(The following prologue is intended to be read before the above material, but is placed farther down the page as it has, in order to confuse you. You're welcome.)
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape- descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they had to be told carrying around a towel at all times is a pretty neat idea.
This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
Granted, some of these people were made less unhappy by particularly talented other people, one of which was very tall, but on the whole, the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even some of the ones who began carrying towels with them.
Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in allowing Leonardo DiCaprio to play the lead role in that Romeo and Juliet movie in the first place. Some said that even Shakespeare had been a bad move, and wanted to return to the days when feeding Christians to lions was considered entertainment.
And then, one Thursday, two thousand and one years after a toga-wearing boozer who had fed too many Christians to lions had the months of August(us) and July(ius) named after himself, one man sitting on his own in a small cafe in Deep Ellum suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and he finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to buy cheesecake calendars any longer.
Sadly, however, before he could get to a phone to tell anyone, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the man was too emotionally perklempt to bother with the idea.
This is not his story.
But it is the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.
It is also the story of a book, a book called The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - an Earth book, published on Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, writ by one of the most talented and amusing of any living Earthman.
Without any question, a wholly remarkable book, by a wholly remarkable man.
(The following epilogue is intended to be read after all the other bits elsewhere in this node, and is placed here at the bottom of the page in order to confuse you further. You have a junbee bonnet on your velcrum.)
It was autumn. More or less. Ford fancied that his years trapped on that small blue-green planet which was no longer there had somehow infiltrated his entire brain. He thought like a human, occasionally. It bugged him. Where he was, autumn actually only existed for a few spins of the planet in a given planetary revolution around the star, before it was replaced by either a sweltering heat or a mild rainy season with occasional fog, depending on the whim of the elements of the place he came to call home but didn't feel that way any longer.
And he was here in this cafe in his home planet ironically enough not for himself but to meet someone who also shared this infiltration of Terran culture and historical knowledge. Ford fancied it affected his brain like a computer virus, but that for his friend, it was a natural state of mind. Ford glanced out to the street and saw a few dozen leaves dancing amidst a slight breeze. We have breezes here, he thought. We have leaves here. Just like back on Earth. Curious, that. Though Betelgeuse was home, he found himself comparing it to another place, as if this wasn't home.
And then other thoughts attempted to sneak their way in. Darker thoughts. Unpleasant thoughts that kept him up at night, several nights for the past year. However, he forced them away by reminding himself that he's upset he's being kept waiting for what, has it been ninety seconds now?
Damn! He thought. Seconds! We don't use seconds here on Betelgeuse. What the devil is wrong with my head?
Ford had been sitting alone in the cafe for only a few minutes but to him it already felt like hours. He had things to do. Women to leer at. Entries for The Guide to pretend to bother editing. Alcoholic beverages which were not going to drink themselves. Then the waiter came about with the gin & tonic that he had ordered a few moments before. Ford lunged for it as if it were ice water and he a dehydrated camel in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
However, he wasn't a camel and this wasn't a desert in Saudi Arabia. In fact it wasn't anywhere on Earth at all. The nice quaint cafe happened to be in Betelgeuse, Ford Prefect's home planet. Ford had managed to sue Hotblack Desiato for using one of his Guide entries as inspiration for their latest Rock Opera: "If Earth was Mostly Harmless then why did it make all that noise every time it exploded?" So both Ford Prefect and the Guide, for which Ford was now Editor-In-Chief, were doing very fine thank you very much. Ford claimed to be in semi-retirement, but only to stave off the workload which he panned off mostly to a thousand small vaguely humanoid lifeforms from the planet Hemlat. They worked mostly for yellowish vegetation and legumes, and were studious at their jobs, so all was well.
Ford glanced at his digital watch, then remembered he didn't wear one. He fancied a bit and returned to typing in his Guide.
Arthur entered the cafe dressed in a tailor-made dark suit. The bone in his beard was gone but a bit of the beard remained. Ford glanced up and saw Arthur rush quickly to his table.
"Ford! You're alive!"
"Of course I'm alive you blighter!"
Ford was unceremoniously picked up and lifted out of his chair by an uncharacteristically exhuberant and excited Arthur Dent. The embrace that followed was joyous for Arthur and rudely embarrassing for Ford. He managed to pull away to see Arthur smiling dazzling with a curious glint shining in his eyes, which happened to be a reflection from a passing hover-taxi.
Ford flattened his hands on his vest in a vain attempt to unwrinkle it. He stood there staring back incredulously at Arthur.
"You've gotten into the habit of doing this every time we meet nowadays. Will you please quit making a scene and take a seat?" Ford looked about nervously ready to smile nervously at anyone else in the cafe who was nervously noticiing this nervous display. Ford noticed nervously no one noticed a thing and returned to his seat.
Arthur stared back at Ford as he excitedly took the other chair at their table. He smiled back annoyingly, which further added to Ford's nervousness.
"And stop that incessant smiling, your face will fall off."
"I can't help it! It's just so awfully good to see you again Ford."
"You haven't been born again, again, have you?" Ford took his gin & tonic in hand and gave it a good swig.
"Oh no. Not again." Arthur shook his head comfortingly. Still smiling.
"After we learned of the death of that tall bastard you went a bit mad. It's good to see you're ..healthy."
The look on Arthur's face changed to one of admonishment, as if Ford were his long lost son and he were trying to tell him a bit too late about drugs and sex and things, "Mr. Adams was no bastard, Ford. You should have more respect."
"The man's gone! We never knew him."
"Oh but he knew us!"
"Yes yes alright let's not start all that again."
There was a strange silence that permeated the quantum spaces between them. Arthur seemed perplexed and Ford continued in his nervousness.
"What is wrong with you Ford?"
