Thief of time, p.42
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       Thief of Time, p.42

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 42


  Yes, that kind of thing happens, said Susan. Unity stared at her, wild-eyed. Life is full of surprises, said Susan, but the sight of the creatures distress made her hesitate. All right, the thing was one of them, one that was merely wearing- Well, at least had started out merely wearing a body as a kind of coat, but now. . . After all, you could say that about everyone, couldnt you? Susan had even wondered if the human soul without the anchor of a body would end up, eventually, as something like an Auditor. Which, to be fair, meant that Unity, who was

  getting more firmly wrapped in flesh by the minute, was something like a human. And that was a pretty good definition of Lobsang and, if it came to it, Susan as well. Who knew where humanity began and where it finished? Come along, she said. Weve got to stick together, right? Like shards of glass, spinning through the air, fragments of history drifted and collided and intersected in the dark. There was a lighthouse, though. The valley of Oi Dong held on to the ever-repeating day. In the hall almost all of the giant cylinders stood silent, all time run out. Some had split. Some had melted. Some had exploded. Some had simply vanished. But one still turned. Big Thanda, the oldest and largest, ground slowly on its basalt bearing, winding time out at one end and back on the other, ensuring as Wen had decreed that the perfect day would never end. Rambut Handisides was all alone in the hall, sitting beside the turning stone in the light of a butter lamp and occasionally throwing a handful of grease onto the base. A clink of stone made him peer into the darkness. It was heavy with the smoke of fried rock. There the sound was again and, then, the scratch and flare of a match. Lu-Tze? he said. Is that you?

  I hope so, Rambut, but who knows, these days? Lu-Tze stepped into the light and sat down. Keeping you busy, are they? Handisides sprang to his feet. Its been terrible, Sweeper! Everyones up in the Mandala Hall! Its worse than the Great Crash! Theres bits of history everywhere and weve lost half the spinners! Well never be able to put it all-

  Now, now, you look like a man whos had a busy day, said Lu-Tze kindly. Not got a lot of sleep, eh? Tell you what, Ill take care of this. You go and get a bit of shut-eye, okay?

  We thought you were lost out in the world, and- the monk burbled. And now Im back, smiled Lu-Tze, patting him on the shoulder. Theres still that little alcove round the corner where you repair the smaller spinners? And theres still those unofficial bunks for when its the night shift and you only need a couple of lads to keep their eye on things? Handisides nodded, and looked guilty. Lu-Tze wasnt supposed to know about the bunks. You get along, then, said Lu-Tze. He watched the mans retreating back and added, quietly, and if you wake up you might turn out to be the luckiest idiot that ever there was. Well, wonder boy? What next?

  We put everything back, said Lobsang, emerging from the shadows.

  You know how long that took us last time?

  Yes, said Lobsang, looking around the stricken hall and heading towards the podium, I do. I dont think it will take me as long.

  I wish you sounded more certain, said Susan. Im. . . pretty certain, said Lobsang, running his fingers over the bobbins on the board. Lu-Tze waved a cautionary hand at Susan. Lobsangs mind was already on the way to somewhere else, and now she wondered how large a space it was occupying. His eyes were closed. The. . . spinners that are left. . . Can you move the jumpers? he said. I can show the ladies how to, said Lu-Tze. Are there not monks who know how to do this? said Unity. It would take too long. I am an apprentice to a sweeper. They would run around asking questions, said Lobsang. You will not.

  Hes got a point right enough, said Lu-Tze. People will start saying “What is the meaning of this?” and “Bikkit!”, and well never get anything done. Lobsang looked down at the bobbins and then across at Susan. Imagine. . . that there is a jigsaw, all in pieces. But. . . I am very good at spotting edges and shapes. Very good. And all the pieces are moving. But because they were once linked, they have by their very nature a memory of that link. Their shape is the memory. Once a few are in the right position, the rest will be easier. Oh, and imagine that all the bits are scattered across the whole of eventuality, and mixing randomly with pieces from other histories. Can you grasp all that?

  Yes. I think so.

  Good. Everything I have just said is nonsense. It bears no resemblance to the truth of the matter in any way at all. But it is a lie that you can. . . understand, I think. And then, afterwards-

  Youre going to go, arent you, said Susan. It was not a question. I will not have enough power to stay, said Lobsang. You need power to stay human? said Susan. She hadnt been aware of the rise of her heart, but now it was sinking. Yes. Even trying to think in a mere four dimensions is a terrible effort. Im sorry. Even to hold in my mind the concept of something called “now” is hard. You thought I was mostly

  human. Im mostly not. He sighed. If only I could tell you what everything looks like to me. . . its so beautiful. Lobsang stared into the air above the little wooden bobbins. Things twinkled. There were complex curves and spirals, brilliant against the blackness. It was like looking at a clock in pieces, with every wheel and spring carefully laid out in the dark in front of him. Dismantled, controllable, every part of it understood. . . but a number of small but important things had gone ping into the corners of a very large room. If you were really good, then you could work out where theyd landed. Youve only got about a third of the spinners, came the voice of Lu-Tze. The rest are smashed. Lobsang couldnt see him. There was only the glittering show before his eyes. That. . . is true, but once they were whole, he said. He raised his hands and lowered them onto the bobbins. Susan looked around at the sudden grinding noise and saw row after row of columns rising out of the dust and debris. They stood like lines of soldiers, rubble cascading from them. Good trick! Lu-Tze shouted to Susans ear, above the thunder. Feeding time into the spinners themselves! Theoretically possible, but we never managed to do it!

