It is difficult to imagine something coming from nothing, but whole universes are made this way. It’s quantum. Nothing is a need that strives to be satisfied. It’s an empty hole, a vacuum, and nature, as we all know, abhors those. Nothing needs to be filled with, well, with something. Sometimes that something is hard and logical and makes sense—if you take time to think about it. Sometimes, however, it is a bit more…creative.
Open your imagination and focus your eye on a dot that has appeared in the inky blackness of space. It is something extraordinary, a spark of brilliance struggling to fill a previous void. As you approach, you see a small and unlikely sun illuminating a flat world riding on the back of four elephants atop a giant turtle swimming through space. This is the Discworld.
One of the enormous elephants lifts a leg to let the miniature sun go by as it circles the disc, providing what many hoped would be a never-ending cycle of days and nights. Light moves slower here, but it gets there eventually. It’s not in a rush because it’s already been everywhere, from its perspective. That’s quantum, again.
A more rational universe would scoff at such a world, although many of its inhabitants would swear that it, or something much like it, was absolute truth for a few millennia first. But after a suitable time, some wars, and a dark age or two, such an absurd cosmology would be sent off to its metaphorical retirement.
But in this universe, it survives quite well. It has a purpose. It provides a clear distortion of a harsher place that is taken far too seriously by those who live there.* The Discworld welcomes visitors from that other universe and offers them a place to rest and reflect for a while. Some have found it a positive and fulfilling experience.
But today, the small sun rises over the far edge of the Disc and flairs, once, twice, forty times or more, before it falters and grows dim.
The inhabitants of the Disc notice.
Far below, in one of the better sections of the great and memorably fragrant metropolis of Ankh-Morpork,*** a grizzled man, far from young but not quite old, stood outside watching the spectacle with a boy who looked much like him by his side.
“The sun’s gone out, Dad,” the boy said. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Sam,” his father replied. He glanced at the nearest clacks tower. The operators had lit the lanterns inside against the gloom, but the shutters flashed no urgent messages warning of impending disaster. “It’s probably those overstuffed idio…” He caught himself in time. He had been trying not to infect his son with his own chronic cynicism. “Those gentlemen at Unseen University,” he continued. “They must have opened another hole into the Dungeon Dimensions or something. Nothing for you to worry about. It’ll all get sorted in the end. I’ll run down to Pseudopolis Yard and see what I can find out. You stay here with your mother. Help her feed the swamp dragons their breakfasts, okay?”
Sam Vimes, knight, duke, and Commander of the Ank-Morpork City Watch raced through the dark streets, judging his location and speed by the feel of the cobbles beneath his thin-soled boots. His wife, Sybil, kept buying him new ones, to the great benefit of beggars with his shoe size throughout the city, but he preferred these. Even in the dark, he literally knew where he was with boots like these.
He rounded a corner and slipped on the remnants of one of Dibbler’s infamous sausages, no doubt discarded by someone with functioning taste buds or a healthy respect for their digestive system. Vimes would have fallen except for the quick action of a tall, broad shouldered man with red hair who was wearing a shiny breastplate that smelled of metal polish.
“Captain Carrot! What are you doing here?” Vimes said.
“I was coming to get you, sir,” Carrot said. “Lord Vetinari has called a meeting with all the leaders of the city.”
“Why didn’t you just send a clacks?”
“He doesn’t want to cause a panic, sir.”
Vimes glanced at the gray sky. “You mean because the sun has gone out.”
“I expect people have noticed already.”
“It is rather hard to miss, sir, but those were his orders.”
“Okay, let’s see what this is all about.”
They arrived at the Patrician’s Palace a short time later to find a crowd demanding action. None of various constituents of the growing mob outside the walls seemed to have any suggestion as to what specific action this might be. That’s not what crowds are for. Crowds gather to say they’ve noticed they have a problem and want someone else to fix it for them. This one was doing that in the traditional fashion with placards, chants, and slogans, most of which specified that NOW is when they wanted this action to occur. Even for a place like Ankh-Morpork, where dramatic street drama seemed to be able to form spontaneously from even the most minor occurrence, this was quick.
