Still Mostly Harmless

2 Conversations

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz

In the darkness of the bridge at the heart of the Vogon ship, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz sat alone. Lights flared briefly across the external vision screens that lined one wall, however, not the lights he'd expected. In the blink of a Bugblatter Beast's eye, just before his stylus made contact with the little squarish box on the demolition order he'd been impatiently waiting to tick off, the stylus melted out of existence. For that matter, his whole ship had done the same thing in that same instant, engulfed in a blinding white light that plumed outward and away from the point at which the Vogon Constructor Ship had once been. The various bits and pieces of the ship and crew added to this spectacular effect by sparkling and flashing like holiday fireworks. Strangely enough, there was one incongruous dark spot in all the scintillating light. A fluttering sort of emptiness that melded into the very fabric of space as the surrounding panoply of light and iridescence gradually lost its exuberance, then dimmed and faded into nothingness, leaving only a ghostly suggestion of an avian shadow gliding across the void.

In another corner of the WSOGMM, a large bat-like creature – – in dire need of an orthodontist and a psychoanalyst – – noted yet another 'coincidental' murder perpetrated in a devious fashion by its tormentor, Arthur Dent. It began to howl in rage and frustration, the sound undulating, echoing, and reverberating in the stony confines of its collapsed cathedral. Then came a dawning realization and the scream transformed rapidly into a fit of maniacal laughter that sounded something like: 'HhhhhhrrrrrraaaaaaHHHHHH… uh... ha... ha-ha-Ha-HA-HAAAA!' Gradually, Agrajag's ragged wings and bony shoulders ceased to shake. In a startling revelation that drove out all his previous confusion and perplexity, he uttered one final plaintive sound.

'Eeeepp! What in the name of Kevin...?!' exclaimed the Grebulon's Leader. He stood up from his viewing consoles, wondering what had gone so blitheringly wrong. It was exactly identical to, though completely unlike, the thought that had gone through the Vogon commander's tiny curd of brain matter just a nanosecond before, at the receiving end of the going-wrong.

Leaning forward in furious dismay, the Leader stabbed at the communications link button that put him in direct contact with the station manning the weapons turrets of the ship, and demanded an explanation from the crew. There was a brief flurry of activity: monitors were monitored, gauges were gouged, indicators were implicated, and databases were debased. The final outcome of the peremptory interrogations revealed that, though all the turrets had locked onto the exact coordinates specified by the precise calculations of the Grebulon's exceedingly complicated computer system, every salvo had missed the intended target – – the Earth – – by .042 degrees.

This was caused, in a very small way, by the astronomical triangulation formulas provided by Tricia McMillan, whose mathematical prowess hadn't failed her, but rather had proceeded from her normal frame of reference. She was used to looking up from the Earth into the heavens, rather than away from Rupert (in the heavens) toward the Earth. Thus, in spite of having taken what he regarded as an extremely positive piece of action, the Grebulon leader conceded it had been buggered up beyond all recourse, and he ended up having a very bad month after all. Perhaps, he concluded, these earthlings weren't worth all this bother. He transmitted a new course, heading to the helmsman, switched off the television feeds, and put on a little light music instead.

Chapter 2

The lilting sounds of Elvis emoting the ever-popular 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Ground Hog' played discreetly in the background as Arthur Dent stared across the kitchen table. Trillian was bustling to and fro', preparing some tea, while Random hunched over the table and fidgeted with several strands of her dark hair that hung down past her eyes. She had tried to explain some of what Arthur had missed after her departure, and – – though he'd nodded once or twice and vocalized an understanding of the situation – – it was plainly evident he was floundering with certain concepts.

'So, when you...aah...stole – – you don't mind me saying stole, do you? – – umm...Ford Prefect's spaceship, that's when you...err... How did you put that?'

'Re-pro-gram-duh!' mouthed Random, accentuating each syllable of the single word, hoping desperately Arthur would be able to digest it in that form.

'Ah, yes, re-proge-rammed the...Guide, then it... Say, what did you do that for?'

Random let out an exasperated sigh, which sounded exactly like the whistle of a tea kettle. She and Arthur were both momentarily agape with confusion until they realized that the timing of her sigh and the boiling of the teapot shared no causal relationship. Trillian, however, recognized the cause. She turned off the stove's burner with one hand, snatched a favorite pot holder (embroidered with petunias) with the other, and bustled the container to the table to disburse the hot water among the teacups waiting there.

