Thief of time, p.38
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       Thief of Time, p.38

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 38


  Who was the first? said Lu-Tze. Yes!

  Creator and Destroyer?

  Damn right!

  Apparently complicated, apparently patternless behaviour that nevertheless has a simple, deterministic explanation and is a key to new levels of understanding of the multidimensional universe?

  Youd better believe it- What?

  Got to move with the times, mister, got to keep up! shouted Lu-Tze excitedly, hopping from foot to foot. Youre what people think you are! And theyve changed you! I hope youre good at sums!

  You cant tell me what to be! Kaos roared. Im Kaos!

  You dont think so? Well, your big comeback aint gonna happen now that the Auditors have taken over! The rules, mister! Thats what they are! Theyre the cold dead rules! Silver lightning flickered in the walking cloud that had once been Ronnie. Then cloud, cart and horse vanished. Well, could have been worse, I suppose, said Lu-Tze to himself. Not a very bright lad, really. Possibly a bit too old-fashioned.

  He turned round and found a crowd of Auditors watching him. There were dozens of them. He sighed and grinned his sheepish little grin. Hed had just about enough for one day. Well I expect you have heard of Rule One, right? he said. That seemed to give them pause. One said, We know millions of rules, human.

  Billions. Trillions, said another. Well you cant attack me, said Lu-Tze, cos of Rule One. The nearest Auditors went into a huddle. It must involve gravitation.

  No, quantum effects. Obviously.

  Logically there cannot be a Rule One because at that point there would be no concept of plurality.

  But if there is not a Rule One, can there be any other rules? If there is no Rule One, where is Rule Two?

  There are millions of rules! They cannot fail to be numbered! Wonderful thought Lu-Tze. All I have to do is wait until their heads melt. But an Auditor stepped forward. It looked more wild-eyed than the others, and was much more unkempt. It was also carrying an axe. We do not have to discuss this! it snapped. We must think: This is nonsense, we will not discuss it!

  But what is Rule- an Auditor began. You will call me Mr White!

  Mr White, what is Rule One?

  I am not glad you asked that question! screamed Mr White, and swung the axe. The body of the other Auditor crumbled in around the blade, dissolving into floating motes that dispersed in a fine cloud. Anyone else got any questions? said Mr White, raising the axe again. One or two Auditors, not yet entirely in tune with current developments, opened their mouths to speak. And shut them again.

  Lu-Tze took a few steps back. He prided himself on an incredibly well-honed ability to talk his way in or out of anything, but that rather depended on a passably sane entity being involved at the other end of the dialogue. Mr White turned to Lu-Tze. What are you doing out of your place, organic? But Lu-Tze was overhearing another, whispered conversation. It was coming from the other side of a nearby wall, and it went like this: Who cares about the damn wording!

  Accuracy is important, Susan. There is a precise description on the little map inside the lid. Look.

  And you think that will impress anyone?

  Please. Things should be done properly.

  Oh, give it to me, then! Mr White advanced on Lu-Tze, axe raised. It is forbidden to- he began. Eat. . . Oh, good grief. . . Eat. . . “a delicious fondant sugar creme infused with delightfully rich and creamy raspberry filling wrapped in mysterious dark chocolate” . . . you grey bastards! A shower of small objects pattered down on the street. Several of them broke open. Lu-Tze heard a whine or, rather, the silence caused by the absence of a whine hed grown used to. Oh, no, Im winding dow . . . Trailing smoke, but looking more like a milkman again, albeit one thatd just delivered to a blazing house, Ronnie Soak stormed into his dairy. Who does he think he is? he muttered, gripping the spotless edge of a counter so hard that the metal bent. Hah, oh yes, they just toss you aside, but when they want you to make a comeback- Under his fingers the metal went white hot and then dripped. Ive got customers. Ive got customers. People depend on me. It might not be a glamorous job, but people will always need milk- He clapped a hand to his forehead. Where the molten metal touched his skin the metal evaporated. The headache was really bad.

  He could remember the time when there was only him. It was hard to remember, because. . . there was nothing, no colour, no sound, no pressure, no time, no spin, no light, no life. . . Just Kaos. And the thought arose: Do I want that again? The perfect order that goes with changelessness? More thoughts were following that one, like little silvery eels in his mind. He was, after all, a Horseman, and had been ever since the time the people in mud cities on baking plains put together some hazy idea of Something that had existed before anyone else. And a Horseman picks up the noises of the world. The mud-city people and the skin-tent people, theyd known instinctively that the world swirled perilously through a complex and uncaring multiverse, that life was lived a mirrors thickness from the cold of space and the gulfs of night. They knew that everything they called reality, the web of rules that made life happen, was a bubble on the tide. They feared old Kaos. But now- He opened his eyes and looked down at his dark, smoking hands. To the world in general, he said, Who am I now? Lu-Tze heard his voice speed up from nothing: -wn . . .

  No, youre wound up again, said a young woman in front of him. She stood back, giving him a critical look. Lu-Tze, for the first time in eight hundred years, felt that hed been caught doing something wrong. It was that kind of expression - searching, rummaging around inside his head. Youll be Lu-Tze, then, said Susan. Im Susan Sto Helit. No time for explanations. Youve been out for. . . well, not for long. We have to get Lobsang to the glass clock. Are you any good? Lobsang thinks youre a bit of a fraud.

