The Last Continent Page 10


'Dry?' said Rincewind. 'Bloody right!'

'Er . . . I know this may seem like a foolish question,' said Rincewind, trying to dislodge a gooseberry pip from a tooth cavity, 'but why me?'

'It's your fault. You arrived here and suddenly things had always been wrong.' Rincewind looked back towards the wall. The earth trembled again. 'Can you hop that past me again?' he said. 'Something went wrong in the past.' The kangaroo looked at Rincewind's blank, jam-smeared expression, and tried again. 'Your arrival caused a wrong note,' it ventured. 'What in?' The creature waved a paw vaguely. 'All this,' it said. 'You could call it a bloody multi-dimensional knuckle of localized phase space, or maybe you could just call it the song.'

Rincewind shrugged. 'I don't mind putting my hand up to killing a few spiders,' he said. 'But it was me or them. I mean some of those come at you at head height—'

'You changed history.'

'Oh, come on, a few spiders don't make that much difference, some of them were using their webs as trampolines, it was a case of “boing” and next moment—'

'No, not history from now on, history that's already happened,' said the kangaroo. 'I've changed things that already happened long ago?'

'Right.'

'By arriving here I changed what's already happened!'

'Yep. Look, time isn't as straightforward as you think—'

'I never thought it was,' said Rincewind. 'And I've been round it a few times . . .' The kangaroo waved a paw expansively. 'It's not just that things in the future can affect things in the past,' he said. 'Things that didn't happen but might have happened can . . . affect things that really happened. Even things that happened and shouldn't have happened and were removed still have, oh, call 'em shadows in time, things left over which interfere with what's going on. Between you and me,' it went on, waggling its ears, 'it's all just held together by spit now. No one's ever got round to tidying it up. I'm always amazed when tomorrow follows today, and that's the truth.'

'Me too,' said Rincewind. 'Oh, me too.'

'Still, no worries, eh?'

'I think I'll lay off the jam,' said Rincewind. He put the sandwich down. 'Why me?' The kangaroo scratched its nose, '

's got to be someone,' it said. 'And what'm I supposed to do?' said Rincewind. 'Wind it into the world.'

'There's a key?'

'Might be. Depends.' Rincewind turned and looked at the rock pictures again, the pictures that hadn't been there a few weeks ago and then suddenly had always been there. Figures holding long sticks. Figures in long robes. The artist had done a pretty good job of drawing something quite unfamiliar. And in case there was any doubt, you only had to look at what was on their heads.

'Yeah. We call them The Pointy-Heads,' said the kangaroo. 'He's started catching fish,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'That means he'll come over all smug and start asking what plans we've got for making a boat at any minute, you know what he's like.' The Dean looked at some sketches he'd made on a rock. 'How hard can it be to build a boat?' he said. 'People with bones in their noses build boats. And we are the end product of thousands of years of enlightenment. Building a boat is not beyond men like us, Senior Wrangler.'

'Quite, Dean.'

'All we have to do is search this island until we find a book with a title like Practical Boat- building for Beginners.'

'Exactly. It'll be plain sailing after that, Dean. Ahaha.' He glanced up, and swallowed hard. Mrs Whitlow was sitting on a log in the shade, fanning herself with a large leaf. The sight stirred things in the Senior Wrangler. He was not at all sure what they were, but little details like the way something creaked when she moved twanged bits of the Senior Wrangler as well. 'You all right, Senior Wrangler? You look as if the heat is getting to you.'

'Just a little . . . warm, Dean.' The Dean looked past him as he loosened his collar. 'Well, they haven't been long,' he said. The other wizards were walking down the beach. One advantage of a long wizarding robe is that it can be held like an apron, and the Chair of Indefinite Studies was bulging at the front even more than usual. 'Found anything to eat?' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Er . . . yes.'

'Fruit and nuts, I suppose,' grumbled the Dean. 'Er . . . yes, and then again, no,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Um . . . it's rather odd . . .' The Chair of Indefinite Studies let his burden spill out on to the sand. There were coconuts, other nuts of various sizes, and assorted hairy or knobbly vegetable things.

'All rather primitive,' said the Dean. 'And probably poisonous.'

'Well, the Bursar's been eating things like there's no tomorrow,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. The Bursar burped happily. 'That doesn't mean there will be,' said the Dean. 'What's up with you fellows? You keep looking at one another.'

'Er . . . we've tasted a few things too, Dean,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Ah, I see the gatherers have returned!' roared Ridcully happily, walking towards them. He waved three fish on a string. 'Anything resembling potatoes in there, chaps?'

'You're not going to believe any of this,' mumbled the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'You're going to accuse us of trickery.'

'What are you talking about?' said the Dean. 'They don't look very tricky to me.' The Chair of Indefinite Studies gave a sigh. 'Have a coconut,' he said. 'Do they go off bang or something?'

'No, nothing like that at all.' The Dean picked up a nut, gave it a suspicious look, and banged it on a stone. It fell into two exact halves. There was no milk to spill out. Inside the husk was a brown inner shell, full of soft white fibres. Ridcully picked up a bit of it and sniffed. 'I don't believe this,' he said. 'That's not natural.'

