"You were chasing a woman down the street when you tripped over something," Captain Angua repeated. "Tell me again, why were you chasing her?"
"She was running away," he said, as if this was the most obvious answer in the world.
He was definitely telling the truth about being a copper, Angua thought, no matter what else he smelled like. Only a copper would think "she was running away" was a complete answer to that question. She'd met cats who had less of a chase instinct than your average patrolman.
Sergeant Colon had brought the man in. "I was patrolling Misbegot Bridge this morning," he'd reported, "when I noticed that down under the bridge, Foul Ole Ron was having a strop, so I went down to see if there was a problem, and I found this gentleman."
The man's face and hands were scratched up, and his clothes were - well, this time of year, the river Ankh didn't exactly get you wet; even "muddy" would be a polite exaggeration; but his clothes were definitely soiled in a way which showed he had recently fallen onto the river and which rendered them otherwise indescribable. According to Colon, he had been staring in apparent dismay at the leader of the Canting Crew, who was ranting at him with rapidly increasing volume and incomprehensibility.
Then Colon had asked if there was a problem, and the stranger had said, "Sergeant Colon. Of course you are. This must be the Misbegot Bridge, right, over the River Ankh?" When Colon had confirmed this, he'd started laughing hysterically and then demanded to be "taken to your leader," so Colon had brought him to the Watch House on general principles.
Whereupon he'd become Angua's responsibility, due to her being the highest ranking officer on duty and also not Sergeant Colon. He'd shown her a waterproofed card with an iconograph that identified him as Peter Grant, Constable in the Metropolitan Police Service.
She was interviewing him partly because he was a Suspicious Personage; and partly because he smelled funny in a way she couldn't figure out; and partly because he seemed to really want to be interviewed by the Watch, and sometimes you had to give them just enough rope to hang themselves.
"And you think what you tripped over might have been a trap left by an 'ethically challenged wizard'," Angua said.
"Maybe? All I know is that I fell on my face and when I got up again, I was definitely not in London any more. Either it was some kind of magical trap, or I hit myself in the head so hard that I fell through into somewhere else."
"You hit your head so hard you fell through into somewhere else," Angua repeated. "Does that sort of thing happen to you often?"
"You'd be surprised," he said. "My working theory is that it's because one of my closest associates is an elf, sort of. Elves tend to make things come unstuck. If it's that, I probably need to talk to the Ankh, it's always been the Rivers that sent me home before. If was a trap, I'd say my best bet is to go to Ponder Stibbons at the High Energy Magic Building; our ethically challenged wizard back home has been playing with quantum lately."
See, Angua thought it was reasonably likely he was exactly what he said he was - a copper who had fallen through something from Somewhere Else - because that sort of thing did happen, after all. But there was still a chance he wasn't. He had ancestors from somewhere in Klatch, going by his complexion and also the way he was drinking the Watch House's ruinously strong coffee like it was mother's milk. But of course that didn't mean anything about his goals or loyalties - there were Klatchian families in Ankh-Morpork at least as old as Commander Vimes's, whereas Angua was still considered suspiciously foreign by many people. And his accent did sound a bit like the Commander's - there was more than a hint of Cockbill Street under something she didn't recognize.
Anyway, a liar would almost certainly have come up with a better story. But misplaced innocents generally didn't immediately start trying to get access to one of the most dangerous and high-security institutions in the city. Or showing knowledge of cutting-edge research that the wizards wouldn't even tell the Patrician about without the employment of major duress.
"You seem to know a lot about Ankh-Morpork for someone who doesn't even know how he got here," Angua pointed out.
"Yeah, but--" he gestured. "It's Ankh-Morpork. You're Captain Angua Von Uberwald of the City Watch. You people are legendary, you know that, right? Half the reason I joined the Force is that I wanted to be a Sammie when I grew up."
