The Last Continent Page 19


'The bare naked lady on the front was a bit of a giveaway,' said Ridcully. 'The what?' The god peered in the direction of the boat. 'These eyes are not particularly efficient . . . Oh, dear, yes. The figure. Morphic bloody resonance again. Will you stop doing that!' The handkerchief plant had just put forth another fruit. The god narrowed his eyes, pointed his finger and incinerated it. As one man the wizards stepped back. 'I stop concentrating for five minutes and everything loses any sense of discipline,' said the god. 'Everything wants to make itself damn useful! I can't think why!'

'Sorry? Am I getting this right? You're a god of evolution!' said Ponder. 'Er . . . is that wrong?' said the god anxiously. 'But it's been happening for ages, sir!'

'Has it? But I only started a few years ago! Do you mean someone else is doing it?'

'I'm afraid so, sir,' said Ponder. 'People breed dogs for fierceness and racehorses for speed and . . . well, even my uncle can do amazing things with his nuts, sir—'

'And everyone knows that you can cross a river with a bridge, ahaha,' said Ridcully. 'Can you?' said the god of evolution seriously. 'I'd have thought that you simply get some very soggy wood. Oh dear.' Ridcully winked at Ponder Stibbons. Gods were often not good at humour, and this one was even worse than Ridcully. 'We're back in time, Mister Stibbons,' he said. 'It may not have happened already yet, eh?'

'Oh. Yes,' said Ponder.

'Anyway, two gods of evolution wouldn't be a bad thing, would they?' said Ridcully. 'Makes it a lot more interestin'. The one who's best at it would win.' The god stared at him with his mouth open. Then he shut it just enough to mouth Ridcully's words to himself, snapped his fingers, and vanished in a puff of little white lights. 'Now you've done it,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'No cake for you,' said the Bursar. 'All I said was the one who's best at it would win,' said Ridcully. 'Actually, he didn't look upset,' said Ponder. 'He looked as if he'd suddenly realized something.' Ridcully looked up at the small mountain in the centre of the island, and appeared to reach a decision. 'All right, we'll leave,' he said. The reason this island's so odd is that some rather daft god is messing around with it. That's a pretty good explanation as far as I'm concerned.'

'But, sir—' Ponder began. 'See that little vine just by the Senior Wrangler there? It's only been growing for the last ten minutes,' said the Dean. It looked like a small cucumber vine, except that the fruits were yellow and oblong. 'Pass me your penknife, Mister Stibbons,' said Ridcully. Ridcully sliced the fruit in half. It wasn't fully ripe yet, but the pattern of pink and yellow squares was clearly visible, surrounded by a layer of something sticky and sweet. 'But I only thought about that cake ten minutes ago!' said the Senior Wrangler. 'Seems perfectly logical to me,' said Ridcully, 'I mean, here we are, wizards, we move about, we want to leave the island . . . What will we take with us? Anyone?'

'Food, obviously,' said Ponder. 'But—'

'Right! If I was a vegetable, I'd want to make myself useful in a hurry, yes? No good hanging around for a thousand years just growing bigger seeds! No fear! All those other plants might come up with a better idea in the meantime! No, you see an opportunity and you go for it! There might not be another boat along for years!'

'Millennia,' said the Dean. 'Even longer,' Ridcully agreed. 'Survival of the fastest, eh? So I suggest we load up and go, gentlemen.'

'What, just like that?' said Ponder. 'Certainly. Why not?'

'But . . . but . . . but think of the things we could learn here!' said Ponder. 'The possibilities are breathtaking! At last there's a god who's actually got the right idea! At last we can get some answers to all the important questions! We could . . . we can . . . Look, we can't just go. I mean, not go! I mean . . . we're wizards, aren't we?' He was aware that he had their full attention, something that wizards did not often give. Usually they defined 'listening' as a period in which you worked out what you were going to say next. It was disconcerting. Then the spell broke. The Senior Wrangler shook his head. 'Curious way of looking at things,' he said, turning away. 'So . . . I vote we take plenty of those cheese nuts, Archchancellor.'

