A Short Story Loosely Based Around Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
All Characters mentioned are copyright their owners. Akril is just a name with a character associated with it.
“Hmm…‘Existence After Death’…” –Dr. Mazoolah, The Incredible Adventures of Jack Flanders
This story takes place in a small, hemispherical room with no doors or windows. It is not attached to anything visible to anyone inside it. To prevent outbreaks of claustrophobia and the long-unnoticed hazard of nonexposure, the domed ceiling is completely clear and provides a view of a small area of space where the stars are scarce, but not so sparse that they can easily be counted by someone with a reasonable amount of patience. There are also no hazy, irritating nebulas to obscure the incomparable spacescape either.
In the precise center of the room there is an oblong, oval table, with a sleek, surprisingly comfortable chair at either extremity. It is about three times as small as the room it sits in, but maintaining the same general shape. Looking at the entire structure from the south (which is impossible, because of the excessive amount of airless space at any point outside the hemisphere), it can be seen that the right chair is occupied.
A second figure shimmers into being several yards behind the left chair. It probably stepped through a nonexistent door in order to achieve such an incredibly graceful and casual feat without looking as though it had just been catapulted through several dimensions and times, which, by looking at it, seems more likely to have occurred than the previous suggestion.
The figure in question is young, female, and slowly approaching the table from the west.
She has a fairly complex past, like most individuals do, is a figment of the imagination, like most individuals are, and is, to an extent, real, which is not something that most individuals are.
She would have played the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Infocom game when it first came out, but there were too many things going on during that year for her to do so (to be precise, she was being born).
Her Earth-based bookshelf holds, or would hold a great number of books, were they not scattered around her home like dead insects after a freak dust devil. Among them are a book of unicorn photographs, a palm-sized guide to handwriting analysis, a popular book about the present-day lives of the people of Atlantis, several myth and fairy tale anthologies and a battered copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Her mother’s maiden name is the same as a famous computer game designer. Her own last name was the name of a family in a series by an author who wrote many books about horses.
The name she is using now is similar to both an English adjective and a month in the Earth calendar. She didn’t realize the latter for several years.
She walks with caution in each step, placing her bare feet upon the cold floor – or a floor that would be cold if her feet were completely human and not coated in fur. In fact, her entire body is that way, covered with a small compliment of Nature to protect her against its horrors. The fur is a sunny yellow, dotted with small, black spots, with a long, slightly limp tail moving in the manner of a laser-scanning eye.
Her appearance would only be recognized on the Earth as the fastest moving land mammal in the planet’s history. To the average eye, she looks only like a large furry beast that walks on two legs, with a vaguely human look about it.
This is nothing unnatural. She is human. That is, her creator is human. What she is, basically, is a manifestation of the author, who is normally too timid to do what she is about to do, and definitely too frightened to reveal what she (the author) really looks like.
Neither of them are that bad, though. And there are several similarities. The creature approaching the table, which she will reach about two paragraphs from now, has a plain, ordinary face, with a pair of blue eyes that resemble blue ponds that have just been muddied by the boots of passing boys. The eyes are fixed on the ground, as they have been for most of her life. She has found many interesting things looking there, none of which she can recall at the moment.
She doesn’t look well equipped for anything except clear thinking. She wears a ragged, light green shirt that looks like something worn by the goalie for the javelin team, which, of course, it wasn’t. She simply likes her clothing to reflect her personality. Her figure is very undefined, and her chest is quite flat, the reason probably being a combination of the fact that she is part human and part feline, and because she doesn’t like having such unspeakable things over her pectorals anyway.
She has a pair of padded headphones draped around her neck in a manner that might be regarded as some sort of sacred necklace by anthropologists on her world a couple thousand years from the present. The headphones are connected by a cord to a small recording device carried in one hand, and slung over her shoulder is a bag filled with unidentifiable, bulky objects, that is, unidentifiable to the person sitting in the chair opposite the one she is now sliding into.
He is entirely human, wearing a plain, dark blue sweater and black pants. He is also a brunette.
It should be explained, while the narrative is on this current track, that it is fairly easy for one to make the immediate assumptions of the actual hair color of each of the two individuals, since the Earth-based term “brunette” spans such a wide color spectrum. It is human nature to picture a seductive, attractive, possibly anorexic female with raven black tresses sitting down opposite a man with thick, deep brown locks with something other than what his companion has on her mind. In fact it is (quite possibly) the exact opposite. The (to be polite) rather unappealing girl/cat has light brown hair, and the male (who is in his early teens) has black hair.
