Foundation and Chaos

Page 38

Sky, she’s ugly, Planch thought, and at the same time felt pity for her. Then she looked directly at him, narrowed one eye, and the pity froze in his veins.

“There may be robots everywhere, as I suspected, theorized, and as you discovered, Mors.” Sinter submitted to the tailor once more, lowering his arms and holding still. “Tell our witness about your find, Vara.”

“It was an old robot,” Liso said breathlessly. “A humaniform, in terrible condition, haunting the dark places of the municipalities, a pitiful thing--”

“But a robot,” Sinter said, “the first found in any kind of working order in thousands of years. Imagine! Surviving like a rodent all these centuries.”

“Its mind is weak,” Liso commented softly. “Its energy reserves are very low. It will not last much longer.”

“We shall take it before the Emperor this evening, then, tomorrow, I shall demand that my interview with Hari Seldon be moved forward. My sources tell me Chen is ready to give in and strike a deal with Seldon--the coward! The traitor! This evidence, along with your tape, should convince the worst skeptic. Linge Chen had hoped to destroy me. Soon I shall have more power than all the Commission of Public Safety’s stuffy barons combined--and just in time to save us all from servitude to these machines.”

Planch stood with hands folded before him, head lowered, and said nothing.

Sinter glared at him. “You’re not happy at this news? You should be delighted. It means you’ll have an official pardon for your transgressions. You have proved invaluable.”

“But we have not found Lodovik Trema,” Liso whispered, barely audible.

“Give us time!” Sinter crowed. “We’ll find all of them. Now--let’s bring in the machine!”

“You should not drain its energies,” Liso said, almost as if she felt pity for it.

“It’s lasted thousands of years,” Sinter said lightly, unperturbed. “It will last a few weeks more, and that’s all I need.”

Planch stiffened and stood to one side as the broad door opened again. Another guard entered, followed by four more, surrounding a shabbily dressed figure about Planch’s height, slim but not thin, hair ragged and face stained with dirt. Its eyes seemed flat, listless. The guards carried high-powered stun weapons, easily capable of shorting out the robot and frying its internal works.

“A female,” Sinter said, “as you see. How interesting--female robots! And fully capable sexually, I understand--examined by one of our physicians. Makes me wonder if in the past humans actually made robots to bear children! What would the children be like, us--or them? Biological, or mechanical? Not this one, however. Nothing besides the cosmetic and pneumatic--not fully practical.”

The feminine robot stood alone and silent as the guards withdrew, weapons held ready.

“If only the recent attempt on the Emperor’s life had been made by a robot,” Sinter said, then added unctuously, “Sky forbid!”

Planch narrowed his eyes. The man’s political savvy was weakening with every moment of perceived glory.

Vara Liso approached the robot with a worried expression. “This one is so like a human,” she muttered. “Even now it’s difficult to pick her out from, say, you, or you, Farad.” She pointed at Planch and then at Sinter. “She has humanlike thoughts, even humanlike concerns. I felt something similar in the robot we could not capture--”

“The one that got away.” Sinter smiled broadly.

“Yes. He seemed almost human--maybe even more human than this one.”

“Well, let us not forget they are none of them human,” Sinter said. “What you feel is the creative drollery of engineers thousands of years dead.”

“The one we could not capture...” She looked directly at Mors Planch and once again he suppressed a shiver. “He was bulkier, not very good-looking, with a distinct character to his face. I would have thought he was human...but for this flavor to his thoughts. He was about the same size and shape as the shorter, bulkier robot on your tape.”

“See? We almost had him,” Sinter said. “Just that close.” He pinched his fingers together. “And we’ll have him yet. Lodovik Trema and all the others. Even the tall one whose name we do not know...” Sinter approached the feminine robot. It wobbled slightly on its mechanical ankles, but there came no mechanical sound from its frame.

“Do you know the name of the one I am looking for?” Sinter asked. The robot turned to face him. Its voice emerged from parted jaws and writhing lips, a harsh croak. It spoke an old dialect of Galactic Standard, not heard on Trantor for thousands of years, except by scholars, just barely understandable.

“I ammm the lasssst,” the robot said. “Abandonn-n-ned. Not funnn-n-nctional.”

“I wonder,” Sinter said. “Did you ever meet Hari Seldon? Or Dors Venabili, Seldon’s Tiger?”

“I do not knn-n-now those names.”

“Just a hunch...Unless there are billions of robots here, something even I give no credence to...You must make contact with each other now and then. Must know each other.”

“I do not knn-n-n-now these things.”

“Pitiful,” Sinter said. “What do you think, Planch? Surely you’ve heard of Seldon’s superhuman companion, the Tiger. Do you think we’re looking at her now?”

Planch examined the robot more closely. “If she was a robot, and if she’s still on Trantor, or still functional, why would she allow herself to be captured?”

