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Page 7

"One false move and I turn that robot loose on you," said Coogan.

The guard's throat worked visibly. He said, "We'll do it. Only I don't see how you can get the whole government to give up just because --"

"Then stop thinking," said Coogan. "Just get Adams down here." He backed against the control wall and waited.

"I don't understand," said Sil-Chan.

The Mundial native sat in a chair across the desk from Coogan. A fresh Library uniform bulged over Sil-Chan's bandaged shoulder. "You pound it into us that we have to obey," he said. "You tell us we can't go against the Code. Then at the last minute you turn around and throw a blaster on the whole crew and toss them into the hospital's violent ward."

"I don't think they can get out of there," said Coogan.

"Not with all those guards around them," said Sil-Chan. "But it's still disobedience and that's against the Code." He held up a hand, palm toward Coogan. "Not that I'm objecting, you understand. It's what I was advocating all along."

"That's where you're mistaken," said Coogan. "People were perfectly willing to ignore the Library and its silly broadcasts as long as that information was available. Then the broadcasts were stopped by government order."

"But --" Sil-Chan shook his head.

"There's another new government," said Coogan. "Leader Adams was booted out because he told people they couldn't have something. That's bad policy for a politician. They stay in office by telling people they can have things."

Sil-Chan said, "Well, where does --"

"Right, after you came stumbling in here," said Coogan, "I received a general order from the new government which I was only too happy to obey. It said that Leader Adams was a fugitive and any person encountering him was empowered to arrest him and hold him for trial." Coogan arose, strode around to Sil-Chan, who also got to his feet. "So you see," said Coogan, "I did it all by obeying the government."

The Mundial native glanced across Coogan's desk, suddenly smiled and went around to the control wall. "And you got me with a tricky thing like this lever." He put a hand on the lever with which Coogan had forced his submission.

Coogan's foot caught Sil-Chan's hand and kicked it away before the little man could depress the lever.

Sil-Chan backed away, shaking his bruised hand. "Ouch!" He looked up at Coogan. "What in the name of --"

The director worked a lever higher on the wall and the panel made a quarter turn. He darted behind the wall, began ripping wires from a series of lower connections. Presently, he stepped out. There were beads of perspiration on his forehead.

Sil-Chan stared at the lever he had touched. "Oh, no --" he said. "You didn't really hook that to the grav unit!"

Coogan nodded mutely.

Eyes widening, Sil-Chan backed against the desk, sat on it. "Then you weren't certain obedience would work, that --"

"No, I wasn't," growled Coogan.

Sil-Chan smiled. "Well, now, there's a piece of information that ought to be worth something." The smile widened to a grin. "What's my silence worth?"

The director slowly straightened his shoulders. He wet his lips with his tongue. "I'll tell you, Toris. Since you were to get this position anyway, I'll tell you what it's worth to me." Coogan smiled, a slow, knowing smile that made Sil-Chan squint his eyes.

"You're my successor," said Coogan.

Part II

Whenever Sooma Sil-Chan moved along these lower corridors of the Library Planet, he liked to think of his ancestors marching through these ancient spaces. Family history was a special favorite in his studies and he felt that he knew all of those people intimately, their crises, their victories -- all preserved in the archival records these thousands of years. His thirty-times removed grandfather, Toris, had paced along this very corridor every day of that long-gone life.

Robot menials made way for him and Sooma knew that at least parts of some of these very robots had made way for that other Sil-Chan. The menials were manufactured to last. There was one of them down in his own office, Archival Chief Accountancy, that was known to have gone without need of repair for twenty-one human generations.

The fandoor of the Director's office opened before him and Sooma Sil-Chan put on his best mask of efficiency. There had been no hint at why Director Patterson Tchung had summoned the Chief Accountant. It was probably some simple matter, but Tchung was notorious as a boring stickler for detail. The Director's mouth apparently could ramble on for hours while all around him battled ennui.

Sil-Chan stepped into the Director's presence, heard the fandoor seal.

Patterson Tchung sat behind his glistening desk like an ancient simian, his characteristic scowl reduced to a squinting of the brown eyes. Wisps of black hair trailed across Tchung's mostly-bald pate and his thin lips were drawn into a tight line which Sil-Chan could not interpret. Disapproval?

Even before Sil-Chan took a seat across from him, Tchung began speaking:

"Terrible problem, Sooma. Terrible."

Sil-Chan eased himself into the cushioned chair carefully. He had never heard that tone from Tchung before. Sil-Chan cast a quick look around the Director's office, wondering if it contained evidence of this "Terrible problem." The walls which were focus rhomboids for realized images had been silenced. They presented a uniform silver grey. The only touches of color in the office were behind the Director -- a low table cluttered with curios, each one a story from some far-ranging collection ship of this "Pack Rat Planet." There was a gold statuette from the Researchers of Naos, an arrow thorn from Jacun, a tiny mound of red Atikan whisper seeds in their ceremonial fiber cup of gleaming purple . . . even an Eridanus fire scroll with its flameletters . . .

"Terrible," Tchung repeated. "We will be destroyed within six months unless we solve it. After all of these thousands of years . . . this!"

Sil-Chan, familiar with Tchung's hyperbole as well as with his ability to bore even the dullest of Library workers, wanted to smile, but there was something in Tchung's manner, something undefinably odd.

Tchung leaned forward and studied his assistant. Sil-Chan was a large man with a square, rather handsome face, green eyes under brows so blonde as to be almost invisible. His hair, of the same pale ivory, was close cropped, a new fashion among the younger archivists.

Misgivings began to fill the Director's mind. Can this be the man upon whom our survival depends? The nostrils of Tchung's high-ridged nose flared briefly, his eyes opened wide. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. There could be no turning back.

"Sooma, my young friend, you may be our only hope," Tchung said.

"What? I don't . . ."

"Of course you don't. But those government accountants who . . ."

"Those jackals I've been guiding through our files?"

"Those accountants," Tchung corrected him. "Have I done something wrong? I mean . . ."

"No!" Tchung passed a hand over his eyes. "I must obey and yet I cannot."

Now, Sil-Chan saw at least the core of Tchung's disturbance. Galactive Archives -- this Library Planet -- had existed for thousands of years by the absolute dictum that its workers must obey the government -- no matter the government. The accountants from the current government had descended upon them a fortnight ago, sneering at the "Pack Rats," demanding this record and that record. Something about that event had created a dilemma for Tchung.

"What's the problem?" Sil-Chan asked.

"Those accountants came from a war monitor which is parked in orbit above us. Accountants do not need a war monitor."

Sil-Chan stared at the Director in silence. Was that it? Could that possibly constitute the essence of Tchung's upset? Sil-Chan thought of a giant war monitor circling over the park-like surface of this unique planet. Up there lay serenity and open vistas, forests and lakes and rivers -- even a few low mountains. But down here, in fact all the way to the planet's core, was a honeycombed hive of storage and recording activity. The Library collection ships went out and came back with their information and their curios. The random-selection system at the heart of the planet's activity, chosen from all of that accumulated material and broadcast thousands of programs daily all across the known universe -- a bit of this and a bit of that, sometimes interesting, but mostly boring ... just as boring as old Tchung here.

"That does not strike me as necessarily a terrible problem," Sil-Chan said.

"There is more. Believe me, there is more."

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