‘We want you to take us across the sea to Ankh-Morpork,’ said Conina firmly.
The genie looked blank. Then he pulled a very thick book from the empty air and consulted it.
‘It sounds a really neat concept,’ he said eventually. ‘Let’s do lunch next Tuesday, okay?’
‘I’m a little energetic right now.’
‘You’re a little-?’ Conina began.
‘Great,’ said the genie, sincerely, and glanced at his wrist. ‘Hey, is that the time?’ He vanished.
The three of them looked at the lamp in thoughtful silence, and then Nijel said, ‘Whatever happened to, you know, the fat guys with the baggy trousers and I Hear And Obey O Master?’
Creosote snarled. He’d just drunk his drink. It had turned out to be water with bubbles in it and a taste like warm flatirons.
‘I’m bloody well not standing for it,’ snarled Conina. She snatched the lamp from his hand and rubbed it as if she was sorry she wasn’t holding a handful of emery cloth.
The genie reappeared at a different spot, which still managed to be several feet away from the weak explosion and obligatory cloud of smoke.
He was now holding something curved and shiny to his ear, and listening intently. He looked hurriedly at Conina’s angry face and contrived to suggest, by waggling his eyebrows and waving his free hand urgently, that he was currently and inconveniently tied up by irksome matters which, regretfully, prevented him giving her his full attention as of now but, as soon as he had disentangled himself from this importunate person, she could rest assured that her wish, which was certainly a wish of tone and brilliance, would be his command.
‘I shall smash the lamp,’ she said quietly.
The genie flashed her a smile and spoke hastily into the thing he was cradling between his chin and his shoulder.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Great. It’s a slice, believe me. Have your people call my people. Stay beyond, okay? Bye.’ He lowered the instrument. ‘Bastard,’ he said vaguely.
‘I really shall smash the lamp,’ said Conina.
‘Which lamp is this?’ said the genie hurriedly.
‘How many have you got?’ said Nijel. ‘I always thought genies had just the one.’
The genie explained wearily that in fact he had several lamps. There was a small but well-appointed lamp where he lived during the week, another rather unique lamp in the country, a carefully restored peasant rushlight in an unspoilt winegrowing district near Quirm, and just recently a set of derelict lamps in the docks area of Ankh-Morpork that had great potential, once the smart crowd got there, to become the occult equivalent of a suite of offices and a wine bar.
They listened in awe, like fish who had inadvertently swum into a lecture on how to fly.
‘Who are your people the other people have got to call?’ said Nijel, who was impressed, although he didn’t know why or by what.
‘Actually, I don’t have any people yet,’ said the genie, and gave a grimace that was definitely upwardly-mobile at the corners. ‘But I will.’
‘Everyone shut up,’ said Conina firmly, ‘and you, take us to Ankh-Morpork.’
‘I should, if I were you,’ said Creosote. ‘When the young lady’s mouth looks like a letter box, it’s best to do what she says.’
The genie hesitated.
‘I’m not very deep on transport,’ he said.
‘Learn,’ said Conina. She was tossing the lamp from hand to hand.
‘Teleportation is a major headache,’ said the genie, looking desperate. ‘Why don’t we do lun-’
‘Right, that’s it,’ said Conina. ‘Now I just need a couple of big flat rocks-’
‘Okay, okay. Just hold hands, will you? I’ll give it my best shot, but this could be one big mistake-’
The astro-philosophers of Krull once succeeded in proving conclusively that all places are one place and that the distance between them is an illusion, and this news was an embarrassment to all thinking philosophers because it did not explain, among other things, signposts. After years of wrangling the whole thing was then turned over to Ly Tin Wheedle, arguably the Disc’s greatest philosopher, who after some thought proclaimed that although it was indeed true that all places were one place, that place was very large.
And so psychic order was restored. Distance is, however, an entirely subjective phenomenon and creatures of magic can adjust it to suit themselves.
They are not necessarily very good at it.
Rincewind sat dejectedly in the blackened ruins of the Library, trying to put his finger on what was wrong with them.
Well, everything, for a start. It was unthinkable that the Library should be burned. It was the largest accumulation of magic on the Disc. It underpinned wizardry. Every spell ever used was written down in it somewhere. Burning them was, was, was …
There weren’t any ashes. Plenty of wood ashes, lots of chains, lots of blackened stone, lots of mess. But thousands of books don’t burn easily. They would leave bits of cover and piles of feathery ash. And there wasn’t any.
Rincewind stirred the rubble with his toe.
There was only the one door into the Library. Then there were the cellars – he could see the stairs down to them, choked with garbage – but you couldn’t hide all the books down there. You couldn’t teleport them out either, they would be resistant to such magic; anyone who tried something like that would end up wearing his brains outside his hat.
