Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
“Your request to see me is a little odd, ” the Emperor said, “considering that Linge
Chen's Commission is putting you on trial for treason next month. ” Klayus waggled his
head from side to side and raised his eyebrows. “Don't you think it's unseemly for me to
agree to a meeting?”
“Very, ” Hari said, hands folded, head bowed. “It bespeaks your independence, Highness. ”
"Yes, well I'm far more independent than anyone gives me credit for. In truth, I find the
Commission convenient, because it does a lot of the uninteresting work of managing little
details I care nothing for. Linge Chen is wise enough to let me handle my own affairs and
projects without interference. So, why
should I be interested in you? Other than your professorial eminence. "
“I thought you might be interested in the future, Highness, ” Hari said.
Klayus snorted faintly. “Ah, yes, your eternal promise. ”
Hari followed the Emperor through a central circular chamber at least twelve meters in
diameter and perhaps thirty meters high. Above, all the inhabited star systems of the
Galaxy rotated across the dome, blinking in order of settlement, tens of millions of them.
Hari glanced up and squinted at the immensity of humanity's reach. Klayus I ignored the
display. His pinched lips and wide, yet somehow vacuous eyes disturbed Hari.
Klayus pushed open a huge door to his entertainment room. Silently, the door-more like the
entrance to a vault- swung on its immense hinges, and insects, green and gold, crawled
over the frame. Hari assumed they were projected, but would not have been surprised to
discover they were real.
“I have very little interest in your future, Raven, ” the Emperor said lightly. “I do
manage to keep informed. I won't stop the trial, and I won't second-guess Chen on this. ”
“I refer to your own immediate future, sire, ” Hari said. / hope Daneel's message was not
just a dream, a fancy! This could turn deadly, if so.
The Emperor turned, smiling at this dramatic turn of phrase. “You're on record as saying
the Empire is doomed. That sounds treasonous enough to me. On this, Chen and I agree. ”
“I say Trantor will be in ruins within five hundred years. But I've never predicted your
future, sire. ”
The entertainment room was filled with hulking sculptures of giant creatures from around
the Galaxy, all savagely carnivorous, all caught in poses of attack. Hari regarded them
with little appreciation for the artistry. Art had never interested him much, and
certainly not the more popular forms, except where
he could abstract entertainment trends as indicators for social health.
“I've had my palm read, ” Klayus said, still smiling, “by a number of beautiful women.
They all found it most attractive, and assured me my future was bright. No assassinations,
“You will not be assassinated, sire. ”
“Deposed? Exiled to Smyrmo? That's where they sent my heroic quintuple-great-grandfather.
Smyrmo, hot and dry, where you can't go outside without protective clothing, where the
rooms smell of sulfur and there are only cramped tunnels through the rock fit for vermin.
His memoirs are quite good entertainment, Raven. ”
“No, sire. You will be ridiculed until you lose all stature, then you will be ignored, and
Linge Chen will never even have to defer to you. He will soon enough declare a people's
democracy and leave you only as a symbol, with declining revenues, until you can no longer
even keep up appearances. ”
The Emperor stopped between two Gareth-lions, the largest carnivores on any mid-gravity
world, life-size-about twenty meters from clawed feet to razor-barbed, prehensile snouts.
He leaned on the canted ankle of one. “Psychohistory tells you this?”
“No, sire. Experience and logical deduction, without benefit of psychohistory. Have you
ever heard of foranum?”
The Emperor shrugged. “I don't think so. Person or place- or perhaps beast?”
“A man, who wanted to become Emperor, and who betrayed his hidden origins by subscribing
to an ancient myth... About robots. ”
“Robots! Yes, I believe in them. ”
Hari was taken aback. “Not tiktoks, sire, but intelligent machines made in human form. ”
"Of course. I believe they existed once, and that we outgrew them. Put them aside like
toys. The tiktok experiment was
simply an anachronism. We don't need mechanical workers, much less mechanical
Hari blinked slowly, and wondered if he had underestimated this young man. “Joranum
believed”-(Was led to believe, by Raych! he reminded himself)-“that a robot had
infiltrated the Palace. He claimed First Minister Demerzel was a robot. ”
“Ah, yes, I seem to remember something about that... not that long ago, was it? Though
before I was born. ”
“Demerzel laughed at him, sire, and Joranum's political movement collapsed under the
weight of ridicule. ”
“Yes, yes, I remember now. Demerzel resigned and Cleon the First filled his shoes with
another's feet. With your feet. Correct, Raven?”
