Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
Planch stood with hands folded before him, head lowered, and said nothing.
Sinter glared at him. “You're not happy at this news? You should be delighted. It means
you'll have an official pardon for your transgressions. You have proved invaluable. ”
“But we have not found Lodovik Trema, ” Liso whispered, barely audible.
“Give us time!” Sinter crowed. “We'll find all of them. Now-let's bring in the machine!”
“You should not drain its energies, ” Liso said, almost as if she felt pity for it.
“It's lasted thousands of years, ” Sinter said lightly, unperturbed. “It will last a few
weeks more, and that's all I need. ”
Planch stiffened and stood to one side as the broad door opened again. Another guard
entered, followed by four more, surrounding a shabbily dressed figure about Planch's
height, slim but not thin, hair ragged and face stained with dirt. Its eyes seemed flat,
listless. The guards carried high-powered stun weapons, easily capable of shorting out the
robot and frying its internal works.
“A female, ” Sinter said, “as you see. How interesting- female robots! And fully capable
sexually, I understand- examined by one of our physicians. Makes me wonder if in the past
humans actually made robots to bear children! What would the children be like, us-or them?
Biological, or mechanical? Not this one, however. Nothing besides the cosmetic and
pneumatic-not fully practical. ”
The feminine robot stood alone and silent as the guards withdrew, weapons held ready.
“If only the recent attempt on the Emperor's life had been made by a robot, ” Sinter said,
then added unctuously, “Sky forbid!”
Planch narrowed his eyes. The man's political savvy was weakening with every moment of
Vara Liso approached the robot with a worried expres-
sion. “This one is so like a human, ” she muttered. “Even now it's difficult to pick her
out from, say, you, or you, Farad. ” She pointed at Planch and then at Sinter. “She has
humanlike thoughts, even humanlike concerns. I felt something similar in the robot we
could not capture-”
“The one that got away. ” Sinter smiled broadly.
“Yes. He seemed almost human-maybe even more human than this one. ”
“Well, let us not forget they are none of them human, ” Sinter said. “What you feel is the
creative drollery of engineers thousands of years dead. ”
“The one we could not capture... ” She looked directly at Mors Planch and once again he
suppressed a shiver. “He was bulkier, not very good-looking, with a distinct character to
his face. I would have thought he was human... but for this flavor to his thoughts. He was
about the same size and shape as the shorter, bulkier robot on your tape. ”
“See? We almost had him, ” Sinter said. “Just that close. ” He pinched his fingers
together. “And we'll have him yet. Lodovik Trema and all the others. Even the tall one
whose name we do not know... ” Sinter approached the feminine robot. It wobbled slightly
on its mechanical ankles, but there came no mechanical sound from its frame.
“Do you know the name of the one I am looking for?” Sinter asked. The robot turned to face
him. Its voice emerged from parted jaws and writhing lips, a harsh croak. It spoke an old
dialect of Galactic Standard, not heard on Trantor for thousands of years, except by
scholars, just barely understandable.
“I ammm the lasssst, ” the robot said. “Abandonn-n-ned. Not funnn-n-nctional. ”
“I wonder, ” Sinter said. “Did you ever meet Hari Seldon? Or Dors Venabili, Seldon's
“I do not knn-n-now those names. ”
"Just a hunch... Unless there are billions of robots here,
something even I give no credence to ... You must make contact with each other now and
then. Must know each other."
“I do not knn-n-n-now these things.”
“Pitiful,” Sinter said. “What do you think, Planch? Surely you've heard of Seldon's
superhuman companion, the Tiger. Do you think we're looking at her now?”
Planch examined the robot more closely. “If she was a robot, and if she's still on
Trantor, or still functional, why would she allow herself to be captured?”
“Because she's a broken-down bucket of oxidation and decay!” Sinter shouted, waving his
hands and glaring at Planch. “A wreck. Garbage, to be discarded. But worth more to Çs than
any treasure on Trantor.”
He circled the robot, which seemed disinclined to watch his motions.
“I wonder what we can do to access its memories,” Sinter murmured. “And what we'll learn
when we do.”
