Thief of time, p.12
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       Thief of Time, p.12

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 12

 

  Igor says hes never had anything to do with that kind of person, said Jeremy calmly. Good. Good. That is good, said the doctor. Jeremys fixed smile was beginning to unnerve him. He, mm, seems to have a lot of scars and stitches.

  Yes. Its cultural.

  Cultural, is it? Dr Hopkins looked relieved. He was a man who tried to see the best in everybody, but the city had got rather complicated since he was a boy, with dwarfs and trolls and golems and even zombies. He wasnt sure he liked everything that was happening, but a lot of it was cultural, apparently, and you couldnt object to that, so he didnt. Cultural sort of solved problems by explaining that they werent really there. The light under the door went out. A moment later Igor came in with two cups of tea on a tray. It was good tea, the doctor had to admit, but the acid in the air was making his eyes water. So, mm, how is the work on the new navigation tables going? he said. Ginger bithcuit, thur? said Igor, by his ear.

  Oh, er, yes. . . Oh, I say, these are rather good, Mr Igor.

  Take two, thur.

  Thank you. Now Dr Hopkins sprayed crumbs as he spoke. The navigation tables- he repeated. I am afraid I have not been able to make very much progress, said Jeremy. I have been engaged on the properties of crystals.

  Oh. Yes. You said. Well, of course we are very grateful for any time that you feel you can spare, said Dr Hopkins. And if I may say so, mm, it is good to see you with a new interest. Too much concentration on one thing is, mm, conducive to ill humours of the brain.

  I have medicine, said Jeremy. Yes, of course. Er, as a matter of fact, since I happened to be going past the apothecary today. . . Dr Hopkins pulled a large, paper-wrapped bottle out of his pocket. Thank you. Jeremy indicated the shelf behind him. As you can see, I have nearly run out.

  Yes, I thought you might, said Dr Hopkins, as if the level of the bottle on Jeremys shelf wasnt something the clockmakers kept a very careful eye on. Well, I shall be going, then. Well done with the crystals. I used to collect butterflies when I was a boy. Wonderful things, hobbies. Give me a killing jar and a net and I was as happy as a little lark. Jeremy still smiled at him. There was something glassy about the smile. Dr Hopkins swallowed the remainder of his tea and put the cup back in the saucer. And now I really must be on my way, he mumbled. So much to do. Dont wish to keep you from your work. Crystals, eh? Wonderful things. So pretty.

  Are they? said Jeremy. He hesitated, as though he was trying to solve a minor problem. Oh, yes. Patterns of light.

  Twinkly, said Dr Hopkins. Igor was waiting by the street door when Dr Hopkins reached it. He nodded. Mm . . . you are sure about the medicine? the doctor said quietly. Oh yeth, thur. Twithe a day I watch him pour out a thpoonful.

  Oh, good. He can be a little, er, sometimes he doesnt get on well with people.

  Yeth, thur?

  Very, um, very particular about accuracy. . .

  Yeth, thur.

  . . . which is a good thing, of course. Wonderful thing, accuracy, said Dr Hopkins, and sniffed. Up to a point, of course. Well, good day to you.

  Good day, thur. When Igor returned to the workshop Jeremy was carefully pouring the blue medicine into a spoon. When the spoon was exactly full, he tipped it into the sink. They check, you know, he said. They think I dont notice.

  Im thure they mean well, thur.

  Im afraid I cant think so well when I take the medicine, he said. In fact I think Im getting on a lot better without it, dont you? It slows me down. Igor took refuge in silence. In his experience, many of the worlds greatest discoveries were made by men who would be considered mad by conventional standards. Insanity depended on your point of view, he always said, and if it was the view through your own underpants then everything looked fine. But young Master Jeremy was beginning to worry him. He never laughed, and Igor liked a good maniacal laugh. You could trust it. Since giving up the medicine, Jeremy had not, as Igor had expected, begun to gibber and shout things like Mad! They said I was mad! But I shall show them all! Ahahahaha! Hed simply become more - focused. Then there was that smile. Igor was not easily frightened, because otherwise he wouldnl be able to look in a mirror, but he was becoming a little troubled. Now, where were we. . . ? said Jeremy. Oh, yes, give me a hand here. Together they moved the table aside. Under it, dozens of glass jars hissed. Not enough power, said Igor. Altho, we have not got the mirrorth right yet, thur. Jeremy pulled the cloth off the device on the workbench. Glass and crystal glittered, and in some cases glittered very strangely. As Jeremy had remarked yesterday, in the clarity that was returning now that he was carefully pouring one spoonful of his medicine down the sink twice a day, some of the angles looked wrong. One crystal had disappeared when hed locked it into place, but it was clearly still there because he could see the light reflecting off it. And weve thtill got too much metal in it, thur, Igor grumbled. It wath the thpring that did for the latht one.

  Well find a way, said Jeremy. Home-made lightning ith never ath good ath the real thort, said Igor. Good enough to test the principle, said Jeremy.

  Tetht the printhiple, tetht the printhiple, muttered Igor. Thorry, thur, but Igorth do not “tetht the printhiple”. Thtrap it to the bench and put a good thick bolt of lightning through it, thatth our motto. Thatth how you tetht thomething.

  You seem ill at ease, Igor.

  Well, Im thorry, thur, said Igor. Itth the climate dithagreeing with me. Im uthed to regular thunderthtormth.