Which explained why he'd known who she and Colon were, but not the worrying interest in high-energy magic. "Well," she said. "We'll certainly do our best to get you home. I suspect we'll start with something a little safer than asking the University, however. Perhaps one of the new steam trains. You'd be surprised how far you can already get on one of them."
He paused and looked thoughtful. "You know, I was going to say that I didn't think your trains could get me to where I need to go, but last time something like this happened I did go home by train. There was a River running it at the time, though. I really think my first step should be to talk to the Ankh, if that's possible."
"You can talk to the Ankh all you want," Angua said. "I wouldn't count on it answering back."
"No, I meant--" He frowned. "There is a God of the Ankh, right? I know deity works differently here, but in a city this size, there must be enough people who give offerings and prayers to the river for there to be a God or Goddess hanging around, even if it's just at Small Gods."
Angua gave this some thought. Most of the rivers back in Uberwald did have gods, more-or-less, but she'd never really thought about the Ankh having one. It was just... the Ankh. "I don't think anybody drops offerings in the Ankh," Angua said. "They wouldn't stay there very long. Last week we brought in an unlicensed thief fresh off the boat from Genua who dumped a bag of gold coins off the Brass Bridge, trying to claim he'd never seen them before, and they floated. We had a time skimming them off the top before the bystanders got to them. Some of them were partly dissolved by the time we got them out. Our alchemist says even Aqua Fortis won't etch gold."
"Ah. Right. Well, I still think the river may be my best bet to get home."
"We will certainly factor that into our inquiries," Angua told him. "Where did you say home was, again?"
"London. England. Roundworld."
"Roundworld." Angua did not bother to hide her skepticism.
"Yeah. It's, er, a lot like the Disc, but it's round? Round like a ball, not a circle."
"I've heard the stories," Angua said. "They never made sense. Don't you fall off?"
"Well, no because on Roundworld the force of gravity pulls everything toward the center of mass--" his fingers twitched. "I think I still remember the equations from my GCSEs, if I can write them down--"
"That won't be necessary," Angua said hastily. Delusions, she thought, didn't usually come with equations.
"Yeah, I guess not," he said. "Seriously, ask the wizards, they know all about Roundworld."
"I'll keep it in mind," Angua said. "In the meantime, we can get you cleaned up and a change of clothes." If any of the Ankh that was caked on him managed to become runny enough to drip, they would never get the marks off the floor. "I've assigned Constable Visit to make sure all your needs are taken care of."
Visit-The-Infidel-With-Explanatory-Pamphlets was always a good choice for keeping inconvenient visitors away from trouble. When trouble saw Visit coming, it closed the curtains and pretended nobody was home.
"Your name is Constable Peter Grant, from the Metropolitan Police?" Commander Sir Samuel Vimes asked the young man standing on the other side of his desk.
"Yes, sir," Grant replied. He was standing very straight, in the not-technically-a-Watch-uniform-but-we-did-our-best that Visit had found for him to replace his River-soiled clothes, put together from odds and ends in the Watch House's stores. He stared firmly and directly several inches over Sam's shoulder in a very familiar way.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a proper, healthy "I am appropriately intimidated by a superior officer" stare. It was the "Oh Gods I can't believe I'm actually talking to the Commander Vimes in the actual city of Ankh-Morpork" stare that he saw far, far too often from visiting coppers these days. Vimes looked down at the hasty report he'd been handed. "Constable Visit tells me you were very enthusiastic about the Bloody Stupid Johnson architectural tour he gave you this afternoon." Constable Visit had suggested it as the most boring possible way to keep him out of the Watch's hair, and had been disconcerted by his apparently genuine interest in architectural history. But then, someone responding to any of Visit's suggestions with enthusiasm was probably a shock.
"Yes sir. I've always had a fascination for architecture and urban design, sir. And Bergholt Johnson was a genius in his own way; you couldn't create the things he did for this city without a deep appreciation for the principles of urban space."
