Going Postal (Discworld #33)


Gryle came forward, head bobbing as he strutted. There was nowhere else for Moist to go, so he tossed aside the wood and held up his hands. ‘All right, I give in,’ he said. ‘Just make it quick, okay?’ The creature kept looking at the golden suit; they had a magpie’s eye for glitter. ‘I’m going somewhere afterwards,’ said Moist helpfully. Gryle hesitated. He was hurt, disorientated and had eaten pigeons that were effluent on wings. He wanted to get out of here and up into the cool sky. Everything was too complicated here. There were too many targets, too many smells. For a banshee, everything was in the pounce, when teeth, claws and bodyweight all bore down at once. Now, bewildered, he strutted back and forth, trying to deal with the situation. There was no room to fly, nowhere else to go, the prey was standing there . . . instinct, emotion and some attempt at rational thought all banged together in Gryle’s overheated head. Instinct won. Leaping at things with your claws out had worked for a million years, so why stop now? He threw his head back, screamed, and sprang. So did Moist, ducking under the long arms. That wasn’t programmed into the banshee’s responses: the prey should be huddled, or running away. But Moist’s shoulder caught him in the chest. The creature was as light as a child. Moist felt a claw slash into his arm as he hurled the thing on to the Sorting Engine, and flung himself to the floor. For one horrible moment he thought it was going to get up, that he’d missed the wheel, but as the enraged Mr Gryle shifted there was a sound like . . . . . . gloop . . . . . . followed by silence. Moist lay on the cool flagstones until his heart slowed down to the point where he could make out individual beats. He was aware, as he lay there, that something sticky was dripping down the side of the machine. He arose slowly, on unsteady legs, and stared at what had become of the creature. If he’d been a hero, he would have taken the opportunity to say, ‘That’s what I call sorted!’ Since he wasn’t a hero, he threw up. A body doesn’t work properly when significant bits are not sharing the same space-time frame as the rest of it, but it does look more colourful. Then, clutching at his bleeding arm, Moist knelt down and looked under the engine for Tiddles. He had to come back with the cat, he thought muzzily. It was just something that had to happen. A man who rushes into a burning building to rescue a stupid cat and comes out carrying the cat is seen as a hero, even if he is a rather dumb one. If he comes out sans cat he’s a twit. A muffled thunder above them suggested that part of the building had fallen down. The air was roasting. Tiddles backed away from Moist’s hand. ‘Listen,’ Moist growled. ‘The hero has to come out with the cat. The cat doesn’t have to be alive—’ He lunged, grabbed Tiddles and dragged the cat out. ‘Right,’ he said, and picked up the suit hanger in his other hand. There were a few blobs of banshee on it, but, he thought light-headedly, he could probably find something to remove them. He lurched out into the corridor. There was a wall of fire at both ends, and Tiddles chose this moment to sink all four sets of claws into his arm. ‘Ah,’ said Moist. ‘Up until now it was going so well—’

‘Mr Lipvig! Are You All Right, Mr Lipvig?’

What golems removed from a fire was, in fact, the fire. They took out of a burning property everything that was burning. It was curiously surgical. They assembled at the edge of the fire and deprived it of anything to burn, herded it, cornered it, and stamped it to death. Golems could wade through lava and pour molten iron. Even if they knew what fear was, they wouldn’t find it in a mere burning building. Glowing rubble was hauled away from the steps by red-hot hands. Moist stared up into a landscape of flame but also, in front of it, Mr Pump. He was glowing orange. Specks of dust and dirt on his clay flashed and sparkled. ‘Good To See You, Mr Lipvig!’ he boomed cheerfully, tossing a crackling beam aside. ‘We Have Cleared A Path To The Door! Move With Speed!’

‘Er . . . thank you!’ shouted Moist, above the roar of the flames. There was a path, dragged clear of debris, with the open door beckoning calmly and coolly at the end of it. Away towards the far end of the hall other golems, oblivious of the pillars of flame, were calmly throwing burning floorboards out through a hole in the wall. The heat was intense. Moist lowered his head, clutched the terrified cat to his chest, felt the back of his neck begin to roast and scampered forward. From then on, it became all one memory. The crashing noise high above. The metallic boom. The golem Anghammarad looking up, with his message glowing yellow on his cherry-red arm. Ten thousand tons of rainwater pouring down in deceptive slow motion. The cold hitting the glowing golem . . . . . . the explosion . . . Flames died. Sound died. Light died. ANGHAMMARAD. Anghammarad looked at his hands. There was nothing there except heat, furnace heat, blasting heat that nevertheless made the shapes of fingers. ANGHAMMARAD , a hollow voice repeated. ‘I Have Lost My Clay,’ said the golem. YES, said Death, THAT IS STANDARD. YOU ARE DEAD. SMASHED. EXPLODED INTO A MILLION PIECES. ‘Then Who Is This Doing The Listening?’ EVERYTHING THERE WAS ABOUT YOU THAT ISN’T CLAY. ‘Do You Have A Command For Me?’ said the remains of Anghammarad, standing up. NOT NOW. YOU HAVE REACHED THE PLACE WHERE THERE ARE NO MORE ORDERS. ‘What Shall I Do?’ I BELIEVE YOU HAVE FAILED TO UNDERSTAND MY LAST COMMENT. Anghammarad sat down again. Apart from the fact that there was sand rather than ooze underfoot, this place reminded him of the abyssal plain. GENERALLY PEOPLE LIKE TO MOVE ON, Death hinted. THEY LOOK FORWARD TO AN AFTERLIFE. ‘I Will Stay Here, Please.’ HERE? THERE’S NOTHING TO DO HERE, said Death. ‘Yes, I Know,’ said the ghost of the golem. ‘It Is Perfect. I Am Free.’

