Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Retail, #Personal
For Isaac and Janet
The centuries recede, and the legend of Hari Seldon grows: the brilliant man, wise man, sad man who charted the course of the human future in the old Empire. But revisionist views prosper, and cannot always be easily dismissed. To understand Seldon, we are sometimes tempted to refer to apocrypha, myths, even fairy tales from those distant times. We are frustrated by the contradictions of incomplete documents and what amount to hagiographies.
This we know without reference to the revisionists: that Seldon was brilliant, Seldon was key. But Seldon was neither saint nor divinely inspired prophet, and of course, he did not act alone. The most pervasive myths involve…
117th Edition, 1054 F.E.
Hari Seldon stood in slippered feet and a thick green scholar’s robe on the enclosed parapet of an upperside maintenance tower, looking from an altitude of two hundred meters over the dark aluminum and steel surface of Trantor. The sky was quite clear over this Sector tonight, only a few vague clouds scudding before nacreous billows and sheets of stars like ghostly fire.
Beneath this spectacle, and beyond the ranks of gently curving domes, obscured and softened by night, lay a naked ocean, its floating aluminum covers pulled aside across hundreds of thousands of hectares. The revealed sea glowed faintly, as if in response to the sky. He could not remember the name of this sea: Peace, or Dream, or Sleep. All the hidden oceans of Trantor had such ancient names, nursery names to
soothe. The heart of the Empire needed soothing as much as Hari; soothing, not sooth.
Warm sweet air swirled around his head and shoulders from a vent in the wall behind him. Hari had discovered that the air here was the purest of any in Streeling, perhaps because it was drawn directly from outside. The temperature beyond the plastic window registered at two degrees, a chill he would well remember from his one misadventure upperside, decades before.
He had spent so much of his life enclosed, insulated from the chill as well as the freshness, the newness, much as the numbers and equations of psychohistory insulated him from the harsh reality of individual lives.
How can the surgeon work efficiently and still feel the pain of the carved flesh?
In a real sense, the patient was already dead. Trantor, the political center of the Galaxy, had died decades, perhaps centuries before, and was only now obviously falling to rot. While Hari’s brief personal flame of self would flicker out long before the Empire’s embers powdered to ash, through the equations of the Project he could see clearly the rigor of morbidity, the stiffening face of the Empire’s corpse.
This awful vision had made him perversely famous, and his theories known throughout Trantor, and in many parts of the Galaxy. He was called “Raven” Seldon, harbinger of nightmare doom.
The rot would last five more centuries, a simple and rapid deflation on the time-scales of Hari’s broadest equations…Social skin collapsing, then melting away over the steel bones of Trantor’s Sectors and municipalities…
How many human tales would fill that collapse! An empire, unlike a corpse, continues to feel pain after death. On the scale of the most minute and least reliable equations, sparkling within the displays of his powerful Prime Radiant, Hari could almost imagine a million billion faces blurred together in an immense calculus to fill the area beneath the Empire’s declining curve.
Acceleration of decay marked by the loci of every human story, almost as many as the points on a plane…Beyond understanding, without psychohistory.
It was his hope to foster a rebirth of something better and more durable than the Empire, and he was close to success…according to the equations.
Yet still his most frequent emotion these days was cold regret. To live in a bright and youthful period, the Empire at its most glorious, stable and prosperous—that would be worth all his eminence and accomplishment!
To have returned to him the company of his adopted son Raych, and Dors, mysterious and lovely Dors Venabili, who harbored within tailored flesh and secret steel the passion and devotion of any ten heroes…For their return alone he would multiply geometrically the signs of his own decay, aching limbs and balky bowels and blurred eyesight.
This night, however, Hari was close to peace. His bones did not ache much. He did not feel the worms of grief so sharply. He could actually relax and look forward to an end to this labor.
The pressures pushing him were coming to a hard center. His trial would begin within a month. He knew its outcome with reasonable certainty. This was the Cusp Time. All that he had lived and worked for would be realized soon, his plans moving on to their next step—and to his exit. Conclusions within growth, stops within the flow.
He had an appointment soon to meet with young Gaal Dornick, a significant figure in his plans. Mathematically, Dornick was far from being a stranger; yet they had not met before.
