|The sounds of combat died, but in her hiding place, Meta held her breath,
and her knife, until the footsteps were near.
"Conan!" She cried, with more relief than she had expected.
"The Knights of PC will bother no other travelers in this glade," he
"And you?" She looked at the bloody cloth tied around his left arm.
He flexed it. "Only a scratch."
"Then we should be on our way if we wish to reach the forest edge by
An awkward silence walked with them to the edge of the forest where
they found themselves by the roadside. From the west came sounds of human
activity and smells of roasting meat and hot breads. Their steps grew brisker,
and coming over a small rise they were rewarded with the sight of a busy
Meta pulled her emergency shopping bag from her pack. It bore the emblem
of the information vendors' marketplace, the initials of which stand for:
Buy Now Another. "Here we should be able to find refreshment," she said
"And Information," Conan added.
They walked among the rows of stalls displaying their wondrous goods.
Strings of shiny disks--one side reflecting the light in rainbows--hung
like bagels. The vendors in these booths competed loudly for shoppers'
attention. In others, vendors stood before displays of manuscripts with
matching leather bindings in tasteful colors as they tried to engage shoppers
in more dignified conversation.
Conan and Meta sampled chocolate, honey, long loaves of hot bread and
other delicacies offered to attract shoppers. Meta filled her shopping
bag with token offerings--articles of clothing, writing instruments, a
flying disk, a portable shelter from rain--all emblazoned with the vendors'
seal or crest. But no one had seen a hyper-cat.
They stopped before one of the more colorfully decorated booths. "Pardon
me, good sir," Conan addressed the booth's occupant, "but have you seen
two large grey-and-white hyper-cats pass this way?"
"Hyper-cats?" the man replied with the gracious smile of the professional
vendor. "Most useful creatures for bibliographic control. We use them in
our own products. Are you familiar with our line? Interspatial Innovations
we call ourselves because no one is more innovative in design, features
or customer support. Let me give you a brochure." He pushed two glossy
ones at them. "We offer a complete line of bibliographic tools in separate
modules. You can buy them individually for acquisitions, catalog or circulation.
We just sold a circulation module to the Dukedom over that hill. We can
even import some of your favorite reference tools. Of course, if you buy
the entire package, there is a substantial discount." His smile grew wider.
"In fact, we are offering a special this week for people buying at this
market. And we are having a drawing for a free terminal. Would you like
to put a business card in the bowl for the drawing?"
"No thank you," said Conan, backing away, well aware of the magic that
could be worked with business cards to curse the unwary with an endless
stream of junk mail.
As the sun set, the vendors began closing their stalls for the night.
Disappointed and weary, Conan and Meta made their way past the last stalls
and toward the town. Suddenly, the prism around Meta's neck began to glow.
It dimmed again and they backed up until its glow was brightest. They looked
up to find themselves in front of a stall--closed now for the night--which
advertised spells that would allow communion with the mega-utility, OCLC.
1993, by Hadley V. Baxendale