Scribblings from the hard shoulder of the Information Superhighway

Flipside

Flipside was conceived as a wossname.. a relay… where the literary baton was passed on at the end of each ‘chapter’ subsequent chapters were contributed by readers of TWK (The Wizard’s Knob) – a Terry Pratchett fanzine.

Bob wrote Chapter 1…

[italic text in square brackets were originally published as footnotes in the magazine.]

Darkness.

A seemingly endless void stretches before us. A single tone rings out with the purity and simplicity that tells you it must have come from a synthesiser that’s worth a small king’s ransom. Or a small ransom for a large king. Royalties are always difficult to calculate

As the music begins to gain body vague points of blue white light coalesce in the darkness, becoming galaxies, nebulae, stars. A guitar joins the synthesiser, a chord struck with such perfection you can sense the grey in the beard of the guitarist.

The stars are moving now, rushing past us as we plumb the depths of deep space, and in the middle distance we see a shadow blocking out starlight. A clearer tone rings out, a synthetic tubular bell and a blaze of coronal light clarifies the shape of the shadow. A turtle, tens of thousands of miles long, the great A’Tuin bearing, on its vast, meteor-pocked carapace, four ponderous elephants supporting what appears to be a vast and complexly patterned disc.

It is about this point where, if you haven’t been to this part of the multiverse before, you would tend to reach over and examine the bottle’s label, searching for the Alc by Vol number.

However, as the small sun rises over the rim of the disc other features become distinct; the fine spike that is the core celestii, home of the (now retired) Gods, making the Discworld look like a long playing record unadvisedly placed on an auto-changer record deck. The Gods were notorious for stacking LPs on autochangers in an attempt to prevent the regular 23 minute interruptions of their somewhat tortuous seductions. There is a school of thought that the original inspiration for the Compact Disc and the ‘Replay’ button were random particles of frustration permeating into our dimension.

Our viewpoint closes in as the music builds to a crescendo, towards the perpetual rimfall. Beyond, the distant Ramtop mountains can be discerned, the swirl of continents and the urban sprawl that is Ankh Morpork.

Then a lurch, and we are swept unexpectedly down, over the edge of the disc and through the rimfall that cascades like a lace curtain into the night. All is silent and once again all is blackness for a moment, before lights become apparent. Small clusters of yellow glow become discernible above us, there is civilisation here, of sorts, there is a village here, of sorts. There is life here, of sorts. The music restarts timidly, with the tinkling of wind-chimes. Another lurch and up becomes down and we find ourselves swooping over the alien landscape below us.

For this is the flip-side. A place of mystery and darkness, said by some to where the Gods tried out their ideas before finally deciding on the structure of the topside. Said by others to be a cheap marketing ploy to promote earlier, less successful or previously unreleased habitats. To the inhabitants of what must now be considered the ‘A’ side, the flipside is a barren dry rock, not that many have considered it at all.

What those inhabitants on the ‘A’ side have almost certainly never considered is the effects of the Disc’s unique gravitational field on the rimfall.

Given the average Discworld inhabitant’s interest in Disceophysics (which tends to be about the level of interest in the dessert menu after a twelve course Klatchian banquet) this is hardly surprising.

What those inhabitants have probably never wondered is where the circle sea starts, and as we soar over the flipside this can now be discerned as a vast, city sized maelstrom on the flipside where the label would be. This vast vortex feeds a complex network of underground rivers and conduits that flow through the body of the Discworld, pumped by a combination of gravity, magic and capillary action until it feeds a myriad ponds, tarns, mountain streams and desert oases which in turn form the seas which feed the rimfall into infinity.

Except infinity doesn’t get too much of it. As mentioned previously, the Discworld’s gravitational field causes most of the water to fall back onto the flipside, where it forms its own complex river, sea and estuary pattern which in turn feeds the vortex.

Of course some of the water does escape into the interstellar gulf. The only reason the system hasn’t dried up noticeably is that the Gods, when constructing their retirement home ‘Dunmanifesting’ in the core celestii, stole their ideas of sanitation from aircraft manufacturers. This explains a number of things; why the circle sea is bright blue, why inhabitants of the ‘A’ side haven’t gone heavily into weather forecasting, why it always rains on bank holidays, and at least one colourful euphemism for ‘raining heavily’.

We have arrived at a village, or what passes for a village on the flipside, it comprises a cluster of wrecked upturned ships hulls, with doors and windows cut into their substructure. The individual hulls are linked by tenuous looking bridges lashed between the tall trees. The general effect is of a motorway pile-up, but with galleons instead of Cavaliers and triremes instead of Mondeos. It’s raining, it always rains on the flip-side, and the denizens of this particular village scurry about in the mud almost (but not quite) oblivious to the incessant downpour.

It’s twilight. The combined shadows of the Disc and the Great A’Tuin mean that the flip-side gets very little sunlight. Any sunlight that does shine here filters through the rimfall producing a constant eight coloured rainbow. The overall effect is of a rock concert being held in a rain-forest.

As we watch the residents of Coasters, for that is the name of this village, going about their damp business, a bell rings urgently, there is a loud shout of “Incoming” from a ship’s crows-nest built high in the treetops and the locals rush for cover. Within seconds there is a loud whoosh as a large, formerly sea-going, vessel hurtles overhead. A distant crash hubwards indicates the ultimate resting place of the hapless craft and the residents emerge damply from their cover.

“By heck, that were a big ‘un,” remarks Seth, the village house-light keeper, brushing himself down.

The position of Village House-Light keeper is a responsible one. The constant state of damp twilight on the flipside means that a lamp, once extinguished, becomes almost impossible to re-light. Each village has its own lamp that is kept to serve as a pilot light for all the other lights in the village. The weekly duties of ‘filling the oil’ and ‘trimming the wick’ are shrouded in secrecy and handed down from father to son with great ceremony.

“Looked like a freighter to me,” comments Eli, “probably come down somewhere near Queens.”

“No, it weren’t as big as a Queen. I reckon it’s come down over Clippers way.”

The final resting place of the unfortunate craft that fail to negotiate the rim of the Discworld since the circumfence fell into disrepair is dependent on a number of factors. Some are smashed to oblivion on the unaware bodies of the four huge elephants whose task it is to carry the disc through eternity.

Others fall beyond the Great A’Tuin into the stygian depths of the multiverse. Most however, find their final resting place on the flipside. The momentum and mass of larger ships carrying them further into the semi darkness than smaller craft which land closer to the edge as it were.

This means that the architecture furthest from the hub, which incidentally gets the most sunshine, tends towards ‘Saucy Sue’ and ‘Skylark’; whilst hubwards the style becomes grander, right up to Queens, which would constitute a city elsewhere, constructed from the wrecks of the largest vessels to ply the circle sea topside. The architecture of Coasters could best be described as Baroque, with several buildings graced by full breasted (if upended) figureheads.

“Well if it’s come down near Clippers, then it might be worth a look, what do you think?” Asked Eli, who was looking for an excuse to avoid scraping the barnacles off the roof of his hull.

“Aye,” responded Seth, drawing noisily on his waterlogged pipe. “We’re running a bit low on lamp-oil.”

“Will you be bringing your Derek?”

“I suppose I’d better, he’s going to have to learn his trade sometime.”

Seth and Eli splashed noisily over to Seth’s house, which was constructed from the living quarters of an upturned merchant ship.

Ornate carvings decorated the windows of the downstairs living quarters while upstairs, windows had been cut into the hull that served as a large curved roof. A brightly painted rudder hung listlessly above the front door. What had once been a deck rail delimited a neat but muddy front garden. On either side of the door hung bright lanterns, Red to the right and Green to the left, these were the proud symbols of the House-Light keeper, and never allowed to go out.

They found Derek sitting in the living room, listlessly repainting the ornate scrollwork that decorated the floor.

“I still say it’s daft, Dad, that they put so many patterns on the floor, where folks can trip over them, while the ceilings are left dead smooth like.”

“It’s not for us to question the designs of the Shipwrights. I’m sure they know what they’re doing.”

“But why do they put the doors so high off the floor?”

Seth thought for a second. “That’s because they know how likely it is to flood, and by putting the doors up a bit, we don’t get flooded out.”

“Oh.” Derek remained unconvinced, not wanting to ask why the busty women figureheads were always hanging upside down.

“Anyway, you heard the bells then did you?” Derek nodded. “Right, well we’re off to find the wreck. We need some lamp-oil.”

“Okay dad. See you later.” Derek resumed his cherub painting duties.

“No, my son, today you come with us. How old are you now?”

“Fourteen next bigflood.” He stood. He was a tall, gangly lad, a full mackerel taller than his father, although he shared his fathers pale blue eyes and large hands with slightly webbed fingers.”[In fact the flipsiders had, partly through necessity and partly through the disc’s strong magical field, evolved slightly differently to topsiders. They had large pale eyes, due to the almost perpetual twilight. Thick pale skin as a result of being almost permanently soaked. Their hair tended to be thin and plastered to their scalps, giving an overall impression not unlike an albino motorcycle messenger.]

“Right then, get your hat and coat, we’re off to find the wreck.”

“Aye,” said Eli standing by the door, holding his hat, “to find the wreck.”

