6. We Need an Ending
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines a cliffhanger as "an ending of a chapter in a serial work of fiction that leaves the reader in suspense until the next segment is published." The length of time between chapters can vary, depending on how much suspense the author wishes to generate.
The longest cliffhanger in history was perpetuated, though unintentionally, by Zumm Zazreth of Aluna IX, who finished chapter 16 of "Love's Wondrous Wonder", wrote "to be continued . . .", and promptly dropped dead. This was not discovered until seventeen years later, when an angry mob of romance fans stormed his home demanding the next chapter and inadvertently discovered his moldering remains. "Love's Wondrous Wonder" remains unfinished to this day.
As this is the last chapter of this story, the author is unlikely to end it on a cliffhanger. (1)
Aboard the Zubranite vessel, Zaphod had just discovered that he was not the only prisoner to have recently escaped.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"That's just what I was about to ask you," Kalitha said. Of all the people she could have been sneaking through air vents with, why did it have to be the man she hated most in the entire universe?
"Look," Zaphod said, "I know you're not exactly crazy about me—"
"No, you're the crazy one."
"Doesn't matter now. We've got to work together to get out of here."
"There is no way out! I've been all over the ventilation system for hours now, looking for the way out! All the ducts lead around in a big circle!"
"There must be grilles somewhere."
"There are. They're as big as my fist. I suppose we could punch a hole in a wall or something . . ."
"But that would attract too much attention," Zaphod mused. Not that he had anything against attention—unless it was the kind that would get him killed.
Kalitha rolled her eyes and said, "Do you have any ideas?"
"No," Zaphod was forced to admit. "But if we put our heads together, we might be able to come up with something to get us out of this maze and back to the Heart of Gold."
"How do we escape," Kalitha mused, "without getting killed or enslaved by the Big Uglies?"
"Haven't got a clue, gorgeous."
"Call me that again and die."
Trillian was just getting Arthur settled in a bed in sickbay when Eddie interrupted her. "Guys, we've got a problem down on Deck 3. Besides the sudden cold snap we're having, we seem to have a crewmember down."
"What do you mean?" Trillian asked.
"Mr. Prefect is passed out in Corridor 159. (2) His life signs appear to be very erratic . . ."
She sighed. Just what she didn't need, more complications. "I'll go and get him. Arthur, you stay here."
There was a strange sound just then. It was hard to identify at first, but soon it became apparent that the sound was not mechanical. It was, in fact, a snore.
"Where's that coming from?" Trillian asked. It had to be close; it was loud enough to rival Disaster Area for "Loudest Noise of Any Kind in the Known Universe."
"Let me find out for you!" Eddie announced. After a moment, he said, "I'm happy to report that all the Zubranites on the bridge are taking a little nap right now. Be very, very quiet."
"Oh, shove that," she said. "Marvin, get me a blaster."
"About time you remembered me," Marvin said. "I am still here, you know."
"Yes, I can see that. Now get me a blaster!"
"Very well." Marvin clanked over to the munitions cabinet and took down a Standard Service Blaster ™. The Paranoid Android handed it to Trillian with a sigh that sounded like glass just before the breaking point.
Trillian left the room to do a bit of Zubranite-hunting, leaving Marvin on his own again (except for Arthur, who wasn't much company, being unconscious again).
"This is just great!" Zaphod grumbled, and sat down opposite the wall he'd been kicking at in the hopes of making a hole.
"What is? That we can't get out, or that we're stuck here together, possibly until we die?"
"Are you ever gonna tell me why it is that you hate me so much?"
"You really want to know?"
"You're sure you really want to know?"
"TELL ME!" his heads chorused.
"Fine! I'll tell you! Remember a little planet called Santringula Xerxes VII?"
"Sounds vaguely familiar . . ."
"You were there on a publicity tour, and spoke to a second grade class at the primary school."
Zaphod looked at her dubiously. "You're not still in second grade?"
"Don't be daft. I was the teacher."
"Yes. At least, I was."
"How's a teacher end up as a car park attendant?"
"Do you want to hear this story or not?"
"Yeah, yeah. Go ahead."
"You were asked that day about your plans for Santringula Xerxes VII, and you said everything was, and I quote, 'cool and froody'."
"So? What's wrong with being froody?"
"Nine days later," Kalitha said, spitting every word out like poison, "the planet was destroyed. Demolished! By a Vogon Constructor fleet. Something about a new hyperspace bypass."
"Aw, bad luck. Nothing to do with me, though."
"You signed the demolition order!"
"What? Me? No!"
"It has your signature on it. Here, I'll show you." She rummaged through the folds of her cardigan and pulled out a creased bit of paper. "Take a look!"
Zaphod looked the form, which was headed ORDER FOR DEMOLITION, PLANETARY, over carefully. Yes, that was his Jart Zingle (3) there, on the "Authorization" line. But he couldn't remember actually signing the thing.
"You lied to me!" Kalitha said. "You assured us that our planet's future was golden, when in fact we had no future! Look at the date—you signed it the day before the visit! You bastard!"
"Wait a minute . . ." Zaphod tried to remember what he'd been doing that day. The usual meetings he slept through . . . a briefing about something he hadn't paid much attention to, and yes, there was a round of documents for him to sign.
