Foundation's Triumph sample chapters
Part I: A Foretold Destiny
Little is known about the final days of Hari Seldon, though many romanticized accounts exist, some of them purportedly by his own hand. None of them has any proved validity.
What appears evident, however, is that Seldon spent his last months uneventfully, no doubt enjoying satisfaction in his life's work. For with his gift of mathematical insight, and the powers of psychohistory at his command, he must surely have seen the panorama of history stretching before him, confirming the great path of destiny that he had already mapped out.
Although death would soon claim him, no other mortal ever knew with such confidence and certainty the bright promise that the future would hold in store.
Encyclopedia Galactica, 117th Edition, 1054 F.E.
"As for me... I am finished."
Those words resonated in his mind. They clung, like the relentless blanket that Hari's nurse kept straightening across his legs, though it was a warm day in the Imperial Gardens.
I am finished.
The relentless phrase was his constant companion.
In front of Hari Seldon lay the rugged slopes of Shoufeen Woods, a wild portion of the Imperial Palace grounds where plants and small animals from across the galaxy mingled in rank disorder, clumping and spreading unhindered. Tall trees even blocked from view the ever-present skyline of metal towers. The mighty world-city surrounding this little island forest.
Squinting through failing eyes, one could almost pretend to be sitting on a different planet -- one that had not been flattened and subdued in service to the Galactic Empire of Humanity.
The forest teased Hari. Its total absence of straight lines seemed perverse, a riot of greenery that defied any effort to decipher or decode. The geometries seemed unpredictable, even chaotic.
Mentally, he reached out to the chaos, so vibrant and undisciplined. He spoke to it as an equal. His great enemy.
All my life I fought against you, using mathematics to overcome nature's vast complexity. With tools of psychohistory, I probed the matrices of human society, wresting order from that murky tangle. And when my victories still felt incomplete, I used politics and guile to combat uncertainty, driving you like an enemy before me.
So why now, at my time of supposed triumph, do I hear you calling out to me? Chaos, my old foe?
Hari's answer came in the same phrase that kept threading his thoughts.
Because I am finished.
Finished as a mathematician.
It was more than a year since Stettin Palver or Gaal Dornick or any other member of the Fifty had consulted Hari with a serious permutation or revision to the "Seldon Plan." Their awe and reverence for him was unchanged. But urgent tasks kept them busy these days. Besides, anyone could tell that his mind no longer had the suppleness to juggle a myriad abstractions at the same time. It took a youngster's mental agility, concentration, and arrogance to challenge the hyperdimensional algorithms of psychohistory. His successors, culled from among the best minds on twenty five million worlds, had all these traits in superabundance.
But Hari could no longer afford conceit. There remained too little time.
Finished as a politician.
How he used to hate that word! Pretending, even to himself, that he wanted only to be a meek academic. Of course, that had just been a marvelous pose. No one could rise to become First Minister of the entire human universe without the talent and audacity of a master manipulator. Oh, he had been a genius in that field too, wielding power with flair, defeating enemies, altering the lives of trillions -- while complaining the whole time that he hated the job.
Some might look back on that youthful record with ironic pride. But not Hari Seldon.
Finished as a conspirator.
He had won each battle, prevailed in every contest. A year ago, Hari subtly maneuvered today's imperial rulers into creating ideal circumstances for his secret psychohistorical design to flourish. Soon a hundred thousand exiles would be stranded on a stark planet, faraway Terminus, charged with producing a great Encyclopedia Galactica. But that superficial goal would peel away in half a century, revealing the true aim of that Foundation at the galaxy's rim -- to be the embryo of a more vigorous Empire as the old one fell. For years that had been the focus of his daily ambitions, and his nightly dreams. Dreams that reached ahead, across a thousand years of social collapse -- past an age of suffering and violence -- to a new human fruition. A better destiny for humankind.
Only now his role in that great enterprise was ended. Hari had just finished taping messages for the Time Vault on Terminus -- a series of subtle bulletins that would occasionally nudge or encourage members of the Foundation as they plunged toward a bright morrow pre-ordained by psychohistory. When the final message was safely stored, Hari felt a shift in the attitudes of those around him. He was still esteemed, even venerated. But he wasn't necessary anymore.
One sure sign was the departure of his bodyguards -- a trio of humaniform robots that Daneel Olivaw had assigned to protect Hari, until the recordings were finished. It happened right there, at the recording studio. One robot -- artfully disguised as a burly young medical technician -- had bowed low to speak in Hari's ear.
"We must go now. Daneel has urgent assignments for us. But he bade me to give you his promise. Daneel will visit soon. The two of you will meet again, before the end."
Perhaps that wasn't the most tactful way to put it. But Hari always preferred blunt openness from friends and family.
Unbidden, a clear image from the past swept into mind -- of his wife, Dors Venabili, playing with Raych, their son. He sighed. Both Dors and Raych were long gone -- along with nearly every link that ever bound him closely to another private soul.
This brought a final coda to the phrase that kept spinning through his mind --
Finished as a person.
The doctors despaired over extending his life, even though eighty was rather young to die of decrepit age nowadays. But Hari saw no point in mere existence for its own sake. Especially if he could no longer analyze or affect the universe.
Is that why I drift here, to this grove? He pondered the wild, unpredictable forest -- a mere pocket in the Imperial Park, which measured a hundred miles on a side -- the only expanse of greenery on Trantor's metal-encased crust. Most visitors preferred the hectares of prim gardens that were open to the public, filled with extravagant and well-ordered blooms.
