Ben and Officer Rocklynne looked down at the three remaining buckets of sand. “Well, that’s not going to go too far,” Rocklynne decided.
They were off in the shelves, several rows away from the fractured mini-vault. There were sand buckets spread throughout the level, but they’d just about exhausted the whole supply. Meanwhile the Low-Velocity Viscosity Projector continued to seep its slimy blue ooze at an increasing rate.
“Okay,” Ben said. “What if we forget about the sand and just open up one of the mini-vaults and move a prototype way the heck out of there?”
“Not the Low-Velocity Viscosity Projector.”
“No, we don’t want any of that blue goop to get on us, either. We move the Universal Electron Inverter.”
Rocklynne kicked one of the sand buckets. “Any idea how big it is?”
“I know how to find out.”
So they left the sand buckets where they were and headed back to the mini-vaults. Just as they neared them, the crew of Arguses reappeared. They’d deposited their load on some faraway shelf and now they trudged back toward the stairs with their levers over their shoulders.
“Say, fellas,” Ben called. He ignored Officer Rocklynne’s glare. “We’re going to have to move that Universal Electron Inverter down the way. Want to give us a hand?”
The little robots stopped. They didn’t say anything; they just stared at Ben.
“Then, maybe, after, well, I see you’ve got like a whole baseball team there. We’ve got a pretty good team of our own, upstairs. Maybe we can get together for a g– ”
Rocklynne’s elbow smacked into his ribs. The robots hunched over into their defensive postures again. Most of them dropped their levers, and then they rushed away down the row toward the level’s entrance.
“You are just about the stupidest smart person I’ve ever met,” Rocklynne told him.
“It was just baseball,” Ben complained. “Everybody loves baseball.”
“And anyway, what was that about having enough for a team? You only need nine for a team.”
“Well, there’s nine of ’em.”
They arrived at the Universal Electron Inverter’s mini-vault. Officer Rocklynne paused. “Then what happened to the other three?”
Ben entered his code on the mini-vault’s keypad and laid his hand on the hatch. “I, uh, I think three of them may have run off earlier,” he said.
“You know it’s going to take them a week to get over this, right? My advice, you don’t say another word till you get out of the Vault.”
“You bet,” said Ben. Then: “Oh, well, here’s a problem.” He was looking into the mini-vault. “So that’s what a Universal Electron Inverter looks like.”
A Universal Electron Inverter looks like something that’s very heavy without surrendering anything in the way of breakability. This one was a curious combination of squat legs, fragile glass jars, a generous and most likely essential complement of lead shielding, and one dimly glowing sphere suspended in the middle, apparently held immobile by magnetic fields. It must have had some kind of battery power because there was a quiet, self-satisfied hum coming from the central sphere. A spigot jutted out from the juncture of six hoses.
“Well… we’ve got those levers, I guess. And there might be a pallet around here someplace.”
Ben shook his head slowly. “Yeah, could be.” He looked up and down the row of shelves. “Could be.”
There was a sudden blurp from the mini-vault next door, the one that was no longer containing the Low-Velocity Viscosity Projector. About three gallons of glowing slime oozed out over their pile of sand and slowly flowed toward the Universal Electron Inverter.
“See if you can get behind it in there,” Ben said. “I’ll go look for a pallet.”
Incredibly, there was a pallet. There were even some spare blocks of inertrium floating on lines tethered to a nearby shelf. So however heavy the Universal Electron Inverter was, they’d probably be able to move it if they could just shift it onto the pallet first. Things really seemed be be looking up until Ben brought the pallet back to the mini-vault.
Officer Rocklynne hadn’t worked his way in behind the Universal Electron Inverter because there just wasn’t enough room to get around it. So they went back to get the extra inertrium blocks, one by one because they didn’t want to float up to the ceiling, and they started to tie them to the legs on the Universal Electron Inverter’s near side.
The legs began to lift. It was a slow job.
Blurp. Rocklynne went back to get another block of inertrium. The Universal Electron Inverter’s legs were about halfway high enough to slip the pallet under them
Blue slime was edging toward the Universal Electron Inverter’s vault. It was just inches away.
“What you said back there, about Violet?” Ben said. “You said we all know.”
“Everybody knows she wants to be an investigator. It’s just a shame, how all these Registrars come and go, and none of them staying long enough to get to know her.”
“Well, Finlay lasted a few months.”
“Yeah. Well, she needs some time with the right Registrar, I guess.”
“And that’s what you meant, then? About we all know?”
“Yeah, what else?”
Ben was relieved that we all know didn’t cover the fates of the Registrars who hadn’t promoted Violet. “Okay,” he said. “That’s done. Let’s get a couple more blocks.”
Blurp. This time, they ran.
As they tied the new blocks to the Universal Electron Inverter’s legs, Officer Rocklynne added: “You know we’d all help her, there was anything we could do. It’s swell, the way you’ve been with her.”
Ben shrugged. “Hey, Violet’s my pal.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s it. Here, let’s see if we can get it onto the pallet now.”
They heaved on the Universal Electron Inverter’s frame and got its near legs just onto the edge of the pallet. Blurp. Each of them grabbed a leg and they pulled together. The big, heavy machine moved about a quarter of an inch. They took deep breaths and tried again. It shifted again, but not quite so far.
The blue slime was beginning to pool at the mini-vault’s base. It was making a hissing noise.
“If I could just get in behind it and push,” Rocklynne panted.
“You know what we need?” Ben said. “It’s those little Argus guys.”
Rocklynne let go of the Universal Electron Inverter’s leg. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I wonder where they are?”