Thief of time, p.39
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       Thief of Time, p.39

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 39


  YOU ARE THE ANGEL CLOTHED ALL IN WHITE OF THE IRON BOOK FROM THE PROPHECIES OF TOBRUN, AM I CORRECT? Thats right! The pages clanged as the angel hurriedly thumbed through them. And its clothèd, by the way, if you dont mind. Clo-theddd. Just a detail, I know, but I like to get it right. What is happening here? the Auditor growled. I DONT KNOW HOW TO TELL YOU THIS, said Death, ignoring the interruption, BUT YOU ARE NOT OFFICIAL. The pages stopped clanking. What do you mean? said the angel suspiciously. THE BOOK OF TOBRUN HAS NOT BEEN CONSIDERED OFFICIAL CHURCH DOGMA FOR A HUNDRED YEARS. THE PROPHET BRUTHA REVEALED THAT THE WHOLE CHAPTER WAS A METAPHOR FOR A POWER STRUGGLE WITHIN THE EARLY CHURCH. IT IS NOT INCLUDED IN THE REVISED VERSION OF THE BOOK OF OM, AS DETERMINED BY THE CONVOCATION OF EE. Not at all? IM SORRY. Ive been thrown out? Just like the damn rabbits and the big syrupy things? YES. Even the bit where I blow the trumpet? OH, YES. You sure? ALWAYS. But you are Death and this is the Apocalypse, right? said the angel, looking wretched. So therefore- UNFORTUNATELY, HOWEVER, YOU ARE NO LONGER A FORMAL PART OF THE PROCEEDINGS. Out of the corner of his mind, Death was observing the Auditor. Auditors always listened when people spoke. The more people spoke, the closer to consensus every decision came, and the less responsibility anyone had. But the Auditor was showing signs of impatience and annoyance. . . Emotions. And emotions made you alive. Death knew how to deal with the living.

  The angel looked around at the universe. Then what am I supposed to do? he wailed. This is what Ive been waiting for! For thousands of years! He stared at the iron book. Thousands of dull, boring, wasted years. . . he mumbled. Have you quite finished? said the Auditor. One big scene. Thats all I had. That was my purpose. You wait, you practise - and then youre just edited out because brimstone is no longer a fashionable colour? Anger was infusing the bitterness in the angels voice. No one told me, of course. . . He glared at the rusted pages. It ought to be Pestilence next, he muttered. Am I late, then? said a voice in the night. A horse walked forward. It gleamed unhealthily, like a gangrenous wound just before the barber-surgeon would be called in with his hacksaw for a quick trim. I THOUGHT YOU WERENT COMING, said Death. I didnt want to, Pestilence oozed, but humans do get such interesting diseases. Id rather like to see how weasles turn out, too. One crusted eye winked at Death. You mean measles? said the angel. Weasles, Im afraid, said Pestilence. People are getting really careless with this bio- artificing. Were talking boils that really bite. Two of you will not suffice! snarled the Auditor in their heads. A horse walked out of the darkness. Some toast racks had more flesh. Ive been thinking, said a voice. Maybe there are things worth putting up a fight for.

  And they are-? said Pestilence, looking round. Salad-cream sandwiches. You just cant beat them. That tang of permitted emulsifiers? Marvellous.

  Hah! Youre Famine, then? said the Angel of the Iron Book. It fumbled with the heavy pages again. What, what, what is this nonsense of salad cream? [18] shouted the Auditor. Anger, thought Death. A powerful emotion. Do I like salad cream? said a voice in the dark. A second, female voice replied: No, dear, it gives you hives.

  The horse of War was huge and red and the heads of dead warriors hung from the saddle horn. And Mrs War was hanging on to War, grimly. All four. Bingo! said the Angel of the Iron Book. So much for the Convocation of Ee! War had a woolly scarf round his neck. He looked sheepishly at the other Horsemen. Hes not to strain himself, said Mrs War sharply. And youre not to let him do anything dangerous. Hes not as strong as he thinks. And he gets confused. So, the gang is all here, said the Auditor. Smugness, Death noticed. And self-satisfaction. There was a clanging as of metal pages. The Angel of the Iron Book was looking puzzled. Actually, I dont think thats entirely correct, it said. No one paid it any attention. Off you go on your little pantomime, said the Auditor. And now irony and sarcasm, thought Death. They must be picking it up from the ones down in the world. All the little things that go to make up a. . . personality. He looked along the row of Horsemen. They caught his eye, and there were almost imperceptible nods from Famine and Pestilence. War turned in the saddle and spoke to his wife. Right now, dear, Im not confused at all. Could you get down, please?

  Remember what happened when- Mrs War began. Right now, please, my dear, said War, and this time his voice, which was still calm and polite, had echoes of steel and bronze. Er . . . oh. Mrs War was suddenly flustered. That was just how you used to talk when- She stopped, blushed happily for a moment, and slid off the horse. War nodded at Death. And now you must all go and bring terror and destruction and so on and so forth, said the Auditor. Correct? Death nodded. Floating in the air above him, the Angel of the Iron Book slammed the pages back and forth in an effort to find his place. EXACTLY. ONLY, WHILE IT IS TRUE WE HAVE TO RIDE OUT, Death added, drawing his sword, IT DOESNT SAY ANYWHERE AGAINST WHOM.

