Foundation and Chaos

Page 7

Now he had other matters to consider. He stood before his desk--he never sat while working--and scrolled through the briefs supplied to him by the informer. There was a stink rising over reassignment of ships to Sarossa, following the probable loss of the Spear of Glory. He could almost smell Linge Chen behind the growing public indignation. Yet that had actually been Klayus’s doing, almost entirely. Sinter had gone along to allow the boy some sense of purpose.

Chen was a very intelligent man.

Sinter wondered if Chen had ever had brain fever...

Lost in thought, he sat for five minutes as the briefs filed past, ignoring them. He had more than enough time to deal with Commissioner Chen.


Mors Planch, in his fifty years of service to the Empire (and to his own ends), had watched things go from bad to worse with grim calm. Not much upset him, on the surface; he was quiet and soft-spoken and used to carrying out extraordinary missions, but he never thought he would be called upon--by Linge Chen, no less--to do something so mundane as go looking for a lost starship. And a survey vessel, at that!

He stood on the steel balcony suspended above the Central Trantor spaceport docks, looking down the long rows of bullet-shaped bronze-and-ivory Imperial ships, all gleaming and brightly polished on the surface, and all run by crews who performed their duties more and more by ritual and rote, not even beginning to understand the mechanics and electronics, much less the physics, behind their miraculous Jumps from one end of the Galaxy to the other.

Spit and polish and a shadow of ignorance, like an eclipse at noon...

He smelled the perfumery on his lapel to put him in a better mood. The pleasant aromas of a thousand worlds had been programmed into the tiny button, an extraordinary antique given to him by Linge Chen seven years ago. Chen was a remarkable man, able to understand the emotions and needs of others, while having none of his own--other than the lust for power.

Planch knew his master well enough, and knew what he was capable of, but he did not have to like him. Still, Chen paid very well, and if the Empire was going to rank growth and bad seed, Planch had no qualms about avoiding the worst of the discomforts and misfortunes.

A tall, spidery woman with corn yellow hair seemed to appear by his elbow, towering over him by a good ten centimeters. He looked up and met her onyx eyes.

“Mors Planch?”

“Yes.” He turned and extended his hand. The woman stepped back and shook her head; on her world, Huylen, physical contact was considered rude in simple greetings. “And you’re Tritch, I presume?”

“Presumptuous of you,” she said, “but accurate. I have three ships we can use, and I’ve chosen the best. Private, and fully licensed for travel anywhere the Empire might care to trade.”

“You’ll be carrying only me, and I’ll need to inspect your hyperdrive, do some modifications.”

“Oh?” Tritch’s humor faded fast. “I don’t even like experts doing such work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“I’m more than an expert,” Planch said. “And with what you’re being paid, you could replace your whole ship three times over.”

Tritch moved her head from side to side in a gesture Planch could not read. So many social customs and physical nuances! A quadrillion human beings could be remarkably difficult to encompass, especially at the Center, where so many of them crossed paths.

They walked toward the gate to the dock aisle where Tritch’s ships were berthed. “You told me we were going on a search,” she said. “You said it would be dangerous. For that amount of money, I accept great risks, but--”

“We’re going into a supernova shock front,” Planch said, keeping his eyes straight ahead.

“Oh.” This news gave her pause, but only for a second. “Sarossa?”

He nodded. They took a pedway to the berth itself, sliding past three kilometers of other vessels, most of them Imperial, a few belonging to the Palace upper crust, the rest to licensed traders like Tritch.

“I turned down four requests from local folks to go there and rescue their families.”

“As well you should have,” Planch said. “I’m your job today, not them.”

“How high up does this go?” Tritch asked with a sniff. “Or perhaps I should ask, how much influence do you have?”

“No influence at all. I do what I’m told, and don’t talk much about my orders.”

Tritch undulated in polite dubiousness, walked ahead to the gangway, and ordered the ship’s loading doors to open. The ship was a clean-looking craft, about two hundred years old, with self-repairing drives; but who knew if the self-repair units were in good working order? People trusted their machines too much these days, because by and large they had to.

Planch noted the ship’s name: Flower of Evil. “When do we leave?”

“Now,” Planch said.

“You know,” Tritch said, “your name sounds familiar...Are you from Huylens?”

“Me?” He shook his head and laughed as they walked into the cavernous, almost empty hold. “I’m far too short for your kind, Tritch. But my people provided the seed colony that settled your world, a thousand years ago.”

“That explains it!” Tritch said, and gave another sort of wriggle, signifying--he presumed--pleasure at their possible historical connection. Huylenians were a clannish bunch who loved depth history and genealogy. “I’m honored to have you aboard! What’s your poison, Planch?” She indicated boxes filled with exotic liquors, constrained by a security field in one comer of the hold.

