Professor Wilcox hadn’t been very active lately, judging by his preliminary applications. Of course there was the one that Ben was investigating, the one that was duplicated in an application by Dr. Moore. Wilcox had filed his Syncretic Accretion of Non-Flammable Gases in a New Category of Explosion, with Pastry on the same day as Moore’s Explosive Bimorphism of Inert Gases Within an Edible Shell, and the two were so similar that an investigation was automatic. In this case, since the two scientists operated next door to one another, the situation was even more suspicious.
But as far as Violet could tell there wasn’t any suggestion that Syncretic Accretion could be used to lift an entire building into the air except, on a very temporary basis, after an explosion.
Officer Rocklynne brought her two new preliminaries: Low-Energy Sound Waves Exerting a Remarkable Dissolution Effect and Simple Mechanical Implants Which Enhance Leaping Behavior in Squirrels. No help there, either.
“Three blocks west of the Volto-Vac warehouse on 147th,” Rocklynne said.
“What? Oh, yes. The pool.”
Violet slid the betting pool out from under Wilcox’s preliminaries and added a line at the bottom: Rocklynne, 3 blks w. Voltoc-Vac on 147th. She was already on a second sheet, and before long she’d have to add a third.
“Thanks!” said Officer Rocklynne. “Any word on Investigator Bowman?”
“No, he’s still trying to figure it out. Bearing up, though. You know Ben.”
She slipped the pool sheets back under the preliminaries. “I’m thinking that – if this even is Wilcox’s work – he must be using something he hasn’t registered with us.”
“Well, just let us know if there’s anything we can do.”
She nodded and thanked him. Once Rocklynne had left, she let her eyes wander over the file cabinets. There were just so many inventions.
She was still thinking about that when Registrar Sandrov opened his door. “Violet? I was reading those files you gave me….”
She turned to face him. “Yes?”
“Well, I see what you’re trying to tell me. If these are accurate – sorry, figure of speech, just procedure, entirely normal – then you’re very well qualified to become an officer; probably even an investigator. No question. But I’ll need to interview the investigators you’ve worked with. I think that’s mainly Investigator Bowman…? I’d like to talk to him, if he’s in the building.”
“Investigator Bowman is… not in the office at the moment. I can tell him you’d like to speak to him.”
“That would be wonderful, Violet. And I think I can say, procedure notwithstanding, I don’t think there’d be any problem. After I talk to Investigator Bowman, I mean.”
“Oh, yes. Thanks! That’s a fresh pot, isn’t it?”
He filled his cup again and went back into his sanctum.
Violet stared at her row of Employee of the Month trophies. After so long, she could hardly believe that this was happening. She just had to get Ben back down out of the air.
Officer Fearn sidled into view, her cap in her hand. “Top of the Constellation Monorail Station,” she whispered.
“On top of the station? That’s awfully high.”
“Yeah, dark horse, I know. But the wind’s picked up, and there was a report that the laboratory’s gaining altitude.”
Violet pulled out the pool and added Fearn, top of Monorail Stn, Constellation.
“Thanks!” Officer Fearn disappeared down the hallway.
Violet shook her head. She’d better call Ben. He answered on the second ring.
“Is there any way you can get down, and get back here?” she asked him. “Registrar Sandrov is eager to speak with you.”
“We’ve got six ASAA rockets flying an escort,” he said. “But they won’t take us off. Some kind of liability thing, with an unmanned building flying over the city.”
She had to admit that this was an unusual situation, from an air safety perspective.
“It’s really important to me that you speak to the Registrar,” she said. “It’s about… you know. It’s about that.”
Ben’s face, even through the interference on the screen, brightened up into a smile. “Really? Hey, Violet, that’s terrific. Just as soon as I get down, I promise. This is… well, it’s just swell, Violet. Really happy for you.”
He couldn’t know that she was smiling back, but she smiled her undetectable smile anyway. “That means a lot, Ben. But we really need to get you out of there.”
“No clue in Wilcox’s applications, then?”
“I’m about ready to go out there myself. Say… you know, we’re running a pool. If you were to start coming down in about forty-five minutes, where do you think you’d land?”
“Let me go check.”
Violet watched Dr. Moore’s laboratory on the screen while she waited. It was surprisingly quiet, for a flying building.
Ben returned. “In forty-five minutes, we start sinking, I’d say we’d land in the Perisquare. Say… the northwest corner. If we come down slow.”
Violet pulled out the betting pool and added Bowman, Perisquare, NW corner.
“There you are,” she said. “The pool’s up at about a week’s pay for you, now.”
She saw the laboratory jerk sideways behind him, and Ben tumbled out of view for a moment. “Yeah, well, if you could do something about this, that’d be great. Getting some turbulence up here.”
She was just signing off when the Registrar came out of his office again. “I’m really going to miss this coffee of yours,” he told her. “Any word from Investigator Bowman?”
“I’m just going out now,” she said. “I hope to have him back in about an hour.”
“I hope so. I just saw that he’s off all of next week, and we’ll be seriously short-handed. I’d really like to promote you today.”
Violet couldn’t speak. She just stared at him.
“So it’s important that I talk to him before the end of the day.”
She nodded. She still couldn’t answer, so she just got up and hurried from the room.
The Registrar grinned, once she was gone. This was his favorite part of any job. Then he glanced down at the papers that were spread across her desk.
She was a good secretary. He really was going to miss her coffee.