Odd One Out
A Discworld fanfiction by Intrasonic
"Outta der way!"
The demand was somewhat redundant, because Sergeant Detritus was the one doing the shouting. And when the Troll came running through the door, without bothering to open it first, people made way in a hurry.
Right behind him was Vimes, carrying something approximately human-sized. "Igor!" he snapped.
Against all probability, the Watch's resident surgeon was instantly at Vimes' side, which is a really impressive trick to pull on someone who's just entered a doorway from outside the building. "Yes, master?"
Without any hesitation, Vimes held the object out before him, allowing all present in the room to eventually recognize it as one Sergeant Angua. It wasn't easy, because she was only a few steps short of needing dental records to be identified. One nearby officer fainted.
"She's been hurt!" Vimes elaborated, agitation briefly overruling any embarrassment at saying something so redundant.
"Blunt object?" Igor observed, accepting the body with little trouble. Igors tended to be good at judging causes of injury and/or death.
"Something like that," Vimes agreed quickly. "Is she-"
"I'll just take her downstairth and remove her armour," Igor assured him, after studying the Angua paté for a moment. "The werewolf will do the rest."
Vimes visibly relaxed. It was what he had wanted to hear, but hadn't quite been willing to let himself believe it. "Good. Get on it."
Igor limped off, leaving Vimes with the task of addressing half a dozen officers who had just seen a pulped sergeant carried through the doorway. "Alright... everyone with a job to do, do it. Someone get that officer awake again. Detritus, find Dorfl and tell him that I want to see him in my office five minutes ago. Someone else, wake up Carrot and tell him the same. And somebody else fix the door."
o/ "...but the hedgehog can never be buggered at all!" o/
In so many ways, it was like watching a circus
performance. No matter how incredible the dancing bears and the clown on
the seatless unicycle were, every face in the audience would invariably
focus on the sorry bloke balancing fifty feet off the ground on a strand
of wire. After all, anyone can slip and accidentally sit on a bike without
a seat, but sudden death tends only to happen once per person. And another
amusing story to tell to the grandchildren someday was always welcome.
It was unfortunate, the bartender noted, that no self-respecting grandkid was ever going to believe this story.
"Yer outta tune!!!"
Considering that her mental facilities had probably been obliterated after the first mug of the Drum's brand of drink, one Lucy Tockley was approximately drunk to the power of twelve at the moment, rapidly going on thirteen. But aside from frequent pit stops, she wasn't letting it slow her down too much. And while she wasn't walking on a tight rope, a row of tables was serving quite nicely for her purposes.
"Ye gotta practish more!" she admonished the
thirty individuals who hadn't been completely overcome by drink yet. "How's
y'gonna get any better?"
The thirty individuals cringed beneath her verbal onslaught, much like a room of students does before an unduly harsh schoolmarm with an oaken ruler.
"'orry, Miss Tockley..."
"...do better next time..."
Lucy nodded sternly, and took another long drink from her mug. When it came up dry, she wound up and heaved it at the bartender, who barely managed to catch it. "Gimme 'nuther!"
"But you've already had-"
Fifty-nine eyes(1) instantly glared menacingly at the bartender, promising a world of pain, and if he was lucky, death.
"-coming right up!" he hastily agreed.
"Shee..." Lucy continued, stalking down towards the other end of the row of tables. "...s'no edjacashun happenin' aroun' here! Y'gotta all get a edjacashun! Den da wo-world's yer... thingy. Oil. Ointment. Oyster. And den y'can do whadev'r y'want to."
All the faces nodded attentively, carefully drinking in every word.
"Butcha gotta be careful!" she continued, turning around and starting to march down another row of tables, even as a part-time axe-murderer considerately pulled back his drink to make sure she wasn't obstructed. "Cuz if ye don't watchit, ye t'ink y'know e'rything!"
"An den ya try an' do somefin thatcha can't do, an' then..."
The listeners leaned forwards expectantly.
"...and then... BANG!!!"
Several drinkers accidentally upset their mugs and hastily scrambled to recover them.
"'y'get yerself inna big mesh!" Lucy concluded. "Whersh m'beer!"
"Argh! Coming right up!" the bartender assured her, running up and handing it to her carefully. Were she to somehow drop it with him nearby, he'd probably be lynched, he knew.
Without even being aware, he'd become as entranced with the lecture as the rest of the room, the barkeep realized. Somehow, not only was this crazy girl sapping the patrons' will to fight, she was actually making them interested in what she had to say. They were actually calling her 'Miss Tockley' in a respectful fashion. Were he to question any of these hardened fighters right now, they would each probably swear that their new goal in life was to learn to sing in tune and get an education. And then they'd snap his neck as punishment for interrupting her.
Lucy took a drink before resuming her monologue. "Shee... dats what 'appened t'me. Dere was elveses e'rywhere. Nashty 'lil things. Woulda been real bad, but dere's witches back home an' dey fixed shings up."
This garnered a suitable degree of awe from her audience.
"We's got some of dose down in der Shades."
"And dey can tell yer fortune and e'rything!"
Lucy kicked over a salt-shaker, although it might have been by accident. "Dere a buncha fakes!" she declared, face briefly going angry. "Cos... dere not real witches! S'easy t'tell fortunes!"
This was also received with a side helping of awe.
"Shee, I'll tell a fortune right now!" Lucy finished the rest of her beer, then stared intently into the mug. "Ahm sheeing... anutha beer!"
Mere seconds later, the bartender came running up and handed her another mug of beer, proving that his own fortune telling abilities were quite acute(2).
"Bloody hell... Miss Tockley kin predict the future too!"
"Inna empty mug!"
"Nuthin' speshal," Lucy reprimanded. "Shee, real witches ken do hard shtuff!"
(1) The more experienced members at the Mended Drum are easy to spot.
(2) That is, if he didn't provide more beer, his projected lifespan was going to be very short.
Elsewhere, a young man was laughing inside.
The reason he was laughing inside was because only a short time
ago, he'd been a much older man. And before recently obtaining the banana
of youth, he'd lived long enough to know that secret plots didn't stay
a secret if you kept bursting into maniacal laughter every time something
was going right. But rest assured, inside he felt like a raven after Armegeddon.
It really was incredible, when all was said and done, he silently repeated to himself. A little science, a little history, a little magic, a lot of common sense... you could pick up a great deal in an area of study without becoming obsessed over it all.
Take magic in particular. He could remember becoming interested in it, a long time ago. But he could also remember seeing the demands that it placed on those who tried to master it. And those demands were harsh, unforgiving, and sometimes fatal. If you were lucky. So he'd learned everything he could, and then moved along to other aspects. He'd done that over and over, learning as much as he dared, then withdrawing before the demands became too great.
It was slow and inefficient, leaving him an old man in due time, but it had been safe. But now that he had found a way to regain those years, he was in perfect condition to put that carefully gained knowledge to use. And as tonight had proven, his work was going to pay off in spades.
Out of the many magics that he had studied, witchcraft had certainly been one of the more interesting varieties, and ripe with potential. Almost anyone could learn to toss a fireball with enough practice and study. But a witch could convince you that you couldn't toss a fireball. The best witches could make you toss the fireball at yourself.
Headology, a few of them called it. Not so much the understanding of people, but the understanding of what made people people. And then making them act like the kind of people you wanted them to be, all without their realizing it.
Oh yes, he'd learned a lot from witches. One trick in particular was called 'Borrowing' - inserting your mind into the mind of something else, and then gently making suggestions to it. It was a very delicate and painstaking process, and obviously a dangerous one. After all, what kind of idiot would try to make two minds occupy the space of one? Witches, of course, because some of them were just that good. But anyone else would undoubtedly do very poorly, and might be lucky enough to regret the attempt.
For himself, the man harboured no illusions about his own talents. Were he to try a technique as difficult as Borrowing, he would definitely come out worse for the attempt. But now he lived in Ankh-Morpork, and the widely circulated claim that you could find anything here was no idle boast. Sometimes you just had to know where to look...
Glancing sideways, towards a darker corner of his room, the young man's gaze fell upon the massive form of an inert Golem. It stood silently, a damp coating of river water all that marred its form. Without the holy words that it once carried inside its head, the eyes were dark and devoid of the more common, troll-like glow that most Golems possessed.
He'd taken the chit containing the holy words out himself, and had no intention of putting them back in. Because the holy words were effectively the Golem's mind, and once removed, the Golem was nothing more than a mindless shell. And supposing... just supposing, that someone knew how to make their mind enter something else, with a technique like Borrowing...
Why, there wouldn't be any trouble at all. There would be one body, and one mind to order it around. Perfectly safe and acceptable. And then, wrapped in the raw power and potential that a Golem embodied, you could do things.
It was time to really get started.
Five minutes later found Vimes sitting at his
office desk. Bodily shoving aside some of the stacks of paper produced
some desk space, which he immediately used to rest his head in his hands.