“Because she’s a broken-down bucket of oxidation and decay! “ Sinter shouted, waving his hands and glaring at Planch. “A wreck. Garbage, to be discarded. But worth more to us than any treasure on Trantor.”

He circled the robot, which seemed disinclined to watch his motions.

“I wonder what we can do to access its memories,” Sinter murmured. “And what we’ll learn when we do.”


Linge Chen allowed his servant, Kreen, to dress him in full regalia for the judge-administrator role of Chief Commissioner. Chen had designed these robes himself, and those of his fellow Commissioners, using elements of designs from hundreds and even thousands of years ago. First came the self-cleaning undergarments he wore all the time, sweet-smelling and supple, light as air; next the black cassock, hanging to his ankles and brushing lightly at his bare feet; after that, the surplice, dazzling gold and red, and finally the guard, a sheer mantle of dark gray cinched at the waist. On his short-cut black hair sat a simple skullcap with two dark green ribbons hanging just behind his ears.

When Kreen had finished his adjustments, Linge Chen regarded himself in the mirror and the imager, touched his hem and the angle of his cap to suggest adjustments, and finally nodded approval.

Kreen stood back, chin in hand. “Most imposing.”

“That is not my purpose today, to be imposing,” Linge Chen said. “In less than an hour, I am to appear before the Emperor in these gaudy robes, summoned without a chance to change into more appropriate garb, and behave as if I have been caught off guard. I will be a little confused and I will vacillate between the two impossible options given to me. My enemy will appear to triumph, and the fate of Trantor, if not the Empire, will teeter in the balance.”

Kreen smiled confidently. “I hope all goes well, sire.”

Linge Chen tightened his already thin lips and gave the merest indication of a shrug. “I suppose that it will. Hari Seldon has said it will, claims to have proved it mathematically. Do you believe in him, Kreen?”

“I know very little about him, sire.”

“A marvelously irritating man. Yes, well, to act my part, in the next few days, I am going to bring an Emperor to his knees, and make him beg. Before, it has been an unpleasant duty to step from my traditional role. This time, it will be a delight, a reward for my hard service. I will be lancing a boil in the tissue of the Empire, and allowing a persistent and painful lesion to drain.”

Kreen absorbed this in thoughtful silence.

Linge Chen raised his finger to his lips and gave his servant a narrow, wry smile. “Shh. Don’t tell anyone.”

Kreen shook his head slowly, with great dignity.


On Trantor, the possible varieties of human sexual interaction had long ago been exhausted; and with each new generation, the exhaustion had been forgotten, and the cycle had started allover again. It was necessary for youths to be ignorant of what had gone before, for the passions of procreation to be refreshed. Even those who had seen too much of life. too much of the more brutal kinds of sexual variety, could rekindle a passionate innocence in the face of something like love. And that was what Klia Asgar felt she was experiencing--something like love. She was not yet willing to call it love, but with each day, each hour available to be with Brann, the weakness increased and her resistance decreased.

As a girl, she had been a vigorous tease at times. She knew she was at least attractive enough that most men would not mind having sex with her, and she played with that attraction. Behind this had lurked a sense of confusion, a sense that she was not yet ready, not yet prepared for the emotional consequences. For Klia Asgar, when (and if) she ever fell in love, knew she would fall hard indeed, and that she would want it to be permanent.

So in those youthful moments when she thought she might actually feel something for a potential lover, she had put on the brakes with especial swiftness and even some unconscious cruelty. There had been few successful suitors to her physical affections--two, in fact, and they had been, of course, not very satisfactory.

For a time she had thought there was something wrong with her, that she might never let herself go completely.

Brann was proving otherwise. Her attraction to him was too strong to resist. At times he seemed carelessly unaware of her regard, and at other times, resistive in his own way, and for his own, perhaps similar reasons.

Now he stole down the hallway of the old warehouse. She lay in her room, feeling him coming. tensing and then making herself relax. She knew he was not forcing himself upon her, not increasing her affections artificially--at least, she thought she knew. The damnable thing about all this was the uncertainty around every corner!

She heard him tapping lightly on the doorframe.

“Come in,” she whispered.

He made no sound as he entered. He seemed to fill the room with chest and shoulders and arms, a massive presence. The room was dark, but he found her cot easily enough, and knelt beside it.

“How are you?” he asked, voice soft as a sigh from a ventilation duct.

“Fine,” she said. “Did they see you?”

“I’m sure they know,” he said. “They’re not very good chaperones. But you wanted me to come.”

“I didn’t say a thing,” Klia responded, and her voice strained a little to find the correct mix of admonishment and encouragement.

“Then we don’t need to whisper, do we? They’re robots. Maybe they don’t even know--about...”

“About what?”

“What people do.”

“You mean, sex.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.