Thief of time, p.16
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       Thief of Time, p.16

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 16


  How much?

  Almost forty years! Lu-Tze glanced at the shutters. Forty years looked about right, but surely-? How much? he said. Forty! Im sorry! Theres nothing to take it up!

  No problem! Steal it! Shed load! We can always pull it back later! Dump it!


  Find a big patch of sea! The sweeper pointed to a crude map of the world painted on the wall. Do you know how to- Can you see how to give it the right spin and direction? Once again, there was the blueness in the air. Yes! I think so!

  Yes, I imagine you do! In your own time, then! Lu-Tze shook his head. Forty years? He was worried about forty years? Forty years was nothing! Apprentice drivers had dumped fifty thousand years before now. That was the thing

  about the sea. It just stayed big and wet. It always had been big and wet, it always would be big and wet. Oh, maybe fishermen would start to dredge up strange whiskery fish that theyd only ever seen before as fossils, but who cared what happened to a bunch of codfish? The sound changed. What are you doing?

  Ive found space on number 422! It can take another forty years! No sense in wasting time! Im pulling it back now! There was another change of tone. Got it! Im sure Ive got it! Some of the bigger cylinders were already slowing to a halt. Lobsang was moving pegs around the board now faster than the bewildered Lu-Tze could follow. And, overhead, the shutters were slamming back, one after another, showing age-blackened wood instead of colour. No one could be that accurate, could they? Youre down to months now, lad, months! he shouted. Keep it up! No, blimey, youre down to days. . . days! Keep an eye on me! The sweeper ran towards the end of the hall, to where the Procrastinators were smaller. Time was fine-tuned here, on cylinders of chalk and wood and other short-lived materials. To his amazement, some of them were already slowing. He raced down an aisle of oak columns a few feet high. But even the Procrastinators that could wind time in hours and minutes were falling silent. There was a squeaking noise. Beside him, one final little chalk cylinder at the end of a row rattled around on its bearing like a spinning-top. Lu-Tze crept towards it, staring at it intently, one hand raised. The squeaking was the only sound now, apart from the occasional clink of cooling bearings. Nearly there, he called out. Slowing down now. . . wait for it, wait. . . for. . . it. . . The chalk Procrastinator, no bigger than a reel of cotton, slowed, spun. . . stopped. On the racks, the last two shutters closed. Lu-Tzes hand fell. Now! Kill the board! No one touch a thing!

  For a moment there was dead silence in the hall. The monks watched, holding their breath. This was a timeless moment, of perfect balance. Tick And in that timeless moment the ghost of Mr Shoblang, to whom the scene was hazy and fuzzy as though seen through a gauze, said, This is just impossible! Did you see that? SEE WHAT? said a dark figure behind him. Shoblang turned. Oh, he said, and added with sudden certainty, Youre Death, right? YES. I AM SORRY I AM LATE. The spirit formerly known as Shoblang looked down at the pile of dust that represented his worldly habitation for the previous six hundred years. So am I, he said. He nudged Death in the ribs. EXCUSE ME? I said, “Im sorry Im late. ” Boom, boom. I BEG YOUR PARDON? Er, you know. . . Sorry Im late. Like. . . dead? Death nodded. OH, I SEE. IT WAS THE BOOM BOOM I DID NOT UNDERSTAND. Er, that was to show it was a joke, said Shoblang. AH, YES. I CAN SEE HOW THAT WOULD BE NECESSARY. IN FACT, MR SHOBLANG, WHILE YOU ARE LATE, YOU ARE ALSO EARLY. BOOM, BOOM. Pardon? YOU HAVE DIED BEFORE YOUR TIME. Well, yes, I should think so! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHY? ITS VERY UNUSUAL. All I know is that the spinners went wild and I mustve copped a load when one of em went overspeed, said Shoblang. But, hey, what about that kid, eh? Look at the way hes making the buggers dance! I wish Id had him training under me! What am I saying? He could give me a few tips! Death looked around. TO WHOM DO YOU REFER?

  That boy up on the podium, see him? NO, IM AFRAID I SEE NO ONE THERE. What? Look, hes right there! Plain as the nose on your fa- Well, obviously not on your face. . . I SEE THE COLOURED PEGS MOVING. . . Well, who do you think is moving them? I mean, you are Death, right? I thought you could see everyone! Death stared at the dancing bobbins. EVERYONE. . . THAT I SHOULD SEE, he said. He continued to stare. Ahem, said Shoblang. OH, YES. WHERE WERE WE? Look, if Im, er, too early, then cant you- EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS STAYS HAPPENED. What kind of philosophy is that? THE ONLY ONE THAT WORKS. Death took out an hourglass and consulted it. I SEE THAT BECAUSE OF THIS PROBLEM YOU ARE NOT DUE TO REINCARNATE FOR SEVENTY-NINE YEARS. DO YOU HAVE ANYWHERE TO STAY? Stay? Im dead. Its not like locking yourself out of your own house! said Shoblang, who was beginning to fade. PERHAPS YOU COULD BE BUMPED UP TO AN EARLIER BIRTH? Shoblang vanished. In the timeless moment Death turned back to stare at the hall of spinners. . . Tick The chalk cylinder started to spin again, squeaking gently. One by one, the oak Procrastinators began to revolve, picking up the rising load. This time there was no scream of bearings. They twirled slowly, like old ballerinas, this way and that, gradually taking up the strain as millions of humans in the world outside bent time around themselves. The creaking sounded like a teaclipper rounding Cape Wrath on a gentle breeze. Then the big stone cylinders groaned as they picked up the time their smaller brethren couldnt handle. A rumbling underlay the creaking now, but it was still gentle, controlled. . .

