Authors: Douglas Adams
The PA died away.
Uncomprehending terror settled on the watching people of Earth. The terror moved slowly through the gathered crowds as if they were iron filings on a sheet of board and a magnet was moving beneath them. Panic sprouted again, desperate fleeing panic, but there was nowhere to flee to.
Observing this, the Vogons turned on their PA again. It said:
“There’s no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning
charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning
department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve
had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to
start making a fuss about it now.”
The PA fell silent again and its echo drifted off across the land. The huge ships turned slowly in the sky with easy power. On the underside of each a hatchway opened, an empty black square.
By this time somebody somewhere must have manned a radio transmitter, located a wavelength and broadcast a message back to the Vogon ships, to plead on behalf of the planet. Nobody ever heard what they said, they only heard the reply. The PA slammed back into life again. The voice was annoyed. It said:
“What do you mean, you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For
heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light-years away, you know. I’m
sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s
your own lookout.
“Energize the demolition beams.”
Light poured out of the hatchways.
“I don’t know,”
said the voice on the PA,
planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.”
It cut off.
There was a terrible ghastly silence.
There was a terrible ghastly noise.
There was a terrible ghastly silence.
The Vogon Constructor Fleet coasted away into the inky starry void.
Far away on the opposite spiral arm of the Galaxy, five hundred thousand light-years from the star Sol, Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Imperial Galactic Government, sped across the seas of Damogran; his ion drive delta boat winking and flashing in the Damogran sun.
Damogran the hot; Damogran the remote; Damogran the almost totally unheard of.
Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.
The boat sped on across the water. It would be some time before it reached its destination because Damogran is such an inconveniently arranged planet. It consists of nothing but middling to large desert islands separated by very pretty but annoyingly wide stretches of ocean.
The boat sped on.
Because of this topographical awkwardness Damogran has always remained a deserted planet. This is why the Imperial Galactic Government chose Damogran for the Heart of Gold project, because it was so deserted and the Heart of Gold project was so secret.
The boat zipped and skipped across the sea, the sea that lay between the main islands of the only archipelago of any useful size on the whole planet. Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter Island (the name was an entirely meaningless coincidence—in Galacticspeke,
means small, flat and light-brown) to the Heart of Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.
One of the side effects of work on the Heart of Gold was a whole string of pretty meaningless coincidences.
But it was not in any way a coincidence that today, the day of culmination of the project, the great day of unveiling, the day that the Heart of Gold was finally to be introduced to a marveling Galaxy, was also a great day of culmination for Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was for the sake of this day that he had first decided to run for the presidency, a decision that had sent shock waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy. Zaphod Beeblebrox?
Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not
President? Many had seen it as clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas.
Zaphod grinned and gave the boat an extra kick of speed.
Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippie, good-timer, (crook? quite possibly), manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, often thought to be completely out to lunch.
No one had gone bananas, not in that way at least.
Only six people in the entire Galaxy understood the principle on which the Galaxy was governed, and they knew that once Zaphod Beeblebrox had announced his intention to run as President it was more or less a fait accompli: he was ideal presidency fodder.
What they completely failed to understand was why Zaphod was doing it.
He banked sharply, shooting a wild wall of water at the sun.
Today was the day; today was the day when they would realize what Zaphod had been up to. Today was what Zaphod Beeblebrox’s presidency was all about. Today was also his two-hundredth birthday, but that was just another meaningless coincidence.
As he skipped his boat across the seas of Damogran he smiled quietly to himself about what a wonderful, exciting day it was going to be. He relaxed and spread his two arms lazily along the seat back. He steered with an extra arm he’d recently had fitted just beneath his right one to help improve his ski-boxing.
“Hey,” he cooed to himself, “you’re a real cool boy, you.” But his nerves sang a song shriller than a dog whistle.
The island of France was about twenty miles long, five miles across the middle, sandy and crescent-shaped. In fact, it seemed to exist not so much as an island in its own right as simply a means of defining the sweep and curve of a huge bay. This impression was heightened by the fact that the inner coastline of the crescent consisted almost entirely of steep cliffs. From the top of the cliff the land sloped slowly down five miles to the opposite shore.
On top of the cliffs stood a reception committee.
It consisted in large part of the engineers and researchers who had built the Heart of Gold—mostly humanoid, but here and there were a few reptiloid atomineers, two or three green sylphlike maximegalacticians, an octopodic physucturalist or two and a Hooloovoo (a Hooloovoo is a superintelligent shade of the color blue). All except the Hooloovoo were resplendent in their multicolored ceremonial lab coats; the Hooloovoo had been temporarily refracted into a free-standing prism for the occasion.
There was a mood of immense excitement thrilling through all of them. Together and between them they had gone to and beyond the furthest limits of physical laws, restructured the fundamental fabric of matter, strained, twisted and broken the laws of possibility and impossibility, but still the greatest excitement of all seemed to be to meet a man with an orange sash round his neck. (An orange sash was what the President of the Galaxy traditionally wore.) It might not even have made much difference to them if they’d known exactly how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded: none at all. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.
Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job.
The crowd gasped, dazzled by sun and seamanship, as the presidential speedboat zipped round the headland into the bay. It flashed and shone as it came skating over the sea in wide skidding turns.
In fact, it didn’t need to touch the water at all, because it was supported on a hazy cushion of ionized atoms, but just for effect it was fitted with thin finblades which could be lowered into the water. They slashed sheets of water hissing into the air, carved deep gashes in the sea which swayed crazily and sank back foaming in the boat’s wake as it careered across the bay.