“For now, nothing,” Planch said, but he looked over the labels appreciatively. Then he stopped, seeing a label on ten cases that made his pulse race. “Tight little spaces,” he swore, “is that Trillian water of life?”

“Two hundred bottles,” she said. “After we get our work done, you can have two bottles, on the house.”

“You’re generous, Tritch.”

“More than you know, Planch.” She winked. Planch inclined his head gallantly. He had forgotten how open and childlike Huylenians could be, just as he had forgotten many of their gestures. At the same time, they were among the toughest traders in the Galaxy.

The lock door closed, and Tritch led Planch into the engine room, to examine and tinker with her ship’s most private parts.


As evening fell beneath the domes and the light outside his office windows dimmed, Chen sat in his favorite chair and called up the Imperial Library’s news service, the finest and most comprehensive in the Galaxy. Words and pictures flitted around him, all relating to the Sarossan disaster and the loss of the Spear of Glory .There was no sign of the ship, and not likely to be; the best experts said it was very likely swallowed by a discontinuity within its final Jump, a hazard associated with supernova explosions but rarely seen, for the simple reason that supernovas were rare on human time scales. In all the Galaxy, less than one or two occurred each year, more often than not in uninhabited regions.

Already the popular journals were calling on the Emperor (respectfully, of course) and on Councilor Sinter, more acerbically, to rethink the transfer of rescue ships. Chen smiled grimly; let Sinter chew on that for a while.

Of course, if he heard nothing from Mors Planch, he would need to replace Lodovik, and soon; he had four candidates, none of them as qualified as Lodovik, but all worthy of service in the Commission of Public Safety. He would choose one as his assistant, and put the other three in apprenticeship programs, saying that the Commission should never again be caught with no immediate backups for the loss of important personnel.

There were three Commissioners who owed Chen for a few choice and private favors, and Chen could use this as a pretense for putting loyal men and women into their offices.

He shut off the news-service report with a flick of his hand and stood, smoothing his robes. Then he went out on the balcony to enjoy the sunset. There was no real sun visible here, of course, but he had mandated the repair of the Imperial Sector dome displays on a regular basis, and the sunsets were as reliable here as they had been everywhere in Trantor in his youth. He watched the highly artistic interpretation with some satisfaction, then put away all these masks of pleasure and considered the future.

Chen rarely slept more than an hour a day, usually at noon, which gave him the entire evening to do his research and make preparations for the work of the next morning. During his hour of sleep, he usually dreamed for about thirty minutes, and this afternoon, he had dreamed of his childhood, for the first time in years. Dreams, in his experience, seldom directly reflected the day-to-day affairs of life, but they could point to personal problems and weaknesses. Chen had great respect for those mental processes below conscious awareness. He knew that was where much of his most important work was done.

He imagined himself the captain of his own personal starship, with many excellent crewmembers--representing subconscious thought processes. It was his task to keep them alert and on duty, and for that reason, Chen performed special mental exercises for at least twenty minutes each day.

He had a machine for that very purpose, designed for him by the greatest psychologist on Trantor--perhaps in the Galaxy. The psychologist had disappeared five years ago, after an Imperial Court scandal orchestrated by Farad Sinter.

So many interconnections, interweavings. Chen regarded his enemies as his most intimate associates, and sometimes even felt a kind of sorrowful affection for them, as they fell by the wayside, one by one, victims of their own peculiar limitations and blindness.

Or, in Sinter’s case, of aggressive idiocy and madness.


Hari lived in simple quarters on the university grounds, in his third apartment since the death of Dors Venabili. He could not seem to find a place that felt like home; after a few months, or in this case ten years, he would grow dissatisfied with the feel of a place, no matter how bland and characterless the decor was, and move to another. Often he spent his nights in a room in the library, explaining that he needed to get to work very early the next morning--which he did, but that was not his main reason for staying.

Wherever he was, Hari felt so very alone.

He was not above using his rank in the university, and his standing in the Imperial Library, to get new housing assignments. He allowed himself a few eccentricities, as one might allow an old engine extra maintenance, hoping that he could finish his task without breaking down. Coming to the end was difficult; he had so many memories of the beginnings, and they were far more exciting, far more satisfying, then anything reality at this point in his life could generate...

For that reason, he was almost looking forward to the trial, to a chance to confront Linge Chen directly and force the Empire’s hand, his last and grandest finesse. Then he would know. It would be finished.

When he had been First Minister to Cleon I, he had also taken advantage of his position, on rare occasions, to gather the information he most needed. One of the crucial problems of psychohistory then had been the notion of unexpected cultural and genetic variability, that is, how to factor in the possibility of extraordinary individuals.

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