These facts may be absolutely useless to people who can handle stories without ENI (Excessive Narrator Input), but to those who are utterly baffled in the first few sentences and don’t know what is going to happen with these two strange people…well, it’s already been said, no use restating the entire thing.
The girl is placing her bag on the smooth surface of the table. She is still staring at the floor as if she is totally engrossed in it. The young man, however, is staring intently at her.
This is both a good idea and a bad one. On Earth, eye contact is an essential for humans trying to engage a conversation, and those who don’t are regarded as ignorant, uninterested, or (if a recent accident has occurred unbeknownst to the offended person in question) blind. However, direct eye contact amongst carnivores in most parts of the galaxy is a politely worded invitation to a serious, no-rules fight. But neither of these two facts seem to cross the minds of either the boy or the girl, who is still looking at the floor.
Finally, she looks up, makes no attempt to attack the person sitting about twenty feet across from her, and speaks.
The boy sits up and looks at her.
“What?” he asks.
“Good to see you,” the girl replies.
Now seems an ideal time to reveal the name of the only two characters who actually appear in this story. The girl is named Akril. She is a few inches shy of six feet tall, she has a voice that would be an ideal male voice if it were a couple octaves lower, she first heard the original Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series when she was about a decade old, and is still fascinated by it.
The boy is Zachariah Sanderling. He is also a fan of the Guide in all its forms, and is more curious about what he and this strange animal are doing in an isolated room in a relatively empty hole in space that might not even exist. Not much is known about him because both the author and the character representing her both know little about other people, and both are never that eager to find out.
The girl and the boy are alike in many of the major aspects, in that they believe that The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a really, really great thing. But Akril has something else filling the special reserved space set aside in her brain for “Things That I Undoubtedly Admire, Adore, Respect and Will Never Put Anything Above.”
“You are?” she asks.
“Zach Sanderling. Why? What’s going on here?”
Unable to find a suitable comeback, Akril glances out of the wall. This is the only way to word the action of looking through a solid material that is totally transparent and looks out on a small piece of creation.
“I said, what is going on?”
Akril swivels one of her multi-muscled, feline ears toward Zach, something that could be done in a picosecond, but she purposely stretches it out for about three seconds for effect. Then she turns her head towards him, not looking him directly in the eye, but looking at something beyond him, possibly beyond the room.
“I would like,” she says, “To talk with you.”
“Talk? Is that all?” asks Zach.
Akril nods, still looking at something that is beyond him.
“Okay. So what about?”
“Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Heard of it?”
Immediately, images of dolphins and mice, echoes of the words “forty-two”, feelings of the torturous hardness of the keyboard keys after hours of frantic typing to solve the Babel fish puzzle, the smell of the entire Trilogy – all five books – fresh out of their boxes, the nauseating taste of the envelope as it was being sealed shut, with a letter to the author inside flood the memory banks of Zach’s mind. After a few wavering seconds, he replies:
“Don’t blame you. That guy was a genius.”
“Was and is. Will always be. Akril.”
“What? That your name?”
“And what is this place?”
“Just a small retreat from time, but not from space. We can talk in peace here.”
“The Guide. What else?”
“I don’t really know.”
“What?” asks Zach, startled out of stream of memories.
“It’s something very, very similar to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Uncannily similar. Six years before it too. Six short years…”
“What do you mean? What is this thing?”
“It is something called ZBS.”
These three letters form something that is just three letters for the majority of the Earth’s population, something vaguely familiar to a smaller majority, perhaps something encountered in the unconscious or in waking dreams, but to the smallest number of people, ZBS is a whole new way of life.
It is very real, very incredible, and very unpopular. It has been in existence for twenty-nine years as of this current date, during which it has produced dozens of mind-stimulating radio productions that make “books-on-tape” look like newly germinated Zoobies compared to Sitz’Wallu Samurai Bushes. The company’s sole purpose is to raise consciousness through the media, possibly convincing the public that this mind-probing tool can be used for good.
The real question is, what does this thing have to do with The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? This is something that Akril will try as hard as she can to show Zach that the two have everything to do with each other.
Before she starts, though, it should be mentioned that ZBS’s first production came out in 1972, six years before the original Hitch Hiker radio broadcast, and the number of years between the time Akril became hooked on the radio series and the year that its creator died is seven. These two numbers may not make sense on their own, but it is just a small matter that involves multiplying matters.
