Foundation and Chaos

Page 19

Stettin set his jaw. “That would be a last resort. We must begin training volunteers for such an effort. I have a list of those whose work puts them in places where they might encounter Liso...”

Wanda listened as Stettin read out the names. The named stepped forward like guilty children, and Stettin took them to a separate room.

“The rest of us have other matters to discuss,” Wanda said, hoping to distract the remainder. “There are more travel questions to be answered--health questions, family and financial situations to be tied up, and, of course, training in the Seldon disciplines--”

The group calmed and focused on these matters with some relief, glad to be done with the problem of Liso, for the time being. Eager to look the other way.

They were all like children, Wanda thought, every one of them, and the group as a whole: no better than awkward adolescents, stumbling along through life with powers they have only now recognized, for the first time fully aware of weaknesses they have never had to confront before.

Weaknesses hidden by persuasion.

We are all cripples! She kept her face calm, but her insides churned at the coming conflicts, so many and so dangerous. How could Hari have chosen such a strange and disorganized group to safeguard all of human history!

Sometimes, Wanda felt as if she were wandering through a dream. Not even Stettin could reassure her at those times, and she was close to despair.

Of course, she never confessed that to Hari.


Klia Asgar emerged during the main sleep period. ten kilometers from where she had descended to the two rivers. The ceil above this neighborhood of Dahl glowed twilight blue-gray, and the streets were filled only with night laborers, about a third of the volume of waking maximum. Nobody challenged her.

Rather than simply contact the number on the card given to her by the man in dusty green, Klia persuaded a small-time security scrambler in south Dahl to break the card’s code. The card then gave her an address and acted as a guide, glowing and humming faint directions as she took transit and taxi to Pentare, a small municipality in the shadow of Streeling. She bought an Imperial-grade filmbook reader, hooked it to a general communicator, and fed it material from public files, using data credits she had amassed on two small jobs months ago. She read up on Hari Seldon and his granddaughter, Wanda. Seldon. it seemed, was not a persuader, yet the man in dusty green had said that his granddaughter was. Where did she get her powers, then? Klia looked up Wanda Seldon Palver’s father: Raych. A Dahlite.

This caused her a moment of both concern and wonder, and even momentary pride. She had always known Dahlites were special.

The woman’s family connection with a Dahlite was not enough to dispel Klia’s suspicions about people connected to the Palace.

Still, Hari Seldon predicted the end of the Empire, the destruction of Trantor; he had established quite a reputation as a doomsayer. That might put him in opposition to the Palace; there were even rumors that he was to be put on trial for treason.

Yet Klia had an instinctive dislike for such visionary twaddle. Too often visionaries were trying to organize their own small cadres of totally obedient acolytes, little personal empires in the middle of a unimaginably bigger and almost completely impersonal Galactic Empire.

She had heard of a spectacular incident just last year, in Temblar, on the equator. Fifty thousand followers of a schismatic Mycogenian had committed suicide, claiming to get messages telling them of Trantor’s imminent destruction. The messages had supposedly come from nonhuman intelligences parasitizing Imperial defense and information platforms in orbit around Trantor.

Klia knew nothing about the defense platforms, but she was smart enough to see that Seldon was clearly akin to these fanatics, and would do someone like her no good at all.

As the man in dusty green had indicated...

At the card’s direction, Klia took a small slideway from the transit platform to a pedwalk artery dubiously called Brommus Fair. This led halfway across a district where goods were housed before distribution to retail shops, agoras, and markets around Streeling and the Imperial Sector.

She approached a large warehouse that reached to the edge of the ceil, where it met its supporting wall; a less than desirable neighborhood, but clean and orderly. There were even fewer people about at this early-morning hour than there had been in south Dahl. Still, she kept her senses keenly tuned.

The card directed her to a small side door. She looked at the door for several tens of seconds, biting her lower lip. What she was about to do seemed to be a very big step, and possibly a dangerous one. Still, everything the man in dusty green had told her rang true.

And he had given her information about herself, her nature, that had bothered her--deeply affected her.

She was about to knock on the small, featureless door when it opened inward with an abrupt squeal. A large, dark figure bent low to step out and almost bumped into her. Klia jumped back.

“Sorry,” the figure said, and emerged in the twilight beneath the glow of a small lantern high up on the warehouse wall. It was a man, a very big man, with broad shoulders and glossy black hair and a magnificent mustache. A Dahlite! “The main entrance is around the corner,” the man said in a deep, velvety voice. “Besides, we’re closed.”

She had never seen any male so handsome, and so compellingly...she tried to find the word: gentle. Klia swallowed and forced herself to speak. “I was told to come here. A man gave me this. Wears green. He never told me his name.” She held out the card.

