Going Postal

Page 48

'It just goes to show, the Grand Trunk is a people company,' said Moist. Undecided Adrian and Mad Al walked over to the big frame and began to unwind some ropes from their cleats. Oh well, thought Moist, now for it . . .

'There's just one alteration to the plan,' he said, and took a breath. 'We're not sending the Woodpecker.'

'What do you mean?' said Adrian, dropping his rope. 'That was the plan!'

'It'll destroy the Trunk,' said Moist. 'Yes, that was the plan, sure enough,' said Al. 'Gilt's as good as painted “kick me” on his pants! Look, it's falling down of its own accord anyway, okay? It was an experiment in the first place! We can rebuild it faster and better!'

'How?' said Moist. 'Where will the money come from? I know a way to destroy the company but leave the towers standing. They were stolen from the Dearhearts and their partners. I can give them back! But the only way to build a better line of towers is to leave the old ones intact. The Trunk's got to earn!'

'That's the sort of thing Gilt would say!' snapped Al. 'And it's true,' said Moist. 'Alex, you're sane, tell the man! Keep the Trunk operating, replace one tower at a time, never dropping any code!' He waved a hand towards the darkness. 'The people out on the towers, they want to be proud of what they do, yes? It's tough work and they don't get paid enough but they live to shift code, right? The company's running them into the ground but they still shift code!' Adrian tugged at his rope. 'Hey, the canvas is stuck,' he announced to the tower in general. 'It must have been caught up when we furled it . . .'

'Oh, I'm sure the Woodpecker will work,' said Moist, plunging on. 'It might even damage enough towers for long enough. But Gilt will twist his way out of it. Do you understand? He'll shout about sabotage!'

'So what?' said Mad Al. 'We'll have this lot back on the cart in an hour and no one will know we were ever here!'

'I'll climb up and free it, shall I?' said Undecided Adrian, shaking the canvas. 'I said it won't work? said Moist, waving him away. 'Look, Mr Al, this isn't going to be settled by fire. It's going to be settled with words. We'll tell the world what happened to the Trunk.'

'You've been talking to Killer about that?' said Alex. 'Yes,' said Moist. 'But you can't prove anything,' said Alex. 'We heard it was all legal.'

'I doubt it,' said Moist. 'But that doesn't matter. I don't have to prove anything. I said this is about words, and how you can twist them, and how you can spin them in people's heads so that they think the way you want them to. We'll send a message of our own, and do you know what? The boys in the towers will want to send it, and when people know what it says they'll want to believe it, because they'll want to live in a world where it's true. It's my words against Gilt's, and I'm better at them than he is. I can take him down with a sentence, Mr Mad, and leave every tower standing. And no one will ever know how it was done—' There was a brief exclamation behind them, and the sound of canvas unrolling quite fast. 'Trust me,' said Moist. 'We'll never get another chance like this,' said Mad Al. 'Exactly!' said Moist. 'One man has died for every three towers standing,' said Mad Al. 'Did you know that?'

'You know they'll never really die while the Trunk is alive,' said Moist. It was a wild shot, but it hit something, he sensed it. He rushed on: 'It lives while the code is shifted, and they live with it, always Going Home. Will you stop that? You can't stop it! I won't stop it! But I can stop Gilt! Trust me!'

The canvas hung like a sail, if as someone intended to launch the tower. It was eighty feet high and thirty feet wide and moved a little in the wind. 'Where's Adrian?' said Moist. They looked at the sail. They rushed to the edge of the tower. They looked down into darkness. 'Adrian?' said Mad Al uncertainly. A voice from below said: 'Yes?'

'What are you doing?'

'Just, you know . . . hanging around? And an owl has just landed on my head.' There was a small tearing noise beside Moist. Sane Alex had cut a hole in the canvas. 'Here it comes!' he reported. 'What?' said Moist. 'The message! They're sending from Tower 2! Take a look,' Alex said, backing away. Moist peered through the slit, back towards the city. In the distance, a tower was sparkling. Mad Al strode over to the half-sized clacks array and grabbed the handles. 'All right, Mr Lipwig, let's hear your plan,' he said. 'Alex, give me a hand! Adrian, just . . . hang on, all right?'

'It's trying to push a dead mouse in my ear,' said a reproachful voice from below. Moist shut his eyes, lined up the thoughts that had been buzzing for hours, and began to speak. Behind and above him, the huge expanse of canvas was just enough to block the line of sight between the two distant towers. In front of him, the Smoking Gnu's half-sized tower was just the right size to look, to the next tower in line, like a bigger tower a long way off. At night all you could see were the lights. The clacks in front of him shook as the shutters rattled. And now a new message was dropping across the sky . . . It was only a few hundred words. When Moist had finished, the clacks rattled out the last few letters and then fell silent. After a while Moist said: 'Will they pass it along?'

'Oh, yes,' said Mad Al, in a flat voice. 'They'll send it. You're sitting up in a tower in the mountains and you get a signal like that? You'll get it away and out of your tower as fast as you can.'

'I don't know if we ought to shake your hand or throw you off the tower,' said Sane Alex sullenly. 'That was evil.'

'What sort of person could dream up something like that?' said Mad Al. 'Me. Now let's pull Adrian up, shall we?' said Moist quickly. 'And then I'd better get back to the city . . .' An omniscope is one of the most powerful instruments known to magic, and therefore one of the most useless. It can see everything, with ease. Getting it to see anything is where wonders have to be performed because there is so much Everything - which is to say, everything that can, will, has, should or might happen in all possible universes - that anything, any previously specified thing, is very hard to find. Before Hex had evolved the control thaumarhythms, completing in a day a task that would have taken five hundred wizards at least ten years, omniscopes were used purely as mirrors because of the wonderful blackness they showed. This, it turned out, is because 'nothing to see' is what most of the universe consists of, and many a wizard has peacefully trimmed his beard while gazing into the dark heart of the cosmos.