Meanwhile, Akril has told Zach most of the above material, only much more slowly, during which time she has extracted a small white mug with the words “Wowie Zowie” emblazoned on one side, a plastic container, a container of water and a small heating plate, which she plugs into a socket on the underside of the table. She then pours some of the contents of the container into the mug (which seems to be some kind of brown powder, slightly lighter than her hair), and places the metal container of water on top of the heating plate. All of this is done carefully, gracefully and meticulously as she winds up her short speech.
“ZBS,” says Zach after a short pause. “Now, the ‘ZB’ I understand, but not the ‘S.’”
“No,” says Akril. “This has nothing to do with Zaphod. Not a shredded Spoolaga.”
“But you just said they had everything to do with…”
“Yes, I…well, yes and no. Some of the characters have their parallels, some don’t. It’s the series in their entirety we need to look at.”
“All right, I.”
Akril extracts a small, flat, rectangular box from her bag. She holds it up for Zach to see, which he can’t since he is sitting nearly twenty feet away from the small object. Akril obviously doesn’t want him to start asking questions about the box’s peculiar design of the silhouette young, fair-haired man looking at a large, ominous mansion in the distance, with three solid towers, and one tower that just doesn’t seem…real.
“The Fourth Tower of Inverness,” Akril says, a slight tremble passing through her body that would be visible to Zach if he were sitting closer. “Very first product of that neat little company. Adventure, humor, wit, and, most importantly, wisdom.
“What does this have to do with the Guide?”
“Simple,” says Akril, placing the tape on the table. “Now listen to this: Mr. Adams has an interesting style that uses both insane humor and really deep thought, no reference meant.”
“It just sounds better. Don’t ask me anymore about it. Now, the author of The Fourth Tower of Inverness…”
“What’s his name?”
“It’s…” says Akril, letting her ears fall flat in an expression that would soften any boy who wasn’t as bewildered as Zach at the present moment. “It’s not important. You want some tea? I hope you brought your own cup,” she adds, taking the water off the hot plate and producing a spoon out of her bag.
“I’ll have some after you tell me who this guy is.”
After a longish pause, Akril sighs, realizing there is no way out of this situation, then says, quite quickly,
“His name is Meatball Fulton, he plays two different roles in his first production, he’s traveled to more countries than any other twenty people in the world and he records environments from every country his stories take place in on location, unless the location is in another dimension or on another plane of consciousness, which is the same thing. Is that enough for you?”
Before Zach can respond, Akril tosses him a small, drawstring sack, which sails for the first eleven feet, then bounces and slides the rest of the way until it lands neatly in the boy’s lap.
“Take your pick unless you forgot a cup, in that case don’t bother.”
Without considering her words, Zach opens the sack and discovers several individually wrapped teabags of varying types. Not having much of a preference, he picks one at random.
He then notices a small plastic cup sitting on the floor by his seat. Since it seems to be unused, he picks it up, unwraps the teabag he has chosen and places it in the cup, then slides it across the table, which it does surprisingly well. Akril catches it, pours some now steaming water into the cup, and calmly slides it back. Remarkably, Zach manages to catch it before it crashes, only spilling a tiny bit of water.
“I love these futuristic table surfaces,” she muses out loud.
“You also seem to love tea,” remarks Zach.
Akril looks at the space beyond him, then back to her mug, into which she is now pouring the last of the hot water.
“It’s not tea, it’s Chai,” she remarks. “Same thing except it’s from Indonesia or somewhere. But I admit I like it.”
“You sure came prepared with it,” says Zach, tossing the sack back to her but missing her head by about five feet. The sack bangs against a few million stars and lands on the floor. Akril grunts, gets up, mutters something under her breath that sounds like “Zumzam,” retrieves the sack and stomps back to her seat.
“Now as I was saying,” she says, failing to add a false sense that she really knows reality, “The characters of these two radio programs are quite similar. The reluctant hero. The crazy companions. The eccentricities. Like as this tea business, for example.”
“Does the main character of this Inverness thing have an obsession with this, then?” Zach asks, raising his cup.
“Actually,” Akril explains, stirring her drink, “It’s quite the opposite. Just about every other person in his life is offering him it in-between his death-defying feats. This pattern was repeated in every following adventure after this first one. Strange thing is, when the Guide hit the air, this tea thing just stopped, and wasn’t brought up again in any way until twenty-something years later. Odd, isn’t it?”
“I guess so…”
“And you know how the radio series has all those constant quoting quips from the book, especially at the most suspenseful moments in the storyline?”
“All too well.”
