Thief of time, p.11
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       Thief of Time, p.11

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 11

 

  NO. BUT HUMANS CAN. IT HAS BEEN DONE ONCE BEFORE. No one would be that stu- Susan stopped. Of course someone would be that stupid. Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH, the paint wouldnt even have time to dry. She thought some more. Death was watching her intently. Then she said, Funnily enough, there is this book Ive been reading to the class. I found it on my desk one day. Its called Grim Fairy Tales. . . AH, HAPPY TALES FOR LITTLE FOLK, said Death, without a trace of irony. . . . which is mostly about wicked people dying in horrible ways. Its strange, really. The children seem quite happy with the idea. It doesnt seem to worry them. Death said nothing. . . . except in the case of the Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein, said Susan, watching his skull. They found that quite upsetting, even though its got a kind of happy ending. IT MAY BE BECAUSE THE STORY IS TRUE. Susan had known Death long enough not to argue. I think I understand, she said. You made sure the book was there. YES. OH, THE RUBBISH ABOUT THE HANDSOME PRINCE AND SO ON IS AN OBVIOUS ADDITION. THE AUDITORS DID NOT INVENT THE CLOCK, OF COURSE. THAT WAS THE WORK OF A MADMAN. BUT THEY ARE GOOD AT ADAPTING. THEY CANNOT CREATE, BUT THEY CAN ADAPT. AND THE CLOCK IS BEING REBUILT. Was time really stopped? TRAPPED. ONLY FOR A MOMENT, BUT THE RESULTS STILL LIE ALL AROUND US. HISTORY WAS SHATTERED, FRAGMENTED. PASTS WERE NO LONGER LINKED TO FUTURES. THE HISTORY MONKS HAD TO REBUILD IT PRACTICALLY FROM SCRATCH. Susan did not waste breath saying things like, Thats impossible, at a time like this. Only people who believed that they lived in the real world said things like that. That must have taken some. . . time, she said.

  TIME, OF COURSE, WAS NOT THE ISSUE. THEY USE A FORM OF YEARS BASED ON THE HUMAN PULSE RATE. OF THOSE YEARS, IT TOOK ABOUT FIVE HUNDRED. But if history was shattered, where did they get- Death steepled his fingers. THINK TEMPORALLY, SUSAN. I BELIEVE THEY STOLE SOME TIME FROM SOME EARLIER AGE OF THE WORLD, WHERE IT WAS BEING WASTED ON A LOT OF REPTILES. WHAT IS TIME TO A BIG LIZARD, AFTER ALL? HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE PROCRASTINATORS THE MONKS USE? WONDERFUL THINGS. THEY CAN MOVE TIME, STORE IT, STRETCH IT. . . QUITE INGENIOUS. AS FOR WHEN THIS HAPPENED, THE QUESTION ALSO MAKES NO SENSE. WHEN THE BOTTLE IS BROKEN, DOES IT MATTER WHERE THE GLASS WAS HIT? THE SHARDS OF THE EVENT ITSELF NO LONGER EXIST IN THIS REBUILT HISTORY, IN ANY CASE. Hold on, hold on. . . How can you take a piece of, oh, some old century, and stitch it into a modern one? Wouldnt people notice that. . . Susan flailed a bit, oh, that people have got the wrong armour and the buildings are all wrong and theyre still in the middle of wars that happened centuries ago? IN MY EXPERIENCE, SUSAN, WITHIN THEIR HEADS TOO MANY HUMANS SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN THE MIDDLE OF WARS THAT HAPPENED CENTURIES AGO. Very insightful, but what I meant was- YOU MUST NOT CONFUSE THE CONTENT WITH THE CONTAINER. Death sighed. YOU ARE MOSTLY HUMAN. YOU NEED A METAPHOR. AN OBJECT LESSON IS CLEARLY IN ORDER. COME. He stood up and stalked into the dining room across the hall. There were still a few late lunchers frozen in their work, napkins tucked under their chins, in an atmosphere of happy carbohydrates. Death walked up to a table that had been laid for dinner, and gripped a corner of the tablecloth. TIME IS THE CLOTH, he said. THE CUTLERY AND PLATES ARE THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE WITHIN TIME- There was a drum roll. Susan glanced down. The Death of Rats was seated in front of a tiny drum kit. OBSERVE. Death pulled the cloth away. There was a rattle of cutlery and a moment of uncertainty regarding a vase of flowers, but almost all the tableware remained in place.

