…the important thing is not to kill your own grandfather…
The wizards looked at the large cluster twinkling near the horizon.
“Very pretty,” said Ridcully. “Well?”
“I think it’s what we call the Small Boring Group of Faint Stars. It’s about the right shape,” said Ponder. “And I know what you are going to say, Sir, you are going to say, “”But they are just a blob in the sky, not a patch on the blobs we used to get,” sir, but you see, that’s what they might have looked like when Great A’Tuin was much closer to them, thousands of years ago. In other words, sir,” Ponder drew a deep breath, in dread of everything that was to come, “I think we have travelled backwards in time. For thousands of years.”
“Oh, is that it?” he said.
“Bound to happen eventually,” said the Dean. “It’s not written down anywhere that these holes connect to the same time, after all.”
“Going to make gettin’ back a bit tricky,” said Ridcully.
“Er…” Ponder began. “It might not be as simple as that, Archchancellor.”
“You mean as simple as finding a way to move through time and space?”
“I mean there might not be any there to go back to,” said Ponder. He shut his eyes. This was going to be difficult, he knew it.
“Of course there is,” said Ridcully. “We were there only this morn– Only yesterday. That is to say, yesterday thousands of years in the future, naturally.”
“But if we are not careful we might alter the future, you see,” said Ponder. “The mere presence of us in the past might alter the future. We might already have altered history. It’s vital that I tell you this.”
“Well, there isn’t any history happening here,” said Ridcully. “It’s just an odd little island.”
“I’m afraid tiny actions anywhere in the world may have huge ramifications, sir,” said Ponder.
“We certainly don’t want any ramifications. Well, what’s your point? What do you advise?”
“To use the classic metaphor, the important thing is not to kill your own grandfather,” he said, and smacked into the bedrock.
“What the hell would I want to do that for?” said Ridcully. “I quite liked the old boy.”
“No, of course, I mean accidentally,” said Ponder. “But in any case—”
“Really? Well, as you know, I accidentally kill people every day,” said Ridcully. “Anyway, I don’t see him around…”
“It’s just an illustration, sir. The problem is cause and effect and the point is—”
“The point, Mister Stibbons, is that you suddenly seem to think everyone comes over all fratricidal when they go back in time. Now, if I had met my grandfather I would buy him a drink and tell him not to assume that snakes won’t bite if you shout at them in a loud voice, information which he might come to thank me for in later life.”
“Why?” said Ponder.
“Because he would have some later life,” said Ridcully.
“No, sir, no! That would be worse than shooting him!”
“I think there may be one two steps in your logic I have failed to grasp, Mister Stibbon,” said the Archchancellor coldly. “I supposed you are not intending to shoot your own grandfather, by any chance?”
“Of course not!” snapped Ponder. “I don’t even know what he looked like. He died before I was born.”
“I didn’t mean–”
“Look, we are a lot further back in time than that,” said the Dean. “Thousands of years, he says. No one’s grandfather is alive.”
“That’s a lucky escape for Mister Stibbons senior, then” said Ridcully.
“No, sir,” said Ponder. “Please! What I was trying to get across, sir, is that anything you do in the past changes the future. The tiniest little actions can have huge consequences. You might… tread on an ant now and it might entirely prevent someone from being born in the future!”
“Really?” said Ridcully.
Ridcully brightened up. “That’s not a bad wheeze. There’s one or two people history could do without. Any idea how we can find the right ants?”
Extract from the book The Last Continent
By Terry Pratchett
All Rights Reserved.
London: Corgi, 1999.
Call Number: English PRA
Extract contributed by Ong Guan Hong
Available at NLB
Title: Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Call Number: English GAI-[FN]
Title: Small Favor: A Novel of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher
Call Number: English BUT-[FN]
Title: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox
By Eoin Colfer
Call Number: J English COL
If there is something you can change in the history of mankind, what would that be?