Ben was surprised by some of Violet’s news from the League of Robotic Persons. But as an experienced investigator he knew how to nod, one eyebrow lowered, as though she was just confirming what he’d suspected all along.
“They sure can hold a grudge,” he said.
The Registrar also lowered one eyebrow when Ben brought Violet with him into their meeting.
Ben delivered the news that Doctor Petaja was out of the picture for the next four months. That would give them all time to deal with this although, by its nature, it was now a matter for City Government. He gave an overview of the preliminary applications and their finals; he expressed the clear concerns raised by the applications; and then he turned it over to Violet, saying “But it was Violet who cracked this thing, ma’am. Her tireless research and her, uh, penetrating insights, I mean. They were the thing that turned the corner.”
The Registrar turned to Violet. “Explain.”
“In the long run, Registrar, it was the involvement of the whales and the combination of the technologies that made things clear. The League of Robotic Persons has set up a dialogue with the world’s cetaceans, who have a name for their organization that I can’t pronounce. It means something like ‘Seawide Alliance of Thoughtful Persons’. They’ve found that humans are very interested in some materials that can be found on the sea floor. Some very valuable materials, easily retrieved by the whales. And although no one has really noticed, the whales now have large accounts with several of the city’s banking institutions.”
“Are they using shell companies, holding companies, that sort of thing?”
“No, Registrar. They’ve been conducting their business right out in the open. It’s just that it never occurred to anyone that – ”
“Yes, I see. Go on.”
Ben interrupted. “I was really impressed with Violet’s reasoning, here,” he said. “She’s showing a natural aptitude for – ”
“That’s enough, Investigator. Violet?”
The robot secretary ground her steely foot into Ben’s instep. He kept smiling, somehow, while she continued.
“It turns out that there’s a radical group within the Seawide Alliance of Thoughtful Persons.This group has bitter memories of the days when human people hunted whales, ma’am. They’re not convinced that, beg your pardon, you’ve changed your ways on a permanent basis. And so they feel that the whales should have some means of self defense.”
The Registrar scratched a note on her notepad. “This is starting to sound like a diplomatic problem,” she said.
“Very likely, ma’am. It turns out that Doctor Petaja received a research commission from the Seawide Alliance. Several of these new patents are the result of his research.”
Ben spread the final applications across the Registrar’s spotless desk. He pointed at each one.
“If I may? First we have the Completely Revised Application of Highly Energized Light Rays in the Analysis of Atmospheric Composition. That’s useful in, say, atmospheric analysis for weather prediction, or in detecting pollutants. Also, as we’ll see here, it has applications in targeting and range finding. Next there’s Proposed Technique for Liquefying Cellular Material By Means Of Distant Modified Rainfall which, of course, sounds kind of alarming to anybody who’s made of cellular material, like, heh heh, you or me. But the ‘rainfall’ thing seems strange, until you combine it with Enhanced Method of Air Expulsion for Cetaceans. Because when they breathe out, those whales are expelling a heck of a lot of water vapor. So when you put all of these together – ” he put the three applications into a single stack. “ – what you get is a sophisticated range-finding system, combined with a disintegrating mist that’s delivered through the use of modified blowholes for the whales. With, uh, a range of about seventy miles.”
He straightened. “It’s probably meant to protect the whales from any kind of whaling operation,” he said. “Though once they have the technology….”
The Registrar looked solemn. “Yes, they might just decide to use it.”
“But ma’am, did I mention that it was Violet who put all of this together?”
“Yes, Investigator. I think you may have mentioned it.”
The Registrar looked at Violet. “I’ll need to call a meeting with representatives from City Government,” she said. “Also, because they seem to be so helpful, with the League of Robotic Persons.”
Violet started for the door, but turned. “It’s worth noting that Proposed Technique for Liquefying Cellular Material has some superficial resemblance to Professor Zappencackler’s Patent #13,559. We could tie that up in an investigation for several months. Actually, indefinitely. If that’s a help.”
As the door swung shut Ben smiled helpfully. “She’s just done this amazing job here,” he said.
The Registrar smiled back. “Yes, she really has. On your way out, could you tell Violet that I’ve had a fascinating new idea about the filing system? I’d like her to get right on it.”
Ben forgot to leave, until she reminded him.
Violet was still refiling, two days later, when Registrar Finlay went up to City Hall for the Whales Meeting.
Ben was pretty riled up about it. But Violet took the long view. “She’s a worthy opponent,” was all she’d say.
One of the mail room boys came in with a package.
“For the Registrar?” Violet asked.
“No, ma’am, this one’s for you.” He set the package on her desk, and she rose from the file drawers to look at it.
The boy asserted that this was true. Then, to Ben: “So we saw Officer Binder off this morning. Early retirement, full pension.”
Ben was pleased to hear it. “And did they ever get it off?”
“No, sorry to say. The docs called it ‘inoperable’. Fact is, they’re not even sure his own head is still in there.”
They all took a moment to imagine what it would be like to have a giant bullfrog for a head.
“He was – I mean, he’s a nice kid,” Ben said at last.
“Yeah, he was always real popular down in the mail room.”
They all thought about it some more.
“Full pension, though?” Ben asked.
“Yeah, no problems there. Everybody was real nice about it, too.”
The boy from the mail room continued on his rounds. Violet unwrapped her package and she sank into her chair, lifting the little trophy from its bed of wrapping paper.
“Hey! Employee of the Month!” Ben was beaming. “Congratulations!”
Violet looked up from the trophy. “This isn’t over,” she said.
The Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents continue with Fenwick’s Improved Venomous Worms.