It was going to be one of those crimes, he knew. The kind that got blown completely out of proportion - in the wrong directions. The kind that would inevitably have the Watch cleaning up after someone else's mess, even as they found more clues than they knew what to do with, while some high-up, power-mad noble or ruler or other person laughed at their frantic efforts.
Vimes just knew it. And when he caught them, he was going ram every single useless clue he'd found somewhere uncomfortable and unpleasant.
There had almost been a watchman casualty tonight, Vimes knew. Technically speaking, there probably had been. And while Igor said that Angua would make a full recovery - and you didn't question an Igor's judgement on those matters - Vimes didn't even want to imagine the pain she was probably in.
Saying that the unknown Golem had 'hit' her was the understatement of the year. Or at the very least, of the week. Without so much as a wasted motion, one of the massive ceramic hands had simply slapped her twenty feet through the air, although she probably would have gone a lot further if a brick wall hadn't gotten in the way. The fact that she'd been wearing armour hadn't meant much, because what had finally fallen back to the ground, amidst the masonry, had been a flattened mess of flesh and iron(1), with too little distinction between the two...
The creaking of the floorboards outside was
enough to snap Vimes' attention back to the present. It was time to start
finding the right buttock to prod. "Come in, Dorfl."
The Golem strode into the office, giving a slightly mechanical salute. "Reporting For Duty, Sir."
"Yes, yes, thank-you, constable. Hello, Carrot, sorry to wake you up."
"No trouble at all," the captain assured him, appearing from behind Dorfl. "I heard that Angua's been injured."
Translation: Carrot had probably already heard the rumours about what had been left of Angua when they'd gotten her back to the Watch, and he'd still immediately responded to his commander's orders. It was the kind of thing that you got used to eventually, Vimes knew, although never entirely.
"Something like that, yes. Now, in case you two haven't heard all the rumours flying around, don't bother trying to learn them. And in case you weren't aware of what's being going on over the last couple days, let me fill you in now."
Both officers nodded expectantly.
"Yesterday, we pursued one Mr. Finly, and certainly didn't arrange for him to take a hostage in front of Mr. Stone's shop-"
Carrot blinked in surprise. "But sir, I distinctly remember you saying for Nobby to-"
Vimes waved the concern aside, silently muttering a few curses against the dwarfish inability to grasp, learn, or understand the concept of irony. "*ahem*. Anyway, yes, Mr. Finly mistakenly took our Nobby hostage, and yes, I instructed Detritus to aim a siege arrow so that it would hit Mr. Stone's shop. And yes, I had reason to believe that Mr. Stone was playing with things that were both explosive and unrelated to selling herbs and spices. And yes, I had Angua raid the place in the confusion and grab some evidence. And yes, Cheery determined that there were some very dangerous and illegal compounds in the evidence."
He gave each of his officers a careful look. "And NO, that information doesn't leave this room. At any rate, a few hours ago, I took Angua and Detritus to stake-out the store location, and we caught Mr. Stone trying to do a runner with some goods. Does anything sound wrong about this so far?"
"Well, I'm not sure if some of the methods are quite legal-"
"Exactly," Vimes continued, cutting his captain off. "Nothing sounds unusual at all. But guess what happened right after we caught Mr. Stone? We were attacked. By a Golem. Does anything sound wrong now?"
"A Golem Attacked You?" As muted as Dorfl's expressions tended to be, it was impossible to miss the undertones to the question.
Vimes chuckled mirthlessly. "Ah, you caught that bit, did you? Yes, a bloody Golem crashed through the wall and deliberately attacked Mr. Stone and Sergeant Angua. Which is why your girlfriend being taken care of by Igor, and why Mr. Stone is a puddle at the bottom of a big footprint in the ground."
Somehow, that had been the most disturbing thing of all. After Angua had been dispatched, the Golem had immediately centred on Mr. Stone. Then it had smashed Mr. Stone into the ground. Then it had very deliberately stepped on Mr. Stone, leaving a foot-deep indentation in the process. Then it had given the remains a careful look, as though it wanted to be sure the job was done right. Then, without giving Vimes or Detritus a second glance, it had left as quickly as it had arrived.
Vimes refocused his thoughts on his officers.
"Dorfl, I don't suppose you have any idea what might have happened?"
A worried flicker was evident in the Golem's glowing eyes. "A Golem Cannot Harm Another. The Words Prevent It."
"That's what I thought. I don't suppose any of that 'Clay of my Clay' business is any help here?"
"No. Before, We Created A Golem From Ourselves, But That Golem Was Destroyed, Along With The Bond. There Were No Others."
"So no help there," Vimes accepted resignedly.
"Couldn't we track the Golem?" Carrot inquired. "Even if they don't have much scent, this one would smell like Mr. Stone. Angua can't right now, but there are others who might be able to..."
There were very few people in the Watch who didn't know of at least a few 'outside sources' to help get things done. But... "No such luck," Vimes replied. "The Golem ran off towards the river after that, and you remember how much luck Angua had when Billy Fairyfingers used the river to mess up his trail last month. She never did manage to find his trail again."
"We found the body, though," Carrot reminded him.
"Yes, but I think a Golem could survive a dip in the Ankh. Anyway, we're going to begin inquiries tomorrow. Unless any of you have any better ideas, I'm sending some officers over to the scene right now to start looking for..." Here, Vimes made a face, "...clues. Hopefully, we'll find something before daylight.
"Now, I don't want anyone panicking. Don't mention anything about the Golem to anyone. Word will have got around about Angua being hurt, but that doesn't mean anyone has to know how it happened. Keep your ears open for any news that seems useful."
Both officer saluted smartly.
"Good. Carrot, for your next assignment, get your arse downstairs and see your girlfriend."
To his credit, the captain didn't even blink at the surprise order, but saluted a second time and left the room.
Vimes couldn't help but smile a little as the door swung shut again, but it faded too quickly for anyone to do a double-take at the sight. "Dorfl?"
"I think you have some idea of the kind of mess we're in here."
"A Golem Cannot Harm Another. The Words Prevent It."
"Yes, we know that, don't we? But what are 'The Words'? Just a piece of paper with some fancy writing on it? You used to have a receipt in your head, you know."
The Golem shook its head. "The Words Remain. A Golem Must Have A Master. A Golem Must Work. A Golem Cannot Harm Another."
"What about you?"
"I Am My Own Master. I Work. I Can Harm Another, But Choose Not To Do So. The Words Are Still In My Heart."
Vimes took the information at face value. "Then... how do you make a Golem kill someone? Can you change the words?"
Once again, the massive head returned a negative answer. "Some Know The Words Already Written. But None Know Any New Words."
"So someone, if they knew how, could get a Golem running, but they couldn't make it do anything other than want a master so it can work. But... what if you left out the words saying that the Golem can't kill people?"
This time, Dorfl hesitated before replying. "I Do Not Know."
"Then that's where we start looking. Do you know any people in town who still understand the words?"
"Some. Not Many."
"You and... Constable Shoe go and talk with them tomorrow. Who knows, maybe Reg will have a few ideas too. It'll be a start, anyway. Right now, we need all the ideas we can get."
Several minutes later, the office was blessedly silent again. Vimes took a deep breath, making sure his mind wasn't hesitating to provide any brilliant insights into the Watch's latest fiasco.
No brilliant, or even dim, insights were forthcoming.
Vimes absent-mindedly prodded the edges of The Paperwork. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn that it was already beginning to cover the space he'd cleared only minutes earlier. One of these days, he'd have to do something about it, he knew. Just not right now-
Vimes blinked, a stray word on one of the stray pieces of paper managing to catch his attention amidst the rest of the mess. Grabbing it, he gave it a closer inspection. Golem. It was definitely about Golems.
Funny, he couldn't imagine why anyone would bother sending paperwork to do with Golems. Of course there had been That Business some time ago, but anything should have been burned during Sergeant Colon's brief tenure as captain... this paper must have been more recent...
...fore the wereaboots of the GoLem are nott yete nown, de spit ower beste efferts...
Some poor sod is missing his Golem, Vimes realized. His Golem disappeared, and no one could find it, so the fool finally sent a message to the Watch for assistance. That had been... almost a week ago, if the date was any indication. A faint numbness was beginning to work its way through his blood.
A week ago, a golem had gone missing.
An hour ago, a golem had redecorated a brick wall with one of his officers.
(1) This is true. For example, a steel-toed boot is good for protecting a foot, but if something
manages to break through anyway, the foot actually has more damage done to it.
"So this is all part of patrolling, corporal?"
"S'right. More beer, waitress."
Irie's brows furrowed as she nodded in response to her commanding officer.
For his part, Nobby had just finished his third mug of beer, and would shortly be requesting a second bowl of cow stew (1).
"So by..." Irie's tone of voice clearly indicated that some complicated mental processes were underway. "...eating food here... instead of walking down the street, we're..." She faltered, at a loss to finish the sentence.
"Patrolling," Nobby assured her, with all the innocence of someone who has little experience with feeling guilty.
