Foundation and Chaos

Page 11

The masseuses began work on his legs, smoothing out the corded muscles and somehow removing a pain in his left knee that had been bothering him for weeks. They then worked on his arms, pushing and prodding with a surprising force, causing a delicious sort of pain that quickly melted into a liquid lassitude.

As they worked, Hari thought of the special privileges accorded to leaders and their associates, their families. There was, of course, the velvet trap of power, sufficient luxuries to attract reasonably competent and competitive individuals to an ungratefully demanding job (in Hari’s opinion; of course, Cleon I had been remarkably sanguine about being an Emperor at times, and even Agis had tried to act the part, which had led to his downfall under Linge Chen’s Commission).

For Klayus, there was luxury without much responsibility; that meant endless opportunities for distortions of the personality, which Hari had seen so often in history, among figurehead rulers of various systems...

As the masseuses caressed and pummeled and prodded, he lapsed back into his memories of the meetings with the tyrants. They had taken place more than a kilometer beneath the Hall of Justice and the Imperial Courts, in the Rikerian Prison, at the center of a labyrinth of precisely controlled security systems. During his decades on Trantor, Hari had come to love interior spaces, even small ones, but the Rikerian Prison had been designed to punish, to flatten the spirit.

He had had nightmares about those tiny confined spaces, on and off, for years after.

In a cell barely tall enough to stand in, with slick hard black walls and two holes in the floor, one for waste and one for food and water, and no chairs, he had interviewed Nikolo Pas of Sterrad, the butcher of fifty billion human beings.

Cleon had his bizarre sense of humor, forcing the interview to take place there and not in some neutral meeting area. Perhaps he had wanted Hari to understand the man’s current plight, to put things in perspective, perhaps to pity him, at least feel something, and not reduce everything to equations and numbers, as Cleon felt was Hari’s wont.

“I’m sorry I have nothing to offer in the way of hospitality,” Nikolo had said as they faced each other in the tiny, dim space. Hari had responded with some dismissive pleasantry.

The man before him was more than six centimeters shorter than Hari, with pale blond, almost white hair, large dark eyes, a small pug nose, broad lips, and a short chin. He wore a thin gray shirt and shorts and sandals. “You’ve come to study the Monster,” Nikolo continued. “The guards say you’re the First Minister. Surely you’re not here to pick up some political tips.”

“No,” Hari said.

“To observe Cleon’s triumph and the restoration of dignity and order?”


“I never rebelled against Cleon. I never usurped the Emperor’s authority.”

“I understand. How do you explain what you did?” Hari asked, deciding to jump in with no further preliminaries. “What was your reasoning, your goal?”

“They tell everybody I butchered billions on four worlds within my system, the system I was chosen to preserve and protect.”

“That’s what the records tell. What happened, in your opinion? And I warn you--I have the accounts from thousands of witnesses and other records at my disposal.”

“Why should I even bother talking with you, then?” Nikolo said.

“Because it’s possible what you say can prevent more butchery, in the future. An explanation, an understanding, could help us all avoid similar situations.”

“By killing a monster such as myself at birth?”

Hari did not answer.

“No, I see you’re more subtle than that,” Nikolo murmured. “By preventing the rise to power of one like myself.”

“Perhaps,” Hari said.

“What do I get out of it?”

“Nothing,” Hari said.

“Nothing for Nikolo Pas...How about the right to kill myself?”

“Cleon would never allow that,” Hari said.

“Just the right to inform Cleon’s First Minister, to give him more understanding, and therefore more power...”

“I suppose you could look at it that way.”

“Not in this hole,” Nikolo had said. “I’ll talk, but someplace clean and comfortable. That’s my price. You wouldn’t put vermin in a hole like this. And I have ever so much to tell you...about humans as well as machines, or about machines that seem human...past as well as future.”

Hari had listened, trying to keep his face impassive. “I’m not sure I can get Clean to--”

“Then you’ll learn nothing, Hari Seldon. And I see by the look in your eyes...I’ve touched something that provokes a deep curiosity, haven’t I?”

Hari twitched on the suspension couch and the masseuse working on his neck softly ordered him to lie still. Why haven’t I remembered this conversation before now? Hari asked himself. What else has been suppressed? And why?

Then, tension spoiling all the masseuses’ work, another question, Daneel, what have you done to me?


The bodies had been arranged in neat floating rows in the crew lounge, the largest space in the ship, and also the closest space to the emergency hatch amidships.

Mors Planch backed away from the entrance, wondering for a moment if he had come upon a scene of torture and piracy. All the bodies were connected by ropes to keep them in place. Tended to, taken care of even in death. The air in the weightless chamber smelled from the decay of several days. Yet he had to make a count, to see if there was any value in searching elsewhere in the ship.