  Your meaning? hissed the Auditor, but now there was a flicker of fear. Things were happening that it didnt understand. Death grinned. In order to fear, you had to be a me. Dont let anything happen to me. That was the song of fear. He means, said War, that he asked us all to think about whose side were really on. Four swords were drawn, blazing along their edges like flame. Four horses charged. The Angel of the Iron Book looked down at Mrs War. Excuse me, he said, but do you have a pencil? Susan peered round the corner into Artificers Street, and groaned. Its full of them. . . and I think theyve gone mad. Unity took a look. No. They have not gone mad. They are being Auditors. They are taking measurements, assessing and standardizing where necessary.

  Theyre taking up the paving slabs now!

  Yes. I suspect it is because they are the wrong size. We do not like irregularities.

  What the hell is the wrong size for a slab of rock?

  Any size that is not the average size. Im sorry. The air around Susan flashed blue. She was very briefly aware of a human shape, transparent, spinning gently, which vanished again. But a voice in her ear, in her ear said: Nearly strong enough. Can you get to the end of the street? Yes. Are you sure? You couldnt do anything to the clock before! Before, I was not me. A movement in the air made Susan look up. The lightning bolt that had stood rigid over the dead city had gone. The clouds were rolling like ink poured into water. There were flashes within them, sulphurous yellows and reds. The Four Horsemen are fighting the other Auditors, Lobsang supplied. Are they winning? Lobsang did not answer. I said-

  Its hard for me to say. I can see. . . everything. Everything that could be . . . Kaos listened to history. There were new words. Wizards and philosophers had found Chaos, which is Kaos with his hair combed and a tie on, and had found in the epitome of disorder a new order undreamed of. There are different kinds of rules. From the simple comes the complex, and from the complex comes a different kind of simplicity. Chaos is order in a mask. . . Chaos. Not dark, ancient Kaos, left behind by the evolving universe, but new, shiny Chaos, dancing in the heart of everything. The idea was strangely attractive. And it was a reason to go on living. Ronnie Soak adjusted his cap. Oh, yes. . . there was one last thing. The milk was always lovely and fresh. Everyone remarked on that. Of course, being everywhere at seven in the morning was no trouble to him. If even the Hogfather could climb down every chimney in the world in one night, doing a milk round for most of a city in one second was hardly a major achievement. Keeping things cool was, however. But there he had been lucky. Mr Soak walked into the ice room, where his breath turned to fog in the frigid air. Churns were stacked across the floor, sparkling on the outside. Vats of butter and cream were piled on shelves that glistened with ice. Rack after rack of eggs were just visible through the frost. Hed been planning to add the ice-cream business in the summer. It was such an obvious step. Besides, he needed to use up the cold. A stove was burning in the middle of the floor. Mr Soak always bought good coal from the dwarfs, and the iron plates were glowing red. The room, one felt, ought to be an oven, but there was a gentle sizzling on the stove as frost battled with the heat. With the stove roaring, the room was merely an ice-box. Without the stove.
. . Ronnie opened the door of a white-rimmed cupboard and smashed at the ice within with his fist. Then he reached inside. What emerged, crackling with blue flame, was a sword. It was a work of art, the sword. It had imaginary velocity, negative energy and positive cold, cold so cold that it met heat coming the other way and took on something of its nature. Burning cold. There had never been anything as cold as this since before the universe began. In fact, it seemed to Chaos, everything since then had been merely lukewarm. Well, Im back, he said. The Fifth Horseman rode out, and a faint smell of cheese followed him. Unity looked at the other two, and at the blue glow that still hovered around the group. They had taken cover behind a fruit barrow.

  If I may make a suggestion, she said, it is that w- that Auditors are not good with surprises. The impulse is always to consult. And the assumption is always that there will be a plan.

  So? said Susan. I suggest total madness. I suggest you and. . . and the. . . young man run for the shop, and I will attract the attention of the Auditors. I believe this old man should assist me because he will die soon in any case. There was silence. Accurate yet unnecessary, said Lu-Tze. That was not good etiquette? she said. It could have been better. However, is it not written, “When you have got to go, you have got to go” ? said Lu-Tze. And also that, “You should always wear clean underwear because you never know if you will be knocked down by a cart”?

  Will it help? said Unity, looking very puzzled. That is one of the great mysteries of the Way, said Lu-Tze, nodding sagely. What chocolate do we have left?

  Were down to the nougat now, said Unity. And I believe nougat is a terrible thing to cover with chocolate, where it can ambush the unsuspecting. Susan? Susan was peering up the street. Mmm?

  Do you have any chocolate left? Susan shook her head. Mmm-mmm.

  I believe you were carrying the cherry cremes?

  Mmm? Susan swallowed, and then gave a cough that expressed, in a remarkably concise way, embarrassment and annoyance. I just had one! she snapped. I need the sugar.

  Im sure no one said you did have more than one, said Unity meekly. We havent been counting at all, said Lu-Tze. If you have a handkerchief, said Unity, still diplomatically, I could wipe away the chocolate around your mouth which must have inadvertently got there during the last engagement. Susan glared and used the back of her hand.

  Its just the sugar, she said. Thats all. Its fuel. And do stop going on about it! Look, we cant just let you die to get- Yes, we can, said Lobsang. Why? said Susan, shocked. Because I have seen everything. Would you like to tell everyone? said Susan, reverting to Classroom Sarcasm. Wed all like to know how this ends! You misunderstand the meaning of everything. Lu-Tze rummaged in his sack of ammunition and produced two chocolate eggs and a paper bag. Unity went white at the sight of the bag. I didnt know we had any of those! she said. Good, are they?

  Coffee beans coated in chocolate, breathed Susan. They should be outlawed! The two women watched in horror as Lu-Tze put one in his mouth. He gave them a surprised look. Quite nice, but I prefer liquorice, he said. You mean you dont want another one? said Susan. No, thank you.

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