'So?' said the Dean. 'It's a coconut full of coconut. What's odd about that?' The Archchancellor broke off a piece of the shell and handed it over. It was soft and slightly crumbly. The Dean tasted it. 'Chocolate?' he said. Ridcully nodded. 'Dairy milk, by the taste of it. With a creamy coconut filling.' That's nod poffible,' said the Dean, his cheeks bulging. 'Spit it out, then.'

'I think I might perhaps try a little more,' said the Dean, swallowing. 'In a spirit of enquiry, you understand.' The Senior Wrangler picked up a knobbly bluish nut about the size of a fist and tapped it experimentally. It shattered but was held together because of the gooey contents.

The smell was very familiar. A careful taste confirmed it. The wizards regarded the nut's innards in shocked silence. 'It's even got the blue veins,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Yes, we know, we tried one,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies weakly. 'And, after all, there is such a thing as a bread fruit—'

'I've heard of it,' said Ridcully. 'And I might believe there's such a thing as a nat'rally chocolate-covered coconut, because chocolate's a kind of potato—'

'A bean, possibly,' said Ponder Stibbons. 'Whatever. But I damn well don't believe there's such a thing as a mature Lancre Blue runny cheese nut!' He prodded the thing. 'But nature does come up with some very funny coincidences, Archchancellor,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Why, I myself, as a child, once dug up a carrot which, ahaha, most amusingly looked just like a man with a—'

'Er . . .' said the Dean. It was only a little sound, but it had a certain portentous quality. They turned to look at him. He'd been peeling away the yellowing husk from something like a small bean pod. What he now held— 'Hah, yes, good joke,' said Ridcully. 'They certainly don't grow on—'

'I didn't do anything! Look, it's still got bits of pith and stuff on it!' said the Dean, waving the thing wildly. Ridcully took it, sniffed it, held it up to his ear and shook it, and then said quietly: 'Show me where you found it, will you?' The bush was in a small clearing. Dozens of the little green shoots hung down between its tiny leaves. Each was tipped by a flower, but the flowers were curling up and falling off. The crop was ripe. Multi-coloured beetles zoomed away from the bush as the Dean selected a pod and peeled it open, revealing a slightly damp white cylinder. He examined it for a few seconds, then put one end in his mouth, took a box of matches from a pocket in his hat, and lit up. 'Quite a smooth smoke,' he said. His hand shook slightly as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a smoke ring. 'Cork filter, too,' he said. 'Er . . . well, both tobacco and cork are naturally occurring vegetable products,' quavered the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Chair?' said Ridcully.

'Yes, Archchancellor?'

'Shut up, will you?'

'Yes, Archchancellor.' Ponder Stibbons broke open a cork tip. There was a tiny ring of what well might have been— 'Seeds,' he said. 'But that can't be right, because—' The Dean, wreathed in blue smoke, had been staring at the nearby vines. 'Has it occurred to anyone else that those pods are remarkably rectangular?' he said. 'Go for it, Dean,' said Ridcully. A brown outer husk was pulled aside. 'Ah,' said the Dean. 'Biscuits. Just the thing with cheese.'

'Er . . ,' said Ponder. He pointed. Just beyond the bush a couple of boots lay on the ground. Rincewind ran his fingers over the cave wall. The ground shook again. 'What's causing that?' he said. 'Oh, some people say it's an earthquake, some say it's the country drying up, others say it's a giant snake rushing through the ground,' said Scrappy. 'Which is it?' The wrong sort of question.' They definitely looked like wizards, thought Rincewind. They had that basic cone shape familiar to anyone who had been to Unseen University. They were holding staffs. Even with the crude materials available to them the ancient artists had managed to portray the knobs on the ends. But UU hadn't even existed thirty thousand years ago . . . Then he noticed, for the first time, the drawing right at the end of the cave. There were a lot of the ochre handprints on top of it, almost – and the thought expanded in his mind in a sneaky way -as though someone had thought that they could hold it down on to the rock, prevent it – this was a silly thought, he knew – prevent it from getting out.

He brushed away some dust. 'Oh, no,' he mumbled. It was an oblong box. The artist hadn't got the hang of conventional perspective, but there was no doubt that he'd tried to paint hundreds of little legs. 'That's my Luggage!'

'Always the same, right?' said Scrappy, behind him. 'You arrive okay and your luggage ends up somewhere else.' Thousands of years in the past?'

'Could be a valuable antique.'

'It's got my clothes in it!'

'They'll probably be back in style, then.'

'You don't understand! It's a magical box! It's supposed to end up where I am!'

'It probably is where you are. Just not when.'

'What? Oh.'

'I told you time and space were all stirred up, didn't I? You wait till you're on your journey. There's places where there's several times happening at once and places where there's hardly any time at all, and times when there's hardly any place. You've got to sort it out, right?'

'What, like shuffling cards?' said Rincewind. He made a mental note about 'on your journey'. 'Yep.' That's impossible!'

'Y'know, I'd have said so too. But you will do it. Now, you'll have to concentrate about this bit, right?' Scrappy took a deep breath. 'I know you're going to do it because you've already done it.' Rincewind put his head in his hands. 'I told you about time and space here being mixed up,' said the kangaroo. 'I've already saved the country, have I?'

'Yep.'

'Oh, good. Well, that wasn't so difficult. I don't want much – a medal, perhaps, the grateful thanks of the population, maybe a small pension and a ticket home . . .' He looked up. 'I'm not going to get any of that, though, am I?'

'No, because—'

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