Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 7
Conan drank in the fresh, cool air; a relief after the smoke-filled squalor of the Uselessnet. He let FirstSearch crop clover and mountain heather while he enjoyed the view. In the distance a waterfall fed into Lake Cayuga. The river flowing from that lake carved the deep gorge that guarded the gates of the city of Ithaca. FirstSearch never faltered crossing the suspension bridge, though the waters below ran swiftly over the rocks. 

The sentries were expecting him and soon Conan was riding through the twisting, narrow streets, dodging carts and pedestrians as the population bustled about its business. 

He made his way to the town square, a long quadrangle anchored on one end by the temple, with its unmistakable gothic tower, and on the other by the palace. Within the square were pilgrims to the temple, a busy marketplace, and assorted children and dogs. Near each end, stood the larger-than-life bronze statues of the twin kings of Ithaca: Peter the Great and Thomas the Bruce. On each base was carved their motto: Let Information Inspire. Conan recognized the motto repeated in the symbols on the kingdom's flag: LII. 

Conan had begun many reference journeys from this temple. So skillfully had the twin kings built their empire and alliances, no other temple in the three kingdoms boasted such an array of information sources and links. He had hoped to simply return the AACR2 there, but now he sighed as he rode past toward the more imposing palace and another banquet. 

Passing the center of the square, he saw children laughing and throwing rotten vegetables at a man sitting in the stocks. A vendor's pack sat by his side, brochures spilling from it. A sign had been set up beside him that read "enhanced for NetScape". Conan shook his head at the man's folly and rode on. 

The banquet was ready to start, leaving little time to rest or change clothes. All travel-weariness melted away, though, when Conan entered the banquet hall and smelled the warm breads and roasted meats. 

The hall was full of laughter and music, the latter provided by a cello quartet. A servant escorted Conan to the head table where he was seated in the place of honor between King Thomas and the high priest emeritus of the temple. The meal was good and the conversation easy. He noticed two elderly hounds enjoying bones tossed to them by the head table and asked the high priest about them. 

"Oh, that's Archie and Veronica," the old man replied. "The best hunting dogs in all the realms in their day. All but retired now." He cast Conan a knowing look and whispered, "The Web will take over everything. Mark my words." 

Before Conan could quiz him further, they were interrupted by the formal presentation of the AACR2 and seemingly endless rounds of toasts. Finally, King Thomas' favorite entertainer, a rotund opera star whose name meant "one of enormous weight", stood up to perform. 

It was during the first song that Conan noticed the spy, a still figure in a dark cloak standing in the shadows near the servants' entrance, his face obscured by his hood. In the midst of the next loud aria, the spy passed behind the head table and gave his report in a tense, whispered conversation with King Thomas. As he slipped away, Conan could neither see his face nor help but notice how far to the sides his hood extended. The King's expression had turned serious and he leaned over to whisper to his brother. 

"Who was that?" Conan asked the priest. 

"He is known only as BigEar. And if he has interrupted this gathering, his news must be of the greatest import. Did you catch anything he said?" 

Conan shook his head. He had heard but one word: Java. 

© 1996, by Hadley V. Baxendale

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