They left the hamlet shortly after, a shambling group of three trudging through the mud.

They crossed the village stream on an old mast that had been laid to form a bridge, the rigging lashed to form rope hand-rails. Each wore a rucksack on his back in which to carry home any booty they found. Nobody sang Hi Ho.

As they passed the village limits they stopped briefly to check the fish nets. These were stretched between tall trees to catch any fish which had taken the plunge and were the flipsiders’ main source of protein. Nobody had ever stopped to wonder why the fish were already dead when caught, and indeed sometimes gutted and smoked. Today the nets contained a selection of mackerel, herring and tuna.

A short while later, walking along the river bank, the travellers soon passed a small rowing boat, possibly a lifeboat from recent wreck. It lay, right side up on the bank of a fast flowing river, filling with rainwater.

“Eh up lads,” said Seth, “this could be a bit of a bonus, looks like a right good dog kennel to me, if we get it emptied and turned up the right way.”

“But dad, we haven’t got a dog.” Observed Derek.

“Not at present, I agree,” his father continued, “but a kennel like that in the front garden, it’d look right proper.”

“But we haven’t got a dog.” Derek repeated.

“No, but I think a dog would help guard the village lamps,” he turned to Eli, who was watching the rain falling in the boat, “what do you think?”

“Oh yes,” said Eli, “most befitting a house-lightkeeper, a guard dog.”

“Right then, lets get it bailed out, and turned up the right way, then we can get it home.” Seth falls into an organisational role, as befits a leader of the community. “Derek, get your hat off, get in, and get bailing.”

With some reluctance, Derek climbed into the boat, removed his trusty hat and, along with Seth and Eli, started to bail the water out.

After a while the boat started to noticeable empty, and Derek noticed a tendency for it to rock a little as Seth and Eli leaned in to reach the water in the bottom.

“Careful, dad” moaned Derek,” It’s beginning to rock.”

“Aye lad, that’s ‘cause we’ve nearly emptied it.” He stood back. “A grand dog kennel this’ll make, and no mistake.” He leaned forward to drain the last of the water.

“CAREFUL!” Derek shouted as the boat shifted under his father’s weight.

With a loud squelch both Seth and Eli fell face-first into the mud as the boat lurched away from them and into the fast flowing river.

“DAD!” Shouted Derek.

“Bloody hell, it floats” observed Eli.

“DAD!!”

“Aye, and it’s floating away, with our Derek in it.”

“DAD!!!”

End of part one.

It was dark. Really dark – and a dank, damp kind of dark it was to boot. From somewhere, there came the dull thud!thud!thud!thud! of water dripping onto wood. Oak, probably. It was wet too.

In the dark, something stirred and moaned. Then came a peculiar kind of noise that could best be described as a gargle being sat on.

“Urrrgh…..where am I?” groaned a voice.

This last phrase positively identified the speaker as human. No-one knows why humans invariably say this when they start recovering from unconsciousness. It is probably part of some species-wide gestalt imprinted on the human genome[A bit like the self-destruct gene that sends any goldfish floating up, dorsal fin down, to the surface of even the best equipped aquarium scant hours after their acquisition.], although some thinkers have put forward a plausible case for what they term the “Conspiracy Hypothesis”.

This mainly concerns the confusing and distressing tendency of the Universe to totally re-arrange itself [And in some of the more extreme cases on record, to perform the cosmological equivalent of leaping out from behind a door yelling “Surprise!” while pulling a silly face. Because of this, some cosmologists have argued that the Universe has a mental age of two and a half and that its favourite game is, in fact, a simple-minded version of “Peep-Bo!”.] and move about without any prior warning whatsoever. “But this is nothing new,” some might scoff, “we’ve known about this kind of thing for centuries!” “Aha!” respond the conspiracy theorists triumphantly, “but it only does this when, and only when, you’re not looking!” “M’mm – you might have a point there,” concede even the most doubt-hardened sceptics.

Vascar De Giamii had not been looking for some hours now, and was only just recovering. So, his question is not quite as stupid as it sounds.

“Argh! Ye gods, my head! NnnnnNghhh! What hit me?”

Vascar will shortly discover the answer to the latter question, and he won’t like it. He won’t be too keen on the answer to the first question either…..

“DAAA-aaaaaaad!” That plaintive wail hovered for a long moment ‘neath the lowering, overcast sky before the savage rain shredded and hurled it down to the swirling mud of the Flipside.

Seth and Eli had stood – as still as statues and about as helpful – as the turbulent brown waters of Clipper Brook[Flipsiders are pretty hard to impress when it comes to rivers. They’d probably regard the Amazon as a small to medium-sized tributary.] had carried Derek (Seth’s son) away in the narrow, wooden, elongated bowl-shaped construction that was to have served his father in the office of Dog Kennel. Both had watched, their chins seemingly nailed to their chests, as the swift current had snatched him from the web-fingered ken of Man, and swept him out into the unknown reaches of Flipsidium Incognita. Long seconds had passed after Derek had finally vanished behind the distant, gusting curtains of rain before Seth closed his mouth with an audible snap!

“Bloody hell,” breathed Seth through clenched teeth, “did you see that?” he said to Eli.

Seth was dumbfounded. Boats[Flipsiders usually call ships “houses” and boats “sheds” (or. occaisionally, “the privvy”) but Seth possessed a sophisticated technical vocabulary in keeping with his exalted position as Houselight Keeper.] shouldn’t do what he’d just seen that boat do. It was contrary to all common sense for goodness’ sakes! Well…it was, wasn’t it? Ships and boats were landmarks – fixed, permanent, immovable: they were renowned for being so!

Of course, Flipsiders had to deal with the slightly inconvenient fact that they sometimes woke up to see a ship that hadn’t been there the day before[In fact, Flipsiders didn’t casually open their shutters in the morning and nonchalantly notice a new ship – No! They were far more likely to be woken up by a ship arriving…rather mysteriously, when any of them came to think about it – upside down, as if from a great height….], but that was just part of the natural, everyday order of things…ships just shouldn’t bloody well move and that was that!

Seth supposed it was the way that those thick, wooden stick things (“masts” was the technical term, he recalled) were firmly pile-driven into the glutinous mud of what passed for solid ground around the village of Clippers. He’d often reflected that one of the nicer duties of being the Houselight Keeper was that of introducing families to newer, drier, more spacious homes…and having the privilege of being the first to jump up and down and intone the revered words of the traditional New House Blessing: “Aye” – jump!thunk!jump! – “this bugger’ll never shift” – thunk!jump!thunk! – “you mark my words” – jump!thunk!jump! – “or call me a mudtroll!” – thunk!jump!thunk!

No-one had yet called Seth a mudtroll. He wondered, as the rain poured down his face, what people would say to a Keeper who had let his son and heir be carried off by a putative dog kennel. “Mudtroll” was probably too much to hope for.

“Bugger,” he said, with feeling.

“Dark, innit?” said a cheerful voice.

As indeed, it was. Dark, that is. (But this was a dry, dusty, underground sort of dark, OK?)

“Yes. You’re right there. It’s dark, sure enough.” This was said by a second, gloomy voice. Silence. Then there was a sudden metallic clang. “What was that?” said the second voice.

“Rock fell on me ‘elmet. Sorry!”

“Oh.” Silence. “Hey, what kind of rock?” Was there a gleam of interest in the voice?

“Low-grade shale, I should think.”

“Oh. There’s a lot of it about.” The gleam had gone.

“I’ll say!”

More silence. “Bad rockfall, wasn’t it?” said the second voice, sadly.

“Oh, I dunno,” responded the more cheerful first voice. “I mean, we’re still alive, aren’t we?”

“That’s what I meant.”

“Ah. Yes. You’ve got a point there.” The cheerfulness started to fade from the first voice as this thought sunk in.

There was a sniff. “Tell me – any chance of finding the lamps, you think?”

Pebbles rattled for some moments. “Erm….no.”

“Pity.”

“Yes.”

“So – looks like this is it, then.”

“I suppose so.” Both voices had lapsed into the resigned tones of hopelessness by now.

Two small, sad, heavily-bearded sighs sounded in the darkness.

Vascar De Giamii opened his eyes. He closed them. He opened them up again. Nope, that didn’t do any good. Give ‘em time, he thought to himself. They’ll come round – they always do. Besides, it’s probably still dark out there. A few more minutes in bed won’t hurt. He folded his arms over his face.

“Whew, rough night,” he said out loud. “I wonder what happened?”

He luxuriated in his glorious ignorance for a few seconds. Then curiosity got the better of him, and he rummaged around in the tangled attic of his mind for clues as to what had happened the previous night. After all, he figured, it must have been a good one – he couldn’t remember a damned thing. What the hell, he thought, you’re only twenty-one once.