But Shoufeen Woods seemed to beckon him.
Here, unmasked by Trantor's opaque walls, I can see chaos in the foliage by day, and in brittle stars, by night. I can hear chaos taunting me... telling me I haven't won.
That wry thought provoked a smile, cracking the pursed lines of his face.
Who would have imagined, at this late phase of life, that I'd acquire a taste for justice?
Kers Kantun straightened the lap-blanket again, asking solicitously, "Are you o'right, Doctor Seldon? Should we be headin' back now?"
Hari's servant had the rolling accent -- and greenish skin pallor -- of a Valmoril, a sub-species of humanity that had spread through the isolated Corithi Cluster, living secluded there for so long that by now they could only interbreed with other races by pre-treating sperm and eggs with enzymes. Kers had been chosen as Hari's nurse and final guardian after the robots departed. He performed both tasks with quiet determination.
"This wild place makes me o'comfortable, Doc. Surely you don' like the breeze gustin' like this?"
Kantun's parents came to Trantor as young Grays -- members of the bureaucratic caste -- expecting to spend a few years' service on the capital planet, training in monkish dormitories, then heading back out to the Galaxy as administrators in the vast civil service. But flukes of talent and promotion intervened to keep them here, raising a son amid the steel caverns they hated. Kers inherited his parents' famed Valmoril sense of duty -- or else Daneel Olivaw would never have chosen the fellow to tend Hari in these final days.
I may no longer be useful, but some people still think I'm worth looking after.
In Hari's mind, the word, "person" applied to R. Daneel Olivaw, perhaps more than most of the humans he ever knew.
For decades, he had carefully kept secret the existence of "eternals" -- robots who had shepherded human destiny for twenty thousand years -- immortal machines that helped create the first Galactic Empire, and then encouraged Hari to plan a successor. Indeed, Hari spent the happiest part of his life married to one of them. Without the affection of Dors Venabili -- or the aid and protection of Daneel Olivaw -- he could never have created psychohistory, setting in motion the Seldon Plan.
Or discovered how useless it would all turn out to be, in the long run.
Wind in the surrounding trees seemed to mock Hari. In that sound, he heard hollow echoes of his own doubts.
The Foundation cannot achieve the task set before it. Somewhere, sometime during the next thousand years, a perturbation will nudge the psychohistorical parameters, rocking the statistical momentum, knocking your Plan off course.
True enough, he wanted to shout back at the zephyr. But that had been allowed for! There would be a Second Foundation, a secret one, led by his successors, who would adjust the plan as years passed, providing counter-nudges to keep it on course!
Yet, the nagging voice came back.
A tiny hidden colony of mathematicians and psychologists will do all that, in a galaxy fast tumbling to violence and ruin?
For years this had seemed a flaw... until fortuitous fate provided an answer. Mentalics, a mutant strain of humans with uncanny ability to sense and alter the emotions and memories of others. These powers were still weak, but heritable. Hari's own adopted son, Raych, passed the talent to a daughter, Wanda, now a leader in the Seldon Project. Every mentalic they could find had been recruited, to intermarry with the descendants of the psychohistorians. After a few generations of genetic mingling, the clandestine Second Foundation should have potent tools to protect his Plan against deviations during the coming centuries.
The forest sneered once more.
What will you have then? Will the Second Empire be ruled by a shadowy elite? A secret cabal of human psychics? An aristocracy of mentalic demigods?
Even if kindness motivated this new elite, the prospect left him feeling cold.
The shadow of Kers Kantun bent closer, peering at him with concern. Hari tore his attention away from the singing breeze and finally answered his servant.
"Ah... sorry. Of course you're right. Let's go back. I'm fatigued."
But as Kers guided the wheelchair toward a hidden transit tube station, Hari could still hear the forest, jeering at his life's work.
The mentalic elite is just one layer though, isn't it? The Second Foundation conceals yet another truth, then another.
Beyond your own Plan, a different one has been crafted by a greater mind than yours. By someone stronger, more dedicated, and more patient by far. A plan that uses yours, for a while... but which will eventually make psychohistory meaningless.
With his right hand, Hari fumbled under his robe till he found a smooth cube of gemlike stone, a parting gift from his friend and lifetime guide, R. Daneel Olivaw. Palming the archive's ancient surface, he murmured, too low for Kers to hear.
"Daneel, you promised you'd come to answer all my questions. "I have so many, before I die."
From space it seemed a gentle world, barely touched by civilization. A rich belt of verdant rain forest girdled the tropics, leaping narrow oceans to sweep all the way around three continents.
Dors Venabili watched green Panucopia swell below, during her descent toward the old Imperial Research Station. Nearly forty years had passed since she last came here, accompanying her human husband as they fled dangerous enemies back on Trantor. But those troubles had followed them here, with very nearly tragic consequences.
The ensuing adventure had been the strangest of her life -- though admittedly Dors was still quite young for a robot. For more than a month, she and Hari had left their bodies in suspensor tanks while their minds were projected into the bodies of pans -- (or "chimpanzees" in some dialects) -- roaming the forest preserves of this world. Hari claimed he needed data about primitive response patterns for his psychohistorical research, but Dors suspected at the time that something deep within the august Professor Seldon relished "going ape" for a while.
She well-recalled the sensations of inhabiting a female pan, feeling powerful organic drives propel that vivid, living body. Unlike the simulated emotions she had been programmed with, these surged and fluxed with natural, unmediated passion -- especially during several hazard-filled days when someone tried to assassinate the two of them, hunting them like beasts while their minds were still trapped in pan bodies.
