Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time (10 page)

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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'Igor, thur. Mr Jeremy wath kind enough to take me on, thur.'
'You work for him?' said Dr Hopkins, looking Igor up and down.
'Yeth, thur.'
'Mm... Have you been standing too close to some dangerous machinery?'
'No, thur. He ith in the workthop, thur.'
'Mr Igor,' said Dr Hopkins, as he was ushered into the shop, 'you do know that Mr Jeremy has
to take medicine, don't you?'
'Yeth, thur. He mentionth it often.'
'And he, mm, his general health is... ?'
'Good, thur. He ith enthuthiathtic for hith work, thur. Bright-eyed and buthy-tailed.'
'Buthy-tailed, eh?' said Dr Hopkins weakly. 'Mm ... Mr Jeremy doesn't usually keep servants.
I'm afraid he threw a clock at the head of the last assistant he had.'
'Really, thur?'
'Mm, he hasn't thrown a clock at your head, has he?'
'No, thur. He actth quite normally,' said Igor, a man with four thumbs and stitches all around
his neck. He opened the door into the workshop. 'Dr Hopkinth, Mr Jeremy. I will make thome
tea, thur.'
Jeremy was sitting bolt upright at the table, his eyes gleaming.
'Ah, doctor,' he said. 'How kind of you to come.'
Dr Hopkins took in the workshop.
There had been changes. Quite a large piece of lath-and-plaster wall, covered in pencilled
sketches, had been removed from somewhere and stood on an easel on one side of the room.
The benches, usually the resting places of clocks in various stages of assembly, were covered
with lumps of crystal and slabs of glass. And there was a strong smell of acid.
'Mm ... something new?' Dr Hopkins ventured.
'Yes, doctor. I've been examining the properties of certain superdense crystals,' said Jeremy.
Dr Hopkins took a deep breath of relief. 'Ah, geology. A wonderful hobby! I'm so glad. It's
not good to think about clocks all the time, you know!' he added, jovially, and with a soupçon
of hope.

 
 
  
Jeremy's brow wrinkled, as if the brain behind it was trying to fit around an unfamiliar
concept.
'Yes,' he said at last. 'Did you know, doctor, that copper octirate vibrates exactly two million,
four hundred thousand and seventy-eight times a second?'
'As much as that, eh?' said Dr Hopkins. 'My word.'
'Indeed. And light shone through a natural prism of octivium quartz splits into only three
colours?'
'Fascinating,' said Dr Hopkins, reflecting that it could be worse. 'Mm ... is it me, or is there a
rather... sharp smell in the air?'
'Drains,' said Jeremy. 'We've been cleaning them. With acid.
Which is what we needed the acid for. For cleaning the drains.'
'Drains, eh?' Dr Hopkins blinked. He wasn't at home in the world of drains. There was a
crackling sound and blue light flickered under the door of the kitchen.
'Your, mm, man Igor,' he said. 'All right, is he?'
'Yes, thank you, doctor. He's from Uberwald, you know.'
'Oh. Very ... big, Uberwald. Very big country.' That was one of only two things Dr Hopkins
knew about Uberwald. He coughed nervously, and mentioned the other one. 'People there can
be a bit strange, I've heard.'
'Igor says he's never had anything to do with that kind of person,' said Jeremy calmly.
'Good. Good. That is good,' said the doctor. Jeremy's fixed smile was beginning to unnerve
him. 'He, mm, seems to have a lot of scars and stitches.'
'Yes. It's cultural.'
'Cultural, is it?' Dr Hopkins looked relieved. He was a man who tried to see the best in
everybody, but the city had got rather complicated since he was a boy, with dwarfs and trolls
and golems and even zombies. He wasn't sure he liked everything that was happening, but a
lot of it was 'cultural', apparently, and you couldn't object to that, so he didn't. 'Cultural' sort
of solved problems by explaining that they weren't really there.
The light under the door went out. A moment later Igor came in with two cups of tea on a
tray.
It was good tea, the doctor had to admit, but the acid in the air was making his eyes water.
'So, mm, how is the work on the new navigation tables going?' he said.
'Ginger bithcuit, thur?' said Igor, by his ear.

 
 
