/ Language: English / Genre:sf / Series: Foundation

Foundation’s Fear

Gregory Benford


Gregory Benford

Foundation’s Fear

To Greg Bear and David Brin

fellow voyagers on strange seas

 

Rendezvous

R. Daneel Olivaw did not look like Eto Demerzel. That role he had already cast aside.

This Dors Vanabili expected, though it was unsettling to her. She knew that through millennia he had discarded the skin and shape of countless guises.

Dors studied him in the cramped, dingy room two Sectors away from Streeling University. She had followed a convoluted route to get here and the site was protected by elaborate, overlapping security measures. Robots were outlaws. They had lived for millennia in the deep shadow of taboo. Though Olivaw was her guide and mentor, she saw him seldom.

Yet as a humaniform robot she felt a tremor of mingled fear and reverence at this ancient, partly metallic form before her. He was nearly twenty millennia old. Though he could appear human, he did not truly wish to be human. He was inexpressibly greater than that now.

She had lived happily as a pseudo-person for so long now. Even a reminder of who and what she was came like cold fingers along her spine. “The recent increasing attention paid to Hari…”

“Indeed. You fear you will be detected.”

“The newest security measures are so invasive!”

He nodded. “You are correct to be concerned.”

“I need more help in protecting Hari.”

“Adding another of us to his close associates would double the danger of detection.”

“I know, I know, but…”

Olivaw reached out and touched her hand. She blinked back tears and studied his face. Small matters, such as consistent movement of his Adam’s apple when he swallowed, had long ago been perfected. To ease himself in this meeting, he had omitted these minor computations and movements. He obviously enjoyed even momentary freedom from such taxation.

“I am constantly fearful,” she admitted.

“You should be. He is much threatened. But you are designed to function best with a high level of apprehension.”

“I know my specifications, yes, but-take this latest move of yours, involving him in Imperial politics at the highest level. It imposes severe strain on my task.”

“A necessary move.”

“It may distract him from his work, from psychohistory.”

Olivaw shook his head slowly. “I doubt that. He is a certain special kind of human-driven. He once remarked to me, ‘Genius does what it must and talent does what it can’-thinking that he merely had talent.”

She smiled ruefully. “But he is a genius.”

“And like all such, unique. Humans have that rare, great excursions from the mean. Evolution has selected them for it, though they do not seem to realize that.”

“And we?”

“Evolution cannot act on one who lives forever. In any case, there has not been time. We can and do develop ourselves, however.”

“Humans are also murderous.”

“We are few; they are many. And they have deep animal spirits we cannot fathom, in the end, no matter how we try.”

“I care about Hari, first.”

“And the Empire, a distant second?” He gave her a thin smile. “I care for the Empire only so far as it safeguards humanity.”

“From what?”

“From itself. Just remember, Dors: this is the Cusp Era, as anticipated by ourselves for so long. The most critical period in all of history.”

“I know the term, but what is the substance? Do we have a theory of history?”

For the first time Daneel Olivaw showed expression, a rueful grimace. “We are not capable of a deep theory. For that, we would have to understand humans far better.”

“But we have something…?”

“A different way of viewing humanity, one now badly strained. It caused us to shape this greatest of humanity’s creations, the Empire.”

“I do not know of this-”

“No need for you to. We now require a more profound view. That is why Hari is so important.”

Dors frowned, troubled for reasons she could not quite express. “This earlier, simpler theory of…ours. It tells you that humanity now must have psychohistory?”

“Exactly. We know this, from our own crude theory. But only this.”

“For more, we rely on Hari alone?”

“Alas, yes.”

Part 1. Mathist Minister

Hari Seldon though it is the best existing authority on the details of Seldon’s life, the biography by Gaal Dornick cannot be trusted regarding the early rise to power. As a young man, Dornick met Seldon only two years before the great mathist’s death. By then, rumor and even legend had already begun to grow about Seldon, particularly regarding his shadowy period of large-scale authority within the fading Imperium.

How Seldon became the only mathist in all Galactic history to ascend to political power remains one of the most intractable puzzles for Seldon scholars. He gave no sign of ambitions beyond the building of a science of “history” -all the while envisioning not the mere fathoming of the past, but in fact the prediction of the future. (As Seldon himself remarked to Dornick, he early on desired” the prevention of certain kinds of futures.”)

Certainly the mysterious exit of Eto Demerzel as First Minister was the opening act in a play of large proportions. That Cleon I immediately turned to Seldon suggests that Demerzel hand-picked his successor. Yet why go to Seldon? Historians are divided about the motivations of the central players in this crucial moment. The Empire had entered a period of challenge and disruption, coming especially from what Seldon termed the “chaos worlds. “ How Seldon adroitly maneuvered against powerful opponents, despite no recorded experience in the political arena, remains an active but vexing area of research… .

—Encyclopedia Galactica [Note: All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116th edition, published 1,020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with permission of the publishers.]

1.

He had made enough enemies to acquire a nickname, Hari Seldon mused, and not enough friends to hear what it was.

He could feel the truth of that in the murmuring energy in the crowds. Uneasily he walked from his apartment to his office across the broad squares of Streeling University. “They don’t like me,” he said.

Dors Vanabili matched his stride easily, studying the massed faces. “I do not sense any danger.”

“Don’t worry your pretty head about assassination attempts-at least, not right away.”

“My, you’re in a fine mood today.”

“I hate this security screen. Who wouldn’t?”

The Imperial Specials had fanned out in what their captain termed “an engaging perimeter” around Hari and Dors. Some carried flash-screen projectors, capable of warding off a full heavy-weapons assault. Others looked equally dangerous bare-handed.

Their scarlet-and-blue uniforms made it easy to see where the crowd was impinging on the moving security boundary as Hari walked slowly across the main campus square. Where the crowd was thickest, the bright uniforms simply bulled their way through. The entire spectacle made him acutely uncomfortable. Specials were not noted for their diplomacy and this was, after all, a quiet place of learning. Or had been.

Dors clasped his hand in reassurance. “A First Minister can’t simply walk around without-”

“I’m not First Minister!”

“The Emperor has designated you, and that’s enough for this crowd.”

“The High Council hasn’t acted. Until they do”

“Your friends will assume the best,” she said mildly.

“These are my friends?” Hari eyed the crowd suspiciously.

“They’re smiling.”

So they were. One called, “Hail the Prof Minister!” and others laughed.

“Is that my nickname now?”

“Well, it’s not a bad one.”

“Why do they flock so?”

“People are drawn to power.”

“I’m still just a professor!”

To offset his irritation, Dors chuckled at him, a wifely reflex. “There’s an ancient saying, ‘These are the times that fry men’s souls.”‘

“You have a bit of historical wisdom for everything.”

“It’s one of the few perks that come with being an historian. “

Someone called, “Hey, Math Minister!”

Hari said, “I don’t like that name any better.”

“Get used to it. You’ll be called worse.”

They passed by the great Streeling fountain and Hari took refuge in a moment of contemplating its high, arching waters. The splashes drowned out the crowd and he could almost imagine he was back in his simple, happy life. Then he had only had to worry about psychohistory and Streeling University infighting. That snug little world had vanished, perhaps forever, the moment Cleon decided to make him a figure in Imperial politics.

The fountain was glorious, yet even it reminded him of the vastness that lay beneath such simplicities. Here the tinkling streams broke free, but their flight was momentary. Trantor’s waters ran in mournful dark pipes, down dim passages scoured by ancient engineers. A maze of fresh water arteries and sewage veins twined through the eternal bowels. These bodily fluids of the planet had passed through uncountable trillions of kidneys and throats, had washed away sins, been toasted with at marriages and births, had carried off the blood of murders and the vomit of terminal agonies. They flowed on in their deep night, never knowing the clean vapor joy of unfettered weather, never free of man’s hand.

They were trapped. So was he.

