Foundation and Chaos


Page 33



Then her probing mind touched a very peculiar person indeed, some dozens of meters away. Time seemed to slow as she felt a sudden bright impression of thoughts moving at inhuman speed, a silvery glissando of memories, and sensations unlike anything she had experienced before. She let out her breath in a gasp, as if she had been lightly punched in the stomach.

“What is it?” Brann asked, staring down at her with some concern.

“I don’t know,” she said. He shook his head and frowned.

“Neither do I,” he said. “I feel it, too.”

Then, abruptly, all of the odd sensations passed, as if a shield had gone up between them and the source.

Of all things Lodovik needed just then, being detected by another pair of mentalics was not high on his list. He felt a bright triangle forming, with him at one of the vertices, the pursuing woman at another, and two more people--younger--at the third. Then, abruptly, a fog seemed to cover their traces.

He stood very still. The crowds of nervous Greys flowed around him with worried expressions, chivvied by the police presence. He modified his appearance yet again, as he covered his face, and shifted his body mass so that he appeared not so much plump as stocky.

Whatever the cause of this cessation of mentalic probes, he hoped to take advantage of it.

To the humans around him, Lodovik behaved like someone afraid, hiding his face, and few took any more notice of him than that. But one figure drew closer. He wore dusty green robes and a small floppy hat cocked to one side, and he seemed to know what he was doing--and for whom he was looking.

The cordons had passed by and the crowds were thinning, dispersing. Klia and Brann moved their transport back into an alleyway, still alert, but prepared to leave the Agora of Vendors and return to the warehouse.

Brann suddenly drew himself to his full height. “Kallusin calls,” he said. He pulled a small comm from his pocket. “We need to” He did not finish before he pulled off his coat and handed control of the transport to Klia.

Kallusin stood before Lodovik. “Excuse me,” Lodovik said, and pushed past him, but Kallusin stood his ground, and Lodovik bumped him hard, nearly knocking him over.

They stood in the middle of a concourse surrounded by larger shops. Here, there was no open well looking up to the higher levels, but the roof was vaulted to about seven meters, and ribbons of silvery light rippled without visible support overhead, illuminating the shop entrances, slideways, and a group of small fountains in nacreous splendor. Every detail of the faces around Lodovik seemed clear and precise. The man confronting him backed away and bowed slightly, then doffed his hat.

“It is a privilege, sir,” Kallusin said. “We had hoped you were not lost.”

“I don’t know you,” Lodovik said brusquely.

“We’ve never met,” Kallusin said with a smile. “I’m a collector of interesting individuals. You, sir, are in need of some assistance.”

“Why?”

“Because there is a very dangerous and perceptive woman seeking you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please leave me be!”

Lodovik tried to walk around the man, but he simply backed away and followed, walking to one side. He deftly avoided colliding with other shoppers.

Seven Specials walked into view at the opposite end of the concourse, blocking the path of Greys who wished to leave by that route. The Greys retreated, frowning and drawing broad gestures of irritation with expressive hands.

Lodovik stopped and stared at the police. The fog seemed to be lifting. He could feel the woman’s feathering touch again; any second and she would know he was nearby. Then, she appeared on her cart, behind the line of police.

“I can’t keep up this shield much longer,” Kallusin said. He held up a small device in one hand, a green ovoid. “I’ve summoned a pair of friends who can help”

“I don’t need help!” Lodovik growled. “I need to get out of here and go home--”

“They won’t let you. And eventually she’ll find you. She’s backed by Farad Sinter.”

Lodovik did not show any sign, but suddenly the man in dusty green, with his hat in hand, became much more interesting. Of course Lodovik knew of Farad Sinter--a minor irritation attached to the Emperor. The Emperor’s pimp.

“You must be Lodovik,” Kallusin said, drawing closer, whispering the name. “You’ve changed your appearance, but I think r d know you anywhere. Can Daneel save you now? Is he somewhere close?”

Lodovik reached out and grabbed Kallusin’s arm, aware that his ignorance was now very dangerous. How this human knew his name, his nature, his connection with Daneel--and his present jeopardy--was inexplicable.

Kallusin twisted his arm from Lodovik’s strong, mechanical grasp with surprising ease.

A tall, hulking, dark young man emerged from a broad shop doorway, followed by a small, lithe girl with intense eyes. Behind them, inside the shop itself, stood a floating cargo transport supporting an empty crate open on one side. The shopkeepers seemed to know the large young man, and they were studiously ignoring all that happened.

Lodovik assessed the situation at once, turned, and saw that both ends of the concourse were now blocked by police.

“Into the crate,” Kallusin said. “Shut yourself down completely--no traces. Reactivate in an hour.”

Lodovik did not hesitate. He caught only a glimpse of the young womap’s frightened expression as he brushed past her, and climbed into the crate. Brann shut the open end and latched it. Lodovik arranged himself in the darkness and prepared to shut down.


