Lunchtime doubly so. How long have we known each other? The rest of the pub frowned at him. A man waved at him to stop smiling at them and mind his own business. They soared with ease, basking in electromagnetic rays from the star Sol, biding their time, grouping, preparing.
The planet beneath them was almost perfectly oblivious of their presence, which was just how they wanted it for the moment. The only place they registered at all was on a small black device called a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic which winked away quietly to itself. It nestled in the darkness inside a leather satchel which Ford Prefect wore habitually round his neck. Besides the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic and the scripts he had an Electronic Thumb - a short squat black rod, smooth and matt with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end; he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator.
The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitch hiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag strag: non-hitch hiker discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc.
What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with. Miles above the surface of the planet the huge yellow somethings began to fan out. At Jodrell Bank, someone decided it was time for a nice relaxing cup of tea.
Arthur, struggling through his third pint, looked round at him. What, no Ford clicked his tongue in irritation. At that moment the dull sound of a rumbling crash from outside filtered through the low murmur of the pub, through the sound of the jukebox, through the sound of the man next to Ford hiccupping over the whisky Ford had eventually bought him.
Arthur choked on his beer, leapt to his feet. Arthur looked wildly around him and ran to the window. What the hell am I doing in the pub, Ford? He made no friends at all in the pub that lunchtime. You home wreckers! Turning quickly to the barman he asked for four packets of peanuts. The barman looked at it and then looked at Ford. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny sublimal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.
Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born light years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse. The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance.
He was at his flippest. Someone in the hushed bar suddenly laughed raucously at how stupid ev- eryone had become. The man sitting next to Ford was a bit sozzled by now. His eyes waved their way up to Ford. The pub was silent for a moment longer, and then, embarrassingly enough, the man with the raucous laugh did it again. The girl he had dragged along to the pub with him had grown to loathe him dearly over the last hour or so, and it would probably have been a great satisfaction to her to know that in a minute and a half or so he would suddenly evaporate into a whiff of hydrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide.
However, when the moment came she would be too busy evaporating herself to notice it. The barman cleared his throat.
Ford knew they were there. Running up the lane, Arthur had nearly reached his house. And whipped! And boiled Ford was running after him very fast. Very very fast. What Mr Prosser had noticed was that huge yellow somethings were screaming through the clouds.
Impossibly huge yellow somethings. At last he noticed that something was going on. His finger shot upwards. Whatever it was raced across the sky in monstrous yellowness, tore the sky apart with mind-buggering noise and leapt off into the distance leaving the gaping air to shut behind it with a bang that drove your ears six feet into your skull. Another one followed and did the same thing only louder.
None of it made a lot of sense - running into houses, running out of houses, howling noiselessly at the noise. All around the world city streets exploded with people, cars slewed into each other as the noise fell on them and then rolled off like a tidal wave over hills and valleys, deserts and oceans, seeming to flatten everything it hit.
Only one man stood and watched the sky, stood with terrible sadness in his eyes and rubber bungs in his ears. He knew exactly what was happening and had known ever since his Sub-Etha Sens-O- Matic had started winking in the dead of night beside his pillar and woken him with a start. It was what he had waited for all these years, but when he had deciphered the signal pattern sitting alone in his small dark room a coldness had gripped him and squeezed his heart.
As the Vogon craft screamed through the air high above him he opened his satchel. Everything was ready, everything was prepared. He knew where his towel was. A sudden silence hit the Earth. If anything it was worse than the noise. For a while nothing happened. The great ships hung motionless in the air, over every nation on Earth. Motionless they hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky, a blasphemy against nature. Many people went straight into shock as their minds tried to en- compass what they were looking at.
And still nothing happened. Then there was a slight whisper, a sudden spacious whisper of open ambient sound. Every hi fi set in the world, every radio, every television, every cassette recorder, every woofer, every tweeter, every mid-range driver in the world quietly turned itself on. Every tin can, every dust bin, every window, every car, every wine glass, ev- ery sheet of rusty metal became activated as an acoustically perfect sound- ing board.
Before the Earth passed away it was going to be treated to the very ultimate in sound reproduction, the greatest public address system ever built. But there was no concert, no music, no fanfare, just a simple message. Wonderful perfect quadrophonic sound with distortion levels so low as to make a brave man weep.
The process will take slightly less that two of your Earth minutes. Thank you. Uncomprehending terror settled on the watching people of Earth. The terror moved slowly through the gathered crowds as if they were iron fillings on a sheet of board and a magnet was moving beneath them. Panic sprouted again, desperate fleeing panic, but there was nowhere to flee to. Observing this, the Vogons turned on their PA again. The huge ships turned slowly in the sky with easy power. On the underside of each a hatchway opened, an empty black space.
By this time somebody somewhere must have manned a radio transmitter, located a wavelength and broadcasted a message back to the Vogon ships, to plead on behalf of the planet.
Nobody ever heard what they said, they only heard the reply. The PA slammed back into life again. The voice was annoyed. There was a terrible ghastly silence.
There was a terrible ghastly noise. The Vogon Constructor fleet coasted away into the inky starry void. Chapter 4 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.
Damogran the hot; Damogran the remote; Damogran the almost totally unheard of. Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.
The boat sped on across the water. It would be some time before it reached its destination because Damogran is such an inconveniently ar- ranged planet.
It consists of nothing but middling to large desert islands separated by very pretty but annoyingly wide stretches of ocean. The boat sped on. Because of this topological awkwardness Damogran has always remained a deserted planet. This is why the Imperial Galactic Government chose Damogran for the Heart of Gold project, because it was so deserted and the Heart of Gold was so secret.