“Well, listen to this,” says Akril, yanking the headphones’ plug out of her recording device and putting it on the table with more force than that action would normally require, then opening the small case she showed Zach a short time earlier and inserting the small cassette inside it into the recording device. “The hero, Jack Flanders, has just been pinned to the floor by a very seductive woman who is a demon’s daughter…”
“What does this have to do with…”
“Everything! Just listen. After a very moving passage from the narrator saying that Jack will never again see Inverness again and a sweet, devilish laugh from the woman, guess what happens?”
Zach is about to answer when Akril suddenly punches the Play button. The device emits the sound of a low wolf’s howl, followed by an odd noise that can only be described as something out of the cosmos. It then produces another strange sound, something only people who lived through Earth’s 1950s would recognize: the sound of a coin dropping into a jukebox. Then a voice begins to speak:
“You begin to see that your Upugurus – as opposed to Saatguru, a Saatguru is the pure light – an Upuguru is anything along the way that takes you a step further, the next message…
Birds, dogs, children, accidents…boredom…people you meet all the time, your enemies…they are all your Upugurus, because any thing that you are perceiving in this plane…is the result of an attachment on your part. You gotta remember the basic rule I gave you last week, Desire creates the Universe. Your desires create your Universe. So that everything you see or know is called your Universe is merely a reflection of your Uncooked Seeds of Desire.
Because who you are is it all. You wouldn’t be seeing anything if you were who you are. You’re only seeing something because you forgot, you’re it already. It’s like looking…at your own eyes looking at your own eyes…”
“Huh,” says Zach, after Akril has hit Stop and has gazed him levelly in the face for a few seconds. “That’s deep.”
“Just like some of the Guide’s entries. Fairly concise, succinct, and definitely with some kind of humor, and normally coming up at the most awkwardly possible times.”
“But…but what happens to this guy? Are you going to play on and tell me what happens?”
Akril laughs flatly and gazes out the wall again.
“You silly dreamer,” she sighs. “After twenty-nine years, we still have yet to see what really happens to Jack Flanders. But it’s all alright, because since he was able to withstand the maze and keep his cool, he’ll be just fine.”
She stirs her drink and allows the fragrant fumes to drift out of it and dissolve into the blank atmosphere of the room. Then she pulls another small, rectangular box out of her bag, opens it, and exchanges the cassette inside it for the cassette in the recording device.
“And is it some sort of coincidence that while Jack and the Madonna Vampyra are climbing…”
“Jack Flanders. You remember him. He and his friend are climbing up these very steep steps, and he says this…”
Hereupon she pushes Play again. The voice of a young man speaks from it, sounding as if he is performing some grueling physical activity:
“Yes, I see what you mean…feels like a size thirty-eight when you take a forty-two…”
“Now isn’t that fascinating,” says Akril, hitting Stop and popping the tape out of the machine. “Two radio series within six years of each other, with remarkably similar genres, and one of them has to mention that infernal number so casually, without even realizing it is going to become one of the most remarkable unremarkable numbers in the Galaxy?”
“It sounds like just a coincidence to me,” remarks Zach.
Akril says nothing. Instead she just stares into her drink as if she were trying to read the leaves (there are no leaves in Indonesian Chai, of course, and she knows nothing about reading tea leaves. Her specialties are graphology, palmistry, and other practices that used to be called science and vice-versa).
“I find them very amusing. More than amusing. Downright astonishing. It’s one of the only things that keeps me busy nowadays.”
“Finding parallels. Discovering overlooked, unintentional likenesses. That’s what I do.”
“Is that your job?”
“I don’t believe in wage slavery. I’m not that interested in money, either.”
“There are, or were a lot of people with British accents in a couple ZBS adventures, too.”
“Were until The Guide hit the air. I guess they didn’t want to be accused of imitating something for having accents that they had used before the program even came out.”
“I’m sure they’re used to talking about or mentioning things before the public hears about it. People that die and don’t realize they are dead and keep on doing what they did when they were alive. Moon Over Morocco in ’74, the concept appears twenty-seven years later in the picture The Sixth Sense. Time travel using an actual car as a machine. Bobby Bonecutter vs. the Pink Pearl Erasers from Stars & Stuff in ’77. The concept is unknowingly copied by the makers of Back to the Future. And magazines that have up until recently written stories only about diseases and lab experiments are now writing articles about parallel universes, morphogenic fields, theories that will embody all other existent theories and other everyday impossibilities. All of these ideas were mentioned by ZBS, most at least a decade before those big magazines gave us ‘permission’ to believe they are real.”
Another unnecessarily long pause follows. Akril takes a sip of her drink and closes her eyes, leaning back in her seat.
