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26.12.2018

suddenly all the rebels become glorious freedom fighters. And there's seven unfilled graves in the cemetery . . . Would he be able to go back, then? Supposing Madam was right and he got offered the post of Commander, not as a bribe, but because he'd earned it? That'd change history! He took out the cigar case and stared hard at the inscription. Let's see, he thought … if I never met Sybil, we wouldn't get married and she wouldn't buy me this, and so I couldn't be looking at it… He stared hard at the curly engraving, almost willing it to disappear. It didn't. On the other hand, that old monk had said that whatever happens, stays happened. And now Vimes had a mental picture of Sybil and Carrot and Detritus and all the rest of them, frozen in a moment that'd never have a next moment. He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew . . . then it was too high. It wasn't a decision that he was making, he knew. It was happening far below the areas of the brain that made decisions. It was something built in. There was no universe, anywhere, where a Sam Vimes would give in on this, because if he did then he wouldn't be Sam Vimes any more. The writing stayed on the silver but it was blurred now because of the tears welling up. They were tears of anger, mostly at himself. There was not a thing that he could do. He hadn't bought a ticket and he hadn't wanted to come, but now he was on the ride and couldn't get off until the end. What else had the old monk said? History finds a way? Well, it was going to have to come up with something good, because it was up against Sam Vimes now. He glanced up, and saw young Sam watching him. 'You okay, sarge?'

'Fine, fine.'

'Only you've been sitting there for twenty minutes looking at your cigars.' Vimes coughed, and tucked the case away, and pulled himself together. 'Half the pleasure's in the anticipation,' he said. The night wore on. News came through, from barricades at bridges and gates. There were forays, more to test the defenders' strength of will than make a serious dent in the defences. And there were even more deserters.

One reason for the desertion rate was that those people of a practical turn of mind were working out the subtle economics. The Republic of Treacle Mine Road lacked all the big, important buildings in the city, the ones that traditional rebels were supposed to take. It had no government offices, no banks and very few temples. It was almost completely bereft of important civic architecture. All it had was the unimportant stuff. It had the entire slaughterhouse district, and the butter market, and the cheese market. It had the tobacco factors and the candlemakers and most of the fruit and vegetable warehouses and the grain and flour stores. This meant that while the Republicans were being starved of important things like government, banking services and salvation, they were self-sufficient in terms of humdrum, everyday things like food and drink. People are content to wait a long time for salvation, but prefer dinner to turn up inside an hour. 'A present from the lads down at the Shambles, sarge,' said Dickins, arriving with a wagon. They said it'd only spoil otherwise. Is it okay for me to dish 'em out to the field kitchens?'

'What've you got?' said Vimes. 'Steaks, mostly,' said the old sergeant, grinning. 'But I liberated a sack of onions in the name of the revolution!' He saw Vimes's expression change. 'No, sarge, the man gave them to me, see. They need eating, he said.'

'What did I tell you? Every meal will be a feast in the People's Republic!' said Reg Shoe, striding up. He still hung on to his clipboard; people like Reg tend to. 'If you could just take it along to the official warehouse, sergeant?'

'What warehouse?' Reg sighed. 'All food must go into the common warehouse and be distributed by my officials according to-'

'Mr Shoe,' said Dickins, 'there's a cart with five hundred chickens coming up behind me, and there's another full of eggs. There's nowhere to send 'em, see? The butchers have filled up the ice-houses and smoke-rooms and the only place we can store this grub is in our guts. I ain't particularly bothered about officials.'

'On behalf of the Republic I order you-' Reg began, and Vimes put his hand on his shoulder. 'Off you go, sergeant,' he said, nodding to Dickins. 'A word in your ear, Reg?'

'Is this a military coop?' said Reg uncertainly, holding his clipboard. 'No, it's just that we're under siege here, Reg. This is not the time. Let Sergeant Dickins sort it out. He's a fair man, he just doesn't like clipboards.'

'But supposing people get left out?' said Reg.

'There's enough for everyone to eat themselves sick, Reg.' Reg Shoe looked uncertain and disappointed, as though this prospect was less pleasing than carefully rationed scarcity. 'But I'll tell you what,' said Vimes. 'If this goes on, the city will see to it the deliveries come in by other gates. We'll be hungry then. That's when we'll need your organizational skills.'

'You mean we'll be in a famine situation?' said Reg, the light of hope in his eyes. 'If we aren't, Reg, I'm sure you could organize one,' said Vimes, and realized he'd gone just a bit too far. Reg was only stupid in certain areas, and now he looked as though he was going to cry. 'I just think it's important to be fair-' the man began. 'Yeah, Reg. I understand. But there's a time and a place, you know? Maybe the best way to build a bright new world is to peel some spuds in this one? Now, off you go. And you, Lance-Constable Vimes, you go and help him.' Vimes climbed back up the barricade. The city beyond was dark again, with only the occasional chink of light from a shuttered window. By comparison the streets of the Republic were ablaze. In a few hours the shops out there were expecting deliveries, and they weren't going to arrive. The government couldn't sit this one out. A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times. Every day, maybe a hundred cows died for Ankh-Morpork. So did a flock of sheep and a herd of pigs and the gods alone knew how many ducks, chickens and geese. Flour? He'd heard it was eighty tons, and about the same amount of potatoes and maybe twenty tons of herring. He didn't particularly want to know this kind of thing, but once you started having to sort out the everlasting traffic problem these were facts that got handed to you. Every day, forty thousand eggs were laid for the city. Every day, hundreds, thousands of carts and boats and barges converged on the city with fish and honey and oysters and olives and eels and lobsters. And then think of the horses dragging this stuff, and the windmills . . . and the wool coming in, too, every day, the cloth, the tobacco, the spices, the ore, the timber, the cheese, the coal, the fat, the tallow, the hay EVERY DAMN DAY.. . And that was now. Back home, the city was twice as big . . . Against the dark screen of night, Vimes had a vision of Ankh-Morpork. It wasn't a city, it was a process, a weight on the world that distorted the land for hundreds of miles around. People who'd never see it in their whole life nevertheless spent their life working for it. Thousands and thousands of green acres were part of it, forests were part of it. It drew in and consumed . . .

. . . and gave back the dung from its pens and the soot from its chimneys, and steel, and saucepans, and all the tools by which its food was made. And also clothes, and fashions and ideas and interesting vices, songs and knowledge and something which, if looked at in the right light, was called civilization. That's what civilization meant. It meant the city. Was anyone else out there thinking about this? A lot of the stuff came in through the Onion Gate and the Shambling Gate, both now Republican and solidly locked. There'd be a military picket on them, surely. Right now, there were carts on the way that'd find those gates closed to them. Yet no matter what the politics, eggs hatch and milk sours and herds of driven animals need penning and watering and where was that going to happen? Would the military sort it out? Well, would they? While the carts rumbled up, and then were hemmed in by the carts behind, and the pigs escaped and the cattle herds wandered off? Was anyone important thinking about this? Suddenly the machine was wobbling, but Winder and his cronies didn't think about the machine, they thought about money. Meat and drink came from servants. They happened. Vetinari, Vimes realized, thought about this sort of thing all the time. The Ankh-Morpork back home was twice as big and four times as vulnerable. He wouldn't have let something like this happen. Little wheels must spin so that the machine can turn, he'd say. But now, in the dark, it all spun on Vimes. If the man breaks down, it all breaks down, he thought. The whole machine breaks down. And it goes on breaking down. And it breaks down the people. Behind him, he heard a relief squad marching down Heroes Street. '-how do they rise? They rise knees up! knees up! knees up! They rise knees up, knees up high. All the little angels-' For a moment Vimes wondered, looking out through a gap in the furniture, if there wasn't something in Fred's idea about moving the barricades on and on, like a sort of sieve, street by street. You could let through the decent people, and push the bastards, the rich bullies, the wheelers and dealers in people's fates, the leeches, the hangers-on, the brown-nosers and courtiers and smarmy plump devils in expensive clothes, all those people who didn't know or care about the machine but stole its grease, push them into a smaller and smaller compass and then leave them in there. Maybe you could toss some food in every couple of days, or maybe you could leave 'em to do what they'd always done, which was live off other people . . . There wasn't much noise from the dark streets. Vimes wondered what was going on. He wondered if anyone out there was taking care of business. Major Mountjoy-Standfast stared empty-eyed at the damn, damn map. 'How many, then?' he said. 'Thirty-two men injured, sir. And another twenty probable desertions,' said Captain Wrangle. 'And Big Mary is firewood, of course.'

'Oh gods . . .'

'Do you want to hear the rest, sir?'

'There's more?'

'I'm afraid there is, sir. Before the remains of Big Mary left Heroes Street, sir, she smashed twenty shop windows and various carts, doing damage estimated at-'

'Fortunes of war, captain. We can't help that!'

'No, sir.' The captain coughed. 'Do you want to know what happened next, sir?'

'Next? There was a next?' said the major, beginning to panic. 'Um . . . yes, sir. Quite a lot of next, actually, sir. Um. The three gates through which most of the agricultural produce comes into the city are picketed, sir, on your orders, so the carters and drovers are trying to bring their stuff along Short Street, sir. Fortunately not too many animals at this time of night, sir, but there were six millers' wagons, one wagon of, er, dried fruits and spices, four dairymen's wagons and three hegglers' carts. All wrecked, sir. Those oxen really were very feisty, sir.'

'Hegglers? What the hell are hegglers?' said the major, bewildered. 'Egg marketers, sir. They travel around the farms, pick up the eggs-'

'Yes, all right! And what are we supposed to do?'

'We could make an enormous cake, sir.'

'Tom!'

'Sorry, sir. But the city doesn't stop, you see. It's not like a battlefield. The best place for urban fighting is right out in the countryside, sir, where there's nothing else in the way.'

'It's a bloody big barricade, Tom. Too well defended. We can't even set fire to the damn thing, it'll take the city up with it!'

'Yes, sir. And the point is, sir, that they're not actually doing anything, sir. Except being there.'

'What do you mean?'

'They're even putting old grannies up on the barricades, shouting down to the lads. Poor Sergeant Franklin, sir, his granny saw him and said that if he didn't turn it up she'd tell everyone what he did when he was eleven, sir.'