Rodney's radio was making noise next to his head. He ignored it. He was sleeping. Sleep was a good thing, it was a wonderful thing. It was something he had had even less of than usual, due to another mission of the 'arrive, get captured, try not to die, get rescued in the nick of time' variety. Nothing was going to rouse him. Not even the worst issue could get him out of bed. He would stay here until his leg atrophied, then have people bring him pudding cups in bed.
“Rodney, get up.” It was Sheppard on the radio now.
Refusing to open his eyes, Rodney fumbled for his headset and put it on. “No.”
“No, and your whining won't help. I refuse to get up unless something is actively trying to kill me.”
"We have a +1 bag of holding down here trying to eat people."
Rodney blinked. “A what?”
“I'm not telling you anything else until you get down here. Sheppard out.” Rodney could hear him smirking. Dammit, of course John knew that would get him there.
Roughly fifteen minutes later, Rodney was down in the gateroom, watching with fascination as the piece of Ancient tech gone awry stood nonchalantly in the middle of the floor. It was a box. It had legs. It had lots of legs. They were the first thing you noticed, after the vague air of menace that hung over the thing.1 It looked like someone had taken a sea chest and then shoved a couple hundred Keebler elves head-first through the bottom.
“It must use some sort of infrared sensors,” Rodney said, watching as the box slowly turned around. “Or short-range radar. It doesn't have any buttons or controls visible, so it must either have an AI running the software, or there's some sort of remote control. Since no one came through with it, probably an AI.”
“We nearly lost Ford when it came through the gate.” John was leaning on the rail beside him. “He went up to it and poked it with his P90. It got the gun, and Ford had to run for it to avoid becoming the main course. He said the weirdest thing about it wasn't that he was nearly eaten by a piece of luggage, but that the luggage had a big red tongue.”
“It has a tongue?” Rodney looked at the box more closely. It turned again, and seemed to look back at him. Without eyes. Which wasn't possible. Still, it was a hard feeling to shake.2 “Really?”
“Yep. Here, I'll let you see it.” John reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the fruits that looked like cherries, but weren't, then threw it at the box. It whirled and snapped its lid at the flying fruit, which disappeared inside its maw – which did indeed contain a large, red, fleshy tongue.
Rodney stared. “That's disturbing on several levels.”
“Oh, definitely. At this point, it's eaten Ford's P90, roughly a bushel of rotten not-cherries, a couple dozen P90 rounds, and a cherry bomb. None of which has appeared again -”
“Hence the '+1 bag of holding business,' yes, I get it,” Rodney interrupted. Then - “Someone really fed it a cherry bomb? They put an explosive device inside the most highly functioning piece of what is presumably Ancient technology?”
John at least had the decency to look ashamed. “After the bullets just bounced off, we figured -”
“That it would be fun to try something bigger, louder, and more dramatic. I supposed I should be glad that you didn't try an actual grenade or something.3” He shook his head. “I need to get closer. I have to get a better view, and I should try scanning it for various radio frequencies...” Rodney started off around the railing, heading for the box, before John grabbed his shoulder.
“We tried scanning it, but nothing appears. Atlantis can't see it. She doesn't even know it exists.4”
“Really?” Rodney frowned. “That shouldn't be possi-” He was cut off by the klaxon, warning of an unscheduled offworld activation. The gate was powering up.
“Move, Rodney,” John said, shoving Rodney behind the nearest piece of equipment before grabbing his gun, finding a strategic vantage, and leaving Rodney sprawled on the floor. From his horizontal position,Rodney heard the gate finish powering up, he heard someone walk through – and then the klaxon stopped, shutting down almost apologetically.
“John,” he whispered, after a moment. “John, what came through?”
John, who was peering over a control board, replied, “It's just one guy, in a ratty robe. And a hat. He misspelled 'wizard'...”
“Excuse me?” came a voice by the gate. “I'm just here for my Luggage.”
