Step 1: Choose Taxes Over Death
In loving memory of our Dinah, who is already well on her way to being missed.
An alchemist sidled home along Treacle Mine Road, slipping from one shadow to another with the practice and instincts of someone who had lived to adulthood in Ankh-Morpork.
He was slightly less careful that usual.
Today a student was babbling about sending messages though air and longer-lasting candles and quantum. And, while this was all impossible and quite lunatic, inside the mumbling was a tiny grain of Possibility.
And the alchemist's mind recognized the Possibility as an opportunity for money and, by extension, a way to get the acrid smell of Failure and Exploding Shuffleboard out of his beard.
And, beyond all the other things, lay the Future.
So, the alchemist hurried along, head filled with promising vistas and assorted options for dinner on the way.
"Oi. Git yer own shadow," growled one alley as he paused mid-step.
"Oh. Yes. Sorry. Apologies. I'm a fool a thousand times, I assure you."
"Bugga off, den."
"Right away!" he chirped happily.
Inside that de Quirm boy's head lay the Future!
Even if it was a bit loose about the ears…
And then, because he had the silly grin of one who had just won a lot of money that he probably didn't know how to spend anyway, the alchemist died.
As he looked down, slightly less cheerily, at the man now examining a corpse's pockets, he said, "Oh, blast."
"I was looking forward to the Future…"
AND NEGLECTED TO CHECK BEHIND.
"Time was that a shap could go nearly a day without fearing for his life. When I was a lad, I remember –"
I REMEMBER, ALSO.
"Ah. I see."
"Well, my good sir, you can take it. This city's gone to the Feral Nuns of Offler, I'm afraid."
ITS TIME WILL COME.
"How reassuring," said the disappearing memory. "Will you tell Lord Snapcase that he's driven the city into the ground?"
"Oh. That is reassuring."
"And so, by the authority of our Lord Snapcase, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, in conjunction with the approval of Dr. Dennerty, I declare you the graduating class of the Year of the Seven-Eyed Toad."
A young man, Lock, stood at the center of the room, in the light. The architecture was curious, taking the light of the candle he held and misplacing it immediately.
Other young men whispered at the far edges of the light-eating room.
A great honor, to hold the light, they all thought. The next light of the future. The most hopeful of the class.
A future name that no one writes, that everybody already knows….
They wanted the light. Needed to be the one holding it. Were willing to kill for it.
Others had been, too. There were five more members of the class of Year of the Seven-Eyed Toad, when they had first known of this year's Luminary.
And there Lock stood, holding his candle, apparently no worse off for a five-on-one encounter on the way here.
He wasn't normal, though. Usually Luminaries were the ones to look up to, to emulate, but Lock was… enthusiastic. The wrong sort of enthusiastic.
Assassins weren't expected to enjoy the inhumation process, as such, but they were expected to treat it as more than something to fill one's time between eating and sleeping.
He was interested, sure enough, but his questions were off. He wanted to know why sticking something sharp in someone made important bits leak out.
And Lock stood holding the candle as thought it might tell him the answer to Life, the Multiverse, and Everything if he stared intently long enough.
He looked at the light and ignored the world outside of it.
He had Hope, that greatest of all gifts.
And with Hope, the rest of the world didn't matter.
There was only the Future.
Lock waited for one hour after the light turned off in the target's room. When it was certain that the man was asleep, and no maids would come in to wake him, Lock jimmied the latch on the window from outside with a flat lock-picking hook. He slipped inside and closed the window after him, keeping the cold out.
In the dark, he set up a light, thin-sided glass bowl next to the target's bed. He eased a fat, soft arm and sausage wrist out of the blankets and let it hang over the side of the bed.
Carefully, he smeared an anesthetic poultice in the crook of the elbow, and then pulled a knife, too sharp to hurt, out of a stiff leather holster over his heart.
A minute passed. The chemicals in the poultice seeped down into the veins, and the arm became numb, and Lock pulled the tip of the knife across the wrist, all of the major veins, in one swipe.
There were a few flecks of warm wetness. The man's blood pressure was – had been – high, and the veins had burst on Lock.
He sucked air through his teeth in mild annoyance.
There were soft plopping sounds as the blood dripped down into the bowl and Lock waited for half an hour, very quiet and patient. Once, a lady in heels pounded past the door in the hall, but she didn't even pause.
When the bowl was full and the man was nearly done leaking, Vetinari wrapped the wrist in flesh-colored fabric, tightly, stopping the blood, and pushed the arm back under the blankets. If they didn't look closely – and maybe they wouldn't – it would look like he had died in his sleep. Very palely.
He picked up the bowl, covered it tightly, and opened the window again. Once he was out, he let it close, and redid the latch with the same tool.
And then he was away.
Lock washed his hands in the bathroom sink.
Three weeks out from graduation, and he had finally been given a contract worth his time.
The water in the chipped porcelain bowl washed from red to a thin pink.
Of course, living outside of the Guild meant paying rent and buying food, and after mandatory Guild dues Lock really only had a few hundred thousand AM to his name.
There was a knock at the door. It was the landlady's daughter, Evadne. "Mister Vetinari, are you near done? Only dinner's served."
Lock scrubbed industrially at the once-white breast of his shirt. "A moment more."
"I could see if I can get it out."
Lock waited for her to realize on her own. When she didn't, he said with amusement, "It seems that this will stain."
"It's no trouble."
He didn't know if she ever really did this on purpose, but it was often enough. It was a sort of game – she led the way, and Lock guessed what she heard and filled in the blanks. "I couldn't burden you."
"I've seen worse, I'll bet."
"It's not a pleasant sort of stain."