“But mind you,” she says silently, her eyes still staring at Zach through the closed lids, or giving Zach a convincing impression that she is. “I am not trying to put down Douglas Adams. I would never do that. I just think ZBS needs a little respect. It’s gone where the Hitch Hiker’s radio series would have gone if it had continued the story.”
“I think that’s a story that was never meant to be finished.
“Neither was Boogie Woogie to the Stars and Bach again.”
“A short story from Stars & Stuff. Came out about one year before the Guide.”
“Well, you know, a Terran gets stranded on a prehistoric planet with an alien with four upper limbs, they have a few terrifying experiences and then step into something amazingly deep, and…”
“We apologize that our thrilling story should have to end without being resolved, just like life, but that’s all there is. The author is out hunting Spoolagas in the moonlight, and has never completed the adventure.”
“Reminiscent of a lot, eh, Zach?” she asks, taking the cassette out of the machine and sticking in a new one she has just fished out of her bag.
“If I had heard what was going on right before she said that, I probably would have more describable feelings right about now.”
“And ZBS made a computer game as well.”
“Yeah. An old HyperCard thingy made only for Macs in the 80’s, I think. Monochrome. A few graphics, but not many.”
“Yes. It’s amazing.”
“For Fong’s sake, isn’t everything? What I’m saying should make at least a little sense!”
“For whose sake?”
“That is the same questioning tone that someone who’s never heard of the Guide would use if you told her to zark off.”
“Highly specialized slang. ZBS may not have as wide a range of original proper names, interjections and names of places as the Guide, but it’s got the same level of craziness. Same thing with the descriptions of the locations and individuals and stuff.”
“Give me a ‘for instance.’”
“It’s a planet.”
“Now, a planet with a species denied evolution and a planet with a population wiped out by a contaminated telephone I dig, but what about one with a civilization made entirely of detectives on a planet with no villainy?”
“How the heck would something like that come up?”
“Who can say? But, it came out before The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“So did the Colonel Abullah Abdullah.”
“This really irritating android that accompanies the protagonist in the same story involving the planet of detectives, Tired of the Green Menace?”
Zach nearly spills his beverage in an effort not to laugh.
“Are you serious?”
“I am, but that android is not. Listen to this. He’s discussing the possible whereabouts of a stolen planet with Ruby.”
“A stolen what?”
“You heard me.”
The device springs to life again.
“Miss Tuesday, if you may please to return to visit wretched antique shop, the Falcon of Fong has most curious and perhaps vital informa –AAAAAAGGGGGH!!!”
“Oops,” mutters Akril, casually flicking off the machine, plugging in her headphones and strapping them on. “Zumzam. That wasn’t it. Let me see if I can find it here…”
As she starts fiddling with the numerous buttons on the device and looking like someone dangerous to disturb in her present state, Zach pipes in:
“Can I ask if this radio series mentions the destruction of the Earth?”
Akril looks up, then down.
“In a sense. It is destroyed in both the Ruby series and in the Guide. In the Guide, it’s Vogons…” She pauses, as if she is zeroing in on her targeted audio segment.
“And what is in the Ruby series?” asks Zach, cautiously.
“Tourists. Here it is,” she announces, yanking off the headphones and unplugging them from the recording device. She hits Play. This time there are two voices, a male and a female. The male voice sounds slightly metallic, and the female voice sounds slightly ticked off.
“Maybe Cleo wished to see the other side of the Galaxy and (heh-heh) went for a walk,” says the male voice, “What do you think?”
A snapping sound comes from the audio recording and whatever the woman says after that is cut off by a deliberate cough from Akril as she presses Stop again. Zach correctly guesses that it was something that Akril didn’t want him or anyone else to hear.
“It’s not exactly a GPP, but it’s definitely some kind of personality, right?”
“And Ruby is eventually forced to reprogram him in a unconventional way.”
“How is that?”
“Ah-ah-ah, wouldn’t want me to spoil the ending, would you?” she asks, ejecting the cassette.
Suspense is something that is greatly overused in modern times. It has led to an immediate, and usually correct guess to what totally unexpected event is about to happen. Unless applied appropriately, this event will happen every time the device called “suspense” is used. It is either long enough for the audience to work out exactly what is about to happen, or short enough for the audience to become so confused and disoriented that they forget all that has happened until the point of realization. The way Akril uses it is an exception. She not only keeps the other person in complete bafflement, but manages to keep what she would say in complete obscurity.
