Foundation and Chaos

Page 29

“Your Highness, it is premature. They are going to try him and at least one of his people. This is a direct challenge to the privilege of the Palace.”

“Farad, the Palace--that is, I--have long since dropped any official support, behind the scenes, for Raven Seldon. He’s an amusement, nothing more.”

“It could be perceived as an affront, now that the move is about to be made.”

“Move--what move?”

“Why, to discredit Seldon. If they succeed, Your Highness--”

“Stop with the titles! Just tell me what you think and get your damned image out of my chamber.”

“Cleon supported Seldon.”

“I know that. Cleon wasn’t even family, Farad.”

“Seldon has ballooned that support into a project consisting of tens of thousands of adherents and sycophants on a dozen planets. His message is treasonous, if not revolutionary--”

“And you want me to protect him?”

“No, sire! You must not let Linge Chen take personal credit for removing this threat. It is time to act swiftly and create the commission we have discussed.”

“With you in charge. The Commission of General security, right?”

“If General Security prosecutes Seldon for treason, you will get all the credit, sire.”

“And no credit or power will go to you?”

“We have discussed this many times.”

“Too many times. What do I care whether Linge Chen takes credit or not? If he removes this intellectual parasite, we’ll all benefit equally, don’t you think?”

Farad thought this over. Klayus could see him deciding to try another tack.

“Your Majesty--this is a very complex issue, and I have many concerns. I did not wish to bring this up so soon, but I have brought an individual back to Trantor from Madder Loss. With your authorization. His name is Mors Planch, and he has evidence which we may add to other evidence--”

“What, more robots, Farad? More Eternals?”

Sinter, within the artificial constraints of the image, seemed to stay calm enough, but Klayus knew the little man was probably dancing with anxiety and anger by now. Good. Let him build up a head of steam.

“The final pieces of the puzzle,” Sinter said. “Before Seldon is tried on simple charges of treason, you must examine this evidence. You may be able to limit Chen’s power and add to your own image as a resourceful leader.”

“In my own good time, Farad,” Klayus said in an ominous growl. He knew what his public image was--and he knew the effective limits of his power compared to the Chief Commissioner’s. “I wouldn’t want to make you into another Linge Chen. You don’t even have the restraint of being trained in an aristocratic family, Farad. You are common and sometimes vicious.”

Sinter appeared to ignore this, too. “The two Commissions would balance each other, sire, and we could more effectively watch over the military ministers.”

“Yes, but your chief concern is this robot menace.” The Emperor swung his legs over the field cushions and stood by the side of the bed. He had not performed well this afternoon; his mind was tugged in all directions by a myriad of little strings and knotted threads of statecraft and security and intrapalace plotting. Right now, his irritation focused on Farad Sinter, a little man whose services (and women) seemed less and less satisfying, and whose transgressions could easily become less and less amusing.

“Farad, I have seen no evidence worth the name for a year now. I do not know why I’ve tolerated your behavior on this matter. You want Seldon because of his connection to the Tiger, don’t you?”

Sinter stared blankly at the sensor transmitting his image.

“For God’s sake, remove the politeness censor and let me see you the way you are,” Klayus ordered. The image shifted and shivered, then Farad Sinter appeared in a rumpled casual robe, his hair awry, his face red with anger. “That’s better,” Klayus said.

“She was demonstrably not human, Your Majesty,” Sinter said. “I have secured the documents pertaining to the murder of the Seldon Project worker Elas, and he felt the same as I and other experts.”

“She died,” Klayus said. “She killed this Elas and then she died. What’s to know beyond that? Elas wanted Seldon dead. Would that I had a female so loyal.”

He hoped his own knowledge of all these matters was not becoming too obvious; even in front of Sinter, he hoped to maintain a little of his reputation as vain and stupid and governed by his gonads.

“She was given an atom-dispersal burial without official supervision,” Sinter said.

“That’s the method chosen by ninety-four percent of Trantor’s population,” Klayus said, and yawned. “Only Emperors get to be buried intact. And some faithful ministers and councilors.”

Sinter seemed to vibrate with frustration. Klayus found this more enjoyable then he had the attempted mating. Where was that woman, anyway?

“Dors Venabili was not human,” Sinter asserted with a slight sputter.

“Yes, well Seldon is. You’ve shown me his X rays.”

“Subverted by--”

“Oh, for Sky’s sake, Farad, shut up! I order you to let Linge Chen carry out his little charade. We’ll all watch closely and see what happens. Then we’ll take some action or another. Now leave me alone. I’m tired.”

He blocked the image and sat back on the edge of the lower field. It took him several minutes to restore his calm, then he thought of the woman. Where had she gotten to?

“Hello?” he called out to the empty chamber. The door to this chamber’s personal was open, and a bright light shone through.