There was an explosion overhead. A ring of orange fire formed about halfway up the tower of sourcery, ascended quickly and soared off towards Quirm.
Rincewind slid around on his makeshift seat and stared up at the Tower of Art. He got the distinct impression that it was looking back at him. It was totally without windows, but for a moment he thought he saw a movement up among the crumbling turrets.
He wondered how old the tower really was. Older than the University, certainly. Older than the city, which had formed about it like scree around a mountain. Maybe older than geography. There had been a time when the continents were different, Rincewind understood, and then they’d sort of shuffled more comfortably together like puppies in a basket. Perhaps the tower had been washed up on the waves of rock, from somewhere else. Maybe it had been there before’ the Disc itself, but Rincewind didn’t like to consider that, because it raised uncomfortable questions about who built it and what for.
He examined his conscience.
It said: I’m out of options. Please yourself.
Rincewind stood up and brushed the dust and ash off his robe, removing quite a lot of the moulting red plush as well. He removed his hat, made a preoccupied attempt at straightening the point, and replaced it on his head.
Then he walked unsteadily towards the Tower of Art.
There was a very old and quite small door at the base. He wasn’t at all surprised when it opened as he approached.
‘Strange place,’ said Nijel. ‘Funny curve to the walls.’
‘Where are we?’ said Conina.
‘And is there any alcohol?’ said Creosote. ‘Probably not,’ he added.
‘And why is it rocking?’ said Conina. ‘I’ve never been anywhere with metal walls before.’ She sniffed. ‘Can you smell oil?’ she added, suspiciously.
The genie reappeared, although this time without the smoke and erratic trapdoor effects. It was noticeable that he tried to keep as far away from Conina as politely possible.
‘Everyone okay?’ he said.
‘Is this Ankh?’ she said. ‘Only when we wanted to go there, we rather hoped you’d put us somewhere with a door.’
‘You’re on your way,’ said the genie.
Something about the way in which the spirit hesitated caused Nijel’s mind to leap a tall conclusion from a standing start. He looked down at the lamp in his hands.
He gave it an experimental jerk. The floor shook.
‘Oh, no,’ he said. ‘It’s physically impossible.’
‘We’re in the lamp?’ said Conina.
The room trembled again as Nijel tried to look down the spout.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said the genie. ‘In fact, don’t think about it if possible.’
He explained – although ‘explained’ is probably too positive a word, and in this case really means failed to explain but at some length – that it was perfectly possible to travel across the world in a small lamp being carried by one of the party, the lamp itself moving because it was being carried by one of the people inside it,
because of a) the fractal nature of reality, which meant that everything could be thought of as being inside everything else and b) creative public relations. The trick relied on the laws of physics failing to spot the flaw until the journey was complete.
‘In the circumstances it is best not to think about it, yuh?’ said the genie.
‘Like not thinking about pink rhinoceroses,’ said Nijel, and gave an embarrassed laugh as they stared at him.
‘It was a sort of game we had,’ he said. ‘You had to avoid thinking of pink rhinoceroses.’ He coughed. ‘I didn’t say it was a particularly good game.’
He squinted down the spout again.
‘No,’ said Conina, ‘not very.’
‘Uh,’ said the genie, ‘Would anyone like coffee? Some sounds? A quick game of Significant Quest?’
‘Drink?’ said Creosote.
The genie looked shocked.
‘Red is bad for -’ it began.
‘- but any port in a storm,’ said Creosote hurriedly. ‘Or sauterne, even. But no umbrella in it.’ It dawned on the Seriph that this wasn’t the way to talk to the genie. He pulled himself together a bit. ‘No umbrella, by the Five Moons of Nasreem. Or bits of fruit salad or olives or curly straws or ornamental monkeys, I command thee by the Seventeen Siderites of Sarudin ‘
‘I’m not an umbrella person,’ said the genie sulkily.
‘It’s pretty sparse in here,’ said Conina, ‘Why don’t you furnish it?’
‘What I don’t understand,’ said Nijel, ‘is, if we’re all in the lamp I’m holding, then the me in the lamp is holding a smaller lamp and in that lamp-’
The genie waved his hands urgently.
‘Don’t talk about it!’ he commanded. ‘Please!’
Nijel’s honest brow wrinkled. ‘Yes, but,’ he said, ‘is there a lot of me, or what?’
‘It’s all cyclic, but stop drawing attention to it, yuh? … Oh, shit.’
There was the subtle, unpleasant sound of the universe suddenly catching on.
It was dark in the tower, a solid core of antique darkness that had been there since the dawn of time and resented the intrusion of the upstart daylight that nipped in around Rincewind.
He felt the air move as the door shut behind him and the dark poured back, filling up the space where the light had been so neatly that you couldn’t have seen the join even if the light had still been there.
The interior of the tower smelled of antiquity, with a slight suspicion of raven droppings.