Thief of time, p.40
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       Thief of Time, p.40

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 40

 

  Are you sure?

  Yes. Id quite like liquorice, though, if you have any. . .

  Have you had some special monk training?

  Well, not in chocolate combat, no, said Lu-Tze. But is it not written, “If you have another one you wont have an appetite for your dinner”?

  You really mean you will not eat a second chocolate coffee bean?

  No, thank you. Susan looked across at Unity, who was trembling. You do have tastebuds, dont you? she said, but she felt a pressure on her arm pulling her away. You two get behind that cart over there and run when you get the signal, said Lu-Tze. Go now!

  What signal? Well know, said the voice of Lobsang. Lu-Tze watched them hurry away. Then he picked up his broom in one hand and stepped out into the view of a street full of grey people. Excuse me? he said. Could I have your attention, please?

  What is he doing? said Susan, crouching behind the cart. Theyre all going towards him, said Lobsang. Some of them have weapons. Theyll be the ones giving the orders, said Susan. Are you sure? Yes. Theyve learned from humans. Auditors arent used to taking orders. They need persuading. Hes telling them about Rule One, and that means hes got a plan. I think its working. Yes! Whats he done? Whats he done? Come on! Hell be fine! Susan leapt up. Good! Yes, theyve cut his head off . . . * * * Fear, anger, envy. . . Emotions bring you alive, which is a brief period just before you die. The grey shapes fled in front of the swords. But there were billions of them. And they had their own ways of fighting. Passive, subtle ways. This is stupid! Pestilence shouted. They cant even catch a common cold!

  No soul to damn, no arse to kick! said War, hacking at grey shreds that rolled away from his blade. They have a kind of hunger, said Famine. I just cant find a way to get at it! The horses were reined in. The wall of greyness hovered in the distance, and began to close in again. THEY ARE FIGHTING BACK, said Death. CAN YOU NOT FEEL IT?

  I just feel were too damn stupid, said War. AND WHERE DOES THAT FEELING COME FROM? Are you saying theyre affecting our minds? said Pestilence. Were Horsemen! How can they do that to us? WE HAVE BECOME TOO HUMAN. Us? Human? Dont make me lau- LOOK AT THE SWORD IN YOUR HAND, said Death. DONT YOU NOTICE ANYTHING? Its a sword. Sword-shaped. Well? LOOK AT THE HAND. FOUR FINGERS AND A THUMB. A HUMAN HAND. HUMANS GAVE YOU THAT SHAPE. AND THAT IS THE WAY IN. LISTEN! DO YOU NOT FEEL SMALL IN A BIG UNIVERSE? THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE SINGING. IT IS BIG AND YOU ARE SMALL AND AROUND YOU THERE IS NOTHING BUT THE COLD OF SPACE AND YOU ARE SO VERY ALONE. The other three Horsemen looked unsettled, nervous. Thats coming from them? said War. YES. IT IS THE FEAR AND HATRED THAT MATTER HAS FOR LIFE AND THEY ARE THE BEARERS OF THAT HATRED. Then what can we do? said Pestilence. Therere too many of them! DID YOU THINK THAT THOUGHT, OR DID THEY? Death snapped. Theyre coming closer again, said War. THEN WE WILL DO WHAT WE CAN. Four swords against an army? Thatll never work! YOU THOUGHT IT MIGHT A FEW MOMENTS AGO. WHO IS TALKING FOR YOU NOW? HUMANS HAVE ALWAYS FACED US AND THEY HAVE NOT SURRENDERED. Well, yes, said Pestilence. But with us they could always hope for a remission.

  Or a sudden truce, said War. Or- Famine began, and hesitated, and said finally, A shower of fish? He looked at their expressions. That actually happened once, he added defiantly.