Their party reached the Mathist Department and ascended. Dors rose through the traptube beside him, a breeze fluttering her hair amiably, the effect quite flattering. The Specials took up watchful, rigid positions outside.

Just as he had for the last week, Hari tried again with the captain. “Look, you don’t really need to keep a dozen men sitting out here-”

“I’ll be the judge of that, Academician sir, if you please.”

Hari felt frustrated at the waste of it. He noticed a young Specialman eyeing Dors, whose uni-suit revealed while still covering. Something made him say, “Well then, I will thank you to have your men keep their eyes where they belong!”

The captain looked startled. He glared at the offending man and stomped over to reprimand him. Hari felt a spark of satisfaction. Going in the entrance to his office, Dors said, ‘‘I’ll try to dress more strictly.”

“No, no, I’m just being stupid. I shouldn’t let tiny things like that bother me.”

She smiled prettily. “Actually, I rather liked it.”

“You did? Me being stupid?”

“Your being protective.”

Dors had been assigned years before to watch over him, by Eto Demerzel. Hari reflected that he had gotten used to that role of hers, little noticing that it conflicted in a deep, unspoken way with her also being a woman. Dors was utterly self-reliant, but she had qualities which sometimes did not easily jibe with her duty. Being his wife, for example.

“I will have to do it more often,” he said lightly.

Still, he felt a pang of guilt about making trouble for the Specialmen. Their being here was certainly not their idea; Cleon had ordered it. No doubt they would far rather be off somewhere saving the Empire with sweat and valor.

They went through the high, arched foyer of the Mathist Department, Hari nodding to the staff. Dors went into her own office and he hurried into his suite with an air of an animal retreating into its burrow. He collapsed into his airchair, ignoring the urgent message holo that hung a meter from his face.

A wave erased it as Yugo Amaryl came in through the connecting e-stat portal. The intrusive, bulky portal was also the fruit of Cleon’s security order. The Specials had installed the shimmering weapons-nulling fields everywhere. They lent an irksome, prickly smell of ozone to the air. One more intrusion of Reality, wearing the mask of Politics.

Yugo’s grin split his broad face. “Got some new results.”

“Cheer me up, show me something splendid.”

Yugo sat on Hari’s broad, empty desk, one leg dangling. “Good mathematics is always true and beautiful.”

“Certainly. But it doesn’t have to be true in the sense that ordinary people mean. It can say nothing whatever about the world.”

“You’re making me feel like a dirty engineer.”

Hari smiled. “You were once, remember?”

“Don’t I!”

“Maybe you’d rather be sweating it out as a heatsinker?”

Hari had found Yugo by chance eight years ago, just after arriving on Trantor, when he and Dors were on the run from Imperial agents. An hour’s talk had shown Hari that Yugo was an untutored genius at trans-representational analysis. Yugo had a gift, an unconscious lightness of touch. They had collaborated ever since. Hari honestly thought he had learned more from Yugo than the other way around.

“Ha!” Yugo clapped his big hands together three times, in the Dahlite manner of showing agreeable humor. “You can grouse about doing filthy, real-world work, but as long as it’s in a nice, comfortable office, I’m in paradise.”

“I shall have to turn most of the heavy lifting over to you, I fear.” Hari deliberately put his feet up on his desk. Might as well look casual, even if he didn’t feel that way. He envied Yugo’s heavy-bodied ease.

“This First Minister stuff?”

“It is getting worse. I have to go see the Emperor again.”

“The man wants you. Must be your craggy profile.”

“That’s what Dors thinks, too. I figure it’s my disarming smile. Anyway, he can’t have me.”

“He will.”

“If he forces the ministership on me, I shall do such a lousy job, Cleon will fire me.”

Yugo shook his head. “Not wise. Failed First Ministers are usually tried and executed.”

“You’ve been talking to Dors again.”

“She is a historian.”

“Yes, and we’re psychohistorians. Seekers of predictability.” Hari threw up his hands in exasperation. “Why doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Because nobody in the citadels of power has seen it work.”

“And they won’t. Once people think we can predict, we will never be free of politics.”

“You’re not free now,” Yugo said reasonably.

“Good friend, your worse trait is insisting on telling me the truth in a calm voice.”

“It saves knocking sense into your head. That would take longer.”

Hari sighed. “If only muscles helped with mathematics. You would be even better at it.”

Yugo waved the thought away. “You’re the key. You’re the idea man.”

“Well, this font of ideas hasn’t got a clue.”

“Ideas, they’ll come.”

“I never get a chance to work on psychohistory anymore!”

“And as First Minister-”

“It will be worse. Psychohistory will go”

“Nowhere, without you.”

“There will be some progress, Yugo. I am not vain enough to think everything depends on me.”

“It does.”

“Nonsense! There’s still you, the Imperial Fellows, and the staff.”

“We need leadership. Thinking leadership.”

“Well, I could continue to work here part of the time…”

Hari looked around his spacious office and felt a pang at the thought of not spending every day here, surrounded by his tools, tomes, and friends. As First Minister he would have a minor palace, but to him it would be mere empty, meaningless extravagance.

Yugo gave him a mocking grin. “First Minister is usually considered a full-time job.”

“I know, I know. But maybe there’s a way-”

The office holo bloomed into full presentation a meter from his head. The office familiar was coded to pipe through only high-priority messages. Hari slapped a key on his desk and the picture gave the gathering image a red, square frame-the signal that his filter-face was on. “Yes?”

Cleon’s personal aide appeared in red tunic against a blue background. “You are summoned,” the woman said simply.

“Uh, I am honored. When?”

The woman went into details and Hari was immediately thankful for the filter-face. The personal officer was imposing, and he did not want to appear to be what he was, a distracted professor. His filter-face had a tailored etiquette menu. He had automatically thumbed in a suite of body language postures and gestures, tailored to mask his true feelings.

“Very well, in two hours. I shall be there,” he concluded with a small bow. The filter would render that same motion, shaped to the protocols of the Emperor’s staff.

“Drat!” He slapped his desk, making the holo dissolve. “My day is evaporating!”

“What’s it mean?”

“Trouble. Every time I see Cleon, it’s trouble.”

“I dunno, could be a chance to straighten out-”

“I just want to be left alone!”

“A First Ministership”

Yoube First Minister! I will take a job as a computational specialist, change my name-” Hari stopped and laughed wryly. “But I’d fail at that, too.”

“Look, you need to change your mood. Don’t want to walk in on the Emperor with that scowl.”

“Ummm. I suppose not. Very well-cheer me up. What was that good news you mentioned?”

“I turned up some ancient personality constellations.”

“Really? I thought they were illegal.”

“They are.” He grinned. “Laws don’t always work.”

“Truly ancient? I wanted them for calibration of psychohistorical valences. They have to be early Empire.”

Yugo beamed. “These are pre-Empire.”

“Pre-impossible.”

“I got ‘em. Intact, too.”

“Who are they?”

“Some famous types, dunno what they did.”

“What status did they have, to be recorded?”

Yugo shrugged. “No parallel historical records, either.”

“Are they authentic recordings?”

“Might be. They’re in ancient machine languages, really primitive stuff. Hard to tell.”

“Then they could be…sims.”

“I’d say so. Could be they’re built on a recorded underbase, then simmed for roundness.”

“You can kick them up to sentience?”

“Yeah, with some work. Got to stitch data languages. Y’know, this is, ah…”

“Illegal. Violation of the Sentience Codes.”

“Right. These guys I got it from, they’re on that New Renaissance world, Sark. They say nobody polices those old Codes anymore.”

“It’s time we kicked over a few of those ancient blocks.”

“Yessir.” Yugo grinned. “These constellations, they’re the oldest anybody’s ever found.”

“How did you…?” Hari let his question trail off. Yugo had many shady connections, built on his Dahlite origins.

“It took a little, ah, lubrication.”

“I thought so. Well, perhaps best that I don’t hear the details.”

