Foundation and Chaos

Page 55

Brann will die along with you, then they will all die, and she will be destroyed as well. Useless.

She reached out for Brann. Alone she could do nothing against such naked and monstrous strength.

Brann was a filament of clean light in the torrent of flaming hatred. She tugged at him, as if she would wake him up.

Brann said yes, and they joined. She had almost felt this

happen during their physical joining, but had pulled back, still wishing to preserve her own self as a lone and defiant place.

Lodovik reached out with both hands, saw Vara Liso’s shoulders twitch in awareness of his presence. She swiveled her head suddenly, tears flying from her eyes.

Lodovik was willing to hurt her, kill her if need be, if she did not stop. This was what humans had done to each other throughout their history, and it hurt him that he had such freedom as well: freedom to harm and to kill. But he was under no misapprehension that he was no better than this gnarled and hideous female. Quite clearly she was evil; she was antihuman.

He made his judgment, his decision.

He could feel a rumbling tidal wash coming. He grasped her shoulder and neck, and, with a sudden twist of his arms

Broke the woman’s neck like a matchstick.

Poor small Vara Liso. At the age of five years, her mother had beaten her severely, venting anger against her father, who had not been in the small and immaculately clean apartment; her mother had held her down with a variety of persuasion that came only when she was enraged.

She had beaten young Vara with a long, flexible plastic pole, until little welts rose on her bottom and along her back.

And so there had come the day when she had caused her mother to die, a memory she sometimes grasped hard for strength. And she had taken her mother, perhaps just a memory but perhaps not, inside, to compensate. Held her in a little diamond cage in her dreams.

Bringing out her mother for extra strength did not help. Actually, it weakened her, because it made her a child again, even more than she had been before.

She had never been an adult, not really.

The combined ribbon of light and wave of terrified heat that caught her and shivered her (burning without flame: sinter), the hand on her neck twisting

was incredibly painful

and very welcome

and broke open all of her own cages

so that she was, for a second, calm

Klia felt the last gust of Vara Liso and it whispered free then was silent.

Lodovik knelt beside the body and saw that it was very tiny and when he picked it up, it was very light as well. So much trouble from so little mass--a human wonder.

Then he began to cry.

Dors had recovered enough to stand. She observed the men and the woman within the hall, and the dead thing in the arms of the robot Lodovik, and she started toward Hari, who seemed dazed and confused, though still alive. It was only natural for her to go to him.

Daneel was suddenly at her side and took her by the arm.

“He needs help,” Dors said, prepared to wrench her arm free from the grasp of her own master.

“There is nothing you can do,” Daneel said. By now, security in the Courts and Hall of Dispensation would be aware of the breach; they would soon be surrounded by heavily armed guards and no doubt even Imperial Specials.

He could not see any way of escaping. Nor could he predict what would happen next. Perhaps it did not matter.

It was very possible he had been completely in error in all of his actions, for over twenty thousand years.


“The hall records show that after she killed Farad Sinter and incapacitated the guards, Vara Liso went to the Hall of Dispensation and threatened Hari Seldon,” Major Namm said. His head was encapsulated in a regeneration helmet. He would be weeks recovering from the brain damage Liso had inflicted on him outside the office of Farad Sinter. “We believe these others used many varieties of subterfuge to enter the hall and protect Seldon. They apparently knew Seldon was in grave danger.”

“And we did not?” Linge Chen asked. He leaned forward slightly in his chair, arms tight by his side, his gaze somewhere over the major’s shoulder.

“There were no directives issued for Seldon’s protection,” General Prothon reminded the Chief Commissioner. “If these others had not arrived, Vara Liso could easily have killed him with the neural whip or her peculiar talents. Yet she was the only one authorized to be in the Courts Building and Imperial Sector. It is not clear how she died, but I am glad she is dead.”

“For the last three days, everyone in Imperial Sector has suffered tremendous headaches. Haven’t you felt them?” Chen asked.

“I usually suffer from headaches, Commissioner. It is my lot in life,” Prothon said cheerfully.

Chen scrutinized the video summary of events in the Hall of Dispensation. He was looking for something, someone, a ghost, a shade, a clue embodied. He pointed to the tall man standing by the strong-looking woman at the end of the summary. “Individual file on this one?”

“There is none,” General Prothon told him. “We have no idea who he is.”

Linge Chen looked away from the informer display for a moment, and one side of his face tensed as he clenched his jaw. “Bring him to me. The woman with him as well.” He shifted his attention to the magnified image of the stocky man holding the body of Vara Liso. His expression softened for a moment. “And this one. Hari Seldon is to be released to his colleagues or to his family. I do not wish responsibility for him anymore. Keep the young Dahlites in custody for the time being.”

Major Namm seemed unhappy. Chen lifted an eyebrow in his general direction. “You have a comment?”

