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chapter 4
 The pink bubbles, the tiny flesh-colored flecks glinting light from the spun-sugar bridges between the tanks, were spiders. Millions upon millions of spiders, each the size of a mustard-seed; crawling, leaping, swinging, spinning webs, seething in the hundred tanks. Orison put her hands over her ears and screamed again, backing toward the stairway door. Into a pair of arms.
"I had hoped you'd be happy here, Miss McCall," Kraft Gerding said. Orison struggled to release herself. She broke free only to have her wrists seized by two Earmuffs that had appeared with the elder Gerding. "It seems that our Pandora doesn't care for spiders," he said. "Really, Miss McCall, our little pets are quite harmless. Were we to toss you into one of these tanks...." Orison struggled against her two sumo-sized captors, whose combined weights exceeded hers by some quarter-ton, without doing more than lifting her feet from the floor. "... your flesh would be unharmed, though they spun and darted all around you. Our Microfabridae are petrovorous, Miss McCall. Of course, once they discovered your teeth, and through them a skeleton of calcium, a delicacy they find most toothsome, you'd be filleted within minutes."
"Elder Compassion wouldn't like your harming the girl, Sire," one of the earmuffed sumo-wrestlers protested.
"Elder Compassion has no rank," Kraft Gerding said. "Miss McCall, you must tell me what you were doing here, or I'll toss you to the spiders."
"Dink ... Dink!" Orison shouted.
"My beloved younger brother is otherwise engaged than in the rescue of damsels in distress," Kraft said. "Someone, after all, has to mind the bank."
"I came to bring a message to Dink," Orison said. "Let me go, you acromegalic apes!"
"The message?" Kraft Gerding demanded.
"Something about escudo green. Put me down!"
Suddenly she was dropped. Her mountainous keepers were on the floor as though struck by lightning, their arms thrown out before them, their faces abject against the floor. Kraft Gerding was slowly lowering himself to one knee. Dink had entered the spider-room. Without questions, he strode between the shiko-ing Earmuffs and put his arms around Orison.
"They can't harm you," he said. She turned to press her face against his chest. "You're all right, child. Breathe deep, swallow, and turn your brain back on. All right, now?"
"All right," she said, still trembling. "They were going to throw me to the spiders."
"Kraft told you that?" Dink Gerding released her and turned to the kneeling man. "Stand up, Elder Brother."
Dink brought his right fist up from hip-level, crashing it into Kraft's jaw. Kraft Gerding joined the Earmuffs on the floor.
"If you'd care to stand again, Elder Brother, you may attempt to recover your dignity without regard for the difference in our rank." Kraft struggled to one knee and remained kneeling, gazing up at Dink through half-closed eyes. "No? Then get out of here, all of you. Samma!"
Kraft Gerding arose, stared for a moment at Dink and Orison, then, with the merest hint of a bow, led his two giant Earmuffs to the elevator.
"I wish you hadn't come up here, Orison," Dink said. "Why did you do it?"
"Have you read the story of Bluebeard?" Orison asked. She stood close to Dink, keeping her eyes on the nearest spidertank. "I had to see what it was you kept up here so secretly, what it was that I was forbidden to see. My excuse was to have been that I was looking for you, to deliver a message from Mr. Wanji. He said I was to tell you that the escudo green is pale."
"You're too curious, and Wanji is too careless," Dink said. "Now, what is this thing you have about spiders?"
"I've always been terrified of them," Orison said. "When I was a little girl, I had to stay upstairs all day one Sunday because there was a spider hanging from his thread in the stairway. I waited until Dad came home and took it down with a broom. Even then, I didn't have appetite for supper."
"Strange," Dink said. He walked over to the nearest tank and plucked one of the tiny pink creatures from a web-bridge. "This is no spider, Orison," he said.
She backed away from Dink Gerding and the minuscule creature he cupped in the palm of his hand. "These are Microfabridae, more nearly related to shellfish than to spiders," he said. "They're stone-and-metal eaters. They literally couldn't harm a fly. Look at it, Orison." He extended his palm. Orison forced herself to look. The little creature, flesh-colored against his flesh, was nearly invisible, scuttling around the bowl of his hand. "Pretty little fellow, isn't he?" Dink asked. "Here. You hold him."
"I'd rather not," she protested.
"I'd be happier if you did," Dink said.
