The last continent, p.9
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       The Last Continent, p.9

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 9

 

  Just look at that painting there, mate.

  What, the one of the kangaroo?

  Which ones that, mate? Rincewind looked along the wall. The kangaroo picture wasnt where he remembered it. I couldve sworn—

  Thats the one I want you to look at, over there. Rincewind looked at the stone. What it showed, outlined in red ochre, were dozens of hands. He sighed. Oh, right, he said, wearily. I see the problem. Exactly the same thing happens to me.

  Whatre you talking about, mister?

  Its just the same with me when I try to take snaps with an iconograph, said Rincewind. You set up a nice picture, the demon paints away, and when you look at it, whoops, you had your thumb in the way. I must have got a dozen pictures of my thumb. No, I can see your lad there, doing his painting, in a bit of a hurry, got his brush all ready then, splosh, hed forgotten to take his hand off the—

  No. Its the painting underneath Im talking about, mister. Rincewind looked closer. There were fainter lines there, which youd think were just flaws in the rock if you werent looking. Rincewind squinted. Other lines seemed to fit . . . Yes, someone had painted figures . . . They were . . .

  He blew away some sand. Yes, they were . . . . . . curiously familiar . . . Yes, said Scrappy, his voice apparently coming from a distance. Look a bit like you, dont they . . . ?

  But theyre— he began. He straightened up. How long have these paintings been here?

  Well, lessee, said the kangaroo. Out of the sun and the weather, nothing to disturb em . . . Twenty thousand years?

  Thats not right!

  Nah, true, probly thirty thousand, in a nice sheltered spot like this.

  But these are . . . Thats my . . .

  O course, when I say thirty thousand years, said the kangaroo, I mean it depends how you look at it. Even them hand paintings on the topve been there five thousand years, see. And those faint ones . . . Oh, yes, got to be pretty old, tens of thousands of years, except—

  Except what? They werent here last week, mate.

  Youre saying theyve been here for ages . . . but not for very long?

  See? I knew you was clever.

  And now youre going to tell me what the hell youre talking about?

  Right.

  Excuse me, Ill just find something to eat. Rincewind lifted up a rock. There were a couple of jam sandwiches underneath. The wizards were civilized men of considerable education and culture. When faced with being inadvertently marooned on a desert island they understood immediately that the first thing to do was place the blame. It really was very clear! shouted Ridcully, waving his hand frantically in the air at the place where the window had been. And I put a sign on it!

  Yes, but youve got a “Do Not Disturb” sign nailed to your study door, said the Senior Wrangler, and you still expect Mrs Whitlow to bring you your tea in the mornings!

  Gentlemen, please! said Ponder Stibbons. Weve got to sort some things out right now!

  Yes indeed! roared the Dean. And it was his fault! The sign wasnt large enough!

  I mean we have to—

  There are ladies present! snapped the Senior Wrangler. Lady. Mrs Whitlow uttered the word carefully and with deliberation, like a gambler putting down a winning hand. She stood primly watching them. Her expression said: Im not worried, because with all these wizards around nothing bad can happen. The wizards adjusted their attitudes. Ai do apologize if Aive done something wrong, she said. Oh, not, not wrong, said Ridcully quickly. Not exactly wrong. As such.

  Anyone could have done it, said the Senior Wrangler. I could hardly read the lettering myself.

  And, taking the broad view, its certainly better to be stuck out here in the fresh air and sunshine than in that stuffy study, Ridcully went on. Thats quite a broad view, sir, said Ponder doubtfully. And well be back home in two shakes of a lambs tail, said Ridcully, beaming. Unfortunately, this doesnt look a very agricultural sort of— Ponder began. Figure of speech, Mister Stibbons, figure of speech. The suns going down, sir, Ponder persisted. Which means itll be night time soon. Ridcully looked nervously at Mrs Whitlow, and then at the sun. Is there a problem? said Mrs Whitlow. Oh, good heavens, no! said Ridcully hastily. Ai notice the little hole in the wall doesnt seem to have come back, said Mrs Whitlow. We, er—

  Its a little prank, is it? the housekeeper went on. Aim sure you gentlemen will have your fun, and no mistake.

  Yes, thats—

  But Ai should be grateful if you would send me back now, Archchancellor. Were doing the laundry this afternoon, and Aim afraid were having a lot of trouble with the Deans sheets. The Dean suddenly knew how a mosquito feels in the beam of a searchlight. Well sort this out directly, never fear, Mrs Whitlow, said Ridcully, not taking his eyes off the wretched Dean. In the meantime, why dont you take a seat and enjoy the rather wonderful sheets, I mean sunshine? There was a clack as the deckchair folded itself up. Then it sneezed. Ah, back with us again, Librarian, Ridcully went on, as the orang-utan sprawled in the sand. Help him up, please, Mister Stibbons. A word to the rest of you, please. If youll excuse us a moment, Mrs Whitlow? Faculty meeting . . . The wizards went into a huddle. It was tomato sauce, all right? said the Dean hurriedly. I just happened to be having a snack in bed and you know how that stuff stains!

  Im sure were not at all interested in the state of your sheets, Dean, said Ridcully. No, indeed, said the Senior Wrangler brightly. Not us, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, slapping the Dean on the back. We have to get back, said Ridcully. We cant spend the night alone with Mrs Whitlow. It wouldnt be decent.