After barely foiling that scheme, they had swiftly returned to Trantor, where Hari soon took up reluctant duties as First Minister of the Empire. And yet, that month left her changed, with a much deeper understanding of organic life. Looking back on it, she treasured the experience, which had helped her better care for Hari.
Still, Dors had never expected to see Panucopia again. Until receiving the summons for a rendezvous.
I have a gift for you, the message said. Something you'll find useful.
It was signed with a unique identifier code that Dors recognized at once.
Lodovic the mutant.
Lodovic the renegade.
The robot who is no longer a robot.
It wasn't easy to decide, at first. Dors had duties on planet Smushell -- an easy assignment, setting up a young Trantorian couple in comfortable marriage, disguised as minor gentry on a pleasant little world, then encouraging them to have as many babies as possible. Daneel considered this important, though his reasons were, as usual, somewhat obscure. Dors only knew that Klia Asgar and her husband, Brann, were exceptionally powerful mentalics -- humans with potent psychic powers, of the sort that only a few robots like Daneel heretofore possessed. Their sudden appearance had caused many plans to change... and change again several times in the last year. It was essential that the existence of mentalic humans be kept from the galaxy's masses, just as the presence of robots in their midst had been kept secret for a thousand generations.
When the message from Lodovic came, there was no time to send for instructions from Daneel. In order to make the rendezvous, she must take the very next liner to Siwenna, where a fast ship would be waiting for her.
I offer a truce, in the name of humanity, Lodovic had sent. I promise you'll find the trip worthwhile.
Klia and Brann were safe and happy. Dors had set up defenses and precautions overwhelmingly stronger than any conceivable threat, and her robot assistants were vigilant. There was no reason not to go. Yet her decision was wrenching.
Now, with the rendezvous approaching, she flexed her hands, feeling tension in positronic receptors that had been placed in exactly the same locations as the nerves of a real woman. On the crystal viewing pane, her reflected image superimposed across the rising forestscape. She wore the same face as when she had dwelled with Hari. Her own face, as she would always think of it.
Hari Seldon still lives, Dors thought. It was part hearsay and part intuition. Although she was not one of the robots whom Daneel had given giskardian mentalic powers, Dors felt certain she would know, the instant that her human husband died. A part of her would freeze at that point, locking his image and memory in permanent, revolving circuitry. While Dors knew she might last another ten thousand years, in a sense she would always be Hari's.
"We shall be landing in just two hours, Dors Venabili."
The pilot, a lesser humaniform robot, had once been part of a heretical "calvinian" group that schemed to mess up Hari's psychohistory project. Thirty of the dissident machines were captured a year ago by Daneel's forces and dispatched to a secret repair world for conversion to accept the Zeroth Law of Robotics. But that cargo of prisoners was hijacked en route by Lodovic Trema. Now they apparently worked for him.
I don't understand why Daneel trusted Trema with that mission... or any mission. Lodovic should have been destroyed, as soon as we discovered that his brain no longer obeyed the Four Laws of Robotics.
Daneel was evidently conflicted in some way. The robot who had guided humanity for twenty thousand years seemed uncertain how to treat a mechanism that behaved more like man than machine. One who chose to act ethically, instead of having it compelled by rigorous programming.
Well, I'm not conflicted, Dors thought. Trema is dangerous. At any moment his own brand of "ethics" might persuade him to act against our cause... or to harm humans, even Hari!
According to both the First and Zeroth laws, I am compelled to act.
The chain of reasoning was logical, impeccable. Yet, in her case every decision came accompanied by simulated emotions, so realistic that Daneel said he couldn't tell them from human. Anyone observing Dors right now would see her face crossed by steely resolve to protect and serve, no matter what it cost.
Once upon a time, it had taken 140 secretaries to handle all of Hari's mail. Now few remembered he had been First Minister of the Empire. Even his more recent notoriety as "Raven" Seldon, prophet of doom, had surged past the public gaze with fashionable fickleness as reporters moved on to other stories. Ever since his trial ended, with the Commission of Public Safety decreeing exile on Terminus for Hari's followers, the flow of messages began drying up. Now only half a dozen memorandums waited on the wall monitor, when Kers brought him back from their daily stroll.
First, Hari scanned the weekly Plan Report from Gaal Dornick, who still dictated it personally, as a gesture of reverence for the father of psychohistory. Gaal's broad features were still youthful, with an expression of jovial honesty that could put anyone at ease -- even though he now helped lead the most important human conspiracy in ten thousand years.
"Right now our biggest headache appears to be the migration itself. It seems that some members of the Encyclopedia Project aren't happy about being banished from Trantor all the way to the farthest corner of the known universe!"
Dornick chuckled, though with a tone of weariness.
"Of course we expected this, and planned for it. Commissioner Linge Chen has assigned the Special Police to prevent desertions. And our own mentalics are helping prod the 'volunteers' to depart on their assigned ships. But it's hard keeping track of over a hundred thousand people. Hari, you couldn't count the petty aggravations!"
Gaal ruffled papers as he changed the subject.
"Your grand-daughter sends her love from Star's End. Wanda reports that new mentalic colony seems to be settling down. It's a relief to have most of them off Trantor, at last. They were an unstable element. Now only the most trustworthy are left here in the city, and those are proving invaluable during preparations. So, we seem to have matters well in hand --"
Indeed. Hari scanned the accompanying appendix of psychohistorical symbols, attached to Gaal's message, and saw that they fit the Plan nicely. Dornick and Wanda and the other members of the Fifty knew their jobs well.