  
'Oh, er, yes... Oh, I say, these are rather good, Mr Igor.'
'Take two, thur.'
'Thank you.' Now Dr Hopkins sprayed crumbs as he spoke. 'The navigation tables-' he
repeated.
'I am afraid I have not been able to make very much progress,' said Jeremy. 'I have been
engaged on the properties of crystals.'
'Oh. Yes. You said. Well, of course we are very grateful for any time that you feel you can
spare,' said Dr Hopkins. 'And if I may say so, mm, it is good to see you with a new interest.
Too much concentration on one thing is, mm, conducive to ill humours of the brain.'
'I have medicine,' said Jeremy.
'Yes, of course. Er, as a matter of fact, since I happened to be going past the apothecary
today...' Dr Hopkins pulled a large, paper-wrapped bottle out of his pocket.
'Thank you.' Jeremy indicated the shelf behind him. 'As you can see, I have nearly run out.'
'Yes, I thought you might,' said Dr Hopkins, as if the level of the bottle on Jeremy's shelf
wasn't something the clockmakers kept a very careful eye on. 'Well, I shall be going, then.
Well done with the crystals. I used to collect butterflies when I was a boy. Wonderful things,
hobbies. Give me a killing jar and a net and I was as happy as a little lark.'
Jeremy still smiled at him. There was something glassy about the smile.
Dr Hopkins swallowed the remainder of his tea and put the cup back in the saucer.
'And now I really must be on my way,' he mumbled. 'So much to do. Don't wish to keep you
from your work. Crystals, eh? Wonderful things. So pretty.'
'Are they?' said Jeremy. He hesitated, as though he was trying to solve a minor problem. 'Oh,
yes. Patterns of light.'
'Twinkly,' said Dr Hopkins.
Igor was waiting by the street door when Dr Hopkins reached it. He nodded.
'Mm ... you are sure about the medicine?' the doctor said quietly.
'Oh yeth, thur. Twithe a day I watch him pour out a thpoonful.'
'Oh, good. He can be a little, er, sometimes he doesn't get on well with people.'
'Yeth, thur?'
'Very, um, very particular about accuracy...'

 
 
  
'Yeth, thur.'
'... which is a good thing, of course. Wonderful thing, accuracy,' said Dr Hopkins, and
sniffed. 'Up to a point, of course. Well, good day to you.'
'Good day, thur.'
When Igor returned to the workshop Jeremy was carefully pouring the blue medicine into a
spoon. When the spoon was exactly full, he tipped it into the sink. 'They check, you know,' he
said. 'They think I don't notice.'
'I'm thure they mean well, thur.'
'I'm afraid I can't think so well when I take the medicine,' he said. 'In fact I think I'm getting
on a lot better without it, don't you? It slows me down.'
Igor took refuge in silence. In his experience, many of the world's greatest discoveries were
made by men who would be considered mad by conventional standards. Insanity depended on
your point of view, he always said, and if it was the view through your own underpants then
everything looked fine.
But young Master Jeremy was beginning to worry him. He never laughed, and Igor liked a
good maniacal laugh. You could trust it. Since giving up the medicine, Jeremy had not, as
Igor had expected, begun to gibber and shout things like 'Mad! They said I was mad! But I
shall show them all! Ahahahaha!' He'd simply become more - focused.
Then there was that smile. Igor was not easily frightened, because otherwise he wouldnl be
able to look in a mirror, but he was becoming a little troubled.
'Now, where were we... ?' said Jeremy. 'Oh, yes, give me a hand here.'
Together they moved the table aside. Under it, dozens of glass jars hissed.
'Not enough power,' said Igor. 'Altho, we have not got the mirrorth right yet, thur.'
Jeremy pulled the cloth off the device on the workbench. Glass and crystal glittered, and in
some cases glittered very strangely. As Jeremy had remarked yesterday, in the clarity that
was returning now that he was carefully pouring one spoonful of his medicine down the sink
twice a day, some of the angles looked wrong. One crystal had disappeared when he'd locked
it into place, but it was clearly still there because he could see the light reflecting off it.
'And we've thtill got too much metal in it, thur,' Igor grumbled. 'It wath the thpring that did
for the latht one.'
'We'll find a way,' said Jeremy.
'Home-made lightning ith never ath good ath the real thort,' said Igor.
'Good enough to test the principle,' said Jeremy.

 
 
  
'Tetht the printhiple, tetht the printhiple,' muttered Igor. 'Thorry, thur, but Igorth do not “tetht
the printhiple”. Thtrap it to the bench and put a good thick bolt of lightning through it, thatth
our motto. Thatth how you tetht thomething.'
'You seem ill at ease, Igor.'
'Well, I'm thorry, thur,' said Igor. 'It'th the climate dithagreeing with me. I'm uthed to regular
thunderthtormth.'
'I've heard that some people really seem to come alive in thunderstorms,' said Jeremy,
carefully adjusting the angle of a crystal.
'Ah, that wath when I worked for Baron Finklethtein,' said Igor.
Jeremy stood back. This wasn't the clock, of course. There was still a lot more work to do
(but he could see it in front of him, if he closed his eyes) before they had a clock. This was
just an essay, to see if he was on the right lines.
He was on the right lines. He knew it.
Tick
Susan walked back through the motionless streets, sat down in Madam Frout's office and let
herself sink back into the stream of time.
She had never found out how this worked. It just did. Time didn't stop for the rest of the
world, and it didn't stop for her - it was just that she entered a kind of loop of time, and
everything else stayed exactly as it was until she'd finished what she needed to do.
It was another inherited family trait. It worked best if you didn't think about it, just like
tightrope walking. Anyway, now she had other things to think about.
Madam Frout turned her gaze back from the rat-free mantelpiece. 'Oh,' she said. It seems to
have gone.'
'It was probably a trick of the light, madam,' said Susan. Mostly human. Someone like me, she
thought.
'Yes, er, of course...' Madam Frout managed to get her glasses on, despite the fact that the
string was still tangled with the button. It meant that she'd moored herself to her own chest,
but she was damned if she was going to do anything about it now.
Susan could unnerve a glacier. All she had to do was sit quietly, looking polite and alert.
'What precisely was it you wanted, madam?' she said. 'It's just that I've left the class doing
algebra, and they get restless when they've finished.'
'Algebra?' said Madam Frout, perforce staring at her own bosom, which no one else had ever
done. 'But that's far too difficult for seven-year-olds!'

