Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
“Yes, please, ” Hari said. He had eaten Palace food often enough not to turn down a chance
to have more, and to eat in semiprivacy was a luxury he had not hoped for. “My muscles
ache, too. Could I have a masseur sent in?”
“Certainly!” The Lavrentian smiled broadly. “My name is Koas. I am assigned to you for
your stay. You've been here before, haven't you?”
“Yes, the last time in the reign of Agis XIV, ” Hari said.
“I was here then!” Koas said. “Perhaps I or my parents served you. ”
“Perhaps, ” Hari said. “I remember being very well treated, and I'm afraid parts of this
evening are not going to be pleasant. I'm sure you'll relax me and prepare me for the work
to be done?”
“Our pleasure, ” Koas said, and bowed fluidly. “What shall I prepare for you, or do you
require a menu? We will, of course, use only the finest offworld and Mycogenian
“Farad Sinter is a connoisseur of Mycogenian delicacies, is he not?” Hari asked.
“Oh, no, sir, ” Koas said, lips turned down. "He is fond of
much simpler fare. " Koas did not seem to approve of this.
Then he's in Mycogen to force a little information out of them, Hari thought. Their myths
about robots. The man may very well be obsessed!
Koas did not specialize in bodyworks, so two female servants entered with a suspension
couch. Hari lay on the couch and gave in to their skilled ministrations with a grateful
sigh, and for a few minutes, at least, was almost glad he had come to the Palace and
requested his audience with Klayus.
The masseuses began work on his legs, smoothing out the corded muscles and somehow
removing a pain in his left knee that had been bothering him for weeks. They then worked
on his arms, pushing and prodding with a surprising force, causing a delicious sort of
pain that quickly melted into a liquid lassitude.
As they worked, Hari thought of the special privileges accorded to leaders and their
associates, their families. There was, of course, the velvet trap of power, sufficient
luxuries to attract reasonably competent and competitive individuals to an ungratefully
demanding job (in Hari's opinion; of course, Cleon I had been remarkably sanguine about
being an Emperor at times, and even Agis had tried to act the part, which had led to his
downfall under Linge Chen's Commission).
For Klayus, there was luxury without much responsibility; that meant endless opportunities
for distortions of the personality, which Hari had seen so often in history, among
figurehead rulers of various systems...
As the masseuses caressed and pummeled and prodded, he lapsed back into his memories of
the meetings with the tyrants. They had taken place more than a kilometer beneath the Hall
of Justice and the Imperial Courts, in the Rikerian Prison, at the center of a labyrinth
of precisely controlled security systems. During his decades on Trantor, Hari had come to
love interior spaces, even small ones, but the Rikerian Prison had been designed to
punish, to flatten the spirit.
He had had nightmares about those tiny confined spaces, on and off, for years after.
In a cell barely tall enough to stand in, with slick hard black walls and two holes in the
floor, one for waste and one for food and water, and no chairs, he had interviewed Nikolo
Pas of Sterrad, the butcher of fifty billion human beings.
Cleon had his bizarre sense of humor, forcing the interview to take place there and not in
some neutral meeting area. Perhaps he had wanted Hari to understand the man's current
plight, to put things in perspective, perhaps to pity him, at least feel something, and
not reduce everything to equations and numbers, as Cleon felt was Hari's wont.
“I'm sorry I have nothing to offer in the way of hospitality, ” Nikolo had said as they
faced each other in the tiny, dim space. Hari had responded with some dismissive
The man before him was more than six centimeters shorter than Hari, with pale blond,
almost white hair, large dark eyes, a small pug nose, broad lips, and a short chin. He
wore a thin gray shirt and shorts and sandals. “You've come to study the Monster, ” Nikolo
continued. “The guards say you're the First Minister. Surely you're not here to pick up
some political tips. ” “No, ” Hari said.
“To observe Cleon's triumph and the restoration of dignity and order?” “No. ”
“I never rebelled against Cleon. I never usurped the Emperor's authority. ”
“I understand. How do you explain what you did?” Hari asked, deciding to jump in with no
further preliminaries. “What was your reasoning, your goal?”
