Going Postal (Discworld #33)

9,651
07.03.2019

‘I Have Been Instructed As To The Nature Of Social Untruths, Yes.’

‘You were going to smash his brains out!’ said Moist. ‘I Would Have Endeavoured Not To,’ the golem rumbled. ‘However, I Cannot Allow You To Come To Inappropriate Harm. It Was A Heavy Kettle.’

‘You can’t do that, you idiot!’ said Moist, who’d noticed the use of ‘inappropriate’. ‘I Should Have Let Him Kill You?’ said the golem. ‘It Would Not Have Been His Fault. His

Head Is Not Right.’

‘It would be even less right if you walloped it. Look, I sorted it out!’

‘Yes,’ Pump said. ‘You Have A Talent. It Is A Pity You Misuse It.’

‘Do you understand anything I’m saying?’ shouted Moist. ‘You can’t just go around killing people!’

‘Why Not? You Do.’ The golem lowered his arm. ‘What?’ snapped Moist. ‘I do not! Who told you that?’

‘I Worked It Out. You Have Killed Two Point Three Three Eight People,’ said the golem calmly. ‘I have never laid a finger on anyone in my life, Mr Pump. I may be— all the things you know I am, but I am not a killer! I have never so much as drawn a sword!’

‘No, You Have Not. But You Have Stolen, Embezzled, Defrauded And Swindled Without Discrimination, Mr Lipvig. You Have Ruined Businesses And. Destroyed Jobs. When Banks Fail, It Is Seldom Bankers Who Starve. Your Actions Have Taken Money From Those Who Had Little Enough To Begin With. In A Myriad Small Ways You Have Hastened The Deaths Of Many. You Do Not Know Them. You Did Not See Them Bleed. But You Snatched Bread From Their Mouths And Tore Clothes From Their Backs. For Sport, Mr Lipvig. For Sport. For The Joy Of The Game.’ Moist’s mouth had dropped open. It shut. It opened again. It shut again. You can never find repartee when you need it. ‘You’re nothing but a walking flowerpot, Pump 19,’ he snapped. ‘Where did that come from?’

‘I Have Read The Details Of Your Many Crimes, Mr Lipvig. And Pumping Water Teaches One The Value Of Rational Thought. You Took From Others Because You Were Clever And They Were Stupid.’

‘Hold on, most of the time they thought they were swindling me!’

‘You Set Out To Trap Them, Mr Lipvig,’ said Mr Pump. Moist went to prod the golem meaningfully, but decided against it just in time. A man could break a finger that way. ‘Well, think about this,’ he said. ‘I’m paying for all that! I was nearly hanged, godsdammit!’

‘Yes. But Even Now You Harbour Thoughts Of Escape, Of Somehow Turning The Situation To Your Advantage. They Say The Leopard Does Not Change His Shorts.’

‘But you have to obey my orders, yes?’ snarled Moist. ‘Yes.’

‘Then screw your damn head off!’ For a moment the red eyes flickered. When Pump spoke next, it was in the voice of Lord Vetinari. ‘Ah, Lipwig. Despite everything, you do not pay attention. Mr Pump cannot be instructed to destroy himself. I would have thought you at least could have worked this out. If you instruct him to do so again, punitive action will be taken.’ The golem blinked again. ‘How did you—’ Moist began. ‘I Have Perfect Recall Of Legal Verbal Instructions,’ said the golem, in his normal rumbling tone. ‘I Surmise That Lord Vetinari, Mindful Of Your Way Of Thinking, Left That Message Because—’

‘I meant the voice!’

‘Perfect Recall, Mr Lipvig,’ Pump replied. ‘I Can Speak With All The Voices Of Men.’

‘Really? How nice for you.’ Moist stared up at Mr Pump. There was never any animation in that face. There was a nose, of sorts, but it was just a lump in the clay. The mouth moved when he

spoke, and the gods knew how baked clay could move like that – indeed, they probably did know. The eyes never closed, they merely dimmed. ‘Can you really read my thoughts?’ he said. ‘No, I Merely Extrapolate From Past Behaviour.’