Carrot shouldered his way through the milling citizens, making a path for Vimes to follow. When they got to the gate, the anxious guards let them in immediately.
“Ah, Vimes,” Lord Vetinari said when they arrived at the oblong office. “So glad you could join us. It seems we have a problem.”
“Yeah, the sun’s gone out,” Vimes said. “What caused it?”
“We were just discussing that, but I feel it’s safe to say that we don’t know, isn’t that right, gentlemen?”
There was a delicate cough from the back of the room.
“And, of course ladies,” he amended. Queen Molly of the Beggars’ Guild and Mrs. Palm, head of the ever-popular Guild of Seamstresses, both nodded forgiveness for his initial oversight.
Not all of the guilds were represented in the room, but all of the major ones were. Archancellor Mustrum Ridcully of Unseen University, and his brother, Hughnon, high priest of Blind Io were also there. If this wasn’t neutral ground, the Assassins’ Guild could probably make a killing in more ways than one.
“As I was saying,” Vetinari continued in the calm and intimidating tone for which he was so well known and feared, “I need some answers, and am looking to you ladies and gentlemen to provide them.”
Vimes turned his attention to Mustrum Ridcully. Most of the others did the same.
“Humph,” he said. “I already told you it isn’t because of anything we did. This isn’t magic. We think it’s more like god stuff. That’s not our territory.”
All eyes shifted to his brother.
“It’s not the gods,” the high priest protested. “They’re as confused as we are.”
“I have always assumed this was the case,” Vetinari said. “But if it’s not magic and it’s not the gods, what is going on? What has happened to the sun?”
“We’re not entirely sure,” Hughnon Ridcully said. “But it definitely isn’t anything the gods on Cori Celesti have done. It has nothing to do with us or with Dunmanifestin.”
It is important at meetings like this to establish early on that you are not personally responsible for whatever major or minor disaster prompted the call for the meeting. Both Ridcully brothers knew this and were satisfied that they had fulfilled their obligations to their respective organizations. Shifting the blame to an organizational opponent was a bonus, if it could be done safely, but that was a secondary concern to absolving yourself of any and all culpability.
“But aren’t those just the major gods?” Mrs. Palm said. “Could it be some kind of divine retribution by one of the minor deities? Maybe one of the stuffier sort, if you know what I mean?”
“No. We’d know if it was,” Hughnon said. “We’re quite sure it’s not any of the gods. We think it may have something to do with the Creator.”
“Oh, him,” Mustrum said with a knowing look.
“Indeed,” his brother agreed, nodding slowly.
“The Creator?” Vimes said. His grasp on religion wasn’t all that firm, but he had always assumed that one of the gods would have taken credit, deserved or not, for bringing everything about. “What on the Disc are you two talking about?”
As far as he was concerned, the sun going out was a crime, which meant there must be a criminal. That was clear logic. The wise nods and knowing looks of the two Ridcully brothers were not telling him who that criminal might be, and he had a growing urge to plant his truncheon in both of their smart backsides for being unhelpful to the police in pursuit of their lawful inquiries. It was personal, this time. He had a family and a city to protect.
“Well, you see, there is a belief—” Hughnon began.
“A theory,” Mustrum corrected.
The high priest waved a dismissive hand. “Whatever. There is some…speculation that each new day on the Disc is formed fresh from the mind of the Creator. A new day doesn’t just happen; it’s made, intentionally. If the Creator does not imagine a tomorrow, there will be none.”
“So you’re saying the sun has gone out because this Creator has stopped imagining new days for us?” Vimes said.
The high priest and the archancellor nodded sagely.
