There are millions of dimensions throughout time, all different, all so very much alike. Many have evolved because just a single choice was made different, some never even came to that point of choosing. Take for instance this dimension. The stars shine in the endless infinity of space, cold and beautiful. Millions of life forms of various intelligence have developed here, one of them robotic. Their home is a planet made of metal called Cybertron, drifting through space on a roughly ecliptic course. The robots have developed a society of their own, have fought their own wars and had their tragedies and joys in life.
Now take another dimension. The stars shine in the endless infinity of space, cold and beautiful. And out of the infinity comes a turtle, swimming slowly through the darkness, its flippers frosted with hydrogen, its back puckered by meteorites, its giant eyes staring at nothing specific. On its back it carries four giant elephants on whose shoulders rests the weight of a continent. A disc. Waterfalls cascade over the rim into the nothingness.
The name of this strange world is Discworld.
And it shouldn't exist, but it does.
Thus the scientific fact that there is no such thing as a flat world is disproved.
It happened all of a sudden and later on no one could recall how everything had played together to produce the necessary circumstances to open the dimensional gateway. It's a common belief that dimensions are spheres, round globes of perfection, and that they come very close to each other from time to time. It's also a common misconception. Dimensions are shapeless blobs, stretching, expanding, contracting. They never stay the same size and it's hard to determine what they include and what they exclude. Here and there it is believed that they touch, though that is also wrong. They flow into each other and mix. For that brief period, a period that can last from seconds to millennia -- it depends on your definition of 'brief' -- a dimensional gateway opens. Few races have the technology and knowledge to register such a gateway; even fewer have the necessary understanding of what they are facing. The robot race on Cybertron had neither the knowledge, nor the understanding of what happened within seconds, and neither had the Discworld, though their understanding of many things was by far greater than that of the Cybertronians. Take magic as an example.... or hot dogs, though maybe hot
dogs isn't the best of examples. Especially those sold by certain people in Ankh-Morpok who go by the name of Dibbler.
And now those two dimensions meet.
For the first time.
* * *
It was a call.
Well, more of a request, really.
And he had to follow it.
Not because he was bound by an oath or his honor, but because of the Duty. And because he was missing some part of him, which he had been unable to find. Now someone had found this small part and had called him to relay this information.
The tall, black-clad figure mounted a purely white horse. The horse started to trot along a path of black gravel and then accelerated. It jumped, leaving two flaming hoofprints behind which faded soon.
He had never left his own world before.
He had never taken this route.
Well, there was always a first time.
And he disappeared.
* * *
Ralyk gasped in surprise as alien energies raced along the doorway system, which was like a nervous system for the alien creature. It felt the hot burn of the energy as it traveled through several doorways, finally homing in on one specific spot. Something was transported by the energies and it was exactly who it had expected. Pleased with the fact that its call had been answered, it settled back and watched.
* * *
Sparks lay on the large desk in Megatron's office, blissfully alone and napping. Megatron was currently somewhere about on Cybertron and the black cat had taken this chance to a) get some well-needed rest and b) get some really well-needed rest. The last days had been a constant strain, with Megatron's temper always close to the boiling point and threatening to erupt in an apocalyptic explosion. Things had been hectic, to put it mildly. The Tji had struck several outposts, destroying the buildings and capturing the robots inside. The Cybertronian alliance had struck back, scoring some small victories, but generally not gaining anything. Megatron was furious about the results and everyone was avoiding being in the rough vicinity of the Decepticon leader if he or she didn't really have to. Some had, though, and the whole Council was glad that Megatron had finally taken a leave of absence to do whatever it was he would do. Sparks was glad as well. As a kind of vent for his emotional overload, she received the first blows. She didn't think Megatron did it on purpose -- though he might -- and she encouraged him. The more steam he vented off inside the confines of his office -- where not only the computer screen regularly lost its short life but the wall also regularly had some serious redecorations -- the calmer he was when facing anyone else.
Sparks sighed softly into her furry tail, her circuits in 'rest' mode. She and Megatron had a shared history of about five years and he had come to accept her by now, though he regularly kicked her out of the office. It was almost traditional. He wouldn't be Megatron if he didn't do it. Her pet side was closely bonded to her 'owner' and she despised it, but her personality side had come to like him as well. The cat gave a groan.
