Foundation and Chaos

Page 27

He forced himself to relax, performed his breathing exercises, just as Dors had once taught him. The music played, soft and highly structured and very melodic. As Hari listened, beating time with one hand where it rested on the chair arm, he worked over in his mind the roles that would be played by the Chen and Divart families as Trantor continued its decline. The Commission of Public Safety would run the Empire for some time, until a strong leader emerged--very likely an Emperor and not a military man. Hari suspected--though he would never have recorded this prediction--that the Emperor would take on the name of Cleon, become Cleon II, to appeal to the Empire’s, and especially Trantor’s, sense of tradition and history.

It was when a society became the most distressed and antiquated that it would recreate an overwhelming fantasy of some Golden Age, a time when all was great and glorious, when people were more noble and causes more magnificent and honorable. Chivalry is the last refuge of a rotting corpse.

Nikolo Pas had said as much. Hari closed his eyes. He easily visualized the defeated tyrant, sitting in his bare cell, a pitiful figure who had once occupied the center of a huge social cancer, yet who had also understood the Empire’s destiny with almost as clear a vision as Hari’s.

“I reached out to the wealthy noble families, the aristocrats, that squat on the lines of money and commerce like giant old leeches,” Pas had explained. “As provincial governor, I nurtured their sense of superiority and self-importance. I encouraged agrarian reforms--instructed that all municipalities should place farmlands back into production and require their young citizens and even gentry to work them, whether or not they were profitable, for spiritual reasons. I encouraged the development of secret religious societies, especially those that placed a premium on wealth and social position. And I encouraged the memory, the history, of a past time when life was much simpler and we were all closer to moral perfection. How easy it was! How the rich and powerful lapped up these corrupt old myths! I believed them myself for a time...Until the political tide turned, and I needed something more powerful. Then it was I began the revolution against the Eternals.”

Hari jerked up in his seat at a sound within his room. He ordered the music to stop and listened. He was sure he had heard footsteps.

They’ve come! He got up from his seat, heart pounding. Linge Chen had finally gotten tired of the game and was playing his hand. Just as Farad Sinter could send out assassins, so could the Chief Commissioner. Assassins--or merely arresting officers.

There were only three rooms. Surely he would have seen someone enter.

Hari searched the bedroom and kitchen, plodding across the soft floor in his bare feet and robe, all too aware of his vulnerability, even within his own home.

He found no one.

Relieved, he returned to the living room--and even before he noticed the visitors, felt a wave of reassurance. It was with little or no shock and not much surprise even that he saw three people standing in his living room, arranged in a half circle around his favorite chair.

Despite some cosmetic changes, he knew immediately that one, the tallest, with reddish brown hair, was his old friend Daneel. The other two he did not recognize. One was female, one a bulky male.

“Hello, Hari,” Daneel said. The voice had changed as well.

“I thought--I remembered a visit from you,” Hari stammered, confusion fighting with joy. He felt some irrational hope that Daneel had come to take him away, to tell him the Plan was fulfilled and he did not have to stand trial, did not have to live in the shadow of the displeasure of Linge Chen...

“Perhaps you anticipated,” Daneel said. “That’s something you do very well. But we have not been in each other’s presence for some years now.”

“I am not much of a prophet,” Hari said wryly. “It’s good to see you again. Who are these people? Friends?” He gave the next word a suggestive emphasis. “Colleagues?”

The female looked at him with a steady gaze he found discomfiting. Something familiar...

“Friends. We are all here to provide assistance in a crucial time.”

“Please, sit. Do any of you...feel thirsty, or hungry?”

Daneel knew he did not need to reply. The bulky male shook his head, no, but the female, also, made no reply. She simply watched him, her attractive face intensely blank.

Hari felt his heart sink, then rebound with painful excitement. His mouth hung open, and he sat in a smaller chair near the wall, to keep from collapsing. His eyes did not leave the woman. The right size, approximately. The same shapely figure, though younger than he last remembered her, but then, she had always been exceptionally resilient and youthful.

If she was a robot--secret steel!--

“Dors?” He could say nothing more. His mouth became too dry to talk.

“No,” the woman said, but did not look away.

“We are not here to renew old acquaintances,” Daneel said. “You will not remember this visit, Hari.”

“No, of course not,” Hari said, suddenly miserable and very alone again, despite Daneel’s presence. “I sometimes wonder whether I have any freedom at all...whether I can make any of my own choices.”

“I have never influenced you, except to prepare the way and maximize your effects, and to help you keep necessary secrets.”

Hari held out his hands, and wailed, “Release me, Daneel! Take all this off of my shoulders! I am an old man--I feel so very, very old, and I am so afraid!”

Daneel--listened with a concerned and sympathetic expression. “You know that is not true, Hari. There is still great strength within you, and enthusiasm. You are truly Hari Seldon.”

