“No ma’am,” I admitted miserably. “Of course you hadn’t. Because none of the other services offered what you were looking for.”

“I guess. But I still don’t know what it is I wanted.”

“Well, I do. It was something none of the others said they had. You wanted to be more than one small uniformed cog in a big well-greased machine. You wanted challenge and excitement. You wanted adventure— which isn’t what you thought you’d get dragging a bunch of fusty bookworms around to dead planets, is it?”

“I guess not.”

She patted my knee. “Now not every trip gets this wildly interesting. Sometimes the payoff is a few years down the line, when you find out that you were there when the Prezzies found some new music or literature, some scientific or medical advance, some new piece of the Big Puzzle that changes the way we look at the Universe. Every trip is a crapshoot. lake this stuff you just brought up from K’leven. Who knows what sorts of secrets and wonders Xav and his people might extract from it? Shiva, if nothing else you just helped keep a race that has been dead a thousand years from being completely forgotten.” She shook her head. “That’s no small thing, Ornish. It’s a very great tiling.”

“I guess.” I drained my glass and sighed. My brain hurt from absorbing all of this on top of my earlier excitement.

“OK,” I said after a moment, “Maybe this duty isn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. But if the stuff the Prezzies save is so valuable, then why can’t they afford better ships? And why does their reputation, well, vac so bad?”

My captain’s smile said she was pleased with me for having asked those questions. “The information learned and artifacts gathered on an expedition like this are freely published and displayed for those who have the wits to see their value. Historical Preservation Operations are done for the love of knowledge, and for the value of adding to that knowledge, not for money or fame. And as to the other—”

She laughed and spread her arms. “We re greedy! If everybody thought this was a way to get rich, they’d try to horn in on our action. Better our branch remains dull, poor, and boring. That way we get to keep all this for ourselves.”

I sat there mulling over what she’d just said, realizing that the Prezzie lile —and being part of their fleet— was like one of Clotilde’s blobby rocklike thingies. Not much to look at from the outside, but inside there was wild music and lobster orgies.

I drained my glass again. I could really feel the effects of what I’d been drinking. “I still have one question, ma’am—uh, Serafina.

“What’s that, Tephillip?” Hearing her use my first name made me shiver. It made me feel like I had just become her peer, and I kind of liked the feeling.

“Teph. My friends call me Teph. Just before I went down, you gave me that gun and said something about Alexander’s Libraries. What was that all about?”

She looked toward the shuttle’s airlock to make sure we were alone, then leaned close. Her voice dropped to a conspirational whisper. “That was the Alexandrian Librarians. It’s one very important part of the job, and one we don’t talk about around our passengers. A long time ago, back before the first millennium, there was a great library in a city named Alexandria. It was the greatest repository of learning and literature of its day, and it was sacked and burned by an invading army. Around the year 2000 a minor, obscure writer named Byrne or something like that asked the question, What happened to the Alexandrian Librarians? The answer he suggested to his question was that they probably died trying to save the library’s contents. We don’t remember the guy’s name, but we never let ourselves forget his conclusion that people who love learning so much that they’ve dedicated their lives to it are quite likely to put the survival of that learning ahead of their own.”

“Like they did today.”

“Just like. Running a ship is just half our job. The other half is protecting them and what they learn. They can be completely blind to risk, sometimes. We have to be their shield.”

She stood up. “Speaking of our dusty band of scholars, I believe they are in the salon, waiting to throw a party in your honor. Shall we attend, First Officer Ornish?”

I stood up as well, swaying from the effects of the nerve tonic. Then again my nerves felt a lot better than they had in quite a while. “Will there be something to drink? I think I could use one more ”

“Count on it.” She eyed me critically. “But maybe you’d better hold off for a while. Much more alcohol and Clotilde is going to start looking good to you.”

I pulled myself to attention and saluted my captain. “Then maybe I’d better have two, ma’am.”

I served as first officer under Serafina for eight years—conducting a loose but highly educational affair with Clo for the first three—then became the captain of the Gibbon myself. Nine years after that I turned her over to my first officer and took on the job of converting a worn-out heavy cruiser named the Leonardo into a functioning Prezzie craft. A few years later I handed her off the same way as I had the Gibbon.

Now I captain the Marie Curie. Serafina is still my boss, only now she’s in charge of the whole slap-patched Prezzie fleet. It’s one of the high points of my year to come back-Sol, renew our friendship, and sit at our table in Armstrong Hall and watch the greenies go by.

Alessandra Desmond is still laughing at the absurd notion of signing on with us.

I laugh with her, but some of my pleasure comes from having found such a fine candidate to help protect our precious Alexandrian Librarians.

I know she’s going to hate it at first.

I think maybe I’ll ask Serafina to assign her to me, just so I can enjoy watching her get over it.

Вы читаете Alexandrian Librarians
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату