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A Barrel of Paradox: A Discworld Tale (Part 3)

Illustration for article titled A Barrel of Paradox: A Discworld Tale (Part 3)

(Part 2, Previously)

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For the third time in two weeks, Kennard was awoken by the sound of the governance of Ankh-Morpork knocking at his door. This came in the form of a large, moss-covered troll in a mouldery three-piece suit, bearing a tattered piece of paper with Vetinari's seal, and each knock rattled the entire apartment and only further encouraged Kennard's expediency thanks to the ominous creaking of the building after the third blow to the poor battered door.

Hoping beyond hope that the flow of liquid from his doll had ceased, his heart dropped in an all-too-familiar way when he saw the doll, wired to a sewer grate outside his abode, was still gushing water into the sewers below. The rate had been steadily increasing since he had first accidentally grabbed the stuffed corduroy bunny, and had gone from a trickle into a flow like one would see from a small creek, and now the occasional whiff of lavender was almost entirely overwhelmed by the brackish smell of water. The occasional surprised fish would emerge with the stream of seawater*, along with bits of wood and seaweed, only to disappear into the darkness of the Ankh-Morpork sewer.

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For the third time in two weeks, Kennard was sitting, fidgeting, before being admitted into Lord Vetinari's office, and again being told in a mild, almost pleasant tone of voice that the matter of the seawater emitting from his doll (Which he had tried, by now, to rid himself of in three different fountains, a cellar, the sewers, and finally the River Ankh itself) was beginning to draw the ire of not a small number of people of the city, in particular the representatives of the Guild of Street Cleaners.

It seemed that the unceasing flow of water from his possession was doing their job for them, and as a result they were calling for Kennard's exile. Before his heart could finish climbing into his throat, Vetinari must have noticed Kennard's sudden expression of sheer unadulterated panic, and reassured him that this option was not going to be considered yet. The emphasis on the word "yet" held all sorts of rich possibilities for what might occur should the problem remain unfixed, however, and Vetinari advised him to possibly bring the matter up with the wizards of the Unseen University again.

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And so, for the third time in two weeks, Kennard found himself outside the Patrician's Palace feeling like a man who has tiptoed across a room filled with hot coals, and promptly been told that he left his billfold back on the other side of the room.

On a higher dimension, in an otherwise empty and lightly-starred region of space, a shadowy figure drifted into focus, appearing like a hooded detail-less head and body made from smoke or ash. Further figures formed around it, and the central figure began to speak in a toneless flat monotone.

"We have noticed a distinct spacetime patch that has begun to unravel. While regrettable that the patch was allowed to be formed in the first place-" There was a distinct pause and despite the lack of any kind of facial feature, the impression of scrutiny and of guilt could be implied to be present, "-we nevertheless recommend that the patch be fused to prevent further unraveling. Fusion has been calculated to occur upon the cessation of function of the organic who caused the breach."

There was a feeling of agreement, although no words were spoken, and so the central figure continued. "While unconventional, we recommend causality nudging in order to cease the organic's function. It will be effective, but also prevent the shortfalls encountered when physical incarnation was attempted."

There was another feeling shared amongst the figures, one of distinct embarrassment, and if it had been in their nature to do so, at least one of the figures would have "Harrumphed" and cleared their throat awkwardly. Instead, there was a slight delay and then a murmur of affirmation from around the circle of figures. A single voice beginning to speak about how causality nudging would probably fix nothing and just exacerbate the problem, but it was drowned out by the "ayes," and so one by one they faded back into nothingness.

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As expected, the wizards had been of little help to Kennard, although as he strode away pushing the wheelbarrow he was keeping the rabbit in**, he reflected that he could hardly blame them. They had admitted him in, made a great deal of gesticulating, hypothesizing, and arguing with each other, and when the food tray had been taken away and Kennard was instructed to bring the doll forward for their analysis, the debate got even more heated. They even had a younger and more hassled-looking wizard in there with an odd, boxy cart filled with paper cards with holes in them, ants in an endless series of glass tubes, and a small goat skull topping the whole thing off.