'Let me see if I can help explain what Random told you, Arthur, my dear,' she offered while filling each dainty cup. She had his full attention, not just because of her nearness and the light scent of her perfume. (Mostly he delighted in the way she let his name roll off her tongue, using just the right number of r's.) 'Remember when you spent some time on that one planet, Lamuella, and you were the Sandwich Maker for the village? You were really good at it, weren't you? You came to know the most efficient way to put sandwiches together and the best way to layer the ingredients. You could almost do it autonomic, and you could just tell when something wasn't quite right with a sandwich you or anyone else had made. Now suppose you had wanted to play a trick on someone by hiding some capers inside one of your sandwiches, couldn't you, ha...?'

'Why would I want to do something like that?' interjected Arthur, absorbed in watching the brown swirls released from the teabag as he idly began to stir the brew.

The fingernails of Random's left hand scraped the tabletop as, simultaneously, she drew her clenched right hand to her mouth and bit down on her forefinger to keep from braying. Trillian gently placed her free hand on Random's shoulder and pressed on.

'Suppose you wanted to get one up on a Vogon – –?'

'Urk!' escaped Arthur's mouth. His head jerked upward and snapped right and left several times, searching wildly.

'Now, now, dear, it's only an example.'

'Must you use a...a Vog – – ... a Vogon in it?' stammered Arthur.

'For this example, yes. Now just follow along, dear.' She carefully set the teapot down and reassuringly patted his hand. 'You don't like the Vogons much, do you?'

'Not in the least.'

'And if you had the chance to muck up a Vogon's – – say a particular Vogon captain's – – day, you'd do it on the sly so it would catch him unawares, right?' pressed Trillian.

'No sense having your name all over a misdeed just to get yourself ejected into space, I'd think...' ruminated Arthur.

'So, then... Couldn't you sneak some capers into the sandwich you've set aside for him –– perhaps hidden among the trimmings like some sprouts, or salad, or – –?'

'...or covered in splagberry sauce,' said Arthur, warming to the topic, 'and situated between a slice of honey-cured ham and a sliver of Perfectly Normal Beast. Why, it would never occur to a Vogon to check something like that...' His voice trailed off as something occurred to him. The significance of such a sublime intrigue battled its way across his face, to be chased back the other direction by his naïveté and general good-naturedness, which fetched up short and got its arse kicked back to where it came from. 'My word, he'd only notice it after he'd taken a bite!' beamed Arthur with conspiratorial glee.

'In the case of the Guide,' interjected Random, 'the Vogon didn't notice the extra bit until he used it a certain way. Now do you understand?' she pleaded.

'Certainly, but how did you get the capers into the Guide?' Arthur's revelations – – seemingly all of them – – had very short life spans.

The majority of PhiloSocioHistorians of Antithetical Weirdness head quartered inside the eel skin handbag of one Hermione Adelaide Hummous, as well as anyone on the Measurement Equity Rationalization Department staff of the Parisian Universal Proportions University, would certainly argue the point of how short a period of time that actually was.

Perhaps shorter than the inconsideration of a person who steps into the only available express check-out line just ahead of you, glances at the '12 Items or Less' sign, notices he has 27 items, yet unloads everything onto the register's conveyor and blathers about tid-bits of his personal life to all the nearby patrons while simultaneously fishing through all his pockets for the requisite number of bills and coinage to pay for it all.

Certainly it was longer than the life span of the odd blue-tufted race of Tevegians from Coco Opus Theta. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy notes that this race of people has an improbably short life span, in that they die before they are born. The first interstellar explorers of their planet were led to surmise the buildings and other structures they found were from a civilization that had died out millennia earlier, though with a prepaid long-term cleaning contract. The Tevegians, however, did indeed construct it all and continue to build their civilization, though they each expire before they actually get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The metaphysical ramifications of such a group of beings...