“Don’t do that!” Vimes yelled. “Explain what’s going on. How do we reach this Creator? How do we get him to stop…or start again? You know what I mean. I want my tomorrows. I have a son, for the gods’ sake. He deserves his future! It can’t all just stop!”
“Commander Vimes is quite right,” Vetinari said. “The Century of the Anchovy has barely begun. I have plans for this city that will bring us a new and prosperous era. Those plans have been progressing acceptably over the past several years. They must continue. The post office and clacks system are working again, our banking system is sound, soon, we will have a new railway and drainage system, but there is work still to be done. You gentlemen are the wise…the most knowledgeable people in the greatest city on the Disc. Surely you can think of something we can do to ensure our future.”
The two brothers shared a look that clearly stated that each hoped the other would have an idea. Neither wish was fulfilled.
A nervous silence filled the room.
“So, it’s over then,” Vetinari said. “Is this what you’re not saying?”
“Well, we’re not exactly sure,” Hughnon said. “I mean, we’re still here, right?”
“That could be an effect of residual belief,” Mustrum told him. “It can sustain us for a while if there’s enough of it. We can’t know how long it will last.”
Vimes sagged where he stood. This couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t right. There had to be some way to appeal, some way to make the future happen. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. He needed the world to go on. He needed…justice.
An old scar on his armed tingled. It hadn’t bothered him in some time, but, on occasion, when things seemed especially dark….
“This is wrong,” he whispered to himself. “The darkness can always be dispelled. There must be a way.”
She stepped outside into what should have been a bright morning, if the sun had been doing its job properly. It wasn’t. A gray orb hung motionless in the sky above her. The air was already beginning to feel chill….
No, that was something else.
“It ain’t my time yet,” she said. “I’d know if it were.”
Witches knew when they would die. This foreknowledge wasn’t the perk it might first seem, but it did avoid unnecessary expense stockpiling firewood, pickles, and such that they’d have no need for.
THINGS HAVE CHANGED, Death said.
“I see that. Something strange is going on, for sure. The entire world is hurting. I can’t tell what’s causing it.”
THE DISCWORLD HAS…STOPPED.
JUST STOPPED. THERE WILL BE NO TOMORROW.
“Don’t be daft. There’s always a tomorrow for someone. Everything on the Disc can’t die on the same day.”
YOU ARE WRONG THERE, I’M AFRAID. ENTIRE WORLDS DIE ALL AT ONCE OFTEN. TRUST ME. I KNOW ABOUT THIS.
“You would,” she admitted. Death was the leading expert on death. It was part of the job description. It went with the scythe, the long black robe, and the perpetual joyless grin. “So everyone on the Disc is dying, then?”
NO, NOT EXACTLY. IN FACT, THEY CANNOT DIE. THEY DON’T HAVE TIME. THEIR FUTURES HAVE BEEN…CANCELED.
“Who canceled them? Is it those…things that wanted to kill the Hogfather and stop time? I heard about that. Not much of that kidney goes on that I don’t hear about, eventually.”
THE AUDITORS. NO, THEIR FUTURE IS AT AN END TOO.
“So what is it? You’re not making sense.”
THE CREATOR HAS STOPPED CREATING.
Granny Weatherwax wasn’t arrogant, well, maybe she was, sometimes, but she appreciated that there might be things that mattered that she didn’t know about. Not many, but a few. She knew quite a big about creation, though. Procreation, anyway. She’d borrowed birds, raised bees, assisted in new births, and sat with the dying to ease them on their way. It was all part of being a witch. That kind of thing wasn’t what Death meant, however. She knew that much, and whatever it was, it was outside her experience, which meant it must be outside everything. She stood silent for a few moments trying to fit pieces of many different puzzles into a single bigger picture.
“So, this Creator isn’t someone on Discworld, physically, I mean.”
THAT IS CORRECT.
“But he makes stuff happen here.”