“Right. As First Minister, you don’t want dirty hands.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Sure, sure, you’re just a journeyman professor. Who’s going to be late for his appointment with the Emperor if he doesn’t hurry up.”

2.

Walking through the Imperial Gardens, Hari wished Dors was with him. He recalled her wariness over his coming again to the attention of Cleon. “They’re crazy, often,” she had said in a dispassionate voice. “The gentry are eccentric, which allows emperors to be bizarre.”

“You exaggerate,” he had responded.

“Dadrian the Frugal always urinated in the Imperial Gardens,” she had answered. “He would leave state functions to do it, saying that it saved his subjects a needless expense in water.”

Hari had to suppress a laugh; palace staff were undoubtedly studying him. He regained his sober manner by admiring the ornate, towering trees, sculpted in the Spindlerian style of three millennia before. He felt the tug of such natural beauty, despite his years buried in Trantor. Here, verdant wealth stretched up toward the blazing sun like outstretched arms. This was the only open spot on the planet, and it reminded him of Helicon, where he had begun.

He had been a rather dreamy boy in a laboring district of Helicon. The work in fields and factories was easy enough that he could think his own shifting, abstract musings while he did it. Before the Civil Service exams changed his life, he had worked out a few simple theorems in number theory and later was crushed to find that they were already known. He lay in bed at night thinking of planes and vectors and trying to envision dimensions larger than three, listening to the distant bleat of the puff-dragons who came drifting down the mountain sides in search of prey. Bioengineered for some ancient purpose, probably hunting, they were revered beasts. He had not seen one for many years…

Helicon, the wild-that was what he longed for. But his destiny seemed submerged in Trantor’s steel.

Hari glanced back and his Specials, thinking they were summoned, trotted forward. “No,” he said, his hands pushing air toward them-a gesture he was making all the time these days, he reflected. Even in the Imperial Gardens they acted as though every gardener was a potential assassin.

He had come this way, rather than simply emerge from the grav lifter inside the palace, because he liked the gardens above all else. In the distant haze a wall of trees towered, coaxed upward by genetic engineering until they obscured the ramparts of Trantor. Only here, on all the planet, was it possible to experience something resembling the out of doors.

What an arrogant term! Hari thought. To define all of creation by its lying outside the doorways of humanity.

His formal shoes crunched against gravel as he left the sheltered walkways and mounted the formal ramp. Beyond the forested perimeter rose a plume of black smoke. He slowed and estimated distance, perhaps ten klicks. Some major incident, surely.

Striding between tall, neopantheonic columns, he felt a weight descend. Attendants dashed out to welcome him, his Specials tightened up behind, and they made a little procession through the long corridors leading to the Vault of Audience. Here the accumulated great artworks of millennia crowded each other, as if seeking a constituency in the present to give them life.

The heavy hand of the Imperium lay upon most official art. The Empire was essentially about the past, its solidity, and so expressed its taste with a preference for the pretty. Emperors favored the clean straight lines of ascending slabs, the exact parabolas of arcing purple water fountains, classical columns and buttresses and arches. Heroic sculpture abounded. Noble brows eyed infinite prospects. Colossal battles stood frozen at climactic moments, shaped in glowing stone and holoid crystal.

All were entirely proper and devoid of embarrassing challenge. No alarming art here, thank you. Nothing “disturbing” was even allowed in public places on Trantor which the Emperor might visit. By exporting to the periphs all hint of the unpleasantness and smell of human lives, the Imperium achieved its final state, the terminally bland.

Yet to Hari, the reaction against blandness was worse. Among the galaxy’s twenty-five million inhabited planets endless variations appeared, but there simmered beneath the Imperial blanket a style based solely on rejection.

Particularly among those Hari termed “chaos worlds,” a smug avant-garde fumbled for the sublime by substituting for beauty a love of terror, shock, and the sickeningly grotesque. They used enormous scale, or acute disproportion, or scatology, or discord and irrational disjunction.

Both approaches were boring. Neither had any airy joy.

A wall dissolved, crackling, and they entered the Vault of Audience. Attendants vanished, his Specials fell behind. Abruptly Hari was alone. He padded over the cushiony floor. Baroque excess leered at him from every raised cornice, upjutting ornament, and elaborate wainscoting.

Silence. The Emperor was never waiting for anyone, of course. The gloomy chamber gave back no echoes, as though the walls absorbed everything.

Indeed, they probably did. No doubt every Imperial conversation went into several ears. There might be eavesdroppers halfway across the Galaxy.

A light, moving. Down a crackling grav column came Cleon. “Hari! So happy you could come.”

Since refusing a summons by the Emperor was traditionally grounds for execution, Hari could barely suppress a wry smile. “My honor to serve, sire.”

“Come, sit.”

Cleon moved heavily. Rumor had it that his appetite, already legendary, had begun to exceed even the skills of his cooks and physicians. “We have much to discuss.”

The Emperor’s constant attendant glow served to subtly enhance him with its nimbus. The contrast was mild, serving to draw him out from a comparative surrounding gloom. The room’s embedded intelligences tracked his eyes and shed added light where his gaze fell, again with delicate emphasis, subtly applied. The soft touch of his regard yielded a radiance which guests scarcely noticed, but which acted subconsciously, adding to their awe. Hari knew this, yet the effect still worked; Cleon looked masterful, regal.

“I fear we have hit a snag,” Cleon said.

“Nothing you cannot master, I am sure, sire.”

Cleon shook his head wearily. “Now don’t you, too, go on about my prodigious powers. Some… elements-” he drew the word out with dry disdain “ -object to your appointment.”

“I see.” Hari kept his face blank, but his heart leaped.

“Do not be glum! I do want you for my First Minister.”

“Yes, sire.”

“But I am not, despite commonplace assumption, utterly free to act.”

“I realize that many others are better qualified-”

“In their own eyes, surely.”

“-and better trained, and-”

“And know nothing of psychohistory.”

“Demerzel exaggerated the utility of psychohistory.”

“Nonsense. He suggested your name to me.”

“You know as well as] that he was exhausted, not in his best frame of-”

“His judgment was impeccable for decades.” Cleon eyed Hari. “One would almost think you were trying to avoid appointment as First Minister.”

“No, sire, but-”

“Men-and women, for that matter-have killed for far less.”

“And been killed, once they got it.”

Cleon chuckled. “True enough. Some First Ministers do get self-important, begin to scheme against their Emperor-but let us not dwell upon the few failures of our system.”

Hari recalled Demerzel saying, “The succession of crises has reached the point where the consideration of the Three Laws of Robotics paralyzes me.” Demerzel had been unable to make choices because there were no good ones left. Every possible move hurt someone, badly. So Demerzel, a supreme intelligence, a clandestine humaniform robot, had suddenly left the scene. What chance did Hari have?

“I will assume the position, of course,” Hari said quietly, “if necessary.”

“Oh, it’s necessary. If possible, you mean. Factions on the High Council oppose you. They demand a full discussion.”

Hari blinked, alarmed. “Will I have to debate?”

“-and then a vote.”

“I had no idea the Council could intervene.”

“Read the Codes. They do have that power. Typically they do not use it, bowing to the superior wisdom of the Emperor.” A dry little laugh. “Not this time.”

“If it would make it easier for you, I could absent myself while the discussion-”

“Nonsense! I want to use you to counter them.”

“I haven’t any ideas how to-”

“I’ll scent out the issues; you advise me on answers. Division of labor, nothing could be simpler.”

“Um.” Demerzel had said confidently, “If he believes you have the psychohistorical answer, he will follow you eagerly and that will make you a good First Minister.” Here, in such august surroundings, that seemed quite unlikely.

“We will have to evade these opponents, maneuver against them. “

“I have no idea how to do that.”

“Of course you do not! I do. But you see the Empire and all its history as one unfurling scroll. You have the theory.”

Cleon relished ruling. Hari felt in his bones that he did not. As First Minister, his word could determine the fate of millions. That had daunted even Demerzel.

