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«Thief of Time», Terry Pratchett

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According to the First Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised, Wen stepped out of the cave where he had received enlightenment and into the dawning light of the first day of the rest of his life. He stared at the rising sun for some time, because he had never seen it before.

He prodded with a sandal the dozing form of Clodpool the Apprentice, and said: “I have seen. Now I understand.”

Then he stopped, and looked at the thing next to Clodpool.

“What is that amazing thing?” he said.

“Er… er… it's a tree, master,” said Clodpool, still not quite awake. “Remember? It was there yesterday.”

“There was no yesterday.”

“Er… er… I think there was, master,” said Clodpool, struggling to his feet. “Remember? We came up here and I cooked a meal, and had the rind off your sklang because you didn't want it.”

“I remember yesterday,” said Wen thoughtfully. “But the memory is in my head now. Was yesterday real? Or is it only the memory that is real? Truly, yesterday I was not born.”

Clodpool's face became a mask of agonized incomprehension.

“Dear stupid Clodpool, I have learned everything,” said Wen. “In the cup of the hand there is no past, no future. There is only now. There is no time but the present. We have a great deal to do.”

Clodpool hesitated. There was something new about his master. There was a glow in his eyes and, when he moved, there were strange silvery-blue lights in the air, like reflections from liquid mirrors.

“She has told me everything,” Wen went on. “I know that time was made for men, not the other way round. I have learned how to shape it and bend it. I know how to make a moment last for ever, because it already has. And I can teach these skills even to you, Clodpool. I have heard the heartbeat of the universe. I know the answers to many questions. Ask me.”

The apprentice gave him a bleary look. It was too early in the morning for it to be early in the morning. That was the only thing that he currently knew for sure.

“Er… what does master want for breakfast?” he said.

Wen looked down from their camp and across the snowfields and purple mountains to the golden daylight creating the world, and mused upon certain aspects of humanity.

“Ah,” he said. “One of the difficult ones.”

 

For something to exist, it has to be observed.

For something to exist, it has to have a position in time and space. And this explains why nine-tenths of the mass of the universe is unaccounted for.

Nine-tenths of the universe is the knowledge of the position and direction of everything in the other tenth. Every atom has its biography, every star its file, every chemical exchange its equivalent of the inspector with a clipboard. It is unaccounted for because it is doing the accounting for the rest of it, and you cannot see the back of your own head.1

Nine-tenths of the universe, in fact, is the paperwork.

And if you want the story, then remember that a story does not unwind. It weaves. Events that start in different places and different times all bear down on that one tiny point in space-time, which is the perfect moment.

Supposing an emperor was persuaded to wear a new suit of clothes whose material was so fine that, to the common eye, the clothes weren't there. And suppose a little boy pointed out this fact in a loud, clear voice…

Then you have The Story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes.

But if you knew a bit more, it would be The Story Of The Boy Who Got A Well-Deserved Thrashing From His Dad For Being Rude To Royalty, And Was Locked Up.

Or The Story Of The Whole Crowd Who Were Rounded Up By The Guards And Told “This Didn't Happen, Okay? Does Anyone Want To Argue?”

Or it could be a story of how a whole kingdom suddenly saw the benefits of the “new clothes”, and developed an enthusiasm for healthy sports2 in a lively and refreshing atmosphere which got many new adherents every year, and led to a recession caused by the collapse of the conventional clothing industry.


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