Linge Chen allowed his servant, Kreen, to dress him in full regalia for the
judge-administrator role of Chief Commissioner. Chen had designed these robes himself, and
those of his fellow Commissioners, using elements of designs from hundreds and even
thousands of years ago. First came the self-cleaning undergarments he wore all the time,
sweet-smelling and supple, light as air; next the black cassock, hanging to his ankles and
brushing lightly at his bare feet; after that, the surplice, dazzling gold and red, and
finally the guard, a sheer mantle of dark gray cinched at the waist. On his short-cut
black hair sat a simple skullcap with two dark green ribbons hanging just behind his ears.
When Kreen had finished his adjustments, Linge Chen regarded himself in the mirror and the
imager, touched his hem
and the angle of his cap to suggest adjustments, and finally nodded approval.
Kreen stood back, chin in hand. “Most imposing.”
“That is not my purpose today, to be imposing,” Linge Chen said. “In less than an hour, I
am to appear before the Emperor in these gaudy robes, summoned without a chance to change
into more appropriate garb, and behave as if I have been caught off guard. I will be a
little confused and I will vacillate between the two impossible options given to me. My
enemy will appear to triumph, and the fate of Trantor, if not the Empire, will teeter in
Kreen smiled confidently. “I hope all goes well, sire.”
Linge Chen tightened his already thin lips and gave the merest indication of a shrug. “I
suppose that it will. Hari Seldon has said it will, claims to have proved it
mathematically. Do you believe in him, Kreen?”
“I know very little about him, sire.”
“A marvelously irritating man. Yes, well, to act my part, in the next few days, I am going
to bring an Emperor to his knees, and make him beg. Before, it has been an unpleasant duty
to step from my traditional role. This time, it will be a delight, a reward for my hard
service. I will be lancing a boil in the tissue of the Empire, and allowing a persistent
and painful lesion to drain.”
Kreen absorbed this in thoughtful silence.
Linge Chen raised his finger to his lips and gave his servant a narrow, wry smile. “Shh.
Don't tell anyone.”
Kreen shook his head slowly, with great dignity.
On Trantor, the possible varieties of human sexual interaction had long ago been
exhausted; and with each new generation, the exhaustion had been forgotten, and the cycle
started all over again. It was necessary for youths to be ignorant of what had gone
before, for the passions of procreation to be refreshed. Even those who had seen too much
of life, too much of the more brutal kinds of sexual variety, could rekindle a passionate
innocence in the face of something like love. And that was what Klia Asgar felt she was
experiencing-something like love. She was not yet willing to call it love, but with each
day, each hour available to be with Brann, the weakness increased and her resistance
As a girl, she had been a vigorous tease at times. She knew she was at least attractive
enough that most men would not mind having sex with her, and she played with that
attraction. Behind this had lurked a sense of confusion, a sense that she was not yet
ready, not yet prepared for the emotional consequences. For Klia Asgar, when (and if) she
ever fell in love, knew she would fall hard indeed, and that she would want it to be
So in those youthful moments when she thought she might actually feel something for a
potential lover, she had put on the brakes with especial swiftness and even some
unconscious cruelty. There had been few successful suitors to her physical affections-two,
in fact, and they had been, of course, not very satisfactory.
For a time she had thought there was something wrong with her, that she might never let
herself go completely.
Brann was proving otherwise. Her attraction to him was too strong to resist. At times he
seemed carelessly unaware of her regard, and at other times, resistive in his own way, and
for his own, perhaps similar reasons.
Now he stole down the hallway of the old warehouse. She lay in her room, feeling him
coming, tensing and then making herself relax. She knew he was not forcing himself upon
her, not increasing her affections artificially-at least, she thought she knew. The
damnable thing about all this was the uncertainty around every corner!
She heard him tapping lightly on the doorframe.
“Come in, ” she whispered.
He made no sound as he entered. He seemed to fill the room with chest and shoulders and
arms, a massive presence. The room was dark, but he found her cot easily enough, and knelt
“How are you?” he asked, voice soft as a sigh from a ventilation duct.