The huge Dahlite--fully two heads taller than any Dahlite she had ever seen before--took the card in large but dexterous fingers. He pulled it close to his face and squinted. “That would be Kallusin,” he grumbled. He lowered the card. Klia felt something brush against her like a light breeze, then depart. “He’s at home now, I think, or somewhere he can’t be reached. Can I help you?”

“He...said he would find place for me. I think that’s what he meant.”

“Yeah. All right.” The big Dahlite turned and pushed the door open again. “You can wait inside until he comes.”

She hesitated.

“It’s all right,” the giant said, and his voice almost compelled her full belief. “I certainly won’t hurt you. You’re a sister. My name is Brann. Come on in.”

Brann shut the door behind them and rose to his full height. Despite his size, Klia did not feel afraid; he moved with a careful grace that could have been calculated not to alarm or offend, if it had not seemed so natural. He smiled down on her.

“Dahl?” he asked.


“Most of us are from Dahl. Some come from Misaro, a few more from Lavrenti.”

She lifted her eyebrows.

“Whatever it is, it makes good servants,” Brann said with a small grin. “How long have you known?”

“Since I was a child,” Klia said. “How long have you been here?”

“Just a few months. Kallusin recruited me during the equinox. I left Dahl five years ago. I was too big to work in the heatsinks.”

Klia looked around the large space they had entered and saw many tiers of industrial shelving covered with crates, lumbering old automated lift engines, belt delivery systems, all quiet now and shrouded in darkness.

“What is this?” Klia asked.

“Kallusin works for a man named Plussix. Plussix imports stuff from offworld and sells it here.” Brann walked down an aisle, glanced over his shoulder, and said, “It’ll be an hour before Kallusin gets here. He’s a late sleeper. Want to see some of the treasure?”

“Sure,” Klia said with a shrug. She walked slowly after the big man, arms folded against the warehouse’s slight chill.

“There’s stuff from a thousand worlds here,” Brann said, his voice barely audible in the vast spaces. The warehouse was larger than she thought--huge portals with massive rolling doors led to even more cavernous chambers. “Out there, where it comes from, it’s junk--and believe me, it wouldn’t impress the Emperor, either. But the Greys here on Trantor just gotta have it. Every little apartment nook needs a dried stingweed frond from Giacond, or a pre-Empire trance box from Dessemer. Plussix buys it for nothing, saves it from conversion and cycling. Buys empty space on food ships from the nutrient allies or from free traders with Imperial dispensation. Brings it here. Makes twenty percent per shipload, a lot better than the Trantor Bourse. In thirty years, he’s gotten very rich.”

“I’ve never heard of Plussix.”

“He doesn’t sell any of it himself. The bureaucrats like to have a story, and he’s pretty much no story at all. I’ve never seen him myself, and I don’t think Kallusin has, either.”

“So he just hands it over to good story-tellers?”

Brann rumbled softly, and with some pleasure, Klia realized he was laughing. “Yeah,” he said, glancing back at her appreciatively. He seemed to want to face away from her. She almost subconsciously tried to persuade him to turn around. She wanted to understand more clearly how he felt about her.

“Stop that,” he said, and his shoulders tensed.

“Stop what?”

“Everybody around here tries that and I don’t like it. Don’t make me do anything. Just ask with words.”

“I’m sorry,” Klia said, and genuinely meant it. His tone was more than offended--he sounded as if some friend had just betrayed him!

“Yeah, well, it’s natural, I suppose. I feel it, but it doesn’t work on me. I said you’re a sister. You don’t know what that means?”

“I...suppose it means you’re like me.”

“I’m not like you, not exactly. You persuade. I make people feel comfortable and happy. I can’t make them do anything, but they like being around me. I like being around them. It’s mutual. So you don’t need to persuade me. Just ask.”

“I will,” Klia said.

“But don’t ask me to look directly at you,” Brann said. “Not for a while. I have a very rough time with females. That’s why I left Dahl, not just because I couldn’t work in the heatsinks.”

“I don’t understand,” Klia said.

“I’m shy for a reason,” he said.

“I’d like to know.”

“Of course you would,” Brann said amiably. “You’re a woman. I can feel you liking me. And I like women...a lot. I think they’re beautiful. Enchanting. So I fall in love with them, really quickly. But what I do...the effect I have...after a while, it wears off, and the women see me for what I am: this big hulking guy with no prospects. So they wander off, and there I am. Alone.”

“That must be very painful,” Klia said, though she could not really understand why. She had been a loner for so long that the thought of being alone caused her no concern. She had no clear notion of what it felt like to be in love, either. Her dreams were more of continuing, satisfying sexuality, not necessarily of a deep emotional connection. “I like being alone, myself. I don’t really care what others think about me.”

“You’re lucky,” Brann said.

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