"...Patrolling," she agreed slowly. "Because there are crimes at the restaurant?"
Nobby saw her head start to turn. "Nononono! No crimes here. Definitely no crimes here!"
The incident with the litterer had been bad
enough, but when Irie had tried to apprehend an assassin for attempted
murder, Nobby had quickly seen his life expectancy falling like a party
balloon tied to a cinder block. Fortunately, the assassin had clearly been
a novice, and had accidentally shot himself in the foot with his crossbow
while Nobby dragged Irie away at top
speed. But there was no telling who or what the next incident would involve. So he'd frantically racked his mind for another, safer approach.
Then Lady Luck(2) had been gracious to him. In other words, they happened to walk past Morty's Pub. And beef stew was two-for-one.
"So drinking beer and eating stew is part of
patrolling?" Irie was inquiring, possibly to make sure she hadn't misheard
the first time.
Nobby nodded enthusiastically. "Long history behind it (3). Ask anybody y'want to."
"Wow. I didn't know there were so many things to learn about being a watchman. I thought all you did was arrest criminals all day. I think that's what they do in other cities."
Admittedly, Nobby was under the same impression. But he was bright enough to see the downside of adopting such a policy. It would mean less beer and stew, for starters. "Well... er..."
"Of course," Irie continued, "I'm sure that like Ankh-Morpork didn't become the city that it is by following everyone else!"
This was likely quite true, Nobby had to admit. "Prolly."
"So I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before other cities patrol by drinking beer and eating stew too! I'll bet this whole restaurant is full of men who would be committing crimes if we weren't here!"
"Er... that's right."
Irie's beamed. "I think I'm getting the hang of being a watchman! How long do we do this for?"
Nobby thought quickly. As much as he would have loved to stay here for the rest of his shift, Morty would eventually start scrapping the bottom of the stew pot, and would start coming up with parts of the cow that even a butcher would be hard-pressed to identify.
"Well... a little longer," he stalled, thinking frantically. "...then... we gotta... check out... other bars."
"Wow," Irie mused, considering the prospect. "There must be a lot of bars in Ankh-Morpork."
"Lots," Nobby agreed, congratulating himself on that stroke of genius.
"I guess that's why we're on shift all night."
Nobby didn't actually cackle with glee. Had he wanted to, he probably wouldn't have known where to begin. But inside, he was definitely upgrading his opinion of recruit-training.
(1) It's stew. It has cow in it. What more do you want?
(2) As everyone knows, you're NOT supposed to say her name. So this seeming stroke of luck
can obviously now be considered jinxed.
(3) Sad but true.
Being raised as a Dwarf does things to an individual's
mind. Aside from the commonly noted failure to comprehend humour, metaphors,
or figures of speech, it also neutralizes a great deal of an individual's
sense of surprise. After all, when a mining shaft suddenly collapses, there's
no time to stand there in shock. Serving for any length of time as a watchman
in Ankh-Morpork is usually sufficient to finish the job. Even still, one
Captain Carrot can probably be forgiven for, upon entering Commander Vimes'
office, standing there and gaping in disbelief.
One Samuel Vimes was looking through The Paperwork.
"Yes?" the Commander inquired briefly, still glancing over one piece of paper after another, before letting them find their own way to the floor around him.
"It's... good to see you hard at work, sir."
"Shut up, Carrot."
"Shutting up, sir."
Vimes glanced at several more piece of paper, each one apparently unsatisfactory. Glancing at the floor of paper around him, he glanced back at The Paperwork, which seemed completely undiminished by the paper relocation effort. "This is ridiculous."
Obedient to the word, Carrot nodded cautiously.
"This is insane! Do you have any idea how stupid this is? There's so much paper here that ten of me couldn't sort it through! Look at this!"
Carrot accepted a piece of paper, and scanned it briefly.
"A Golem was stolen," Vimes growled. "An entire bloody Golem was stolen last week, and we were told! And we never did anything about it, because the damn message just got lost in this mess here!"
"How many other important messages are in this garbage? Never mind all the stupid petitions and complaints. What about real, solid, useful information? There could be any amount of it here! For all I know, somewhere in here is a message telling me that one of my wife's housemaids is a fraud!"
Vimes sighed heavily, sitting back down."Forget it. How's Angua doing?"
Carrot finally decided that it was safe to speak again. "She's still unconscious, sir. But Igor says that she's healing nicely. It's a good thing you didn't try to get her armour off. Might have hurt her even worse."
Vimes nodded, not saying that when something is forced through a meat grinder, it's hard to remove the bones afterwards without removing some meat as well.
Carrot might have read that in his commander's expression anyway. "Igor says that she should be fine by noon, sir."
"Good." At least, compared to the alternative, which involving digging a grave. "We need a plan, Carrot. A plan that lets us deal with this damn Golem before someone else gets hurt or killed."
"We can set up extra patrols."
"And what happens when they find the Golem?" Vimes inquired pointedly. "Name one person in this Watch who would even have a bloody prayer of going up against a Golem without getting squished like a bug."
"There's Dorfl, sir."
"Name a second person."
Carrot was silent this time.
So was Vimes. Both of them had been part of the Watch during the Golem incident, and they had both received more than a healthy appreciation for what a Golem could do. Dorfl had grabbed a point-blank shot from Detritus' siege bow in one hand, and had taken all the BTU's the gods could throw without suffering in the slightest. Technically, a big enough mob with heavy enough hammers might pose a threat, but only if the Golem didn't fight back.
When all was said and done, a Golem was your basic mixture of strength, speed, and durability. And on a scale from 1 to 10, each aspect rated at about near-infinite. Probably the only reason they hadn't conquered the Disc or been destroyed long ago was because they couldn't think for themselves, and couldn't follow orders to fight or kill.
Dorfl was the first and only exception, and in the process of compensating for the aforementioned potential, was probably one of the nicest, most peaceable officers in the Watch. And it took a lot of niceness to compensate for a grip that could convert firewood into crude oil.
"We have to find that Golem," Vimes restated, forcing his mind to return to reality. Unfortunately, that reality also included The Paperwork. "Gods, I wish I knew if there was anything else in this pile."
"What about your organizer?"
Vimes gave him A Look. "What about it?"
"Well, they're quite popular, sir. Lots of people are buying the less expensive models these days. They must be good for something? (1)"
The organizer was at the edge of The Paperwork, still undisturbed from where Vimes had left it earlier. The thing was clearly an insult to any remotely-intelligent species, even humanity, but even still... "What the hell. One more chance."
Setting the organizer in front of him, Vimes allowed himself a brief scowl at the engraved 'Imp Organizer CE' on top of the box. "Alright, here goes nothing."
He opened the lid.
What emerged was a sound that, were an accurate description provided, might have involved about five days of built-up bovine flatulence being released over the period of three seconds, all inside a giant tin bath.
Ten seconds later, both officers cautiously emerged from behind the pile of firewood, where they had instinctively taken cover.
"What the hell was THAT?" Vimes finally demanded, feeling his heart rate slowly return to normal.
"Er... it sounded like..." Carrot turned red.
"That sounded like a giant cat going to the privy with a stitched-up arse, that's what."
"You mean you really-"
"No," Vimes interrupted, cautiously approaching the imp organizer. "but that's probably what it would sound like."
The imp in the organizer was looking around worriedly. "Er... hello, insert name here>?"
Vimes planted one hand firmly on the hilt of his sword, and used his other hand to lifted the organizer up face-level. "What the hell was that noise?"
"You specifically requested that I not make the 'bingely-bingely-beep' noise when I am opened, so I switched to a different set of noises. Many people find rude noises to create an air of levity in stressful situations, which you could clearly use-"
Vimes put the box in one of his desk drawers, shut the drawer very deliberately, then turned back to Carrot. "Any more bright ideas, Captain?"
"You could get a secretary, sir."
Vimes gave him Another Look. "I don't know about you, Captain, but I haven't approved any of our officers because they were good at looking at papers."
"You could rent one."
"Yes sir. Go to the Guild of Secretaries and ask for one. I hear the prices are quite reasonable these days."
"There's actually a guild for secretaries? I thought companies just got them off the street."
"They used to, sir. But the guild was formed last year, after the secretaries wanted better representation and standards. I hear that all members are highly trained and skilled."
"I've never heard about this."
"Word doesn't really get around, sir. They do such a good job when they're hired, the companies don't want their competitors getting one too."
"So much for word-of-mouth advertising, I guess," Vimes agreed. But inwardly, he had to admit that he was curious. Could the solution to the problem really be that simple...?
(1) This logic process pretty much curses our world to this day.
There's nothing like a night-long patrol through Ankh-Morpork, interspersed with stops at random pubs, to make you feel philosophical about the state of humanity. Especially about the state of humanity.
"Why isn't there ever any good graffiti?"
Irie gestured to a wall they were presently passing by. There was some light blue scrawling indicating that Person A thought that Person B performed services that were possibly illegal and didn't always bother getting payment in return.
