Déjà vu of Déjà vu of Déjà vu
(Part 2 of 2)
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Colon and Nobby patrolled along the river Ankh, slowly and methodically. They were in their element.
Minutes earlier, Commander Vimes had sprinted by, closely followed by Dr. House, who was shouting insults and actually moved quite quickly for a crippled guy. The Commander running madly through the city streets was hardly an uncommon sight, but him allowing a stranger to follow him around was not.
"I don't get it, Sarge," said Nobby. "Why would Mr. Vimes be keeping the old man with him? He knows the others were let go, he gave the order. It's just not like him."
"I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation, Nobby," answered Colon.
"Can't think of one."
"Must be one, there's always a rational explanation. They're probably related." In Sergeant Colon's experience, this was grounds for all sorts of strange behavior.
"Why should that matter?"
"As they say, blood is thicker than water."
Nobby looked doubtfully down at the river, which had the consistency of tar. "What sort of water are we talking about here, Sarge?"
"The type you drink," said Colon uncertainly, who had been thinking along the same lines even as he'd said it.
"Ah." Nobby considered this. "What about syrup?"
"Yes, well, no one wants to be stuck together with syrup, do they? That'd be daft."
"And Mr. Vimes and Mr. House are stuck together, are they?"
"Of course they are. Here, Nobby, haven't you ever heard of Ties of Blood and all that?"
"They didn't look very stuck together to me, is all I'm saying. And I didn't see any blood."
"Do you have to run, you sadistic ass?" huffed House. Vimes finally stopped and turned with an irritated expression.
"I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in. I have to get back to the Watch House, and this time of day the fastest way is to run there. Can you keep up or not?"
House caught up, and took the opportunity to pop several Vicodin tablets. "Uh, hello? Cripple, remember?"
Vimes made a show of running his hand down his face in exasperation. "Just... just keep up, all right? I don't have time for this."
House watched him run off again and rolled his eyes at the watchman's back. "Good grief," he muttered. He took a couple more pills for good measure, tucked the little container safely back inside his pocket, and limped on as fast as he could. Tonight. he would pay for all the moving about he'd been doing recently, and it wouldn't just be his leg giving him pain. His right shoulder was taking an awful lot of strain from his heavy use of his cane, and he could feel its dull aching even through the Vicodin. He ignored it and soldiered on.
House wasn't an idiot. His success with his career was owed to the fact that he was very, very far from an idiot, but it was just as much due to his excellent observational skills and his ability to read people. Commander Vimes seemed simple at first, but it was becoming clear that he was an exceptionally difficult person to read. All the same, the Commander was certainly no idiot either.
When Donna had snuck off earlier, House had of course noticed, and he knew Vimes had noticed as well. However, Vimes hadn't mentioned it, which meant he wasn't bothered by it, which confirmed House's suspicions that they weren't technically under arrest anymore. This in turn meant that he could probably wander off at any time without any repercussions whatsoever.
He didn't, though, and he rationalized this to himself in several different ways.
The first was pure and simple: interest. House's whole life and every thing he'd done had been based upon interest. If something new and exciting came along, he would leap on it and obsess over it until it made sense. But lately, there had been less and less of interest. Even his medical cases had become mundane to him, and before Torchwood had arrived at the hospital, he'd been drifting. Since they had, even with all the pain and annoyance they had brought, interesting things had been happening. Mysteries begging to be solved, questions awaiting answers, had begun piling up at a rate he'd never experienced before, and for the first time in over a decade he'd felt that thrill of discovery. Though he'd never let it show, he wasn't ready to give that feeling up, and he was willing to do a lot to prolong it.
Slightly disturbed by how introspective his own thoughts were, House felt around in the back of his mind for the presence of Jack Harkness. He was getting much better at hiding his thoughts, but Jack still had decades of training on him. Jack was still there, as strongly as ever, but he wasn't paying attention to House. House got the sense he was rather busy and, not particularly caring what the captain got up to, tuned him back out.
Then there was the Patrician. In the ten minutes he'd been inside the man's office, House had formed and thrown out more first impressions than he'd thought possible. Why had he been allowed to be present while obviously important and confidential information was being imparted? Not just present, but included even. What gave the Patrician reason to trust him?
It was far more likely, House reflected, that nothing of real import had been discussed, and it wasn't as though he'd be able to tell.
