Thief of time, p.36
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       Thief of Time, p.36

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 36


  Susan glanced at Lady LeJean, who said, I saw it too, Susan.

  Who saw what? said Lobsang. What are you hiding from me?

  His lips move when you speak, said Susan. They try to form the same words.

  He can pick up my thoughts?

  Its more complicated than that, I think. Susan picked up a limp hand and gently pinched the web of skin between thumb and forefinger. Lobsang winced, and glanced at his own hand. A patch of white skin was reddening again. Not just thoughts, said Susan. This close, you feel his pain. Your speech controls his lips. Lobsang stared down at Jeremy. Then what will happen, he said slowly, when he comes round?

  Im wondering the same thing, said Susan. Perhaps you shouldnt be here.

  But this is where I have to be!

  We at least should not stay here, said Lady LeJean. I know my kind. They will have been discussing what to do. The signs will not hold them for ever. And I have run out of soft centres.

  What are you supposed to do when you are where youre supposed to be? said Susan. Lobsang reached down and touched Jeremys hand with his fingertip. The world went white. Susan wondered later if this was what it would be like at the heart of a star. It wouldnt be yellow, you wouldnt see fire, there would just be the searing whiteness of every overloaded sense screaming all at once. It faded, gradually, into a mist. The walls of the room appeared, but she could see through them. There were other walls beyond, and other rooms, transparent as ice and visible only at the corners and where the light caught them. In each one another Susan was turning to look at her. The rooms went on for ever. Susan was sensible. It was, she knew, a major character flaw. It did not make you popular, or cheerful, and - this seemed to her to be the most unfair bit - it didnt even make you right. But it did make you definite, and she was definite that what was happening around her was not, in any accepted sense, real.

  That was not in itself a problem. Most of the things humans busied themselves with werent real, either. But sometimes the mind of the most sensible person encountered something so big, so complex, so alien to all understanding, that it told itself little stories about it instead. Then, when it felt it understood the story, it felt it understood the huge incomprehensible thing. And this, Susan knew, was her mind telling itself a story. There was a sound like great heavy metal doors slamming, one after another, getting louder and faster. . . The universe reached a decision. The other glass rooms vanished. The walls clouded. Colour rose, pastel at first, then darkening as timeless reality flowed back. The bed was empty. Lobsang had gone. But the air was full of slivers of blue light, turning and swirling like ribbons in a storm. Susan remembered to breathe again. Oh, she said aloud. Destiny. She turned. The bedraggled Lady LeJean was still staring at the empty bed. Is there another way out of here?

  Theres an elevator at the end of the corridor, Susan, but what happened to-?

  Not Susan, said Susan sharply. Its Miss Susan. Im only Susan to my friends, and you are not one of them. I dont trust you at all.

  I dont trust me either, said Lady LeJean meekly. Does that help?

  Show me this elevator, will you? It turned out to be nothing more than a large box the size of a small room, which hung from a web of ropes and pulleys in the ceiling. It had been installed recently, by the look of it, to move the large works of art around. Sliding doors occupied most of one wall. There are capstans in the cellar for winching it up, said Lady LeJean. Downward journeys are slowed safely because of a mechanism by which the weight of the descending elevator causes water to be pumped up into rainwater cisterns on the roof, which in turn can be released back into a hollow counterweight that assists in the elevation of heavier items of-

  Thank you, said Susan quickly. But what it really needs in order to descend is time. Under her breath she added, Can you help? The ribbons of blue light orbited her, like puppies anxious to play, and then drifted towards the elevator. However, she added, I believe Time is on our side now. Miss Tangerine was amazed at how fast a body learned.

  Until now Auditors had learned by counting. Sooner or later, everything came down to numbers. If you knew all the numbers, you knew everything. Often the later was a lot later, but that did not matter because for an Auditor time was just another number. But a brain, a few soggy pounds of gristle, counted numbers so fast that they stopped being numbers at all. Shed been astonished at how easily it could direct a hand to catch a ball in the air, calculating future positions of hand and ball without her even being aware of it. The senses seemed to operate and present her with conclusions before she had time to think. At the moment she was trying to explain to other Auditors that not feeding an elephant when there was no elephant not to feed was not in fact impossible. Miss Tangerine was one of the faster-learning Auditors and had already formulated a group of things, events and situations that she categorized as bloody stupid. Things that were bloody stupid could be dismissed. Some of the others were having difficulty understanding this, but now she stopped in mid- harangue when she heard the rumble of the elevator. Do we have anyone upstairs? she demanded. The Auditors around her shook their heads. IGNORE THIS NOTICE had produced too much confusion. Then someone is coming down! said Miss Tangerine. They are out of place! They must be stopped!

  We must discuss- an Auditor began. Do what I say, you organic organ!

  Its a matter of personalities, said Lady LeJean, as Susan pushed open a door in the roof and stepped out onto the leads. Yes? said Susan, looking around at the silent city. I thought you didnt have them.

  They will have them now, said Lady LeJean, climbing out behind her. And personalities define themselves in terms of other personalities. Susan, prowling along the parapet, considered this strange sentence. You mean there will be flaming rows? she said. Yes. We have never had egos before.