Nobby nodded understandingly. "Heard about that one a few days back. Bloke named Jimmy Forthrite was sayin' how it was easy to give someone a bad name with graffiti, an' there was nothing they could do about it in return."
Nobby nodded in agreement. "That's what I told 'em too. I mean, some folks got ways of findin' stuff out, y'know? Come to think, I ain't seen Jimmy for a couple o' days now..."
Further down on the wall, there was some more scrawling indicating that Person B thought Person A was talking out his posterior, and it would probably be best to not inquire about the particular shade of red used for the writing.
"Typical of a man," Irie decided firmly. "I'll bet if there were more women doing graffiti, it would much nicer!"
Had Nobby been possessed of all his wits, it might have occurred to him that there was no correct response to that statement. Unfortunately, he seemed to have left a few of them behind at each of the four bars they'd visited so far. Not that he was actually drunk, because countless years of inspecting bars in Ankh-Morpork had built up some token resistance to weaker drinks like beer. And some of the stew served in this part of town could neutralize anything. Just the same, in another world, he wouldn't have seen anything wrong about walking into a Scottish bar and making jokes about kilts and sheep. "Don't see how they'd do any better job," he opinioned.
Irie tried to give him A Look, and failed as usual. "Hmph! I wouldn't expect you to understand! I'm sure that you were never discriminated against, just because you're a woman!"
"Well, I bet that you never got turned out at the soup kitchen for tryin' to grab a bite of the Wednesday special!"
"I'll bet you never travelled halfway across the Disc to find a respectable job!"
"I bet you don't get frisked every time somethin' goes missing!"
"I'll bet you were never forced to drink wine at every meal, while all the men got to drink brandy!"
There was a long period of silence as the two officers continued to patrol down the length of Short Street. Someone was murdered in a nearby alleyway.
"Erm... not that the wine's all that bad..." Irie grudgingly admitted.
"-Wednesday's special ain't really all that good..." Nobby reluctantly allowed.
Another period of silence ensued between the two. A dead body was hastily tossed into a gutter.
"...but it's the principle of the issue!"
"...but it's still pretty keen for pract'cal jokes."
The moments of silence began to get repetitive. The dead body was removed from the sewer and tossed back onto the street, where it would probably be less noticeable.
"I decided to become a Watchman because I thought they weren't discriminated against," Irie mused. "Because watchman isn't the same as man, of course."
"Mister Vimes always says we're one big happy family," Nobby supplied cautiously. "Usually after breakin' up a domestic, mind."
"I guess it doesn't matter where you are, you still get discriminated against."
"They was pretty friendly o'er in Klatch," Nobby ventured. "'course, they figured I was a lady then, cos I was in-cog-neeto."
"I guess I'll just have to persevere!"
"Er, I dunno if that's legal in public..."
"And before long, I'll be able to establish my independence and live up to my true potential and be an inspiration to those around me!!!"
"Nah, you don't want to be doin' that around here. Best bet is to keep yer head down and don't attract any attention. Otherwise you're bound to get a bunch of nobs or crooks settin' you up for a fall."
Irie looked rather crestfallen. "You think so?"
"Yup," Nobby agreed quickly. "Mister Vimes always says that we gotta keep the peace, see?"
"Oh. I never thought of it that way." Irie seemed to abruptly remember herself. "Ah, I mean, I never thought of it that way, corporal."
"Always worked for me," he added truthfully. "Stay down, and nobody takes a shot at you. And that means you don't go tryin' to arrest people."
"So... if you don't try to arrest people..." Irie's face took on the increasingly familiar expression of Deep Thought. "...there won't be any fights... and things will be peaceful..."
"Er, sounds good," Nobby confirmed, rapidly coming to the conclusion that his protégé's explanations were sounding a lot better than anything he could invent on his own.
"I can't believe no other cities have ever thought of that! In all the other cities I've been in, the watchmen keep trying to catch the criminals! And there's still criminals everywhere!"
"So what's the best way to not arrest people?"
"Well... you gotta act... cas'al. Just 'ave a drink and some food and relax, like nothing's wrong."
"Just like we've been doing? But how come we don't just stay at one bar all night?"
"Ah... they might think you're scoutin' out for some crimes. Mebe get the wrong idea, y'know."
"Oh. And that might start a fight, and then they'd become criminals?"
"Right. Just keep yer head down, and we'll keep on... keepin' things peaceful. At bars, I mean."
"Right, corporal! Hey, here's a bar we haven't been to yet!"
Nobby breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that the period of interrogation was over. At this rate, he'd never get assigned to training recruits again!
Several seconds later, a prickly sense made itself known, for once completely unrelated to any hygiene issues.
His trainee had spotted another bar? Check.
She was entering the bar? Check.
This was the corner of Short Street and Filigree Street? Check.
The bar was called the Mended Drum? Che-
Nobby visibly paled. "Ohshit."
It had taken almost the entire night, and Fate
was probably getting impatient, but tragedy finally struck at the Mended
Drum. To be exact, the tavern ran out of beer. This is disappointing at
any public event, but it bordered on cataclysmic in this case.
Having run the tavern for some time now, the bartender was well aware that the only thing more dangerous than a regular visitor was a regular visitor who wasn't being given any beer. Any moment now, someone would demand another mug of beer, and he'd...
...he didn't know what he'd do. If he was quick, maybe he could reach one of the side windows and escape. Maybe. Probably not. It was a lucky thing that most of their attention was occupied with singing in general, and the girl in particular.
On the other hand, the bartender noted wearily, that crazy girl was probably the reason he'd just run out of beer in the first place. By this time, most of the patrons should have been unconscious from too much beer and/or bludgeoning. He'd always stocked beer accordingly, secure in the knowledge that the patrons would always run out of consciousness before he ran out
Unfortunately, everybody was primarily occupied with singing, which gave them time to recover between mugs of beer. Even more unfortunately, the aforementioned crazy girl was convincing the men to not fight...
"Shee... ya gotta stop fightin' all teh time!"
Needless to say, this statement was received with a fair degree of surprise.
"S'bad thing if y'always fight," Lucy continued relentlessly. "Cos... an eye fer an eye... makes..." She trailed off, thinking hard.
After a short pause, "...lots of eyes?"
Lucy gave the answer what consideration could be managed after sixteen mugs of beer. "S'right. Lotsa eyes. Y'get lotsa eyeses everywhere. 'cept in yer head, so y'can't see anymore. So y'lose 'em and can't see."
"If ye can't see, y'can't fight."
"So whada we do, Miss Tockley?"
The spotlight was on Lucy again, even as she mulled over the mind-boggling dilemma. Clearly, fighting led to lots of eyes that weren't in people's head anymore. But if you didn't fight, what was the point of having eyes?
"S'catch twenny-two," she decided.
"Like when y'got twenty-two people wantin' to catch you. No way out."
"What if they got no weapons? And you got a sword at their neck?"
"Only one sword?"
"Um... itsa real big sword."
"Well... then it's not a 'Catch-22' anymore. It's a 'Kill-22'."
Lucy finally spoke up again. "Ya gots ta wear helmets," she informed them. "Den y'can fight lots wid'out losin' eyeses. Maskses is okay too."
"But we don' got any helmets here."
"Singing's okay, though," Lucy assured them. "And so's drinkin'."
"Where'd y'learn all der verses, anyway?"
"Back home," she answered. "S'Lancre Witch sings 'em lots of times."
* * * * *
"I'm gonna die."
It had very recently become a mantra for the bartender. Having discovered the window nearby was sealed shut to protect against burglars, he was beginning to realize that he was effectively trapped in a beer-less bar with twenty drunken brawlers who were still conscious. At least normally, they weren't actually trying to kill him, so the occasional thrown axe could be ducked/dodged and disregarded. Right now, he was beginning to twitch every time the words 'beer' and 'drink' were mentioned.
"I'm gonna die."
NO, YOU'RE NOT.
"I wish I could believe that."
MANY OTHER PEOPLE ARE, HOWEVER. VERY SHORTLY.
The bartender glanced nervously over at the lone stranger who wasn't paying rapt attention to that dreadful Miss Tockley. "Look mate, if you're looking for a drink," the man lowered his voice so he wouldn't be overheard, "we're kind of... er, out right now..."
MY GRANDDAUGHTER DOESN'T LIKE ME DRINKING.
"Fine, fine." The bartender was experiencing a faint feeling of wrongness at the moment, but it was easily drowned by the not-so-faint wrongness that he'd been feeling since hearing verse fifteen of the Hedgehog song. The fact that he couldn't quite make out any details about this stranger was also ignored, because most patrons tended to look better that way, anyway. "It's been a hell of a night, let me tell you."
ACTUALLY, HELL HAS BETTER LIGHTING.
"I hear you, mate," the bartender avowed. "A word to the wise, that girl gets... upset if she catches you not singing."
"Yeah. She's been getting them to sing the whole bloody night. Bugger if I know how, but it's freaky."
