The Improbability-proof control cabin of the Heart of Gold looked like a perfectly conventional spaceship except that it was perfectly clean because it was so new. Some of the control seats hadn't had the plastic wrapping taken off yet. The cabin was mostly white, oblong, and about the size of a smallish restaurant. In fact it wasn't perfectly oblong: the two long walls were raked round in a slight parallel curve, and all the angles and corners were contoured in excitingly chunky shapes. The truth of the matter is that it would have been a great deal simpler and more practical to build the cabin as an ordinary three-dimensional oblong rom, but then the designers would have got miserable. As it was the cabin looked excitingly purposeful, with large video screens ranged over the control and guidance system panels on the concave wall, and long banks of computers set into the convex wall. In one corner a robot sat humped, its gleaming brushed steel head hanging loosely between its gleaming brushed steel knees. It too was fairly new, but though it was beautifully constructed and polished it somehow looked as if the various parts of its more or less humanoid body didn't quite fit properly. In fact they fitted perfectly well, but something in its bearing suggested that they might have fitted better.
Zaphod Beeblebrox paced nervously up and down the cabin, brushing his hands over pieces of gleaming equipment and giggling with excitement.
Trillian sat hunched over a clump of instruments reading off figures. Her voice was carried round the Tannoy system of the whole ship.
"Five to one against and falling ..." she said, "four to one against and falling ... three to one ... two ... one ... probability factor of one to one ... we have normality, I repeat we have normality." She turned her microphone off - then turned it back on, with a slight smile and continued: "Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax. You will be sent for soon."
Zaphod burst out in annoyance: "Who are they Trillian?"
Trillian span her seat round to face him and shrugged.
"Just a couple of guys we seem to have picked up in open space," she said. "Section ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."
"Yeah, well that's a very sweet thought Trillian," complained Zaphod, "but do you really think it's wise under the circumstances? I mean, here we are on the run and everything, we must have the police of half the Galaxy after us by now, and we stop to pick up hitch hikers. OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?"
He tapped irritably at a control panel. Trillian quietly moved his hand before he tapped anything important. Whatever Zaphod's qualities of mind might include - dash, bravado, conceit - he was mechanically inept and could easily blow the ship up with an extravagant gesture. Trillian had come to suspect that the main reason why he had had such a wild and successful life that he never really understood the significance of anything he did.
"Zaphod," she said patiently, "they were floating unprotected in open space ... you wouldn't want them to have died would you?"
"Well, you know ... no. Not as such, but ..."
"Not as such? Not die as such? But?" Trillian cocked her head on one side.
"Well, maybe someone else might have picked them up later."
"A second later and they would have been dead."
"Yeah, so if you'd taken the trouble to think about the problem a bit longer it would have gone away."
"You'd been happy to let them die?"
"Well, you know, not happy as such, but ..."
"Anyway," said Trillian, turning back to the controls, "I didn't pick them up."
"What do you mean? Who picked them up then?"
"The ship did."
"The ship did. All by itself."
"Whilst we were in Improbability Drive."
"But that's incredible."
"No Zaphod. Just very very improbable."
"Look Zaphod," she said, patting his arm, "don't worry about the aliens. They're just a couple of guys I expect. I'll send the robot down to get them and bring them up here. Hey Marvin!"
In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled about imperceptibly. It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about five pounds heavier that it actually was, and made what an outside observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room. It stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left shoulder.
"I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed," it said. Its voice was low and hopeless.
"Oh God," muttered Zaphod and slumped into a seat.
"Well," said Trillian in a bright compassionate tone, "here's something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."
"It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."
"Marvin!" warned Trillian.
"Alright," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"
"Go down to number two entry bay and bring the two aliens up here under surveillance."
With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre - nothing you could actually take offence at - Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror of all things human.
"Just that?" he said.
"Yes," said Trillian firmly.
"I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.
Zaphod leaped out of his seat.
"She's not asking you to enjoy it," he shouted, "just do it will you?"
"Alright," said Marvin like the tolling of a great cracked bell, "I'll do it."
"Good ..." snapped Zaphod, "great ... thank you ..."