  I dont see why anyone should make a fuss about a bit of tomato sauce. I at least cleaned all the beans off—

  Well, were not actually alone, are we? Not as such, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. I mean, theres seven of us, not including the Librarian.

  Yes, but were all alone together, said Ridcully urgently. There could be Talk.

  What about? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, who sometimes lagged behind. You know, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Seven men and one woman . . . It doesnt bear thinking about . . .

  Well, I for one will certainly veto any suggestion about ordering another six women, said the Chair firmly. Perhaps the hole will open again? said the Senior Wrangler.

  I doubt it, said Ridcully. Ponder says that our coming through probably altered the thaumo- static balance. What do you think, Dean?

  Just tomato sauce, said the Dean. It could have happened to anyone.

  I meant about our being marooned on this island, said Ridcully. Any ideas, anyone? We must tackle this as a team.

  What shall we tell Mrs Whitlow? whispered the Senior Wrangler. She thinks this is a prank.

  Senior Wrangler, we are elderly, wise and experienced wizards, said Ridcully. Students are prankers.

  Pranksters, possibly, mumbled Ponder Stibbons. Whatever. We do not indulge in pranks.

  With us its a fully fledged gold-embossed cock-up or nothing, said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. I dont see why people are making such a fuss about a bit of tomato sauce that hardly even shows up, muttered the Dean. No one brought any suitable spells? said Ridcully. At four in the morning? For the beach? said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. Of course not. Then we shall have to fall back on our own resources. Theres bound to be a ship along sooner or later. The point is, gentlemen, he added, that we are the product of a university education. Im quite sure primitive people have no difficulties surviving in a place like this, and think of all the things we have that our rude forefathers lacked.

  Mrs Whitlow, for a start, said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. She wouldnt put up with rudeness of any sort, the Senior Wrangler agreed. Do you know anything about boats, Dean? I believe you got a Brown for rowing when you were slimmer, said Ridcully. Please note that this question did not raise the matter of sheets in any way.

  Well, indeed, boat-building is not a difficult task, said the Dean, surfacing. Even primitive people can build boats, and we are civilize
d men, after all. Then youre head of the Boat-Building Committee, said Ridcully. Senior Wrangler can help you. The rest of you fellows had better see if theres any fresh water. And food. Knock down a few coconuts. That sort of thing.

  And what will you do, Archchancellor? said the Senior Wrangler nastily. I shall be the Protein Acquisition Committee, said Ridcully, waving his fishing rod.

  You going to stand here and fish again? What goods that going to do?

  It might result in a fish dinner, Senior Wrangler.

  Has anyone got any tobacco? said the Dean. Im dying for a smoke. The wizards went off about their tasks, complaining and blaming one another. And just inside the forest, in the leafy debris, roots unfolded and a number of very small plants began to grow like hell . . . This is the last continent, said Scrappy. It was . . . put together last, and . . . differently.

  Looks pretty old to me, said Rincewind. Ancient. Those hills look as old as the hills.

  They were made thirty thousand years old, said the kangaroo. Come on! They look millions of years old!

  Yep. Thirty thousand years ago they were made a million years ago. Time here is, the kangaroo shrugged, not the same. It was . . . glued together differently, right?

  Search me, said Rincewind. Im a man sitting here listening to a kangaroo. Im not arguing.

  Im trying to find words you might understand, said the kangaroo reproachfully. Good, keep going, youll get there. Want a jam sandwich? Its gooseberry.

  No. Strictly herbivore, mate. Listen—

  Unusual, gooseberry jam. I mean, you dont often see it. Raspberry and strawberry, yes, even blackcurrant. I shouldnt think more than one jar of jam in a hundred is gooseberry. Sorry, do go on.

  Youre taking this seriously, are you?

  Am I smiling?

  Have you ever noticed how time goes slower in big spaces? The sandwich stopped halfway to Rincewinds mouth. Actually, that is true. But it only seems slower.

  So? When this place was made there wasnt much space and time left over to work with, see? He had to bodge them together to make them work harder. Time happens to space and space happens to time—

  You know, I think there could be plum in it, too? said Rincewind, with his mouth full. And maybe some rhubarb. Youd be amazed how often they do that sort of thing. You know, stuff cheaper fruit in. I met this man in an inn once, he worked for a jam-maker in Ankh-Morpork, and he said they put in any old rubbish and some red dye, and I said what about the raspberry pips, and he said they make them out of wood. Wood! He said theyd got a machine for stamping em out. Can you believe that?

  Will you stop talking about jam and be sensible for a moment! Rincewind lowered the sandwich. Good grief, I hope not, he said. Im sitting in a cave in a country where everything bites you and it never rains and Im talking, no offence, to a herbivore that smells of a carpet in a house where there are a lot of excitable puppies, and Ive suddenly got this talent for finding jam sandwiches and inexplicable fairy cakes in unexpected places, and Ive been shown something very odd in a picture on some old cave wall, and suddenly said kangaroo tells me time and space are all wrong and wants me to be sensible? What, when you get right down to it, is in it for me?

  Look, this place wasnt finished, right? It wasnt fitted in . . . turned around . . . The kangaroo looked at Rincewind as if reading his mind, which was the case. You know like with a jigsaw puzzle? The last piece is the right shape but you have to turn it round to fit? Right? Now think of the piece as a bloody big continent thats got to be turned around through about nine dimensions and youre home and . . .

 
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