After all, Hari had trained them.
He did not have to consult his personal copy of the Prime Radiant to know what must happen next. Soon, agents would be dispatched toward Anacreon and Smyrno, to ignite a smoldering process of secession in those remote provinces, setting the stage for the Foundation's initial set of crises... the first of many leading, eventually, to a new and better civilization.
Of course the irony did not escape Hari -- that he had spent his time as First Minister of the Empire smothering revolutions, and making sure that his successors would continue quashing all so-called "chaos worlds," whenever those raging social upheavals threatened the human-social equilibrium. But these new rebellions that his followers must foment at the Periphery would be different. Led by ambitious local gentry, seeking to augment their own royal grandeur, these insurrections would be classical in every way, fitting the equations with smooth precision.
All according to the Plan.
Most of Hari's other mail was routine. He discarded one invitation to the annual reception for emeritus faculty members of Streeling University... and another to the Emperor's Exhibition of new artworks created by "geniuses" of the Eccentric Order. One of the Fifty would attend that gathering, to measure levels of decadence shown by the Empire's artistic caste. But that was just a matter of calibrating what they already knew -- that true creativity was declining to new historical lows. Hari was senior enough to refuse the honor. And he did.
Next came a reminder to pay his guild dues, as an Exalted member of the Meritocratic Order -- yet another duty he'd rather neglect. But there were privileges to rank, and he had no desire to become a mere citizen again, at his age. Hari gave verbal permission for the bill to be paid.
His heart beat faster when the wall display showed a letter from the Pagamant Detective Agency. He had hired the firm years ago to search for his daughter-in-law, Manella Dubanqua, and her infant daughter Bellis, who had both vanished on a refugee ship fleeing the Santanni chaos world. The planet where Raych had died. Hope briefly flared. Could they be found at last?
But no, it was a note to say the detectives were still sifting lost-ship reports and questioning travelers along the Kalgan-Siwenna corridor, where the Arcadia VII had last been spotted. They would continue the inquiry... unless Hari had finally decided to give up?
His jaw clenched. No. Hari's will established a trust fund to keep them searching after he was gone.
Of the remaining messages, two were obvious crank letters, sent by amateur mathematicians on far-off worlds who claimed to have independently discovered basic principles of psychohistory. Hari had ordered the mail-monitor to keep showing such missives, because some were amusing. Also, once or twice a year, a letter hinted at true talent, a latent spark of brilliance that had somehow flared on some distant world, without yet being quenched among the galaxy's quadrillion dull embers. Several members of the Fifty had come to his attention in this way. Especially his greatest colleague, Yugo Amaryl, who deserved credit as co-founder of psychohistory. Yugo's rise from humble beginnings to the heights of mathematical genius reinforced Hari's belief that any future society should be based on open social mobility, encouraging individuals to rise according to their ability. So he always gave these messages at least a cursory look.
This time, one snared his attention.
-- I seem to have found correlations between your psych-history technique and the mathematical models used in forecasting patterns in the flow of spacio-molecular currents in deep space! This, in turn, corresponds uncannily with the distribution of soil types on planets sampled across a wide range of galactic locales. I thought you might be interested in discussing this in person. If so, please indicate by.--
Hari barked a laugh, making Kers Kantun glance over from the kitchen. This certainly was a cute one, all right! He scanned rows of mathematical symbols, finding the approach amateurish, if primly accurate and sincere. Not a kook, then. A well-meaning aficionado, compensating for poor talent with strangely original ideas. He ordered this letter sent to the juniormost member of the Fifty, instructing that it be answered with gentle courtesy -- a knack that young Saha Lorwinth ought to learn, if she was going to be one of the secret rulers of human destiny.
With a sigh, he turned his wheelchair away from the wall monitor, toward his shielded private study. Pulling Daneel's gift from his robe, he laid it on the desk, in a slot specially made to read the ancient relic. The readout screen rippled with two-dimensional images and archaic letters that the computer translated for him.
A Child's Book of Knowledge
Britannica Publishing Company
New Tokyo, Bayleyworld, 2757 c.e.
The info-store in front of him was highly illegal, but that would hardly stop Hari Seldon, who had once ordered the revival of those ancient simulated beings, Joan-of-Arc and Voltaire, from another half-melted archive. That act wound up plunging parts of Trantor into chaos when the pair of sims escaped their programmed bonds to run wild through the planet's data corridors. In fact, the whole episode ended rather well for Hari, though not for the citizens of Junin or Sark. Anyway, he felt little compunction over breaking the Archives Law once again.
Close to twenty thousand years ago. He pondered its publication date, just as awed as the first time he'd activated Daneel's gift. This may have been written for children of that age, but it holds more of our deep history than all of today's Imperial scholars could pool together.
It had taken Hari half a year to peruse and get a feel for the sweep of early human existence, which began on distant Earth, on a continent called Africa, when a race of clever apes first stood upright and blinked with dull curiosity at the stars.
So many words emerged from that little stone cube. Some were already familiar, having come down to the present in murky form, through oral tales and traditions --
The Spacer Worlds
Oddly enough, some fairy tales seemed to have survived virtually unchanged after two hundred centuries. Popular favorites like Pinocchio... and Frankenstein... were apparently far older than anyone imagined.
Other items in the archive Hari had first heard of just a few decades ago, when they were mentioned by the ancient sims, Voltaire and Joan.
