Thief of time, p.41
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       Thief of Time, p.41

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 41


  And? said Susan.

  This is my Way. Its the way home. And then, with a noise that was unromantically very similar to the kind Jason would make by putting a wooden ruler on the edge of his desk and twanging it, the journey ended. It might not even have begun. The glass clock was in front of her, full size, glittering. There was no blue glow inside. It was just a clock, entirely transparent, and ticking. Susan looked down the length of her arm, and up his arm to Lobsang. He let go of her hand. Were here, he said. With the clock? said Susan. She could feel herself gasping to get her breath back. This is only a part of the clock, said Lobsang. The other part.

  The bit outside the universe?

  Yes. The clock has many dimensions. Do not be afraid.

  I dont think I have ever been afraid of anything in my life, said Susan, still gulping air. Not really afraid. I get angry. Im getting angry now, in fact. Are you Lobsang or are you Jeremy?


  Yes, I walked into that. Are you Lobsang and are you Jeremy?

  Much closer. Yes. I will always remember both of them. But I would prefer you to call me Lobsang. Lobsang has the better memories. I never liked the name Jeremy even when I was Jeremy.

  You really are both of them?

  I am. . . everything about them that was worth being, I hope. They were very different and they were both me, born just an instant apart, and neither of them was very happy by himself. It makes you wonder if there is anything to astrology after all.

  Oh, there is, said Susan. Delusion, wishful thinking and gullibility.

  Dont you ever let go?

  I havent yet.


  I suppose. . . because in this world, after everyone panics, theres always got to be someone to tip the wee out of the shoe. The clock ticked. The pendulum swung. But the hands did not move.

  Interesting, said Lobsang. Youre not a follower of the Way of Mrs Cosmopilite, are you?

  I dont even know what it is, said Susan. Have you got your breath back now?


  Lets turn around, then. Personal time moved on again, and a voice behind them said, Is this yours? Behind them there were glass steps. At the top of the steps was a man dressed like a History Monk, shaven-headed, besandalled. The eyes gave away a lot more. A young man whod been alive for a very long time, Mrs Ogg had said, and she had been right. He was holding a struggling Death of Rats by the scruff of his robe. Er, hes his own, said Susan, as Lobsang bowed. Then please take him away with you. We cannot have him running around here. Hello, my son. Lobsang walked towards him and they embraced, briefly and formally. Father, said Lobsang, straightening up. This is Susan. She has been. . . very helpful.

  Of course she has, said the monk, smiling at Susan. She is helpfulness personified. He put the Death of Rats on the floor and prodded him forward. Yes, Im very dependable, said Susan. And interestingly sarcastic, too, the monk added. I am Wen. Thank you for joining us. And for helping our son find himself. Susan looked from the father to the son. The words and the movements were stilted and chilly, but there was a communication going on that she wasnt party to, and it was happening a lot faster than speech. Arent we supposed to be saving the world? she said. I dont want to rush anybody, of course.

  Theres something I must do first, said Lobsang. I must meet my mother.

  Have we got ti-? Susan began, and then added, We have, havent we? All the time in the world.

  Oh, no. Far more time than that, said Wen. Besides, theres always time to save the world.

  Time appeared. Again there was the impression that a figure that was in the air, unfocused, was resolving itself into a million specks of matter that poured together and filled a shape in space, slowly at first and then. . . someone was there. She was a tall woman, quite young, dark-haired, wearing a long red-and-black dress. By the look on her face, Susan thought, she had been weeping. But she was smiling now. Wen took Susan by the arm, and gently pulled her aside. Theyll want to talk, he said. Shall we walk? The room vanished. Now there was a garden, with peacocks and fountains, and a stone seat, upholstered with moss. Lawns unrolled towards woodlands that had the manicured look of an estate that had been maintained for hundreds of years so that nothing grew here that was not wanted, or in the wrong place. Long-tailed birds, their plumage like living jewels, flashed from treetop to treetop. Deeper in the woods, other birds called. As Susan watched, a kingfisher alighted on the edge of a fountain. It glanced at her and flew away, its wingbeats sounding like a snapping of tiny fans. Look, said Susan, I dont . . . Im not. . . Look, I understand this sort of thing. Really. Im not stupid. My grandfather has a garden where everything is black. But Lobsang built the clock! Well, part of him did. So hes saving the world and destroying it, all at once?

  Family trait, said Wen. It is what Time does at every instant. He gave Susan the look of a teacher confronted with a keen but stupid pupil. Think like this, he said at last. Think of everything. Its an everyday word. But “everything” means. . . everything. Its a much bigger word than “universe”. And everything contains all possible things that can happen at all possible times in all possible worlds. Dont look for complete solutions in anyone of them. Sooner or later, everything causes everything else.

  Are you saying one little world is not important, then? said Susan. Wen waved a hand, and two glasses of wine appeared on the stone. Everything is as important as everything else, he said. Susan grimaced. You know, thats why Ive never liked philosophers, she said. They make it all sound grand and simple, and then you step out into a world thats full of complications. I mean, look around. I bet this garden needs regular weeding, and the fountains have to be unblocked, and the peacocks shed feathers and dig up the lawn. . . and if they dont do that, then this is just a fake.

