Registrar Cartier wasn’t very cooperative, as evacuees go. First he insisted on getting a cart for his files. Then he ran back for the Registrar’s stamp, a big embosser that was shaped like a pepper mill. After that he wanted to save some of the other files, and through it all he never even remembered his unanswered correspondence. Violet slipped the In box into his cart while he wasn’t looking.
But finally she managed to get him out of his office, down the hall, and onto the front steps of the Registry building. “Honestly, Registrar, this isn’t far enough. We should get you at least as far as the street.”
Registrar Cartier looked at his cart, and then at the building, and then at the cart again. “I… suppose so. But I don’t feel right about abandoning the Registry.” He reached down and touched the Registrar’s stamp. “On my first day, especially. There’s so much potential.”
“Some of our best people are down in the Vault,” she reminded him. “And there’s nothing you can do from here.”
“I’ll just stay here a little longer,” he said, and there wasn’t much more she could do. So she reconnected with Officer Bok on the Info-Slate.
It looked as though the Containment Squad was working on disassembling the wall of prototypes. This was made more difficult – and, probably, more dangerous – by the fact that they didn’t know what any of the prototypes were. This was an area where Violet, with her capacious memory, was able to assist.
“Can you hold the Info-Slate a little higher? Yes, that’s it. That device on top is Doctor Pohl’s Constantly Emanating Emulsifier. It’s perfectly safe to handle, so… yes. Then right below it is something that looks like Professor Fenwick (III)’s Excitingly Silent Neural Nebulizer. It’s off, right? Don’t turn it on.”
“Professor Fenwick (III)?” said Registrar Cartier. “I think I have that one here.” He paged through the files he’d brought down in his cart. “Yes, I thought I remembered the name.”
“You’ll have a lot of Fenwicks in the deceased files,” Violet told him. “It’s a large family, and they never seem to… Officer Bok? Tell them not to touch that one. We’ll want to look it up.” She tapped on the controls for her Info-Slate’s lower pane. There was a brief delay while the faraway operator switched the cables, and then a list of Patent registrations appeared. Registrar Cartier leaned over her shoulder.
“That’s a remarkable device,” he said. “I don’t suppose that I have one?”
“We have just four,” she replied. “Officer Bok? Tell them not to touch that one, not under any circumstances. In fact you shouldn’t get any exposed skin within… oh. Oh, I see. You should take that to the medics in about an hour. You’ll be fine till then, and anyway it’ll grow back.”
There was a unidentifiable noise coming from her Info-Slate. “No, really, it’s not that serious. Tell the Containment Squad to leave that column alone. But if they start at the top, over to the left….”
“I’ve heard good things about these Info-Slates.” The Registrar’s face was hanging over Violet’s shoulder, and he was standing very, very close to her. That would have been odd even without the presence of his mustache, which was quivering silently on his upper lip. Her eyes fixed on the mustache. She couldn’t look away.
“Yes, Registrar. As I said, we just have a few of them.” She forced herself to look away from the mustache, and turned back to the Info-Slate. “Yes, that one’s safe. I remember that one.” She could imagine the mustache nodding slightly in agreement, right behind her.
“So you can sort all the registered patents, I take it, according to different criteria?”
“So if I wanted a display of patents registered to inventors who are now deceased…?”
Violet glanced at his cart full of the files for deceased scientists. “Yes, that would be simple, Registrar. But at the moment we’re…”
“…quite busy. Yes, I see. Please don’t mind me.”
She did her best not to mind him while she identified one device after another for the Containment Squad, who lifted the machines cautiously from the heap and laid them on the stairs.
“Hang on,” said Officer Bok through the Info-Slate. “Look at that first column!”
A new device had appeared in the gap they’d been carving in the wall of prototypes. Then, just above that one, a new and frighteningly dangerous machine slid into position. The wall was sealed up again.
“Stop!” she said. On the Info-Slate screen she watched as the Containment Squad backed away from the wall.
Whoever had built the wall of prototypes was closing it back up, just as quickly as the Squad was taking it down. “There’s no telling what they’ll shove in there next,” Violet explained. “We’re only making things worse.”
“May I?” asked the Registrar, and she handed him the Info-Slate. He started to experiment with the list of registrations. “Yes, a wonderful device,” he said. “We should get more of these.”
“Well, it’s the expense, Registrar. We could only get a few of them.”
“Oh, a new day may be dawning, Violet. I intend to make the Registry a profitable enterprise.”
This stopped Violet short in spite of the dangerous situation down below their feet. “The Registry making a profit, sir? I’m not sure that’s possible. And, anyway, our mandate is to record and –” she looked around; only Registry personnel were within earshot. “– to, well, monitor the activities of the Experimental Research District. Our budget….”
Registrar Cartier laughed. “Oh, of course. Our mandate. Don’t worry about it, Violet. My management style isn’t like what you’ve seen before. That’s all. Just sit back and let your manager manage.”
“It’s just that… the ordinances, sir, that established the Registry. We’re a fully funded branch of City Government. There’s simply no provision for revenue.”
“Yes. The ordinances. Well, let’s say I have some philosophical differences with fully funded civic organizations. Every branch of City Government should support itself, and in fact should generate income. In a sane society, that would always have been the case.”
Under different circumstances Violet might have brought up firefighting, sewage management, streetlights, medical care, education, and a couple of dozen other functions of City Government that, in a sane society, could never generate revenue. But she had other problems to deal with, so she just asked him for the Info-Slate. Through its televideo display she could see the despondent Containment Squad scattered around the stairwell. Officer Bok had set her own Info-Slate down on the steps.
They weren’t going to get through from the stairwell side; that much was clear. What hopes they had must rest on Ben and Officer Rocklynne. Violet wished she had some idea of what was going on down there.