  Lu-Tze lowered his hand gently and straightened up. A nice clean pick-up, he said. Well done, everyone. He turned to the astonished, panting monks and beckoned the most senior towards him. Lu-Tze pulled a ragged cigarette end out of its lodging behind his ear and said, Well now, Rambut Handisides, what dyou think happened just now, eh?

  Er, well, there was a surge which blew out-

  Nah, nah, after that, said Lu-Tze, striking a match on the sole of his sandal. See, what I dont think happened was that you boys ran around like a lot of headless chickens and a novice got up on the platform and did the sweetest, smoothest bit of rebalancing that Ive ever seen. That couldnt have happened, because that sort of thing does not happen. Am I right? The monks of the Procrastinator floor were not among the temples great political thinkers. Their job was to tend and grease and strip down and rebuild and follow the directions of the man on the platform. Rambut Handisides brow wrinkled. Lu-Tze sighed. See, what I think happened, he said helpfully, was that you lads rose to the occasion, right, and left myself and the young man there aghast at the practical skills you all showed. The abbot will be impressed and blow happy bubbles. You could be looking at some extra momos in your thugpa come dinner-time, if you get my drift? Handisides ran this up his mental flagpole and it did indeed send prayers to heaven. He began to smile. However, said Lu-Tze, stepping closer and lowering his voice, Ill probably be around again soon, this place looks as though it could do with a good sweeping, and if I dont find you boys pinsharp and prodding buttock inside a week you and I will have a. . . talk. The smile vanished. Yes, Sweeper.

  Youve got to test them all and see to those bearings.

  Yes, Sweeper.

  And someone clear up Mr Shoblang.

  Yes, Sweeper.

  Fair play to you, then. Me and young Lobsang here will be going. Youve done a lot for his education. He took the unresisting Lobsang by the hand and led him out of the hall, past the long lines of turning, humming Procrastinators. A pall of blue smoke still hung under the high ceiling. Truly it is written, “You could knock me down with a feather,” he muttered, as they headed up the sloping passage. You spotted that inversion before it happened. Id have blown us into next week. At least.

  Sorry, Sweeper.

  Sorry? You dont have to be sorry. I dont know what you are, son. Youre too quick. Youre taking to this place like a duck to water. You dont have to learn stuff that takes other people years to get the hang of. Old Shoblang, may he be reincarnated somewhere nice and warm, even he couldnt balance the load down to a second. I mean, a second. Over a whole damn world! He shuddered. Heres a tip. Dont let it show. People can be funny about that sort of thing.

  Yes, Sweeper.

  And another thing, said
Lu-Tze, leading the way out into the light. What was all that fuss just before the Procrastinators cut loose? You felt something?

  I dont know. I just felt. . . everything went wrong for a moment.

  Ever happened before?

  No-o. It was a bit like what happened in the Mandala Hall.

  Well, dont talk about it to anyone else. Most of the high-ups these days probably dont even know how the spinners work. No one cares about them any more. No one notices something that works too well. Of course, in the old days you werent even allowed to become a monk until youd spent six months in the hall, greasing and cleaning and fetching. And we were better for it! These days its all about learning obedience and cosmic harmony. Well, in the old days you learned that in the halls. You learned that if you didnt jump out of the way when someone yelled, “Shes dumping!” you got a couple of years where it hurt, and that theres no harmony better than all the spinners turning sweetly. The passage rose into the main temple complex. People were still scurrying around as they headed for the Mandala Hall. Youre sure you can look at it again? said Lu-Tze. Yes, Sweeper.

  Okay. You know best. The balconies overlooking the hall were crowded with monks, but Lu-Tze worked his way forward by polite yet firm use of his broom. The senior monks were clustered at the edge. Rinpo caught sight of him. Ah, Sweeper, he said. Some dust delayed you?

  Spinners cut free and went overspeed, muttered Lu-Tze. Yes, but you were summoned by the abbot, said the acolyte reproachfully. Upon a time, said Lu-Tze, every man jack of us would have legged it down to the hall when the gongs went.

  Yes, but-

  BRRRRbrrrrbrrrr, said the abbot, and Lobsang saw now that he was being carried in a sling on the acolytes back, with an embroidered pixie hood on his head to keep off the chill. Lu- Tze always was very keen on the practical approach BRRRbrrr. He blew milky suds into the acolytes ear. I am glad matters have been resolved, Lu-Tze. The sweeper bowed, while the abbot started to beat the acolyte gently over the head with a wooden bear. History has repeated, Lu-Tze. DumDumBBBRRRR . . .

  Glass clock? said Lu-Tze. The senior monks gasped. How could you possibly know that? said the chief acolyte. We havent rerun the Mandala yet!

  It is written, “Ive got a feeling in my water,” said Lu-Tze. And that was the only other time I ever heard of when all the spinners went wild like that. They all cut loose. Time-slip. Someones building a glass clock again.

  That is quite impossible, said the acolyte. We removed every trace!

  Hah! It is written, “Im not as green as Im cabbage-looking!” snapped Lu-Tze. Something like that you cant kill. It leaks back. Stories. Dreams. Paintings on cave walls, whatever- Lobsang looked down at the Mandala floor. Monks were clustered around a group of tall cylinders at the far end of the hall. They looked like Procrastinators, but only one small one was spinning, slowly. The others were motionless, showing the mass of symbols that were carved into them from top to bottom. Pattern storage. The thought arrived in his head. That is where the Mandalas patterns are kept, so that they can be replayed. Todays patterns on the little one, long-term storage on the big ones. Below him the Mandala rippled, blotches of colour and scraps of pattern drifting across its surface. One of the distant monks called out something, and the small cylinder stopped. The rolling sand grains were stilled. This is how it looked twenty minutes ago, said Rinpo. See the blue-white dot there? And then it spreads-

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