Monday, May 10, 2010

First: Preludes

(Being the untold back story of Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent)
By Apoorva Sharma

The star system of Betelgeuse was an important industrial hub prior to the great collapsing Hrung disaster. Specifically it housed the legal wing of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation (or SiriCorp for short) had, largely through inspired advertising campaigns, murderous litigation and the occasional murder, managed to corner the market for the robotics industry in the galaxy. As a result of this, the legal wing of SiriCorp occupied the entire landmass of all the planets of the stellar system.
The SiriCorp legal wing had gained a reputation among aspiring lawyers. It was where a lawyer went to sell his/her/other soul to whatever deity his/her/other particular religion defined as a “devil”. But the pay was good and Siricorp ended up employing a staggering forty percent of all practising lawyers of the galaxy. (Another thirty percent were the permanent counsel for the Hitchhiker‟s Guide to the Galaxy).
This influx of legal scholars and efflux of morals had a strong impact on the residents of Betelgeuse, not least on the teenager who would eventually come to be known as Ford Prefect (Ford for short) and the teenaged Zaphod Beeblebrox. To say that these two fine specimens of „the lawyered generation‟ dreamt of growing up to become lawyers would be akin to saying that a multiplanetary corporation was more concerned with the safety of its products over the safety of its profits.
“Zaphod, have you ever wondered about the future? I mean, beyond just the basic where am I going to get my next drink?” asked Ford, passing by yet another seedy looking attorney‟s office. They had just finished another day at school and had just spent a solid four hours pretending to listen to a basic astrophysics lesson. Alcohol, always in plentiful supply in areas with a high density of lawyers, was the traditional social lubricant for schoolchildren. It had become the norm for even gestating foetuses to marinate what little existed of their brains in alcohol. Age minimums had become defunct with the advent of time travel. Since it was entirely possible to exert a time field on the body until any prescribed minimum age limit was reached, the underaged simply became of age for long enough to buy alcohol. 2
“I don‟t know” replied Zaphod “but it sure as hell won‟t involve offices. I‟m more of a rule the whole universe kind of person.”
“Yeah? You going to do that all at once or are you going for a more individual approach? Hey Mr. So and So, can I rule over you with an unrelenting iron fist, forcing you to comply with my every whim? No? Then how about you Mrs. Such and Such?” asked Ford.
“Go ahead and laugh now. You‟ll regret it later. I was going to offer you a position as Secretary of Defence but you just blew it.” said Zaphod.
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” said Ford “I just think that you should set your sights a bit lower and a little less crazy if that‟s possible. Anyway, you‟re buying today.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy notes that many Beeblebroxologists have subsequently considered the importance of this exchange, it being the sort of thing an academic grant can be wrestled out of. In fact, academic opinion became polarised, with one faction stating that this was the first glimmer of ambition which would ultimately lead to him successfully running for President of the Galaxy and his ultimately aborted attempt to take over the universe. The other faction said that this sort of thing was incredibly common among adolescents of all races and species and that the members of the first faction were just overreacting idiots. The first faction responded by saying something unprintably rude about the second faction’s grandmothers. The second faction therefore had no choice but to go ahead and kill the grandmothers of the first faction which lead to a bloody galactic war involving the armies of several planetary systems and hundreds of raving bloodthirsty academics leaving four billion dead.
When asked about this, the third interplanetary war he had started, Zaphod Beeblebrox is reported to have stated “I’m worth it baby.”
A few pan galactic gargle blasters and several million destroyed liver cells later; Zaphod and Ford stumbled out into the street and stumbled into the spaceport. They asked the arthropod at the counter to give them tickets to the first spaceship out of their lawyer infested home planet. A few hours later that same night, the great collapsing Hrung ... collapsed. Some of 3
the galaxy‟s greatest legal minds were lost in the disaster. This was said to have set back the legal world by hundreds of milliseconds. 4
Several decades later, Zaphod Beeblebrox began his campaign for the presidency. The galaxy had just gone through an incredibly boring period of peace and prosperity. Peace and prosperity have the effect of inducing an inexplicable tendency for the election of the most hideously incompetent candidates to office who were almost guaranteed to start a war, create an economic recession or just generally foster unliveable havoc and thus create space for the next great leader and give the leader the chance to become great by righting the problems created by his/her/other hideously incompetent predecessors. Recognising that this was a golden opportunity, Zaphod leaped at his chance.
