trying to give me magazines and stuff.'

Ford frowned. `Really?' he said.

`And bits of rag.'

Ford thought.

`Oh,' he said. `Is this near where your ship crashed?'

`Yes,' said Arthur. He said it a little tightly.

`That's probably it. Can happen. Ship's cabin robots get destroyed. The cyberminds that control them survive and start infesting the local wildlife. Can turn a whole ecosystem into some kind of helpless thrashing service industry, handing out hot towels and drinks to passers-by. Should be a law against it. Probably is. Probably also a law against there being a law against it so everybody can get nice and worked up. Hey ho. What did you say?'

`I said, and the woman is my daughter.'

Ford stopped rubbing his head.

`Say that one more time.'

`I said,' said Arthur huffily, `the woman is my daughter.'

`I didn't know,' said Ford, `that you had a daughter.'

`Well, there's probably a lot you don't know about me,' said Arthur. `Come to mention it, there's probably a lot I don't know about me either.'

`Well, well, well. When did this happen then?'

`I'm not quite sure.'

`That sounds like more familiar territory,' said Ford. `Is there a mother involved?'

`Trillian.'

`Trillian? I didn't think that...'

`No. Look, it's a bit embarrassing.'

`I remember she told me once she had a kid but only, sort of, in passing. I'm in touch with her from time to time. Never seen her with the kid.'

Arthur said nothing.

Ford started to feel the side of his head again in some bemusement.

`Are you sure this was your daughter?' he said.

`Tell me what happened.'

`Phroo. Long story. I was coming to pick up this parcel I'd sent to myself here care of you...'

`Well, what was that all about?'

`I think it may be something unimaginably dangerous.'

`And you sent it to me?' protested Arthur.

`Safest place I could think of. I thought I could rely on you to be absolutely boring and not open it. Anyway, coming in at night I couldn't find this village place. I was going by pretty basic information. I couldn't find any signal of any kind. I guess you don't have signals and stuff here.'

`That's what I like about it.'

`Then I did pick up a faint signal from your old copy of the Guide, so I homed in on that, thinking that would take me to you. I found I'd landed in some kind of wood. Couldn't figure out what was going on. I get out, and then see this woman standing there. I go up to say hello, then suddenly I see that she's got this thing!'

`What thing?'

`The thing I sent you! The new Guide! The bird thing! You were meant to keep it safe, you idiot, but this woman had the thing right there by her shoulder. I ran forward and she hit me with a rock.'

`I see,' said Arthur. `What did you do?'

`Well, I fell over of course. I was very badly hurt. She and the bird started to make off towards my ship. And when I say my ship, I mean an RW6.'

`A what?'

`An RW6 for Zark's sake. I've got this great relationship going now between my credit card and the Guide's central computer. You would not believe that ship, Arthur, it's...'

`So an RW6 is a spaceship, then?'

`Yes! It's --- oh never mind. Look, just get some kind of grip will you, Arthur? Or at least get some kind of catalogue. At this point I was very worried. And, I think, semi-concussed. I was down on my knees and bleeding profusely, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to beg. I said, please for Zark's sake don't take my ship. And don't leave me stranded in the middle of some primitive zarking forest with no medical help and a head injury. I could be in serious trouble and so could she.'

`What did she say?'

`She hit me on the head with the rock again.'

`I think I can confirm that that was my daughter.'

`Sweet kid.'

`You have to get to know her,' said Arthur.

`She eases up does she?'

`No,' said Arthur, `but you get a better sense of when to duck.'

Ford held his head and tried to see straight.

The sky was beginning to lighten in the west, which was where the sun rose. Arthur didn't particularly want to see it. The last thing he wanted after a hellish night like this one was some blasted day coming along and barging about the place.

`What are you doing in a place like this, Arthur?' demanded Ford.

`Well,' said Arthur, `making sandwiches mostly.'

`What?'

`I am, probably was, the sandwich maker for a small tribe. It was a bit embarrassing really. When I first arrived, that is, when they rescued me from the wreckage of this super high-technology spacecraft which had crashed on their planet, they were very nice to me and I thought I should help them out a bit. You know, I'm an educated chap from a high-technology culture, I could show them a thing or two. And of course I couldn't. I haven't got the faintest idea, when it comes down to it, of how anything actually works. I don't mean like video-recorders, nobody knows how to work those. I mean just something like a pen or an artesian well or something. Not the foggiest. I couldn't help at all. One day I got glum and made myself a sandwich. That suddenly got them all excited. They'd never seen one before. It was just an idea that had never occurred to them, and I happen to quite like making sandwiches, so it all sort of developed from there.'

`And you enjoyed that?'

`Well, yes, I think I sort of did, really. Getting a good set of knives, that sort of thing.'

`You didn't, for instance, find it mind-witheringly, explosively, astoundingly, blisteringly dull?'