  I see, said Susan. THE TABLE REMAINS LAID, BUT THE CLOTH CAN NOW BE USED FOR ANOTHER MEAL. However, you knocked the salt over, said Susan. THE TECHNIQUE IS NOT PERFECT . And there are stains on the cloth from the previous meal, Grandfather. Death beamed. YES, he said. AS METAPHORS GO IT IS RATHER GOOD, DONT YOU THINK? People would notice! REALLY? HUMANS ARE THE MOST UNOBSERVANT CREATURES IN THE UNIVERSE. OH, THERE ARE LOTS OF ANOMALIES, OF COURSE, A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SPILLED SALT, BUT HISTORIANS EXPLAIN THEM AWAY. THEY ARE SO VERY USEFUL IN THAT RESPECT. There was something called the Rules, Susan knew. They werent written down, in the same way that mountains werent written down. They were far more fundamental to the operation of the universe than mere mechanical things like gravity. The Auditors might hate the untidiness caused by the emergence of life, but the Rules did not allow them to do anything about it. The ascent of mankind must have been a boon to them. At last there was a species that could be persuaded to shoot itself in the foot. I dont know what you expect me to do about it, she said. EVERYTHING THAT YOU CAN, said Death. I, BY CUSTOM AND PRACTICE, HAVE OTHER DUTIES AT THIS TIME. Such as? IMPORTANT MATTERS. That you cant tell me about? THAT I DO NOT INTEND TO TELL YOU ABOUT. BUT THEY ARE IMPORTANT. IN ANY CASE, YOUR INSIGHT IS VALUABLE. YOU HAVE WAYS OF THINKING THAT WILL BE USEFUL. YOU CAN GO WHERE I CANNOT. I HAVE ONLY SEEN THE FUTURE. BUT YOU CAN CHANGE IT. Where is this clock being rebuilt? I CANNOT TELL. I HAVE DONE WELL TO DEDUCE WHAT I HAVE. THE ISSUE IS CLOUDED FROM ME. Why?

  BECAUSE THINGS HAVE BEEN HIDDEN. SOMEONE IS INVOLVED. . . WHO IS NOT SUBJECT TO ME. Death looked awkward. An immortal? SOMEONE SUBJECT TO. . . SOMEONE ELSE. Youre going to have to be a lot clearer than that. SUSAN. . . YOU KNOW THAT I ADOPTED AND RAISED YOUR MOTHER, AND FOUND A SUITABLE HUSBAND FOR HER Yes, yes, snapped Susan. How could I forget? I look in my mirror every day. THIS IS. . . DIFFICULT FOR ME. THE TRUTH IS, I WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE TO INVOLVE MYSELF LIKE THAT. WHY LOOK SURPRISED? IS IT NOT WELL KNOWN THAT GODS DO THIS SORT OF THING ALL THE TIME? Gods, yes, but people like you- PEOPLE LIKE US ARE STILL LIKE PEOPLE. . . Susan did an unusual thing, and listened. Thats not an easy task for a teacher. SUSAN, YOU WILL KNOW THAT WE WHO ARE . . . OUTSIDE HUMANITY. Im not outside humanity, said Susan sharply. I just have a few . . . extra talents. I DID NOT MEAN YOU, OF COURSE. I MEANT THE OTHERS WHO ARE NOT HUMAN AND YET PART OF HUMANITYS UNIVERSE - WAR AND DESTINY AND PESTILENCE AND THE REST OF US - WE ARE ENVISAGED AS HUMAN BY HUMANS AND THUS, IN VARIOUS FASHIONS, WE TAKE ON SOME ASPECTS OF HUMANITY. IT CAN BE NO OTHER WAY. EVEN THE VERY BODY SHAPE FORCES UPON OUR MINDS A CERTAIN WAY OF OBSERVING THE UNIVERSE. WE PICK UP HUMAN TRAITS. . . CURIOSITY, ANGER, RESTLESSNESS. . . This is basic stuff, Grandfather. YES. AND YOU KNOW, THEREFORE, THAT SOME OF US. . . TAKE AN INTEREST IN HUMANITY. I know. I am one of the results. YES. ER . . . AND SOME OF US TAKE AN INTEREST WHICH IS, ER, MORE. . . Interesting? . . . PERSONAL. AND YOU HAVE HEARD ME SPEAK OF THE. . . PERSONIFICATION OF TIME. . .