Marvin turned and lifted his flat-topped triangular red eyes up towards him.
"I'm not getting you down at all am I?" he said pathetically.
"No no Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really ..."
"I wouldn't like to think that I was getting you down."
"No, don't worry about that," the lilt continued, "you just act as comes naturally and everything will be just fine."
"You're sure you don't mind?" probed Marvin.
"No no Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really ... just part of life."
"Marvin flashed him an electronic look.
"Life," said Marvin, "don't talk to me about life."
He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin. With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him
"I don't think I can stand that robot much longer Zaphod," growled Trillian.
The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.
Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."
The pink cubicle had winked out of existence, the monkeys had sunk away to a better dimension. Ford and Arthur found themselves in the embarkation area of the ship. It was rather smart.
"I think the ship's brand new," said Ford.
"How can you tell?" asked Arthur. "Have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?"
"No, I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor. It's a lot of `the Universe can be yours' stuff. Ah! Look, I was right."
Ford jabbed at one of the pages and showed it to Arthur.
"It says: Sensational new breakthrough in Improbability Physics. As soon as the ship's drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through every point in the Universe. Be the envy of other major governments. Wow, this is big league stuff."
Ford hunted excitedly through the technical specs of the ship, occasionally gasping with astonishment at what he read - clearly Galactic astrotechnology had moved ahead during the years of his exile.
Arthur listened for a short while, but being unable to understand the vast majority of what Ford was saying he began to let his mind wander, trailing his fingers along the edge of an incomprehensible computer bank, he reached out and pressed an invitingly large red button on a nearby panel. The panel lit up with the words Please do not press this button again. He shook himself.
"Listen," said Ford, who was still engrossed in the sales brochure, "they make a big thing of the ship's cybernetics. A new generation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers, with the new GPP feature."
"GPP feature?" said Arthur. "What's that?"
"Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."
"Oh," said Arthur, "sounds ghastly."
A voice behind them said, "It is." The voice was low and hopeless and accompanied by a slight clanking sound. They span round and saw an abject steel man standing hunched in the doorway.
"What?" they said.
"Ghastly," continued Marvin, "it all is. Absolutely ghastly. Just don't even talk about it. Look at this door," he said, stepping through it. The irony circuits cut into his voice modulator as he mimicked the style of the sales brochure. "All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done."
As the door closed behind them it became apparent that it did indeed have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. "Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!" it said.
Marvin regarded it with cold loathing whilst his logic circuits chattered with disgust and tinkered with the concept of directing physical violence against it Further circuits cut in saying, Why bother? What's the point? Nothing is worth getting involved in. Further circuits amused themselves by analysing the molecular components of the door, and of the humanoids' brain cells. For a quick encore they measured the level of hydrogen emissions in the surrounding cubic parsec of space and then shut down again in boredom. A spasm of despair shook the robot's body as he turned.
"Come on," he droned, "I've been ordered to take you down to the bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cos I don't."
He turned and walked back to the hated door.
"Er, excuse me," said Ford following after him, "which government owns this ship?"
Marvin ignored him.
"You watch this door," he muttered, "it's about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates."
With an ingratiating little whine the door slit open again and Marvin stomped through.
"Come on," he said.
The others followed quickly and the door slit back into place with pleased little clicks and whirrs.
"Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation," said Marvin and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved corridor that stretched out before them. "Let's build robots with Genuine People Personalities," they said. So they tried it out with me. I'm a personality prototype. You can tell can't you?"
Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.
"I hate that door," continued Marvin. "I'm not getting you down at all am I?"
"Which government ..." started Ford again.
"No government owns it," snapped the robot, "it's been stolen."
"Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.
"Who by?" asked Ford.
Something extraordinary happened to Ford's face. At least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up on it in a jumbled mess. His left leg, which was in mid stride, seemed to have difficulty in finding the floor again. He stared at the robot and tried to entangle some dartoid muscles.
"Zaphod Beeblebrox ...?" he said weakly.
"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless. "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh God I'm so depressed. Here's another of those self-satisfied door. Life! Don't talk to me about life."
"No one ever mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably. "Ford, are you alright?"
Ford stared at him. "Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?" he said.