Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time (9 page)

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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'I don't know about “everything”. I mean, I don't know much forensic mineralogy. But I will
teach you all that I know that is useful for you to know, yes.'
'When?'
'It's getting late-'
'At dawn tomorrow?'
'Oh, before dawn. I'll wake you.'
Tick
Some distance away from Madam Frout's Academy, in Esoteric Street, were a number of
gentlemen's clubs. It would be far too cynical to say that here the term 'gentleman' was
simply defined as 'someone who can afford five hundred dollars a year'; they also had to be
approved of by a great many other gentlemen who could afford the same fee.
And they didn't much like the company of ladies. This was not to say that they were that kind
of gentlemen, who had their own, rather better-decorated clubs in another part of town, where
there was generally a lot more going on. These gentlemen were gentlemen of a class who
were, on the whole, bullied by ladies from an early age. Their lives were steered by nurses,
governesses, matrons, mothers and wives, and after four or five decades of that the average
mild-mannered gentleman gave up and escaped as politely as possible to one of these clubs,
where he could snooze the afternoon away in a leather armchair with the top button of his
trousers undone. [7]
The most select of these clubs was Fidgett's, and it operated like this: Susan didn't need to
make herself invisible, because she knew that the members of Fidgett's would simply not see
her, or believe that she really existed even if they did. Women weren't allowed in the club at
all except under Rule 34b, which grudgingly allowed for female members of the family or
respectable married ladies over thirty to be entertained to tea in the Green Drawing Room
between 3.15 and 4.30p.m., provided at least one member of staff was present at all times.
This had been the case for so long that many members now interpreted it as being the only
seventy-five minutes in the day when women were actually allowed to exist and, therefore,
any women seen in the club at any other time were a figment of their imagination.
In the case of Susan, in her rather strict black schoolteaching outfit and button boots that
somehow appeared to have higher heels when she was being Death's granddaughter, this
might well have been true.
The boots echoed on the marble floor as she made her way to the library.
It was a mystery to her why Death had started using the place. Of course, he did have many
of the qualities of a gentleman: he had a place in the country - a far, dark country - was
unfailingly punctual, was courteous to all those he met - and sooner or later he met everyone -
was well if soberly dressed, at home in any company and, proverbially, a good horseman.
The fact that he was the Grim Reaper was the only bit that didn't quite fit.

 
 
  
Most of the overstuffed chairs in the library were occupied by contented lunchers dozing
happily under tented copies of the Ankh-Morpork Times. Susan looked around until she found
the copy from which projected the bottom half of a black robe and two bony feet. There was
also a scythe leaning against the back of the armchair. She raised the paper.
GOOD AFTERNOON, said Death. HAVE YOU HAD LUNCH? IT WAS JAM ROLY-
POLY.
'Why do you do this, Grandfather? You know you don't sleep.'
I FIND IT RESTFUL. ARE YOU WELL?
'I was until the rat arrived.'
YOUR CAREER PROGRESSES? YOU KNOW I CARE FOR YOU.
'Thank you,' said Susan shortly. 'Now, why did-'
WOULD A LITTLE SMALL TALK HURT?
Susan sighed. She knew what was behind that, and it wasn't a happy thought. It was a small,
sad and wobbly little thought, and it ran: each of them had no one else but the other. There. It
was a thought that sobbed into its own handkerchief, but it was true.
Oh, Death had his manservant, Albert, and of course there was the Death of Rats, if you
could call that company.
And as far as Susan was concerned...
Well, she was partly immortal, and that was all there was to it. She could see things that were
really there,[8] she could put time on and off like an overcoat. Rules that applied to everyone
else, like gravity, applied to her only when she let them. And, however hard you tried, this
sort of thing did tend to get in the way of relationships. It was hard to deal with people when
a tiny part of you saw them as a temporary collection of atoms that would not be around in
another few decades.
And there she met the tiny part of Death that found it hard to deal with people when it
thought of them as real.
Not a day went past but she regretted her curious ancestry. And then she'd wonder what it
could possibly be like to walk the world unaware at every step of the rocks beneath your feet
and the stars overhead, to have a mere five senses, to be almost blind and nearly deaf...
THE CHILDREN ARE WELL? I LIKED THEIR PAINTINGS OF ME.
'Yes. How is Albert?'
HE IS WELL.