Since the story she is speaking of is in existence (as it has been for 24 years), it is because of her moderately extensive empathy that she withholds the ending to the story to anyone else who is listening. From this it can be determined that what she is refusing to say is either unexpected, humorous, an insightful revelation. If any of these possibilities (or any audio experiences, for that matter) are done merely in spoken words, they will not have much affect on the audience, but there are two more factors that can trigger a much more responsive reaction.
“And then there’s the subject of sound and music,” Akril continues, taking another drink from her peculiarly marked mug.
“I like the Eagles.”
“Who wouldn’t, after ‘Journey of the Sorcerer.’ But chances are that people who totally admire that piece and all the other music in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy haven’t heard Tim Clark.”
“Only one of the most amazing musicians in America, also one of the most unnoticed.”
“So you keep saying. I don’t see why you keep telling me about all these people who…”
A sharp look in Akril’s eyes persuades him to stop before any damage is inflicted. She exhales through her nostrils and then breathes in deeply. Zach braces himself.
“Zach, ‘these people’ are people that have devoted nearly thirty years to spread the wisdom that has been lost through the ages. Thirty years! Even the actors have stuck with the stories! That’s as close as you can without actually becoming the character! ZBS taught me things that I would have learned years later in school, either that or never at all! And it’s funny! What more could you want??”
To add emphasis to her last words, she raises her right, clenched fist and brings it down – not on the smooth table, but on the still-plugged in heating plate. It lingers there a second or two, then she pulls it back with the incomparable speed an appendage has when put in contact with extremely uncomfortable object, mouth wide, fanning it wildly, but silent, except for a few strangled gasps.
Eventually, she presses her hand under her left armpit and cringes. Then she grudgingly yanks out the plug on the hot plate, breathing heavily. She looks in Zach’s general direction.
“Hah,” she hisses.
“Are you okay?” he asks, his chivalry eager for a chance to exert itself.
“No.” she replies. “Don’t bother,” she adds, as Zach starts to get up. “I just need some time to cool down. Now where is that tape…”
She picks up the tape that she has just ejected. Using her good hand, she fits on her headphones, plugs them into the machine, opens it and sticks the tape into the player and, after a few fast forward-play-fast forward again cycles, unplugs the headphones and presses Play.
“Come! This way! A taxi is waiting!”
“Hold on, I want my clothes – Oh s**t, they took my Smith-Kawasaki Special!”
“Here! Take this!”
“What, your finger?”
“Extra finger stunner!”
“Sure, what the hell…” (sound of loud laser fire)
“Tired of the Green Menace is the only sci-fi story I know of besides The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to have a useful tool in the shape and size of a humanoid finger.”
“Yeah, that is…interesting,” says Zach looking at the stars. “Yeah. Hoopy.”
“There,” Akril says, pointing her burned hand at Zach, “That’s a surefire sign that I’m reaching you. Now that you’re nicely relaxed, I think I can start talking about what I was starting to talk about before all that happened.”
“And that was?”
“Music,” she says, pointing again. “Now, the music from the Guide is just plain great, is futurism combined with simple, Earth tunes. And that theme song…whew,” she shivers. “I can only think of one other song that can compare to it and the rest of the music.”
“And what is that?”
“The music to The Incredible Adventures of Jack Flanders. Came out, like the rest of Stars & Stuff, one year before the Guide.”
“Really? Can I hear a bit?”
“Maybe if this were being aired on the radio…but not in this form. You try transferring the destruction of the Universe from Episode 6 to text format, and you just don’t get as good a picture, so to speak. But I’ll try to describe it as best as I can.
“I’ll start with the main theme. It starts sane enough, with some sort of astral ambiance in the background, with just a slight pulsation, and then…” she pauses for effect. “Then the whole thing just…explodes. There’s no better word for it. It’s like a supernova transformed into a crescendo of sound. Close your eyes and you can just see the stars streaking out. And a lot of smaller strains follow, and all these amazing noises that I just can’t describe. I have no idea how Tim Clark made that composition or all the rest of his masterpieces, but I sure hope he keeps on doing it.
“I think you mentioned sound effects as well…”
“Yes, yes…most of the sound effects are fairly ordinary, but made so real that you could swear that you’re actually there. In fact, in the year I was born, they developed something called 3D sound…”
She leans over the table, her eyes half-lidded.
“You ever hear a Stephen King story in Kunstkopf Binaural, Zach?”
“Then you, my friend, are missing out.”
She leans back again.
