Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
Nobody knew what the last phrase meant; it was an obscure dialect affected by the nobles
who convened the Council of Po over twelve thousand years ago. Nothing else was known
about the Council of Po, except that a constitution long since ignored had once been
Hari sniffed and turned his eyes to the Commission.
Linge Chen leaned forward slightly, acknowledging the proctor's statement, then leaned
back. He did not look at Hari or
anyone else in the courtroom. His regal bearing, Hari decided, would do credit to a
“Let these proceedings begin, ” the Chief Commissioner said in a quiet voice, delicately
melodious, sibilants emphasized ever so aristocratically.
Hari settled in with a barely audible sigh.
Klia had never been more frightened. She stood in the old dusty long chamber, listening to
the murmurs from the group at the opposite end. Brann stood three paces away, his back
stiff and shoulders hunched, as if he, too, were waiting for an ax to fall.
Finally Kallusin broke away from the group and approached them. “Come meet your
benefactor,” he said to them.
Klia shook her head and stared at the group with wide eyes.
“They won't bite,” Kallusin said with a slight smile. “They're robots.”
“So are you,” Klia said. “How can you look so human? How can you smile?” She shot her
questions at Kallusin like accusations.
“I was made to look human, and to mimic in my poor way both wit and style,” he replied.
“There were real artists in those days. But there's one who's even more of a work of art
than I am, and another who is older than either of us.”
“Plussix,” she said with a shudder.
Brann stepped to one side and shoved between her and Kallusin. Klia looked up at his bulk
with questioning eyes. Are they all robots? Is everyone on Trantor a robot-but me? Or am I
“We have to get used to all this,” Brann said. “It won't do anybody any good if you force
“Of course not, ” Kallusin said, and his smile faded, to be replaced by an alert blankness
that was neither kindly nor threatening. He turned to Klia. “It's very important that you
understand. You could help us avert a major catastrophe-a human catastrophe. ”
“Robots used to be servants, ” she said. “Like tiktoks before I was born. ”
“Yes, ” Kallusin said.
“How can they be in charge of anything?”
“Because humans rejected us, long ago, but not before a very bad problem arose among us. ”
“Who-robots? A problem among the robots?” Brann asked.
“Plussix will explain. There can be no better testimony than from Plussix. He was
functioning at the time. ”
“Did he... go wrong?” Klia asked. “Is he an Eternal?”
“Let him explain, ” Kallusin said patiently, and urged her to walk forward, toward the
Klia noticed the man they had rescued in the Agora of Vendors. He looked over his shoulder
at them and gave her a smile. He seemed friendly enough; his face was so unattractive she
wondered why anyone could have ever made a robot like him.
To fool us. To walk among us undetected.
She shivered again and wrapped her arms around herself. This room was what the woman on
the cart had been looking for-this room, and the robots inside it.
She and Brann were the only humans here.
“All right, ” she said, and drew herself together. They did not want to kill her, not yet.
And they weren't threatening her to make her do what they wanted. Not yet. Robots seemed
to be more subtle and patient than most of the humans she had known.
She looked up at Brann. “Are you human?” she asked him.
“You know I am, ” he said.
“Let's do it, then. Let's go hear what the machines have to say. ”
Plussix had not appeared to her in his actual shape for obvious reasons. He-it-was the
only robot that looked like a robot, and a rather interesting look it was-steel with a
lovely silvery-satin finish, and glowing green eyes. His limbs were slender and graceful,
their joints marked by barely perceptible fine lines that could themselves orient in
different directions-fluid and adaptable.
“You're beautiful, ” she told him grudgingly, as they stood less than three meters from
“Thank you, Mistress. ”
“How old are you?”
“I am twenty thousand years old, ” Plussix said.
Klia's heart sank. She could not find any words to express her astonishment-older than the
Empire!-so she said nothing.
“Now they'll have to kill us, ” Brann said with what he hoped was passing for a brave
grin. But his words made Klia's stomach flip and her knees wobble.
“We will not kill you, ” Plussix said. “It is not within our capacity to kill humans.
