Thief of Time (with spoilers and apologies to Pratchett)

October 6, 2009

Night 0

Sitting in his office, Commander Sam Vimes got the distinct feeling that he was being watched. Given that he was commander of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork, this might have been considered normal; however, as far as he was concerned there was only one person who should be watching the Watchmen, and that was him. He certainly wasn’t watching himself, so something must be wrong.

The feeling disappeared just before there was a polite knock at the door. It was the kind of knock that asked to be ignored, soft enough that it might not be heard but loud enough that it could later be honestly insisted that the knocker had tried. Only one of the Watch members knocked like that.

“What is it, Fred?” Vimes called out wearily.

The door opened a crack and Sergeant Colon eased his head into the room. He was red in the face and sweating profusely, which tended to happen whenever he came up the stairs at more than a brisk saunter.

“Trouble at the museum, sir,” Colon panted. “Mobs running a muck, maybe two or three of them.” He hesitated, his mouth half open as if to say something else.

“And?” Vimes asked.

“We-e-ell,” Colon continued. “Some of the lookers-on thought they saw dead bodies, only they didn’t quite stay dead.”

“What, you mean zombi–er, differently living persons like Constable Shoe?”

“Not so much that, sir, as the bodies up and vanished. Poof, like a wizard did it.”

Vimes sighed and leaned back in his chair. He was supposed to meet his wife Sybil for some kind of fancy dinner, which no doubt involved him dressing in fancy clothes and making fancy talk with fancy people. He was fairly certain that his absence would incite all sorts of comments from the lords and ladies in attendance.

“I’ll look into this personally, Fred,” Vimes said, a beatific smile slowly spreading across his face.

Tick

“What is it now?” snapped Mr White. A hot sensation kept occurring in his face. He wasn’t sure what humans called it, but for now he called it Hot Sensation in the Face Due to Things Not Going According to Plan. He had not been corporeal long enough to give it a shorter name.

“The keepers of law and order have arrived,” Miss Tangerine said. “They are requesting that everyone go outside with their upper extremities raised.”

“If we did that, how could we ensure that the plan succeeded?” Mr White replied.

“But they are law and order,” Miss Tangerine said timidly. She was currently experiencing a sensation she called Apprehension Due to Conveying Information That Will Displease Mr White.

“Perhaps we could send each entity out individually,” Mr Green suggested. “That will allow us enough time to see that the plan is completed.”

“This idea has merit,” Mr White acknowledged. Mr Green’s face grew red with Pleasant Sensation from Being Considered Useful.

“How shall we decide who to send outside?” Miss Taupe asked.

“We shall vote, of course,” Mr White said. “Whoever wins the vote must go outside.”

The other Auditors nodded in agreement. This seemed to be a logical solution.

“Who shall we send out first?” asked Mr Indigo Violet. The assembled crowd of Auditors turned to face him in unison, and their mouths turned up at the corners. He was not certain what that meant, but it gave him a strange sensation in his stomach. He decided, upon reflection, that the sensation did not please him.

And then, of course, he didn’t have time for further reflection, because he was busy flying through the window and plummeting to the ground below.

Tick

* * * * *

Night 1

“What is that?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“Affirmative.”

“It is called ‘chocolate.’ You put it in your oral cavity, right on your taste organ–yes, just like that…”

With a slight gasp, Mr Pink sank to the ground, shuddering uncontrollably. A few seconds later, he vanished.

“One down…”

Tick

“Logic dictates that Mr Puce should be the one to submit to the agents of law,” Miss Tangerine said.

“We do not agree,” Mr Puce replied.

“We believe that Mr Beige is the more appropriate candidate,” Mr Yellow said.

“But there is no logical reason–“

“Enough!” Mr White interrupted. The discussion had been going on for too long, and he was feeling a sensation in his chest akin to combustion. The other Auditors grew quiet and waited for him to speak. This pleased him.

