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Tag: fic: Perfectly Safe

Perfectly Safe #17

An unknown and unfathomable distance away, somewhere in what may or may not have actually been the Void, the Heart of Gold drifted aimlessly. Red emergency backup lights gave a sporting try and utterly failed at lighting the bridge as two men from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse tried to work out the full weight of their situation.

“There is no Void,” Zaphod insisted.

“There is no Magrathea,” Ford argued.

“What the zark are you talking about?” asked Zaphod. “You know there is a Magrathea. You’ve been there.”

“And you are in the Void,” said Ford.

“It’s a fairy story,” said Zaphod. “People tell it when they don’t want to get fired for stealing all the pencils from the office.”

“Look out the portholes,” said Ford as he rose to his feet. “There’s nothing out there. It’s just black and nothing.”

“Exactly,” said Zaphod. “If this were really the Void, wouldn’t it be full of pencils or something?”

Ford started to argue, but looked out the porthole again. “Hey, yeah,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of black and nothing.”

“So we are not in the Void,” Zaphod said authoritatively. “Because there isn’t one.”

“Fine,” said Ford. “Then where the photon are we?”

Zaphod thought for a moment. “Black hole,” he declared. “They’re all full of black and nothing.”

“They’re also full of gravitons,” Ford pointed out.

“Exactly. Black and nothing.”

“We are not in a black hole!” Ford shouted.

He growled and walked over to the main console. After about two seconds of thought, Ford pulled off one of the front panels and carelessly tossed it aside before getting down on his hands and knees to peer into the computer’s wiring and connections.

“Hey, what the zark are you doing?” Zaphod demanded.

“More than you are,” Ford said. “Now shut up and get me a screwdriver. Sonic, if you have one. Some of these screws are a little tough to get at.”

Zaphod sulked for a few moments before wandering off to find one, and leaving Ford to pull at wires and fiddle with connections.

“Here,” said Zaphod as he handed the screwdriver to him. “I also found a laser spanner.”

“Excellent.”

Ford took the tools and rolled over onto his back so that he could more easily move himself into the small area. He looked around, moving wires out of the way, and spotted something that struck him as rather odd.

“Zaphod, I think you’ve got mice,” Ford said. “These wires are all frayed to hell.”

He held the screwdriver above his face to find the proper setting, but it was an older model and didn’t work like the newer bronze-plated ones. As he struggled with it, Zaphod nudged him with his foot, causing him to start quite badly, which in turn sent a terrible electric s hock through his body.

Zaphod kicking him was not what sent the shock. When Ford jumped from the surprise of the contact, the ring he wore on his right pinkie finger came into contact with the frayed wiring, which in turn electrocuted him. He yelped loudly and hit his head on the inside of the casing before managing to crawl back out, whimpering slightly.

“I want my mother,” he heard himself say.

Of all the spaceships he’d been thrown out of various weapons he’d had fired at him, he could safely say that the shock given to him by the Heart of Gold had been the worst pain he had ever experienced.

He was so busy focusing on the burns on his finger around his ring that he hadn’t noticed the lights had all come back up, and the familiar low hum of the ship’s workings had filled the air again.

“Hey, that was brilliant,” Zaphod said. “What’d you do, so I know what to do next time that happens.”

“I think I need a doctor,? ? Ford said. “That really hurt.”

Zaphod frowned in confusion. “What?”

Ford pulled off his ring and put it in his pocket. “Nothing,” he said. “Let’s just figure out where we are so we can figure out how to get back to civilisation.”

“Great plan,” agreed Zaphod. “Hey, computer!”

“You turned it off,” Ford reminded him.

“Right,” said Zaphod. “Computer, this is your owner. Turn back on.”

Ford sighed. “It has to be done manually, you semi-evolved half-wit. Honestly, how long have you had this ship, and you still don’t know anything about it?”

Zaphod shrugged. “Trillian usually took care of all that stuff.”

Shaking his head, Ford got back down onto the floor and peered under the console again. “I should be making you do this,” he muttered as he reached through the wires and connectors.

He found the main board and pulled one of the connections loose for a few seconds before reco nnecting it. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to shoot sparks at him or anything, he backed out of the small space and stood back up.

“Red, green, and yellow buttons,” he instructed. “Hold them down.”

Zaphod held down the buttons on the console as Ford flipped several switches.

“You sure you know what you’re doing, man?” asked Zaphod cautiously.

“I’ve been hotwiring ships since I was twelve,” Ford reminded him. “Of course I do.”

The large display screen flickered.

“All right, let go of the buttons,” Ford said.

The screen lit up black, and then dozens of neon green command lines scrolled upward, too fast to read. Again, the screen flickered, and eventually the Sirius Cybernetics logo appeared briefly before Eddie chirped back to life.

“Heya, fellas!” he said. “Boy, that was sure exciting, wasn’t it? It seems as though my hyperspace drive somehow got activated, there. Sorry about that.”

Zaphod ignored him. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Just on the Northern Rim of SagDEG,” Eddie informed them, happy as ever.

“Where?” asked Zaphod incredulously.

“The Northern Rim of—”

“I heard you, you talking tin can,” Zaphod snapped. “What the zark are we doing here? I’m done with you. Just take us to Gretchentown.”

“You got it, fella!” Eddie said.

For a few moments, nothing at all happened.

And then the bridge exploded.

« ||

Perfectly Safe #16

Throughout the Galaxy, the concept of monogamy is fairly unpopular. Even if only a finite amount of planets are inhabitable, the amount of different species in the Galaxy is a fairly staggering number. Through evolution, many species have evolved to familiar shapes, because these shapes are useful. Most intelligent species in the Galaxy are bipedal, with two legs, two arms, and one or two heads. The bipedal form of most of the Galaxy’s intelligent life forms have incredible agility and stamina for creatures their size, but at the cost of weaker joints and a narrow birth canal. These setbacks are considered quite minor, however, since the intelligence of such life forms is often great enough to find ways to overcome such obstacles, such as whopping great drugs designed to dull the pains brought about from both of these problems.

Despite this convergent evolution, very few species are able to breed outside of their own. A Golgafrinchan and a Human would be able to breed, since the latter is descended from the former, but a Human and a Blagulon Kappan would not, despite looking from the outside identical (however, both the Golgafrinchans and the Humans are now considered extinct, so it can hardly be said to matter whether or not they could produce any viable offspring).

Many races that are advanced enough to know that their planet is an insignificant decimal of the overall population of the Galaxy see this knowledge as a reason not only to not practise monogamy, but to look down on those who do. With such a limited gene pool, it makes very little sense to choke the population by propagating a family unit that would produce five or six children with the near as makes no difference to identical DNA.

While there are many committed, loving, and happily married couples in the Galaxy, many of them will have a series of other partners throughout their lives, thus making sure that the offspring are genetically div erse.

After a virulent disease that had killed all but 15% of the total population across eight planets, the Betelgeusians, who had hitherto practised monogamy, had been forced to interbreed, mixing near as makes no difference to identical DNA. Gradually, the population did return to normal levels, but as genetic disorders became fixed within the general population, the Betelgeusian reproductive system became severely distorted, and a common birth defect arose, wherein the offspring would have two heads.

As it is, DNA donation has been made mandatory by the Betelgeusian government, since what with the Galaxy being as busy as it is these days, holding down nine relationships at once is just too much damn work.

Even so, the idea of a commitment ceremony is a popular one throughout the Galaxy. While it may seem odd to some less enlightened cultures, a person can and often does remain committed and loyal to more than one person at a time. Agreeing to simply lov e, honour, and cherish does not in and of itself stipulate the condition that a person cannot also love, honour, and cherish someone else as well. Armed with this notion, countless companies sprung up overnight, promising to plan, organise, and officiate a better wedding than everyone else in that galactic sector, and at a slightly cheaper price.

Making more money than even the most successful publishing companies, spaceship manufacturers, and advertisement jingle writers combined, the Galactic Wedding Industry is big enough to have afforded its own star system, and there are so many weddings, commitment ceremonies, and marriages every year that the single most popular activity for a hitchhiker is gate crashing them, since they often have an endless bar with bottomless drinks.

 

Arthur and Fenchurch sat in the back along with all the other gate crashers. At one point, someone had come along to pass out small bowls filled with a thin, brown liquid with the instructions not to drink it until the bride and groom drank theirs. Arthur very carefully sat the bowl down, watching it absently as it let off thin wisps of steam.

Somewhere in front of the crowd, Darling rambled rather uncertainly about several things which didn’t bear much relevance to the occasion, and seemed to have more to do with this one time when he and a friend of his got stuck in a skip behind a supermega mall.

“He doesn’t seem very good at this,” Fenchurch whispered to Arthur.

Arthur shrugged indifferently. “He’s a High Priest,” he said.

“Which is why I’d have expected him to know what he’s doing,” said Fenchurch.

“No. A High Priest,” said Arthur. “As in completely out of his skull. They’re quite common in a lot of religions in the Outer Eastern Rim.”

“Oh.” Fenchurch wasn’t quite able to put her finger on it, but something about this arrangement bothered her. “Well, I suppose it does len d a few ideas toward what we don’t want.”

“I get a say, don’t I?”

“Of course,” said Fenchurch. “I just don’t want one of them, I don’t think.”

Again, Arthur shrugged. “As long as they don’t marry you to a goat or something, I don’t much see the problem.”

One of the gate crashers nearby started giggling uncontrollably. When Arthur looked over to see what the fuss was all about, he noticed that the man’s bowl of hot, steamy drink had been spilled in the sand.

“You know,” said Arthur as he looked down at the bowl he and Fenchurch had been given. “I think you’re right. Maybe we should find someone else.”

“Mmm. Yes,” Fenchurch said, watching the man nearby as he collapsed in the sand, hyperventilating.

“And now,” said Darling over the rising pockets of laughter as more people drank early. “Those of you who have not already done so, please drink the ceremonial brew.”

Arthur and Fe nchurch exchanged a nervous glance.

“It might be considered rude not to,” she pointed out.

She picked up the bowl, and after a brief moment’s hesitation, handed it to him. “You first.”

Arthur took the bowl and hesitantly drank, careful not to burn himself, and was overcome by the almost stinging bitterness of the drink. It had been such a surprise to him that he nearly choked.

“Arthur, darling?” Fenchurch asked cautiously. “Are you all right?”

He looked up at her, startled. “It’s tea,” he said. “Darjeeling, I think. Or at least, something very much like it.”

Fenchurch carefully took the bowl from him and drank, trying not to cringe at the rather strong brew.

“Mmm. Could do with some honey,” she said. “But I think you’re right. Why are they all giggling over it like that?”

Arthur drank more. Now that he knew what to expect, he was able to enjoy the flavour.

“Probably,” he said, “ for the same reason Ford is able to drink three bottles of vodka before getting drunk. They’re not human.”

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of intoxicating substances:

The sale, possession, and distribution of any intoxicating substance is not monitored on a Galactic level, and with good reason. What with all the different sorts of life in the Galaxy, with unique metabolic rates, life spans, and tolerances, regulating intoxicating substances would limit the trade market to effectively zero. Take, for instance, the Zeta Tauians, who become completely incapacitated by dihydrogen monoxide (known to most of the Galaxy as water). Should a Zeta Tauian ingest anything containing even the slightest amount of water, they begin to hallucinate wildly, often causing them to do something that ends with their own death.

Furthermore, the restriction on a Galactic level of selling such substances bas ed on a person’s age would be a positively brain-searing nightmare. Even with Galactic Standard Time, simply picking an arbitrary number as the age a person would need to be to purchase a bottle of Janx Spirit would mean that some races would be able to do so in their infancy, while others would never be old enough, because the arbitrary number would far exceed the average life expectancy of their species.

As a result, the general attitude toward the matter is that if a person elects to purchase a substance that can potentially be intoxicating, they probably already know the effect it will have on them, and therefore know what they’re getting themselves into, and why should anyone else bother to care about what they do with their own free time, anyway.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #15

Zaphod and Ford sat on the bridge of the Heart of Gold, hunched over a deck of cards. They had to hunch over the cards to be able to read the pips, since emergency lighting didn’t really offer much in the way of lighting at all.

They were playing a game Ford had learned back when he had been living on Earth, when he had been stranded there for 15 local years. He’d learned this particular game many years ago, and so the details were rather hazy. He couldn’t remember if the person who lost the hand was meant to take off an article of clothing, or take a shot of whatever alcoholic beverage happened to be on hand.

Ford decided that this was easily reconciled, and declared that the loser had to do both. Roughly two hands in, Ford remembered that he rather liked this game, and that he had typically played to lose.

Unfortunately, Zaphod also decided that he rather liked this game, and had also decided to play to lose.

As it was, t he two of them sat hunched over their cards, Ford wearing a very old vest and his trousers, and Zaphod in his coat and underwear. The vest was also something Ford had picked up during his time on Earth, after he learned that humans tend to act rather startled and disgusted when they learn that a person has more than two nipples (in fact, Betelgeusians also have an extra liver, and a binary vascular system, which goes a long way toward explaining some of the typical behaviour displayed by most Betelgeusians).

“What have you got?” Ford slurred, swaying slightly.

Zaphod put his cards down on the floor, showing five out-of-sequence number cards, in four different suits. “A nothing.”

Ford frowned. He had a pair of twos, which meant he had won.

“You lose again,” he said.

Zaphod picked up the bottle of Janx Spirit next to him, and drank considerably more than a shot from it. As he took off his jacket, Ford started to shuffle the cards again .

“I think we might want to stop pretty soon,” he said, sending half of the pack skidding across the floor.

“Why’s that?” Zaphod asked. “Starting to get drunk?”

Ford shook his head, but the way he kept slightly rocking back and forth betrayed him. “No, I’m just almost out of Janx Spirit in my bottle.”

Even though he didn’t lose, Ford still drank the rest of what was in his bottle, on the grounds that it barely counted as a proper shot.

“I’ll get you another one,” said Zaphod. He shakily rose to his feet, and promptly fell over.

“You all right?” asked Ford, still sitting on the floor and trying to remember how to shuffle the cards.

“Fine,” said Zaphod. “Someone just moved the floor out from under me.”

Ford looked up to see who it might have been. “Wasn’t me. Hey. Whatever happened to Arthur and Trillian, anyway?”

“I thought you said something about a party?”

“Oh, ye ah!”

Ford also jumped to his feet, and nearly crashed headlong into the main console. “Zarking hell.”

He stood up, grabbing hold of the computer to stabilise himself. “Computer,” he said. “Eddie, or whatever you’re called. Hey, computer.”

When nothing happened, he punched a few buttons. When still nothing happened, he felt the odd pain of a memory floating somewhere in the back of his mind, just out of reach.

“Computer, hey. Take us to a party.”

Nothing.

“Wasn’t there something we were supposed to do?” asked Zaphod, who had now managed to make his way to the bar.

“Yeah, go to a party,” said Ford. “Come on, computer. Let’s go.”

“No, after that. Or before. Or something. I can’t remember.”

Zaphod gathered up two bottles of hypervodka and returned back to the spot on the floor where he and Ford had been playing.

“I think we were supposed to be rescuing someone,” said Ford di stantly. “Someone was stuck somewhere. Or some-when.”

“Was it Dent?” asked Zaphod. “If it was, then he can probably wait.”

Ford swayed slightly. “Computer?” he asked, this time unsure. “I think it was us. Yeah, we’re lost somewhere or some-when, and we had to rescue ourselves.”

“What about Dent?” asked Zaphod.

“He’s not here. And he’s not really the rescuing type, I don’t think.”

Ford shook his head and returned to the floor next to Zaphod. The unshuffled cards long forgotten by now, he reached for one of the bottles of hypervokda and opened it.

“So, how do you think we’re supposed to get out of where… whenever we are?” he asked.

Something about this situation felt vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t figure out what it was. There was a vague and distant memory of him and Arthur doing something very similar somewhere. Or some-when. He had a vague image of waving a towel at a spaceship, bu t he couldn’t tell if it was a memory, or just something that would look rather funny.

He shook his head. He could figure out what the towel waving was supposed to be about later. Right now, he had slightly more pressing matters at hand. That bottle of hypervodka, for instance.

No.

“Zaphod, I think we need to figure something out,” he said.

“You’re right,” agreed Zaphod. “Where’s the corkscrew?”

“No, not that,” said Ford. He found the corkscrew. “Here it is. I think we’re really in trouble, though. Maybe we should try to figure out, like… why.”

“These are the last two bottles of hypervodka,” Zaphod pointed out as he opened the second bottle. “They go bad if you don’t drink them. So, we’ll drink them, and then figure it out.”

This sounded like a solid plan to Ford, so he took one of the bottles.

“Hey, wanna play some cards?” asked Ford.

 

Arthur was startled to find hims elf woken up by a sharp pain in his side. He wasn’t sure why he should have a sharp pain in his side, and tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but the pain returned, even sharper than before.

He finally looked over to see what was causing the pain, and saw a pair of boots. He followed the boots upward to a pair of legs, which led upward further still to a pair of hands placed very angrily on someone’s hips.

The hands, hips, legs, and boots all belonged to a ship’s captain. Arthur knew this, because he had been insulted by this captain once already. As soon as he realised this, he quickly sprung up into a more vertical position and woke Fenchurch.

“I said you had to be gone at the next stop,” the captain reminded Arthur.

“Yes,” agreed Arthur. “And we’re going. Right now. Thank you very much for the lift.”