Rodney scrambled to his feet. There was indeed a scruffy man in a robe, with a hat that had 'Wizzard' written on it, standing in front of the gate. The box had settled down next to him, and for all the world looked like an antique chest. “So that thing is yours?”
“Um, yes? Also, I would appreciate it if nobody shot at me, please.” The man looked about nervously. “Because all I really want to do is leave.”
John slowly stood up. “I think we can manage the not-shooting part if you drop all your weapons.”
“I don't have any weapons,” the man said, carefully bringing his hands away from his sides. “Weapons imply that I intend to hang around for the fighting bit.5”
“Is there going to be a fighting bit?” John asked carefully, still in defender mode.
“Not if I can help it,” the man said emphatically.
John relaxed. “All right. Your name isn't Wizzard, is it?”
“No. It's Rincewind.” The man fidgeted nervously. “Um... I think I may be stuck here for the next day or so. Could I maybe possibly stay here?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Rodney said, moving towards the gate. “Just let me have a look at your luggage...”
Rodney had called Radek, and they had made it their mission to learn as much about this unknown piece of technology as possible in the next twenty-four hours as possible. They had faced immediate opposition from several quarters, however. The lifts had refused to open for the Luggage, and Rincewind had declared that no, he was perfectly fine sitting here by the gate, thank you. They had only managed to get the Luggage and Rincewind to the labs by shoving the former up the stairs, and by offering the latter a plate of mashed not-quite-potatoes. Then they had been stymied by Atlantis's refusal to acknowledge that they had two visitors. There was no bug in the code, and the scanners were picking up everything else. Rodney had finally called John and asked him to figure out why Atlantis was being like this, which led to an interesting exchange:
“She's sulking?” Rodney asked, boggled.
“She doesn't like them,” John replied, sounding vaguely amused. “She... It almost feels like she thinks they broke the rules of a game, and now she's going to take her ball and go home.”
“What rules did they break? Why would she sulk?” Rodney sounded utterly flabbergasted, and he didn't care.
“Maybe she doesn't agree with their interpretation of phyics?” John suggested.
“Their own interpretation of physics? What does that even mean?” Rodney asked, before deciding that ignoring John would be the far more productive option. Then Radek realized that equipment that hadn't at one point or another directly interfaced with Atlantis with still recognize their visitors' existence, and they were off and running.
Two hours later, they didn't know much more. “So the box is pear-wood, and Rincewind has had a temporally interesting life6,” Radek said. “This does not tell us how, when Rincewind opens the box, it has his possessions in it, yet when it opens itself it has a tongue. This does not tell us where the objects it consumes go. Also, this does not tell us how it has legs that appear humanoid.”
“I know, I know,” Rodney said, irritated. “No test has shown us anything about this. It isn't giving off any sort of emissions that I can see. It doesn't have any sort of radioactive signature beyond that of old wood, though we don't know how old because it won't let us carbon-date it. I can't tell where its brain is, or if it even has one. It isn't running on electricity, or any other sort of motive force. It should be a statue, not something that ate my jello.7”
“And the address from which they came does not even exist, nor was any power used when the wormhole opened!” Radek exclaimed. “This is not even possible!”
“Guys, you're thinking about this the wrong way.” John wandered over from the corner, where he had been chatting with Rincewind. “Maybe here, it is impossible.”
Rodney blinked. “What?”
John leaned lazily against the wall. “I've been talking to our guest over there. From what he's been describing, the laws of physics where he's from have only a passing acquaintance with ours. That word on his hat really is 'wizard'. He's just bad at spelling.”
“Really?” Rodney frowned. “You're saying that the answer is magic.”
“But then the immersion into our reality would completely destroy him, and his little box, too.” Rodney started pacing.
Radek was a step ahead, however. “What if there is some sort of bubble effect -”
“So that they held together -”
“A pocket universe -”
“With unknown -”
And they were off and running again. John, vaguely bemused, went back to Rincewind and began asking him more questions about this city called Ankh-Morpork.
