Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
“I wanted so much, ” Vara Liso said. “Do you understand?”
Hari looked at her straight on. He stood perhaps four meters from her, seven meters from
where the other woman lay against the half open door. He glanced at the other woman, and
Liso raised the neural whip.
“You don't need that, ” Hari said critically, as if lecturing a student. Vara Liso
hesitated. “You're mentalic. You stopped her... ” He raised his arm toward the collapsed
woman. Toward Dors.
Vara Liso lowered her head but kept her eyes on Hari. She looked like a pouting child, but
in her eyes was the purest hatred he had ever seen.
“Everything I've ever believed in, ” she said, “is dead. They're going to kill me, just as
they killed the men and women and children I found. My own people. ”
“Farad Sinter made you do that... ” Hari said. “Didn't he?”
“The Emperor, ” Vara Liso said. She seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept the
whip high, and her finger lingered on the button. Hari could make out the setting: near
“Yes, but Sinter was your-”
“He loved me, ” Vara moaned, then she dropped the whip. But a wave of grief came out of
her that hit him square. The hall was filled with Vara Liso's emotions, and they were the
ugliest and bleakest Hari had ever known. They struck at his own centers of ambition and
need, and he could feel the bones of his innermost self cracking.
The woman on the floor stirred, and Vara Liso lifted her head and half turned toward her.
Hari made his move, using the only chance he thought he would ever get. He had had years
of training in self-defense on Helicon, but his body had long since refused to answer his
instructions promptly. He had almost reached Liso when she cocked her head back and
screamed again-silently, and within her mind.
Simultaneously, Brann and Lodovik pushed against the door, nudging Dors, who could not yet
conjure up the will to move.
Klia stumbled over Dors' leg, fell into the Hall of Dispensation, saw Lodovik moving with
inhuman speed toward her enemy, saw him raise his arm, hand open, to take the woman's hand
in his and spin her around-
To kill her if need be, exercising that human freedom-
But he stopped before his fingers touched her, frozen by a glance.
Vara Liso knelt, rubbing her wrists and hands, and faced Klia Asgar.
Daneel ran past the empty guard station in the security vestibule. His relatively weak
perceptions of human mental states was now a fortunate shield; the backwash of another
explosion, like the final death cough of a huge volcano, left him reeling, skidding on
hands and knees, tumbling into the Hall of Dispensation from the eastern entrance. He had
an impression of Joan, and all her copies in the machines around him, coming apart like a
rotten flag in a high wind, trying to stay together; but then that image was highly
inconsequential, for his own patterns, his own mind, threatened to do the same thing.
If the cry of a child could have been made of knives, it could not have cut Klia any more
deeply than the mentalic shock wave surrounding Vara Liso.
Disappointment, grief, anger, an intense sense of misplaced justice, images of people long
dead-parents, young friends, who had disappointed this small woman with the knotted face
and crab-curled fists-batted against Klia, fragments of ruin in a flood of pain.
The walls and pillars and panes of the Hall of Dispensation felt nothing. Vara Liso's
output was tuned to a purely human channel, to the roots of mind in matter. Because she
had not focused her talents completely on him, Lodovik felt merely a buzzing and a
pressure not dissimilar to the neutrino flux he had encountered between the stars.
He did, however, sense what Daneel saw very clearly-the disintegration of the entity who
had spoken in him and through him. Voltaire stood in simple nakedness before this flux,
this human tempest, and broke apart like a child's puzzle.
For a moment, Klia's sympathetic response nearly allowed her to die, to both drown and be
burned by the outpouring. She felt the echoes of her own life, her own experiences, mesh
with those of Vara Liso.
There were differences, however, and they were her salvation. She saw the strength of her
own will, opposed to the vacillation and indecision of Vara Liso. She saw the
not-always-apparent strength of her father and, earlier, before memory began clearly, her
mother, faced with a willful child, giving her enough leeway to be what she must be,
however much it might discomfit or even hurt them.
