Foundation and Chaos

Page 9

It was a dream of mechanical men. Not tiktoks, those funny little worker machines that had so worried the workers of Trantor and other worlds in their heyday, now gone, not tiktoks, but robots who looked like men, who could move unnoticed among men.

And there were even mechanical women, so this dream showed, capable of amazing feats, capable even of murder and of provoking love.

Vara Liso thought about this dream for weeks before requesting an audience with the Emperor. This half-mad request--how could she hope to have an audience with such a lofty personage!--had been answered, and she had met not with the Emperor, but with another, his self-anointed Voice of Imperial Conscience, Imperial Councilor Farad Sinter.

Sinter had received her with politeness, a little cool at first, but as she had expanded upon her evidence, he had begun to burrow down with his questions, digging underneath her confusion to find the gems of evidence she herself had missed. Farad Sinter had taken a dream fetched raw and alive from anonymous night and given it political authority, a logical weight and structure she herself could not have pieced together in a million years.

In her way, Vara Liso had come first to respect Sinter, then to admire him, and finally to love him. He was so like her in many ways, sensitive and nervous, tuned to frequencies of thought no others could see...or so he convinced her.

She wanted to become his lover, but Farad Sinter convinced her that such physical pursuits were beneath them. They had loftier intimacies to satisfy them.

So she went this morning to his complex of private rooms in the Palace, escorted as always by a frosty pair of female security guards, convinced she was going to deliver to him that which he most sought. Yet Vara Liso kept something to herself, something that did not fit somehow.

“Good morning, Vara!” Sinter greeted. He sat at a small breakfast table on wheels, still wearing an ornately quilted golden robe, and his small, piercing eyes crinkled with something like amused welcome. “What do you have for me today?”

“Nothing more, Farad.” She slumped into a couch in front of him, tired and discouraged. “It’s all so jumbled. I swear I get so cluttered!”

Sinter tsk-tsked and shook his finger at her. “Don’t disparage your particular talent, lovely Vara.”

Her eyes widened with hungry need, which Sinter pretended he had not seen. “Have you learned who started you on this? With his dream of mechanical men?”

“I don’t know whether it was a man or a woman, and no, I still don’t know. I remember faces of those in the dream, but recognize none of them. Have you caught her?”

Sinter shook his head. “Not yet. I haven’t given up, though. Any other clues, other candidates?”

Vara Liso blushed slightly and shook her head. Soon enough she would have to reveal how this had all begun, that she had once worked to become part of a group of low-level mentalics, much weaker than she, and weaker by far than the young woman she had sensed just two weeks before, whose mind had blazed in the night. But they had treated her well, and she had kept this back from Sinter for two reasons: because quite clearly these people were not robots, and because she had at least some sense of honor and loyalty. She tried to guide his vision this much, that he would not go off searching for every little petty mental persuader; she was sure he was wrong there, though of course she would not tell him so.

She suspected Sinter would not react well to being told he was wrong, even in some small detail.

Sinter had sent her to Dahl because of an unexplained hunch that there were more candidates there than elsewhere on Trantor, and that was where Vara Liso had tossed and turned one night in a dingy hotel room, gathering in her web, and bringing back the biggest catch ever.

She had hated Dahl, with its miasma of resentment and neglect and anger. She hoped never to return.

“I think you’ll have to return and help the Specials personally,” Farad Sinter said lightly. “They’re not having much luck.”

She stared at him, and tears welled up in her eyes.

“Oh, Vara, so sensitive! It’s not as bad as all that. We need you there, to help us find this particular needle in the straw. If she’s as talented as you say, well...”

“I will go if you wish me to,” she murmured. “I had hoped you would have enough to go on.”

“Well, we don’t. I don’t. I doubt I’ll be given much more time to come up with hard evidence.”

She forced herself to brighten, and asked the first question that came into her head. “What will these robots do if they know we know?”

Sinter’s face stiffened. “That is our greatest danger,” he said darkly. He lowered his gaze for a few seconds. “Sometimes I think they will replace us with replicas of ourselves, and we will go on doing everything we have ever done, just as we used to do it. But without spirit, nothing inside.” He dug for the ancient word that sounded so mysterious and alien when spoken. “No soul.”

“I don’t understand what that means,” Vara said.

Sinter shook his head briskly. “Nor do I, but it would be terrible to lose it!”

For a moment, they enjoyed this grisly prospect together, Savoring the sense of shared and secret danger.


“Your request to see me is a little odd,” the Emperor said, “considering that Linge Chen’s Commission is putting you on trial for treason next month.” Klayus waggled his head from side to side and raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you think it’s unseemly for me to agree to a meeting?”

“Very,” Hari said, hands folded, head bowed. “It bespeaks your independence, Highness.”

