Thief of Time

Page 25

'The man who brought you?'

'He was kind of foreign, you know? Like the Hub people. Bald as a coot. I remember thinking “You look like a young man, mister, but you look like you've been a young man for a long, long time if I'm any judge.” Normally I wouldn't have any man there, but he sat and talked to her in his foreign lingo and sang her songs and little poems and soothed her and back she came, out of thin air, and I was ready and it was one, two, done. And then she was gone. Except that she was still there, I think. In the air.'

'What did she look like?' said Susan. Mrs Ogg gave her a Look. 'You've got to remember the view I got where I was sitting,' she said. 'The kind of description I might give you ain't a thing anyone'd put on a poster, if you get my meaning. And no woman looks at her best at a time like that. She was young, she had dark hair...' Mrs Ogg refilled her brandy glass and this meant the pause went on for some time. 'And she was old, too, if you're after the truth of it. Not old like me. I mean old.' She stared at the fire. 'Old like darkness and stars,' she said, to the flames. 'The boy was left outside the Thieves' Guild,' said Susan, to break the silence. 'I suppose they thought that with gifts like that he'd be all right.'

'The boy? Hah. Tell me, miss... why are we talking about he?' Tick Lady LeJean was being strong. She'd never realized how much humans were controlled by their bodies. The thing nagged night and day. It was always too hot, too cold, too empty, too full, too tired... The key was discipline, she was sure. Auditors were immortal. If she couldn't tell her body what to do, she didn't deserve to have one. Bodies were a major human weakness. Senses, too. The Auditors had hundreds of senses, since every possible phenomenon had to be witnessed and recorded. She could find only five available now. Five ought to be easy to deal with. But they were wired directly into the rest of the body! They didn't just submit information, they made demands! She'd walked past a stall selling roasted meats and her mouth had started to drool! The sense of smell wanted the body to eat without consulting the brain! But that wasn't the worst of it! The brain itself did its own thinking! That was the hardest part. The bag of soggy tissue behind the eyes worked away independently of its owner. It took in information from the senses, and checked it all against memory, and presented options. Sometimes the hidden parts of it even fought for control of the mouth! Humans weren't individuals, they were, each one, a committee! Some of the other members of the committee were dark and red and entirely uncivilized. They had joined the brain before civilization; some of them had got aboard even before humanity. And the bit that did the joined-up thinking had to fight, in the darkness of the brain, to get the casting vote! After little more than a couple of weeks as a human, the entity that was Lady LeJean was having real trouble. Food, for example. Auditors did not eat. They recognized that feeble life forms had to consume one another to obtain energy and body-building material. The process was astonishingly inefficient, however, and her ladyship had tried assembling nutrients directly out of the air. This worked, but the process felt... What was the word? Oh, yes... creepy. Besides, part of the brain didn't believe it was getting fed and insisted that it was hungry. Its incessant nagging interfered with her thought processes and so, despite everything, she'd had to face up to the whole, well, the whole orifices business. The Auditors had known about these for a long time. The human body appeared to have up to eight of them. One didn't seem to work and the rest appeared to be multi-functional, although surprisingly there seemed to be only one thing that could be done by the ears. Yesterday she'd tried a piece of dry toast. It had been the single worst experience of her existence.

It had been the single most intense experience of her existence. It had been something else, too. As far as she could understand the language, it had been enjoyable. It seemed that the human sense of taste was quite different from the sense as employed by an Auditor. That was precise, measured, analytical. But the human sense of taste was like being hit in the mouth by the whole world. It had been half an hour of watching fireworks in her head before she remembered to swallow. How did humans survive this? She'd been fascinated by the art galleries. It was clear that some humans could present reality in a way that made it even more real, that spoke to the viewer, that seared the mind... but what could possibly transcend the knowledge that the genius of an artist had to poke alien substances into his face? Could it be that humans had got used to it? And that was only the start. . . The sooner the clock was finished, the better. A species as crazy as this couldn't be allowed to survive. She was visiting the clockmaker and his ugly assistant every day now, giving them as much help as she dared, but they always seemed one vital step away from completion- Amazing! She could even lie to herself! Because another voice in her head, which was part of the dark committee, said, 'You're not helping, are you? You're stealing parts and twisting parts... and you go back every day because of the way he looks at you, don't you?' Parts of the internal committee that were so old they didn't have voices, only direct control of the body, tried to interfere at this point. She tried in vain to put them out of her mind. And now she had to face the other Auditors. They would be punctual. She pulled herself together. Water had taken to running out of her eyes lately for no reason at all. She did the best she could with her hair, and made her way to the large drawing room. Greyness was already filling the air. In this space, there was not room for too many Auditors, but that did not really matter. One could speak for all. Lady LeJean found the corners of her mouth turned up automatically as nine of them appeared. Nine was three threes, and the Auditors liked threes. Two would keep an eye on the other one. Each two would keep an eye on each other one. They don't trust themselves, said one of the voices in her head. Another voice cut in: It's we, we don't trust ourselves. And she thought: Oh, yes. We, not they. I must remember I'm a we. An Auditor said, Why is there no further progress? The corners of the mouth turned down again. 'There have been minor problems of precision and alignment,' said Lady LeJean. She found that her hands were rubbing themselves together slowly, and wondered why. She hadn't told them to.