'Good provisioning is the essence of successful exploration,' said the Dean. 'Quite a roomy vessel, too, so we needn't stint.' Ridcully pulled himself aboard via a trailing tendril, and sniffed. 'Smells rather like pumpkin,' he said. 'Always liked pumpkin. A very versatile vegetable.' Ponder put a hand over his eyes. 'Oh, really?' he said, wearily. 'A group of Unseen University wizards are seriously considering putting to sea on an edible boat?'

'Fried, boiled, a good base for a soup stock and, of course, excellent in pies,' said the Archchancellor happily. 'Also the seeds are a tasty snack.'

'Good with butter,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'I suppose there isn't a butter plant anywhere, is there?'

'There will be soon,' said the Dean. 'Give us a hand up, will you, Archchancellor?' Ponder exploded. 'I don't believe this!' he said. 'You're turning your back on an astonishing god-given opportunity—'

'Absolutely, Mister Stibbons,' said Ridcully, from above. 'No offence meant, of course, but if the choice is a trip on the briny deep or staying on a small island with someone trying to create a more inflammable cow then you can call me Salty Sam.'

'Is this the poop deck?' said the Dean. 'I hope not,' said Ridcully briskly. 'You see, Stibbons—'

'Are you sure?' said the Dean. 'I'm sure, Dean. You see, Stibbons, when you've had a little more experience in these matters you'll learn that there's nothing more dangerous than a god with too much time on his hands—'

'Except an enraged mother bear,' said the Senior Wrangler. 'No, they're far more dangerous.'

'Not when they're really close.'

'If it was the poop deck, how would we know?' said the Dean. Ponder shook his head. There were times when the desire to climb the thaumaturgical ladder was seriously blunted, and one of them was when you saw what was on top. 'I . . . I just don't know what to say,' he said. 'I am frankly astonished.'

'Well done, lad. So run along and get some bananas, will you? Green ones will keep better. And don't look so upset. When it comes to gods, I have to say, you can give me one of the make-out-of-clay-and-smite-'em brigade any day of the week. That's the kind of god you can deal with.'

'The practically human sort,' said the Dean. 'Exactly.'

'Call me overly picky,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, 'but I'd prefer not to be around a god who might suddenly decide I'd run faster with three extra legs.'

'Exactly. Is there something wrong, Stibbons? Oh, he's gone. Oh well, no doubt he'll be back. And . . . Dean?'

'Yes, Archchancellor?'

'I can't help thinking you're working up to some sort of horrible joke about a poop deck. I'd prefer not, if it's all the same to you.'

'You all right, mate?' No one in the world had ever been so pleased to see Crocodile Crocodile before. Rincewind let himself be pulled upright. His hand, against all expectation, was not blue and three times its normal size. That bloody kangaroo . . .' he muttered, using the hand to wave away the eternal flies. 'What kangaroo waf that, mate?' said the crocodile, helping him back towards the pub. Rincewind looked around. There were just the normal components of the local scenery – dry- looking bushes, red dirt and a million circling flies. The one I was talking to just now.'

'I was juft fweeping up and I faw you dancing around yellin',' said Crocodile. 1 didn't fee no kangaroo.'

'It's probably a magic kangaroo,' said Rincewind wearily. 'Oh, right, a magic kangaroo,' said Crocodile. 'No worrieth. I think maybe I'd better make you up the cure for drinking too much beer, mate.'

'What's the cure?'

'More beer.'

'How much beer did I have last night, then?'

'Oh, about twenty pinth.'

'Don't be silly, no one can even hold that much beer!'

'Oh, you didn't hang on to much of it at all, mate. No worrieth. We like a man who can't hold hif beer.' In the fetid fleapit of Rincewind's brain the projectionist of memory put on reel two. Recollection began to flicker. He shuddered. 'Was I . . . singing a song?' he said. Too right. You kept pointing to the Roo Beer pofter and finging . . .' Crocodile's huge jaws moved as he tried to remember, ' “Tie my kangaroo up.” Bloody good fong.'

'And then I . . .?' Then you loft all your money playing Two Up with Daggy's shearing gang.'