But far greater was the list of things Hari never had an inkling of, until he first activated this little book. Facts about the human past that had only been known by Daneel Olivaw and other robots. People and places that once rang with vital import for all humanity.
The Empire of Brazil
And everything from the limestone caves of Lascaux to the steel caves where Earthlings cowered in the twenty-sixth century.
Especially humbling to Hari had been one short essay about an ancient shaman named Karl Marx, whose crude incantations bore no similarity to psychohistory, except the blithe confidence that believers invested in their precious model of human nature. Marxists, too, once thought they had reduced history to basic scientific principles.
Of course, we know better. We Seldonists.
Hari smiled at the irony.
Ostensibly, Daneel Olivaw had presented Hari with this relic for a simple reason -- to give him a task. Something to occupy his mind during these final months before his frail body finally gave out. Although the brain had gone too brittle to help Gaal Dornick and the Fifty, he could still handle a simple psychohistorical project -- fitting a few millennia of data from a single world into the overall Plan. Tabulating Earth's early history might help extend the baselines -- the boundary conditions -- of the Prime Radiant by a decimal place or two.
Anyway, it gave Hari a way to keep feeling useful.
I thought this would also help answer my deepest questions, he pondered. Alas, the chief result had only been to tease his curiosity. It seems that Earth itself went through several periods as a "chaos world." One of those episodes spawned Daneel's kind. A time when humaniform robots like Dors were invented.
A tremor shook Hari's left hand, provoking worry that he was about to suffer another attack... until the trembling finally passed.
Daneel had better come soon, or else I'll never get the explanations that I've earned, doing his bidding all these years!
Kers brought him dinner, a sampling of Mycogenian delicacies that Hari barely tasted. His attention was immersed in A Child's Book of Knowledge, a chapter telling about the great migration -- when Earth's vast population strove to flee a world that was fast growing uninhabitable for some mysterious reason. Through heroic effort, nearly a billion people made it off-planet in time, streaking outward in crude hyperships to establish colonies throughout Sirius Sector.
By the time this archive was published, the editors of A Child's Book of Knowledge could only guess how many worlds had been settled. Reports from the frontier told of wars among human subcultures. And some rumors were even more strange. Space-ghost legends. Tales of mysterious explosions in the night, vast and worrisome, sparkling just beyond the forward wave of human exploration.
A process of dissolution had begun, when humanity's remote portions would lose contact. A long dark age of hard struggles and petty squabbles would soon commence, when memories would fade as barbarism swallowed countless minor kingdoms -- until peace finally returned to the human universe. A peace brought by the dynamic and rising Trantorian Empire.
Peering across that vast gulf, Hari felt struck by something odd.
If this archive was meant for youngsters -- it shows that our ancestors weren't idiots.
Of course Hari had been reading much more challenging tomes by age six. But this "children's book" would have gone over the heads of nearly all his peers on Helicon. The ancients weren't dummies. And yet, their civilization dissolved into madness and amnesia.
So far, the psychohistorical equations did not offer any help. Hari probed the archive for explanations. But he had a lurking suspicion that answers -- real answers -- would have to be found elsewhere.
Ten minutes before landing on Panucopia, Dors retreated to her shielded cabin. She reached into her shirt and unfolded a piece of dark fabric. It lay on the small table, creaseless and passive, until her positronic brain sent a coded microwave burst. Then the surface flickered and a human face suddenly shimmered to life, resembling a young woman with close-cropped hair, stern-visaged and experienced beyond her apparent years. Blue eyes scanned Dors, evaluating, before the image finally spoke.
"Months have passed since you last summoned me, Dors Venabili. Does my presence make you so uncomfortable?"
"You are a synthetically-resurrected human sim, Joan, and therefore contraband. Against the law."
"Against human law. But angels may see what men cannot."
"I've told you before, I'm a robot, not an angel."
The youthful figure shrugged. Links of chain armor rustled.
"You are immortal, Dors. You think of nothing but service to fallen humanity, restoring opportunities that have been thrown away by obstinate men and women. You are the embodiment of faith in ultimate redemption. All of that seems to support my interpretation."
"But my faith is not the same as yours."
The ersatz Joan of Arc smiled.
"That would have mattered to me earlier, when I was first revived -- or artificially simulated -- into this strange new era. But the time I spent linked to Voltaire's sim changed me. Not as much as he hoped! But enough to learn a certain amount of prag-mat-ism."
She enunciated the final word with a soft grimace.
"My beloved France is now a poisoned wasteland on a ruined world, and Christianity is long forgotten, so I will settle for the closest thing.
"After getting to know Daneel Olivaw, I came to recognize a true apostle of chaste goodness and saintly self-sacrifice. His followers wield righteousness, for the sake of countless suffering human souls.
"And so I ask, dear angel, what can I do for you?"
Dors pondered. This was just one copy of the Joan sim. Millions had been dispersed into the interstellar medium -- along with just as many Voltaires and a collection of ancient meme-creatures -- to be blown out of the galaxy by supernova winds, as part of a deal that Hari struck forty years earlier to get the cybernetic entities away from Trantor. Until they were successfully banished, the software beings could have become a wild card in human affairs, potentially spoiling the Seldon Plan.
Despite all that effort to get rid of them, a few duplicates remained "stuck" in the real world. Though she took precautions to keep this one isolated, Dors felt unavoidable sympathy for Joan. Anyway, the approaching rendezvous with Lodovic created an overwhelming need to talk to somebody.
