‘Yes, Detritus.’

‘Is dis me?’


‘Sorry.’ Carrot eased his way down the sloping deck and jumped onto the damp sand. He saluted. ‘All present and lightly bruised, sir. Shall we. establish a beachhead?’

‘A what?’

‘We have to dig in, sir.’ Vimes looked both ways along the beach, if such a sunnysounding word could be applied to the forsaken strand. It was really just a hem to the land. Nothing stirred except the heat haze and, in the distance, one or two carrion birds. ‘What for?’ he said. ‘Establish a defensible position. It’s just one of those things soldiers do, sir.’ Vimes glanced at the birds. They were approaching with a kind of sidling sideways hop, ready to move in just as soon as anyone had been dead for a few days. Then he flicked through Tacticus until the word ‘beachhead’ caught his eye.

‘It says here “If you want your men to spend much time wielding a shovel, encourage them to become farmers,”’ he said. ‘So I think we’ll press on. He can’t have got very far. We’ll be back soon.’ Jenkins waded out of the surf. He didn’t look angry. He was a man who had passed through the fires of anger and was now in some strange peaceful bay beyond them. He pointed a quivering finger at his stricken ship and said ‘Muh… ?’

‘Pretty good shape, all things considered,’ said Vimes. ‘Muh?’

‘I’m sure you and your salty sailors will be able to float it again.’

‘Muh…’ Jenkins and his wading crew watched the regiment as it slithered and complained its way up the side of the dune. Eventually the crew went into a huddle and drew lots and the cook, who was always unlucky in games of chance, approached the captain. ‘Never mind, captain,’ he said, ‘we can probably find some decent balks of timber in all this driftwood, and a few days’ work with block and tackle should–’


‘Only… we’d better get started ‘cos he said they won’t be long…’

‘They won’t be back!’ said the captain. ‘The water they’ve got won’t last a day up there! They haven’t got the right gear! And once they’re out of sight of the sea they’ll get lost!’

‘Good!’ It took half an hour to get to the top of the dune. The sand had been stamped down but, even as Vimes watched, the wind caught the particles and nibbled away at the prints. ‘Camel tracks,’ said Vimes. ‘Well, camels don’t go all that fast. Let’s––’

‘I think Detritus is having real trouble, sir,’ said Carrot. The troll was standing with his knuckles on the ground. The motor of his cooling helmet sounded harsh for a moment in the dry air, and then stopped as the sand got into the mechanism. ‘Feelin’ fick,’ he muttered. ‘My brain hurts.’

‘Quick, hold your shield over his head,’ said Vimes. ‘Give him some shade!’

‘He’s never going to make it, sir,’ said Carrot. ‘Let’s send him back down to the boat.’

‘We need him! Quick, Cheery, fan him with your axe!’ At which point, the sand stood up and drew a hundred swords. ‘Bingeley–bingeley beep!’ said a cheerful if somewhat muffled voice. ‘Eleven eh em, Get Haircut… er… that’s right… isn’t it?’ It wasn’t large, but slabs of collapsing building had smashed together in such a way that they made a cistern that the rain had filled half full.

Solid Jackson slapped his son on the back. ‘Fresh water! At last!’ he said. ‘Well done, lad.’

‘You see, I was looking at these sort of painting things, Dad, and then–’

‘Yeah, yeah, pictures of octopuses, very nice,’ said Jackson. ‘Hah! The ball is on the other foot now and no mistake! It’s our water on our side of the island, and I’d just like to see them greasy buggers claim otherwise. Let ’em keep their damn driftwood and suck water out of fishes!’

‘Yeah, Dad,’ said Les. ‘And we can trade them some of the water for wood and flour, right?’ His father waved a hand cautiously. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘No need to rush into that, though. We’re pretty close to finding a seaweed that’ll bum. I mean, what’re our long–term objectives here?’

‘Cooking meals and keeping warm?’ said Les hopefully. ‘Well, initially,’ said Jackson. ‘That’s obvious. But you know what they say, lad. “Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” See my point?’

‘I don’t think that’s actually what the saying is–’

‘I mean, we can stop here living on water and raw fish for… well, practically for ever. But that lot can’t go without proper fresh water for much longer. See? So they’ll have to come begging to us, right? And then we deal on our terms, eh?’ He put his arm around his son’s reluctant shoulders and waved a hand at the landscape. ‘I mean, I started out with nothing, son, except that old boat that your grandad left me, but–’

‘–you worked and scraped–’ said Les wearily. worked and scraped–’ –and you’ve always kept your head above water–’

‘–right, I’ve always kept my head above water–’

‘And you’ve always wanted to leave me something that– –Ow!’

‘Stop making fun of your dad!’ said Jackson. ‘Otherwise I’ll wallop the other ear. Look, you see this land? You see it?’

‘I see it, Dad.’

‘It’s a land of opportunity.’

‘But there’s no fresh water and all the ground’s full of salt, Dad, and it smells bad!’

‘That’s the smell of freedom, that is.’

‘Smells like someone did a really big fart, Dad– Ow!’

‘Sometimes the two are very similar! And it’s your future Im thinking of, lad!’ Les looked at the acres of decomposing seaweed in front of him, He was learning to be a fisherman like his father before him because that’s how the family had always done it and he was too good–natured to argue, although he actually wanted to be a painter like no–one in the family had ever been before. He was noticing

things, and they worried him even though he couldn’t quite say why. But the buildings didn’t look right. Here and there were definite bits of, well, architecture, like Morporkian pillars and the remains of Klatchian arches, but they’d been added to buildings that looked as though some ham–fisted people had just piled rocks on top of one another. And then in other places the slabs had been stacked on top of ancient brick walls and tiled floors. He couldn’t imagine who’d done the tiling, but they did like pictures of octopussies. The feeling was stealing over him that Morporkians and Klatchians arguing over who owned this piece of old sea bottom was extremely pointless. ‘Er… I’m thinking about my future too, Dad,’ he said. ‘I really am.’ Far below Solid Jackson’s feet, the Boat surfaced. Sergeant Colon reached automatically for the screws that held the lid shut. ‘Don’t open it, sergeant!’ shouted Leonard, rising from his seat. ‘The air’s getting pretty lived–in, sir_, ‘It’s worse outside.’