Now let’s see – he had started off down “The Wharf Rat” with a bunch of friends from the Trading Academy…then they’d moved on to “The Jolly Jack Tar”…things had gotten a little vague after that…there’d been a fight, or something, hadn’t there? By the number of bruises he felt on his battered frame he must have fought half the Veniallian Navy [Venialli – a medium-sized sea port built on stilts on some smelly mudflats. It is principally famed for its open sewers (althought its natives prefer to call them “canals” and visitors had better call them “canals” too or prepare to be tied to something heavy and thrown in). The city was founded (according to legend) by Venialus and Vimilus – possibly the only twins ever to have been adopted, nursed and raised by a spectacularly deranged she-haddock. Its commerce is based mainly on spice trading, honest importing, honest exporting…erm, that sort of thing (any mention of “piracy” will, of course, get the incautious visitor thrown into a canal wearing the famous [and very heavy] Veniallian Overcoat…)]…

…Hang on! There was something else…there’d been been a bar and some guy – funny little guy he was too – bald, in saffron robes – what was his name? Ah! Tip of my tongue – began with ‘L’, rhymed with fiddle – Lim Tim Widdle? Oh, something like that whatever…nice bloke, anyway.

He’d even stood a round, this bloke. Several, in fact. And what had he said? He’d said something dead important – what was it? Oh yes, about that thing they do over Tsort-way…filo-faxing? Philosophisiticating? Something like that. Oh! – the argument! Good arguer, this bloke. Vascar had started off violently disagreeing with the bloke’s point of view but had been won over…what was that all about? The shape of the world? H’mm, rings a bell that does…. (“Round, you know.” “Course it’s round! It’s a disc, mate!” “No, no – ‘sh not. ‘Sh round like a globe.” “Glob?” “Yeh. ‘Sh round – ball shaped.”….) You wouldn’t think arguing about daft things like that could be fun, but it was.

Then…there’d been some kind of bet…then – well, he must have crashed out somewhere, or staggered home – (Home? It’s never been this dark at home; or as wet for that matter…) – and then there’d been the funny dreams…

Well-weird dreams, in fact (Hey! Maybe it was the mushroom pizza – never seen mushrooms that shape before…) – something about…stealing a ship (Hah! As if I’d be daft enough to steal a ship from the Dodgii’s harbour. And his personal flagship too…ridiculous!) Still, the rest of the dream had been quite nice…the prow cutting through the mirror-smooth seas, the stars shining in the black firmament, the salty tang of the breeze, the distant roaring…

Wait a sec – distant roaring…?

…but that could only mean that he’d been heading towards –

THE EDGE!

Vascar de Giamii sat bolt upright and screamed.

He suddenly realised what had hit him. It had been the Disc. All of it.

He carried on screaming for a long time.

Derek had managed to stop the boat’s precipitate rush along the swift-flowing waters of Clipper Brook as it twisted and turned between the looming hulks of the Discworld’s more geographically-challenged shipping. The little boat had been buffeted and turned around so often that Derek had quite lost his bearings, but he guessed that he was somewhere over Queens way, where the big ships were…

His salvation had come in the form of a wet rope, which had brushed his hand as it snaked past the speeding boat. He’d managed to slow the boat’s headlong rush – practically stripping the webbing off both hands in the process. Still, Derek mused as he looked at the forlorn tatters, it would grow back.

Now, he stood staring up at the upturned hull of a ship. It was a right big ‘un too, very well built of beautiful hard, smooth wood. Oak, probably. Judging by the state of the rope that he’d grabbed, it was a recent arrival too. Very recent.

The boat rocked unsteadily under his feet. His plan was to climb up to the top of the roof (or “hull” as his Dad had insisted that he call it during Keepering lessons), find out where he was, and…and…

“One step at a time, lad, one step at a time,” muttered Derek, spitting on his hands and girding himself for the long, slippery climb.

Suddenly he fell back into the boat. A scream had sounded – a long wailing scream. Derek’s sensitive ears filtered out the constant drumming of the rain (Flipsiders get plenty of practice at this) and zeroed in on the source of the sound. The scream stopped.

Derek stood back up and took a moment to bless his foresight for firmly tying up the boat. That scream had sounded from inside the ship!

“That didn’t sound like no mudtroll to me,” he muttered. He added the word “rescue” to his mental list of things-to-do, took a deep breath, and started to pull himself up the rope.

In the dry, dusty darkness, Denfor and Dougie Delver dug. Even in the utter blackness, their pickaxes rose and fell in perfect time, and by the chinking noise as they struck, Denfor could tell that their aim was true. Every single time.

Damn! But we’re good! Denfor thought to himself. Me and my brother, we’re the best! Even our king[lit. “mine shaft supervisor”], ol’ Baldyfrog himself, thought so, and he didn’t even like us very much! We’re a team: a digging machine!

This was what life was all about: cutting through rock strata like a hot knife through butter! Sod the philosophy that Dougie was always spouting, all that guff about “taking up the dwarf miner’s burden” and so on – Denfor just liked digging. If Dougie wanted to dig down, then that was just fine by Denfor.

And down they had dug, further than any other dwarf in history! Now that was definitely something to be proud of, and a whole heap better than a few lumps of soft, yellow metal[Denfor and Dougie are probably the closest dwarfdom has ever come to a pair of delinquent dwarfs…]…

Strange, Denfor thought as they dug. We haven’t got turned around, I know. He could sense the mine shaft stretching behind them, upwards for miles and miles in an unwavering straight line (apart from the bit which had caved in, of course) – but somehow I get the feeling we’ve started digging up . It seems to be getting quite damp as well. He could feel his brother smile as he dug by his side. It made the dark feel a much friendlier place.

Taken suddenly by an upwelling of joy, Denfor burst into song. Not the “HiHo Song”, but the other one. The one with the same tune as “The Gold Song”, but with different words. Their song. The song that had so shocked and disgusted the king and the all the other traditionalist dwarfs…

Dougie sang by his side. It was a glorious song which lifted their hearts and put into words their desire to boldly dig where no dwarf had dug before. Old Baldyfrog would hate this, thought Denfor, singing and smiling.

He was right[He was right. The king would have hated that song – even though his name was John Lucky Pickaxe.].

Seth and Eli arrived at the edge of the village of Clippers to find the whole place in a panicked turmoil. People ran in the streets, gathered into small temporary knots, then broke up and carried on running.

Suddenly, his presence was noticed. People pointed and cleared a path for him to get to the centre of the disturbance. The crowd got thicker and thicker as Seth and Eli strode deeper toward the centre of the village.

“What’s going on?” whispered Eli to him as the crowd fell into a respectful, expectant silence as they passed.

“I don’t know…but I haven’t seen the village this stirred up for years, not since the giant squid landed on’t schoolhouse.[Luckily, it had been empty at the time, and the impromptu barbecue afterwards had lasted four days…]”

They reached the epicentre of the disturbance and the crowd parted to reveal – the Houselight House.

Seth stared. No unfortunate deep-sea creature lay on top of it. In fact, it looked totally unscathed. The red and green lanterns still burned brightly on either side of the door.

“What the bloody hell is going on here?” demanded Seth.

Suddenly his arms were filled by his tearful wife. “Oh Seth, Seth, Seth,” she sobbed, burying her face on his shoulder.

“Why, our Sal, what’s going on? What’s the matter, my love?” Seth looked around at the pasty white faces of the crowd, which looked even pastier and whiter than usual. “Will somebody please tell me what the bloody hell is going on around here?” he demanded.

As if in answer, there was a loud creak. And then another. The whole Houselight House shook. The green lantern fell to the path and smashed.

Seth was speechless. One of the Keeper’s lights had gone out for the first time in generations! The whole house shuddered and groaned again, as if in agony.

“I was in the kitchen, doing thy tea,” explained Sal, still sobbing, “when the whole place started to shake. I tried to stay, Seth, I know a Keeper’s wife shouldn’t run away and leave the Houselights unattended, but when the voices started I couldn’t stand it ”

“Voices? What voices, Sal?”

“Oh, Seth – they were dreadful! They were quiet at first, as if they were coming from fathoms away, but when I heard what they were saying – ”

“What did they say, Sal? What did they say to frighten you?” Seth’s voice was gentle with concern.

Sal lifted her head and looked into his face. “It was like…they were singing…and they were singing one word, one horrible word, over and over again…” She broke down again.

“What word was it, Sal? Tell me, I have to know.”

Sal controlled herself with a huge effort. “It sounded like…like: ‘Drown, drown, drown, drown, drown!’ ”

“Anchovies and fishmongers of grace protect us!” breathed Seth, appalled.

An already bad day had suddenly gotten a whole lot worse.

End of Chapter Two

Flipside – Part Three

Vascar de Giamii stood on top of the upturned hull and regarded his new-found companion with interest. Derek (as he’d called himself) was a tall, skinny youth dressed in a coat and hat that appeared to made out of fish scales. His language was apparently a dialect of the tongue commonly spoken in the Ramtop Lands. Vascar could understand it (he silently thanked his education at the Trading Academy) and could speak a little of it, with difficulty.

He was regarded with equal interest by Derek. Vascar was dressed in the finery of a minor Veniallian noble which, though it was now waterlogged and mud-stained, was still impressive. Derek had been struck by the complete absence of webbing on his hands, and his complexion looked brown and unhealthy to Derek, as if he’d been scorched by a roaring fire. Still, Derek thought, he was still vaguely human-looking, even if his appearance was as outlandish as his accent. He must come from a very strange place.