The crux of the matter was, the Patrician wasn't like Cuddy. House was used to being able to manipulate the authority figures in his life, but he wasn't going to be able to manipulate or predict or fool this man.
At least one thing was certain, and that was that the Patrician knew a lot more about House than he was letting on. House had a suspicion that the man had him completely figured out despite the fact that he had only arrived at this place a couple hours ago, and that there was no possible way the Patrician could know about his background. Was there? Either way, the Patrician was not going to be the type to be held back by his own conceptions of what was and wasn't possible, and that only made his situation more interesting.
House had no doubt that as long as he was still somewhere on the disc and the Patrician wanted to find him, he would be found.
Was that a good enough reason to stay involved if he didn't want to be, though? Well, no. He wasn't actually afraid the Patrician would hunt him down if he decided he didn't want to be involved. No matter how he looked at things, the only value he could imagine he had to the Patrician was as an outsider with no apparent allegiance. Although House couldn't see exactly what value this was, he had to admit he didn't have even close to the whole picture.
Still running, he passed someone muttering loudly something about hands and shrimp, and then was nearly bowled over by an extremely offensive stench. What is wrong with people in this city? he thought, but soldiered gamely on.
The most likely scenario was that House and his companions had arrived out of the blue and immediately caused a stir, and the Patrician was trying to take advantage of the situation to whatever mysterious end he wished to achieve. The odds were that directly involving House was a chance that had a reasonable potential gain, but a very small potential loss.
Unexpectedly, House found he was okay with that. There were few men more eager for a challenge, and both Vimes and Lord Vetinari presented unique, exciting ones.
At about that point, House's bout of introspection was cut short by his arrival back at the Watch House.
The Watch House was bright pink.
"Here we are!" said Carrot, looking bizarrely proud with his hands on his hips and his back ramrod straight. "This is the Seamstresses' Guild. It's run by Mrs. Palm, who is a wonderful, kind lady. She gave me a place to stay when I first came to the city!"
The Seamstresses' Guild was an enormous, gaudy affair with a steepled roof and pink and purple trim. It looked something like the castle of an overly zealous princess.
"Uh huh," said Owen suspiciously.
"Looks delightful," ventured the Doctor.
"Guh," said Sarah Jane.
"They're delightful people, I'm sure they'd be willing to let you use a room or two for the night."
In the middle of Carrot's extolling, the door creaked open and a couple of scantily clad women peeked out. When they saw who was there, one of them squealed, and they threw the door open the rest of the way.
"Captain Carrot!" said the one who had squealed. "Have you come to visit us?"
Carrot smiled brightly at them. "Unfortunately I can't stay long. I actually have a favor to ask. Is Mrs. Palm in?"
"Woah!" said Owen, sounding impressed. "Why didn't you tell us there would be a bunch of hot chicks here?" He regarded Carrot with a new respect. Carrot blinked at him blankly.
"Ignore him," advised Sarah Jane.
"Come in, come in!" said one of the girls. "Captain Carrot's friends are always welcome, of course." She giggled alarmingly.
They stepped through the door into a surprisingly tidy waiting room, complete with several plush couches, all with cozy-looking pillows on them, a fancy-looking rug on the floor, and gauzy red-hued drapes covering the windows. There were several more girls sitting on these couches, chatting and playing cards, but when their group entered the room, they jumped up and swarmed around Carrot, all talking at the same time.
There was also a large desk on one end of the room, manned by yet another underdressed girl, who was examining her nails with a bored expression, and while Carrot was being mobbed, the Doctor took the initiative and marched up.
"Hello," he said politely. "We'd like a room, please."
The receptionist, whose name tag--which miraculously had just enough material to cling to--revealed her name to be Cherry, looked up at him, then glanced around the room. "What, for all of you?"
"Of course! Oh, and we should have some other friends joining us later as well."
Cherry raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Well, all right. How many girls?"
"Er, three," said the Doctor, counting on his fingers. "And that's a good point, they'd probably like a separate room."
Cherry stared at him. "If you say so, sir," she said slowly after a short pause. "Would you like any... special services, then?"
"Oh, do you serve breakfast? Most important meal of the day, you know!"
Cherry hesitated again. "We have plenty of butter and jelly, sir, and we could probably rustle up some toast if that's what you'd like."
"Oh, excellent! I do love toast."