There were very few steerable omniscopes. They took a long time to make and cost a great deal. And the wizards were not at all keen on making any more. Omniscopes were for them to look at the universe, not for the universe to look back at them. Besides, the wizards did not believe in making life too easy for people. At least, for people who weren't wizards. An omniscope was a rare, treasured and delicate thing. But today was a special occasion, and they had thrown open the doors to the richer, cleaner and more hygienic sections of Ankh-Morpork society. A long table had been set for Second Tea. Nothing too excessive - a few dozen roast fowls, a couple of cold salmon, one hundred linear feet of salad bar, a pile of loaves, one or two kegs of beer and, of course, the chutney, pickle and relish train, one trolley not being considered big enough. People had filled their plates and were standing around chatting and, above all, Being There. Moist slipped in unnoticed, for now, because people were watching the University's biggest omniscope. Archchancellor Ridcully thumped the side of the thing with his hand, causing it to rock. 'It's still not working, Mr Stibbons!' he bellowed. 'Here's that damn enormous fiery eye again!'

'I'm sure we have the right—' Ponder began, fiddling with the rear of the big disc. 'It's me, sir, Devious Collabone, sir,' said a voice from the omniscope. The fiery eye pulled back and was replaced by an enormous fiery nose. 'I'm here at the terminal tower in Genua, sir. Sorry about the redness, sir. I've picked up an allergy to seaweed, sir.'

'Hello, Mr Collabone!' yelled Ridcully. 'How are you? How's the—'

'—shellfish research—' murmured Ponder Stibbons. '—shellfish research comin' along?'

'Not very well, actually, sir. I've developed a nasty—'

'Good, good! Lucky chap!' Ridcully yelled, cupping his hands to increase the volume. 'I wouldn't mind bein' in Genua myself at this time of year! Sun, sea, surf and sand, eh?'

'Actually it's the wet season, sir, and I'm a bit worried about this fungus that's growing on the omni—'

'Wonderful!' shouted Ridcully. 'Well, I can't stand here and chew your fat all day! Has anything arrived? We are agog!'

'Could you just stand back a little bit further, please, Mr Collabone?' said Ponder. 'And you don't really need to speak so . . . loudly, Archchancellor.'

'Chap's a long way away, man!' said Ridcully. 'Not as such, sir,' said Ponder, with well-honed patience. 'Very well, Mr Collabone, you may proceed.' The crowd behind the Archchancellor pressed forward. Mr Collabone backed away. This was all a bit too much for a man who spent his days with no one to talk to but bivalves. 'Er, I've had a message by clacks, sir, but—' he began. 'Nothin' from the Post Office?' said Ridcully. 'No, sir. Nothing, sir.' There were cheers and boos and general laughter from the crowd. From his shadowy corner, Moist saw Lord Vetinari, right by the Archchancellor. He scanned the rest of the crowd and spotted Readier Gilt, standing off to one side and, surprisingly, not smiling. And Gilt saw him. One look was enough. The man wasn't certain. Not totally certain. Welcome to fear, said Moist to himself. It's hope, turned inside out. You know it can't go wrong, you're sure it can't go wrong . . . But it might. I've got you. Devious Collabone coughed. 'Er, but I don't think this is the message Archchancellor Ridcully

sent,' he said, his voice gone squeaky with nervousness. 'What makes you think that, man?'

'Because it says it isn't,' Collabone quavered. 'It says it's from dead people . . .'

'You mean it's an old message?' said Ridcully. 'Er, no, sir. Er . . . I'd better read it, shall I? Do you want me to read it?'

'That's the point, man!' In the big disc of glass, Collabone cleared his throat. ' “Who will listen to the dead? We who died so that words could fly demand justice now. These are the crimes of the Board of the Grand Trunk: theft, embezzlement, breach of trust, corporate murder—” '

Chapter Fourteen

Deliverance Lord Vetinari Requests Silence — Mr Lipwig Comes Down - Mr Pump Moves On — Fooling No One But Yourself— The Bird — The Concludium - Freedom of Choice The Great Hall was in uproar. Most of the wizards took the opportunity to congregate at the buffet, which was now clear. If there's one thing a wizard hates, it's having to wait while the person in front of them is in two minds about coleslaw. It's a salad bar, they say, it's got the kind of stuff salad bars have, if it was surprising it wouldn't be a salad bar, you're not here to look at it. What do you expect to find? Rhino chunks? Pickled coelacanth? The Lecturer in Recent Runes ladled more bacon bits into his salad bowl, having artfully constructed buttresses of celery and breastworks of cabbage to increase its depth five times. 'Any of you Fellows know what this is all about?' he said, raising his voice above the din. 'Seems to be upsetting a lot of people.'

'It's this clacks business,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'I've never trusted it. Poor Collabone. Decent young man in his way. A good man with a whelk. Seems to be in a spot of bother . . .' It was quite a large spot. Devious Collabone was opening and shutting his mouth on the other side of the glass like a stranded fish. In front of him, Mustrum Ridcully reddened with anger, his tried and tested approach to most problems. '. . . sorry, sir, but this is what it says and you asked me to read it,' Collabone protested. 'It goes on and on, sir—'

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