Going Postal

Page 49

'And that's what the clacks people gave you?' the Archchancellor demanded. 'Are you sure?'

'Yes, sir. They did look at me in a funny way, sir, but this is definitely it. Why should I make anything up, Archchancellor? I spend most of my time in a tank, sir. A boring, boring, lonely tank, sir.'

'Not one more word!' screamed Greenyham. 'I forbid it!' Beside him, Mr Nutmeg had sprayed his drink across several dripping guests. 'Excuse me? You forbid, sir?' said Ridcully, turning on Greenyham in sudden fury. 'Sir, I am the Master of this college! I will not, sir, be told what to do in my own university! If there is anything to be forbidden here, sir, I will do the forbidding! Thank you! Go ahead, Mr Collabone!'

'Er, er, er . . .' Collabone panted, longing for death. 'I said carry on, man!'

'Er, er . . . yes . . . “There was no safety. There was no pride. All there was, was money. Everything became money, and money became everything. Money treated us as if we were things, and we died—”'

'Is there no law in this place? That is outright slander!' shouted Stowley. 'It's a trick of some sort!'

'By whom, sir?' roared Ridcully. 'Do you mean to suggest that Mr Collabone, a young wizard of great integrity, who I may say is doing wonderful work with snakes—'

'—shellfish—' murmured Ponder Stibbons.

'—shellfish, is playing some kind of joke? How dare you, sir! Continue, Mr Collabone!'

'I, I, I—'

'That is an order, Dr Collabone!'* * Archchancellor Ridcully was a great believer in retaliation by promotion. You couldn't have civilians criticizing one of his wizards. That was his job. 'Er . . . “Blood oils the machinery of the Grand Trunk as willing, loyal people pay with their lives for the Board's culpable stupidity—” ' The hubbub rose again. Moist saw Lord Vetinari's gaze traverse the room. He didn't duck in time. The Patrician's stare passed right through him, carrying away who knew what. An eyebrow rose in interrogation. Moist looked away, and sought out Gilt. He wasn't there. In the omniscope Mr Collabone's nose now glowed like a beacon. He struggled, dropping pages, losing his place, but pressing on with the dogged, dull determination of a man who could spend all day watching one oyster. '—nothing less than an attempt to blacken our good names in front of the whole city!' Stowley was protesting. ' “—unaware of the toll that is being taken. What can we say of the men who caused this, who sat in comfort round their table and killed us by numbers? This—” '

'I will sue the University! I will sue the University!' screamed Greenyham. He picked up a chair and hurled it at the omniscope. Halfway to the glass it turned into a small flock of doves, which panicked and soared up to the roof. 'Oh, please sue the University!' Ridcully bellowed. 'We've got a pond full of people who tried to sue the University—'

'Silence,' said Vetinari. It wasn't a very loud word, but it had an effect rather like that of a drop of black ink in a glass of clear water. The word spread out in coils and tendrils, getting everywhere. It strangled the noise. Of course, there is always someone not paying attention. 'And furthermore,' Stowley went on, oblivious of the hush unfolding in his own little world of righteous indignation, 'it's plain that—'

'I will have silence,' Vetinari stated. Stowley stopped, looked around and deflated. Silence ruled. 'Very good,' said Vetinari quietly. He nodded at Commander Vimes of the Watch, who whispered to another watchman, who pushed his way though the crowd and towards the door. Vetinari turned to Ridcully. 'Archchancellor, I would be grateful if you would instruct your student to continue, please?' he said in the same calm tone. 'Certainly! Off you go, Professor Collabone. In your own time.'

'Er, er, er, er . . . it says further on: “The men obtained control of the Trunk via a ruse known as the Double Lever, in the main using money entrusted to them by clients who did not suspect that— ”'

'Stop reading that!' Greenyham shouted. 'This is ridiculous! It is just slander upon slander!'

'I'm certain I spoke, Mr Greenyham,' said Vetinari. Greenyham faltered. 'Good. Thank you,' said Vetinari. 'These are very serious allegations, certainly. Embezzlement? Murder? I'm sure that Mr— sorry, Professor Collabone is a trustworthy man' - in the omniscope Devious Collabone, Unseen University's newest professor, nodded desperately - 'who is only

reading what has been delivered, so it would appear that they have originated from within your own company. Serious allegations, Mr Greenyham. Made in front of all these people. Are you suggesting I should treat them as some sort of prank? The city is watching, Mr Greenyham. Oh, Stowley appears to be ill.'

'This is not the place for—' Greenyham tried, aware once more of the creaking of ice. 'It is the ideal place,' said Vetinari. 'It is public. In the circumstances, given the nature of the allegations, I'm sure everyone would require that I get to the bottom of them as soon as possible, if only to prove them totally groundless.' He looked around. There was a chorus of agreement. Even the upper crust loved a show. 'What do you say, Mr Greenyham?' said Vetinari. Greenyham said nothing. The cracks were spreading, the ice was breaking up on every side. 'Very well,' said Vetinari. He turned to the figure beside him. 'Commander Vimes, be so kind as to send men to the offices of the Grand Trunk Company, Ankh-Sto Associates, Sto Plains Holdings, Ankh Futures and particularly to the premises of the Ankh-Morpork Mercantile Credit Bank. Inform the manager, Mr Cheeseborough, that the bank is closed for audit and I wish to see him in my office at his earliest convenience. Any person in any of those premises who so much as moves a piece of paper before my clerks arrive will be arrested and held complicit in any or all of such offences as may be uncovered. While this is happening, moreover, no person concerned with the Grand Trunk Company or any of its employees is to leave this room.'