“Heii!” said Vascar, staring out into the flickering sheets of rain, “where-a you saii this vill-iaj iis, where-a you come from?”

“Well, I reckon it’s over that way,” said Derek, pointing. “But it’s hard to be sure.”

“And-a you thiink, your people – theii tell me where aii am?”

Derek thought of his Dad with pride. He could conceive of nothing that a Houselight Keeper wouldn’t know. “Oh yes. I should say so.”

“O-kaii. We go there. Yeiis?”

“Yes,” agreed Derek, “but I don’t know how we’ll get the boat to go against the current.”

The two of them used the rope to scramble down into the boat. Vascar lifted two oddly-shaped bits of wood that had been fastened securely to the bottom of the boat.

“What’re those?” asked Derek.

Vascar searched his memory for the word. “ ‘Dese are de ‘oars’,” said Vascar. “We-a row. Row-a de boat. Yeiis?”

“Row?” said Derek doubtfully. “What’s that?”

Vascar sighed, and was about to try and explain when a dark shadow fell across the boat and its occupants. He looked at Derek, who was staring over Vascar’s shoulder with an expression of dismay. Vascar turned.

A dark figure stood in the shallow water, towering over the prow of the boat. It stared down at them. Vascar and Derek stared up at it.

“Hur hur hur!” said the mudtroll.

Part 4

Now everybody knows that Discworld Trolls are made of the very hardest rock, which makes them virtually indestructible [Unless you use Number 1 powder that is. ] and of course they are rather… erm, shall we say ‘DIM’? Yes, dim will do, that’s not too speciesist is it? Anyway when it comes to Flipside Mudtrolls there are some differences. For a start, they are made of mud and, by definition, aren’t as ‘dense’ as Topside Trolls. This is mainly due to the fact that they are about fifty per cent water. This allows their thoughts to flow about just a little faster than the Ankh in the wet season, so they’re still quite ‘dim’.

“Hur hur hur!” said Sludge the mudtroll, again, just for effect.

“M… M… Mudtroll” Derek said out of the corner of his mouth.

“Mudtroll?” said Vascar. “It looks like a pile of Hippo shit with eyes, and look, his fingers keep falling off!”

“Oh yes. That’s because they’re made of mud. It doesn’t make them all that strong. They kill you by drowning you in their chests.” Derek shuddered. “What an ‘orrible way to go.”

“You no move.” Said Sludge in a voice that sounded like a blocked drain.

“Sod you!” Vascar shouted as he dived for one of the oars in the bottom of the boat, grabbed it, and swung it as hard as he could.

Thud! “Aaaaaargh!”

“Got him!” Vascar exclaimed, as he opened his eyes, only to see the huge figure of sludge looming over him.

“Hur hur hur! You not get me. DryHead![Mud Trolls are not renowned for their witty insults.]”

“Ulp!” gulped Vascar, as he spotted the prone figure of Derek lying at his feet with a big grin on his face.

“Me get you now.” Gurgled Sludge.

“Not on your life, you big pile of Dragon Turd.[Actually, little did Vascar know, but Dragon Turd, being rich in trace elements, is a compliment within MudTrolls. ]” With this Vascar again swung the oar at Sludge’s arm.

With a loud splitch the Troll’s arm fell off. Another splitch and his other arm fell into the flowing water and sank without trace.

Vascar was about to take a third swing when Sludge said, in an almost plaintive gurgle, “Surely you not hit an unarmed Mud Troll?”

“I bloody would!” Vascar growled, and swung the oar at Sludge’s head. Which, with a loud sucking, slurping noise, flew off his huge muddy shoulders. His mis-shapen body fell into the stream.

“Oh… you not nice man.” Said Sludge, as he hauled himself out of the water. “Me gonna squelch you now, Dry Head!” He raised his fists.

“I THINK NOT.”

Sludge spun (eddied) around, to face the tall, hooded figure who stood holding a shimmering scythe.

“Oh.” Said the fading image of the Mud Troll.

“Swish!” Said the shimmering scythe.

“I HATE THIS PLACE. MY SCYTHE GETS RUSTY IF I STAY HERE FOR TOO LONG.” Said the hollow-eyed one, as he climbed onto his horse, then rode away. There were brief patches of dry ground as the horse’s fiery footprints remained in the steaming mud, before the incessant downpour extinguished them.

A small dull shaft of damp light appeared at the point where Denfor’s pick-axe had just struck. It immediately began to drip – upwards[Discworld gravity is VERY fickle, don’t even think about it. ].

“Good Ex-Car-Vater [Dwarvish God of bloody sharp digging implements, related to JCB.] ! How far down would you say we are Dougie?”

“Oh, at least thirty miles I would say. We passed the bottom of Shaft #7 about two weeks ago. Is that light I see in front of you Denfor?”

“It’s light Dougie, but not as we know it. Since we’ve been digging for, what is it, five months, since last Grune, straight down, I don’t see how it can be normal light.”

“Yes, strange how it’s shining up from the floor.”[I told you not to think about it.]

“Shuush! I can hear voices.” Said one of the Clipponians.

“Haddock!.. Haddock!. Onna Stick! Get chour Haddock Onna Stick Here! Bellowed a man with a tray filled with water strapped around his neck.”

“Dribbler![Those Genes get everywhere! “Twisting my own arm Dribbler” is probably the Flipside’s most entrepreneurial entrepreneur.] Will you be quiet! We can hear voices!” Hissed Eli.

“Well, excu-use me!” Said TMOA. “Just a merchant trying to ply his wares.”

“Well, just ply them somewhere else,” whispered Seth, “come on Eli, let’s get closer to where them noises were.”

Seth and Eli slopped gingerly over to the HouseLight House, just as Dougie and Denfor recommenced their digging, enlarging the hole. To the two dwarves the next few seconds rushed past them in a flash of falling wood and mud as the Discworld’s gravity finally caught up with the plot. To the Flipsiders however, it went something like this:

As Seth and Eli neared the Houselight House, they realised that they could hear a distant rythmnic thudding[Anyone who has ever stayed in a cheap hotel will know the sound, although it is not normally caused by a pair of reprobate dwarves digging]. They then noticed the HouseLight House shaking in time to the thudding [Ever noticed how badly the pictures are hung in cheap hotels?].

Thud! Thud! Shake!

“Holy Silt!” Cried Eli.

Thud! Thud! Shake!

SHLOP! The HouseLight House collapsed on itself like a house of damp cards.

As he rushed to the rim of the newly formed crater, Seth could have sworn that he heard some one scream something like “OhmyGoggetoutofthebloodyway!” and “Aaargh!”

Seth peered down into the hole where until recently his home had been and saw, at the bottom, poking out from a few beams of the old ‘roof’, two rather small boots, moving slightly, which implied the presence of some feet, and a muffled voice muttering “Mmf! Grmmf! Mmmtfff!” This confirmed the presence of the owner of the feet and boots.

“By Heck!” Exclaimed Seth. “I think there’s someone trapped down there! Quick Eli, get some rope, and help me get him out.”

As Eli ran off to get the rope, Seth grabbed hold of the nearest villager Molsk Degiam, who also looked very much like a dog, and smelled like one too.”

“Come on Molsk, give me a hand we’ve got to get this poor fellow…” Seth was cut off by Sal (his wife).

“But Seth, there weren’t no one in there when I came out!”

“Haddock!.. Haddock!.. Onna St…”

“Shut Up Dribbler!” Cried the whole crowd as one. With the exception of Seth, who was stroking his beard intently, staring at the boots, as if they would identify their occupant.”

“Only trying to make an honest living… man’s gotta feed himself.” Muttered Dribbler.

“Here you go, Seth, I’ve tied the other end to a door post, so it should hold your weight.” Eli gave a little chuckle as he handed Seth the rope.

Seth gave Eli a sideways glance and took the rope from Eli’s outstretched hands. Without a word he leaned out and started climbing down the side of the crater.

“…making enough money to keep myself in stock…”

Climbing down the hole was not as easy as Seth had expected. This was partly because the rope was slippery from the constant rain, and partly because Molsk above him kept knocking mud down onto him. It became increasingly difficult for Seth to maintain his grip. Almost inevitably, he didn’t.

“Oh shiiiiii…!” Yelled the HouseLight Keeper as he fell from the rope in a flurry of hands, feet and falling mud. Seth reached the bottom with a singularly undiginified squelch.

“Ooooh me back.” Groaned Seth, wiping the silt from his eyes and sitting up, only to see, standing in a small cave to the side of the crater, what looked like a pile of scrap metal in a vaguely human shape, topped with a mat of wet hair poking out from an upturned bucket. A bucket with horns?

Dougie was standing facing away from where Seth was lying, staring at the wall of the cave in shock. Ye Gods, he thought, another cave in, and this time I can hear voices. He was clearing the mud from his eyes as Seth started crawling towards him.

Seth crawled over to the shape, and was reaching out a hand to touch it, when it seemed to spin around at tremendous speed. As it span it appeared to grow arms, a beard containing a face, and a huge razor-sharp [NOT that a dwarf would know what do with a Razor, let alone a sharp one.] battle-axe.

At this point someone, it could have been Seth, said something along the lines of “Aaaaaaaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!!”