‘Worse than in here?’

‘I’m almost certain.’

‘But we’re on the surface!’

‘A surface, sergeant,’ said Lord Vetinari. Beside him, Nobby uncorked the seeing device and peered through it. ‘We’re in a cave?’ said Colon. ‘Er… sarge…’ said Nobby. ‘Capital! Well worked out,’ said Lord Vetinari. ‘Yes. A cave. You could say that.’

‘Er… sarge?’ said Nobby again, nudging Colon. ‘This isn’t a cave, sarge! It’s bigger than a cave, sarge!’

‘What, you mean… like a cavern?’


‘Bigger’n a cavern? More like a… big cavern?’

‘Yeah, that’d be about right,’ said Nobby, taking his eye away from the device. ‘Have a look yourself, sarge.’ Sergeant Colon peered into the tube. Instead of the darkness he was half expecting, he saw the sea’s surface, bubbling like a boiling saucepan. Green and yellow flashes of lightning danced across the water, illuminating a distant wall that seemed practically a horizon… The tube squeaked around. If this was a cave, it was at least a couple of miles across. ‘How long, do you think?’ said Lord Vetinari, behind him. ‘Well, the rock has a large proportion of tufa and pumice, very light, and once floated up the build–up of gas starts to escape very rapidly because of

the swell,’ said Leonard. ‘I don’t know… perhaps another week… and then I think it takes a very long time for a sufficient bubble to build up again…’

‘What’re they saying, sarge?’ said Nobby. ‘This place floats?’

‘A most unusual natural phenomenon,’ Leonard went on. ‘I’d have thought it was just a legend had I not seen it for myself…’

‘Of course it’s not floating,’ said Sergeant Colon. ‘Honestly, Nobby, how’re you ever going to find out anything when you ask daft questions like that? Land’s heavier than water, right? That’s why you find it at the bottom of the sea.’

‘Yes, but he said pumice, and my gran had a pumice stone that worked a treat for getting tough skin off’f your feet in the tub and that’d float–’

‘That sort of thing happens in bath tubs maybe,’ said Colon. ‘Not in real life. This is just a phenomena. It’s not real. Next thing you’ll be saying there’s rocks up in the sky.’

‘Yeah, but–’

‘I am a sergeant, Nobby.’

‘Yes. sarge.’

‘It puts me in mind,’ said Leonard, ‘of those nautical stories about giant turtles that sleep on the surface, thus causing sailors to think they are an island. Of course, you don’t get giant turtles that small.’

‘Hey, Mr Quirm, this is an amazing boat,’ said Nobby. ‘Thank you.’

‘I bet you could even smash up ships with it if you wanted.’ There was an embarrassed silence. ‘Altogether an interesting experience,’ said Lord Vetinari, making some notes. ‘And now, gentlemen downward and onward, please…’ The watchmen drew their weapons. ‘They’re D’regs, sir,’ said Carrot. ‘But – this is all wrong…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We’re not dead yet.’ They’re watching us like cats watch mice, thought Vimes. We can’t run away and we can’t win a fight, and they want to see what we’ll do next. ‘What does General Tacticus have to say about sir?’ said Carrot. There’s a hundred of them, thought Vimes. And six of us. Except that Detritus is drifting off and there’s no knowing what particular commandment Visit is obeying right now and Reg’s arms tend to drop off when he gets excited ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Probably something on the lines of Don’t Allow This to Happen.’

‘Why don’t you check, sir?’ said Carrot, not taking his eyes off the watching D’regs. ‘What?’

‘I said, why don’t you check, sir?’

‘Right now?’

‘It might be worth a try, sir.’

‘That’s crazy, captain.’

‘Yes, sir. The D’regs have some very strange notions about crazy people, sir.’ Vimes pulled out the battered book. The D’reg nearest to him, with a grin almost as wide and as curved as his sword, had a certain additional swagger that suggested chieftainship. A huge ancient crossbow was slung on his back. ‘I say!’ said Vimes. ‘Could we just delay things a little?’ He strode towards the man, who looked very surprised, and waved the book in the air. ‘This is a book by General Tacticus, don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, quite a big name in these parts once, probably slaughtered your great–great–great– great–grandfather in fact, and I just want to take a moment to see what he has to say about this situation. You don’t mind, do you?’ The man gave Vimes a puzzled look. ‘This might take a moment, there’s no index, but I think I saw something–’ The chieftain took a step backwards and looked at the men next to him, who shrugged. ‘I wonder if you could help me with this word here?’ Vimes went on, reaching the man’s side and holding the book under his nose. He got another puzzled grin. What Vimes did next was known in Ankh–Morpork’s alleyways as the Friendly Handshake, and consisted largely of driving his elbow into the man’s stomach, then bringing his knee up to meet the man’s chin on its way down, gritting his own teeth because of the pain in both knee and ankle, and then drawing his sword and holding it to the D’reg’s throat before he could scramble up. ‘Now, captain,’ said Vimes, ‘I’d like you to say in a loud dear voice that unless they back off a really long way, this gentleman here is going to be in some very serious legal trouble.’