Thief of time, p.18
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       Thief of Time, p.18

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 18

 

  Whats going on, Sweeper? said Lobsang, trailing after him. Well, its like this, lad. Me and the abbot and the bloke were going to see, we go back a long way. Things are a bit different now. The abbot cant just say, “Lu-Tze, you are an old rogue, it was you who put the idea of Uberwald into everyones heads in the first place, but I see youre onto something so off you go and follow your nose. ”

  But I thought he was the supreme ruler!

  Exactly! And its very hard to get things done when youre a supreme ruler. Therere too many people in the way, mucking things up. This way, the new lads can have fun running around Uberwald going, “Hai!” and we, my lad, will be heading for Ankh-Morpork. The abbot knows that. Almost knows that.

  How do you know the new clock is being built in Ankh Morpork? said Lobsang, trailing behind Lu-Tze as he took a mossy, sunken path that led through rhododendron thickets to the monastery wall.

  I know. Ill tell you, the day someone pulls the plug out of the bottom of the universe, the chain will lead all the way to Ankh-Morpork and some bugger saying, “I just wanted to see what would happen. ” All roads lead to Ankh-Morpork.

  I thought all roads led away from Ankh-Morpork.

  Not the way were going. Ah, here we are. Lu-Tze knocked on the door of a rough but large shed built right up against the wall. At the same moment there was an explosion within and someone - Lobsang corrected himself - half of someone tumbled very fast out of the unglazed window beside it and hit the path with bone-cracking force. Only when it stopped rolling did he realize that it was a wooden dummy in a monks robe. Qus having fun, I see, said Lu-Tze. He hadnt moved as the dummy had sailed past his ear. The door burst open and a plump old monk looked out excitedly. Did you see that? Did you see that? he said. And that was with just one spoonful! He nodded at them. Oh, hello, Lu-Tze. I was expecting you. Ive got some things ready.

  Got what? said Lobsang. Whos the boy? said Qu, ushering them in. The untutored child is called Lobsang, said Lu-Tze, looking around the shed. There was a smoking circle on the stone floor, with drifts of blackened sand around it. New toys, Qu?

  Exploding mandala, said Qu happily, bustling forward. Just sprinkle the special sand on a simple design anywhere you like, and the first enemy to walk on it- Bang, instant karma! Dont touch that! Lu-Tze reached across and snatched from Lobsangs inquisitive hands the begging bowl that he had just picked up from a table. Remember Rule One, he said, and hurled the bowl across the room. Hidden blades slid out as it spun, and the bowl buried itself in a beam. That would take a mans head right off! said Lobsang. And then they heard the faint ticking. . . . three, four, five. . . said Qu. Everybody duck. . . Now! Lu-Tze pushed Lobsang to the floor a moment before the bowl exploded. Metal fragments scythed overhead. I added just a little something extra since you last saw it, said Qu proudly, as they got to their feet again. A very versatile device. Plus, of course, you can use it to eat rice out of. Oh, and have you seen this? He picked up a prayer drum. Both Lu-Tze and Lobsang took a step back.

  Qu twirled the drum a few times, and the weighted cords pattered against the skins. The cord can be instantly removed for a handy garotte, he said, and the drum itself can be removed - like so - to reveal this useful dagger.

  Plus, of course, you can use it to pray with? said Lobsang. Well spotted, said Qu. Quick boy. A prayer is always useful in the last resort. In fact weve been working on a very promising mantra incorporating sonic tones that have a particular effect on the human nervous syst-

  I dont think we need any of this stuff, Qu, said Lu-Tze. Qu sighed. At least you could let us turn your broom into a secret weapon, Lu-Tze. Ive shown you the plans-

  It is a secret weapon, said Lu-Tze. Its a broom.

  How about the new yaks weve been breeding? At the touch of a rein their horns will instantly-

  We want the spinners, Qu. The monk suddenly looked guilty. Spinners? What spinners? Lu-Tze walked across the room and pressed a hand against part of the wall, which slid aside. These spinners, Qu. Dont muck me about, we havent got time. Lobsang saw what looked very much like two small Procrastinators, each one within a metal framework mounted on a board. There was a harness attached to each board. You havent told the abbot about them yet, have you? said Lu-Tze, unhooking one of the things. Hed put a stop to them if you did, you know that.