Zaphod‟s campaign slogan was “change is only for the poor”. He qualified this statement by saying “after all, they‟re the only ones who ask for spare change”. He promised with his characteristic charisma and ebullience, that if elected, he would make no decisions and do absolutely nothing while in office. He said that this would finally bring stability to the office. This novel approach to politics completely blew away his opponents who were attempting to explain to every sentient race in the galaxy as to why their particular brand of bigotry should be more acceptable without any real success. It helped that Zaphod was generally better looking and far more interesting a person than the increasingly depressing (and depressed) other candidates.
The election eventually boiled down to two candidates. Zaphod‟s opponent was the incumbent president, reputed as the most intelligent and efficient administrators ever to hold office. It was testament to his sheer will, dedication and political guile that he was elected despite these grave handicaps. Realising he didn‟t have the charisma to take on Zaphod in terms of speech making and media coverage he launched into an elaborate smear campaign. His insinuations were varied, completely unscrupulous and all of the aspersions cast on Zaphod‟s character were of an intensely personal nature. Zaphod responded to this by holding a press conference in order to put to rest all the scandalous rumours.
“I did it all.” he said at the conference “Some of it twice.”
Zaphod won the elections by a landslide. 5
The post election celebrations organised by Zaphod became the stuff of legend. Organised on five separate star systems at once, the sound waves released by an impromptu concert featuring Disaster Area (the loudest rock band ever to grace the galaxy) caused the breakup of tectonic plates on several planets. Every critic and pundit in the galaxy, in a dramatic and coordinated display of lack of creativity, described the show as “literally world shattering”.
The cost of the show and the party combined exhausted the Presidential entertainment budget for the duration of the tenure and Zaphod announced that the main purpose of his Presidential tenure had already been achieved. He then moved on to his secondary goal of having the improbability drive built. To this end, he put forward his idea for robots to have “genuine people personalities”. In fact during one particularly agonising and disorienting hangover, he even put forward the idea of the ship having a maniacally depressed robot and an overly cheerful shipboard in the hopes that they would fight it out and end up providing limitless entertainment for the passengers of the ship. 6
Meanwhile ... at the same time ... simultaneously...
It has been noted that the invention of time travel has already had some serious effects on language. Terms like meanwhile and simultaneously have quickly lost all meaning since time has regularly been shifted around in such a way that simultaneously can now mean during the same time frame or a hundred years in the future or both. It is therefore necessary to consider time with reference to the amount of time lived by other people who have not been travelling in time. This can be catastrophic to the flow of any narrative.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has succinctly described the falling standards in grammar and the loss of narrative flow as follows:
Grammar is 4 weenies. LOL.
For as long as Zaphod was campaigning for President of the Galaxy, Ford was living his dream. His dream was to become the galaxy‟s most accomplished slacker. He had managed to get his feet under the table of the of Hitchhiker‟s Guide Corporation. Before landing the job, he had spent years gathering the skills necessary for the job. These skills included basic telepathy, surviving immense sleep deprivation, advanced towel proficiency and an internship with the mystic masters to learn accounting fraud for his expense accounts. Slacking does not come without some serious initial preparation.
Ford‟s first assignment was to research the ice planet Thoth, which had recently gained prominence for its ski resorts and other snow related activities. Ford immediately began abusing his newfound power. He immediately flashed his card proving that he was a certified for the Hitchhiker‟s Guide to the Galaxy to all and sundry thus making him the most important customer the planet had ever had. Buoyed by pan galactic gargle blasters eagerly pressed into his hand by the owners of various retreats, he immediately produced a scathing review of the planet in order to protect himself from any insinuations of impropriety. This did not come to the attention of his hopeful patrons as none of his work was passed by the editing staff of the guide who despite his protests insisted that any entries made to the Guide must 7
have both consonants and vowels and he was not free to omit either one of them. They also insisted that all entries must have at least a trace of verisimilitude.
However this did not deter Ford. He realised that since his expenses had been footed by the Guide, he had effectively been paid for nothing. This came to mark a trend where Ford would continue to produce hastily written, shoddy, unprintable material at the expense of both his employers and the increasingly distraught owners of various hotels, bars, casinos and resorts around the galaxy in the hope of their establishment being mentioned in the Guide.
