'Everyone makes clicks about people running around and fighting and falling over,' said Dibbler. 'There should be something more. I've been looking at the things you make here, and they all look the same to me.'
'Well, all sausages look the same to me,' snapped Silverfish.
'They're meant to! That's what people expect!'
'And I'm giving them what they expect, too,' said Silverfish. 'People like to see more of what they expect. Fights and chases, that sort of thing-'
' 'Scuse me, Mister Silverfish,' said the handleman, above the angry chattering of the demons.
'Yes?' snapped Dibbler.
' 'Scuse me, Mister Dibbler, but I got to feed 'em ina quarter of a hour.'
In retrospect, Victor was always a little unclear about those next few minutes. That's the way it goes. The moments that change your life are the ones that happen suddenly, like the one where you die.
There had been another stylized battle, he knew that much, with Morry and what would have been a fearsome whip if the troll hadn't kept tangling it round his own legs. And, when the dreadful Balgrog had been beaten and had slid out of shot mugging terribly and trying to hold its wings on with one hand, he'd turned and cut the ropes holding the girl to the stake and should have dragged her sharply to the right when-
-the whispering started.
There were no words but there was something that was the heart of words, that went straight through his ears and down his spinal column without bothering to make a stopover in his brain.
He stared into the girl's eyes and wondered if she was hearing it too.
A long way off, there were words. There was Silverfish saying, 'Come on, get on with it, what are you looking at her like that for?' and the handleman saying, 'They gets really fractious if they misses a meal,' and Dibbler saying, in a voice hissing like a thrown knife, 'Don't stop turning the handle.'
The edges of his vision went cloudy, and there were shapes in the cloud that changed and faded before he had a chance to examine them. Helpless as a fly in an amber flow, as much in control of his destiny as a soap bubble in a hurricane, he leaned down and kissed her.
There were more words beyond the ringing in his ears.
'Why's he doing that? Did I tell him to do that? No-one told him to do that!'
'-and then I have to muck 'em out afterwards, and let me tell you, it's no-'
'Turn that handle! Turn that handle!' screamed Dibbler.
'Now why's he looking like that?'
'If you stop turning that handle you'll never work in this town again!'
'Listen, mister, I happen to belong to the Handlemen's Guild-'
'Don't stop! Don't stop!'
Victor surfaced. The whispering faded, to be replaced by the distant boom of the breakers. The real world was back, hot and sharp, the sun pinned to the sky like a medal awarded for being a great day.
The girl took a deep breath.
'I'm, gosh, I'm terribly sorry,' babbled Victor, backing away. 'I really don't know what happened-'
Dibbler jumped up and down.
'That's it, that's it!' he yelled. 'How soon can you have it ready?'
'Well, like I said, I got to feed the imps and muck 'em out-'
'Right, right - it'll give me time to get some posters drawn,' said Dibbler.
'I've already had some done,' said Silverfish coldly.
'I bet you have, I bet you have,' said Dibbler, excitedly. 'I bet you have. I bet they say things like “You mighte like to see a Quite Interestinge Moving Picture”!'
'What's wrong with it?' Silverfish demanded. 'It's a bloody sight better than hot sausage!'
'I told you, when you sell sausages you don't just hang around waiting for people to want sausage, you go out there and make them hungry. And you put mustard on 'em. And that's what your lad there has done.'
He clapped one hand on Silverfish's shoulder, and waved the other expansively.
'Can't you see it?' he said. He hesitated. Strange ideas were pouring into his head faster than he could think them. He felt dizzy with excitement and possibilities.
'Sword of Passione,' he said. 'That's what we'll call it. Not name it after some daft old bugger who's probably
not even alive any more. Sword of Passione. Yeah. A Tumultuous Saga of - of Desire an' Raw, Raw, Raw wossname in the Primal Heat of a Tortured Continent! Romance! Glamour! In three Searing Reels! Thrill to the Death Fight with Ravening Monsters! Scream as a thousand elephants-'
'It's only one reel,' muttered Silverfish testily.
'Shoot some more this afternoon!' crowed Dibbler, his eyes revolving. 'You just need more fights and monsters!'
'And there's certainly no elephants,' snapped Silverfish.
Rock put up a craggy arm.
'Yes?' demanded Silverfish.
'If you've got some grey paint an' stuff to make the ears out of, I'm sure me an' Morry could-'
'No-one's ever done a three-reeler,' said Gaffer reflectively. 'Could be really tricky. I mean, it'd be nearly ten minutes long.' He looked thoughtful. 'I suppose if I was to make the spools bigger-'
Silverfish knew he was cornered.
'Now look here,' he began.
Victor stared down at the girl. Everyone else was ignoring them.
'Er,' he said, 'I don't think we've been formally introduced?'
'You didn't seem to let that stop you,' she said.
'I wouldn't normally do something like that. I must have been . . . ill. Or something.'
'Oh, good. And that makes me feel a lot better, does it?'
'Shall we sit in the shade? It's very hot out here.'
'Your eyes went all . . . smouldery.'
'They looked really odd.'
'I felt really odd.'
'I know. It's this place. It gets to you. D'you know,' she said, sitting down on the sand, 'there's all kind of rules for the imps and things, they mustn't be worn out, what
kind of food they get, stuff like that: No-one cares about us, though. Even the trolls get better treatment.'
