Thief of time, p.5
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       Thief of Time, p.5

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 5

 

  And only now was there sound. It came from the darkness ahead, a slow beat that was ridiculously familiar, a heartbeat magnified a million times. . . . . . tchum. . . tchum. . . . . . each beat slower than mountains and bigger than worlds, dark and blood red. He heard a few more and then his fall slowed, stopped, and he began to soar back up through the sleeting light until a brightness ahead became a room. He had to remember all this! It was all so clear, once you saw it! So simple! So easy! He could see every part, how they interlocked, how they were made. And now it began to fade . Of course it was only a dream. He told himself that and was comforted by it. But he had gone to some lengths with this one, he had to admit. For example, there was a mug of tea steaming on the nearby workbench, and the sound of voices on the other side of the door. . . There was a knocking at the door. Jeremy wondered if the dream would end when the door was opened, and then the door disappeared and the knocking went on. It was coming from downstairs. The time was 6. 47. Jeremy glanced at the alarm clocks to make sure they were right, then pulled his dressing gown around him and hurried downstairs. He opened the front door a crack. There was no one there. Nah, dahn ere, mister. Someone lower down was a dwarf. Name of Clockson? it said. Yes? A clipboard was thrust through the gap. Sign ere, where it says “Sign Ere”. Thank you. Okay, lads. . . Behind him, a couple of trolls tipped up a handcart. A large wooden crate crashed onto the cobbles. What is this? said Jeremy. Express package, said the dwarf, taking the clipboard. Come all the way from Uberwald. Mustve cost someone a packet. Look at all them seals and stickers on it.

  Cant you bring it in-? Jeremy began, but the cart was already moving off, with the merry jingle and tinkle of fragile items.

  It started to rain. Jeremy peered at the label on the crate. It was certainly addressed to him, in a neat round hand, and just above it was the seal with the double-headed bat of Uberwald. There was no other marking except, near the bottom, the words: THIS SIDE UP [?this text upside down] Then the crate started to swear. It was muffled, and in a foreign language, but all swearing has a certain international content. Er . . . hello? said Jeremy. The crate rocked, and landed on one of the long sides, with extra cursing. There was some thumping from inside, some louder swearing, and the crate teetered upright again with the alleged top the right way up. A piece of board slid aside and a crowbar dropped out and onto the street with a clang. The voice that had lately been swearing said, If you would be tho good? Jeremy inserted the bar into a likely-looking crack, and pulled. The crate sprang apart. He dropped the bar. There was a. . . a creature inside. I dont know, it said, pulling bits of packing material off itself. Eight bloody dayth with no problemth, and thothe idiotth get it wrong on the doorthtep. It nodded at Jeremy. Good morning, thur. I thuppothe you are Mithter Jeremy?

  Yes, but-

  My name ith Igor, thur. My credentialth, thur. A hand like an industrial accident held together with stitches thrust a sheaf of papers towards Jeremy. He recoiled instinctively, and then felt embarrassed and took them. I think there has been a mistake, he said. No, no mithtake, said Igor, pulling a carpet bag out of the ruins of the crate. You need an athithtant. And when it cometh to athithtantth, you cannot go wrong with an Igor. Everyone knowth that. Could we go in out of the rain, thur? It maketh my kneeth rutht.

  But I dont need an assist- Jeremy began, but that was wrong, wasnt it? He just couldnt keep assistants. They always left within a week. Morning, sir! said a cheery voice. Another cart had pulled up. This one was painted a gleaming, hygienic white and was full of milk churns, and had Ronald Soak, Dairyman painted on the side. Distracted, Jeremy looked up at the beaming face of Mr Soak, who was holding a bottle of milk in each hand. One pint, squire, as per usual. And perhaps another one if youve got company?

  Er, er, er . . . yes, thank you.

  And the yoghurt is particularly fine this week, squire, said Mr Soak encouragingly. Er, er, I think not, Mr Soak.

  Need any eggs, cream, butter, buttermilk or cheese?

  Not as such, Mr Soak.

  Right you are, then, said Mr Soak, unabashed. See you tomorrow, then.

  Er, yes, said Jeremy, as the cart moved on. Mr Soak was a friend, which in Jeremys limited social vocabulary meant someone I speak to once or twice a week. He approved of the milkman, because he was regular and punctual and had the bottles at the doorstep every morning on the stroke of 7a. m. Er, er . . . goodbye, he said. He turned to Igor. How did you know I needed- he tried. But the strange man had gone indoors, and a frantic Jeremy tracked him down in the workshop. Oh yeth, very nithe, said Igor, who was taking it all in with the air of a connoisseur. Thatth a Turnball Mk3 micro-lathe, ithnt it? I thaw it in their catalogue. Very nithe indee-

  I didnt ask anyone for an assistant! said Jeremy. Who sent you?

  We are Igorth, thur.

  Yes, you said! Look, I dont-

  No, thur. “We R Igorth”, thur. The organithathion, thur.

  What organization?

  For plathementth, thur. You thee, thur, the thing ith . . . an Igor often findth himthelf between marthterth through no fault of hith own, you thee. And on the other hand-

  -you have two thumbs, breathed Jeremy, who had just noticed and couldnt stop himself. Two on each hand. !

  Oh, yeth thur, very handy, said Igor, not even glancing down. On the other hand there ith no thortage of people wanting an Igor. Tho my Aunt Igorina runth our thelect little agenthy.