  Well, you seem to be managing.

  Only by becoming completely and utterly insane, said her ladyship. Susan turned. Lady LeJeans hat and dress had become even more tattered, and she was shedding sequins. And then there was the matter of the face. An exquisite mask on a bone structure like fine china had been made up by a clown. Probably a blind clown. And one who

  was wearing boxing gloves. In a fog. Lady LeJean looked at the world through panda eyes and her lipstick touched her mouth only by accident. You dont look insane, lied Susan. As such.

  Thank you. But sanity is defined by the majority, I am afraid. Do you know the saying “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”?

  Of course. Susan scanned the rooftops for a way down. She did not need this. The. . . thing seemed to want to talk. Or, rather, to chatter aimlessly. It is an insane statement. It is a nonsense. But now I believe that it is true.

  Good. That elevator should be getting down about. . . now. Slivers of blue light, like trout slipping through a stream, danced around the elevator door. The Auditors gathered. They had been learning. Many of them had acquired weapons. And a number of them had taken care not to communicate to the others that gripping something offensive in the hand seemed a very natural thing to do. It spoke to something right down in the back of the brain. It was therefore unfortunate that when a couple of them pulled open the elevator door it was to reveal, slightly melting in the middle of the floor, a cherry liqueur chocolate. The scent wafted. There was only one survivor and, when Miss Tangerine ate the chocolate, there wasnt even that. One of lifes little certainties, said Susan, standing on the edge of the museums parapet, is that there is generally a last chocolate hidden in all those empty wrappers. Then she reached down and grabbed the top of a drainpipe. She wasnt certain how this would work. If she fell. . . but would she fall? There was no time to fall. She had her own personal time. In theory, if anything so definite as a theory existed in a case like this, that meant she could just drift down to the ground. But the time to test a theory like that was when you had no other choice. A theory was just an idea, but a drainpipe was a fact. The blue light flickered around her hands. Lobsang? she said quietly. It is you, isn
t it? That name is as good as any for us. The voice was as faint as a breath. This may seem a stupid question, but where are you? We are just a memory. And I am weak.

  Oh. Susan slid a little further. But I will grow strong. Get to the clock. Whats the point? There was nothing we could do! Times have changed. Susan reached the ground. Lady LeJean followed, moving clumsily. Her evening dress had acquired several more tears. Can I offer a fashion tip? said Susan. It would be welcomed, said her ladyship politely. Long cerise bloomers with that dress? Not a good idea.

  No? They are very colourful, and quite warm. What should I have chosen instead?

  With that cut? Practically nothing.

  That would have been acceptable?

  Er. . . Susan blanched at unfolding the complex laws of lingerie to someone who wasnt even, she felt, anybody. To anyone likely to find out, yes, she finished. It would take too long to explain. Lady LeJean sighed. All of it does, she said. Even clothing. Skin-substitutes to preserve body heat? So simple. So easy to say. But there are so many rules and exceptions, impossible to understand. Susan looked along Broad Way. It was thick with silent traffic, but there was no sign of an Auditor. Well run into more of them, she said aloud. Yes. There will be hundreds, at least, said Lady LeJean. Why?

  Because we have always wondered what life is like.

  Then lets get up into Zephire Street, said Susan. What is there for us?

  Wienrich and Boettcher.

  Who are they?

  I think the original Herr Wienrich and Frau Boettcher died a long time ago. But the shop still does very good business, said Susan, darting across the street. We need ammunition. Lady LeJean caught up. Oh. They make chocolate? she said. Does a bear poo in the woods? said Susan, and realized her mistake straight away. [16] Too late. Lady LeJean looked thoughtful for a moment. Yes, she said at last. Yes, I believe that most varieties do indeed excrete as you suggest, at least in the temperate zones, but there are several that-

  I meant to say that, yes, they make chocolate, said Susan. Vanity, vanity, thought Lu-Tze, as the milk cart rattled through the silent city. Ronnie would have been like a god, and people of that stripe dont like hiding. Not really hiding. They like to leave a little clue, some emerald tablet somewhere, some code in some tomb under the desert, something to say to the keen researcher: I was here, and I was great. What else had the first people been afraid of? Night, maybe. Cold. Bears. Winter. Stars. The endless sky. Spiders. Snakes. One another. People had been afraid of so many things. He reached into his pack for the battered copy of the Way, and opened it at random. Koan 97: Do unto otters as you would have them do unto you. Hmm. No real help there. Besides, hed occasionally been unsure that hed written that one down properly, although it certainly had worked. Hed always left aquatic mammals well alone, and they had done the same to him. He tried again. Koan 124: Its amazing what you see if you keep your eyes open.

  Whats the book, monk? said Ronnie. Oh, just. . . a little book, said Lu-Tze. He looked around. The cart was passing a funeral parlour. The owner had invested in a large plate-glass window, even though the professional undertaker does not, in truth, have that much to sell that looks good in a window and they usually make do with dark, sombre drapes and perhaps a tasteful urn. And the name of the Fifth Horseman. Hah! said Lu-Tze quietly. Something funny, monk?

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