Orison extended her hand as into a furnace. Dink brushed the Microfabridus from his palm to hers. It felt crisp and hard, like a legged grain of sand. Dink took a magnifier from his pocket and unfolded it, to hold it over Orison's palm.
"He's like a baby crawdad," Orison said.
"A sort of crustacean," Dink agreed. "We use them in a commercial process we're developing. That's why we keep this floor closed off and secret. We don't have a patent on the use of Microfabridae, you see."
"What do they do?" Orison asked.
"That's still a secret," Dink said, smiling. "I can't tell even you that, not yet, even though you're my most confidential secretary."
"What's he doing now?" Orison asked, watching the Microfabridus, perched up on the rear four of his six microscopic legs, scratching against her high-school class-ring with his tiny chelae.
"They like gold," Dink explained, peering across her shoulder, comfortably close. "They're attracted to it by a chemical tropism, as children are attracted to candy. Toss him back into his tank, Orison. We'd better get you down where you belong."
Orison brushed the midget crustacean off her finger into the nearest tank, where he joined the busy boil of his fellows. She felt her ring. It was pitted where the Microfabridus had been nibbling. "Strange, using crawdads in a bank," she said. She stood silent for a moment. "I thought I heard music," she said. "I heard it when I came in. Something like the sighing of wind in winter trees."
"That's the hymn of the Microfabridae," Dink said. "They all sing together while they work, a chorus of some twenty million voices." He took her arm. "If you listen very carefully, you'll find the song these little workers sing the most beautiful music in the world."
Orison closed her eyes, leaning back into Dink's arms, listening to the music that seemed on the outermost edge of her hearing. Wildness, storm and danger were its theme, counterpointed by promises of peace and harbor. She heard the wash of giant waves in the song, the crash of breakers against granite, cold and insatiable. And behind this, the quiet of sheltered tide-pools, the soft lub of sea-arms landlocked. "It's an ancient song," Dink said. "The Microfabridae have been singing it for a million years." He released her, and opened a wood-covered wooden box. He scooped up a cupful of the sand inside. "Hold out your hands," he told Orison. He filled them with the sand. "Throw our singers some supper for their song," he said.
Orison went with her cupped hands to the nearest tank and sprinkled the mineral fishfood around inside it. The Microfabridae leaped from the liquid like miniature porpoises, seizing the grains of sand in mid-air. "They're so very strange," Orison said. At the bottom of the tank she thought she saw Ben Franklin again, winking at her through the bubbling life. Nonsense, she thought, brushing her hands.
Dink took her to the elevator and pressed the "Down" button. "Don't come up here again unless I bring you," he said. "The Microfabridae aren't dangerous, despite what my brother told you, but some of our processes might involve some risk to bystanders. So don't take any more tours above the fifth floor without me as your guide. All right, Orison?"
"Yes, Dink."
The elevator stopped. "Take the lady to her office," Dink told the bowing, earmuffed operator. "And Orison," he said, just before the door closed, "I'm really not a Bluebeard. See you this evening."
Dink Gerding, wearing an ordinary enough suit, well-cut, expensive, but nothing extraordinary for a banker, called for Orison at seven. He'd look well, she thought, slipping into the coat he held for her, in a white uniform brocaded with pounds of spun gold, broad epaulettes, a stiff bank of extravagantly-colored ribbons across his chest; perhaps resting his right hand on the pommel of a dress saber. "Dink," she asked him, "were you ever in the Army?"
"You might say I'm still in an army," he said, turning and smiling down at her from that arrogant posture of his. "I'm a corporal in the army of the gainfully employed; an army where there's little glamor but better pay than in the parades-and-battles sort. What makes you ask, Orison?"
"Because of the way you stand and walk, Dink," she said. "Like an Infantry captain from Texas."
"I'm flattered," Dink Gerding said, holding open the lobby door for her. "The car's just around the corner."
"I met your brother, Kraft, earlier today, just before he and the Earmuffs caught me up on eighth floor," Orison said. "He's no Texan, that one. A Junker, maybe. I'm afraid I don't much care for your brother, Dink."
"To be my elder brother is Kraft's special misfortune," Dink said. "I understand he was quite loveable as a boy. Here's our transportation."
The car was a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, splendidly conspicuous beside the curb of the Windsor Arms, reducing............
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