Arthur grabbed up his satchel and tried to get up as to help Fenchurch to her feet, but only wound up needing help, him self. He and Fenchurch quickly left the ship, Arthur making sure to check behind him every few paces to make sure that he wasn’t going to be shot in the back.

“I’m getting too old for this,” he declared.

Fenchurch laughed slightly.

“What makes you say that?” she asked.

“Because I’m getting too old for this.”

It seemed like sound logic to him, so he was going with it. Arthur had no idea how old he actually was, but if he had to make a guess, ‘too old for hitchhiking and saving planets and universes’ felt like a fairly accurate guess to him.

“Where are we?” Fenchurch asked once they stepped off the ship.

The spaceport, if it could be called that, was entirely outdoors. Various ships had landed on a vast stretch of sand, which eventually led to what seemed big enough to be an ocean. In the other direction, large, almost frightening plants grew tall against a row of buildings, where various people seemed to be q ueuing for something.

“I’m not sure,” said Arthur. “Let’s try over there. See what’s going on.”

They joined the queue, and were immediately greeted by a woman handing out flowers. “Are you with the bride or the groom?” she asked.

“Er.” Arthur looked at Fenchurch, and then shrugged. “We’re sort of gatecrashers, I guess.”

The woman smiled at him and put one of the flowers behind his ear. “You’ll be in the back. Seating is reserved for invited guests.”

“Oh. All right.”

He and Fenchurch exchanged confused shrugs.

“Well, at least we’re getting in,” Fenchurch pointed out.

“Yes,” said Arthur. “But are we really sure that this is the sort of place we want to be ‘getting in’ to?”

“You worry too much,” Fenchurch told him. “It’s just a wedding. How bad can it be?”

“How hot is the sun?” asked Arthur.

“It’s not going to be that bad,” insisted Fench urch. “Think of it as research. Maybe this way, we can sort of get an idea for how we want to do it.”

That did manage to put a smile on Arthur’s otherwise very nervous face.

“All right,” he agreed. “But if things start to get weird, we’re leaving.”

Fenchurch frowned. “Define weird?”

“It’s a sliding definition,” Arthur admitted. “Some days, I can handle more weird than others. I think today might be a medium-tolerance day, but I’ve only just woken up. This assessment may change as the day continues.”

Fenchurch laughed and kissed him. “You,” she said to him, “need to learn not to panic.”

“Who’s panicking?” asked Arthur.

At that moment, he felt himself start to panic. This wasn’t for any particularly panic-worthy reason, but rather because someone had quite loudly and suddenly called his name, and that someone wasn’t Fenchurch.

Making sure Fenchurch wasn’t about to remind him aga in not to panic, Arthur turned to see who was calling his name, and was rather startled to see Random standing nearby, staring at him in complete bewilderment.

“Random?” Arthur asked, sharing her feelings almost exactly. “What are you doing here?”

“It is you,” Random said, and Arthur couldn’t help but notice a slight hint of disappointment on the edge of her voice.

“Yes,” confirmed Arthur. “And it would appear to be you as well.”

He did some very brief soul-searching, and was rather disappointed with himself for not being entirely sure how he felt about this little reunion he was having.

“What are you doing here?” he repeated.

“I’m going to the Galactic Centre, and the guy I got a ride with had to stop here for something,” said Random.

“What, you’re hitching?” Arthur asked incredulously.

“I am an adult, Arthur,” Random reminded him.

“I suppose ‘Dad’ is too much to ask for, i s it?” Arthur asked. Though, he supposed he shouldn’t have been too surprised about that one.

“A dad is someone who’s there for you,” Random pointed out.

“Well, it was hardly my fault, was it?” Arthur said, finding this whole situation terribly annoying.

“You two. Let’s not be like this.”

Fenchurch put a comforting hand on Arthur’s shoulder, giving him a very sympathetic look.

“Who are you?” Random asked abruptly. “You were there in that stupid club.”

“This is Fenchurch,” said Arthur, noticing the confused look on Fenchurch’s face. “I told you about her.”

“Did you?” asked Random. “Oh, was she the one who left you?”

“No.”

Nothing about this conversation was going the way Arthur would have liked, and he had half a mind to go stick his head in the sand and pretend that the conversation didn’t exist at all. When he saw a man in pale orange robes approach, he relaxed slight ly, hoping he might get a reprieve from all this.

“Friends of yours, Randi?” he asked.

Arthur took a moment to realise who the man in the pale orange robes was addressing, and when he did, it still took several more moments to fully believe it.

“Randi?” he asks. “When did that happen?”

“Today,” Random declared smugly. “That’s what I want you to call me, for now on.”

Arthur thought about this. “Yeah, all right,” he said with a little shrug. “I rather like it, actually.”

Random’s face fell into something vaguely resembling a scowl.

“You do?” she asked, having been hoping that she could have used this to annoy Arthur. The fact that he liked it had not been worked into her plans.

“Yes,” said Arthur. “It’s much better than what your mother decided to name you, I think.”

Darling, his eyes now rather blood-shot and struggling to stay fully open, took a moment to catch up.

“I thought your parents were at the Galactic Centre,” he said.

“Apparently they stopped off on the way,” said Random. “What a coincidence.”

“Galactic Centre?” Arthur asked. Before he could enquire further, though, Random kicked him.

“What brought you out here, Random?” asked Fenchurch, trying to bring the conversation to more civil tones. “Sorry. Randi.”

“We were being chased,” answered Random. “We had to go somewhere.”

Startled at this, Arthur turned his attention to Darling. “You were being chased?” he asked. “Sorry, who are you?”

Darling smiled widely. “Darling,” he answered. “High Priest here on Anhandle. And I wasn’t being chased; I only gave your daughter and her friend a lift. They said they were trying to meet up with you.”

This was a lot of information for Arthur to take in at once, so he picked out one bit at random and chose to focus on that.

“Her friend?” he asked. ? ?Who?”

“His name’s Mown,” said Random simply.

“His?” asked Arthur. “You’re travelling with a him? Do I get to meet this him?”

Arthur was so busy being upset at this information that he didn’t notice Darling slipping away through the queue.

“Yes,” said Random.

She felt like she was back on top of the conversation which was right where she wanted to be.

“He went off to find something to eat,” Random said. “I’ll go get him.”

As she trotted off happily, Arthur turned to Fenchurch.

“She’s travelling with a man,” he said incredulously. “With several, apparently.”

Fenchurch smiled wanly at him.

“Arthur, she is an adult,” she reminded him.

“I only just found out a few months ago that I even had a daughter,” Arthur pointed out. “And now I find out that she’s running around spaceports, picking up strange men.”

Fenchurch considered this. “Isn’t that how I met you?” she asked. “You picked me up at a service station, as I seem to recall.”

“Yes, well. That’s different,” Arthur declared.

“How is it different?”

“Neither of us is my daughter,” said Arthur.

Fenchurch wrapped her arms round the back of Arthur’s neck. “You’re cute when you’re upset,” she said quietly.

Arthur wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so he simply decided it best not to.

He soon became a great deal more upset when he turned around to see Random returning to them with a Vogon trailing close behind.

“Eurgh! Random, that’s a Vogon. Get away from it!” Arthur shouted, reeling back slightly.

Random looked very cross at Arthur.

“He is a person,” she said angrily. “And I think I’m going to make him my boyfriend.”

“I forbid it,” Arthur said automatically. “No daughter of mine is going to do anything with a Vogon, least o f which, date one.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be your daughter!” Random snapped, before running to the opposite side of the crowd, Mown following close behind.

“Arthur,” Fenchurch scolded. “That was a bit…” she had to think for the right word. “Would racist be the correct term, in this case?”

Arthur looked at her. “Yes, and no it wasn’t,” he said. “Vogons are the ones who blew up Earth, you know. And then, immediately after that, threw Ford and me out into open space.”

“They can’t all be bad,” reasoned Fenchurch.

“All the ones I’ve met have been,” Arthur said. “And now my daughter’s dating one.”

“You should at least give him a chance,” suggested Fenchurch. She sat down on the ground before helping Arthur down with her. “She’s probably only dating him because she knows it will annoy you. It’s rather common behaviour for a girl her age.”

Arthur sighed and looked over the crowd.

“Oh, yeah?” he asked. “Did you ever do anything like that, then?”

“A few times,” said Fenchurch distantly. She started drawing random shapes in the sand. “You should have seen the look on Russell’s face when I told him I was dating you.”

“Thanks,” said Arthur blandly.

Fenchurch smiled at him. “You’re welcome.”

« || »

Perfectly Safe #14

As everyone knows from first-year recreational physics, time is relative. In this fast-paced and modern galaxy, the relativity of time quickly became a problem, particularly in the area of commuting from one star system to another. A father of three from Degatalon in the Diphda system could get up in the morning and go to work ten light years away in the Saalaandaar system, and then return that evening to find his children all graduated from university with children of their own, and his wife remarried with several more children that hadn’t been present that morning.

This had to be remedied, not just because parents were beginning to outlive their children by centuries, but because of the way in which bankers and executives had begun exploiting super-luminous travel for tax evasion purposes. A person could spend a day by their own perspective travelling from one star system to the other, while back on their home planet, decades passed, allowing their net worth to multiply exponentially without ever having spent more money than the cost of their flight and a few drinks on the way. By the time they would have returned from their weekend trip, enough time would have passed locally that they had been declared dead, and the contents of their bank accounts moved to the name of a beneficiary, who often and conveniently had the same name and retina signature as the person who had been declared dead.

As a result of all of this tax dodging and interstellar commuting, one Galactic census revealed that the average lifespan in the Galaxy was infinitely prolonged, and that the average family consisted of 10 parents and 200 children (there are some races where this sort of arrangement is not only common, but necessary for reproduction. Take, for example, Betelgeusians, which in order to produce one child, five mothers and five fathers are required. A Betelgeusian family reunion is, as a result, widely regarded as the single most confusing event in the Galaxy).

Hyperspace drives were created as an alternative to super-luminous drives, and had the benefit of being more cost-effective for the person who owned the craft it was fitted to. Rather than needing a highly volatile and combustive fuel source to push the ship through space at a speed greater than 186,000 miles/second, they utilised the already existing technology of the Finite Probability Drive (not to be confused with the Finite Improbability Drive, Infinite Probability Drive, or the Infinite Improbability Drive). The Finite Probability Drive doesn’t produce any sort of thrust, but instead allows the ship to make short jumps in backward time at a rate semi-proportional to the distance forward in space it travels.

Because of the distortion of light and time due to gravitational forces from stars, black holes, supernovae, et cetera, the jumps in time and the distance travelled are never constant. Whereas super-luminous travel of one light year can get you between two locations in mere minutes, but jump the traveller ahead in time one year, hyperspace travel will get you there at a slower rate than super-luminous travel by your own perspective (but still fairly quickly, as interstellar distances can be covered over the course of hours), but at the advantage of only gaining or losing a few hours (similar to the terrestrial effect known as jetlag). The exact amount of time a traveller will gain or lose is incalculable, and will increase or decrease depending on several factors, including how long one spends in hyperspace and the distance covered, the routes taken, and the general upkeep of the hyperspace drive itself. A person travelling from one end of the Galaxy to the other could still gain or lose several years if the ship is an older one, or if the pilot took a route too close to a black hole.

The mechanics of the drive present a terribly interesting effect for an observer. To a person t ravelling in hyperspace, nothing changes, save the position of the stars outside the windows a few times every second (due to the vertigo this sometimes causes, most windows on starliners fitted with hyperspace drives are permanently blacked out, and don’t serve any purpose at all beyond aesthetics). But from the perspective of someone outside the ship, the visual effect is that of a single and brilliant flash of light in the sky for the fraction of a second the ship is static – ie, not making a jump in time and space – before blipping off again to the next jump point. Some primitive cultures will often attribute these flashes in the night sky to swamp gas, lightning, and even experimental aircraft tests, but no one expects these backwater regions to know anything about the basic principles of science in the first place.

It is because of this constant jumping in both time and space that beings whose life cycles begin in plural zones are not advised to travel in h yperspace. When the ship makes a jump, it emerges at several points on the probability axis at once. A person whose life cycle began in something as wholly unstable as a plural zone isn’t always able to stay on the same line of probability, and will occasionally get shifted to the next closest line during a jump in hyperspace (see Mostly Harmless, chapter 7).

This is how Trillian was able to not only cover wars across the galaxy for the Sub-Etha, but how she came to be nearing Jaglan Beta, 546 light years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius without having to worry that the local economy might have collapsed, or the entire planet destroyed by a supernova or terrestrial disaster before she arrived. While nowhere near as elegant as the new Infinite Improbability drives, hyperspace was still a very efficient way of getting from one star system to another at many times that the speed of light. The full trip to the Outer Easter Rim took only four days, GST, as opposed to many thousands of years, and was made more interesting by in-flight holovids, a wide range of meals, and a very large selection of alcoholic beverages.

Trillian was working on her sixth Jynyntonyx when the ship’s intercom buzzed to life.

“We apologise for the inconvenience, but we’re having to make an unscheduled stop at Kakrafoon, just 122 light years from Jaglan Beta. There’s no cause for alarm; just a regular emergency unscheduled stop. Thank you.”

Trillian, who had been just this side of conscious for the last half of the flight, snapped herself back to attention. She put her drink down, and flagged the attention of a passing stewardess.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Is there something wrong, that we’re making an unscheduled stop?”

The stewardess shook her head.

“Oh, no. Nothing wrong,” she insisted. “Everything’s just fine. Keep your seat.”

She started to walk away again, but Trillian stopped her. “If everything’s fine, why are we making an emergency stop?” she asked. “Emergency, by its definition, implying that something isn’t right.”

“It’s nothing to be alarmed over,” the stewardess assured. “Keep your seat.”

“I have been keeping my seat, and I’m not alarmed,” Trillian said coolly. “I would just like to know why we’re stopping at Kakrafoon.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” clipped the stewardess, rushing off to the flight deck before Trillian had a chance to ask another question.

Trillian had been on enough flights – interstellar and international – to know that something had gone wrong somewhere along the way. If it had been an issue with the Jaglan Beta spaceport, they would have been told. It would have just been a minor inconvenience that someone else had to deal with. Somebody Else’s Problem.

No, it was something wrong with the ship. It couldn’t have been anything that woul d be causing them to crash, because that wasn’t the sort of thing anyone could keep secret. In fact, bad news of such magnitude will often reach the passengers roughly thirty seconds before any of the crew know what’s about to happen.

Trillian looked around the cabin at the passengers, all pleasantly drunk and watching one of the on-flight holovids. No, they weren’t crashing.

It was something serious, though. Serious enough to be stopping 122 light years early. But if whatever it was hadn’t been bothering anyone else, Trillian had decided that she wouldn’t let it bother her, either. Clearly, it was Somebody Else’s Problem, and she wasn’t in the sort of mood to make it her problem.

When the stewardess came back round, Trillian gave her her empty drink glass and asked for a refill.

 

Random was furious. Who has an RW6 and no good credit cards? The Dine-o-Charge card wouldn’t validate, the MegaCredit card had been long since maxed out, and no one had even heard of this American Express card.

“We could always hitch,” Mown suggested. “I’ve always rather wanted to try that, actually. It seems awfully fun.”

“It sounds boring,” said Random. “Why would you even want to try?”

“It’s supposed to be rather exciting,” Mown said. “Something about not knowing what might happen next, and being surprised about where you end up. I even had a copy of the Guide once, but they said it was contraband, and took it.”

“Why would they—never mind,” said Random. “We can’t stay here forever. Those disgusting space slugs are bound to find us sooner or later. Erm, no offense.”

“What do you reckon we ought to do then?”

Mown looked out over the crowd of travellers, marvelling at being at Barnard’s Star. Not just docked at it, but actually in the main terminal, amongst travellers from all over the Galaxy. Random was doing the same thing, and sud denly got to her feet.

“I have an idea,” she declared. “Wait here.”

She pulled her hair into pigtails, the way one of the minders at the day care used to do, and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands until it started to hurt. Then, with her eyes sufficiently wet, she approached the nearest single traveller who passed by.

“Excuse me,” she said to a man dressed in pale orange robes. “Can you help me?”

The man stopped, and seemed to take a moment to figure out who was talking to him.

“Yes, I’m sorry,” he said. “What’s the matter?”

Random sniffed hard and looked round the spaceport. “I can’t find my parents,” she said. “We were supposed to be going to the Galactic Centre, but I think… I think…”

She trailed off, starting to cry.

“Hey, it’s all right,” the man said. “I’m going in that direction. I can get you as far as Anhandle, in Pavo.

Random wiped her eyes. “All rig ht,” she said. “Let me go get my friend.”

The man smiled. “I’ll be right here. Hurry, though. I’m on a tight schedule.”

Random nodded, and trotted back over to the table where Mown sat. “I got us a ride,” she said. “Hurry.”

Mown got up to follow her. “I thought you said you didn’t want to hitch?”

“I’m not hitching,” Random argued. “He offered to give us a lift to somewhere in Pavo. I’ve never heard of it, so hopefully it’s not another primitive world like where my mother ditched me last time.”

They caught back up with the man in the pale orange robes, and the instant he saw them, his face fell.

“This is your friend?” he asked cautiously. “What is this? It’s not some crackdown on picking up hitchhikers, is it? That’s supposed to be legal.”

“We just need a lift,” said Random. “He’s my friend.”

