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Page 6

"Explanation is something that may or may not be true," said Coogan. "We're convinced of an interpretation."

"Semantics again," said Sil-Chan. A brief smile touched his lips. "Maybe that's why you're director."

"Still against me?" asked Coogan.

The smile left Sil-Chan's mouth. "It's suicide, Vince." He hitched himself forward. "If we follow your orders, when this Adams says to destroy the Library, we'd have to help him!"

"So we would," said Coogan. "But it's not going to come to that. I wish you'd trust me, Toris."

"If you were doing something that even remotely made sense, of course I would," said Sil-Chan. "But --" He shrugged.

"I've a job for you," said Coogan. "It may or may not make sense, but I want it carried out to the letter. Take any ship you can get and hop to this Sextus C III in the Mundial Group. When you get there, I want you to prove that the Yoo Clan killed Leader Adams' father. I don't care whether it's true or not. I want the proof."

"That makes sense," said Sil-Chan. "If we can discredit the big boss --"

The visor chimed. Coogan hit the switch and a sub-librarian's face appeared in the screen. "Sir," the man blurted, "the Library information broadcasts are silent! I just got a call from --"

"Orders of the government," said Coogan. "It's quite all right. Return to your duties." He blanked the screen.

Sil-Chan was leaning on the desk, fists clenched. "You mean you let them close us down without a struggle." "Let me remind you of some things," said Coogan. "We must obey the government to survive. I am director here and I've given you an order. Get on it!"

"What if I refuse?"

"I'll get somebody else to do it and you'll be locked up."

"You don't leave me any choice." He turned and slammed out of the office.

Twenty-four times the evening rains passed across the tower far above Coogan's office. The game of cat-and-mouse with Pchak went on as usual, the little brown general delving deeper and deeper into the files. On the twenty-fifth day Coogan came into his office in mid afternoon.

Pchak is completely hooked, he thought, but what happens when Adams finds out the Library hasn't been destroyed?

He sat down at his desk, swiveled to face the control panel and activated a tiny screen linked to a spy cell on the sixty-ninth level. Pchak was in the viewing room, studying the Albireo language preexamining that double-star system's war history. Behind Coogan, a mechanical hum sounded, indicating someone was emerging from the elevator. Hastily, he blanked the spy screen, turned to his desk just as the door burst open. Toris Sil-Chan staggered into the room, his clothing torn, a dirty bandage over one shoulder.

The Mundial native lurched across the room, clutched the edge of Coogan's desk. "Hide me!" he said. "Quick!"

Coogan jerked around to the panel, swung it open and motioned toward the hole that was exposed. Sil-Chan darted in and Coogan closed the panel, returned to his desk.

Again the telltale signaled. Two armed guards burst into the room, blasters in their hands. "Where is he?" demanded the first.

"Where's who?" asked Coogan. He squared a stack of papers on his desk.

"The guy who jumped off that lifeboat," said the guard.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Coogan, "but I can see that I'll have to call General Pchak and tell him how you've burst into my office without preamble and --"

The guard lowered his blaster and retreated one step. "That won't be necessary, sir," he said. "We can see the man's not here. He probably went to a lower level. Please excuse the interruption." They backed out of the room.

Coogan waited until his spy relays in the corridor told him the men had gone, then opened the panel. Sil-Chan was crumpled on the floor. Coogan bent over him, shook him. "Toris! What's wrong?"

Sil-Chan stirred, looked up at Coogan with eyes that were at first unrecognizing. "Uh . . . Vince --"

The director put an arm behind Sil-Chan, supported the man to a sitting position. "Take it easy now. Just tell me what happened."

"Made a mess of assignment," said Sil-Chan. "Yoo Clan got wind of what I was after. Had Adams send order . . . arrest. Lost ship. Got away in escape boat. Landed other side . . . planet. Pchak's guards tried stop --" His head slumped forward.

Coogan put a hand to the man's heart, felt its steady pumping. He eased Sil-Chan back to the floor, went out and summoned a hospital robot. Sil-Chan regained consciousness while the robot was listing him. "Sorry to go out on you like that," he said. "I --"

The message visor on the director's desk chimed. Coogan pushed the response switch, scanned the words of a visual message, blanked the screen and turned back to Sil-Chan. "You'll have to be treated here," he said. "Couldn't risk carrying you through the corridors right now.

The spy beam hummed at the door. Coogan pushed Sil-Chan behind the panel, closed it. Pchak strode into the office, a blaster in his hand, two guards behind him. The general glanced at the hospital robot, looked at Coogan. "Where's the man that robot was called to treat?"

The last guard into the office closed the door, drew his blaster.

"Talk or you'll be cut down where you stand," said Pchak. The showdown, thought Coogan. He said, "These hospital robots are a peculiar kind of creature, general. They don't have the full prime directive against harming humans because sometimes they have to choose between saving one person and letting another one die. I can tell this robot that if I'm harmed it must give all of you an overdose of the most virulent poison it carried in its hypo arm. I informed the robot that this action will save my life. It naturally is loyal to the Library and will do exactly what I have just now told it to do."

Pchak's face tightened. He raised the blaster slightly.

"Unless you wish to die in agony, place your blasters on my desk," said Coogan.

"I won't," said Pchak. "Now what're you going to do?"

"Your blasters can kill me," said Coogan, "but they won't stop that robot until it has carried out my order."

Pchak's finger began to tighten on the trigger. "Then let's give it the --"

The sharp blat! of an energy bolt filled the room. Pchak slumped. The guard behind him skirted the robot fearfully, put his blaster on Coogan's desk. The weapon smelled faintly of ozone from the blast that had killed Pchak. "Call that thing off me now," said the man, staring at the robot.

Coogan looked at the other guard. "You, too," he said.

The other man came around behind the robot, put his weapon on the desk. Coogan picked up one of the weapons. It felt strange in his hand.

"You're not going to turn that thing loose on us now, are you?" asked the second guard. He seemed unable to take his gaze from the robot.

Coogan glanced down at the scarab shape of the mechanical with its flat pad extensors and back hooks for carrying a stretcher. He wondered what the two men would do if he told them the thing Pchak had undoubtedly known -- that the robot could take no overt action against a human, that his words had been a lie.

The first guard said, "Look, we're on your side now. We'll tell you everything. Just before he came down here, Pchak got word that Leader Adams was coming and --"

"Adams!" Coogan barked the word. He thought, Adams coming! How to turn that to advantage? He looked at the first guard. "You were with Pchak when he came the first day, weren't you?"

"I was his personal guard," said the man.

Coogan scooped the other blaster off his desk, backed away. "All right. When Adams lands, you get on that visor and tell him Pchak wishes to see him down here. With Adams a hostage, I can get the rest to lay down their arms."

"But --" said the guard.

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