"Would you like to choose your girls right now?"
".... Sorry, what?"
The Doctor became aware behind him, Owen was practically choking from laughter, and gradually began suspecting that he and Cherry were having two entirely different conversations.
"Just a moment please," he said to Cherry the receptionist, and all but ran over to where Carrot was still being mobbed. He pushed his way though the girls enough to ask Carrot: "Where did you bring us exactly?"
"Er, just a moment ladies, please," said Carrot kindly. "This is the Seamstresses' Guild! I already told you."
"Seamstresses!" said Owen, then promptly collapsed in another fit of laughter.
"Really, it's not that funny," said Sarah Jane, rolling her eyes.
"Ladies, I'm very glad to see you all too," said Carrot diplomatically to his mob. "Miss Dolly, would you please see if Mrs. Palm is in? And if so, could I request a short audience with her?"
"Yes, Captain!" The addressed girl ran off, still giggling.
"Who are these people, Carrot?" asked another girl.
"They're just friends who are in the area for a short time," explained Carrot. "They need a place to stay is all."
"Are we where I think we are?" said the Doctor, who was not very pleased about having been ignored.
"What do you mean?" asked Carrot.
"You brought us to a brothel!" managed Owen.
"A brothel? Oh, no! You misunderstand. This is the Seamstresses' guild."
"They're not wearing a whole lot for women who are supposed to sew clothes," said Sarah Jane.
Carrot's response was cut off by the arrival of an attractive older woman. She was large, and wore an even larger dress with a very low neckline.
"Carrot! How nice to see you, boy," she said, and even her voice was large.
"Mrs. Palm!" said Carrot, who looked quite relieved to see her.
"Now, tell me, what is all this fuss about?"
"This is Sarah Jane Smith, Owen Harper, and the Doctor, Mrs. Palm, and they're in need of someplace to stay for the night. You wouldn't happen to have an open room or two they and their friends could use, would you? As a favor to me."
"Hmmm," said Mrs. Palm as she appraised them.
"We can pay," added the Doctor quickly. "We don't have any traditional money, but we can pay using other means." Mrs. Palm raised an eyebrow and glanced at Sarah Jane. "I mean, I'm sure we could give you something else to compensate," the Doctor clarified.
"Well, all right," said Mrs. Palm. "The Captain has been a big supporter of the guild, and a good friend, after all. We can spare two rooms for tonight. How many more will be staying, besides you three?"
"Just three, I think. Two women and one man," said the Doctor.
"What about Wilson and Archimedes?" asked Owen. "Are they going to be okay staying in the TARDIS all night?"
"Oh, they'll be fine!"
"If you say so...."
"Well, I've really got to be getting back to the Watch House," said Carrot. "I'll check back in a couple hours, but you are of course free to do whatever you like. You're no longer in custody."
"Do come visit more often, Carrot," said Mrs. Palm. "My girls like to see you."
"I will," Carrot promised, and then he was gone.
"We'll have the rooms ready for you in an hour. You can come back then," Mrs. Palm told the Doctor.
"Thank you, again," said the Doctor as they stepped out.
For a moment, they all stood on the steps in front of the gaudy, pink door.
"Well, now what?"
".... Did anyone else notice that Tosh isn't here anymore?"
Tosh woke suddenly, feeling the familiar disorientation associated with coming out of a good sleep. She blinked blearily at the many shades of pink surrounding her until they swam reluctantly into focus.
The next thing she became aware of was the sound of voices and clinking dishes coming from downstairs and she leapt out of bed, suddenly excited. She'd almost forgotten! Today was her birthday! She was turning nine, and that was really cool because nine was only one away from ten, and ten was double digits! She brushed her teeth, threw on the pretty sundress her mother had left out for her the night before--yellow with little pink flowers--and rushed downstairs, taking the steps two at a time.
Mum was bustling around the kitchen, which was filled with sunlight and the smells of bacon and pancakes. Papa, home from the base for the weekend, was sitting at the small kitchen table with a mug of coffee and the daily crossword, and he looked up and smiled when she walked in.
"Good morning!" she said, and Mum and Papa both echoed the greeting brightly.
A small pile of presents wrapped in colorful paper sat invitingly on the table in front of Papa.
Tosh sat down at the table and smoothed out her sundress as Mum placed a plate full of pancakes and bacon in front of her. She happily doused it in syrup.
