Deathworld

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Chapter 10

There were empty rooms in one of the computer buildings. These were completely sealed to keep stray animal life out of the delicate machinery. While Meta checked a bed-roll out of stores, Jason painfully dragged a desk, table and chairs in from a nearby empty office. When she returned with a pneumatic bed he instantly dropped on it with a grateful sigh. Her lip curled a bit at his obvious weakness.

"Get used to the sight," he said. "I intend to do as much of my work as I can, while maintaining a horizontal position. You will be my strong right arm. And right now, Right Arm, I wish you could scare me up something to eat. I also intend to do most of my eating in the previously mentioned prone condition."

Snorting with disgust, Meta stamped out. While she was gone, Jason chewed the end of a stylus thoughtfully, then made some careful notes.

After they had finished the almost-tasteless meal he began the search.

"Meta, where can I find historical records of Pyrrus?"

"I've never heard of any … I really don't know."

"But there has to be something—somewhere," he insisted. "Even if your present-day culture devotes all of its time and energies to survival, you can be sure it wasn't always that way. All the time it was developing, people were keeping records, making notes. Now where do we look? Do you have a library here?"

"Of course," she said. "We have an excellent technical library. But I'm sure there wouldn't be any of that sort of thing there."

Trying not to groan, Jason stood up. "Let me be the judge of that. Just lead the way."

 

Operation of the library was completely automatic. A projected index gave the call number for any text that had to be consulted. The tape was delivered to the charge desk thirty seconds after the number had been punched. Returned tapes were dropped through a hopper and refiled automatically. The mechanism worked smoothly.

"Wonderful," Jason said, pushing away from the index. "A tribute to technological ingenuity. Only it contains nothing of any value to us. Just reams of textbooks."

"What else should be in a library?" Meta sounded sincerely puzzled.

Jason started to explain, then changed his mind. "Later we will go into that," he said. "Much later. Now we have to find a lead. Is it possible that there are any tapes—or even printed books—that aren't filed through this machine?"

"It seems unlikely, but we could ask Poli. He lives here somewhere and is in charge of the library—filing new books and tending the machinery."

The single door into the rear of the building was locked, and no amount of pounding could rouse the caretaker.

"If he's alive, this should do it," Jason said. He pressed the out-of-order button on the control panel. It had the desired affect. Within five minutes the door opened and Poli dragged himself through it.

Death usually came swiftly on Pyrrus. If wounds slowed a man down, the ever-ready forces of destruction quickly finished the job. Poli was the exception to this rule. Whatever had attacked him originally had done an efficient job. Most of the lower part of his face was gone. His left arm was curled and useless. The damage to his body and legs had left him with the bare capability to stumble from one spot to the next.

Yet he still had one good arm as well as his eyesight. He could work in the library and relieve a fully fit man. How long he had been dragging the useless husk of a body around the building, no one knew. In spite of the pain that filled his red-rimmed, moist eyes, he had stayed alive. Growing old, older than any other Pyrran as far as Jason had seen. He tottered forward and turned off the alarm that had called him.

When Jason started to explain the old man took no notice. Only after the librarian had rummaged a hearing aid out of his clothes, did Jason realize he was deaf as well. Jason explained again what he searched for. Poli nodded and printed his answer on a tablet.

there are many old books—in the storerooms below

Most of the building was taken up by the robot filing and sorting apparatus. They moved slowly through the banks of machinery, following the crippled librarian to a barred door in the rear. He pointed to it. While Jason and Meta fought to open the age-incrusted bars, he wrote another note on his tablet.

not opened for many years, rats

Jason's and Meta's guns appeared reflexively in their hands as they read the message. Jason finished opening the door by himself. The two native Pyrrans stood facing the opening gap. It was well they did. Jason could never have handled what came through that door.

He didn't even open it for himself. Their sounds at the door must have attracted all the vermin in the lower part of the building. Jason had thrown the last bolt and started to pull on the handle—when the door was pushed open from the other side.

 

Open the gateway to hell and see what comes out. Meta and Poli stood shoulder to shoulder firing into the mass of loathsomeness that boiled through the door. Jason jumped to one side and picked off the occasional animal that came his way. The destruction seemed to go on forever.

Long minutes passed before the last clawed beast made its death rush. Meta and Poli waited expectantly for more, they were happily excited by this chance to deal destruction. Jason felt a little sick after the silent ferocious attack. A ferocity that the Pyrrans reflected. He saw a scratch on Meta's face where one of the beasts had caught her. She seemed oblivious to it.

Pulling out his medikit, Jason circled the piled bodies. Something stirred in their midst and a crashing shot ploughed into it. Then he reached the girl and pushed the analyzer probes against the scratch. The machine clicked and Meta jumped as the antitoxin needle stabbed down. She realized for the first time what Jason was doing.

"Thank you," she said.

Poli had a powerful battery lamp and, by unspoken agreement, Jason carried it. Crippled though he was, the old man was still a Pyrran when it came to handling a gun. They slowly made their way down the refuse-laden stairs.

"What a stench," Jason grimaced.

At the foot of the stairs they looked around. There had been books and records there at one time. They had been systematically chewed, eaten and destroyed for decades.

"I like the care you take with your old books," Jason said disgustedly.

"They could have been of no importance," Meta said coolly, "or they would be filed correctly in the library upstairs."

Jason wandered gloomily through the rooms. Nothing remained of any value. Fragments and scraps of writing and printing. Never enough in one spot to bother collecting. With the toe of one armored boot, he kicked angrily at a pile of debris, ready to give up the search. There was a glint of rusty metal under the dirt.

"Hold this!" He gave the light to Meta and began scratching aside the rubble. A flat metal box with a dial lock built into it, was revealed.

"Why that's a log box!" Meta said, surprised.

"That's what I thought," Jason said.

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