Vimes looked at him. He was good at spotting lies by this point in career and as far as he could tell, the man had meant every word of that, appreciation for urban space and bright eyes and all. He was suddenly very glad Carrot was going to be busy with that robbery case in Small Gods all week. And Angua was right: there was something of Cockbill Street in his accent. And he was exactly the kind of over-idealistic, too-keen officer a place like Cockbill Street could produce. Vimes would know. "You don't, by any chance, have a Hidden Destiny or Ancestral Blade or anything of the sort, do you?"
"Sir?" he asked with studied blankness.
Vimes sighed. Well, if he really was from Elsewhere, that wouldn't be Vimes's problem. At least as long as they got him sent back with alacrity. "Never mind. And at ease, Constable. I'm not the one with the scorpion pit."
"Coffee?" Vimes offered.
"Thank you, but I think I might have had too much of that stuff already."
Probably true. He was still vibrating slightly.
"Visit says you were particularly interested in the old water-gate on the Gleam," Vimes tried.
"Oh, yes. It's amazing how Johnson managed to design it so that there's consistently a higher water level on the downstream side of the gate."
"I'm told it's something to do with the build-up of silt," Vimes said.
"Really, sir?" he said with polite doubt.
"The Patrician gets very passionate about silt," Vimes said. "Well. Passionate for him. I think I even caught him gesticulating once. He has Big Plans for the buried tributaries and the Via Cloaca."
"It is a damn shame, the state of this city's rivers," Grant said, and hastily added, "Sir."
"Yes. You seem to be passionate about rivers yourself, from what I've heard." Angua had done some basic asking around while Visit was keeping him busy and as far as she could tell, his story checked out, but if he was up to something nefarious, her best guess was some sort of sabotage or espionage involving the Ankh and its complicated and poorly documented history of ad-hoc hydrological engineering.
"Well, I am dating one," Grant said.
"You're dating a river." Vimes raised his eyebrows.
"Not the actual, watery stream, thing," he said. "She's an anthropomorphic personification. Well, mostly. Except that one time with the Lugg."
"You decided it was a good idea to date the personification of a geographical feature?" It was starting to become clear why he acted like ending up on the wrong world was just another day's work.
"Well, you'd know, wouldn't you, Commander," he said, finally showing a bit of spark. "I've always wondered, is Lady Sybil actually the City to you in some sense other than the metaphorical?"
"It's your lucky day, Constable," Vimes said, sweeping the papers into a neat pile. "You can ask her yourself. She's somehow found out about you and she insists I bring 'that poor sweet lost child' home for dinner."
Grant looked terrified.
Grant mostly regained his composure by the time they got to the house - Vimes heard him muttering the name "Aunt June" on the ride over - but on being confronted with the Duchess of Ankh in a leather apron and kerchief in her own front hall, he seemed to lose his footing again. Vimes could relate.
Vimes took pity on him and offered up "Sybil, this is Constable Peter Grant, supposedly of something called the London Metropolitan Police Service. I wouldn't expect him to have much appetite, though, since my constable reports he had a Dibbler Special for lunch."
"Don't blame that on poor Constable Visit," Grant said. "He tried to talk me out of it, but I could hardly come to Ankh-Morpork and fail to sample their most famous local cuisine. Lady Sybil," he added with a sort of half-bow. "It's an unalloyed pleasure."
So he was a charmer. It was working on Sybil, at least. She laughed. "Well, I think I can promise you that tonight's dinner will be better than your luncheon, at least."
"No worries," Grant said. "I've eaten worse than that sausage." He made a face. "I think, anyway."
They were interrupted on the way to the dining room by young Sam. He ran in late and with his face unwashed, as usual, Vimes thought fondly. "Sam!" Sybil said. "We have a guest, remember? This is Constable Grant, from Roundworld."
"This must be young Master Samuel," Grant said. "I've heard a lot about him."
"Hi," Sam said, hiding halfway behind Sybil with a six-year-old's caution.
"Are you still collecting poo?" Grant asked.
"Yes," Sam said defensively.