“We will vote now,” he said. “Miss Taupe will collect the votes. Tell her who you vote for and she will…” He turned his gaze to Miss Taupe. She stared at him blankly.

“She will remember them all,” he finished. “And then she will announce the winner, and the winner will go outside.”

“But what if she can’t remember all the votes?” a voice from the back of the room asked. Mr White stared in that direction and slowly the crowd parted to reveal the newly arrived Mr Cyan.

“She will,” Mr White replied firmly. His eyes never left Mr Cyan. “Miss Taupe, begin the collection.”

Immediately, the Auditors obediently formed a neat queue and, one by one, gave their votes to Miss Taupe. When the line was finished, she mentally reviewed the names she had been given. Fortunately, there was some consensus, so it wasn’t too difficult.

“Mr White?” she asked, looking around for the de facto leader. “Mr White?” she said, more loudly in case his fleshy sense organ was malfunctioning.

Mr White emerged from a dark corner in the back of the room, his hands covered in some red substance that Miss Taupe could not identify.

“We have concluded the voting process,” Miss Taupe said timidly. The substance entered her scent organ and caused a feeling of apprehension in her.

“And who will be sent outside?” Mr White asked.

“Mr Black,” she replied. Her scent organ was overwhelming her other organs, especially the one in her midsection.

“Positive response,” Mr White said. “Mr Black, you will go outside.”

Mr Black backed away from the assembled Auditors. “Fear! Apprehension! We feel negatively about this outcome.”

“Do you refuse?” Mr White asked. Mr Black nodded vigorously.

“We understand,” Mr White said, smiling. He was getting better at smiling.

Tick

“What do you suppose they’re doin’ in there, eh Sarge?” Corporal Nobby Nobbs asked. “Seems awful quiet for a hostage sitcheeayshun.”

“Oh, sure as like they’re figrin out their options,” Sergeant Colon replied. “Maybe cuttin’ off some fingers or toes what to use as colly-atteral.”

Nobby pulled a cigarette out from behind his ear and jammed it between his lips. “I’d of thought you get less money for a hostage what’s missin’ bits.”

Colon frowned. “Naw, you don’t know nothin’ bout echo gnomics, Nobby. When there’s less a somethin’, it’s worth more.”

“You’d know better than me, Sarge,” Nobby said.

“Oh, well, when you’re as sperienced as me you learns a few things,” Colon said, nodding sagaciously. “But it’s possible they’re maybe thinkin’ to release one or two hostages, get on our good side so’s we go easier on ’em.”

There was a sudden crash overhead as a body flew out one of the previously unbroken windows. It landed with a wet thud a few feet away from the two officers. Colon and Nobby stared at the corpse in horror.

“They supposed to be releasin’ em like that, Sarge?”

“Not so far’s I know.”

Just as suddenly as the body had appeared, it vanished, leaving only a puddle of blood as an indication that it had ever been there.

“Nobby,” Colon said grimly, “Go get the commander. He’ll want to see this.”

Tick

* * * * *

Night 2

“They’re lining up to vote again.”

“How long are we going to pretend we’re like them?”

“As long as it takes.”

“How can you be so calm at a time like this?”

“I’m used to pretending.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“Stop being petulant, do you want one of them to–“

Mr Brown rounded the corner and stared blankly at the assembled figures.

“Why are you standing alone here in a place with no light? We find this to be unusual given the recent behaviors exhibited–“

Almost silently and with inhuman speed, the first figure lashed out at Mr Brown, who didn’t even have time to blink before his head hit the ground. His body followed soon after, then both vanished. The second figure watched in disbelief.

“Did you always have that sword?”

“It’s not mine. I borrowed it. Now be quiet and get in line.”

Tick

“The winner of the vote is Mr Khaki!” announced Miss Taupe. There was polite applause, and then general confusion as the Auditors attempted to figure out why they were slapping their hands together.

“Which is Mr Khaki?” Mr Green asked. Miss Taupe shrugged. The Auditors eyed each other suspiciously.

“Are you Mr Khaki?”

