Thief of Time

Page 27

'Yes! Did I tell you about the double-knit combinations?'


'I've got a spare pair in my sack. You can have them when we stop!'

'Your own personal pair?'

'Yes! Second-best but well darned!'

'No, thank you!'

'They've been washed!'



'Why can't we slice when we're on this thing?' The tower was well past them. The next one was pencil-sized already. The black-and-white shutters on the boxes were twinkling in the sunlight. 'Do you know what happens if you slice time on a magically powered vehicle travelling at more than seventy miles an hour?'


'Me neither! And I don't want to find out!' Tick Igor opened the door before the second knock. An Igor might be filling coffins with earth in the cellar, or up on the roof adjusting the lightning conductor, but a caller never had to knock twice. 'Ladythip,' he muttered, nodding his head. He looked blankly at the six figures behind her. 'We have called to inspect progress,' said Lady LeJean. 'And thethe ladieth and gentlemen, ladythip?'

'My associates,' said her ladyship, matching Igor's blank stare.

'If you will be tho kind ath to thtep inthide, I will thee if the marthter ith in,' said Igor, observing the convention that a true butler never knows the whereabouts of anyone in the house until they decide they want it to be known. He backed through the door into the workshop and then lurched into the kitchen, where Jeremy was calmly pouring a spoonful of medicine down the sink. 'That woman ith here,' he said, 'and thee hath brought lawyerth.' Jeremy held out a hand, palm downwards, and examined it critically. 'You see, Igor?' he said. 'Here we are, almost at the completion of our great work, and I remain absolutely calm. You could build a house on my hand, it is so steady.'

'Lawyerth, thur,' said Igor, giving the word some extra spin. 'And?'

'Well, we have had a lot of money,' said Igor, with the conviction of a man who has informally secreted a small but sensible amount of gold in his own bag. 'And we have finished the clock,' said Jeremy, still watching his hand. 'We've been nearly finithed for dayth,' said Igor darkly. 'If it wathn't for her, I reckon we could've caught that thunderthtorm two dayth ago.'

'When's the next one?' Igor screwed up his face and banged his temple a couple of times with the palm of his hand. 'Unthettled conditionth with a low approaching from the Rim,' he said. 'Can't promith anything with the thloppy weather you get here. Hah, back home the thunderthtormth come running ath thoon ath they thee you put up the iron pole. Tho what do you want me to do about the lawyerth?'

'Show them in, of course. We have nothing to hide.'

'Are you thure, thur?' said Igor, whose carpet bag could not in fact be lifted with one hand. 'Please do it, Igor.' Jeremy smoothed down his hair while the grumbling Igor disappeared into the shop and returned with the guests. 'Lady LeJean, thur. And thome other... people,' said Igor. 'It's good to see you, your ladyship,' said Jeremy, smiling glassily. He vaguely remembered something he had read. 'Won't you introduce me to your friends?'

Lady LeJean gave him a nervous look. Oh, yes... humans always needed to know names. And he was smiling again. It made it so hard to think. 'Mr Jeremy, these are my... associates,' she said. 'Mr Black. Mr Green. Miss Brown. Miss White. Miss... Yellow. And Mr Blue.' Jeremy held out his hand. 'I am pleased to meet you,' he said. Six pairs of eyes looked uncomprehendingly at the hand. 'The custom here is to shake hands,' said her ladyship. In unison, the Auditors extended a hand and wiggled it slowly in the air. 'The hand of the other person,' said her ladyship. She gave Jeremy a thin-lipped smile. 'They are foreigners,' she said. And she recognized the panic in their eyes, even if they didn't. We can count the number and types of atom in this room, they were thinking. How can there be anything in here we cannot understand? Jeremy managed to catch one wavering hand in his. ' And you are Mr-?' The Auditor turned worried eyes on Lady LeJean. 'Mr Black,' she said. 'I understood that we were Mr Black,' said another male-shaped Auditor. 'No, you are Mr Green.'

'Nevertheless, we would prefer Mr Black. We are the senior, and black is a more significant shade. We do not wish to be Mr Green.'

'The translation of your names is not, I think, important,' said Lady LeJean. She gave Jeremy another smile. 'They are my accountants,' she added, some reading on her part having suggested that this might excuse most oddities. 'You see, Igor?' said Jeremy. 'They are simply accountants.' Igor grimaced. Where his baggage was concerned, accountants were probably worse news than lawyers. 'Grey would be acceptable,' said Mr Green. 'Nevertheless, you are Mr Green. We are Mr Black. It is a matter of status.'

'If that is the case,' said Miss White, 'white is higher status than black. Black is absence of colour.'

'The point is valid,' said Mr Black. 'Therefore we are now Mr White. You are Miss Red.'

'You previously indicated that you were Mr Black.'

'New information indicates a change of position. This does not indicate incorrectness of said previous position.' It's happening already, thought Lady LeJean. It's in the darkness where your eyes can't see. The universe becomes two halves, and you live in the half behind the eyes. Once you have a body, you have a 'me'. I have seen galaxies die. I have watched atoms dance. But until I had the dark behind the eyes, I didn't know the death from the dance. And we were wrong. When you pour water into a jug, it becomes jug-shaped and it is not the same water any more. An hour ago they never dreamed of having names, and now they are arguing about them... And they can't hear what I think! She wanted more time. The habits of a billion years don't yield entirely to a mouthful of bread, and she could see that a crazy life form like humanity should not be allowed to exist. Yes, indeed. Certainly. Of course. But she wanted more time. They should be studied. Yes, studied. There should be ... reports. Yes. Reports. Full reports. Long, long, full reports. Caution. That was it. That was the word! Auditors loved that word. Always put off until tomorrow something that, tomorrow, you could put off until, let's say, next year. It has to be said that Lady LeJean was not herself at this point. She didn't quite have a herself to be. The other six Auditors... in time, yes, they'd think the same way. But there wasn't time. If only she could persuade them to eat something. That would... yes, that would bring them to their senses. There seemed to be no food around, though. She could see a very large hammer on the bench. 'How is progress, Mr Jeremy?' she said, walking over to the clock. Igor moved very fast, and stood almost protectively next to the glass pillar. Jeremy hurried forward. 'We have carefully aligned all the systems-'

'Again,' Igor growled. 'Yes, again-'

'Theveral timeth, in fact,' Igor added. 'And now we simply await the right weather conditions.'

