After a lunch consisting solely of their own cooking – Albert being an avid proponent of Learning Through Pain – the students of OFUDisc took a quick stroll from Ankh over to Ephebe. Now that she was aware of it, Phoebe found the absurdity of this almost too much to handle, but sadly her disapproval had little to no effect on the placid landscape. Cabbages gave way to sand, and they soon found themselves filing into a massive stone-built stadium.
"I don't recall any canonical mentions of stadia in Ephebe," Raen expounded as they assembled on the dusty track, "but this is clearly in the classical Greek mode, so it's a reasonable supposition."
"Didn't the Greeks do their athletics naked?" Nenya asked in a dreamy voice. At Raen's dubious nod, she pointed at the approaching figure in his moth-eaten red robe. "Do you think we could persuade him to keep the tradition?"
Rincewind came to a reluctant halt in front of the girls. Studying him – as all her classmates were – Phoebe decided the rodent-based descriptions of him were accurate: a weasel-faced man with a ratty beard and mouse-nibbled wardrobe who held himself like a rabbit on the verge of flight. She felt kind of sorry for him.
The Disc's most famous wizzard moved his lips soundlessly, as if he were praying, or rehearsing his lines – or telling himself not to run away. Then he straightened up and managed not to meet anyone's eyes.
"The most important thing is pacing," he said. "If you pace yourself properly, you can keep going all day... oh, go on, what is it?"
He didn't bother to clarify whether this last was addressed to Andy, who had raised her hand, or the half-dozen other girls who were now giggling uncontrollably. Phoebe decided he was fortunate Andy got her reply in first.
"Excuse me, your Wizzardlyness," she said, and Phoebe only barely held back her own laughter, "but what exactly are you teaching us?"
Rincewind actually met her gaze for a second – earning Andy a glare from Nenya – before sighing and rubbing his eyes. "I've got a plan," he announced. "Let's all pretend to be reasonable, non-threatening people, and maybe nothing will happen which anyone will regret."
"Are you scared we're going to molest you?" Cazzie called, prompting laughter from the class (and a speculative look from Nenya) – laughter which cut off suddenly as a loud creak sounded behind them. The girls turned almost as one to see a rather familiar sea chest lying on the sand, blocking the exit.
Liliac squealed and darted forward, almost reaching the Luggage before it stumbled to its feet and bared big, square teeth. Even then, she only stopped a short distance away, making cooing noises as the box on legs shifted uncertainly.
"All right," said Saphie, "but you didn't answer the Andy Half's question. What class is this?"
Rincewind scowled at the Luggage, then glanced at Saphie. "Athletics. Specifically, running." He grimaced. "Not that anyone can learn to run properly on a curved track, but the Hat insisted, and what the Hat says..."
"What Hat?" chorused half a dozen of the girls – Penny and Phoebe among them.
Rincewind shook his head. "You're not getting me that easily. Look, go run a lap, will you? Then I'll tell you what you're doing wrong and we can get all this out of the way."
The girls obediently set off at a rather disorganised jog which brought Cazzie and Liliac up to join Phoebe and Penny. Liliac was still casting adoring looks at the Luggage, so Cazzie started the conversation.
"Back before the Lunch of Terror, you were talking about how we got here?"
Penny nodded and began to explain rapidly (showing far too much energy for someone jogging so fast – Phoebe herself was practically out of breath already): "The other PPCers and I have passed this back and forth, and we think we've come up with a solution which fits the observed facts. The reason all this feels like a slightly dodgy fanfic is... that it is a slightly dodgy fanfic."
Cazzie raised an eyebrow. "So we're some writer's creations?"
"Can't be," Phoebe gasped, stopping and clutching her side. "Fiction... ow... doesn't ache this much."
"Exactly," Penny agreed, putting an arm round her shoulders and setting off again at a slower pace. "But I think OFUDisc is a story – and we were written in."
"Like in Jurisfiction?" Liliac asked. "They can read themselves in..."
"And wasn't there a Doctor Who episode where people got trapped in pictures of themselves?" Cazzie asked, earning blank looks all round. Penny shrugged.
"So that's our theory. We signed up eight years ago, but we're only now being written in – by someone trying to fit real!us into the mould of us a decade ago."
