So here we are again, thought Darktan. In a way it was a relief. Certainly it was less painful this time around. Just a knock from a broken piece of pipe, completing the task of the many, many injuries of far too long a life. Purple lights drifted gently across his eyes, gradually blotting out his last glimpses of the world. The last thing he saw was the clock tower. That ruddy clock tower, the symbol of everything he had done, everything that had been achieved under his leadership. The dratted thing gave him headaches every time he looked at it now. The purple light faded into deep blue.
Was that really a worthy legacy? To be remembered as the rat who led the way to, to tameness, to sweet little rats that rang the bells and water ballet in the fountains on special days? I'll miss the Hogswatch Extravaganza on Ice, he realised. Somehow, that didn't upset him in the slightest. Deep in the blue, there appeared a circle of black.
Sardines will miss me, I suppose, he thought. There won't be many others. Oh, they'll talk of the great fighter and the diplomat and the rat who walked out of a trap, but all I've been to most of them is the cranky old bugger who growls at them when they bring him food. We do not kill. So the old leader "retired"- Peaches' new word. It meant, "Became just a spare part and a right nuisance to the new chap" because a leader needed everyone else to know he was leader now, down in the bone and the blood. He didn't need heads to turn to some old fart at the back at a moment of crisis because they weren't sure, when it came down to it.
The circle of black was right in front of him now, filling his immediate universe. Ah. Right. This is where we find out. In the deep, dark tunnel, at the bitter end, we discover what we really are.
He stepped forwards. On the very edge of hearing, he thought he heard a swoosh, like something very sharp moving very fast. And as he half-turned, he saw it. The skeleton of a rat, replacing its small scythe over its shoulder as the sparkling line of blue that spiralled back behind Darktan dwindled to nothing, expertly cut. The Bone Rat. And he was wearing…clothes. Admittedly the robe of living darkness was a far cry from Ratty Rupert's red waistcoat, but still… The shade of Darktan scowled. If the afterlife turned out to be Furry Bottom, some people were shortly going to be very unhappy indeed.
SQUEAK said the rat, in a voice that contained the click of teeth, the crack of fire, and the all-too-final snap of the trap.
"You can't even talk." Darktan wasn't angry, or sad, but the deep, deep weariness seemed to have followed him even here. "You're just a keekee after all. So we are still just rats, underneath? I wondered about that."
The Bone Rat remained silent, staring at Darktan through empty sockets for a few moments. Then it turned its head to one side and glanced up, as though looking askance of some being beyond Darktan's sight. And from the darkness that surrounded them both came words. If the Bone Rat's squeak was the death of rats, this voice was the death of worlds. It said, YOU ARE CORRECT. HE IS A VERY UNUSUAL RAT.
The darkness seemed to move. And a figure, towering against the shifting shades of blackness, appeared high above him. There really is a big human, thought Darktan. I wonder how much else is true that I never found out about. Is there some big picture that I couldn't see? Even if there was, he decided, it couldn't be more important than the little pictures. That wouldn't work. After all, the little picture was where people lived. And people had to matter, or else where was the point in anything?
The finger reached down. It touched Darktan on the top of what, thanks to morphic resilience, was still his head. He felt the tingle, felt a change, a power, spreading through him. And the voice spoke again, spelling out the future in letters graven into the very hearts of mountains.
LET US SEE WHAT YOU MAY BECOME.
And there was a change, and softness. And he floated gently in a place that was warm and dark. It felt nice. It felt safe. It lasted for all of nine months.
In the back room of the little house on Cockbill street, the woman cursed any gods who happened to be listening with impressive volume and imagination as the labour pains coursed through her body. The midwife was young, but she had already seen a lot worse, in her opinion, and this woman at least had the hips for the job.
From beyond the paper-thin walls came the scuffling sound of the other occupants of the house trying to be quiet, restricted to their side whilst the private things of women occurred on this one. A traditional household, with that patriarchal mindset that flourished in the largely matriarchal society of Cockbill Street. Funny old world sometimes, the midwife decided, pushing the thought aside in favour of more immediately relevant matters.
With a final heave from his mother, the child was out in a damp, somehow anticlimactic rush. "A boy." With that, all the cursing and struggling ceased, and the atmosphere of the room melted into that warm fuzziness that the midwife loved to feel after a birth, the silent bonding of mother and child. Even the baby's screams- showing a good pair of lungs there, the midwife noted approvingly- couldn't break the moment. Not yet, in any case. "Thought of any names yet, Mrs Vimes?" the young lady asked after a respectful pause, as she mopped up the remaining mess.
The mother gazed into the screwed-up little face for a few moments, and then smiled indulgently. "He looks a bit of a Sam, don't he? That ought to do him well enough. Good solid name, as my old Mam would have said. You can always trust a Sam."