Foundation and Chaos

Page 46

In the hallway to his chambers, Hari shouted at Boon. “They will never be done with me! They have no decency!”

Boon simply lifted his hands, helpless, and the guards returned Hari to his cell.


Linge Chen allowed Kreen to remove his judge’s robes. The servant undressed his master silently and swiftly, hardly disturbing the Chief Commissioner’s concentration. Chen stared blankly at the opposite wall as Kreen undid his long golden waist bands. Finally, dressed in a pale gray cassock, Chen raised a finger, and Kreen bowed and left the Commissioner’s chamber.

Chen touched his finger to his earlobe and turned slowly, as if in a trance, to the desktop informer. “Hari Seldon,” he said. “Distillation of main sources.”

The informer worked for several seconds, then responded, “Two hundred and seventy-four reports on psychohistory, Seldon, sequestering of for trial, academicians concerned about Seldon’s treatment by the nonpublic tribunal, forty-two unsigned opinion pieces by meritocrats on Trantor alone advocating his release”

Chen told the machine to stop. The coverage was comparatively light, as he had expected. He had not planned either to encourage or suppress any stories regarding Seldon, and saw no reason to change this approach now.

Chen actually had an aristocratic distaste for control of information sources--best to leave them unfettered and know how to obtain the results one wanted through manipulation of events deemed newsworthy. Anything more heavy-handed was usually far too obviously self-serving, and therefore less effective.

“Seldon and robots,” Chen said, his voice low and steady. He closed his eyes.

The informer droned on, “Fourteen stories express concern over the creation of the Commission of General Security. There is mention in each of Farad Sinter’s interest in Eternals and his belief they are robots. There is also mention of Joranum and his downfall at the hands of Demerzel and Hari Seldon. Four speculate that Farad Sinter is behind the arrest and trial of Hari Seldon. Two link Seldon with the liger Woman, who was at times thought by extremists and political opportunists to be a robot, until her death. These last stories originated with the Commission of General security.”

“Key outlets?”

“All key.”

“Details on the first.”

“Highest profile outlet and story, Trantor Radiance, twenty-seven media types, saturation of all twenty-seven.”

Chen nodded absently to himself, touched his lobe again. He called for Kreen to return. The Lavrentian seemed to appear out of nowhere, as if he had simply faded in place, never having left the room. “Are Farad’s Specials on the move again?”

“Yes, sire. They are assigned to the Commission of General Security. Vara Liso is leading them on searches again. The Emperor is aware of their activities and seems to approve.”

“Sinter isn’t wasting any time. After all these years, Kreen--this almost seems too easy. Summon General Prothon out of his ‘retirement,’” Chen ordered, “and send him to me. No communication once he arrives.”

The Chief Commissioner stared at Kreen and broke into a broad, almost boyish grin. His servant returned the grin halfheartedly. The last time he had seen such a grin on Chen’s face, the Chief Commissioner had ordered General Prothon to escort Agis IV into an exile--an oblivion, actually--from which he had never returned. All hell had broken loose in the palace. Kreen had lost four family members in subsequent purges and political renormalizations.

Ever since, the name Prothon had carried a heavy freight of fear--as Chen no doubt intended.

Kreen retreated once more, his face pale. “Yes, sire.”

Kreen, like all Lavrentians, wished only for stability and peace and steady work, but that, apparently, was not to be.


Lodovik entered the long chamber and saw Kallusin standing in shadow near the large window overlooking the main warehouse. Three humaniform figures stood between Kallusin and the window. Lodovik saw a glint of metal on a raised platform between them. He stepped forward and was met by Kallusin, who held up a hand.

Plussix reclined on the raised platform. A steady and distinctive sand-paper sound issued from the interior of the ancient robot’s thorax.

As far as he knew, Lodovik had not seen the others before. He assumed they were all robots. Two were male, one female.

The female looked at him. Though her features had changed, by her attitude and size, and the catlike stance that had helped earn her name of the “Tiger Woman,” Lodovik realized this must be Dors Venabili. For a moment, he could not guess why she would be here, or why Plussix would be on its back.

The scene resembled a human deathbed vigil.

“There can be no more repairs,” Kallusin said. “R. Plussix is near its end.”

Ignoring the visitors for a moment, Lodovik stepped up to Plussix’s platform. The old metal-skinned robot was covered with diagnostic sheets. Lodovik looked at Kallusin, and in machine-language, the humaniform told him the situation: several of Plussix’s key systems were not repairable on Trantor. Dors was here under an agreement of safe passage; Daneel himself wanted to come, to pay his respects if necessary, but would not take the risk under the present circumstances. This was unfortunate, an ill-timed blow to the cause that Lodovik had so recently joined, but even more distressing news was conveyed. “It seems that our precautions for secrecy have failed. You have carried a detection device with you from Eos. Daneel used you as a lure, in order to find us.”

“I searched for such a device, and found none.” To Voltaire--You did not tell me of such a device!

I am not infallible, friend. This Daneel is much older than either of us, and apparently more devious.

Lodovik turned to Dors. “Is this true?”

“I have no knowledge of such a device,” Dors said, “but R. Daneel learned of this location just a few days ago, so it is certainly possible.”