THE ONES IN LANCRE ARE EVEN WORSE.
"Yeah, I hear stories about over there, mate."
"Hey!!!" a feminine voice yelled, sounding angry.
The bartender froze like a deer caught in a pair of incoming headlights. Fortunately for him, Lucy's attention was focussed on someone else. By this point, she had already jumped down from her tabletop stage and made a beeline for the stranger nearby.
Grabbing him by his arm, "Ya gotta shing too!"
I AM NOT HERE TO SING.
"Y'wanna shtay 'ere, yer gonna shing," Lucy insisted, clearly not making a question of the issue. To punctuate that fact, she immediately began dragging him back to the main group.
I DON'T THINK YOU QUITE UNDERSTAND.
"Cloakses s'okay," she assured him. "But ya gotta shing. S'rules."
ER... WELL, I HAVE BEEN TOLD I HAVE A GOOD BASS VOICE.
"S'good," Lucy approved, clambering back onto the makeshift stage.
...EXCUSE ME...PARDON ME...THANK YOU.
The surrounding crowd paid no mind to the new arrival. Indeed, one might have suspected that they hadn't noticed the entire past few moments, but that was easy enough to blame on the alcohol. Nevertheless, the patrons seemed quick enough to shuffle around to make room for him as best they could.
"Now," Lucy announced, "Gonna learn how ta sing in 'armony."
"Cor! Ain't that a place over in Howondaland?"
"Y'mean Armoni? That's pretty far, ain't it?"
"It's a kinda shingin'," she corrected. "Y'get two peoples shingin' different stuffs. At the shame time."
"S'easy to do."
"Yeah. Do it all the time."
"'cept it shoundsh good," she elaborated. "S'hard to esplain. Y'gotta all lishen real good."
The resulting silence could only have been equalled by Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler offering to host a Bar Mitzva. Each and every person immediately gave 'Miss Tockley' their undivided attention.
A problem abruptly presented itself. "M'beer's gone," Lucy realized, clearly Not Happy about this development.
As one, all twenty conscious individuals, suddenly intent on murder, turned to face the bartender. Who screamed and dove under the counter, waiting for the inevitable shower of axes, arrows and swords to turn him into a human-shishkabob.
There was another pregnant moment of silence, in which Lucy continued to mull between her now-empty mug, as well as the topic of singing in harmony, and her followers awaited the command to shred and puree the bartender like a stack of confidential and incriminating documents.
It was also quiet enough to hear a pair of voices just outside the door.
The first voice carried an air of terminal optimism and too many exclamation marks. "Hey, we haven't been to this bar yet!"
A moment later, there was a muffled reply that lacked the punctuation of the first statement, but it contained a general air of urgency nonetheless. Whoever it was, they were further away, but sounded scared.
The door to the Mended Drum swung open in a manner that could only be described as 'enthusiastic'. Through the doorway, a young lady in a watchman's uniform strode into the bar, giving it a suspicious glance that immediately centred upon the concentration of masculinity in the centre. "I'll bet that all you men are-"
She abruptly seemed to remember herself. "I mean, just ignore me, everybody. I'm just keeping the peace by drinking and eating at different bars, okay?"
That earned an impressive length of silence from the collective group, coupled with a quiet whimper from behind the bar counter.
"Hi Lucy!!!" Irie greeted, her gaze rising slightly to identify the figure presently standing atop the tabletop. Another observation presented itself. "Wow! I didn't know you liked the nightdress THAT much!!!"
"Y'wanna stay here, y'gotta shing too!" Lucy informed her matter-of-factly.
"Oh. Um, I don't know if I'm allowed to do that. Let me check with the corporal, okay?"
The source of the second voice finally ran into the bar. "Run!"
"Corporal Nobbs," Irie wanted to know. "Are watchmen allowed to sing at bars? Because if we want to stay at this bar, we've got to sing too."
Nobby swallowed, noting that every single patron had at least one massive weapon in each hand. They had probably drawn them for another reason, such as by reflex or for the hell of it, but their attention was presently on him and his charge. In this case, the correct answer seemed fairly obvious. "Er, yeah."
"Great!!! What song are we singing?"
"It called der Hedgehog Song," a nearby troll helpfully supplied.
"Oh. I've never heard that song before. How does it go?"
"Pick it as you go, that sorta fing."
This sounded reasonable to Irie. "Just like being a watchman, I guess."
She received a number of dangerous looks from the men around her. "Ere, we don like watchmen 'round here."
Lucy finally interrupted. "S'okay. Irie s'good friend."
The air seemed to untense at that announcement. Clearly, anyone who was a friend of Miss Tockley was an okay person, even if they happened to be wearing an enemy uniform. To show willing, they even shifted around enough to provide a place to sit for Irie.
"So how come you're out tonight, Lucy?" she wanted to know. "You looked really tired and depressed when I left for work!"
Lucy sighed, suddenly looking very tired and depressed. "Cos... s'cures worked."
* * * * *
In the meanwhile, while the bartender was doing
his best to stay out of sight, Nobby was a long-time master at the art
and had little trouble spotting a fellow practitioner. Sidling over towards
the bar in a fashion that would have made any crab green with envy, he
lowered his voice to a whisper, so as not to be noticed by the scene at
"How many's she 'ad, Chas?"
The bartender shuddered, still recovering from what he clearly considered a near-death experience. "I d-dunno... 'bout... fifteen... mebbe sixteen..."
"You're not pulling my chain, are you?"
"I j-just... serve drinks..."
"An' you served her... sixteen of 'em?" Nobby took a brief moment to be impressed. "Cor, but that's good!"
"Urg," agreed the bartender.
Seeing that no further details (or free drinks) were going to be forthcoming, Nobby returned his attention back to the group in which his charge was happily socializing. There had been a time when he'd have cheerfully walked into this place, on the basis that no one thought he was worth stepping on. Then he'd walked in with a newly-hired Carrot, and things had never been
quite the same again...
* * * * *
"S'hard life, miss."
Not that the regular patrons at the Mended Drum were normally the encouraging sort, except when betting on illegal dog fights, but they were trying their hardest at the moment.
"S'sad day when a body can't even hock a few fake cures wid'out it messin' up."
"It's all a conspiracy against your Quest for Independence!!!"
Lucy stared gloomily at the table surface, much like she'd been after first entering the building. "Ain't a witch," she mumbled. "Tryin' e'rything. S'damn witch-y-ness don wanna go 'way."
PERHAPS YOU SHOULD TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH?
"Er, mebbe y'oughta try sumthin' different?"
Lucy shook her head slowly. "Dunno anythin' else. All outta ideas. Don wanna be a witch..."
"Yeah. S'not fair, I say. If someone don't wanna be a witch, I say dey don't hafta."
A muffled thump echoed quietly throughout the Mended Drum, even as the crowd looked with concern at the slumped figure, still clutching the handle of her oversized mug..
"She ain't dead, is she? She et a lotta beer."
SHE'S NOT DEAD. I WOULD DEFINITELY KNOW.
"Er, don't think so..."
A quiet snore was heard from the slumped over figure, putting worries to rest.
"Jus' sleeping, I guess."
"I think she's tired. She's was working hard all day today, establishing her independence in this male-dominated world!!!"
There was a moment of reflective, somewhat stunned, silence.
"Er... Like I said, jus' sleeping."
"Whadaya figure we oughta do?"
"She just needs some sleep," Irie assured them. "Corporal Nobbs and I can take her back home. I think she's got to be at work in the morning."
"I tink it is already der morning."
"Oh. Well, I guess I'd better help her get home. Even inspirations and role models for female empowerment everywhere need to sleep sometimes!"
Nobby finally interjected himself with as much tact as was humanly-possible. "Er, lance-constable, I figure we oughta get back to the watchhouse..."
"Ah, really? We haven't even had anything to drink yet."
"Um, special circumstances." Such as wanting to get the hell out of this place, ASAP.
"I guess you're right. We need to help Lucy get back home. I think she's tired."
"Er, right. Completely piss dru-I mean, completely tired. S'our duty to help her home."
Unlike his presently oblivious partner, Nobby was already giving some discreet looks to the hulking brawlers around him. When he had first entered, the air had been rather tense, but not outright dangerous. Much like a waiting barrel of trinitrotoluene, chock-full of potential violence, but presently harmless. Like there had been some sort of spell previously cast over everything, which would explain a few things.
Now, the pub's atmosphere was beginning to change. The spell was slowly fading away. As though the fuse had been lit, and the spark was slowly beginning to work its way towards the barrel. Nobby wasn't sure how to judge the fuse, but he was absolutely positive that he didn't want to be anywhere nearby when it finally reached the barrel. Unfortunately, he also knew that he didn't dare show up back at the watchhouse with his charge. And sadly, a small part of him knew that he might feel a little bit guilty if he left the drunken and sleeping girl behind in a building full of violence-prone, genetic throwbacks.
"Alright, lance-constable, why don't you help the nice girl up? She needs some rest, right? Don't thank us, e'rybody, just doin' our job, doncha know."