Ford cleared his throat. He went to speak. Then he opted instead to have another swig of gin & tonic. Suddenly it felt like drinking soda water. He looked around for the waiter who was predictably enough not within visual range.
Arthur looked at his hands as they sat together on the edge of the table. Then he looked back up at Ford. "Whatever is the matter with you? We learn the truth about our existence and you act as if you're two steps away from a lunatic asylum."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"You're all.. skittish! Your eyes have gotten even more shifty, looking around all the time. Are you at all well?"
Ford stopped looking for the waiter and returned his gaze at Arthur, "well."
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Doesn't what bother me?"
"This! All of this! After all the years of adventures and near death experiences and nobly galavanting about the galaxy after everything from the secret of life the universe and everything to a decent place for a gin & tonic that after all these things which have happened to us. To Trillian and Zaphod. To Marvin even! That all of this was just..."
Arthur felt the quantum silence returned and staved it away by opening his mouth, "just what?"
"Meaningless! We're meaningless, Arthur! I mean perhaps you can manage and deal with it but it's a bit too much for me to contemplate."
Arthur wasn't following.
"I don't follow you."
"Arthur! When that tall bastard passed away and we received the telegram telling us everything, and that he had passed away, suddenly you and I learned that we're but fictional characters in a silly radio play presented by the British Broadcasting Company in an alternate reality. That we don't even exist, technically speaking, except as figments of the imagination for some writer who was being paid by the BBC to make us up. Doesn't that bother you even the tiniest little bit? That we're not real?"
Arthur's mouth pursed up a bit behind his well groomed beard. He suddenly felt a bit itchy in his suit and found a place on his arm to scratch but it didn't help much. Then he perked up a little bit.
"Oh but it doesn't mean we're not real."
"But yes it does! You saw the telegram! Quote 'Douglas Adams, well beloved writer of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy BBC Radio Programme, died today' blah blah blah unquote. And the telegram was addressed to us but they didn't even get the planet right."
"I'm amazed Trillian even received it, I can say that much."
"Well it was Western Union."
"But the POINT Arthur! Don't you see the point?"
Arthur looked at Ford quizzically, like a child about to ask his parents about the birds and the bees. Ford imagined an echo of his voice like the Grand Canyon bouncing about the walls inside Arthur's cranium.
Then Arthur smiled. "Oh but I did see the point. It's why I got born again. Again."
"Ah! But that didn't WORK for you. Did it?"
Arthur looked down in his lap. Then opted to put his hands in his lap for no particular reason.
"I don't know why I bother to come here to see you anymore Ford. You are trying to ruin my perfectly good mood."
"Why are you in that elaborate tux?"
"It's not a tuxedo."
"Well whatever, why are you dressed up then?"
"It's the anniversary of our receipt of the telegram. Trillian's having a party."
"Yes. It's more of a wake, really. She's decided to have one every year."
"Yes. And she's asked me to invite you along. Come on! It'll be fun!"
Ford looked levelly at his old friend, "No."
"Oh why not! There'll be women there! And alcohol! Two of your favorite things!"
"No. It's a disgusting display. Near blasphemous."
"We learn the truth and all you can do is be bummed by it."
"You should be the one bummed, Arthur. I mean think of it. If we really are figments of the imagination of a man who no longer lives, then who is going to tell our exploits? Who possibly would continue our tale? I mean I'd rather have seen the universe completely end rather than just watch my existence and my reality fester and slowly fade away as if it were nothing but an incomplete mathematical formula forgotten by historians. And you two want to celebrate this?"
"Well you read the telegram. He was much beloved."
"Yes but the bastard's dead! And so will we be too now that there's no one telling our stories."
"You honestly believe this means we're not real?"
"Well what else could it say?"
Arthur thought for a moment, "Perhaps we're just not real there. Where he was. Perhaps he somehow received information about our exploits in his dreams. I mean I'm real. I'm here. You're here. Your gin & tonic is real. This table is real." Arthur pounded on the table for emphasis but it just caused Ford's gin & tonic to almost be upset, caught at the last second by Ford's lightning quick reflexes when it comes to alcohol.
Ford growled, "Have you any idea how absurd that sounds?"
"Any more absurd than being thrown out of a Vogonian airlock and being saved sixty seconds later by a passing spaceship? I mean actually I think all of this puts things into a state of perspective. Clarity. In some strange way all the events of our lives seems to make some sort of sense now, if they were somehow guided or directed by the thoughts of a man in an alternate reality, creating us with his thoughts. I find some curious sort of finality and understanding from that. Almost dare I say comfort."
Arthur smiled again at Ford.
Ford looked away.
The waiter approached the table, seemingly out of nowhere, startling them both.
"Another gin & tonic for you sir?"
"Actually something stronger. How about a pan galactic gargle blaster?"
"And don't spare the brick."
"As you wish, sir." The waiter turned and looked at Arthur, who was still smiling. "And can I get you anything please, sir?"
"Yes. Uhhm.. I'd like a piping hot cup of Earl Grey tea. Make sure it's hot."
"Earl what, sir?"
Ford turned around. Arthur frowned at the waiter. For the first time in a very long time, Ford suddenly found himself amused.
"Waiter. Take some dried up leaves you probably have out back, crinkle them up, put them in very hot water for several minutes and add some sugar. Strain it. Then bring a cup of it round for my friend here."
"Certainly sir." With a raised eyebrow, the waiter went on his way.
Arthur looked apologetically at Ford.
"It won't be tea."
"It will be the closest thing to tea you've had in decades. And I suppose close to reality is about the best one can expect, eh?"
"Will you please come? Trillian would love to see you."
"Oh alright. I wouldn't want to disappoint the last two humans alive. In this reality anyway. What would our tall friend have to say about that?"