‘Well . . .’ Moist, most unusually, was stuck for words. He glared up at the expressionless face, which nevertheless contrived to be disapproving. He was used to looks of anger, indignation and hatred. They were part of the job. But what was a golem? Just . . . dirt. Fired earth. People looking at you as though you were less than the dust beneath their feet was one thing, but it was strangely unpleasant when even the dust did that too. ‘. . . don’t,’ he finished lamely. ‘Go and . . . work. Yes! Go on! That’s what you do! That’s what you’re for!’ It was called the lucky clacks tower, Tower 181. It was close enough to the town of Bonk for a man to be able to go and get a hot bath and a good bed on his days off, but since this was Uberwald there wasn’t too much local traffic and – this was important – it was way, way up in the mountains and management didn’t like to go that far. In the good old days of last year, when the Hour of the Dead took place every night, it was a happy tower because both the up-line and the down-line got the Hour at the same time, so there was an extra pair of hands for maintenance. Now Tower 181 did maintenance on the fly or not at all, just like all the others, but it was still, proverbially, a good tower to man. Mostly man, anyway. Back down on the plains it was a standing joke that 181 was staffed by vampires and werewolves. In fact, like a lot of towers, it was often manned by kids. Everyone knew it happened. Actually, the new management probably didn’t, but wouldn’t have done anything about it if they’d found out, apart from carefully forgetting that they’d known. Kids didn’t need to be paid. The – mostly – young men on the towers worked hard in all weathers for just enough money. They were loners, hard dreamers, fugitives from the law that the law had forgotten, or just from everybody else. They had a special kind of directed madness; they said the rattle of the clacks got into your head and your thoughts beat time with it so that sooner or later you could tell what messages were going through by listening to the rattle of the shutters. In their towers they drank hot tea out of strange tin mugs, much wider at the bottom so that they didn’t fall over when gales banged into the tower. On leave, they drank alcohol out of anything. And they talked a gibberish of their own, of donkey and nondonkey, system overhead and packet space, of drumming it and hotfooting, of a 181 (which was good) or flock (which was bad) or totally flocked (really not good at all) and plug-code and hog-code and jacquard . . . And they liked kids, who reminded them of the ones they’d left behind or would never have, and kids loved the towers. They’d come and hang around and do odd jobs and maybe pick up the craft of semaphore just by watching. They tended to be bright, they mastered the keyboard and levers as if by magic, they usually had good eyesight and what they were doing, most of them, was running away from home without actually leaving. Because, up on the towers, you might believe you could see to the rim of the world. You could certainly see several other towers, on a good clear day. You pretended that you too could read messages by listening to the rattle of the shutters, while under your fingers flowed the names of faraway places you’d never see but, on the tower, were somehow connected to . . . She was known as Princess to the men on Tower 181, although she was really Alice. She was thirteen, could run a line for hours on end without needing help, and later on would have an interesting career which . . . but anyway, she remembered this one conversation, on this day, because it was strange. Not all the signals were messages. Some were instructions to towers. Some, as you operated your levers to follow the distant signal, made things happen in your own tower. Princess knew all about this. A lot of what travelled on the Grand Trunk was called the Overhead. It

was instructions to towers, reports, messages about messages, even chatter between operators, although this was strictly forbidden these days. It was all in code. It was very rare you got Plain in the Overhead. But now . . . ‘There it goes again,’ she said. ‘It must be wrong. It’s got no origin code and no address. It’s Overhead, but it’s in Plain.’ On the other side of the tower, sitting in a seat facing the opposite direction because he was operating the up-line, was Roger, who was seventeen and already working for his tower-master certificate. His hand didn’t stop moving as he said: ‘What did it say?’

‘There was GNU, and I know that’s a code, and then just a name. It was John Dearheart. Was it a—’

‘You sent it on?’ said Grandad. Grandad had been hunched in the corner, repairing a shutter box in this cramped shed halfway up the tower. Grandad was the tower-master and had been everywhere and knew everything. Everyone called him Grandad. He was twenty-six. He was always doing something in the tower when she was working the line, even though there was always a boy in the other chair. She didn’t work out why until later. ‘Yes, because it was a G code,’ said Princess. ‘Then you did right. Don’t worry about it.’

‘Yes, but I’ve sent that name before. Several times. Upline and downline. Just a name, no message or anything!’ She had a sense that something was wrong, but she went on: ‘I know a U at the end means it has to be turned round at the end of the line, and an N means Not Logged.’ This was showing off, but she’d spent hours reading the cypher book. ‘So it’s just a name, going up and down all the time! Where’s the sense in that?’ Something was really wrong. Roger was still working his line, but he was staring ahead with a thunderous expression. Then Grandad said: ‘Very clever, Princess. You’re dead right.’

‘Hah!’ said Roger. ‘I’m sorry if I did something wrong,’ said the girl meekly. ‘I just thought it was strange. Who’s John Dearheart?’

