Thief of time, p.33
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       Thief of Time, p.33

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 33


  What? Well, it was my charitable duty-

  Youre the Fifth Horseman, Mr Soak. Charitable duty? Except, Lu-Tze thought, youve been human-shaped a long time. You want me to find out. . . You want me to. Thousands of years of a life like this. Its curled you in on yourself. Youll fight me all the way, but you want me to drag your name out of you. Ronnies eyes glowed. I look after my own, Sweeper.

  Im one of yours, am I?

  You have. . . certain worthwhile points. They stared at one another. Ill take you back to where I found you, said Ronnie Soak. Thats all. I dont do that other stuff any more. The Auditor lay on its back, mouth open. Occasionally it made a weak little noise, like the whimper of a gnat. Try again, Mr-

  Dark Avocado, Mr White.

  Is that a real colour?

  Yes, Mr White! said Mr Dark Avocado, who wasnt entirely sure that it was. Try again, then, Mr Dark Avocado. Mr Dark Avocado, with great reluctance, reached down towards the supine figures mouth. His fingers were a few inches away when, apparently of its own volition, the figures left hand moved in a blur and gripped them. There was a crackle of bone. I feel extreme pain, Mr White.

  What is in its mouth, Mr Dark Avocado?

  It appears to be cooked fermented grain product, Mr White. The extreme pain is continuing.

  A foodstuff?

  Yes, Mr White. The sensations of pain are really quite noticeable at this point.

  Did I not give an order that there should be no eating or drinking or unnecessary experimentation with sensory apparatus?

  Indeed you did, Mr White. The sensation known as extreme pain, which I mentioned previously, is now really quite acute. What shall I do now? The concept of orders was yet another new and intensely unfamiliar one for any Auditor. They were used to decisions by committee, reached only when the possibilities of doing nothing whatsoever about the matter in question had been exhausted. Decisions made by everyone were decisions made by no one, which therefore precluded any possibility of blame. But the bodies understood orders. This was clearly something that made humans human, and so the Auditors went along with it in a spirit of investigation. There was no choice, in any case. All kinds of sensations arose when they were given instructions by a man holding an edged weapon. It was surprising how smoothly the impulse to consult and discuss metamorphosed into a pressing desire to do what the weapon said. Can you not persuade him to let go of your hand?

  He appears to be unconscious, Mr White. His eyes are bloodshot. He is making a little sighing noise. Yet the body seems determined that the bread should not be removed. Could I raise again the issue of the unbearable pain? Mr White signalled to two other Auditors. With considerable effort, they pried Mr Dark Avocados fingers loose. This is something we will have to learn more about, said Mr White. The renegade spoke of it. Mr Dark Avocado?

  Yes, Mr White?

  Do the sensations of pain persist?

  My hand feels both hot and cold, Mr White.

  How strange, said Mr White. I see that we will need to investigate pain in greater depth. Mr Dark Avocado found that a little voice in the back of his head screamed at the thought of this, while Mr White went on: What other foodstuffs are there?

  We know the names of three thousand, seven hundred and nineteen foods, said Mr Indigo- Violet, stepping forward. He had become the expert on such matters, and this was another new thing for the Auditors. They had never had experts before. What one knew, all knew. Knowing something that others did not know marked one as, in a small way, an individual. Individuals could die. But it also gave you power and value, which meant that you might not die quite so easily. It was a lot to deal with, and like some of the other Auditors he was already assembling a number of facial tics and twitches as his mind tried to cope.

  Name one, said Mr White. Cheese, said Mr Indigo-Violet smartly. It is rotted bovine lactation.

  We will find some cheese, said Mr White. Three Auditors went past. Susan peered out of a doorway. Are you sure were going the right way? she said. Were leaving the city centre.

  This is the way I should be going, said Lobsang. All right, but I dont like these narrow streets. I dont like hiding. Im not a hiding kind of person.

  Yes, Ive noticed.

  Whats that place ahead?

  Thats the back of the Royal Art Museum. Broad Ways on the other side, said Lobsang. And thats the way we need to go.

  You know your way around for a man from the mountains.

  I grew up here. I know five different ways to break into the museum, too. I used to be a thief.

  I used to be able to walk through the walls, said Susan. Cant seem to do it with time stopped. I think the power gets cancelled out somehow.

  You could really walk through a solid wall?

  Yes. Its a family tradition, Susan snapped. Come on, lets go through the museum. At least no one moves about much in there at the best of times. Ankh-Morpork had not had a king for many centuries, but palaces tend to survive. A city might not need a king, but it can always use big rooms and some handy large walls, long after the monarchy is but a memory and the building is renamed the Glorious Memorial to the Peoples Industry. Besides, although the last king of the city was no oil painting himself - especially when hed been beheaded, after which no one looks their best, not even a short king - it was generally agreed that he had amassed some pretty good works of art. Even the common people of the city had a keen eye for works like Caravatis Three Large Pink Women and One Piece of Gauze or Mauvaises Man with Big Figleaf and, besides, a city with a history the length of Ankh-Morporks accumulated all kinds of artistic debris, and in order to prevent congestion in the streets it needed some sort of civic attic in which to store it. And thus, at little more cost than a few miles of plush red rope and a few old men in uniform to give directions to Three Large Pink Women and One Piece of Gauze, the Royal Art Museum was born.