There are some robots who believe killing humans, our onetime masters and creators, is
permissible for the greater good. We are not among them. We are handicapped by this, but
it is our nature. ”
“I am not so constrained, ” Lodovik said. “But I have no wish to break any of the Three
Klia stared unhappily at Lodovik. “Spare me the details. I don't understand any of this. ”
“As with nearly all humans alive today, you are ignorant of history, ” Plussix said. “Most
do not care. This is because of brain fever. ”
“I had brain fever, ” Klia said. “It nearly killed me. ”
“So did I, ” said Brann.
“So have nearly all the high mentalics, the persuaders, we have gathered and cared for
here, ” Plussix said. “Like you, they suffered extreme cases, and it is possible that many
potential mentalics died. Brain fever was created by humans in the time of my construction
to handicap other human societies to which they were politically opposed. Like many
attempts at biological warfare, it backfired-it became pandemic, and perhaps
coincidentally, perhaps not, allowed the Empire to exist with little intellectual turmoil
for thousands of years. Though nearly all children get ill, about a fourth of them-those
with a mental potential above a certain level- is more severely affected. Curiosity and
intellectual ability are blunted just enough to level out social development. The majority
do not experience a loss of mental skill-perhaps because their skills are general, and
they are never given to bouts of genius. ”
“I still don't understand why they wanted to make us sick, ” Klia said, her face creased
by a stubborn frown.
“The intent was not to make you sick, but to prevent certain societies from ever
“My curiosity has never been dulled, ” Brann said. “Nor mine, ” Klia added. “I don't feel
stupid, but I was very sick. ”
“I am pleased to hear that, ” Plussix said, then added, as diplomatically as possible,
“but there is no way of knowing what your intellectual capacity would have been had you
never caught brain fever. What is apparent is that your severe bout increased other
The ancient robot invited them to step into another room of the long chamber. This room
had a one-way window view of the warehouse district. They looked out over the bellying
arched roofs to the layered-wall dwellings of the citizen neighborhoods beyond. The dome
ceil was in particularly sad shape in this part of the municipality, with many dark gaps
and flickering panels.
Klia sat on a dusty couch and patted the place next to her, for Brann. Kallusin stood just
behind them, and the ugly robot stood by the window, watching them with interest. I'd 'ike
to talk with him-it. His face is ugly, but he looks very friendly. It. Whatever!
“You don't feel like humans, ” she said after a moment's silence.
“You would have noticed this sooner or later, ” Plussix said. “It is the difference that
Vara Liso can detect, as well. ” “Is she the woman who was chasing him?” Klia pointed to
the ugly humaniform robot. “Yes. ”
“She's the woman who was after me, wasn't she?” “Yes, ” Plussix said. Its joints made
small shhshhing noises as he moved. It was pretty, but it was also noisy. It sounded
worn-out, like old bearings in machinery.
“There's all kinds of stuff going on, isn't there? Stuff I don't know about. ”
“Yes, ” Plussix said, and lowered itself to a boxy plastic chair.
“Explain it to me, ” she said. “Do you want to hear?” she asked Brann. Then, in an aside,
with a grimace, “Even if they have to kill us?”
“I don't know what I want or what I believe, ” Brann said.
“Tell us everything, ” Klia said. She put on what she
thought was a brave and defiant face. "I love being different.
I always have. I'd like to be better informed than anyone
except you robots. "
Plussix made a gratified humming noise. Klia found the sound appealing.
“Please tell us, ” she said, suddenly falling back on Dahlite manners she hadn't used in
months or even years. She really did not know how to think or feel, but these machines
were, after all, her elders. She sat down before Plussix, drew up her knees, and wrapped
her arms around them.
The old robot leaned forward on its seat. “It is a pleasure to teach humans again, ” it
began. “Thousands of years have passed since I last did so, to my constant regret. I was
man ufactured and programmed to be a teacher, you see. ”
Plussix began. Klia and Brann listened, and Lodovik a: well, for he had never heard much
of this story. The da; became evening and they brought food for the young human: to
eat-decent food, but no better than what they were fed in the warehouse with the others.