End of Part 4

Part Five – Reservoir Dwarves

The rain poured. Persistently.

Here on the flipside of the Discworld, it is always p – p – persistently raining as the rimfall pours its eternal cascade onto the unfortunate denizens who live in the permanent twilight.

Derek and Vascar de Gamii have drifted quite some distance from Derek’s home village of Clippers. An uneasy truce has settled upon them as they realise that their paths (streams?) are, for the time being at least, linked. They have even taken it in turns to bale excess water from the boat, using the sad remains of what was once Vascar’s dashing cavalier hat.

“So, you from around here?” Asked Vascar?

“Sort of,” replied Derek, “although I’m not sure where ‘around here’ is anymore.” He looked around. “I’ve never been this far from home, and I’m not too sure I recognise any landmarks.”

“I think we’re heading hubwards, hubwise, and I think we’re getting faster.” Suggested Vascar sagely.

“That means we could be heading towards Queens.” Offered Derek. “I’ve never been to a big city before.”

Vascar snorted disdainfully.

“B-b-but my father has,” Recovered Derek. “as the village House-light keeper he often went to gatherings of House-light keepers. Conventions you know.”

“Ah! Conventions! Much Custard!” Remarked Vascar knowingly.

Derek had heard his father talk about his experiences at conventions. There was much talk of talk and Coffee in stifling rooms, and of Banana Daiquiris being consumed to excess, but he couldn’t remember custard ever being mentioned. He thought for a moment. “Maybe we could stop at Queens?”

“Sworth a try.”

“Just imagine.” Mused Derek. “Me, visiting Queens.”

Back in the village of Clippers, Derek’s parents have successfully (and somewhat reluctantly) prevented the village folk from lynching the Delver brothers. The two dwarves stood shivering in the centre of a circle of angry flipsiders, beside the wreckage of what had once been the house-light house.

“C-C-C-Coldddd.” Muttered Dougie.

“W-W-W-Wettttt” Chattered Denfor.

“Bloody Stupid!” Replied Seth. “What did you daft buggers think you were doing?”

“We started digging for Gold.” Started Dougie.

“Gold.” Echoed Denfor.

“And then, once we’d got past the bones and stuff, we just carried on digging.”

“So, where do you come from?” Asked Seth, dumbfounded.

“Down there.”

“Where?”

“There.” Dougie pointed at the hole. And shrugged.

“Well you’re here now. So what are we going to do with you?”

“I say we should string ‘em up up by the rowlocks.” Shouted one flipsider.

The dwarves looked terrified. And with good reason, since very few oars ever made it to the flipside, at least not attached to any boats, the flipsiders have adapted rowlocks for many uses.[For example – they are used to guide the ropes that form the walkways between the various flip-side hulls.]

There was a loud murmur of what might have been approval.

“Now then. Be reasonable.” Said Seth, asserting his authority. “As Houselight Keeper of this here village, I think…”

“What Houselight?” Cried a flipsider from the crowd.

“What village?” Called another.

Seth looked around him. The Houselight House, HIS Houselight House was in ruins at the bottom of what was fast becoming a small lake. Other houses stood at awkward angles, pulled by the elevated walkways which linked them, into the general direction of the hole/lake. In the wreckage of the house, the village light could be seen flickering in its toppled lamp. Its flame reflecting in the spreading pool of lamp oil.[Uh oh.]

“Blood Hell, what a mess.” Seth observed.

“We didn’t mean to cause such trouble.” Offered Dougie, sensing the mood of the crowd. “We can help you rebuild it.”

“We have the technology.” Offered Denfor.

“What technology?” Asked Seth, in despair.

“We’re dwarves, we work with metal. We can build you a new town using the metal from the old.”

“Just as long as we can get a good fire going.” Muttered Dougie, under his breath.

WHOOMPH! The flame from the upturned lamp ignited the pool of oil.[Well, some things are inevitable… you could almost see the flickering blue flame dance across the surface of the fuel towards the conflagration, couldn’t you?] The flipsiders scattered. This fire was the largest most of them had ever seen.

“This looks like it has possibilities, as fires go.” Observed Dougie.

“May the Cods protect us!” Shouted Seth. “What are we to do now?”

“Bring any scrap metal you can find.” Suggested Dougie, deftly unholstering his hammer.

“Let’s go to work.” Agreed Denfor, unholstering his.

The scenery was changing, the river becoming wider, although still flowing faster. On either side Derek could make out the shapes of large shipwrecks, larger than anything he’d seen in Clippers. Ahead the river appeared to be approaching a group of still larger wrecks, their portholes glowing yellowly in the deepening twilight.

“Quickly, let’s see if we can steer over to the bank.” He leaned over the side of the boat and dipped Vascii’s hat into the water. The lump of sodden velvet duly increased the resistance on that side of the boat, and it steered towards the bank, which was now edged with stones, and was beginning to look faintly dock-like.

With a damp thump the rowing boat collided with the quayside. While Derek deftly tied the rope to a convenient ring set in the stones, Vascar, with the dexterity of one who has previously stolen the personal barge of the Dodgii of Venialli, leapt up onto the slippery stones.

Rather too slippery.

“Well don’t just stand there, help me up!” Shouted Vascar, his pride dented rather more than his anatomy.

Derek offered his hand, and Vascar stood up.

“Hello boys. Welcome to LemonHull.” Purred a voice that simply oozed squishy pleasure. [Not that many pleasures on the Flipside aren’t squishy.]

“H- H- Hello.” Gulped Derek, who had never seen a female not wearing a full length overcoat before.

“You look like nice boys. You looking for a good time?”

“Madam, I strongly suspect that we look like very wet boys who are looking for a good drink and a warm fire.” Responded Vascar, before Derek could summon up a response. “Please direct us to the nearest hostelry.”

“I guess the nearest would be the Short Shirt, down East Klatch Dock Road.”She pointed in the direction of a building whose lights formed pools of yellow in the otherwise gloomy street.

“Thank you, madam.” Replied Derek. “Would you care to join us for a…”

“I think,” Interrupted Vascar. “That the lady is already occupied.”

“Well not exactly.”

“But, given our current state of penury, she may not wish to join us.”

“Penury?”

“Lack of funds.”

“Now you come to mention it, I was expecting a friend to come along.”

“I’m sure.” Vascar smiled knowingly. “Well thank you madam, we will away, but doubtless our paths will cross in the future. Come Derek, I’ll wager that in the Short Shirt there’s a drink with our name on it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Depend on it. And then maybe, an Agatean meal. Places like this are usually famed for their Agatean food.”

With that, Vascar wrung the worst of the water out of his hat and wrestled it into some semblance of shape. He placed it, with as much style as he could muster, on his head, forcing the sodden feather out of his eye.

Then he and Derek wandered purposefully towards the inviting glow of Derek’s first Flipside hostelry.
Part Six – by Jane Lupton

Vascar and Derek stepped into the fuggy interior of the Short Shirt, and edged past the other customers, a motley bunch of Fish Collectors, drinking the proceeds of last nights Drop. They made their way to the bar, which was attended by a strange couple, who had the webbed hands of Flipside folk, but brown eyes, dusky complexions, and thick black hair. The man wore native Fishskin, while the woman, had on a long tunic embroidered with the Agatean Snail Trail pattern.

“Greetings” Said Vascar, “May we see your.. To chew parsley… throw jelly.. menu?”

The bartender nodded, and spoke to the woman in what sounded like Agatean, but crossed with… Klatchian? She handed Vascar a large card, on which were listed a host of things he had never before considered as edible, even when served with ‘special fungus couscous and Water Bean’.He emptied his purse onto the counter.

“Can we… fly spinach….fold cheese…. get supper with this?”

“Sure, if you REAL hungry” replied the woman who shouted more “Klatchatean” through the kitchen doors. The meaning was lost to Vascar, except maybe…”Eeleye, ..Dumpling!?”

Derek, who understood none of this exotic chatter, and given his diet of Fish Stew and Weedcake[A vegetable dish made from a sort of stringy algae which hangs from flipside roofs. Looks and tastes as evil as spinach, so all flipside children are made to eat it because that means it must be good for them.] probably wouldn’t have cared if he had, sat himself down at one of the rough tables.

“We can have some supper? Great! I’m STARVING!”

“They’d best get a move on.” Said Dougie, as the Flipsiders picked their way through the smoke and steam, searching for whatever they could salvage. They had been scrabbling about for half an hour already, and the pit containing the crackling remains of Clippers glowed an eerie orange as the fire died down.

When the villagers finally made their weary way back the only usable pieces of metal found amongst bedraggled collection of clothes, sail cloth hammocks, and general household flotsam were a couple of ash-encrusted door hinges, and a very holey coal scuttle, hitherto employed for draining Cakeweed.

“What the “K’tduz ek’Ddiz”[Worm ravaged axe handle.] are we supposed to do with THAT!”

“What did you expect” snapped Seth,”The Shipwrights only use metal for small things and decoration, nowt but the best timber for ships”

“Hah! Useless stuff” sneered Denfor, “ I mean, look what one little lamp did”

“Don’t you dare say that you horrid little men” sobbed Sarah, “I were wed in that house. Cods know if the Shipwrights’ll see fit to send us another” she sniffed and looked up at Seth, “I’m so glad you’re here Pouting, but where’s our Derek?”

