Foundation and Chaos

Page 20

“So who tells the stories about these things, to sell them?” Klia wanted to get away from this topic. Brann’s shyness and vulnerability were a little too attractive.

“Shopkeepers all over Trantor,” Brann said. “The staff writes up reports on the treasures, we attach the reports to official forms from customs, we deliver to the agoras, and the Greys run to buy ‘em. Haven’t you ever seen an offworld antique store?”

“Never,” Klia said.

“Well, if you’re around long enough, maybe one of the guys will take you to one. Me, I only go out during sleeps, when there aren’t many people.”

Kallusin, the man in dusty green, sat himself behind a ridiculously large desk and folded his hands. The desktop was covered with pretty baubles from many different worlds, all of them useless as far as Klia could determine, but attractive--or perhaps just distracting.

Brann stood behind her. She kept her eyes on Kallusin, though she felt the urge to look at Brann. There was something about his abilities that the big Dahlite was not telling her. Fair enough. He did not know everything about Klia, either.

“Our persuaders are a very creepy crew, you know?” Kallusin said, and smiled. “Very talented and very creepy. They have to watch us and maintain tight discipline here, or else word will get out--and do you think people on Trantor will enjoy knowing that their kind exist? Lucky people, persuasive people. People who manage to get along...but you know something strange? None of them have made it into the Palace. They stay at a constant level of human accomplishment, and they stay out of politics. Does that make sense to you, Klia Asgar?”

“No,” Klia said, and shook her head. “We should be in control, if everything you’ve said is true.”

“Well, you seem to be self-limiting. You’re content just to live your lives and leave higher matters to normal people. Why that should be, I don’t know. But the Trader Plussix enjoys your company. You realize that you’ll never meet Plussix, not in person, even after you join and swear an oath?”

“Fine with me,” Klia said.

“Does that arouse your curiosity?”

“No,” Klia said with a sniff. “What do I need to do?”

“First, promise you’ll learn to control your talents in the

presence of your fellow persuaders. You, especially, Klia Asgar. You’re one of the strongest persuaders I’ve ever encountered. If you applied yourself, you could make all of us do handstands, but we’d know what had happened, and we’d have to kill you.”

Klia felt a small shiver of dismay. She had never really tried to control herself; she had grown up with this ability, using it as naturally and casually as she did speech, perhaps more so, since she wasn’t much for conversation. “All right,” she said.

“In return, we protect you, hide you, give you useful work. get to be interviewed by Trader Plussix.”

“Oh, good,” Klia said softly.

“Don’t be afraid of him,” Brann said in his soft rumble.

“I won’t be.”

“He’s deformed,” Kallusin said. “So I’ve surmised. Plussix tells us nothing, but...” His hand indicated the office, the warehouse, their living quarters, all with one sweep. “He provides all this for us. My theory, which I’ve even told Plussix himself, is that he’s another peculiar kind of mentalic, not very good at persuading or greasing the social skids, but a type who enjoys being around those with your talents. But he never confirms or denies anything.”

“Oh,” Klia said. She wanted to get the ceremonies over and go to her quarters. She wanted to be alone and rest. She hadn’t slept well in days. Rest--and food. Since her arrival at the warehouse, Brann had taken her to the employee cafeteria twice, and she had eaten huge meals, but she was still hungry.

She resisted the urge to look at Brann. She kept her eyes on Kallusin.

“I’m very glad you’ve joined us,” he said, and pressed his baby-smooth lips together. He neither smiled nor frowned, but his eyes, though they did not move, seemed to sweep her for every important detail. “Thank you,” he said, and turned to the window overlooking the largest chamber of the warehouse. Brann touched her shoulder, and she jerked, then followed the big man outside.

“When do I swear my oath?” she asked.

“You already have, by accepting our hospitality and not asking Kallusin if you could leave.”

“That doesn’t seem fair. I should know all the rules.”

“There are no rules, except you stay around here, you don’t use your talents on us or on outsiders...unless instructed to do so...and you don’t tell anybody about us.”

“Why not put that into an oath?”

“Why bother?” Brann said.

“And what about you? You keep making me want to look at you. Shouldn’t you stop that?”

Brann shook his head solemnly. “I’m not doing a thing,” he said.

“Don’t tell me that! I’m no idiot.”

“Believe whatever you want,” Brann said. “If you want to look at me, it’s just because you want to look at me.” Then he added, in a low voice, “I don’t mind. Not with you.”

He walked ahead of her down a narrow industrial gray corridor lined with closed doors and illuminated by simple globes. Klia felt a flush of anger at his presumption. “Maybe you should mind!” she called ahead sharply. “Maybe you should worry! I’m not a very nice person!”

Brann shrugged and handed her the ID card that also served as a key to her room. “Enjoy your rest,” he said. “We probably won’t see each other for a while. I’m going with Kallusin to escort a shipment of goods to Mycogen. It might take us days to conclude the deal.”

