As I'm away at the mo, I thought I'd leave you a story to sink your teeth into.
This one was created last year for a peer-judged competition over on The Word Cloud. We had to choose two places. Mine were Sardinia (my most favourite place to holiday) and Ankh-Morpork, from Pratchett's Discworld. Which was fine - until the challenge expanded; we had to get from A to B.
It was at this point I realised I'd put myself in a VERY difficult position. How the heck was I going to get from a real place to a fictional one? It took me ages and ages and ages to work it out, but in the end I came up with a solution.
The following could be best be described as my first attempt at fan-fic, which I have since discovered that Sir Terry never reads and does not approve of particularly. That being so, I will probably never submit it for publication, so decided to post it here on the Scribbles instead. I hope Sir Terry will forgive me... and if you are a fan of Discworld, I hope you will, too.
PS. With apologies to fans of a certain popular TV series too...
The Watch Box Project.
Commander Vimes stood in his usual spot in front of the desk, staring just a little to the left and slightly above the Patrician’s head.
Lord Vetinari sighed and steepled his fingers. “It’s an experiment, Commander. To have refreshment and relief facilities stationed at intervals throughout the city. I’m sure you’re aware that it’ll save your men from having to return to the Watch houses quite so frequently.” He looked pointedly at the Commander. “Or the Mended Drum.”
“Yessir.” Vimes kept staring at the same spot. “Only problem is, sir, it’s a bloody stupid idea.”
The Oblong Office suddenly felt a lot colder.
“Do expand on that theory, Commander.”
Vimes took a deep breath and started ticking off on his fingers. “One. It’s going to cost a helluva lot to make the number of boxes you want. Two. The good folk of the city have taken a liking to the refreshments we stocked the first box with. And no, it didn’t matter whether the refreshments were rat-on-a-stick, slumpie or Mr Dibbler’s finest sausage-inna-bun. They broke in and nicked it all. Have you any idea, sir, how crabby a hungry Watchman can get? And three, certain bright sparks have cottoned on to the fact that you can lock a member of the Watch inside the box, tip it up and cover him in the relief.”
"Ah, yes. Perhaps it was a mistake to run the pilot scheme in the Shades.” Vetinari sniffed, almost imperceptibly. “Has Constable Goldhammer managed to get rid of the smell yet?”
“Not quite.” Vimes finally allowed himself to meet the Patrician’s eye. He’d made sure there was plenty of hot water available, but even after an hour in the bath - with the most aromatic of Lady Sybil’s floral oils to mask the unsavoury odours which had been introduced to the station house - the unfortunate dwarf had been banished to the basement. At least Igor wouldn’t mind either of the overpowering scents which now clung like treacle to Constable Goldhammer.
Vetinari picked up the newspaper he’d set aside when Vimes arrived. It looked as though he was only halfway through the crossword. “I’m sure the novelty – and the smell - will wear off, given time. Try a second box in a different location. Don’t let me detain you, Commander.”
Ankh-Morpork’s Finest eyed the box suspiciously. It had been painted a rather fetching shade of dark blue and had a blue glass lantern on the roof, currently unlit.
Corporal Nobbs shook his head. “It don’t seem right, sarge, the Commander making us stay put in one place for our whole shift.”
Fred Colon sighed heavily. “Things are changin’, Nobby. Gone are the days we ’ad to decide, all watchman-like, whether trouble was worth takin’ notice of or not and root it out.”
“So what do we do now? Sit here and wait for it to come to us?”
Fred thought hard for a moment. You could almost see the cogs turning. “I reckon so. If trouble’s happening somewhere else, it ain’t our fault if we’re not there to help. Instead, we can have a nice quiet cup of tea and some of Mrs Colon’s biscuits.” He rattled the cake tin to emphasise the point. “We’ll keep the peace on this patch and let the coppers in the other boxes look after the trouble on theirs.”
Nobby brightened. “Shall we go and ’ave a look inside then, sarge?”
“You go in, Nobby. I’ll keep an eye on things out here.” Fred prided himself on keeping an eye on things. That way, you saw trouble coming – and could run in the opposite direction.
There was the sound of a door opening behind him. Then silence.
"Er, sarge? Did the wizards have anything to do with this box idea?” Nobby sounded decidedly worried.
“Not as far as I know,” Fred rumbled. “Lord Vetinari wouldn’t hold with that.”
“Only…” Nobby gestured towards the open door, “it’s bigger on the inside than the outside, sarge!”
Fred looked inside. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Then he walked slowly around the blue box, pausing in front of the open door.
“Ah, well… that’ll be an ill-oooshun, Nobby. You know, like when they got the conjuror in at the Pink Pussycat Club.”
“Oh yeah…I remember that riot,” Nobby said fondly, his eyes glazing over. The clients of the Pink Pussycat had become understandably agitated when their favourite performer, Dilys Twirlee, vanished from a cabinet on stage. Demands for her immediate return had meant that the conjuror had been forced to reveal his secrets. And then leave the magic circle in shame a week later.
