Thief of time, p.8
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       Thief of Time, p.8

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 8

 

  Me? How did I do that?

  You dont know?

  No!

  Hah, will you listen to him? said Soto, as if talking to a genial companion. Theres probably the spin time of a whole Procrastinator being used up to prevent your little trick causing untold harm to the entire world, and you dont know how you did it?

  No!

  Then well train you. Its a good life, and it offers excellent prospects. At least, he added, sniffing, better than those that confront you now. Newgate strained to turn his head further. Train me in what, exactly? The man sighed. Still asking questions, kid? Are you coming or not?

  How-?

  Look, Im offering you the opportunity of a lifetime, do you understand?

  Why is it the opportunity of a lifetime, Mr Soto?

  No, you misunderstand me. You, that is Newgate Ludd, are being offered, that is by me, the opportunity of having a lifetime. Which is more than you will have shortly. Newgate hesitated. He was aware of a tingling in his body. In a sense, it was still falling. He didnt know how he knew this, but the knowledge was as real as the cobbles just below him. If he made the wrong choice the fall would simply continue. It had been easy so far. The last few inches would be terminally hard. I must admit I dont like the way my life is going at the moment, he said. It may be advantageous to find a new direction.

  Good. The be-haired man pulled something out of his robe. It looked like a folded abacus, but when he opened it up parts of it vanished with little flashes of light, as if theyd moved somewhere where they could not be seen. What are you doing?

  Do you know what kinetic energy is?

  No.

  Its what you have far too much of. Sotos fingers danced on the beads, sometimes disappearing and reappearing. I imagine you weigh about a hundred and ten pounds, yes?

  He pocketed the little device and strolled off to a nearby cart. He did something that Newgate couldnt see, and came back. In a few seconds you will complete your fall, he said, reaching under him to place something on the ground. Try to think of it as a new start in life. Newgate fell. He hit the ground. The air flashed purple and the laden cart across the street jerked a foot into the air and collapsed heavily. One wheel bounced away. Soto leaned down and shook Newgates unresisting hand. How do you do? he said. Any bruises?

  It does hurt a bit, said the shaken Newgate. Maybe youre a bit heavier than you look. Allow me. . . Soto grabbed Newgate under the shoulders and began to tug him off into the mists. Can I go and-?

  No.

  But the Guild-

  You dont exist at the Guild.

  Thats stupid, Im in the Guild records.

  No, youre not. Well see to that.

  How? You cant rewrite history!

  Bet you a dollar?

  What have I joined?

  Were the most secret society that you can imagine.

  Really? Who are you, then?

  The Monks of History.

  Huh? Ive never heard of you!

  See? Thats how good we are. And that was how good they were. And then the time had just flown past.

  And now the present came back. Are you all right, lad? Lobsang opened his eyes. His arm felt as though it was being wrenched off his body. He looked up along the length of the arm to Lu-Tze, who was lying flat on the swaying bridge, holding him. What happened?

  I think maybe you were overcome with the excitement, lad. Or vertigo, maybe. Just dont look down. There was a roaring below Lobsang, like a swarm of very angry bees. Automatically, he began to turn his head. I said dont look down! Just relax. Lu-Tze got to his feet. He raised Lobsang, at arms length, as though he was a feather, until the boys sandals were over the wood of the bridge. Below, monks were running along the walkways and shouting. Now, keep your eyes shut. . . dont look down! . . . and Ill just walk us both to the far side, all right?

  I, er, I remembered. . . back in the city, when Soto found me. . . I remembered. . . said Lobsang weakly, tottering along behind the monk. Only to be expected, said Lu-Tze, in the circumstances.

  But, but I remember that back then I remembered about being here. You and the Mandala!