"I've just spent a week in the country," Grant told him. "I got to see all kinds of interesting poo. Have you ever seen unicorn poo?"
"It's invisible, except by moonlight," Grant said seriously. "Which makes it much, much more gross to step in, because the only way to know if you got it all off your shoes is to feel for it. It's not as gross as the time I had to go wading down in the city sewers, though."
"Uncle Colon and Uncle Nobby got lost in a sewer once," Sam said.
"The Via Cloaca?" Grant asked. "I'd love to hear that story from them. That sounded a lot more fun than my sewer. Mine was still being used. I had to wear the special protective clothes and bring an Underground worker along as a guide."
Grant managed to take them most of the way through the meal telling a long story about what was theoretically a murder case but seemed to mostly involve goblin pottery, an epidemic of diarrhea, and subterranean steam trains. Sybil and young Sam hung on every word. Vimes mostly tuned it out in favor of mentally going over the paperwork from Dolly Sisters that he'd have to finish tomorrow.
"...and I was afraid I would be crushed to death down there, or run out of air," Grant was saying, as the dessert course was brought in. "So I decided to try to cast a spell that might push some of the dirt out of the way." He gestured explosively.
Then Vimes caught up to what he was saying. "What do you mean, cast a spell?" he asked.
"I know, it was a stupid risk, especially since I'm still not much of a wizard, but it was all I could think of," he said.
"You're a wizard," Vimes repeated.
"Just a second-year apprentice, honestly," Grant said. "This is about all I can do reliably." He held his cupped hands over the table, mumbled "Lux," and a ball of soft light floated over them, spitting octarine sparks. "Hey, it worked!" he said, and then closed his hands over it and put it out.
If Sam and Sybil hadn't already been charmed, they definitely were now. Any second Sam was going to come around the table and insist on being taught how to do spells. "You failed to mention you were a wizard when Captain Angua interviewed you," Vimes said.
"I didn't?" he said. "I... didn't. It didn't come up. Sir. To be honest I wasn't sure I'd be able to do magic here at all, the rules are different. But I guess not that different."
"You didn't think this would be an important thing to establish?"
"Look, Commander, you probably deal with more magic before breakfast than I do all day, even living at the Folly. By Roundworld standards, everyone on the Disc is a practitioner."
"So the part about you being a copper, that was just a story then?"
"Oh, no, sir," Grant said. "I was a copper before I learned wizardry, sir. In London the... I suppose you would call it the college of wizards - is a special division of the Watch. Police work keeps the wizards busy so they don't make trouble and means that when magical crime happens, the people sent to investigate it will know what they're doing. And you're always a copper first, and a wizard-- and also a wizard. In theory, at least. Sir."
"How clever," Sybil murmured. "Samuel, why don't you have any wizards in the Watch yet? One or two would have come in uncommonly handy on some of your cases."
"Because we're not bloody idiots," Vimes said. "And I suppose you can explain the nonsense about you dating a river, too?"
"Her name's Beverly Brook," Grant said. "She's a medium-sized tributary of the Thames, in South London. Oh! You mean the celibacy thing. Right." He paused. "As far as I know my sort of wizard doesn't have to worry about celibacy. I mean, Nightingale--" he made a face. "Well, he's about a hundred years old, it's never come up. As it were. There wasn't anything about celibacy in the oath, though. There was the bit about the clothing I'm still figuring out, but nothing about celibacy. I would have noticed."
"Oh, you're Beverly's young man?" Sybil asked brightly. "I exchange Hogswatch cards with her mum."
"That's why you wanted to ask him over!" Vimes pointed at her. "You wanted to report back to his girlfriend's mum!"
"And I will be saying that he seems like quite the respectful and polite young man," she said. "A treasure for any daughter."
"You...you know Mama Thames?" Grant said, trepidaciously. "I... er, thanks, I guess." He looked at Vimes. Vimes gave him nothing. If he was going to fall in love with a geographical feature, wizard or not, he'd have to figure out some things on his own.