She was on the point of fighting back when the most dangerous similarity of all caught her
Vara Liso cried out for freedom.
Her voice rose in a shriek to the highest reaches of the hall and echoed back: “Let us be
what we must be! No robots, no killing metal hands, no conspiracies and shackles!”
Klia felt something smoking, crisping, in her thoughts. It was her sense of self. She
would willingly sacrifice all before this urgent scream of pain-had felt it herself,
though never so clearly and powerfully expressed. She recognized insanity buried within
it, the insanity of a powerful and even self-destructive immune response-
as did Daneel, trying to recover and get to his feet, a few dozen meters away.
-A rejection of twenty thousand years of benevolence and guidance, of patient and secret
The cry of a child never allowed to mature, to feel its own pain and draw its own
conclusions on life and death.
Klia closed her eyes and crawled along the floor, trying to find Brann. She could neither
see nor sense him. She dared not open her eyes, or she would be blinded, she was sure.
Vara Liso could not broadcast with such intensity for so long, and indeed the undirected
flood was narrowing, finding a channel. It was concentrating, and even though it suddenly
diminished by half, what Vara Liso was throwing directly at Klia doubled in strength.
Had stood somehow on quivering legs and saw but did not quite comprehend these human
forms, the small thin woman walking forward step by staggered step, features distorted as
if seen through a broken lens, two others crawling along the floor, one a burly Dahlite
male and the other a slender and not unattractive young woman, also dark.
He did not see the tall humanlike figure on the east side of the hall.
His mind filled with the waters of his own despair.
He had been in error. It had all been for nothing, worse than nothing.
Hari Seldon suddenly wanted to die, to be done with the pain and the realization of his
But there was that woman who had tried to tackle Vara Liso, who he was sure was Dors
Vara Liso was killing Klia Asgar and Brann. This much was clear to Lodovik. The buzz had
diminished, but as he stepped toward the knotted and distorted woman, it increased again.
Lodovik paid little attention to Daneel, or to Hari Seldon, or to Dors; both seemed out of
the immediate focus of Liso's lethal projections. The knotted woman was clearly going to
scramble all the essential patterns of Klia and Brann, then turn on the others.
Voltaire was no longer in place to advise.
Lodovik stepped toward the woman, now twisted and gnarled like an ancient willow.
Klia lifted her head, opened her eyes, prepared to be blinded, and saw down a short
brilliant funnel of hatred to the eyes, all that were left of Vara Liso-a pair of
desperate and hate-filled eyes.
Brann will die, too.
Never had she used her abilities to harm. Even making Lodovik dance had injured her sense
of propriety and justice; she had never really believed she could do anything to Hari
Seldon. She would think of her father, whom she had once made wet his pants... and the
effort would collapse.
Brann will die along with you, then they will all die, and she will be destroyed as well.
She reached out for Brann. Alone she could do nothing against such naked and monstrous
Brann was a filament of clean light in the torrent of flam-
ing hatred. She tugged at him, as if she would wake him up. Brann said yes, and they
joined. She had almost felt this happen during their physical joining, but had pulled
back, still wishing to preserve her own self as a lone and defiant place.
Lodovik reached out with both hands, saw Vara Liso's shoulders twitch in awareness of his
presence. She swiveled her head suddenly, tears flying from her eyes.
Lodovik was willing to hurt her, kill her if need be, if she did not stop. This was what
humans had done to each other throughout their history, and it hurt him that he had such
freedom as well: freedom to harm and to kill. But he was under no misapprehension that he
was no better than this gnarled and hideous female. Quite clearly she was evil; she was
He made his judgment, his decision.
He could feel a rumbling tidal wash coming. He grasped her shoulder and neck, and, with a
sudden twist of his arms-
Broke the woman's neck like a matchstick.
Poor small Vara Liso. At the age of five years, her mother had beaten her severely,
venting anger against her father, who had not been in the small and immaculately clean
apartment; her mother had held her down with a variety of persuasion that came only when
she was enraged.