  IN ORDER TO HAVE A CHANGE OF FORTUNE AT THE LAST MINUTE YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR FORTUNE TO THE LAST MINUTE, said Death. WE MUST DO WHAT WE CAN . And if that doesnt work? said Pestilence. Death gathered up Binkys reins. The Auditors were much closer now. He could make out their individual, identical shapes. Remove one, and there were always a dozen more. THEN WE DID WHAT WE COULD, he said, UNTIL WE COULD NOT. On his cloud, the Angel Clothèd all in White wrestled with the Iron Book. What are they talking about? said Mrs War. I dont know, I cant hear! And these two pages are stuck together! said the angel. It scrabbled ineffectively at them for a moment. This is all because he wouldnt wear his vest, said Mrs War firmly. Its just the sort of thing I- She had to stop because the angel had wrenched the halo from its head and was dragging it down the fused edge of the pages, with sparks and a sound like a cat slipping down a blackboard. The pages clanged apart. Right, lets see. . . It scanned the newly revealed text. Done that. . . done that. . . oh. . . It stopped and turned a pale face to Mrs War. Oh, boy, it said, were in trouble now. A comet sprang up from the world below, growing visibly larger as the angel spoke. It flamed across the sky, burning fragments detaching and dropping away and revealing, as it closed with the Horsemen, a chariot on fire. It was a blue flame. Chaos burned with cold. The figure standing in the chariot wore a full-face helmet dominated by two eye holes that looked slightly like the wings of a butterfly and rather more like the eyes of some strange, alien creature. The burning horse, barely sweating, trotted to a halt; the other horses, regardless of their riders, moved aside to make room. Oh, no, said Famine, waving a hand in disgust. Not him, too? I said whatd happen if he came back, didnt I? Remember that time he threw the minstrel out of the hotel window in Zok? Didnt I say- SHUT UP, said Death. He nodded. HELLO, RONNIE. GOOD TO SEE YOU. I WONDERED IF YOU WOULD COME.

  A hand trailing cold steam came up and removed the helmet. Hello, boys, said Chaos pleasantly. Uh . . . long time no see, said Pestilence. War coughed. Heard you were doing well, he said. Yes, indeed, said Ronnie, in a careful tone of voice. Theres a real future in the retail milk and milk derivatives business. Death glanced at the Auditors. Theyd stopped moving in but were circling, watchfully. Well, the world will always need cheese, said War desperately. Haha.

  Looks like theres some trouble here, said Ronnie. We can handl- Famine began. WE CANT, said Death. YOU CAN SEE HOW IT IS, RONNIE. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. WOULD YOU CARE TO SIT IN FOR THIS ONE? Hey, we havent discussed- Famine began, but stopped when War glared at him. Ronnie Soak put on his helmet, and Chaos drew his sword. It glinted and, like the glass clock, looked like the intrusion into the world of something a great deal more complex. Some old man told me you live and learn, he said. Well. I have lived, and now Ive learned that the edge of a sword is infinitely long. Ive also learned how to make damn good yoghurt, although this is not a skill I intend to employ today. Shall we go get em, boys? Far down, in the street, a few of the Auditors moved forward. What is Rule One? said one of them. It does not matter. I am Rule One! An Auditor with a big axe waved them back. Obedience is necessary! The Auditors wavered, watching the cleaver. Theyd learned about pain. Theyd never felt pain before, not in billions of years. Those who had felt it had no desire at all to feel it again. Very well, said Mr White. Now get back to- A chocolate egg spun out of nowhere and smashed on the stones. The crowd of Auditors rippled forward, but Mr White slashed the axe through the air a few times. Stand back! Stand back! he screamed. You three! Find out who threw that! It came from behind that stall! No one is to touch the brown material!

  He stooped carefully and picked up a large fragment of chocolate, on which could just be made out the shape of a smiling duck in yellow icing. Hand shaking and sweat beading his forehead, he raised it aloft and flourished the cleaver triumphantly. There was a collective sigh from the crowd. You see? he shouted. The body can be overcome! You see? We can find a way to live! If you are good, there may be brown material! If you disobey, there will be the sharp edge! Ah. . . He lowered his arms as a struggling Unity was dragged towards him. The pathfinder, he said, the renegade. . . He walked towards the captive. What will it be? he said. The cleaver or the brown material?

  Its called chocolate, snapped Unity. I do not eat it.

