The last continent, p.24
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       The Last Continent, p.24

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 24

 

  I say, this is a pretty amazing place! Ponder rolled his eyes. You could say that for wizards. When they walked into a place that was pretty amazing, theyd tell you. Loudly. Ah, said the god, turning around, this is the rest of your . . . swarm, isnt it?

  Id better go and stop them, said Ponder as the wizards fanned out like small boys in an amusement arcade, ready to press anything in case there was a free game left. They poke things and then say, “What does this do?”

  Dont they ask what things do before they poke them?

  No, they say youll never find out if you dont give them a poke, said Ponder darkly. Then why do they ask?

  They just do. And they bite things and then say, “I wonder if this is poisonous,” with their mouths full. And you know the really annoying thing? It never is.

  How odd. Laughing in the face of danger is not a survival strategy, said the god.

  Oh, they dont laugh, said Ponder gloomily. They say things like, “You call that dangerous? Its not a patch on the kind of danger you used to get when we were lads, eh, Senior Wrangler, what what? Remember when old Windows McPlunder . . . ” He shrugged. When old “Windows” McPlunder what? said the god. I dont know! Sometimes I think they make up the names! Dean, I really dont think you should do that! The Dean turned away from the shark, whose teeth hed been examining. Why not, Stibbons? he said. Behind him, the jaw snapped shut. Only the Archchancellors legs were visible in the exploded elephant. There were muffled noises from inside the whale; they sounded very much ike the Lecturer in Recent Runes saying, Look at what happens when I twist this bit . . . See, that purple bit wobbles.

  Amazin piece of work, said Ridcully, emerging from the elephant. Very good wheels. You paint these bits before assembly, do you?

  Its not a kit, sir, said Ponder, taking a kidney out of his hands and wedging it back in. Its a real dephant under construction!

  Oh.

  Being made, sir, said Ponder, since Ridcully didnt seem to have got the message. Which is not usual.

  Ah. How are they normally made, then?

  By other elephants, sir.

  Oh, yes . . .

  Really? Are they? said the god. How? Those minks are pretty nimble, even if I say so myself, but not really very good for delicate work.

  Oh, not made like that, sir, obviously. By . . . you know . . . sex . . . said Ponder, feeling a blush start. Sex? Then Ponder thought: Mono Island. Oh dear . . . Er . . . males and females . . . he ventured. What are they, then? said the god. The wizards paused. Do go on, Mister Stibbons, said the Arch-chancellor. Were all ears. Especially the elephant.

  Well . . . Ponder knew he was going red. Er . . . well, how do you get flowers and things at the moment?

  I make them, said the god. And then I keep an eye on them and see how they function and then when they wear out I make an improved version based on experimental results. He frowned. Although the plants seem to be acting very oddly these days. Whats the point of these seeds they keep making? I try to discourage it but they dont seem to listen.

  I think . . . er . . . theyre trying to invent sex, sir, said Ponder. Er . . . sex is how you can . . . they can . . . creatures can . . . they can make the next . . . creatures.

  You mean . . . elephants can make more elephants?

  Yes, sir.

  My word! Really?

  Oh, yes.

  How do they go about that? Calibrating the ear-waggling is particularly time-consuming. Do they use special tools? Ponder saw that the Dean was staring straight up at the ceiling, while the other wizards were also finding something apparently fascinating to look at that meant they could avoid one anothers gaze. Um, in a way, said Ponder. He knew that a sticky patch lay ahead and decided to give up. But really I dont know much about—

  And workshops, presumably, said the god. He took a book from his pocket and a pencil from behind his ear. Do you mind if I make notes?

  They . . . er . . . the female . . . Ponder tried. Female, said the god obediently, writing this down. Well, she . . . one popular way . . . she . . . sort of makes the next one . . . inside her. The god stopped writing. Now I know thats not right, he said. You cant make an elephant inside an elephant—

  Er . . . a smaller version . . .

  Ah, once again I have to point out the flaw. After a few such constructions youd end up with an elephant the size of a rabbit.

  Er, it gets bigger later . . .

  Really? How?

  It sort of . . . builds itself . . . er . . . from the inside . . .

  And the other one, the one that is not the, uh, female? What is its part in all this? Is your colleague ill? The Senior Wrangler hammered the Dean hard on the back. Its all right, squeaked the Dean, . . . often have . . . these . . . coughing fits . . . The god scribbled industriously for a few seconds, and then stopped and chewed the end of his pencil thoughtfully. And all this, er, this sex is done by unskilled labour? he said. Oh, yes.

  No quality control of any description?

  Er, no.

  How does your species go about it? said the god. He looked questioningly at Ponder. It . . . er . . . we . . . er . . . Ponder stuttered. We avoid it, said Ridcully. Nasty cough youve got there, Dean.

  Really? said the god. Thats very interesting. What do you do instead? Split down the middle? That works beautifully for amoebas, but giraffes find it extremely difficult, I do know that.

  What? No, we concentrate on higher things, said Ridcully. And take cold baths, healthy morning runs, that sort of thing.

  My goodness, Id better make a note of that, said the god, patting his robe. How does the process work, exactly? Do the females accompany you? These higher things . . . How high, precisely? This is a very interesting concept. Presumably extra orifices are required?

  What? Pardon? said Ponder. Getting creatures to make themselves, eh? I thought this whole seed business was just high spirits but, yes, I can see that it would save a lot of work, a lot of work. Of course, thered have to be some extra effort at the design stage, certainly, but afterwards I suppose itd practically run itself The gods hand blurred as he wrote, and he went on, Hmm, drives and imperatives, theyre going to be vital . . . er . . . How does it work with, say, trees?

