Foundation and Chaos

Page 12

“I keep my contracts, and I keep my mouth shut.”

“And your crew?”

“You must have known we were trustworthy when you hired us,” Tritch said softly, dangerously.

“Yes, well it’s even more important now.”

Tritch stood and lifted the bottle from the table between them. She corked it firmly. “You’ve insulted me, Mors Planch.”

“An excess of caution, no insult intended.”

“Nevertheless, an insult. And you ask me to go to a world that no self-respecting citizen willingly visits.”

“They’re citizens on Madder Loss, too.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “How long do we stay?”

“Not long. You drop me there and leave at your own pleasure.”

Tritch was finding this harder and harder to believe. “I will ask no more questions,” she said, and tucked the bottle under her arm. Apparently Planch was no longer so attractive to her, and henceforth their relationship would be strictly professional.

Planch regretted this, but only slightly.

When he delivered Lodovik Trema to Madder Loss, he would be a very wealthy man, and he would never have to work for anyone again. He imagined buying his own luxury vessel--one that he could keep in tip-top condition, which was more than could be said for most Imperial ships.

As for the strange and tightly disciplined man in the hold, a man who could stay enclosed in a coffin for days without complaint or need...

The less he thought about that, the better.

Lodovik lay in the darkness, fully alert but quiescent, having heard the coded phrase that alerted him to Daneel’s participation in his rescue. He was to cooperate fully with Mors Planch; eventually, he would be brought back to Trantor.

What would happen to him there, Lodovik did not know. Having performed three self-checks in the coffin-shaped box, he was reasonably certain that his positronic brain had been altered in subtle ways. The results of his self-checks were contradictory, however.

To keep himself from deteriorating through disuse, he activated his human emotional overlay and ran diagnostics on that, as well. It seemed intact; he could operate as a human in human society, and that provided some relief. However, the contact with Mors Planch on the bridge of the Spear of Glory had been too brief for him to try out these functions. Best to be kept isolated until a more thorough test could be performed.

Above all, he must not reveal himself to be a robot. For all the robots in Daneel’s cadres, this was of paramount importance. It was essential that humans never learn the extent to which robots had infiltrated their societies.

Lodovik put his human overlay into the background and began a complete memory check. To do so, he had to shut down his control of external motion for twenty seconds. He could still see and hear, however.

It was at this moment that something bumped against the box. He heard fumbling outside, then the sound of metal scraping against metal. The seconds ticked by...five, seven, ten...

The lid of the box was pried open with a metallic groan. With his head turned to one side, half facing the wall of the box, he could only gather a blurry glimpse of one face peering in, and a fleeting impression of one other. Eighteen seconds...the memory check was almost complete.

“He certainly looks dead.” A woman’s voice.

The memory check ended, but he decided to remain still.

“His eyes are open.” A male voice, not that of Mors Planch.

“Turn him over and look for identification,” the woman said.

“Sky, no! You do it. It’s your bounty.”

The woman hesitated. “His skin is pink.”

“Radiation burns.”

“No, he looks healthy.”

“He’s dead,” the man said. “He’s been in this box for a day and a half. No air.”

“He just doesn’t look like a corpse.” She reached in and pinched the tissue of his exposed hand. “Cool, but not cold.”

Lodovik blanched his skin slowly, and dropped his external temperature to match the ambient. He felt inefficient and incompetent for not having done that earlier.

“He looks pale enough to me,” the man remarked. Another hand touched his skin. “He’s cold as ice. You’re imagining things.”

“Dead or whatever he may be, he’s worth a fortune,” the woman said.

“I know Mors Planch by reputation, Trin,” the man said. “He won’t just hand his prize over to you.”

Lodovik, on his conveyance into the rescue ship, had heard the name “Trin” applied to a woman he gathered was second-in-command to the captain, Tritch. This could be a very serious situation.

“Take his picture,” Trin said. “I’ll get a message out this sleep and we’ll learn if he’s the one they want.”

A camera was lifted over the box and silently recorded his image. Lodovik tried to model all the possible causes for this behavior, all the scenarios and their potential outcomes.

“Besides, Tritch has given her word to Planch,” the man continued. “She’s known to be honorable.”

“If we succeed, we’ll make ten times what Planch is paying Tritch,” Trin said tightly. “We could buy our own ship and become free traders on the periphery. Never have to deal with Imperial taxes or inspections again. Maybe even go to work in a free system.”

“Pretty rough territories, I hear,” the man said. “Freedom is always dangerous,” Trin said. “All right. We’re here. We’ve broken the seals on the box. We’re committed. Make an incision in his scalp and let’s get what we came for.”

The man withdrew what sounded like a scalpel from his pocket. Lodovik activated his eyes and watched them in the dim light of the hold. The man swore under his breath and brought the scalpel down.