Ford‟s malpractices were worrisome to the owners of the Guide who, after another change of management had become far more money conscious and businesslike. The board of directors realised that they could not afford to overturn the long established tradition that employees of the Guide could not be fired merely for their incompetence as this would leave the Guide without any employees whatsoever. Any attempt to send Ford to dangerous places was thwarted by his annoying tendency to escape death and end up billing more to the Corporation. After much deliberation and several hundred corporate retreats organised solely to solve the Ford problem the directors had a brainwave and set an ingenious trap.
Ford was sent an urgent message. The message stated that he was to be sent on a completely secret assignment in which he would scope out a planet in the unfashionable western spiral arm of the galaxy known as Earth which had not made interstellar contact and whose carbon based ape descended bipedal inhabitants still thought that digital watches were a neat idea. He was to do this in order to help out other stranded passengers who do not have survival training and cannot otherwise survive in this clearly inhospitable environment. His mission, he was told, would have vital significance to all hitchhikers in the galaxy. 8
During this time period while Ford and Zaphod were in the ascendency, the carbon based ape descended bipedal inhabitant of Earth known as Arthur Dent was taking shape. The early life of Arthur Dent was as uneventful as his life up to the destruction of the Earth would be. As an only child, Arthur was a shy and introverted child who had few friends and even fewer achievements. His classmates (when they could be bothered to remember his name) considered him the sort of person who could be pulled off the face of the Earth without anyone really noticing or even caring. The universe has a certain fondness for irony.
Arthur spent much of his adult life shaping his life into his idea of perfect but which only managed to be perfectly mundane. He was an average performer in an unfulfilling job as a data entry clerk in mediocre talk radio. He lived in a perfectly ordinary and unremarkable middle class house which stood slightly way from a typical middle class suburb which he inherited from his grandmother who was a stereotypical little old lady until she stopped being one. He had a friend circle which consisted of the usual set of uninspiring layabouts whose idea of fun was spending an insipid night in a pub.
The suburb of Islington where Arthur Dent had lived all his life was a very drab place. It consisted of the sort of people who were obsessed with land values and the uniquely British concept of decency which could simply be described as the shunning of any individual identity in favour of complete homogeneity. Living in Islington effectively euthanized all hopes of having a social life of any sort. Having decided that he should at least make an effort to meet the neighbours, he decided that the best course of action would be to attend whatever attempt at entertainment that the locality offered. This was in the form of his attending the annual costume party held every year by the suburb in the hope of setting up a tradition and therefore having something akin to a culture.
In one such party Arthur spotted the girl who he knew would be the love of his life. The woman was Tricia McMillan. She was everything he dreamed about but knew he could never attain. She was attractive, well educated and extremely intelligent. Unfortunately she was also completely bored by his presence and his incredibly futile attempts at an engaging conversation. In his own head of course, Arthur was definitely getting somewhere with her. 9
That is until Zaphod, calling himself Phil and dressed as a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, showed up. He asked “Is this guy bothering you baby? Come with me. I‟m from another planet.” With one fell swoop he had managed to sweep Tricia off her feet and off the planet entirely.
After this, Arthur went into a spiral of depression and self pity. He even went as far as to become fast friends with his newest neighbour, the dangerously unstable Ford Prefect. Ford was considered a deviant by most of the suburb of Islington due to his insistence of going out and having fun every night. Having fun, according to the residents of Islington, is a strictly un-British activity which should only be attempted in the strictest moderation and that too only under the strict guidance of properly licensed professionals. An excess of fun could end up causing all sorts of immoral behaviour.
Ford Prefect had by this time gotten used to exile on Earth and the humdrum existence it offered. He was coming to terms with the fact that he was probably not going to be able to escape in the foreseeable future. He decided that as long as he was stuck on Earth he might as well make the best of the situation. He had become a leading authority on all forms of liquor available on Earth, knowledge which he duly passed on to Arthur.
Under the tutelage of Ford, Arthur blossomed into an increasingly angry and isolated person whose only wish was to be left alone and whose bitter knowledge it was that there was utterly no chance of this happening. He stopped leaving his house unless absolutely necessary and refused to talk to family members or friends (other than Ford). Eventually, almost everyone forgot that he even existed.
All was quiet until one fateful Thursday morning, the Vogons arrived.

No comments:

Post a Comment