Daneel was one of the many robots who had become disguised Sherlocks among the masses; tens of thousands throughout the Galaxy, trying not just to solve a mystery, but to prevent further and greater crimes.
The leader of these dedicated servants, the first Eternal, brushed as much of the street’s filth from his rags as he could manage, and left the cramped and empty General Habitation Project hovel in search of finer clothes.
“They’ve searched the entire apartment,” Sonden Asgar moaned, rubbing his elbows and looking smaller and more frail than she had ever seen him before. Klia’s respect for her father had not been high in the last few years, but she still felt a pang for his misery--and an abiding sense of guilt that strengthened a sense of responsibility. “They went through our records--imagine that! Private records! Some Imperial authority...”
“Why your records, Father?” Klia asked. The apartment was a shambles. She could imagine the investigators pulling up cabinets and throwing out the boxes and few dishes within, tugging up the worn carpets...She was glad she hadn’t been here, and for more than one reason.
“Not my records!” Sonden shouted. “They were looking for you. School papers, bookfilms, and they took our family album. With all your mother’s pictures. Why? What have you done now?”
Klia shook her head and upturned a stool to sit. “If they’re looking for me, I can’t stay,” she said.
“Why, daughter? What could--”
“If I’ve done anything illegal, Father, it’s not worth the attention of Imperial Specials. It must be something else...” She thought of the conversation with the man in dusty green, and frowned.
Sonden Asgar stood in the middle of the main room, three meters square, hardly a room at all--more of a closet--and shivered like a frightened animal. “They were not kind,” he said. “They grabbed me and shook me hard...They acted like thugs. I might as well have gotten mugged in Billibotton!”
“What did they say?” Klia asked softly.
“They asked where you were, how you had done in school, how you made your living. They asked whether you knew a Kindril Nashak. Who is that?”
“A man,” she said, hiding her surprise. Kindril Nashak! He had been the kingpin in her greatest success so far, a deal that had put four hundred New Credits in her accounts with the Banker in Billibotton. But even that had been trivial--surely nothing worth their attention. Imperial Special police were supposed to seek out the Lords of the Underground, not clever girls with purely personal ambitions.
“A man!” her father said sharply. “Someone who’s willing to take you off my hands, I hope!”
“I haven’t been a burden to you for years,” Klia said sourly. “I only dropped by to see how you were doing.”And to discover why any thought of you made my head itch.
“I told them you’re never here!” Sonden cried. “I said we hadn’t seen each other in months. None of it makes sense! It will take days to clean this mess. The food! They spilled the entire cookery!”
“I’ll help you pick up,” Klia said. “Shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
She certainly hoped not. Other faces were making her head itch now: Friends, colleagues, anyone associated with Nashak. One thing she was sure of: She had suddenly become important, and not because she was a clever member of the black market community.
An hour later, with the mess largely taken care of and Sonden at least beginning to recover his calm. she kissed him on the top of the head and said good-bye, and she meant it.
She could not look at her father without her scalp seeming to burn. Nothing to do with the Guilt, she told herself. Something new.
Hereafter, any contact with him would be extremely dangerous.
Major Perl Namm of Special Investigations, Imperial Security, assigned to the Dahl Sector, had been waiting for two hours in the private Palace office of Imperial Councilor Farad Sinter. He adjusted his collar nervously. The desk of Farad Sinter was smooth and elegant, crafted from Karon wood from the Imperial Gardens, a gift from Klayus I. The top of the desk held only an inactive Imperial-class informer. A sun-and-spaceship plaque hovered to one side of the desk. The office’s high ceiling was supported by beams of Trantorian basalt, with intricate floral patterns spun-carved by tuned blaster beams. The major looked up at these beams, and when he looked down again, Farad Sinter stood behind the desk, wearing an irritated frown.
Major Namm, very blond and compact, was not used to private audiences at this social level, and in the Palace, as well. “Second report on the search for Klia Asgar, daughter of Sonden and Bethel Asgar. Survey of the father’s apartment.”
“What else did you learn?”
“Her early intelligence tests were normal, not exceptional. After the age of ten, however, those tests showed extraordinary jumps--then, by the age of twelve, they revealed that she was an idiot.”
“Standard Imperial aptitude tests, I assume?”
“Yes, sir, adjusted for Dahlite...ah...needs.”
Sinter walked across the room and poured himself a drink. He did not offer any to the major, who wouldn’t have known what to do with fine wine anyway. No doubt his tastes were limited to the cruder forms of stimulk, or even the more direct stims favored in the military and police services. “There are no records of childhood illness, I presume,” Sinter said.