“They all violated palace security--”

“Yes, they did, didn’t they?” Chen asked pointedly. “And you are part of that team which ensures palace security?”

The major straightened and said no more.

“You may go,” Chen told him. Quickly, the major departed.

General Prothon chuckled. “Surely you won’t blame him,” the general said.

Chen shook his head. “We have very nearly made the biggest blunder of our careers.”

“How?” Prothon asked.

“We nearly lost Hari Seldon.”

“I presumed he was expendable.”

Chen almost frowned, but his face quickly returned to impassivity. “This man you recognize him?”

“No,” Prothon said, squinting at the magnified image.

“Once he was known as Demerzel,” Linge Chen said.

Prothon drew his head back and narrowed his eyes dubiously, but did not contradict the Chief Commissioner.

“He never dies,” Chen continued. “He goes away for decades at a time, then he returns. He has often been associated with the interesting career of Hari Seldon.” Chen, for the first time that day, smiled up at Prothon. That smile was peculiar, almost wolfish, and Chen’s eyes glittered with mixed emotions. “I suspect he has been directing my efforts in various ways for years now, always to my advantage...” He said again, musing softly, “Always to my advantage...”

“Another machine-man, I presume,” Prothon said. “I am glad not to be privy to that history.”

“No need for you to have known,” Chen said. “I myself can only suspect. He is, after all, a master of camouflage and prevarication. I will enjoy meeting with him and asking a few questions, one master to another.”

“Why don’t you simply execute him?”

“Because there could easily be others to take his place. For all I know, they are right here, in this palace.”

“Klayus?” Prothon asked, his grin almost invisible.

Chen sniffed. “We should be so lucky.”

“Why would it have been so bad to lose Seldon, a thorn in the Empire’s side?” Prothon asked.

“Because this Demerzel of old might spend another thousand years trying to raise up another Hari Seldon,” Chen said. “And this time, all would probably not go well for me, or for you, my dear Dragon. Seldon said as much, and for once, I believe him.”

Prothon shook his head. “I can more easily believe in machine-men than in Eternals. I’ve met robots, after all. you say, Commissioner, as you say.”

“You may return to your smoke-filled cave for now,” Chen murmured. “The young Emperor is sufficiently cowed.”

“Gladly,” Prothon said.


Wanda stood in the huge Streeling Central Travel Station, wrapped in her warmest coat--a thin decorative wrap. The air in the cavernous taxi and robo hangar was cooler than in the rest of the Sector--about eight degrees, and getting colder. Ventilation and conditioning had been fluctuating for eighteen hours now, and air was being pumped in by emergency blowers from outside, bringing Streeling from perpetual springtime to a chill autumn none of its inhabitants was quite prepared for. No official explanation had been given, and she expected none--it was part and parcel with the broken ceil and the general air of malaise that seemed to grip the planet.

Stettin returned from the information booth beneath the high steel and ceram archway. “Taxi and robo dispatch is pretty jerky,” he said. “We’ll have to wait another twenty or thirty minutes to get to the courts.”

Wanda clenched her fists. “He almost died yesterday--”

“We don’t know what happened,” Stettin reminded her.

“If they can’t protect him, who can?” she demanded. Her guilt was not assuaged by the fact that Grandfather had ordered her to go into hiding upon his arrest, and not to emerge until his release.

Stettin shrugged. “Your grandfather has his own kind of luck. We seem to share it. That woman is dead.” They had heard this much in the official news--the assassination of Farad Sinter, and the unexplained death of Vara Liso, identified as the woman Sinter had placed in charge of many of the searches that had prompted rioting in Dahl, the Agora of Vendors, and elsewhere.

“Yes--but you felt the--” Wanda did not have words to describe the shock wave of some sort of extraordinary combat.

Stettin nodded soberly. “My head still hurts.”

“Who could have blocked Liso? We couldn’t have, not all of the mentalics, even had we allied.”

“Someone else, stronger than her,” Stettin suggested. “How many are there like Vara Liso?”

“No more, I hope. But if we can recruit this other--”

“It would be like having a scorpion in our midst. What could we do with such a person? Anything that displeases--” Wanda began to pace. “I hate this,” she said. “I want to get off this accursed planet, away from the Center. I wish they’d let us take Grandfather with us. Sometimes he seems so frail!”

Stettin looked up at a warm rich hum, different from the gut rural grav-stator grumble of the taxis and the whine of the robos. He patted Wanda’s shoulder and pointed. An official transport from the Commission of Public Safety was decelerating smoothly in their lane. It slowed directly beside them. Other passengers glared at this intrusion of an official vehicle into public taxi lanes, even though the lanes were empty.

The hatch to the transport opened. Within the utilitarian hull, luxury seating and warmth and a golden glow awaited. Sedjar Boon stood up in the hatchway and peered at them.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.