The last continent, p.8
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       The Last Continent, p.8

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 8

 

  Im not frightened of you, he said. Why should I be frightened of you?

  Well, said the kangaroo, I could kick your stomach out through your neck.

  Ah. You can talk?

  Youre a quick one, said the kangaroo. It rubbed an ear again. Something wrong? said Rincewind. No, thats the kangaroo language. Im trying it out.

  What, one scratch for “yes”, one for “no”? That sort of thing? The kangaroo scratched an ear, and then remembered itself. Yep, it said. It wrinkled its nose. And that wrinkling? said Rincewind. Oh, that means “Come quick, someones fallen down a deep hole,” said the kangaroo. That one gets used a lot?

  Youd be amazed.

  And . . . whats kangaroo for “You are needed for a quest of the utmost importance”? said Rincewind, with guileful innocence. You know, its funny you should ask that— The sandals barely moved. Rincewind rose from them like a man leaving the starting blocks, and when he landed his feet were already making running movements in the air. After a while the kangaroo came alongside and accompanied him in a series of easy bounds. Why are you running away without even listening to what I have to say?

  Ive had long experience of being me, panted Rincewind. I know whats going to happen. Im going to be dragged into things that shouldnt concern me. And youre just a hallucination caused by rich food on an empty stomach, so dont you try to stop me!

  Stop you? said the kangaroo. When youre heading in the right direction? Rincewind tried to slow down, but his method of running was very efficiently based on the idea that stopping was the last thing hed do. Legs still moving, he ran out over the empty air and plunged into the void. The kangaroo looked down and, with a certain amount of satisfaction, wrinkled its nose.

  Archchancellor! Ridcully awoke, and sat up. The Lecturer in Recent Runes was hurrying up, out of breath. The Bursar and I went for a walk along the beach, he said. And can you guess where we ended up?

  In Kiddling Street, Quirm, said Ridcully tartly, brushing an exploring beetle off his beard. That little bit by the teashop, with the trees in it. Thats astonishing, Archchancellor. Because, you know, in fact, we didnt. We wound up back here. Were on a tiny island. Were you having a rest?

  A few moments cogitating, said Ridcully. Any idea where we are yet, Mister Stibbons? Ponder looked up from his notebook. I wont be able to work that out precisely until sundown, sir. But I think were pretty close to the Rim.

  And I think we found where the Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography has been camping, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. He rummaged in a deep pocket. There was a camp, and a fireplace. Bamboo furniture and whatnot. Socks on a washing line. And this. He pulled out the remains of a small notebook. It was standard UU issue. Ridcully would never let anyone have a new one until theyd filled up every page on both sides. It was just lying there, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Im afraid ants have been eating it. Ridcully flicked it open and read the first page. “Some interesting observations on Mono Island,” he said. “A most singular place. ” He flicked through the rest of the book. Just a list of plants and fishes, he said. Doesnt look all that special to me, but then I aint a geography man. Whys he callin it Mono Island?

  It means One Island, said Ponder. Well, youve just told me it is one island, said Ridcully. Anyway, I can see several more out there. Severe lack of imagination, I suggest. He tucked the notebook into his robe. Right, then. No sign of the chap himself?

  Strangely, no.

  Probably went swimming and was eaten by a pineapple, said Ridcully. Hows the Librarian doing, Mister Stibbons? Comfortable, is he?

  You should know, sir, said Ponder. Youve been sitting on him for three-quarters of an hour. Ridcully looked down at the deckchair. It was covered with red fur. This is—?

  Yes, sir.

  I thought perhaps our geography man had brought it with him.

  Not, er, with the black toenails, sir. Ridcully peered further. Should I get up, do you think?

  Well, he is a deckchair, sir. So being sat on is a perfectly normal activity for him, I suppose.

  We must find a cure, Stibbons. This is too strange—

  Coo-ee, gentlemen! There was activity in front of the window. It centred around a vision in pink, although admittedly the sort of vision associated with the more erratic kind of hallucinogen. In theory there is no dignified way for a lady of a certain age to climb through a window, but nevertheless this one was attempting it. In fact she moved with more than dignity, which is something that is given away free with kings and bishops; what she had was respectability, which is home-made out of cast iron. However, at some point she would have to show a bit of ankle, and she was wedged awkwardly on the sill while trying to prevent this from happening. The Senior Wrangler coughed. If he had been wearing a tie he would have straightened it. Ah, said Ridcully. The inestimable Mrs Whitlow. Someone go and give her a hand, Stibbons.

  Ill help, said the Senior Wrangler, just a little faster than he meant. [12] The Universitys housekeeper turned and spoke to someone unseen beyond the window and then turned back, her shouting-at-subordinates expression briefly visible before i: was eclipsed by her much sunnier talking-to-wiz-ards one. The Chair of Indefinite Studies had once upset the Senior Wrangler by saying that the housekeeper had a face full of chins, but there was a glossiness about her that put some people in mind of a candle that had been kept in the warm for too long. There wasnt anything approaching a straight line anywhere on Mrs Whitlow, until she found that something hadnt been dusted properly, when you could use her lips as a ruler. Most of the Faculty walked in dread of her. She had strange powers that they couldnt quite get a grip on, like the ability to get the beds made and the windows washed. A wizard who could wield a staff crackling with power against dreadful monsters from some ghastly region was nevertheless quite capable of picking up a feather duster by the wrong end and seriously injuring himself with it. At Mrs Whitlows whim peoples clothes got washed and socks got darned. [13] If anyone annoyed her, they found their study spring-cleaned more often than was good for them, and since to a wizard his room is as personal an item as his trouser pockets this was a terrible vengeance.