Cazzie nodded enthusiastically. "And since I didn't apply here to start with-"
"You were written in based on an up-to-date application form," Penny agreed. "So while the rest of us have been fighting to unify two versions of ourselves, you've been absolutely fine."
"Which is all well and good," Liliac said, frowning, "but what about Ispace? I can't imagine the author wanted them here."
"But we're in the realms of fiction now," Penny pointed out as they rounded the last corner, "just as if we were on the 'real' Discworld. And portals can take you between Word Worlds..."
"I'm more worried about the 'two versions of us' business," Phoebe said. "Does that mean we'll change when we go home, or...?"
The others exchanged uncomfortable looks, but were saved from trying to answer by their arrival at the finish line – last, of course. Rincewind was standing by the high-arched entrance, and shook his head as they reached the group.
"The first thing you all did wrong," the wizzard said, "is jogged. There's never any point in it. Either stay where you are, or get away as fast as possible."
"What about exercise?" Becky called out.
Rincewind looked genuinely puzzled. "Why would you practice something useless?"
"What, like you and magic?" called Vee, which earned her a clip round the ear from Nenya. Rincewind just looked glum.
"At one point," he told them, "I carried one of the greatest spells on the Disc in my head. Can any of you say as much?"
"I might be a wizard," Kaitlyn said, raising her hand. "I mean, depending on if the Oath works in the real world. Or Middle-earth. Or Hogwarts. Or here, for that matter..."
"I've saved the Disc more times than I can count," Rincewind snapped. Phoebe could see a vein pulsing in his forehead – apparently Kaitlyn had pushed one button too many. "The chance of any of you doing so even once is less than – well, we'd sooner see the sky fall!"
There was a dead silence – which was broken by a cheerful little tune. Liliac's face lit up, and she pulled from her pocket the last thing Phoebe would have expected:
A mobile phone.
"Since I don't often get a feed line like that," she said, reading the text, "you'll have to forgive me for taking it. Ladies, look to the skies – and take cover."
With the rest of Class Two, Phoebe squinted at the cloudless azure sky. Was there a dark spot up there? She blinked, trying to make sure – and was it growing larger?
The girls gasped one by one as each of them spotted it. As the dot grew into a speck, and then continued to expand at an incredible rate, someone screamed – and then the fangirls were running, making for the cover of the ranks of seats. Rincewind was already a receding spot on the horizon.
As the dot resolved into a distinct shape – like some terrible, two-headed bird, curved wings sweeping forward to vicious points – a wind picked up, filling the air with sand and dust. Phoebe braced herself against it and advanced on Liliac, stumbling as the wind rose to a gale.
"What is that thing?" she screamed at her friend. "Lili – what have you done?"
Liliac turned to face her, smile wide, brown hair with blonde streaks whipping around her face. "That," she shouted over the howl of the wind, the deeper roar of immeasurably powerful engines as the spaceship came in to land, "is an Eldar Vampire Raider! Twenty-six metres long with a thirteen metre wingspan, and transport capacity for thirty troops!" The ship came to a sudden halt, its wingtips still six feet above the ground, and its engines cut off with a terrifying finality. In the sudden silence, her ears still ringing, Phoebe clearly heard Liliac's next words:
"And it's come to take us away."
Cazzie was the first to break the paralysis which had gripped Class Two. "Oh, no," she said, stalking towards Liliac. "You said you'd stop! You promised Phoebe – no more wormholes!"
"Yes, I did," Liliac nodded. "And while I could point out that this is a dropship, not a wormhole, all I can really say is: I'm sorry. I lied."
There was a grinding hiss from the spaceship, and a massive ramp lowered to the sand. Among the girls, who had begun to climb out of their hiding places, a couple leapt back behind cover. Lines of tall, armoured bipeds funnelled down, and even in her stunned state Phoebe's mind quailed. Their almost iridescent blue armour covered bodies far too elongated to be human - and any doubt on that score was dispelled by the sheer height of their bone-white helmets. Their sleek, curving black weapons, seemingly halfway between a crossbow and a rifle, looked practically alive in their viciousness - all of which made the woman in their midst - perfectly ordinary, black-haired with a brown cloak - even more jarring. And then there was the very familiar creature on her shoulder...
"Hethien! Platy!" Liliac called. "Glad you could make it!"
"I wouldn't miss this for the worlds," the Noble Platypus grinned, scampering over to her. "Are we finally ready to start making ripples?"