“There is still the Zeroth law,” Demerzel had said just before they parted for the last time. It placed the well-being of humanity as a whole above that of any single human. The First law then read, A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate the Zeroth Law. Fair enough, but how was Hari to carry out a job which not even Demerzel could do? Hari realized that he had been silent for too long, and that Cleon was waiting. What could he say?

“Um, who opposes me?”

“Several factions united behind Betan Lamurk.”

“What’s his objection?”

To his surprise, the Emperor laughed heartily. “That you aren’t Betan Lamurk.”

“You can’t simply-”

“Overrule the Council? Offer Lamurk a deal? Buy him off?”

“I didn’t mean to imply, sire, that you would stoop to-”

“Of course I would ‘stoop,’ as you put it. The difficulty lies with Lamurk himself. His price to allow you in as First Minister would be too high.”

“Some high position?”

“That, and some estates, perhaps an entire Zone.”

Turning an entire Zone of the Galaxy over to a single man…”High stakes.”

Cleon sighed. “We are not as rich, these days. In the reign of Fletch the Furious, he bartered whole Zones simply for seats on the Council.”

“Your supporters, the Royalists, they can’t outmaneuver Lamurk?”

“You really must study current politics more, Seldon. Though I suppose you’re so steeped in history, all this seems a bit trivial?”

Actually, Hari thought, he was steeped in mathematics. Dors supplied the history he needed, or Yugo. “I will do so. So the Royalists-”

“Have lost the Dahlites, so they cannot muster a majority coalition.”

“The Dahlites are that powerful?”

“They have an argument popular with a broad audience, plus a large population.”

“I did not know they were so strong. My own close assistant, Yugo”

“I know, a Dahlite. Watch him.”

Hari blinked. “Yugo is a strong Dahlite, true. But he is loyal, a fine, intuitive mathist. But how did you-”

“Background check.” Cleon waved his hand in airy dismissal. “One must know a few things about a First Minister.”

Hari disliked being under an Imperial microscope, but he kept his face blank. “Yugo is loyal to me.”

“I know the story, how you uplifted him from hard labor, bypassing the Civil Service filters. Very noble of you. But I cannot overlook the fact that the Dahlites have a ready audience for their fevered outpourings. They threaten to alter the representation of Sectors in the High Council, even in the Lower Council. So” Cleon jabbed a finger “-watch him.”

“Yes, sire.” Cleon was getting steamed up about nothing, as far as Yugo was concerned, but no point in arguing.

“You will have to be as circumspect as the Emperor’s wife during this, ah, transitional period.”

Hari recalled the ancient saying, that above all the Emperor’s wife (or wives, depending upon the era) must keep her skirts clean, no matter what muck she walks above. The analogy was used even when the Emperor proved to be homosexual, or even when a woman held the Imperial Palace. “Yes, sire. Uh, ‘transitional’…?”

Cleon looked off in a distracted way at the towering, shadowy art forms looming around them. By now Hari understood that this pointed to the crux of why he had been summoned. “Your appointment will take a while, as the High Council fidgets. So I shall seek your advice…”

“Without giving me the power.”

“Well, yes.”

Hari felt no disappointment. “So I can stay in my office at Streeling?”

“I suppose it would seem forward if you came here.”

“Good. Now, about those Specials-”

Theymust remain with you. Trantor is more dangerous than a professor knows.”

Hari sighed. “Yes, sire.”

Cleon lounged back, his airchair folding itself about him elaborately. “Now I would like your advice on this Renegatum matter.”

“Renegatum?”

For the first time, Hari saw Cleon show surprise. “You have not followed the case? It is everywhere!”

“I am a bit out of the main stream, sire.”

“The Renegatum-the Society of Renegades. They kill and destroy.”

“For what?”

“For the pleasure of destruction!” Cleon slapped his chair angrily and it responded by massaging him, apparently a standard answer. “The latest of their members to ‘demonstrate their contempt for society’ is a woman named Kutonin. She invaded the Imperial Galleries, torch-melted art many millennia old, and killed two guards. Then she peacefully turned herself over to the officers who arrived.”

“You shall have her executed?”

“Of course. Court decided she was guilty quickly enough-she confessed.”

“Readily?”

“Immediately.”

Confession under the subtle ministrations of the Imperials was legendary. Breaking the flesh was easy enough; the Imperials broke the suspect’s psyche, as well. “So sentence can be set by you, it being a high crime against the Imperium.”

“Oh yes, that old law about rebellious vandalism.”

“It allows the death penalty and any special torture.”

“But death is not enough! Not for the Renegatum crimes. So I turn to my psychohistorian.”

“You want me to…?”

“Give me an idea. These people say they’re doing it to bring down the existing order and all that, of course. But they get immense planet-wide coverage, their names known by everyone as the destroyers of time-honored art. They go to their graves famous. All the psychers say that’s their real motivation. I can kill them, but they don’t care by that time!”

“Um,” Hari said uncomfortably. He knew full well he could never comprehend such people.

“So give me an idea. Something psychohistorical.” Hari was intrigued by the problem, but nothing came to mind. He had long ago learned to deliberately not concentrate on a vexing question immediately, letting his subconscious have first crack. To gain time he asked, “Sire, you saw the smoke beyond the gardens?”

“Um? No.” Cleon gave a quick hand signal to unseen eyes and the far wall blossomed with light. A full holo of the gardens filled the massive space. The oily black plume had grown. It coiled snakelike into the gray sky.

A soft, neutral voice spoke in midair. “A breakdown, with insurrection by mechanicals, has caused this unfortunate lapse in domestic order.”

“A tiktok riot?” This sort of thing Hari had heard about.

Cleon rose and walked toward the holo. “Ah yes, another recalcitrant riddle. For some reason the mechanicals are going awry. Look at that! How many levels are-burning?”

“Twelve levels are aflame,” the autovoice answered. “Imperial Analysis estimates a death toll of four hundred thirty-seven, within an uncertainty of eighty-four.”

“Imperial cost?” Cleon demanded.

“Minor. Some Imperial Regulars were hurt in subduing mechanicals.”

“Ah. Well then, it is a small matter.” Cleon watched as the wall close-upped. The view plunged down a smoking pit. To the side, like a blazing layer cake, whole floors curled up from the heat. Sparks shot between electrical boosters. Burst pipes showered the flames but had little effect.

Then a distant view, telescoping up into orbit. The program was giving the Emperor an eyeful, showing off its capabilities. Hari guessed that it didn’t often get the chance. Cleon the Calm was one derisive nickname for him, for he seemed bored with most matters that moved men.

From space, the only deep green was the Imperial Gardens-just a splotch amid the grays and browns of roofs and roof-agriculture. Charcoal-black solar collectors and burnished steel, pole to pole. The ice caps had dissipated long ago and the seas sloshed in underground cisterns.

Trantor supported forty billion people in a world-wrapping single city, seldom less than half a kilometer deep. Sealed, protected, its billions had long grown used to recycled air and short perspectives, and feared the open spaces a mere elevator ride away.

The view zoomed down into the smoky pit again. Hari could see tiny figures leaping to their deaths to escape the flames. Hundreds dying….Hari’s stomach lurched. In crowded stacks of humanity, accidents took a fearsome toll.

Still, Hari calculated, there were on average only a hundred people in a square kilometer of the planet’s surface. People jammed into the more popular Sectors out of preference, not necessity. With the seas pumped below, there was ample room for automated factories, deep mines, and immense, cavernous growing pods, where raw materials for food emerged with little direct human labor needed. These wearisome chores the tiktoks did. But now they were bringing mayhem to the intricacy that was Trantor, and Cleon fumed as he watched the disaster grow, eating away whole layers with fiery teeth.

More figures writhed in the orange flames. These were people, not statistics, he reminded himself. Bile rose in his throat. To be a leader meant that sometimes you had to look away from the pain. Could he do that?