The man regarded Mown with a vaguely terrified air, but ultimately nodded. “All right,” he said. “It might get a little cosy. I’m flying a Class-µ Star Runner.”

“I saw one of those in baby blue, once,” said Mown, excitedly. “Talk about a mover.”

The man’s expression morphed to one of mild confusion.

“He’s always like this,” Random said, not entirely sure if it was actually true. “You’ll get used to it.”

She wasn’t sure if the second half was actually true, either, though it seemed like the right sort of thing to say at the moment. And it seemed to do the trick, since the man slowly nodded.

“Right, this way. Private docks are down here,” he said.

He led them through the crowds, cutting a straight path to a small corridor off to one side. In this section of the spaceport, there were far fewer confused and lost-looking travellers. This was where the privately-owned space ships would dock and refuel, while the captains and passengers (usually of the rich business sort, who coul dn’t be bothered to fly themselves somewhere, and were too rich and important to take a starliner) would drink in the many cafes and bars of Barnard’s Star.

“By the way,” he said. “I didn’t catch your name. I’m Darling.”

“Uhm. I’m Random. My friend is called Mown.”

Darling looked at him. “I thought the Vogons all worked for the council,” he said, still not quite sure if his passengers could be trusted.

“Oh, well. I used to,” explained Mown. “That is, until I deserted.”

Darling found this especially hard to believe. “You deserted?” he asked. “From the council?”

Mown shrugged, which was an awkward and uncomfortable move for a Vogon. “Yeah,” he said. “So, even if I wanted to go back, which I don’t, I’d probably be shot. That’s why I’m with her, now.”

While it wasn’t the strangest thing Darling had heard, it did rank pretty high on the list, just next to a race of people inventi ng a new religion for the sole purpose of waging a religious war.

“All right,” he said slowly. He felt it probably best not to press the issue.

He led them down a narrow corridor to his dock. He showed a small panel next to the airlock a small plastic card.

“Thank you for choosing Barnard’s Star, Mister Darling, sir!” the airlock chirped at him as it opened.

The airlock led to the small two-seater, which was a terrible misrepresentation on the manufacturer’s part. The Class-µ had been advertised and marketed as a two-seater, because it had two seats at the console. In practise, it could hold a medium-sized dinner party, if people didn’t mind getting close to one another, and standing for the full journey.

Behind the seats, Darling had several large trunks, and the inside had been decorated with many strings of beads and silk flowers, faded tie-dye wall-hangings, and dozens of small jade carved figures. Random reached out to pick u p a carved arachnid elephant.

“Please, don’t touch that,” Darling said suddenly. “It’s ceremonial.”

“Sorry.” Random pulled her hand away. “Ceremonial for what?”

“Christening ceremony,” Darling explained as he fed a series of coordinates into the ship’s computer.

“Oh, are you a priest?” Random asked. Looking around the cabin again, she realised she probably should have sussed it sooner.

“Yes, on Anhandle,” he said.

“I’ve never heard of that,” said Random. “Where is it?”

Darling fed a final set of instructions to the autopilot, and turned his seat to face his guests. “In the Peacock system, in Pavo, about 180 light years away. There’s a spaceport there, so you should be able to get a bit closer to the Galactic Centre from there.”

“Can’t you take us?” asked Random hopefully.

“I’m officiating today,” Darling said. “I could probably make a trip out that way if you don’t mind waiting, though.”

Random and Mown looked at one another, as though telepathically trying to decide what to do.

“I think we can wait,” said Mown.

“Yeah, all right,” agreed Random.

“I can get about twenty parsecs an hour with this thing, so it should only take us a little under three hours to get there.”

“That’s a lot faster than the Business End ever did it,” Mown said. “We never even went to a full light year in an hour.”

“That’s Vogons for you,” said Darling. “Er. No offence.”

Once the Star Runner cleared Barnard’s Star, the windows slowly blacked themselves out, and replaced the Galaxy around them with a graphical representation. The reasoning behind this being that if the windows weren’t blacked out, the Galaxy constantly winking in and out of existence would often give people a terrible feeling of vertigo, but with the windows blacked out, the trip often became quite bori ng.

As the ship entered hyperspace, the galactic representation moved slowly across the windows in a way that was universally considered aesthetically pleasing. The stars outside the ship tracked the way they would naturally, but without all the disorientating winking in and out of existence.

“I’ve never been on a ship that’s done anything like this,” Random mused.

This was a considerable thing for her to say, since most of her life up through this point had been spent on spaceships.

“Not even the RW6 did this.”

“I’ve heard the RW7 does,” said Darling. “It’s a brand new feature, just recently developed by Zebec-Menders.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Mown, appreciatively. “If you want to know what every spaceship will have standard in ten years, look at whatever Zebec-Menders is up to right now.”

This started a very long and involved conversation, which eventually led to a rather long and involved, although not par ticularly heated argument about how you just couldn’t get a decent ship unless you bought from Galgorquin these days, and how anything with a multi-cluster quark drive was only good for going in straight lines, unless you wanted to crash into a moon, which it did quite well.

Despite disagreeing with nearly everything Mown and Darling said (who, as it happened, disagreed with everything the other had to say as well), it was the first time Random had ever actually felt like she fit somewhere. She was having what she believed to pass for a normal conversation with people who didn’t insist on treating her like she was a child.

She wasn’t quite sure what it was, but something about the whole thing just felt right.

After a considerable amount of time, Darling glanced at the control panel and stood up. “Excuse me,” he said. “I should probably start to get ready.”

He ducked behind one of the wall hangings, which Random hadn’t bef ore noticed as being used to block off the rear third of the cabin.

“I guess that means we’re almost there,” ventured Mown.

Random got up to look over the control panel. “I guess so.”

« || »

Perfectly Safe #13

Ford stood behind the ship’s bar, piling as many bottles of Janx Spirit, Adwellian vodka, and assorted liqueurs as he could fit into a large cardboard box. He cursed himself for giving his bag to Arthur, and felt a slight ping of sorrow at the very strong likelihood that he’d never see Arthur again, and therefore would never have the chance to get his bag back.

“All right, computer,” Zaphod declared as he stepped onto the bridge, having changed into something far less suitable. “Get us to Eroticon VI, and make it quick.”

“Sure thing, fella!” Eddie chirped.

Nothing happened.

Ford and Zaphod both looked at one another for a few moments, and then at themselves.

“Are we there yet?” Ford asked cautiously. He hadn’t been turned into a sofa or anything, so he wasn’t sure what had just happened.

“Sorry about that, guys,” Eddie said. “Let’s try that again!”

Again, nothing.

“Computer, I am not in the mood for this,” Zaphod said. “Get us to Eroticon VI, or I’ll dismantle you and part you out.”

“Working on it, fella,” Eddie said frantically. “I’m not quite sure what seems to be going on, here. Let me check my systems.”

“You’d better figure out what’s wrong, and you’d better do it now,” said Zaphod. “This is an expensive ship, and it’s too new to be broken.”

“I thought you stole this ship?” Ford asked.

“That’s not the point. Stolen or not, it’s still expensive.” Zaphod turned back to the computer. “Do it. Now.”

“Here goes nothing,” Eddie said, wavering slightly.

FWUNK.

The starship Heart of Gold went completely dark.

“Well. That’s new,” Ford said as he cautiously got to his feet.

After a few moments, a light hum filled the bridge, and the emergency lights flickered into life, bathing the bridge in a burnt orange glow.

“Where a re we?” Ford asked. He moved to a porthole and peered out it, his brow furrowed intensely. He couldn’t see anything. Not a single star or comet anywhere.

“We are nowhere,” Eddie informed him.

Zaphod moved to a porthole to see for himself. “How can we be nowhere?” he asked.

“We are nowhere,” Eddie repeated.

“All right, then. When are we?” Ford tried.

There was a slight pause. “We are no-when.”

“No-when?” Ford and Zaphod looked nervously at one another.

“Are you telling me that we just fell out of spacetime?” Zaphod demanded.

“Hmm. Let me check on that for you.” Eddie went silent for a few moments. “My sensors all indicate that we are nowhere.”

“I guess this means no party, then,” Ford said, sitting down on the floor. He pulled out a bottle of Janx Spirit from the box and took a long drink from it.

“This is supposed to be the most sophisticated ship in the Galaxy,? ? Zaphod argued. “That’s why I stole it. How does it just fall out of spacetime?”

“At a probability factor of—”

“Can it, metalmind,” Zaphod grumbled. “Tell me this. What systems do we have online?”

Another long pause from Eddie. “Currently, back-up power reserves are operating at 14%. At this setting, life support systems will remain operational for twenty-six days.”

“So, we’ve got back-up power and life support? Terrific. What about navigation?” Zaphod had a feeling he already knew the answer, but he wanted to double check, anyway. Just to be sure.

“Offline.”

“The Improbability Drive?”

“Offline.”

“Communications?”

“Offline.”

“The automatic drinks dispenser?” Zaphod tried.

“Offline.”

“What, then,” asked Zaphod, “does the back-up power actually run?”

“Back-up power runs the life support systems and me,” Eddie chirped happily. “It can run as low as 2%, pushing life support operational time to forty-four days, but anything lower than 14% would disable my systems.”

“Do it,” Zaphod said simply.

“Sure thing, fella!”

The flashing lights on Eddie’s console all dimmed and slowly shut off, leaving the only sound on the bridge being the faint hum from the back-up power reserves.

“And in forty-four days, provided we don’t suffocate first, we’ll freeze to death,” Ford said glumly. “So, what’s the plan to keep that from happening?”

He realised that spending so much time in the company of humans was beginning to make him talk like one and do pointless things like stating the obvious. This, he decided would need to be remedied by another drink of Janx Spirit.

“Uhm.” Zaphod looked around the bridge. “Plan? I thought you had it.”

“I’m never the guy with the plan,” Ford said. “I’ve built my entire life out of not having the plan. I like to rely on the plans of others, with occasional improvisation to fill the gaps between plans.”

“Why do you think I became President?” Zaphod asked. “So someone else could have the plan.”

“I’ve heard about the Void before,” Ford said. “It’s always just been a story hitchhikers tell one another at bars. I never thought people actually fell into it.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the Void:

It doesn’t exist. It simply can’t exist. In an infinite universe with an infinite number of planets and stars, there can logically only be a finite amount of empty space. If there is a finite amount of empty space, then isn’t enough room for something as vast and endless as the Void, which is infinite.

But the Theory of Pencil Migration states that there must be a Void. The Theory of Pencil Migration goes as such: each person in their lifetime will mislay approximately 200 pencils, and all under the same circumstances. A person may be working on something, and set down their pencil to reach for something else; a drink, an eraser, the telephone. By the time they finish with whatever they’ve reached for, they will set back to work, only to discover that their pencil is not where they set it down. Frantic searching of the work area, behind one’s ears, and in one’s pockets always yields precisely the same result: nothing. This forces the person to fetch another pencil, and the first one is immediately forgotten about.

These pencils are never found, and unlike biros, no home world has ever been discovered for pencils. Clearly, they must go somewhere, and if they go somewhere and yet nowhere at the same time, the only place left to go is the Void.

Many scientists have made attempts to send themselves to the Void in hopes of locating all of the lost pencils of the Universe, but none of them has ever been seen or heard from again. Whether this is because they did manage to make it to the Void, or if they died in the process is anyone’s guess.
 
“There is no Void,” Zaphod argued. “That’s just a myth.”

“Like Magrathea?” Ford asked.

“Do you want to be thrown off this ship?”

Ford got to his feet. “Try it,” he taunted, and wished he hadn’t about two seconds later when Zaphod lunged at him.

“No, don’t try it!” Ford pleaded. “It’s that thing. The new Guide. That’s what did this.”

He had been backed up against the wall, holding his towel out in front of him, ready to throttle Zaphod with it.

“What does that thing have to do with anything?” Zaphod asked.

“I told you. It’s a reverse temporal engineer. It makes things happen by influencing everything around it. I don’t know who it’s working for, or why, but someone wants us out of the picture. For good.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Zaphod asked, still ready to throw Ford out of the airlock, if only for something to do.

“We find a way to get back to the Galaxy,” Ford declared simply.

“And how do we do that?”

Ford shrugged. “That was my half of the plan,” he said. “You figure out the rest.”

« || »

Perfectly Safe #12

Arthur leaned against the wall, resting his feet up on his satchel. He hadn’t realised how badly he’d been hurting until he sat down after winding up in the cargo bay of an old Firefly-Class cargo ship. The cargo bay was stacked fairly tightly with crates, some of which Arthur had been quite certain were moving slightly.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just buy a ticket somewhere?” Fenchurch asked as she got down onto the floor next to him.

“I’m fine,” Arthur assured. “Just need a bit of a rest.”

“So you keep saying.”

Arthur put his arms around Fenchurch’s shoulders, pulling her close to him. “I’ve had a very rough couple of years,” he said. “I’ve broken bones I didn’t even know I had. I just need to learn to slow down a bit.”

This struck Arthur as a terribly odd thing to say, especially since he didn’t particularly enjoy the sort of lifestyle that had him running all over the Uni verse. On the whole, he rather preferred to live quietly, out of the way of the sorts of people who preferred to spend their days being chased by the giant screechbeasts in the Tarantula Nebula, or saving the universe from battalions of genocidal robots. Arthur suspected that he should have probably amended his statement to how he needed to learn to avoid people like Ford Prefect, but since Ford Prefect hadn’t been around to defend himself, Arthur kept that thought locked away for another time and place.

“Do you know where we’re going?” Fenchurch asked after a few moments.

“Haven’t a clue,” Arthur said. “I suppose that’s sort of meant to be the fun in it. Board a ship, and hope it takes you somewhere interesting.”

“And that’s how you and Ford used to travel?” Something about this didn’t seem much like something Arthur would enjoy.

“Well, no,” he admitted. “With Ford, he just seemed to prefer to steal them, or get the pilot drunk enough that they’d take us wherever we wanted to go.”

This seemed even less like something Arthur would enjoy. Fenchurch frowned.

“Steal them?” she asked. “I don’t seem to remember him stealing the one we left Earth in that day.”

“No,” Arthur agreed. “If anything, I’d say he hijacked that one. Probably crashed it soon after he let us off, too. He’s quite terrible at keeping them going for very long – even if he’s not the one flying it. Especially if he’s not the one flying it.”

Fenchurch considered this. “You don’t think very highly of him, do you?” she asked finally.

“I think he’s dangerous, and should be avoided,” Arthur admitted. “But he is one of the only friends I’ve got. Certainly the oldest one. That must count for something.”

“Tell me about him.”

It was such a direct request that Arthur’s brain did a summersault. Since the rest of him wasn’t expecting his brain to pull off such a sudden and spectacular acrobatic feat, it took him a moment to recover.

“Oh, er. What do you want to know?” he asked dumbly.

Fenchurch shrugged, idly picking bits of fluff from his dressing gown. “Anything,” she said. “I’ve got even less friends than you do, remember. I feel like I should get to know some of yours.”

Arthur told her about how he came to know Ford, having met him when he nearly ran him over early one morning on his way home from the radio station. He hadn’t been paying a whole lot of attention, since it was on a particular empty stretch of the A435 that the oil pressure of his Golf had dropped, and the temperature spiked dramatically. He had been so busy frustratedly tapping the dials that he almost didn’t see the man lying in the middle of the single-carriageway.

He did see the man at the last second, and swerved straight into a hedgerow to avoid him. When he managed to climb out to see if the man was all right, he was baffled to find that not only was the man not injured, but was perfectly conscious. When Arthur asked him what he was doing, the man rather annoyingly said that he was looking at the stars.

“There’s a field just there,” Arthur pointed out.

“There aren’t any cows in it,” the man said simply.

Arthur looked at the field, and was annoyed to find that there weren’t any cows in it, which made it a very difficult point to argue.

“Well,” Arthur said, trying to gather his thoughts quickly. “That makes it rather ideal for looking at stars, doesn’t it?”

“Star,” the man repeated. “That one, just there.”

He pointed up at the constellation Orion, which was still faintly visible in the predawn light.

“That sort of red blinky one there; that’s Betelgeuse. You can actually see it from this far off. It’s amazing. Seven hundred and twenty light years away, and there it is.”

Arthur looked up at the red blinky star in Orion for a moment before turning his attention back to the strange man. “Do you… want a lift somewhere?” he asked. He wasn’t sure why he asked it, other than he wasn’t sure what else to say at that moment.

The man finally got to his feet. “Let’s go to a pub,” he declared.

“A pub?” Arthur was already regretting his offer.

“Yes. A pub.” The man looked around, slightly startled. “That’s what you do here, isn’t it? You go to pubs?”

“I suppose?” Arthur said. “Though, there aren’t many open at half five around here. Maybe some are in London.”

“Good.” The man walked over to Arthur’s car. “Let’s go to London, then.”

“Er.” Arthur followed after the man. “That’s over two hours away.”

“Then that’s plenty of time to get to know one another,” the strange man declared.

He did something to Arthur’s car that made him able to open the previously locked passenger door, and threw his bag into the back seat. Arthur watched him, confused and nervous, and wondered what to do. He’d just passed a small village not to far back, and wondered about just trying to make his way back that way by foot, but the strange man had moved over to the driver’s side of the car.

“Please, don’t,” Arthur said, trying to shoo him away. “Just… help me get out of this, and I’ll drive you to London,” he said grudgingly.

