Discworld. At the Unseen University, several hip young wizards with embarrassingly short beards are working on a problem that isn't really a problem; how does one teach magic or pass on complex spellcasting techniques to wizards stuck in the far-flung wildernesses (wilderni?) of the Disc? The answer, believe genius young wizard Mowglibeard and his "crew," lies in the Longsight Box - a device capable of transmitting live images over great distances. Unfortunately for Mowglibeard, and for everyone else, the Longsight Box transmitter contains a crystal which, when activated, will have some rather unpleasant effects.
I looked at the idea as it rested in the palm of my hand, a writhing, glowing knot of pure creative energy like a cosmic zip-file waiting to be uncompressed. It contained virtually a whole novel, not just the brief explanation above.
"Well, what do you think?"
I looked up to see Terry Pratchett standing in the darkness, beaming at me.
"It's very good," I said.
He clapped his hands together. "I knew you'd think so," he said, "that's why I want you to write it for me."
I laughed. "Don't be ridiculous!" I said.
His smile flickered off like a failing searchlight and he rubbed his chin in thought. His beard came off and he regarded it lying limp in the palm of his hand for a moment before sticking it back on at a slightly skew-whiff angle. "Ridiculous? But, this is a great opportunity for you."
"Yeah, a great opportunity for me to make myself look like a grave-robbing dick. Can you imagine? The Idiot Wizards' Lantern, a New Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett, Channeled by Mark Howard. I'd get lynched."
He rubbed his chin again. "But, you could do it. I want you to do it. I..." He paused as his beard came off again and cursed as he reattached it, this time at such a wild angle that it made him look like his face was broken. The sight was quite distressing. "Before I died," he said at length, "I had so many ideas for new Discworld books but I just... I just couldn't get them out and into words. I want them all out, to give to the world. There are so many and I have chosen you to..."
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. "Look," I said, choosing my words carefully, "I've read most of your Discworld novels at least once but I am in no way an expert. Even if I could write well enough, and I'm arrogant enough to believe that I actually can, I simply don't have the detailed knowledge of the Discworld. You need to find someone who does. Much as I appreciate the offer, this really isn't for me. I'm sorry."
"But, my fans..." His voice trailed off into chasms of sadness.
"Precisely," I said, "your fans, not mine. They'd hate me if I did this. They'd hate anyone who did this, can't you see that?"
He rubbed his chin again. His beard came off again.
"Haven't you ever heard the old showbiz saying, 'always leave them wanting more'?"
He nodded, glum but beginning to brighten, staring at the beard lying in the palm of his hand like a drugged badger. "That's just what Douglas keeps telling me," he said. "Perhaps you're right."
"I am right," I said, "trust me on this."
He sighed but it was not a sigh of defeat, more the sigh of a man having a conclusion he didn't really want to be true confirmed to be so. "All right," he said, "thank you." He tried to reaffix his beard for a third time but it had other ideas and flew away. Terry watched it go with a huge smile and then turned to me. "You know, I really, really love this place," he said, and then ran off to chase his beard giggling like Homer Simpson chasing a chocolate butterfly.
Then the alarm went off.