Emperor Klayus, now eighteen standard years of age, wearing only a Serician nightgown that hung loose from his shoulders and draped around his ankles, rolled out of the bed and walked toward the personal. He yawned and gave a wide, bored stretch, then waved his arms like a slow semaphore to limber up. “Hello?” He couldn’t remember her name. “Deela, or Deena? I’m sorry, darling, are you in there?”

He pushed the door open. The woman stood naked just beyond the door’s reach. She had been here all along. She looked unhappy. He admired her lovely pubic region and stomach, lifted his eyes to her flawless breasts, and saw the trembling arms held out, clutching a tiny blaster, of a size often concealed in sheer clothes or purses. Little more than a flexible lead with a bulb on one end, very rare these days, quite expensive. She seemed frightened to be pointing it.

Klayas was about to scream when something whistled by his ear and a small red spot appeared in the woman’s pale, swanlike neck. He screamed anyway, even as the lovely green eyes rose up and fluttered in that perfect face, and the head tilted as if she were listening to bird song somewhere. His scream grew louder and more shrill as the body twisted as if she would screw herself into the floor. With a horrible and unutterably final slackness, the woman collapsed on the tile of the personal. Only then did she come to squeeze the bulb. The blast took out part of the ceiling and a mirror, and sprayed him with chips of stone and glass.

Stunned, Klayus crouched and flinched, arms drawn up against the noise and dust. A hand grabbed him roughly and pulled him out of the personal. A voice hissed in his ear, “Highness, she may be carrying a bomb!”

Klayus looked at his rescuer. He gaped.

Farad Sinter tugged him a few additional meters. In the advisor’s small hands lay a kinetic-energy pistol that fired neurotoxin pellets. Klayus knew the type well; he himself carried one in his daily wear. It was standard issue for the royals and nobles.

“Farad--” he grunted. Sinter pushed him to the floor as if to humiliate him. Then, with a sigh, as if this was all too much, Sinter threw himself over Klayus to protect him.

Thus did the palace guards find them a few seconds later.

“N-no-not yours?” Klayus asked tremulously as Sinter stormed and berated the commander of the Emperor’s Private Specials.

Sinter, in his rage, ignored the Emperor’s question.

“You should all be taken out and disintegrated! You must find the other woman immediately.”

The commander, Gerad Mint by name, was having none of this. He motioned for two adjutants to come forward, one on each side of the Imperial councilor. He regarded Sinter with cold fury, held back by centuries of military discipline steeped into his very genes. The effrontery of this lowborn lackey! “We have her papers, the ones you issued to her. They are in her clothes in the...the seventh sleep chamber.”

“She is an impostor!”

“Sinter, you are the one who brings these women in at all hours and without adequate security checks,” Commander Mint said. “None of our guard can hope to recognize them all, or even to keep track of them!”

“They are very thoroughly checked by my office, and this is not one of the women I brought to him!” Sinter pointed a finger at the Emperor, realized this hideous breach of conduct, and withdrew his hand just before the Emperor turned and would have noticed. The commander saw, however, and exploded.

“I can only keep track of so many comings and goings! You never consult my office, and we do not conduct these checks ourselves--”

“Is she one of your women, Farad?” the Emperor asked, gathering his wits about him finally. He had never known real fear until now, and it had badly rattled him.

“No! I have never seen her before.”

“But she is lovely,” the Emperor added, glancing at the commander with those doe-like boy’s eyes. He did this for effect; time to play the role again. He had in truth never much liked this commander, who secretly regarded him as an infantile baboon, he was sure. Sinter appeared to be in some trouble, and that was amusing also, but not very useful at the moment. Klayus had his own plans for Sinter, and would hate to lose him to this deplorable but not fatal faux pas.

“There are no others in the palace--except your women!” the commander said through gritted teeth at Sinter. “And how did you happen to come back here at just the right moment?”

“My,” Klayus said, and tsked at Sinter.

“I was coming here to discuss personally an urgent matter!” Sinter said, eyes darting between Klayus and the commander.

“It is very convenient--perhaps a setup, a ruse, to raise your--” The commander did not have time to develop this theory. A stiff officer in royal blue livery approached the commander and whispered in his ear. The commander’s red face suddenly went livid, and his lips trembled.

“What is it?” Klayus demanded, his voice strong now.

The commander turned to the Emperor and bowed stiffly from the waist. “A woman’s body, Your Highness--”

Sinter pushed forward between the two adjutants who had flanked him throughout this encounter, ready to arrest him. “Where is she?”

The commander swallowed. His lips were almost blue. “Found in the corridors below this level. The”

“Where? What do her identity papers say?”

“She has no identity papers.”

“That is a sacred area, Commander,” Klayus said with a dead level voice. “The Temple of the First Emperors. Farad is never allowed down there. Nor are any stray women. Royals and ceremonialists only. You are responsible for that area.”

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