— Entry from the Guide

'No, no, No, no, NO!' shouted the frustrated girl, clutching the hair on both sides of her head and rising abruptly from her chair. Her hip nudged the table and sent the cups clattering, sloshing tea into the saucers and onto the tablecloth. She stumbled in an attempt to leave the kitchen and Trillian was there to catch her, burying the child's distraught face into her bosom. Arthur stood, as well. He sidled up beside the two and tentatively reached out to Random's shoulder. Trillian's eyes affirmed his action, shifting from an imploring gaze into his eyes, then dropping to look at the top of Random's head. Arthur encircled both his ladies in an embrace and rocked them gently for a while. Gradually, the raging heat he'd encountered when he first touched Random began to subside. She raised her chin and peeked out from under the fringe of her dark hair, glaring at him.

'I...I made a few the instructions that make the Guide function the way it does,' stated Random flatly. She confided uncertainly, her voice rising gradually, 'I'm just better...with software...than with hardware. You saw what I did to your watch! I used to think a virtual environment...was the only place I'd fit. I fit! Someplace! Some time! And so far, the synthetic lifestyle of the electric clubs and my experiments in programming have been the only niche where I do fit!'

'There, there, my big girl,' said Trillian, stroking Random's hair. 'You fit just fine right here in our arms, don't you?'

There was a muffled assent as the teenage girl nuzzled into the comfort of the arms surrounding her.

'So you tampered with the way the Guide works?' whispered Arthur into the bundle of girl wrapped in his arms.


'By hiding a set of instructions in…software of the device?'


'And it didn't do anything until...' struggled Arthur.

'...until certain conditions were met,' prompted Random, 'then the hidden subroutine shifted the Guide's control of certain external forces...'

'...and gave the Vogon captain a nasty little surprise in his lunch! 'Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?' ' quipped Arthur.

'Yes,' averred Trillian and Random in unison. For the first time in their memory, the two adults witnessed a miraculous event. One overly frustrated teenage girl relinquished the uncertainty that haunted her, and, with a firm certitude, decided to grin. It grew from humble beginnings. Squared off shoulders settled and a small sigh escaped into the air. Her lips, no longer pursed in consternation, quivered the slightest bit and turned up at the corners. Her furrowed brow relaxed and became a plain expanse of forehead. Arthur leaned down and planted a tiny kiss just below the dark shock of her hair.

'You've done exceedingly well, young lady,' he murmured.

'I just...I just wanted to have a place to fit.' It was as if she were still imploring, trying to explain an entire lifetime. 'I thought the Guide would help me find where I belonged, so I talked with it about all kinds of things. The more it showed me, the more I became fascinated by how it functioned. After a short time, I saw I could do more than just interact with it in a question-response mode; I could actually understand its programming and influence it to some extent. Then I stumbled upon a section of code someone had attempted to hide, though they hadn't been very subtle about it. It was a sequence of commands designed to nudge certain conditions into a narrower path of probability that would end in...' Her voice stopped as she choked back a sob and a horrid thought.

'What was it?' Trillian gently prompted.

'It was designed to guide events so Earth would be destroyed...permanently...and shortly before that, someone was to do away with one Arthur Dent of said planet.'

'But...' stammered the Arthur in question.

'Who...?' whispered Trillian, almost sensing the answer.

'I...was destined to be the agent of your demise, Father,' blurted out Random. She demurred and looked away from Arthur's stunned expression, gazing imploringly into Trillian's eyes, willing her to understand. 'Don't you see? I couldn't let the only planet where my parents fit – – the only place where I even stood a small chance of finding my rightful place – – get destroyed. I had to find a way to prevent that possible ending, but I wasn't sure what I could do to alter it, or even what I wanted the outcome to be.'

Hesitantly, Trillian asked, 'What did you do then?'

'It came to me as I considered my own situation and how I didn't seem to fit. Even my name seemed to attest to the uncertainty of any probable outcome. So, I modified several lines of the code, from specific values into variables,' explained Random. 'Variables with no particular significance or bearing on the formulas present in the program. I didn't know how to erase my part in the events – –to kill you – – but by changing that function to a variable, I turned it into a probability with an infinite number of other outcomes.'

'Then, there wasn't any chance of my getting killed in Stavro's that night?' asked Arthur.

'Well, there were 42 possible chances it could have happened, but the sheer number of other possibilities stacked the odds in your favor.' Arthur paled and had to sit down. Random pulled away from Trillian and stood beside her visibly shaken father, struggling to keep eye contact and convey her earnestness. 'When it came to that moment, when the program called for me to shoot you, I did the only thing I knew that could save you: I acted randomly.'

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