  Is it not written in the sacred text, “Theres a lot goes on we dont know about, in my opinion”? said Lu-Tze. I . . . have not yet come across that one either, Sweeper, said Lobsang. He felt cooler air around him, which suggested they had reached the rock tunnel on the far side of the room. Sadly, in the writings they have here you probably wont, said Lu-Tze. Ah, you can open your eyes now. They walked on, with Lobsang rubbing his head to take away the strangeness of his thoughts. Behind them the livid swirls in the wheel of colour, which had centred on the spot where Lobsang would have fallen, gradually faded and healed. According to the First Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised, Wen and Clodpool reached the green valley between the towering mountains and Wen said: This is the place. Here there will be a temple dedicated to the folding and unfolding of time. I can see it.

  I cant, master, said Clodpool. Wen said, Its over there. He pointed, and his arm vanished. Ah, said Clodpool. Over there. A few cherry blossom petals drifted down onto Wens head from one of the trees that grew wild along the streamlets. And this perfect day will last for ever, he said. The air is crisp, the sun is bright, there is ice in the streams. Every day in this valley will be this perfect day.

  Could get a bit repetitive, master, said Clodpool. That is because you dont yet know how to deal with time, said Wen. But I will teach you to deal with time as you would deal with a coat, to be worn when necessary and discarded when not.

  Will I have to wash it? said Clodpool. Wen gave him a long, slow look. That was either a very complex piece of thinking on your part, Clodpool, or you were just trying to overextend a metaphor in a rather stupid way. Which do you think it was? Clodpool looked at his feet. Then he looked at the sky. Then he looked at Wen. I think I am stupid, master.

  Good, said Wen. It is fortuitous that you are my apprentice at this time, because if I can teach you, Clodpool, I can teach anyone. Clodpool looked relieved, and bowed. You do me too much honour, master.

  And there is a second part to my plan, said Wen. Ah, said Clodpool, with an expression that he thought made him look wise, although in reality it made him look like someone remembering a painful bowel movement. A plan with a second part is always a good plan, master.

  Find me sands of all colours, and a flat rock. I will show you a way to make the currents of time visible.

  Oh, right.

  And there is a third part to my plan.

  A third part, eh?

  I can teach a gifted few to control their time, to slow it and speed it up and store it and direct it like the water in these streams. But most people will not, I fear, let themselves

  become able to do this. We have to help them. We will have to build. . . devices that will store and release time to where it is needed, because men cannot progress if they are carried like leaves on a stream. People need to be able to waste time, make time, lose time and buy time. This will be our major task. Clodpools face twisted with the effort of understanding. Then he slowly raised a hand. Wen sighed. Youre going to ask what happened to the coat, arent you? he said. Clodpool nodded. Forget about the coat, Clodpool. The coat is not important. Just remember that you are the blank paper on which I will write- Wen held up a hand as Clodpool opened his mouth. Just another metaphor, just another metaphor. And now, please make some lunch.

  Metaphorically or really, master?

  Both. A flight of white birds burst out of the trees and wheeled overhead before swooping off across the valley. There will be doves, said Wen, as Clodpool hurried off to light a fire. Every day, there will be doves. Lu-Tze left the novice in the anteroom. It might have surprised those who disliked him that he took a moment to straighten his robe before he entered the presence of the abbot, but Lu- Tze at least cared for people even if he did not care for rules. He pinched out his cigarette and stuck it behind his ear, too. He had known the abbot fo
r almost six hundred years, and respected him. There werent many people Lu-Tze respected. Mostly, they just got tolerated. Usually, the sweeper got on with people in inverse proportion to their local importance, and the reverse was true. The senior monks . . . well, there could be no such thing as bad thoughts amongst people so enlightened, but it is true that the sight of Lu-Tze ambling insolently through the temple did tarnish a few karmas. To a certain type of thinker the sweeper was a personal insult, with his lack of any formal education or official status and his silly little Way and his incredible successes. So it was surprising that the abbot liked him, because never had there been an inhabitant of the valley so unlike the sweeper, so learned, so impractical and so frail. But then, surprise is the nature of the universe. Lu-Tze nodded to the minor acolytes who opened the big varnished doors. How is his reverence today? he said. The teeth are still giving him trouble, O Lu-Tze, but he is maintaining continuity and has just taken his first steps in a very satisfactory manner.

