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04:49 25/04/2009


They waited for a few more seconds. “I can do that for you, sure,” enthused the computer, punching out more tickertape. “I can even work out you personality problems to ten decimal places if it will help.” “Fine,” said Zaphod, relaxing. “We'll do it together.” They all shook their heads. “Yeah,” said Ford, “he was that guy we met when we were kids, the Arcturan captain. He was a gas. He gave us conkers when you bust your way into his megafreighter. Said you were the most amazing kid he'd ever met.” They had now reached the airlock — a large circular steel hatchway of massive strength and weight let into the inner skin of the craft. The guard operated a control and the hatchway swung smoothly open. “We're trapped now aren't we?” “Excuse me,” he said to him, “what is your name by the way?” “What happened to you?” demanded Arthur. Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again. More gunk music, but this time it was a background to a news announcement. The news was always heavily edited to fit the rhythms of the music. The Improbability-proof control cabin of the Heart of Gold looked like a perfectly conventional spaceship except that it was perfectly clean because it was so new. Some of the control seats hadn't had the plastic wrapping taken off yet. The cabin was mostly white, oblong, and about the size of a smallish restaurant. In fact it wasn't perfectly oblong: the two long walls were raked round in a slight parallel curve, and all the angles and corners were contoured in excitingly chunky shapes. The truth of the matter is that it would have been a great deal simpler and more practical to build the cabin as an ordinary three-dimensional oblong rom, but then the designers would have got miserable. As it was the cabin looked excitingly purposeful, with large video screens ranged over the control and guidance system panels on the concave wall, and long banks of computers set into the convex wall. In one corner a robot sat humped, its gleaming brushed steel head hanging loosely between its gleaming brushed steel knees. It too was fairly new, but though it was beautifully constructed and polished it somehow looked as if the various parts of its more or less humanoid body didn't quite fit properly. In fact they fitted perfectly well, but something in its bearing suggested that they might have fitted better. “We only ever had the one sun at home,” persevered Arthur, “I came from a planet called Earth you know.” In the sky a huge green catalogue number appeared. It flickered and changed, and when they looked around again so had the land. The man looked at Arthur, sadly it seemed. “But I was stuck there for fifteen years!” Far away on the opposite spiral arm of the Galaxy, five hundred thousand light years from the star Sol, Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Imperial Galactic Government, sped across the seas of Damogran, his ion drive delta boat winking and flashing in the Damogran sun. “In the mud.” A slight hiss built into a deafening roar of rushing air as the outer hatchway opened on to an empty blackness studded with tiny impossibly bright points of light. Ford and Arthur popped into outer space like corks from a toy gun. 9 “Hi,” said one of the mice. His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky-glass like affair, and it moved forward slightly.
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What they completely failed to understand was why Zaphod was doing it. “But I was stuck there for fifteen years!” The room was much as Slartibartfast had described it. In seven and a half million years it had been well looked after and cleaned regularly every century or so. The ultramahagony desk was worn at the edges, the carpet a little faded now, but the large computer terminal sat in sparkling glory on the desk's leather top, as bright as if it had been constructed yesterday. Two severely dressed men sat respectfully before the terminal and waited. Something extraordinary happened to Ford's face. At least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up on it in a jumbled mess. His left leg, which was in mid stride, seemed to have difficulty in finding the floor again. He stared at the robot and tried to entangle some dartoid muscles. “Oh yes,” said the old man mildly. Who cares?” said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. “Perhaps I'm old and tired,” he continued, “but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway.” With an ingratiating little whine the door slit open again and Marvin stomped through. Ford made for the door. But the story of this terrible, stupid Thursday, the story of its extraordinary consequences, and the story of how these consequences are inextricably intertwined with this remarkable book begins very simply. “Oh, the Paranoid Android,” he said. “Yeah, we'll take him.” “Why not?” Finally Eddie said quietly, “I can see this relationship is something we're all going to have to work at,” and the hatchway opened. Er, excuse me, who am I? “Yes! Now…” The Vogon stared up at the low steel ceiling and his eyebrows almost rolled over each other. His mouth slacked. Finally he said, “Well the hours are good…” “If I asked you where the hell we were,” said Arthur weakly, “would I regret it?” “That man wants to knock my house down!” “It means we must be on to something!” The Vogon perused them. For a moment his embittered racial soul had been touched, but he thought no — too little too late. His voice took on the quality of a cat snagging brushed nylon.