  I didnt think anyone knew! said Qu. How did you- Lu-Tze grinned. No one notices a sweeper, he said. Theyre still very experimental! said Qu, close to panic. I was going to tell the abbot, of course, but I was waiting until I had something to demonstrate! And it would be terrible if they fell into the wrong hands!

  Then well see to it that they dont, said Lu-Tze, examining the straps. Howre they powered now?

  Weights and ratchets were too unreliable, said Qu. Im afraid I had to resort to. . . clockwork. Lu-Tze stiffened, and he glared at the monk. Clockwork?

  Only as a motive force, only as a motive force! Qu protested. Theres really no other choice!

  Too late now, itll have to do, said Lu-Tze, unhooking the other board and passing it across to Lobsang. There you go, lad. With a bit of sacking round it itll look just like a backpack.

  What is it? Qu sighed. Theyre portable Procrastinators. Try not to break them, please.

  What will we need them for?

  I hope you wont have to find out, said Lu-Tze. Thanks, Qu. Are you sure you wouldnt prefer some time bombs? said Qu hopefully. Drop one on the floor and time will slow for-

  Thanks, but no.

  The other monks were fully equipped, said Qu. But were travelling light, said Lu-Tze firmly. Well go out the back way, Qu, okay? The back way led to a narrow path and a small gate in the wall. Dismembered wooden dummies and patches of scorched rock indicated that Qu and his assistants often came this way. And then there was another path, beside one of the many icy streamlets. Qu means well, said Lu-Tze, walking fast. But if you listen to him you end up clanking when you walk and exploding when you sit down. Lobsang ran to keep up. Itll take weeks to walk to Ankh-Morpork, Sweeper!

  Well slice our way there, said Lu-Tze, and he stopped and turned. You think you can do that?

  Ive done it hundreds of times- Lobsang began. In Oi Dong, yes, said Lu-Tze. But therere all kinds of checks and safeguards in the valley. Oh, didnt you know that? Slicing in Oi Dong is easy, lad. Its different out there. The air tries to get in the way. Do it wrong and the air is a rock. You have to shape the slice around you so that you move like a fish in water. Know how to do that?

  We learned a bit of the theory, but-

  Soto said you stopped time for yourself back in the city. The Stance of the Coyote, its called. Very hard to do, and I dont reckon they teach it in the Thieves Guild, eh?

  I suppose I was lucky, Sweeper.

  Good. Keep it up. Well have plenty of time for you to practise before we leave the snow. Get it right before you tread on grass, or kiss your feet goodbye. They called it slicing time. . . There is a way of playing certain musical instruments that is called circular breathing, devised to allow people to play the didgeridoo or the bagpipes without actually imploding or being sucked down the tube. Slicing time was very much the same, except time was substituted for air and it was a lot quieter. A trained monk could stretch a second further than an hour. . . But that wasnt enough. Hed be moving in a rigid world. Hed have to learn to see by echo light and hear by ghost sound and let time leach into his immediate universe. It wasnt hard, once he found the confidence; the sliced world could almost seem normal, apart from the colours. . . It was like walking in sunsets, although the sun was fixed high in the sky and barely moved. The world ahead shaded towards violet, and the world behind, when Lobsang looked round, was the shade of old blood. And it was lonely. But the worst of it, Lobsang realized, was the silence. There was noise, of a sort, but it was just a deep sizzle at the edge of hearing. His footsteps sounded strange and muffled, and the sound arrived in his ears out of sync with the tread of his feet. They reached the edge of the
valley and stepped out of the perpetual springtime into the real world of the snows. Now the cold crept in, slowly, like a sadists knife. Lu-Tze strode on ahead, seemingly oblivious of it. Of course, that was one of the stories about him. Lu-Tze, it was said, would walk for miles during weather when the clouds themselves would freeze and crash out of the sky. Cold did not affect him, they said. And yet- In the stories Lu-Tze had been bigger, stronger. . . not a skinny little bald man who preferred not to fight. Sweeper! Lu-Tze stopped and turned. His outline blurred slightly, and Lobsang unwrapped himself from time. Colour came back into the world, and while the cold ceased to have the force of a drill it still struck hard. Yes, lad?