“He ahh… umm…” Seth looked at Eli in desperation,”He’s sure to be safe, he’s a strong lad, he just ahh…ummm!?”

Just then there was a gasp from the crowd as two very muddy men appeared carrying a large and very ancient sea chest. There were cries of delight all round.

“Praise be! It’s a sign, the Implements are safe!” intoned Seth, his arms raised to the drizzle.

Dougie squinted at the tarnished brass plate on the lid “Denfor! Look at this! It’s Old … can’t be”

“It is.” The dwarves looked at each other, totally ‘gB’ Sz’mmKkt’[“Struck upon the front teeth with a No 4 shovel.”] gazing at the plate, declaring it to be the handiwork of their very own Great-Great Grand-Uncle, Denzil “ Old Knee-Cracker” Delver. They opened the lid and inside, neatly wrapped in oil-soaked cloth were saws, chisels, hammers, and a myriad other exquisitely made woodworking tools.

“Right then, Change of Plan!” declared Dougie “We can cut down some trees and make a temporary shelter, and then tomorrow we’ll start building you something more solid”

He spoke with the forced jollity of someone who wants to appear confident in a totally alien situation. “Home”, for him, meant a hole in the ground, but if these people wanted wood houses, that was what they’d get. He was disturbed to find that his suggestion was met with horrified cries of “Blasphemy!” and “Cods Forgive Him!”. The Flipsiders, of course, had all been brought up to believe in the Great Dry Dock, where the shipwrights wielded the Holy Bow Saw, hit the Nails of protection with the hammer of Clarity and anointed the new Ships with the Tar of Redemption, before sending them to their deserving occupants.

Once again, the dwarves found themselves surrounded by a circle of angry faces, but then Sarah picked up Derek’s small sister Dina ”Seth, it’s past 8 Bells, the children should be a-hammock“

“Alright alright, we do as these….folk…. say for now, you men, go with them and do as they tell you. The rest of you, get the children into the woods, and stay together.”

A swarthy middle aged man came through the kitchen doors carrying a steaming bowl of. Um..food… He set it down and grinned broadly at Derek and Vascar revealing a couple of gleaming gold teeth.

“So it is true, a fellow traveller from the Old Lands, I, Khimm and my friend Six Chicken welcome you with our own house speciality “.

A wizened figured in a faded tunic shambled through the swing doors, carrying smaller bowls and an assortment of cutlery. “I know travellers such as yourselves will be used to much more gracious fare“ as he served up the food ”we must make what we can from what we have”

Vascar tried a tiny forkful, it was delicious. Any eeleyes present were well disguised, and Derek wolfed his down as though he’d been eating Hybrid KlatchFlipsAtean Chop Suey all his life

“How long have you been here?” asked Vascar

“Many years,” Khimm sighed “We are both cooks from different ships, I was here for some time before I found my good friend.”

Their respective arrivals, though, had been strangely similar, with the terrified cries, the ship shaking as if being juggled, and the squelchy crash. All followed by the bewildered awakening on a cabin ceiling.

“The last bit sounds familiar” said Vascar, ”Were you the only ones left on board?”

“Oh yes, first sign of trouble, the crew abandoned ship” grumbled Khimm “Nobody gives a camel’s spitball for catering staff”.

“So, this land of Ghosts is now our home” said Six Chicken ”We are blessed with good wives and many children,.. though..” he stood up stiffly and collected the empty dishes “It is damp, and the sun shines like dying firefly”.

“He is content at least.” observed Khimm, as Six Chicken shuffled off.

“But I cannot bear to think that I may never leave this place of rains that is on no map and once more walk the fragrant streets of… ” He gulped, his brown eyes brimming with tears, Vascar nodded sympathetically, having once visited the wondrous Klatchian city of Al-Khali, with its gleaming towers and spice-laden breezes.

“…. Ankh-Morpork, and buy Sossodginnabun!”

CHAPTER SEVEN : CHILDREN OF THE MINE

by Alan Jones

Consider life lived in an endless corridor. You cannot fall, you cannot rise, you may only shuffle miserably from side to side. Such is life on the Flipside. Below, unchanging wet ground, above, unchanging carapace. Consider such a life. Consider a world in which an elephant’s arse can be a sign of the zodiac.

From such lives are conspiracy theories born. Not lies exactly, but only half-brothers to truth; half-brothers who, deprived of parental love, have grown to become as popular as they can be, to be the friends of as many as possible, by being what everybody wants them to be. Listen to the whispers…

“There is somewhere…

“Somewhere else…

“A land of plenty…

“A land where you don’t have constant drips going down your neck…”

“These diminutive strangers have proved it…

“The Haecc Deity and his Cods are a myth…”

Belief in the old ways was dying. The old ways would have to fight back.

In the bar of the Short Shirt, the great man’s sobs made his whole body shudder, which was a not inconsiderable achievement. His customers tried to comfort him.

“Come on old man, cheer up,” said Vascar, patting the hairy shoulder of Khimm. “OK, so you won’t ever buy a Sossodginnabun again, but look on the bright side. You won’t have to eat a Sossodginnabun ever again either.” Khimm broke off from his crying momentarily.

“Oh, I never ate Sossodginnabun.”

“What did you buy it for then?”

“As a loofah. Very hard to come buy are loofahs in Ankh-Morpork. But, then again, so are baths.” He started to cry once more.

“What’s he moaning about?” asked Derek, with no great interest.

“Loofahs.”

“Oh, he needn’t worry, we have loofahs in our world too. Interesting animals, make wonderful pets, take practically no looking after.”

“I don’t think that’s really what he had in mind.” Six Chicken walked towards the group with a stiff unease in his step. He was a reserved man, and he preferred his friends to behave likewise.

“Recover Khimm, spill no tears. Water got you here, water not get you back. No getting back from this place.”

“Untrue friend, untrue.” The caustic voice that spoke came from an empty corner. Or at least, everyone would’ve sworn it was empty moments before. Now, however, there sat a gnarled old man, whose wrinkled features were offset by youthful eyes. He had the look of the sort of old man that enjoys holding court in the corner of pubs, quietly sipping at a single beer and occasionally making proclamations to whoever is around. “There is a way to get to the Topside, or so the stories say.”

“We are not interested in your stories old man,” muttered Six Chicken. “Fiction holds no fact.” But Vascar was not so dismissive. Perhaps he would have been if his hopes had been dashed as often as Six Chicken’s had.

“Let him have his say. Speak old man.” The old man savoured the moment with theatrical grace.

“These are tales told me by my father. They were old still when he was young. They are tales that travellers told, tales of what lies away, away from the Rim, at the centre of our world…”

“Why bother building a new village, let’s just leave. We can build a better life on the other side.”

“There is no other side, no reputable other side anyway. This is all blasphemy.”

The argument had been raging for some hours now and showed no sign of abating. It had started when the first orders to construct new shelters had been given. There were whispers you see, whispers and theories…

“We are Flipsiders, born and bred. It is ordained by Haecc.”

“What proof is there that Haecc exists? What has this so called God ever done for us? Our entire village has been swallowed up by the ground and consumed by fire. Is this the altruism of the great Haecc? I say Haecc does not exist. I do not believe in Haecc.”

As these words were spoken there came a sharp cry of pain from the back of the crowd, a cry that went unheard amidst the shouting of the villagers. The cry came from the empty, tangled roots of an ancient tree. Or at least, everyone would’ve sworn that space was empty moments before. Yet now, perched upon a thick root, there sat a gnarled old man, whose wrinkled features were offset by youthful eyes. He grimaced at the words of this young upstart, as if sucking on a particularly powerful slice of lemon. Yet he did not speak just yet. He waited for his moment.

“How can you be sure there even is an other side?”

The upstart pointed at Denfor and Dougie. “They are all the proof we need. They travelled here, so we can travel there.”

“But what sort of world do they come from? Look at them, what sort of deplorable, sacrilegious behaviour could stunt their growth to such an extent?” Every teenage male in the village suddenly began to stare intently at his shoes. “Besides, the hole they sprang from is now destroyed, how could we get to their land? No other such tunnel exists.”

“Untrue friend, untrue.” Everyone turned to stare at the old man. “There is another tunnel to the Topside, or so the stories say…”

An uncharacteristic hush had fallen over the Short Shirt, as everyone listened intently to the old man. For some reason, everyone who heard that old man’s voice believed in his words reverently. Who knows, maybe he just knew how to spin a good yarn.

“At the hub, it is said, there is a tunnel. A cavern. A huge hole in the ground. When an explorer asked the local inhabitants what this hole was, they merely replied “It’s El Eciroc”. Through this hole, it is said, you may reach Nits-Efinam Nud. And from there you may reach the Topside. So it is said.”

There was a pause. The old man took a sip from his tankard.

An interesting story old man, but that is all it is – a story.”

“Wait a minute Six Chicken, what if it’s true?”

“Khimm my friend, have we not travelled long enough?”

“If there’s a chance Six Chicken. If there’s a chance…”. Khimm broke off. Both realised that this was goodbye.

