Life, the Universe, and Everything

Life, the Universe, and Everything

"It is a policeman," he said, "What do we do?" Ford shrugged. "What do you want to do?" he said. "I want you," said Arthur, "to tell me that I have been dreaming for the last five years." Ford shrugged again, and obliged. "You've been dreaming for the last five years," he said.

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Arthur got to his feet. "It's all right, officer," he said. "I've been dreaming for the last five years. Ask him," he added, pointing at Ford, "he was in it."

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Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to behave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved. What he was doing was this. Regardless of the bemused stares it was provoking from his fellow members of the crowd gathered round the pitch, he was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot. After a moment or two of this he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that's not sure whether it's just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.

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"Something's on your mind, isn't it?" said Arthur. "I think," said Ford in a tone of voice which Arthur by now recognized as one which presaged something utterly unintelligible, "that there's an SEP over there." He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking. Arthur looked in the one direction, which was towards the sight-screens, and in the other which was at the field of play. He nodded, he shrugged. He shrugged again. "A what?" he said. "An SEP." "An S ...?" "... EP." "And what's that?" "Somebody Else's Problem." "Ah, good," said Arthur and relaxed. He had no idea what all that was about, but at least it seemed to be over. It wasn't. "Over there," said Ford, again pointing at the sight-screens and looking at the pitch. "Where?" said Arthur. "There!" said Ford. "I see," said Arthur, who didn't. "You do?" said Ford. "What?" said Arthur. "Can you see," said Ford patiently, "the SEP?" "I thought you said that was somebody else's problem." "That's right." Arthur nodded slowly, carefully and with an air of immense stupidity. "And I want to know," said Ford, "if you can see it." "You do?" "Yes." "What," said Arthur, "does it look like?" "Well, how should I know, you fool?" shouted Ford. "If you can see it, you tell me." Arthur experienced that dull throbbing sensation just behind the temples which was a hallmark of so many of his conversations with Ford. His brain lurked like a frightened puppy in its kennel. Ford took him by the arm. "An SEP," he said, "is something that we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That's what SEP means. Somebody Else's Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye." "Ah," said Arthur, "then that's why ..." "Yes," said Ford, who knew what Arthur was going to say. "... you've been jumping up and ..." "Yes." "... down, and blinking ..." "Yes." "... and ..." "I think you've got the message." "I can see it," said Arthur, "it's a spaceship."

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"More than you can possibly imagine," dreaded Marvin. "My capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my capacity for happiness." Stomp, stomp, he went. "My capacity for happiness," he added, "you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first."

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Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right. "Freedom," he said aloud. Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusiastic things on the subject of freedom. "I can't cope with it," he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn't yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right. He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in search of the first, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well. He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support. "You're drinking too much," said Trillian.

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Han Wavel is a world which consists largely of fabulous ultra-luxury hotels and casinos, all of which have been formed by the natural erosion of wind and rain. The chances of this happening are more or less one to infinity against. Little is known of how this came about because none of the geophysicists, probability statisticians, meteoranalysts or bizzarrologists who are so keen to research it can afford to stay there.

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"You wanted to ask me something," said Prak in a thin voice and coughed slightly. Just the cough made Arthur stiffen, but it passed and subsided. "How do you know that?" he asked. Prak shrugged weakly. "'Cos it's true," he said simply. Arthur took the point. "Yes," he said at last in rather a strained drawl. "I did have a question. Or rather, what I actually have is an Answer. I wanted to know what the Question was." Prak nodded sympathetically, and Arthur relaxed a little. "It's ... well, it's a long story," he said, "but the Question I would like to know is the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. All we know is that the Answer is Forty-Two, which is a little aggravating." Prak nodded again. "Forty-Two," he said. "Yes, that's right." He paused. Shadows of thought and memory crossed his face like the shadows of clouds crossing the land. "I'm afraid," he said at last, "that the Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same universe." He paused again. Disappointment crept into Arthur's face and snuggled down into its accustomed place. "Except," said Prak, struggling to sort a thought out, "if it happened, it seems that the Question and the Answer would just cancel each other out and take the Universe with them, which would then be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. It is possible that this has already happened," he added with a weak smile, "but there is a certain amount of Uncertainty about it."

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