  Do you know what hes actually going to do? Susan shouted back. Yeah! Snatch the extra time out of bits of history that are too far ahead and shove it into the bits that have fallen behind!

  Sounds simple!

  Just one problem!


  Cant do it! Losses! Lu-Tze snapped his fingers, trying to explain time dynamics to a non- initiate. Friction! Divergence! All sorts of stuff! You cant create time on the spinners, you can only move it around- There was a sudden bright blue glow around Lobsang. It flickered over the board, and then snapped across the air to form arcs of light leading to all the Procrastinators. It crawled between the carved symbols and clung to them in a thickening layer, like cotton winding on a reel. Lu-Tze looked at the whirling light and the shadow within it, almost lost against the glow. -at least, he added, until now.

  The spinners wound up to their working speed and then went faster, under the lash of the light. It poured across the cavern in a solid, unending stream. Flames licked around the bottom of the nearest cylinder. The base was glowing, and the noise from its stone bearing was joining a rising, cavern-filling scream of stone in distress. Lu-Tze shook his head. You, Susan, buckets of water from the wells! You, Miss Unity, you follow her with the grease pails!

  And what are you going to do? said Susan, grabbing two buckets. Im going to worry like hell and thats not an easy job, believe me! Steam built up then, and there was a smell of burning butter. There was no time for anything but to run from the wells to the nearest spitting bearing and back, and there was not enough time even for that. The spinners turned back and forth. There was no need for the jumpers now. The crystal rods that had survived the crash hung uselessly from their hooks as time arced overhead from one Procrastinator to another, showing up as red or blue glows in the air. It was a sight to frighten the knoptas off any trained spinner driver, Lu-Tze knew. It looked like a cascade running wild, but there was some control in there, some huge pattern being woven. Bearings squealed. Butter bubbled. The bases of some spinners were smoking. But things held. Theyre being held, Lu-Tze thought. He looked up at the registers
. The boards slammed back and forth, sending lines of red or blue or bare wood across the wall of the cavern. There was a pall of white smoke around them as their own wooden bearings gently charred. Past and future were streaming through the air. The sweeper could feel them. On the podium, Lobsang was wrapped in the glow. The bobbins were not being moved any more. What was going on now was on some other level, which didnt need the intervention of crude mechanisms. Lion tamer, Lu-Tze thought. He starts off needing chairs and whips but one day, if hes really good, he can go into the cage and do the show using nothing more than eye and voice. But only if hes really good, and youll know if hes really good because hell come out of the cage again- He stopped his prowl along the thundering lines because there was a change in the sound. One of the biggest spinners was slowing down. It stopped as Lu-Tze watched, and didnt start again. Lu-Tze raced around the cavern until he found Susan and Unity. Three more spinners stopped before he reached them. Hes doing it! Hes doing it! Come away! he shouted. With a jolt that shook the floor, another spinner stopped.

  The three ran towards the end of the cavern, where the smaller Procrastinators were still whirling, but the halt was already speeding down the rows. Spinner after spinner slammed to a standstill, the domino effect overtaking the humans until, when they reached the little chalk spinners, they were in time to see the last ones rattle gently to a halt. There was silence, except for the sizzle of grease and the click of cooling rock. Is it all over? said Unity, wiping the sweat from her face with her dress and leaving a trail of sequins. Lu-Tze and Susan looked at the glow at the other end of the hall, and then at one another. I . . . dont . . . think . . . so, said Susan. Lu-Tze nodded. I think its just- he began. Bars of green light leapt from spinner to spinner and hung in the air as rigid as steel. They flickered on and off between the columns, filling the air with thunderclaps. Patterns of switching snapped back and forth across the cavern. The tempo increased. The thunderclaps became one long roll of overpowering sound. The bars brightened, expanded and then the air was all one brilliant light Which vanished. The sound ceased so abruptly that the silence clanged. The trio got to their feet, slowly. What was that? said Unity. I think he made some changes, said Lu-Tze. The spinners were silent. The air was hot. Smoke and steam filled the roof of the cavern. Then, responding to the routine of humanitys eternal wrestle with time, the spinners began to pick up the load. It came gently, like a breeze. And the spinners took the strain, from the smallest to the largest, settling once again into their gentle, ponderous pirouette. Perfect, said Lu-Tze. Almost as good as it was, Ill bet.

  Only almost? said Susan, wiping the butter off her face. Well, hes partly human, said the sweeper. They turned to the podium, and it was empty. Susan was not surprised. Hed be weak now, of course. Of course, something like this would take it out of anyone. Of course, hed need to rest. Of course. Hes gone, she said flatly. Who knows? said Lu-Tze. For is it not written, “You never know whats going to turn up” ?

  The reassuring rumble of the Procrastinators now filled the cave. Lu-Tze could feel the time flows in the air. It was invigorating, like the smell of the sea. I ought to spend more time down here, he thought. He broke history and repaired it, said Susan. Cause and cure. That makes no sense!

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