"Where're ye takin' Miss Tockley?"
"Just back home," Nobby assured them hastily. "Definitely no trouble here! No trouble at all! Just makin' sure she doesn't wander anywhere dangerous - not that the Mended Drum is dangerous o' course - and keepin' the peace, right?"
"Right!" Irie seconded. "There's no telling how many men in this city would try and do something terrible and take advantage of her!!! You can't trust-"
Nobby hastily clapped a hand over her mouth, although it was a bit of a reach upwards. He had a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the aforementioned men were probably standing right in front of them. And some of them were now paying more attention to their weapons, as though they were suddenly, consciously, realizing that they hadn't actually gotten around to using them all night...
"On the double, lance-constable!" Nobby squeaked, using what little authority he was able to muster for the emergency. One of the trolls was now blinking rapidly, its brain wafting visible heat as it tried figure out exactly what it had just spent the last few hours doing.
"Um, yessir!" Irie responded, sagging somewhat under the weight of someone who weighed roughly as much as she did, and had spent all night drinking a considerable amount of semi-liquid beer.
"Er, g-good night all," Nobby stammered for good measure. "A-another time, eh?"
A slow chorus of nods rippled through the building, even as Nobby followed Irie outside, shutting the door behind him.
Inside, there was a general consensus of confusion now present in the faces of the various individuals. It was beginning to dawn on some of the brighter examples that their actions could be considered roughly equivalent to a marine spending his free time playing with make-up and Barbie dolls.
Slowly, cautiously, they dared look each other in the eye. Their expressions clearly indicated that a common decision was being made by all present. More specifically, absolutely no word of this night was ever going to leave this building.
Ten seconds later, because patrons of the Mended Drum have their own way of making sure incidents stay a secret, the first axe was thrown.
El stylus domini le swordus. The pen rules the sword.
Vimes gave the inscribed motto a cynical glance,
which was what he gave most of the rest of the world. Cute, fluffy, and
pretty damn-near meaningless, just like most mottos were. Even his own
family motto, recently resurrected, was somewhat trite in lieu of reality.
'To protect and serve'?
Ha! How about 'To deal with stupid politics and power-hungry snobs while trying to figure out what the hell the law was on any given day, not to mention who the criminals really were'? That was a much more realistic-sounding motto. Admittedly, it probably wasn't as catchy.
The aforementioned motto was engraved above the door that he was about to enter. The door belonged to a building, and the building belonged to a rather more obscure guild in the city. The Guild of Secretaries. As per their expected function, they were efficient, and rather unnoticeable. To be sure, some secretaries were noticeable, but those frequently came from other guilds.
The real secretaries came from this guild, according to Carrot. Within its walls were people who could sort through any stack of paper, write hundreds of words per minute shorthand, and probably make sure the right papers got signed at the right times. One good secretary could increase an organization's effectiveness tenfold, whereas tenfold employees simply made the organization work only ten percent as well.
At least, that was more or less what the advertisement on the side of the door claimed. Vimes was rather sceptical, since no one had ever bothered to mention this to him. It was almost as though many of his fellow noblepersons didn't want an organized Watch in the city.
Entering the building, Vimes had to give full marks for the interior. No gold trim, no silk curtains, and no tapestries on the walls. Rather, there were simply dozens of filing cabinets lining the walls, each one subtly creaking in such a way as to suggest that their contents might just spontaneously explode if someone was not present to see that they stayed the way they should be.
It suggested the bureaucratic equivalent of a totalitarian dictatorship. All papers will be in their folders. All folders will be in their cabinets. The cabinets will remain where they are. The Secretary is good. The Secretary is your friend. The Secretary is to be obeyed above all. Serve The Secretary.
In the centre of the field of filing cabinets, a Desk was positioned. It was big desk, the kind that required you to supply your own tree, and hire two trolls to deliver. In the unlikely event the surface were to be heavily damaged, there was ample material to simply shave the top layer off and start anew. It was the kind of furniture that archaeologists find in the distant future, still preserved beneath whatever natural or unnatural disaster befell the civilization using The Desk.
There was also a figure behind The Desk.
"Can I help you?" the figure inquired, looking at Vimes over the top of a pair of spectacles you could probably weld behind. It seemed pretty obvious that you didn't become a secretary for the easy life.
"How come those filing cabinets are shaking?" Vimes asked. It wasn't why he had come, but the question was begging to be asked. Besides, asking questions was a kind of ingrained reflex for any long-time watchman.
She frowned at him, her voice taking on a more clipped, brisk tone. "Well known fact that having too many words together can have dangerous side effects."
"Quite so. Extremely concentrated information in all that paperwork. Knowledge equals power equals energy equals mass. The floors are reinforced, or else the paperwork becomes too heavy to support. And of course, it works the other way around at the same time. Mass equals energy equals power equals knowledge equals intelligence. Time equals experience, experience plus intelligence equals sentience. Common knowledge, really."
She gave him a patronizing look, clearly feeling that Vimes should stick to managing the rest of the world, while she handled the tougher issues, such as paperwork. "Very dangerous thing, paperwork. We're considering upgrading to the ferrous restraint system(1) in place at Unseen University. An out-of-control case over there if I ever saw one, but that's wizards for you. Can I help you?"
"I'm interested in hiring a secretary," Vimes informed her. "I'm told that your guild was the place to ask."
The rather wiry-looking woman nodded curtly, and instantly produced a form that made a heavy *thunk* sound when it hit the Desk. "We'll process your application immediately."
Damn, but this was efficient, Vimes had to admit. Perhaps Carrot was right, a secretary was exactly what the Watch needed right now. If anyone could find the papers that needed finding, that person was likely under this roof.
"Ankh-Morpork City Watch," Vimes answered, watching her rapidly scrawl the information down even as he spoke.
"Type of business?"
"Law-enforcement... well, law-observing, anyway. Usually observing."
"Number of employees?"
"Twenty-six steady, last time I checked. The rest come and go. I think."
"Property owned by business?"
"A couple of watch houses."
"Central office location?"
"Over in Pseudopolis Yard."
"Level of secretarial management required?"
Vimes frowned. "What are the choices?"
"Most clients opt for the 'Normal' package. It covers basic organization and paperwork filing. The 'Plus' package also handles coffee duties."
Vimes was, above all, a cynical realist. "Is there... anything better than that?"
"There's the 'Comprehensive', which handles accounting duties as well."
Vimes thought back to the mound of paperwork that was rapidly beginning to occupy his office. Not that he wasn't duly impressed by the sparing efficiency and evident capability that was flowing from this place like dust from Krakatoa, but... "Anything... better?"
The secretary looked at him. "You must be referring to our 'Troubleshooting' package."
That sounded more like it. "That sounds good. Give me one of those packages."
Another form *thunked* down on the table, rattling the inkwell on the other side of The Desk. "Sign this waiver, please."
(1) Iron chains.
Fifteen minutes later, a slightly bewildered
commander of the Watch had entered the front door. He didn't even pretend
to understand why he'd been required to sign documents permitted 'use of
necessary force' or 'issuing of secretarial armour', but imagined that
the guild probably knew what they were doing.
So, despite the mild sense of bewilderment, Vimes was feeling quite satisfied with himself. The idea of an office with neatly filed paperwork, instantly accessible records, leading to the solving of all those annoying crimes... well, Vimes couldn't imagine it, because his imagination had its limits. But he was pretty sure that when it finally happened, it would be a good thing.
"Morning, Mister Vimes," Sergeant Colon greeted, having jumped to attention the instant he'd noticed his commanding officer appear in the doorway. "The captain said you'd be gone for a while..." Translation: we thought we had at least another hour two to slack off.
"No, just some quick business, Fred. Nothing like a little organization to make things go faster, I'd say. We've got a secretary coming over later on in the afternoon."
"Right. Pass the word around, will you? I think our paperwork problem is going to be over soon."
Colon swallowed, as he was liable to do whenever the P-word was mentioned these days. "T-that's good, Mr. Vimes."
"I think so too. Is Cheery back yet?"
"Er, not that I saw. Didn't hear where she went out to..."
"Just out to a crime scene. You'll hear the news later on today."
"I heard something about Sergeant Angua getting hurt..."
"Later, Fred, later. Go find Constable Visit, will you? Tell him I might have a special assignment for him."
Even as the door to the canteen squeaked shut behind Colon, the front door creaked open in unison. Further musical accompaniment was provided by two officers struggling to carry a third person between the two of them.
Vimes gave a cursory inspection of the three individuals, then focussed his attention on the guilty party. Nobby looked like he was only a few steps short of full hyperventilation. He was presently supporting half the weight of the third person, whom Vimes didn't recognize. "Nobby, Aren't you still on patrol?"
"Er, special... circumstances n'stuff. We're lucky t'be alive!"
Vimes could already tell it was going to be an interesting story. Usually Nobby didn't bother bringing back evidence of his stories. "I'll bet. Make it good. Start talking."