"Happy birthday, sweetheart," said Mum, ruffling her hair.
Breakfast was usually a formal affair, with only herself and her mother present. She was never allowed to come down without being fully dressed, and usually all she got was bland oatmeal or cereal. Her birthday was always special. She still had to get dressed before coming down, but Papa always came home and they always had something yummy to eat.
After breakfast, Tosh was allowed to open her gifts. She opened each one gingerly, taking care not to rip the paper more than she had to. Mum liked to reuse wrapping paper; it was less expensive. She got a nice card and twenty dollars from Grandmother and Grandfather, a book on Topological maps from Aunt Betsy, a brand-new 3D puzzle of a castle from Uncle Rudolph, and a volcano-making kit from her parents.
As she sat beaming at her presents, someone knocked on the door.
"Trevor!" She shot off her chair like a rocket and ran to open the door. A disheveled boy missing several of his teeth grinned back at her from the other side. She thought she saw something small and black dart into the bushes out of the corner of her eye but dismissed it.
"Hello Trevor," said her mother, always the perfect host. "Would you like some breakfast?"
"No ma'am! I already ate breakfast! I'm just here to get Tosh so's we can go play outside!" Trevor always spoke with exclamation points.
"Well, all right, but be careful! Tosh, don't come back covered in mud this time...."
"I won't Mum!" Tosh waved to her mother as she skipped out of the house after Trevor.
There was a playground nearby, which was where they usually went to play. It had an excellent pair of swings, a slide, a jungle gym, and there weren't a lot of other kids in the neighborhood, so they were usually left to their own devices.
On the way over, Tosh found a very nice stick. It was long and thin, with a fine point, but sturdy as well. She hated it when her sticks broke.
Trevor immediately went for one of the swings, like he always did, and Tosh squatted in the sand surrounding the playground.
"Happy birthday, Tosh!" said Trevor, as though he had just remembered. Tosh was surprised he'd remembered at all--he almost always came over on weekends, so his visit was nothing special.
"Thanks, Trevor," she said.
"Hey, you know what?" said Trevor. "For my last birthday, which was two months ago, which means I'm older than you--" Before they reach their teens, age is the most important thing to a child, followed by name. "--I got a dinosaur! He was a T. rex! I named him Fritz!"
"I remember," said Tosh. Her stick traced elegant lines in the sand. "I told you that was a stupid name for a dinosaur."
"It was not a stupid name!"
"Was too. Dinosaurs should have fearsome names. Fritz is not a fearsome name."
"Is so! I'm very scared of people named Fritz!"
Their Literature teacher was named Mrs. Fritz.
"You name all your dinosaurs Fritz, though."
Trevor had never been a great reader.
"Not so! I named my Stegosaurus Leroy!"
Leroy was the name of their gym teacher. Trevor liked gym, and he also liked Stegosauruses. Whenever his Stegosaurus and T. rex battled, the Stegosaurus always won.
"Why don't you have any girl dinosaurs?" Tosh asked.
"Don't be stupid! There's no such thing as a girl dinosaur!" Trevor scoffed.
"You don't be stupid! How did they reproduce then?"
"They laid eggs, dummy!"
"Boys can't lay eggs! Only girls can!"
"Fine!" said Trevor, who was at least bright enough to recognize a lost battle. "I'll name my next dinosaur... uhh..."
"Gwen," said Tosh, then wondered where the name had come from.
"Fine, I'll name my next dinosaur Gwen," agreed Trevor. He went back to swinging with enthusiasm and, after a minute, Tosh went back to drawing in the sand.
Trevor was a bit simple, but Tosh liked him. He liked her too, which made him all the more special. Not many people her age liked her. She stuck out.
Several minutes passed in silence. Eventually Tosh said, "I saw something interesting on TV yesterday."
"There's a theorem in mathematics, it's called the Four Color Theorem, and even though people have known it's true for centuries, no one can prove it. It says that any map at all, any map you can think of, can be colored so that no two touching areas are the same color, using only four colors."
Trevor hummed to let her know he was listening. That was another thing about Trevor she liked--he could be loud and obnoxious, but he also knew when to let her speak.
"Cartographers, that is, people who draw maps, have known this for centuries, but no one has ever been able to prove it. There's a pretty simple proof for five colors, though. I was able to recreate it myself yesterday."