Tritch kept well back from the hatchway. Her red-rimmed eyes stood out above the white handkerchief she held over her nose and mouth. “Who put them in there?” she asked, voice muffled.

“I don’t know,” Mors said grimly. He put on a breather mask and entered to make his count. Several minutes later he emerged, his face wan. “Nobody alive, but not everybody is in there.” He pushed past her and expertly caromed down the corridor, toward the bridge. Reluctantly, Tritch followed, stopping briefly to pass an instruction to Trin.

“They all died within minutes of each other, I’m guessing,” Planch told Tritch as she caught up with him. “Radiation poisoning from the shock front.”

“The ship is heavily shielded,” Tritch said.

“Not against neutrinos.”

“Neutrinos can’t hurt us...They’re like ghosts.”

Planch peered into the darkened officer’s lounge, switched on his torch, played it around the furniture and walls, saw nobody. “Neutrinos in sufficient numbers are what blew away the outer shells of the supernova,” he said tightly. “Under such conditions, in such hordes, they can play strange and deadly tricks with matter, particularly with people’s bodies. Smell the ship?”

“I smell the dead, back there,” Tritch said.

“No. Smell the ship here. What do you smell?”

She took the handkerchief away from her nose and sniffed. “Something burnt. Not flesh.”

“Right,” Planch said. “It’s not a common smell, and I’ve only experienced it once a ship caught in a neutrino surge, but not from a supernova. From a planet being broken up and swallowed by a wormhole. One of the transit-station disasters, thirty years ago. The ship was caught in the emerging jet of converted mass. I investigated, part of a salvage crew. Everybody aboard was dead. The ship smelled scorched, like this...Burnt metal.”

“Pleasant work,” Tritch said, putting the cloth back to her nose.

The hatch to the bridge was open. Planch held out his arm to keep Tritch back. She did not argue. The bridge was illuminated only by starlight from the open direct-view ports. He turned his torch on and shined it on the panels, the captain’s chair, the displays. The displays were all blank. The ship was dead.

“We won’t have much air soon,” he told Tritch. “Keep your crew back.”

“I already have,” Tritch said. “I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to. We can’t salvage anything if the ship can’t be revived.”

“No,” Planch said. The bridge seemed empty, and cold enough to make his breath cloudy. He pushed in farther, flailing briefly against the cold stale air with one hand until he caught a stanchion and rotated. From that vantage, he aimed his beam into the opposite corner. There, he saw a form curled into a fetal ball.

He pulled himself along until he floated a meter from the form. What he had been told was true; this one was alive. The head turned, and he recognized the features of Councilor Lodovik Trema. But it was not Chief Commissioner Chen who had told him Trema would be alive.

When they had first sighted the hulk in deep space, drifting helplessly, he had communicated first with Chen, then with another, who had paid him even more handsomely than Chen: the tall man who had many faces and many names, and who had hired him so often before.

That man was never wrong, and he had not been wrong this time. Where all others might be dead, one might still be alive...And he must not be returned to Chen. He must be reported dead.

Lodovik Trema blinked slowly, calmly, at Planch. Planch held his fingers to his lips, and whispered, “You’re still dead, sir. Don’t move or make a sound.” Then he spoke a coded phrase incorporating both numbers and words that the man of many faces had told him to use.

Tritch watched them from across the bridge. “What did you find?” she asked.

“The man I’m looking for,” Planch said. “He lived a little longer. He must have arranged the others, then come here to die.”

As he brought out Lodovik, Tritch tried to back away, but could not find a grip fast enough. The body, curled and lifeless, floated ahead of Planch, under Tritch’s nose, and she nearly gagged with some reflex expectation.

“Don’t worry,” Planch said. “This one doesn’t smell much. It’s colder on the bridge.”

Tritch could not believe they had come all this way just to retrieve a single body. Back aboard the Flower of Evil, with Lodovik safely stowed in a box in the hold, she passed Planch a bottle of Trillian water of life, and he poured himself a glass and lifted it in cheerless toast.

“The Chief Commissioner wanted to make sure. And now that we know he’s dead, and all the others with him, I’m to take him back to his home world and see him decently buried, with full Imperial honors.”

“And leave all the others? That seems a little bizarre.”

Planch shrugged. “I don’t question my orders.”

“Which world is he from?”

“Madder Loss,” Planch replied.

Tritch shook her head in disbelief. “A man in such high authority, from a planet of disgraced parasites?”

Planch inspected his glass and lifted one finger before finishing its contents. Then he poked glass and finger at Tritch. “I remind you of our contract,” he said. “The death of this man could have political repercussions.”

“I don’t even know his name.”

“People could guess from what little you do know, if you spread it around in the wrong places. And if you do, I’ll find out.”

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