'You can't do that!' Greenyham protested weakly, but the fire had drained out of him. Mr Stowley had collapsed on the floor, with his head in his hands. 'Can I not?' said Vetinari. 'I am a tyrant. It's what we do.'

'What is happening? Who am I? Where is this place?' moaned Stowley, a man who believed in laying down some groundwork as soon as possible. 'But there's no evidence! That wizard's lying! Someone must have been bribed!' Greenyham pleaded. Not only had the ice broken up, but he was on the floe with the big hungry walrus. 'Mr Greenyham,' said Lord Vetinari, 'one more uninvited outburst from you and you will be imprisoned. I hope that is clear?'

'On what charge?' said Greenyham, still managing to find a last reserve of hauteur from somewhere. 'There doesn't have to be one!' Robe swirling like the edge of darkness, Vetinari swung round to the omniscope and Devious Collabone, for whom two thousand miles suddenly wasn't far enough. 'Continue, Professor. There will be no further interruptions.' Moist watched the audience as Collabone stuttered and mispronounced his way through the rest of the message. It dealt with generalities rather than particulars, but there were dates, and names, and thundering denunciations. There was nothing new, not really new, but it was packaged in fine language and it was delivered by the dead. We who died on the dark towers demand this of you . . . He ought to be ashamed. It was one thing to put words in the mouths of the gods; priests did it all the time. But this, this was a step too far. You had to be some kind of bastard to think of something like this. He relaxed a bit. A fine upstanding citizen wouldn't have stooped so low, but he hadn't got this job because he was a fine upstanding citizen. Some tasks needed a good honest hammer. Others needed a twisty corkscrew. With any luck, he could believe that, if he really tried. There had been a late fall of snow, and the fir trees around Tower 181 were crusted with white

under the hard, bright starlight. Everyone was up there tonight - Grandad, Roger, Big Steve-oh, Wheezy Halfsides, who was a dwarf and had to sit on a cushion to reach the keyboards, and Princess. There had been a few muffled exclamations as the message came through. Now there was silence, except for the sighing of the wind. Princess could see people's breath in the air. Grandad was drumming his fingers on the woodwork. Then Wheezy said: 'Was that all real?' The breath clouds got denser. People were relaxing, coming back to the real world. 'You saw the instructions we got,' said Grandad, staring across the dark forests. 'Don't change anything. Send it on, they told us. We sent it on. We damn well did send it on!'

'Who was it from?' said Steve-oh. 'It doesn't matter,' said Grandad. 'Message comes in, message goes out, message moves on.'

'Yeah, but was it really from—' Steve-oh began. 'Bloody hell, Steve-oh, you really don't know when to shut up, do you?' said Roger. 'Only I heard about Tower 93, where the guys died and the tower sent a distress signal all by itself,' mumbled Steve-oh. He was fast on the keys, but not knowing when to shut up was only one of his social failings. In a tower, it could get you killed. 'Dead Man's Handle,' said Grandad. 'You should know that. If there's no activity for ten minutes when a signature key is slotted, the drum drops the jacquard into the slot and the counterweight falls and the tower sends the help sign.' He spoke the words as if reading them from a manual. 'Yeah, but I heard that in Tower 93 the jacquard was wedged and—'

'I can't stand this,' muttered Grandad. 'Roger, let's get this tower working again. We've got local signals to send, haven't we?'

'Sure. And stuff waiting on the drum,' said Roger. 'But Gilt said we weren't to restart until—'

'Gilt can kiss my—' Grandad began, then remembered the present company and finished:'— donkey. You read what went through just now! Do you think that bas— that man is still in charge?' Princess looked out from the upstream window. '182's lit up,' she announced. 'Right! Let's light up and shift code,' Grandad growled. 'That's what we do! And who's going to stop us? All those without something to do, get out! We are running!' Princess went out on to the little platform, to be out of the way. Underfoot the snow was like icing sugar, in her nostrils the air was like knives. When she looked across the mountains, in the direction she'd learned to think of as downstream, she could see that Tower 180 was sending. At that moment, she heard the thump and click of 181's own shutters opening, dislodging snow. We shift code, she thought. It's what we do. Up on the tower, watching the star-like twinkle of the Trunk in the clear, freezing air, it was like being part of the sky. And she wondered what Grandad most feared: that dead clacks-men could send messages to the living, or that they couldn't. Collabone finished. Then he produced a handkerchief and rubbed away at whatever the green stuff was that had begun to grow on the glass. This made a squeaking sound. He peered nervously through the smear. 'Is that all right, sir? I'm not in some sort of trouble, am I?' he asked. 'Only at the moment I think I'm close to translating the mating call of the giant clam . . .'

'Thank you, Professor Collabone; a good job well done. That will be all,' said Archchancellor Ridcully coldly. 'Unhinge the mechanism, Mr Stibbons.' A look of fervid relief passed across

Devious Colla-bone's face just before the omniscope went blank. 'Mr Pony, you are the chief engineer of the Grand Trunk, are you not?' said Vetinari, before the babble could rise again. The engineer, suddenly the focus of attention, backed away waving his hands frantically. 'Please, your lordship! I'm just an engineer, I don't know anything—'

'Calm yourself, please. Have you heard that the souls of dead men travel on the Trunk?'

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