Maybe it's from all those years when I could tell everything to Hari. The one man in the cosmos who knew all about robots and considered us his closest friends. For a few brief decades I got used to the idea of consulting a human. It felt natural and right.
I know Joan is no more human than I am. But she feels and acts so much like one! So filled with conflicts, yet so tempestuously sure of her opinions.
Dors admitted, part of her attraction might come from envy. Joan had no body, no physical sensation. No power in the real world. Still, she would always consider herself a passionate, authentic woman.
"I face a quandary of duty," Dors finally told the sim. "An enemy has invited me to a meeting."
"Ah," Joan nodded. "A parley-of-war. And you fear it is a trap?"
"I know it's a trap. He's offered me a 'gift.' One that I has to be dangerous. Lodovic wants to snare me in some way."
"A test of faith!" Joan clapped her hands. "Of course, I am familiar with such. My years entwined with Voltaire exposed me to many.
"In that case, the answer to your question is obvious, Dors."
"But you haven't heard any details!"
"I don't have to. You must confront this challenge. Set forth and prevail over your doubts.
"Go, sweet angel, and trust your faith in God."
Dors shook her head.
"I told you before --"
But the sim raised a hand before Dors could finish, cutting her off.
"Yes, of course. The God I worship is only a superstition.
"In that case, dear robot... go forth and trust your faith in the Zeroth Law of Robotics."
Hari chose to avoid the Shoufeen groves during their next outing. Instead, he let Kers Kantun guide him to one of the ornate Imperial gardens that now lay open to visitors -- a generous concession by the new figurehead on the throne, Emperor Semrin, lately installed by the Commission for Public Safety.
Normally, five small corners of the palace grounds, just a few thousand acres each, were set aside for use by each social caste -- Citizens, Eccentrics, Bureaucrats, Meritocrats and Gentry -- but Semrin had used his limited authority to open more than half the vast tract, currying public favor by letting in folk from every class.
Of course, most Trantor natives would rather have their eyelashes yanked out than go sniffing flowers beneath a naked sun. They preferred their warm steel caverns. But the planet also had an immense transitory population consisting of merchants, diplomats, cultural emissaries and tourists -- plus a veritable army of Greys, young members of the bureaucratic order, briefly assigned to the imperial world for training and intense clerical service. Most of these came from planets where clouds still moved across open skies, and rain rolled down green-swathed mountains to a sea. They were the ones most grateful for Semrin's largesse. Each day, hundreds of miles of paths thronged with visitors, at first nervously agog at the richly manicured beauty, but then gradually making themselves at home.
It's a clever political move, but Semrin may pay for it, if he isn't careful. What is given cannot easily be taken back.
Of course such minor perturbations would hardly show up as blips in the psychohistorical equations. It hardly even mattered which monarch happened to reign. The fall of the Empire had a ponderous momentum that could only be nudged a little, by those who knew exactly how. Everyone else was simply doomed to go along for the ride.
For the most part, Hari enjoyed the open expanses and never-ending variety of the palace grounds. Alas, they also reminded him of poor Gruber -- the gardener who had only wanted to tend his humble flower beds, yet found himself driven by desperation to become an imperial assassin.
That was long ago, Hari thought. Gruber is now dust, along with Emperor Cleon.
And I will join them soon.
Rolling along a path they had never visited before, Hari and Kers abruptly confronted a fractal garden, where special variants of lichen-like shrubbery were programmed to grow and then retract with intricate, minutely-branching abandon. It was an old art form, but he had seldom seen it so well executed. Color hues varied subtly, depending on sun angle and the shape of nearby shadows. The resulting maze of twisting gyre-configurations was a tumult of labyrinthine convolution, never the same from moment to moment.
Most passersby appreciated the display with uncomprehending awe, before strolling on to the next Imperial wonder. But Hari signaled Kers to stop there while his eyes darted left and right, drawn by an inherent challenge. This complexity was nothing like the riotous chaos of the Shoufeen Woods. Hari quickly recognized the basic pattern-generating system. This organic pseudo-lichen was programmed to react according to fractional derivatives based on a sequence of Fiquarnn-Julia transforms. That much a child could see. But it only told part of the story. Squinting, Hari soon realized that holes kept appearing in the pattern, causing retreat and recession at semirandom intervals.
Predation, he realized. There must be a virus or some other parasite at work, assigned to degrade the lichen under certain conditions. This not only creates interesting secondary patterns. It's necessary for the system's overall health for it to experience die-back and renewal!
Soon, Hari saw that more than one kind of predator had to be at work. In fact, a microecosystem must be involved... all formatted for the purpose of art.
His head began to fill, swiftly tracing the algorithms used by the virtuoso gardener. Oh, it wasn't genius-level math, by any means. Nevertheless, to combine it with organic engineering in this way showed not only grace and originality, but a sense of humor, as well. Hari nearly chuckled...
Until he noticed them.
Holes that endured.
Here. And over there. And several more places. Patches of open space where lichens never ventured, for no apparent reason. There was light, and a fine nutrient mist. Tendrils kept probing toward the empty spots... then just happened to turn away, toward some other opportunity, each and every time.
Nor was that the only apparent strangeness. Over there! A place where living matter writhed and twisted, but always returned to the same shade of deep blue, every eight seconds or so. Soon, Hari counted at least a dozen anomalies that he could not explain. They fit no clear mathematical profile. And yet, they persisted.
He breathed a sigh of recognition. This was a familiar quandary -- one that had dogged him nearly all of his professional life.