Oh, Zarquon . . .
"Look," he said, "the President of the Galaxy is a very busy man! I didn't have time to read all the bits of paper they shoved at me to sign!"
Her face went white. "You didn't even read it?"
"I had people to tell me which ones were the important ones! Nobody said a word about any planetary demolition!"
"I don't believe it!" She threw up her hands—at least, as much as was possible in the confined space. "Not only am I stuck in a ventilation shaft on a Zubranite warship with the man who destroyed my planet, but he's so cataclysmically dim that he doesn't even know he did it!" (4)
She kicked the wall, not out of the hope of making a hole in it, but simply because it was the nearest solid object within striking distance.
A moment later, the entire wall collapsed.
"Well?" said Marvin. "Are you coming or not?"
Trillian met them at the Teleporter. "Have you been here all this time?"
"Pretty much." Zaphod's left head blinked its eyes, while his right made kissing noises. "You?"
"Just got here after dropping off the Zubranites. We need to get out of here before they wake up."
"Good idea." Zaphod set the controls; Trillian did the countdown. Kalitha settled for sullen silence. In a moment, they were back on the Heart of Gold.
"Eddie, get us as far away from that ship as possible, as fast as possible!" Zaphod ordered.
"You got it, fella!"
Kalitha hit the switch that activated the Improbability Drive, and off they went.
The Zubranites finally woke up some time later, looked around and began cursing the bluest of blue streaks at having lost Beeblebrox. In his fury, the Zubranite captain destroyed every piece of furniture on the ship, and then shot half the crew just because he felt like it.
"FIND HIM!" He ordered the surviving crew. "I SHALL NOT REST UNTIL BEEBLEBROX IS DEAD!"
No one told the captain they hadn't the faintest idea where Zaphod Beeblebrox was. No one mentioned the fact that among the debris the captain had left in his furious wake was the Navicomp, smashed to electronic bits. No, they just kept their mouths shut and did as they were told.
Maybe in a few million light years, they'd stop and ask directions.
"I seem to have missed all the excitement," Arthur Dent said when he finally woke up. He was feeling much better now, and almost back to his original color. "So, just what's everyone been up to while I was unconscious?"
Trillian quickly filled him in on their tussle with the Zubranites and their narrow escape.
"Why is it so cold in here?" Arthur interrupted. "Did something break down?"
"I did that," Ford said. "I had to find a way to overpower the Zubranites, and I figured out that lowering the air temperature would put them into hibernation mode. Should be back to normal soon."
"I'm working on it right now, guys," said Eddie, "and it's a pleasure to do it!"
Arthur was peering at Ford curiously. "Where have your spots gone?"
"I'm afraid that was a ruse," Ford explained, "to dupe the Zubranites into thinking that I wouldn't be a threat to them. With their attention focused elsewhere, I was able to slip off and muck about with the heating system. It was all part of the plan."
"You could have told us, instead of faking some horrible disease," Trillian said.
"It was all I could think of."
Kalitha was sulking in the corner. Zaphod came up to her.
"I don't usually do this, so it might come out a bit awkward."
"Apologize. I am really, really sorry for letting them blow up your planet. I had no idea what I was signing . . ."
"Well, maybe if you weren't such an airhead—"
"Heads," Marvin said helpfully.
"Whatever! If you had paid more attention to your work, you would have been able to stop it!"
"Hey, I'm trying to apologize here, and all you can do is criticize me?"
"I'm trying to point out that you should read what you put your name on! You can read, can't you?"
"Listen, you four-eyed witch—"
"All right!" Trillian broke it up. "Kalitha, we'd be happy to take you home . . ."
"I don't have a home, thanks to your boyfriend here!" Kalitha snapped.
"Or, we could let you stay with us," Ford suggested.
"Home sounds good," said Kalitha.
"Set course back to Vadeegallum VI so we can be rid of this chick once and for all," Zaphod ordered.
"Happy to oblige!"
"Engage Infinite Improbability Drive."
The Heart of Gold leapt into the blackness of space.
"Wasn't it nice of the new management of the Hotel Baragleebin to let us have a free week's stay?" said Trillian, who was applying more sunblock, now that there was an actual sun to block.
"Yeeeeeeees," Zaphod sighed. "Now this is more like it! Glad they finally got the hotel rebuilt."
"Yes, it's amazing how fast they put it back up, considering," said Arthur. "I can't wait to hit those waves!"
"Oh, you can't swim in that water," Ford said, as he adjusted the umbrella. "It's toxic to humans."
"What? Why didn't you tell me this?"
"I was about to when the rain started, and then the hotel blew up! I never got a chance!"
"Hmph!" Arthur sat on the blanket and stared out at the beautiful, blue, toxic ocean. "It's just like I always say: never trust the brochure."
(1)Unless she decides to write a sequel.
(2) Reference to Red Dwarf, where all the action seemed to happen in Corridor 159.
(3) Famous founding politician on Betelgeuse V, whose ornate signature made him as famous on his own world as John Hancock is on Earth.
(4) Yes, I admit it, I stole this from the movie. Call it homage, if you will.