Thief of Time

Page 21

'Sometimes thinking is like talking to another person, but that person is also you.' She could tell this disturbed the other Auditors. 'I do not wish to continue in this way any longer than necessary,' she added. And realized that she had lied. One said, We do not blame you. Lady LeJean nodded. The Auditors could see into human minds. They could see the pop and sizzle of the thoughts. But they could not read them. They could see the energies flow from node to node, they could see the brain glittering like a Hogswatch decoration. What they couldn't see was what was happening. So they'd built one. It was the logical thing to do. They'd used human agents before, because early on they'd worked out that there were many, many humans who would do anything for sufficient gold. This was puzzling, because gold did not seem to the Auditors to hold any significant value for a human body - it needed iron and copper and zinc, but only the most minute traces of gold. Therefore, they'd reasoned, this was further evidence that the humans who required it were flawed, and this was why attempts to make use of them were doomed. But why were they flawed? Building a human being was easy; the Auditors knew exactly how to move matter around. The trouble was that the result didn't do anything but lie there and, eventually, decompose. This was annoying, since human beings, without any special training or education, seemed to be able to make working replicas quite easily. Then they learned that they could make a human body which worked if an Auditor was inside it. There were, of course, huge risks. Death was one of them. The Auditors avoided death by never going so far as to get a life. They strove to be as indistinguishable as hydrogen atoms, and with none of the latter's joie de vivre. Some luckless Auditor might be risking death by 'operating' the body. But lengthy consultation decided that if the driver took care, and liaised at all times with the rest of the Auditors, this risk was minimal and worth taking, considering the goal. They built a woman. It was a logical choice. After all, while men wielded more obvious power than women, they often did so at the expense of personal danger, and no Auditor liked the prospect of personal danger. Beautiful women often achieved great things, on the other hand, merely by smiling at powerful men. The whole subject of 'beauty' caused the Auditors a lot of difficulty. It made no sense at a molecular level. But research turned up the fact that the woman in the picture Woman Holding Ferret by Leonard of Quirm was considered the epitome of beauty, and so they'd based Lady LeJean on that. They had made changes, of course. The face in the picture was asymmetrical and full of minor flaws, which they had carefully removed.

The result would have been successful beyond the Auditors' wildest dreams, had they ever dreamed. Now that they had their stalking horse, their reliable human, anything was possible. They were learning fast, or at least collecting data, which they considered to be the same as learning. So was Lady LeJean. She had been a human for two weeks, two astonishing, shocking weeks. Whoever would have guessed that a brain operated like this? Or that colours had a meaning that went way, way beyond spectral analysis? How could she even begin to describe the blueness of blue? Or how much thinking the brain did all by itself? It was terrifying. Half the time her thoughts seemed not to be her own. She had been quite surprised to find that she did not want to tell the other Auditors this. She did not want to tell them a lot of things. And she didn't have to! She had power. Oh, over Jeremy, that was not in question and was now, she had to admit, rather worrying. It was causing her body to do things by itself, like blush. But she had power over the other Auditors, too. She made them nervous. Of course, she wanted the project to work. It was their goal. A tidy and predictable universe, where everything stayed in its place. If Auditors dreamed, this would be another dream. Except... except... The young man had smiled at her in a nervous, worrying way, and the universe was turning out to be a lot more chaotic than even the Auditors had ever suspected. A lot of the chaos was happening inside Lady LeJean's head. Tick Lu-Tze and Lobsang passed through Bong Phut and Long Nap like ghosts in twilight. People and animals were blueish statues and were not, said Lu-Tze, to be touched in any circumstances. Lu-Tze restocked his travel bag with food from some of the houses, making sure to leave little copper tokens in their place. 'It means we're obliged to them,' he said, filling Lobsang's bag as well. 'The next monk through here might have to give someone a minute or two.'

'A minute or two isn't much.'

'For a dying woman to say goodbye to her children, it's a lifetime,' said Lu-Tze. 'Is it not written, “Every second counts”? Let's go.'

'I'm tired, Sweeper.'

'I did say every second counts.'

'But everybody has to sleep!'

'Yes, but not yet,' Lu-Tze insisted. 'We can rest in the caves down at Songset. Can't fold time while you're asleep, see?'

'Can't we use the spinners?'

'In theory, yes.'

'In theory? They could wind out time for us. We'd only sleep for a few seconds-'

'They're for emergencies only,' said Lu-Tze bluntly. 'How do you define an emergency, Sweeper?'

'An emergency is when I decide its time to use a clockwork spinner designed by Qu, wonder boy. A lifebelt's for saving your life. That's when I'll trust an uncalibrated, unblessed spinner powered by springs. When I have to. I know Qu says-' Lobsang blinked and shook his head. Lu-Tze grabbed his arm. 'You felt something again?'

'Ugh... like having a tooth out in my brain,' said Lobsang, rubbing his head. He pointed. 'It came from over there.'

'A pain came from over there?' said Lu-Tze. He glared at the boy. 'Like last time? But we've never found a way of detecting which way-' He stopped and rummaged in his sack. Then he used the sack to sweep snow off a flat boulder. 'Well see what-' Glass house. This time Lobsang could concentrate on the tones that filled the air. Wet finger on a wineglass? Well, you could start there. But the finger would have to be the finger of a god on the glass of some celestial sphere. And the wonderful, complex, shifting tones did not simply fill the air, they were the air. The moving blur beyond the walls was getting closer now. It was just beyond the closest wall, then it found the open doorway... and vanished. Something was behind Lobsang. He turned. There was nothing there that he could see, but he felt movement and, for just a moment, something warm brushed his cheek... '-the sand says,' said Lu-Tze, tipping the contents of a small bag onto the rock.