She had beaten young Vara with a long, flexible plastic pole, until little welts rose on
her bottom and along her back.
And so there had come the day when she had caused her mother to die, a memory she
sometimes grasped hard for strength. And she had taken her mother, perhaps just a memory
but perhaps not, inside, to compensate. Held her in a little diamond cage in her dreams.
Bringing out her mother for extra strength did not help. Actually, it weakened her,
because it made her a child again, even more than she had been before.
She had never been an adult, not really.
The combined ribbon of light and wave of terrified heat that caught her and shivered her
(burning without flame: sinter), the hand on her neck twisting
was incredibly painful
and very welcome
and broke open all of her own cages
so that she was, for a second, calm
Klia felt the last gust of Vara Liso and it whispered free then was silent.
Lodovik knelt beside the body and saw that it was very tiny and when he picked it up, it
was very light as well. So much trouble from so little mass-a human wonder.
Then he began to cry.
Dors had recovered enough to stand. She observed the men and the woman within the hall,
and the dead thing in the arms of the robot Lodovik, and she started toward Hari, who
seemed dazed and confused, though still alive. It was only natural for her to go to him.
Daneel was suddenly at her side and took her by the arm.
“He needs help, ” Dors said, prepared to wrench her arm free from the grasp of her own
“There is nothing you can do, ” Daneel said. By now, security in the Courts and Hall of
Dispensation would be aware of the breach; they would soon be surrounded by heavily armed
guards and no doubt even Imperial Specials.
He could not see any way of escaping. Nor could he predict what would happen next. Perhaps
it did not matter.
It was very possible he had been completely in error in all of his actions, for over
twenty thousand years.
“The hall records show that after she killed Farad Sinter and incapacitated the guards,
Vara Liso went to the Hall of Dispensation and threatened Hari Seldon, ” Major Namm said.
His head was encapsulated in a regeneration helmet. He would be weeks recovering from the
brain damage Liso had inflicted on him outside the office of Farad Sinter. “We believe
these others used many varieties of subterfuge to enter the hall and protect Seldon. They
apparently knew Seldon was in grave danger. ”
“And we did not?” Linge Chen asked. He leaned forward slightly in his chair, arms tight by
his side, his gaze somewhere over the major's shoulder.
“There were no directives issued for Seldon's protection, ” General Prothon reminded the
Chief Commissioner. “If these others had not arrived, Vara Liso could easily have killed
him with the neural whip or her peculiar talents. Yet she was the only one authorized to
be in the Courts Building and Imperial Sector. It is not dear how she died, but I am glad
she is dead. ”
“For the last three days, everyone in Imperial Sector has suffered tremendous headaches.
Haven't you felt them?” Chen asked.
“I usually suffer from headaches, Commissioner. It is my lot in life, ” Prothon said
Chen scrutinized the video summary of events in the Hall of Dispensation. He was looking
for something, someone, a ghost, a shade, a clue embodied. He pointed to the tall man
standing by the strong-looking woman at the end of the summary. “Individual file on this
“There is none, ” General Prothon told him. “We have no idea who he is. ”
Linge Chen looked away from the informer display for a moment, and one side of his face
tensed as he clenched his
jaw. “Bring him to me. The woman with him as well. ” He shifted his attention to the
magnified image of the stocky man holding the body of Vara Liso. His expression softened
for a moment. “And this one. Hari Seldon is to be released to his colleagues or to his
family. I do not wish responsibility for him anymore. Keep the young Dahlites in custody
for the time being. ”
Major Namm seemed unhappy. Chen lifted an eyebrow in his general direction. “You have a
“They all violated palace security-”
“Yes, they did, didn't they?” Chen asked pointedly. “And you are part of that team which
ensures palace security?”
The major straightened and said no more.
“You may go, ” Chen told him. Quickly, the major departed.
General Prothon chuckled. “Surely you won't blame him, ” the general said.