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Page 1

Part I

Vincent Coogan pulled at his thin lower lip as he stared at the image of his home planet growing larger in the star ship's viewscreen.

"What kind of an emergency would make Patterson call me off a Library collection trip?" he muttered.

The chief navigator turned toward Coogan, noted the down-drooping angles on the Library official's face. "Did you say something, sir?"

"Huh?" Coogan realized he had been speaking his thoughts aloud. He drew in a deep breath, squared his stringy frame in front of the viewscreen, said, "It's good to get back to the Library."

"Always good to be home," said the navigator. He turned toward the planet in the screen.

It was a garden world of rolling plains turning beneath an old sun. Pleasure craft glided across shallow seas. Villages of flat, chalk-white houses clustered around elevator towers which plumbed the interior. Slow streams meandered across the plains. Giant butterflies fluttered among trees and flowers. People walked while reading books or reclined with scan-all viewers hung in front of their eyes.

The star ship throbbed as its landing auxiliaries were activated. Coogan felt the power through his feet. Suddenly, he sensed the homecoming feeling in his chest, an anticipating that brought senses to new alertness. It was enough to erase the worry over his call-back, to banish his displeasure at the year of work he had abandoned uncompleted.

It was enough to take the bitterness out of his thoughts when he recalled the words someone on an outworld had etched beside the star ship's main port. The words had been cut deeply beneath the winged boot emblem of the Galactic Library, probably with a Gernser flame chisel.

"Go home dirty pack rats!"

The dirty pack rats were home.

Director Caldwell Patterson of the Galactic Library sat at the desk in his office deep in the planet, a sheet of metallic paper in his hands. He was an old man even by Eighty-first Century standards when geriatrics made six hundred years a commonplace. Some said he had been at the Library that long. Gray hair clung in molting wisps to a pale pate. His face had the leathery, hook-nosed appearance of an ancient bird. As Coogan entered the office, a desk visor in front of Patterson chimed. The director clicked a switch, motioned Coogan to a chair and said, "Yes," with a tired, resigned air.

Coogan folded his tall frame into the chair and listened with half his mind to the conversation on the visor. It seemed some outworld ship was approaching and wanted special landing facilities. Coogan looked around the familiar office. Behind the director was a wall of panels, dials, switches, rheostats, speakers, microphones, oscillographs, code keys, screens. The two side walls were focus rhomboids for realized images. The wall which was split by the door held eight miniature viewscreens all tuned to separate channels of the Library information broadcasts. All sound switches had been turned to mute, leaving a continuous low murmur in the room.

Patterson began drumming his fingers on the desk top, glaring at the desk visor. Presently, he said, "Well, tell them we have no facilities for an honor reception. This planet is devoted to knowledge and research. Tell them to come in at the regular field. I'll obey my Code and any government order of which I'm capable, but we simply don't have the facilities for what they're asking." The director cut the switch on his visor, turned to Coogan. "Well, Vincent, I see you avoided the Hesperides green rot. Now I presume you're anxious to learn why I called you back from there?"

Same old didactic, pompous humbug, thought Coogan. He said, "I'm not exactly a robot," and shaped his mouth in a brief, wry smile.

A frown formed on Patterson's bluish lips. "We've a new government," he said.

"Is that why you called me in?" asked Coogan. He felt an upsurge of all the resentment he'd swallowed when he'd received the call-back message.

"In a way, yes," said Patterson. "The new government is going to censor all Library broadcasts. The censor is on that ship just landing."

"They can't do that!" blurted Coogan. "The Charter expressly forbids chosen broadcasts or any interference with Library function! I can quote you --"

Patterson interrupted him in a low voice. "What is the first rule of the Library Code?"

Coogan faltered, stared at the director. He said, "Well --" paused while the memory came back to him. "The first rule of the Galactic Library Code is to obey all direct orders of the government in power. For the preservation of the Library, this must be the primary command."

"What does it mean?" demanded Patterson.

"It's just words that --"

"More than words!" said Patterson. A faint color crept into his old cheeks. "That rule has kept this Library alive for eight thousand years."

"But the government can't --"

"When you're as old as I am," said Patterson, "you'll realize that governments don't know what they can't do until after they cease to be governments. Each government carries the seeds of its own destruction."

"So we let them censor us," said Coogan. "Perhaps," said Patterson, "if we're lucky. The new Grand Regent is the leader of the Gentle Ignorance Party. He says he'll censor us. The trouble is, our information indicates he's bent on destroying the Library as some kind of an example."

It took a moment for Coogan to accept the meaning of the words. "Destroy --"

"Put it to the torch," said Patterson. "His censor is his chief general and hatchetman."

"Doesn't he realize this is more than a Library?" asked Coogan.

"I don't know what he realizes," said Patterson. "But we're faced with a primary emergency and, to complicate matters, the entire staff is in a turmoil. They're hiding arms and calling in collection ships against my express orders. That Toris Sil-Chan has been around telling every --"


"Yes, Toris. Your boon companion or whatever he is. He's leading this insurrection and I gather that he --"

"Doesn't he realize the Library can't fight a war without risking destruction?" asked Coogan.

Patterson sighed. "You're one of the few among the new generation who realizes that," he said.

"Where's Toris?" demanded Coogan. "I'll --"

"There isn't time right now," said Patterson. "The Grand Regent's hatchetman is due any minute."

"There wasn't a word of this out on Hesperides," said Coogan. "What's this Grand Regent's name?"

"Leader Adams," said Patterson.

"Never heard of him," said Coogan. "Who's the hatchetman?"

"His name's Pchak."

"Pchak what?"

"Just Pchak."

He was a coarse man with overdrawn features, none of the refinements of the inner worlds. A brown toga almost the same color as his skin was belted around him. Two slitted eyes stared out of a round, pushed-in face. He came into Patterson's office followed by two men in gray togas, each wearing a blaster at the belt.

"I am Pchak," he said.

Not a pretty specimen, thought Coogan. There was something chilling about the stylized simplicity of the man's dress. It reminded Coogan of a battle cruiser stripped down for action. Director Patterson came around his desk, shoulders bent, walking slowly as befitted his age. "We are honored," he said.

"Are you?" asked Pchak. "Who is in command here?"

Patterson bowed. "I am Director Caldwell Patterson."

Pchak's lips twisted into something faintly like a smile. "I would like to know who is responsible for those insulting replies to our communications officer. 'This planet is devoted to knowledge and research!' Who said that?"

"Why --" Patterson broke off, wet his lips with his tongue, "I said that."

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