“They tell everybody I butchered billions on four worlds within my system, the system I
was chosen to preserve and protect. ”
"That's what the records tell. What happened, in your opinion? And I warn you-I have the
accounts from thousands
of witnesses and other records at my disposal. "
“Why should I even bother talking with you, then?” Nikolo said.
“Because it's possible what you say can prevent more butchery, in the future. An
explanation, an understanding, could help us all avoid similar situations. ”
“By killing a monster such as myself at birth?”
Hari did not answer.
“No, I see you're more subtle than that, ” Nikolo murmured. “By preventing the rise to
power of one like myself. ”
“Perhaps, ” Hari said.
“What do I get out of it?”
“Nothing, ” Hari said.
“Nothing for Nikoio Pas... How about the right to kill myself?”
“Cleon would never allow that, ” Hari said.
“Just the right to inform Cleon's First Minister, to give him more understanding, and
therefore more power... ”
“I suppose you could look at it that way. ”
“Not in this hole, ” Nikolo had said. “I'll talk, but someplace clean and comfortable.
That's my price. You wouldn't put vermin in a hole like this. And I have ever so much to
tell you... about humans as well as machines, or about machines that seem human... past as
well as future. ”
Hari had listened, trying to keep his face impassive. “I'm not sure I can get Cleon to-”
“Then you'll learn nothing, Hari Seldon. And I see by the look in your eyes... I've
touched something that provokes a deep curiosity, haven't I?”
Hari twitched on the suspension couch and the masseuse working on his neck softly ordered
him to lie still. Why haven't 1 remembered this conversation before now? Hari asked
himself. What else has been suppressed? And why?
Then, tension spoiling all the masseuses' work, another question, Daneel, what have you
done to me?
The bodies had been arranged in neat floating rows in the crew lounge, the largest space
in the ship, and also the closest space to the emergency hatch amidships.
Mors Planch backed away from the entrance, wondering for a moment if he had come upon a
scene of torture and piracy. All the bodies were connected by ropes to keep them in place.
Tended to, taken care of even in death. The air in the weightless chamber smelled from the
decay of several days. Yet he had to make a count, to see if there was any value in
searching elsewhere in the ship.
Tritch kept well back from the hatchway. Her red-rimmed eyes stood out above the white
handkerchief she held over her nose and mouth. “Who put them in there?” she asked, voice
“I don't know, ” Mors said grimly. He put on a breather mask and entered to make his
count. Several minutes later he emerged, his face wan. “Nobody alive, but not everybody is
in there. ” He pushed past her and expertly caromed down the corridor, toward the bridge.
Reluctantly, Tritch followed, stopping briefly to pass an instruction to Trin.
“They all died within minutes of each other, I'm guessing, ” Planch told Tritch as she
caught up with him. “Radiation poisoning from the shock front. ”
“The ship is heavily shielded, ” Tritch said.
“Not against neutrinos. ”
“Neutrinos can't hurt us... They're like ghosts. ”
Planch peered into the darkened officer's lounge, switched on his torch, played it around
the furniture and walls, saw nobody. "Neutrinos in sufficient numbers are what blew away
the outer shells of the supernova, “ he said rightly. ”Under such conditions, in such
hordes, they can play strange and deadly tricks with matter, particularly with people's
bodies. Smell the ship?"
“I smell the dead, back there, ” Tritch said.
“No. Smell the ship here. What do you smell?”
She took the handkerchief away from her nose and sniffed. “Something burnt. Not flesh. ”
“Right, ” Planch said. “It's not a common smell, and I've only experienced it once
before... in a ship caught in a neutrino surge, but not from a supernova. From a planet
being broken up and swallowed by a wormhole. One of the transit-station disasters, thirty
years ago. The ship was caught in the emerging jet of converted mass. I investigated, part
of a salvage crew. Everybody aboard was dead. The ship smelled scorched, like this...
Burnt metal. ”
“Pleasant work, ” Tritch said, putting the cloth back to her nose.
The hatch to the bridge was open. Planch held out his arm to keep Tritch back. She did not
argue. The bridge was illuminated only by starlight from the open direct-view ports. He
turned his torch on and shined it on the panels, the captain's chair, the displays. The
displays were all blank. The ship was dead.