“No, we are Mr Orange. You?”

“We are Mr Yellow. What about him over there?”

“That is Miss Tangerine.”

“Oh.”

“This is not satisfactory,” Miss Taupe muttered. “We must find Mr Khaki and present him to the agents of law and order.”

“Is there a problem?” Mr White asked, startling Miss Taupe.

“No-o,” Miss Taupe said. Her stomach attempted to retreat to a more secure part of her ribcage.

“Only there seems to be a problem,” Mr White said.

“We cannot determine which is Mr Khaki,” Miss Taupe admitted.

“We understand,” said Mr White soothingly. Suddenly, he grabbed a passing Auditor by the neck.

“Are you Mr Khaki?” he asked.

“No… we are… Mr Cerulean…”

Mr White shook his head. “That does not even sound like a real color. We believe you are speaking words that are contrary to the truth.”

Mr Cerulean could only gurgle.

“We will make an example of you,” Mr White grinned. He dropped Mr Cerulean and viciously kicked him in the head. And kicked him. And kicked him. Soon enough Mr Cerulean vanished, leaving only streaks of red splattered across the floor and on Mr White’s shoes.

Miss Taupe made a mewling sound in the back of her throat as Mr White turned to face her.

“We will have to take another vote, Miss Taupe,” he said. “See that it is successful this time.”

Tick

Ronnie Soak whistled tunelessly as he stepped into his freezer. He looked around at the assorted milks and cheeses with satisfaction, his eyes finally resting on a massive sword leaning against the far wall. He frowned.

“Shouldn’t have gotten involved,” he muttered. “Humans? Who needs ’em! And those stuffy no-names… they can get stuffed! Serves ’em all right, stuck in stasis for eternity, and me not even invited to ride with the horsemen…”

He picked up his sword and swung it experimentally, then put it down with a sigh.

“I fought the Law, and the Law won,” he grumbled. “Well, at least I got the yak milk in before it was too late.”

Tick

* * * * *

Night 3

“Where are you going?” Mr White asked.

“To the end of the line,” Mr Turquoise replied. “It is time for another vote, is it not?”

Mr White smiled. “We would like to have a talk first.”

“With us?”

Mr White nodded. “Only us.”

“Apprehension!” Mr Turquoise yelped. “We have seen what happens to others in private talks!”

“Others were different,” cooed Mr White.

“But–“

Mr White grabbed Mr Turquoise and headbutted him. Mr Turquoise staggered back and dropped to the ground.

And suddenly, something round and brown rolled across the floor between them. Mr White stopped in mid-stride and bent over to pick it up.

“What is this?” he asked softly. Mr Turquoise groaned in response, his eyes crossed.

Mr White lifted the gooey ball to his eye, examining it carefully. It smelled strangely positive. His facial cavity began to produce some kind of fluid of its own volition. This made him suspicious.

“Mr Orange!” he shouted. With a hesitant shuffling of feet, Mr Orange walked over.

“Take this,” Mr White said, offering the deteriorating blob to the other Auditor. Mr Orange obediently took it. “Now, put it in your speaking hole.”

Mr Orange blinked in confusion. With a growl, Mr White took the squishy bit back. He reached over and opened Mr Orange’s mouth, shoving the sticky sphere inside.

Once Mr Orange had disappeared, Mr White glared in the direction from which the item had appeared. Mr Turquoise still sat in the same spot, eyes glazed.

“Don’t move,” Mr White ordered. “We will deal with you presently.”

Tick

“–and then there was a crash, and this body fell right in front of us–“

“And where is the body now?” Vimes asked.

“Gone,” Nobby replied.

“Did you move it?”

Colon shook his head. “It just up and disappeared.”

“Dead bodies don’t just–“

A crash echoed down the street behind them, on the opposite side of the building.

“Captain?” Vimes called.

“Right on it, sir,” Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson said, saluting crisply. He turned and bolted off in the direction of the noise.

“Bloody maniacs,” Vimes muttered. “They could at least use the same window instead of breaking a new one every time.”