“Another puzzle, my Seldon,” Cleon said abruptly. “Why do the tiktoks have these large-scale ‘disorders’ my advisers keep telling me about? Ah?”

“I do not-”

“There must be some psychohistorical explanation!”

“These tiny phenomena may well lie beyond-”

“Work on it! Find out!”

“Uh, yes, sire.”

Hari knew enough to let Cleon pad pointlessly around the vault, frowning at the continuing wall-high scenes of carnage, in utter silence. Perhaps, Hari thought, the Emperor was calm because he had seen so much calamity already. Even horrendous news palls. A sobering thought; would the same happen to the naive Hari Seldon?

Cleon had some way of dealing with disaster, though, for after a few moments he waved and the scenes vanished. The vault filled with cheerful music and the lighting rose. Attendants scampered out with bowls and trays of appetizers. A man at Hari’s elbow offered him a stim. Hari waved it away. The sudden shift in mood was heady enough. Apparently it was commonplace, though, for the Imperial Court.

Hari had felt something tickling at the back of his mind for several minutes now, and the quiet moments had given him a chance to finally pay attention to it. As Cleon accepted a stim, he said hesitantly, “Sire, I-?”

“Yes? Have one, ah?”

“Nossir, I, I had a thought about the Renegatum and the Kutonin woman.”

“Oh, my, I’d rather not think about-”

“Suppose you erase her identity.”

Cleon’s hand stopped with a stim halfway to his nose. “Ah?”

“They are willing to die, once they’ve attracted attention. They probably think they will live on, be famous. Take that away from them. Permit no release of their true names. In all media and official documents, give them an insulting name.”

Cleon frowned. “Another name…?”

“Call this Kutonin woman Moron One. The next one, Moron Thro. Make it illegal by Imperial decree to ever refer to her any other way. Then she as a person vanishes from history. No fame.”

Cleon brightened. “Now, that’s an idea. I’ll try it. I not merely take their lives, I can take their selves.”

Hari smiled wanly as Cleon spoke to an adjutant, giving instructions for a fresh Imperial Decree. Hari hoped it would work, but in any case, it had gotten him off the hook. Cleon did not seem to notice that the idea had nothing to do with psychohistory.

Pleased, he tried an appetizer. They were startlingly good.

Cleon beckoned to him. “Come, First Minister, I have some people for you to meet. They might prove useful, even to a mathist.”

“I am honored.” Dors had coached him on a few homilies to use when he could think of nothing to say and he trotted one out now. “Whatever would be useful in service to the people-”

“Ah, yes, the people,” Cleon drawled. “I hear so much about them.”

Hari realized that Cleon had spent a life listening to pat, predictable speeches. “Sorry, sire, I-”

“It reminds me of a poll result, assembled by my Trantorian specialists.” Cleon took an appetizer from a woman half his size. “They asked, ‘To what do you attribute the ignorance and apathy of the Trantorian masses?’ and the most common reply was ‘Don’t know and don’t care.”‘

Only when Cleon laughed did Hari realize this was a joke.

3.

He woke with ideas buzzing in his head.

Hari had learned to lie still, facedown in the gossamer e-field net that cradled his neck and head in optimum alignment with his spine…to drift… and let the flitting notions collide, merge, fragment.

He had learned this trick while working on his thesis. Overnight his subconscious did a lot of his work for him, if he would merely listen to the results in the morning. But they were delicate motes, best caught in the fine fabric of half-sleep.

He sat up abruptly and made three quick notes on his end table. The squiggles would be sent to his primary computer, for later recall at the office.

“Rooowwwrr,” Dors said, stretching. “The intellect is already up.”

“Um,” he said, staring into space.

“C’mon, before breakfast is body time.”

“See if you disagree with this idea I just had. Suppose-”

“I am not inclined, Academician Professor Seldon, to argue.”

Hari came out of his trance. Dors threw back the covers and he admired her long, slim legs. She had been sculpted for strength and speed, but such qualities converged in an agreeable concert of surfaces, springy to the touch, yielding yet resisting. He felt himself jerked out of his mood and into- “Body time, yes. You are inclined for other purposes.”

“Trust a scholar to put the proper definition to a word.”

In the warm, dizzying scuffle that followed there was some laughter, some sudden passion, and best of all, no time to think. He knew this was just what he needed, after the tensions of yesterday, and Dors knew it even better.

He emerged from the vaporium to the smell of kaff and breakfast, served out by the autos. The news flitted across the far wall and he managed to ignore most of it. Dors came out of her vaporium patting her hair and watched the wall raptly. “Looks like more stalling in the High Council,” she said. “They’re putting off the ritual search for more funding in favor of arguments over Sector sovereignty. If the Dahlites-”

“Not before I ingest some calories.”

“But this is just the sort of thing you must keep track of!”

“Not until I have to.”

“You know I don’t want you to do anything dangerous, but for now, not paying attention is foolish.”

“Maneuvering, who’s up and who’s down-spare me. Facts I can face.”

“Fond of facts, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“They can be brutal.”

“Sometimes they’re all we have.” He thought a moment, then grasped her hand. “Facts, and love.”

“Love is a fact, too.”

“Mine is. The undying popularity of entertainments devoted to romance suggests that to most people it is not a fact but a goal.”

“An hypothesis, you mathematicians would say.”

“Granted. ‘Conjecture,’ to be precise.”

“Preserve us from precision.”

He swept her suddenly into his arms, cupped her rump in his hands and, with some effort he took trouble to conceal, lifted her. “But this-this is a fact.”

“My, my.” She kissed him fiercely. “The man is not all mind.”

He succumbed to the seductive, multisensic news as he munched. He had grown up on a farm and liked big breakfasts. Dors ate sparingly; her twin religions, she said, were exercise and Hari Seldon-the first to preserve her strength for the second. He thumbed his own half of the wall to the infinitesimal doings of markets, finding there a better index of how Trantor was doing than in the stentorian bluster of the High Council.

As a mathist, he liked following the details. But after five minutes of it he slapped the table in frustration.

“People have lost their good sense. No First Minister can protect them from their own innocence.”

“My concern is protecting you from them.” Hari blanked his holo and watched hers, an ornate 3D of the factions in the High Council. Red tracers linked factions there with allies in the Low Council, a bewildering snake pit. “You don’t think this First Minister thing is going to work, do you?”

“It could.”

“They’re absolutely right-I’m not qualified.”

“Is Cleon?”

“Well, he has been reared to do the job.”

“You’re ducking the question.”

“Exactly.” Hari finished his steak and began on the egg-quhili souffle. He had left the e-stim on all night to improve his muscle tone and that made him hungry. That, and the delightful fact that Dors viewed sex as an athletic opportunity.

“I suppose your present strategy is best,” Dors said thoughtfully. “Remain a mathist, at a lofty remove from the fray.”

“Right. Nobody assassinates a guy with no power.”

“But they do ‘erase’ those who might get in the way of their taking power.”

Hari hated thinking of such things so early. He dug into the souffle. It was easy to forget, amid the tastes specially designed to fit his own well-tabulated likes, that the manufacturum built their meal from sewage. Eggs that had never known the belly of a bird. Meat appeared without skin or bones or gristle or fat. Carrots arrived without topknots. A food-manfac was delicately tuned to reproduce tastes, just short of the ability to actually make a live carrot. The minor issue of whether his souffle tasted like a real one, made by a fine chef, faded to unimportance compared with the fact that it tasted good to him-the only audience that mattered.

He realized that Dors had been talking for some moments about High Council maneuverings and he had not registered a word. She had advice on how to handle the inevitable news people, on how to receive calls, on everything. Everyone did, these days…

Hari finished, had some kaff, and felt ready to face the day as a mathist, not as a minister. “Reminds me of what my mother used to say. Know how you make God laugh?”

Dors looked blank, drawn out of her concentration. “How to…oh, this is humor?”