"She's a pillar of her community and a reliable correspondent, which is something she seems to think you could use improvement on."
"If you know Mama Thames, I don't suppose you could let her know where I am and to send Bev to come get me?"
"I'm sorry, dear," Sybil said. "I certainly will, but for all the post has vastly improved under that delightful Lipwig person, it will take some time for a letter to make it all the way there."
"Figures," Grant said. "I don't suppose you know the River Ankh, then?"
"I know it quite well. I grew up here, you know."
"Right. But is there, say, a person who is also the River? The way Bev's Mama is? Only they might be my best bet to get home. Especially if they're in contact with London's rivers somehow."
"I've already told him that I don't think anyone worships the Ankh," Vimes said.
"We're quite proud of our rivers, in this city," Sybil explained. "But I think we're aware enough of what we've done to them that we're a bit too ashamed to risk having to look them in the eye."
"It doesn't work like that. Well, not for rivers where I come from. They don't need worship, they just need water to flow. To be alive."
"The Ankh sort of flows," Vimes said. "In season. I mean, it'll flood the city if we close the gates, in an oozy sort of way. And there are fish in it. Depending on what you count as fish."
Grant sighed and shook his head. "Maybe the Ankh's died. Or fled upstream. The Rivers of London died, when they got dirty enough. But I hoped - with so much more ambient magic here - you both know the city. Isn't there someone who could be the river? Lives on it, or near it. Has ill-defined powers that maybe they don't show off much, and seems like they've always been around, part of the fabric of the city. Might have a family that are all the same way. Could have drowned in the river at some point? Or I guess suffocated, right," he said, before Vimes or Sybil or Sam could correct him. "Someone who sort of shares the personality or characteristics of the river? No?"
"I know who that is," Young Sam piped up.
"You do?" Vimes asked.
"Sure! What's the first thing anybody in the city notices about the river?"
"Well, the smell," Vimes said.
"The Smell," Grant said slowly, as if he was having a minor revelation. "Oh, sh-- sugar plums, pardon, ma'am. That makes far too much sense. And he was even the first person I met after I fell through. Of course. The Thames left because of the Great Stink. The Ankh adopted the Smell."
Vimes had followed about half a second behind, mostly because he didn't want to believe where Grant was going. "You're saying that Foul Ole Ron is the God of the Ankh."
"Oh! Dear old Ronnie Ankh," Sybil said. "I'd forgotten about that, he doesn't get around much anymore. And he's more a personification than a god. Yes, of course. I'm not sure how much help he can be, but it's certainly worth asking. It will make the poor thing feel useful, at least."
"I guess Altogether Andrews would almost have to be the Gleam, then," Grant said. "And the Shamble is... Arnold Sideways?"
"I wouldn't ask too much about that, he can be sensitive about his condition," Sybil said. "Also, it's much more polite to call it the Camber. That's the old name from before it was buried."
"That's settled then! I'll have someone take you to meet your River tomorrow, Constable, and you'll be home in London by teatime," Vimes said cheerfully. Of course, it wouldn't be that simple; it never was. But when it wasn't-- well. He was a wizard, which meant that if the river didn't do it, Vimes could guiltlessly make him the University's problem instead of Vimes's.
Anyway, they did so have a wizard in the Watch, even if he was only in the Specials.
Angua collected Constable Grant from Ramkin House after breakfast the next morning, after the Commander had already left for an early meeting. Presumably Grant had been prevailed upon by Lady Sybil to spend the night in a guest room. That would explain the stunned rabbit demeanor.
"I'm to take you to speak to Foul Ole Ron," Angua said.
"Oh?" Grant asked, refilling his pockets with the bits and pieces that had been retrieved from his old clothes and deemed harmless enough to return. "What've I done to rate a captain today instead of a constable?"