  No, everything is real said Wen. At least, it is as real as anything else. But this is a perfect moment. He smiled at Susan again. Against one perfect moment, the centuries beat in vain.

  Id prefer a more specific philosophy, said Susan. She tried the wine. It was perfect. Certainly. I expected that you would. I see you cling to logic as a limpet clings to a rock in a storm. Let me see. . . Defend the small spaces, dont run with scissors, and remember that there is often an unexpected chocolate, said Wen. He smiled. And never resist a perfect moment. A breeze made the fountains splash over the sides of their bowls, just for a second. Wen stood up. And now, I believe my wife and son have finished their meeting, he said. The garden faded. The stone seat melted like mist as soon as Susan got up, although until then it had felt as solid as, well rock. The wineglass vanished from her hand, leaving only a memory of its pressure on her fingers and the taste lingering in her mouth. Lobsang was standing in front of the clock. Time herself was not visible, but the song that wove through the rooms now had a different tone. Shes happier, said Lobsang. Shes free now. Susan looked around. Wen had vanished along with the garden. There was nothing but the endless glass rooms. Dont you want to talk to your father? she said. Later. There will be plenty of time, said Lobsang. I shall see to it. The way he said it, so carefully dropping the words into place, made her turn. Youre going to take over? she said. You are Time now?


  But youre mostly human!

  So? Lobsangs smile took after his father. It was the gentle and, to Susan, the infuriating smile of a god. Whats in all these rooms? she demanded. Do you know?

  One perfect moment. In each one. An oodleplex of oodleplexes.

  Im not certain theres such a thing as a genuinely perfect moment, said Susan. Can we go home now? Lobsang wrapped the edge of his robe around his fist and smashed it against the glass front panel of the clock. It shattered, and dropped to the ground. When we get to the other side, he said, dont stop and dont look back. There will be a lot of flying glass.

  Ill try to dive behind one of the benches, said Susan. They probably wont be there. SQUEAK? The Death of Rats had scurried up the side of the clock and was peering cheerfully over the top. What
do we do about that? said Lobsang. That looks after itself, said Susan. I never worry about it. Lobsang nodded. Take my hand, he said. She reached out. With his free hand Lobsang grasped the pendulum and stopped the clock. A blue-green hole opened in the world. The return journey was a lot swifter but, when the world existed again, she was falling into water. It was brown, muddy and stank of dead plants. Susan surfaced, fighting against the drag of her skirts, and trod water while she tried to get her bearings. The sun was nailed to the sky, the air was heavy and humid, and a pair of nostrills was watching her from a few feet away. Susan had been brought up to be practical and that meant swimming lessons. The Quirm College for Young Ladies had been very advanced in that respect, and its teachers took the view that a girl who couldnt swim two lengths of the pool with her clothes on wasnt making an effort. To their credit, shed left knowing four swimming strokes and several life-saving techniques, and was entirely at home in the water. She also knew what to do if you were sharing the same stretch of water with a hippopotamus, which was to find another stretch of water. Hippos only look big and cuddly from a distance. Close up, they just look big. Susan summoned up all the inherited powers of the deathly voice plus the terrible authority of the schoolroom, and yelled, GO AWAY! The creature floundered madly in its effort to turn round, and Susan struck out for the shore. It was an unsure shore, the water becoming land in a tangle of sandbanks, sucking black muck, rotted tree roots and swamp. Insects swirled around and- -the cobbles were muddy underfoot, and there was the sound of horsemen in the mist -and ice, piled up against dead trees- -and Lobsang, taking her arm. Found you, he said. You just shattered history, said Susan. You broke it!

  The hippo had come as a shock. Shed never realized one mouth could hold so much bad breath, or be so big and deep. I know. I had to. There was no other way. Can you find Lu-Tze? I know Death can locate any living thing, and since you-

  All right, all right, I know, said Susan darkly. She held out her hand and concentrated. An image of Lu-Tzes extremely heavy lifetimer appeared, and gathered weight. Hes only a few hundred yards over there, she said, pointing to a frozen drift. And I know when he is, said Lobsang. Only sixty thousand years away. So. . . Lu-Tze, when they found him, was looking calmly up at an enormous mammoth. Under its huge hairy brow its eyes were squinting with the effort both of seeing him and of getting all three of its brain cells lined up so that it could decide whether to trample on him or gouge him out of the frost-bound landscape. One brain cell was saying gouge, one was going for trample but the third had wandered off and was thinking about as much sex as possible. At the far end of its trunk, Lu-Tze was saying, So, youve never heard of Rule One, then? Lobsang stepped out of the air beside him. We must go, Sweeper! The appearance of Lobsang did not seem to surprise Lu-Tze at all, although he did seem annoyed at the interruption. No rush, wonder boy, he said. Ive got this perfectly under control-

  Wheres the lady? said Susan. Over by that snowdrift, said Lu-Tze, indicating with his thumb while still trying to outstare a pair of eyes five feet apart. When this turned up she screamed and twisted her ankle. Look, you can see Ive made it nervous- Susan waded into the drift and hauled Unity upright. Come on, were leaving, she said brusquely. I saw his head cut off! Unity babbled. And then suddenly we were here!

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