A short while before this, Arthur Dent had set out from his cabin in search of a cup of tea. It was not a quest he embarked upon with a great deal of optimism, because he knew that the only source of hot drinks on the entire ship was a benighted piece of equipment produced by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. It was called a Nutri- Matic Drinks Synthesizer, and he had encountered it before.
It claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared to use it. When put to the test, however, it invariably produced a plastic cup filled with a liquid which was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
He attempted to reason with the thing.
'Tea,' he said.
'Share and Enjoy,' the machine replied and provided him with yet another cup of the sickly liquid.
He threw it away.
Arthur threw away a sixth cup of the liquid.
'Listen, you machine,' he said, 'you claim you can synthesize any drink in existence, so why do you keep giving me the same undrinkable stuff?'
'Nutrition and pleasurable sense data,' burbled the machine, 'Share and Enjoy.'
'It tastes filthy!'
'If you have enjoyed the experience of this drink,' continued the machine, 'why not share it with your friends?'
'Because,' said Arthur tartly, 'I want to keep them. Will you try to comprehend what I'm telling you? That drink...'
'That drink,' said the machine sweetly, 'was individually tailored to meet your personal requirements for nutrition and pleasure.'
'Ah,' said Arthur, 'so I'm a masochist on a diet am I?'
'Share and Enjoy.'
'Oh shut up.'
'Will that be all?'
Arthur decided to give up.
'Yes,' he said.
Then he decided he'd be damned if he'd give up.
'No,' he said, 'look, it's very, very simple...all I want...is a cup of tea. You are going to make one for me. Keep quiet and listen.'
And he sat. He told the Nutri-Matic about India, he told it about China, he told it about Ceylon. He told it about broad leaves drying in the sun. He told it about silver teapots. He told it about summer afternoons on the lawn. He told it about putting in the milk before the tea so it wouldn't get scalded. He even told it (briefly) about the history of the East India Company.
'So that's it, is it?' said the Nutri-Matic when he had finished.
'Yes,' said Arthur, 'that is what I want.'
'You want the taste of dried leaves boiled in water?'
'Er, yes. With milk.'
'Squirted out of a cow?'
'Well, in a manner of speaking I suppose...'
'I'm going to need some help with this one,' said the machine tersely. All the cheerful burbling had dropped out of its voice and it now meant business.
'Well, anything I can do,' said Arthur.
'You've done quite enough,' the Nutri-Matic informed him.
It summoned up the ship's computer.
'Hi there!' said the ship's computer.
The Nutri-Matic explained about tea to the ship's computer. The computer boggled, linked logic circuits with the Nutri-Matic and together they lapsed into a grim silence.
Arthur watched and waited for a while, but nothing further happened.
He thumped it, but still nothing happened.
Eventually he gave up and wandered up to the bridge.
In the empty wastes of space, the Heart of Gold hung still. Around it blazed the billion pinpriks of the Galaxy. Towards it crept the ugly yellow lump of the Vogon ship.
'Does anyone have a kettle?' Arthur asked as he walked on to the bridge, and instantly began to wonder why Trillian was yelling at the computer to talk to her, Ford was thumping it and Zaphod was kicking it, and also why there was a nasty yellow lump on the vision screen.
He put down the empty cup he was carrying and walked over to them.
'Hello?' he said.
At that moment Zaphod flung himself over to the polished marble surfaces that contained the instruments that controlled the conventional photon drive. They materialized beneath his hands and he flipped over to manual control. He pushed, he pulled, he pressed and he swore. The photon drive gave a sickly judder and cut out again.
'Something up?' said Arthur.
'Vogons!' snapped Ford, 'we're under attack!'
'Well what are you doing? Let's get out of here!'
'Can't. Computer's jammed.'
'It says all its circuits are occupied. There's no power anywhere in the ship.'
He started to speak, and stopped.
He started to speak again and stopped again.
Finally he managed to speak.
"Er," he said. He cleared his throat.
"Tell me," he continued, and said it so nervously that the others all turned to stare at him. He glanced at the approaching yellow blob on the vision screen.
"Tell me," he said again, "did the computer say what was occupying it? I just ask out of interest..."
Their eyes were riveted on him.
"And, er... well that's it really, just asking."
Zaphod put out a hand and held Arthur by the scruff of the neck.
"What have you done to it, Monkeyman?" he breathed.
"Well," said Arthur, "nothing in fact. It's just that I think a short while ago it was trying to work out how to..."
"Make me some tea."
"That's right guys," the computer sang out suddenly, "just coping with that problem right now, and wow, it's a biggy. Be with you in a while." It lapsed back into a silence that was only matched for sheer intensity by the silence of the three people staring at Arthur Dent.
As if to relieve the tension, the Vogons chose that moment to start firing.