Thief of time, p.4
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       Thief of Time, p.4

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 4

 

  Questions dont have to make sense, Vincent, said Miss Susan. But answers do. There was a kind of sigh from Penelope. To Miss Susans surprise the face that one day would surely cause her father to have to hire bodyguards was emerging from its normal happy daydream and wrapping itself around an answer. Her alabaster hand was rising, too. The class watched expectantly. Yes, Penelope?

  Its. . .

  Yes?

  Its always now everywhere, miss?

  Exactly right. Well done! All right, Vincent, you can have the silver star. And for you, Penelope. . . Miss Susan went back to the cupboard of stars. Getting Penelope to step off her cloud long enough even to answer a question was worth a star, but a deep philosophical statement like that had to make it a gold one. I want you all to open your notebooks and write down what Penelope just told us, she said brightly as she sat down. And then she saw the inkwell on her desk beginning to rise like Penelopes hand. It was a ceramic pot, made to drop neatly into a round hole in the woodwork. It came up smoothly, and turned out to be balanced on the cheerful skull of the Death of Rats. It winked one blue-glowing eye socket at Miss Susan. With quick little movements, not even looking down, she whisked the inkwell aside with one hand and reached for a thick volume of stories with the other. She brought it down so hard on the hole that blue-black ink splashed onto the cobbles. Then she raised the desk lid and peeped inside. There was, of course, nothing there. At least, nothing macabre. . . . . . unless you counted the piece of chocolate half gnawed by rat teeth and a note in heavy gothic lettering saying: SEE ME and signed by a very familiar alpha-and-omega symbol and the word Grandfather Susan picked up the note and screwed it into a ball, aware that she was trembling with rage. How dare he? And to send the rat, too! She tossed the ball into the wastepaper basket. She never missed. Sometimes the basket moved in order to ensure that this was the case. And now well go and see what the time is in Klatch, she told the watching children. On the desk, the book had fallen open at a certain page. And, later on, it would be story time. And Miss Susan would wonder, too late, why the book had been on her desk when she had never even seen it before.

  And a splash of blue-black ink would stay on the cobbles of the square in Genua, until the evening rainstorm washed it away. Tick The first words that are read by seekers of enlightenment in the secret, gong-banging, yeti- haunted valleys near the hub of the world, are when they look into The Life of Wen the Eternally Surprised. The first question they ask is: Why was he eternally surprised? And they are told: Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, recreated anew. Therefore, he understood, there is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it. The first words read by the young Lu-Tze when he sought perplexity in the dark, teeming, rain-soaked city of Ankh-Morpork were: Rooms For Rent, Very Reasonable. And he was glad of it. Tick Where there is suitable country for grain, people farm. They know the taste of good soil. They grow grain. Where there is good steel country, furnaces turn the sky to sunset red all night. The hammers never stop. People make steel. There is coal country, and beef country, and grass country. The world is full of countries where one thing shapes the land and the people. And up here in the high valleys around the hub of the world, where the snow is never far away, this is enlightenment country. Here are people who know that there is no steel, only the idea of steel. [5] They give names to new things, and to things that dont exist. They seek the essence of being and the nature of the soul. They make wisdom. Temples command every glacier-headed valley, where there are particles of ice in the wind, even at the height of summer. There are the Listening Monks, seeking to discern within the hubbub of the world the faint echoes of the sounds that set the universe in motion. There are the Brothers of Cool, a reserved and secretive sect which believes that only through ultimate coolness can the universe be comprehended, and that black works with everything, and that chrome will never truly go out of style. In their vertiginous temple criss-crossed with tightropes, the Balancing Monks test the tension of the world and then set out on long, perilous journeys to restore its equilibrium.