  Yes, I thought I heard the gongs. The group of monks clustered in the centre of the room stepped aside as Lu-Tze approached the playpen. It was, unfortunately, necessary. The abbot had never mastered the art of circular ageing. He had therefore been forced to achieve longevity in a more traditional way, via serial reincarnation. Ah, Sweeper, he burbled, awkwardly tossing aside a yellow ball and brightening up. And how are the mountains? Wanna bikkit wanna bikkit!

  Im definitely getting vulcanism, reverend one. Its very encouraging.

  And you are in persistent good health? said the abbot, while his pudgy little hand banged a wooden giraffe against the bars. Yes, your reverence. Its good to see you up and about again.

  Only for a few steps so far, alas bikkit bikkit wanna bikkit. Unfortunately, young bodies have a mind of their own BIKKIT! You sent me a message, your reverence? It said, “Put this one to the test. ”

  And what did you think of our want bikkit want bikkit want bikkit NOW young Lobsang Ludd? An acolyte hurried forward with a plate of rusks. Would you care for a rusk, by the way? the abbot added. Mmmm nicey bikkit!

  No, reverend one, I have all the teeth I need, said the sweeper. Ludd is a puzzle, is he not? His tutors have nicey bikkit mmm mmm bikkit told me he is very talented but somehow not all there. But you have never met him and dont know his history and so mmm bikkit and so I would value your uninfluenced observations mmm BIKKIT.

  He is beyond fast, said Lu-Tze. I think he may begin to react to things before they happen.

  How can anyone tell that? Want teddy want teddy wanna wanna TEDDY!

  I put him in front of the Device of Erratic Balls in the senior dojo and he was moving towards the right hole fractionally before the ball came out.

  Some kind of gurgle telepathy, then?

  If a simple machine has a mind of its own I think were in really big trouble, said Lu-Tze. He took a deep breath. And in the hall of the Mandala he saw the patterns in the chaos.

  You let a neophyte see the Mandala? said chief acolyte Rinpo, horrified. If you want to see if someone can swim, push him in the river, said Lu-Tze, shrugging. What other way is there?

  But to look at it without the proper training-

  He saw the patterns, said Lu-Tze. And reacted to the Mandala. He did not add: and the Mandala reacted to him. He wanted to think about that. When you look into the abyss, its not supposed to wave back. It was teddyteddyteddywahwah strictly forbidden, even so, said the abbot. Clumsily, he fumbled among the toys on his mat and picked up a large wooden brick with a jolly blue elephant printed on it and hurled it clumsily at Rinpo. Sometimes you presume too much, Sweeper lookit lephant! There was some applause from the acolytes at the abbots prowess in animal recognition. He saw the patterns. He knows what is happening. He just doesnt know what he knows, said Lu- Tze doggedly. And within a few seconds of meeting me he stole a small object of value, and Im still wondering how he did it. Can he really be as fast as that without training? Who is this boy? Tick Who is this girl? Madam Frout, headmistress of the Frout Academy and pioneer of the Frout Method of Learning Through Fun, often found herself thinking that when she had to interview Miss Susan. Of course, the girl was an employee, but . . . well, Madam Frout wasnt very good at discipline, which was possibly why shed invented the Method, which didnt require any. She generally relied on talking to people in a jolly tone of voice until they gave in out of sheer embarrassment on her behalf. Miss Susan didnt appear ever to be embarrassed about anything. The reason Ive called you here, Susan, is that, er, the reason is- Madam Frout faltered. There have been complaints? said Miss Susan. Er, no. . . er . . . although Miss Smith has told me that the children coming up from your class are, er, restless. Their reading ability is, she says, rather unfortunately advanced. . .

 
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