“Great!” The strange man offered his hand over the bonnet of Arthur’s car. “I’m Ford, by the way.”

Arthur shook the man’s hand nervously. “Dent. Arthur Dent.”

Ford grinned widely, and Arthur found it rather disconcerting. “Great to meet you, Dentarthurdent.”

For a moment, Arthur considered correcting him, but he didn’t see the point. With Ford’s help, he managed to back the Golf out of the hedgerow and after a rather poorly-executed t hree-point-turn, he set off in the direction of London, where the only thing he learned about this Ford person was that he should have been sectioned on the spot.

Arthur had very quickly learned that this was normal behaviour for Ford Prefect, the man who hardly ever blinked and smiled as though he’d learned the movements from a cartoon. On the way back out from London some eight hours later, Arthur took Ford to Guildford, where he was relieved to finally be away from the strange man.

What he hadn’t expected was for him to show up, a week later, at Arthur’s doorstep back out in Cottington. When Arthur asked how Ford had managed to find him, he was rather horrified to learn that at some point, Ford had memorised his registration plate, and after getting rather friendly with someone at the DVLA, had used it to locate Arthur’s address.

For nearly six years, this sort of behaviour defined Arthur’s relationship with Ford. Arthur had always just assumed that, being an out-of-work actor, Ford was obligated to be strange in an almost terrifying, if friendly way. Never once had it occurred to him to even ask about the significance of lying in the middle of the road to look at a single star. It wasn’t until the two of them found themselves in the belly of a Vogon spaceship that some of Ford’s odd behaviour started to make sense. Of course, it didn’t take long after that for Arthur to learn that the rest of the universe found Ford just as baffling, so he didn’t feel so bad about the whole thing after that.

Ford was strange, and the universe was in complete agreement on this point. And that was good enough for Arthur.
 

 

Arthur told Fenchurch this story, and several others that all rang of the same sentiment, and followed the same sort of narrative structure of Ford doing something unexpected and baffling, and Arthur having no choice but to go along with it. But not all of these stories involved pubs or fields, and a few of them didn’t even take place on Earth.

He explained furthermore that Ford had been the only out of work actor he’d ever known (which he’d later learned to be a complete lie), and so he’d just taken for granted that Ford’s insane behaviour had been perfectly normal. After all, everyone Arthur knew who had been journalism or advertising were bafflingly strange, so Ford just seemed to fit with the accepted status quo.

“Must have been a shock when you did find out,” Fenchurch said.

Arthur shrugged. “No, not really. By that point, I’d already been through a transmat beam, survived the destruction of a planet, and wound up on an alien space ship. Ford not actually being from Guildford was the least of my worries.”

“You mean Earth?” Fenchurch asked. “When you say ‘destruction’?”

“Yes,” Arthur said. “Those ships that everyone says were hallucinations. They were actually a Vogon constructor fleet .”

“That still doesn’t explain what happened,” Fenchurch said. “Or rather, what didn’t happen. If the Earth was, as you say, destroyed then how is it that everyone is still around?”

“I don’t think,” Arthur said slowly, “that you and I are actually from the same Earth. There are other versions of Earth; I’ve been to a few. Ford could explain it better than I can. It’s basic primary school science for most of the Galaxy, and we barely knew anything about our own Solar system.”

“How can you tell that it’s another version?” asked Fenchurch curiously. It didn’t so much sound like she didn’t believe him, but more that she wouldn’t know what to look for, herself.

“Sometimes, it’s rather difficult to tell,” Arthur admitted. “The last one had another version of Trillian, which was rather strange. Others only occupy the same point in the… space-time thingy, but aren’t the same at all.”

“What was diff erent about Earth when you and I met?”

“Apart from the obvious?” he asked. “I’m not sure. Whatever version of me from that version of Earth seemed to have vanished. And apparently nobody bothered to notice.”

He grumbled the last part to himself, baffled that his so-called friend hadn’t raised any sort of alarm when he’d apparently gone missing for six months. And he had a strong suspicion that no one raised the alarm when he and Fenchurch left to see God’s final message, either.

“I’m sure somebody noticed,” Fenchurch said, trying to comfort him.

“When I phoned the BBC to explain that the reason I hadn’t been to work, they didn’t even seem to care that I’d been gone. Sure, my job wasn’t that hard, and a primary school student could have done it, but you’d still think someone would have taken notice.”

He wasn’t sure why he had chosen then of all times to get upset at this realisation. He leaned his head against Fenchurch’s shoulder, taking comfort in being able to feel her breathing. Even if she wasn’t from his Earth, it didn’t matter. It hadn’t even been a point that had even bothered to cross his mind until just then, and he had dismissed it as quickly as it came.

Arthur was content to remain in the cargo hold in the belly of a small transport ship in silence, but it soon turned out that the ship’s captain had other plans.

“I don’t take live cargo, and I especially don’t take live cargo that doesn’t pay,” he announced from somewhere nearby.

Arthur clutched Fenchurch in a way that was meant to be reassuring to her, but had turned out to be more reassuring to him instead.

“If I have to find you, I’m throwing you out of the airlock, so you’d be wise to turn yourselves over,” he called out.

“Why?” Arthur asked. “Just so you can throw us out of the airlock anyway?”

“Arthur,” Fenchurch scolded.

“What? Arthur asked. “That’s generally how it works. I’ve had it happen enough times to know.”

She ignored him and got to her feet.

“Fenchurch!” Arthur hissed. “What are you doing?”

She inhaled deeply and tried smiling at the captain. “I’m sorry about my friend,” she said, leaning easily against one of the large crates. “He’s just always like this when he’s in a good mood.”

The captain narrowed his eyes at her, but holstered his Kill-o-Zap blaster pistol.

“Good mood or not, what are you doing on my ship?” the captain asked.

Arthur tugged on Fenchurch’s shirt, hopefully signalling to her to just get back down and hide like a normal hitchhiker. She didn’t. She pulled away from him, lightly swatting his hands away.

“We’re just on our way to a wedding, you see,” Fenchurch explained.

“In your pyjamas?” the captain asked. “Who does that?”

“It’s quite comfortable. You should try it sometime.”

He seemed to consider this. “Maybe I will,” he decided.

Fenchurch smiled at him. “By the way. Where are we going?”

“You don’t know where this ship is headed?” The captain returned to his previously irritable composure. “I thought you were going to a wedding.”

“Well, we are,” Fenchurch said. “But he only just proposed a few hours ago, and we weren’t quite sure where to go. We were hoping that we might be able to find somewhere interesting if we hitchhiked.”

“He can’t be much of a man if he’s making you do all the talking,” the captain said simply.

Well aware that he was being thrown under the proverbial Arturian megabus, Arthur pulled himself to his feet and forced a very irritated smile at the ship’s captain.

“Actually, I was content to just let you get bored of looking for us, and hopefully go away,” he admitted. “In fact, I told her not to start talking to you.”

The captain regarded Arthur with an air of scepticism. “You sure about this one, sweetheart?” he asked Fenchurch. “What is he, the last male of your species or something?”

Arthur’s face turned red and he sat back down, arms crossed tightly over his chest. Fenchurch watched him, biting her lower lip.

“Right…” The captain turned back toward the door. While he normally had no qualms over the pointless murder of hitchhikers and stowaways, potential genocide was not something for which he was prepared to be responsible. “I won’t throw you out of the airlock, but you’re gone at the next stop.”

Fenchurch smiled widely at him. “You won’t even know we were here,” she assured.

As the captain turned to leave the two of them alone, Fenchurch sat down again by Arthur’s side.

“He didn’t mean it,” she insisted. “At least, I don’t think he did. Not like that, anyway.”

“Meant it or not, it’s true, you know,” Arthur pointed out. “That’s an awful lot of responsibility placed on me, don’t you think?”

“Not to mention quite appalling,” Fenchurch pointed out. “That’s not a burden I ever intended to place upon you.”

He looked at her, sighing deeply. “That isn’t why you said yes, was it?” he asked, hoping she didn’t answer the way he expected her to.

“Arthur, you nitwit,” Fenchurch said. “I would have said yes, had you asked back in Islington.”

Arthur was relieved for about two seconds, before feeling an all too familiar rush of panic and confusion.

“Wait, you weren’t expecting me to, were you?” he asked.

“I didn’t expect you ever would have,” Fenchurch admitted. “And that would have been just fine, too.”

“I very nearly didn’t, actually.”

Fenchurch smiled in the way that made the bridge of her nose wrinkle, and which never failed to make Arthur fall in love with her all over again. And right then, for just a fraction of a moment, Arthur felt like everything was going to turn out just fine.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #11

“Ship number 485ZQß-Σ for Jaglan Beta is now boarding at gate 249-Ʒ. Repeat, ship number 485ZQß-Σ for Jaglan Beta is now boarding at gate 249-Ʒ.”

This was it. The point of no return, and it was not as painful as Trillian had expected it would be. At the announcement, she simply got up, tossed what was left of her Quadradian ultra-java into a bin, and boarded the starliner for the first leg of her very long journey.
 

 

After nearly an hour of planning, the solution that had been worked out had turned out to be the simplest one.

Leg it.

As the Business End started its slow and laborious descent to land at the spaceport, Mown made his way to the nearest airlock with a large and slightly squirming bag slung over his shoulder.

“Up to something, Twinkletoes?” another Vogon asked as they passed one another in the corridor.

“No,” he said, rather unconvincingly. “Only taking some old uni forms down to Cargo Bay 16.”

“Cargo Bay 16 is that way, you idiot,” the other Vogon said, pointing down the other direction.

“Of course. My mistake.”

When it became clear to him that the other Vogon wasn’t going to leave, Mown started down in the direction of Cargo Bay 16, making a show and stomping heavily all the while. As he rounded the corner, the entire ship shook and rattled as it finally came to a land.

“Okay,” he said quietly, trying to look back round the corner. “I think he’s leaving. How fast can you run?”

Random said something muffled from inside the bag, and then jabbed at Mown’s back with her elbow.

“Right. Sorry about that.” Mown put the bag down and helped Random out of it before peering back round the corner.

“Is he gone?” Random asked, frantically looking round to make sure no one was going to sneak up on them.

“Nearly.” Mown watched as the Vogon lumbered around the corner, mumbling something to himself. “Okay. We have about three minutes. Go. Now!”

Random ran round the corner toward the hatch, surprised when Mown not only caught her up, but overtook her. Everything about this Vogon seemed wrong, but it was all wrong in the sort of way that was quite a relief. It meant that he wasn’t quite as unpleasant as the other Vogons, and also gave her a bit of confidence that she might actually get off of the ship alive.

At the hatch, Mown punched in a code to the door panel, which set off a klaxon and flashing lights in the corridor.

“I thought you were on my side,” Random hissed at him.

“I am,” Mown says. “It does that every time.”

He fiddled with the door panel for a bit longer, jabbing at buttons until the door finally pulled itself open.

“Go. I’ll catch you up,” Mown said, guiding Random through the narrow opening.

The hatch opened to one of the many airlocks built into Barnard’s Star. Random told the door, which had been manufactured by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, to open. To her astounded relief, the doors had been vandalised almost immediately after Barnard’s Star’s opening, and did not declare their satisfaction at opening or sigh contentedly, but opened, and did so quickly.

Random had seen Barnard’s Star represented in various films and videos on the Sub-Etha, but this was her first experience with any sort of long-distance travel and hadn’t been properly prepared for the sheer immensity of the spaceport.

“Great Zarquon,” she muttered, looking up at the high ceiling, which had been painted to resemble some of the deeper regions of space.

Nebulae and supernovae and more stars and comets than Random could count acted as a surrogate for the actual sky, since the spaceport’s many bright lights and the lack of atmosphere surrounding the asteroid effectively rendered the sky a lifeless and very boring permanent st ate of endless blackness. Barnard’s Star had always seemed so much smaller in the vids; even the terminal seemed to stretch on for miles in either direction, with various beings shuffling madly to board their flights.

Random was startled out of her daze by a small blast behind her.

“Resistance is useless!” several Vogons shouted out in chorus.

Random didn’t know where Mown was, but she didn’t have time to figure it out. She ran blindly for the crowd, dodging round travellers and knocking into luggage and carts. She didn’t look behind her, but Random knew that the Vogons were still chasing after her, and she knew this because every few seconds, one of them would shoot at her. The Vogons, being the worst shots in the Galaxy, hit targets all around her, blowing up wheeled suitcases and small newsagents without ever managing to hit the intended target. Still, even a Vogon does get lucky from time to time, so Random had very little time to take solac e in the fact that her assailants were Vogons, as opposed to Blagulon Kappans, who spend quite a lot of their training and a fair amount of their leisure time learning how to fire at moving targets whilst blindfolded and riding an Arcturian Megadonkey.

“Over here!”

Random looked round frantically at the voice, surprised to find Mown beside her once more. He took her hand in his and ran straight for a crowded corridor and for the pub district.

“Why are we going here?” Random asked, struggling to keep pace with the Vogon.

“Bigger crowds. Easier to hide.”

Realising that Random was only slowing their pace, Mown picked her up and slung her over his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Random demanded. “Put me down, or I’ll scream.”

Mown didn’t put her down.

“Is everyone on your planet like you?” he asked, dodging around a wide pillar and into a crowded Brequindan bar.

“I wouldn’t know,” Random spat as Mown put her back on her feet. “I only just went there for the first time this morning.”

“Great,” Mown said, not paying her much attention. “Now shut up.”

He ignored the nervous looks the bar’s patrons were giving him as they slowly backed away.

“Don’t tell me to shut up,” Random said.

“Shut up,” Mown repeated.

He finally noticed the crowd. “Three-hundred per-cent tax increase to anyone who doesn’t act normal,” he told the people standing round.

He knew he didn’t actually have that power, but since most of the Galaxy was rather frightened of Vogons, no one has actually ever bothered to verify just what sorts of power they did hold, which in turn only opened doors for gross misrepresentation of power.

The crowd immediately went back into its role of drunken travellers, and became even more loud and unruly than it had been before. Beer bottles were broken with gusto, and a group of travelling ultra-f ootball players had begun chanting about how their next game would have slightly more minorly-fatal injuries than the last.

“Where’d they go?” a Vogon just outside the bar shouted loudly.

“We’ll never find them in this,” a second said.

“Jeltz is gonna kill us for this.”

“Well, let’s go get it over with. I won’t be able to enjoy my day if we put it off.”

The Vogons trundled off back to the Business End.

“Well, that was easy,” Random said quietly. She carefully peered round the corner to watch them go. “They didn’t even try. Are you sure you’re really a Vogon? Because you don’t act like one.”

Mown shrugged, which was interesting to watch because Vogons don’t have much in the way of shoulders.

“Is that meant to be a compliment or an insult?” Mown asked wearily.

“The first one,” Random said, still watching various travellers give the retreating Vogons a wide berth as they returned to the ship.

She wasn’t usually the compliment-giving sort, so she wasn’t sure how to follow it up.

“But even if you aren’t, you still look like one,” she pointed out. “That’s bound to draw attention.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Mown asked. “I can’t exactly change my face. Not without major surgery.”

Random took a moment to consider this. “I’ve seen on the Tri-D vids that this place has shops,” she said. “We can try something that always works in the vids.”

“I don’t think shopping is going to help matters,” Mown protested.

“No, wait here.”

Random left the pub and attempted to follow the massive amount of signs to the shopping district of Barnard’s Star. She’d found a wallet in the ship she’d taken on Lamuella, and in it had been a credit card belonging to someone called Ford. And if this Ford person could afford an RW6, then he could afford some new clothes for herself an d her new friend, Random figured.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #10

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was the dominant life form, what with accomplishments such as nuclear war and a gun that had been designed to shoot around corners. The dominant species on the planet had actually been the laughably erroneously named domesticated house cat (why man ever thought he could achieve something as impossible as domesticating a cat is anyone’s guess).

The skill with which the Fayleess Cahtoos had managed to blend into Earth society is one that has yet to be matched by even the most skilled hitchhiker.

When their home planet had been ravaged during a centuries-long war, and the whole ecological system was on the verge of total and complete collapse as a result, the entire Fayleess Cahtoos race made the decision to locate a new planet, preferably one where the native population were small, furry, and easy to catch. Using a neat little trick they had learned from the Babel Fish, in exchange for a non-fishing treaty, the Fayleess Cahtoos managed to shift their entire population to a new planet.

The one they found did have plenty of small, furry, and easy to catch rodents, but it also had large, hairless pink apes which, after much hard work and determination, had become domesticated and trained to make sure there was plenty of tuna, milk, and small furry things in a reasonable vicinity, thus allowing for plenty of time to take long naps right on top of the laundry which has just been pulled out of the tumble dryer.

There was a point to this inclusion, but it has completely escaped the chronicler.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #9

Time, says the Guide, like space, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is. Take space, and multiply it by a staggeringly high number, and you still wouldn’t get anywhere near how big time really is. Big and infinitely complex. People don’t understand time. It’s not what you think it is. It’s complicated. Very complicated. People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. You can be born in the thirty-first century, and die in the twenty-second century.
The problem with travelling in time is the sheer complexity of time itself. To most people, the only worry about taking a holiday to the coast, years before they were even born, is making sure that they avoid talking to strangers, as to prevent becoming their own grandfather, or killing t heir grandfather and snuffing themselves out of existence.
Simply being in any point in time at any place automatically fixes an event into history – that is to say, it will have become history in thousands of years when it will have no longer been in the future (see Future-Past Participle and Past-Future Participle).
By this logic, one cannot go back and time and become their own grandfather or kill their own grandfather, and no amount of meddling will change any pre-determined outcome.
This is not, however, to say that the outcome of an event cannot be changed. If, for example, you happen to attend a fancy dress party, and manage to completely blow it with a girl, you cannot go back and make yourself say something to change the outcome, never mind the paradox you would create. You could, if you were so inclined, get someone else to go back to the fancy dress party, and change the outcome, but more often than not, your selfish friend will just ask the girl if she wants to see his spaceship, and take her for himself, leaving you alone and miserable anyway.
Simply put, time travel just isn’t worth the breath it takes to even mention the subject.