  Lobsang and Susan hurried through the silent halls. As with Fidgetts, it was hard to know if time had stopped here. Its passage was barely perceptible in any case. The monks at Oi Dong considered it a valuable resource. Susan stopped and turned to look up at a huge, gilt-framed picture that occupied one whole wall of a lengthy corridor, and said, quietly: Oh. . .

  What is it?

  The Battle of Ar-Gash, by Blitzt, said Susan. Lobsang looked at the flaking, uncleaned paint and the yellow-brown varnish. The colours had faded to a dozen shades of mud, but something violent and evil shone through. Is that meant to be Hell? he said. No, it was an ancient city in Klatch, thousands of years ago, said Susan. But Grandfather did say that men made it Hell. Blitzt went mad when he painted it.

  Er, he did good storm clouds, though, said Lobsang, swallowing. Wonderful, er, light. . .

  Look at whats coming out of the clouds, said Susan. Lobsang squinted into the crusted cumulus and fossilized lightning. Oh, yes. The Four Horsemen. You often get them in-

  Count again, said Susan. Lobsang stared. Theres two-

  Dont be silly, theres fi- she began, and then followed his gaze. He hadnt been interested in the art. A couple of Auditors were hurrying away from them, towards the Porcelain Room. Theyre running away from us! said Lobsang. Susan grabbed his hand. Not exactly, she said. They always consult! There have to be three of them to do that! And theyll be back, so come on! She grabbed his hand and towed him into the next gallery. There were grey figures at the far end. The pair ran on, past dust-encrusted tapestries, and into another huge, ancient room. Ye gods, theres a picture of three huge pink women with only- Lobsang began, as he was dragged past.

  Pay attention, will you? The way to the main door was back there! This place is full of Auditors!

  But its just an old art gallery! Theres nothing for them here, is there? They slid to a stop on the marble slabs. A wide staircase led up to the next floor. Well be trapped up there, said Lobsang. Therere balconies all round, said Susan. Come on! She dragged him up the stairs and through an archway. And stopped. The galleries were several storey
s high. On the first floor, visitors could look down on to the floor below. And, in the room below, the Auditors were very busy. What the hell are they doing now? whispered Lobsang. I think, said Susan grimly, that they are appreciating Art. Miss Tangerine was annoyed. Her body kept making strange demands of her, and the work with which she had been entrusted was going so very badly. The frame of what once had been Sir Robert Cuspidors Waggon Stuck In River was leaning against a wall in front of her. It was empty. The bare canvas was neatly rolled beside it. In front of the frame, carefully heaped in order of size, were piles of pigment. Several dozen Auditors were breaking these down into their component molecules. Still nothing? she said, striding along the line. No, Miss Tangerine. Only known molecules and atoms so far, said an Auditor, its voice shaking slightly. Well, is it something to do with the proportions? The balance of molecules? The basic geometry?

  We are continuing to-

  Get on with it! The other Auditors in the gallery, clustered industriously in front of what had once been a painting and in fact still was, insofar as every single molecule was still present in the room, glanced up and then bent again to their tasks. Miss Tangerine was getting even angrier because she couldnt work out why she was angry. One reason was probably that, when he gave her this task, Mr White had looked at her in a funny way. Being looked at was an unfamiliar experience for an Auditor in any case - no Auditor bothered to look at another Auditor very often because all Auditors looked the same - and neither were they used to the idea that you could say things with your face. Or even have a face. Or have a body that reacted in strange ways to the expression on another face

  belonging to, in this case, Mr White. When he looked at her like that she felt a terrible urge to claw his face off. Which made absolutely no sense at all. No Auditor should feel like that about another Auditor. No Auditor should feel like that about anything. No Auditor should feel. She felt livid. Theyd all lost so many powers. It was ridiculous to have to communicate by flapping bits of your skin, and as for the tongue. . . Yuerkkk . . . As far as she knew, in the whole life of the universe, no Auditor had ever experienced the sensation of yuerkkk. This wretched body was full of opportunities for yuerkkk. She could leave it at any time and yet, and yet. . . part of her didnt want to. There was this horrible desire, second by second, to hang on. And she felt hungry. And that also made no sense. The stomach was a bag for digesting food. It wasnt supposed to issue commands. The Auditors could survive quite well by exchanging molecules with their surroundings and making use of any local source of energy. That was a fact. Try telling that to the stomach. She could feel it. It was sitting there, grumbling. She was being harassed by her internal organs. Why the . . . why the. . why had they copied internal organs? Yuerkkk. It was all too much. She wanted to. . . she wanted to. . . express herself by shouting some, some, some terrible words. . . Discord! Confusion! The other Auditors looked around in terror. But the words didnt work for Miss Tangerine. They just didnt have the same force that they used to. There had to be something worse. Ah, yes. . . Organs! she shouted, pleased to have found it at last. And what are all you. . . organs looking at? she added. Get on with it!

  Theyre taking everything apart, whispered Lobsang. Thats the Auditors for you, said Susan. They think thats how you find out about things. You know, I loathe them. I really do. Lobsang glanced sideways at her. The monastery was not a single-sex institution. That is to say, it was, but corporately it had never thought of itself like that because the possibility of females working there had never crossed even minds capable of thinking of sixteen dimensions. But the Thieves Guild had recognized that girls were at least as good as boys in all areas of thieving - he had, for example, fond memories of his classmate Steff, who could steal the small change out of your back pocket and climb better than an Assassin. He was at home around girls. But Susan scared the life out of him. It was as if some secret place inside her boiled with wrath, and with the Auditors she let it out.

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