‘He . . . fell off a tower,’ said Grandad. ‘Hah!’ said Roger, working his shutters as if he suddenly hated them. ‘He’s dead?’ said Princess. ‘Well, some people say—’ Roger began. ‘Roger!’ snapped Grandad. It sounded like a warning. ‘I know about Sending Home,’ said Princess. ‘And I know the souls of dead linesmen stay on the Trunk.’

‘Who told you that?’ said Grandad. Princess was bright enough to know that someone would get into trouble if she was too specific. ‘Oh, I just heard it,’ she said airily. ‘Somewhere.’

‘Someone was trying to scare you,’ said Grandad, looking at Roger’s reddening ears. It hadn’t sounded scary to Princess. If you had to be dead, it seemed a lot better to spend your time flying between the towers than lying underground. But she was bright enough, too, to know when to drop a subject. It was Grandad who spoke next, after a long pause broken only by the squeaking of the new shutter bars. When he did speak, it was as if something was on his mind. ‘We keep that name moving in the Overhead,’ he said, and it seemed to Princess that the wind in the shutter arrays

above her blew more forlornly, and the everlasting clicking of the shutters grew more urgent. ‘He’d never have wanted to go home. He was a real linesman. His name is in the code, in the wind in the rigging and the shutters. Haven’t you ever heard the saying “A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken”?’

Chapter Five

Lost in the Post In which Stanley experiences the joy of sacks – Mr Groat’s ancestral fears – Horsefry is worried – Reacher Gilt, a man of Society – The Stairway of Letters – Mailslide! – Mr Lipwig Sees It – Hoodwinked – The Postman’s Walk – The Hat Stanley polished his pins. He did so with a look of beatific concentration, like a man dreaming with his eyes open. The collection sparkled on the folded strips of brown paper and the rolls of black felt that made up the landscape of the true pinhead’s world. Beside him was his large desktop magnifying glass and, by his feet, a sack of miscellaneous pins bought last week from a retiring needlewoman. He was putting off the moment of opening it to savour it all the more. Of course, it’d almost certainly turn out to be full of everyday brassers, with maybe the occasional flathead or line flaw, but the thing was, you never knew. That was the joy of sacks. You never knew. Non-collectors were woefully unconcerned about pins, treating them as if they were no more than thin pointy bits of metal for sticking things to other things. Many a wonderful pin of great worth had been found in a sack of brassers. And now he had a No. 3 Broad-headed ‘Chicken’ Extra Long, thanks to kind Mr Lipwig. The world shone like the pins so neatly ranged on the felt rolled out in front of him. He might smell faintly of cheese, and have athlete’s foot extending to the knee, but just now Stanley soared through glittering skies on wings of silver. Groat sat by the stove, chewing his fingernails and muttering to himself. Stanley paid no attention, since pins were not the subject. ‘. . . appointed, right? Never mind what the Order says! He can promote anyone, right? That means I get the extra gold button on m’sleeve and the pay, right? None of the others called me Senior Postman! And when all’s said and done, he delivered a letter. Had the letter, saw the address, delivered it just like that! Maybe he has got postman’s blood! And he got them metal letters put back! Letters again, see? That’s a sign, sure enough. Hah, he can read words that ain’t there!’ Groat spat out a fragment of fingernail, and frowned. ‘But . . . then he’ll want to know about the New Pie. Oh yeah. But . . . it’d be like scratching at a scab. Could be bad. Very bad. But . . . hah, the way he got them letters back for us . . . very good. Maybe it’s true that one day we’ll get a true postmaster again, just like they say. “Yea, he will tread the Abandoned Roller Skates beneath his Boots, and Lo! the Dogs of the World will Break their Teeth upon Him.” And he did show us a sign, right? Okay, it was over a posh haircut shop for ladies, but it was a sign, you can’t argue with that. I mean, if it was obvious, anyone could show it to us.’ Another sliver of fingernail hit the side of the glowing stove, where it sizzled. ‘And I ain’t getting any younger, that’s a fact. Probationary, though, that’s not good, that’s not good. What’d happen if I popped my clogs tomorrow, eh? I’d stand there before my forefathers, and they’d say “Art thou Senior Postal Inspector Groat?” and I’d say no, and they’d say “Art thou then Postal Inspector Groat?” and I’d say not as such, and they’d say “Then surely thou art Senior Postman Groat?” and I’d say not in point of fact, and they’d say “Stone the crows, Tolliver, are you telling us you never got further than Junior Postman? What kind of Groat are you?” and my face will be red and I will be knee deep in the ignominy. Dun’t matter that I’ve been runnin’ this place for years, oh no. You got to have that gold button!’ He stared at the fire, and somewhere in his matted beard a smile struggled to get out.

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