HE MADE EVERYTHING HAPPEN HERE. HE SPENT HIS LIFE MAKING IT HAPPEN. EVERY DAY THAT WE’VE LIVED, EVERY PERSON WHOM WE’VE KNOWN, EVERY SORROW, EVERY LOVE, EVERY CHALLENGE, SUCCESS, AND FAILURE…. HE MADE IT ALL HAPPEN. THIS WAS HIS LIFE’S WORK.
Granny felt the chilling breeze, heard the leaves of the trees rustle. She extended her awareness to the complex web of life around her. She felt the purposeful pursuit of the bees, the curiosity of squirrels, the life force of everything that walked or crawled or flew for miles around. She was uncommonly impressed.
“He must have spent a great deal of time on it.”
HE DID. HE SACRIFICED MUCH OF HIS LIFE TO US.
“He did good work.”
MANY WOULD AGREE WITH YOU.
“But he’s not doing it anymore.”
She considered some more. “Well, it can’t be because of something we’ve done, because we wouldn’t have done it otherwise, I suppose.”
YOUR LOGIC IS FLAWLESS.
“So, he’s dead then, ain’t he?”
YES, HE’S DEAD.
“I don’t suppose there’s anything you could do about that.”
Death shook his skull. I TOO AM A CONSTRUCT OF THE CREATOR.
“I suspected as much. Still, I thought I’d ask. You never know. We’ll just have to carry on without him then, I suppose.” Granny’s voice carried a determined tone, as it most often did. She never backed down from challenges. She’d always met them head on before, and she saw no reason this time should be any different.
I FEAR YOU DO NOT YET GRASP THE FULL IMPACT OF THIS SITUATION. THERE WILL BE NO TOMORROW. THERE IS NO FUTURE TO CARRY ON TO. IT IS OVER. EVERYTHING IS OVER. THIS IS…THE END.
Granny took a deep breath of forest air. It still felt alive and so did she, and as long as she had breath within her, she could not simply surrender. That had never been her way.
“It ain’t over until I says it’s over,” she said defiantly.
I DON’T SEE THAT YOU HAVE A CHOICE.
“That just shows what you know, and it ain’t everything, despite what you may think, let me tell you. There’s always a choice. That’s what being a witch is all about. That’s what being human is all about. We make choices. All the time, every day, every situation offers choices, and we make them. Sometimes they ain’t so good, but we still make them. Well, I’m making one now, and I’m not going to roll over and allow my world to fade away.”
ONLY THE CREATOR CAN GIVE US A FUTURE.
“That may be. I’m not saying it is, mind you. But it might be. Fact is, I don’t know how to make a future. Not for a whole world. But I’ll be damned to every hell any bloody-minded god ever made if I can’t keep the world we have from dying. If I can keep today alive, then maybe, someday—or whatever—someone will find a way.”
She closed he eyes, extended her senses again, and realized she had been wrong before. The anguish she felt earlier wasn’t touching the lives of those around her. Those lives, or rather the thought of them ending, was causing anguish to someone outside. A great many people outside, she suspected. She didn’t know where that outside was, or even what it was, but it didn’t matter. It was flowing into the Discworld. Riding with it was a power that could make gods, the power of belief, or something much like it. It was the power of suspended disbelief, but it was close enough. This too could make the unreal real, or at least real enough, for a time.
Granny closed her eyes again and provided a focal point, an outlet for raging emotions that desperately needed one. All of the profound grief, the disappointment, the tears over the death of an entire world and its Creator surged into her and sent her to her knees. The Discworld may have been the creation of one man’s imagination, but the passion for it that flowed into her was real. And it came from millions. She had never felt such power. She couldn’t hold it all, and what she could, she could not hold long. It was too much. It would overwhelm her in seconds.
Her iron composure rusted. Tears steamed from her face. The feelings were far too strong to contain, even for her. Still on her knees, she raised her head and lifted her arms to the dying sun. “This I choose to do,” she croaked through a throat choked with grief. “The light of Discworld shall not die!”