"We almost got killed by an assassin and almost got bloody lynched down at the Mended Drum and barely escaped with our lives!"
Vimes scowled, filtering the story for believable elements, which didn't take very long. Turning slightly, he squared off against the person who had just spent most of the night in the company of Nobby Nobbs. "And lance-constable... von Celeste, wasn't it? You haven't run away yet, I see?"
"No, it's-" Irie abruptly seemed to remember herself, quickly pulling off what could be considered a decent amateur salute. "I mean, no sir!"
Vimes glanced downwards at the body that had hit the floor after the lance-constable had used one of her hands to salute him with.
"Oops, sorry Lucy. Here, let me help you up..."
"So what's her story?" Vimes demanded, deciding that there was no point in belaying the inevitable.
"She's a little tired-"
"Chas' at the Mended Drum says she et sixteen mugs of beer," Nobby volunteered.
Vimes blinked. "Sixteen mugs? And she's still breathing?"
"Lucy can do anything she puts her mind to!" Irie insisted.
"Right now, lance-constable, I'd say she seems to be having trouble with standing up. And what was she doing at the Mended Drum in the first place?"
Vimes raised an eyebrow, but quickly identified the source. "I'd say that she's coming around again. 'Lucy' was it?"
Irie winced, as both her and Nobby had their supporting holds vigorously shrugged off. "Ah, Lucy, could you please not say that sort of thing to my-"
"Where da hell is diz?" Lucy demanded, fighting a valiant fight to stand upright without the aid of the two watchmen. Presently, it looked like a close stalemate.
Vimes gave her a moment of consideration. He knew her look well, because he'd worn it himself for more than a few years. The difference seemed to be that she hadn't gotten around to falling unconscious in a gutter yet. She had the look of an average person who had finally been sucker-punched by life far more times than reasonable, and resorted to facing it with the help of a lot of liquid courage. He knew it happened to a thousand people every night, although he had to give this girl bonus style points for electing to try it at the Mended Drum.
"This is the main Watch House. I suppose you have a good reason for making two of my officers waste their time dragging your drunken self back here, when they could be wasting their time somewhere else?"
"I ain't drunksh."
"Fine, fine, I'm sure Vetinari thinks Ankh-Morpork could use a few more productive lushes. Nobby, what the hell was she doing?"
Nobby cringed a little. "Er... singing, I think."
"Yeah. I mean, teaching 'em to sing."
"Shingin' da hedgehog shong."
Vimes gave that statement more consideration than he'd intended. "Teaching them to sing. The hedgehog song. This girl."
"Yeah. Sounds like she knew a few verses too."
"Nobby, I've heard some crazy stories from you before-."
"Honest! There were about thirty people there, and they were all listening to everything she said!"
"Nobby, this is getting-"
"Lucy's spent all day demonstrating authority and being an example for all womankind to follow!"
"You mean, lance-constable, that all woman should start singing lewd bar songs and getting drunk off their rocker?"
Irie flushed. "Um... except for that part, I think."
"Ah ain't drunksh. Jus' drownin' all da witchyness!"
"I'm sure. Look, Nobby, never mind her, what in blazes were you doing in the Mended Drum, anyway? That's not on Short Street."
"We were bar patrolling," Irie filled in cheerfully. "Corporal Nobbs has taught me lots of things! I never realized how many things there are to learn about being a watchman!"
Slowly, Vimes turned up the heat on his glare, to the point where Nobby was visibly sweating. "Yes... and I don't expect you got around to learning any of them tonight, lance-constable."
"But I did my best," she protested hastily. "I mean, I learn that you don't try to arrest criminals, because then you get fighting, and then you're not keeping the peace."
Vimes mentally gave Nobby a seven out of ten for thinking up that explanation. "Well, don't learn it too hard. You've still got a lot to learn, trust me. And some things to unlearn, obviously."
Lucy aimed a glare at him, or at least in his general vicinity. "'ow come yer bein' sho mean?"
"It's a gift," he assured her. "So if you don't mind, why don't you get back to demonstrating authority and being an example for all womenkind or whatever it was you were doing? Somewhere else for preference. One of my officers will be happy to help you home."
"Yer offashers took m'here," she pointed out, taking a step towards him. "Yer nuttin' butta hi-hippo-hypa-criti-cal bashtard. Ah ain't doin' nuthin'-"
"If you're determined, we can try 'Disrespect for an officer' for starters."
"Ah give ya dishresp-" A rather distressed look abruptly crossed Lucy's already flushed face. "Ah tink ahm gonna-*HURK*"
Several very strained seconds passed by, with the onlookers looking on in morbid fascination and horror.
Slowly, very deliberately, Vimes wiped his hand down his face. Idly, he made the detached observation that the Mended Drum's beer looked exactly the same coming back up.
"Ah don feel so good..." Lucy murmured, clumsily wiping her own mouth. The glazed look in her eyes indicated that her present verticality was only temporary.
"It's going to get worse," the commander promised her, "if I have anything to say about it."
"I think she's out again," Nobby ventured, looking at the now-sprawled out figure.
"Um, she wasn't doing anything wrong!" Irie insisted, although her tone of voice suggested that her vindication was wavering somewhat. "She was just... feeling a little... under the weather."
"Under the drink is more likely," Vimes corrected, deciding that in about thirty seconds, he was going to do something that other people would regret. "I suppose the Watch will just have to do its civic duty and help her get back home unharmed."
"Really, sir?!? I think that's a wonderful thing-"
"And I'm sorely tempted to harm her. So you can start helping her, lance-constable. Figure out where she lives, and get her back there. The first part is an important skill for a watchman, by the way. And the second part is physical training. And don't forget to show up this evening for your next shift. Dismissed."
Irie looked rather winded as she staggered under Lucy's weight. "Um, yes sir."
After several moments, the door shut behind her.
"Kinda like kicking a puppy, ain't it?" Nobby ventured.
Vimes glanced down at his thoroughly soiled uniform. Somehow, he doubted that the Vimes-Ramkin laundry facilities were up to fighting the better part of sixteen mugs of the Drum's not-so-finest. "And here I was wondering why I could feel my stress level going down."
"Are you sure she's gonna-"
"It's practically morning. And a watchman has to know the city, Nobby. Besides, I think she's bloody annoying. And I was about to let that 'Lucy' girl wake up in Igor's lab," Vimes took a drag of his cigar, only to find out that the flame had been put out. He tossed it in the ash tray. "Nobby, I'm going to find a clean uniform. After that, why don't we have a little discussion
about 'bar patrolling'?"
Whirling around with his six-foot blade of steel, the barbarian prepared to gruesomely decapitate the next drunken attacker. Or possibly a knee to the groin would be used first, in order to provide a better opportunity for a forcible head removal procedure.
No drunken attackers rushed to fight him.
At that, no sober attackers were lining up either.
In fact, and it was a testament to the intellect this man possessed, it was slowly began to dawn that there weren't any more attackers present in the Mended Drum. There was a bartender shivering and twitching fearfully from behind the counter, but he didn't count.
I BELIEVE YOU ARE THE LONE SURVIVOR.
"Ah... won?" the man inquired to the seemingly empty room, slowly grappling with the concept.
THE OTHERS CERTAINLY SEEM TO HAVE LOST.
The barbarian slowly surveyed the sea of dead bodies. Or at least, dead parts of bodies. One thing for certain, the floor was going to need a good scrubbing. "Cor, I never ran outta guys to fight 'fore."
I'M SURE YOU'LL MANAGE TO FIND SOME MORE.
You couldn't rush cognition with your basic barbarian, never mind thinking that didn't involve swinging a sword. "Ushually just pass out before the fightin's done..."
WELL, MY WORK IS DONE FOR NOW. WE'LL MEET AGAIN, EVENTUALLY.
"Wuz just drinkin here den..." Neurons fired frantically, trying to piece together what had happened the night before. This took some time.
AND I WAS HOPING TO TRY SOME SINGING. AH WELL. GOOD DAY.
Slowly, a picture came together, involving a lot of drinking, singing and hedgehogs. And some slip of a girl named 'Miss Tockley'. She was around anymore, but she'd definitely been here at one point. It had been very enlightening, to say the least.
"S'lotta verses to the song," he reflected slowly. Several emergency neurons were brought into service at this point, under the promise of overtime pay, which helped coax forth a few more sketchy details.
She'd learned the verses from someone else, hadn't she? Someone named... the Lancre Witch. That made some sense, even to his mind, since everyone knew that Lancre had lots of weird and strange things happening on a regular basis.
Some people were probably going to have some serious questions about all these dead bodies, even if they were in the Mended Drum.
It had been a while since he'd done some travelling, and a vacation sounded like a good idea right now. Somewhere far away.
Lancre sounded far enough away.
Maybe he'd even have a chance to talk with this 'Lance Witch'?