“And even the ordinary sound is remarkable. They stretch and distort some ordinary sounds to make some really bizarre ones. Like, for example, how do you think a time machine with its gears being stripped would sound like? How would a race of carnivorous plant people communicate? What noise would you hear passing through the Gate of Peacocks? I tell you, not only do they take you places through narration, but they also take you there through sound effects. Not every radio program can do that.”
“And what I was going to say about the methods…Mr. Adams has a very unique and original style of fusing humor and extreme cleverness into…well, almost a language, when you think about it.”
“Like you said. What about your author?”
She sighs delicately.
“Mr. Fulton also uses humor and wit, but he seems to keep a definite barrier between them, but lately he’s been…well, shall we say…blurring the line a tad?”
By now it should be clear to all that this Akril character is not all that mysterious, subtle or puzzling as she first appears. In fact, she gives observers such a complex and well-planned set of events every time a conversation is started with her that she can halt it minutes before the originally scheduled end. What she lacks in mystery, baffling appearance and perplexity she more than makes up for by building a shield around her that encompasses all of the aforementioned qualities, like many creatures are known to do in situations of extreme insecurity.
This is, in fact, a paradox, in that she is not only in a body totally unlike her to draw attention away from her real shape, but she is, at the same time, in a rather scruffy, untidy condition that is actually much more like her inner light than her normal shape would reveal. Trying to build up such a shield could have drastic results and probably has in the past with other beings that have tried to be two sides of the spectrum at once, but have failed. The odds are that Akril’s ability to be in such a confusing, inexplicable state can be assumed that the audio tapes she has been plugged into for the past seven years have taught her the fantastic reality and the realistic fantasy that black and white are equivalent, there are no true battles, and that life is governed by symbols.
She also has gained an extravagantly open mind and a willingness to believe everything except that which is believed by the majority. However, her friends do not think this to be a strange and unconventional trait to possess because she has so few they are hardly worth counting. This is probably because the cat species that her organic appearance is half composed of is one of the only felines to live almost completely alone once they leave their mothers, unlike the other “prides” and “family groups.” Ironically, again, the other half of her biological makeup is a typical Earth human, which, out of all the Terran animals, stays with its mother the longest.
Being such an open creature, she takes pride in being so adaptable that she can be a walking contradiction. Still, she is completely average if all of these factors are ignored, and is forced to live among her average companions, which she doesn’t, on the whole, enjoy the presence of.
Still, this system of thought isn’t at all bad for a being that has spent nearly half her life listening to the adventures of a galactic gumshoe, especially for someone who hasn’t even read Dirk Gently.
“What do you mean?” Zach asks.
“Listen to this,” Akril says, yanking out yet another cassette (this makes five she has out now) and sticking it in the machine.
“Yeah…there really higher forces at work…or…at play.”
“Ruby 1,” she announces. Tape 4, Side A, 1982, same year as Life, the Universe and Everything, my personal favorite.”
“Not many other people like it…”
“I know. Go play with an Upuguru.”
Eject. New tape. Insert. Play.
“I was hired to find the four moon coins of Sonto Lore. Sonto Lore is some mythical moon that once orbited Summa Nulla. Some people believe it’s still up there, but invisible…like most things people believe.”
“Ruby 4, Tape 5, Side A, 1995.”
Eject, New tape, insert, Play.
“And so, as we drive off into the sunset, we come to the end of another…why can’t I say it, Ruby?”
“Maybe because there is no end.”
“Oh. I can live with that.”
“Ruby 5, Tape 3, Side B.” She ejects the tape and slips it back into its case, like she has been doing with the ones that preceded it.
“Well, what do you say, Zach? Pretty deep, eh?”
“Uh…” says Zach. After a short while, he says, “Yep. That’s pretty good. But I still think The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is pretty good too.”
Akril finishes the last of her drink and stares into the empty mug.
“You Hitch Hikers and your obsessions. You’ll never stop, just as us ZBS fans will never stop.”
“Everything. The slang, the wisdom, the talk. Everything.”
“You know…I noticed something about this ZB thing…”
“Well…Douglas Adams seems to be focused on blending wisdom and cleverness…but ZBS seems to be blending humor and…well, wisdom…”
A sudden light shines across Akril’s face. She looks up.
“Thank Fong, you’ve finally got it!” she says. “That’s it! Mr. Adams has got the wit of modern times, but Mr. Fulton, on the other hand, has tapped into the ancient past and brought up some old knowledge that many of us have lost or forgotten. I guess that’s why I like both of these series. One is from the present, one is from the past, but they both speculate on the future. Isn’t that something?”
“I’d think so,” says Zach.
“You would? Well then,” says Akril, picking up the now cool hot plate and coiling its wire around it, “I think my time here is finished. I’d best be going.”