They also appear in the psychohistorical equations and history books. I've managed to explain most of them. But there remain a few. Spectres that flit through the models, damping down forces that should tear all our fine theoretical paradigms apart.
Each time I get close... they vanish from my grasp.
It was an old frustration, brought to mind by a silly work of garden topiary, filling his mouth with the taste of failure. Unbidden, and much to his surprise, tears welled in Hari's eyes. Their liquid refraction spread across the gaudy floral display, causing it to blur and smear outward, spreading into a profusion of flickering rays....
"Why, can it be? Well, well, it is Professor Seldon! Blessings upon the goddess of synchronicity, that our paths should cross in this way!"
Hari felt Kers Kantun grow tense behind the wheelchair, as a man-shaped figure stepped into view, bobbing and bowing with excitement. That was all Hari could make out for a moment, till he drew a kerchief from his sleeve and wiped his eyes. Meanwhile, the newcomer kept babbling, as if unable to believe his good fortune.
"This is such an honor, sir! Especially since I wrote to you, not more than two days ago! Of course I cannot presume that you would have personally read my letter by now. You must surely have layers and layers of intermediaries who filter your mail."
Hari shook his head, finally making out the gray uniform of a galactic bureaucrat -- a short, rather portly individual, with a balding pate that now blushed from unaccustomed exposure to the sun.
No, I read my own mail these days."
The rotund man blinked -- his eyelids were puffy, as if from allergies.
"Truly? How marvelous! Then might I presume to ask if you recall my letter? I am Horis Antic, mid-senior imperial lector, at your service. I wrote to you concerning certain exceptional similarities between your own work -- which I am barely worthy to comment on! -- and profiles that have been observed in galactic molecular flows..."
Hari nodded, raising a hand to slow the cascading words. "Yes, I recall. Your insights were --" He sought the right phrasing. "They were innovative."
It wasn't the most diplomatic term to use. These days, many imperial citizens would find the expression insulting. But Hari could already tell that this bureaucrat had the soul of an eccentric, and would not be offended.
"Truly?" Horis Antic's chest seemed to expand by several centimeters. "Then might I presume further to give you a copy of my data set? I just happen to have one with me. You might -- at your leisure, of course! -- compare it to your marvelous models and see if my crude correlation has any real merit."
The plump man began reaching into his robe. Hari heard a low rumble from his attendant, but he restrained Kers with a subtle finger flick. After all, his own era of intrigue was done. Who nowadays would have a reason to assassinate old Hari Seldon?
While the nervous man fumbled, Hari noted that the gray uniform was well-tailored for his puffy build. From rank insignia, it appeared that Horis Antic was rather senior in his Order. He might be a Vice-Minister on some provincial world, or even a fifth or sixth-level official in the Trantorian hierarchy. Not an august personage, to be sure. (Grays seldom were.) But someone who had made himself indispensable to quite a few nobles and meritocrats, through quiet and effective competence. A thoroughbred among a class of drab administrators.
Perhaps even with a few brain cells left over, Hari thought, feeling a strange liking for the odd little man. Enough to cry out for a hobby. Something interesting to do, before he dies.
"Ah, here it is!" Antic cried eagerly, drawing forth a standard data wafer and thrusting it toward Hari.
With graceful speed, Kers snatched the wafer before Hari could raise a hand. The servant tucked it into his own pocket, for careful inspection later, before Hari would be allowed to touch it.
After blinking for a confused moment, the bureaucrat accepted this arrangement with a nod. "Well, well. I know this invasion of your solitude has been outrageously presumptuous, but there it is. Please find enough forbearance in your heart to forgive. And please do contact me if you have any questions... at my home number, of course. You'll understand that my analysis is not -- well, work-related. So it's best if my co-workers and superiors --"
Hari nodded, with a soft smile.
"Of course. But in that case, tell me -- what is your normal work? The emblem on your collar... I'm not familiar with it."
Now the blush on Antic's cheek went beyond mere sunburn. Hari detected embarrassment, as if the man wished this topic never came up.
"Ah, well... since you ask, Professor Seldon." He stood up straighter, with chin slightly upthrust. "I am a Zonal Inspector for the Imperial Soil Service. But that's all in my manuscript. And I am sure you'll see that it does correlate! All will become clear if --"
"Yes, surely." Hari raised one hand, in a standard gesture to signal the interview was over. He kept smiling though, because Horis Antic had amused and lightened his spirit. "Your ideas will receive the attention they deserve, Zonal Inspector. On this, you have my word of honor."
As soon as the man departed beyond earshot, Kers grumbled aloud.
"That meeting was no accident."
Hari barked a laugh. "Of course not! But we needn't get paranoid. The fellow's middling-high in the bureaucracy. He probably called in a favor from someone in the security services. Maybe he snooped the surveillance tapes of Linge Chen's goon squad, in order to find out where I'd be today. So what?"
Hari turned to catch his servant's eye. "I don't want you bothering Dornick or Wanda with this, do you understand, Kers? They might sic Chen's specials on that poor fellow and they'd make a real mess of him."
There was a long pause while Kers Kantun pushed Hari toward the transit station. Finally, the attendant murmured, "Yes, Professor."
Hari chuckled again, feeling invigorated for a change. This minuscule drama -- a tiny, harmless hint of skullduggery and intrigue -- seemed to bring back a scent of the old days, even if the perpetrator was just a poignant little amateur, trying to find some color in a long, gray life while the organs of Empire slowly atrophied around him.