“You tell him your plans.”

She laughed agreeably.

Outside their apartment they acquired the Specials again. Hari felt they were unnecessary; Dors was quite enough. But he could scarcely explain that to Imperial officials. There were other Specials on the floors above and below as well, a full-volume defense screen. Hari waved to friends he saw on the way across the Streeling campus, but the presence of the Specials held them at too great a distance to speak.

He had a lot of Mathist Department business to tend to, but he followed his instinct and put his calculations first. Briskly he retrieved his ideas from the bedside notepad and stared at them, doodling absently in air, stirring symbols like a pot of soup, for over an hour.

When he was a teenager the rigid drills of schooling had made him think that mathematics was just felicity with a particular kind of minutiae, knowing things, a sort of high-grade coin collecting. You learned relations and theorems and put them together.

Only slowly did he glimpse the soaring structures above each discipline. Great spans joined the vistas of topology to the infinitesimal intricacies of differentials, or the plodding styles of number theory to the shifting sands of group analysis. Only then did he see mathematics as a landscape, a territory of the mind to rove and scout.

To traverse those expanses he worked in mind time-long stretches of uninterrupted flow when he could concentrate utterly on problems, fixing them like flies in timeless amber, turning them this way and that to his inspecting light, until they yielded their secrets.

Phones, people, politics-all these transpired in real time, snipping his thought train, killing mind time. So he let Yugo and Dors and others fend off the world throughout the morning.

But today Yugo himself snipped his concentration. “Just a mo,” he said, slipping through the crackling door field. “This paper look right?”

He and Yugo had developed a plausible cover for the psychohistory project. They regularly published research on the nonlinear analysis of “social nuggets and knots,” a sub field with an honorable and dull history. Their analysis applied to subgroups and factions in Trantor, and occasionally on other worlds.

The research was in fact useful to psychohistory, serving as a subset of equations to what Yugo insisted on calling the full “Seldon Equations.” Hari had given up being irked at this term, even though he wished to keep a personal distance from the theory.

Though scarcely a waking hour passed without his thinking about psychohistory, he did not want it to be a template for his own worldview. Nothing rooted in a particular personality could hope to describe the horde of saints and rascals revealed by human history. One had to take the longest view possible.

“See,” Yugo said, making lines of print and symbols coalesce on Hari’s holo. “I got all the analysis of the Dahlite crisis. Neat as you please, huh?”

“Um, what’s the Dahlite crisis?”

Yugo’s surprise was profound. “We’re not bein’ represented! “

“You live in Streeling.”

“Once a Dahlan, you’re always one. Just like you, from Helical.”

“Helicon. I see, you don’t have enough delegates in the Low Council?”

“Or the High!”

“The Codes allow-”

“They’re out of date.”

“Dahlites get a proportional share-”

“And our neighbors, the Ratannanahs and the Quippons, they’re schemin’ against us.”

“How so?”

“There’re Dahlans in plenty other Sectors. They don’t get represented.”

“You’re spoken for by our Streeling-”

“Look, Hari, you’re a Helical. Wouldn’t understand. Plenty Sectors, they’re just places to sleep. Dahl is a people.”

“The Codes set forth rules for accommodating separate subcultures, ethnicities-”

“They’re not workin’.”

Hari saw from Yugo’s jutting jaw that this was not a point for graceful debate. He did know something of the slowly gathering constitutional crisis. The Codes had maintained a balance of forces for millennia, but only by innovative adaptation. Little of that seemed available now. “We agree on that. So how does our research bear upon Dahl?”

“See, I took the socio-factor analysis and-”

Yugo had an intuitive grasp of nonlinear equations. It was always a pleasure to watch his big hands cut the air, slicing through points and pounding objections to pulp. And the calculations were good, if a bit simple.

The nuggets-and-knots work attracted little attention. It had made some in mathematics write him off as a promising young man who had never risen to his potential. This was perfectly all right with Hari. Some mathists guessed that his true core research went unpublished; these he treated kindly but gave no hint of confirmation.

“-so there’s a pressure-nugget buildin’ in Dahl, you bet,” Yugo finished.

“Of course, glancing at the news holos shows that.”

“Well, yeah-but I’ve proved it’s justified.”

Hari kept his face composed; Yugo was really worked up about this. “You’ve shown one of the factors. But there are others in the knot equations.”

“Well, sure, but everybody knows-”

“What everybody knows doesn’t need much proof. Unless, of course, it’s wrong.”

Yugo’s face showed a rush of emotions: surprise, concern, anger, hurt, puzzlement. “You don’t support Dahl, Hari?”

“Of course I do, Yugo.” Actually, the truth was that Hari didn’t care. But that was too bald a point to make, with Yugo seeming wounded. “Look, the paper is fine. Publish.”

“The three basic knot equations, they’re yours.”

“No need to call them that.”

“Sure, just like before. But your name goes on the paper.”

Something tickled Hari’s mind, but he saw the right answer now was to reassure Yugo. “If you like.”

Yugo went on about details of publication, and Hari let his eyes drift over the equations. Terms for representation in models of Trantorian democracy, value tables for social pressures, the whole apparatus. A bit stuffy. But reassuring to those who suspected that he was hiding his major results-as he was, of course.

Hari sighed. Dahl was a festering political sore. Dahlites on Trantor mirrored the culture of the Dahl Galactic Zone. Every powerful Zone had its own Sectors in Trantor, for influence-peddling and general pressuring.

But Dahl was minor on the scale that he wanted to explore-simple, even trivial. The knot equations which described High Council representation were truncated forms of the immensely worse riddle of Trantor.

Allof Trantor-one teeming world, baffling in its sheer size, its intricate connections, meaningless. coincidences, random juxtapositions, sensitive dependencies. His equations were still terribly inadequate for this shell which housed forty billion bustling souls.

How much worse was the Empire!

People, confronting bewildering complexity, tend to find their saturation level. They master the easy connections, local links, and rules of thumb. They push this until they meet a wall of complexity too thick and high and hard to grasp, to climb.

There they stall. Gossip, consult, fret-and finally, gamble.

The Empire of twenty-five million worlds was a problem greater even than understanding the whole rest of the universe-because at least the galaxies beyond did not have humans in them. The blind, blunt motions of stars and gas were child’s play, compared to the convoluted trajectories of people.

Sometimes it wore him down. Trantor was bad enough, eight hundred Sectors with forty billion people. What of the Empire, with twenty-five million planets of average four billion souls apiece? One hundred quadrillion people!

Worlds interacted through the narrow necks of wormholes, which at least simplified some of the economic issues. But culture traveled at the speed of light through wormholes, information without mass, zooming across the Galaxy in destabilizing waves. A farmer on Oskatoon knew that a duchy had fallen on the other side of the Galactic disk a few hours after the blood on the palace floor started turning brown.

How to include that?

Clearly, the Empire extended beyond the Complexity Horizon of any person or computer. Only sets of equations which did not try to keep track of every detail could work.

Which meant that an individual was nothing on the scale of events worth studying. Even a million made about as much difference as a single raindrop falling in a lake.

Suddenly Hari was even more glad that he had kept psychohistory secret. How would people react if they knew that he thought they didn’t matter?

“Hari? Hari?”

He had been musing again. Yugo was still in the office. “Oh, sorry, just mulling over-”

“The department meeting.”

“What?

“You called it for today.”

“Oh, no.” He was halfway through a calculation. “Can’t we delay…?”

“The whole department? They’re waiting.”

Hari dutifully followed Yugo into the assembly room. The three traditional levels were already filled. Cleon’s patronage had filled out an already high-ranked department until it was probably-how could one measure such things?-the best on Trantor. It had specialists in myriad disciplines, even areas whose very definitions Hari was a bit vague about.

Hari took his position at the hub of the highest level, at the exact center of the room. Mathists liked geometries which mirrored realities, so the full professors sat on a round, raised platform, in airchairs with ample arms.

