The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Library
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The Heart of Gold steamed gently. The row of bookshelves where it had come to rest gave voice to a series of ominous creaks.

"Do you think it'll hold?" Arthur said.

"Of course it will. Ancient dusty bookshelves acting as a landing pad for a damaged spaceship is hugely improbable."

Arthur couldn't argue with this - it was too ridiculous to argue with. And it was moot in any case. Until they could repair the laser-gouged holes in the relays between the Improbability Drive and the ship's navigation system, they wouldn't be going anywhere. Evidently the G'rduxian Commerce Association were really serious about punishing people who dined and dashed.

He looked up past the hull and immediately regretted it. A panoramic vista of shelves, arches, gracefully curving walkways, ornate staircases and cozy study nooks sprawled up and out into the impossible distance.

Despite its size, every place Arthur Dent's eye came to rest looked like a comfortable, welcoming spot to doze off with a book in his lap. A few patrons here and there seemed to be doing just that; there was plush, well-worn furniture scattered amidst the bookshelves. Some of it was even human sized. He swayed on his feet under the twin assault of a wave of vertigo and a mad urge to dash off into the endless, peaceful stacks and never be heard from again.

Ford Prefect clapped a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Come on," he said cheerily. "If anyplace has a book on Improbability Drive repair, this is it."

"But how do we find it?" Arthur replied, peering at a placard on the end of a shelf as they passed. "Whatever language this is looks like a squid had a fight with a bag of confetti."

"Find someone and ask them for directions." Ford tapped the side of his head. Nestled deep in their ear canals, the Babelfish would telepathically translate the speech of any sapient entity, but it had to be communicated in person. The fish were no help with writing.

Arthur sighed. Maybe there would be a tea shop somewhere. A library this size would have to have tea.

They walked for hours, keeping the reassuring bulk of the Heart of Gold in sight in the distance, though Ford occasionally had to clamber to the top of a shelf to spot it when they got turned around. He had tried to use his electronic Thumb to call for a ride, but it wouldn't power up. Maybe this library didn't allow hitchhiking. Or maybe the Thumb had detected that they were well outside the galaxy and had gone offline until they had the good sense to return.

Arthur haphazardly picked up a book here and there, but could discern no rhyme or reason to the way they were organized. Some of them were even in English, of sorts. He frowned in puzzlement at the cover of Thaumaturgical Implications of Essokinetic Diaspora in High Hume Realities, and flipped it over. The photo on the back revealed the author, Dr. Ayn E. Stein, to be a plump, smartly-dressed woman with a gigantic pouf of rainbow hair, a round purple nose and facepaint in a radiant shade of robin's egg blue. He put it back on the shelf.

"This is hopeless."

"If you keep doing it like that it is. You're still looking for books. I'm looking for people."

"The only person we've met so far was a sapient cloud of fungal spores, and they wouldn't even speak to us."

"They seethed at us a little. I was pretty sure that meant 'piss off,' " Ford retorted, but his heart wasn't in it.

A skittering noise in the next aisle rooted them both to the spot. "Did you hear that?" Ford whispered. Arthur was about to shush him when a pair of creatures rushed around the corner; a red squirrel decked out in immaculate medieval armor and smallish amphibian in a pirate hat. They careened to a halt and the squirrel drew a tiny sword.

"Halt, heretics!"

"Avast, landlubbers!"

"Do you embrace the true faith of the Four Prophets?" the squirrel said threateningly. Ford and Arthur looked at each other and shrugged. Arthur couldn't see for the life of him where the sword had come from, but the squirrel seemed to know what they were doing with it and the blade looked wickedly sharp.

A trio of hooded figures emerged from the stacks and began to advance on the squirrel with silent, deliberate footsteps. The squirrel's piratical friend turned to scold them.

"By thunder, put that cutlass away, Sir Reginald! Ye've brought the Docents on us now!"

With an irritable flick of his tail, the squirrel sheathed his blade. The hooded figures slipped away as silently as they'd come. Arthur let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"Look," Arthur began, "We've never heard of these prophets - we're sure they're very wise fellows - but we were actually wondering who could help us find - "

"Never heard of the prophets?" the amphibian exclaimed. "Why we've got the remedy for that, me lads. Come along with us, and we'll be introducing ye to the finest path to enlightenment and business opportunity in all the seven seas!"

