The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Many races believe that it was created by some sort of god, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure.
The Jatravartids, who live in perpetual fear of the time they call the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief, are small blue creatures with more than fifty arms each, who are therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
However, the Great Green Arkleseizure Theory is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI and so, the Universe being the puzzling place it is, other explanations are constantly being sought.
For instance, a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings once built themselves a gigantic supercomputer called Deep Thought to calculate once and for all the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.
For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two—and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was.
And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet—especially by the strange apelike beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program.
And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense.
Sadly, however, just before the critical moment of read-out, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the Vogons to make way—so they claimed—for a new hyperspace bypass, and so all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost for ever.
Or so it would seem.
Two of these strange, apelike creatures survived.
Arthur Dent escaped at the very last moment because an old friend of his, Ford Prefect, suddenly turned out to be from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he had hitherto claimed; and, more to the point, he knew how to hitch rides on flying saucers.
Tricia McMillan—or Trillian—had skipped the planet six months earlier with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the then President of the Galaxy.
They are all that remains of the greatest experiment ever conducted—to find the Ultimate Question and the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe and Everything.
And, less than half a million miles from where their starship is drifting lazily through the inky blackness of space, a Vogon ship is moving slowly toward them.
Like all Vogon ships it looked as if it had been not so much designed as congealed. The unpleasant yellow lumps and edifices which protruded from it at unsightly angles would have disfigured the looks of most ships, but in this case that was sadly impossible. Uglier things have been spotted in the skies, but not by reliable witnesses.
In fact to see anything much uglier than a Vogon ship you would have to go inside it and look at a Vogon. If you are wise, however, this is precisely what you will avoid doing because the average Vogon will not think twice before doing something so pointlessly hideous to you that you will wish you had never been born—or (if you are a clearer minded thinker) that the Vogon had never been born.
In fact, the average Vogon probably wouldn’t even think once. They are simple-minded, thick-willed, slug-brained creatures, and thinking is not really something they are cut out for. Anatomical analysis of the Vogon reveals that its brain was originally a badly deformed, misplaced and dyspeptic liver. The fairest thing you can say about them, then, is that they know what they like, and what they like generally involves hurting people and, wherever possible, getting very angry.
One thing they don’t like is leaving a job unfinished—particularly this Vogon, and particularly—for various reasons—this job.
This Vogon was Captain Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council, and he it was who had had the job of demolishing the so-called “planet” Earth.
He heaved his monumentally vile body round in his ill-fitting, slimy seat and stared at the monitor screen on which the starship Heart of Gold was being systematically scanned.
It mattered little to him that the Heart of Gold, with its Infinite Improbability Drive, was the most beautiful and revolutionary ship ever built. Aesthetics and technology were closed books to him and, had he had his way, burned and buried books as well.
It mattered even less to him that Zaphod Beeblebrox was aboard. Zaphod Beeblebrox was now the ex-President of the Galaxy, and though every police force in the Galaxy was currently pursuing both him and this ship he had stolen, the Vogon was not interested.
He had other fish to fry.
It has been said that Vogons are not above a little bribery and corruption in the same way that the sea is not above the clouds, and this was certainly true in his case. When he heard the words integrity or moral rectitude he reached for his dictionary, and when he heard the chink of ready money in large quantities he reached for the rule book and threw it away.
In seeking so implacably the destruction of the Earth and all that therein lay he was moving somewhat above and beyond the call of his professional duty. There was even some doubt as to whether the said bypass was actually going to be built, but the matter had been glossed over.
He grunted a repellent grunt of satisfaction.
“Computer,” he croaked, “get me my brain care specialist on the line.”
Within a few seconds the face of Gag Halfrunt appeared on the screen, smiling the smile of a man who knew he was ten light-years away from the Vogon face he was looking at. Mixed up somewhere in the smile was a glint of irony too. Though the Vogon persistently referred to him as “my private brain care specialist” there was not a lot of brain to take care of, and it was in fact Halfrunt who was employing the Vogon. He was paying him an awful lot of money to do some very dirty work. As one of the Galaxy’s most prominent and successful psychiatrists, he and a consortium of his colleagues were quite prepared to spend an awful lot of money when it seemed that the entire future of psychiatry might be at stake.
“Well,” he said, “hello my Captain of Vogons Prostetnic, and how are we feeling today?”
The Vogon Captain told him that in the last few hours he had wiped out nearly half his crew in a disciplinary exercise.
Halfrunt’s smile did not flicker for an instant.
“Well,” he said, “I think this is perfectly normal behavior for a Vogon, you know? The natural and healthy channeling of the aggressive instincts into acts of senseless violence.”
“That,” rumbled the Vogon, “is what you always say.”
“Well again,” said Halfrunt, “I think that this is perfectly normal behavior for a psychiatrist. Good. We are clearly both very well adjusted in our mental attitudes today. Now tell me, what news of the mission?”
“We have located the ship.”
“Wonderful,” said Halfrunt, “wonderful! And the occupants?”
“The Earthman is there.”
“Excellent! And …?”
“A female from the same planet. They are the last.”
“Good, good,” beamed Halfrunt. “Who else?”
“The man Prefect.”
“And Zaphod Beeblebrox.”
For an instant Halfrunt’s smile flickered.
“Ah, yes,” he said, “I had been expecting this. It is most regrettable.”
“A personal friend?” inquired the Vogon, who had heard the expression somewhere once and decided to try it out.
“Ah, no,” said Halfrunt, “in my profession you know, we do not make personal friends.”
“Ah,” grunted the Vogon, “professional detachment.”
“No,” said Halfrunt cheerfully, “we just don’t have the knack.”
He paused. His mouth continued to smile, but his eyes frowned slightly.
“But Beeblebrox, you know,” he said, “he is one of my most profitable clients. He has personality problems beyond the dreams of analysts.”
He toyed with this thought a little before reluctantly dismissing it.
“Still,” he said, “you are ready for your task?”
“Good. Destroy the ship immediately.”
“What about Beeblebrox?”
“Well,” said Halfrunt brightly, “Zaphod’s just this guy, you know?”
He vanished from the screen.
The Vogon Captain pressed a communicator button which connected him with the remains of his crew.
“Attack,” he said.