“Yes, sire. ”
“That's where you acquired the political skills you so ably exercise, isn't it?”
“My political skills are minimal, your Highness. ”
“I don't think so, Raven. You're alive, and yet Cleon the first was assassinated by... a
gardener... who had strong connections to you, correct?”
“In a way, sire. ”
“Still alive, Raven. Very savvy indeed, perhaps with your own secret and embarrassing
files to reveal at key moments to key players. Do you have a secret file on Linge Chen,
Hari, despite himself, let out a chuckle. Klayus seemed amused by this reaction, rather
than affronted. “No, Your Highness. Chen is politically very well armored. His personal
behavior is above reproach. ”
“Isn't it, now! Who, then? Who will disgrace me and bring me down?”
“You have an assistant, a member of your privy council, who believes in robots. ” This is
what Daneel wanted me to know. For a moment, Hari felt a chill. What if Daneel no longer
existed, or had left Trantor, and he was imagining all this? The
strain of the last few months, his constant gnawing grief...
“Robots currently existing on Trantor. He is hunting them down and shooting them. With
kinetic weapons. ”
Wanda's information had nested so well with Daneel's: the link, the gnawing suspicion, had
come together. But Hari wanted, desperately needed, to think over his interviews with the
tyrants. Something was still missing!
“Really?” The Emperor's eyes gleamed. “He's found real robots?”
“No, sire. Humans. Your subjects. Citizens of Trantor, even one offworlder, from Helicon,
oddly enough, my home world. ”
“How interesting! I did not know he was hunting for robots. Shall I bring him here and
question him, in front of you, Raven?”
“That is of no matter to me, Your Highness. ”
“I assume you refer to Farad Sinter. ”
“Yes, sire. ”
“Shooting and killing subjects! I did not know that. Well, I doubt that, Raven, but if
it's true, I shall stop that part... But as for hunting down robots, surely that gives him
something harmless to do. ”
“Linge Chen will let out enough wire for Sinter to entangle himself thoroughly, then he
will turn on the power... And there will be many sparks, my Emperor, as Sinter fries. You
might get burned. ”
“Ah, I see-Chen will remind everybody of the forgotten Joranum, and of the disgrace of my
allowing such a person to run around killing citizens. ” Klayus buried his chin in one
hand and frowned. “An Emperor, killing citizens... or ignoring their unjust deaths. Very
volatile. Highly inflammable. I see it clearly enough, and it's not an unlikely outcome.
Yes. ” The Emperor's expression darkened and his eyes narrowed. “I had plans for tonight,
Raven. You've spoiled them, I'm afraid. I doubt this is something I can dispose of in a
meeting of a few minutes or less. ”
“No, Your Highness. ”
“And Sinter is in Mycogen today, not returning until after dinner. So you will stay with
me, and perhaps give me some advice, then, after, Hari-may I call you Hari?”
“I would be honored, Your Highness. ”
“After, we will celebrate, and I will reward you for your services. ”
Hari showed nothing on his face, but this of all things was the last he wanted to do. The
Emperor's amusements were known to a few, and Linge Chen kept that number small by careful
bribing and not-so-subtle pressure. Hari did not want to be one of the number Chen had to
pressure, especially now...
He had to survive long enough for the trial, and beyond, to see the Foundations
established... One by edict, the other in secret.
But he could not just allow Sinter's odd madness to imperil Wanda and Stettin's future,
and the future of all those who might yet go to Star's End. Who had to go! The equations
Lodovik, after five days alone, had lapsed into the robot equivalent of a coma. With
nothing to do, no way to return to a position of usefulness, and no one to serve, he had
no choice but to enter a time of stillness, or face serious damage to his circuits. In
this robotic coma, his thoughts moved very slowly, and he conserved the few remaining
mental explorations left to him; in this way he avoided shutting down completely. Complete
shutdown could only be reversed by a human or a maintenance robot.
