As the Heart of Gold glides ever closer to Magrathea, a transmission from the ghostly planet—which has been inactive for 5,000,000 years—plays over the ship’s speakers. “Greetings to you,” a voice says. “This is a recorded announcement, as I’m afraid we’re all out at the moment. The commercial council of Magrathea thanks you for your esteemed visit but regrets that the entire planet is temporarily closed for business. Thank you. If you would care to leave your name and the address of a planet where you can be contacted, kindly speak when you hear the tone.” Trillian points out that the planet seems to want them to leave, but Zaphod ignores this, saying that it’s “just a recording.”
Again, Adams infuses the plot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a humorous strain of absurdity, this time treating an entire planet as if it’s a small business. When Magrathea transmits a pre-recorded message to the Heart of Gold, it presents itself like a message one might record on a telephone answering machine. As such, Adams reminds readers to refrain from taking the plot of the novel too seriously.
The spaceship draws closer to Magrathea, and another recorded message sounds over the speakers: “We would like to assure you that as soon as our business is resumed announcements will be made in all fashionable magazines and color supplements, when your clients will once again be able to select from all that’s best in contemporary geography. Meanwhile, we thank our clients for their kind interest and would ask them to leave. Now.” In defiance of his fellow passengers’ desire to leave, Zaphod forges onward, eventually receiving a final message that politely informs everybody on the Heart of Gold that there are now two guided missiles making their way toward the spaceship.
Zaphod’s determination to reach Magrathea is strange. After all, he claims that the only reason he wants to go to this planet is because it is famous and wealthy. Since these are somewhat feeble reasons to visit a planet in the first place, it doesn’t make sense that he would be willing to risk his life under these circumstances. In turn, his relentless desire to continue onward suggests that there is something else that is secretly motivating him—whether or not he knows it.
“Hey, this is terrific!” Zaphod shouts. “Someone down there is trying to kill us!” When Arthur asks him what he’s talking about, Zaphod points out that this means they “must be on to something.” He then orders Eddie to take “evasive action,” but Eddie informs them that the controls have been overridden by some external force. As the missiles near the ship, Ford tries to steer the craft manually, ultimately turning them upside down and turning them around so that they begin traveling toward the missiles. In a moment of panic, Arthur has a brilliant idea. Running to the spaceship’s console, he activates the Improbability Drive. Suddenly, everything is calm again, though the interior of the ship has undergone a redesign. “What the hell happened?” asks Zaphod, who finds himself lounging in a “wickerwork sun chair.”
When Zaphod gleefully says that he “must be on to something” because of the fact that somebody is trying to shoot the Heart of Gold, it once again becomes clear that he doesn’t know what, exactly, he’s looking for. All he knows, it seems, is that he wants to land on Magrathea. This lack of knowledge about his own intentions once more confirms that Zaphod is keeping something from himself, operating with only a partial understanding of his own whims.
The crew on the Heart of Gold discovers that the Improbability Drive has turned the missiles into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias, respectively. As the sperm whale careens toward Magrathea, it springs into thought, thinking, “Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?” Gradually, it begins to piece together the facts of its existence, delighted by the sensation of air rushing over its body and by the feeling of being alive. “What’s this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast?” it wonders. “So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide-sounding name like…ground! That’s it! That’s a good name—ground! I wonder if it will be friends with me?” With this, it splatters on the surface of Magrathea. The bowl of petunias, on the other hand, thinks only one thing: “Oh no, not again.”
The sperm whale’s brief quest to discover itself once again signals Adams’s interest in the ways in which knowledge—and the pursuit of knowledge—inform a living being’s existence. The fact that the sperm whale asks probing questions about itself suggests that this kind of self-aware consciousness is an inherent part of being alive. At the same time, Adams makes fun of these grandiose questions, as made evident by the fact that this philosophical whale splatters across the surface of Magrathea only moments after engaging in such heady inquiries.