Forming a larger annulus around them, a few steps lower, were the associate professors-those with tenure, but still at the middle rank in their careers. They had comfortable chairs, though without full computing and holo functions.

Below them, almost in a pit, were the untenured professors, on simple chairs of sturdy design. The oldest sat nearest the room’s center. In their outer ranks were the instructors and assistants, on plain benches without any computer capabilities whatever. Yugo rested there, scowling, plainly feeling out of place.

Hari had always thought it was either enraging or hilarious, depending on his mood, that one of the most productive members of the department, Yugo, should have such low status. This was the true price of keeping psychohistory secret. The pain of this he tried to soothe by giving Yugo a good office and other perks. Yugo seemed to care little for status, since he had already ascended so far. And all without the Civil Service exams, too.

Today, Hari decided to make a little mischief. “Thank you, colleagues, for attending. We have many administrative matters to engage. Yugo?”

A rustle. Yugo’s eyes widened, but he stood up quickly and climbed up to the speaker’s platform.

He always had someone else chair meetings, even though as chairman he had called them, chosen the hour, fixed the agenda. He knew that some regarded him as a strong personality, simply by dint of knowing the research agenda so deeply.

That was a common error, mistaking knowledge for command. He had found that if he presided, there was little dissent from his own views. To get open discussion demanded that he sit back and listen and take notes, intervening only at key moments.

Years ago Yugo had wondered why he did this, and Hari waved away the problem. “I’m not a leader,” he said. Yugo gave him a strange look, as if to say, Who do you think you’re kidding?

Hari smiled to himself. Some of the full professors around him were muttering, casting glances. Yugo launched into the agenda, speaking quickly in a strong, clear voice.

Hari sat back and watched irritation wash over some of his esteemed colleagues. Noses wrinkled at Yugo’s broad accent. One of them mouthed to another, Dahlite! and was answered, Upstart!

About time they got “a bit of the boot,” as his father had once termed it. And for Yugo to get a taste of running the department.

After all, this First Minister business could get worse. He could need a replacement.

4.

“We should leave soon,” Hari said, scribbling on his notepad.

“Why? The reception doesn’t start for ages.” She smoothed out her dress with great care, eyes critical.

“I want to take a walk on the way.”

“The reception is in Dahviti Sector.”

“Humor me.”

She pulled on the sheath dress with some effort. “I wish this weren’t the style.”

“Wear something else, then.”

“This is your first appearance at an Imperial affair. You’ll want to look your best.”

“Translation: you look your best and stand next to me.”

“You’re just wearing that Streeling professorial garb.”

“Appropriate to the occasion. I want to show that I’m still just a professor.”

She worked on the dress some more and finally said, “You know, some husbands would enjoy watching their wives do this.”

Hari looked up as she wriggled into the last of the clingy ensemble in amber and blue. “Surely you don’t want to get me all excited and then have to endure the reception that way.”

She smiled impishly. “That’s exactly what I want.”

He lounged back in his airchair and sighed theatrically. “Mathematics is a finer muse. Less demanding.”

She tossed a shoe at him, missing by a precise centimeter.

Hari grinned. “Careful, or the Specials will rush to defend me.”

Dors began her finishing touches and then glanced at him, puzzled. “You are even more distracted than usual.”

“As always, I fit my research into the nooks and crannies of life.”

“The usual problem? What’s important in history?”

“I’d prefer to know what’s not.”

“I agree that the customary mega-history approach, economics and politics and the rest, isn’t enough.”

Hari looked up from his pad. “There are some historians who think that the little rules of a society have to be counted, to understand the big laws that make it work.”

“I know that research.” Dors twisted her mouth doubtfully. “Small rules and big laws. How about simplifying? Maybe the laws are just all the rules, added up?”

“Of course not.”

“Example,” she persisted.

He wanted to think, but she would not be put off. She poked him in the ribs. “Example!”

“All right. Here’s a rule: Whenever you find something you like, buy a lifetime supply, because they’re sure to stop making it.”

“That’s ridiculous. A joke.”

“Not much of a joke, but it’s true.”

“Well, do you follow this rule?”

“Of course.”

“How?”

“Remember the first time you looked in my closet?”

She blinked. He grinned, recalling. She had been subtly snooping, and slid aside the large but feather-light door. In a rectangular grid of shelves were clothes sorted by type, then color. Dors had gasped. “Six blue suits. At least a dozen padshoes, all black. And shirts!-off-white, olive, a few red. At least fifty! So many, all alike.”

“And exactly what I like,” he had said. “This also solves the problem of choosing what to wear in the morning. I just reach in at random.”

“I thought you wore the same clothes day after day.”

He had raised his eyebrows, aghast. “The same? You mean, dirty clothes?”

“Well, when they didn’t change…”

“I change every day!” He chuckled, remembering, and said, “Then I usually put on the same outfit the next day, because I like it. And you will not find any of those available in the stores again.”

“I’ll say,” she said, fingering the weave on his shirts. “These are at least four seasons out of fashion.”

“See? The rule works.”

“To me, a week is twenty-one clothing opportunities. To you, it’s a chore.”

“You’re ignoring the rule.”

“How long did you dress that way?”

“Since I noticed how much time I spent making decisions about what to wear. And that what I really liked to wear wasn’t in the stores very often. I generalized a solution to both problems.”

“You’re amazing.”

“I’m simply systematic.”

“You’re obsessional.”

“You’re judging, not diagnosing.”

“You’re a dear. Crazy, but a dear. Maybe they go together.”

“Is that a rule, too?”

She kissed him. “Yes, professor.”

The inevitable Special screen formed about them the instant they left their apartment. By now he and Dors had trained the Specials to at least allow them the privacy of a single wedge in the drop tube.

The grav drop was in fact no miracle of gravitational physics; it came from advanced electromagnetics. Each instant over a thousand electrostatic fields supported him through intricate charge imbalances. He could feel them playing in his hair, small twinges skating across his skin, as the field configurations handed him off to each other, each lowering his mass infinitesimally down the chute.

When they left the wedge, thirteen floors higher, Dors passed a charge-programmed comb through her hair. It crackled and snapped obediently into its style: “smart” hair.

They entered a broad passageway lined with shops. Hari liked being in a place where he could see farther than a hundred meters.

Movement was quick because there was no cross traffic for any conveyance. A slidewalk ran at the center, going their way, but they stayed near the shop windows and browsed as they ambled.

To move laterally, one simply went up or down a level by elevator or escalator, then stepped on a moving belt or entered a robopod. In the corridors to both sides the slideway ran opposite. With no left or right turns, traffic mishaps were rare. Most people walked wherever was practical, for the exercise and for the indefinable exhilaration of Trantor itself. People who came here wanted the constant stimulation of humanity, ideas, and cultures rubbing against each other in productive friction. Hari was not immune to it, though it lost some savor if overdone.

People in the squares and park-hexagons wore fashions from the twenty-five million worlds. He saw self-shaping “leathers” from animals who could not possibly have resembled the mythical horse. A man sauntered by with leggings slit to his hip, exposing blue-striped skin that bunched and slid in a perpetual show. An angular woman sported a bodice of open-mouthed faces, each swallowing ivory-nippled breasts; he had to look twice to believe they weren’t real. Girls in outrageously cut pomp-vestments paraded noisily. A child-or was it a normal inhabitant of a strong-grav world?-played a photozither, strumming its laser beams.

The Specials fanned out and their captain came trotting over. “We can’t cover you well here, Academician sir.”

“These are ordinary people, not assassins. They had no way of predicting that I’d be here.”

“Emperor says cover you, we cover you.”

Dors rapped back smartly, “I’ll handle the close-in threats. I’m able, I assure you.”

The captain’s mouth twisted sourly, but he gave himself a moment before saying, “I heard something about that. Still-”

“Have your men use their range detectors vertically. A shaped charge on the layers below and above could catch us.”