Zaphod loved effect: it was what he was best at.
He twisted the wheel sharply, the boat skidded round in a wild scything skid beneath the cliff face and dropped to rest lightly on the rocking waves.
Within seconds he ran out onto the deck and waved and grinned at over three billion people. The three billion people weren’t actually there, but they watched his every gesture through the eyes of a small robot tri-D camera which hovered obsequiously in the air nearby. The antics of the President always made amazingly popular tri-D: that’s what they were for.
He grinned again. Three billion and six people didn’t know it, but today would be a bigger antic than anyone had bargained for.
The robot camera homed in for a close-up on the more popular of his two heads and he waved again. He was roughly humanoid in appearance except for the extra head and third arm. His fair tousled hair stuck out in random directions, his blue eyes glinted with something completely unidentifiable, and his chins were almost always unshaven.
A twenty-foot-high transparent globe floated next to his boat, rolling and bobbing, glistening in the brilliant sun. Inside it floated a wide semicircular sofa upholstered in glorious red leather: the more the globe bobbed and rolled, the more the sofa stayed perfectly still, steady as an upholstered rock. Again, all done for effect as much as anything.
Zaphod stepped through the wall of the globe and relaxed on the sofa. He spread his two arms along the back and with the third brushed some dust off his knee. His heads looked about, smiling; he put his feet up. At any moment, he thought, he might scream.
Water boiled up beneath the bubble, it seethed and spouted. The bubble surged into the air, bobbing and rolling on the water spout. Up, up it climbed, throwing stilts of light at the cliff. Up it surged on the jet, the water falling from beneath it, crashing back into the sea hundreds of feet below.
Zaphod smiled, picturing himself.
A thoroughly ridiculous form of transport, but a thoroughly beautiful one.
At the top of the cliff the globe wavered for a moment, tipped onto a railed ramp, rolled down it to a small concave platform and riddled to a halt.
To tremendous applause Zaphod Beeblebrox stepped out of the bubble, his orange sash blazing in the light.
The President of the Galaxy had arrived.
He waited for the applause to die down, then raised his hand in greeting.
“Hi,” he said.
A government spider sidled up to him and attempted to press a copy of his prepared speech into his hands. Pages three to seven of the original version were at the moment floating soggily on the Damogran Sea some five miles out from the bay. Pages one and two had been salvaged by a Damogran Frond Crested Eagle and had already become incorporated into an extraordinary new form of nest which the eagle had invented. It was constructed largely of papier-mâché and it was virtually impossible for a newly hatched baby eagle to break out of it. The Damogran Frond Crested Eagle had heard of the notion of survival of the species but wanted no truck with it.
Zaphod Beeblebrox would not be needing his set speech and he gently deflected the one being offered him by the spider.
“Hi,” he said again.
Everyone beamed at him, or at least, nearly everyone. He singled out Trillian from the crowd. Trillian was a girl that Zaphod had picked up recently while visiting a planet, just for fun, incognito. She was slim, darkish, humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little knob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes. With her red head scarf knotted in that particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress, she looked vaguely Arabic. Not that anyone there had ever heard of an Arab of course. The Arabs had very recently ceased to exist, and even when they had existed they were five hundred thousand light-years from Damogran. Trillian wasn’t anybody in particular, or so Zaphod claimed. She just went around with him rather a lot and told him what she thought of him.
“Hi, honey,” he said to her.
She flashed him a quick tight smile and looked away. Then she looked back for a moment and smiled more warmly—but by this time he was looking at something else.
“Hi,” he said to a small knot of creatures from the press who were standing nearby wishing that he would stop saying
and get on with the quotes. He grinned at them particularly because he knew that in a few moments he would be giving them one hell of a quote.
The next thing he said though was not a lot of use to them. One of the officials of the party had irritably decided that the President was clearly not in a mood to read the deliciously turned speech that had been written for him, and had flipped the switch on the remote-control device in his pocket. Away in front of them a huge white dome that bulged against the sky cracked down the middle, split and slowly folded itself down into the ground. Everyone gasped although they had known perfectly well it was going to do that because they’d built it that way.
Beneath it lay uncovered a huge starship, one hundred and fifty meters long, shaped like a sleek running shoe, perfectly white and mind-bogglingly beautiful. At the heart of it, unseen, lay a small gold box which carried within it the most brain-wrenching device ever conceived, a device that made this starship unique in the history of the Galaxy, a device after which the ship had been named—the Heart of Gold.
“Wow,” said Zaphod Beeblebrox to the Heart of Gold. There wasn’t much else he could say.
He said it again because he knew it would annoy the press. “Wow.”
The crowd turned their faces back toward him expectantly. He winked at Trillian, who raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes at him. She knew what he was about to say and thought him a terrible show-off.
“That is really amazing,” he said. “That really is truly amazing. That is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it.”
A marvelous presidential quote, absolutely true to form. The crowd laughed appreciatively, the newsmen gleefully punched buttons on their Sub-Etha News-Matics and the President grinned.
As he grinned his heart screamed unbearably and he fingered the small Paralyso-Matic bomb that nestled quietly in his pocket.
Finally he could bear it no more. He lifted his heads up to the sky, let out a wild whoop in major thirds, threw the bomb to the ground and ran forward through the sea of suddenly frozen beaming smiles.