  Ai just thought you gentlemen would like a morning snack, she said, as the wizards helped her down. So Ai took the liberty of getting the gels to put together a cold collation. Aill just go and fetch it . . . The Archchancellor stood up hastily. Well done, Mrs Whitlow.

  Er . . . a morning snack? said the Senior Wrangler. It looks like mid-afternoon to me . . . His tone made it clear that if Mrs Whitlow wanted it to be the morning, he wasnt going to cause any trouble. Speed of light crossing the Disc, said Ponder. We are close to the Rim, Im sure. Im trying to remember how you tell the time by looking at the sun.

  I should leave it for a while, said the Senior Wrangler, squinting under his hand. Its too bright to see the numbers at the moment. Ridcully nodded happily. Im sure we could all do with a snack, he said. Something suitable for the beach, perhaps.

  Cold pork and mustard, said the Dean, waking up. Possibly some beer, said the Senior Wrangler. And have we got any of those pies, you know, the ones with the egg inside them? said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Although I must say Ive always thought that it was rather cruel to the chicken— There was a soft little sound, very similar to the one you get, aged around seven, when you stick your finger in your mouth and flick it out again quickly and think it is incredibly funny. Ponder turned his head, dreading the sight he was about to see. Mrs Whitlow had a tray of cutlery in one hand and was prodding ineffectually at the air with the stick that she held in the other. Ai only moved it to get things through, she said. Now Ai cant seem to quate find where the silly thing is supposed to go. Where there had been a dark rectangle opening into the geographers dingy study, there was now only waving palms and sunlit sand. Strictly speaking, it could be said to be an improvement. It depended on your point of view. Rincewind surfaced, gasping for breath. Hed fallen into a waterhole. It was in . . . well, it looked as
though once there had been a cave, and the roof had collapsed. There was a big circle of blue right above him.

  Rocks had fallen down here, and sand had blown in, and seeds had taken root. Cool, damp and green . . . the place was a little oasis, tucked away from the sun and the wind. He pulled himself out of the water and looked around while he drained off. Vines had grown among the rocks. A few small trees had managed to take root in the crack. There was even a little bit of a beach. By the look of the stains on the rocks, the water had once been a lot higher. And there . . . Rincewind sighed. Wasnt that just typical? You got some quiet little beauty spot miles from anywhere, and there was always some graffiti artist ready to spoil it. It was like that time when he was hiding out in the Morpork Mountains, and right in the back of one of the deepest caves some vandal had drawn loads of stupid bulls and antelopes. Rincewind had been so disgusted hed wiped them off. And theyd left lots of old bones and junk lying around. Some people had no idea how to behave. Here, theyd covered the rock walls with drawings in white, red and black. Animals again, Rincewind noticed. They didnt even look particularly realistic. He stopped, water dripping off him, in front of one. Someone had probably wanted to draw a kangaroo. There were the ears and the tail and the clown feet. But they looked alien, and there were so many lines and cross-hatchings that the figure seemed . . . odd. It looked as though the artist hadnt just wanted to draw a kangaroo from the outside but had wanted to show the inside as well, and then had wanted to show the kangaroo last year and today and next week and also what it was thinking, all at the same time, and had set out to do the whole thing with some ochre and a stick of charcoal. It seemed to move in his head. He blinked, but it still hurt. His eyes seemed to want to wander off in different directions. Rincewind hurried further along the cave, ignoring the rest of the paintings. The piled rubble of the collapsed ceiling reached nearly to the surface, but there was space on the other side, going on into darkness. It looked as though he was in a piece of tunnel that had collapsed. You walked right past it, said the kangaroo. He turned. It was standing on the little beach. I didnt see you get down here, said Rincewind. How did you get down here?

  Come on, Ive got to show you something. You can call me Scrappy, if you like.

  Why?

  Were mates, aint we? Im here to help you.

  Oh, dear.

  Cant make it alone across this land, mate. How dyou think youve survived so far? Waters bloody hard to find out here these days.

  Oh, I dont know, I just keep falling into— Rincewind stopped. Yeah, said the kangaroo. Strike you as odd, does it?

  I thought I was just naturally lucky, said Rincewind. He thought about what hed just said. I must have been crazy. There werent even flies down here. There was the occasional faint ripple on the water, and that wasnt comforting, since there wasnt apparently anything to stir the surface. Up above, the sun was torching the ground and the flies swarmed like, well, flies. Why isnt there anyone else here? he said. Come and see, said the kangaroo. Rincewind raised his hands and backed away. Are we talking teeth and stings and fangs?

 
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