Lodovik could not allow himself to be cut. He would bleed from any superficial wound, but even an untrained eye would see that he was not human if the scalpel cut deep. Lodovik quickly calculated all the pluses and minuses of any particular action he might take, and arrived at the optimal, based on what he knew.

His arm shot up from the box. His hand wrapped around the wrist of the man with the scalpel. “Hello,” Lodovik said, and rose to a sitting position.

The man seemed to have a fit. He jerked and shrieked and tried to pull his hand away, then shrieked again. His eyes rolled up to show nothing but white and foam appeared on his lips. For several seconds he twitched in Lodovik’s grasp, as Lodovik appraised the situation from his new perspective.

Trin backed toward the hatchway. She looked terrified, but not as terrified as the man in his grip. Lodovik judged the man’s condition and carefully removed the scalpel from his fingers, then released him. The man clutched his shoulder and gasped, his face turning a medically questionable pale green.

“Trin,” the man groaned, twisting toward her. Then he collapsed. Lodovik climbed from the box and bent to examine him. The woman near the hatch seemed transfixed.

“Your friend is suffering a heart attack,” Lodovik said, glancing at her. “Do you have a doctor or medical appliances on this ship?”

The first mate gave a small, birdlike cry and fled.


Klia Asgar approached her contact in Fleshplay, a tough though popular family and labor resort on the outskirts of Dahl, near the entertainment Sector of Little Kalgan. Here, acts and rides from Little Kalgan itself were tried on very tough customers before they were exported around Trantor.

Fleshplay was full of brilliantly illuminated signs climbing up the walls of buildings almost to the ceil of the dome, announcing new shows and performance teams, old favorites revived in the Stardust Theater, popular beverages, stimulk, even outlaw stims from offworld. Klia glanced at the pouring cascades of projected beverages with a dry and thirsty appreciation.

She had been standing in a store alcove for twenty minutes waiting for her contact, not daring to abandon her position even for the time it might take to get a drink at a nearby street-vendor stall.

Klia watched the crowds with more than just her eyes, and saw them in more than just surface detail. On the surface, all seemed well enough. Men, women, and children at this evening hour strolled by in what passed for leisure-time dress in Dahl, white blouses and black culottes with red stripes around the waist for the women, pink jumpsuits for prepubescent children, a more rakish cut of black worksuit for the men. A more than cursory examination showed the strain, however.

These were the higher citizen classes in Dahl, the more fortunate day-shift and managerial workers, functionally the equivalent of the omnipresent gray-clad bureaucrats in other Sectors, yet there was a grimness in their faces when they weren’t actively responding to banter or forcing smiles. Their eyes seemed tired, a little glazed, from months of disappointment and extensive layoffs. Klia could read the colors of their internal moods as well, caught in brief flashes, since she was otherwise occupied: angry purples and bilious green murmurings hidden within the deep holes of their minds, not auras, but pits into which she could glimpse only from certain mental perspectives.

Nothing extraordinary in all this; Klia knew what the mood of Dahl was, and tried to ignore it as often as possible. Full immersion would not just distract her, but could even infect. She had to remain isolated from the general herd to keep her edge.

She recognized the boy as soon as he walked into view across the street. He was perhaps a year older than she, shorter and squat, with a pinched face marked by several small scars on his cheek and chin, gang marks from Billibotton’s tougher streets. She had delivered goods and information to him several times in the last year, when better courier jobs were not to be had. Now, she realized she might be seeing even more of him, and she did not like it one bit. He was tough to convince...

Good jobs had become almost impossible to find in the past few days. Klia was known to be marked; few trusted her. Her income had plummeted almost to nothing, and worse still, she had narrowly escaped being captured by a gang of thugs whose leader she had never seen before. There were new folks in town, with new allegiances, providing new dangers.

Klia still had confidence in her ability to worm her way out of any tight situation, but the effort was exhausting her. She longed for a quiet place with friends, but she had few friends--none willing to take her in the way things were.

It was enough to make her rethink her whole philosophy of life.

The pinch-faced boy caught sight of Klia when she wanted to be seen, then went through a deliberate masquerade of casually ignoring her. She did the same, but edged closer, looking around as if waiting for somebody else.

When they were within earshot, the boy said, “We’re not interested in what you’re carrying today. Why don’t you just slink out of Dahl and plague someone else?”

Brusqueness and even rudeness meant little, she was so used to them. “We have a contract,” Klia said casually. “I deliver, you pay. My day boss won’t take it well if you--”

“Word here is your day boss is in the sinks,” the boy said, staring at her boldly. “And so’s every other day or night boss who used you. Even Kindril Nashak! Word is he’s been threatened with Rikerian, held with no charges! A free warning, girlie. No more!”

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