Fred squeezed his massive girth through the doorway. “There’ll be a kettle somewhere in this ill-oooshun, Nobby. Fancy a cuppa?”
While his sergeant hunted the equipment, Nobby inspected a large hexagonal table in the centre of the room. From it, a lighted column rose almost to the ceiling.
“I’m stumped, Nobby,” Fred said eventually. “Can’t find a kettle anywhere.”
“What’s the point of havin’ all this fancy stuff then, sarge? All these knobs and lights and things?” Nobby waved a hand over the console. “What good are these to a copper when he wants a decent cup of tea?”
“Per’aps there’s an instruction manual, Nobby. We’ve jus’ got to…”
“Hullo? Hullo? Is someone there?” A flat square, suspended above the table, suddenly lit up with the image of a long-faced young man. “Oh good-o! You got in!”
Fred and Nobby froze.
The young man frowned. “Good Lord! Where in the universe did the Tardis take herself off to?” His face enlarged in the square until only a single eye was visible, hugely magnified. “I’ve seen some species in my time, but you’re a new one on me. What are you?”
Nobby, realising he was the object of the eye’s attention, pulled off the smartest salute he could muster. “Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, sir! Certified human, sir!”
"Human. Are you sure?” The eye shrank back to normal size as the rest of the face reappeared. “If you say so…I wonder… can you do me a favour? I’m in a spot of trouble.”
Nobby pulled off another salute, so sharp, he nearly cut himself. “Trouble’s what we’re good at. Ain’t that right, sarge?”
“Er…yeah, but…” Fred visibly expanded with self-importance and puffed his chest out. It almost achieved the same girth as his stomach. “We need to know who we’re dealing with first.”
“Oh – you mean me? Well, I’m The Doctor.”
“One of Doctor Lawn’s doctors? From the Lady Sybil?”
“Lady Syb-? No, no, no. I’m The Doctor. The Doctor.” The face beamed down at the bemused coppers. “But I’m on holiday at the moment, so I’m not doctoring. Problem is, the Tardis decided she didn’t want a vacation. She upped and offed without me. I can’t bring her back from here, so I need someone to do it for me. Looks like it’ll have to be you.”
A look was exchanged between the coppers. A look that passed judgement on the young man’s mental acuity and found it wanting.
Fred cleared his throat. “This…Tardis. Can you give me a description of the lady, sir?”
“She’s no lady! Well, not in the way I think you mean, though I suppose she is normally perfectly well behaved… You’re inside her, man! She’s my ship.”
“Ship?” Fred stared at face beaming at him from the screen. “But there are no sails.”
“She doesn’t need them. All you have to do is twiddle a few dials and flick a few switches and she’ll end up here with me. Well, you will if she’ll let you,” the Doctor added in an undertone.
Nobby tugged Fred’s sleeve. “I’m not so sure about this, sarge," he whispered. "I reckon he’s a bit…” The corporal’s finger twirled next to his temple.
“Let’s find out,” Fred whispered back. Straightening his helmet, he addressed the screen in his best sergeant’s voice. “Of course we’ll bring the Tardis to you.”
The Doctor flicked his hair out of his eyes, grinned and slapped a peculiar red hat with a tassel onto his head. “Right – here’s what you do…”
Foul Ole Ron had seen and heard many things in his time, but the strange thrumming noise was a new one on him. It seemed to be coming from the blue box standing at the end of the street. As he watched, the lamp on the roof started to flash and the box faded in and out of his vision until it disappeared completely.
“Buggrit! Millenium hand and shrimp, I told ’em,” Ron muttered.
“And here you are!” The Doctor’s face had disappeared from the screen, appearing instead at the open door of the Tardis. He leapt inside and ran straight to where Nobby had just released the particle gravitator lever and Fred was winding down the distance dial. “Oh, you beauties! You’ve brought her back to me!” He spun round, pausing as the lights dimmed. “Now then, I know you were sulking, but I needed a holiday.”
To the watchmen, he appeared to be addressing thin air.
“I think you’ll like it here, I really do,” the young man continued, patting the console. “Sand, sea and sun…just what the Doctor ordered.” He grinned as the lights brightened again. “That’s my girl. Now – where are my helpers?”
A green light shone in Nobby’s face; the Doctor was pointing a long thin cylinder at him. “Hmm. Definitely human.” The green light vanished and the object that made it disappeared back into the pocket from whence it came. “Now…gentlemen. Care to join me on the beach?” The Doctor almost danced through the door.
As soon as Fred stepped outside, his feet sank into golden sand and sweat broke out on his forehead from the sun which beat down on his helmet. Stretching out in front of him was an endless expanse of clear blue sky which met a curve – definitely a curve - of turquoise water. He looked at Nobby, who was grinning like a monkey. “Where are we? Quirm? How did we get to Quirm?”
“Quirm? Never heard of it.” The Doctor whipped off his hat. “We’re in
He kicked off his shoes and began to roll his trouser legs up. “Last one in’s
Whatever the last one was going to be, they never found out.
