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Page 8

Tchung wondered how he could unfold the problem for the younger man and still keep Sil-Chan obedient to the code. It was such a complex problem . . .

Sil-Chan sighed. Better men than he had despaired of ever bringing Tchung directly to the point. The man was a committed wanderer. And if the presence of a war monitor was all that. . . .

For his part, Tchung's thoughts were on the government accountants in their cell-like rooms of this hive planet -- the eager men pouring over Archival records, bent on paring down the budget until this ancient institution died. And those men were on the trail of the things they needed.

"I am forced to remind you of our Code," Tchung said. "Obedience to government. That one rule has kept us alive through crisis after crisis and through more than five thousand governments."

"The Code, yes. I saw that you . . ."

"We are here to preserve the present for the future -- any present for any future. Wherever the curiosity of our collectors takes them, that is what we preserve."

"All right! What has happened?"

"Although this crisis may very well be our last one, Sooma, you are to do nothing, think nothing, say nothing that may be construed even remotely as disobedience to the government." "Agreed! Agreed!"

"Patience, my young friend. Patience."

Again, Tchung covered his eyes with a hand. This is the tool upon which I depend. This childless . . . bachelor . . . so intent upon his career that he has no time for home and mate . . . no thoughts at all for the long endurance which is the survival of us all. This youth . . . this callow . . . He's not yet fifty and he . . .

"Are you ill, sir?" Sil-Chan asked.

Tchung lowered his hand, opened his eyes. "No. You were correct, of course, to call those accountants jackals. They will feast themselves on anything. They mean to destroy us."

"Just because a war monitor . . ."

"They mean to destroy us. I assure you of this."

"What makes you think that?"

Director Tchung stared over Sil-Chan's head at an empty space above the fandoor. So impatient! When I was his age I already was married and with two children. How can Records name Sil-Chan as my most logical successor? A man requires familial stability for this position.

"There is no doubt whatsoever about my assessment of our peril," Tchung said.

The wordy old fool!

Sil-Chan hitched himself forward in his chair. "But how . . ."

"One of our random broadcasts reviewed an ancient play of the Trosair period. It was a humorous review, in fact very amusing -- a farce. It poked fun at an imaginary government called The Myrmidion Enclave."

Sil-Chan felt his mouth go dry. "Myrmidion. . . ."

"Indeed -- a cosmic jest. Coincidence? Tell that to our government. Tell that to Supreme Imperator Hobart of Myrmid. Tell it to the Myrmid Enclave."

"It has to be a coincidence," Sil-Chan said. "We'll show them how the random selection system works. No one interferes with that. We'll . . ."

"The accountants come directly from Hobart of Myrmid. Our own Records section, the Central Computer -- all agree that the accountants have orders to destroy us."

"Then we'll fight!"

"We will not fight!" Tchung sank back into his chair, breathing heavily. "At least, we will not offer them violence."

"Then let's send out collection ships to enlist help for . . ."

"The accountants have already requisitioned every gram of fuel wire on the planet. Our ships are grounded." "They can't do that! We . . ."

"They are the government," Tchung reminded him. "And we obey the government."

Sil-Chan stared at the curios behind the Director. No more collection ships going out? No more additions to the Archives?

"I suppose our great age is against us," Tchung said. "We've existed so long, it was inevitable that one day we would have to cope with . . . with coincidence."

"Perhaps if we seceded from . . ."

"Hah!" Tchung glowered at his subordinate. "And us a hollow ball of storage space full of records and artifacts! We're completely dependent upon Galactic subsidy. We've nothing to draw upon to support ourselves or to fuel our collection ships. We've only one commodity -- the stored knowledge and information. We're mankind's memory. It has suddenly been rediscovered that certain memories can be dangerous."

"What can we . . ."

"Not we,you." Tchung pointed a finger at him. "You can anticipate that snooping accountant staff. You must justify every expenditure, every credit that we . . ."

"Sir? Nothing I do can justify us if they don't want to accept our arguments."

Tchung drew in a deep breath, exhaled slowly. "Yes, of course. But the government accountants are inquiring into the Dornbaker Account. I want . . ."

"Dornbaker Account?" Sil-Chan stared in puzzlement at the Director.

"Yes, the Dornbaker Account. I summoned you because the discrepancies are enormous. I want you to . . ."

"I've never heard of a Dornbaker Account."

Tchung stared at him. "But you're the Chief Accountant!"

"I know, sir, but . . ."

"Wait." Tchung reached into the message chute behind his desk, retrieved a thick sheaf of inter-Library micros and fed them into the player above the chute. "I asked for the actual material when it . . . I mean, I didn't want this playing over any of our internal circuits."

"If it's sensitive, I can understand the secrecy, sir. But that's quite a package. All of that in one account?"

"It's a condensation, Sooma. A condensation."

"But why . . . I mean, if I'm to shepherd these accountants around and . . . Sir, I've never heard of this Dornbaker Account. I swear it. What is it?"

Tchung nodded. "I suspected that. You understand that I do not mistrust your competency. But I was naturally worried about the activities of these . . . as you say, jackals. I thought I would look into the larger expenses, find what . . ."

"That's the very thing I've been doing, sir. I have my people poring over everything."

"Not quite everything. You see, I requested the records on all large expenses of long standing that have not been reviewed or readjusted for several centuries."

Tchung cleared his throat.

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