And Hari believed he had seen Daneel once again, though he was not sure. Daneel would not have wanted him to be sure; but perhaps Daneel wanted him to suspect.
So much of what passed for history on Trantor now reeked of misery. In statecraft, after all, confusion
misery—and sometimes misery was a necessity. Hari knew that Daneel still had-much
work to do, in secret; but Hari would never—
never—tell any other human. Daneel had made sure of that. And for that reason Hari could never speak the complete truth about Dors, the true tale of the odd and virtually perfect relationship he had had with a woman who was not a woman, not even human, yet friend and lover.
Hari, in his weariness, resisted but could not suppress a sentimental sadness. Age was tainted and the old were haunted by the loss of lovers and friends. How grand it would be if he could visit with Daneel again! Easy to see, in his mind’s eye, how that visit would go: after the joy of reunion, Hari would vent some of his anger at the restrictions and demands Daneel had placed upon him. The best of friends, the most compelling of taskmasters.
Hari blinked and focused on the view beyond the window. He was far too prone these days to drift off into reverie.
The ocean’s beautiful glow was itself decay; a riot of bioluminescent algae run rampant for almost four years now, killing off the crops of the oxygen farms, making the air slightly stale even in the chill of upperside. No threat of suffocation yet, but for how much longer?
The Emperor’s adjutants and protectors and spokesmen had announced imminent victory over the beautiful plague of algae only a few days before, seeding the ocean with tailored phages to control the bloom. The ocean did seem darker tonight, but perhaps the uncharacteristically clear sky dimmed it by comparison.
Death can be both harsh and lovely, Hari thought. Sleep, Dream, Peace.
Halfway across the Galaxy, Lodovik Trema traveled in the depths of an Imperial astrophysical survey vessel, the ship’s only passenger. He sat alone in the comfort of the officers’ lounge, watching a lightly plotted entertainment with apparent
enjoyment. The ship’s crew, carefully selected from the citizen class, had stocked up on such entertainments by the thousands before launching on their missions, which might take them away from civilized ports for months. Their officers and captain, more often than not from the baronial aristocratic families, chose from a variety of less populist bookfilms.
Lodovik Trema in appearance was forty or forty-five, stout but not corpulent, with a pleasantly ugly face and great strong sausage-fingered hands. One eye seemed fixed skyward, and his large lips turned down as if he were perpetually inclined toward pessimism or at best bland neutrality. Where he had hair, he wore it in a short, even cut; his forehead was high and innocent of wrinkles, which gave his face a younger aspect belied by the lines around his mouth and eyes.
Though Lodovik represented the highest Imperial authority, he had come to be well liked by the captain and crew; his dry statements of purpose or fact seemed to conceal a gentle and observant wit, and he never said too much, though sometimes he could be accused of saying too little.
Outside the ship’s hull, the geometric fistula of hyperspace through which the ship navigated during its Jumps was beyond complete visualization, even for the ship’s computers. Both humans and machines, slaves of status space-time, simply bided their personal times until the pre-set emergence.
Lodovik had always preferred the quicker—though sometimes no less harrowing—networks of wormholes, but those connections had been neglected dangerously, and in the past few decades many had collapsed like unshored subway tunnels, in some cases sucking in transit stations and waiting passengers…They were seldom used now.
Captain Kartas Tolk entered the lounge and stood for a moment behind Lodovik’s seat. The rest of the crew busily tended the machines that watched the machines that kept the ship whole during the Jumps.
Tolk was tall, his head capped by woolly white-blond hair,
with ashy brown skin and a patrician air not uncommon for native-born Sarossans. Lodovik glanced over his shoulder and nodded a greeting. “Two more hours, after our last Jump,” Captain Tolk said. “We should be on schedule.”
“Good,” said Lodovik. “I’m eager to get to work. Where will we land?”
“At Sarossa Major, the capital. That’s where the records you seek are stored. Then, as ordered, we remove as many favored families on the Emperor’s list as we can. The ship will be very crowded.”
“I can imagine.”
“We have perhaps seven days before the shock front hits the outskirts of the system. Then, only eight hours before it engulfs Sarossa.”
“Too close for comfort.”
