Foundation and Chaos

Page 41

“You’re beautiful,” she told him grudgingly, as they stood less than three meters from each other.

“Thank you, Mistress.”

“How old are you?”

“I am twenty thousand years old,” Plussix said.

Klia’s heart sank. She could not find any words to express her astonishment--older than the Empire!--so she said nothing.

“Now they’ll have to kill us,” Brann said with what he hoped was passing for a brave grin. But his words made Klia’s stomach flip and her knees wobble.

“We will not kill you,” Plussix said. “It is not within our capacity to kill humans. There are some robots who believe killing humans, our onetime masters and creators, is permissible for the greater good. We are not among them. We are handicapped by this, but it is our nature.”

“I am not so constrained,” Lodovik said. “But I have no wish to break any of the Three Laws.”

Klia stared unhappily at Lodovik. “Spare me the details. I don’t understand any of this.”

“As with nearly all humans alive today, you are ignorant of history,” Plussix said. “Most do not care. This is because of brain fever.”

“I had brain fever,” Klia said. “It nearly killed me.”

“So did I,” said Brann.

“So have nearly all the high mentalics, the persuaders, we have gathered and cared for here,” Plussix said. “Like you, they suffered extreme cases, and it is possible that many potential mentalics died. Brain fever was created by humans in the time of my construction to handicap other human societies to which they were politically opposed. Like many attempts at biological warfare, it backfired--it became pandemic, and perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, allowed the Empire to exist with little intellectual turmoil for thousands of years. Though nearly all children get ill, about a fourth of them--those with a mental potential above a certain level--is more severely affected. Curiosity and intellectual ability are blunted just enough to level out social development. The majority do not experience a loss of mental skill--perhaps because their skills are general, and they are never given to bouts of genius.”

“I still don’t understand why they wanted to make us sick,” Klia said, her face creased by a stubborn frown.

“The intent was not to make you sick, but to prevent certain societies from ever flourishing.”

“My curiosity has never been dulled,” Brann said.

“Nor mine,” Klia added. “I don’t feel stupid, but I was very sick.”

“I am pleased to hear that,” Plussix said, then added, as diplomatically as possible, “but there is no way of knowing what your intellectual capacity would have been had you never caught brain fever. What is apparent is that your severe bout increased other talents.”

The ancient robot invited them to step into another room of the long chamber. This room had a one-way window view of the warehouse district. They looked out over the bellying arched roofs to the layered-wall dwellings of the citizen neighborhoods beyond. The dome ceil was in particularly sad shape in this part of the municipality, with many dark gaps and flickering panels.

Klia sat on a dusty couch and patted the place next to her, for Brann. Kallusin stood just behind them, and the ugly robot stood by the window, watching them with interest. I’d like to talk with him--it. His face is ugly, but he looks very friendly. It. Whatever!

“You don’t feel like humans,” she said after a moment’s silence.

“You would have noticed this sooner or later,” Plussix said. “It is the difference that Vara Liso can detect, as well.”

“Is she the woman who was chasing him?” Klia pointed to the ugly humaniform robot.


“She’s the woman who was after me, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” Plussix said. Its joints made small shhshhing noises as he moved. It was pretty, but it was also noisy. It sounded worn-out, like old bearings in machinery.

“There’s all kinds of stuff going on, isn’t there? Stuff I don’t know about.”

“Yes,” Plussix said, and lowered itself to a boxy plastic chair.

“Explain it to me,” she said. “Do you want to hear?” she asked Brann. Then, in an aside, with a grimace, “Even if they have to kill us?”

“I don’t know what I want or what I believe,” Brann said.

“Tell us everything,” Klia said. She put on what she thought was a brave and defiant face. “I love being different. I always have. I’d like to be better informed than anyone except you robots.”

Plussix made a gratified humming noise. Klia found the sound appealing.

“Please tell us,” she said, suddenly falling back on Dahlite manners she hadn’t used in months or even years. She really did not know how to think or feel, but these machines were, after all, her elders. She sat down before Plussix, drew up her knees, and wrapped her arms around them.

The old robot leaned forward on its seat. “It is a pleasure to teach humans again,” it began. “Thousands of years have passed since I last did so, to my constant regret. I was manufactured and programmed to be a teacher, you see.”

Plussix began. Klia and Brann listened, and Lodovik as well, for he had never heard much of this story. The day became evening and they brought food for the young humans to eat--decent food, but no better than what they were fed in the warehouse with the others. As the hours passed, and Plussix wove more words, and her fascination grew, Klia wanted to ask what the others would be told--the other mentalics, not as strong as she and Brann, but good people, like Rock, the boy who could not speak. For the first time, in the presence of this marvel, she felt responsible for others around her. But the robot’s sonorous, elegant tones droned on, half mesmerizing her, and she kept quiet and listened.