“Two possible explanations for that, sir,” the blond major said.
“Hospitals in Dahl typically record only exceptional illnesses. And in those cases, if the exceptions might reflect badly on the hospital, they report nothing at all.”
“So perhaps she never had brain fever at all...as a child, when almost everyone of any intelligence contracts brain fever.”
“It’s possible, sir, though unlikely. Only one out of a hundred normal children escape brain fever. Only idiots escape completely, sir. She may have avoided it for that reason.”
Sinter smiled. The officer was stepping outside his expertise; the number was actually closer to one in thirty million normals, though many claimed they had never had it. And that claim in itself was evocative, as if escaping conferred some added status.
“Major, are you at all curious about the Sectors you do not patrol?”
“No, sir. Why should I be?”
“Do you know the tallest structure on Trantor, above sea level, I mean?”
“The most populated Sector?”
“The largest planet in the known Galaxy?”
“No.” The major frowned as if he were being mocked.
“Most people are ignorant of these things. They don’t care to know; tell them and they forget. The larger vision is lost in the day-to-day minutiae, which they know well enough to get along. What about the basic principles of hyperdrive travel?”
“Sky, no...Pardon me. No sir.”
“I’m ignorant of that myself. No curiosity at all about such things.” He smiled pleasantly. “Have you ever wondered why Trantor seems so run-down nowadays?”
“Sometimes, sir. It is a nuisance.”
“Have you thought to complain to your neighborhood council?”
“Not my place. There’s so much to complain about, where to begin?”
“Of course. Yet you’re known as a competent and perhaps even an exceptional officer.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Sinter looked down at the polished copperstone floor. “Are you curious why I am so interested in this woman, this girl?”
“No, sir.” But the major thought it worth a small, conspiratorial wink.
Sinter’s eyes widened. “You believe I’m interested in her sexually?”
The major straightened abruptly. “No sir, not my place to think anything of the sort.”
“I would be frightened even to be in her presence for long, Major Namm.”
“She never had brain fever.”
“We don’t know that, sir. No records.”
Sinter dismissed that with a shake of his head. “I know that she never had brain fever, or any other childhood disease. And not because she was an idiot. She was more than merely immune, Major.”
“And her powers can be extraordinary. And do you know how I know that? Because of Vara Liso. She first detected this girl in a Dahlite market a week ago. A prime candidate, she thought. I should send Vara Liso with you on your rounds now, just to refine the hunt.”
The major said nothing, merely stood at parade rest, eyes fixed on the opposite wall. His Adam’s apple bobbed. Sinter could read the man well enough without seeing into his mind; the major did not much believe all this, and knew little or nothing of Vara Liso.
“Can you find her for me, without Vara Liso’s aid?”
“With sufficient numbers of officers, we can find her in two or three days. My small crew, by itself, would probably take two or three weeks. Dahl is not in a cooperative mood right now, sir.”
“No, I suppose not. Well, find her, but do not attempt to arrest her or attract her attention in any way. You would fail, as her kind has made so many others fail...”
“Tell me what she does, whom she sees. When I give you the order, you will shoot her with a large-bore kinetic-energy gun, from a distance, in the head. Understood?”
“As you have so faithfully done before.”
“Then you will bring her body to me. Not to the criminalists, but to me, my private chambers. Enough, Major.”
“Sir.” Major Namm departed.
Sinter did not much trust the competence of any police, in any Sector. They could be bribed easily enough, yet Sinter’s extended police patrols had not yet managed to bring down one robot; all of their targeted individuals had been humans, after all. The robots had deceived them very cleverly.
But Klia Asgar...a young girl, in form at least. How did a robot manage to appear to grow? There were so many mysteries Sinter looked forward to solving.
Brain fever’s effect on curiosity, and on civilization in general, was not the most interesting of those mysteries, not at all. No mystery at all. Sinter strongly suspected that robots had created the disease, perhaps millennia before, after their banishment from the worlds of humans--their goal to subtly reduce intellectual capacity, creating an Empire that so seldom rebelled against the Center...
His mind whirled at the implications. So many suspicions, so many theories!
With a small, intent smile, Sinter lost himself in speculation for several minutes, then went to the desktop informer to look up the name of the largest world in the Galaxy.
Sinter had never had brain fever, himself; had somehow escaped it, despite having an above-normal intelligence. He was eternally curious.
And completely human. Farad Sinter had x-ray images taken at least twice a year to prove that fact to himself.
The largest inhabited world in the Galaxy was Nak, a gas giant circling a star in the Hallidon Province. It was four million kilometers wide.