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Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Colin Smythe Limited, 1981

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Mythic Fiction (SF)
Alternate/Parallel Universe
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(32 reads / 8 ratings)



Kin Arad is a high-ranking official of the Company. After twenty-one decades of living, and with the help of memory surgery, she is at the top of her profession. Discovering two of her employees have placed a fossilized plesiosaur in the wrong stratum, not to mention the fact it is holding a placard which reads, 'End Nuclear Testing Now', doesn't dismay the woman who built a mountain range in the shape of her initials during her own high-spirited youth.

But then came discovery of something which did intrigue Kin Arad. A flat earth was something new...


It was, of course, a beautiful day - a Company brochure day. At the moment Kin's office overlooked a palm-fringed lagoon. White water broke over the outer reef, and the beach was of crushed white coral and curious shells.

No brochure would have shown the nightmare bulk of the pontoon-mounted strata machine, the small model for islands and atolls under fifteen kilometres. As Kin watched, another metre of beach spilled out of the big back hopper.

She wondered about the pilot's name. There was genius in that line of beach. A man who could lay down a beach like that, with the shells just right, deserved better things. But then, perhaps he was a Thoreau type who just liked islands. You got them sometimes; shy silent types who preferred to drift across the ocean after the volcano teams, dreamily laying complicated archipelagos with indecent skill. She'd have to ask.

She leant over her desk and called up the area engineer.

'Joel? Who's on BCF3? ' The engineer's lined brown face appeared over the intercom. 'Guday, Kin. Let me see now. Aha! Good, is it? You like it? ' 'It's good. ' 'It's Hendry. The one who's the subject of all those nasty depositions you've got on your desk. You know, the one who put the fossil dino in--' 'I read it. ' Joel recognized the edge to her voice. He sighed. 'Nicol Plante, she's his mixer, she must have been in on it too. I put them on island duty because, well, with a coral island there is not the temptation--'

'I know. ' Kin thought for a while. 'Send him over. And her. It's going to be a busy day, Joel. It's always like this at the end of a job, people start to play around. '

'It's youth. We've all done it. With me it was a pair of boots in a coal measure. Not so imaginative, I admit. ' 'You mean I should excuse him? ' Of course he did. Everyone was allowed just one unscripted touch, weren't they? Checkers always spotted them, didn't they? And even if one went unnoticed, couldn't we rely on future paleontologists to hush it up? Huh?

Trouble was, they might not . .. 'He's good, and later on he'll be great, ' said Joel. 'Just gnaw one ball off, eh? ' A few minutes later Kin heard the machine's roar stutter and stop. Soon one of the outer office robots came in, leading-- --a squat fair-haired youth, tanned lobster pink, and a skinny bald girl hardly out of her teens. They stood staring at Kin with a mixture of fear and defiance, dripping coral dust onto the carpet.

'All right, sit down. Want a drink? You both look dehydrated. I thought they had air conditioning in those things. ' The pair exchanged glances. Then, the girl said, 'Frane likes to get the feel of his work. 'XX 'Well, okay. The freezer's that round thing hovering right behind you. Help yourself. ' They jerked away as the freezer bumped into their shoulders, then grinned nervously and sat down.

They were in awe of Kin, which she found slightly embarrassing. According to the files they were both from colony planets so new the bedrock had hardly dried, while she was manifestly from Earth. Not Whole, New, Old, Real or Best Earth. Just Earth, cradle of humanity, just like it said in their history books. And the double century mark on her forehead was probably something they'd only heard of before joining John Company. And she was their boss. And she could fire them.

Copyright © 1981 by Terry Pratchett


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