Like him! Hah! Like a sore relay!
Everyone even suggesting she was fond of the Decepticon leader would have soon found a pair of claws embedded in his skin. But there was no denying to herself that she did. She would protect him, and already had, she would defend him and had done so before.
The door opened.
It was a soft swishing noise, followed by the sound of tiny feet on a steel floor. Sparks' ears twitched, turning like tiny radar dishes, but her optics stayed dark. Something clambered up the chair, then jumped onto the desk.
"Go away," she muttered.
"I said go away!"
It didn't. It stayed. She could feel it and Sparks gave a small groan. She activated her video and the emerald green optics came to life. What she saw was a tiny figure in a black robe. A white, pointed snout poked out from under the robe and tiny skeletal fingers held what she had identified as a scythe before.
"What do you want?" she asked. "I thought you were sight seeing."
She raised one furry eyebrow. "Ah."
The figure shrugged.
"Listen, if they find out you are nipping all the cheese sticks, you'll be dead!"
Sparks shook her head. "Forget I said that."
"That would be the doorway chamber. And before you ask, it's off limits, so don't get any ideas!"
The figure gave her a pleading look. SQUEAK?
Sparks stared at the cowled head. "N.O. No way. No chance. Now go away."
SQUEAK, the robed figure said with a crestfallen voice.
Sparks glowered at it as it slunk away. It looked utterly miserable. Why me?!
It had started three days ago, right after the last crisis had been solved. Sparks had been sitting on Megatron's desk, reading through some files on the computer when she had first noticed the tiny figure. She had stared at it, pondered what it might be, then, as it had disappeared, followed it. Strangely enough, no one had taken any notice of the tiny thing as it had scuttled along corridors, poked its white and bony nose into rooms and labs, and had generally behaved like someone on a sight seeing tour. She had caught up with it in a deserted lab and finally cornered it -- coming face to skull with a skeletal rat in a black robe with a tiny scythe.
Sparks was a no-nonsense cat and she hardly believed in anything like ghosts if there wasn't some good theory behind it. She had her experience with strange stuff, but everything had been based on some scientific fact or other. A skeletal rat was ..... well, let's say she couldn't find an explanation for it. A talking, skeletal rat was worse, getting even worse by the fact that it only said 'SQUEAK' and she knew what it had said in words.
Sparks had met the Death of Rats.
The Rat's explanation as to what it was and where it had come from was fantastic, and that no one but Sparks could see it had given way to her decision to undergo a complete check-up. First Aid had found nothing wrong with all her circuits, including her core unit, and had announced her to be one very healthy cat.
And she had still seen the Death of Rats.
The skeletal rat had explained to her that it was on a vacation, taking some time off from its Duty and having a 'fun time'. Sparks had no idea what 'fun time' meant in terms of a dead rat, but she had blissfully ignored it -- except that from time to time it came back to her.
SQUEAK, the Death of Rats now muttered and kicked at some non-existent object.
"Oh, all right!" she exclaimed. "But only a short visit, okay?"
The Death of Rats seemed to smile like a child and bounced excitedly. SQUEAK!
Sparks sighed deeply, unfolded herself and jumped off the desk. "Why me?" she muttered.
The door opened and the two unlike beings left Megatron's office.
* * *
There was no displacement of air, no fire of multi-colored sparks, not even a little sizzle.
He was simply there.
Death looked around and for maybe the first time in his existence he was mildly surprised. He had not expected to be greeted by this sight, but he accepted it with the usual calmness.
So he came here? Interesting.
The white horse fell into an easy trot as Death started to search for traces of his missing part. No one saw him. No one heard the hooves on the metal surface. He just didn't exist in their minds. The mind always found a way to wipe out a skeleton sitting on a horse one way or the other. Even a robotic one.....
* * *
Sparks sat in the large, dark room and wondered why she had done this. Okay, the rat had asked -- very politely indeed -- and she had found it incredibly hard to say 'no'. And she had been interested in it as well.
On the large screen not far away from them a car chase through San Francisco happened and Sparks actually found it exciting, smiling at some of the jokes. Something went up in flames and the good guy's car sped down the hills. Well, she guessed he was the good guy because, well... whatever. Beside her, on the back of a movie theater chair, sat the Death of Rats, an enormous bucket of popcorn balanced beside it, chewing on the puffed corn. It was enjoying itself immensely.
