“I don’t get it.” The interference was worse, now, so that Ben’s face kept dissolving and reforming on the televideo screen. “He didn’t use, I don’t know, a graviton dispersal ray? Or some kind of violent reorganization of the atoms under the laboratory?”
Violet looked past the screen so that she could keep Professor Wilcox in view. He was trying to maneuver some kind of cart through the doorway.
“No, he just used a whole lot of inertrium blocks,” she told Ben. “Simplest thing in the world. He just added them one by one, each day for more than a year.”
Ben’s face turned sideways. He seemed to be talking to Dr. Moore. “Could you go look in the basement?” he asked. “There’s probably a lot of inertrium down there.” He looked back into the screen. “That’s kind of disappointing. I mean, it’s not what you’d call inventive.”
Violet kept one eye on Professor Wilcox – because her eyes really could do that – as she answered. “Some say that the simplest solution is the best,” she said.
“What? Do they really?”
“Well, the people who say that don’t live in the District. But yes, they do. He kept adding the blocks every day until today, when there was finally enough inertrium under Dr. Moore’s lab to lift it off the ground. It was just an accident that you happened to be in there at the time.”
Professor Wilcox looked up from his efforts with the cart to nod. Then he tried turning the cart to the left. It was pretty well wedged in the doorway.
Dr. Moore’s face came into view on the televideo screen. “It’s true!” she said. “The basement floor’s gone, but the ceiling is packed with inertrium blocks. I showed the ASAA officers.”
Ben’s eyebrows shot up. “Say, that’s great. Are they removing them?”
“Yes. I’m going back down to help.” Dr. Moore peered into the camera. “Is Professor Wilcox there? Because I want him to know that I’m going to be dropping by.”
She headed back to the basement. “I guess I should go down there too,” Ben told Violet.
“If you’re anywhere near the northwest corner of the Perisquare, Ben, remember that you placed that bet. You could time it just right….”
He grinned. “Yeah, you bet. A week’s pay in the pool, right? Then I’ll get right back to the office so I can talk you up to the new Registrar.”
Violet’s invisible smile was back. “Thanks so much, Ben. I’ll stay on the line.”
She raised a finger at Professor Wilcox. “If you point that thing in my direction I am going to become extremely annoyed.”
He’d gotten the cart through the door. On one end – the end that he’d been turning toward Violet – there was a peculiar cone, ringed with a spiral glass pipe. The vacuum tubes behind the cone were warming to a golden glow. Green fluid was creeping forward through the pipe.
The professor stopped moving the cart. “You can’t just….”
“Oh, I can,” said Violet. “You haven’t even seen the beginning of what I can do.”
It was important that she keep the professor in line, but Violet’s temper had cooled once they’d begun the laboratory’s descent. She felt that she was nearing the end of a long, painful road: a road that was littered with the scattered careers of former Registrars and paved with the razor-sharp fangs of her own constant distress. By the end of the day she was going to achieve the goal she’d worked so hard to reach. Perhaps she could afford to be generous.
“Just wait a few minutes, Professor, and I”ll be gone. Everything will be the way it ought to be.”
He slammed his palm on the power switch for his device. “Yes, and Dr. Moore will be back next door.”
The professor wouldn’t enjoy any of the answers to that, so Violet just watched the televideo screen until Ben’s face came back into view. “Ha, I think I got it! We were coming down a little too fast, so I stopped shifting those blocks and came back up here to slow things down. I’m pretty sure we’ll land right in that northwest corner.”
“The ASAA has it in control, then?”
“Yeah, they were kind of upset when I left. But they’re doing fine. I mean, if I’d stayed we’d have landed right up by the Trylon. So I think I’m going to win that bet. Smack in the corner.”
“It seems like we’re both going to have good news today, then.”
“Yeah, congratulations. I really mean it. Thing is…” Ben leaned into the camera, running his eyes up and down on his own screen. “…thing is, I don’t think they have a uniform that’ll fit you. Kind of never had to fit a robot before.”
“I’ll just go down to the League of Robotic Persons,” she said. “They have a wonderful body shop there. I’ll get a new coat of paint.”
“Should I be surprised if you’ve thought of everything? Nope.” The laboratory around him shuddered and shook. “I think we just landed,” he said. “Hang on.”
Ben disappeared from view for a moment. She heard him let out a whoop.
She faced Professor Wilcox. “They’ve set down,” she told him. “I don’t know how long it will take to get Dr. Moore’s laboratory back here, but you should probably expect her at any time.”
The professor slumped against his cart. “I’m doomed,” he said. “She’s so good with toxins.”
Violet told Ben that she’d meet him back at the Registry and switched off. “Professor, get on the line right away and file a complaint with the Zoning Department. If they’re quick they’ll impound Dr. Moore’s laboratory and take her into custody before she can get here. Operating a lab outside the District is a very serious offense.”
His face slowly relaxed into a smile. “Oh. Thank you.”
“If you want to thank the Registry, just keep our investigators and officers out of your neighborhood feuds in the future.”
The professor was happy to agree; Violet was happy to set off for the office and her new investigator’s badge. Everybody was happy, except perhaps for Dr. Moore.