“Good,” Klia said, and inserted the card. She pushed open the door to her room and entered swiftly, then slammed the door behind her.

For some seconds, she hardly saw the room, she was so angry with herself. She felt weak and taken advantage of. Swearing an oath without even hearing the oath! Plussix sounded monstrous.

Then the furniture and decor came into focus. It was spare, soft greens and grays with sunny yellow accents, not luxurious but not oppressive, either. There was a plain foam mattress, not too old, an armoire, a trunk, a tiny desk and chair, then another chair, not much larger but with more padding than the desk chair. There was a lamp in the ceiling and a lamp on the desk. A bookfilm reader lay on the desk.

The room was three paces wide and about three and a half long. It was the nicest room she had had to herself since she left home, and in truth, nicer than the small bedroom she had slept in as a child. She sat on the edge of the bed.

Being attracted to men, any man, was a weakness she could not afford now. She was sure her fantasy of a big Dahlite male didn’t match Brann--although he was big, a Dahlite, male, and sported a fine mustache.

The next time, she vowed, I won’t look at him at all!


Lodovik stood motionless but for his eyes, watching as Daneel conducted another diagnostic check, the last before the journey to Eos.

“There’s no overt damage, still nothing I can detect here,” Daneel said as the old machines finished. “But you’re a later model than these tools. They’re not up to your level, I suspect.”

“Have you ever diagnosed yourself!” Lodovik asked.

“Frequently,” Daneel said. “Every few years. Not with these machines, however. There are some high quality tools hidden on Trantor. Still, it’s been a century since I’ve been to Eos, and my power supply needs replacing. That’s why I’ll travel with you. And there is another reason. I have to bring back a robot--if her repairs and upgrades have gone well.”

“A female form?”


Lodovik waited for elaboration, but Daneel was not forthcoming. He knew of only one female form robot still active, of the millions that had once been so popular with humans. This was Dors Venabili--and she had been sequestered on Eos for decades.

“You do not trust me now, do you?” Lodovik said.

“No,” Daneel said. “The ship should be ready. The sooner we get to Eos, the sooner we can get back. I hate to be away from Trantor. The most critical moment of the Cusp Time is upon us.”

Very few Imperial ships put in to Madder Loss now, but Daneel had made traveling arrangements with a trader vessel months before, and it was not difficult to fit Lodovik in as an extra passenger. The vessel would take them to the cold outer reaches of Madder Loss’s system, to a frozen asteroid with no name, only a catalog number: ISSC-1491.

They stood on the landing platform of a remote outdoor port. Spaceport. The sun was bright, and insects flew through the air, pollinating the oil-flower fields that surrounded the concrete and plasteel facilities.

Lodovik still valued Daneel’s leadership and presence, but how long could that last? In fact, Lodovik had put all of his initiative on hold for the few days he had been on Madder Loss, for fear of defying Daneel. His type of humaniform robot used initiative in many important ways, however, not just to determine large-scale courses of action. He could not subdue the thoughts that rose from his core mentality. Daneel would hold humans back. Humans must be allowed to act out their own destiny. We do not understand their animal spirits! We are not like them!

Daneel himself had said that human minds and destiny were not easily understood by robots--if they could be understood at all. It is madness to control and direct their history! The overweening madness of machines out of control.

Something unfamiliar flitted across his thought processes--a vestige of the voice he had heard earlier.

Daneel spoke to the trader captain, a small, muscular man with a ritually scarred face and paste white skin. Daneel turned and waved for Lodovik to join him. Lodovik marched forward. The trader captain gave him a ferocious smile.

As they boarded the ship, Lodovik looked back. Insects everywhere, on all the planets suitable for humans, all alike, with minor local variations, mostly explainable by genetic tinkering over the millennia. All suited to maintaining ecosystems conducive to human civilization.

Not a wild creature on all of Madder Loss. Wild creatures could only be found on those fifty thousand worlds put aside as hunting and zoo preserves: the garden planets so popular with Klayus, planets where citizens could only visit with Imperial permission. He had once overseen the budgetary allocations to those preserves. Linge Chen had wanted to shut them down as useless expense, but Klayus had made a direct request to save them, and there had been some ornate quid pro quo to which Lodovik had not been privy.

Lodovik wondered how all this, garden worlds and tamed or paved-over human worlds, had come to be. So much history unavailable to him. So many questions bubbling up now beneath the self-imposed constraints.

The ship doors closed behind him, and he concealed an algorithmic turbulence, what in human terms he would have called an intellectual panic--not at the closed spaces of the ship, but at the opening flowers of curiosity within his own mind!

In their small cabin, Daneel placed their two small pieces of luggage in containment racks and pulled down a small sitting platform. Lodovik remained standing. Daneel folded his arms.

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