None of the humans or robots here saw it.
None had seen it get popcorn and climb onto the back of the seat.
They saw Sparks all right, but the rat .... she sighed. She supposed she had to get her circuits checked once more.
SNH. SNH. SNH.
Sparks sighed deeply. The Rat was really enjoying itself. Popcorn disappeared in the cowl and she wondered how a skeleton could eat .... and whether or not it would gain weight.
The movie ended another hour and a bottle of soda later and the Death of Rats was still grinning. Well, he was always grinning, but somehow he seemed to grin more now.
"Yeah, I guess it was." She walked down the corridor.
"I said 'no'. I'm not your tour guide!"
The Rat gave her a pleading look again.
"Why can't you find someone else?!"
"Hmpf, that might be a problem." So she truly was the only one who could see the Rat.
Sparks stopped in front of the elevator doors. Suddenly a tall, silver-colored robot strode down the corridor as if he owned it. His red eyes glowed brightly with anger and he stopped abruptly as he came up against the still closed elevator doors. Sparks rolled her eyes. The tall robot looked down on them.
"What?!" Megatron demanded.
"Nothing," Sparks replied. "I guess something went wrong, right?"
Megatron hissed something and before he could answer, one of the elevators arrived. He punched the button viciously and Sparks gave a sigh as he left.
"Sheesh, it must have gone totally wrong. I guess I better prepare myself for a rough next week. He was supposed to relax!"
"Hm, yeah, I know. Listen, you go and entertain yourself, I have a job to do."
Sparks sighed and trotted off toward the stairway, bounding several levels up to where the office was. This would be one of those days again.
* * *
And it proved to be an even worse day. Sparks had managed to even out Megatron's temper by letting him play chase around the office, adding a new hole to the collection he already had in the wall, and then had watched him go off to a Council meeting. She was just about to nod off, finally rid of both the skeleton rat and her 'owner' when she felt a presence.
Warm air was blown into her fur.
Sparks opened one eye.
Then she opened the other.
It was a horse. Sparks looked at it, tilting her head, her mind clicking into gear. There was a white horse in Megatron's office. It was saddled, looked very real and was definitely not a robot. And it was trying to eat her tail in a friendly sort of way. Sparks' eyes traveled and she looked at the tall figure standing in the middle of the office just left off the horse. However he had come in here, he had not used the office door – and neither had the horse for that matter! And he didn't look like someone used to doors either. Besides being tall he was also rather thin... pale... and he wore a black robe.
Sparks closed her eyes. "Not another one!" she groaned.
The stranger looked at her and she thought she saw tiny blue pinpoints flash up in the bottomless depths of his black eye sockets. He looked strangely intrigued by her, though he was hardly able to have a facial expression at all. His expression was forever frozen in a grin.
The black cat sat up, stretched and then looked at the stranger. "Okay, pal, what kind of death are you?" Sparks asked.
The skeleton gave her another look. "YOU CAN SEE ME."
It was a deep voice, a rumble, a clash of thunder, a voice out of a grave. Sparks' ears flicked once. And it had arrived in her head without bothering to pass through her ears.
Sparks rolled her optics. "Yes. Yes, I can see you and I'm not amused about it. I wish you guys would stalk around here invisibly and leave me my peace and quiet. I need my cat naps to put up with the old Wossname, okay?"
The stranger gave her another look. Sparks wondered if she should be shocked or surprised, but she found she wasn't. She had seen so many strange things since she had been born on this metal planet that a skeleton in a black robe with a cowl, holding a scythe, was curiously impressive but not frightening.
YOU HAVE SEEN THE DEATH OF RATS?
"Yes. And you are?"
"Death of what?"
Sparks narrowed her optics. "You are the guy in charge?"
NO. THERE IS ONLY ME. I'M DEATH, Death told her.
"But there is also a Death of Rats," she reminded the tall skeleton.
Death managed to looked slightly embarrassed. HE IS... AN ACCIDENT.
"And accident hooked on movies and popcorn," Sparks muttered to herself. "Who's that?" she then wanted to know, nodding at the horse.
HIS NAME IS BINKY.
Sparks blinked. "Binky?" She had expected another name, something flashy maybe, dangerous and daring, but Binky?!