It was twenty hours later, and only half an hour before Rincewind's ride was due to show up. John wandered into the labs, to find Rodney passed out on a notebook full of equations that looked like he might miss them should he obliterate them with his drool, and Radek asleep in a chair in the corner. What caught his eyes, however, were the two white boards filled with formulas and equations. They seemed to get simpler and more elegant as they went along, until they reached an equals sign, with nothing on the other side. This point in the equation was circled numerous times. John shook his head, and rescued the notebook from under Rodney's cheek.
Rodney jumped and sat up blearily. “What day is it, and where is the coffee?”
John shook his head. “It's roughly half an hour until your experiment returns from whence he came. I thought you might want to see him off.”
“Whence? Really?” Rodney stretched as Radek began to stir in his corner. “Yes, I want to see if I can get a reading through the wormhole...” He got up and stumbled towards the coffeemaker. John shrugged and quietly left for the wormhole.
Rodney and and Radek made it to the gateroom with minutes to spare, burdened with all the recording equipment in Atlantis that had not been interfaced with her. Elizabeth was there, as were John, Teyla, Ronon, and roughly half of the rest of Atlantis. Rincewind was standing nervously in front of the gate, with his Luggage standing beside him. Rodney looked fondly upon the Luggage8. He had developed some affection for it in the last hour or so of the marathon run of coffee and equations that last night had become. It was the catalyst that the new theory had formed around. Some time around three am last night, he and Radek had created a unified theory that united everything – gravity, the strong and weak forces, light, dark matter – everything. And the equations were so simple! He was going to frame those white boards. He'd copied down every equation on them and saved them to fifteen different drives, just to make sure he wouldn't lose them to some unforeseen disaster. Rodney could feel his Nobel prize coming already. He knew who he would mention in his speech, already, too...
That's when the gate powered up, startling Rodney from his award-induced reverie. Rodney and Radek pointed their various pieces of equipment at the wormhole as the view through became clear. On the other side stood a gaggle of men, who looked like Rincewind, only more so. They were better dressed (presumably9), better fed (definitely10), and more important (obviously11). Off to the side, another man stood, also dressed in the robes and hat, who reminded Rodney irresistibly of a grad student. He was running a computer that looked like ENIAC,
if ENIAC had been designed by Gary Gygax for a game of D&D. Also, there was an orangutan sitting on the floor in front of the wormhole.
The largest of the main gaggle (what did you call a grouping of wizards, anyway?12) stepped forward, and said in a voice that could have rattled windows, “Ah, Rincewind! Sorry about the wait. Stibbons here needed to recalibrate Hex's something-or-other and give the ants some more sugar.”
“It's fine, Archchancellor,” Rincewind said weakly. “I got my Luggage back, and no one tried to kill me this time.”
The grad student looked up from the not-ENIAC. “Yes, sorry about that. I don't know what went wrong last time. I believe someone had disabled Hex's FTB.”
Rodney glanced at the not-ENIAC, which he assumed to be the Hex they were talking about, and found his eyes being irresistibly drawn to the stuffed bear attached to it. FTB... Fluffy Teddy Bear? No, physics couldn't be that off.
“No worries,” Rincewind replied. “The scary pale people didn't kill me, and these people actually seemed quite friendly. May I come through, now?”
The Archchancellor peered out at them. “Rincewind, you have quite a crowd there to send you off. Had fun then?”
Rincewind glanced around at the population of Atlantis, then said matter-of-factly, “No, Archchancellor, I think they're here to make sure my Luggage leaves with me.”
The Archchancellor laughed, a great, booming laugh. “Smart folk, then. Now, Rincewind -”
The grad student, Stibbons, interrupted. “Archchancellor, I think it would be wise to continue your discussion with Rincewind on this side of the portal. I don't know how long Hex can keep it running, even with the thaumic reactor helping.”
“Right, right, very well. Come on, then, man, come here.” The Archchancellor waved Rincewind through.