  Their work may be seen on high mountains and isolated islets. They use small brass weights, none of them bigger than a fist. They work. Well, obviously they work. The world has not tipped up yet. And in the highest, greenest, airiest valley of all, where apricots are grown and the streams have floating ice in them even on the hottest day, is the monastery of Oi Dong and the fighting monks of the Order of Wen. The other sects call them the History Monks. Not much is known about what they do, although some have remarked on the strange fact that it is always a wonderful spring day in the little valley and that the cherry trees are always in bloom. The rumour is that the monks have some kind of duty to see that tomorrow happens according to some mystic plan devised by some man who kept on being surprised. In fact, for some time now, and it would be impossible and ridiculous to say how long, the truth has been stranger and more dangerous. The job of the History Monks is to see that tomorrow happens at all. The Master of Novices met with Rinpo, chief acolyte to the abbot. At the moment, at least, the position of chief acolyte was a very important post. In his current condition the abbot needed many things done for him, and his attention span was low. In circumstances like this, there is always someone willing to carry the load. There are Rinpos everywhere. Its Ludd again, said the Master of Novices. Oh, dear. Surely one naughty child cant trouble you?

  One ordinary naughty child, no. Where is this one from?

  Master Soto sent him. You know? Of our Ankh-Morpork section? He found him in the city. The boy has a natural talent, I understand, said Rinpo. The Master of Novices looked shocked. Talent! He is a wicked thief! Hed been apprenticed to the Guild of Thieves! he said. Well? Children sometimes steal. Beat them a little, and they stop stealing. Basic education, said Rinpo. Ah. There is a problem.

  Yes?

  He is very, very fast. Around him, things go missing. Little things. Unimportant things. But even when he is watched closely, he is never seen to take them.

  Then perhaps he does not?

  He walks through a room and things vanish! said the Master of Novices.

  Hes that fast? Its just as well Soto did find him, then. But a thief is-

  They turn up later, in odd places, said the Master of Novices, apparently grudging the admission. He does it out of mischief, Im sure. The breeze blew the scent of cherry blossom across the terrace. Look, I am used to disobedience, said the Master of Novices. That is part of a novices life. But he is also tardy.

  Tardy?

  He turns up late for his lessons.

  How can a pupil be tardy here?

  Mr Ludd doesnt seem to care. Mr Ludd seems to think he can do as he pleases. He is also. . . smart. The acolyte nodded. Ah. Smart. The word had a very specific meaning here in the valley. A smart boy thought he knew more than his tutors, and answered back, and interrupted. A smart boy was worse than a stupid one. He does not accept discipline? said the acolyte. Yesterday, when I was taking the class for Temporal Theory in the Stone Room, I caught him just staring at the wall. Clearly not paying attention. But when I called out to him to answer the problem Id chalked on the blackboard, knowing full well that he could not, he did so. Instantly. And correctly.

  Well? You did say he was a smart boy. The Master of Novices looked embarrassed. Except. . . it was not the right problem. I had been instructing the Fifth Djim field agents earlier and had left part of the test on the board. An extremely complex phase-space problem involving residual harmonics in n histories. None of them got it right. To be honest, even I had to look up the answer.

  So I take it you punished him for not answering the right question?

  Obviously. But tha
t sort of behaviour is disruptive. Most of the time I think hes not all there. He never pays attention, he always knows the answers, and he can never tell you how he knows. We cant keep thrashing him. He is a bad example to the other pupils. Theres no educating a smart boy. The acolyte thoughtfully watched a flight of white doves circle the monastery roofs. We cannot send him away now, he said at last. Soto said he saw him perform the Stance of the Coyote! Thats how he was found! Can you imagine that? Hed had no training at all! Can you imagine what would happen if someone with that kind of skill ran around loose? Thank goodness Soto was alert.

  But he has turned him into my problem. The boy disrupts tranquillity.

  Rinpo sighed. The Master of Novices was a good and conscientious man, he knew, but it had been a long time since hed been out in the world. People like Soto spent every day in the world of time. They learned flexibility, because if you were stiff out there you were dead. People like Soto . . . now, there was an idea. . . He looked towards the other end of the terrace, where a couple of servants were sweeping up the fallen cherry blossom. I see a harmonious solution, he said. Oh, yes?