“Sarge – look!”
Fred glanced in the direction of the corporal’s pointing finger. “Good gods,” he muttered weakly.
To be fair, he’d seen Mrs Colon without her stockings on once or twice. He’d also witnessed the young ladies in their working clothes at the Pink Pussycat Club, though he’d spent most of the visit trying not to look. But the ladies here…well. Fred had never seen quite so much of the opposite sex before.
“I’m goin’ in for a dip, sarge. You coming?” Nobby – who’d divested himself of his uniform and was now dressed only in his unmentionables – sprinted towards the water. There was a splash and the corporal disappeared.
Fred took a deep breath.
“Corporal Nobbs!” he bellowed as soon as Nobby resurfaced, glistening and grinning. “You are an officer of the Ankh-Morpork Watch and still on duty, wherever we are! Get your uniform back on this instant!”
“We can’t be ’aving a holiday, Nobby.” Fred frowned “Ankh-Morpork needs us. We’ve got the Doctor his box back and we ought to be getting home.”
“You don’t have to, you know.” The Doctor looked up from the sandcastle he was making. “You can spend as long as you like here, then I’ll take you back and no-one will even know you’ve been gone.” He turned his attention back to the bright yellow bucket he’d packed with sand, upended it and proceeded to smack it with a small blue spade. “By the way, I never asked – which planet do you come from?”
“Planet? Discworld o’ course,” Fred said. “Where did you think we were from?”
“Weeell, I did wonder if you were from the Dungeon Dimensions when I saw your friend. But Discworld…isn’t that the one on the back of the giant turtle and the elephants? Think I visited a few aeons ago. Nice place. You’re on Earth at the moment.”
“The Tardis is a clever old girl – travels in space and time.” The Doctor gave the bucket a twist and lifted it away, revealing a compact mound of sand. Then he stuck a small green flag in the top of it and looked up at the sergeant. “Kick your sandals off and feel the sand between your toes for a bit. It’ll be alright.”
Foul Ole Ron had just reached the corner of the street when the thrumming sound began again. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the blue box fade in and out before reappearing, more solidly it seemed, than before. A door opened in its side and two members of the Watch stepped out.
“Buggrit,” Ron muttered darkly and hurried off to catch up with his Smell.
The Doctor was grinning at the watchmen from the door.
“There you go! Back where and when you started from, give or take a couple of minutes, after a lovely day at the seaside. Thanks again for getting me out of a pickle – it’s good to be back with the Tardis. Isn’t it, old girl?” He patted the door affectionately. “Right! Must be off. Daleks to sort out and fishfingers to fry!”
When the thrumming stopped, silence fell. There was nothing to show the box had ever stood on the cobbles.
“Did we just dream all that, Nobby?” Fred asked slowly.
“Dunno. S’pose we could have. But if we dreamt it, your nose wouldn’t be sunburnt and I wouldn’t ’ave sand in my unmentionables.”
"What the wizards wouldn’t give for that box,” Fred said thoughtfully. “I reckon it was a good job it was us what found it, Nobby, or else-”
A heavy rumbling drowned out the rest of his words. Rolling down the street on the back of a cart was a blue box, accompanied by the shining Captain Carrot and the lumbering form of Corporal Detritus.
“You’re here already? Good. Keen to try out your Watch box, Fred?” Carrot said, jumping down. “Let’s get it down and you can try it out for size.”
Five minutes later, Detritus had troll-handled the box to its final resting place and Carrot dropped the keys into Fred’s sweaty palm.
“Open it up, then.”
Sergeant Colon couldn’t get rid of the keys quick enough. “You do it, Nobby.”
“Fair bit smaller than the other one, sarge. Def’nately a kettle inside. No knobs or levers. And no Doctor.”
“What ‘other one’? And why would you need a doctor, Nobby?” Carrot said.
“Er…sarge…not sure you’re goin’ to fit in ’ere…it’s a bit tight even for me.”
The Patrician waved a copy of the Ankh-Morpork Times at Vimes, who was trying very hard to suppress his feelings.
“And Mr de Worde just happened to walk along at the precise moment that Sergeant Colon got stuck in the door of the Watch box?”
“He was taking a constitutional, I believe.”
There was the hint of a raised eyebrow from the Patrician. “Indeed. Along with Mr Chriek the iconographer, and a notebook. I suppose that to build the boxes large enough to accommodate the sergeant or any of our trollish Watch members would be a waste of civic monies and take up too much room on the streets?”
“I’ve heard discussions to that effect, sir. Be much cheaper to keep sending them to the Drum. Sir.” The grin was much too close to the surface now – it was threatening to break free.
The newspaper slapped onto the desk. “Very well. Do away with the boxes then, and keep your watchmen moving, Commander. In the interests of law-abiding citizens throughout the city.”
“Thank you, sir.” Vimes turned and marched towards the door. As he reached for the handle, the Patrician called out to him.
“Oh – and Commander? If ever a police box appears on the streets of the city again – do make sure to send The Doctor my best wishes.”