Tick

* * * * *

Night 4

Captain Carrot examined the bloodstain on the ground. There were no signs of anyone coming to collect the body or move it elsewhere, and yet there was no body. He was puzzled.

“Hello down there!” a voice called. Carrot looked up. A young man waved frantically at him.

“You have the right to remain silent!” Carrot yelled cheerfully. He was a strong believer in rights. They tended to make criminals nervous.

“I’d rather not, thanks,” the man replied. “Do you mind if I jump down?”

Carrot shook his head. “You need any help with that?”

“If you could keep me from falling to my death, it would be most appreciated,” the man said. He gingerly stepped through the broken window and began to scale the wall.

“Are you a hostage or a hostage keeper?” Carrot asked.

“No hostages up there,” the man cheerfully replied. “Just a bunch of corporeal representations of scientific processes.”

“Anthropomorphic personifications, you mean?”

“Oh no, they’re nastier than that. Trying to bring about the Apocralypse, you know.” The man finished his descent and plodded over to the Watchman.

Carrot shrugged. “I’m afraid you’ll have to tell that to the judge, Mr…?”

“Ludd. Lobsang Ludd. Good luck finding a judge once the world’s ended.”

“Every man must have his day in court, Mr Ludd. Right this way, please.”

Tick

Mr White was troubled. Yet another vote winner had failed to appear for his just punishment. This would not do.

He glanced around the room, his eyes falling on Mr Indigo Violet.

“Why should he have two names, anyway?” Mr White murmured. “Someone else could have been Mr Violet, but no… well, we shall remedy that.”

He slipped nearby statue of the great god Om slipped into his hand, testing the weight.

“Positive sensation,” he smiled. He mentally calculated the distance, appropriate velocity, force, trajectory, and…

Afterward, he was pleasantly surprised to note that the golden statue had actually been made of iron.

Tick

Mr Blue wiggled his toes. He was getting rather good at it. He had just begun to practice moving the little one independently from the rest when he heard a whispered conversation behind him.

“–have to find a way to get them alone, and now that Lobsang is gone–“

“As the koan says, ‘It won’t get better if you pick at it.'”

“What kind of koan says that?”

“The Way of Mrs Cosmopolite.”

“What, the dressmaker?”

“It has worked for me all these years.”

Mr Blue was perplexed. This did not sound like an appropriate conversation. He stood up to go find Mr White, knocking over an ancient clay jug. Less than a second later, he was getting a very close look at his toes, as his upper half had been abruptly disconnected from his lower half.

“That was close.”

“As the koan says, ‘There’s a lot goes on that we don’t know about, in my opinion.'”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Buggered if I know.”

Tick

* * * * *

Night 5

This had happened before, of course. It always did. Everything would be fine, at first, and then eventually the mob knocked politely on the door with pitchforks and torches and asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to stop performing abominable experiments in their backyard. And then things tended to end up on fire.

Well, it was that time. Igor could feel it in his bones, some of which had been passed down from previous Igors and thus had accumulated a certain depth of experience. Things had gotten out of control, and the Watch might be outside now, but the pitchforks would be around any second.

He left a note, of course. It was only fitting; one never wanted to burn bridges, no pun intended, although an Igor’s previous employer was rarely able to give references one the mob had come calling. Still, Master Clockson had been one of the better masters, and Igor was almost sorry to go.

At least he wouldn’t have to pretend to be one of these creepy fellows any longer. They were really starting to give him the willies.

Tick

After two successive votes failing to yield their intended victims, the Auditors were beginning to feel things. Strong things.

“You… organic organ!” Mr White shouted. “Flames! Flames! On the side of my face!”

Miss Tangerine cringed. “Apprehension! Fear!”

“Who is to blame for this?”

“Uh, him!” Miss Tangerine yelped, pointing at a random figure.

Mr White stalked over to Mr Magenta and gripped him by the throat. Mr Magenta clawed at the hands that slowly crushed his windpipe.