  An unusually talented boy like Ludd needs a master, not the discipline of the schoolroom.

  Possibly, but- The Master of Novices followed Rinpos gaze. Oh, he said, and he smiled in a way that was not entirely nice. It contained a certain anticipatory element, a hint that trouble might be in store for someone who, in his opinion, richly deserved it. A name occurs, said Rinpo. To me also, said the Master of Novices. A name Ive heard too often, Rinpo went on. I suppose that either he will break the boy, or the boy will break him, or it is always possible that they will break each other. . . the Master mused. So, in the patois of the world, said Rinpo, there is no actual downside.

  Would the abbot approve, though? said the Master, testing a welcome idea for any weak points. He has always had a certain rather tiresome regard for. . . the sweeper.

  The abbot is a dear kind man but at the moment his teeth are giving him trouble and he is not walking at all well, said Rinpo. And these are difficult times. Im sure he will be pleased to accept our joint recommendation. Why, its practically a minor matter of day-to-day affairs. And thus the future was decided. They were not bad men. They had worked hard on behalf of the valley for hundreds of years. But it is possible, after a while, to develop certain dangerous habits of thought. One is that, while all important enterprises need careful organization, it is the organization that needs organizing, rather than the enterprise. And another is that tranquillity is always a good thing. Tick

  There was a row of alarm clocks on the table by Jeremys bed. He did not need them, because he woke up when he wanted to. They were there for testing. He set them for seven, and woke up at 6. 59 to check that they went off on time. Tonight he went to bed early, with a drink of water and the Grim Fairy Tales. He had never been interested in stories, at any age, and had never quite understood the basic concept. Hed never read a work of fiction all the way through. He did remember, as a small boy, being really annoyed at the depiction of Hickory Dickory Dock in a rag book of nursery rhymes, because the clock in the drawing was completely wrong for the period. He tried to read Grim Fairy Tales. They had titles like How the Wicked Queen Danced in Red Hot Shoes! and The Old Lady in the Oven. There was simply no mention of clocks of any sort in any of them. Their authors seemed to have a thing about not mentioning clocks. The Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein, on the other hand, did have a clock. Of a sort. And it was. . . odd. A wicked man - readers could see he was wicked because it said he was wicked, right there on the page - built a clock of glass in which he captured Time herself, but things went wrong because there was one part of the clock, a spring, that he couldnt make out of glass, and it broke under the strain. Time was set free and the man aged ten thousand years in a second and crumbled to dust and - not surprisingly, in Jeremys opinion - was never seen again. The story ended with a moral: Large Enterprises Depend upon Small Details. Jeremy couldnt see why it couldnt just as well have been Its Wrong to Trap Non-Existent Women in Clocks, or, It Would Have Worked with a Glass Spring. But even to Jeremys inexperienced eye, there was something wrong with the whole story. It read as though the writer was trying to make sense of something hed seen, or been told, and had misunderstood. And - hah! - although it was set hundreds of years ago when even in Uberwald there were only natural cuckoo clocks, the artist had drawn a long-case clock of the sort that wasnt around even fifteen years ago. The stupidity of some people! Youd laugh if it wasnt so tragic! He put the book aside and spent the rest of the evening doing a little design work for the Guild. They paid him handsomely for this, provided he promised never to turn up in person. Then he put the work on the bedside table by the clocks. He blew out the candle. He went to sleep. He dreamed. The glass clock ticked. It stood in the middle of the workshops wooden floor, giving off a silvery light. Jeremy walked around it, or perhaps it spun gently around him. It was taller than a man. Within the transparent case red and blue lights twinkled like stars. The air smelled of acid. Now his point of view dived into the thing, the crystalline thing, plunging down through the layers of glass and quartz. They rose past him, their smoothness becoming walls hundreds of miles high, and still he fell between slabs that were becoming rough, grainy. . . . . . full of holes. The blue and red light was here too, pouring past him.

 
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