Previous Table Next

Page 3

Coogan said, "Pack rats?"

The little brown man smiled. "That's what we call you," he said. "And with some justification evidently. You're packed with the kind of useless material a rodent would admire."

Time for one small lesson, thought Coogan. He said, "The pack rat, also known as the trade rat, was a rodent indigenous to this planet. It's now extinct here, but there are examples on Markeb IX and several of the Ring planets. The pack rat lived in forest land and was known for his habit of stealing small things from hunters' camps. For everything it took, the pack rat left an item from its nest, a bit of twine, a twig, a shiny piece of glass, a rock. In all of that useless material which cluttered its nest there might be one nugget of a precious metal. Since the pack rat showed no selection in its trading -- was random, so to speak -- it might leave the precious metal in a hunter's camp in exchange for a bottle top."

Pchak got to his feet, walked across the room to the zoologist's image, passed a hand through the projection. "Remarkable," he said, sarcasm filling his voice. "This is supposed to be a nugget?"

"More likely a twig," said Coogan.

Pchak turned back, faced Coogan.

What else do you hide in this rat's nest? Any nuggets?"

Coogan looked down at Patterson on the floor. There was a stillness about the thin old figure. "First, may I have a hospital robot attend to Mr. Patterson?"

The general kept his eyes on Coogan. "No. Answer my request."

First rule of the Code -- obey, thought Coogan. With a slow, controlled movement, he shifted a lever on the box at his belt. The Procyon zoologist vanished and the wall became a screen showing a page of a book. Here's the bait, thought Coogan, and I hope it poisons you. He said, "This is an early account of military tactics showing some methods that succeeded and others that failed."

Pchak turned to the screen, put his hands behind him, rocked back and forth on heels and toes. "What language?"

"Ancient English of Terra," said Coogan. "We have a scanner that'll give you an oral translation if you'd like."

The general kept his eyes on the screen. "How do I know this account is accurate?" "The Library Code does not permit tampering with records," said Coogan. "Our oath is to preserve the present for the future." He glanced at Pchak, back to the screen. "We have other battle records, the tactics of every species encountered by humans. For example, we have the entire war history of the Praemir of Roman II."

Coogan shifted his belt controls and the screen took up a history of warfare which had been assembled for a general sixteen centuries dead. Pchak watched as the record went from clubs and rocks to spears and made a side journey into bizarre weapons. Suddenly, Coogan blanked the screen.

Pchak's head snapped up. "Why did you stop that?"

Hooked him, thought Coogan. He said, "I thought you might rather view this at your leisure. If you wish, I'll set up a viewing room and show you how to order the records when there are side issues you'd like to study." Coogan held his breath. Now we learn if he's really caught, he thought.

The general continued to study the blank screen. "I have orders to make a thorough investigation," he said. "I believe this comes under the category of investigation. Have your viewing room prepared." He turned, went to the door, followed by his guards.

"It's down on the sixty-ninth level," said Coogan. "Viewing room A." He started toward Pchak. "I'll get you all set up and --"

"You will remain here," said Pchak. "We will use Viewing Room B, instead. Send an assistant to explain things." He glanced back. "You do have an assistant, do you not?"

"I'll send Toris Sil-Chan," said Coogan and then remembered what Patterson had said about Toris leading the hotheads who wanted to do battle. He would have bitten off his tongue to retract the words, but knew he dared not change now or it would arouse Pchak's suspicions. He returned to the desk, had central-routing find Toris and send him to the viewing room. Please don't do anything rash, he prayed.

"Is this assistant your successor?" asked Pchak, looking down at Patterson.

"No," said Coogan.

"You must appoint a successor," said Pchak and left with his two guards.

Coogan immediately summoned a hospital robot for Patterson. The scarab shape came in on silent wheels, lifted the still form on its flat pad extensors and departed.

The sunset rain was drifting along its longitudinal mark on Terra, spattering a shallow sea, dewing the grasslands, filling the cups of flowers. One wall screen of the director's office was activated to show this surface scene -- a white village in the rain, flutterings of trees. Surface copters whirred across the village, their metal gleaming in the wetness.

Coogan, his thin face wearing a look of weariness, sat at the director's desk, hands clasped in front of him. Occasionally, he glanced at the wall screen. The spire of a government star ship -- tall alabaster with a sunburst insignia on its bow -- could be seen beyond the village. Coogan sighed.

A chime sounded behind him. He turned to the control panel wall, depressed a button, spoke into a microphone. "Yes?"

A voice like wire scraped across a tin plate came out of the speaker. "This is the hospital."

"Well?" Coogan's voice showed irritation.

"Director Patterson was dead upon arrival here," said the wire-scraping voice. "The robots already have disposed of his body through the GIB orifice."

"Don't say anything about it yet," said Coogan. He removed his hand from the switch, turned back to the desk. His desk now. Director Coogan. The thought gave him no satisfaction. He kept remembering a still form sprawled on the floor. A terrible way to go, he thought. A Librarian should end at his researches, just quietly topple over in the stacks.

The desk visor chimed. Coogan hit the palm switch and Pchak's face appeared on the screen. The general was breathing rapidly, beads of sweat on his forehead.

"May I help you?" asked Coogan.

"How do I get the condemned instruction records for the Zosma language?" demanded Pchak. "Your machine keeps referring me to some nonsense about abstract symbolism."

The door of Coogan's office opened and Sil-Chan entered, saw that a caller was on the screen, stopped just inside the door. Sil-Chan was a blocky figure who achieved fat without looking soft. His round face was dominated by upswept almond eyes characteristic of the inhabitants of the Mundial Group planets of Ruchbah.

Coogan shook his head at Sil-Chan, his mind searching through memories for an answer to Pchak's question. It came to him, tagged semantics study. "Zosma," he said. "Yes, that was a language which dealt only in secondary referents. Each phrase was two times removed from --"

"What in Shandu is a secondary referent?" exploded Pchak.

Calmly, thought Coogan. I can't afford to precipitate action yet. He said, "Ask for the section on semantics. Did Mr. Sil-Chan show you how to get the records you need?"

"Yes, yes," said Pchak. "Semantics, eh?" The screen went blank.

Sil-Chan closed the door, came across the office. "I would imagine," he said, "that the general is under the impression his researches will be completed in a week or two."

"So it would seem," said Coogan. He studied Sil-Chan. The man didn't look like a hothead, but perhaps it had taken this threat to the Library to set him off.

Sil-Chan took a chair across from Coogan. "The general is a low alley dog," he said, "but he believes in this Leader Adams. The gleam in his eyes when he talks about Adams would frighten a saint."

"How was it down in the viewing room?" asked Coogan. "Pchak is busy studying destruction," said Sil-Chan. "We haven't made up our minds yet whether to exterminate him. Where's Director Patterson?"

A sixth sense warned Coogan not to reveal that the director was dead. He said, "He isn't here."

"That's fairly obvious," said Sil-Chan. "I have an ultimatum to deliver to the director. Where is he?"

"You can deliver your ultimatum to me," said Coogan dryly.

Sil-Chan's eyes showed little glints deep in the pupils as he stared at Coogan. "Vince, we've been friends a long time," he said, "but you've been away in the Hesperides Group and don't know what's been going on here. Don't take sides yet."

Previous Table Next