  Youre going to teach me, right?

  If theres anything left that you dont know, wonder boy, said Lu-Tze drily. Youre slicing well, I can see that.

  I dont know how you can stand this cold!

  Ah, you dont know the secret?

  Is it the Way of Mrs Cosmopilite that gives you such power? Lu-Tze hitched up his robe and did a little dance in the snow, revealing skinny legs encased in thick, yellowing tubes. Very good, very good, he said. She still sends me these double-knit combinations, silk on the inside, then three layers of wool, reinforced gussets and a couple of handy trapdoors. Very reasonably priced at six dollars a pair because Im an old customer. For it is written, “Wrap up warm or youll catch your death. ”

  Its just a trick? Lu-Tze looked surprised. What? he said. Well, I mean, its all tricks, isnt it? Everyone thinks youre a great hero and. . . you dont fight, and they think you possess all kinds of strange knowledge and. . . and its just. . . tricking people. Isnt it? Even the abbot? I thought you were going to teach me. . . things worth knowing. . .

  Ive got her address, if thats what you want. If you mention my name- Oh. I see you dont mean that, right?

  I dont want to be ungrateful I just thought-

  You thought I should use mysterious powers derived from a lifetime of study just to keep my legs warm? Eh?

  Well-

  Debase the sacred teachings for the sake of my knees, you think?

  If you put it like that- Then something made Lobsang look down. He was standing in six inches of snow. Lu-Tze was not. His sandals were standing in two puddles. The ice was melting away around his toes. His pink, warm toes. Toes, now, thats another matter, said the sweeper. Mrs Cosmopilite is a wizard with longjohns, but she cant turn a heel worth a damn. Lobsang looked up into a wink. Always remember Rule One, eh? Lu-Tze patted the shaken boy on the arm. But youre doing well he said. Lets have a quiet sit down and a brew-up. He pointed to some rocks, which at least offered some protection from the wind; snow had piled up against them in big white mounds.

  Lu-Tze?

  Yes, lad?

  Ive got a question. Can you give me a straight answer?

  Ill try, of course.

  What the hell is going on? Lu-Tze brushed the snow off a rock. Oh, he said. One of the difficult questions. Tick Igor had to admit it. When it came to getting weird things done, sane beat mad hands down. Hed been used to masters who, despite doing wonderful handstands on the edge of the mental catastrophe curve, couldnt put their own trousers on without a map. Like all Igors, hed learned how to deal with them. In truth, it wasnt a difficult job (although sometimes you had to work the graveyard shift) and once you got them settled into their routine you could get on with your own work and they wouldnt bother you until the lightning rod needed raising. It wasnt like that with Jeremy. He was truly a man you could set your watch by. Igor had never seen a life so organized, so slimmed down, so timed. He found himself thinking of his new master as the tick-tock man. One of Igors former masters had made a tick-tock man, all levers and gearwheels and cranks and clockwork. Instead of a brain, it had a long tape punched with holes. Instead of a heart, it had a big spring. Provided everything in the kitchen was very carefully positioned, the thing could sweep the floor and make a passable cup of tea. If everything wasnt carefully positioned, or if the ticking, clicking thing hit an unexpected bump, then itd strip the plaster off the walls and make a furious cup of cat. Then his master had conceived the idea of making the thing live, so that it could punch its own tapes and wind its own spring. Igor, who knew exactly when to follow instructions to the letter, dutifully rigged up the classic rising-table-and-lightning-rod arrangement on the evening of a really good storm. He didnt see exactly what happened thereafter, because he wasnt there when the lightning hit the clockwork. No, Igor was at a dead run halfway down the hill to the village, with all his possessions in a carpet bag. Even so, a white-hot cogwheel had whirred over his head and buried itself in a tree trunk. Loyalty to a master was very important, but it took second place to loyalty to Igordom. If the world was going to be full of lurching servants, then they were damn well going to be called Igor. It seemed to this Igor that if you could make a tick-tock man live, hed be like Jeremy. And Jeremy was ticking faster, as the clock neared completion.

 
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