Foundation and Chaos

Page 5

He stared at her directly, his eyes bright, fully capable.

“We all have our secrets,” he said, and turned to leave.


Lodovik stood alone on the bridge of the Spear of Glory, peering through the broad forward-facing port at what might have been a scene of exceptional beauty, had he been human. Beauty was not an easy concept for a robot to grasp, however; he could see what lay outside the ship, and understand that a human would think it interesting, but for him, the closest analog to beauty was successful service, perfect performance of duty. He would in some sense enjoy notifying a human that a beautiful view was available through this port; but his foremost duty would be to inform the human that this view was in fact caused by forces that were very dangerous...

And in this duty he had no chance of succeeding, for the humans on Spear of Glory were already dead. Captain Tolk had died last, his mind gone, his body a wreck. In the last few hours of rational thought left to him, Tolk had instructed Lodovik on the actions that might be taken to bring the ship to its final destination: repair of the hyperdrive units, reprogramming of the ship’s navigational system, preserving ship’s power for maximum survival time.

Tolk’s last coherent words to Lodovik had been a question. “How long can you live...I mean, function?”

Lodovik had told him,” A century, without refueling.”

Tolk had then succumbed to the painful, murmurous half sleep that preceded his death.

Two hundred human deaths weighed on Lodovik’s positronic brain like a drain on his power supplies; it slowed him somewhat. That effect would pass. He was not responsible for the deaths. He simply could not prevent them. But this in itself was sufficient to make him feel weary.

As for the view--

Sarossa itself was a dim star, still a hundred billion kilometers distant; but the shock front revealed its extended spoor like a vast, ghostly fireworks display.

The streams of high-energy particles had met the solar wind from the Sarossan system, creating huge, dim auroras like waving banners. He could make out faint traces red and green in the murky luminosity; switching his eyes to the ultraviolet, he could see even more colors as the diffuse clouds of the explosion’s outer shells advanced through the outlying regions of the system’s cometary dust and ice and gas.

There was so little time to act, nothing he could do...

And worse still, Lodovik could feel his brain changing. The neutrinos and other radiation had overwhelmed the ship’s armor of energy fields, and had done more than just kill the humans; they had somehow, he believed, interfered with his own positronic circuitry. He had not yet finished his autodiagnosis sequence--that might take days more--but he feared the worst.

If his primary functions were affected, he would have to destroy himself. In ages past, he would have merely gone into a dormant mode until a human or another robot repaired him; but he could not afford to have his robotic nature discovered.

Whatever happened to him, there seemed little chance of discovery. Spear of Glory was hopelessly lost, less than a microbe in an ocean. He had never managed to trace the malfunction or make repairs, despite the captain’s instructions. Being jerked rapidly into and out of hyperspace had burned out all the circuitry for faster-than-light communication. The ship had automatically broadcast a distress signal, but surrounded by the shock front’s extreme radiation, there was little chance the signal would ever be heard.

Lodovik’s secret was secure enough. But his usefulness to Daneel, and to humanity, was over.

For a robot, duty was everything, self nothing; yet in his present circumstance, he could look through the port at the effects of the shock front and speculate for no particular reason about physical processes. While not completely stopping his constant processing of problems associated with his long-term mission, he could drift in the middle of the bridge, his immediate needs and work reduced to nothing.

For humans, this could be called a time of introspection. Introspection without the target of duty was more than novel; it was disturbing. Lodovik would have avoided the opportunity and this sensation if he could have.

A robot, above all else, was uncomfortable with internal change. Ages past, during the robotic renaissance, on the almost-forgotten worlds of Aurora and Solaria, robots had been built with inhibitions that went beyond the Three Laws. Robots, with a few exceptions, were not allowed to design and build other robots. While they could manage minor repairs to themselves, only a select few specialty units could repair robots that had been severely damaged.

Lodovik could not repair this malfunction in his own brain, if it was a malfunction; the evidence was not yet clear. But a robot’s brain, its essential programming, was even more off-limits to meddling than its body.

There was one place remaining in the Galaxy where a robot could be repaired, and where occasionally a robot could be manufactured. That was Eos, established by R. Daneel Olivaw ten thousand years ago, far from the boundaries of the expanding Empire. Lodovik had not been there for ninety years.

Still, a robot had a strong urge to self-preservation; that was implicit in the Third Law. With time to contemplate his condition, Lodovik wondered if he might in fact be found, then sent to Eos for repair...

None of these possibilities seemed likely. He resigned himself to the most probable fate: ten more years in this crippled ship, until his minifusion power reserves ran down, with nothing important to do, a Robinson Crusoe of robots, lacking even an island to explore and transform.

Lodovik could not feel a sense of horror at this fate. But he could imagine what a human would feel, and that in itself induced an echo of robotic unease.