  You just need Ponders uncle and a paintbrush, said the Senior Wrangler. Sir! said Ponder hotly.

  The god gave them both a look of intelligent bewilderment, like a man who had just heard a joke told in a completely foreign language and isnt sure if the speaker has got to the punchline yet. Then he shrugged. The only thing I think I dont quite understand, he said, is why any creature would want to spend time on all this . . . he peered at his notes, this sex, when they could be enjoying themselves . . . Oh dear, your associate seems to be choking this time, Im afraid . . .

  Dean! shouted Ridcully. I cant help noticing, said the god, that when sex is being discussed your faces redden and you tend to shift uneasily from one foot to the other. Is this some sort of signal?

  Erm . . .

  If you could just tell me how it all works . . . Embarrassment filled the air, huge and pink. If it were rock, you could have carved great hidden rose-red cities in it. Ridcully smiled a petrified smile. Excuse us, he said. Faculty meeting, gentlemen? Ponder watched the wizards go into a huddle. He could hear a few phrases above the susurration. . . . my father said, but of course I didnt believe . . . never raised its ugly head . . . Dean, will you shut up? We cant very well . . . cold showers, really Ridcully turned back and flashed the stony smile again. Sex is, er, not something we talk about, he said. Much, said the Dean. Oh, I see, said the god. Well, a practical demonstration would be so much more compre- hendable.

  Er, we werent, er . . . planning a . . .

  Coo-eee! There you are, gentlemen! Mrs Whitlow entered the cave. The wizards went suddenly quiet, sensing in their wizardry minds that the introduction of Mrs Whitlow at this point was an electric fire in the swimming pool of life. Oh, another one of you, said the god brightly. H
e focused. Or a different species, perhaps? Ponder felt that he had to say something. Mrs Whitlow was giving him a Look. Mrs, er, Whitlow is, er, a lady, he said.

  Ah, I shall make a note of it, said the god. And what sort of thing do they do? Theyre, um, the same species as, er, us, said Ponder, miserably. Um . . . the . . . um . . .

  Weaker sex, Ridcully supplied. Sorry, youve lost me there, said the god. Er . . . shes, um, er, a . . . of the female persuasion, said Ponder. The god smiled happily. Oh, how very convenient, he said. Excuse me, said Mrs Whitlow, in as sharp a tone as she cared to use around the wizards, but will someone introduce this gentleman to me?

  Oh, yes, of course, said Ridcully. Do excuse me. God, this is Mrs Whitlow. Mrs Whitlow, this is God. A god. God of this island, in fact. Uh . . .

  Charmed, Aim sure, said Mrs Whitlow. In Mrs Whitlows book, gods were socially very acceptable, at least if they had proper human heads and wore clothes; they rated above High Priests and occupied the same level as Dukes. Should Ai kneel? she said. Mwaaa, whimpered the Senior Wrangler. Genuflection of any sort is not required, said the god. He means no, said Ponder. Oh, as you wish, said Mrs Whitlow. She extended a hand. The god grasped it and waggled her thumb backwards and forwards. Very practical, he said. Opposable, I see. I think I should make a note of this. Do you brachi-ate? Are you bipedal by habit? Oh, I notice your eyebrows go up, too. Is this a signal of some sort? I also note that you are a different shape from the others and dont have a beard. I assume that means you are less wise? Ponder saw Mrs Whitlows eyes narrow and her nostrils flare. Is there some sort of problem, sirs? she said. Ai followed your footprints to that funny boat, and this was the only other path, so—

  We were discussing sex, said the god enthusiastically. It sounds very exciting, dont you think? The wizards held their breath. This was going to make the Deans sheets look very minor. Its not a subject on which Ai would venture an opinion, said Mrs Whitlow carefully.

  Mwaa, squeaked the Senior Wrangler. No one seems to want to tell me, said the god irritably. A spark leapt from his fingers and blew a very small crater in the floor, and that seemed to shock him as much as it did the wizards. Oh dear, what can you think of me? Im so sorry! he said. Im afraid its a sort of natural reaction if I get a bit, you know . . . testy. Everyone looked at the crater. The rock bubbled gently by Fenders feet. He didnt dare move his sandal, just in case he fainted. That was just . . . testy, was it? said Ridcully. Well, it may have been more . . . vexed, I suppose, said the god. I cant really help it, its a god-given reflex. Im afraid as a . . . well, species, were not good with, you know, defiance. Im so sorry. So sorry. He blew his nose, and sat down on a half-finished panda. Oh, dear. There I go again . . . A tiny bolt of lightning flashed off his thumb and exploded. I hope its not going to be the city of Quint all over again. Of course, you know what happened there . . .

  Ive never heard of the city of Quint, said Ponder. Yes, I suppose you wouldnt have, said the god. Thats the whole point, really. It wasnt much of a city. It was mostly made of mud. Well, I say mud. Afterwards, of course, it was mainly ceramics. He turned a wretched face to them. You know those days you get when you just snap at everyone? Out of the corner of his eye Ponder had noticed that the wizards, in a rare show of unanimity, were shuffling sideways, very slowly, towards the door. A much bigger thunderbolt blew a hole in the floor near the cave entrance. Oh dear, where can I put my face? said the god. Its all subconscious, Im afraid.

 
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