The last continent, p.6
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       The Last Continent, p.6

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 6

 

  NO, WE DONT DO IT THAT WAY. The Death of Rats struggled madly. SQUEAK? BECAUSE ITS AGAINST THE RULES, said Death. NATURE MUST TAKE ITS COURSE. He glanced down at the image again as if a thought had struck him, and lowered the Death of Rats to the floor. Then he went to the wall and pulled a cord. Far away, a bell tolled. After a while an elderly man entered, carrying a tray. Sorry about that, master. I was cleaning the bath. I BEG YOUR PARDON, ALBERT? I mean, thats why I was late with your tea, sir, said Albert. THAT IS OF NO CONSEQUENCE. TELL ME, WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF THIS PLACE? Deaths finger tapped the red continent. His manservant looked closely. Oh, there, he said. “Terror Incognita” we called it when I was alive, master. Never went there myself. Its the currents, you know. Many a poor sailorman has washed up on them fatal shores rather than get carried right over the Rim, and regretted it, I expect. Dry as a statues ti— Very dry, master, or so they say. And hottern a demons joe— Very hot, too. But you mustve been there yourself? OH, YES. BUT YOU KNOW HOW IT IS WHEN YOURE THERE ON BUSINESS AND THERES HARDLY ANY TIME TO SEE THE COUNTRY . . . Death pointed to the great spiral of clouds that turned slowly around the continent, like jackals warily circling a dying lion which looked done for but which might yet be capable of one last bite. VERY STRANGE, he said. A PERMANENT ANTI-CYCLONE. AND INSIDE, A HUGE, CALM LAND, THAT NEVER SEES A STORM. AND NEVER HAS A DROP OF RAIN. Good place for a holiday, then. COME WITH ME. The two of them, trailed by the Death of Rats, walked into Deaths huge library. There were clouds here, up near the ceiling. Death held out a hand, I WANT, he said, A BOOK ABOUT THE DANGEROUS CREATURES OF FOURECKS— Albert looked up and dived for cover, receiving only mild bruising because he had the foresight to curl into a ball. After a while Death, his voice a little muffled, said: ALBERT, I WOULD BE SO GRATEFUL IF YOU COULD GIVE ME A HAND HERE.

  Albert scrambled up and pulled at some of the huge volumes, finally dislodging enough of them to allow his master to clamber free. HMM . . . Death picked up a book at random and read the cover. DANGEROUS MAMMALS, REPTILES, AMPHIBIANS, BIRDS, FISH, JELLYFISH, INSECTS, SPIDERS, CRUSTACEANS, GRASSES, TREES, MOSSES, AND LICHENS OF TERROR INCOGNITA, he read. His gaze moved down the spine. VOLUME 29C, he added. OH. PART THREE, I SEE. He glanced up at the listening shelves. POSSIBLY IT WOULD BE SIMPLER IF I ASKED FOR A LIST OF THE HARMLESS CREATURES OF THE AFORESAID CONTINENT? They waited. IT WOULD APPEAR THAT— No, wait, master. Here it comes. Albert pointed to something white zigzagging lazily through the air. Finally Death reached up and caught the single sheet of paper. He read it carefully and then turned it over briefly just in case anything was written on the other side. May I? said Albert. Death handed him the paper. “Some of the sheep,” Albert read aloud. Oh, well. Maybe a week at the seasided be better, then. WHAT AN INTRIGUING PLACE, said Death. SADDLE UP THE HORSE, ALBERT. I FEEL SURE IM GOING TO BE NEEDED. SQUEAK, said the Death of Rats. PARDON? He said, “No worries,” master, said Albert. I CANT IMAGINE WHY. Four huge blooms of silence rolled over the city as Old Tom so emphatically did not strike the hour. Several servants rumbled a trolley along the corridor. The Archchancellor had given in. An early breakfast was on the way. Ridcully lowered his tape measure.

  Lets try that again, shall we? he said. He stepped out of the window and picked a seashell out of the sand. It was warm from the sun. Then he pulled himself back into the bathroom and walked around to a door beside the window. It led to a dank, moss-grown light well, which allowed second-hand and grubby daylight into these dismal floors. Even the snow hadnt managed to get more than a brushing of flakes down this far. The window on this side glimmered in the light from the doorway like a pool of very black oil. Okay, Dean, he said. Tush your staff through. Now waggle it about. The wizards looked at the gently rippling surface. There should have been several feet of solid wood sticking out of it. Well, well, well, said the Archchancellor, going back in out of the cold air. Do you know, Ive never actually seen one of these?

  Anyone remember Archchancellor Bewdleys boots? said the Senior Wrangler, helping himself to some cold mutton from the trolley. He made a mistake and got one of the things opened up in the left boot. Very tricky. You cant go walking around with one foot in another dimension.

  Well, no . . . said Ridcully, staring at the tropical scene and tapping his chin thoughtfully with the seashell. Cant see what youre treading in, for one thing, said the Senior Wrangler. One opened up in one of the cellars once, all by itself, said the Dean. Just a round black hole. Anything you put in it just disappeared. So old Archchancellor Weatherwax had a privy built over it.

  Very sensible idea, said Ridcully, still looking thoughtful. We thought so too, until we found the other one that had opened in the attic. Turned out to be the other side of the same hole. Im sure I dont need to draw you a picture.

  Ive never heard of these! said Ponder Stibbons. The possibilities are amazing!

  Everyone says that when they first hear about them, said the Senior Wrangler. But when youve been a wizard as long as I have, my boy, youll learn that as soon as you find anything that offers amazing possibilities for the improvement of the human condition its best to put the lid back on and pretend it never happened.