“But where?” Zach asks.
“Nowhere,” says Akril, stuffing Tapes 1 and 4 of The Fourth Tower of Inverness, Tapes 4 and 5 from Stars & Stuff, Tape 4 of Ruby 1, Tape 5 of Ruby 4 and Tape 3 of Ruby 5 into her bag. “Where everyone is going, whether they know it or not.”
“How the heck can you go through life talking like that all the time?” Zach mutters, disgusted.
“Not very well. ‘Course I don’t talk like this much anyway,” she admits, gently cleaning the inside of her mug out with a corner of her bag, sticking the little drawstring sack filled with prepackaged tea bags in it before doing so. As she opens it to perform this operation, Zach thinks he sees something else in the large bag besides the multitude of cassette cases, but Akril closes it too soon for him to see what it is. As she is carefully shoving the hot plate into the bag, Zach says something that has been weighing on his mind since he found himself sitting in this strange chamber.
“Uh…how do I get out?”
“How did you get in, Zach?”
“I have no idea.”
“Figures. Just get up and walk towards that end of the room,” Akril says, pointing east, beyond Zach. Solemnly, she gets to her feet, heaving the heavy bag over her left shoulder. She plugs her headphones (which are still draped around her neck) into her recording device, picks it up and starts walking towards the west end of the room, tail swishing, her legs softly brushing against each other.
Zach is feeling strange. He himself is still sitting and looking at his almost empty cup of tea, which, he suddenly realizes, is mint (which, by a staggering coincidence, is the drink that Jack Flanders is offered the most frequently in Moon Over Morocco, an adventure loosely based on the 1942 Earth film, Casablanca). He has spent nearly 30 minutes in this mysterious room with this enigmatic person, who, even after being told why and getting a very thorough lecture on this presumably amazing radio series that he has never heard of, he still has no clue what is going on. Perhaps it has been like this all his life, but only now does he realize it. He knows that he still has a long way to go, and that the probability of his encountering this girl again are quite slim. He looks up at her.
Akril turns around, interested at hearing this oddly beautiful poetic mispronunciation of her name. This is the first time she has heard it spoken by Zachariah.
“Is this…is this radio series really that good?”
Akril looks at an area beyond Zach and gives him a gentle, quandary of a smile that would have been a major emotional mover if there had been a bright, ethereal light shining from behind her. She has often wondered how she would look that way.
“That is for you to judge. You’ve just got to be cool. Welcome change, be open to relistening, and above all...”
“’Don’t pa – ‘”
“Don’t say it!” she suddenly hisses, slapping her hands over her ears and dropping her tape player in the process, where it bounces a couple times on the floor and comes to rest in a position comparable to a dead insect. “I’ve ran across that Zumzamming phrase more times than I can handle in more than enough forms on more than enough Hitch Hiker websites all over the entire planet! And I do not want to hear it again!”
“Too bad,” says Zach after a pause he considers to be long enough and Akril has picked up her recording device again. “It sounds like you could use a phrase like that to go by.”
“Your tea’s getting cold, Zach boy,” she snorts. Then her attitude changes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to talk like that. I just get…tired of over used phrases. Every now and then, we all need some sort of change.”
“I guess so,” Zach admits.
“You do?” says Akril, her ears swiveling forward.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Well…I’m glad that we could talk and end our conversation well…well, moderately well, at least…”
“And with that, I leave. And Zach?”
“I think you should read this. You won’t regret it.”
She reaches into her bag and pulls out something flat and rectangular. She moves the hand that isn’t holding her recording device backwards and suddenly flicks it forward, sending whatever it is flying through the air, at least six feet above the long table in the center of the room. Now Zach can see that it is what looks like a book, but very slim in size, as if it were constructed entirely out of paper. It twirls through the thin air, so vividly that it seems as if time had slowed down just for this event. As it is nearing Zach’s place at the table (with precision that must have required weeks of practice on Akril’s part), she turns around and starts walking towards the invisible doorway. Mere microseconds later, she vanishes in a now familiar shimmer of air and light. Another miniscule moment of a moment later, what can now be discerned as a small catalogue lands in front of Zachariah Sanderling. He picks it up and looks at the lettering on the cover.
On it is an image of several large, leather-bound books on heavy, wooden shelves, with a hand removing a CD Rom from one of the shelves. Printed in a large circle in the upper left hand corner, in free, sweeping letters, is the all-too predictable three-letter symbol “ZBS.”
And he didn’t even think to ask her what it stood for.