"Nothing," Angua said. "It's just that I always know where he is. Or, at least, where the Smell is." It was an awareness she'd had since she'd first come to the city; even with all the other exciting and multifarious smells of the metropolis, Foul Ole Ron's Smell stood out. She thought she spent nights tracking it in her sleep. The news that he was possibly some kind of personification of the river didn't come as that much of a surprise.
He was on one of the decrepit docks in the depth of the Shades, perched on a pile of old shipping crates and fish traps. Gaspode, at his feet, was gnawing on something that might even have been a bone, and the Smell lurked like a bodyguard. Angua discreetly tucked her nose under a scarf.
Constable Grant kept up with her pretty well as they crossed the city and didn't even let himself get distracted by the Whore Pits as they went by, which was better than most new Watch recruits could manage. When he saw Foul Ole Ron he straightened his jerkin, stepped up, and tried to address him as "Lord Ankh."
"Buggrit! Buggrit millennium hand and shrimp!" Foul Ole Ron said.
"He says you don't need to bovver with all that, what good would it do him," Gaspode translated after spitting out his bone. "And also he can't help you with your problem, you'll have to go to the wizards, it's their sort of thing anyway."
"Oh. Okay. Thank you, sir," Grant addressed Foul Ole Ron as if he hadn't noticed Gaspode talking, which was par for the course. Gaspode shot Angua a long-suffering look. "It was a trap from the Faceless Man, then?"
"Buggrit! Buggrit buggrit!" Ron replied.
"He don't know," Gaspode said. "How would he know? He just knows it's somefing to do with wizard magic, none o' his business. And not them elves either."
"That's...very helpful, actually," Grant said to Ron. "Is there anything I can do to repay you?"
"You could give the cute doggy a sausage, woof woof," Gaspode suggested.
Grant looked down at him finally. "I do know it's you talking, you know," he said. "I'm a wizard. And a copper. I'm trained to notice things like talking dogs. I'm also trained in disability awareness so I know how to not be rude to someone with a service animal. And I haven't got a sausage," Grant added. "Captain Angua said I'm not allowed to talk to any more street vendors." He rummaged in a pocket. "And Molly's decided our Watch House dog Toby needs to stay away from the junk food, so all I have is--" He pulled a battered brownish wafer out of his pocket. "Er, a nutritionally balanced all-natural grain-free sweet potato and mango doggy biscuit?"
Gaspode sniffed at it dubiously and apparently decided it was better than nothing before gulping it down. "Had worse," he said. "A Watch House dog, is it? Good gig?"
Grant shrugged. "You any good at tracking ghosts? That's Toby's specialty."
Gaspode shuddered all over. Or, well, his skin did, in a somewhat separate way from his body. "No thanks."
"Did that fulfill all obligations, then?"
"Yeah, yeah, we're square, bye."
"Wow," Grant said, when he was safely out of earshot. "That was terrifying."
"Gaspode's never bit anyone that didn't deserve it," Angua assured him. "And Foul Ole Ron's basically harmless, unless you let yourself be overcome by the Smell."
"No, I meant-- you people really need to think about cleaning up your rivers. If that's what the London rivers were like, before the end." He stopped. "Well. No wonder Father Thames can't bear to come back to the city."
She shrugged. "People always talk about reopening the old Empire-era sewers, but we're used to it. It's our river."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure Ron and Gaspode are used to that, too. That doesn't mean you should leave them that way if you can do something to make it better. Helping people like that is part of a copper's job too, you know."
Angua didn't have a good answer. The Canting Crew were as much a part of the city as the smell of the river; they were fixtures. She'd never thought about trying to change them. She wondered if Carrot ever had. "All-natural mango and sweet potato doggy biscuits?" she said instead.
"Roundworld is bizarre sometimes," he conceded.
"No, they actually sounded kind of good," she admitted. A girl got tired of sausages and ground-up chicken bits after awhile.
"I'd offer you one, but the contents of my pockets got dunked in the river yesterday, so I don't think you'd want it. Where are we going, by the way?" Angua had started them walking hubwards, more-or-less paralleling the river.
