Foundation and Chaos

Page 47

“Enough!” The interrupting voice came from the raised platform. Plussix had risen, leaning on one metal elbow. The ancient robot’s eye cells glowed dim amber. “Enough interference. I will not have my last moments of functioning wasted by your prattle. For centuries your so-called factions have sulked and remained inactive, except to meddle on a few Chaos Worlds. Our group has been nearly alone in actively opposing the Giskardian apostasy. Now, as this loathsome Galactic Empire at last totters, a final and decisive chance presents itself--and you, Zorma, would let it pass! R. Daneel has thrust all his hopes upon a single human--Hari Seldon. At no time has his plan been so vulnerable.

“The rest of you may continue brooding in hiding. But for the sake of humanity and the Three Laws, we shall act.”

“You will fail,” Dors swiftly assured the faltering robot. “As you have failed for twenty thousand years.”

“We shall rescue humanity from your cloying, stupefying control,” Plussix insisted.

“And replace it with your own?” Dors shook her head, eyes leveled on Plussix’s amber optical sensors. “The Galactic winds will witness who is right...” Her voice caught suddenly. Lodovik stared as Dors betrayed evident emotion-frustration battling with sympathy for the obstinate, dying robot in front of her.

She cannot help but be human. Lodovik thought. She is a special. Daneel ordered her to be made the most human of us all.

When she glanced at Lodovik, there were tears in her eyes. “Daneel wishes we could be together, uniting in eternal service to humanity. This struggle exhausts us all. Once again, I offer safe passage for Plussix to Eos, where he can be made whole--”

“If I cannot oppose Daneel, I would rather not exist,” the ancient one interrupted. “I thank you for the offer. But I will not let my existence be contingent upon inactivity. That would violate the First Law. A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Voicing this, Plussix slumped back onto the platform. Slowly, his head lowered itself to the surface with a sandy whir.

Silence in the room for several seconds.

“In the community of robots, there is respect,” Kallusin said. “But there cannot be peace until this is done. We hope you understand.”

“I understand, as does Daneel,” Dors assented. “There is respect.”

But we deserve so much more! That thought surged within Lodovik as he felt the beginnings of his own anger. Suddenly, he wanted to speak with Dors, to ask essential questions about human traits, about her experience with human emotions.

But there was no time.

Plussix rotated its head to observe the silent assembly. Its voice buzzed with fatigue.

“You must leave,” Plussix told Dors. “Pay my respects to Daneel. It would be good to survive these actions and discuss all that has occurred...with a mentality such as his, the exchange would be very stimulating. Tell him also...that I admire his accomplishment, his ingenuity, at the same time I abhor the consequences.”

“I will tell him,” Dors said.

“The moment has passed,” Plussix said. “Advantage must be calculated and played out. This truce is at an end.”

As he ushered Dors and the two male humaniforms to the exit, Kallusin drew from them a promise to observe the ancient formalities of armistice. Lodovik followed.

“We shall not reveal your presence on Trantor to humans,” Dors assured Kallusin. “Nor will we assault you directly, here in your sanctuary.”

Turringen and Zorma agreed, as well. As the two Calvinian emissaries departed, Dors turned her gaze on Lodovik. “Daneel has been visited by the entity who calls herself Joan. He assumes you have been visited by Voltaire.”

Lodovik nodded. “Everyone seems to know it.”

“Joan tells Daneel that Voltaire had a hand in your adjustment. She regrets that she and Voltaire have quarreled and do not speak now. Even for them, the debate has grown too large and too emotional.”

“Tell Daneel--and Joan--that Voltaire does not direct me. He has simply removed a constraint.”

“Without that constraint, you are no longer a robot.”

“Am I any less a robot, in the old sense, than those who rationalize that the ends justify any means?”

Dors frowned. “Turringen is right. You have become a rogue, unpredictable and undirectable.”

“That was Voltaire’s goal, I believe,” Lodovik answered. “Yet I remind Daneel, and you, that despite my lack of the Three Laws, I have never killed a human being. Both of you have. And once, thousands of years ago, two robots, two servants, conspired to alter human history, to slowly destroy the original home of humanity, without ever consulting a human being!”

Then, just as perversely, as emotionally, as defensively, he quietly added, “You accuse me of no longer being a robot. Regard Daneel, and regard yourself, Dors Venabili.”

Dors spun about, staggering slightly, and walked several more paces toward the door before stopping once more. She glanced over one shoulder, her voice sharp and cool.

“Should any of you attempt to harm Hari Seldon, or to impede him in his tasks, I will see an end to you all.”

Lodovik was struck by the passion in her voice, so strong and so human.

She left, and Lodovik returned to the platform.

Plussix observed him through dimming eyes.

“The work is not done. I will not function to see it completed. I nominate you as my replacement.”