'But I thought you stored lightning?' Her ladyship indicated the greenish glass cylinders bubbling and hissing along the wall of the workshop. Just by the bench with, yes, the hammer on it. And no one could read her thoughts! The power! 'There will easily be enough to keep the mechanism working, but to start the clock will require what Igor call's a jump,' said Jeremy. Igor held up two crocodile clips the size of his head. 'th right,' he said. 'But you hardly ever get the right kind of thunderthtormth down here. Thould've built thith in Uberwald, I keep thaying.'

'What is the nature of this delay?' said - possibly - Mr White. 'We need a thunderstorm, sir. For the lightning,' said Jeremy. Lady LeJean stepped back, a little closer to the bench. 'Well? Arrange one,' said Mr White. 'Hah, well, if we were in Uberwald, of courthe-'

'It is merely a matter of pressures and potentials,' said Mr White. 'Can you not simply create one?' Igor gave him a look of disbelief mixed with respect. 'You're not from Uberwald, are you?' he said. Then he gasped, and banged the side of his head. 'Hey, I felt that one,' he said. 'Whoopth! How did you do that? Prethure dropping like a thtone!' Sparks glittered along his black fingernails. He beamed. 'I'll jutht go and raithe the lightning rod,' he said, hurrying to a pulley system on the wall. Lady LeJean turned on the others. This time she wished they could read her thoughts. She didn't know enough pronounceable human swearwords. 'That is against the rules!' she hissed. 'Mere expediency,' said Mr White. If you had not been... lax, this would have been concluded by now!'

'I counselled further study!'


Is there a problem?' said Jeremy, in the diffident voice he used for conversations not involving clocks. 'The clock should not be started yet!' said Lady LeJean, not taking her eyes off the other Auditors. 'But you asked me... We've been... It's all set up!'

'There may be ... problems! I think we should see another week of testing!' But there weren't problems, she knew. Jeremy had built the thing as if he'd built a dozen like it before. It had been all Lady LeJean could do to spin things out this long, especially with the Igor watching her like a hawk. 'What is your “name”, young person?' said Mr White to Jeremy. The clockmaker backed away. 'Jeremy,' he said, 'and I... I don't understand, Mr, er, White. A clock tells the time. A clock isn't dangerous. How can a clock be a problem? It's a perfect clock!'

'Then start it!'

'But her ladyship-' The door knocker thundered. 'Igor?' said Jeremy. 'Yeth, thur?' said Igor, from the hallway. 'How did the servant person get there?' said Mr White, still watching her ladyship. 'It's a, a sort of trick they, they have,' said Jeremy. 'I'm, I'm sure it's only-'

'It'th Dr Hopkinth, thur,' said Igor, entering from the hall. 'I told him you were buthy, but-' -but Dr Hopkins, although apparently as mild-mannered as milk, was also a Guild official and had survived as such for several years. Ducking under Igor's arm was no problem at all for a man who could handle a meeting of clockmakers, no two of whom exactly ticked in time with the rest of humanity. 'I just happened to have business this way,' he began, smiling brightly, 'and it was no trouble to drop in at the apothecary to pick up- Oh, you have company?' Igor grimaced, but there was the Code to think of. 'Thall I make thome tea, thur?' he said, as all the Auditors glared at the doctor. 'What is this tea?' Mr White demanded.

'It is protocol!' snapped Lady LeJean. Mr White hesitated. Protocol was important. 'Er, er, er, yes,' said Jeremy. 'Tea, Igor, please. Please.'

'My word, I see you have finished your clock!' said Dr Hopkins, apparently oblivious of an atmosphere that could have floated iron. 'What a magnificent piece of work!' The Auditors stared at one another as the doctor ambled past them and looked up at the glass face. 'Well done indeed, Jeremy!' he said, removing his glasses and polishing them enthusiastically. 'And what is this pretty blue glow?'

'It's, it's the crystal ring,' said Jeremy. 'It, it-'

'It spins light,' said Lady LeJean. 'And then it makes a hole in the universe.'

'Really?' said Dr Hopkins, putting his glasses back on. 'What an original idea! Does a cuckoo come out?' Tick Of the very worst words that can be heard by anyone high in the air, the pair known as 'Oh- oh' possibly combine the maximum of bowel-knotting terror with the minimum wastage of breath. When Lu-Tze uttered them, Lobsang didn't need a translation. He'd been watching the clouds for some time. They were getting blacker, and thicker, and darker. 'The handle's tingling!' shouted Lu-Tze. 'That's because there's a storm right above us!' screamed Lobsang. 'The sky was as clear as a bell a few minutes ago!' Ankh-Morpork was much closer now. Lobsang could make out some of the taller buildings, and see the river snaking across the plain. But the storm was coming up all around the city. 'I'm going to have to land this thing while I can!' Lu-Tze said. 'Hold on...' The stick dropped until it was a few feet above the cabbage fields. The plants were a rushing green blur inches below Lobsang's sandals. Lobsang heard another word that, while not the worst you can hear while airborne, is not at all good when it's said by the person steering. 'Er...'

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