Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time (7 page)

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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He pocketed the little device and strolled off to a nearby cart. He did something that Newgate
couldn't 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 Newgate's unresisting hand.
'How do you do?' he said. ' Any bruises?'
'It does hurt a bit,' said the shaken Newgate.
'Maybe you're 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 don't exist at the Guild.'
'That's stupid, I'm in the Guild records.'
'No, you're not. We'll see to that.'
'How? You can't rewrite history!'
'Bet you a dollar?'
'What have I joined?'
'We're the most secret society that you can imagine.'
'Really? Who are you, then?'
'The Monks of History.'
'Huh? I've never heard of you!'
'See? That's 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 don't
look down.'
There was a roaring below Lobsang, like a swarm of very angry bees. Automatically, he
began to turn his head.
'I said don't look down! Just relax.'
Lu-Tze got to his feet. He raised Lobsang, at arm's length, as though he was a feather, until
the boy's sandals were over the wood of the bridge. Below, monks were running along the
walkways and shouting.
'Now, keep your eyes shut... don't look down! ... and I'll 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, “There's a lot goes on we don't 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 won't,' 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 can't, master,' said Clodpool.
Wen said, 'It's over there.' He pointed, and his arm vanished.
'Ah,' said Clodpool. 'Over there.'
A few cherry blossom petals drifted down onto Wen's 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 don't 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.'
Clodpool's face twisted with the effort of understanding. Then he slowly raised a hand.
Wen sighed.
'You're going to ask what happened to the coat, aren't 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 for almost six hundred years, and
respected him. There weren't 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!'
'I'm definitely getting vulcanism, reverend one. It's 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. It's 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 don't 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 we're 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-'

Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time

Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time

 
 
  
'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, it's 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 abbot's prowess in animal recognition. 'He
saw the patterns. He knows what is happening. He just doesn't know what he knows,' said Lu-
Tze doggedly. 'And within a few seconds of meeting me he stole a small object of value, and
I'm 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 wasn't very good at
discipline, which was possibly why she'd invented the Method, which didn't 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 didn't appear ever to be embarrassed about anything.
'The reason I've 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...'
'Miss Smith thinks a good book is about a boy and his dog chasing a big red ball,' said Miss
Susan. 'My children have learned to expect a plot. No wonder they get impatient. We're
reading Grim Fairy Tales at the moment.'
'That is rather rude of you, Susan.'
'No, madam. That is rather polite of me. It would have been rude of me to say that there is a
circle of Hell reserved for teachers like Miss Smith.'
'But that's a dreadf-' Madam Frout stopped, and began again. 'You should not be teaching
them to read at all yet!' she snapped. But it was the snap of a soggy twig. Madam Frout
cringed back in her chair when Miss Susan looked up. The girl had this terrible ability to give
you her full attention. You had to be a better person than Madam Frout to survive in the
intensity of that attention. It inspected your soul, putting little red circles around the bits it
didn't like. When Miss Susan looked at you, it was as if she was giving you marks.

 
 
  
'I mean,' the headmistress mumbled, 'childhood is a time for play and-'
'Learning,' said Miss Susan.
'Learning through play,' said Madam Frout, grateful to find familiar territory. 'After all,
kittens and puppies-'
'-grow up to be cats and dogs, which are even less interesting,' said Miss Susan, 'whereas
children should grow up to be adults.'
Madam Frout sighed. There was no way she was going to make any progress. It was always
like this. She knew she was powerless. News about Miss Susan had got around. Worried
parents who'd turned to Learning Through Play because they despaired of their offspring ever
Learning By Paying Attention to What Anyone Said were finding them coming home a little
quieter, a little more thoughtful and with a pile of homework which, amazingly, they did
without prompting and even with the dog helping them. And they came home with stories
about Miss Susan.
Miss Susan spoke all languages. Miss Susan knew everything about everything. Miss Susan
had wonderful ideas for school trips...
... and that was particularly puzzling, because as far as Madam Frout knew, none had been
officially organized. There was invariably a busy silence from Miss Susan's classroom when
she went past. This annoyed her. It harked back to the bad old days when children were
Regimented in classrooms that were no better than Torture Chambers for Little Minds. But
other teachers said that there were noises. Sometimes there was the faint sound of waves, or a
jungle. Just once, Madam Frout could have sworn, if she was the sort to swear, that as she
passed there was a full-scale battle going on. This had often been the case with Learning
Through Play, but this time the addition of trumpets, the swish of arrows and the screams of
the fallen seemed to be going too far.
She'd thrown open the door and felt something hiss through the air above her head. Miss
Susan had been sitting on a stool, reading from a book, with the class cross-legged in a quiet
and fascinated semicircle around her. It was the sort of old-fashioned image Madam Frout
hated, as if the children were Supplicants around some sort of Altar of Knowledge.
No one had said anything. All the watching children, and Miss Susan, made it clear in polite
silence that they were waiting for her to go away.
She'd flounced back into the corridor and the door had clicked shut behind her. Then she
noticed the long, crude arrow that was still vibrating in the opposite wall.
Madam Frout had looked at the door, with its familiar green paint, and then back at the arrow.
Which had gone .
She transferred Jason to Miss Susan's class. It had been a cruel thing to do, but Madam Frout
considered that there was now some kind of undeclared war going on.

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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