“The close shave of Imperial incompetence and misdirection,” Tolk said, with no attempt to conceal his bitterness. “Imperial scientists knew that the Kale’s star was coring two years ago.”
“The information provided by Sarossan scientists was far from accurate,” Lodovik said.
Tolk shrugged; no sense denying it. Blame enough for all to share. Kale’s star had gone supernova last year; its explosion had been observed by telepresence nine months later, and in the time since…Much politicking, reallocation of scant resources, then, this pitifully inadequate mission.
The captain had the misfortune of being sent to watch his planet die, saving little but Imperial records and a few privileged families.
“In the best days,” Tolk said, “the Imperial Navy could have constructed shields to save at least a third of the planet’s population. We could have marshaled fleets of immigration ships to evacuate millions, even billions…Sufficient to rebuild, to keep a world’s character intact. A glorious world, if I may say so, even now.”
“So I’ve heard,” Lodovik said softly. “We will do our best, dear Captain, though that can be only a dry and hollow satisfaction.”
Tolk’s lips twisted. “I do not blame you, personally,” he said. “You have been sympathetic and honest and, above all, efficient. Quite different from the usual in the Commission offices. The crew regards you as a friend among scoundrels.”
Lodovik shook his head in warning. “Even simple complaints against the Empire can be dangerous,” he said. “Best not to trust me too much.”
The ship shuddered slightly and a small bell rang in the room. Tolk closed his eyes and gripped the back of the chair automatically. Lodovik simply faced forward.
“The last Jump,” the captain said. He looked at Lodovik. “I trust you well enough, councilor, but I trust my skills more. Neither the Emperor nor Linge Chen can afford to lose men of my qualifications. I still know how to repair parts of our drives should they fail. Few captains on any ship can boast of that now.”
Lodovik nodded; simple truth, but not very good armor. “The craft of best using and not abusing essential human resources may also be a lost art, Captain. Fair warning.”
Tolk made a wry face. “Point taken.” He turned to leave, then heard something unusual. He glanced over his shoulder at Lodovik. “Did you feel something?”
The ship suddenly vibrated again, this time with a high-pitched tensile grind that set their teeth on edge. Lodovik frowned. “I felt
What was it?”
The captain cocked his head, listening to a remote voice buzzing in his ear. “Some instability, an irregularity in the last Jump,” he said. “Not unknown as we draw close to a stellar mass. Perhaps you should return to your cabin.”
Lodovik shut down the lounge projectors and rose. He smiled at Captain Tolk and clapped him on the shoulder. “Of any in the Emperor’s service, I would be most willing to entrust you to steer us through the shoals. I need to study our options now anyway. Triage, Captain Tolk. Maximization of what we
can take with us, compared to what can be stored in underground vaults.”
Tolk’s face darkened, and he lowered his eyes. “My own family library, at Alos Quad, is—”
The ship’s alarms blared like huge animals in pain. Tolk raised his arms in instinctive self-protection, covering his face—
Lodovik dropped to the floor and doubled himself up with amazing dexterity—
The ship spun like a top in a fractional dimension it was never meant to navigate—
And with a sickening blur of distressed momenta and a sound like a dying behemoth, it made an unscheduled and asymmetric Jump.
The ship reappeared in the empty vastness of status geometry—normal, unstretched space. Ship’s gravity failed simultaneously.
Tolk floated a few centimeters above the floor. Lodovik uncurled and grabbed for an arm of the couch he had occupied just a few moments before. “We’re out of hyperspace,” he said.
“No question,” Tolk said. “But in the name of procreation,
Lodovik knew in an instant what the captain could not. They were being flooded with an interstellar tidal wave of neutrinos. He had never, in his centuries of existence, experienced such an onslaught. To the intricate and super sensitive pathways of his positronic brain, the neutrinos felt like a thin cloud of buzzing insects; yet they passed through the ship and its human crew like so many bits of nothing. A single neutrino, the most elusive of particles, could slip through a light-year of solid lead without being blocked. Very rarely indeed did they react with matter. Within the heart of the Kale’s supernova, however, immense quantities of matter had been compressed into neutronium, producing a neutrino for every proton, more than enough to blow away the outer shells just a year before.