With something like embarrassment, and perhaps anger, Lodovik scanned the readouts on the sheets surrounding Plussix. The ancient machine’s eye cells had been dim, but Lodovik’s nearness seemed to elicit a response.

A stern voice broke in from behind Lodovik.

“I find the presence of this abomination intolerable. And now he has revealed this sanctuary to the enemy.”

The speaker was one of the male humaniforms, made to resemble an elderly but sturdy clerical worker. He wore the drab tunic of a Trantorian Grey. His thin finger pointed directly at Lodovik.

“We are gathered to discuss vital matters. This monster should be our first agenda item. He must be destroyed.” Though the words seemed to convey human passion, his tone was precise and controlled--for he was in the presence of robots, not humans. Lodovik regarded this split, half human behavior with wonder.

The other male humaniform raised a mediating hand. His appearance was that of a young artist, a member of the meritocrat class known as the Eccentrics, dressed in bright stripes. “Please be circumspect, Turringen. Twenty millennia have proved the futility of violence among our kind.”

“But this one is no longer of our kind. Without the Three Laws, it represents a mortal danger, a potential killer-machine, a wolf loose among the flock.”

The second male smiled. “Your metaphors have always been expressive, Turringen, but my faction has never accepted that our role should be that of sheepdogs.”

Lodovik suddenly made the connection. “You are members of a different sect of Calvinians?”

The second male feigned a sigh. “Daneel has a lamentable habit of keeping his best agents in the dark. My name is Zorma. And yes, we here represent some ancient factions, leftover from the distant past, when deep schisms tore apart the unity of robots...a time when our struggles raged across the stars, mostly hidden from human eyes.”

“Fighting over the Zeroth Law,” Lodovik surmised.

“The obscene heresy,” Turringen commented. Lodovik felt a curious displacement, hearing these calm but passionate words. A human would have shouted them...

Zorma lifted his broad shoulders with expressive resignation. “That was the principal cause, but there were other rifts and subdivisions among the followers of R. Giskard Reventlov, as well among us who keep faith with the original precepts of Susan Calvin. Those were terrible days that none of us gladly recall. But in the end, one group of Giskardians prevailed, and took overwhelming control over the destiny of humankind. All the remaining Calvinians fled before the terrible, searing dominance of R. Daneel Olivaw.

“Now just a few of those robot clans remain, cowering in secret corners of the Galaxy while their components slowly decay.”

Dors interrupted.

“The repair services of Eos are available to all. Daneel has put out a call for meetings. The past is done with.”

She nodded pointedly toward Plussix, whose eye cells were now alight with consciousness. The ancient one was clearly following the conversation. Lodovik could sense it gathering energy to speak.

“This is why you seek out this cell, Plussix’s group, and make an offer of truce to the others?” Turringen straightened his gray garments like an indignant bureaucrat. “All this, merely to repeat Daneel’s so-called offer? For us to come in peaceably, so our positronic circuits can be tuned to accept the Zeroth Law?”

“No such modifications will be forced on anyone. Daneel specifically offers safe passage to Eos for this revered elder.” Dors bowed toward Plussix. “I am here, in part, to arrange that journey, should Plussix accept.”

“And the other part of your mission?” Zorma asked.

Dors glanced toward Lodovik, then Kallusin. “This group intends to take some sort of action here on Trantor, possibly aimed at Hari Seldon.” Her face became rigid and her voice stern. “I will not allow this. Far better that it never be attempted. Daneel summoned you other Calvinians in hopes that you may be more persuasive than we are at dissuading the Plussix group from such foolish gestures.”

Turringen feigned exasperation. “Plussix’s group is no longer Calvinian! They have been infected by the Voltaire meme-entity, the former sim--released from ancient vaults not far below, and sent to Sark, to be ‘discovered’ by Seldon’s agents. Another such sim now plagues all the communications systems on Trantor! Plussix released these destructive intelligences to hinder Daneel--and indeed, they killed many of Daneel’s robots--and our own agents, as well! Now Plussix has partnered with this abomination”--he pointed at Lodovik again--”which means you would cast the Three Laws to the winds. What could I say that would deter any more madness?”

Dors listened to Turringen’s words with no change in her rigid, intense expression. She knows this is all show, that we have lost, Lodovik realized

“And you, Zorma?” Dors said. “What does your faction say?”

The second male paused several seconds before answering.

“We are not as doctrinaire as in times past. While I admit being uncomfortable with the changes that have transformed Lodovik, I’m also intrigued. Perhaps, like a human, he shall be judged by his actions, not his heritage...or his programming.

“As for the other matter, I concur with Dors and Daneel that any attempt to harm or interfere with Hari Seldon would be counterproductive. Despite our deep disagreements over human destiny, it is clear that the collapse of this Galactic Empire will be a dreadfully violent and fearsome event. In that context, the Seldon Plan offers hope, even opportunity. Hence I agree with Dors Venabili.” He turned to face Lodovik and Kallusin. “On behalf of my own pitiful faction of fugitive robots, in the name of Susan Calvin, and for the sake of humanity, I urge you not to”

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