 
 
  
'Yes, but I didn't tell them that and so far they haven't found out,' said Susan. It was time to
move things along. 'I expect you wanted to see me about my letter, madam?' she said.
Madam Frout looked blank. 'Wh-' she began.
Susan sighed and snapped her fingers.
She walked round and opened a drawer by the motionless Madam Frout, removed a sheet of
paper and spent some time carefully writing a letter. She let the ink dry, rustled the paper a bit
to make it look slightly second-hand, and then put it just under the top of the pile of
paperwork beside Madam Frout, with enough of it peeking out so that it would be easy to see.
She returned to her seat. She snapped her fingers again.
'-at letter?' said Madam Frout. And then she looked down at her desk. 'Oh.'
It was a cruel thing to do, Susan knew. But while Madam Frout was not by any means a bad
person and was quite kind to children, in a haphazard way, she was silly. And Susan did not
have a lot of time for silly.
'Yes, I asked if I might have a few days' leave,' said Susan. 'Pressing family matters, I'm
afraid. I have prepared some work for the children to get on with, of course.'
Madam Frout hesitated. Susan didn't have time for this, either. She snapped her fingers.
'MY GOODNESS, THAT'D BE A RELIEF,' she said, in a voice whose harmonics went all
the way into the subconscious. 'IF WE DON'T SLOW HER DOWN WE'LL RUN OUT OF
THINGS TO TEACH THEM! SHE HAS BEEN PERFORMING SMALL MIRACLES ON
A DAILY BASIS AND DESERVES A RAISE.'
Then she sat back, snapped her fingers again, and watched the words settle into the forefront
of Madam Frours mind. The woman's lips actually moved.
'Why, yes, of course,' she murmured at last. 'You have been working very hard... and... and,'
and since there are things even a voice of eldritch command can't achieve and one of them is
to get extra money out of a head teacher, 'we shall have to think about a little increment for
you one of these days.'
Susan returned to the classroom and spent the rest of the day performing small miracles,
which included removing the glue from Richenda's hair, emptying the wee out of Billy's
shoes and treating the class to a short visit to the continent of Fourecks.
When their parents came to pick them up they were all waving crayoned pictures of
kangaroos, and Susan had to hope that the red dust on their shoes - red mud in the case of
Billy's, whose sense of timing had not improved - would pass unnoticed. It probably would.
Fidgett's was not the only place where adults didn't see what couldn't possibly be true.
Now she sat back.

Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time

Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time

 
 
  
There was something pleasant about an empty classroom. Of course, as any teacher would
point out, one nice thing was that there were no children in it, and particularly no Jason.
But the tables and shelves around the room showed evidence of a term well spent. Paintings
lined the walls, and displayed good use of perspective and colour. The class had built a full-
size white horse out of cardboard boxes, during which time they'd learned a lot about horses
and Susan learned about Jason's remarkably accurate powers of observation. She'd had to
take the cardboard tube away from him and explain that this was a polite horse.
It had been a long day. She raised the lid of her desk and took out Grim Fairy Tales. This
dislodged some paperwork, which in turn revealed a small cardboard box decorated in black
and gold.
It had been a little present from Vincent's parents.
She stared at the box.
Every day she had to go through this. It was ridiculous. It wasn't even as if Higgs & Meakins
did good chocolates. They were just butter and sugar and-
She scrabbled amongst the sad little scraps of brown paper inside the box and pulled out a
chocolate. No one could be expected not to have just one chocolate, after all.
She put it in her mouth.
Damndamndamndamn! It was nougat inside! Her one chocolate today and it was damn
artificial damn pink-and-white damn sickly damn stupid nougat!
Well, no one could be expected to believe that counted. [9] She was entitled to another-
The teacher part of her, which had eyes in the back of its head, caught the blur of movement.
She spun round.
'No running with scythes!'
The Death of Rats stopped jogging along the Nature Table and gave her a guilty look.
SQUEAK?
'And no going into the Stationery Cupboard, either,' said Susan, automatically. She slammed
the desk lid shut.
SQUEAK!
'Yes, you were. I could hear you thinking about it.' It was possible to deal with the Death of
Rats provided you thought of him as a very small Jason.
The Stationery Cupboard! That was one of the great battlegrounds of classroom history, that
and the playhouse. But the ownership of the playhouse usually sorted itself out without
Susan's intervention, so that all she had to do was be ready with ointment, a nose-blow and

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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