"The service is just about to begin," added Sir Reginald. "And if you embrace the true faith, my brethren and I will gladly accept you into our crew. Captain Blart and his skinks are mighty warriors, but such giants as yourselves will strike fear in the hearts of many a dastardly heretic. Will you be coming to church? The admission fee is very reasonable."

"I'm afraid we don't have any money," Arthur said.

"Doubloons are best if ye have any, but we also accept grapes, fish, crickets, liquorice allsorts and nuts," the skink put in with a nod.

Ford rooted around in his pockets and came up with a packet of peanuts, ignoring Arthur, who shook his head vigorously and mouthed No! "Will these do?"

"A giant of taste and distinction, forsooth!" cried Sir Reginald, and leapt up to seize the packet. "Please, follow us to the sanctuary."

The animals saluted, turned and began to proceed up the aisle at a more reasonable pace.

Arthur would have been overjoyed to see the animals leave, but Ford jogged up to walk next to them. "Do any of you know anything about spaceship repair?"

"Ship?!" bellowed Captain Blart. He hopped up on his hind legs and danced with excitement. "It's a fine bit of luck you've come to us! After church I'll send me crew to inspect the rigging."

"Oh, our Lyla is a keen one for repairs," Reginald put in amiably. "Never knew what 'busy as a beaver' meant before she joined the congregation. Never heard the phrase before in fact! …Your ship's made of wood, is it not?"

An open study area had been hastily converted into a meeting place by shoving all the desks, chairs and sofas into a rough circle. Small animals in bewildering variety sat or sprawled on every available surface, chattering and squeaking at one another in subdued conversation.

In the center of the circle, four small stools had been set up on a platform. One held another red squirrel, whose armor was far more ornate than Sir Reginald's. On the next sat a beaver in cheery green overalls and a hard hat, who seemed to be comparing notes with an opossum wearing a child-sized doctor's coat. A small medical bag of plastic instruments had been left open on the platform next to them.

"Well met, me hearties. I've got to get up there," Captain Blart said. He gave Ford's knee a friendly slap and scampered up to take a seat in the fourth chair.

Above the heads of the animal foursome, a large paper banner had been taped to what looked like a blackboard. To Arthur's surprise, the writing was in English.

four prophet church
(by dado)

admision $5 (or equiv)

today ajenda:

genral acornfist - trust in dado: a holy crusade

forebeaver lyla chomps - the joy of building

dr. maeph - why dado cals us haemsters (we still trust)

cap blart - plunder and ye

A hush fell over the crowd as the armored squirrel stood up and tapped the table with the tip of a carefully sheathed blade. With a feeling of resignation, Arthur settled down to sit camp-style on the floor next to Ford.

This dado was not, as Ford had assumed, the animals' deity. He was more of a beloved inspirational speaker and business associate. Their joint crusade was a rough amalgamation of the goals of the four "prophets" who sat before them: aggressive marketing, supply chain logistics, improved member healthcare standards and corporate sabotage via piracy. Arthur fell asleep halfway through the service, as had many of the animals in the audience, but Ford was fascinated and occasionally jotted down notes.

A chorus of squeaks, tail-slaps and joyful hisses erupted at the end of Captain Blart's rousing speech, jolting Arthur out of his doze. Ford handed him a towel. "Go on, wipe your face. Those opossums were throwing raspberries at each other during the intermission and I think you got hit."

"What? Er, thanks." Arthur found he had been a bit sticky. He returned the towel. "Did any of them say anything helpful? Can we get out of here now?" He paused. "Are there any raspberries left?"

"Not directly, not yet, and I don't think so."

The captain and forebeaver muscled their way through the crowd and approached the two men. "There ye are, lads! I've told Lyla about your predicament - "

"Pleased to meet you!" Lyla interrupted, tipping her hard hat. "We've been specialized in permanent installations, but are always glad to learn of new designs."

"And we should have your fine ship - what did ye say her name was? - right as rain in two shakes of me tail."

