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“But unfortunately,” continued Ford, “it rather involved being on the other side of this airtight hatchway.” He kicked the hatch they'd just been through.
“But it was a good idea was it?”
“Oh yes, very neat.”
“What was it?”
“Well I hadn't worked out the details yet. Not much point now is there?”
“So… er, what happens next?”
“Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxicate. If you take a lungful of air with you you can last for up to thirty seconds of course…” said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur's eyes he suddenly looked very alien.
“So this is it,” said Arthur, “we're going to die.”
“Yes,” said Ford, “except… no! Wait a minute!” he suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur's line of vision. “What's this switch?” he cried.
“What? Where?” cried Arthur twisting round.
“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.”
He slumped against the wall again and carried on the tune from where he left off.
“You know,” said Arthur, “it's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxication in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”
“Why, what did she tell you?”
“I don't know, I didn't listen.”
“Oh.” Ford carried on humming.
“This is terrific,” Arthur thought to himself, “Nelson's Column has gone, McDonald's have gone, all that's left is me and the words Mostly Harmless. Any second now all that will be left is Mostly Harmless. And yesterday the planet seemed to be going so well.”
A motor whirred.
A slight hiss built into a deafening roar of rushing air as the outer hatchway opened on to an empty blackness studded with tiny impossibly bright points of light. Ford and Arthur popped into outer space like corks from a toy gun.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers.
The introduction begins like this: “Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen…” and so on. (After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell you things you really need to know, like the fact that the fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.) To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of distances between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for the Guide's introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider for a moment a peanut in reading and a small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.
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