"We'd better be," Liliac said grimly. "The die is cast either way. Has Aranel figured out how they blocked me before?"
"No," Hethien reported, joining them, "but she found the range. Beyond the sun's orbit, we can portal."
"Good work, that woman." Liliac glanced at Phoebe, then raised her voice. "All elves will join me now. This is not optional."
That was what finally snapped Phoebe out of her shock. "There are no other elves!" she yelled at the girl she had called a friend. "I'm the only one!"
"We'll have to get that seen to," Liliac murmured as Hethien stepped in to take hold of Phoebe and pull her behind Liliac. "Nice try, though – using your instincts to try and help the others. Misguided, though." She raised her voice. "Tisea, Phoenix Flight, Mercuria, Lindyellwen – Eldar Dire Avengers aren't known for their gentleness. I suggest you come down before your friends get hurt."
The four girls started down, with the others flocking after them – and then there was a motion at the gate, and the Administrator ran in. He stopped, eyes narrowing at the sight of the Vampire Raider, and turned his glare on Liliac. "You. I shouldn't have let you come back."
"Probably not," Liliac agreed. "But that's no longer your concern." She held out a hand, and Hethien handed her a scroll of paper. Liliac unfurled a finely-calligraphed proclamation and held it up.
"Now hear this," she called, loud enough for all the girls – now scattered around the floor of the stadium – to hear her clearly. "For its crimes against elvenkind and violation of Ispace Rule One, the Official Fanfiction University of Discworld is hereby outlawed and dissolved, effective immediately. All assets are to be seized, and all staff and students held pending relocation or trial." A shocked buzz ran through the stadium. "All students will enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in the case of direct evidence of complicity in the maltreatment of elves." She raised her gaze to meet the Administrator's. "Staff will not be granted the same privilege."
"Liliac," said Cazzie, trembling. "Please. Don't do this-"
"This world is now under the control of Ispace," Liliac cut her off, "and any abuse of elves in any form will be met with the harshest of penalties."
On cue, the Eldar Dire Avengers began a steady march towards the gate and the Administrator. He didn't turn his head, but called, "Class Two will join me here, please. That includes you, Cazzie – and the elves among you."
The remaining girls filed in as Liliac concluded. "All these things are enacted by me, Liliac, on this day, by the authority of the Interdimensional Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Elves." She handed the scroll back to Hethien and studied the Administrator, now surrounded by his students.
Hethien began to lead Phoebe, unresisting and in shock, towards the Raider. Phoebe looked back over her shoulder, and her eyes met Penny's anguished gaze.
As the Eldar closed in, the Administrator nodded slowly. "Well played, Liliac," he said. "But... there's just one thing you forgot to take into account."
He reached up, unhurried, and unbuttoned his black coat, letting it fall back like a cape from the white tunic underneath. Liliac's eyes widened in shock.
"You!" she gasped. "I was sure it was just-" Her head snapped round to face the Dire Avengers. "Seize him!" she screamed. "Don't let him-!"
The first fireball left the Administrator's fingertips as Hethien reached the top of the ramp, now physically dragging the limp Phoebe. The sometime Death of Fangirls' attention was locked on Penny as the battle began, and she heard, over the sounds of war, her friend's final promise: "I'll find you!"
There was a flash, brighter than the sun, and when her vision cleared, Class Two was gone.
Disclaimer: All Discworld canon characters and locations are the creations of Sir Terry Pratchett. Warhammer 40K is the property of Games Workshop. The Official Fanfiction University concept is the creation of Miss Cam. Ispace is my own invention, and its staff are based on applications to join. Phoebe is based on an application to OFUDisc by Fawkes Phoenix. All other students are based on applications to OFUDisc. All details of (and mistakes in) plot, narrative and dialogue are mine. Thanks to the Irish Samurai for betaing.
Author's Note: Phoebe, Penny, Liliac and Cazzie will return in The Ispace Wars, coming soon to a website near you. And they won't be alone...
As for OFUDisc... this is almost the end (a world under invasion not being the ideal environment for teaching). Stay tuned for the epilogue.
(And if you've read the original Ispace or Pancakes! - yes, the Administrator is the infamous, overpowered and generally mysterious Huinesoron. Liliac did say she recognised him...)