'It's the way they go around being seven foot tall and weighing 1,000 lbs all the time, I expect,' said Victor.
'My name's Theda Withel, but my friends call me Ginger,' she said.
'My name's Victor Tugelbend. Er. But my friends call me Victor,' said Victor.
'This is your first click, is it?'
'How can you tell?'
'You looked as though you were enjoying it.'
'Well, it's better than working, isn't it?'
'You wait until you've been in it as long as I have,' she said bitterly.
'How long's that?'
'Nearly since the start. Five weeks.'
'Gosh. It's all happened so fast.'
'It's the best thing that's ever happened,' said Ginger flatly.
'I suppose so . . . er, are we allowed to go and eat?' said Victor.
'No. They'll be shouting for us again any minute,' said Ginger.
Victor nodded. He had, on the whole, got through life quite happily by doing what he pleased in a firm yet easy-going sort of way, and he didn't see why he should stop that even in Holy Wood.
'Then they'll have to shout,' he said. 'I want something to eat and a cool drink. Maybe I've just caught a bit too much sun.'
Ginger looked uncertain. 'Well, there's the commissary, but-'
'Good. You can show me the way.'
'They fire people just like that-'
'What, before the third reel?'
'They say “There's plenty more people who're dying to break into moving pictures”, you see-'
'Good. That means they'll have all afternoon to find two of them who look just like us.' He strolled past Morry, who was also trying to keep in the shade of a rock.
'If anyone wants us,' he said, 'we'll be having some lunch.'
'What, right now?' said the troll.
'Yes,' said Victor firmly, and strode on.
Behind him he could see Dibbler and Silverfish locked in heated discussion, with occasional interruptions from the handleman, who spoke in the leisurely tones of one who knows he's going to get paid six dollars today regardless.
'-we'll call it an epic. People will talk about it for ages.'
'Yes, they'll say we went bankrupt!'
'Look, I know where I can get some coloured woodcuts done at practically cost-'
'-I was finking, maybe if I got some string and tied the moving picture box on to wheels, so it can be moved around-'
'People'll say, that Silverfish, there's a moving-picture-smith with the guts to give the people what they want, they'll say. A man to roll back the wossname of the medium-'
'-maybe if I was to make a sort of pole and swivel arrangement, we could bring the picture box right up close to-'
'What? You think they'll say that?'
'Trust me, Tommy.'
'Well . . . all right. All right. But no elephants. I want to make that absolutely clear. No elephants.'
'Looks weird to me,' said the Archchancellor. 'Looks like a bunch of pottery elephants. Thought you said it was a machine?'
'More . . . more of a device,' said the Bursar uncertainly. He gave it a prod. Several of the pottery elephants wobbled. 'Riktor the Tinkerer built it, I think. It was before my time.'
It looked like a large, ornate pot, almost as high as a man of large pot height. Around its rim eight pottery elephants hung from little bronze chains; one of them swung backwards and forwards at the Bursar's touch.
The Archchancellor peered down inside.
'It's all levers and bellows,' he said, distastefully.
The Bursar turned to the University housekeeper.
'Well, now, Mrs Whitlow,' he said, 'what exactly happened?'
Mrs Whitlow, huge, pink and becorseted, patted her ginger wig and nudged the tiny maid who was hovering beside her like a tugboat.
'Tell his lordship, Ksandra,' she ordered.
Ksandra looked as though she was regretting the whole thing.
'Well, sir, please, sir, I was dusting, you see-'
'She hwas dusting,' said Mrs Whitlow, helpfully. When Mrs Whitlow was in the grip of acute class consciousness she could create aitches where nature never intended them to be.
'-and then it started me'king a noise-'
'Hit made hay hnoise,' said Mrs Whitlow. 'So she come and told me, your lordship, h'as hper my instructions.'
'What kind of noise, Ksandra? said the Bursar, as kindly as he could.
'Please, sir, sort of-' she screwed up her eyes, ' “whumm . . . whumm . . . whumm . . . whumm . . . whummwhummwhumm WHUMMWHUMM - plib”, sir.'
'Plib,' said the Bursar, solemnly.
'Hplib,' echoed Mrs Whitlow.
'That was when it spat at me, sir,' said Ksandra.
'Hexpectorated,' corrected Mrs Whitlow.
'Apparently one of the elephants spat out a little lead pellet, Master,' said the Bursar. 'That was the, er, the “plib”,'
'Did it, bigods,' said the Archchancellor. 'Can't have pots going around gobbin' all over people.'
Mrs Whitlow twitched.
'What'd it go and do that for?' Ridcully added.
'I really couldn't say, Master. I thought perhaps you'd know. I believe Riktor was a lecturer here when you were a student. Mrs Whitlow is very concerned', he added, in tones that made it clear that when Mrs Whitlow was concerned about something it would be an unwise Archchancellor who ignored her, 'about staff being magically interfered with.'
The Archchancellor tapped the pot with his knuckles. 'What, old “Numbers” Riktor? Same fella?'
'Total madman. Thought you could measure everythin'. Not just lengths and weights and that kind of stuff, but everythin'. “If it exists,” he said, “you ought to be able to measure it.”' Ridcully's eyes misted with memory. 'Made all kinds of weird widgets. Reckoned you could measure truth and beauty and dreams and stuff. So this is one of old Riktor's toys, is it? Wonder what it measured?'