Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
For Isaac and Janet
Special thanks to Janet Asimov, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Jennifer Brehl, David Barber,
and Joe Miller. And also to the millions of fans of Isaac Asimov, who will keep his
universes and characters alive for a very long time indeed.
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
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...
-Encyclopedia Galactica, 117th Edition, 1054 RE.
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,
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
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
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, Dor-nick 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 was misery-and sometimes misery was a necessity. Hari knew that Daneel
much work to do, in secret; but Hari would never-could 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
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 biolu-minescent 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
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
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 that. 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.