`Well, er, no. Not as such. Not actually blisteringly.'

`Odd. I would.'

`Well, I suppose we have a different outlook.'

`Yes.'

`Like the pikka birds.'

Ford had no idea what he was talking about and couldn't be bothered to ask. Instead he said, `So how the hell do we get out of this place?'

`Well I think the simplest way from here is just to follow the way down the valley to the plains, probably take an hour, and then walk round from there. I don't think I could face going back up and over the way I came.'

`Walk round where from there?'

`Well, back to the village. I suppose.' Arthur sighed a little forlornly.

`I don't want to go to any blasted village!' snapped Ford.

`We've got to get out of here!'

`Where? How?'

`I don't know, you tell me. You live here! There must be some way off this zarking planet.'

`I don't know. What do you usually do? Sit around and wait for a passing spacecraft, I suppose.'

`Oh yes? And how many spacecraft have visited this zark- forsaken little fleapit recently?'

`Well, a few years ago there was mine that crashed here by mistake. Then there was, er, Trillian, then the parcel delivery, and now you, and...'

`Yes, but apart from the usual suspects?'

`Well, er, I think pretty much none, so far as I know. Pretty quiet round here.'

As if deliberately to prove him wrong, there was a long, low distant roll of thunder.

Ford leapt to his feet fretfully and started pacing backwards and forwards in the feeble, painful light of the early dawn which lay streaked against the sky as if someone had dragged a piece of liver across it.

`You don't understand how important this is,' he said.

`What? You mean my daughter out there all alone in the Galaxy? You think I don't...'

`Can we feel sorry for the Galaxy later?' said Ford. `This is very, very serious indeed. The Guide has been taken over. It's been bought out.'

Arthur leapt up. `Oh very serious,' he shouted. `Please fill me in straight away on some corporate publishing politics! I can't tell you how much it's been on my mind of late!'

`You don't understand! There's a whole new Guide!'

`Oh!' shouted Arthur again. `Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm incoherent with excitement! I can hardly wait for it to come out to find out which are the most exciting spaceports to get bored hanging about in in some globular cluster I've never heard of. Please, can we rush to a store that's got it right this very instant?'

Ford narrowed his eyes.

`This is that thing you call sarcasm, isn't it?'

`Do you know,' bellowed Arthur, `I think it is? I really think it might just be a crazy little thing called sarcasm seeping in at the edges of my manner of speech! Ford, I have had a fucking bad night! Will you please try and take that into account while you consider what fascinating bits of badger-sputumly inconsequential trivia to assail me with next?'

`Try to rest,' said Ford. `I need to think.'

`Why do you need to think? Can't we just sit and go budumbudumbudum with our lips for a bit? Couldn't we just dribble gently and loll a little bit to the left for a few minutes? I can't stand it, Ford! I can't stand all this thinking and trying to work things out any more. You may think that I am just standing here barking...'

`Hadn't occurred to me in fact.'

`...but I mean it! What is the point? We assume that every time we do anything we know what the consequences will be, i.e., more or less what we intend them to be. This is not only not always correct. It is wildly, crazily, stupidly cross-eyed-blithering-insectly wrong!'

`Which is exactly my point.'

`Thank you,' said Arthur, sitting down again. `What?'

`Temporal reverse engineering.'

Arthur put his head in his hands and shook it gently from side to side.

`Is there any humane way,' he moaned, `in which I can prevent you from telling me what temporary reverse bloody-whatsiting is?'

`No,' said Ford, `because your daughter is caught up in the middle of it and it is deadly, deadly serious.'

Thunder rolled in the pause.

`All right,' said Arthur. `Tell me.'

`I leaped out of a high-rise office window.'

This cheered Arthur up.

`Oh!' he said. `Why don't you do it again?'

`I did.'

`Hmmm,' said Arthur, disappointed. `Obviously no good came of it.'

`The first time I managed to save myself by the most astonishing and --- I say this in all modesty --- fabulous piece of ingenious quick-thinking, agility, fancy footwork and self-sacrifice.'

`What was the self-sacrifice?'

`I jettisoned half of a much loved and I think irreplaceable pair of shoes.'

`Why was that self-sacrifice?'

`Because they were mine!' said Ford crossly.

`I think we have different value systems.'

`Well mine's better.'

`That's according to your... oh never mind. So having saved yourself very cleverly once you very sensibly went and jumped again. Please don't tell me why. Just tell me what happened if you must.'

`I fell straight into the open cockpit of a passing jet towncar whose pilot had just accidentally pushed the eject button when he meant only to change tracks on the stereo. Now, even I couldn't think that that was particularly clever of me.'

`Oh, I don't know,' said Arthur wearily. `I expect you probably sneaked into his jetcar the previous night and set the pilot's least favourite track to play or something.'