Rincewind quickly stepped through the wormhole, and the Luggage followed without hesitation. All of those watching on the Atlantis side breathed a sigh of relief as it passed through to the other side. Few had not heard of the Luggage's volatile personality. Rodney noticed, however, that the gaggle of wizards on the other side huddled further together. Smart men, he thought.
“Well, thank you then, chaps,” the Archchancellor boomed. “Rincewind is quite useful over here. He can peel a mean banana.”
“Ook.” The orangutan looked pleased with itself.
“You're very welcome,” Elizabeth said. “He actually helped us with a few scientific problems while he was here.”
The wizards in the back started muttering then. Rodney heard 'science,' 'Newton,' and 'that balderdash,' mentioned. He decided it wasn't worth pondering.
Stibbons looked up from his controls again. “Portal closing in five seconds.”
“Goodbye, then,” Rincewind said awkwardly.
“'Bye,” John replied casually, as the rest of Atlantis stood mute. Then the wormhole shut down.
John found him later, in his rooms. Rodney was at his computer, triple checking his equations and letting the idea of a truly unified theory wash over him. John came in, the doors not even hesitating in admitting him, and sat on Rodney's bed. “So.”
“So.” Rodney didn't look up from his computer.
“So what?” Rodney finally turned and looked at John. He seemed restless, as if he had something on his mind that he couldn't quite spit out.
John shifted on the mattress for a moment, then said in a rush, “I sent something back with him.”
“You what?” Rodney blinked.
“I sent a few books back with him. They were something I got from the Daedalus a while back, something that I thought he should have.” John looked uneasy.
“What books were they?” Rodney found John's uneasiness slightly disturbing. What had he found?
“Well, you know the theory of there being infinite universes?”John was looking anywhere but at Rodney.
“Yes, I am quite familiar with it, especially after today,” Rodney said carefully.
“And you know how, in a multiverse that contains infinite universes, everything must happen?” John was fidgeting even more now.
“Yes...” Rodney was beginning to realize what John had done. Books, he'd sent back book,...
“His universe is a book series here, called the Discworld series,” John said, in a rush. “I sent back copies of the novels he's in, novels about his life. I figured he should know that others knew what he'd been through.”
“Potatoes, Rincewind? Really? I thought better of you than that, man.” The Archchancellor looked down at Rincewind, who was sitting in his own private world of embarrassment. “But on the other hand, you really do seem quite capable. Stibbons and I were just talking about how we really have need of a good man to send to Ephebe to sort out the whole Sphynx mess, and we think that, considering these new developments, you are just the chap.”
Rincewind sighed. He knew how this went. He got volunteered to do something dangerous, and there was never a way to get out of it. At this point, he just accepted it. It was just his luck.13 “Yes, Archchancellor.”
“Oh, and by the way, make sure that blasted Luggage comes with you this time.”
It says quite a bit about the air of menace that Rodney, in full scientist mode, noticed it before the legs.
Rodney was unable to shake this feeling precisely because the box was looking at him, of course.
At this point John discreetly waved the marine who had gotten the grenades back to the hallway.
It was less that Atlantis didn't know the Luggage existed, and more that she was ignoring something that broke almost all the laws of physics, ever. Essentially, she was sulking.
This is quite true. Weapons also decrease your speed, which does not help when your entire strategy rests on running as fast as you can away from the fight.
Radek had no idea how much of an understatement that truly was.
Rodney would not have been consoled in the least to know that the Luggage had found it rather unpalatable.
This was something that all of one other person in the multiverse had ever done.
Their robes didn't look as though they were second-hand from a scarecrow, for one thing.
These wizards were representative of the habit that wizards have, of becoming wider and wider as they grow older, due to too many of the rich feasts their University gives. The oldest, best wizards tend to resemble large, semi-mobile cones in nice robes.
Their hats were better.
In the old days, it would have been a 'war'. However, since the newest Archchancellor had arrived, they had largely settled down, and now the collective term was a 'gorge'.
In fact, yes, it was his luck.