“Fine, ” she said. “Did they see you?”
“I'm sure they know, ” he said. “They're not very good chaperones. But you wanted me to
“I didn't say a thing, ” Klia responded, and her voice strained a little to find the
correct mix of admonishment and encouragement.
“Then we don't need to whisper, do we? They're robots. Maybe they don't even know about...
“What people do. ”
“You mean, sex. ”
“They must know, ” Klia said. “They seem to know everything. ”
“I don't want to be quiet, ” Brann said. “I want to shout and pound and jump all over-”
“The room?” Klia suggested, and drew herself up on the cot, playacting at being demure.
“Yeah. To show you what I feel. ”
“I can hear you. Feel you. Feeling something... But it doesn't seem to be the same flavor
as what I feel. ”
“Nothing is the same flavor for people. Everybody tastes different inside, the way we
taste them-hear them. ”
“Why don't the words exist for what we can do?” Klia asked.
“Because we haven't been around for very long, ” Brann said. “And someone like you, maybe
never before. ”
Klia reached out to touch him, still his lips. “I feel like a kitten next to you, ” she
“You jerk me around like you had me on a chain, ” Brann said. “I've never known anyone
like you. I thought for a while you hated me, but I still felt you calling me-inside. With
a taste like honey and fruit. ”
“Do I really taste like that, in my head?”
“When you think of me, you do, ” Brann said. “I can't read you clearly-”
“Nor I you, my love, ” Klia said, unconsciously falling into the formal courting cadence
of Dahl's dialect.
This seemed to stun Brann. He let out a low moan and leaned forward, nuzzling her neck.
“No woman has ever talked like that to me, ” he murmured, and she held his head and
wrapped one arm around his shoulders, feeling his chest against her drawn-up legs. She let
her legs relax, and he pushed onto the cot to lie beside her. There was not room for both
of them, so he lifted her gently up onto him. They were still fully clothed, but in the
posture of making love, and she felt a lightness in her head, as if all her blood were
draining elsewhere. Perhaps it was. Her thighs and breasts felt full to bursting.
“Woman must be stupid, then, ” Klia said.
“I'm so big and awkward. If they don't hear me... If I don't make them feel affection for
She tensed and drew back. “You've done that?”
“Not all the way, ” he said. “Just as an experiment. But I could never follow through. ”
She knew he was telling the truth-or rather, thought she knew. Another uncertainty around
another corner! Still, she relaxed again.
“You've never tried to make me feel affection for you. ”
“Sky, no, ” Brann said. “You scare me too much. I think I'd never be able to-” And here
she felt him tensing, in the same way she had. “You're very strong, ” he finished, and
simply held her, lightly enough that she could lift up and
break from his arms if she wanted to. So intuitive, this man as tall and broad-shouldered
as the domes!
“I will never hurt you, ” Klia said. “I need you. Together, I think we might be
unstoppable. We might even be able to team up and persuade the robots. ”
“I've thought about that, ” Brann said.
“And our children... ”
Again he sucked in his breath, and she hit him on the shoulder. “Don't be a sentimental
idiot, ” she said lightly. “If we fall in love-”
“I am, ” he said.
“If we fall in love, it's going to be for life, isn't it?”
“I hope so. But nothing is ever certain in my life. ”
“Or in mine. All the more reason. So our children-”
“Children, ” Brann said, trying out the word.
“Let me finish, damn it!” Klia said, again without any sting of true anger. “Our children
may be stronger than both of us put together. ”
“How would we raise them?” Brann asked.
“First, we have to practice at making them, ” Klia said. “I think we can take off our
clothes and try that, a little. ”
“Yes, ” Brann said. She climbed down from him and stood beside the cot, doffing her shift
“Are you fertile?” he asked as he removed his own clothes.
“Not yet, ” she said. “But I can be if I want to be. Didn't your mommy tell you about
“No, ” he said. “But I learned anyway. ”
He slid back onto the cot. The cot creaked, and something cracked alarmingly.