'That's . . . I . . . there were these two coins, and the bloke'd toss them in the air, and you . . . had to bet on how they'd come down . . .'

'Right. And you kept bettin' they wouldn't come down at all. Paid it was bound to happen iooner or later. You got good odds, though.'

'I lost all the money Mad gave me?'

'Yep.'

'How was I paying for my beer, then?'

'Oh, the blokes were queueing up to buy it for you. They faid you were better than a day at the races.'

'And then I . . . there was something about sheep . . .' He looked horrified. 'Oh, no . . .'

'Oh, yeah. You faid, “Ftrain the fraying crones, a dollar a time for giving fheep a haircut? I could do a beaut foft job like that with my eyes fhut, too right no flaming worries by half bonza fhoot through ye gods this if good beer . . .” '

'Oh, gods. Did anyone hit me?'

'Nah, mate, they reckoned you were a good sport, 'specially when you wagered five hundred fquids that you could beat their best man at shearin'.'

'I couldn't've done that, I'm not a betting man!'

'Well, I am, and if you've been fhootin' a line I wouldn't give tuppence for your chances, Rinfo.'

'Rinso?' said Rincewind weakly. He looked at his beerglass. 'What's in this stuff?'

'Your mate Mad faid you were this big wizard and could kill people just by pointing at 'em and shoutin',' said Crocodile. 'I wouldn't mind feein' that.' Rincewind looked up desperately and his eye caught the Roo Beer poster. It showed some of the damn silly trees they had here, and the arid red earth and – nothing else. 'Huh?'

'What's that?' said Crocodile. 'What happened to the kangaroo?' Rincewind said hoarsely. 'What kangaroo?'

'There was a kangaroo on that poster last night . . . wasn't there?' Crocodile peered at the poster. 'I'm better at smell,' he admitted at last. 'But I got to admit, it smells like it's gorn.'

'Something very strange is going on here,' said Rincewind. 'This is a very strange country.'

'We've got an opera house,' Crocodile volunteered. 'That's cultcher.'

'And ninety-three words for being sick?'

'Yeah, well, we're a very . . . vocal people.'

'Did I really bet five hundred . . . What was it?'

'Squids.'

'. . . squids I haven't got?'

'Yup.'

'So I'll probably get killed if I lose, right?'

'No worries.'

'I wish people'd stop saying that—' He caught sight of the poster again. 'That kangaroo's back!' Crocodile turned around awkwardly, walked up to the poster and sniffed. 'Could be,' he said cautiously. 'And it's facing the wrong way!'

'Take it easy, mate!' said Crocodile Dongo, looking concerned. Rincewind shuddered. 'You're right,' he said. 'It's the heat and the flies getting to me. It must be.' Dongo poured him another beer. 'Ah well, beer's good for the heat,' he said. 'Can't do any- thin' about the bloody flies, though.' Rincewind started to nod, and stopped. He removed his hat and looked at it critically. Then he waved a hand up and down in front of his face, temporarily dislodging a few flies. Finally, he looked thoughtfully at a row of bottles. 'Got any string?' he said. After a few experiments, and some mild concussion, Dongo advanced the opinion that it'd be better with just the corks. The Luggage was lost. Usually, it could find its way anywhere in time and space, but trying to do that now was like a man trying to keep his footing on two moving walkways heading in opposite directions, and it simply couldn't cope. It knew it had been stuck underground for a long time, but it also knew that it had been stuck underground for about five minutes. The Luggage had no brain as such, even though an outsider might well get the impression that it could think. What it did do was react, in quite complex ways, to its environment. Usually this involved finding something to kick, as is the case with most sapient creatures. Currently it was ambling along a dusty track. Occasionally its lid would snap at flies, but without much enthusiasm. Its opal coating glowed in the sunlight. 'Oaaw! Isn't that pretty!' Fetch it here, you two!' It paid no attention to the brightly coloured cart that stopped a little way along the track. It was possibly aware at some level that people had got out and were staring at it, but it didn't resist when they appeared to reach a decision and lifted it on to the cart. It didn't know where

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