 

Interestingly enough, if you were to look up ‘probability’ in the Guide, the article reads almost exactly the same. This can be explained simply enough, as both entries were written by the same editor, and when faced with a deadline that was speeding at him ten times that of the speed of light, he simply told his computer to run a find/replace script, and passed both articles off as being totally unique.

The reason this particular editor was able to get away with this particular feat of astounding laziness is this: probability, like time and space, is also vastly, hugely, and mind bogglingly big. The probability – or, in this case, the improbability – of two people showing up at the same point in something as mind bogglingly big as space at the same moment in time when neither knew to expect the other person is both literally and figuratively astronomical. If one of those people has a habit of moving backwards and forwards through time, that improbability factor multiples at a rate most organic minds can’t even consider. If both people share this habit of travelling backwards and forwards through time, that improbability factor again multiples at a rate that only the most sophisticated computer minds can consider.
 

 

The first block of hours had been just this side of bearable. The second block of hours found Random in a heightened state of irritability, though she couldn’t figure out why. After the next block of hours, Random realised that the reason everything not only on the ship, but in the entire Galaxy seemed to bother her was because she had not eaten anything since just prior to her landing on the Earth that wasn’t the right version of Earth, which had, by her count, been nearly forty hours earlier.

Now, it is probably important to note that time, as already discussed, is rather wibbly-wobbly and ill-defined at best. Before the formation of the Galactic Empire, each and every planet had their own arbitrary rules for measuring the way the sun(s) would crawl across the sky in the day, followed by the way the moon(s) and stars would crawl across the sky in the night. This was, as one could imagine, terribly confusing, especially if a person was engaged in inter-planetary travel.

Then, in Gal./Sid./Year 00001, as it would later be designated, a man by the name of Jefrhys Gnarlgleborf of the Jeradax system decided that he’d simply been fed up of trying to travel from one planet to another, with a layover somewhere in between, only to miss the layover because his itinerary hadn’t been printed to reflect the local time of where he’d be connecting.

After a particularly long and boring layover at Beta Pegasi IX, Jefrhys Gnarlgeborf began work at compiling a list of as many inhabited planets as he could, documenting their average orbit speeds, semi-major axes, and the totally arbitrary systems of time measurement used by the inhabitants. What he came up with was a list roughly ten miles long, and by the time he had finished compiling it, his eyeballs had melted in a fit of revolt.

It was another man, Kraff Edledrak, who later stumbled upon this list, and after a few ridiculously long and boring calculations, was able to determine the average lengths of orbit of the worlds Gnargleborf had catalogued, and submitted it to the Galactic Council as a proposed uniform system. This system is now known throughout the Galaxy as simply Galactic Standard, and is recognised in all but the most backwater and primitive worlds (of course, local time is used throughout the Galaxy, with the exception of Zeta Aurigae III, which by a staggering coincidence happens to be the one and only planet in the galaxy where its orbit is such that local time matches precisely with Galactic Standard).

It should then be assumed, no matter how much you think you know about time, that any idea you might have as to the length of an hour is completely and totally wrong, and that these ideas should be kept to yourself unless you wish to publicly make a fool of yourself.

Random, having not eaten anything for a period of time that is not at all what you might be imagining, but still a fairly long time to have gone without so much as half a packet of Squantarian biscuits, thought she still had a packet of crisps that she’d found in the space ship she’d stolen, but she remembered that that’s what she’d eaten just prior to her landing on Earth.

To distract herself, Random finally got up from the bed to look around the room. As far as Vogon sleeping quarters were concerned, the area was well-kept and clean. By human standards of sanitation, the room was s till a biohazard zone, and Random was careful to pick up anything, using only the pads of her fingers to pick items up by the very edge. She dropped what might have been a shirt of some sort onto the floor to see what had been underneath it, finding only more bits of grimy Vogon clothing. She continued to pick items up by the corners, only to drop them on the floor until she came to something small and furry.

Random stared at it for a few moments, not sure what it was. It was, she realised entirely possible that the fabric this far down in the pile had begun to grow mould.

This idea was tossed out when she realised that mould does not purr or move. Whatever it was, it was alive.

“What are you?” she asked it.

It just purred at her again.

“Tell me what you are!”

It continued to purr.

Random cautiously reached out for it, poking what she assumed to be its back.

“I wouldn’t touch that.”

Random jumped sharply, ha ving not noticed that Mown was in the room. The next thing she noticed was that she didn’t notice, which struck her as odd, given the general stompy nature of Vogons.

“Why not?” she asked, pulling her hand away slowly.

“It bites.”

Random frowned, first at the furry thing, and then at the mess.

“Don’t you ever clean your room?” she asked.

“Well, I would, but there are weekly inspections, you see,” said Mown.

Random frowned. She started to argue this, but gave up before she even managed to get the first word out.

“When are we landing?” she asked instead. “It’s just that, well, I am getting rather hungry, and well…”

“That’s what I’ve come to tell you,” Mown said. “We’ll be landing in about a half-hour. But we never get planetary leave at Barnard’s Star, so we’re going to have to be clever about it if you wish to get off this ship in a manner that doesn’t involve opening an airlock into the vacuum of space.”

“Why not just leg it?” Random suggested simply. “You might as well come with me, since you’re bound to be found out either way.”

“I really shouldn’t,” Mown said.

“Why not?”

Random was having difficulty with the idea of Constant Mown doing something simply because his father said, partly because it didn’t fit in with her idea of standard Vogon behaviour, but mostly because she’d never done a single zarking thing her father had told her, and very little bad had ever come from it.

“Why stay here if you don’t fit?” she asked. “You can’t enjoy it.”

Mown took a few moments to answer. “No,” he agreed. And then he sighed. “Leaving’s all well and good, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after the whole ‘leaving’ bit, though.”

Random shrugged. “Neither do I,” she admitted. “Hardly matters, though. Apparently people get on like this all the time.”

Though , she would still very resolutely deny any connection to what she was doing and hitchhiking.

Mown took some time to consider this. When he was done considering it, he ran it all through his logic centres once more, and considered it again.

“I suppose we’d better figure out what to do, then.”
 

 

If you were to ask any one of Arthur Dent’s friends (which, what with the Earth having been demolished in order to make way for a supposed hyperspace express route, might be rather difficult) to describe him, you might get any number of words that were synonymous with ‘dull,’ ‘boring,’ or ‘completely predictable.’

One word you would not hear would be ‘impulsive.’

Arthur rarely did anything on impulse, and if he did, he often immediately regretted having done it. This is why, as he sat at a small cafe at Barnard’s Star reading his copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he wasn’t sure what he should do next . He knew exactly what it was that he had wanted to do, but he also could think of a hundred ways in which that something could go wrong.

“Now,” said Fenchurch as she sat a packet of biscuits down on the table. “These are mine. I am, however, perfectly willing to share, but if you have your own, you may want to think about eating those first.”

Arthur looked up at her, and felt himself melt slightly at the smile on her face.

To hell with worst case scenarios. He would, as the proverb went, throw caution to the wind. He was at a spaceport that had been built on an asteroid that was orbiting a star six light years from his home planet, and damnit, it was time he started living life to reflect this sort of thing.

“Fenchurch,” he said cautiously. “I’d like to get your opinion on this, if you have a minute.”

He handed her the Guide, trying to do so in a way that would keep her from noticing how badly his hands were shaking. He watched hopefully as Fenchurch glanced at the Guide quickly before taking a proper look at the entry he had open. Her brow furrowed lightly as she read, slowly softening with realisation. When she finally understood what Arthur was trying, rather awkwardly, to ask her, she all but leapt over the small table to pull him into a tight hug.

“Yes,” she said, kissing him. “Although, I’m not so sure how keen I am about the idea of doing it completely naked in front of the entire church.”

Arthur felt as though a Vegan Rhinoceros that had been sitting on his chest had finally decided to get up and sit somewhere else.

“It was just a suggestion,” he said. “It’s not like we haven’t done other things, completely naked where people could see us. I am, however, complete open to other ideas. Just so long as they don’t involve circumcision.”

“Those things were at night and in front of very few actual people.”

Moving to sit on Arthur’s lap, Fenchurch turned her attention back to the entry about Dalnaltia VIII marriage ceremonies and flipped back to the main category page that listed the more unusual ceremonies in the Galaxy.

“I suppose,” she said. “We had better start planning.”

“Just tell me where you want to go, and I’ll find a way to get us there,” Arthur promised.
 

 

Ford stumbled back onto the bridge of the Starship Heart of Gold, finding Zaphod still passed out on the sofa.

“Zaphod,” he said, slapping vaguely in the president’s general direction. “Zaphod, wake up. Let’s go.”

Zaphod rubbed both of his faces as he managed to pull himself into a more vertical position and looked blearily around the bridge.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Barnard’s Star,” Ford said. “Come on. Let’s go somewhere else.”

“You went pub crawling without me?” Zaphod asked angrily.

“You were already drunk and passed out,” Ford rationalised.

“Yeah, well, if I knew that drinking was on the menu, I’d have woken up.” He got to his feet and looked around, realising something was different.

“Where’s Trillian?” he asked.

“Dunno,” Ford said. “I think she took off. Arthur and Fenchurch, too.”

Zaphod was quiet for a long while before smiling widely. “We got rid of the simians?” he asked. “It’s about zarking time. Now let’s go somewhere we couldn’t take them with, for fear of dying of embarrassment.”

Ford checked his watch. “I think, if we hurry, we might be able to catch Eccentrica Gallumbits’ birthday party,” he said.

“Do it.”

Ford turned to the computer and froze. He did not freeze for reasons of a sudden temperature on the bridge, but rather the sort of froze that happens when a person is so overcome by shock and/or fear that they simply don’t know how to react.

The reason Ford froze from shock and fear was the smooth black disk on the main console.

“Zaphod,” he said cautiously. “Where did you get that?”

“Get what?” Zaphod looked up to see what Ford was talking about.

“That,” said Ford slowly, “very dangerous and very powerful thing on the computer.”

The black disk began to change before the three sets of eyes watching it, slowly and inconspicuously beginning to form hairline cracks along its surface.

“Whatever it wants you to do,” said Ford. “Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it.”

Zaphod knew two things about Ford Prefect. One, Ford Prefect had started hitchhiking at an unusually young age out of desperation after his father died, and two, because Ford had been hitchhiking for most of his life, had seen some seriously weird and terrifying things. So when Ford Prefect was scared, Zaphod Beeblebrox was scared.

Zaphod reached for his sunglasses and put them on, comforted by the comp lete darkness they gave the impression of bathing him in.

“What,” asked Zaphod quietly, “makes it so dangerous?”

“It’s a reverse temporal engineer,” Ford explained, backing up slowly. “It makes things happen that have no business happening, usually so something else which is generally terrible can happen. The last time I saw this thing, the planet I wound up on a planet that got blown up.”

“That happens to you a lot,” Zaphod pointed out.

“Yes,” Ford agreed. “And it will happen again unless we get rid of it.”

It occurred to Ford that perhaps getting rid of the Guide Mk II was the plan all along.

“No,” he said. “We can’t get rid of it. That might be what it wants. But maybe that’s just what it wants us to think that it wants. We have to get rid of it!”

Zaphod turned to look at Ford, but his sunglasses prevented him from seeing anything. “What,” he asked, “did you do with it last time?”< /p>

“I posted it to Arthur,” Ford explained. “I knew that he was the one person in the Galaxy who would be painfully dull and not open it.”

“So what happened?”

“His daughter opened it.”

Zaphod started to nod, until he realised that he had missed something terribly important. “Since when does he have a kid?”

Ford shrugged. “No idea, but she hit me in the head with a rock. I’ve probably still got the scab to show for it.”

“So what do we do?”

Ford thought about this for a moment. “We put it somewhere so dull and boring that no one would ever even think about going there.”

There was a brief pause while they both considered where this might be.

“Arthur’s room,” they decided together.

Ford very, very slowly walked to the computer and very, very carefully picked up the Guide Mk II.

He moved carefully, as though not to wake any hidden demons it might be carrying, taking a very long time to get to Arthur’s quarters. When he opened the door, ignoring its disgustingly content sigh, he flung the black disk into the small room and immediately shut the door, hoping that it would shatter against the wall and break into a million little pieces.

Every fibre of common sense he had told him that somehow, the Guide Mk II had found something rather pleasantly soft to land on instead.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #8

Trillian left the Heart of Gold and walked straight to the ticket queue. She didn’t know where she’d go, but leaving the galaxy all together was starting to sound like a good idea. Maybe she’d go to Larithnal in the Sagittarius Galaxy, where the water quite literally flowed like wine, or relax under the triple suns of Trisol in the Canis Major Galaxy.

She was greeted at the ticket counter by a small green man with impossibly orange hair, who didn’t seem to care one way or another that Trillian was standing there.

“Yes,” Trillian said. “What’s the farthest ticket available?”

The green ticket clerk shook his head slightly. “Well, that all depends on how much you can afford.”

“I can afford it,” Trillian assured.

This was not a lie. Between all her hazardous duty pay from the network, and the interest in her account that had built up while she was whisking through time, she knew she had enough money to buy the ticket and relocate comfortably once she got to where ever she wound up getting to.

The ticket clerk looked at his info screen, pressed a few buttons, and made an odd sort of clicking sound.

“You can get as far as Frass,” he said. “It’s on the Outer Eastern Rim.”

Trillian sighed. “That’ll do,” she said.

It would have to.

She paid the clerk and took her ticket, checking the time on it against the giant clock that watched over the queue, and sighed again. At least Barnard’s Star had the foresight to expect 26-hour waits between flights, so there was plenty for Trillian to do while she waited for hers to start boarding.
 

 

Ford had found himself a small, but very loud pub run by a man from Betelgeuse IV. As Ford never did have the chance to sober up from his six Jinnin Tonnixes he’d shared with Zaphod, he was still fairly drunk before he sat down to enjoy the more familiar drinks from closer to home while he rambled at the very bored barman.

“So he said,” Ford said. “So, he said,” Ford continued. “He said to me, ‘Ix, listen’—”

“Ix?” the barman asked, looking sharply at Ford. “That’s your name, is it?”

“Well, no.” Ford swallowed his drink and tried to finish his story, but the barman cut him off again.

“What is a Hrung, anyway?”

Ford sneered at him. “Zark off,” he muttered, turning away from the barman. There was something sort of green and shabby standing behind him, so Ford decided to tell his story to that, instead.

“So, anyway,” Ford said to the green thing. “He said to me, ‘Ford, listen’—”

“Ford,” said Arthur, cutting him off.

“Yes. Ford. That is my name.”

“I know it’s your name. That’s why I said it,” Arthur said. He pushed Ford back into his seat, since he was starting to fall out of it. “Listen, about what I said earlier.”

Ford looked up at Arthur and blinked several times. It wasn’t a particularly natural thing for him to do, so he had to force the motion, causing a rather comical effect. “Arthur?” he asked as the shabby green thing came into focus.

“Yes. Arthur.” He pushed Ford back into his seat again. “About what I said earlier, when I asked you not to leave us behind.”

Ford looked round. “Did we leave already?”

“No,” said Arthur. “Forget it.”

“No, no. Tell me,” Ford insisted. “I’m listening. Really, I am.”

“I mean, forget it,” Arthur said. “Forget what I said. We’re gonna make our own way for a while.”

Ford looked him over once more. “You?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Really?” Ford seemed dubious. “It’s just that every time you decide to make your own way, I have to come rescue you again.”

“No you don’t,” Arthur insisted. “I’ve always been perfectly fine on my own. It’s when you come alo ng that I always have to be rescued.”

“Yeah, but we always have a laugh, right?” Ford asked, grinning widely.

“Hmm.” Again, Arthur could argue this point, but he chose not to.

“Well, here. Take this, then. You’ll need it.” Ford took off his electronic thumb and tried to give it to Arthur.

“Thank you, but I don’t need it,” Arthur said.

“You’re not going to start selling sperm again, are you?”

“No, I mean, I don’t need it because I’ve already got one.” Arthur showed Ford the one he had just purchased. “See?”

“Oh, that’s the new model,” Ford marvelled. He reached out for it, and was slightly surprised when Arthur pulled it away.

“Yes. And it’s mine.”

“Got your towel?”

“Yep. And my Guide.”

Ford stood up and pulled Arthur into an awkward hug. “Arthur,” he said. “It’s about zarking time. Where are you going?”

Arthur shrugged. “Not s ure yet. Figure we’ll probably just play it by ear for a little bit.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “Okay, then. Here.”

Ford took off his satchel and upended it over the bar, spilling its far-too-many contents all over the place.

“Take this,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Arthur took the satchel cautiously, as though he was worried that it might bite him.

