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Last Sektober

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Sweetpea Hakim wanted to be a copper. Unfortunately, she realized this the day of her final exam at the Clerk's Guild school. She stood outside of the guild hall, her fellow trainees flowing all around her like a boulder in a stream, staring up at the big clock. Clerks were expected to be punctual, quiet, and always know what their master needed. They were helpful. And Sweetpea wanted to help people, oh yes she did. She just couldn't see that happening by filing particularly well, or being an exceptional scribe.

Sweetpea thought that this was when she had made her realization, but in reality it had happened the year before on the day her mother died. Nawar Hakim had been the one to optimistically name her daughter Sweetpea. She had also optimistically prayed to Offler every day instead of seeing a doctor for her sickness. The question Sweetpea had been turning over and over in her mind for the last year was "why were people so stupid?" But Mrs. Hakim died, leaving the family Klatchian Coffee stand to Sweetpea's older brother. He expected Sweetpea to finish school and help him run the stand, but she had been dreading this for months.

As elbows jostled her, Sweetpea heaved her bag over her shoulder and headed up the steps.

Three hours later, she headed back down the steps with two dozen of her fellow celebrating class members. Basalt knuckled loudly past, carrying two of his friends on his shoulders. Sweetpea smiled. Basalt worked nights in a meat packing freezer, and did his homework there as well. The whole class had helped him at some point or another, even though five years previous they'd all wondered what he was doing at the Clerk's Guild. Basalt had the right idea. Lots of up-and-coming troll businessmen needed trolls who weren't just good at busting heads, and could count past “many”.

Speaking of non-human clerks, someone caught Sweetpea around the waist and hugged her. She looked down to see Aksel Grabthroat.

"Hey, Sweetie!" the dwarf greeted her. Despite the fact that she was 107, Aksel acted about seven sometimes. Sweetpea forced a smile at the hated nickname.

"Hey, Aksel. Hard test, huh?"

"Eh, not really. I've already got job offers lined up from the Low King and--"

"Several important grags, I know. And good for you."

Aksel gave Sweetpea a puzzled smile, trying to work out if she was genuine or not, and continued on through the crowd. Sweetpea was being genuine. Good for Aksel for getting work down in a mine somewhere, as far away from Sweetpea as possible.

"Five years of being with her, and now we’re finally free," came a sigh from next to Sweetpea. She turned in surprise and delight.

"John! I'm hoping a deep-downer will hire her, and she'll be in a mine for life."
She and John Enamel grinned at each other. When both of them realized that they had been doing it for slightly too long, they averted their eyes and coughed. John ran a hand through his hair and said,

"We're all meeting up for drinks at The Bunch of Grapes. Maybe the two of us can go and get squishi afterwards?"

"Thanks, John," said a hitherto unknown part of Sweetpea's brain that had been deciding something during the test, "but I have a job interview to go to."

She waved goodbye to a disappointed John and then wondered what the hell she'd just said.

----------------

Pseudopolis Yard was right across from the Opera House on the Isle of the Gods. Fortunately, Sweetpea had never had occasion to go to either one. She’d walked past them often enough, on her way to see plays at the Dysk. The Yard was always bustling with coppers starting and ending their shifts, prisoners being brought in, and irate citizens complaining about something or another. Today was no exception. Sweetpea had to practically fight her way through a crowd of all species to get to the door. Once inside, she was greeted—or rather, yelled at—by the dwarf at the front desk.

“What do you want?” they barked. Sweetpea couldn’t tell if they were male or female. Her best guess was male, since they were wearing plain chain mail and unadorned helmet, but the female dwarves in the watch could be just as masculine as their counterparts.

“A job!” Sweetpea yelled back over the din. The dwarf looked her up and down in surprise. She knew she didn’t look like a guard. She was still in the dusty brown robes of a trainee clerk, and she could guess that clerks didn’t become guards unless they had a) failed miserably or b) were running from something.

“Wait there.” The dwarf jerked a thumb behind them to a small group of broken-backed chairs. Sweetpea went to sit down gingerly in one of them, the dwarf watching her the whole time. They were forced to stop staring when a troll came in holding two young men upside down in his—no, her—craggy hands.

“Dey was graffitin’ der Opera House,” the troll rumbled. The young men were struggling wildly in her grip. One of them still held a spray can.

“No we weren’t!” he protested.

“Put them down very gently, Lance-Constable Quartz,” the desk dwarf ordered. “Graffiting is a fining offense, not an arresting one.”

“Dey was resistin’ getting’ fined.”

One of the flailing boys bumped heads with the other and they both went limp.

“Ah. That’s different,” said the dwarf. “Take them down to the cells, we’ll hold them until their parents come to pick them up. And, uh, get Igor to revive them.”

Sweetpea’s attention was called away from this interesting discourse when a shadow eclipsed her vision. She looked up to see a beautiful women towering before her. Her short blonde hair and stripes indicated that she was Captain Angua, famous for definitely not being the Watch’s first werewolf.

“Are you the clerk that’s looking for a job?” she practically demanded, hands on her hips.

“That’s me,” said Sweetpea, her mouth dry. She was not only intimidated by the woman’s looks, tone, and rank, but also that she could definitely not rip out her throat if she chose. Sweetpea had never heard of the captain doing this, especially not to potential new recruits, but there was a first time for everything. However, after glancing her up and down, the captain seemed to see something in Sweetpea that she was looking for. She nodded decisively.

