Ponder Stibbons had never had any particular talent for chatting with twelve-year-olds. This had been the case when he himself was twelve, and it continued on to today, as he'd found himself saddled with the task of entertaining his niece Chelsea for, as it turned out, two hours.
"Did I tell you about my role in saving the Disc from destruction by the Silver Horde?" he asked her.
"Yes, Uncle Ponder," she droned, in the tones of someone who's heard the story some significant fraction of a million times.
Chelsea wouldn't even be at Unseen University if Ponder's sister, Magda, hadn't asked him for a favor, and the favor wouldn't even have been necessary had Chelsea not been in the Sugar Scouts, one of those formally recognized social groups designed to teach young girls skills they might find useful for later life, such as sewing, camping, and holding rummage sales.
And, in this case, selling cookies.
"Well, I held a very important role in that whole thing, I'll have you know," Ponder returned. "I know I wasn't piloting the ship or fighting bad guys, but Mission Control is a crucial part of things like this."
"Yes, Uncle Ponder." Chelsea was starting to look bored. She was not a plain girl, exactly-she got her looks from her mother-but she had not yet reached that age where the Puberty Fairy would come calling and give her things like breasts and hormones and her father chasing young men down the street with a repeating crossbow screaming words that Chelsea would later have to look up in the dictionary.
Finally, the door to the front hall banged open. Ponder glanced up hopefully, and saw to his relief that Archchancellor Ridcully had finally returned, holding a lot more order forms than Ponder had remembered giving him at the end of the emergency faculty meeting.
Said meeting hadn't even been Ponder's idea; in fact he'd only planned to do a small whip-round at the High Energy Magic Building to appease Magda with a decently-sized order-maybe fifty dollars or so.
Then Ridcully had heard about it.
And he'd decided to be Helpful.
Under most circumstances the idea of Ridcully being Helpful would strike terror into the heart of any reasonable wizard-that is, any wizard within fifty miles of Ridcully-but this time Helpful appeared to be suspiciously well thought out. Under most circumstances even the senior faculty would sooner eat their own arm than open their wallets for a twelve-year-old girl, but the mention of cookies-admittedly quite tasty cookies, but cookies nonetheless-had greased the diplomatic wheels magnificently.
"Here you go, Stibbons," Ridcully chirped-an amazing feat for a baritone-as he offered back the order sheets. "I had to duplicate the order forms to give us enough lines for all the orders-hope you don't mind."
Ponder took the order forms, noticing immediately that the first one in the stack was completely filled, front and back. He slowly leafed through the other seven copies, running his gaze down the little boxes indicating how many of what kinds of cookies each person wanted, his mind keeping a running tally of the prices.
To be helpful, he wrote the UU-wide total at the bottom of the last sheet.
"Thank you, sir," Ponder said. "I think Chelsea's troop will be very pleased."
And, he added in his mind, Chelsea may have earned the trip to Quirm all by herself.
Ridcully left, and Ponder turned back to his dozing niece.
"Chelsea?" he said. She jerked awake with a snort, glancing around. "Ridcully's back with the cookie orders. Here you go."
She got to her feet, taking the sheaf of cookie orders, and then frowning in puzzlement at the number of them.
"Thanks, Uncle Ponder," she said anyway, and stepped forward to give him a big hug. He returned it, imagining the look om Magda's face when she saw how much he'd pulled through.
Chelsea pulled away finally and headed for the door, leafing through the order forms while Ponder silently counted backwards from five.
When he reached one, Chelsea glanced at the bottom of the last page, let out a little gasp, and fainted.