"Heart of Gold," Arthur said absently, climbing to his feet. Both legs had fallen asleep, and he shifted from one foot to the other awkwardly, wincing at the pins and needles.

Captain Blart roared with laughter. "A worthy name for a ship o' plunder!"

Arthur felt a tug on his pants leg. Dr. Maeph's grey, pointed face looked up at him, head mirror drooping askew over one furry ear. "Your ship has a heart? She is alive?"

Ford started to answer, then stopped, his mouth hanging open.

Dr. Maeph went on with confidence. "I am good doctor! I have special wonder dado doctor coat. Everyone I fix gets better. I fix myself and my friends when we are hurt."

The animals watching this exchange all indicated agreement with nods or noises of assent.

Arthur frowned. He'd seen the Drive from which the ship took its name. A shimmering, golden lump of something that shone like metal. That somehow connected their ship to every possible version of their universe, no matter how strange. That always - with minimal and sometimes contradictory input - managed to get them, not necessarily where they had asked to go, but where they needed to be.

"Actually, Dr. Maeph," he said slowly. "I think you may be on to something."

The interior of the ship was a frenzy of activity.

Zaphod Beeblebrox stumbled blearily out into the engine room and shouted over the sound of the beavers' hammering.

"What are they doing? Don't they know there's a sick man in here?"

"Lyla said we needed more shelf space. And maybe a bench. A hangover is not sick," Ford shouted back. "I told you ten Wiz Gene Zodah's was too much!"

"I told you, I'm drinking for two," Zaphod grumbled, cradling one of his heads in each hand as he gesticulated with the third.

"Yes, but you've only got one liver. Come on, I've got to show you something."

They headed towards the chamber that held the Improbability Drive, each veering to one side around the chassis of the ship's robot. His arms were piled high with struggling, cursing skinks, and he vented a dramatic sigh. "Kick out the skinks, Marvin. Give the beavers a hand, Marvin. And not so much as a thank you."

Arthur stood over an instrument panel, scratching his head. He looked up. "Oh, hello. You're up early. Most of these blinking light things on here that were red and orange before are all green now. That's good, right?"

A small, furry creature in a white coat emerged from behind the machinery, carrying a satchel which shut with a click. Opossums do not often, or easily, look smug, but Maeph pulled it off with panache.

"My - urk - ship! What have you done with my ship?" Zaphod wailed and dove for the controls, pushing Arthur aside.

"She is all better now!" Dr. Maeph burbled happily. She looked back and forth between the tall persons in confusion. "Why so sad? Your ship is not sick anymore. I fixed her!"

"He's upset because his heads hurt," Ford reassured the opossum. "We're really, truly grateful, doctor. Couldn't have done it without you."

Maeph padded up to Zaphod and rummaged around in her satchel. She held up a round, blue pill.

Zaphod gazed at the blinking green lights with about the same level of comprehension as Arthur. He nonetheless managed to summon an air of brisk authority that was impressive in a man wearing fuzzy slippers that flashed "G'rdux Hotel Deluxe" in tiny lights with every step. He took the pill from Maeph and dry-swallowed it absently.

Improbably,1 the pain in his heads began to clear. That could have been the pill, or it could have been because the beavers were sweeping up after themselves, stowing their gear and getting ready to leave. The shelves were at a convenient height, and the benches looked comfortable. "So, we can leave now?"

"Well, presumably the doctor charges for her services," Arthur said uncertainly. Ford kicked him in the shin. "Ow!"

"Why did you say that out loud?"

"Well it's too late now, so what's the point of kicking me?"

"It made me feel better."

The doctor tilted her head at them. "Do you have grapes?"

Ford brightened. "We've got a food replicator that could make you a whole pile of grapes."

"I want to get out of this dump," Zaphod said, stabbing a button at random.

Several plates of escargot appeared on the deck with a clatter. Maeph chittered happily. "Ooo those smell good! I will take them!"

The Heart of Gold vibrated slightly as the Improbability Drive powered up. The low hum crescendoed with a quiet fwumph, and the spaceship was gone from the top of the stacks.

As the dust settled, a patron here and there looked up from slumber or study to smile at the joyful sounds of the faithful dividing their spoils.

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