“Yeah. It’s yours,” Ford said simply, using his towel as a make-shift bag to hold all of his assorted items and trinkets, some of which Arthur was quite sure had no place in polite company. “It was given to me when I first started hitchhiking.”

Arthur looked at the bag, and something struck him suddenly, the way a rogue football has a habit of striking an unsuspecting person in the back of the head.

“Ford,” he said slowly. “I don’t mean to sound ridiculous but it’s—”

“Gallifreyan,” Ford finished. It wasn’t what Arthur was going to say, but it was still technically correct. “I’ve seen them cram entire sky scrapers into little blue boxes, and don’t even ask me how they do it.”

“Okay,” Arthur said slowly. “I won’t.”

It was impossible to tell how large it actually was on the inside, but Arthur was willing to bet that if he was feeling especially silly, he might just be able to climb inside it and kip up for the night. He wasn’t feeling especially silly, so he didn’t, instead putting his copy of the Guide, his Sub-Etha Sens-o-Matic, and his towel inside. At first, he thought he might be in danger of losing everything forever, but the inside did conform to whatever forces the outside was experiencing, so all it took to fetch anything back up again was just some creative manipulating of the bag’s bottom and sides.

“Well, thank you, Ford,” Arthur said, waiting for the catch.

Because there was always a catch, wasn’t there?

“No w go,” Ford said, apparently determined to avoid any catches. “And don’t expect me to come rescue you at the first sign of danger.”

Another smile and another hug from Ford.

“If it’s all the same, I’d rather that you didn’t,” Arthur said. He pulled away from Ford and rejoined with Fenchurch, who was being chatted up by something large, red, and with twelve tentacles.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #7

The spaceport at Barnard’s Star is like most spaceports in the galaxy, except in one major way. While a great number of planets will have a spaceport, Barnard’s Star (the spaceport itself; not BD+04°3561a) had been constructed on an asteroid roughly 1500 kilometres across, which orbits Barnard’s Star (BD+04°3561a).

For the purposes of minimising confusion, it can be assumed henceforth that Barnard’s Star refers to the spaceport, unless otherwise specified.

Barnard’s Star is one of the largest spaceports in the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy, and since its original opening in Gal./Sid./Year 02897 it has expanded to cover the entire asteroid. Every dimple, crack, and crater has been given a coating of paint and steel, and then immediately left to fend for itself in the elements.

The result is the galactic equivalent of a bus depot in the seediest of all the seedy parts of town. Everything is covered with grime from a thousand different worlds, none of the telecoms work properly, and all of the vending machines are guaranteed to steal your money and not give you so much as a stale Wharl Nut in return.

Barnard’s Star is the busiest and most alive place in the Western Spiral arm of galaxy.

A popular jumping-off point for hitchhikers and a common layover for more conventional travellers, Barnard’s Star has evolved to suit the needs of the thousands of species that pass through it every day. With over 200 bars, more restaurants than you can swing an Arcturian Megacat at, and even a brothel, it’s almost impossible to be bored while waiting for your layover. Many travellers on holiday simply land at Barnard’s Star and forget to catch their connecting starliner, instead spending their entire holiday, plus an extra two weeks, on an extended pubcrawl.
 

 

Arthur woke up gasping. Fenchurch also woke up gasping.

This had very little to do with anything either had been d reaming about, and slightly more to do with the fact that the Starship Heart of Gold had engaged the Infinite Improbability Drive, and upon landing, had momentarily replaced all of the air in the ship with neon. And since Arthur and Fenchurch were from an insignificant little blue-green planet whose life forms all depended on a delicately balanced mix of oxygen, nitrogen, and argon, they found the new atmosphere of the Heart of Gold rather difficult to cope with.

“What,” Fenchurch croaked once the ship reached normality and the air had been restored to its proper mixture, “just happened?”

Arthur spent several more long moment coughing. “Nothing,” he said. “At least this time, we stayed in one piece.”

He coughed and hacked for a few seconds longer, just for good measure, before getting out of bed and pulling on his dressing gown.

“Might as well see where we are now.”

“What?” Fenchurch got out of bed, slid on her shoes, and followed after him.

“The ship,” Arthur explained, taking Fenchurch by the hand as he led her through the corridor. “It’s powered by this maths thing.” He hated being the person who knew more about these things, because he still didn’t feel like he knew anything about it at all. “You give it a number, push a button, and it works out where you should go based on probability.”

“Oh.” This didn’t seem to answer much at all, as far as Fenchurch was concerned, but she went with Arthur to the bridge anyway.

She knew, even though Arthur never had liked to talk about it, that this is exactly what he’d been up to before she met him. This was a man who was so deeply startled by the dolphins, and yet he could talk about a ship that will get you anywhere in the universe – provided it didn’t find a way to kill you upon arrival – and sound bored about it.

“We are now,” chirped Eddie, “orbiting Barnard’s Star.”

“Well, w hat are you waiting for?” Ford said. “Take us down!”

“Sure thing!”

Eddie went quiet long enough to communicate with one of the landing bays at Barnard’s Star, negotiating a smooth and not-at-all scary landing. Either Arthur was getting jaded, or someone had upgraded Eddie’s landing protocols finally.

“You crazy kids have fun!” Eddie said. “Refuelling time, approximately 23 minutes.”

“What do you say?” Arthur asked Fenchurch quietly. “Go have a look round the shops for a bit?”

“I’ll fetch your towel,” Fenchurch said.

Arthur smiled as he watched her walk away. He quickly checked his dressing gown’s pockets, and satisfied that everything was in order, leaned against the sofa and waited for Fenchurch to return.

Trillian ignored all of this. Picking up the contents of her handbag, which had been knocked under the sofa during the earlier issue with the air supply, had given her a reasonable distraction . Once she had everything again, she made quick tracks for the door, not pausing to even throw so much as a final glance at anyone on the Heart of Gold.

“Ford,” asked Arthur cautiously. “Is she all right?”

Ford shrugged. “She’s fine,” he said. “She’s always like that.”

“No,” Arthur disagreed. “She isn’t.”

He started to follow after her, but Fenchurch returned and wrapped Arthur’s towel round his neck.

“Ready?” she asked, kissing him quickly.

“Uhm, yeah.” Arthur turned to Ford. “Going to the pub?”

“Of course.”

“Good,” said Arthur. “Just please, do me a favour, and please, please, please don’t leave without us?”

“You got it!” Ford was already on his way out the door.

Somehow, Arthur didn’t quite believe that Ford would keep his promise.

 

 
Arthur walked a casual distance behind Fenchurch, switching his attention between watching her try to negotiate the price for a fried something on a stick and several entries in the Guide, between which he had been flipping.

The row of shops and kiosks stretched on for miles along a narrow strip. Various merchants lined either side of the strip, and were happy to sell you every manner of thing, from poached Arcturian Megaiguana eggs to jewellery that was guaranteed to make the wearer 50 times more attractive to the opposite sex.

“Arthur, try some of this,” Fenchurch said, returning to him.

Arthur closed the Guide and slid it back into his pocket. “Oh. What is it?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” Fenchurch said, pulling off a bit of the fried something on a stick. “But it’s delicious.”

Arthur bit into the bit of fried something on a stick, and was surprised to find that it was indeed quite delicious. “That’s rather like Pikka Bird,” he said.

“Like what?”

“Birds back on Lamuella,” Arthur said. “Kind of stupid, but very tasty. Their eggs made good omelettes, too.”

It was clear, however, that whatever the fried something on a stick was, it was not a Pikka Bird, as Pikka Birds did not have six legs.

Something caught Arthur’s eye, and he shifted his attention off to a kiosk about twenty meters away.

“Come with me,” he said, leading Fenchurch to the kiosk.

On display at the kiosk were an assortment of small, flashing rings and slightly larger, but still small flashing black devices. Arthur knew at once what they were, and after a brief moment’s thought, found it quite obvious that they would be sold at Barnard’s Star.

“How much money have you got?” he asked Fenchurch.

“I’m not sure,” Fenchurch said. “I haven’t really had the need to spend anything, and I’m afraid I don’t know the writing yet.”

“I will pay you back,” promised Arthur.

It was, he decided, about time he had his own electronic thumb and Sub-Etha Sens-o-Matic.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #6

“Am I infinite now? How yellow am I?”

Trillian hardly paid any attention to the bird as she splashed cold water on her face. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to know that she’d run off to cry in the loo.

“I don’t care,” she told the bird. “And I’m not in the mood to be wound up.”

“Hmm,” said the bird. “No.”
 

 

After about twenty minutes, Ford grew bored sitting by himself. That is to say, he hadn’t been completely by himself, but Zaphod was hardly engaging company, what with being completely passed out and drooling on the table.

Ford had a feeling that he knew exactly what Arthur and Fenchurch were getting up to, so he decided to go seek out Trillian instead. He’d originally started ducking into the assorted restrooms for the various species just for the excitement, and hadn’t actually expected to find Trillian in any of them.

When he walked through the door, he was greeted by a shrill shriek.

“Hey, babe,” he said simply, walking right past the pink-ish woman. “Trillian!”

Trillian looked up from the sink, first at Ford and then at the bird that had been bothering her. It was gone, and it its place was a black disc, which she covertly slid from the counter top into her handbag. She wasn’t sure why she did it; she just felt compelled.

“Ford, this is for females,” she said. “You are very much male, and aren’t supposed to be in here.”

“Never stopped me before,” Ford said. “Come on back. I’m bored, Zaphod’s drooling into a basket of chips, and Arthur and Fenchurch have gone back to the ship.”

“Of course they have,” Trillian muttered under her breath. “Do you know her?”

“Fenchurch?” Ford asked. “Sure. Arthur mentioned something about being in love with her once, but that was a while ago. I didn’t know they were still an item.”

Trillian glanced back in the mir ror to make sure none of her makeup had run. “Let’s just go,” she said. “Get Zaphod. I’ll pick up the tab.” She paused. “Unless you have any cash on you?”

“I’ll get Zaphod,” Ford declared as he walked out of the restroom.

Trillian paid the hefty tab and then helped Ford get Zaphod back onto the ship. They dropped him on the long sofa on the bridge, where he continued to drool on himself and snore.

“Hey there, folks!” Eddie chirped. “Where to now?”

“Don’t care,” said Trillian before walking away, wondering if her mood could possibly get any worse. This was, of course, a wondering she kept to herself.

She left Ford to figure out the constant problem of where to go next and started wandering through the ship. She wasn’t sure what drew her in the direction her feet were taking her, but she found herself standing outside Arthur’s bunk again. She knew that standing outside his door probably wasn’t the best thi ng to be doing, but it took her several moments to realise that she couldn’t hear anything from behind the door; not even the faint mumblings of a conversation.

Maybe they weren’t in there after all.

Trillian couldn’t help her curiosity and knocked lightly on the door before opening it.

“Arth—”

She stopped when she saw that they were indeed inside, both asleep on the small bed tangled in one another’s arms. Trillian immediately turned round and shut the door. She didn’t know why, but she was angry at having seen that. She could almost swear that even though he was asleep, Arthur seemed happy.

That wasn’t fair.

Trillian had chosen this life of space travel and excitement and danger. Arthur had it thrust upon him, and had complained and protested every step of the way. Why was it that he should be happy while she was miserable? He didn’t deserve to be happy.

She had half a mind to go back in there and…

No.

Trillian knew that pitching a fit wouldn’t actually solve anything, no matter how badly she wanted to do exactly that. She had no idea who this woman was, or where she had come from, or why it was that of all the people in the universe, Arthur was the one to have found her.

As she skulked off down the corridor, Trillian realised why it had upset her. While Trillian kept losing all of the bits and pieces that were comfortable for her, Arthur kept finding new ones. For such a painfully dull and boring man, all of the wonders of space travel would have no doubt been too much for him to handle. Of course he’d been able to not only cope, but adjust and grow to like all the painfully dull and boring places in the universe. And of course he’d go right back to Earth at the first chance. All of the wonders of the universe, and he was happy being a night technician for BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

Trillian wandered back out to the bridge where Ford was having it o ut with Eddie about how once again, his feelings had been hurt by the insensitive things Ford would say sometimes. Tired of the Heart of Gold, Trillian reached into her handbag and pulled out a card with a telecom number written on, and fed that into the computer, deciding that wherever they wound up, that’s where she would get off and once again try to start her life over.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #5

Arthur inhaled his water, causing him to cough and sputter violently, which caused both Ford and Zaphod to shush him again.

“Fenchurch?” Arthur asked when he was able to catch enough breath to speak. “What are you doing here?”

He started to get to his feet, but Fenchurch was quicker than he was, and was already wrapping her arms around his neck. She sat down on his lap and kissed him. Arthur, who didn’t care who was watching, kissed her back.

Nearby, a blue toad-like creature turned to another blue toad-like creature and shook its head with disgust. “Carbon-based life forms are so disgusting,” it said.

“That sort of display shouldn’t be legal,” the second one said before regurgitating its meal onto the table and eating it again.

When Fenchurch finally pulled away from Arthur, she turned toward the bar and shouted at a man behind the register.

“Deckaar! I’m quitting now!”

Deckaar f rowned at her. “You can’t quit now, woman! Your shift isn’t over for another two hours!” he shouted.

“No, I mean I quit,” Fenchurch explained loudly. “Right now. I never liked this job anyway and I don’t want it anymore.”

She kissed Arthur again.

“What’s with the pyjamas?” she asked.

“They’re comfortable,” Arthur explained. “And it’s all I really had to wear. But seriously, what are you doing here?”

“I have no idea,” Fenchurch said. “One minute, I was sat next to you, and the next, you’d vanished. I didn’t know where you’d gone, or how to find you. Apparently that sort of thing happens from time to time, and I was able to get a job through a kiosk at the spaceport.”

Arthur frowned. “I was right there the whole time,” he said. “You were the one who had vanished.”

“You’re both going to vanish if you don’t shut your traps,” Zaphod snapped, one head still watching Max Quordlepleen narrate the beginning of the universe.

“Sorry, these are my… friends,” Arthur said tiredly. “That’s Zaphod, and Trillian. Ford, you already know. Unfortunately.”

“Hello,” Fenchurch said cheerily.

Trillian blinked. “Arthur, who is this?” she asked.

“Sorry. Fenchurch,” he said. “I’d found another version of Earth, and went back for a while.”

“And this didn’t seem important enough to mention?” Trillian asked, sounding almost sad.

Arthur stared at her, mildly confused. He didn’t think he owed her any mention of anything he’d been getting up to. When he failed to answer, Trillian got to her feet. She wanted to get as far away from Arthur as quickly as possible, and she didn’t care where she went.

“What was that?” Fenchurch asked cautiously.

“I don’t know.” Arthur felt that he should be used to being confused by now, but it was never any easier to cope with than the time be fore. “Er, why don’t we go somewhere more quiet?”

The two of them got to their feet, and Arthur led her back out to the labyrinthine car park to find the Heart of Gold.

  <center>⁂</center>

Constant Mown trundled through the corridors of the Vogon Constructor Fleet flagship, trying not to look conspicuous or suspicious. The reason Constant Mown felt conspicuous and suspicious as he trundled through the corridors was because this was not a particularly normal or comfortable way for him to behave. And the reason he was behaving in a way that was neither normal nor comfortable for him was because he was, for once, trying to blend in and avoid standing out from the rest of the Vogons on the ship. And the reason for wanting to blend in with the rest of the Vogons was because he was very much trying to avoid being called out by other Vogons for doing exactly what he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

 

By the time he arrived at his cabin, he was perspiring quite badly, which as it happened, only helped him blend in that little bit more. He opened the door and stepped inside quickly, immediately shutting it again.

 

“Where have you been.”

 

“Quiet,” Constant Mown scolded Random. “Unless you want us both to get killed, you have to pretend that you’re not here.”

 

“I wish I wasn’t.” She was sat on the grimy bunk, taking up as little space as possible to avoid touching more than she had to.

 

“You won’t be if you don’t keep quiet,” Mown said. He pulled out something that resembled a green hot dog. “Here. You should be able to metabolise this.”

 

Random looked at it. Her father might not have a problem eating strange foods, but she definitely did. “I only eat vegetables from that Kakafrak system,” she lied. It wasn’t a complete lie, as she was a vegetarian and had been for several years, but she didn’t trust anything the Vogon offered her. Claiming to only eat produce grown in a system that had been swallowed whole by a Hollotrassic space leech 3000 years ago seemed the safest bet.

 

Mown deflated slightly. “Well, you can get something at Barnard’s Star,” he said. “We’ll be landing at the spaceport there in about 30 hours. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get you out of here without both of us getting killed in the process, though.”

 

Random looked up at the Vogon. “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?”

 

Mown faltered slightly. “Who says I don’t?”

 

“You do,” said Random. “Not so much with words, but I’ve lot liked enough places to know what it looks like when someone doesn’t like the place they’re at.”

 

Mown looked at her, skirting some emotion somewhere between sadness and embarrassment. “You were from that planet, weren’t you?” he asked. “The one we just blew up.”

 

“No,” Random said sullenly. “My parents were, but I was born on a ship, going from one place to a nother place. I don’t have a home.”

 

Mown sat down on the bunk, upsetting it slightly. “For what it’s worth,” he said. “I am sorry. I sort of know how it goes. I often don’t think that I was meant to be a Vogon, but this is just where the universe stuck me.”

 

“I wouldn’t want to be a Vogon either,” Random said simply. “I don’t even like being human. There aren’t any other zarking humans anywhere out there, so it’s a completely pointless thing to be.”