 
 
  
... and not really have any small talk, Susan added to herself. There wasn't room for small talk
in a big universe.
THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END.
Well, that was big talk. 'When?'
NEXT WEDNESDAY.
'Why?'
THE AUDITORS ARE BACK, said Death.
'Those evil little things?'
YES.
'I hate them.'
I, OF COURSE, DO NOT HAVE ANY EMOTIONS, said Death, poker-faced as only a skull
can be.
'What are they up to this time?'
I CANNOT SAY.
'I thought you could remember the future!'
YES. BUT SOMETHING HAS CHANGED. AFTER WEDNESDAY, THERE IS NO
FUTURE.
'There must be something, even if it's only debris!'
NO. AFTER ONE O'CLOCK NEXT WEDNESDAY THERE IS NOTHING. JUST ONE
O'CLOCK NEXT WEDNESDAY, FOR EVER AND EVER. NO ONE WILL LIVE. NO
ONE WILL DIE. THAT IS WHAT I NOW SEE. THE FUTURE HAS CHANGED. DO
YOU UNDERSTAND?
'And what has this got to do with me?' Susan knew this would sound stupid to anyone else.
I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THE END OF THE WORLD IS EVERYONE'S
RESPONSIBILITY, WOULDN'T YOU?
'You know what I mean!'
I BELIEVE THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE NATURE OF TIME, WHICH IS BOTH
IMMORTAL AND HUMAN. THERE HAVE BEEN CERTAIN ... RIPPLES.
'They're going to do something to Time? I thought they weren't allowed to do things like that.'

 
 
  
NO. BUT HUMANS CAN. IT HAS BEEN DONE ONCE BEFORE.
'No one would be that stu-'
Susan stopped. Of course someone would be that stupid. Some humans would do anything to
see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign
on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even
have time to dry.
She thought some more. Death was watching her intently.
Then she said, 'Funnily enough, there is this book I've been reading to the class. I found it on
my desk one day. It's called Grim Fairy Tales...'
AH, HAPPY TALES FOR LITTLE FOLK, said Death, without a trace of irony.
'... which is mostly about wicked people dying in horrible ways. It's strange, really. The
children seem quite happy with the idea. It doesn't seem to worry them.'
Death said nothing.
'... except in the case of the Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein,' said Susan, watching his skull.
'They found that quite upsetting, even though it's got a kind of happy ending.'
IT MAY BE BECAUSE THE STORY IS TRUE.
Susan had known Death long enough not to argue.
'I think I understand,' she said. 'You made sure the book was there.'
YES. OH, THE RUBBISH ABOUT THE HANDSOME PRINCE AND SO ON IS AN
OBVIOUS ADDITION. THE AUDITORS DID NOT INVENT THE CLOCK, OF
COURSE. THAT WAS THE WORK OF A MADMAN. BUT THEY ARE GOOD AT
ADAPTING. THEY CANNOT CREATE, BUT THEY CAN ADAPT. AND THE CLOCK
IS BEING REBUILT.
'Was time really stopped?'
TRAPPED. ONLY FOR A MOMENT, BUT THE RESULTS STILL LIE ALL AROUND
US. HISTORY WAS SHATTERED, FRAGMENTED. PASTS WERE NO LONGER
LINKED TO FUTURES. THE HISTORY MONKS HAD TO REBUILD IT
PRACTICALLY FROM SCRATCH.
Susan did not waste breath saying things like, 'That's impossible,' at a time like this. Only
people who believed that they lived in the real world said things like that.
'That must have taken some... time,' she said.

 
 
