Sil-Chan suppressed the churning of his stomach. "Sir, I came here at the direction of Galactic Archives, of the Library. You don't have any idea what . . ."
"We'll get to your official excuses later," the PN said. "Right now I'm trying to reason with a pig-headed female who . . ."
"Uncle." The steel had returned to Hepzebah's voice. "In front of a witness, I asked this man to wed and he accepted."
"So David says!"
"Even you are not above the law," she said. "You will recall that I was not raised a chore daubto . . ."
"Maybe that's where I made my mistake," the PN muttered.
"If it was a mistake, it was not my mistake," she said. "And I warn you that I do not intend to be bound by your tame band of trothers when. . . ."
"You're a pig-headed female!"
She continued unperturbed. ". . . when they cast no omens, made no divinations. We both know that they followed your instructions to approve Martin."
"What's the difference? Mumbo jumbo or common sense? Give me common sense every time!" Again, he stared into the fire.
"Don't try swaying the trothers," she said. "I'll demand the Pleb. You know what'll happen then."
He spoke without turning. "Are you threatening me?" She said: "The trothers will face the Stone and be forced to admit your interference. The vote of the Pleb will go for me."
"All right! "He whirled. "So you want this . . . this . . ." He gestured with a fist at Sil-Chan. "Ever since you were a wee one you've gotten everything you wanted! Now you . . ."
"Will all of you shut up for just a minute?" Sil-Chan asked. "I've had quite enough of this family bickering." He caught a sudden grin from David standing behind the PN, took heart from it.
"Oh, have you now?" the PN asked. His voice was dangerous.
"I'll admit to being swept off my feet by your niece," Sil-Chan said. "Who can blame me? That's chemistry or . . . or whatever. It's wonderful and I wouldn't change it for all of Free Island. But I came here on another matter, something vital to us all."
"Do you know I could have you taken into the wilderness just like that . . ." The PN snapped his fingers. ". . . and eliminated, and no one the wiser."
The old Sil-Chan would have cringed at the threat. The new Sil-Chan took a step closer to the PN. "You might be able to murder me, but there'd be some the wiser!"
The PN's mouth opened, snapped shut. His chin lifted. He looked at Sil-Chan with new interest.
"We have mutual problems," Sil-Chan said. "We . . ."
"You have a talent for creating problems, no doubt of that," the PN said, but Sil-Chan senses an underlying banter in the tone.
"You may force me to return to the mainland without Hepzebah," Sil-Chan said. "But I have a mission here and I am an official of Galactic Archives."
Hepzebah squeezed Sil-Chan's hand. "If you go, I go."
The PN blinked, looked at his niece, then at Sil-Chan. "All right! What's bothering you pack rats? I want the full story."
Sil-Chan winced. Tchung's warning filled his mind. These Dornbakers could tip over the whole cart, but they might not know their legal position. So the Computer reported. Sil-Chan returned the PN's demanding stare. This was a rough man, this PN, but also a man of essential integrity . . . a man with his own code, a wilderness honor which might not be too different from the Library's Code. A lie would be the surest way to alienate such a man.
It occurred to Sil-Chan then that a sum which could bankrupt the government was owed to these Dornbakers. In one sense, this PN was the government, and the Library's Code required obedience to the government.
The PN has just ordered me to tell him the full story.
Sil-Chan did not feel that this was a line of reasoning which would stand much reconsideration, but it swayed the balance in his own mind. He began explaining about the Myrmid Enclave's jackals, the war monitor, the downward projection of Dornbaker property, the drain on Archive funds, the monstrous sum owed to the Dornbakers . . . he left out nothing. "Why should any government acknowledge that debt?" the PN asked, when Sil-Chan had finished.
"The Enclave's jurisdiction over the planet is based on accepted responsibility. Government subsidy keeps us running, fuels the collection ships, everything. If they are not responsible for us, they have no jurisdiction here."
"In their shoes, I'd opt for a simple invasion," the PN said.
David nodded agreement. Hepzebah looked thoughtful, but did not remove her hand from Sil-Chan's.
"But the Enclave holds power through a fistful of mutual aid and defense agreements. We're not very important to that agreement -- especially in a time of cost-cutting politics."
"I sympathize," the PN said, "but seems to me we could accommodate to any government. We're a simple people. Don't cost much."
"You weren't listening very well," Sil-Chan said. "You are the biggest single cost on this planet. Weather control adjustments alone take more than our robot repair budget. That's the first cost I'd cut."
"Stop our glaciers and our morning mists?" the PN asked.
"Certainly! Let you take the weather the rest of us get."
"You stop the mists and our big trees die! If they die, that sets off a chain of . . ."
"If the Enclave has its way, all services will stop . . . except perhaps the counterbalance. That'd wreck the planet."
"Do I understand you correctly?" David asked. "Free Island extends downward almost to the planet's core?"
"And upward to the edge of the atmosphere," Sil-Chan said.
"All that dirt," the PN said.
"It isn't all dirt in the strictest sense," Sil-Chan said. "Below the former magma line it's . . ."
"What's its value?" the PN asked.
"I couldn't began to tell you," Sil-Chan said.
"Seems to me," the PN mused, "our mutual problem is to make us important to that agreement which holds the government together."
"Too bad that Enclave doesn't have the Pleb," Hepzebah said. "If they could vote on . . ." She broke off as Sil-Chan squeezed her hand hard. He stared at her, an audacious idea taking shape in his mind.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Sil-Chan stared at the PN. "Would you permit our technicians to install certain equipment here?" "What equipment?"
"Technically, sir, you own this planet. But the Library is a government bureau. I doubt that you can collect, but if you demand payment that will force the convening of a new Galactic Assembly. The Enclave will have to submit to a vote."
"What equipment, I say?"
A speculative look spread over the PN's face. "That's pretty big trouble you'd be stirring up there, son."