 

Mown looked down at his fingers. “I suppose,” he said. “No.”

 

“What?” Random asked.

 

“Nothing.” Mown kept looking at his fingers.

 

“No, really. What?”

 

“Since I’m likely to get in trouble for this anyway,” Mown started awkwardly, “it might make sense if we kept one another company. Until, that is, we both figure out what to do.”

 

Random thought about this for a moment. “I think,” she said slowly, “that I’d like that.”

  <center>⁂</center>

Arthur led Fenchurch to his small, cramped little cabin, which only seemed smaller and more cramped with a second person.

 

“In the interest of full disclosure,” said Arthur, sitting back on his bunk to watch Fenchurch dig through the small amount of clothing she had with her. Like Milliways, B4 had staff quarters on the premises, but they were even less impressive than the closet Arthur had chosen for his living quarters so many years ago. “I feel that I should tell you that since we last parted company, I have been through quite a lot.”

 

Fenchurch turned round to look at him, trying to decide which shirt would better suit her breasts. “Have you?” she asked. “Which do you prefer?”

 

“I like the sort of yellow-ish one. The blue one seems too big; very sloppy-looking. Might work if that’s all you were wearing.” He sat back and watched her as she changed out of her B4 uniform. “And yes. Most notably, I gained a daughter, and very recently lost her.”

 

“A daughter?” Fenchurch didn’t try to hide the hurt and betrayal she felt over this, but she did give him time to explain himself. After all, the circumstances behind their separation hadn’t exactly been expected.

 

“Yes,” Arthur said simply. “With Trillian.”

 

“Trillian.” Fenchurch turned away from him so she didn’t have to see his face, but she had forgotten that she’d been standing in front of a mirror. “I didn’t think she was your type.”

 

Arthur stayed on the bed. “No,” he agreed. “Well… No.” He had been rather taken with her at first, but that had been a long time ago. “I’d taken to selling, erm… genetic material to pay for starliner tickets,” he explained. “I didn’t think anyone would want it. And why would they? We’re practically an extinct species.” He said this the way someone mentions being out of milk or baking soda. He’d had years to come to terms with this fact, and though somewhere, deep and hidden, it did bother him, he hardly noticed it any more.

“Except Trillian did want it?” Fenchurch asked.

“Apparently,” Arthur said. “Of course, it didn’t take her long to work out who it had belonged to. There aren’t many <i>Homo sapiens</i> running around the galaxy, after all.”

“How old is she?” Fenchurch asked, turning back round to face Arthur properly again, though still keeping her distance slightly.

Arthur sighed the way someone does just before they set out trying to explain just why the family car is filled with shaving cream.

“Fifteen,” he said. “Although, that’s Galactic Standard. I’ve no idea what it translates to in Earth years, though if I had to guess, I’d say somewhere closer to around seventeen. But it’s rather like trying to convert from millimetres to cubits over the radio with someone who doesn’t know what either is. There’s just no way to know for sure.”

“What about Trillian?” Fenchurch asked. “Doesn’t she know?”

Arthur shook his head. “No,” he said simply. “By my time line, she was born about two, maybe three years ago. By Trillian’s, closer to ten. But she grew up in a day care time zone, because Trillian became a war correspondent, and it was just safer that way. But they’re hardly reliable, from what I’ve seen.”

“I see.” Fenchurch didn’t, but that seemed the appropriate thing to say just then. “I suppose this is why,” she said slowly as she sat by Arthur’s side, “you didn’t seem quite so keen to leave Earth again, is it?”

“Well, at that time, I didn’t know about Random, but yes,” Arthur said. “This is the sort of thing that happens to me almost every day. I can’t explain it, or explain why it happens, but it does.”

Fenchurch blinked. “Random?” she asked. “That’s…”

“Her name, yes,” Arthur confirmed. “I didn’t name her, obviously. And if I had, I would not have chosen that.”

“No,” Fenchurch agreed, and lightly kissed him. “You’d have picked something more plain and… boring.”

“Yes.”

“How, then, was she born two, or ten, or fifteen years ago?” Fenchurch asked. “That is the part that I don’t quite understand.”

“Neither do I, for the most part,” Arthur admitted. “Trillian, as I said, is a war correspondent for one of the big Sub-Etha networks. This involved, for one reason or another, quite a lot of travelling backwards and forwards through time – something which CamTime is –”

“What?” Fenchurch frowned. Life had suddenly become unnecessarily complicated.

“The Campaign for Real Time,” Arthur explained. “They’re a sort of grassroots organisation who are trying to get time travel outlawed. You can guess how well that’s going for them.”

“I can.”

“Meanwhile , I’ve spent an absurd amount of time in hyperspace, which does… something to… the way a person… ages. Or something.” He said this slowly, knowing that with each word, he only sounded more and more like he had no idea what he was even on about. “I don’t actually know. It slows you down somehow. It’s all very Einstein, and I don’t understand it. I do know that when I met Trillian, she was younger than me, and now she seems to be a bit older.”

“Hmmm.” Fenchurch looked at him, very gently turning his head to get a good look at him. “Something’s… different. I can’t quite figure out what, though.”

Arthur frowned. “I haven’t seen you in four years,” he pointed out. “I’m sure there’s a lot that’s different.”

Fenchurch shook her head. “Years?” she asked. “It’s only been a few months. I know, because I was using my pay cheques as a way to mark the time.”

“Yes, years,” Arthur said. “I was maroon ed on an uncivilised planet for almost three of them. I was only just rescued about two days ago.”

“You poor thing.” She said it honestly, and hugged him tightly to her body. “That must have been terrible.”

He sighed tiredly. The planet itself hadn’t been terrible at all, but his sudden and unexpected rescue had been an absolute nightmare. And this was exactly the sort of thing he hated about this new lifestyle of his.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said.

“Then we won’t,” Fenchurch agreed. She kissed him again. “Besides. We have some catching up to do.”

Arthur hugged her tightly. He hadn’t realised before just how badly he had missed her, and he had decided right then and there that he wasn’t going to lose her again.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #4

Whomp, whirr.

The room was dark, damp, and smelled like the inside of a mouldy gym sock. The room was not so dark that a person couldn’t see a reasonably suitable distance, which was rather unfortunate, as the room had the sort of appearance that would explain why it would smell like the inside of a mouldy gym sock.

Whomp, whirr.

Whomp, whirr, whomp, whirr, whomp, whirr.

Whomp, whomp, whomp, whirr, whomp. Whirr.

“Where am I?”

The young girl moved carefully across the floor, mindful not to tread in anything nasty that might stick to her shoes, and possibly try to mate with them. This was easier said than done, since every square micrometer of the floor was covered with a sticky sort of grime that seemed to want to hold her feet permanently to the floor.

“I demand,” Random Frequent Flyer Dent shouted, “to be told what is going on! Right now!”

WHOMP, WHOMP, WHOMP, scrape.

The door slid open, and a large, green hulking mass stood in the way of any light that might have otherwise dared to creep into the room.

“Resistance is useless,” said the Vogon.

Random looked at the Vogon, thoroughly unimpressed. “What are you supposed to be?” she asked. “Is that meant to be scary, because I’m not scared.”

She hoped that her voice didn’t betray the small amount of fear she was experiencing at the moment.

“Come with me,” said the Vogon, ignoring Random’s words. “Resistance is useless.”

“So you said.” Random didn’t move from her spot, partially in defiance, but mostly because whatever it was that was on the floor now had a firm hold of her shoes. “Now tell me where I am and what’s going on.”

“Hitchhikers,” muttered the Vogon. “Resistance is—”

“I’m not a zarking hitchhiker, and I’ll resist if I damn well please.”

She tried to take a step backwards, but her feet stayed put and she nearly fell. She would have fallen backwards, except that at th at moment, the Vogon grabbed her by the waist and slung her over its shoulder.

“Resistance is useless.”

“Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Random beat her fists against the Vogon’s back, but the creature hardly seemed to notice. It simply stomped down the corridor, which was just as disgusting as the room had been, repeating itself about resistance being useless ever few steps. It took Random to a small room near the bridge, rather unceremoniously dumping her on the floor.

“I have the prisoner, sir,” it said, before saluting and leaving, shouting, “Resistance is useless!” one more time, just for good measure.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz wasn’t so much sat in a large seat in the centre of the room. If anything, he gave the appearance of a ball of dough being allowed to fall into a bowl that had been too small to properly contain it.

“Do you know,” Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz said slowly, “what we do to hitchhikers who stowaway aboard this vessel?”

“I’m not a hitchhiker,” Random insisted. “I didn’t want to come here. I want to go home.”

Jeltz hummed, not believing her. Like all Vogons, Jeltz hated hitchhikers, and had heard more than a few claim to just be some innocent traveller who had been beamed aboard by accident. Whether or not some of them had been innocent travellers who had indeed been beamed aboard by accident wasn’t any of his concern, and he prided himself in treating everyone with an equal amount of loathing.

“I’m going to read you a poem,” Jeltz declared simply. He reached for a small, badly-beaten book, and flipped through the pages until something caught his eye. “Ah. Here we are.”

Random looked up at a Vogon standing next to her, and pushed its Kill-O-Zap blaster away from her.

“Stop that,” she said. “You don’t scare me.”

Jeltz shifted in his seat slightly before clearing his throat. “See, see the infradead sky/ Marvel at its big mucus depths,” he began. ” Tell me, Gaz do you/ Wonder why the Arcturan elephant ant ignores you?”

Random sat on the floor, utterly bewildered at what she was forced to witness. She, like Jeltz, had been totally unaware of the racial memory of poetry by Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, which served as a buffer for this only marginally better poetry being forced upon her.

“Why its foobly stare makes you feel blurry/ I can tell you, it is/ Worried by your grundlebrod facial growth…” Jeltz continued, his voice having much of the same qualities as a record player trying to read a disk made of sandpaper. Still, Random sat and stared, not sure how she was meant to react. “You only charm peat moss.”

Random blinked at the creature before her. And then she blinked once more. “What was that?” she asked. “That was stupid. Why would you even write that? And get that gun out of my face. You still don’t scare me.”

She pushed the Kill-O-Zap blaster away again.

Jeltz grumbled a dissatisfied grumble at her. “Mown, throw her from the ship,” he said. “What a complete waste of time.”

“Yes, f—sir.” Constant Mown nudged at Random with the barrel of his Kill-O-Zap blaster. “All right. Up with you, now.”

Random half expected this one to say ‘resistance is useless,’ and was almost surprised when he didn’t. She stayed on the floor for several long moments, staring at the Vogon that was meant to throw her from the ship.

“I don’t want to,” she declared simply.

“Well…” Constant Mown seemed uncertain, which is an unusual characteristic for a Vogon. “You have to, some come on.”

He tapped her with the barrel of his blaster again, and this time, Random got to her feet. She marched out of the room and down the corridor, ignoring the Vogon and his weapon until the door slid shut with a metal scrape.

“Do you do everything that stinking pile in there tells you to do?” she asked, shoving her hands deep into her pockets. She had expected her fingers to come into contact with her father’s watch, and it wasn’t until they didn’t that she remembered that she had lost it in that horrible club. She was, she realised, well and truly lost from anything and everything that even came close to fitting.

“Well, yes,” Constant Mown said. “I have to.”

“Why?” Random stopped and looked at the creature, and couldn’t help but notice that it seemed almost sad.

“Because he’s my father,” Mown said. “And he wants me to take over the family business.”

“Why?” Random repeated. “I wouldn’t want to do what my father does. He’s just a dirty hitchhiker who makes sandwiches for a bunch of stupid people on a stupid, nowhere planet.”

Mown started to ask a question, but stopped himself, raising his blaster again. “I shouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said. “Go in there, or I’ll… or I’ll shoot you.”

Random looked at him again. “No, you won’t,” she said simply, and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I will,” said Mown. “I have orders to, so I will.”

“You won’t. I’m not an idiot, and I can see that you have your safety engaged,” Random said. “You won’t shoot me, and I’m not going in there.”

Mown lowered his blaster slightly. “Belgium,” he muttered.

Ford could barely hold his head up, which was a problem, as he still had half a Jinnin Tonnix that needed to be drank. Zaphod was in a similar way, with both of his heads resting on the back of the long sofa on the bridge. One of his hands was covering the face that Arthur had earlier punched, and the other two were holding half-drank Jinnin Tonnixes of their own. Eventually, Zaphod brought one of the glasses up and poured the drink over his face. The action didn’t get him any more intoxicated, since he was already about as close to maxed out as one could possibly get, but it did have the effect of making him smell like he’d surpassed that limit by several parsecs.

“So, what’s the plan?” Ford asked blearily.

Zaphod splashed his second Jinnin Tonnix in his face.

“I think my drinks need company,” he declared.

“Here.” Ford handed Zaphod what was left of his drink.

Zaphod drank it. “No, I think they need something more. There’s no diversity in there. Nothing mixing it up and causing trouble.”

“Bar’s over there.” Ford pointed vaguely in the direction of the bar. This was, of course, completely pointless, since this was Zaphod’s ship.

“I’m thinking burgers.”

Ford shook his head. “I don’t think Milliways would be a good idea,” he said. “Not after everything that happened last time.”

“No, the other one,” Zaphod said. “B-four’ed. Hey, Computer!”

Arthur watched boredly as Trillian fiddled with a MediReady Mend-o-Matic 3000. The more she fiddled with it, the more frustrated she became with it.

“There’s no setting for Human on this model,” she said, exasperated.

“Zeta Tauri IV,” Arthur said distantly. “It’s not exact, but close enough that it gets the job done.”

Trillian looked up at him hesitantly. “How do you know that?” she asked incredulously.

Arthur ignored the insulting tone of her voice. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to use one,” he said simply. “You try hitchhiking across the galaxy. It’s rather painful.”

Trillian set the Mend-o-Matic and held it over Arthur’s hand. “Yeah, it’s broken,” she said coldly. “Fracture on the second metacarpal.”

“Not much of a surprise, there.”

The mending of the bone hurt even worse than the breaking of it had, and Arthur had to grit his teeth to keep from making any embarrassing sorts of noises. He buried his face in the crook of his arm, vaguely hoping that Trillian hadn’t set the Mend-o-Matic to Zeta Tauri VI; a life form whose bone density was so high that the power needed to mend a fracture would just break any other species’ bones in several more places.

“That ‘s as good as I can get it,” Trillian said, frowning at the device.

Arthur made a fist. It still hurt to move his fingers, but he was still able to move them, which was an improvement.

“You should have known that she would have fit in even less with me than she did with you,” Arthur said. He’d been refraining from saying it, because he knew it would only restart the argument, but he just couldn’t hold it in any longer. “She has a television in her wrist, and you expected her to be happy on a planet that didn’t even have indoor plumbing?”

“Arthur, what was I supposed to do?” Trillian slammed the Mend-o-Matic on the counter. “I couldn’t just take her with me, could I?”

“She wanted to fit in somewhere. She’s part of a species of which there are only three members,” Arthur said, hoping this was true and not just optimistic speculation. “I don’t know, maybe you could have spent some time with her. Told her a little bit about where she comes from.”

“What about me?” Trillian demanded. “What about my life?”

“What about you?” Arthur stood up and walked toward the door. “It’s like you said to me, it’s time to take responsibility. I’m sorry your life didn’t end up how you’d expected, but do you think this is what I predicted for myself?”

Before Trillian had a chance to respond, Arthur left. There was a time when Arthur wouldn’t have even considered saying anything like that, but that was long ago, when he was a completely different person. Maybe it was years spent in the cargo bays of grubby ships, or spent lost on strange planets, or even following Ford Prefect around, but Arthur was starting to learn that if something seemed like it needed to be said, then there was usually a good reason for it.

Arthur retreated back to his cabin to fetch up his towel and something moderately clean to change into so he could take a shower. The closest thing he could find to clean was his dressing gown and a not-too-badly stained pair of pyjamas, but they’d have to do. It wasn’t as though he was in the habit of surrounding himself with the height of fashion, anyway.

He spent a full forty-five minutes in the shower, standing under the hot spray. At one point, the ship had engaged the Infinite Improbability Drive (he knew this because he spent several minutes as an anthropomorphic lobster), but he ignored it. He didn’t care about the Improbability Drive or where they were going or why they were going there. All he could do while he put on a charade of getting clean was wonder why it was that every time something good finally happened to him, the universe had to take it all away again.

Maybe he’d go back to Lamuella. He understood perfectly why Random had hated that planet, even though everything she hated about it happened to be everything that he had loved about it. He didn’t quite fit there, but it was the closest that he’d ever come to feeling like he had.

He only stepped o ut of the shower because the water had begun to get cold. He towelled himself off, put on his pyjamas, and set out to find Ford to ask him about finding a way back to Lamuella. That, he decided, was where he wanted to go, and neither hell nor high water would stop him.

The universe, of course, seemed to have other plans. Arthur wandered through the ship, checking the galley and the bridge, and various cabins, finding not a soul on board. He eventually realised that the ship had landed somewhere, and against his better judgement, Arthur decided to figure out where.

It was, as it turned out, a car park.

Arthur sighed as he tried to decide what to do. The logical thing would have been to have just stayed on the ship and wait for everyone to return, but one of the first things he had learned when he’d started travelling the galaxy was that logic was pointless, and had no place in anything as big as the universe.

Common sense told him that his travelling c ompanions could very well be gone a very long time, so he might as well try to catch them up.

