Registrar Cartier had been very interested in his briefings and he was still paging through the Registrar’s manual from time to time while he asked Violet further questions. This was rare, in a Registrar, and it might foretell an enlightened era for the Registry. Violet certainly hoped so.
His only shortcoming was that he preferred tea to coffee. Even the aroma of the coffeepot seemed to trouble him; Violet thoughtfully removed her percolator and left it in Investigator Bowman’s office.
The Registrar also wore a rather bold auburn mustache, and Violet saw facial hair so rarely that her instinct was to either trap it or swat it. It didn’t look like something that ought to be wandering freely in the Registry offices.
“Very interesting, the Registry,” he said as she returned. “Very vital work. Not the simple registration of the patents, I mean, but the oversight over the scientists in the Experimental Research District.”
As she slipped into her chair, Violet agreed. “They do take some watching.”
“Yes, and dangerous as they are, well! The economic results are so impressive.”
She tilted her head. “I’m not sure I….”
“The impact on society! The increased productivity! The innovation, the new industries, the advances!”
Cartier was waving his manual from side to side with every exclamation. Violet nodded, a little unsure where the conversation was going.
“Yes, there are benefits. But mostly we try to make sure that they don’t send the Earth off into a new orbit, or transform all its water into ammonia. Or something.”
The manual waved again.
“And, of course, there are considerable profits to the scientists who make these advances.”
“They often don’t notice, sir. Increased profits usually go right back into new and better laboratory equipment.”
“With immediate benefits to the economy! Their profits go right back to the manufacturers of that equipment. The whole District is a magnificent money making machine – an engine that drives economic growth.”
Violet got up and set a pot of water on to boil. “Well sir, that’s a novel way of looking at the Registry’s mandate. I have to say, I’ve seen many Registrars come and go but none of them have taken your particular view of the work.”
Registrar Cartier looked thoughtful. “Yes, I noticed that the earlier Registrars all moved on, sometimes rather abruptly. Registrar Finlay…”
“She got a new position with Retropolis Power & Light,” Violet said. She returned to her chair and her desk, which stood between her and the new Registrar.
“Yes, and my predecessor…”
Voilet’s hands flexed over her typewriter keys. “We were all very saddened by the Registrar’s death.”
“Yes, I imagine. And Registrar Emshwiller…”
Violet’s fingers tapped the keys: carefully, because she didn’t want to type what she was thinking. Registrar Emshwiller was probably still arranging coconuts into a gigantic ‘Help’ sign on his tropical beach. “Yes, that was a mysterious disappearance, sir.” She had sent him a surfboard.
“And then there was Registrar Bergey…”
“… and, well, you can’t forget Registrar Brundage…”
“We try to, sir. Scandal is so very bad for the Registry’s image.”
He was reciting a list of Violet’s forced retirements, extortions, kidnaps, and manipulations: all the acts that had failed, one after another, to bring her the promotion that she’d wanted more than anything. She’d been so desperate to become a Patent Investigator that she’d scattered career after career in a wake of destruction. All of it pointless; all so unnecessary.
She wished he’d just stop.
“It seems as though accepting the post of Registrar sets a ticking clock on one’s career, doesn’t it?” he said at last.
“I’m sure that’s not true, sir. I’m sure you’ll do very well in the office.”
“Well, I count on you to let me know if any laboratories are about to crash down on me.”
There was a quiet moment. “Yes, sir. Let me start your tea steeping.”
She rose and moved around him to get at the teapot. It was a little larger than the percolator; she’d have to get used to it sitting there, where the coffeepot had always stood.
Registrar Cartier paged through his manual. “So much to learn, though. So much to learn. For example, what happens when an inventor… well, they don’t seem to last very long either, do they? Explosions, sudden liquefactions, unexpected mutations….”
“They’ve chosen a dangerous line of work, sir. One assumes that they feel a compulsion to do it.”
Something like a robot’s compulsion to perform what she felt was her vocation.
“Yes, and of course, there are all those benefits, as we’ve seen. We definitely benefit from their sacrifice. And fortunately the Academy is constantly turning out new scientists to replace the, the…”
“Well, yes, that will do. If you like. The fallen.”
“But of course our primary role is to make sure their mistakes don’t escape the District and cause harm to the rest of the city.”
Registrar Cartier poured his tea. “Oh, this smells wonderful, Violet. Very fine.” He took a sip, and smiled. “But don’t you think our primary role might change? What if we were to, say, encourage certain types of research? To keep a closer eye on the more productive inventors, to somehow guide them, let’s say, toward a more profitable outcome?”
“We’ve always taken a strictly observational role, Registrar. I think, if you’ll forgive me, a thorough reading of Section 128.6(e) might be informative.”
The manual snapped shut. “Yes, well, you’ve been here much longer than I, of course. I’m sure you’re right. But coming, as I am, fresh and…”
Uninformed, Violet thought.
“…not burdened by tradition, or by old outmoded ways of thinking, I may have something new to offer the Registry.”
“The tea is satisfactory, I hope?”
The Registrar smiled. “Yes, it’s very good. Thank you, Violet. I can see that we’ll be very happy working together.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Registrar.”
“Oh, and I’m very eager to see this Vault of yours,” he said. “Seems fascinating.”
“Well, it can be a little… actually, due to the nature our new Vault crew we send everyone to a special training class at the League before they go down there.”
She froze. Ben had taken the class, hadn’t he?
“Oh, a… a class. At the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons? Surely, in the case of the Registrar….”
“It’s a very bad idea for anyone to skip the class, Registrar. The Argus crew is quite skillful, but there are certain things one has to be aware of before….”
Ben hadn’t taken the class.