Going Nowhere in Time

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan fiction

The prompt for this story was the following snippet of dialogue:

“Where are you going?”

“No where.”

“Can you do that in a time machine?”

Being a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, I wrote this fan fiction story that is actually set immediately before the start of the events in the first book of the series and actually set them up.

The mice stared at the screen, uncomprehending. The series of error messages they were faced with were utterly confusing. They’d fed them to Deep Thought for interpretation, but even she wasn’t able to understand them.

They had to warn the planet, but there was no way to do it in time. What made matters worse is that one of the errors on the screen seemed to indicate a complete freeze of time and space in sector ZZ-plural-Z-alpha. The mice had never seen anything like this before.

And now all communication with the planet was inoperative, and the Vogon constructor fleet was on its way… The mice had to brief the Earth and tell them about the plans, so that Fook and Lunkwill could communicate an appeal to the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council and stop this madness. Unfortunately, those infernally bureaucratic Vogons only accept appeals coming directly from the location affected by the decision.

Then one of the mice made a suggestion. Maybe if they contacted the support team on Magrathea they might get some answers and a way to handle this. They couldn’t let their experiment fail now. It had to be close to yielding results.

Meanwhile, on Earth…

In a small cafe in Rickmansworth, England, United Kingdom, a young girl was sitting bolt upright with an excited, far-off, illuminated look in her eyes. She was just sitting there, completely immobile. The pint of beer she had knocked off the bar as she jumped upright with realization was still hovering in midair, tilted, the beer already half-splashed out and two drops already pointing toward the floor with no prospect of arriving there any time soon.

She had just had the idea of a lifetime, a solution to all the trouble and problems of society, a way to really go about it that would allow everyone to live in harmony. An approach to philosophy that would finally let people ask themselves the true ultimate questions of life, the universe and everything, and therefore eventually find an answer. Little did she know it would never come to fruition, as a terrible, stupid catastrophe was on its way.

Halfway across the country, a man named Arthur Dent sat at his post in the radio transmission room, in the middle of saying something more or less exactly boring to less than more exactly millions of potential listeners all around the town. The pencil he had just been fidgeting with, and which had just escaped from his hand, was still stuck in the air, in an apparently stalled jump to the desk below. Dent’s other hand was in the air, apparently in the middle of making a gesture to suit his words, a gesture that by the very nature of things nobody would be able to see anyway.

Not far away, a certain Ford Prefect was stuck in the middle of pondering how best to convey his new impressions to the guidebook he was working on. He was hunched over an electronic device with a few buttons, a shiny screen and the words “DON’T PANIC” written in large friendly letters on the back. The screen was in the middle of loading a new page, and it looked like Ford was waiting for the page to finish loading.

In a laboratory in London, Fook and Lunkwill themselves also seemed frozen in place. Fook had just gotten into a hamster wheel for a bit of exercise and still stood there, awkwardly perched on two opposite legs, mouth open and eyes staring blankly. Lunkwill had been jumping down from the top level of the cage, and was somehow stuck in midair in mid-jump.

As in the UK, so all around and across the planet. The only person moving, in fact, was a young man in yet another corner of the country, who was hurriedly rummaging through his notes and diagrams and drawings, trying to understand what the heck had gone wrong with his machine. Little did he know his little mistake was going to cost the planet its existence.

After several minutes of searching, this young man finally stumbled upon a textbook his professor had loaned him. Finally! He opened it up to the page where he’d seen the note. It read, “Be careful of the settings, or you’ll go nowhere fast!” And below that was a brief explanation. The experimental time machine he had built was apparently working, but something had apparently led time to freeze in place.

Those few extra lines didn’t give him any new information. But he pondered that “nowhere fast” expression for a few minutes… And a light seemed to turn on in his mind. What exactly is the nature of “nowhere”? Then it struck him. He knew what the problem had been. He had set the machine to go “nowhere”. So it had gone nowhere indeed – but in space-time. It hadn’t moved. It couldn’t move. Not through space, not through time.

That was the problem. But what to do to resolve it? He didn’t want to risk any more, but he also couldn’t stay in a perpetually frozen world forever. He was going to have to do something. After a few hours of intense calculations, erasures, frustrations, he gave up. The only solution, the best solution he could think of, was simple, but untested. He hadn’t been able to evaluate what might happen.

Going back to the time machine, he sat in the chair and stared at the dials. He had set the machine to go “nowhere”, or right to the same time so as not to lose any time. Apparently, though, this led to some kind of bug whereby it also froze time entirely. He decided to try something. He set the machine to one minute before his previous attempt. Maybe this would be enough to unfreeze time. Nervously, he pressed the button.

*

In another dimension, the mice suddenly saw things had been restored. The planet had started spinning again. Immediately they picked up their communicator and sent Fook and Lunkwill an urgent message. Just for good measure, they also sent an equally urgent message to the entire dolphin population of Earth.

But they were afraid the damage was already done. The planet had remained apparently frozen in time too long. The Vogon fleet had moved ever closer, and would be there within hours. If they wanted to save their experiment, they had to act immediately, and even that might be too late. There wouldn’t be enough time to send out an appeal to Alpha Centauri and stop the fleet. It was too late. But they had to try. The alternative was to lose everything after millions of years of waiting.

*

Fook and Lunkwill were panicking. They had to get a message out to Alpha Centauri at once. Digging through their cage, they found and prepared a sub-ether transmomatic, and dispatched an urgent communication. While Fook was doing that, Lunkwill pulled out two other objects, which looked oddly like thumbs. They each put one on, and sat there, waiting. The time was 3am.

Meanwhile, across all the oceans and the waterparks of the planet, dolphins everywhere were getting hyperactive, thrashing around the water, apparently desperately trying to attract the humans’ attention. Eventually, noticing that their two-legged friends were not available to pay attention, they just decided to abandon… well, planet, leaving behind a message: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

*

Our story begins very simply. It begins with a house.

The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village. It stood on its own and looked over a broad spread of West Country farmland. Not a remarkable house by any means – it was about thirty years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye…

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