  We shall see, Mr White said. Your associate seemed to prefer the axe! He pointed to the body of Lu-Tze. To the empty patch of cobbles where Lu-Tze had been. A hand tapped him on the shoulder. Why is it, said a voice by his ear, that no one ever believes in Rule One? Above him the sky began to burn blue. Susan sped up the street to the clock shop. She glanced sideways, and Lobsang was there, running beside her. He looked. . . human, except that not many humans had a blue glow around them. There will be grey men around the clock! he shouted. Trying to find what makes i
t tick?

  Hah! Yes!

  What are you going to do?

  Smash it!

  Thatll destroy history!

  So? He reached out and took her hand. She felt a shock run up her arm. You wont need to open the door! You wont need to stop! Head straight for the clock! he said.

  But-

  Dont talk to me! Ive got to remember!

  Remember what?

  Everything! Mr White was already raising the axe as he turned round. But you just cant trust a body. It thinks for itself. When it is surprised, it does a number of things even before the brain has been informed. The mouth opens, for example. Ah, good, said Lu-Tze, raising his cupped hand. Eat this! The door was no more substantial than mist. There were Auditors in the workshop, but Susan moved through them like a ghost. The clock glowed. And, as she ran towards it, it moved away. The floor unrolled in front of her, dragging her back. The clock accelerated towards some distant event horizon. At the same time it grew bigger but became more insubstantial, as if the same amount of clockness was trying to spread itself across more space. Other things were happening. She blinked, but there was no flicker of darkness. Ah, she said to herself, so Im not seeing with my eyes. And what else? Whats happening to me? My hand. . . looks normal, but does that mean it is? Am I getting smaller or bigger? Does- ?

  Are you always like this? said the voice of Lobsang. Like what? I can feel your hand and I can hear your voice - at least, I think I can hear it, but maybe its just in my head - but I cant feel myself running-

  So. . . so analytical?

  Of course. What am I supposed to be thinking? “Oh, my paws and whiskers”? Anyway, its quite straightforward. Its all metaphorical. My senses are telling me stories because they cant cope with what is really happening-

  Dont let go of my hand.

  Its all right, I wont let you go.

  I meant, dont let go of my hand because otherwise every part of your body will be compressed into a space much, much smaller than an atom.

  Oh.

  And dont try to imagine what this really looks like from outside. Here comes the cloooccckkkkkkk-

  Mr Whites mouth closed. His expression of surprise became one of horror, and then one of shock, and then one of terrible, wonderful bliss. He began to unravel. He came apart like a big and complex jigsaw puzzle made of tiny pieces, crumbling gently at the extremities and then vanishing into the air. The last piece to evaporate was the lips, and then they too were gone. A half-chewed chocolate-coated coffee bean dropped onto the street. Lu-Tze reached down quickly, picked up the axe and flourished it at the other Auditors. They leaned back out of the way, mesmerized by authority. Who does this belong to now? he demanded. Come on, whose is it?

  It is mine! I am Miss Taupe! shouted a woman in grey. I am Mr Orange and it belongs to me! No one is even sure that taupe is a proper colour! screamed Mr Orange. An Auditor in the crowd said, rather more thoughtfully, Is it the case, then, that hierarchy is negotiable?

  Certainly not! Mr Orange was jumping up and down. You have to decide it amongst yourselves, said Lu-Tze. He tossed the axe into the air. A hundred pairs of eyes watched it fall. Mr Orange got there first, but Miss Taupe trod on his fingers. After that, it became very busy and confusing and, to judge by the sounds from within the growing scrum, also very, very painful. Lu-Tze took the arm of the astonished Unity. Shall we be going? he said. Oh, dont worry about me. I was just desperate enough to try something Id learned from a yeti. It did sting a bit. . . There was a scream from somewhere in the mob. Democracy at work, said Lu-Tze happily. He glanced up. The flames above the world were dying out, and he wondered whod won. There was bright blue light ahead and dark red light behind, and it amazed Susan how she could see both kinds without opening her eyes and turning her head. Eyes open or shut, she couldnt see herself. All that told her that she was something else besides mere point of view was a slight pressure on what she remembered as her fingers. And the sound of someone laughing, close to her. A voice said, The sweeper said everyone has to find a teacher and then find their Way.

 
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