Thief of time, p.34
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       Thief of Time, p.34

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 34

 

  He remembered her hitting that one with the wrench. There had been just a faint frown of concentration, as if she was making certain the job was done properly. Shall we go? he ventured. Look at them, continued Susan. Only an Auditor would take a picture apart to see what made it a work of art.

  Theres a big pile of white dust over there, said Lobsang. Man with Huge Figleaf said Susan absently, her eyes still intent on the grey figures. Theyd dismantle a clock to search for the tick.

  How do you know its Man with Huge Figleaf?

  I just happen to remember where it is, thats all.

  You, er, you appreciate art? Lobsang ventured. I know what I like, said Susan, still staring at the busy grey figures. And right now Id like quite a lot of weaponry.

  Wed better move-

  The bastards get into your head if you let them, said Susan, not moving. When you find yourself thinking “There ought to be a law” or “I dont make the rules, after all” or-

  I really think we should leave, said Lobsang carefully. And I think this because there are some of them coming up the stairs. Her head jerked around. What are you standing about for, then? she said. They ran through the next arch and into a gallery of pottery, turning to look only when they reached the far end. Three Auditors were following them. They werent running, but there was something about their synchronized step that had a horrible well-keep-on-coming quality. All right, lets go this way-

  No, lets go this way, said Lobsang. Thats not the way we need to go! Susan snapped. No, but the sign up there says “Arms and Armour”!

  So? Are you any good with weapons?

  No! said Lobsang proudly, and then realized shed taken this the wrong way. You see, Ive been taught to fight without-

  Maybe theres a sword I can use, Susan growled, and strode forward. By the time the Auditors entered the gallery there were more than three of them. The grey crowd paused. Susan had found a sword, part of a display of Agatean armour. It had been blunted by disuse, but anger flared along the blade. Should we keep running? said Lobsang. No. They always catch up. I dont know if we can kill them here, but we can make them wish we could. You still havent got a weapon?

  No, because, you see, Ive been trained to-

  Just keep out of my way, then, okay? The Auditors advanced cautiously, which struck Lobsang as odd. We cant kill them? said Lobsang. It depends on how alive theyve let themselves become.

  But they look scared, he said. Theyre human-shaped, said Susan over her shoulder. Human bodies. Perfect copies. Human bodies have had thousands and thousands of years of not wanting to be cut in half. That sort of leaks into the brain, dont you think? And then the Auditors were circling and moving in. Of course they would all attack at once. No one would want to be first. Three made a grab at Lobsang. Hed enjoyed the fighting, back in the training dojos. Of course, everyone was padded, and no one was actually trying to kill you, and that helped. But Lobsang had done well because he was good at slicing. He could always find that extra edge. And if you had that edge, you didnt need quite so much skill. There was no edge here. There was no time to slice. He adopted a mixture of sna-fu and okidoki and anything that worked, because you were dead if you treated a real fight like the dojo. The grey men were no contest, in any case. They just attempted to grab and hug. A granny would have been able to fend them off. He sent two reeling and turned to the third, which was trying to grab him around the neck. He broke the hold, spun around ready to chop, and hesitated. Oh, good grief! said a voice.

  Susans blade whirled past Lobsangs face. The head in front of him was parted from its former body in a shower not of blood but of coloured, floating dust. The body evaporated, became very briefly a grey-robed shape in the air, and vanished. Lobsang heard a couple of thumps behind him, and then Susan grabbed his shoulder. Youre not supposed to hesitate, you know! she said. But it was a woman!

  It was not! But it was the last one. Now lets go, before the rest get here. She nodded at a second group of Auditors that were watching them very carefully from the end of the hall. They werent much of a contest anyway, said Lobsang, getting his breath. What are those doing?

  Learning. Can you fight better than that?

  Of course!

  Good, because next time theyll be as good as you just were. Where to now?

  Er, this way! The next gallery was full of stuffed animals. Thered been a vogue for it a few centuries before. These werent the sad old hunting-trophy bears or geriatric tigers whose claws had faced a man armed with nothing more than five crossbows, twenty loaders and a hundred beaters. Some of these animals were arranged in groups. Quite small groups, of quite small animals. There were frogs, seated around a tiny dining table. There were dogs, dressed in hunting jackets, in pursuit of a fox wearing a cap with feathers in it. There was a monkey playing a banjo. Oh, no, its an entire band, said Susan in tones of horrified astonishment. And just look at the little kittens dancing. . .

  Horrible!

  I wonder what happened when the man who did this met my grandfather.

  Would he have met your grandfather?

  Oh, yes, said Susan. Oh, yes. And my grandfather is rather fond of cats. Lobsang paused at the foot of a staircase, half hidden behind a luckless elephant. A red rope, now hard as a bar, suggested that this wasnt part of the public museum. There was an added hint in the shape of a notice saying: Absolutely No Admittance.

  I should be up there, he said. Lets not hang around, then, eh? said Susan, leaping over the rope. The narrow stairs led up onto a large, bare landing. Boxes were stacked here and there. The attics, said Susan. Hold on. . . Whats that sign for?