Hari drew back and covered his mouth with one hand, then swiftly wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

“Nothing to be sorry about. I am fully aware the strain is enormous. It causes me deep conflict to so burden you, my friend.”

“Why are you here? Who are they, really?”

“There is much work for me to do, and they will assist me. Already forces are at work that I must deal with, and that are of no concern of yours. We all have our burdens, Hari.”

“Yes, Daneel...I understand some of that. I mean, I see it in the graphs, the displays--undercurrents, hideously complicated, difficult to track, all centered on this moment. But why have you come to me, now?”

“To provide reassurance. You are not fighting alone. I have conducted surveys of the major centers where the Seldon Project is underway. You have quite an efficient army working for you, Hari. An army of mathists and scholars. You have done brilliantly well. They are primed and ready. I congratulate you. You are a great leader, Hari.”

“Thank you. And them?” He could not take his eyes off the woman. “They are like you?” Even in Daneel’s presence, he had difficulty using the word “robot.”

“They are like me.”

Hari started to ask another question, but shut his mouth abruptly and looked away, to bring his emotions into check. The question I most want to ask--I cannot, for my own sanity. Dors! Whatever became of Dors? Is she truly gone--dead? I have suspected for so long...!

“Hari, Linge Chen is going to move soon. You will probably be arrested tomorrow. The trial will begin early, and, of course, it will be conducted in secret.”

“I agree,” Hari said.

“I have certain knowledge of this,” Daneel added softly.

“All right,” Hari said. He swallowed back a lump in his throat. The second male--bulky, not very handsome, was also starting to look familiar. Who did he remind Hari or! Someone in the palace, a public figure...

“Linge Chen has his reasons. There are factions within the palace that are trying to overthrow the Commission of Public Safety, and to take power away from the baronial families, especially from the Chens and the Divarts.”

“They will fail,” Hari said.

“Yes. But it is not clear what damage may be done before they fail. If I am not very careful, the complexity could get out of hand, and we may lose our opportunity for this millennium.”

Hari felt a chill. Accustomed as he was to dealing with time periods of thousands of years, Daneel’s phrasing gave him a sudden view of possible futures in which Hari Seldon had not succeeded, in which Daneel would start all over again with another bright young mathist, another long plan to alleviate human suffering.

Who could understand the thinking of such a mind? Already twenty thousand years old...

Hari stood and approached the trio. “What more can I do?” he asked, then added, with a frown, “Before you make me forget this encounter.”

“I can tell you no more for now,” Daneel said. “But I am still here, Hari. I will always be here for you.”

The female took a step forward, then stopped. Hari noticed a tremor in one of her arms. Her face was so rigid she might have been cut from plastic. Then she smiled and backed up. “It is our privilege to serve,” she said, and her voice was not that of Dors Venabili. In fact, Hari wondered how he could ever have thought she was Dors.

Dors was dead. He had no doubt now. Dead, never to return.

Hari looked around the empty room. The music had been playing for two hours and he had hardly noticed the passage of time. He felt relaxed and in control, but still wary--like an animal long used to the hunters, a survivor with skills that could always be relied upon, but never taken for granted.

He had been thinking of Dors again. Hari smoothed his brow with his fingers.

Lodovik watched Dors with concern as they left the grounds of Streeling University. They rode in a taxi through the main traffic tunnel from Streeling to Pasaj, the Emperor Expressway, surrounded above, below, and to all sides by a steady stream of buses and cabs, caught in red and violet control grids like blood cells in an artery. The taxi was automated, chosen at random, and scanned by Daneel for listening devices.

Dors stared straight ahead, saying nothing, as did Daneel.

Daneel finally spoke as they approached Pasaj. “You did admirably.”

“Thank you,” Dors said. Then, “Is it wise to leave him so long without a guardian?”

“He has remarkable instincts,” Daneel said.

“He is old and frail,” Dors said.

“He is stronger than this Empire,” Daneel said. “And his finest moment is yet to come.”

Lodovik contemplated his assignment as relayed by Daneel through microwave link. His pilgrimage would include a tour of special duty in the Cathedral of the Greys in Pasaj. Here, the finest of the Empire’s bureaucratic class gathered once in a lifetime to receive their highest honors, including the Order of the Emperor’s Feather; while Lodovik’s new role had no history of such extraordinary excellence, it was not unusual for those who contributed to the cathedral on a yearly basis to be summoned for menial duties. as the next highest kind of recognition of service.

Daneel clearly expected the cathedral to play an important part in the next few years, though what that might be, he had not yet conveyed to Lodovik.

Lodovik half suspected that Daneel was keeping him on probation until he had proved himself loyal. That was wise. Lodovik kept his doubts deeply masked. He knew Daneel’s extraordinary sensitivity. He had also worked around him long enough to know of ways to deceive, to appear compliant and loyal.

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