"Unseen University," she said. "He agreed that it was wizards, so I get to make you the Archchancellor's problem now."
Thomas Nightingale was sitting in the atrium of the Folly, under orders to "Go home already and get some rest, Inspector," when all the alarms on the Black Library went off at the same time. He glanced one last time at the half-melted trap apparatus they had retrieved from under the Millennium Bridge, whence it had done something to Peter, and ran downstairs full of racing thoughts about how the whole thing with Peter had just been a distraction.
He got to the door just in time to see it open from the inside as Peter walked out. It was definitely Peter; that was undeniably his signare trailing off the werelight above his head, for all that he was wearing an outlandish costume that included unnecessary amounts of skin-tight leather, weathered butter-soft.
"Where have you been?" Thomas asked, too shocked for a more intelligent question.
"I've been in an alternate universe," Peter said. "Long story. About forty volumes worth, actually. But I'm fine. Although I'll probably continue to regret that sausage. Also, your Restricted Section is fucked up, the fact that I had to go past the room with the Necrotelecomnicon and the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum to get there really says something."
"How did you end up in that room? was going to be my next question," Thomas agreed. Luckily, it hadn't been designed to be difficult to get out of, just into, so resetting the alarms and locks was easy enough.
"Simple maths," Peter said. "Knowledge equals power equals energy equals matter equals mass, therefore libraries warp space. Once I remembered that I just followed books of Mellenby until I knew I was home." He waved an old-fashioned marble-cover notebook he was carrying.
"I don't think that's how maths work in real life," Thomas ventured.
"Shows what you know about maths. Anyway, once Stibbons said he recognized the name Mellenby from some background reading he'd been doing, I knew there had to be a path home through the Library. Look, can I get some real clothes and call Bev before she gets that letter and does something rash? And then I'll try to explain."
"Of course," Thomas said. "And I'll call Stephanopolous and tell her to call off the search," he added as they headed upstairs.
"Oh, hell, of course they started a full search," Peter said. "Look, from this end, what actually happened?"
"Eyewitnesses said you were chasing a woman who may or may not have had a tail when you tripped on something, there was a flash of bright light - nobody can agree on the color - and then you disappeared," Thomas said. "The woman disappeared in the excitement. I felt it happen and spent about twenty minutes absolutely convinced you'd set off a demon trap until I got there and felt the vestigia and realized it was something different but built on the same framework. It's disarmed in the atrium if you want to see it."
Several flights of stairs later, Peter peered at the warped, half-melted metal ring, clearly one of the Faceless Man's dog batteries but altered to be neither storage nor explosive but something far more complicated. Thomas watched him in the way of watching someone you'd been absolutely convinced you would never see again until they suddenly turned up being exactly as annoying as always, but wearing leather pants. (This was not the first time Thomas had that exact experience, including the part about the unexpected leathers, because of course it wasn't. But then Peter had said he'd "followed Mellenby home," whatever that meant.)
"My best guess is he was trying to invent some kind of transport spell from scratch," Thomas said. "Which I could have told him is nearly impossible and never goes well. You're unspeakably lucky you got home at all. Most experimenters with such spells have simply disappeared. It's an open question whether they went somewhere or just...went away."
"He's gone from Sindarin to Latatian," Peter said. "Well, that explains some of it."
"Latin," Thomas corrected, pointing out the traditionally meaningless inscriptions around the edge. "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, a quote from Juvenal, originally about harem guards but now usually used to refer to police overreach. Presumably meant as yet another childish taunt. The other side is neither a forma nor good Latin, however." He'd stared at it endlessly over the last thirty-six hours, trying to figure out if it had any meaning related to the purpose of the device.
"Fabricati diem, punc," Peter read, with unusually bad pronunciation even for him. "Like I said. Latatian. Means 'Make my day, punk.'"