He had no choice. Either he would fall into the hands of the Specials--and who knows what would happen to him then?--or give himself up to the mercies of the figure in the floppy green cap--not a human, but almost certainly a robot. He had wrested himself easily from Lodovik’s grip, after all, and without apparent pain or injury. His companions were human mentalics. Lodovik could only assume they were part of Daneel’s plan, perhaps part of Hari Seldon’s secret Second Foundation.

How could they be otherwise?

Just as the shut-down process began, Lodovik arrived at another possible solution--and felt it hitch, stall, dissolve into useless fragments, become absorbed by the timeless darkness.

He fully entered the blankness and for an indefinite interval, ceased to think, to be.

43.

Wanda Seldon Palver had almost finished packing the small travel case with essential bookfilms, coded records on disk and cube, and a few personal items, even before Stettin returned to their home. She met his worried gaze with a defiant frown, then shoved one final item, a small toy flower, into the case.

“I’ve packed for you, too,” she said.

“Good. When did you hear?”

“An hour ago. They wouldn’t let him send any messages. I called his apartment at the university, then the library. He had rigged a dead-man’s message.”

“What?” Stettin looked at her with a shocked lift of his thick black brows.

“A message for me if he didn’t check in.”

“But--but he’s not dead, you haven’t heard that....”

“No!” Wanda said angrily, then her shoulders slumped and she began to cry. Stettin took her in his arms. For a minute, she gave in to her emotions. Then, pulling herself together, she pushed back from her husband’s chest, and said, “No. They’ve come for him early, that’s all I know. He’s alive. The trial’s beginning sooner than we expected.”

“On charges of treason?”

“For treason and spreading sedition, I assume--that’s what Grandfather always said would be the charges brought against him.”

“Then you’re right to pack. I don’t have much to add.” He went to his desk and removed two small parcels, stuffed them into the pockets of his coat. “We have to--”

“I’ve made the necessary calls,” Wanda interrupted him. “We’re going on our first vacation in years, both of us, together. Nobody knows where--a minor lapse on our part.”

“A little suspicious, isn’t it?” Stettin asked with a ghost of a grin.

“Who cares what they suspect? If they start looking for us--if something goes wrong and Grandfather is found guilty, if the predictions turn out to be wrong--then we have a few extra days to leave Trantor and start over again.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Stettin said.

“Grandfather is very confident,” Wanda said. “Was very confident--I don’t know how he feels now!”

“In the belly of the beast,” Stettin said as their apartment door opened and they stood in the corridor outside.

“What does that mean?”

“Jail. Prison. An old convicts’ phrase. My grandfather spent ten years in a municipal prison--for embezzlement.”

“You never told me that!” Wanda said, astonished.

“He stole some heatsink-guild pension funds. Would you have let me handle the bookkeeping if you had known?”

Wanda slapped his arm hard enough to sting, then jogged toward the lifts and the slideways above. “Hurry!” she called. Stettin muttered under his breath, but followed, as he had followed Wanda in so many different ways, so often before, quite aware of her superior instincts and her uncanny ability to do the right thing, at just the right time.

44.

The last person Hari Seldon expected was the first to visit his prison cell. Linge Chen arrived on the first morning of his incarceration, accompanied by a single Lavrentian servant.

“I think it is high time we talk,” Chen said. The servant took a stool offered by the guard and placed it in front of the single cot. The guard left the door open a few centimeters, but then closed it at a signal from the servant. Chen sat on the stool, arranging his ceremonial robes with instinctive style. It was truly marvelous to watch the elegant manners, the genteel behavior of a member of the baronial gentry, nobles of long training and thousands of years of genetic selection and even, perhaps, manipulation.

The servant stood just behind and to the left of the Chief Commissioner, his face impassive.

“I regret not having had more discussions with you, sire,” Hari said with a respectful smile. He sat on the edge of the cot, his white hair in disarray from sleep. His shoulders ached, his back felt as if it had been twisted in knots. He had not slept well at all.

“You don’t look comfortable,” Chen said. “I will arrange for better accommodations. Sometimes the specifics of our commands get lost in the long circuits of justice and protocol.”

“If I were a treasonous rebel, I would defiantly decline your offer, sire, but I am an old man, and this cell is truly ridiculous. You could have kept me in my apartment in the library. I would not have gone anywhere.”

Chen smiled. “I am aware you think I’m a fool, Hari Seldon. I suffer no such illusions about you.”

“You are no fool, sire.”

Chen both accepted and dismissed this with a small lift of one finger from his robed knee, and an arch of one eyebrow. “I care little for the distant future, Professor Seldon. My interests lie in what I can accomplish in my lifetime. In your estimation that is enough to make me a fool.

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