In another part of the insomniac city, a group
of people were, for lack of a better term, hanging out. Not to say that
they were doing so in a fashion typically associated with juveniles and/or
delinquents, but they were fulfilling most of the criteria. The symptoms
included the quaffing of liquor, bragging about past events, and keeping
an eye out for trouble, in case there was a chance to join in.
On the other hand, they were far too old to be juvenile, and had passed the 'delinquent' stage several decades ago. And they hadn't made any trouble for quite some time. The reason for this was the same reason they were hanging out together.
"Bloody city's gone to the rats, I tell you."
"Damn straight. I miss that protection racket I used to have going. Nothing like a few broken kneecaps to get some coin comin' your way."
"Yeah, dirty deeds, done dirt cheap, and everybody knew it."
"Whatever 'appened to those girls?"
"Which ones? Had a lot of those, you know."
"The wosnames, Hell's Belles, they called 'emselves."
"Got paid to tie 'em to a lightning rod. One of the last jobs I did, man. I miss those days."
"Me too. Nevermind bloody murder, a fellow can't even do an honest-to-goodness assassination these days without getting a guild after him. Forget about stealing or getting a pimp racket going..."
"Yeah, things used t'be better. Now all we gots is a slab run here and there..."
It was at this point that the group of reminiscing individuals noted that something had changed in the room. More specifically, the faint light from the lamp outside had stopped coming through the doorway. In fact, something - or someone - was blocking the doorway, which is never a good thing when the building was originally designed to be troll-compatible.
"What the hell...?"
There was a frantic scrambling for any weapons that could be produced, but the men hadn't lived as long as they had without getting good at certain activities. Within mere seconds, there was an impressive array of metal pointy things aimed at the new arrival.
"I dunno who you are, but-"
The arrival entered through the doorway. It had to duck a little in the process, but was now more illuminated for the room's occupants.
"... s'a bloody Golem!"
"Don't sweat it. Stupid thing must've wandered here by accident. But they can't actually hurt anyone, guys."
There was a pregnant moment of silence, because Fate has a funny sense of humour when comes to people who make those kind of statements. But after several long moments of anticipation, nothing drastic and/or fatal had yet occurred.
"Er, right. So whadda we do with it?"
"Tell it to go back to wherever it works."
"Yeah, fine. But what's it doin' here in the first place? Nobody's supposed to know about this place, you know."
"Well, Golems can't talk, so no worries, right?"
The last statement hadn't even finished disturbing the air when the Golem took a step forward, in the process covering a distance normally associated with a giraffe. The floor, also laid down with trolls in mind, creaked slightly under the weight. With a terrible slowness, the two arms began to move.
Eventually, the paralysed occupants realized that one of the hands held a chunk of chalk, while the other was holding a slate. This only eased the tension somewhat. Seeing the implements used for writing helped a little too.
The writing on the slate was slightly askew, but still a step above what most of Ankh-Morpork's business was conducted with. CORRECT. I CANNOT TALK.
Several ideas began to flicker through the readers' heads, none of them particularly comfortable to dwell upon.
I CERTAINLY CANNOT TALK ABOUT THIS SECRET LOCATION OF YOURS.
"Er, you can't talk about it? Does that mean-"
"But it can write about it, can't it?"
"Hey, what the hell is going on here?"
"We're being blackmailed by a damn Golem, that's what."
"Well, screw that. Ax, yer closest. Kill the bugger."
'Ax' blinked as he looked at his trusty iron bar that had been dented from striking the Golem's arm. "Hey, this thing's pretty tou-"
The next scene happened, as it were, in three frames.
The first frame showed the Golem at rest, doing nothing at all.
Frame two showed the Golem's offended arm turning into a fan-like, clay-coloured blur that happened to intersect with Ax's body.
The third frame looked almost exactly like the first one, with the Golem once again at rest. The key difference was that Ax's body and head were a technicolour smear on the opposing wall. Ax's arms and legs were still suspended in mid-air, still untouched and unmoved.
The arms and legs finally remembered to obey gravity and fall to the ground. The rest of the room was devoid of any physicists, but some calculations come naturally to those with self-preservation instincts.
"Okaaaaay... nobody else try and kill it, got that?"
The rest of the room nodded quickly.
The Golem began writing again. I HAVE COME ON BUSINESS.
"Er, what kinda business?"
YOU ARE SLASH.
The man swallowed trying to sink back into his chair. There weren't many people who associated good things with his name. He'd spent most of his life making it so. "What if I am?"
I REMEMBER THE BOWS N' ROSES.
Slash swallowed. Clearly his identity wasn't up for debate, which was probably a bad thing. "Well, yeah. Me an' Ax ran the gang real good, see? 'Course, that was a while back, right? And Ax, well..." Slash glanced at the organic graffiti on the wall, but not for very long.
I NEVER LIKED HIS WHINY VOICE.
"Er, sure, sure," Slash agreed, unconsciously trying to deepen his voice.
The Golem's head slowly turned to look at the other occupants. I REMEMBER YOU ALSO.
The rest of the occupants joined Slash in trying to lean back through their seats.
TOMMY COCKRING AND HIS FRINGE LUNATICS.
One man gulped. "Er, yeah, that was us. If girls are a highway, we wanna ride 'em all night long. That was our motto, right? Well, one of 'em, anyway."
I REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE NOT SO PATHETIC.
It was hard not to take offense at a statement like that, but Ax helped them all keep their hands off their weapons.
REDUCED TO SELLING SLAB.
"Gotta make ends meet, you know," Tommy managed. "That's life, right?"
MR. STONE'S LIFE ENDED TONIGHT.
The name was clearly familiar to all present.
I KILLED HIM BEFORE THE WATCH COULD ARREST HIM.
Slash coughed. "Well, I guess we owe ya for that one. Stupid little sod, I always thought. Couldn't keep a secret if his life depended on it."
EVEN IF I LET YOU LIVE, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED.
BUT I REMEMBER BETTER DAYS.
BEFORE THE GUILDS CAME.
Still more silence.
WHEN CRIME WORKED WITH POWER AND DECEPTION, NOT LAWS AND REGULATIONS.
Tommy nodded, unable to help himself. "Yeah, we miss the good ol' days, too. But they're long gone."
I CAN GIVE YOU THOSE DAYS AGAIN.
They all gave the Golem an appraising look. It was a ludicrous statement, but the written words somehow looked believable. As though the writer wasn't just making an idle claim...
I WILL MAKE THOSE DAYS HAPPEN AGAIN.
At this point, there was only one possible question. "How?"
YOU HAVE CONTACTS. OTHERS LIKE YOU.
"Er, I guess there's a few."
FIND THEM. SOON, YOU WILL ALL HAVE YOUR CHANCE.
I WILL GIVE YOU THAT CHANCE.
"So what do we do?"
FOR NOW, WAIT.
Several minutes later, the room was once again Golem-less. The remaining occupants were still staring at the exit, trying to decide whether what had just happened was a hallucination or for real.
A glance towards the far wall indicated that Ax fully believed it to be real.
"What do you make of that?"
"Do you think it... was for real?"
The one named Slash looked at his companions. He looked at the meagre pile of loose change on the table. He looked at the scattered empty bottles of cheap beer. "I dunno. But... if... if I see that chance, I'm gonna take it."
"...an' den I gonna... gonna sumfin..."
"Don't worry, Lucy, here's your bed."
"...and den... I... I... I... dunno..."
Irie led Lucy through their house into the bedroom. "Here's your bed, Lucy. You're just a little tired that's all. It can't be easy being an inspiration for womankind all day. And all night too, I guess."
Gingerly, Irie eased Lucy onto one of the beds, sighing with relief as the weight was transferred off her shoulders. Sitting down on her own bed, she rubbed her shoulders to get some feeling back into them. "Wow, I guess I need to train harder to be a good watchman! I'll bet an experienced officer like Corporal Nobbs wouldn't even have broken a sweat!"
"...ah don' feel good..."
"Are you going to be sick again? I can help you to the back porch if you want. I don't think anyone will mind if you use the river."
Apparently deciding that nothing short of some sleep was going to get rid of the rest of her body's aches and pains, Irie started digging through her luggage for some sleep-wear. "I wish I could be like you, Lucy. You're so strong and independent, the way you just take charge of things like you do. I mean, you've only been in Ankh Morpork for a few days, and you're already an independent business woman. I hope your employer knows how lucky he is!"
"...tried e'ryt'ing... jus' aint w'rkin'... s'not fair...
Irie now lay back in her own bed, clearly relishing being able to have an entire bed for herself. "And you're so generous! You even went and bought a second bed for us! I can't believe how lucky I was to run into you like this!"
"...don' wanna be a witch..."
"I don't know if I'll ever be as incredible as you are, but I'll do my best too. I think I'm going to like being a watchman, so I'm going to be the best watchman ever!"
"That's right, Lucy. You just get some sleep, and you can wake up and keep on working on not being a witch. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you succeed!"
A single tear slowly trickled down Lucy's cheek.
"...don' wanna be a witch..."
end chapter 5