In the slowness of his thoughts, Lodovik tried to assess how he had changed. That he had
changed was certain; he
Tritch and her first mate, Trin, regarded Mors Planch's activities with some concern. He
had buried himself with several mobile diagnostic machines deep in the hyperdrive, far
enough from the active coils of solid helium and the anti-queried, posi-tunneled
meter-cubed crystals of sodium chloride, common table salt, to avoid injury, but still-
Tritch had never allowed any work on a hyperdrive while
her ship was actually in transit. What Planch was doing fascinated and frightened her.
Tritch and Trin watched from the engine gallery, a small weighted balcony that looked down
the fifteen-meter length of the drive core. The end of the core was darkness; Planch had
suspended a light over the place he worked, surrounding him in a pale golden glow.
“You should tell us what you're doing, ” Tritch said nervously.
“Right now?” Planch asked, irritated.
“Yes, right now. It would ease my mind. ”
“What do you know about hyperphysics?”
“Only that you pull up the deep roots of all atoms within a ship, twist them widdershins,
and plant them in a direction we don't normally go. ”
Planch laughed. “Very impressionistic, dear Tritch. I like it. But it doesn't butter any
“What are parsnips?” Trin asked Tritch. She shook her head.
“Every traveling hypership leaves a permanent track in an obscure realm called Mire Space,
named after Konner Mire. He was my teacher, forty years ago. It's not studied much
anymore, because most hyperships get where they're going, and the Empire's actuaries
believe it's more trouble than it's worth to track lost ships, since they're so few. ”
“One in a hundred million voyages, ” Trin said, as if to reassure herself.
Planch poked up from between two long pipes and pushed a mobile diagnostic machine away
from the engine, allowing it to float free. "Every engine has an extension into Mire Space
while a ship is in transit, which helps the ship avoid becoming random particles. Old
techniques which I won't go into allow me to hook up a monitor to the engine and look at
recent trails. With some luck, we can pick up a trail with a frayed end, like a sawed-off
rope-and that will
be our lost ship. Or rather, the track of its last Jump. "
“Frayed end?” Tritch asked.
“An abrupt exit from hyperdrive status leaves a lot of ragged discontinuities, like a
frayed end. A planned exit solves all those discontinuities, smoothes them over. ”
“If it's so simple, why doesn't everybody do this?” Tritch asked.
“Because it's a lost art, I said, remember?”
She huffed in disbelief.
“You asked, ” Planch said, his voice muffled and hollow in the engine bay. “There's a
one-in-five chance of screwing it up and throwing us out of hyperspace, scattered over
about a third of a light-year. ”
“You didn't mention that, ” Tritch said tightly.
“Now you know why. ”
Trin swore under her breath and glared accusingly at her captain.
He worked for several more minutes, then poked up again. Trin had left the balcony, but
Tritch still stood there.
“Still good for a couple of bottles of Trillian?” he asked her.
“If you don't get us killed, ” she answered grimly.
He floated away from the cylinders and pushed the diagnostic machines toward the hatchway.
“Good! Because I think I've found her. ”
Hari's legs hurt from standing so long. Klayus had finally stopped describing his beast
statues and gone off, and Hari had found a divan and sat gingerly, blowing out his breath.
Here was his chance to see just how far things had gone to ruin, and how much further the
Empire had to decay. He didn't relish the opportunity, but he had long since learned that
the best way to get along in life was to find multiple uses for
unpleasant experiences. He longed to get back to his Prime Radiant and lose himself in the
equations. People! So many tiny and yet possibly disastrous disruptions, like being chewed
by hungry insects...
Hari turned toward the still-open hatchway and tried to see the crawling insects, but the
projectors had turned off at Klayus's exit. When he turned back, a small Lavrentian
servant, a young male, stood beside him.
“The Emperor says I shall make you comfortable before your business engagement, ” the
servant said, smiling pleasantly, his round, smooth face like a small lamp in the gloom of
the statue room. “Are you hungry? There's to be an elaborate dinner later this evening,
but you should probably eat something now, something light and delicious... Shall I
prepare something for you?”