  Only a bit? Im surprised. Lu-Tze looked around. What happened here? The street was empty, except for the ever-present statues. But scraps of silver paper and coloured wrappers littered the ground, and across the wall behind him was a long splash of what looked very much like chocolate icing. Some of them got away, said Susan, picking up what Lu-Tze could only hope was a giant icing syringe. Mostly they fought with one another. Would you try to tear someone apart just for a coffee creme? Lu-Tze looked into those eyes. After eight hundred years you learn how to read people. And Susan was a story that went back a very long way. She probably even knew about Rule One, and didnt care. This was someone to treat with respect. But you couldnt let even someone like her have it all their own way. The kind with a coffee bean on the top, or the ordinary kind? he said. The kind without the coffee bean, I think, said Susan, holding his gaze.

  Nnn-o. No. No, I dont think I would, said Lu-Tze. But they are learning, said a womans voice behind the sweeper. Some resisted. We can learn. Thats how humans became humans. Lu-Tze regarded the speaker. She looked like a society lady who had just had a really bad day in a threshing machine. Can I just be clear here? he said, staring from one woman to the other. Youve been fighting the grey people with chocolate?

  Yes, said Susan, peering round the corner. Its the sensory explosion. They lose control of their morphic field. Can you throw at all? Good. Unity, give him as many chocolate eggs as he can carry. The secret is to get them to land hard so that theres lots of shrapnel-

  And where is Lobsang? said Lu-Tze. Him? You could say hes with us in spirit. There were blue sparkles in the air. Growing pains, I think, Susan added. Centuries of experience once again came to Lu-Tzes aid. He always looked like a lad who needed to find himself, he said. Yes, said Susan. And it came as a bit of a shock. Lets go. Death looked down at the world. Timelessness had reached the Rim now, and was expanding into the universe at the speed of light. The Discworld was a sculpture in crystal. Not an apocalypse. There had always been plenty of those - small apocalypses, not the full shilling at all, fake apocalypses: apocryphal apocalypses. Most of them had been back in the old days, when the world as in end of the world was often objectively no wider than a few villages and a clearing in the forest. And those little worlds had ended.
But there had always been somewhere else. There had been the horizon, to start with. The fleeing refugees would find that the world was bigger than theyd thought. A few villages in a clearing? Hah, how could they have been so stupid! Now they knew it was a whole island! Of course, there was that horizon again. . . The world had run out of horizons. As Death watched, the sun stopped in its orbit and its light became duller, redder. He sighed, and nudged Binky. The horse stepped forward, in a direction that could not be found on any map.

  And the sky was full of grey shapes. There was a ripple in the ranks of Auditors as the Pale Horse trotted forward. One drifted towards Death and hung in the air a few feet away. It said, Should you not be riding out? DO YOU SPEAK FOR ALL ? You know the custom, said the voice in Deaths mind. Among us, one speaks for all. WHAT IS BEING DONE IS WRONG. It is not your business. NEVERTHELESS, WE ARE ALL ANSWERABLE. The universe will last for ever, said the voice. Everything preserved, ordered, understood, lawful, filed. . . changeless. A perfect world. Finished. NO. It will all end one day in any case. BUT THIS IS TOO SOON. THERE IS UNFINISHED BUSINESS. And that is-? EVERYTHING. And, with a flash of light, a figure clothèd all in white appeared, holding a book in one hand. It looked from Death to the endlessly massing ranks of the Auditors, and said: Sorry? Is this the right place? Two Auditors were measuring the number of atoms in a paving slab. They looked up at a movement. Good afternoon, said Lu-Tze. May I draw your attention to the notice my assistant is holding up? Susan held up the sign. It read: Mouths Must Be Open. By Order. And Lu-Tze unfolded his hands. There was a caramel in each one, and he was a good shot. The mouths shut. The faces went impassive. Then there was a sound somewhere between a purr and a wail, which disappeared into the ultrasonic. And then. . . the Auditors dissolved, gently, first going fuzzy around the edges and, as the process accelerated, swiftly becoming a spreading cloud.

  Hand-to-mouth fighting, said Lu-Tze. Why doesnt it happen to humans?

  It nearly does, said Susan, and when they stared at her she blinked and said, To stupid, indulgent humans, anyway.

  You dont have to concentrate to stay the same shape, said Unity. And that was the last of the caramels, by the way.

  No, theres six in one of W&Bs Gold Selections, said Susan. Three have got white chocolate cream in dark chocolate and three have got whipped cream in milk chocolate. Theyre the ones in the silver wrapp- Look, I just happen to know things, all right? Lets keep going, okay? Without mentioning chocolate. You have no power over us, said the Auditor. We are not alive. BUT YOU ARE DEMONSTRATING ARROGANCE, PRIDE AND STUPIDITY. THESE ARE EMOTIONS. I WOULD SAY THEY ARE SIGNS OF LIFE. Excuse me? said the shining figure in white. But you are all alone here! Excuse me? YES? said Death. WHAT IS IT? This is the Apocalypse, yes? said the shining figure petulantly. WE ARE TALKING. Yes, right, but is it the Apocalypse? The actual end of the actual whole world? No, said the Auditor. YES, said Death. IT IS. Great! said the figure. What? said the Auditor. WHAT? said Death. The figure looked embarrassed. Well, not great, obviously. Obviously not great, as such. But its what Im here for. Its what Im for, really. It held up the book. Er, Ive got the place marked ready. Wow! Its been, you know, so long. . . Death glanced at the book. The cover and all the pages were made of iron. Realization dawned.

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