  
TIME, OF COURSE, WAS NOT THE ISSUE. THEY USE A FORM OF YEARS BASED
ON THE HUMAN PULSE RATE. OF THOSE YEARS, IT TOOK ABOUT FIVE
HUNDRED.
'But if history was shattered, where did they get-'
Death steepled his fingers.
THINK TEMPORALLY, SUSAN. I BELIEVE THEY STOLE SOME TIME FROM SOME
EARLIER AGE OF THE WORLD, WHERE IT WAS BEING WASTED ON A LOT OF
REPTILES. WHAT IS TIME TO A BIG LIZARD, AFTER ALL? HAVE YOU SEEN
THOSE PROCRASTINATORS THE MONKS USE? WONDERFUL THINGS. THEY CAN
MOVE TIME, STORE IT, STRETCH IT... QUITE INGENIOUS. AS FOR WHEN THIS
HAPPENED, THE QUESTION ALSO MAKES NO SENSE. WHEN THE BOTTLE IS
BROKEN, DOES IT MATTER WHERE THE GLASS WAS HIT? THE SHARDS OF THE
EVENT ITSELF NO LONGER EXIST IN THIS REBUILT HISTORY, IN ANY CASE.
'Hold on, hold on... How can you take a piece of, oh, some old century, and stitch it into a
modern one? Wouldn't people notice that...' Susan flailed a bit, 'oh, that people have got the
wrong armour and the buildings are all wrong and they're still in the middle of wars that
happened centuries ago?'
IN MY EXPERIENCE, SUSAN, WITHIN THEIR HEADS TOO MANY HUMANS
SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN THE MIDDLE OF WARS THAT HAPPENED CENTURIES
AGO.
'Very insightful, but what I meant was-'
YOU MUST NOT CONFUSE THE CONTENT WITH THE CONTAINER. Death sighed.
YOU ARE MOSTLY HUMAN. YOU NEED A METAPHOR. AN OBJECT LESSON IS
CLEARLY IN ORDER. COME.
He stood up and stalked into the dining room across the hall. There were still a few late
lunchers frozen in their work, napkins tucked under their chins, in an atmosphere of happy
carbohydrates.
Death walked up to a table that had been laid for dinner, and gripped a corner of the
tablecloth.
TIME IS THE CLOTH, he said. THE CUTLERY AND PLATES ARE THE EVENTS
THAT TAKE PLACE WITHIN TIME-
There was a drum roll. Susan glanced down. The Death of Rats was seated in front of a tiny
drum kit.
OBSERVE.
Death pulled the cloth away. There was a rattle of cutlery and a moment of uncertainty
regarding a vase of flowers, but almost all the tableware remained in place.

 
 
  
'I see,' said Susan.
THE TABLE REMAINS LAID, BUT THE CLOTH CAN NOW BE USED FOR
ANOTHER MEAL.
'However, you knocked the salt over,' said Susan.
THE TECHNIQUE IS NOT PERFECT .
'And there are stains on the cloth from the previous meal, Grandfather.'
Death beamed. YES, he said. AS METAPHORS GO IT IS RATHER GOOD, DON'T YOU
THINK?
'People would notice!'
REALLY? HUMANS ARE THE MOST UNOBSERVANT CREATURES IN THE
UNIVERSE. OH, THERE ARE LOTS OF ANOMALIES, OF COURSE, A CERTAIN
AMOUNT OF SPILLED SALT, BUT HISTORIANS EXPLAIN THEM AWAY. THEY
ARE SO VERY USEFUL IN THAT RESPECT.
There was something called the Rules, Susan knew. They weren't written down, in the same
way that mountains weren't written down. They were far more fundamental to the operation
of the universe than mere mechanical things like gravity. The Auditors might hate the
untidiness caused by the emergence of life, but the Rules did not allow them to do anything
about it. The ascent of mankind must have been a boon to them. At last there was a species
that could be persuaded to shoot itself in the foot.
'I don't know what you expect me to do about it,' she said.
EVERYTHING THAT YOU CAN, said Death. I, BY CUSTOM AND PRACTICE, HAVE
OTHER DUTIES AT THIS TIME.
'Such as?'
IMPORTANT MATTERS.
'That you can't tell me about?'
THAT I DO NOT INTEND TO TELL YOU ABOUT. BUT THEY ARE IMPORTANT. IN
ANY CASE, YOUR INSIGHT IS VALUABLE. YOU HAVE WAYS OF THINKING
THAT WILL BE USEFUL. YOU CAN GO WHERE I CANNOT. I HAVE ONLY SEEN
THE FUTURE. BUT YOU CAN CHANGE IT.
'Where is this clock being rebuilt?'
I CANNOT TELL. I HAVE DONE WELL TO DEDUCE WHAT I HAVE. THE ISSUE IS
CLOUDED FROM ME.
'Why?'

