"But... he was the greatest conquerer dial ever lived! His empire spanned the entire Disc! Except for the Counterweight Continent and Fourecks, of course."
"I don't blame him. You can't get a good beer in one of 'em for love nor money, and the others a bugger to get to."
"Well, when he got as far as the coast of Muntab, it was said that he stood on the shore and wept. Some philosopher told him there were more worlds out there somewhere, and that he'd never be able to conquer them. Er ... that reminded me a bit of you." Cohen strolled along in silence for a moment. "Yeah," he said at last. "Yeah. I can see how that could be. Only not as cissy, obviously."
"It is now," said Ponder Stibbons, "T minus twelve hours." His audience, sitting on the deck, watched him with alert and polite incomprehension. "That means the flying machine will go over the Edge just before dawn tomorrow," Ponder explained. Everyone turned to Leonard, who was watching a seagull. "Mr da Quirm?" said Lord Vetinari. "What? Oh. Yes." Leonard blinked. "Yes. The device will be ready, although the privy is giving me problems." The Lecturer in Recent Runes fumbled in the capacious pockets of his robe. "Oh dear, I believe I have a bottle of something ... the sea always affects me that way, too."
"I was rather thinking of problems associated with the thin air and low gravity," said Leonard. "That's what the survivor of the Maria Pesto reported. But this afternoon I feel I can come up with a privy that, happily, utilises the thinner air of altitude to achieve the effect normally associated with gravity. Gentle suction is involved." Ponder nodded. He had a quick mind when it came to mechanical detail, and he'd already formed a mental picture. Now a mental eraser would be useful. "Er ... good," he said. "Well, most of the ships will fall behind the barge during the night. Even with magically assisted wind we dare not venture closer than thirty miles to the Rim. After that, we could be caught in the current and swept over the Edge." Rincewind, who had been leaning moodily over the rail and watching the water, turned at this. "How far are we from the island of Krull?" he said. "That place? Hundreds of miles." said Ponder. "We want to keep well away from those pirates."
"So ... we'll run straight into the Circumfence, then?" There was technically silence, although it was loud with unspoken thoughts. Each man was busy trying to think of a reason why it would have been far too much to expect him to have thought of this, while at the same time being a reason why someone else should have. The Circumfence was the biggest construction ever built; it extended almost a third of the way around the world. On the large island of Krull, an entire civilisation lived on what they recovered from it. They ate a lot of
sushi, and their dislike for the rest of the world was put down to permanent dyspepsia. In his chair, Lord Vetinari grinned in a thin, acid way. "Yes indeed." he said. "It extends for several thousands of miles, I understand. However, I gather the Krullians no longer keep captive seamen as slaves. They simply charge ruinous salvage rates."
"A few fireballs would blow the thing apart." said Ridcully. "That does rather require you to be very close to it, though," said Lord Vetinari. "That is to say, so close to the Rimfall that you would be destroying the very thing that is preventing you from being swept over the Edge. A knotty problem, gentlemen."
"Magic carpet," said Ridcully. "Just the job. We've got one in-"
"Not that close to the Edge, sir," said Ponder, dismally. "The thaumic field is very thin and there are some ferocious air currents." There was the crisp rattle of a big drawing pad being turned to the next page. "Oh, yes." said Leonard, more or less to himself. "Pardon me?" said the Patrician. "I did once design a simple means whereby entire fleets could be destroyed quite easily, my lord. Only as a technical exercise, of course."
"But with numbered parts and a list of instructions?" said the Patrician. "Why, yes, my lord. Of course. Otherwise it would not be a proper exercise. And I feel sure that with the help of these magical gentlemen we should be able to adapt it for this purpose." He gave them a bright smile. They looked at his drawing. Men were leaping from ships in flames, into a boiling sea. "You do this sort of thing as a hobby, do you?" said the Dean. "Oh, yes. There are no practical applications."
"But couldn't someone build something like that?" said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. "You practically include glue and transfers!"
"Well. I daresay there are people like that," said Leonard diffidently. "But I am sure the government would put a stop to things before they went too far." And the smile on Lord Vetinari's face was one that probably even Leonard of Quirm, with all his genius, would never be able to capture on canvas. Very carefully, knowing that if they dropped one they probably wouldn't even know they'd dropped one, a team of students and apprentices lifted the cages of dragons into the racks under the rear of the flying machine. Occasionally one of the dragons hiccuped. Everyone present, bar one, would freeze. The exception was Rincewind, who would be crouched down behind a pile of timber many yards away. "They've ail been well fed on Leonard's special feed and should be quite docile for four or five hours." said Ponder, pulling him out for the third time. "The first two stages were given their meals with a carefully timed interval, and the first lot should be in a mood to flame just as you go over the Rimfall."
"What if we're delayed?" Ponder gave this some deep thought. "Whatever you do, don't be delayed," he said. "Thank you."