  For . . . lots of Igors? said Jeremy. Oh, thereth a fair number of uth. Were a big family. Igor handed Jeremy a card. He read:

  We R Igors A Spare Hand When Needed The Old Rathaus Bad Schüschein c-mail: Yethmarthter Uberwald Jeremy stared at the semaphore address. His normal ignorance of anything that wasnt to do with clocks did not apply here. Hed been quite interested in the new cross-continent semaphore system after hearing that it made quite a lot of use of clockwork mechanisms to speed up the message flow. So you could send a clacks message to hire an Igor? Well, that explained the speed, at least. Rathaus, he said. That means something like a council hall, doesnt it?

  Normally, thur . . . normally, said Igor reassuringly. Do you really have semaphore addresses in Uberwald?

  Oh, yeth. We are ready to grathp the future with both handth, thur.

  -and four thumbs-

  Yeth, thur. We can grathp like anything.

  And then you mailed yourself here?

  Thertainly, thur. We Igorth are no thtrangerth to dithcomfort. Jeremy looked down at the paperwork hed been handed, and a name caught his eye. The top paper was signed. In a way, at least. There was a message in neat capitals, as neat as printing, and a name at the end. HE WILL BE USEFUL LEJEAN He remembered. Oh, Lady LeJean is behind this. She had you sent to me?

  Thatth correct, thur. Feeling that Igor was expecting more of him, Jeremy made a show of reading through the rest of what turned out to be references. Some of them were written in what he could only hope was dried brown ink, one was in crayon, and several were singed around the edges. They were all fulsome. After a while, though, a certain tendency could be noted amongst the signatories.

  This one is signed by someone called Mad Doctor Scoop, he said. Oh, he wathnt actually named mad, thur. It wath more like a nickname, ath it were.

  Was he mad, then?

  Who can thay, thur? said Igor calmly. And Crazed Baron Haha? It says under Reason for Leaving that he was crushed by a burning windmill.

  Cathe of mithtaken identity, thur.

  Really?

  Yeth, thur. I underthtand the mob mithtook him for Thcreaming Doctor Bertherk, thur.

  Oh. Ah, yes. Jeremy glanced down. Who you also worked for, I see.

  Yeth, thur.

  And who died of blood poisoning?

  Yeth, thur. Cauthed by a dirty pitchfork.

  And. . . Nipsie the Impaler?

  Er, would you believe he ran a kebab thop, thur?

  Did he?

  Not conventhionally tho, thur.

 
You mean he was mad too?

  Ah. Well, he did have hith little wayth, I mutht admit, but an Igor never patheth judgement on hith marthter or mithtreth, thur. That ith the Code of the Igorth, thur, he added patiently. It would be a funny old world if we were all alike, thur. Jeremy was completely baffled as to his next move. Hed never been very good at talking to people, and this, apart from Lady LeJean and a wrangle with Mr Soak over an unwanted cheese, was the longest conversation hed had for a year. Perhaps it was because it was hard to think of Igor as coming under the heading of people. Until now, Jeremys definition of people had not included anyone with more stitches than a handbag. Im not sure Ive got any work for you, though, he said. Ive got a new commission, but Im not sure how. . . anyway, Im not insane!

  Thalth not compulthory, thur.

  Ive actually got a piece of paper that says Im not, you know.

  Well done, thur.

  Not many people have one of those!

  Very true, thur.

  I take medicine, you know.

  Well done, thur, said Igor. Ill jutht go and make thome breakfatht, thall I? While you get drethed . . . marthter. Jeremy clutched at his damp dressing gown. Ill be down shortly, he said, and hurried up the stairs. Igors gaze took in the racks of tools. There was not a speck of dust on them; the files, hammers and pliers were ranged according to size, and the items on the work bench were positioned with geometrical exactitude. He pulled open a drawer. Screws were laid in perfect rows. He looked around at the walls. They were bare, except for the shelves of clocks. This was surprising - even Dribbling Doctor Vibes had had a calendar on the wall, which added a splash of colour. Admittedly it was from the Acid Bath and Restraint Co. , in Ugli, and the colour it splashed was mostly red, but at least it showed some recognition of a world outside the four walls. Igor was puzzled. Igor had never worked for a sane person before. Hed worked for a number of. . . well, the world called them madmen, and hed worked for several normal people, in that they only indulged in minor and socially acceptable insanities, but he couldnt recall ever working for a completely sane person. Obviously, he reasoned, if sticking screws up your nose was madness, then numbering them and keeping them in careful compartments was sanity, which was the opposite- Ah. No. It wasnt, was it. . . ? He smiled. He was beginning to feel quite at home already. Tick Lu-Tze the sweeper was in his Garden of Five Surprises, carefully cultivating his mountains. His broom leaned against the hedge. Above him, looming over the temple gardens, the big stone statue of Wen the Eternally Surprised sat with its face locked in its permanent wide-eyed expression of, yes, pleasant surprise.

  As a hobby, mountains appeal to those people who in normal circumstances are said to have a great deal of time on their hands. Lu-Tze had no time at all. Time was something that largely happened to other people; he viewed it in the same way that people on the shore viewed the sea. It was big and it was out there, and sometimes it was an invigorating thing to dip a toe into, but you couldnt live in it all the time. Besides, it always made his skin wrinkle. At the moment, in the never-ending, ever-recreated moment of this peaceful, sunlit little valley, he was fiddling with the little mirrors and shovels and morphic resonators and even stranger devices required to make a mountain grow to no more than six inches high. The cherry trees were still in bloom. They always were in bloom, here. A gong rang, somewhere back in the temple. A flock of white doves took off from the monastery roof. A shadow fell over the mountain. Lu-Tze glanced at the person who had entered the garden. He made the perfunctory symbol of servitude to the rather annoyed-looking boy in novices robes. Yes, master? he said. I am looking for the one they call Lu-Tze, said the boy. Personally, I dont think he really exists.

 
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