All of this was clearly going right over Trevor's head, but it didn't matter. She just needed someone else there. It helped her think to be able to say her ideas out loud."
"I wonder if I could prove the Four Color Theorem."
Her stick began to make quicker, more focused patterns in the sand. Occasionally she'd brush parts out, and on one occasion she smoothed over everything she'd written and started over completely. This went on for a couple hours. Trevor swung and she drew in the sand and babbled mostly to herself.
Around noon, Trevor took a flying leap off the swings, and went to find his worn red backpack.
"My mama packed lunch for us!" he said brightly, offering her a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and a juice box. She took it and grinned back at him, a little thankful for a break. She kicked the sand out of her sandals and sat down on a bench. He sat next to her and pulled out a ham sandwich for himself.
At the smell of ham, a small black cat came out from its hiding place under the bench and pawed at Trevor's leg.
"Oh, so cute! Who do you belong to?" gushed Tosh, reaching down to pet it. It tolerated her hand but ignored her in favor of Trevor. Trevor generously offered it some ham.
They sat in silence for a little while. Tosh's legs didn't quite reach the ground, and she swung them idly back and forth. "Need help with your math homework?" she asked him eventually. Trevor wasn't very good at math either.
"Yeah," he said. "I don't understand fractions! Why do I got to subtract division? It doesn't make any sense."
She giggled. "Subtracting fractions is easy once you get the hang of it. Come over tomorrow and I'll teach you." The cat purred at them.
"Whew! I always learn much easier when you explain it, Tosh!"
Satisfied that he wasn't going to fail his math homework, Trevor bolted down the rest of his sandwich and darted back over to his favorite swing. Tosh had once asked him why he spent so much time on the swings. He told her he was trying to get high enough to go all the way over the top. She told him that was silly and tried to explain why, but he was convinced that if he tried hard enough he could do it. She eventually let it be.
Tosh went back to her proof, which had turned into a giant, sprawling mess of computations. Now it had some footprints in it too, where Trevor had forgotten to look where he walked. She smiled despite herself, then got a new idea. She quickly erased the whole thing and started over again.
This time it was Trevor's turn to babble as he attempted to swing his swing over the top of the bar, about everything and anything but mostly about dinosaurs.
"Yesterday Fritz the T. rex and Fritz the Velociraptor got in a fight over whose turn it was to come with me to school, but luckily Leroy was there to stop them! So I brought Leroy with me instead!"
Leroy always ended up coming to school with Trevor. Tosh nodded and finished a quick computation.
It was nearing dusk when she finished. She rubbed her eyes and looked at Trevor, whose swings had been getting less enthusiastic as he got more and more tired, then checked her work one last time. Satisfied that she really had found a viable proof, she carefully wrote Q.E.D. in the sand with her stick.
"I finished!" she said proudly. Trevor perked up.
"Of course you did! You always get 'em! What was it again?"
"The Four Color Theorem."
Tosh beamed at him.
"Tosh! Time to come in, sweetheart," called her Mum, who had just walked down the road to get her. "It's getting dark."
"All right, Mum," she said, brushing herself off.
"Do you need us to walk you home, Trevor?" asked Mum kindly.
"No ma'am, I'll be okay, my home's only a block away."
"Well be careful, dear. Come on, Tosh. It's nearly suppertime."
Tosh waved goodbye to Trevor and followed her mum home, leaving her incredible proof there in the sand.
That was all right. She'd already solved it. She didn't need it anymore.
Shadows flitted through sunbeams where nothing blocked the light. They were swift and tiny disturbances, easy to mistake for motes of dust or tiny insects, except this was Death’s domain, and neither existed here.
ALBERT, Death called.
His butler, a former wizard named Alberto Malich, jerked away, a line of drool flying from his face as his head darted about, searching for an intruder to menace with the broom in his hand. His comical reaction would have served to make Death appear even more dramatic if anyone was around to witness them. Death stalked past Albert with his sword in hand, its blade so thin as to be invisible, an atom’s width of blue light sharper than any weapon ever made. His black robes flowed around him like water, and it swept Albert up in its wake.
“What’s going on?”
THEY ARE HERE.