“You young fool. Why believe the old man?”

“We know the possibilities now. And his story seems possible.”

“It’s just a crazy yarn. I don’t even know where this stupid old fool came from.” Eli looked around the clearing, searching through the familiar faces of the crowd. “Old man? Where do you come from?” His question went unanswered, so he asked an alternative one. “Hey. Where the bloody hell did he go?”

But the old man had long since departed. He had accomplished the first part of his task.

CHAPTER EIGHT : NATURALLY LUMPEN’S FLIPSIDE EVACUATION
by
Alex Forrestman

It is almost unheard of for dwarves to “huddle”. Partly this is because dwarves do not find it necessary to try and make themselves look small – nature has already achieved this admirably. Principally, however, dwarves do not waste any of their time huddling because they very rarely have anything to say that they don’t want everybody to hear. If there is somebody around who shouldn’t be listening, then dwarves tend to remedy this by introducing the eavesdropper’s ears to the family axe. There is no dwarf word for subtle. There isn’t one for pardon either.

On the other hand, it is not only traditional for dwarves to break with convention, it is traditional for dwarves to use large hammers when they do so. Needs must when the devil drives.[Presumably Beelzebub hasn’t passed his test yet.]

Denfor and Dougie Delver[Dwarves are almost as keen on alliteration as amateur fantasy writers are.] huddled. Denfor had a cunning plan…

“We’re not going to get home any other way. We don’t have any experience of tunneling upwards.” Denfor pointed towards his feet. Dwarves never pay attention during physics classes, they’re always waiting for double geology after lunch.

“But these weirdos hate us already,” replied Dougie. “They’re not going to let us lead them to this El Eciroc place. We don’t know where it is anyway.”

“That won’t matter if we work this right. Just let me do the talking.”

Ships were easy to come by in the port of Lemonhull. Ships that actually floated were much rarer. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, the inhabitants of Lemonhull kept boats in the same way that scrap metal merchants collect cars. After many hours of searching Vascar had eventually had to turn down the most promising vessel, when he discovered that the happy looking rat on board was actually nailed to the deck and had a smile painted on.

Crestfallen, Vascar de Giamii, ship-stealer to the rich and famous, returned to the Short Shirt. There he found Derek packing and Khimm and Six Chicken talking. Six Chicken remained impassive, but it was clear he didn’t want Khimm to set out on his quest.

“What about your wife Khimm? Have you forgotten about her?” Khimm shrugged and blushed slightly.

“Well , that’s more of a business arrangement really.[Khimm’s wife’s “business” involved working the docks. She was employed to beat up high ranking church officials for sailors.] We’re not what you’d call married in the traditional sense.”

“Is there nothing I can say to make you change your mind?”

“Nothing.” There was an undignified pause, then Six Chicken stuck out a hand. Khimm shook it.

“Goodbye Khimm.” Khimm nodded, then stood to approach Derek.

“How’s the packing going Derek?” Derek was a little flustered. He was repeatedly packing and unpacking boxes, vainly attempting to remember what he had and hadn’t managed to muster.

“OK – I think. I still haven’t got much crockery.”

“Well,” broke in Six Chicken. “We’ve always got those plates with the pictures of owls on them. They’re in the loft I think.” Khimm shook his head.

“No, we’re not taking them. They’re right noisy buggers they are, and they’re always moving about. No, Derek, we don’t need crockery. We’ll manage. A ship is a slightly more important item. How goes it Vascar?”

By this time Vascar was gnawing on a chicken leg and quaffing at a mug of ale, seemingly simultaneously. He put his lunch down long enough to answer Khimm.

“It doesn’t. There’s not a single flaming boat in this stinking city. Not one that’s seaworthy anyway.”

“Don’t worry, one’ll turn up.”

“Oh come on! A ship is going to suddenly appear travelling from the Rim to the Flipside Hub is it? I don’t think so, that sounds like a million to one chance to me…”

Dwarves do not make good diplomats, but they can at least make everyone listen. They have a way of being very… emphatic. The axes help of course. Perhaps it was this fact, or perhaps it was the oratory skills of Denofor, but the young people of Clippers had certainly listened to the dwarves’ plan, and were already tearing down a house and making it ship shape. The older people of Clippers were left to wander around and mutter variations on the theme of “Young people today”. Denfor rubbed his hands in glee.

“We’ll be off in a couple of days Dougie.”

“Yes, but off where?”

“Look, all we have to do is head away from the Rim. It’s as easy as mining tin.”

“If you say so Denfor, if you say so.”

Derek sat outside the Short Shirt, watching the second sunset of the day rise topsidewards. The first sunset was more of an eclipse when the small sun went behind an elephant, but it happened so frequently that Flipsiders failed to be impressed by it. yet now the sunset seemed soothing to Derek – it remided him of home.

Vascar had been looking for a suitable ship for nearly a week now, but had so far been unsuccessful. Derek sighed to himself. Would their ship ever come over the horizon?

The, it arrived. Rushing forth along the river that sprang from the Rimwise forest, there came a huge, powerful, very fast-moving ship. yet when Derek looked at the oncoming craft, he didn’t see it as a ship. he cocked his head to one side and stared at the approaching vessel.

“I’m sure that’s my auntie’s house,” he thought to himself. Whether it was his auntie’s house or not, Derek was sure it shouldn’t be heading towards the docks at quite that speed. Derek wasn’t unduly worried though, since the Short Shirt was quite some distance from the docks.

But suddenly there were no docks, and the ship was ploughing its way towards Derek and the Short Shirt. Planking, fish crates and prostitutes were flung every which way as the Clippers’ craft charged forward. it was an interesting way to get the craft to brake, but it worked, just in front of a very shocked Derek.

“Thank Haecc,” murmured Derek, and looked up at the ship that was docked roughly where his table had been a moment earlier. A cheery bearded face waved at him from the deck above.

“Hello there!” called Denfor. “Do you know anyone who can drive a boat? I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of it.”

“Where are you heading?”

“Hubwise, to a place called El Eciroc.”

“I might just be able to help you then…”

Chapter Nine – THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY

By Pam Raener

Vascar de Giamii was an excellent Cripple Mr Onion player. He had in fact been weaned on the Veniallian variant “Kneecap Mr Onion”, a game that was almost identical to Cripple Mr Onion, save that the stakes were ever so slightly higher – you know, just to make it more interesting. It was for this reason that he was now taking Khimm, Denfor and Dougie for all they were worth [Four grubby pennies and an even grubbier piece of dwarf bread.].

The fact that the only game Denfor and Dougie knew how to play was Dwarfian Happy Families – a game that uses 2536 different playing cards but only one suit – did, of course, make Vascar’s task slightly easier.

All four were currently lazing about on the deck of the freshly christened “Corgi”, a name Khimm had chosen for the ship because it was his favourite variety of Sausage-in-a-bun. Denfor and Dougie had been only too willing to give captaincy of the ship over to Khimm and Vascar, principally because they knew about as much about sailing as a Troll knows about… well, sailing.

Unfortunately, most of the youthful crew that the two dwarves had pressganged into service from Clippers were less willing to continue the voyage.

As soon as the Corgi had arrived in Lemonhull, it had been besieged on all sides by unfeasible well proportioned women offering their services to the “sailors” on board. Only one of the 18 teenage boys that exclusively made up the crew of the Corgi had felt able to decline their services, and he only declined because of previous advice from his optician.[He eventually succumbed when Khimm pointed out that he didn’t really need to see anything if the lights were turned out.]

Now the entire crew ran to five people, and only one of these – Derek – was actually doing any work. He appeared from below decks now, panting from the strain of carrying supplies to the hold all that morning.

“A bit of help wouldn’t go amiss you know,” he gasped as he leant upon the woodworm infested main mast.

“We’re navigators,” murmured Khimm. “you’re the hired help.”

“Do we really need navigators when we’re in port?”

“Don’t you know anything about science kid? The disc is continually spinning, so this ship is permanently moving. Haecc knows where we’d be if I wasn’t here to keep an eye on things.”

“And me,” smiled Vascar, “what he said, I’m doing that too.”

“Well, OK, I suppose, but what about you dwarves? You’re used to all this… manual labour aren’t you?”

“Not if we can help it,” whispered Denfor to Dougie.

“What?”

“I said ‘ Not without my helmet’. I could hit me head on a beam.” It took Derek a few moments to realise that this was a physical impossibility, but he let it pass. Dwarves do not let logic get in the way of a good argument.

“All right, all right,” yielded Derek. “but I at least need SOME help. Couldn’t we hire an assistant?”

“Not round here we couldn’t,” chuckled Khimm. “Lemonhull is the Flipside capital of workshy, apathetic dullards. We haven’t got a hope in hell of finding workers in this town. Why it’d be a million to…”

“…Ahoy there!”

The five crew members of the Corgi turned to look at the empty gangplank. At least, every one of them would’ve sworn the gang plank was empty moments before.

Now, however, there stood a tall, muscular man, whose youthful features were offset by aged eyes. He was dressed in peculiarly wide pantaloons, and an absurdly cheery blue and white striped jumper. He also wore a small blue hat; a hat so small it didn’t appear to have been made with the idea of its being put on the head in mind. It perched upon the strangers’ head at a precariously jaunty angle, dangling from his brow as if it felt that gravity was for wimps.