Power surged through her open palms and struck the sun. It sputtered and ignited. Daylight happened.
THIS WILL NOT CREATE A FUTURE, YOU KNOW. THE SUN WILL NOT MOVE.
Granny dragged herself to her feet and wiped the tears from her face.
“I know. I’m just trying to keep the light on, as it were. There may be no tomorrow, but today and all our yesterdays will be safe. That’ll have to do, for now.”
IT MAY BE ENOUGH. IT IS NOT LIFE BUT IT IS ALSO NOT DEATH. THERE IS NO DEATH HERE NOW.
“So I guess you’re out of a job.”
FOR NOW, BUT WHO KNOWS WHAT THE FUTURE MIGHT BRING?
Granny nodded. “Since you’re not likely to be busy for a while, whey not come inside and have a cup of tea? I have some nice Klatchian stuff that Nanny Ogg brought over.”
ARE THERE BISCUITS?
“Yeah, some fancy store bought ones that I got from Mrs. Ivy down Slice way for curing their sick cow.
YES. THAT WAS A NEAR THING, AS I RECALL.
Granny led Death back to her cottage to share some tea. There they stayed, reminiscing about the past, and talking about what might have been.
* This is rather in the same way a curious child can use a magnifying glass to examine an ant colony.**
** The ants really hate this.
***An area with more people than rats and there was less chance of your neighbors disposing of their trash by tossing it over your garden wall in the middle of the night.
Written by D.L. Morrese with respect and admiration for Sir Terry Pratchett, one of the greatest storytellers of all time, who died on March 12, 2015.
A PDF Download of this story is available here: https://dlmorrese.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/the-final-sunrise-of-discworld.pdf
– A Tribute to Terry Pratchett (Mar. 2015) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/a-tribute-to-terry-pratchett/
– Hogfather for the Holidays (Dec. 2014) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/hogfather-for-the-holidays/
– My Problem with Terry Pratchett (Jul. 2014) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/my-problem-with-terry-pratchett/
– A Discworld Update (Feb. 2013) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/a-discworld-update-february-2013/
– Will the Discworld End? Should It? (Nov. 2011) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/will-the-discworld-end-should-it/
– Discworld (May 2011) – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/discworld/
How could someone I’ve never met be this important to me? If you’ve never read his books, you couldn’t possibly understand. If you have, no explanation is necessary.
Sir Terry wasn’t just an author of whimsical fantasy stories. He was an insightful philosopher, an educator, a social commentator, a cultural examiner, and, at times, even a therapist. He was sometimes cynically critical while, at the same time, being inspirationally optimistic. He looked at our round world and reflected it back to us, but magnified (and humorously distorted) on a disc-shaped world so we could see some of the most important bits a little clearer. Above all, he was a great storyteller. He created an unbelievable world that felt real, which he populated with impossible and yet completely recognizable characters.
I’ve spent many hours on the Disc. I know some of its history. I’ve visited several of its countries. I’ve walked the streets of Ankh-Morpork, shared a smoke with Commander Vimes, and even tasted a sausage in a bun offered by CMOT Dibbler. I think I’ve learned a lot while touring Discworld. His stories tell us much about life and what it means to be human—”the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” If you’ve been there, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should go.
I won’t go on about Sir Terry or his books. I won’t list any of his quotable and insightful little aphorisms. I will tell you that right now I have a tear rolling down my face. I feel like I’ve lost a close friend, a favorite teacher, a beloved uncle, someone who was always there for me when I needed him. And yet we never met.
The next new Terry Pratchett story will be the last. The Discworld is ending. This saddens me more than I can say. But his books will endure. They are sitting on my shelves now, waiting to be revisited. I look forward to returning to the Disc. Perhaps I’ll notice something I missed the first few times I was there or recall something I had forgotten. There will be no new stories of Discworld, but the old ones are timeless.
RIP Terry Pratchett – 1948-2015