"The ones that you'll be taking with you in flight may need feeding, too. We've loaded a mixture of naphtha, rock oil and anthracite dust."
"For me to feed to the dragons."
"In this wooden ship, which will be very, very high?"
"Well, in a technical sense, yes."
"Could we focus on that technicality?"
"Strictly speaking, there won't be any down. As such, Er ... you could say that you will be travelling so fast that you won't be in any one place long enough to fall down." Ponder sought a glimmer of understanding in Rincewind's face. "Or, to put in another way, you'll be falling permanently without ever hitting the ground." Up above them, rack on rack of dragons sizzled contentedly. Wisps of steam drifted through the shadows. "Oh," said Rincewind. "You understand?" said Ponder. "No. I was just hoping that if I didn't say anything you'd stop trying to explain things to me."
"How are we doing. Mr Stibbons?" said the Archchancellor, strolling up at the head of his wizards. "How's our enormous kite?"
"Everything's going to plan. sir. We're at T minus five hours, sir."
"Really? Good. We're at supper in ten minutes." Rincewind had a small cabin, with cold water and running rats. Most of it that wasn't occupied by his bunk was occupied by his luggage. The Luggage. It was a box that walked around on hundreds of little legs. It was magical, as far as he knew. He'd had it for years. It understood every word he said. It obeyed about one in every hundred, unfortunately. "There won't be any room? he said. "And you know every time you've gone up in the air you've got lost." The Luggage watched him in its eyeless way. "So you stay with nice Mr Stibbons, all right? You've never been at ease around gods, either. I shall be back very soon." Still the eyeless stare went on. "Just don't look at me that way, will you?" said Rincewind. Lord Vetinari cast his eye over the three ... what was the word? "Men," he said, settling for one that was undoubtedly correct, "it falls to me to congratulate you on ...on ..." He hesitated. Lord Vetinari was not a man who delighted in the technical. There were two cultures, as far as he was concerned. One was the real one, the other was occupied by people who liked machinery and ate pizza at unreasonable hours. "... on being the first people to leave the Disc with the resolute intention of returning to it," he went on. "Your ... mission is to land on or near Con Celesti, locate Cohen the Barbarian and his men, and by whatever means feasible stop this ridiculous scheme of theirs. There must be some misunderstanding. Even barbarian heroes generally draw the line at blowing up the world." He sighed. "They're usually not civilised enough for that," he added. "Anyway ... we implore him to listen to reason, et cetera. Barbarians are generally sentimentalists. Tell him about all the dear little puppies that will be killed, or something. Beyond that, I can't advise you further. I suspect classical force is out of the question. If Cohen was easy to kill, people would have done it a long time ago." Captain Carrot saluted. "Force is always the last resort, sir," he said. "I believe that for Cohen it's the first choice," said Lord Vetinari. "He's not too bad if you don't come up behind him suddenly." said Rincewind. "Ah, there is the voice of our mission specialist," said the Patrician. "I just hope- What is that on your badge. Captain Carrot?"
"Mission motto, sir," said Carrot cheerfully. "Morituri Nolumus Mori. Rincewind suggested it."
"I imagine he did." said Lord Vetinari. observing the wizard coldly. "And would you care to give us a colloquial translation, Mr Rincewind?"
"Er ..." Rincewind hesitated, but there really was no escape. "Er ... roughly speaking, it means. "We who are about to die don't want to", sir."
"Very clearly expressed. I commend your determination ... Yes?" Ponder had whispered something in his ear. "Ah, I'm informed that we have to leave you shortly," said Lord Vetinari. "Mr Stibbons tells me that there is a means of keeping in touch with you, at least until you're close to the mountain."
"Yes, sir," said Carrot. The fractured omniscope. An amazing device. Each part sees what the other parts sees. Astonishing."
"Well, I trust your new careers will be uplifting if not, ahaha, meteoric. To your places, gentlemen."
"Er ... I just want to take an iconograph, sir." said Ponder, hurrying forward and clutching a large box. "To record the moment? If you would all stand in front of the flag and smile, please ... that means the corners of your mouth go up. Rincewind ... thank you." Ponder, like all bad photographers, took the shot just a fraction of a second after the smiles had frozen. "And do you have any last words?"
"You mean, last words before we go and come back?" said Carrot, his brow wrinkling. "Oh, yes. Of course. That's what I meant! Because of course you will be coining back, won't you?" said Ponder, far too quickly in Rincewind's opinion. "I have absolute confidence in Mr da Quirm's work, and I'm sure he has too."
"Oh, dear. No, I never bother to have any confidence," said Leonard. "You don't?"
"No, things just work. You don't have to wish," said Leonard. "And, of course, if we do fail, then things won't be that bad. will they? If we fail to come back, there won't be anywhere left to fail to come back to in any case, will there? So it will all cancel out." He gave his happy little smile. "Logic is a great comfort in times like this, I always find."
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