“I don’t see anything.” Albert crashed into him from behind as Death stopped in the foyer. The doors opened by themselves, and in the distance, a void of white light grew, appearing about the size of a coin but surrounded by a corona of lightning that seeped into horizon and kept on going. The wizard wheezed as a sharp intake of breath sucked his cigarette down his windpipe. For a brief moment, he resembled the ducks by the pond, thrashing as they choked on the skeletal fish, but Death smacked him on the back and the roll flew from his mouth, flopping onto the ground, a limp piece of wet, unraveling paper.
Death put forward an open palm and the air rippled like water. Spreading from his hands, a wrinkled image of Ankh-Morpork appeared before them. NO... For the briefest of moments, Albert would have sworn emotion tinged that echoing voice. For a moment, the sleep of eternity knew despair, and nightmares threatened its peace.
Tinkling echoed from afar, the sound of little sleigh bells and children playing chimes too enthusiastically. It was a strange herald of apocalypse, but Death had no expectations, so life was not obligated to conform. The two of them raced through the house, their clothing billowing like war banners in the wind. They soared through the hall of life-timers, and the sand that flew around them was not dust from their feet.
Their dash ended in a special room, hidden apart from the main halls. Hourglasses lined the shelves, but each had special shapes, or carvings, and most were far larger than usual. This room was reserved for special beings, gods and demons, anthropomorphic personifications and heroes that defied death.
Recently, Death had gathered a few more timers here, ones that glowed and sparked when touched. These overflowed with life, burst with creative energies. It had taken Death centuries to reach the realization that some mortals, though their lives looked the same as anyone else’s from afar, held the fabric of Discworld’s existence together. Through their words and actions, they inspired others, drove ordinary masses to greatness, led minds and bodies to imaginative heights that were otherwise unattainable. They were pillars that held up the belief field of Discworld, and without them, it would crumble. And on Discworld, as belief went, so did reality.
Now, they were shattering. One by one, the timers burst, and glass fell like rain. Sand fell in waterfalls, leaking and splashing like blood. The light of the hourglasses flashed and faded, bulbs burning out in one final brilliant burst. The failures cascaded, and Death could do nothing but watch as a storm of destruction rushed toward the life-timer in the center of the room, a moderate-sized one that looked humble in the shadow of Om, but the only one whose light never faded, never even flickered, the one that could be a second sun if ever let loose from Death’s domain. Elaborate curls embellished the gold script that ran across its curves, spelling out a single name (well, actually, two, as he’d changed his middle name after his last encounter with Death, hoping to avoid a repeat incident): Ronald
His timer broke, and the manor shuddered as cracks shot up its walls. Dust and plaster poured down, announcing the collapse of the roof.
COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE. Death snatched Albert’s arm and dragged him away. The spray of glass narrowly missed him as they dodged out of the room. In the main halls, the shelves remaining remarkably stable amidst the collapsing architecture. By the time they returned to the front door, the sky formed a gaping hole in the roof, and lightning crackled from hemisphere to hemisphere, like the heavens were ready to break apart but couldn’t decide how.
“What’s going on?” Albert demanded. His hands clutched the jacket pocket where his own life-timer resided, and the tips of his fingers were white.
Death didn’t respond. Instead, there was a flash of blue light, and they teleported into Ankh-Morpork. Albert stood, dazed, for about a grand total of twenty microseconds before pulling out the life-timer and bringing it up to his eyes. His mouth was open, ready to berate Death for planning to kill him--something which, despite all his protestations that he didn’t kill anyone, Albert always believed was highly likely--but the grains of sand were frozen in place.
By the time he breathed a sigh of relief, Death had pushed through the front door of the nearby house, and Albert dashed after him, still determined to get an answer. As he rushed in, the floor betrayed him, abruptly becoming a slick and squeaky surface that sent him into the ruthless embrace of gravity.
“What the--” Even without looking, he could tell the sticky wetness on his hands was blood. When he did finally look, he found a trail of red littered with pieces of skin that ended in a man-shaped blotch on the wall. It was as though the killer had struck the victim so hard, he shattered on impact, but the force created enough momentum to send the remains flying across the room until they met something tall and solid. “This would’ve taken an incredible amount of magic to accomplish.”
OF COURSE. IT APPEARS I WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PREVENT IT, EVEN IF I HAD BEEN ON TIME.
“Prevent a death?”
Death slashed his sword across the wall, causing the top half to dislodge and crumble. IT WAS NOT HIS TIME.
