Violet could only blink for effect: she had no eyelids, just those big, lambent lenses set into her rigid face. She blinked now. For effect.
“Nothing to it at all, then?”
Ben grinned. “No, just coincidence. Honestly, Dr. Brackett was amazing – I’d even almost call her sane. She showed me, step by step, how she’d developed the array. Her process was unimpeachable. I just need to tell the Registrar that there’s nothing to worry about.”
Violet stood and went over to the Registrar’s In box. She pulled Ben’s report from yesterday and handed it to him.
He gave her a crooked smile. “Yes?”
She pointed at a line near the end of the report. “Could you read me what Dr. Hamilton says there?”
“Her process… was unimpeachable. So?”
“That’s exactly what you just said to me. ‘Her process was unimpeachable.’ And here?”
“There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Which is what you’re about to tell the Registrar.”
“That could be a coincidence, though. I mean, it’s a common phrase….”
Silently, Violet paged through Ben’s other reports from the previous day. Again and again she pointed out the words her process was unimpeachable and there’s nothing to worry about.
Violet sat down again. Her actuators hummed softly as she pulled a patent application out of her typewriter. “Do you remember the three preliminary applications you filed yesterday?”
“Yes, of course. They were, ah, there was… something about morological reversion, and a new way to generate a helical magnetic field, and…. huh. I can’t remember that last one.”
“It was a method for constructing a gigantic telescope lens in space, by means of suspending beads with a kind of light ray.”
Ben laughed. “No, you’re all mixed up there. That’s the final application I brought back today, from Dr. Brackett’s laboratory.”
He thought for a moment. “Oh. No.”
He felt the cool touch of Violet’s steel fingers. She was patting him on the hand. “Let’s not report this to the Registrar just yet.”
“No. Let’s not do that just yet,” Ben agreed. He sank into Violet’s guest chair.
Violet poured a cup of coffee from her urn. He took it, but he wasn’t really aware of it until he’d lifted the cup and taken a sip. It was really good coffee.
“It’s us. She’s getting the preliminary applications from us. She got one from me.”
The preliminary patent applications were the Registry’s most valuable source of information about research in the District. If this went on, none of the scientists was going to want to file preliminary applications any more: and it was the Patent Registry’s own fault. Somehow, they were leaking the preliminaries.
“Violet, could you get me everything we have on Dr. Brackett?”
In the past ten months Dr. Brackett had been granted eighty-three patents. The patents covered a very wide spectrum of invention. That wasn’t unusual; the scientists were largely unaware of boundaries between their disciplines. But still, her range of studies was diverse. She’d filed patents on mechanical processes, astronomical observation, biology, subsonic generators, neural analyzers, and propulsion. And all of this, from a scientist whose thesis had been on chronolithic containment. Something about Time?
“And her thesis, Violet, please.”
It was pretty dense stuff – all theoretical – but Ben could see that Dr. Brackett had been looking into the possibility of a Time particle, a Chronolith. She’d made a pretty convincing case. It was good enough to land her a doctorate and, eventually, a laboratory in the District. But so far as Ben could see it was all observation and theory, without any practical applications. From that, she’d somehow become a modern da Vinci with patents in just about every field of study.
Ben went back to her file. After her graduation she’d served for a year as Professor Fenwick’s laboratory assistant. Then she’d somehow managed to establish her own lab.
Ben’s third cup of coffee had gone cold, he discovered. “Professor Fenwick,” he said aloud.
Violet, typing away at the desk next to him, said “Terribly sad, with him so young.”
“It really was a mystery, too. I mean, there he is, researching dreams, and the next thing you know his whole laboratory turns into a carnivorous fungus. No way out, of course.”
He thought back to the incident. “We all figured it was due to something Doctor Pratt was doing next door. With the biomass dispersal system. Some kind of accident. But it was so much like a nightmare that you had to wonder whether he’d done it himself, somehow. With his dream research.”
Violet spun a letter out of her typewriter and set it aside. A blank sheet of paper rolled into its place. “Dr. Brackett must have been very fortunate,” she said. “To be out running an errand at the time.”
Very fortunate. Time, and dreams.
“Do you have dreams, Violet?”
The typing stopped.
“I have aspirations,” she said at last.
“No, but, you know, when you sleep. Do you dream when you’re asleep?” It was something he’d never considered.
“I don’t sleep. Not exactly, not the way human people do. It’s different for us.”
“No, I don’t dream when I’m sleeping. I’m happy with my aspirations.”
“If I ask the Registrar, do you think he’d loan you to me tomorrow? For a little field work?”
Violet struck seven keys with an unusual amount of force. “I’m not a briefcase,” she told him.
“No, I… what I meant was, I….”
They looked at each other over the silent typewriter.
“If you ask me, I might be able to arrange it,” she said. “In view of my aspirations.”
“That would be great. Uh, would you come with me tomorrow to the District?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” she said. “If I wait until he’s overdue for his nap I can’t see any difficulty.”
“I handed him three months’ worth of expense projections this morning. I had a feeling we’d want him to be malleable.”
“Violet. You’re amazing.”
“It’s kind of you to say so,” she observed from behind her typewriter.
“But… how did you know? This morning?”
“I’m amazing,” she said, and she went back to typing a letter for the Registrar.