“We’ve been looking for someone like you for a long time, and now you show up asking us for a job. Come on up to my office. Sorry, it’s a bit small.”

She turned on her heel and started back up the steps that she’d presumably come down. Stunned for a few seconds, Sweetpea sat there before getting up at breakneck speed to follow Captain Angua.

The office was small, barely enough room for a desk, filing cabinet, and chair for a visitor. This was where Sweetpea sat. Luckily, it was better than the chairs down in the main office. The back was intact, for one thing, and it had some semblance of padding. It did not match any of the other furniture, though. None of the furniture matched the other furniture. Sweetpea suspected that getting furniture for your office was entirely up to the inhabitant, and you had to settle for what you could find on the side of the road, buy second-hand, or—as it was in Angua’s case—pick out something serviceable from the commander’s attic.

“Now, I can’t say you’re not a godsend,” said Angua as she sat down opposite Sweetpea, “But I have to ask: why do you want to join the Watch?”

It was a question that Sweetpea had been trying to answer herself ever since she’d decided that she wanted to be a guard. The decision seemed so obvious, so natural, that it was difficult to put her reasons into words. Hesitantly, she said,

“It’s not just that being a clerk would be boring, because it would. And it’s not just that I don’t want to be stuck doing the books at the family coffee stand, because I don’t. It’s that I’ve seen too much bad in this world to not want to try and fix some of it. I don’t want to achieve world peace or anything silly like that,” she continued, as though world peace was some foolish ambition. “There are so many little things that can make a person’s life bad, and so many big things that can ruin the life of only one person. I want to put an end to some of those little things.”

She stopped when she saw Angua staring at her with a strange expression. Surprised, she realized that it was respect. It was not an expression she was used to seeing on the face of anyone she interacted with. Her teachers never respected any of their students, obviously, and her friends only looked at her with affection. She had been a decent, if slightly inattentive student, and if she ever surprised anyone it was why she would go to a clerk school when she was Klatchian. That disgusted her. People hardly raised an eyebrow at troll hairdressers and dwarf fashion designers, but if a Klatchian woman wanted to be a clerk everyone questioned her.

“I think you’ll fit right in here,” Angua said. “I would have you talk to Commander Vimes, but he’s at home for lunch right now.” She said this with a faint smile. Sweetpea would soon learn that the only person who could get Commander Vimes to go home during the day was his wife, and only then by severely guilting him. “You may have heard of the watch’s new bookkeeper and tax inspector, AE Pessimal?”

Sweetpea nodded. “A fellow graduate of the clerk’s guild. All the teachers were kind of disappointed when they learned he’d joined the Watch.” Though she didn’t say it, part of Sweetpea’s inspiration for joining the Watch came from Mr. Pessimal. If a former inspector for the Patrician could be a watchman, so could she.

“Mr. Pessimal has helped the commander a lot with his paperwork problem. Lately, Mr. Vimes has been looking for someone smart and well-versed in dealing with people to be the Watch’s press liaison. He’s tired of being interviewed by Mr. de Worde about every little case, and he wants to control what the Times knows about the Watch. There have been a few cases that would have been solved a lot sooner if all of the details weren’t revealed to the paper.”

The captain’s sour look showed that she was intimately familiar with such scenarios. To get her back in a good frame of mind Sweetpea said,

“So you want me to be the press liaison?”

Angua nodded. “With your clerk guild training, you’re the ideal candidate. Mainly you’ll have an office—or a desk, at least—here at the Yard but everyone starts on the street. Most new recruits get six weeks of training in the old lemonade factory, but since most of your job will be indoors we can skip straight to your probation. You do need some street training.” She flipped over a large pile of paper on her desk and scanned the bottom page. “It looks like we have space for a lance-constable in the Treacle Mine Road watch house. Flint is the corporal there. He’s one of our up-and-coming troll officers—reliable…solid…” She ran out of adjectives for Corporal Flint. “We wouldn’t put him in charge of the watch house if we didn’t think he could do it,” she said almost defensively. “And Constable Haddock is stationed there. He’s somewhat of a favorite amongst non-watchmen. You’re not to call him Kipper unless he gives you permission, understand?”

Her expression compelled Sweetpea to say something in assent.

“Understood, captain.”

“Good. How are your report-writing skills?”

“I’ve had proper grammar and sentence structure beat into my head for the last five years. I can give you some of my old essays if you want to read them—“

Angua looked a little panicky. “That won’t be necessary. You’re a clerk, I trust that you can write. You are a full clerk, aren’t you?”

“As soon as my grades come back for my final test, I’ll be a full member of the clerk’s guild.” Sweetpea privately added that her membership hinged on whether or not she passed the filing test, which she was sure she’d failed miserably. “That is, if I can be a guild member and a watchman.”

Angua thought for a moment. “I think you should stay a clerk, if they’ll let you. We had some problems with the alchemist’s guild when Sergeant Littlebottom became part of our forensics division. They seem to think they have the concept of alchemy trademarked, although none of them can figure out how to leave their guild house unexploded for more than a week.” She sighed, and straightened up. “Mr. Vimes will want to do a full interview with you tomorrow—he doesn’t want just anyone speaking for the Watch. Come in at ten, and if you’re hired we’ll swear you in and issue your uniform then.”