  You didnt tell me much. She lives in a palace of glass, you once said. Susan felt a small, shameful and yet curiously satisfying sensation in seeing Death discomfited. He looked like someone who was being forced to reveal a skeleton in the closet. YES. ER . . . SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH A HUMAN. . . How very romantick, said Susan, inserting the k. Now she was being childishly perverse, she knew, but life as Deaths granddaughter was not easy, and just occasionally she had the irresistible urge to annoy. AH. A PUN, OR PLAY ON WORDS, said Death wearily, ALTHOUGH I SUSPECT YOU WERE MERELY TRYING TO BE TIRESOME. Well, that sort of thing used to happen a lot in antiquity, didnt it? said Susan. Poets were always falling in love with moonlight or hyacinths or something, and goddesses were forever- BUT THIS WAS REAL, said Death. How real do you mean? TIME HAD A SON. How could- TIME HAD A SON. SOMEONE MOSTLY MORTAL. SOMEONE LIKE YOU. Tick A member of the Clockmakers Guild called on Jeremy once a week. It was nothing formal. In any case there was often some work for him to do, or some results to be collected, because whatever else you might say about him, the boy had a genius for clocks. Informally, the visit was also a delicate way to make sure that the lad was taking his medicine and wasnt noticeably crazy. The clockmakers were well aware that the intricate mechanisms of the human brain could occasionally throw a screw. The Guilds members tended to be meticulous people, always in pursuit of an inhuman accuracy, and this took its toll. It could cause problems. Springs were not the only things that got wound up. The Guild committee were, by and large, kind and understanding men. They were not, on the whole, men accustomed to guile. Dr Hopkin
s, the Guilds secretary, was surprised when the door of Jeremys shop was opened by a man who appeared to have survived a very serious accident. Er, Im here to see Mr Jeremy, he managed. Yeth, thir. The marthter ith in, thur.

  And you, mm, are. . . ?

  Igor, thur. Mr Jeremy wath kind enough to take me on, thur.

  You work for him? said Dr Hopkins, looking Igor up and down. Yeth, thur.

  Mm. . . Have you been standing too close to some dangerous machinery?

  No, thur. He ith in the workthop, thur.

  Mr Igor, said Dr Hopkins, as he was ushered into the shop, you do know that Mr Jeremy has to take medicine, dont you?

  Yeth, thur. He mentionth it often.

  And he, mm, his general health is. . . ?

  Good, thur. He ith enthuthiathtic for hith work, thur. Bright-eyed and buthy-tailed.

  Buthy-tailed, eh? said Dr Hopkins weakly. Mm . . . Mr Jeremy doesnt usually keep servants. Im afraid he threw a clock at the head of the last assistant he had.

  Really, thur?

  Mm, he hasnt thrown a clock at your head, has he?

  No, thur. He actth quite normally, said Igor, a man with four thumbs and stitches all around his neck. He opened the door into the workshop. Dr Hopkinth, Mr Jeremy. I will make thome tea, thur. Jeremy was sitting bolt upright at the table, his eyes gleaming. Ah, doctor, he said. How kind of you to come. Dr Hopkins took in the workshop. There had been changes. Quite a large piece of lath-and-plaster wall, covered in pencilled sketches, had been removed from somewhere and stood on an easel on one side of the room. The benches, usually the resting places of clocks in various stages of assembly, were covered with lumps of crystal and slabs of glass. And there was a strong smell of acid. Mm . . . something new? Dr Hopkins ventured. Yes, doctor. Ive been examining the properties of certain superdense crystals, said Jeremy. Dr Hopkins took a deep breath of relief. Ah, geology. A wonderful hobby! Im so glad. Its not good to think about clocks all the time, you know! he added, jovially, and with a soupçon of hope.

  Jeremys brow wrinkled, as if the brain behind it was trying to fit around an unfamiliar concept. Yes, he said at last. Did you know, doctor, that copper octirate vibrates exactly two million, four hundred thousand and seventy-eight times a second?

  As much as that, eh? said Dr Hopkins. My word.

  Indeed. And light shone through a natural prism of octivium quartz splits into only three colours?

  Fascinating, said Dr Hopkins, reflecting that it could be worse. Mm . . . is it me, or is there a rather. . . sharp smell in the air?

  Drains, said Jeremy. Weve been cleaning them. With acid. Which is what we needed the acid for. For cleaning the drains.

  Drains, eh? Dr Hopkins blinked. He wasnt at home in the world of drains. There was a crackling sound and blue light flickered under the door of the kitchen. Your, mm, man Igor, he said. All right, is he?

  Yes, thank you, doctor. Hes from Uberwald, you know.

  Oh. Very . . . big, Uberwald. Very big country. That was one of only two things Dr Hopkins knew about Uberwald. He coughed nervously, and mentioned the other one. People there can be a bit strange, Ive heard.

 
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