The coloured grains bounced and spread. They did not have the sensitivity of the Mandala itself, but there was a blue bloom in the chaos. He gave Lobsang a sharp look. 'It's been proved that no one can do what you just did,' he said. 'We've never found any way of detecting where a disturbance in time is actually being caused.'

'Er, sorry.' Lobsang raised a hand to his cheek. It was damp. 'Er, what did I do?'

'It takes a huge-' Lu-Tze stopped. 'Ankh-Morpork's that way,' he said. 'Did you know that?'

'No! Anyway, you said you had a feeling things would happen in Ankh-Morpork!'

'Yes, but I've had a lifetime of experience and cynicism!' Lu-Tze scooped the sand back into its bag. 'You're just gifted. Come on.' Four more seconds, sliced thinly, took them below the snowline, into scree slopes that slid under their feet and then through alder forests not much taller than themselves. And it was there they met the hunters, gathered round in a wide circle. The men did not pay them much attention. Monks were commonplace in these parts. The leader, or at least the one who was shouting, and this is usually the leader, looked up and waved them past. Lu-Tze stopped, though, and looked amiably at the thing in the centre of the circle. It looked back at him. 'Good catch,' he said. 'What're you going to do now, boys?'

'Is it any business of yours?' said the leader. 'No, no, just asking,' said Lu-Tze. 'You boys up from the lowlands, yes?'

'Yeah. You'd be amazed at what you can get for catching one of these.'

'Yes,' said Lu-Tze. 'You would be amazed.' Lobsang looked at the hunters. There were more than a dozen of them, all heavily armed and watching Lu-Tze carefully. 'Nine hundred dollars for a good pelt and another thousand for the feet,' said their leader. 'That much, eh?' said Lu-Tze. 'That's a lot of money for a pair of feet.'

'That's 'cos they're big feet,' said the hunter. 'And you know what they say about men with big feet, eh?'

'They need bigger shoes?'

'Yeah, right,' said the hunter, grinning. 'Load of nonsense, really, but there's rich old boys with young wives over on the Counterweight Continent who'll pay a fortune for a powdered yeti foot.'

'And there was me thinking they're a protected species,' said Lu-Tze, leaning his broom against a tree. 'They're only a kind of troll. Who's going to protect them out here?' said the hunter. Behind him, the local guides, who did know Rule One, turned and ran. 'Me,' said Lu-Tze. 'Oh?' said the hunter, and this time the grin was nasty. 'You don't even have a weapon.' He turned to look at the fleeing guides. 'You're one of the weird monks from up in the valleys, aren't you?'

'That's right,' said Lu-Tze. 'Small smiling, weird monk. Totally unarmed.'

'And there's fifteen of us,' said the hunter. 'Well armed, as you can see.'

'It's very important that you are all heavily armed,' said Lu-Tze, pulling his sleeves out of the way. 'It makes it fairer.' He rubbed his hands together. No one seemed inclined to retreat. 'Er, any of you boys heard of any rules?' he said, after a while. 'Rules?' said one of the hunters. 'What rules?'

'Oh, you know,' said Lu-Tze. 'Rules like... Rule Two, say, or Rule Twenty-seven. Any kind of rules of that sort of description.' The leading hunter frowned. 'What in damnation are you talking about, mister?'

'Er, not so much a “mister” as a small rather knowing, elderly, entirely unarmed, weird monk,' said Lu-Tze. 'I'm just wondering if there is anything about this situation that makes you, you know ... slightly nervous?'

'You mean, us being well armed and outnumbering you, and you backing away like that?' said one of the hunters. 'Ah. Yes,' said Lu-Tze. 'Perhaps we're up against a cultural thing here. I know, how about... this?' He stood on one leg, wobbling a little, and raised both hands. 'Ai! Hai-eee! Ho? Ye-hi? No? Anyone?' There was a certain amount of bewilderment amongst the hunters. 'Is it a book?' said one who was slightly intellectual. 'How many words?'

'What I'm trying to find out here,' said Lu-Tze, 'is whether you have any idea what happens when a lot of big armed men try to attack a small, elderly, unarmed monk?'

'To the best of my knowledge,' said the intellectual of the group, 'he turns out to be a very unlucky monk.' Lu-Tze shrugged. 'Oh, well,' he said, 'then we'll just have to try it the hard way.' A blur in the air hit the intellectual on the back of the neck. The leader stirred to step forward, and learned too late that his boot laces were tied together. Men reached for knives that were no longer in sheaths, for swords that were inexplicably leaning against a tree on the far side of the clearing. Legs were swept from underneath them, invisible elbows connected with soft parts of their bodies. Blows rained out of empty air. Those who fell down learned to stay that way. A raised head hurt. The group was reduced to men lying humbly on the ground, groaning gently. It was then that they heard a low, rhythmic sound. The yeti was clapping. It had to be a slow handclap, because of the creature's long arms. But when the hands met, they'd come a long way and were glad to see one another. They echoed around the mountains. Lu-Tze reached down and raised the leader's chin. 'If you have enjoyed this afternoon, please tell your friends,' he said. 'Tell them to remember Rule One.' He let the chin go, and walked across to the yeti and bowed. 'Shall I release you, sir, or would you like to do it yourself?' he said. The yeti stood up, looked down at the cruel iron trap around one leg, and concentrated for a moment. At the end of the moment, the yeti was a little way from the trap, which was still set and almost hidden in leaves. 'Well done,' said Lu-Tze. 'Methodical. And very smooth. Headed down to the lowlands?' The yeti had to bend double to bring its long face close to Lu-Tze. 'Yaas,' it said. 'What do you want to do with these people?' The yeti looked round at the cowering hunters. 'It bein' daark soon,' he said. 'No guides noaw.'

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