Evadne's tone became sharp and no-nonsense. "Mister Vetinari."
"Knew you'd come around."
There was the cue to agree, then. "Very well." Lock rolled down his sleeves and slipped out of his variously-stained white shirt.
He opened the door and handed it through to the proud girl, whose brown hair was in a braid down her back. She said, "Oh, is it? I'm sorry. Really. Gets a mite confusing."
Lock said, "Your precognition is on again." Lock headed down the hall, and turned to say something further.
"And with you, too, Mister Vetinari."
"It's no trouble. It has been lovely dancing with you, Miss Cake." He paused, let the conversation catch up with itself, and inclined his head. "I'll be down for dinner presently. Thank you for the shirt."
"See you soon, then."
As Lock, back in his own room, put on a new shirt, he contemplated.
Inhumation didn't suit him, precisely, if he thought about it.
Lock enjoyed the why of the world. Death wasn't why. Not now that he was out of school.
Because numbers were the ultimate. People thought that numbers had no room for why, but they did.
There was always the origin of the numbers.
An eternally, perfectly maintained masquerade, as something much, much less threatening than they actually were.
Yes, Lock enjoyed numbers.
More than the entire ordeal of inhumation.
Never one to see value where there was none, Lock resolved himself to notify the Guild of his resignation immediately.
Hmm. Fine. But where would he work now?
A place of numbers…
Dr. Dennerty blinked at the tall, thin boy of about twenty.
He waited, and then blinked again.
"I'm sorry. I seem to have overstepped my daily allowance of spirits. What did you say, Mister Vetinari?"
Lock said, "I resign."
Dennerty sighed. "Why?"
Lock said, "I am not suited to this career."
"You're a Luminary! Of course you're suited to it! I have here- " he shuffled through a few account records, "-a deposit slip…somewhere…"
A slender boy with blonde hair shuffled over with a slip of paper and handed it to Dr. Dennerty with more deference for the paper than the man.
"Ah. Thank you. Yes." He peered at the numbers. "Two hundred thousand dollars! Obviously you'll be successful."
"I disagree," Lock said simply. "I say again; I resign. I will not accept money in exchange for inhumation. I am no longer an Assassin."
"But what will you do?"
Lock's eyes wandered, thoughtful, for a few seconds. Noncommittally, he said, "I will find a place of numbers."
"Numbers…? There are numbers here, Vetinari! A two, followed by five zeroes!"
"I actually retain approximately half that," Lock supplied helpfully.
"There's no good 'numbers' positions, not unless you want to live on no pay and under unappreciative superiors!"
The boy, who still held the accounting paper, hummed in his throat.
Lock said, "Anything might suffice. Usurer, broker. I might take bets, with the capital I have already."
"Nothing better than a thief -"
"Sir," said the other man. He looked about five years younger than Lock, and susceptible to a variety of poisons, particularly that of the foxglove plant. "If you mean something like a clerk – well, there are quite a lot of numbers involved."
Dr. Dennerty seemed surprised that the clerk was still in the room, let alone four feet away.
"It meets your criteria, sir. No pay, unappreciative superiors. Not thieves, though, no. Not registered at the Thieves Guild. We've our own."
"You can't seriously –
"And filing?" asked Lock. "Do clerks file as well?"
"Yessir. Mostly filing. Everything has a place, sir."
Lock smiled with eyes as black as a clerk's ink. "Yes. So it would seem."
"Oh, but sir, you'd need to register with the Guild of Accountants and Usurers. I'm going to, sir. Only temporarily assigned here. To see a bit of the world. Also, it was intimated that I needed to get out more. Sir."
Dr. Dennerty held out a hand, indicating the boy with the worried frown. "Is this what you wish to become, Vetinari?"
Lock studiously rounded his shoulders, as the clerk had, and mimicked the worried frown. With no mocking tone, he enthused, "Oh, yessir. Immediately. If I can. Could I do that, sir?" he asked the clerk.
"Yes, sir," the clerk answered.
Dr. Dennerty sighed, defeated. "You license as Assassin is rescinded. You're a disgrace to us all, Luminary Vetinari."
"Thank you," Lock said in the clerk-like, insipid tone.
"Away with you," the former superior said sullenly.
"Right away, sir." Lock gave a bow that he improvised, taking the imitation a step further, and then shuffled out.
The clerk slipped out after him and flashed an amused smile. "You're a natural, sir!"
Lock began meandering down the hallway, the clerk trailing after. In a businesslike tone, divorced from the new clerk persona, Lock asked, "If I became a clerk, where would I work?"
"Well, once I finish temporary, I'm going for the Patrician's staff."
"Lord Snapcase? He allows people to work under him?"
"Yes. Somewhat. My classmates want to avoid him, sir, but the pay is good and – Just imagine the filing system of an entire city!"
Lock took a few more steps and then turned on his heel abruptly to look at the clerk's face. "What is your name?"
He smiled again, hopefully.
Lock hesitated for a moment. "I am Havelock Vetinari. I will also apply for the Patrician's staff. Is that acceptable?"
"Fine, sir. I don't mind. But you will need to register."
"Yes. Registration. How may I apply to the Guild?"
"Well, sir, you'll need to secure a position as a clerk or usurer first."
"Very well. How do I apply for a position in the Palace?"
"Oh – for that, you'll need to be a registered clerk."
Lock thought about this. "This is beaurocracy?"
Lock began walking again. "How incredibly inconvenient."
"What fun this shall be," Lock concluded dryly.
A place for everything…
So Lock strode into the Future.
Er. Yes. This is a story about Vetinari. Sorry about the nickname. It'll go away by chapter three. It's basically to show that he's young.