To cap it all, he was hearing voices--or rather, a voice. It sounded human, but communicated only at odd intervals, in fragments. It even had a name, something like Volda”. And it gave an impression of riding vast but tenuous webs of force, sailing through the deep vacuum between the stars

Seeking out the plasma halos of living stars, reveling in the neutrino miasma of dead and dying stars, neutrinos intoxicating as hashish smoke. Fleeing from Trantor’s boredom, I grow bored again--and I find, between the stars, a robot in dire straits! One of those the Eternal brought from outside to replace the many destroyed--Look, my friends, my boring friends who have no flesh and know no flesh, and tolerate no fleshly ideals

One of your hated purgers!

The voice faded. Added to his distress over the death of the captain and crew of the Spear of Glory and his odd feedback of selfless unease, this mysterious voice--a clear sign of delusion and major malfunction--brought him as close as a robot could come to complete misery.


From his vantage in the tiny balcony apartment overlooking Streeling University, R. Daneel Olivaw could not feel human grief, lacking the human mental structures necessary for that bitter reassessment and reshaping of neuronal pathways; but, like Lodovik, he could feel a sharp and persistent unease, somewhere between guilt at failure and the warning signals of impending loss of function. The news that one of his most valued cohorts was missing distressed him at the very least in that way. He had lost so many to the tiktoks, guided by the alien meme-entities, it seemed so recently--decades, however, and his discomfort (and loneliness!) still burned.

He had seen the newsfilm in a store window the day before, of the loss of the Spear of Glory and the probable end to any hope of rescue for the citizens of several worlds.

In his present guise, he looked very much as he had twenty millennia before, in the time of his first and perhaps most influential relationship with a human, Elijah Bailey. Of medium height, slender, with brown hair, he appeared about thirty-five human years of age. He had made some small accessions to the changes in human physiology in that time; the fingernails on his pinkie fingers were now gone, and he was some six centimeters taller. Still, Bailey might have recognized him.

It was doubtful that Daneel would have recognized his ancient human friend, however; all but the most general of those memories had long since been stored in separate caches, and were not immediately accessible to the robot.

Daneel had undergone many transformations since that time, the most famous of them being Demerzel, First Minister to the Emperor Cleon I; Hari Seldon himself had succeeded him in that post. Now the time was approaching when Daneel would have to intensify his direct participation in Trantor’s politics, a prospect he found distasteful. The loss of Lodovik would make his work all the more difficult.

He had never enjoyed public displays. He was far more content to operate in the background and let his thousands of cohorts act out public roles. He preferred, in any case, that his robots assert themselves in small ways here and there over time, at key locations, to effect changes that would in turn effect other changes, producing a cascade with (he hoped) the desired results.

In the centuries of his work he had seen a few failures and many successes, but with Lodovik he had hoped to insure his most important goal, the perfection of the Plan, Hari Seldon’s Psychohistory Project, and the settlement of a First Foundation world.

Seldon’s psychohistory had already given Daneel the tools necessary to see the Empire’s future in bleak detail. Collapse, disintegration, wholesale destruction: chaos. There was nothing he could do to prevent that collapse. Perhaps had he acted ten thousand years ago, with then-impossible foresight, using the crude and piecemeal psychohistory then at his disposal, he might have put off this catastrophe. But Daneel could not allow the Empire’s decline and fall to proceed without intervention, for too many humans would suffer and die--over thirty-eight billion on Trantor alone--and the First Law dictated that no human should be harmed or allowed to come to harm.

His duty for all of those twenty thousands of years had been to mitigate human failures and redirect human energies for the greater human good.

To do that, he had mired himself in history, and some of the changes he had effected had resulted in pain, harm, even death. It was the Zeroth Law, first formulated by the remarkable robot Giskard Reventlov, that allowed him to continue functioning under these circumstances.

The Zeroth Law was not a simple concept, though it could be stated simply enough: some humans could be harmed, if by so doing one could prevent harm for the greater number.

The ends justify the means.

This dreadful implication had powered so much agony in human history, but it was no time to engage in that ancient internal debate.

What could he learn from the loss of Lodovik Trema? Nothing, it seemed; the universe sometimes decided things beyond the control of rational action. There was nothing so frustrating and difficult to encompass, for a robot, as a universe indifferent to humans.

Daneel could move anonymously from Sector to Sector, along with the migrating unemployed now pandemic on Trantor. He could maintain contact with his cohorts through a personal communicator or his portable informer, as well as through illegal hookups to the planet’s many networks. Sometimes he dressed as a pitiful street beggar; he spent much of his time in a cramped, dirty apartment in the Trans-Imperial Sector, barely seventy kilometers from the Palace. Nobody wished to look at a figure so old, bent, filthy, and pitiful; in a way, Daneel had become a symbol of the misery he hoped to overcome.

No humans remembered a fictional character who had so enjoyed going out in disguise among the common people, the lower classes, a man of pure and impossibly discerning intellect, a detective much like Daneel’s old friend Elijah Bailey. With Daneel’s frequent memory dumps and adjustments, all that he remembered was a single name and an overall impression: Sherlock.

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