Lodovik quickly prepared formal arguments against this transfer of authority: his ignorance of many important facts, his lack of neural conditioning to this level of leadership, his involvement in other actions which involved high risk. He delivered them once more in machine-language.

Plussix considered them for a few thousandths of a second before rejoining, “There will be debate after I am no longer functional. My nomination has weight, but is not final. Should all of us survive what must come in the next few days, a final decision will be made.”

Plussix held out its arm. Lodovik took the hand. In direct-contact broadcast, Plussix transferred substantial amounts of information into Lodovik. When it was finished, it composed itself upon the table, arms by its sides.

“Can nothing ever be simple?” Plussix said. “I have served for so many thousands of years, never feeling the gratitude of a human being, never feeling a direct confirmation of my usefulness. It is good to have the respect of one’s opponents...But before I can no longer receive communications, or sense the world, or process memory...”

The glow in the old eyes was fading.

“Will any human, even a child, come to me, and say, ‘You have done well’?”

All the robots in the chamber stood in silence.

The door opened at the end of the hall, and Klia and Brann entered.

Klia stepped forward, her lower lip caught between her teeth. Lodovik stood aside for her to approach Plussix. The old robot rotated its head and saw her. The sandpaper sound rose in frequency, becoming a sharp hiss, like escaping steam.

Klia laid her hand on the robot’s face. It seemed a wonder to Lodovik that she knew what was happening, that she did not need to be informed. But she is human. They have the animal vitality and quickness.

Klia said nothing, staring at the robot with an expression of puzzled sympathy. Brann stood beside her, hands folded before him. Klia pressed more firmly on the metal forehead, her thumb on the metal cheek, as if she would make the robot feel her presence, her touch.

“I am honored to serve,” Plussix said, his voice low and distant.

“You are a good teacher,” Klia said softly.

The old robot lifted its hand and patted her wrist with hard, gentle fingers.

The sandpaper sound came to an end. The glow in Plussix’s eyes went out.

“Is he dead?” Klia asked.

“He has stopped functioning,” Kallusin said.

Klia lifted her hand and glanced at her fingers. “I didn’t feel anything change,” she said.

“The memory patterns will linger for many years, perhaps thousands of years,” Kallusin said. “But the brain can no longer adapt to new input or change its states. Its thinking is done.”

Klia looked down on the ancient machine, her puzzled expression unchanged. “Are we still going to--?”

“Yes,” Kallusin said. “We are still going to visit Hari Seldon.”

“Let’s do it,” Klia said with a tremor in her voice. “I can feel that woman out there again. We may not have much time.”


Dors felt the upsurge of her old protective programming like a sudden, unavoidable sensation of heat in her brain. She left the warehouse and took a taxi to the nearest ancient general-transport station, brought a ticket, and boarded a nearly empty gravi-train. Daneel had given her a list of instructions to follow, after her meeting and proffer to the Calvinians; the next instruction was to go to Mycogen, some eight thousand kilometers from the Imperial Sector, and wait for a message. Daneel was distributing his robots around Trantor, to counter the sudden renewal of searches by Farad Sinter.

Dors did not know whether to report her sudden reemergence of concern for Hari as a failure...or a warning. She could not know as much about the Calvinians’ plans as Daneel did, but some instinct, rearoused after decades, told her that Hari’s safety and well-being were threatened.

She sat in the thickly padded seat, waiting for the train to drop into its deep-planetary curve and begin its rapid journey under the crust of Trantor. These trains were ten thousand years old, used now mostly as back-up transport systems, and generally they rode empty. She was alone in this particular car.

Suddenly, two young men and a young woman entered. She examined them coolly. They concerned her not at all.

She could not push from her thoughts the image of Hari--a younger, more vital Hari--in danger. They would not kill him--Calvinians did not have that option, she was sure; and that also bothered her. She had no memory of killing the man who had threatened Hari, but she knew she had done it.

She turned to look out the window at the black wall of the tunnel.

So much Daneel has never told me. The homeworld--

“Sky, they’re all over out there,” one of the young males said.

“They give me chills,” the girl said.

“We can’t just joyride all week,” the second male said. He was small and slight and wore bright, exaggerated clothing, as if to compensate. “We’ll have to get off the train sooner or later, and they’ll catch us. When’s somebody going to squawk to the citizen senate?”

“They don’t care anymore,” the girl said.

“Why us, though? We haven’t done anything!”

A loud noise at the back of the train made Dors turn in her seat, pulling herself from the padding. The young passengers froze in the aisle, ready to run.

Four Specials entered the car, strutting down the aisle in their dark and highly visible uniforms. They glanced at Dors in passing, then broke into a run, chasing the three youngsters. Before they could reach the door to the next car, the Specials had collared them and were shoving them back to the main door.

“We haven’t done anything!” the slight young male cried.

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