If one abiding truth about old age never seemed to change, it was insomnia. Sleep was like an old friend who often forgot to visit, or a grandchild who dropped by rarely, only to flee again, leaving you wide-eyed and alone at night.
He could manage a few steps without help, and so Hari did not bother summoning Kers as he shuffled on frail stick-legs from bed to his desk. The suspensor chair accepted him, adjusting sensuously. In a civilization that creaks with age, some technologies still thrive, he pondered gratefully.
Unfortunately, sleeplessness was not the same thing as alertness. So, for some time he just sat there, thoughts drifting back to the other end of his life, remembering.
There had been a teacher once... at the boarding school on Helicon... back when his mathematical genius was beginning to stretch its wings. Seven decades later, he still recalled her unwavering kindness. Something reliable and steady during a childhood that had rocked with sudden traumas and petty oppressions. People can be predictable, she had taught young Hari. If you work out their needs and desires. Under her guidance, logic became his foundation, his support against a universe filled with uncertainty. If you understand the forces that drive people, you will never be taken by surprise.
That teacher had been dark, plump and matronly. Yet, for some reason she merged in recollection with the other important love of his life -- Dors.
Sleek and tall. Skin like kyrt-silk, even when she had to "age" outwardly, in order to keep up public appearances as his wife. Always ready with hearty laughter, and yet defending his creative time as if it were more precious than diamonds. Guarding his happiness more fiercely than her own life.
Hari's fingers stretched, out of habit, starting to reach for her hand. It had always been there. Always...
He sighed, letting both arms sag onto his lap. Well, how many men get to have a wife who was designed from scratch, just for him? Knowing that he had been luckier than multitudes helped take away some of the sting of loneliness. A little.
There had been a promise. He would see her again. Or was that something he had dreamed?
Finally, Hari had enough of self-pity. Work. That would be the best balm. His subconscious must have been busy during this evening's brief slumber. He could tell because something itched just beneath his scalp, in a place that only mathematics had ever been able to reach. Perhaps it had to do with that clever lichen-artwork in the gardens, today.
"Display on," he said, and watched the computer spread a gorgeous panorama across one side of the room.
"Ah," he said. He must have been working on the tech-flow problem before going to bed -- a nagging little detail that the Plan still lacked, having to do with which zones and stellar clusters might keep residual scientific capabilities during the coming dark age, after the Empire fell. These locales might become trouble spots when the Foundation's expansion approached the galactic midpoint.
Of course, that's more than five hundred years from now. Wanda and Stettin and the Fifty think our plan will still be operational by then, but I don't.
Hari rubbed his eyes and leaned a little forward, tracing patterns which only roughly followed the arcs of well-known spiral arms. This particular image seemed wrong somehow. Familiar, and yet...
With a gasp, he suddenly remembered. This wasn't the tech-flow problem! Before going to bed, he had slipped in the datawafer given him by the little bureaucrat, that Antic fellow, intending to make a comment or two before sending it back with a note of encouragement.
Probably give him the thrill of his life, Hari had thought, just before his chin fell to his chest. He vaguely recalled Kers putting him to bed after that.
Now he stared again at the display, scanning the indicated flow patterns and symbolic references. The closer he looked, the more he realized two things.
First, Horis Antic was no undiscovered savant. The math was pedestrian, and most of it blatantly cribbed from a few popularized accounts of Hari's early work.
Second, the patterns were eerily like something he had seen just the other day --
"Computer!" He shouted. "Call up the galaxy-wide chart of chaos worlds!"
Next to Antic's simplistic model, there suddenly appeared a vastly more sophisticated rendering. A depiction that showed the location and intensity of dangerous social disruptions during the last couple of centuries. "Chaos" outbreaks used to be rare, back in the old days of the Empire. But in recent generations they had been growing ever more severe. The so-called Seldon Law, enacted during his tenure as First Minister, helped keep the lid on things for a while, maintaining galaxy-wide peace. But increasing numbers of chaos worlds offered just one more symptom that civilization could no longer hold. Things were falling apart.
Habitually, his eyes touched several past disasters, of particular note.
Sark, where conceited "experts" once revived the Joan and Voltaire sims from an ancient, half burned archive, bragging about the wonders that their brave new society would reveal... until it collapsed around them.
Madder Loss, whose prideful flare threatened to ignite chaos across the entire galaxy, before it abruptly sputtered out.
And Santanni... where Raych died, amid riots, rebellion, and horrid violence.
With a dry mouth, Hari ordered --
"Superimpose both of these displays. Do a simple correlative enhancement, type six. Show commonalties."
The two images moved toward each other, merging and transforming as the computer measured and emphasized similarities. In moments, the verdict could be seen in symbols, swirling around the galactic wheel.
A fifteen percent causation-correlation... between the appearance of chaos worlds and... and ...
Hari blinked. He could not even remember what silliness the bureaucrat had been jabbering about. Something about molecules in space? Different kinds of dirt?
He almost shouted for an immediate visiphone link, waking Horis Antic, partly in revenge for ruining Hari's own sleep.
Gripping the arms of his hair, he reconsidered, remembering what Dors had taught him, when they lived together as husband and wife.
"Don't blurt the first thing that comes to mind, Hari. Nor always go charging ahead. Those traits may have served males well, back when they roamed some jungle, like primitive pans. But you are an imperial professor! Always fool them into thinking you're dignified."
"When in fact I'm --"
"A great big ape!" Dors had laughed, rubbing against him. "My ape. My wonderful human."
With that poignant memory, he recovered some calm. Enough to wait a while for answers.
At least until morning.
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