They found the device in a cave on Triton one of the moons of Neptune. I call it a device but it’s really a computer, the most sophisticated computer ever devised, but devised by whom … ?
Engineers developed an interface, a keyboard and screen that allowed questions to be posed to it. Answers to the most difficult scientific problems were returned in the instant that the last key was struck. It wore out all the scientists who came with worried faces and left with the appearance of bliss. They finally stopped coming. No one could think of anything else to ask.
I watched all this. I was just the janitor, by the way. After a while I became bored and I set down the book I was reading. It had given me an idea. I approached and typed in “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” and hit enter. I heard a something that sounded like a belch. The device whizzed and gurgled, and kept on making sounds like it was chewing on my question. Minutes went by, hours, days. I fell asleep, woke, fell asleep, on and on it worked. My beard grew and grew. When my hair started to fall out I got worried. I dozed again but was woken by the chiming of a bell. I looked at the screen. Gone was the screen saver of Barbarella in various alluring poses. The words on the screen printed out “The answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42.” The screen went blank and Barbarella reappeared. She turned and looked at me and said, “Just kidding!” then the screen went blank again. The device turned itself off and could not be restarted.