Auditors had never needed body language, so they didn't understand it. One said, What is the nature of-? But another one cut in with, Why are you dwelling in this building? The voice was tinted with suspicion. 'The body requires one to do things that cannot be done on the street,' said Lady LeJean, and, because she'd got to know something about Ankh-Morpork, she added, 'at least, on many streets. Also, I believe the servant of the clockmaker is suspicious. I have allowed the body to yield to gravity, since that is what it was designed for. It is as well to give the appearance of humanity.' One, and it was the same one, said, And what is the meaning of these? It had noticed the paints and the easel. Lady LeJean wished fervently that she'd remembered to put them away. The one said, You are making an image with pigments? 'Yes. Very badly, I am afraid.' One said, For what reason? 'I wished to see how humans do it.' One said, That is simple: the eye receives the input, the hand applies the pigment. 'That's what I thought, but it appears to be much more complex than that-' The one who had raised the question of the painting drifted towards one of the chairs and said, And what is this? 'It is a cat. It arrived. It does not appear to wish to depart.' The cat, a feral ginger tom, flicked a serrated ear and curled up in a tighter ball. Anything that could survive in Ankh-Morpork's alleys, with their abandoned swamp dragons, dog packs and furriers' agents, was not about to open even one eye for a bunch of floating nightdresses. The one who was now getting on Lady LeJean's nerves said: And the reason for its presence? 'It appears to tolerate the company of hu- of apparent humans, asking nothing in return but food, water, shelter and comfort,' said Lady LeJean. 'This interests me. Our purpose is to learn, and thus I have, as you can see, begun.' She hoped it sounded better to them than it did to her. One said, When will the clock problems you spoke of be resolved? 'Oh, soon. Very soon. Yes.'

The one that was beginning to terrify Lady LeJean said, We wonder: is it possible that you are slowing the work in some way? Lady LeJean felt a prickling on her forehead. Why was it doing that? 'No. Why should I slow the work? There would be no logic to it!' One said, Hmm. And an Auditor did not say 'Hmm' by accident. 'Hmm' had a very precise meaning. It went on: You are making moisture on your head. 'Yes. It's a body thing.' One said, Yes. And that, too, had a very specific and ominous meaning. One said, We wonder if too long in a solid body weakens resolve. Also, we find it hard to see your thoughts. 'Body again, I am afraid. The brain is a very imprecise instrument.' Lady LeJean got control of her hands at last. One said, Yes. Another said, When water fills a jug, it takes the shape of the jug. But the water is not the jug, nor is the jug the water. 'Of course,' said Lady LeJean. And, inside, a thought that she hadn't known she was thinking, a thought that turned up out of the darkness behind the eyes, said: We are surely the most stupid creatures in the universe. One said, It is not good to act alone. She said, 'Of course.' And once again a thought emerged from the darkness: I'm in trouble now. One said, And therefore you will have companions. No blame attaches. One should never be alone. Together, resolve is strengthened. Motes began to twinkle in the air. Lady LeJean's body backed away automatically and, when she saw what was forming, she backed it away further. She had seen humans in all states of life and death, but seeing a body being spun out of raw matter was curiously disquieting when you were currently inhabiting a similar one. It was one of those times when the stomach did the thinking, and thought it wanted to throw up. Six figures took shape, blinked and opened their eyes. Three of the figures were male, three were female. They were dressed in human-sized equivalents of the Auditors' robes.

The remaining Auditors drew back, but one said, They will accompany you to the clockmaker; and matters will be resolved today. They will not eat or breathe. Hah! thought one of the little voices that made up Lady LeJean's thinking. One of the figures whimpered. 'The body will breathe,' said her ladyship. 'You will not persuade it that air is not required.' She was aware of the choking noises. 'You are thinking, yes, we can exchange necessary materials with the outside world, and this is true,' she went on. 'But the body does not know that. It thinks it is dying. Let it breathe.' There was a series of gasps. 'And you will feel better shortly,' said her ladyship, and was enthralled to hear the inner voice think: These are your jailers, and you are already stronger than them. One of the figures felt its face with a clumsy hand and, panting, said, 'Whom do you speak to with your mouth?'

'You,' said Lady LeJean. 'Us?'

'This will take some explaining-'

'No,' said the Auditor. 'Danger lies that way. We believe the body imposes a method of thought on the brain. No blame attaches. It is a... malfunction. We will accompany you to the clockmaker. We will do this now.'

'Not in those clothes,' said Lady LeJean. 'You will frighten him. It may lead to irrational actions.' There was a moment of silence. The Auditors-made-flesh looked hopelessly at one another. 'You have to talk with your mouth,' Lady LeJean prompted. 'The minds stay inside the head.' One said, 'What is wrong with these clothes? It is a simple shape found in many human cultures.' Lady LeJean walked to the window. 'See the people down there?' she said. 'You must dress in appropriate city fashions.' Reluctantly the Auditors did so, and, while they retained the greyness, they did give themselves clothes that would pass unnoticed in the street. Up to a point, anyway. 'Only those of female appearance should wear dresses,' Lady LeJean pointed out.

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