The stranger beamed a broad, non-committal smile that gave nothing away.

“I hear you are looking for assistants on board ship.”

“You have good hearing stranger. Haven’t we met before?”

“No.” The stranger was singularly decisive on the subject, he said ‘No’ as if it were spelt with four letters.

“Oh. Well. Well, we are looking for assistants as it happens, but we…”

“You’re hired,” called out Vascar, without even looking up from the game.

Khimm turned to him.

“Vascar! What do you think you’re doing?!”

“We need help, he wants to help, what’s the problem?”

“Don’t you think he’s a little, well, strange?”

Vascar looked from Khimm to Denfor, from Denfor to Dougie, and from Dougie to Derek, he returned his gaze to Khimm.

“If you could give me an example of ‘normal’ it might help me make up my mind.”

Khimm had to admit he had a point, successful sit-coms have been written based around characters would seem normal next to the crew of the Corgi.

“OK, OK. But watch him, right?”

“Right.”

“Am I hired?”

“Yeah, you’re hired. You can start by…”

“…loading the boat. OK, I’ll get to it.”

The stranger dashed back down the gangplank, grabbed two huge sacks of provisions, and positively sprinted with them into the hold. He emerged seconds later without even breaking sweat.

“You’re keen,” observed Derek, too impressed to find the stranger’s behaviour suspicious.

“What do we call you anyway?”

“Oh, I’m Haec… Harry, call me Harry.”

“OK – Harry – now about wages…”

“Oh, I don’t need wages, I just want passage to the Hub.”

“Harry, with every second that passes I like you more and more.” But Khimm was more cautious than Vascar. Something about ‘Harry’s’ demeanour worried him.

“I don’t remember anyone telling you we were going to the Hub.”

“Oh. Well. It’s all over the town.”

“Is that a fact?” Khimm knew damn well that it wasn’t a fact, the only thing that was all over the town was venereal disease. “Khimm, for Cod’s sake, leave the poor fellow to his work. get on with the card game. Deal me in Vascar.”

And so that was that. Within a day the new hired help had got the Corgi ready for the voyage, and without any hesitation the crew set sail for the Hub, in search of the fabled El Eciroc…

A New Perspective – by Josie Crimp.

Vascar de Giamii woke up at about two in the morning to hear the timbers of the ship creaking. Thinking there must be a strong wind, he went back to sleep. At four in the morning, Derek woke, and went up on deck to add to the effluent content of the sea. He smiled pleasantly at the view, and went back to bed. Khimm, who was used to sleeping on ships, napped throughout the night, never quite awake or asleep, so that neither his senses nor his subconscious had a chance of noticing anything. Denfor and Dougie, who like all Dwarfs had learnt to sleep deeply so that the other’s snoring didn’t wake them up, never stirred at all.

At six, Harry, as he was known, appeared on deck. It had stopped raining. He took a look around him, and went to start breakfast. The smell of the cooking sausages got the others up faster than any dangerous level of decibels or volume of cold water ever could. They ate the sausages up on deck, in the fresh pleasant air.

“Come on then Derek,” said Vascar, “you’ve still got supplies to load up. Just think how lucky you are, to have a stroll in this fresh air…” He took a sniff….. “This dry, unpolluted air…” He heard seagulls cry above him, and looked around, for once, with both his eyes open and connected to his brain. In every direction, all to be seen was a blue, grey, gently wrinkling body of water that had to be described with the word ocean. Except above, of course, where there was a bright blue, unclouded sky, with a faint mottling which might conceivably have been a turtle’s shell far above them. And a sun, which, (if you looked), was so bright it would blind you.

Naturally, they all looked. Except Harry.

“Um, Denfor,” mumbled Derek, “you know that dumb phrase we have, about the sun blinding you…it is just a phrase, isn’t it?”

“Well, I…” Denfor tried to look at Derek, but he could only see a swirling red, orange, octarine kaleidoscope.

“No.” They all knew it was Harry. “You’re all blind now.. You looked at the sun.” he spoke reasonably, logically – You looked at the sun, what did you expect? – So I’m the only one here who can read a compass, use the tiller, climb the rigging, or do anything of use on this ship. All your lives depend on me.”

“Hang on a minute,” Vascar’s brain was cogwheeling backward and forwards, to try and find an acceptable reason for the situation it found itself in, “how exactly did we get here, rather than moored up by a smelly, rundown port that I have recently become very attached to?”

“I cut the mooring ropes last night, and we eventually drifted out here,” the emotionless voice came in reply.

“You cut the ropes!” cried Khimm, horrified. “Why didn’t you just undo the knots – they cost money, you know!”

“We just drifted?” roared Denver and Dougie, stumbling as they fumbled for their axes.

“Don”t kill me,” tonelessly spoken. “I’m your only chance of survival.”

“He’s right,” said Derek, who was coping better than the other three. “But WHY?”

“I’ve received instructions.” The voice no longer belonged to Harry. If they still had use of their eyes, it was doubtful whether they would still be able to see Harry, he didn’t seem to be a personality. “I’ve been ordered to cease your existence.”

“Our…why?” Vascar whined. He didn’t trust himself without eyes.

“That’s what I thought,” the voice twisted slightly. “Your lives are the most pointless that I’ve ever known.”

“Hang on, that’s a bit off,” protested Derek.

“But true. Things go off. Food. It”s natural. And when food’s off, you throw it away, or give it to the pigs.”

“So what are you going to do with us?!!!!!” enquired Vascar genially.

“Yeah, I don’t see any pigs,” moaned Dougie, “and this isn’t a pirate ship, so there’s no plank to walk.”

“So what? I can just push you off,” came the pithy voice. “ If I want. If they want. Things don’t always have to be done the storybook way. It’s called improvisation. But I won’t… I cannot… take your lives.”

“But what are you going to do, and for the umpteenth time, WHY?!!!!!” Vascar was now rather amused by the situation. Khimm, in comparison, was keeping very quiet, and was sitting huddled up, in the foetal position.

“I don’t know what I”ll do. It depends on what you do. You’ll die, eventually, of course. “Everyone Dies”, as an acquaintance of mine says.” A trace of (dark) colour flickered into the voice momentarily.

“You see, this world of yours has come from another world. Just as the other side of this place is the Discworld. The whole of this, elephants and turtle, your whole universe, stems from one imagination in another dimension.”

“You mean, we’re not real?” Derek was horrified.

“Oh yes! You’re real. Most things are, one way or another. Even this imagination that you exist in, that may belong to a person who merely exists in a book. And he can comprehend you, but not those above him, reading about him, for those are without his reality..”

“So the people we read about, are they real somewhere?” asked Derek. Books were scarce on the flipside and he couldn’t actually read himself, but felt he should be making an intelligent contribution to the conversation.

“Quite.” The voice was uninterested. “But, to explain. This man in whose imagination this place exists, has decided to stop you. He thinks you are wrong. So I’ve been sent to take you away.”

“Where?!!!!! Are there sausages-inna-bun there ?!!!!!” No-one took anymore notice of Vascar.

Curiously enough, neither did they pay any attention to Khimm, who was still huddled up and very quiet.

“What do you mean, we’re wrong? Can he decide that?” asked Derek.

“You are being offered as a sacrifice to a God that is of growing popularity in his world…called “Redde Taep”. You’re not the first, either…” mused the voice.

“Right,” said Denfor, “let me just get this straight. We exist in the imagination of this man. He created us and this world. He now thinks that we shouldn’t exist in this world. So he’s giving us as an offering to his God, Redde Taep. And other people in his world are doing a similar thing. And it’s your job to sacrifice us. Is that right?”

His hard Dwarf head was strong enough to resist the madness which had hit Vascar.

“Close enough.” There was a small amount of respect in the voice. “He created the DiscWorld above, and this,” Harry gestured around him, not that any of the others could see, “this aspect to His world was created by a particularly enthusiastic group of followers.”

Suddenly, Khimm looked up, a thought was forming. He spoke. “Could you…” he said hesitantly… “…could you take us to his dimension?”

“What?” the voice was, for the first time, phonetically shaken.

“The writer’s dimension!. To talk to him?”

“It is not an easy thing, to meet your maker.” Harry pondered.

Derek interrupted. “We could, couldn’t we! You can give us back our sight, and take us to meet him.” He thought for a second. “Right, that’s what we’re doing.” Oxygen had finally reached the remaining embers of his soul and they ignited in a flash. “I command and abjure thee by, um…”

“Okay, okay.” There was a reluctant emotion in the voice. “I get your point. I shall take you there.”

There was a chill in the air. For precisely 8.8 seconds.

It was raining again… beneath their feet the pavement was wet. They were standing at the end of a very long line of people, huddled in the rain.

In the distance they could just make out the letters “orbidden Planet”.

Then they heard a crowd of voices.

One rang out clearly. The sound of a street trader.

“Sausage-inna-bun, get chore sausage-inna-bun! B.S.E. free, guaranteed meat content 45%, made within 1999 EU regulations! Sausage-inna-bun!”

The End.