“We hope,” Mr White whispered, “That you were not overly accustomed to being corporeal.”

Mr Magenta, aptly enough, turned a deep shade of reddish purple until finally he vanished from between Mr White’s trembling hands.

Behind him, Miss Taupe announced, “The winner of the vote is Mr Grey!”

Almost in unison, the assembled Auditors turned to Mr Grey, who also, aptly enough, turned an ashen white. He backed away with his hands held up defensively, which unfortunately placed him directly in the path of the waiting Mr Yellow.

By the time the mob was finished with him, everyone was as crimson-splattered as Mr White. And of course, Mr Grey was gone.

Tick

* * * * *

Night 6

“Is everyone here?” War asked.

“Yes,” Famine replied, stuffing half of a salad cream sandwich in his mouth.

“Hurr,” Pestilence wheezed, coughing up a green glob of phlegm.

“INDEED.”

“This won’t take long, will it? My wife wants me back before supper,” War said nervously.

“IT WILL BE BUT THE WORK OF A MOMENT.”

“Where’s your sword, Death?” asked Famine, only it came out more like “Urz ur or ef?”

Death turned his eyeless gaze toward Famine. “I LENT IT TO SOMEONE. I EXPECT IT WILL BE RETURNED SOON.”

“Well, I suppose we’d best get going then,” War said.

“WE ARE WAITING FOR ONE MORE.”

“One more what? We’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse, aren’t we?” asked Famine. Just as the words left his mouth, another figure arrived wielding a giant sword that was shrouded in cold vapor.

“RIGHT ON TIME, AS USUAL, KAOS.”

“It’s Chaos now,” Ronnie Soak grinned. “Got to keep up with the times, you know. Butterfly effect, fractals, all that stuff.”

“Hey, who invited him?” Famine said.

“Oh, come off it,” War said. “Lets let bygones be bygones, eh?”

“NO BETTER TIME TO BURY DIFFERENCES THAN THE END OF TIME.”

“Must we do this?” Pestilence whined.

“UNLESS THEY ARE STOPPED, IT IS THE ONLY THING WE CAN DO.”

Tick

Mr White was taking out his frustration on the unfortunate Mr Beige when Miss Taupe approached him.

“It is almost time,” Miss Taupe said.

“Excellent,” said Mr White. He stopped punching Mr Beige in the ear just before the expired Auditor vanished.

“So soon?” asked Jeremy Clockson. He had been getting steadily more nervous as the night had progressed, and he hadn’t seen Myria in ages. He wanted her to be there when the clock started.

“We have you to thank, clockmaker,” Mr White said. “Your invention will make everything simple. Clean. Uniform and unchanging. Uncluttered by the organic margin of error that always complicates the stability of the universe.”

“But… but it’s just a clock!” Jeremy stuttered. “A glass clock! It just tells time!”

“No,” Mr Green said, shaking his head. “It does much more than that.”

Mr White leaned toward Jeremy and patted him condescendingly on the head. “It does not tell time, it traps time.”

“What, all of it?” Jeremy gasped. “But… but…”

“No time for buts,” Miss Tangerine said. “No time for anything else, really.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” a voice chimed in from the back of the room. The few remaining Auditors parted to show Susan Sto Helit standing with Lu Tze and Myria LeJean, wielding a sword that seemed to cut the individual molecules in the air as she brandished it menacingly.

“Myria!” Jeremy yelped. She smiled at him briefly, then turned her attention back to Mr White.

“This should not be done,” Myria said. “We… I… like it here. I like organs. I like chocolate. I will not allow this.”

“And how will you stop us?” Mr White sneered.

“Well, now that we’ve dispensed with the charade, I imagine it will be something like this,” Susan said. And with that, she swung at Miss Taupe, slicing her open from neck to navel. Miss Taupe barely had time to gasp before disappearing in a spray of blood.

“You would imagine that, wouldn’t you?” Mr White said. “The only problem is… you’re too late.”

Ti

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