  “Keep left”, Lobsang read. Well, if they have to move heavy items around-

  Look at the sign, will you? said Susan. Dont see what you expect to see, see whats in front of you! Lobsang looked. >> KEEP LEFT >> What a stupid sign, he said. Hmm. Interesting, certainly, said Susan. Which way do you think we should go? I dont think itll take them too long to decide to follow us.

  Were so close! Any passage might do! said Lobsang. Any passage it is, then. Susan headed for a narrow gap between packing cases. Lobsang followed. What do you mean, decide? he said, as they entered the gloom. The sign on the stairs said there was no admittance.

  You mean theyll disobey it? He stopped. Eventually. But theyll have a terrible feeling that they ought not to. They obey rules. They are the rules, in a way.

  But you cant obey the Keep Left/Right sign, no matter what you do. . . oh, I see. . .

  Isnt learning fun? Oh, and heres another one. DO NOT FEED THE ELEPHANT. Now that, said Susan, is good. You cant obey it. . .

  . . . because theres no elephant, said Lobsang. I think Im getting the hang of this. . .

  Its an Auditor trap, said Susan, peering at a packing case. Heres another good one, said Lobsang. IGNORE THIS SIGN. By order

  Nice touch, Susan agreed, but Im wondering. . . who put up the signs? There were voices somewhere behind them. They were low, but then one was suddenly raised. -says Left but points Right! It has no sense!

  The fault is yours! We disobeyed the first sign! Woe to them that stray onto the pathway of irregularity!

  Dont you give me that, you organic thing! I raise my voice at you, you- There was a soft sound, a choking noise, and a scream that dopplered into nothing. Are they fighting one another? said Lobsang. We can only hope so. Lets move, said Susan. They crept on, weaving through the maze of spaces between the crates, and past a sign saying: DUCK Ah. . . now were getting metaphysical, said Susan. Why duck? said Lobsang. Why indeed? Somewhere amongst the cases a voice reached the end of its tether. What organic damn elephant? Where is the elephant?

  There is no elephant!

  How can there be a sign, then? It is a- . . . and once again the little choke, and the vanishing scream. And then. . . running footsteps. Susan and Lobsang backed into the shadows, and then Susan said, What have I put my foot in? She reached down and picked up the soft, sticky mess. And as she ro
se, she saw the Auditor come round the corner. It was wild-eyed and frantic. It focused on the pair of them with difficulty, as if trying to remember who and what they were. But it was holding a sword, and holding it correctly. A figure rose up behind it. One hand grabbed it by the hair and jerked its head back. The other was thrust over its open mouth.

  The Auditor struggled for a moment, and then went rigid. And then disintegrated, tiny particles spinning away and disappearing into nothing. For a moment the last few handfuls tried to form, in the air, the shape of a small cowled figure. Then it too was dragged apart, with a faint scream that was heard via the hairs on the back of the neck. Susan glared at the figure in front of her. Youre a. . . you cant be a. . . what are you? she demanded. The figure was silent. This might have been because thick cloth covered its nose and mouth. Heavy gloves encased its hands. And this was odd, because most of the rest of it was wearing a sequinned evening gown. And a mink stole. And a knapsack. And a huge picture hat with enough feathers to make three rare species totally extinct. The figure rummaged in the knapsack, and then thrust out a piece of dark brown paper, as if proffering holy writ. Lobsang took it with care. It says here “Higgs & Meakins Luxury Assortment”, he said. Caramel Crunch, Hazelnut Surprise. . . Theyre chocolates? Susan opened her hand and looked at the crushed Strawberry Whirl she had picked up. She gave the figure a careful look. How did you know that would work? she said. Please! You have nothing to fear from me, said the muffled voice through the bandages. Im down to the ones with the nuts in now, and they dont melt very quickly.

  Sorry? said Lobsang. You just killed an Auditor with a chocolate?

  My last Orange Creme, yes. We are exposed here. Come with me.

  An Auditor. . . Susan breathed. Youre an Auditor too. Arent you? Why should I trust you?

  There isnt anyone else.

  But you are one of them, said Susan. I can tell, even under all that. . . that stuff!

  I was one of them, said Lady LeJean. Now I rather think Im one of me. People were living in the attic. There was a whole family up there. Susan wondered if their presence was official or unofficial or one of those in-between states that were so common in Ankh-Morpork, where there was always a chronic housing shortage. So much of the citys life took place on the street because there was no room for it inside. Whole families were raised in shifts, so that the bed could be used for twenty-four hours a day. By the look of it, the caretakers and men who knew the way to Caravatis Three Large Pink Women and One Piece of Gauze had moved their families in to the rambling attics.

  The rescuer had simply moved in on top of them. A family, or at least one shift of it, was seated on benches around a table. frozen in timelessness. Lady LeJean removed her hat, hung it on the mother and shook out her hair. Then she unwrapped the heavy bandages from her nose and mouth. We are relatively safe here, she said. They are mostly in the main streets. Good. . . day. My name is Myria LeJean. I know who you are, Susan Sto Helit. I do not know the young man, which surprises me. I take it you are here to destroy the clock?

  To stop it, said Lobsang. Hold on, hold on, said Susan. This makes no sense. Auditors hate everything about life. And you are an Auditor, arent you?

 
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