"That portion of Old Terra within the autonomous boundaries of the Free Island and projecting downward toward this planet's true core."
Sil-Chan stared across the desk at Tchung. "Does the Computer mean . . . Earth?"
The Computer responded ahead of Tchung: "That is the most common referrent, but actually most of it is solidified magmas.
"Then the counterbalance . . ." Sil-Chan said.
"The counterbalance," the Computer explained, "is required to counteract the tremendous weight differential created by the autonomous mass upon the southern equatorial belt. If that weight were permitted to change the planetary axis and . . ." Sil-Chan interrupted: "This thing is saying that there's a gigantic mass of Old Terra under some island and projecting almost to the planet's core."
The Computer said: "Correct restatement."
"How could we miss such a thing?" Sil-Chan asked. "It must be monstrous. Why the . . ." He broke off and shook his head.
The Computer said: "Does Sil-Chan wish a psychological explanation, or one derived from probabilities based on the physical limits of . . ."
"Are there people on that island?" Sil-Chan asked.
The Computer said: "The island is occupied by Clan Dornbaker and related groups -- Coogans, Atvards . . ."
"There is even a Tchung branch on the island," the Director said.
Sil-Chan chewed his lips. How much did the Director really know?
"Do you wish a continued listing?" the Computer asked.
"How are they governed?" Sil-Chan asked.
"The hereditary ruler of Free Island, always a Dornbaker by name and blood, is called the Paternomer. The Paternomer's powers are tempered by several factors -- a Council of Elders, something called 'an appeal to the Pleb' and various religious considerations. Computer's autosensories do not extend into the autonomous area, but evidence has accumulated over the centuries. The present population, stabilized at about three thousand persons, appears to work for a common idyllic vision of. . . ."
"You spoke of religious considerations," Sil-Chan said.
"The inhabitants give obeisance to 'The Book of Stone.' That is a Middle-Era translation of an ancient work from Old Terra which revolves around a leader called 'The Rock.' "
"I know that one," Sil-Chan said. "What I don't understand is how we could have overlooked this thing if it projects right down into the planet that way."
The Computer took this as another question. "Most auditing is automatic. The physical appearance of interior walls which confine Free Island's downward projection cannot be differentiated from normal Archives walls. Flights over the island without permission are prohibited in the original treaty. All flight lanes, therefore, automatically bypass Free Island. There are also other factors -- deeper and psychological which go into . . ."
"Let's get the Dornbakers to cede their blasted projection and have done with it," Sil-Chan said. "We can't fight a government economy drive while a thing like that is draining us. If those government accountants even get wind of this, we're. . . ."
"There can be no question of them ceding," Tchung said.
"You're still the Director," Sil-Chan said. "The Library is the planet, the planet is the Library. You're the boss." "Certain services and credits were agreed upon in the original treaty," Tchung said. "Computer, explain the accounts payable and the services."
"Services continue with internal cost readjustments. The credits to the Dornbakers have been accruing unclaimed and without readjustment for more than four thousand periods."
His voice hoarse, Sil-Chan asked: "How much do we owe them?"
"The full sum is not an intelligible figure," the Computer said. "That much currency does not exist in the known universe."
"Could they demand payment?" Sil-Chan whispered.
"It would be legal," the Computer said.
"Then they own us!"
"Technically, that is true," the Computer said. "However, no such action by Clan Dornbaker has been taken nor is it anticipated."
"Is there a legal way to take that island or its downward projection from the Dornbakers?" Sil-Chan asked.
Tchung smiled and closed his eyes.
The Computer clicked rhythmically for almost a minute, then: "You cannot take the island legally. Some compromise may be possible. It should be considered that the Dornbakers do not know about their legal position. Much time has passed since the treaty. They apparently live a primitive life on the island. One possible approach occurs: Free Island is a sanctuary for a large tree called Sequoia Gigantica. These trees require a rather delicate weather balance. Dornbakers nurture a superstition that 'As long as the Sequoia stand the Free Island shall remain free.'"
"Not the trees," Tchung said. "We will not threaten the trees."
"Weather control specifications in the original treaty are, however, open to different interpretations," the Computer said.
"Not the trees and that's final," Tchung said.
Sil-Chan had never heard such force in Tchung's voice. The old man appeared suddenly hard and decisive -- a characteristic Sil-Chan had never before detected.
"What . . . what can we do?" Sil-Chan asked. He felt that he had been cut loose from his roots. His career, his work -- his dream to sit one day in Tchung's chair -- all were floating away from him.
"I will arrange for you to take a private jetter and ago alone to the Free Island," Tchung said. "Find out how we can use that island to free ourselves from the grip of this Myrmid government and it's damnable accountants."
"Use . . ." Sil-Chan shook his head. "Sir, if they get the slightest hint that we're in this fix, the Dornbakers may join our enemies."
"There is that possibility," Tchung said. "I trust, however, that you can avoid it. There is no time to lose. I suggest you get going." Sil-Chan wet his lips with his tongue. "Do I . . . Shouldn't I gather more information about. . . ."
"There's no better source of the information than the Free Island itself," Tchung said. "Report to me on a scrambled channel."
Sil-Chan arose. He felt that he had been maneuvered into an impossible situation. His devotion to the Library was well known . . . and perhaps that was why he had been chosen for this mission. Loyalty. And he had been the Chief Accountant, the one who had never discovered this Dornbaker Account. Slowly, Sil-Chan left the office. Guilt and Loyalty confused him. They did not seem compatible but he felt himself driven by them.
After two more days of examining the Dornbaker Account, Tchung sat alone in the quiet of his office. He could sense the weight of all those honeycombed corridors above him -- thousands of them -- and more below. He was a mote in this system or even less, much less than a mote. And in the immensity of the universe, even this planet with its precious contents dwindled to insignificance.
A glance at his chrono showed it to be late afternoon topside. Sil-Chan already would be on the Free Island. Tchung looked at the projector with its explosive figures. Climate Control: sixty-six thousand stellars monthly? Aih! He rubbed at his temples. It is I who have failed, not poor Sil-Chan.
A deep sigh shook the Director. What if I have made another mistake? But the young man was unmarried and handsome -- virile. Records said he took anti-S to suppress his normal sexual drive and to free his energies for service to the Library. A very strange young man.
Abruptly, the autosecretary shattered his reverie with its metallic computer voice: "Ser Perlig Ambroso, chief government accountant, to see Archives Director Tchung."
Tchung pushed the release button for his fan-door. The fans slammed open and Ambroso burst into the room as though released from a spring. He was a round-cheeked, florid man with sandy hair -- the flesh of a once-active man who was now gaining fat instead of muscle. A wine-bibber, the reports said. His eyes were small, blue and hard and he spoke in the flat voice of command. Ambroso had presented a front of good humor at their first meeting. No such front covered him now.
"Tchung!" he spat. "Are you deliberately impeding us?"
"I . . . of course not!" Tchung stared up at his accuser. That sharp manner. Ambroso was a military man!
"Your computer reacts like a pregnant swert in a drogo swamp," Ambroso said. He leaned baby-wrinkled knuckles on Tchung's desk. "When I demand to know why, I am informed that more than three-fourths of your circuits are engaged on a problem to which your staff has assigned top priority. Explain."