“We won't have much air soon, ” he told Tritch. “Keep your crew back. ”
“I already have, ” Tritch said. “I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to. We
can't salvage anything if the ship can't be revived. ”
“No, ” Planch said. The bridge seemed empty, and cold enough to make his breath cloudy. He
pushed in farther, flailing briefly against the cold stale air with one hand until he
caught a stanchion and rotated. From that vantage, he aimed his beam into the opposite
corner. There, he saw a form curled into a fetal ball.
He pulled himself along until he floated a meter from the form. What he had been told was
true; this one was alive. The head turned, and he recognized the features of Councilor
Lodovik Trema. But it was not Chief Commissioner Chen who had told him Trema would be
When they had first sighted the hulk in deep space, drifting helplessly, he had
communicated first with Chen, then with another, who had paid him even more handsomely
than Chen: the tall man who had many faces and many names, and who had hired him so often
That man was never wrong, and he had not been wrong this time. Where all others might be
dead, one might still be alive... And he must not be returned to Chen. He must be reported
Lodovik Trema blinked slowly, calmly, at Planch. Planch held his fingers to his lips, and
whispered, “You're still dead, sir. Don't move or make a sound. ” Then he spoke a coded
phrase incorporating both numbers and words that the man of many faces had told him to use.
Tritch watched them from across the bridge. “What did you find?” she asked.
“The man I'm looking for, ” Planch said. “He lived a little longer. He must have arranged
the others, then come here to die. ”
As he brought out Lodovik, Tritch tried to back away, but could not find a grip fast
enough. The body, curled and lifeless, floated ahead of Planch, under Tritch's nose, and
she nearly gagged with some reflex expectation.
“Don't worry, ” Planch said. “This one doesn't smell much. It's colder on the bridge. ”
Tritch could not believe they had come all this way just to retrieve a single body. Back
aboard the Flower of Evil, with Lodovik safely stowed in a box in the hold, she passed
a bottle of Trillian water of life, and he poured himself a glass and lifted it in
“The Chief Commissioner wanted to make sure. And now that we know he's dead, and all the
others with him, I'm to take him back to his home world and see him decently buried, with
full Imperial honors. ”
“And leave all the others? That seems a little bizarre. ”
Planch shrugged. “I don't question my orders. ”
“Which world is he from?”
“Madder Loss, ” Planch replied.
Tritch shook her head in disbelief. “A man in such high authority, from a planet of
Planch inspected his glass and lifted one finger before finishing its contents. Then he
poked glass and finger at Tritch. “I remind you of our contract, ” he said. “The death of
this man could have political repercussions. ”
“I don't even know his name. ”
“People could guess from what little you do know, if you spread it around in the wrong
places. And if you do, I'll find out. ”
“I keep my contracts, and I keep my mouth shut. ”
“And your crew?”
“You must have known we were trustworthy when you hired us, ” Tritch said softly,
“Yes, well it's even more important now. ”
Tritch stood and lifted the bottle from the table between them. She corked it firmly.
“You've insulted me, Mors Planch. ”
“An excess of caution, no insult intended. ”
“Nevertheless, an insult. And you ask me to go to a world that no self-respecting citizen
willingly visits. ”
“They're citizens on Madder Loss, too. ”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “How long do we stay?”
“Not long. You drop me there and leave at your own pleasure. ”
Lodovik lay in the darkness, fully alert but quiescent, having heard the coded phrase that
alerted him to Daneel's participation in his rescue. He was to cooperate fully with Mors
Planch; eventually, he would be brought back to Trantor.
What would happen to him there, Lodovik did not know. Having performed three self-checks
in the coffin-shaped box, he was reasonably certain that his positronic brain had been
altered in subtle ways. The results of his self-checks were contradictory, however.
To keep himself from deteriorating through disuse, he activated his human emotional
overlay and ran diagnostics on that, as well. It seemed intact; he could operate as a
human in human society, and that provided some relief. However, the contact with Mors
Planch on the bridge of the Spear of Glory had been too brief for him to try out these
functions. Best to be kept isolated until a more thorough test could be performed.