The wizard had taken the doll, carefully poked and prodded it with a series of instruments attached to the odd box (He kept referring to it as a "Hex-top," whatever that was), examined the resulting paper with seemingly gibberish on it that the Hex-top produced, and then ignoring Kennard's warning, placed the doll in a sealed metal and rubber jar and firmly closed the lid with a clasp. Luckily they all had noticed the bowing of the sides of the metal jar and taken cover. The ensuing aquatic explosion had, however, covered the Hex-top***, and as the soaked pieces of water and drowned or swimming ants covered the floor, the wizards politely apologized to Kennard before unceremoniously shoving him out of the door and back onto the street.

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A crowd had gathered around a troupe of street performers, who were concluding a performance, in mime, of Lord Vetinari punishing a mime in the typical way over a scorpion pit. It was all very avant-garde, but a magician had taken the stage after them, and was already drawing coins from ears and shaking money into empty cups. A true Ank-Morporkian, Kennard pushed to the edge of the crowd to see if he could get a better look, when there was the faint noise of a pencil scratching on paper, at the very edge of his hearing. Before he could dwell on it, there was a distinct bump of a body against his billfold, and then a small urchin that Kennard had seen at the edge of the crowd began trying to push through the crowd away from him.

Kennard darted forward, pushing past a few onlookers of the show with a muffled "'Scuse me" before grabbing the pickpocket by the arm. As he straightened up and reached to take his wallet back from the child, a little girl, there was another sound at the edge of hearing, almost like that of a stamp approving a paper. Then there was a crunch of stone on cobble, pelting Kennard's head with a piece or two of stone debris, followed by a scream and the crowd parting. He could see that a stone gargoyle had fallen and smashed onto the cobblestones****, right where he had been a mere second ago.

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He shuddered, and then realized his hand was firmly holding nothing but air, and upon turning to look, the little girl was gone, and his billfold was still laying on the ground. He scooped it up and pocketed it, before shaking his head to clear it a little and continuing back towards his apartment.

In the same higher dimension, but now above a nebulae in the process of forming a series of infant stars, the shadowed figures slowly shimmered back into existence.

There was a feeling that could only be described as non-plussed.

"That was unexpected," said one.

"That was impossible, more like," said a second.

"That was what happens when you try and force causality," said a third, with the distinct impression of a sulk.

The third voice was ignored, and one of the figures spoke. "Regardless, we must attempt to end the organic. Double-check the forms for the neural synapses for that adolescent organic to determine why it strayed outside of our parameters, and identify another junction point for cessation of function."

There was another murmur of agreement, and the figures faded back into nothingness.

All except one figure, who muttered again in a discernible sulk "I told them this woul- Shit!" before disappearing in a tiny pop.

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(Continued in Part 4)

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*Although exactly where the stream emerged was anyone's guess. The doll was intact, with not a rip or tear on it, yet the water (And lately fish) emerged from some point on the lumpily stuffed stomach of the toy. Kennard found after much water-drenched trial and error that covering that point only resulted in the water emerging from a different point somewhere on the bunny.

**With holes drilled all around so the water from the doll simply sluiced onto the street below, and not a little of it ended up on Kennard's legs. By this point everything he owned was at least damp, if not soaked entirely, so it was of little consequence if more sloshed onto his soggy boots as he pushed it along the street.

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***The attending wizard had let out the cry of agony only those watching dozens and dozens of weekends in working on a project instead of going to the pub with friends go up in a puff of water can truly appreciate

****It was a decorative gargoyle, and not a live one. Even the most poorly-fed or diseased pigeon could make a gargoyle no more than woozy, and while those on the rooftops above Ankh-Morpork's distilleries were known to sway from side to side and occasionally sing off-key, evolution had seemingly weeded out those unable to keep their footing after just consuming a whiskey-soaked sparrow or two.

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