The man in the brown toga stared at Patterson, said, "Who is this other person?" He hooked a thumb toward Coogan.
"This is Vincent Coogan," said Patterson. "He has just returned from the Hesperides Group to be on hand to greet you. Mr. Coogan is my chief assistant and successor."
Pchak looked at Coogan. "Out scavenging with the rest of the pack rats," he said. He turned back to Patterson. "But perhaps there will be need of a successor."
One of the guards moved up to stand beside the general. Pchak said, "Since knowledge is unhappiness, even the word is distasteful when used in a laudatory manner."
Coogan suddenly sensed something electric and deadly in the room. It was evident that Patterson did, too, because he looked directly at Coogan and said, "We are here to obey."
"You demonstrate an unhappy willingness to admire knowledge," said Pchak.
The guard's blaster suddenly came up and chopped down against the director's head. Patterson slumped to the floor, blood welling from a gash on his scalp.
Coogan started to take a step forward, was stopped by the other guard's blaster prodding his middle. A red haze formed in front of Coogan's eyes, a feeling of vertigo swept over him. In spite of the dizziness, part of his mind went on clicking, producing information to be observed. This is standard procedure for oppressors, said his mind. Cow your victims by an immediate show of violence. Something cold, hard and calculating took over Coogan's consciousness.
"Director Coogan," said Pchak, "do you have any objections to what has just occurred?"
Coogan stared down at the squat brown figure. I have to stay in control of the situation, he thought. I'm the only one left who'll fight this according to the Code. He said, "Every man seeks advancement."
Pchak smiled. "A realist. Now explain your Library." He strode around the desk, sat down. "It hardly seems just for our government to maintain a pesthole such as this, but my orders are to investigate before passing judgment."
Your orders are to make a show of investigation before putting the Library to the torch, thought Coogan. He picked up an image control box from the desk, clipped it to his belt. Immediately, a blaster in a guard's hand prodded his side.
"What is that?" demanded Pchak.
Coogan swallowed. "These are image controls," he said. He looked down at Patterson sprawled on the floor. "May I summon a hospital robot for Mr. Patterson?"
"No," said Pchak. "What are image controls?"
Coogan took two deep breaths, looked at the side wall. "The walls of this room are focus rhomboids for realized images," he said. "They were turned off to avoid distractions during your arrival."
Pchak settled back in the chair. "You may proceed."
The guard continued to hold his blaster on Coogan.
Moving to a position opposite the wall, Coogan worked the belt controls. The wall became a window looking down an avenue of filing cases. Robots could be seen working in the middle distance.
"Terra is mostly a shell," said Coogan. "The major portion of the matter was taken to construct spaceships during the great outpouring."
"That fable again," said Pchak.
Coogan stopped. Involuntarily, his eyes went to the still figure of Caldwell Patterson on the floor.
"Continue," said Pchak.
The cold, hard, calculating something in Coogan's mind said, You know what to do. Set him up for your Sunday punch.
Coogan concentrating on the screen, said: "The mass loss was compensated by a giant gravitronic unit in the planet center. Almost the entire subsurface of Terra is occupied by the Library. Levels are divided into overlapping squares one hundred kilometers to the side. The wealth of records stored here staggers the imagination. It's --"
"Your imagination perhaps," said Pchak. "Not mine."
Coogan fought down a shiver which crawled along his spine, forced himself to continue. He said. "It is the repository for all the reported doings of every government in the history of the galaxy. The format was set by the original institution from which this one grew. It was known as the Library of Congress. That institution had a reputation of --"
"Congress," said Pchak in his deadly flat tones. "Kindly explain that term."
Now what have I said? Coogan wondered. He faced Pchak, said, "Congress was an ancient form of government. The closest modern example is the Tschi Council which --"
"I thought so!" barked Pchak. "That debating society! Would you explain to me, Mr. Coogan, why a recent Library broadcast extolled the virtues of this form of government?" There's the viper, thought Coogan. He said, "Well, nobody watches Library broadcasts anyway. What with some five thousand channels pouring out --"
"Answer my question, Mr. Coogan." Pchak leaned forward. An eager look came into the eyes of the guard with the blaster. Again Coogan's eyes sought out the still form of Patterson on the floor.
"We have no control of program selection," said Coogan, "except on ten special channels for answering research questions and ten other channels which scan through the new material as it is introduced into the Library."
"No control," said Pchak. "That's an interesting answer. Why is this?"
Coogan rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand, said, "The charter for the broadcasts was granted by the first system wide government in the Twenty-first Century. A method of random program selection was devised to insure impartiality. It was considered that the information in the Library should always be freely available to all --" His voice trailed off and he wondered if he had quoted too much of the charter. Well, they can read it in the original if they want, he thought.
"Fascinating," said Pchak. He looked at the nearest guard. "Isn't that so?"
The guard grinned.
Coogan took a slow, controlled breath, exhaled. He could feel a crisis approaching. It was like a weight on his chest.
"This has to be a thorough investigation," said Pchak. "Let's see what you're broadcasting right now."
Coogan worked the belt controls and an image realized before the righthand rhomboid. It was of a man with a hooked nose. He wore leather pants and shirt, shoes with some kind of animal face projecting from the toes, a feather crest hat on his head.
"This is a regular random information broadcast," said Coogan. He looked at his belt. "Channel Eighty-two." He turned up the volume.
The man was talking a language of harsh consonants punctuated by sibilant hisses. Beside him on the floor was a mound of tiny round objects, each bearing a tag.
"He is speaking the dead Procyon language," said Coogan. "He's a zoologist of a system which was destroyed by corona gas thirty-four centuries ago. The things on the floor are the skulls of a native rodent, he's saying that he spent eleven years classifying more than eight thousand of those skulls."
"Why?" asked Pchak. He seemed actually interested, leaned forward to look at the mound of skulls on the floor.
"I think we've missed that part," said Coogan. "It probably was to prove some zoological theory."
Pchak settled back in his chair. "He's dead," he said. "His system no longer exists. His language is no longer spoken. Is there much of this sort of thing being broadcast?"
"I'm afraid ninety-nine per cent of the Library broadcasts -- excluding research channels -- is of this nature," said Coogan. "It's the nature of the random selection."
"Who cares what the zoologist's theory was?" asked Pchak.
"Perhaps some zoologist," said Coogan. "You never can tell when a piece of information will be valuable."
Pchak muttered something under his breath which sounded like, "Pack rats!"