`No, I didn't,' said Ford.

`Just checking.'

`Though oddly enough, somebody else did. And this is the nub. You could trace the chain and branches of crucial events and coincidences back and back. Turned out the new Guide had done it. That bird.'

`What bird?'

`You haven't seen it?'

`No.'

`Oh. It's a lethal little thing. Looks pretty, talks big, collapses waveforms selectively at will.'

`What does that mean?'

`Temporal reverse engineering.'

`Oh,' said Arthur. `Oh yes.'

`The question is, who is it really doing it for?'

`I've actually got a sandwich in my pocket,' said Arthur, delving. `Would you like a bit?'

`Yeah, OK.'

`It's a bit squished and sodden, I'm afraid.'

`Never mind.'

They munched for a bit.

`It's quite good in fact,' said Ford. `What's the meat in it?'

`Perfectly Normal Beast.'

`Not come across that one. So, the question is,' Ford continued, `who is the bird really doing it for? What's the real game here?'

`Mmm,' ate Arthur.

`When I found the bird,' continued Ford, `which I did by a series of coincidences that are interesting in themselves, it put on the most fantastic multi-dimensional display of pyrotechnics I've ever seen. It then said that it would put its services at my disposal in my universe. I said, thanks but no thanks. It said that it would anyway, whether I liked it or not. I said just try it, and it said it would and, indeed, already had done. I said we'd see about that and it said that we would. That's when I decided to pack the thing up and get it out of there. So I sent it to you for safety.'

`Oh yes? Whose?'

`Never you mind. Then, what with one thing and another, I thought it prudent to jump out of the window again, being fresh out of other options at the time. Luckily for me the jetcar was there otherwise I would have had to fall back on ingenious quick-thinking, agility, maybe another shoe or, failing all else, the ground. But it meant that, whether I liked it or not, the Guide was, well, working for me, and that was deeply worrying.'

`Why?'

`Because if you've got the Guide you think that you are the one it's working for. Everything went swimmingly smoothly for me from then on, up to the very moment that I come up against the totty with the rock, then, bang, I'm history. I'm out of the loop.'

`Are you referring to my daughter?'

`As politely as I can. She's the next one in the chain who will think that everything is going fabulously for her. She can beat whoever she likes around the head with bits of the landscape, everything will just swim for her until she's done whatever she's supposed to do and then it will be all up for her too. It's reverse temporal engineering, and clearly nobody understood what was being unleashed!'

`Like me for instance.'

`What? Oh, wake up, Arthur. Look, let me try it again. The new Guide came out of the research labs. It made use of this new technology of Unfiltered Perception. Do you know what that means?'

`Look, I've been making sandwiches for Bob's sake!'

`Who's Bob?'

`Never mind. Just carry on.'

`Unfiltered Perception means it perceives everything. Got that? I don't perceive everything. You don't perceive everything. We have filters. The new Guide doesn't have any sense filters. It perceives everything. It wasn't a complicated technological idea. It was just a question of leaving a bit out. Got it?'

`Why don't I just say that I've got it, and then you can carry on regardless.'

`Right. Now because the bird can perceive every possible Universe. it is present in every possible universe. Yes?'

`Y... e... e... s. Ish.'

`So what happens is, the bozos in the marketing and accounting departments say, oh that sounds good, doesn't that mean we only have to make one of them and then sell it an infinite number of times? Don't squint at me like that, Arthur, this is how accountants think!'

`That's quite clever, isn't it?'

`No! It is fantastically stupid. Look. The machine's only a little Guide. It's got some quite clever cybertechnology in it, but because it has Unfiltered Perception, any smallest move it makes has the power of a virus. It can propagate throughout space, time and a million other dimensions. Anything can be focused anywhere in any of the universes that you and I move in. Its power is recursive. Think of a computer program. Somewhere, there is one key instruction, and everything else is just functions calling themselves, or brackets billowing out endlessly through an infinite address space. What happens when the brackets collapse? Where's the final ``end if''? Is any of this making sense? Arthur?'

`Sorry, I was nodding off for a moment. Something about the Universe, yes?'

`Something about the Universe, yes,' said Ford, wearily. He sat down again.

`All right,' he said. `Think about this. You know who I think I saw at the Guide offices? Vogons. Ah. I see I've said a word you understand at last.'

Arthur leapt to his feet.

`That noise,' he said.

`What noise?'

`The thunder.'

`what about it?'

`It isn't thunder. It's the spring migration of the Perfectly Normal Beasts. It's started.'

`What are these animals you keep on about?'

`I don't keep on about them. I just put bits of them in sandwiches.'

`Why are they called Perfectly Normal Beasts?'

Arthur told him.

It wasn't often that Arthur had the pleasure of seeing Ford's eyes open wide with astonishment.


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