“Yes, well I’m far more independent than anyone gives me credit for. In truth, I find the Commission convenient, because it does a lot of the uninteresting work of managing little details I care nothing for. Linge Chen is wise enough to let me handle my own affairs and projects without interference. So, why should I be interested in you? Other than your professorial eminence.”

“I thought you might be interested in the future, Highness,” Hari said.

Klayus snorted faintly. “Ah, yes, your eternal promise.”

Hari followed the Emperor through a central circular chamber at least twelve meters in diameter and perhaps thirty meters high. Above, all the inhabited star systems of the Galaxy rotated across the dome, blinking in order of settlement, tens of millions of them. Hari glanced up and squinted at the immensity of humanity’s reach. Klayus I ignored the display. His pinched lips and wide, yet somehow vacuous eyes disturbed Hari.

Klayus pushed open a huge door to his entertainment room. Silently, the door--more like the entrance to a vault--swung on its immense hinges, and insects, green and gold, crawled over the frame. Hari assumed they were projected, but would not have been surprised to discover they were real.

“I have very little interest in your future, Raven,” the Emperor said lightly. “I do manage to keep informed. I won’t stop the trial, and I won’t second-guess Chen on this.”

“I refer to your own immediate future, sire,” Hari said. I hope Daneel’s message was not just a dream, a fancy! This could turn deadly, if so.

The Emperor turned, smiling at this dramatic turn of phrase. “You’re on record as saying the Empire is doomed. That sounds treasonous enough to me. On this, Chen and I agree.”

“I say Trantor will be in ruins within five hundred years. But I’ve never predicted your future, sire.”

The entertainment room was filled with hulking sculptures of giant creatures from around the Galaxy, all savagely carnivorous, all caught in poses of attack. Hari regarded them with little appreciation for the artistry. Art had never interested him much, and certainly not the more popular forms, except where he could abstract entertainment trends as indicators for social health.

“I’ve had my palm read,” Klayus said, still smiling, “by a number of beautiful women. They all found it most attractive, and assured me my future was bright. No assassinations, Raven.”

“You will not be assassinated, sire.”

“Deposed? Exiled to Smyrmo? That’s where they sent my heroic quintuple-great-grandfather. Smyrmo, hot and dry, where you can’t go outside without protective clothing, where the rooms smell of sulfur and there are only cramped tunnels through the rock fit for vermin. His memoirs are quite good entertainment, Raven.”

“No, sire. You will be ridiculed until you lose all stature, then you will be ignored, and Linge Chen will never even have to defer to you. He will soon enough declare a people’s democracy and leave you only as a symbol, with declining revenues, until you can no longer even keep up appearances.”

The Emperor stopped between two Gareth-lions, the largest carnivores on any mid-gravity world, life-size--about twenty meters from clawed feet to razor-barbed, prehensile snouts. He leaned on the canted ankle of one. “Psychohistory tells you this?”

“No, sire. Experience and logical deduction, without benefit of psychohistory. Have you ever heard of Joranum?”

The Emperor shrugged. “I don’t think so. Person or place--or perhaps beast?”

“A man, who wanted to become Emperor, and who betrayed his hidden origins by subscribing to an ancient myth...About robots.”

“Robots! Yes, I believe in them.”

Hari was taken aback. “Not tiktoks, sire, but intelligent machines made in human form.”

“Of course. I believe they existed once, and that we outgrew them. Put them aside like toys. The tiktok experiment was simply an anachronism. We don’t need mechanical workers, much less mechanical intelligences.”

Hari blinked slowly, and wondered if he had underestimated this young man. “Joranum believed”--(Was led to believe, by Raych! he reminded himself)--”that a robot had infiltrated the Palace. He claimed First Minister Demerzel was a robot.”

“Ah, yes, I seem to remember something about that...not that long ago, was it? Though before I was born.”

“Demerzel laughed at him, sire, and Joranum’s political movement collapsed under the weight of ridicule.”

“Yes, yes, I remember now. Demerzel resigned and Cleon the First filled his shoes with another’s feet. With your feet. Correct, Raven?”

“Yes, sire.”

“That’s where you acquired the political skills you so ably exercise, isn’t it?”

“My political skills are minimal, your Highness.”

“I don’t think so, Raven. You’re alive, and yet Cleon the first was assassinated by...a gardener...who had strong connections to you, correct?”

“In a way, sire.”

“Still alive, Raven. Very savvy indeed, perhaps with your own secret and embarrassing files to reveal at key moments to key players. Do you have a secret file on Linge Chen, Raven?”

Hari, despite himself, let out a chuckle. Klayus seemed amused by this reaction, rather than affronted. “No, Your Highness. Chen is politically very well armored. His personal behavior is above reproach.”

“Isn’t it, now! Who, then? Who will disgrace me and bring me down?”

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