 
 
  
BECAUSE THINGS HAVE BEEN HIDDEN. SOMEONE IS INVOLVED... WHO IS NOT
SUBJECT TO ME. Death looked awkward.
'An immortal?'
SOMEONE SUBJECT TO... SOMEONE ELSE.
'You're going to have to be a lot clearer than that.'
SUSAN... YOU KNOW THAT I ADOPTED AND RAISED YOUR MOTHER, AND
FOUND A SUITABLE HUSBAND FOR HER
'Yes, yes,' snapped Susan. 'How could I forget? I look in my mirror every day.'
THIS IS... DIFFICULT FOR ME. THE TRUTH IS, I WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE TO
INVOLVE MYSELF LIKE THAT. WHY LOOK SURPRISED? IS IT NOT WELL
KNOWN THAT GODS DO THIS SORT OF THING ALL THE TIME?
'Gods, yes, but people like you-'
PEOPLE LIKE US ARE STILL LIKE PEOPLE...
Susan did an unusual thing, and listened. That's not an easy task for a teacher.
SUSAN, YOU WILL KNOW THAT WE WHO ARE ... OUTSIDE HUMANITY.
'I'm not outside humanity,' said Susan sharply. 'I just have a few ... extra talents.'
I DID NOT MEAN YOU, OF COURSE. I MEANT THE OTHERS WHO ARE NOT
HUMAN AND YET PART OF HUMANITY'S UNIVERSE - WAR AND DESTINY AND
PESTILENCE AND THE REST OF US - WE ARE ENVISAGED AS HUMAN BY
HUMANS AND THUS, IN VARIOUS FASHIONS, WE TAKE ON SOME ASPECTS OF
HUMANITY. IT CAN BE NO OTHER WAY. EVEN THE VERY BODY SHAPE FORCES
UPON OUR MINDS A CERTAIN WAY OF OBSERVING THE UNIVERSE. WE PICK
UP HUMAN TRAITS... CURIOSITY, ANGER, RESTLESSNESS...
'This is basic stuff, Grandfather.'
YES. AND YOU KNOW, THEREFORE, THAT SOME OF US... TAKE AN INTEREST IN
HUMANITY.
'I know. I am one of the results.'
YES. ER ... AND SOME OF US TAKE AN INTEREST WHICH IS, ER, MORE...
'Interesting?'
... PERSONAL. AND YOU HAVE HEARD ME SPEAK OF THE... PERSONIFICATION
OF TIME...

 
 
  
'You didn't tell me much. She lives in a palace of glass, you once said.' Susan felt a small,
shameful and yet curiously satisfying sensation in seeing Death discomfited. He looked like
someone who was being forced to reveal a skeleton in the closet.
YES. ER ... SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH A HUMAN...
'How very romantick,' said Susan, inserting the k. Now she was being childishly perverse,
she knew, but life as Death's granddaughter was not easy, and just occasionally she had the
irresistible urge to annoy.
AH. A PUN, OR PLAY ON WORDS, said Death wearily, ALTHOUGH I SUSPECT YOU
WERE MERELY TRYING TO BE TIRESOME.
'Well, that sort of thing used to happen a lot in antiquity, didn't it?' said Susan. 'Poets were
always falling in love with moonlight or hyacinths or something, and goddesses were forever-
'
BUT THIS WAS REAL, said Death.
'How real do you mean?'
TIME HAD A SON.
'How could-'
TIME HAD A SON. SOMEONE MOSTLY MORTAL. SOMEONE LIKE YOU.
Tick
A member of the Clockmakers' Guild called on Jeremy once a week. It was nothing formal.
In any case there was often some work for him to do, or some results to be collected, because
whatever else you might say about him, the boy had a genius for clocks.
Informally, the visit was also a delicate way to make sure that the lad was taking his medicine
and wasn't noticeably crazy.
The clockmakers were well aware that the intricate mechanisms of the human brain could
occasionally throw a screw. The Guild's members tended to be meticulous people, always in
pursuit of an inhuman accuracy, and this took its toll. It could cause problems. Springs were
not the only things that got wound up. The Guild committee were, by and large, kind and
understanding men. They were not, on the whole, men accustomed to guile.
Dr Hopkins, the Guild's secretary, was surprised when the door of Jeremy's shop was opened
by a man who appeared to have survived a very serious accident.
'Er, I'm here to see Mr Jeremy,' he managed.
'Yeth, thir. The marthter ith in, thur.'
'And you, mm, are...?'

BOOK: Discworld 26 - The Thief of Time
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