  But if you could get one to open above another you could drop something through the bottom hole and itd come out of the top hole and fall through the bottom hole again . . . Itd reach meteoritic speed and the amount of power you could generate would be—

  Thats pretty much what happened between the attic and the cellar, said the Dean, taking a cold chicken leg. Thank goodness for air friction, thats all Ill say. Ponder waved his hand gingerly through the window and felt the suns heat. And no ones ever studied them? he said. The Senior Wrangler shrugged. Studied what? Theyre just holes. You get a lot of magic in one place, it kind of drops through the world like a hot steel ball through pork dripping. If it comes to the edge of something, it kind of fills it in.

  Stress points in the space-time continuinuin-uum . . . said Ponder. There must be hundreds of uses—

  Hah, yes, no wonder our Egregious Professor is always so suntanned, said the Dean. I feel hes been cheating. Geography should be hard to get to. It shouldnt be in your windowbox, is what Im saying. You shouldnt get at it just by sneaking out of the University.

  Well, he hasnt, really, has he? said the Senior Wrangler. Hes really just extended his study a bit.

  Do you think that is EcksEcksEcksEcks, by any chance? said the Dean. It certainly looks foreign.

  Well, there is sea, said the Senior Wrangler. But would you say that it looks as if it is actually girting?

  Its just . . . you know . . . sloshing.

  One would somehow imagine that sea that was girting something would look more, well . . . defiant, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. You know? Thundering waves and so on. Definitely sending a message to outsiders that it was girting this coast and theyd better be jolly respectful.

  Perhaps we could go right through and investigate, said Ponder. Something dreadfulll happen if we do, said the Senior Wrangler gloomily. It hasnt happened to the Bursar, said Ridcully. The wizards crowded around. There was a figure standing in the surf. Its robe was rolled up above the knees. A few birds wheeled overhead. Palm trees waved in the background. My word, he must have snuck out while we werent looking, said the Senior Wrangler. Bursaar! Ridcully yelled. The figure didnt look round.

  I dont want to, you know, make trouble, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, looking wistfully at the sundrenched beach, but its freezing cold in my bedroom and last night there was frost on my eiderdown. I dont see any harm in a quick stroll in the warm.

  Were here to help the Librarian! snapped Ridcully. Faint snores were coming from the volume entitled Ook. My point exactly. The poor chapd be a lot happier in those trees there.

  You mean we could wedge him in the branches? said the Archchancellor. Hes still The Story of Ook.

  You know what I mean, Mustrum. A day at the seaside for him would be better than a . . . a day at the seaside, as
it were. Lets get out there, Im freezing.

  Are you mad? There could be terrible monsters! Look at the poor chap standing there in the surf! That seas probably teeming with—

  Sharks, said the Senior Wrangler. Right! said Ridcully. And—

  Barracudas, said the Senior Wrangler. Marlins. Swordfish. Looks like somewhere out near the Rim to me. Fishermen say theres fish there thatd take your arm off.

  Right, said Ridcully. Right . . . There was a small but significant change in his tone. Everyone knew about the stuffed fish on his walls. Archchancellor Ridcully would hunt anything. The only cockerel still crowing within two hundred yards of the University these days stood under a cart to do it. And that jungle, said the Senior Wrangler, sniffing. Looks pretty damn dangerous to me. Could be anything in it. Fatal. Could be tigers and gorillas and elephants and pineapples. I wouldnt go near it. Im with you, Archchancellor. Better to freeze here than look some rabid man-eater in the eye. Ridcullys own eyes were burning bright. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. Tigers, eh? he said. Then his expression changed. Pineapples? Deadly, said the Senior Wrangler firmly. One of them got my aunt. We couldnt get it off her. I told her thats not the way youre supposed to eat them, but would she listen? The Dean looked sidelong at his Archchancellor. It was the glance of a man who also didnt want another night in a frigid bedroom and had suddenly worked out where the levers were. That gets my vote, Mustrum, he said. Catch me going through some hole in space on to some warm beach with a sea teeming with huge fish and a jungle full of hunting trophies. He yawned like a bad poker player. No, its me for my nice freezing bed, I dont know about you. Archchancellor?

  I think— Ridcully began.

  Yes?

  Clams, said the Senior Wrangler, shaking his head. Looks just the beach for the devils. You just ask my cousin. Youll have to find a good medium first, though. They shouldnt ooze green, I said. They shouldnt bubble, I told him. But would he listen? The Archchancellor was currently amongst those who wouldnt. You think that taking him out there would be just the thing for the Librarian, do you? he said. Just the tonic for the poor old chap, an hour or two under that sun?

  But I expect we ought to be ready to protect him, eh, Archchancellor? the Dean said, innocently. Why, yes, I really hadnt thought of that, said Ridcully. Hmm, yes. Important point. Better get them to bring down my 500-pound crossbow with the armour-piercing arrows and my home taxidermy outfit. And all ten fishing rods. And all four tackle boxes. And the big set of scales.

  Good thinking, Archchancellor, said the Dean. He may want to take a swim when hes feeling better.

  In that case, said Ponder, I think Ill get my thaumodalite and my notebooks. Its vital to work out where we are. It could be EcksEcksEcksEcks, I suppose. It looks very foreign.

  I suppose Id better fetch my reptile press and my herbarium, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, who had got there eventually. Much may be learned from the plants here, Ill wager.

  I shall certainly endeavour to make a study of any primitive grass-skirted peoples hereabouts, added the Dean, with a lawnmower look in his eyes. What about you, Runes? said Ridcully. Me? Oh, er . . . The Lecturer in Recent Runes looked wildly at his colleagues, who were nodding frantically at him. Er . . . this would be a good time to catch up on my reading, obviously.

 
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