"Ah." She scrutinized the large animal. It looked so ....normal. "I always thought Death rode on a skeletal horse. Or one on fire."
Death patted the white neck. WELL, ERRRR... YES, he said. I TRIED. IT KEPT FALLING APART OR SET MY ROBE ON FIRE. A look of embarrassment lit up the empty eye sockets again. AND IT IS RATHER UNCOMFORTABLE TO RIDE.
Sparks tried not to laugh, keeping her face straight.
WHERE IS THE DEATH OF RATS?
"I'm not his nanny. He's around here somewhere." She flicked her ears as Binky nibbled at them and shot the white horse a warning look. The look was answered by a soft snort that disturbed her fur again.
Death turned and looked around. To Sparks it looked like he was trying to scan for something, though he wasn't a robot. Still, it looked the same.
"Try the movie center," she suggested. Death gave her a blank look. Sparks sighed. "Okay, okay, okay. You win. But the moment you have found that little nuisance, leave, okay?"
The cat hopped down from the desk and walked out of the door. Death, leading Binky, followed her, unseen by everyone but her.
* * *
Bat was in Nightmare's quarters, sitting on the Gatekeeper's almost empty desk, humming to himself as he went through his possessions, sorting them by his own system in neat little piles. His friend was off duty but not in his room, so Bat used the space and quiet he had to get his stuff rearranged. And he had a lot of stuff. Bat never carried possessions with him, but when he was on a planet he started to collect. On Crea he had collected stones, plants, metal and artifacts, here he collected whatever looked interesting, sometimes discarding what he lost interest in. Nightmare was probably talking to Mel and helping her adjust to her new body. Bat snickered a bit. Yeah, right! Even a blind lizard could see that there was more to it, but who was he to point it out? Let Nightmare think he was still hiding it. Bat knew him long enough now to see through any mask the Gatekeeper held up.
Bat reached for one of the small globes he had once found in Perceptor's lab and which the scientist had told him he could keep.... and found it missing. He blinked. Where had it gone to? He hadn't placed it anywhere else! He might be old, but he wasn't that old yet! Not that the small shiny piece of metal held any specific meaning or function; it was just nice to play with when he felt bored. Suddenly there was a slight 'whouff!', followed by a soft 'klonk' as if something had hit the ground. Bat looked down on the floor and his mouth fell open in surprise.
There, on the floor, was his silver globe, the artificial light of the quarters reflecting from the shiny surface. But it wasn't the fact that the globe had rolled off the table down on the floor that made him gape, but the small paws holding the globe like some precious treasure. The paws were skeletal and belonged to a tiny, robed figure holding a scythe in one of the paws also occupied holding the globe.
"Oi! Wossname!" Bat spread out his much-too-large looking wings, gliding down onto the floor. He peered at the small thief.
It was a skeletal creature, he realized. It looked like a ...rat... in a black robe with a scythe. Empty eye sockets looked up at him and he thought he saw tiny pinpoints of blue light deep down inside.
"Wossname! Thief!" Bat muttered and reached for the globe, plucking it from the tiny paws.
It looked offended. Bat tilted his head. To his ears this had sounded like a lot more than a simple squeak. It had sounded like...words...a sentence.
"What are you?" he asked.
Bat stared, torn between laughing and simply declaring himself insane. "Oi!" was all he managed, sitting down. "Is there one for dragons as well?"
"Oi-oi-oi." The he frowned. "What did you want with my globe? You tried to steal it!"
"Finders, keepers? Wossname! You didn't find, you just took!" Bat glared at the rat.
The Death of Rats waved with its scythe.
"I'm not afraid of this wossname. Stick." Bat bared small pointed teeth.
"Souvenir? You want to take this as a souvenir?" He shook his head. "There are better souvenirs, you know."
Bat chuckled. "Oi!"
"C'mon, let's get you something neat. I know some places...."
The small lizard left Nightmare's quarters and the Death of Rats followed.
"Say," he said as they walked down the corridor. "Where do you come from?"