The car park was like most other car parks – a large concrete labyrinth that smelled vaguely of something Arthur didn’t want to identify, and full of expensive space ships.

Eventually, he found a sign that bore the name of the restaurant the car park belonged to, with an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. On the sign was written <i>Big Bang Burger Bar</i>, and underneath that was written <i>Get the biggest bang for your buck!</i>

Arthur followed the arrow, eventually finding a door. He wasn’t sure if it was the right door, but it was a door, and therefore better than nothing. Arthur let himself in to be greeted by something that looked both vaguely insectoid and vaguely female. Although, it could have just as easily been the pink skirt and apron it was wearing that gave off the vaguely female vibe.

“Welcome to B-Four’ed,” the insect said to him in a chirpy voice.

Arthur blinked. “Before what?” he asked.

“No, sir. B-Four’ed.”

Arthur couldn’t tell of the insect creature was smiling at him, but something about her gave off the impression that she was.

“Yes, you said that,” Arthur said, already getting flustered. “Before what?”

“B-Four’ed,” the insect creature said patiently, and then she pointed at the badge she was wearing. He couldn’t read the dialect of Aldebaran Quadraform, in which her name was written, but that wasn’t where she was pointing anyway. What she was pointing at was the restaurant’s logo, which looked like this:

B4

“Right,” Arthur said, suddenly feeling fairly stupid. “Of course. Sorry. I, uh… I’m meeting someone. I think.” He looked around the throng of people and creatures, eventually spotting the backs of two identical heads. “Just over there, in fact.”

He left the insect creature by the door and wandered across the restaurant to the table where Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod sat. The restaurant was fairly dull, as far as restaurants at ends of universes go. The main bar was made of a sort of brushed-steel equivalent, with the seats featuring primarily chrome and cracked red leather. The decorations seemed to exist for the sole purpose of covering up the tiles on the walls, and the whole outfit was lit with unflattering fluorescent lights. The only thing that Arthur hadn’t been surprised to see was the inky blackness outside a massive window in the centre of the restaurant.

It all struck Arthur (aside from the massive window, that is) as trying to resemble a stereotypical American 1950s diner, but where the decorator had only been given one description of a film still that was done by a film student who hadn’t even taken the time to even talk to someone who was alive in the 1950s.

Hopefully the menu would at least be decent.

“Thank you,” he said, sitting down at the table, “for just leaving me behind, again.”

“What are you talking about, Arthur?” Ford asked. “You were right behind us.”

“I wasn’t!” Arthur said. “I was in the shower when you lot all decided to swan off.”

“What’s a swan?” Zaphod asked.

Arthur glared at him. “Anyway, I’m here now.” He looked around. “Where is here, exactly? Apart from the obvious.”

At that moment, Max Quordlepleen took the stage and the restaurant erupted in applause.

“Thank you, thank you,” said Max. “Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Big Bang Burger Bar!”

There was more applause. Max waited for it to die down again before continuing .

“Now, the festivities will begin in a very short moment, but before they do,” continued Max, “I have just a few short announcements to make…”

Arthur began to ignore him. Just another restaurant with another gimmick. He reached for a glass of what he hoped had been water and tried to wave down a passing waitress.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“This isn’t my section,” the waitress said simply. “I’ll let your waitress know you’re ready to order.” And with that, the creature with three sets of eyes whisked away to go take someone else’s order.

“Great,” Arthur said quietly. He turned to Ford, still intent on asking his assistance in getting back to Lamuella. “Ford, can I have a word?”

Ford shushed him, waving a hand in the air. “Quiet. This is the good bit.”

He was trying to divide his attention between Max Quordlepleen and the absolute nothing in the sky above them. Sighing a rather dejected sigh, Arthur rested his head against his hand and waited for ‘the good bit’ to finish so he could ask Ford for the coordinates of Lamuella. It annoyed him no small amount that, for all the time Arthur had spent there, he had no idea where it actually was. He picked up his water and had a drink, hoping that the waitress would arrive soon and offer some sort of distraction.

His strop was interrupted, however, by the sound of shattering glass somewhere off to his right.

“What the devil are you doing here?”

« || »

Perfectly Safe #3

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of plural zones:

Little is known about beings whose life cycles originate in plural zones. This is primarily because no one wants to spend enough time in a plural zone to do any proper research, owing simply to the fact of the highly unstable nature of these areas. One thing that is known about these life forms is that they have an odd tendency to move from one part of the probability axis to another without so much as a moment’s notice. This most often happens during hyperspace travel, since this is one of two known forms of travel that can intersect the probability axis. Unlike a ship using Infinite Improbability, hyperspace engines cannot control when and where they intersect these pockets of the universe, which is precisely why hyperspace travel is highly ill-advised for anyone whose life spans originated in a plural zone.

Recently, as these backwater parts of t he galaxy have begun to become slightly more civilised, a strange and unusual phenomenon has begun to occur at an alarming rate, and one which many travel agencies have begun to capitalise upon. It is simply this: a person’s lifespan can only end at the same point on the probability axis as where it began.

Since all other zones exist in a singular point, most hitchhikers and tourists have a habit of running afoul the wrong sorts of people in the wrong sorts of space ports, resulting in leading very short lives. This, as it happens, can be easily avoided simply by taking one’s holiday to a different point on the probability axis, and the easiest way to do this is to travel to a plural zone as a borderworld before embarking on your journey. This has led to an influx of so-called novelty pre-planned holidays, with packages ranging from going on nature walks to have your photograph taken with the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal to running with the perfectly normal beasts during their migration. If you happen to get yourself into a situation that would get you killed on your holiday, which is almost certain given some of the more exotic packages, you will simply find yourself at the nearest location on your own point on the probability axis.

This phenomenon also has other perks as well, particularly if you’re on a planet that is about to be destroyed for a supposed hyperspace express route.

“What do you mean, what am I doing here?” Zaphod Beeblebrox asked. “What on Betelgeuse are you doing here?”

Arthur brought his hand down, still having to squint quite badly at the light. “Zaphod?” he asked. “Is that you?”

“Oh, great,” Zaphod said. “You brought the monkey with you. I thought we already got rid of him. Twice. And don’t thank me for saving your lives or anything. Again.”

Arthur seethed. He wrapped his towel around his hands, because it kept his hands busy so they didn’t try to punch Z aphod in both of his noses. If Ford noticed any of this, he didn’t comment. Instead, he simply stepped past Arthur and Zaphod.

“You got a bar on this boat?” he asked.

“Sure do,” Zaphod said, glad to have an excuse to ignore Arthur. “It hasn’t moved since the last time you were here.”

As Arthur followed the other two down the corridor, he heard and all-too familiar satisfied sigh behind him as the door shut. He turned round sharply to make sure they weren’t being followed, but all he saw was a closed door.

Up ahead, they came to another door, which slid open easily. “I’m so happy to provide this service to you,” it said.

“Stick your head in a goat,” Zaphod told it.

The bar was on the main bridge, which was startling familiar. Even more startling, however, was a very startled Trillian, standing near the main console. Arthur completely forgot to recognise that he had once again been inexplicably rescued by the Heart of Gold, and rushed to Trillian.

“Trillian!” he gasped. “It is Trillian, right? Not… Tricia?”

She looked right, but lately, Arthur had been finding life to be much easier if he refrained from making any assumptions.

“Yeah, Arthur. It’s me,” she said, stepping away from him slightly. “Where’s Random?”

Arthur looked round sharply. “She isn’t with you?” he asked.

“No, I left her with you, remember?” Trillian pushed past him and started running through the ship, calling out Random’s name as doors opened with disgusting job satisfaction.

Arthur started to follow after her, but the idea seemed rather pointless when she rushed back onto the bridge.

“You were supposed to be watching after her,” Trillian shouted. “How could you just let her run off like that?”

“How could you think it wise to just leave me with a fifteen-year-old who doesn’t even know me?” Arthur shot back. “Of course she ran off!”

Trillian slapped him. “You don’t even care, do you, Arthur?” she demanded. “You didn’t even want to take responsibility in the first place.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” Arthur said. “You didn’t even know how old she was. I had to ask her. How long did you leave her at day care? Five? Six years?”

Trillian reached back to slap him again, but he caught her wrist this time.

“Don’t,” he said.

Behind him, Zaphod laughed. “Jeez, you really messed it up this time, Earthman,” he said.

Arthur spun on him. “This isn’t any of your zarking business, four-eyes!” he spat. “Just… get fucked!”

Arthur did what he wanted to do five minutes earlier and punched Zaphod in his left face. The action was very satisfying for the first few microseconds, until he realised that while he did manage to render that particular head unconscious, he had seriously hurt his hand in the process. He rubbed his hand with the other, hissing through his teeth and steadfastly ignoring how Zaphod’s conscious head was laughing at him.

“Oh, that’s real good, Arthur,” Trillian said, her voice dripping in sarcasm. “What did that accomplish, now?”

Teeth clenched Arthur turned round with the intent on giving Trillian another piece of his mind, but decided that there were slightly more pressing matters to deal with. Instead, walked right past her and made his way to what had been his bunk. Whether or not it was still his, he didn’t care. He just needed to be somewhere familiar where he wouldn’t be bothered.

“What got into him?” Zaphod asked. He looked over at his unconscious head, which lolled on his shoulders, drooling slightly. “Woah. I’ve never been half-conscious before. This is kinda strange.”

With a huff, Trillian followed Arthur’s lead and stomped off to find a quiet corner of her own.

Arthur was pleasantly surprised to find that Zaphod had been so apathetic about everything that he hadn’t even bothered to chuck out everything from the small bunk. Of course , the things Arthur had begun to collect really didn’t hold much significance, beyond looking interesting or vaguely resembling something that he couldn’t quite recognise. But this was still the most familiar place in the entire galaxy right now, and it was as close to home as Arthur thought he’d ever get.

He sat heavily on the small cot, still rubbing his hand. He couldn’t touch around the area that hurt, because that only made the pain worse, but he found that if he rubbed the areas that didn’t hurt, he could at least pretend to be doing some good.

After about ten minutes of quietly seething to himself, Arthur was startled when the door slid open with another sigh. He looked up to find Trillian standing in the corridor, not quite sure if coming to talk to Arthur was a good idea.

“Come to yell at me some more?” he asked bitterly. He vaguely wondered if he shouldn’t go find some ice for his hand.

“No, I…” Trillian inhaled deeply. “I came to apologis e. I know Random isn’t the easiest to watch after, and that’s why I left her with you. I needed a break.”

Arthur snorted. “You hardly ever saw her.”

“From her time line, no,” Trillian admitted. “From mine, it hadn’t been very long at all. I’d drop her off in the morning, and in the evening, she’d aged several years. But at least that way, I always knew where she was.”

“And leaving her on an uncharted planet with what might as well have been a complete stranger seemed like a better idea?” Trillian was trying to remain civil, so Arthur felt obligated to extend the same courtesy. To a point. “She’s my daughter too, you know. You’re not the only one who’s worried.”

“I know that, Arthur.” They were quiet for a few heavy moments, while Arthur tried to make a fist. It hurt to even bend his fingers.

“How does it feel?” Trillian asked.

Arthur chuffed. “Not good.”

“No, your hand,” Trillian clarified. “You hit him pretty hard.”

Arthur loo ked down at his hand. “Well, it hurts,” he said. “What’s his skull made of? Granite?”

Trillian finally approached Arthur and carefully took his hand in hers.

“Careful,” Arthur said, pulling back slightly.

“I think you might have broken it,” she said. “I can mend it, but it’s not pretty.”

“I’ll live with it,” Arthur declared, taking his hand back. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Trillian started to ask what he meant by that, but stopped herself. She had a feeling that she already knew what he meant, and didn’t want to talk about it.

“No, come on,” she insisted. “It only takes a minute.” She grabbed Arthur by the arm, pulling him to his feet.

As much as Arthur wanted to protest, he knew she was probably right. Besides, if he had broken his hand, it might make hitchhiking a bit more difficult. So he followed her, trying to think about anything but the circumstances behind his current situation, which was becoming something of a hobby for him lately.

« || »

Perfectly Safe #2

Very few people can actually say that they have survived the horrible and ultimate destruction of a planet. Fewer people still can say that they have survived the horrible and ultimate destruction of that planet again for a second time.

Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect were two of these people.

Even more improbably, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect had survived the same planet being destroyed on the same two occasions. As it was, the last man from Earth and the man from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse lay on a cold, hard floor in the middle of a cold, dark room. They both lay silent for a long time, staring up at the complete blackness before them. If either had been inclined to raise their hands in front of their faces, which they hadn’t, they would not be able to see the short distance to their fingers.

“I’m definitely dead this time.” It was Arthur who spoke first, positively certain that whatever had just happened in Stavro Mueller Beta had killed him, and bits of his body just hadn’t yet got the memo.

“Yep,” Ford agreed after a few moments. “No way we survived that.”

The two men were quiet again for a long time.

“Ford?” Arthur asked cautiously. “If you’re dead, and I’m dead, how are you talking to me?”

“No idea, Arthur.”

Arthur hummed lightly, not having the full brain capacity just yet to fully work out this problem.

“We’re not actually dead, are we?” Arthur asked after another long pause.

“No, I don’t think so.”

Arthur wasn’t sure why, but this information annoyed him. He couldn’t figure out why it was that every time he found someplace that felt like home, where he could be happy and come as close to enjoying life as possible, some horrible green, bug-eyed space monster had to throw a massive spanner into the works by blowing the planet to pieces.

Finally, Arthur sat up and felt around the area for his towel. “I suppose,” he said, once he located the threadbare towel that he’d been dragging around the galaxy for over a decade, now, “we had better figure out where we are.”

“I’m glad you had that idea,” Ford said as he followed Arthur to his feet. “Because I wasn’t going to.”

He cautiously groped through the dark until his fingers came into contact with Arthur’s towel. He gripped it tightly, giving it a light tug to signal that where ever Arthur would lead, he’d be right behind. Slowly, they shuffled across the room. How big it was, there seemed to be no way of knowing. But the floor was smooth, and relatively free of obstacles, although that didn’t tell them anything other than they weren’t likely to break their noses by tripping over anything. Eventually, Arthur’s outstretched hand touched a smooth, polished surface, and he now knew a third thing about the room they were in. It did not appear to be very big.

“Found a wall,” he declared. “What do you think, left or right?”

“Flip a coin?” Ford suggested. “Heads we go right; tails, we go left.”

Before Arthur could give his opinion, Ford pulled a 50p coin from his pocket and flung it into the air, letting it drop with a ringing clatter to the floor.

“Which was it?” Arthur asked.

“Yes, I see the flaw in that plan now,” Ford conceded. “Left. I’ve just made an executive decision.”

Arthur led the way to the left, keeping his hand around the level keypads tended to be. His fingers never graced anything that felt even remotely like a keypad, which made the sudden opening of a door, and the resulting flood of light, come as quite a surprise to both him and Ford. They both quickly shielded their eyes, having not been prepared for the sudden assault on their retinas.

“For zark’s sake, do I have do everything around here?” a voice asked from near the door. “This isn’t my job to pick up stowaways.”

It was Ford who looked at the owner of the voice first. Though his vision was still in a bad way, what with being blown up and then finding himself in a dark room, some people are just easily recognised, no matter how blurred one’s vision is.

“What are you doing here?”

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Perfectly Safe #1

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think internet video streaming is a pretty neat idea.

This planet has – or rather had – several fundamental problems, each more fundamental than the next. More important than the general unhappiness of the planet’s inhabitants or even the movements of small green pieces of paper (which, as it happened, were on the whole quite happy indeed) was this planet’s position on the probability axis and its rather unfortunate location in one of the universe’s many unstable plural zones.

These problems together were more important and fundamental than any other problem this planet had ever had the misfortune to encounter. The reason behind these problems can best be summed up in two simple words.

Mostly harmless.

Because of this planet’s position on the probability axis and its rather unfortunate location in galactic sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, it doesn’t do to just know that a person is in that sector. Planets in plural zones are, as their name suggests, subject to existing in quantities greater than one. If, for instance, a hyperspace express route needed to be created, and a few planets demolished along the way to make room, then the planets would simply be demolished and the day’s work would be done. But if one of those planets existed in a plural zone, every instance of that planet would need to be demolished. There have been unfortunate instances when this was not the case. When the Starship Gargantuan was launched and made a jump into hyperspace, it immediately collided with a version Beta Geminorum VI that hadn’t been demolished on the probability axis. It was this particular disaster that led to the decision that the Galactic Council of Planning and Development should all be sacked on the spot, and their jobs handed over to a race known for being particularly bureaucratic, thus insuring that such a cock-up didn’t happen again in the future.

The first change implemented under the new management was that under no circumstances should a hyperspace express route ever be laid through a plural zone, for any reason. Go over, under, around, or (in the most extreme cases) in the complete opposite direction if you have to. Either way you do it, the process will be infinitely cheaper than having to send crews out to find every single planet on the probability axis.

Of course, these things have a habit of coming back round full circle to sabotage the whole system. This is why, when an otherwise insignificant little blue-green planet Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha had been ordered to be made perfectly safe, as opposed to mostly harmless, the whole mess had been regarded as just another massive cock-up by the Galactic Council of Planning and Development. The galaxy rolled its collective eyes, and went on with its collective day, and nobody could even be bothered to launch a formal inquiry.

Which, as it happened, had been the plan all along.

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