At two in the morning it began to rain. Things could have been worse. It could have rained snakes. It could have rained acid. There was still some roof, and some walls. That meant there was still some building. Moist and Miss Dearheart sat on some warm rubble outside the locker room, which was more or less the only room that could still be properly described as one. The golems had stamped out the last of the fire, shored things up and then, without a word, had gone back to not being a hammer until sunset. Miss Dearheart held a half-melted bronze band in her hand, and turned it over and over. ‘Eighteen thousand years,’ she whispered. ‘It was the rainwater tank,’ mumbled Moist, staring at nothing. ‘Fire and water,’ muttered Miss Dearheart. ‘But not both!’

‘Can’t you . . . rebake him, or something?’ It sounded hopeless even as Moist said it. He’d seen the other golems scrabbling in the rubble. ‘Not enough left. Just dust, mixed up with everything else,’ said Miss Dearheart. ‘All he wanted to do was be useful.’ Moist looked at the remains of the letters. The flood had washed the black slurry of their ashes into every corner. All they wanted to do was be delivered, he thought. At a time like this, sitting on the sea bed for nine thousand years seemed quite attractive. ‘He was going to wait until the universe comes round again. Did you know that?’

‘You told me, yes,’ said Moist. There’s no stink more sorrowful than the stink of wet, burnt paper, Moist thought. It means: the end. ‘Vetinari won’t rebuild this place, you know,’ Miss Dearheart went on. ‘Gilt will get people to make a fuss if he tries it. Waste of city funds. He’s got friends. People who owe him money and favours. He’s good at that sort of people.’

‘It was Gilt who had this place torched,’ said Moist. ‘He was shocked to see me back in the restaurant. He thought I’d be here.’

‘You’ll never be able to prove it.’ Probably not, Moist agreed, in the sour, smoke-addled hollow of his head. The Watch had turned up with more speed than Moist had found usual amongst city policemen. They had a werewolf with them. Oh, probably most people would have thought it was just a handsome dog, but grow up in Uberwald with a grandfather who bred dogs and you learned to spot the signs. This one had a collar, and snuffled around while the embers were still smoking, and found something extra to scent in the pall of steaming ashes. They’d dug down, and there had been an awkward interview. Moist had handled it as well as he could manage, in the circumstances. The key point was never to tell the truth. Coppers never believed what people told them in any case, so there was no point in giving them extra work. ‘A winged skeleton?’ Moist had said, with what surely sounded like genuine surprise. ‘Yes, sir. About the size of a man, but very . . . damaged. I could even say mangled. I wonder if you know anything about it?’ This watchman was a captain. Moist hadn’t been able to make him out. His face gave nothing away that he didn’t want to let go of. Something about him suggested that he already knew the answers but was asking the questions for the look of the thing. ‘Perhaps it was an extra large pigeon? They’re real pests in this building,’ Moist had said. ‘I doubt it, sir. We believe it to have been a banshee, Mr Lipwig,’ said the captain patiently. ‘They’re very rare.’

‘I thought they just screamed on the rooftops of people who are going to die,’ said Moist.

‘The civilized ones do, sir. The wild ones cut out the middle man. Your young man said he hit something?’

‘Stanley did say something about, oh, something flying around,’ said Moist. ‘But I thought it was simply—’

‘—an extra large pigeon. I see. And you’ve no idea how the fire started? I know you use safety lamps in here.’

‘Probably spontaneous combustion in the letter piles, I’m afraid,’ said Moist, who’d had time to think about this one. ‘No one has been behaving oddly?’

‘In the Post Office, captain, it’s very hard to tell. Believe me.’

‘No threats made, sir? By anyone you may have upset, perhaps?’

‘None at all.’ The captain had sighed and put away his notebook. ‘I’ll have a couple of men watching the building overnight, nevertheless,’ he’d said. ‘Well done for saving the cat, sir. That was a big cheer you got when you came out. Just one thing, though, sir . . .’

‘Yes, captain?’

‘Why would a banshee – or possibly a giant pigeon – attack Mr Groat?’ And Moist thought: the hat . . . ‘I have no idea,’ he said. ‘Yes, sir. I’m sure you haven’t,’ said the captain. ‘I’m sure you haven’t. I’m Captain Ironfoundersson, sir, although most people call me Captain Carrot. Don’t hesitate to contact me, sir, if anything occurs to you. We are here for your protection.’ And what would you have done against a banshee? Moist had thought. You suspect Gilt. Well done. But people like Gilt don’t bother with the law. They never break it, they just use people who do. And you’ll never find anything written down, anywhere. Just before the captain had turned to go Moist was sure that the werewolf had winked at him. Now, with the rain drifting in and hissing where the stones were still warm, Moist looked around at the fires. There were still plenty of them, where the golems had dumped the rubble. This being Ankh-Morpork, people of the night had risen like the mists and gathered around them for warmth. This place would need a fortune spent on it. Well? He knew where to lay his hands on plenty of money, didn’t he? He didn’t have much use for it. It had only ever been a way of keeping score. But then this would all end, because it had belonged to Albert Spangler and the rest of them, not to an innocent postmaster. He took off his golden hat and looked at it. An avatar, Pelc had said. The human embodiment of a god. But he wasn’t a god, he was just a conman in a golden suit, and the con was over. Where was the angel now? Where were the gods when you needed them? The gods could help. The hat glinted in the firelight, and parts of Moist’s brain sparkled. He didn’t breathe as the thought emerged, in case it took fright, but it was so simple. And something that no honest man would ever have thought of . . . ‘What we need,’ he said, ‘is . . .’