Direct Descent by Frank Herbert
Table of Contents
About the Author
Earth has become a library planet for thousands of years, a bastion of both useful and useless knowledge—esoterica of all types, history, science, politics—gathered by teams of “pack rats” who scour the galaxy for any scrap of information. Knowledge is power, knowledge is wealth, and knowledge can be a weapon. As powerful dictators come and go over the course of history, the cadre of dedicated librarians is sworn to obey the lawful government … and use their wits to protect the treasure trove of knowledge they have collected over the millennia.
Smashwords Edition – 2015
Copyright © 2011 Herbert Properties, LLC
Originally published by Berkley Books 1980
A portion of this book appeared as “Pack Rat Planet” in the December 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
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Vincent Coogan pulled at his thin lower lip as he stared at the image of his home planet growing larger in the star ship’s viewscreen.
“What kind of an emergency would make Patterson call me off a Library collection trip?” he muttered.
The chief navigator turned toward Coogan, noted the down-drooping angles on the Library official’s face. “Did you say something, sir?”
“Huh?” Coogan realized he had been speaking his thoughts aloud. He drew in a deep breath, squared his stringy frame in front of the viewscreen, said, “It’s good to get back to the Library.”
“Always good to be home,” said the navigator. He turned toward the planet in the screen.
It was a garden world of rolling plains turning beneath an old sun. Pleasure craft glided across shallow seas. Villages of flat, chalk-white houses clustered around elevator towers which plumbed the interior. Slow streams meandered across the plains. Giant butterflies fluttered among trees and flowers. People walked while reading books or reclined with scan-all viewers hung in front of their eyes.
The star ship throbbed as its landing auxiliaries were activated. Coogan felt the power through his feet. Suddenly, he sensed the homecoming feeling in his chest, an anticipation that brought senses to new alertness. It was enough to erase the worry over his call-back, to banish his displeasure at the year of work he had abandoned uncompleted.
It was enough to take the bitterness out of his thoughts when he recalled the words someone on an outworld had etched beside the starship’s main port. The words had been cut deeply beneath the winged boot emblem of the Galactic Library, probably with a Gernser flame chisel.
“Go home dirty pack rats!”
The dirty pack rats were home.
Director Caldwell Patterson of the Galactic Library sat at the desk in his office deep in the planet, a sheet of metallic paper in his hands. He was an old man even by Eighty-first Century standards when geriatrics made six hundred years a commonplace. Some said he had been at the Library that long. Gray hair clung in molting wisps to a pale pate. His face had the leathery, hook-nosed appearance of an ancient bird.
As Coogan entered the office, a desk visor in front of Patterson chimed. The director clicked a switch, motioned Coogan to a chair and said, “Yes,” with a tired, resigned air.
Coogan folded his tall frame into the chair and listened with half his mind to the conversation on the visor. It seemed some outworld ship was approaching and wanted special landing facilities. Coogan looked around the familiar office. Behind the director was a wall of panels, dials, switches, rheostats, speakers, microphones, oscillographs, code keys, screens. The two side walls were focus rhomboids for realized images. The wall, which was split by the door, held eight miniature viewscreens all tuned to separate channels of the Library information broadcasts. All sound switches had been turned to mute, leaving a continuous low murmur in the room.
Patterson began drumming his fingers on the desktop, glaring at the desk visor. Presently, he said, “Well, tell them we have no facilities for an honor reception. This planet is devoted to knowledge and research. Tell them to come in at the regular field. I’ll obey my Code and any government order of which I’m capable, but we simply don’t have the facilities for what they’re asking.” The director cut the switch on his visor, turned to Coogan. “Well, Vincent, I see you avoided the Hesperides green rot. Now I presume you’re anxious to learn why I called you back from there?”
Same old didactic, pompous humbug, thought Coogan. He said, “I’m not exactly a robot,” and shaped his mouth in a brief, wry smile.
A frown formed on Patterson’s bluish lips. “We’ve a new government,” he said.
“Is that why you called me in?” asked Coogan. He felt an upsurge of all the resentment he’d swallowed when he’d received the call-back message.
“In a way, yes,” said Patterson. “The new government is going to censor all Library broadcasts. The censor is on that ship just landing.”
“They can’t do that!” blurted Coogan. “The Charter expressly forbids chosen broadcasts or any interference with Library function! I can quote you—”
Patterson interrupted him in a low voice. “What is the first rule of the Library Code?”
Coogan faltered, stared at the director. He said, “Well—” paused while the memory came back to him. “The first rule of the Galactic Library Code is to obey all direct orders of the government in power. For the preservation of the Library, this must be the primary command.”
