Thief of time, p.32
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       Thief of Time, p.32

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 32


  He chopped her head off!

  Dont shout! And keep your head down! Susan hissed. But he-

  I think she knows! Anyway, its an it. And sos it.

  Whats going on? Susan drew back into the shadows. Im not. . . entirely sure, she said, but I think theyve tried to make themselves human bodies. Pretty good copies, too. And now. . . theyre acting human.

  Do you call that acting human? Susan gave Lobsang a sad look. You dont get out much, do you? My grandfather says that if an intelligent creature takes a human shape, it starts to think human. Form defines function.

  That was the action of an intelligent creature? said Lobsang, still shocked. Not only doesnt get out much, also doesnt read history, said Susan glumly. Do you know about the curse of the werewolves?

  Isnt being a werewolf curse enough?

  They dont think so. But if they stay wolf-shaped for too long, they stay a wolf, said Susan. A wolf is a very strong. . . form, you see? Even though the mind is human, the wolf creeps in through the nose and the ears and the paws. Know about witches?

  We, er, stole the broomstick of one of them to get here, said Lobsang. Really? Bit of luck for you that the worlds ended, then, said Susan. Anyway, some of the best witches have this trick they call Borrowing. They can get into the mind of an animal. Very useful. But the trick is to know when to pull out. Be a duck for too long and a duck youll stay. A bright duck, maybe, with some odd memories, but still a duck.

  The poet Hoha once dreamed he was a butterfly, and then he awoke and said, “Am I a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming he is a man?” said Lobsang, trying to join in. Really? said Susan briskly. And which was he?

  What? Well. . . who knows?

  How did he write his poems? said Susan. With a brush, of course.

  He didnt flap around making information-rich patterns in the air or laying eggs on cabbage leaves?

  No one ever mentioned it.

  Then he was probably a man, said Susan. Interesting, but it doesnt move us on a lot. Except you could say that the Auditors are dreaming that theyre human, and the dream is real. And theyve got no imagination. Just like my grandfather, really. They can create a perfect copy of anything, but they cant make anything thats new. So what I think is happening is that theyre finding out what being human really means.

  Which is?

  That youre not as much in control as you think. She took another careful look at the crowd in the square. Do you know anything about the person who built the clock?

  Me? No. Well, not really. . .

  Then how did you find the place?

  Lu-Tze thought this was where the clock was being built.

  Really? Not a bad guess. You even got the right house.

  I, er, it was me that found the house. It, er, I knew that was where I should be. Does that sound silly?

  Oh, yes. With twinkly bells and bluebirds on it. But it might be true. I always know where I should be, too. And where should you be now?

  Just a minute, said Lobsang. Who are you? Time has stopped, the world is given over to. . . fairy tales and monsters, and theres a schoolteacher walking around?

  Best kind of person to have, said Susan. We dont like silliness. Anyway, I told you. Ive inherited certain talents.

  Like living outside time?

  Thats one of them.

  Its a weird talent for a schoolteacher!

  Good for marking, though, said Susan calmly. Are you actually human?

  Hah! As human as you are. I wont say I havent got a few skeletons in the family closet, though. There was something about the way she said it. . . That wasnt just a figure of speech, was it? said Lobsang flatly. No, not really, said Susan. That thing on your back. What happens when it stops spinning?

  Ill run out of time, of course.

  Ah. So the fact that it slowed down and stopped back there when that Auditor practised its axemanship isnt a factor, then?

  Its not turning? Panicking, Lobsang tried to reach round to the small of his back, spinning himself in the effort. It looks as though you have a hidden talent, said Susan, leaning against the wall and grinning. Please! Wind me up again!

  All right. You are a-

  That wasnt very funny the first time!

  Thats all right, I dont have much of a sense of humour. She grabbed his arms as he wrestled with the straps of the spinner. You dont need it, understand? she said. Its just a dead weight! Trust me! Dont give in! Youre making your own time. Dont wonder how. He stared at her in terror. Whats happening?

  Its okay, its okay, said Susan, as patiently as she could. This sort of thing always comes as a shock. When it happened to me there wasnt anyone around, so consider yourself lucky.

  What happened to you?

  I found out who my grandfather was. And dont ask. Now, concentrate. Where ought you to be?

  Uh, uh . . . Lobsang looked around. Uh . . . over that way, I think.

  I wouldnt dream of asking you how you know, said Susan. And its away from that mob. She smiled. Look on the bright side, she added. Were young, weve got all the time in the world. . . She swung the wrench onto her shoulder. Lets go clubbing. If there had been such a thing as time, it would have been a few minutes after Susan and Lobsang left that a small robed figure, about six inches high, strutted into the workshop. It was followed by a raven, which perched on the door and regarded the glowing clock with considerable suspicion. Looks dangerous to me, it said. SQUEAK? said the Death of Rats, advancing on the clock. No, dont you go trying to be a hero, said Quoth. The rat walked up to the base of the clock, stared up at it with a the-bigger-they-are-the- harder-they-fall expression, and then whacked it with its scythe. Or, at least, tried to. There was a flash as the blade made contact. For a moment the Death of Rats was a ring-shaped, black-and-white blur around the clock, and then it vanished. Told yer, said the raven, preening its feathers. I bet you feel like Mister Silly now, right? * * * . . . and then I thought, whats a job that really needs someone with my talents? said Ronnie. To me, time is just another direction. And then I thought, everyone wants fresh milk, yes? And everyone wants it delivered early in the morning.

  Got to be better than the window-cleaning, said Lu-Tze. I only went into that after they invented windows, said Ronnie. It was the jobbing gardening before that. More rancid yak butter in that?

  Please, said Lu-Tze, holding out his cup. Lu-Tze was eight hundred years old, and that was why he was having a rest. A hero would have leapt up and rushed out into the silent city and then- And there you had it. Then a hero would have had to wonder what to do next. Eight hundred years had taught Lu-Tze that what happens stays happened. It might stay happened in a different set of dimensions, if you wanted to get technical, but you couldnt make it un- happen. The clock had struck, and time had stopped. Later, a solution would present itself. In the meantime, a cup of tea and conversation with his serendipitous rescuer might speed that time. After all, Ronnie was not your average milkman. . Lu-Tze had long considered that everything happens for a reason, except possibly football.

  Its the real stuff you got there, Ronnie, he said, taking a sip. The butter were getting these days, you wouldnt grease a cart with it.

  Its the breed, said Ronnie. I go and get this from the highland herds six hundred years ago.

  Cheers, said Lu-Tze, raising his cup. Funny, though. I mean, if you said to people there were originally five Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and then one of them left and is a milkman, well, theyd be a bit surprised. Theyd wonder about why you. . . For a moment Ronnies eyes blazed silver. Creative differences, he growled. The whole ego thing. Some people might say. . . No, I dont like to talk about it. I wish them all the luck in the world, of course.

  Of course, said Lu-Tze, keeping his expression opaque. And Ive watched their careers with great interest.

  Im sure.

  Do you know I even got written out of the official history? said Ronnie. He held up a hand and a book appeared i
n it. It looked brand new. This was before, he said sourly. Book of Om. Ever meet him? Tall man, beard, tendency to giggle at nothing?

  Before my time, Ronnie. Ronnie handed the book over. First edition. Try Chapter 2, verse 7, he said. And Lu-Tze read: “And the Angel clothèd all in white opened the Iron Book, and a fifth rider appeared in a chariot of burning ice, and there was a snapping of laws and a breaking of bonds and the multitude cried Oh God, were in trouble now! ”

  That was me, said Ronnie proudly. Lu-Tzes eyes strayed to verse 8: “And I saw, sort of like rabbits, in many colours but basically a plaid pattern, kind of spinning around, and there was a sound as of like big syrupy things. ”

  That verse got cut for the next edition, said Ronnie. Very open to visions of all sorts, old Tobrun. The fathers of Omnianism could pick and mix what they wanted. Of course, in those days everything was new. Death was Death, of course, but the rest were really just Localized Crop Failure, Scuffles and Spots.

  And you-? Lu-Tze ventured. The public wasnt interested in me any more, said Ronnie. Or so I was told. Back in those days we were only playing to very small crowds. One plague of locusts, some tribes

  waterhole drying up, a volcano exploding. . . We were glad of any gig going. There wasnt room for five. He sniffed. So I was told. Lu-Tze put down his cup. Well, Ronnie, its been very nice talking to you, but times. . . times not rushing, you see.

  Yeah. Heard about that. The streets are full of the Law. Ronnies eyes blazed again. Law?

  Dhlang. The Auditors. Theyve had the glass clock built again.

  You know that?

  Look, I might not be one of the Fearsome Four, but I do keep my eyes and ears open, said Ronnie. But thats the end of the world!

  No, its not, said Ronnie calmly. Everythings still here.

  But its not going anywhere!

  Oh, well, thats not my problem, is it? said Ronnie. I do milk and dairy products. Lu-Tze looked around the sparkling dairy, at the glistening bottles, at the gleaming churns. What a job for a timeless person. The milk would always be fresh. He looked back at the bottles, and an unbidden thought rose in his mind. The Horsemen were people-shaped, and people are vain. Knowing how to use other peoples vanity was a martial art all in itself, and Lu-Tze had been doing it for a long time. I bet I can work out who you were, he said. I bet I can work out your real name.

  Hah. Not a chance, monk, said Ronnie. Not a monk, just a sweeper, said Lu-Tze calmly. Just a sweeper. You called them the Law, Ronnie. Theres got to be a law, right? They make the rules, Ronnie. And youve got to have rules, isnt that true?

  I do milk and milk products, said Ronnie, but a muscle twitched under his eye. Also eggs by arrangement. Its a good steady business. Im thinking of taking on more staff for the shop.

  Why? said Lu-Tze. There wont be anything for them to do.

  And expand the cheese side, said Ronnie, not looking at the sweeper. Big market for cheese. And I thought maybe I could get a c-mail address, people could send in orders, it could be a big market.

  All the rules have won, Ronnie. Nothing moves any more. Nothing is unexpected because nothing happens. Ronnie sat staring at nothing. I can see youve found your niche, then, Ronnie, said Lu-Tze soothingly. And you keep this place like a new pin, theres no doubt about it. I expect the rest of the ladsd be really pleased to know that youre, you know, getting on all right. Just one thing, uh . . . Why did you rescue me?

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