The shade of Ronald T. Daniels appeared to assemble itself from the myriad remains scattered around the room, a sight not unlike fog coalescing. “You!” His pointed finger went through Death’s right eye socket, causing him to yelp and leap backward. “I knew it! Someone breaks into the house, it’s obviously you. What do you want this time, huh? You got a piece of the moon that you want me to pretend is cheese?”
“You can’t threaten me! I’ve been reading up on you. There’s nothing you can do to convince me not to kill off Yummy-toes, and I don’t care how much you like his dynamic with Hack. In any case, the rumors are all absolutely false. Utter rubbish.”
I AM NOT SUSAN. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT FLAMING BUSHES, AND THE USHER WOULDN’T LET ME IN THE ONE TIME SHE BOUGHT ME A TICKET. HE SAID I WAS TRYING TO SNEAK ROTTEN VEGETABLES IN UNDER MY ROBES, AND THEN HE ASKED ME TO STRIP. I WOULD LIKE TO NOTE THAT I DO NOT SMELL LIKE ROTTEN VEGETABLES.
WHAT DO ROTTEN VEGETABLES HAVE TO DO WITH KLATCHIAN HERBOLOGY?
“I mean the play! It’s called Firetree, not Flaming Bushes.”
“Look,” Albert cut in, “I don’t give a damn about exploding trees or driftwood. You’re dead, that’s what’s left of you, deal with it.”
The playwright gaped for a moment. “That looks like a horrible way to die. It’ll be sensational! It’ll be all over the paper!” His tone sounded gleeful, but Death thought it might be hysteria. He was never good at judging emotions.
IT WILL CERTAINLY BE PAINFUL.
“But why am I dead? I’ve been cut off in my prime, at the height of my fame! Why, cruel fate, why?”
FROM WHAT SUSAN HAS TOLD ME, YOU SHOULD BE QUITE FAMILIAR WITH SENSELESS KILLING.
“Wait, what was that you said about pain?”
YOUR DEATH WILL BE QUITE PAINFUL.
“But I’m already dead!”
YES, BUT YOU WERE STRUCK BY A FORCE QUITE INTENT ON REMOVING YOUR IMAGINATION FROM DISCWORLD’S BELIEF FIELD. NOW THAT YOUR PHYSICAL PRESENCE IS GONE, THE FIELD WILL IMPLODE UPON YOU. THERE WILL BE INTENSE PAIN. I BELIEVE THE IDIOMATIC DESCRIPTION WOULD BE ‘MIND BOGGLING.’ YES, IT WILL BE EXCRUTIATING AND ‘MIND BOGGLING.’
AND ONCE THE BELIEF FIELD COLLAPSES, DISCWORLD ITSELF WILL SHATTER AND ALL THINGS WILL DIE.
“WHAT?” Daniels and Albert exclamated (sic) at the same time. Albert, however, had the presence of mind (in addition to having more presence than Daniels, period) to add: “Why?”
I DO NOT KNOW. IT MAY BE POSSIBLE THAT THE KILLERS DESIRE TURTLE SOUP, BUT MORE LIKELY, THEY HAVE GAINED IN POWER AND SEEK TO WIPE OUT THE DISC TO CEMENT THEIR ASCENSION AS MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.
“Aaauuuurrrghgbbluurrblbebblebeep!” Daniels screamed as he collapsed, blubbering in pain and fading out of sight. A distant rumble preceded ominous shaking of the ground.
THE FAILURE HAS BEGUN.
“And there’s nothing we can do? It sounds like you had the foresight to predict this eventuality!”
I SAW THE POSSIBILITY, BUT I DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO REMEDY IT.
As color drained away, the world wavered, twisting as though behind a curtain of heat. Albert’s face turned pale to match, but they weren’t witnessing the end. Not yet. Rather, hundreds of transparent grey robes filled the room, each one draped over a formless, invisible body.
“The Auditors!” And Albert had been certain the day couldn’t get any worse.
ARE YOU READY? Death asked the closest cloak.
It spoke: We register our disapproval, but the consensus agrees it must be done.
“What must be done?” Albert asked.
THE AUDITORS CONTROL EVERYTHING. NOW, THEY WILL, I BELIEVE THE PHRASE IS, ‘COOK THE BOOKS.’
“That doesn’t explain anything.”
Daniels will be wiped from existence, the Auditors said. If he never existed, he never sustained the belief field. He cannot die and he cannot cause the world to end.
The robes fluttered in a wind only they could feel. It grew stronger and stronger until it whipped them about, blending them together and sending them swirling around Death and Albert like water going down a drain. Faster and faster they whirled, becoming a solid wall that grew darker and darker, all the while drawing together, each orbit smaller than the previous. All at once, they vanished, leaving in their place a soft sigh.
It is done.
Despite the fact that Ronald T. Daniels had never lived in this house, the décor was still the same, minus the mess of remains. THE HOUSE MUST BE PRE-FURNISHED, Death observed.
“Yes, I wonder who lives here,” Albert replied, injecting his voice with as much sarcasm as he could manage.
Death tilted his head. I BELIEVE WE ARE ABOUT TO FIND OUT.
The floor rumbled, and Albert was ready to accept that the intervention hadn’t worked when an orangutan came bounding down the stairs. He paused when he noticed the unexpected visitors.
Albert glared. “In my day, I would never have tolerated a m—”
HE REQUESTS YOU REMAIN CIVIL AND REFER TO HIM AS AN APE RATHER THAN A MONKEY.
“What’s he saying now?”
BANANA? Death translated as the orangutan found two bananas from somewhere on his person, even though he was wearing no clothes.
“No, I want to know that if Daniels isn’t keeping the belief field stable, who is? Because I have the feeling I won’t like the answer.”
LIKE THE HOGFATHER INCIDENT, DANIELS’ ABSENCE REQUIRES A NEW CREATIVE FORCE TO FILL THE VOID. HOWEVER, THE DAMAGE HAS STILL BEEN DONE; THE FIELD IS WEAKER, AND A NUMBER OF LESSER PARASITE DOMAINS HAVE BEEN LOST.
Albert groaned. “Like yours?”
THAT IS CORRECT.
“So where am I supposed to live now?”
SEVERAL GODS HOPE TO GAIN FROM THIS CATACLYSM. MOST HAVE CHOSEN HUMAN PLENIPOTENTIARIES TO CONVERT NON-BELIEVERS.
“How is that remotely creative?”
INDEED, THE SERIOUS AND DOUR NATURE OF MOST CONVERSIONS LEAVE MUCH TO BE DESIRED. THERE IS ONE ROLE, HOWEVER, THAT IS BOTH POWERFUL AND CAPABLE OF SPARKING IMAGINATION LIKE NOTHING ELSE.
“And that would be?”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH TIME THE AVERAGE MORTAL DEVOTES TO THE PURSUIT OR LOSS OF LOVE. IT IS REMARKABLE. IT IS THE STUFF OF GREAT TALES. ANYONE REPLACING DANIELS MUST BE CAPABLE OF GENERATING SUCH FERVOR. THE GODDESS ASTORIA IS STILL SEEKING A HUMAN TO REPRESENT HER.
Albert gaped. “You’re pawning me off to Astoria? How the hell am I supposed to inspire love?”
AS SUSAN HAS DEMONSTRATED MANY A TIME, THE ROLE DOES NOT HAVE TO FIT THE MORTAL, THE MORTAL IS BENT TO FIT THE ROLE.
“And what, exactly, is the role?”
ASTORIA WISHES TO REVIVE THE ANCIENT ART OF THE ALLURING COURTESAN.
Albert, once the great Alberto Malich, renowned and feared wizard, old man who could out-curse a sailor, out-fry baby shrimps, and out-elf the Hogfather’s elves, came up with no better response than to stare and imagine himself decorated with jewels and covered with perfume, seducing all manner of clients while whispering sexy nothings in their ears: My hips aren’t as arthritic today… “Good god.”
GODDESS, Death corrected.
“I have no choice, do I?”
YOU COULD DIE. Death showed him the sword.
“No, no, no,” Albert said hastily. “I’ll do it. Or them. Or everyone. Whatever or whoever Astoria wants.”
SHE ASSURES ME IT WILL BE AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE.
“I’m so excited.”
To Chapter 24: The Water's Edge
Back to Chapter 23: Part 1
Summary: House and Vimes learn important information, but get very annoyed by Lord Vetinari. Donna gets suspicious of things. Carrot brings the Doctor, Owen, and Sarah Jane to a place they can stay, but it's not exactly what they expected. Wilson and Archimedes are lost. Also, where the hell is Tosh?