“What does it mean?” demanded Patterson.
“It’s just words that—”
“More than words!” said Patterson. A faint color crept into his old cheeks. “That rule has kept this Library alive for eight thousand years.”
“But the government can’t—”
“When you’re as old as I am,” said Patterson, “you’ll realize that governments don’t know what they can’t do until after they cease to be governments. Each government carries the seeds of its own destruction.”
“So we let them censor us,” said Coogan.
“Perhaps,” said Patterson, “if we’re lucky. The new Grand Regent is the leader of the Gentle Ignorance Party. He says he’ll censor us. The trouble is, our information indicates he’s bent on destroying the Library as some kind of an example.”
It took a moment for Coogan to accept the meaning of the words. “Destroy—”
“Put it to the torch,” said Patterson. “His censor is his chief general an
“Doesn’t he realize this is more than a Library?” asked Coogan.
“I don’t know what he realizes,” said Patterson. “But we’re faced with a primary emergency and, to complicate matters, the entire staff is in a turmoil. They’re hiding arms and calling in collection ships against my express orders. That Toris Sil-Chan has been around telling every—”
“Yes, Toris. Your boon companion or whatever he is. He’s leading this insurrection and I gather that he—”
“Doesn’t he realize the Library can’t fight a war without risking destruction?” asked Coogan.
Patterson sighed. “You’re one of the few among the new generation who realizes that,” he said.
“Where’s Toris?” demanded Coogan. “I’ll—”
“There isn’t time right now,” said Patterson. “The Grand Regent’s hatchetman is due any minute.”
“There wasn’t a word of this out on Hesperides,” said Coogan. “What’s this Grand Regent’s name?”
“Leader Adams,” said Patterson.
“Never heard of him,” said Coogan. “Who’s the hatchetman?”
“His name’s Pchak.”
O O O
He was a coarse man with overdrawn features, none of the refinements of the inner worlds. A brown toga almost the same color as his skin was belted around him. Two slitted eyes stared out of a round, pushed-in face. He came into Patterson’s office followed by two men in gray togas, each wearing a blaster at the belt.
“I am Pchak,” he said.
Not a pretty specimen, thought Coogan. There was something chilling about the stylized simplicity of the man’s dress. It reminded Coogan of a battle cruiser stripped down for action.
Director Patterson came around his desk, shoulders bent, walking slowly as befitted his age. “We are honored,” he said.
“Are you?” asked Pchak. “Who is in command here?”
Patterson bowed. “I am Director Caldwell Patterson.”
Pchak’s lips twisted into something faintly like a smile. “I would like to know who is responsible for those insulting replies to our communications officer. ‘This planet is devoted to knowledge and research!’ Who said that?”
“Why—” Patterson broke off, wet his lips with his tongue, “I said that.”
The man in the brown toga stared at Patterson, said, “Who is this other person?” He hooked a thumb toward Coogan.
“This is Vincent Coogan,” said Patterson. “He has just returned from the Hesperides Group to be on hand to greet you. Mr. Coogan is my chief assistant and successor.”
Pchak looked at Coogan. “Out scavenging with the rest of the pack rats,” he said. He turned back to Patterson. “But perhaps there will be need of a successor.”
One of the guards moved up to stand beside the general. Pchak said, “Since knowledge is unhappiness, even the word is distasteful when used in a laudatory manner.”
Coogan suddenly sensed something electric and deadly in the room. It was evident that Patterson did, too, because he looked directly at Coogan and said, “We are here to obey.”
“You demonstrate an unhappy willingness to admire knowledge,” said Pchak.
The guard’s blaster suddenly came up and chopped down against the director’s head. Patterson slumped to the floor, blood welling from a gash on his scalp.
Coogan started to take a step forward, was stopped by the other guard’s blaster prodding his middle. A red haze formed in front of Coogan’s eyes, a feeling of vertigo swept over him. In spite of the dizziness, part of his mind went on clicking, producing information to be observed. This is standard procedure for oppressors, said his mind. Cow your victims by an immediate show of violence. Something cold, hard and calculating took over Coogan’s consciousness.
“Director Coogan,” said Pchak, “do you have any objections to what has just occurred?”
Coogan stared down at the squat brown figure. I have to stay in control of the situation, he thought. I’m the only one left who’ll fight this according to the Code. He said, “Every man seeks advancement.”
Pchak smiled. “A realist. Now explain your Library.” He strode around the desk, sat down. “It hardly seems just for our government to maintain a pesthole such as this, but my orders are to investigate before passing judgment.”
