Vetinari walked into his office, shutting the door behind him and moving over the carpet towards his desk. Settling into his seat, Vetinari checked his view of the window and the door. Papers were stacked neatly beside his blotter, Drumknott's neat writing on the top sheet. Vetinari smiled faintly at the thin loops. There was something resolute about his writing, as if learning the formal forms of writing had not negated any firmness of will in Drumknott.
He pulled the top sheaf closer, reading through the brief explanation. Drumknott was always so thorough. Vetinari considered his last words, that the world chiefly needed fileboxes that were not so flimsy. He wondered what Drumknott saw in the cardboard. Shaking his head, he concentrated on the documents. They needed to be read and considered; everything had a place in the patterns that made up Ankh-Morpork, even the most inconsequential detail. Brassicas were just one of the things he had found to be important.
The door opened some time later and Vetinari looked up to see Drumknott crossing the floor toward the desk, tray balanced competently in front of him. A single cup, a small milk jug and a pot, nestled under an incongruously bright knitted cosy. He smiled every time he saw the small evidence of whimsy on his tray, though he knew that what it really meant was that the cook was drinking again. Drumknott put down the tray, managing to radiate disapproval of the cosy that marred the spartan lines. Vetinari wondered if it was the colour or the fuzz that he objected to.
He watched as Drumknott laid out the cup and saucer, the jug of milk. He could smell the tea now; it was ordinary, workday stuff, heavy and sustaining. He'd developed a taste for it at school, though he still drank the finer blends in company. Drumknott poured; like everything he did, it was perfect.
"Why do you like filing?" asked Vetinari. The teapot was tilted back in a half-second's pause before Drumknott resumed the action. Vetinari masked his pleasure at eliciting the small shift. He did not get to surprise Drumknott particularly often.
"Categorisation is satisfying," said Drumknott. He looked up at Vetinari, and his face quirked for just a moment into a smile before he recovered his professional demeanour. Vetinari smiled too, just enough to show his teeth.
"What is it about it that is satisfying?" he asked. He was curious; how could fileboxes play a part in reconciling the difficult dichotomy of freedom and civilisation?
"I cannot tell you, my Lord," said Drumknott.
"Cannot?" asked Vetinari.
"Cannot," agreed Drumknott. Vetinari leaned back in his chair and watched Drumknott shift the cup and saucer within his reach. He wondered if Drumknott really meant that he would not tell, rather than being unable to tell. "Do you require my assistance with anything else at this moment?"
"The documents you gave me this morning, how did you know that they were the ones I wanted?" Vetinari asked.
"You told me," replied Drumknott.
"I told you I wanted documents relating to the diversification of brassica crops on the edges of the Plains. How did you know that these were the documents I wanted?"
"I could not know that you wanted these particular documents," said Drumknott.
"Could not?" asked Vetinari.
"Could not," agreed Drumknott.
"We appear to have many situations where you cannot - or, possibly, will not - tell me things I wish to know today," observed Vetinari.
"We have also established, my Lord, that I cannot know what you want."
"False logic," said Vetinari. Drumknott's lips curved in a smile, but he didn't answer. "Come back in an hour," he continued. "I will have some dictation. While you are gone, I require several sheets of various grade cardboard, glue - not that disgusting stuff Vimes uses on his reports - and some kind of suitable cutting implement."
"As you wish," said Drumknott. He moved away to the door, leaving Vetinari with his cup of tea.
Vetinari signed the last of his letters and put them aside for postage in the morning. He rather hoped that he'd be able to use the Postal Service; Mr von Lipwig was doing some remarkable things there. Vetinari was beginning to think that he might even figure out for himself that the mail coaches still belonged to the Post Office. It was so gratifying when he did not have to point out all details. Standing, he lifted his new box of materials onto his desk. Drumknott, ever efficient and able to predict his needs, had provided a large sheet of wood on which to cut. Vetinari hefted it onto the table and rummaged through the cardboard provided. For all that he'd seen and handled hundreds of fileboxes in his life, he had no clear view in his mind of how they went together. He imagined that glue was involved, but separate pieces would be clumsy and week. What was needed was a system of folds and reinforcement.
He sat back down again and pulled a pad of paper towards him, sketching out some ideas. When the discreet knock on the door sounded, he looked up from his makeshift cutting table, surprised at how much time had passed. Drumknott approached the desk, his attention firmly away from the cardboard sheet in Vetinari's hands.
"Commander Vimes is here," he said.
"Show him in," said Vetinari. He watched Drumknott walk away before returning to the contemplation of the cardboard in front of him. It was not a very promising piece, particularly since some of the bends had gone crooked. He was still frowning at it as the door opened again and Vimes came in.
"Tell me, Commander, do you know anything about geometry?" he asked. Looking up, he saw Vimes's gaze fixed on the wall over his shoulder, while his expression thinly concealed his conviction that Vetinari was working with cardboard just to plague him.
"No, sir," said Vimes.
"A pity," said Vetinari. "I understand that a particular sect of Holy Mathematicians in Genua have a festival in mid-winter each year where they create boxes from paper, the better to capture the first flicker of the returning sun."
"Sir," said Vimes.
"Each summer they build mazes, the shape of which is determined by the portents found in their sacred calculations of pi." He tilted his head. "Fascinating, particularly when you consider that pi is, or appears to be, constant."
"I can see that mathematics is not your passion," said Vetinari. "Perhaps, instead, you can tell me about Horsefry; ah, Crispin Horsefry, recently found mauled to death in his own house."