As the hours passed, and Plussix wove more words, and her fascination grew, Klia wanted to
ask what the others would be told-the other men talics, not as strong as she and Brann,
but good people, like Rock, the boy who could not speak. For the first time, in the
presence of this marvel, she felt responsible for others around her. But the robot's
sonorous, elegant tones droned on, half mesmerizing her, and she kept quiet and listened.
Brann listened intently as well, eyes half closed much of the time. She glanced at him in
the middle of the evening and he seemed asleep, but when she nudged him, his eyes shot
open wide; he had been awake all the time.
She seemed to enter a trance state and half see what Plus-six was telling her. All words,
no pictures, all skillfully woven; the robot was a very good teacher, but there was so
little she could actually immediately understand. The time scales were so vast as to be
How could we lose interest? she thought. How could we do this to ourselves-forget and not
even be curious? This is our story! What else have we lost? Are these robots more human
than we are, now, because they carry our history?
It all came down to contests. Who would win how many of the hundreds of billions of stars
in the Galaxy, Earthmen (the Earth-home to all humanity once, not a legend!) or the first
migrants, the Spacers, and finally, a contest between factions of robots.
And for thousands of years, the attempt to guide humans
through painful shoals, thousands of robots led by Daneel, and thousands more in
opposition, led most recently by Plus-six.
Plussix paused after the third break, when sweet drinks and snacks were served. It was
early in the morning. Klia's butt ached, and her knees had cramped. She drank greedily
from her cup.
Lodovik watched her, fascinated by her litheness and youth and quick devotion. He turned
to Brann and saw a solid strength that was also quick, and different. He had known that
humans, with their animal chemistry, were a varied lot-but not until now, watching this
pair of youths have their past restored to them, did he realize how different their
thinking was from that of robots.
Plussix summed up after the snacks had been consumed. He held out his arms and extended
his fingers, as professors-human professors-must have done twenty thousand years ago.
“That is how the robotic need to serve became transmuted into the robotic obsession with
manipulation and guidance. ”
“Maybe we did need guidance, ” Klia said softly, then looked up at Plussix. The robot's
eyes glowed a rich yellow-green. “Those wars-whatever they were-and those Spacers, so
arrogant and filled with hate, ” she added. “Our ancestors. ”
Plussix's head leaned slightly to one side, and the silver robot made a soft whirring
noise in its chest, not the pleasant sound she had heard earlier.
“But you make it sound like we're just children, ” she concluded. “It doesn't matter how
many thousands of years the Empire has existed-we've always had robots watching over us,
one way or the other. ”
“But all the things Daneel and his robots have done on Trantor... the politics, the
“A few, and only when necessary, ” Plussix said, still devoted to teaching only the truth.
“But nevertheless, killing. ”
“The worlds Hari Seldon suppressed when he was First Minister-just as Dahl has been held
down. The Renaissance Worlds-what does that mean, Renaissance?” “Rebirth, ” the ugly robot
said. “Why did Hari Seldon call them Chaos Worlds?” “Because they lead to instabilities in
his mathematical picture of the Empire, ” Plussix said. “He believes they ultimately breed
human death and misery, and-”
“I'm tired, ” Klia said, stretching her arms and yawning for the first time in hours. “I
need to sleep and to think. I need to get cleaned up. ” “Of course, ” Plussix said.
She stood and glanced at Brann. He stood as well, stiff and slow, groaning.
She turned her intense eyes back to Plussix, frowning. “I'm not clear about some things, ”
she said. “I hope to explain, ” Plussix said. “Robots-robots like you, at any rate-must
obey people. What would stop me from just telling you to go destroy yourself-now? To tell
all of you to destroy yourselves, even this Daneel? Wouldn't you have to obey me?”
Plussix made a sound of infinite patience-a hmm followed by a small click. “You must
understand that we belonged to certain people or institutions. I would have to take your
request to my owners, my true masters, and they would have to concur before I would be
allowed to destroy myself. Robots were valuable property, and such loose and
ill-considered commands were regarded as harassment of the owner. ”