The boat zipped and skipped across the sea, the sea that lay between the main islands of the only archipelago of any useful size on the whole planet. Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter Island the name was an entirely meaningless coincidence - in Galacticspeke, easter means small flat and light brown to the Heart of Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.
One of the side effects of work on the Heart of Gold was a whole string of pretty meaningless coincidences. But it was not in any way a coincidence that today, the day of culmination of the project, the great day of unveiling, the day that the Heart of Gold was finally to be introduced to a marvelling Galaxy, was also a great day of culmination for Zaphod Beeblebrox.
It was for the sake of this day that he had first decided to run for the Presidency, a decision which had sent waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy - Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the President?
Many had seen it as a clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas. Zaphod grinned and gave the boat an extra kick of speed. Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippy, good timer, crook? No one had gone bananas, not in that way at least. Only six people in the entire Galaxy understood the principle on which the Galaxy was governed, and they knew that once Zaphod Beeblebrox had announced his intention to run as President it was more or less a fait accompli: he was the ideal Presidency fodder 1.
What they completely failed to understand was why Zaphod was doing it. He banked sharply, shooting a wild wall of water at the sun. Today was the day; today was the day when they would realize what Zaphod had been up to. Today was also his two hundredth birthday, but that was just another meaningless coincidence. As he skipped his boat across the seas of Damogran he smiled quietly to himself about what a wonderful exciting day it was going to be.
He relaxed and spread his two arms lazily across the seat back. The island of France was about twenty miles long, five miles across the middle, sandy and crescent shaped. In fact it seemed to exist not so much as an island in its own right as simply a means of defining the sweep and curve of a huge bay.
This impression was heightened by the fact that the inner coastline of the crescent consisted almost entirely of steep cliffs.
From the top of the cliff the land sloped slowly down five miles to the opposite shore. On top of the cliffs stood a reception committee. It consisted in large part of the engineers and researchers who had built the Heart of Gold - mostly humanoid, but here and there were a few reptiloid atomineers, two or three green slyph-like maximegalacticans, an octopoid physucturalist or two and a Hooloovoo a Hooloovoo is a super-intelligent shade of the color blue.
All except the Hooloovoo were resplendent in their multi- colored ceremonial lab coats; the Hooloovoo had been temporarily refracted into a free standing prism for the occasion. There was a mood of immense excitement thrilling through all of them.
Together and between them they had gone to and beyond the furthest limits of physical laws, restructured the fundamental fabric of matter, strained, twisted and broken the laws of possibility and impossibility, but still the greatest excitement of all seemed to be to meet a man with an orange sash round his neck.
An orange sash was what the President of the Galaxy traditionally wore. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it. Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job. The crowd gasped, dazzled by sun and seemanship, as the Presidential speedboat zipped round the headland into the bay. It flashed and shone as it came skating over the sea in wide skidding turns.
Zaphod loved effect: it was what he was best at. He twisted the wheel sharply, the boat slewed round in a wild scything skid beneath the cliff face and dropped to rest lightly on the rocking waves.
Within seconds he ran out onto the deck and waved and grinned at over three billion people. He grinned again. The robot camera homed in for a close up on the more popular of his two heads and he waved again. He was roughly humanoid in appearance except for the extra head and third arm. His fair tousled hair stuck out in random directions, his blue eyes glinted with something completely unidentifiable, and his chins were almost always unshaven.
A twenty-foot-high transparent globe floated next to his boat, rolling and bobbing, glistening in the brilliant sun. Inside it floated a wide semi-circular sofa upholstered in glorious red leather: the more the globe bobbed and rolled, the more the sofa stayed perfectly still, steady as an upholstered rock. Again, all done for effect as much as anything. Zaphod stepped through the wall of the globe and relaxed on the sofa.
He spread his two arms lazily along the back and with the third brushed some dust off his knee. His heads looked about, smiling; he put his feet up. At any moment, he thought, he might scream.
Water boiled up beneath the bubble, it seethed and spouted. The bubble surged into the air, bobbing and rolling on the water spout. Up, up it climbed, throwing stilts of light at the cliff. Up it surged on the jet, the water falling from beneath it, crashing back into the sea hundreds of feet below. Zaphod smiled, picturing himself.
A thoroughly ridiculous form of transport, but a thoroughly beautiful one. To tremendous applause Zaphod Beeblebrox stepped out of the bubble, his orange sash blazing in the light. The President of the Galaxy had arrived. He waited for the applause to die down, then raised his hands in greeting. A government spider sidled up to him and attempted to press a copy of his prepared speech into his hands. Pages three to seven of the original version were at the moment floating soggily on the Damogran sea some five miles out from the bay.
Pages one and two had been salvaged by a Damogran Frond Crested Eagle and had already become incorporated into an extraordinary new form of nest which the eagle had invented. It was constructed largely of papier m ch and it was virtually impossible for a newly hatched baby eagle to break out of it.
The Damogran Frond Crested Eagle had heard of the notion of survival of the species but wanted no truck with it. Zaphod Beeblebrox would not be needing his set speech and he gently deflected the one being offered him by the spider. Everyone beamed at him, or, at least, nearly everyone.
He singled out Trillian from the crowd. Trillian was a gird that Zaphod had picked up recently whilst visiting a planet, just for fun, incognito. She was slim, darkish, humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little nob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes. With her red head scarf knotted in that particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress she looked vaguely Arabic. Not that anyone there had ever heard of an Arab of course.
The Arabs had very recently ceased to exist, and even when they had existed they were five hundred thousand light years from Damogran. She just went around with him rather a lot and told him what she thought of him. She flashed him a quick tight smile and looked away.
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