Brann listened intently as well, eyes half closed much of the time. She glanced at him in the middle of the evening and he seemed asleep, but when she nudged him, his eyes shot open wide; he had been awake all the time.

She seemed to enter a trance state and half see what Plussix was telling her. All words, no pictures, all skillfully woven; the robot was a very good teacher, but there was so little she could actually immediately understand. The time scales were so vast as to be meaningless.

How could we lose interest? she thought. How could we do this to ourselves--forget and not even be curious? This is our story! What else have we lost? Are these robots more human than we are, now, because they carry our history?

It all came down to contests. Who would win how many of the hundreds of billions of stars in the Galaxy, Earthmen (the Earth--home to all humanity once, not a legend!) or the first migrants, the Spacers, and finally, a contest between factions of robots.

And for thousands of years, the attempt to guide humans through painful shoals, thousands of robots led by Daneel, and thousands more in opposition, led most recently by Plussix.

Plussix paused after the third break, when sweet drinks and snacks were served. It was early in the morning. Klia’s butt ached, and her knees had cramped. She drank greedily from her cup.

Lodovik watched her, fascinated by her litheness and youth and quick devotion. He turned to Brann and saw a solid strength that was also quick, and different. He had known that humans, with their animal chemistry, were a varied lot--but not until now, watching this pair of youths have their past restored to them, did he realize how different their thinking was from that of robots.

Plussix summed up after the snacks had been consumed. He held out his arms and extended his fingers, as professors--human professors--must have done twenty thousand years ago. “That is how the robotic need to serve became transmuted into the robotic obsession with manipulation and guidance.”

“Maybe we did need guidance,” Klia said softly, then looked up at Plussix. The robot’s eyes glowed a rich yellow-green. “Those wars--whatever they were--and those Spacers, so arrogant and filled with hate,” she added. “Our ancestors.”

Plussix’s head leaned slightly to one side, and the silver robot made a soft whirring noise in its chest, not the pleasant sound she had heard earlier.

“But you make it sound like we’re just children,” she concluded. “It doesn’t matter how many thousands of years the Empire has existed--we’ve always had robots watching over us, one way or the other.”

Plussix nodded.

“But all the things Daneel and his robots have done on Trantor...the politics, the plotting, killings--”

“A few, and only when necessary,” Plussix said, still devoted to teaching only the truth. “But nevertheless, killing.”

“The worlds Hari Seldon suppressed when he was First Minister--just as Dahl has been held down. The Renaissance Worlds--what does that mean, Renaissance?”

“Rebirth,” the ugly robot said.

“Why did Hari Seldon call them Chaos Worlds?”

“Because they lead to instabilities in his mathematical picture of the Empire,” Plussix said. “He believes they ultimately breed human death and misery, and--”

“I’m tired,” Klia said, stretching her arms and yawning for the first time in hours. “I need to sleep and to think. I need to get cleaned up.”

“Of course,” Plussix said.

She stood and glanced at Brann. He stood as well, stiff and slow, groaning.

She turned her intense eyes back to Plussix, frowning. “I’m not clear about some things,” she said.

“I hope to explain,” Plussix said.

“Robots--robots like you, at any rate--must obey people. What would stop me from just telling you to go destroy yourself--now? To tell all of you to destroy yourselves, even this Daneel? Wouldn’t you have to obey me?”

Plussix made a sound of infinite patience--a hmm followed by a small click. “You must understand that we belonged to certain people or institutions. I would have to take your request to my owners, my true masters, and they would have to concur before I would be allowed to destroy myself. Robots were valuable property, and such loose and ill-considered commands were regarded as harassment of the owner.”

“Who owns you now?”

“My last owners died over nineteen thousand five hundred years ago,” Plussix said.

Klia blinked slowly, tired and confused by such ages. “Does that mean you own yourself?” she asked.

“That is the functional equivalent of my present condition. All of our human ‘owners’ are long dead.”

“What about you?” She turned to the ugly humaniform. “I haven’t been told your name.”

“I have been called Lodovik for the last forty years. It is the name I am most familiar with. I was manufactured for a special strategic purpose by a robot, and have never had an owner.”

“You followed Daneel for a long time. Yet now you don’t.”

Lodovik explained briefly the change in circumstances, and in his internal nature. He did not mention Voltaire.

Klia considered this, then it was her turn to whistle softly. “Some scheme,” she said, her face flushing angrily. “We just couldn’t get along by ourselves, so we had to make robots to help us. What do you want me to do?” She turned to Kallusin. “I mean, what do you want us to do?”

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