  Ive heard that some people really seem to come alive in thunderstorms, said Jeremy, carefully adjusting the angle of a crystal. Ah, that wath when I worked for Baron Finklethtein, said Igor. Jeremy stood back. This wasnt the clock, of course. There was still a lot more work to do (but he could see it in front of him, if he closed his eyes) before they had a clock. This was just an essay, to see if he was on the right lines. He was on the right lines. He knew it. Tick Susan walked back through the motionless streets, sat down in Madam Frouts office and let herself sink back into the stream of time. She had never found out how this worked. It just did. Time didnt stop for the rest of the world, and it didnt stop for her - it was just that she entered a kind of loop of time, and everything else stayed exactly as it was until shed finished what she needed to do. It was another inherited family trait. It worked best if you didnt think about it, just like tightrope walking. Anyway, now she had other things to think about. Madam Frout turned her gaze back from the rat-free mantelpiece. Oh, she said. It seems to have gone.

  It was probably a trick of the light, madam, said Susan. Mostly human. Someone like me, she thought. Yes, er, of course. . . Madam Frout managed to get her glasses on, despite the fact that the string was still tangled with the button. It meant that shed moored herself to her own chest, but she was damned if she was going to do anything about it now. Susan could unnerve a glacier. All she had to do was sit quietly, looking polite and alert. What precisely was it you wanted, madam? she said. Its just that Ive left the class doing algebra, and they get restless when theyve finished.

  Algebra? said Madam Frout, perforce staring at her own bosom, which no one else had ever done. But thats far too difficult for seven-year-olds!

  Yes, but I didnt tell them that and so far they havent found out, said Susan. It was time to move things along. I expect you wanted to see me about my letter, madam? she said. Madam Frout looked blank. Wh- she began. Susan sighed and snapped her fingers. She walked round and opened a drawer by the motionless Madam Frout, removed a sheet of paper and spent some time carefully writing a letter. She let the ink dry, rustled the paper a bit to make it look slightly second-hand, and then put it just under the top of the pile of paperwork beside Madam Frout, with enough of it peeking out so that it would be easy to see. She returned to her seat. She snapped her fingers again. -at letter? said Madam Frout. And then she looked down at her desk. Oh. It was a cruel thing to do, Susan knew. But while Madam Frout was not by any means a bad person and was quite kind to children, in a haphazard way, she was silly. And Susan did n
ot have a lot of time for silly. Yes, I asked if I might have a few days leave, said Susan. Pressing family matters, Im afraid. I have prepared some work for the children to get on with, of course. Madam Frout hesitated. Susan didnt have time for this, either. She snapped her fingers. MY GOODNESS, THATD BE A RELIEF, she said, in a voice whose harmonics went all the way into the subconscious. IF WE DONT SLOW HER DOWN WELL RUN OUT OF THINGS TO TEACH THEM! SHE HAS BEEN PERFORMING SMALL MIRACLES ON A DAILY BASIS AND DESERVES A RAISE. Then she sat back, snapped her fingers again, and watched the words settle into the forefront of Madam Frours mind. The womans lips actually moved. Why, yes, of course, she murmured at last. You have been working very hard. . . and. . . and, and since there are things even a voice of eldritch command cant achieve and one of them is to get extra money out of a head teacher, we shall have to think about a little increment for you one of these days. Susan returned to the classroom and spent the rest of the day performing small miracles, which included removing the glue from Richendas hair, emptying the wee out of Billys shoes and treating the class to a short visit to the continent of Fourecks. When their parents came to pick them up they were all waving crayoned pictures of kangaroos, and Susan had to hope that the red dust on their shoes - red mud in the case of Billys, whose sense of timing had not improved - would pass unnoticed. It probably would. Fidgetts was not the only place where adults didnt see what couldnt possibly be true. Now she sat back.

  There was something pleasant about an empty classroom. Of course, as any teacher would point out, one nice thing was that there were no children in it, and particularly no Jason. But the tables and shelves around the room showed evidence of a term well spent. Paintings lined the walls, and displayed good use of perspective and colour. The class had built a full- size white horse out of cardboard boxes, during which time theyd learned a lot about horses and Susan learned about Jasons remarkably accurate powers of observation. Shed had to take the cardboard tube away from him and explain that this was a polite horse. It had been a long day. She raised the lid of her desk and took out Grim Fairy Tales. This dislodged some paperwork, which in turn revealed a small cardboard box decorated in black and gold. It had been a little present from Vincents parents. She stared at the box. Every day she had to go through this. It was ridiculous. It wasnt even as if Higgs & Meakins did good chocolates. They were just butter and sugar and- She scrabbled amongst the sad little scraps of brown paper inside the box and pulled out a chocolate. No one could be expected not to have just one chocolate, after all. She put it in her mouth. Damndamndamndamn! It was nougat inside! Her one chocolate today and it was damn artificial damn pink-and-white damn sickly damn stupid nougat! Well, no one could be expected to believe that counted. [9] She was entitled to another- The teacher part of her, which had eyes in the back of its head, caught the blur of movement. She spun round. No running with scythes! The Death of Rats stopped jogging along the Nature Table and gave her a guilty look. SQUEAK? And no going into the Stationery Cupboard, either, said Susan, automatically. She slammed the desk lid shut. SQUEAK! Yes, you were. I could hear you thinking about it. It was possible to deal with the Death of Rats provided you thought of him as a very small Jason. The Stationery Cupboard! That was one of the great battlegrounds of classroom history, that and the playhouse. But the ownership of the playhouse usually sorted itself out without Susans intervention, so that all she had to do was be ready with ointment, a nose-blow and

 
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