Death and Sparks arrived in Nightmare's quarters a few minutes after the Death of Rats and Bat had left. The movie center as well as the cantina had been a dead end. No sign of the Death of Rats. Sparks scowled at Death's attempts to go through the wall and simply broke the lock, raising an eyebrow and making an inviting gesture. Death just sighed silently and entered the spartanically furnished room. It was obvious right away that no one was home, though most of Bat's possessions were scattered all over the desk and along the floor to what he called his 'nest', an assembly of all kinds of blankets, pillows and other soft materials.
"Lousy timing," Sparks declared and turned to go. "If you two are almost the same, can't you just beam him back?"
"Oh, forget I asked. How about sniffing him out? Calling him home? Snap your fingers and send him back?"
Death gave her a blank look and the black cat sighed again. This would be a very long day.....
* * *
Bat had flown his 'guest' to the mall and they had gone window shopping. Some people had given the winged lizard odd looks because he seemed to be talking to himself, but most ignored his mutterings.
"No, not that!" Bat looked disgusted as the Death of Rats pointed at a large display full of blinking and beeping toys. "For kids."
The Death of Rats gave the show case a last, longing look, then followed his tour guide. Suddenly he darted into a small shop. Bat sighed and followed him, pushing past some shoppers. He was as large a horse, but compared to the Cybertronians he was small. Still, the shops were built to accommodate most alien life forms and he had room to move, even with his large wings. After some searching he found the skeletal rat between two shelves full of toys. Bat sighed again.
"Oi. I told you, toys are no souvenirs." He grabbed the Death of Rats by the hem of his robe and dragged him away.
The Death of Rats squeaked in protest and grabbed for one of the toys, but his small paws missed it.
"Toys are for kids. Oi! And you got them where you came from as well, right?"
"I knew it." Bat grinned. "Okay, let's see.... do you have games?"
The grin widened. "No, not board games!"
An idea formed in the winged lizard's mind. "Trust me. I think I got something for you.... Just follow."
* * *
Death and Sparks followed the trail the Death of Rats had left and it led them along the shopping mall into the toy stores and game arcades all over West Central. Amazing, Sparks thought, how far this little critter had come. Either he was faster than he looked or he had had help. She found out just what the reason had been when she met up with Bat.
"So you got him," was all she said, glancing at the skeletal rat next to the small winged lizard.
Bat looked first at her, then his faceted eyes traveled up the tall, impressive figure of Death. "Wossname!" he muttered, trying not to gape.
"Oh, that's Death," Sparks introduced casually, sitting down, tail flicking from left to right and back. "And the horse is Binky. Death's looking for his little friend here."
SQUEAK, said the Death of Rats.
"Binky?" Bat asked almost simultaneously, casting Sparks an inquisitive look. "Death's horse is called Binky?"
She only shrugged.
Death turned his gaze on the tiny skeleton. The Death of Rats looked back defiantly. I TOLD YOU NOT TO CROSS THROUGH THE GATEWAY.
NO, YOU ARE COMING BACK.
Tiny pinpoints of blue light flared in Death's empty eye sockets. YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE, he said.
I SAID NO. YOUR DUTY IS AT HOME.
The Death of Rats sighed and shuffled his paws. SQUEAK, he said dejectedly.
The Rat trailed after Death as the tall figure strode out of the room. Sparks and Bat, who had both watched the exchange like others would a tennis match. Now Sparks followed the two and Bat followed Sparks.
"So you can see them both?" Sparks asked conversationally.
Bat nodded. "Oi! And no one else can, right? I noticed when the little guy was trying to raid a cheese shop. Why can we see them?"
The cat shrugged. "I, for my part, would call it a curse, but well.... Maybe it's a cat thing."
Bat sniffed. "I'm not a cat!"
"Maybe you have cat genes."
The lizard looked very offended now. "Wossname!"
She only chuckled.
* * *
Sparks and Bat sat on a window ledge and watched the two skeletal beings having another fight, this time over the small bag the Death of Rats was insisting to take along. Sparks could smell the contents from here: cheese.
"Let me guess," she said conversationally without ever taking her eyes off the two Deaths. "You took him through the food courts at the mall."
Bat shrugged. "Oi," was all he answered.
The argument went on for a while and ended with the Death of Rats muttering to himself and leaving the bag behind. He kicked at some innocent piece of metal, glaring at Death who simply climbed onto Binky. The horse reared.
"Show off," Sparks muttered.
"Old Wossname!" Bat agreed.