Your orders are to make a show of investigation before putting the Library to the torch, thought Coogan. He picked up an image control box from the desk, clipped it to his belt. Immediately, a blaster in a guard’s hand prodded his side.
“What is that?” demanded Pchak.
Coogan swallowed. “These are image controls,” he said. He looked down at Patterson sprawled on the floor. “May I summon a hospital robot for Mr. Patterson?”
“No,” said Pchak. “What are image controls?”
Coogan took two deep breaths, looked at the side wall. “The walls of this room are focus rhomboids for realized images,” he said. “They were turned off to avoid distractions during your arrival.”
Pchak settled back in the chair. “You may proceed.”
The guard continued to hold his blaster on Coogan.
O O O
Moving to a position opposite the wall, Coogan worked the belt controls. The wall became a window looking down an avenue of filing cases. Robots could be seen working in the middle distance.
“Terra is mostly a shell,” said Coogan. “The major portion of the matter was taken to construct spaceships during the great outpouring.”
“That fable again,” said Pchak.
Coogan stopped. Involuntarily, his eyes went to the still figure of Caldwell Patterson on the floor.
“Continue,” said Pchak.
The cold, hard, calculating something in Coogan’s mind said, You know what to do. Set him up for your Sunday punch.
Coogan concentrating on the screen, said: “The mass loss was compensated by a giant gravitronic unit in the planet center. Almost the entire subsurface of Terra is occupied by the Library. Levels are divided into overlapping squares one hundred kilometers to the side. The wealth of records stored here staggers the imagination. It’s—”
“Your imagination perhaps,” said Pchak. “Not mine.”
Coogan fought down a shiver which crawled along his spine, forced himself to continue. He said. “It is the repository for all the reported doings of every government in the history of the galaxy. The format was set by the original institution from which this one grew. It was known as the Library of Congress. That institution had a reputation of—”
“Congress,” said Pchak in his deadly flat tones. “Kindly explain that term.”
Now what have I said? Coogan wondered. He faced Pchak, said, “Congress was an ancient form of government. The closest modern example is the Tschi Council which—”
“I thought so!” barked Pchak. “That debating society! Would you explain to me, Mr. Coogan, why a recent Library broadcast extolled the virtues of this form of government?”
There’s the viper, thought Coogan. He said, “Well, nobody watches Library broadcasts anyway. What with some five thousand channels pouring out—”
“Answer my question, Mr. Coogan.” Pchak leaned forward. An eager look came into the eyes of the guard with the blaster. Again Coogan’s eyes sought out the still form of Patterson on the floor.
“We have no control of program selection,” said Coogan, “except on ten special channels for answering research questions and ten other channels which scan through the new material as it is introduced into the Library.”
“No control,” said Pchak. “That’s an interesting answer. Why is this?”
Coogan rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand, said, “The charter for the broadcasts was granted by the first system-wide government in the Twenty-first Century. A method of random program selection was devised to insure impartiality. It was considered that the information
“Fascinating,” said Pchak. He looked at the nearest guard. “Isn’t that so?”
The guard grinned.
Coogan took a slow, controlled breath, exhaled. He could feel a crisis approaching. It was like a weight on his chest.
“This has to be a thorough investigation,” said Pchak. “Let’s see what you’re broadcasting right now.”
O O O
Coogan worked the belt controls and an image realized before the right-hand rhomboid. It was of a man with a hooked nose. He wore leather pants and shirt, shoes with some kind of animal face projecting from the toes, a feather crest hat on his head.
“This is a regular random information broadcast,” said Coogan. He looked at his belt. “Channel Eighty-two.” He turned up the volume.
The man was talking a language of harsh consonants punctuated by sibilant hisses. Beside him on the floor was a mound of tiny round objects, each bearing a tag.
“He is speaking the dead Procyon language,” said Coogan. “He’s a zoologist of a system which was destroyed by corona gas thirty-four centuries ago. The things on the floor are the skulls of a native rodent, he’s saying that he spent eleven years classifying more than eight thousand of those skulls.”
“Why?” asked Pchak. He seemed actually interested, leaned forward to look at the mound of skulls on the floor.
“I think we’ve missed that part,” said Coogan. “It probably was to prove some zoological theory.”
Pchak settled back in his chair. “He’s dead,” he said. “His system no longer exists. His language is no longer spoken. Is there much of this sort of thing being broadcast?”
“I’m afraid ninety-nine per cent of the Library broadcasts—excluding research channels—is of this nature,” said Coogan. “It’s the nature of the random selection.”