Vimes's face showed instant, incalculable relief. Even if he had nothing to report, at least frustration with difficult crimes was something he understood. Vetinari prodded at the cardboard once more as Vimes detailed their investigation and findings. It did not take long. Vetinari hadn't expected much otherwise.
"Dear me, nothing?" he asked, at the end of the recital.
"No, sir," replied Vimes. The pile of cardboard in front of Vetinari collapsed into messy corrugations. Vetinari raised an eyebrow at the mess, and then another at Vimes, whose snort had been barely repressed.
"Do you have a cold, Vimes?" he asked.
"No, sir," said Vimes, his face more than ordinarily wooden.
"Very well. Don't let me detain you."
As the door closed behind him, Vetinari scooped up the cardboard on his desk and dropped it back into the box it had come in. He pulled his notepad closer and flipped to a clean page.
The following boxes were equally inefficient, collapsing easily and not closing properly. They were getting better, but that was as much as one could say about them. He needed some way to make them bend effectively, just how he wanted them. The lines were too unpredictable, too wayward. He knew that Drumknott would loathe haphazard corners in file boxes. It would make things difficult, and cause him to have to apologise for bending and dog-ears. Vetinari made Drumknott's life complicated in many ways already, without adding excessive apologising to it.
He thought about all the ways that he knew to make people bend. Often it wasn't about the pressure, it was about finding a way to make them want to do what he required. You found the existing faultlines in a person and exploited them, making them twist and fold up in ways that were useful. Sometimes, it was about finding one weak point, or about creating a weak point. Of course, sometimes the perforations in a person's mind just made them harder, more brittle and likely to shatter when pressure was applied. He remembered clearly a boy from school who'd looked for all the world like a sheet of solid iron, smooth and uniform. Then he'd started to flex under the pressures of the school, twisting back and forth around equilibrium. The forces found a weak point soon enough, and the more the boy shored them up, the more fierce the stresses grew. He'd broken, crumbled really, a collection of jagged scraps.
He thought about Moist von Lipwig's latest innovation, the stamps. The holes were regular, evenly spaced and provided a convenient place to find leverage. He looked at a cardboard sheet and wondered how it could be made to bend. Sitting up, he pulled a piece closer, just a scrap from prototype number six. With his knife, he made careful scores in the board, creating his own artificial line of least resistance. He carefully lifted up and bent one side, watching as the cardboard pivoted. A perfect line.
Vetinari reached for his notepad again. This could be it; shaped in advance by the provision of a line to follow. Then one could fold over and back into the other layers, making the boards hold themselves together. This was the heart of manipulation, played out with cellulose products and a knife. It was satisfying, nearly as satisfying as doing it with people.
Vetinari bent the cardboard, testing and discarding various systems of tabs and perforations. Finally, he put down a box on his desk and contemplated it. He opened the lid and closed it again. It was big enough to fit large papers, deep enough that several could be carried together but they could still be stacked vertically or horizontally.
The door opened and Drumknott came in with the tea tray. He moved as soundlessly as ever. Vetinari noticed that the cozy was missing. He liked food better when the cook was not drinking, but it made the tea tray more starkly utilitarian. Drumknott put down the tray and arranged the cup and saucer on an uncluttered space on the desk. He did not mention the box in the middle, any more than he'd mentioned any of the other attempts.
"Drumknott, I have something for you," said Vetinari, watching as Drumknott poured the tea into the waiting cup. Finishing his task, he replaced everything on the tray before looking up.
"Sir?" he said. Vetinari pushed the box closer. "It's a box," said Drumknott, taking it from his Lordship's hands. "What do you intend to do with it?"
"What do you think I'm going to do with it? Put a cat in it?" asked Vetinari.
"One would rather suppose that they could escape easily, unless dead or constrained by the application of sufficient packing tape," replied Drumknott. "In any case, a cat, whatever their state of life or death while inside the box, would possibly not be useful to the city's archives."
"One should never underestimate cats," said Vetinari. He tilted his head to one side and regarded his assistant thoughtfully before returning his gaze to the box. "I prefer dogs, myself, but cats are animals that almost define probability. The box is for you."
Drumknott blinked. He looked from the box to Vetinari.
"Thank you," he said. He seemed to struggle to remember his training and keep his face free of the smile that threatened take over. Vetinari smiled, not quite as bleak and wintry as usual. "It's very sturdy."
"The world needs fileboxes which are not so flimsy," Vetinari reminded him.
"It's important to keep the things you need categorised in a way that makes it easy to find them again," agreed Drumknott.
"You are so ruthlessly practical," said Vetinari. Drumknott maintained a discreet silence. "Can you tell me now how you know which documents I need?"
"No," said Drumknott. "I cannot."
"And this time, you literally mean that you cannot."
"Filing is something best done with the rigid application of as many inflexible, arbitrary, organisational rules as possible. When selecting documents, however, one must exercise choice."
"Freedom of choice," said Vetinari.
"If you like," said Drumknott. "It is, perhaps, the clearest example of freedom of choice within constraints of which I can think."
Vetinari put his fingertips together and smiled, looking across the table. "And the non-flimsy file boxes?" he asked. "A metaphor?"
"Perhaps," said Drumknott. "Shall I take the box away?"
"Yes," said Vetinari. "Then come back, and bring another cup. I have dictation for you, but see no reason why you should not be comfortable."
"And if I choose to have coffee?" Drumknott asked.
"Then you are free to suffer the consequences of being unable to sleep," Vetinari said. Drumknott merely smiled and walked toward the door, box still carefully clutched in his hands.