Then there were only a pair of flaming hoofprints Death and the Death of Rats were gone.
After a while the black cat turned and cast Bat an inquisitive look. "Say, what was this souvenir business all about?"
"Oh, nothing. The little guy wanted something to take home and put into his souvenir collection."
"Let me guess, either a rat trap or a piece of cheese?"
Bat grimaced. "Wossname. No. And Death discovered the cheese anyway. I got him something he can't find in his world for sure....."
Sparks only raised an eyebrow.
* * *
Megatron strode into his quarters and was greeted by the familiar sight of Sparks curled up on his desk, right on top of his reports and paper work, apparently totally oblivious to where she was lying. One of her green optics cracked open, then closed again. He simply walked over to the desk, sat down, grabbed the cat and deposited it on the floor. Sparks gave a protesting growl and jumped onto the table again.
"Ey! I don't throw you out of your recharge bed either!"
Megatron glared at her. "You do."
"Do!" he snarled.
Sparks sniffed. "Pah!"
"And this is my desk, not your cat basket!"
Sparks shot him a haughty look and sat down close to the desk lamp. Like every cat she regarded everything her territory and she could claim every place for a nap. That Megatron didn't like it to be any place near where he was just inspired her to go to sleep exactly in those spots. It was a game for both of them and they were quite good at playing it; and they both enjoyed it. Now she curled up and watched as the Decepticon leader leafed through the papers, sorting them by priorities. It looked so normal that she was actually enjoying it.
"What are you smiling at?" Megatron demanded.
Sparks blinked. "Oh, nothing. Just enjoying normality."
His optics narrowed suspiciously.
"No white horses, no rats and no skeletons," Sparks said and hopped off the desk. "You gotta love this day!"
Megatron blinked and stared after her as she left his quarters. Horses? Rats? Skeletons?!
"Somebody should check the fuzzball's logic circuits," he muttered, then went back to work.
* * *
Death's home on the Discworld was far different from anything anyone might have imagined it to be. It was a house, much much larger inside than outside, surrounded by well-tended, big and neat garden with a fish pond, fields of daffodils and some fruit trees. Black apples on black-leafed apple trees in a field of black grass, and the pond with black, skeletal fish. Even the air looked inky. Death had given shape to it all, but he had not created. Creation was outside his capabilities and so he had simply given it shape and set it into his world. The house had the skull and bone motif everywhere and like everything else it was black.
Death sat in his study, a gigantic looking room – depending on where you stood – and read in a book that appeared to be much larger than the desk. It was leather bound and ancient. His calcareous finger was tracing the sentence he was reading.
Ssst-sssttt!! Bam! Pow! Click-click-click-click! Clickedi-click!
SNT. SNT. SNT.
Death looked up and a frown creased his bony features. His eternally grinning face appeared to scowl. At the edge of his desk sat the Death of Rats. The tiny skeleton had leaned his equally tiny scythe against Death's empty tea cup, sitting with his back against the frame holding a family picture of his former apprentice and his daughter. In his paws was a device he had carried with him from the strange metal planet. Death had not asked what it was, though he had politely inquired, and the Rat had simply answered it was a souvenir.
SNT. SNT. SNT, the Death of Rats laughed again, punching the device. A weird light was reflecting off his bony features and strange noises came from the box.
Death tried to concentrate on his book again, but the noise was distracting him. He looked over to his little companion again and frowned even more. The Death of Rats looked like he was enjoying himself. Finally Death rose and walked around his desk so he was standing behind the Rat. He looked at the box. It was made of metal, rectangular, and there was a small square lit up in a bluish light. Something moved behind a screen and it looked like dots.... Dots chasing each other? He leaned closer.
A MAGIC BOX? he inquired.
WHAT IS IT THEN?
I KNOW IT IS A SOUVENIR. WHAT IS IT?
Death shot him a confused look.
SQUEAK! the Death of Rats stressed and pressed a button on the device.
Death tilted his head. INTRIGUING.
The Death of Rats shoved the device into his face, squeaked at length, then went back playing whatever game it was this magical box currently display.
Death straightened and tapped his chin. Finally he pulled his chair over to the edge of the table and watched the Death of Rats play.
WHAT DO THEY CALL IT?
AH. Death was silent for a while. Then he asked, GAME... BOY?