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There isn’t any particular relationship between the messages. . . . There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral. . . .

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In his zoo enclosure, Billy reads the novel Valley of the Dolls, the only earthling book available. He learns that Tralfamadorian books are composed of short telegram-like clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy skips back to two childhood scenes during a family tour of the American West, then to the prison camp in Germany. After the prisoners are showered and their clothes are deloused, their names are entered in a ledger, and they are officially alive again.

The Americans are housed with a group of British officers who have accidentally received extra provisions. The Brits welcome the Americans with a cheerful banquet but quickly become disgusted with the sorry state of the enlisted men. During a performance of Cinderella, Billy laughs uncontrollably and is taken to the camp’s “hospital.” He is drugged and wakes up in 1948, in the mental ward of a veterans’ hospital in New York.

Billy has committed himself to the mental ward in his last year of optometry school. In the aftermath of war, he finds life meaningless. In the bed next to him lies an ex-captain named Eliot Rosewater. Eliot introduces Billy to the clever but poorly written science-fiction novels of a writer named Kilgore Trout. Billy’s mother visits him, and he covers his head with a blanket.

Back in Germany, Edgar Derby keeps watch over Billy’s sickbed. Billy remembers Derby’s death by firing squad, which happens in the near future. Billy travels back to the veterans’ hospital. His -fiancée, Valencia Merble, is visiting. They discuss Kilgore Trout with Rosewater.

Billy time-travels to his geodesic dome in the zoo on Tralfamadore, outfitted with Sears Roebuck furniture and appliances. The Tralfamadorians tell Billy that there are actually seven sexes among humans, all of which are necessary for reproduction. Since five of these sexes are active only in the fourth dimension, Billy cannot perceive them. When Billy praises the peacefulness of Tralfamadore, the aliens inform him that Tralfamadorians are at war sometimes and at peace at others. They add that they know how the universe will end: one of their pilots will accidentally blow it up. It always happens the same way and that is how the moment is structured. They state that war cannot be prevented on Tralfamadore any more than it can on Earth.

Billy skips back to his wedding night with Valencia in Cape Ann, Massachusetts. After they make love, Valencia asks Billy about the war. He gets up and goes to the bathroom and finds himself back in his hospital bed in the prison camp. Billy wanders to the latrine, where the American soldiers are violently sick. One of them is Kurt Vonnegut.