"It does not," Thomas said, honestly offended. He had, in fact, seen the movie in question, not being as entirely ignorant of popular entertainment as Peter liked to claim - also it had come out toward the tail end of the period when he had not much else to do. "Even if you accept the joke Latin, that's not even an accurate version of the movie quotation!"
"It's exactly the sort of thing he'd do, though, you have to admit," Peter said, almost fondly. "So, tell Stephanopolous he was trying to send me who-knows-where but tried to be cute and accidentally sent me to the one place I could definitely get back from, and I'll fill out the paperwork after I get a good night's sleep, okay? This leather really chafes after awhile, I need a shower and some comfortable clothes, and I need to grab my backup phone to call Bev before she does something stupid, my old one kind of fell in a river."
"I though Miss Brook gave you a waterproof one?"
"In this river, it would have needed to be proof against more than just water."
"Oh," Peter added as he was leaving, "If a werewolf follows me out of that door, I promise it's nothing to do with Nazis, just offer her some tea and doggy biscuits and tell her I made it home and send her back."
"And if an orangutan comes through," he added a few seconds later, having turned back on his way upstairs, "Offer him a banana and do not call him a monkey. And ask him if he has the plans for that squash court I was asking about."
Thomas called Stephanopolous and picked his way through a remarkably excruciating conversation in which he explained that Peter was back, apparently unharmed, and tried to turn Peter's unhelpful explanation of where he had been into something that would be at least marginally palatable to the Belgravia team that had been looking for him. She enjoyed that conversation even less than he did, he thought. Then he went and let Molly know the same, and got the impression that Peter would be drinking cold tea for some time. That was how Molly showed she cared. There were no orangutans or werewolves in evidence, much to Thomas's relief.
By the time that was over with, Peter was coming back down to the atrium. He'd definitely washed, and traded the leathers, thank God, for tracksuit bottoms and a cotton t-shirt, which were at least a marginal improvement. He was frowning at his backup phone. The t-shirt read "Fabricati Diem, Punc."
"You can't have already owned that shirt," Thomas said.
"Hmm? Oh, this? Yeah, I've had it since I was a teenager," Peter said with half a grin. "Haven't worn it much since I became a real cop, though, it seemed inappropriate."
Thomas shook his head.
"So," Peter said, and handed him the phone. "What should I do about this?"
It was a series of texts from an unknown number, over the last day and a half:
>>Peter where are you
>>Peter you were supposed to come HERE
>>You had better not be dead
>>Peter answer me
>>What did he do
>>Where the FUCK are you
Thomas raised his eyebrows and handed the phone back. "Answer it, I suppose." The DPS had essentially thrown up their hands on getting useful traces and let Peter decide for himself how to talk to Lesley, as long as he reported everything afterward. Thomas approved; at this point keeping the line of communication open seemed more useful.
Peter shrugged, and started typing, then handed Thomas the phone again.
>>Mostly the Treacle Mine Road Watch House and the HEM building at Unseen University
>>Tell your boss he's too clever by half
>>And that's Ponder Stibbons saying that
"Is that supposed to mean something to me?" Thomas asked, and then nearly dropped the phone when it buzzed with an incoming text.
>>What the hell are you talking about Peter
"I told you," Peter said, "It's a long story." He sat down and took a second to think. "I suppose the beginning is a wizard named Rincewind, and normally I would never let anybody start there because it's the worst place to start, but I had been wondering if you or Mellenby had ever heard of a nuclear physicist by the name of Dr. Rijnswand?"
"It doesn't ring a bell," Thomas said. "Does the Dutch pronunciation have significance?" And then a bell did ring: the phone that was still in his hand got another text from Lesley.
>>Never mind he told me
>>...I hate you both
He handed it to Peter, who read the message and choked on a laugh.
"I'm not going to like this long story, am I?" Thomas said.
"Just be glad he didn't stick with Sindarin," Peter said. "Middle-earth would have been a hell of a lot harder to get home from."