“Uh, yes’m.” He trotted off.

They passed by the jigsaw walls of the Farhahal Quadrant. A wealthy ancient had become obsessed with the notion that as long as his estate was unfinished, he would not himself finish-that is, die. Whenever an addition neared completion, he ordered up more. Eventually the tangle of rooms, runways, vaults, bridges and gardens became an incoherent motley stuck into every cranny of the original, rather simple design. When Farhahal eventually did “finish,” a tower half built, bickering by his heirs and lawyerly plundering of the estate for their fees brought the quadrant low. Now it was a fetid warren, visited only by the predatory and the unwary.

The Specials pulled in tight and the captain urged them to get into a robo. Hari grudgingly agreed. Dors had the concentrated look that meant she was worried. They sped in silence through shadowy tunnels. There were two stops and in the brilliantly lit stations Hari saw rats scurrying for shelter as the pod eased to a halt. He silently pointed them out to Dors.

“Brrrr,” she said. “One would think that at the very center of the Empire we could eliminate pests.”

“Not these days,” Hari said, though he suspected the rats had thrived even at the height of Empire. Rodents cared little for grandeur.

“I suppose they’ve been our eternal companions,” Dors said somberly. “No world is free of them.”

“In these tunnels, the long-distance pods fly so fast that occasionally rats get sucked into the air-breathing engines.”

Dors said uneasily, “That could damage the engines, even crash the pods.”

“No holiday for the rat, either.”

They passed through a Sector whose citizens abhorred sunlight, even the wan splashes which came down through the layers by radiance tubes. Historically, Dors told him, this had arisen from fears of its ultraviolet component, but the phobia seemed to go deeper than a mere health issue.

Their pod slowed and passed along a high ramp above open, swarming vaults. No natural light shafts brought illumination, only artificial phosphor glows. The Sector was officially named Kalanstromonia, but its citizens were known worldwide as Spooks. They seldom traveled, and their bleached faces stood out in crowds. Gazing down at them, they looked to Hari like swarms of grubs feeding on shadowy decay.

The Imperial Zonal Reception was inside a dome in the Julieen Sector. He and Dors entered with the Specials, who then gave way to five men and women wearing utterly inconspicuous business dress. These nodded to Hari and then appeared to forget him, moving down a broad rampway and chatting with each other.

A woman at the grand doorway made too much of his entrance. Music descended around him in a sound cloud, an arrangement of the Streeling Anthem blended subtly with the Helicon Symphony; This attracted attention from the crowds below-exactly what he did not want. A protocol team smoothly took the handoff from the door attendants, escorting him and Dors to a balcony. He was happy for the chance to look at the view.

From the peak of the dome the vistas were startling. Spirals descended to plateaus so distant he could barely make out a forest and paths. The ramparts and gardens there had drawn millennia of spectators, including, a guide told him, 999,987 suicides, all carefully tabulated through many centuries.

Now that the number approached a million, the guide went on with relish, attempts occurred nearly every hour. A man had been stopped just short of leaping that very day, wearing a gaudy holosuit programmed to flash I MADE THE MILLION after he struck.

“They seem so eager,” the guide concluded with what seemed to Hari a kind of pride.

“Well,” Hari remarked, trying to get rid of the man, “suicide is the most sincere form of self-criticism.”

The guide nodded wisely, unperturbed, and added, “Also, it does give them something to contribute to. That must be a consolation.”

The protocol team had, all planned out for him, an orbit through the vast reception. Meet X, greet Y, bow to Z.

“Say nothing about the Judena Zone crisis,” an aide insisted. This was easy, since he had never heard of it.

The appetite-enhancers were excellent, the food that followed even better (or seemed so, which was the point of the enhancers), and he took a stim offered by a gorgeous woman.

“You could get through this entire evening just nodding and smiling and agreeing with people,” Dors said after the first half hour.

“It’s tempting to do just that,” Hari whispered as they followed the protocol lieutenant to the next bunch of Zonal figures. The air in the vast, foggy dome was freighted with negotiations advanced and bargains struck.

The Emperor arrived with full pomp. He would pay the traditional hour’s tribute, then by ancient custom leave before anyone else was permitted to. Hari wondered if the Emperor ever wanted to linger in the middle of an interesting conversation. Cleon was well schooled in emperorhood, though, so the issue probably never came up. Cleon greeted Hari effusively, kissed Dors’ hand, and then seemed to lose interest in them within two minutes, moving on with his entourage to another circle of expectant faces.

Hari’s next group proved different. Not the usual mix of diplomats, aristos, and anxious brownclad assistants, his lieutenant told him, but high figures. “People with punch,” the man whispered.

A large, muscular man was holding forth at the center of a circle, a dozen faces raptly following his every word. The protocol lieutenant tried to whisk them past, but Hari stopped her. “That’s…”

“Betan Lamurk, sir.”

“Knows how to hold a crowd.”

“Indeed, sir. Would you like a formal introduction?”

“No, just let me listen.”

It was always a good idea to size up an opponent before he knew he was being watched. Hari’s father had taught him that trick, just before his first matheletic competition. Such techniques had not managed to save his father, but they worked in the milder groves of academe.

Black hair invaded his broad brow like a pincer attack, two pointed wedges reaching down to nearly the end of his eyebrows. His hooded eyes were widely spaced and blazed intently from a rigging of mirth wrinkles. A slender nose seemed to point to his proudest feature, a mouth assembled from varying parts. The lower lip curled in full, impudent humor. The upper, thin and muscular, curled downward in a curve that verged on a sneer. A viewer would know the upper lip could overrule the lower at any moment, shifting mood abruptly-a disquieting effect which could not have been bettered if he had designed it himself.

Hari realized quickly that, of course, Lamurk had.

Lamurk was discussing some detail of interZonal trade in the Orion spiral arm, a hot issue before the High Council at the moment. Hari cared nothing about trade, except as a variable in stochastic equations, so he simply watched the man’s manner.

To underline a point Lamurk would raise his hands over his head, fingers open, voice rising. Then, his point made, his voice evened out and he lowered them to chest height, held precisely side by side. As his well-modulated voice became deeper and more reflective, he moved the hands apart. Then-voice rising again-his hands soared to head level and windmilled one around the other, the subject now complex, the listener thereby commanded to pay close attention.

He kept close eye contact with the whole audience, a piercing gaze sweeping the circle. A last point, a quick touch of humor, grin flashing, sure of himself-a pause for the next question.

He finished his point with, “-and for some of us, ‘Pax Imperium’ looks more like ‘Tax Imperium,’ eh?” Then he saw Hari. A quick furrowing of his brow, then, “Academician Seldon! Welcome! I’d been wondering when I was going to get to meet you.”

“Don’t let me interrupt your, ah, lecture.”

This provoked some titters and Hari saw that to accuse a member of the High Council of pontificating was a mild social jab. “I found it fascinating.”

“Pretty humdrum stuff, I’m afraid, compared to you mathists,” Lamurk said cordially.

“I am afraid my mathematics is even more dry than Zonal trade.”

More titters, though this time Hari could not quite see why.

“I just try to separate out the factions,” Lamurk said genially. “People treat money like it is a religion.”

This gained him some agreeing laughter. Hari said, “Fortunately, there are no sects in geometry.”

“We’re just trying to get the best deal for the whole Empire, Academician.”

“The best is the enemy of the good, I’d imagine.”

“I suppose then, you’ll be applying mathematical logic to our problems on the Council?” Lamurk’s voice remained friendly, but his eyes took on a veiled character. “Assuming you gain a ministership?”

“Alas, so far as the laws of mathematics are sharp and certain, they do not refer to reality. So far as they refer to reality, they are not certain.”

Lamurk glanced at the crowd, which had grown considerably. Dors grasped Hari’s hand and he realized from her squeeze that this had somehow turned into something important. He could not see why, but there was no time to size up the situation.

Lamurk said, “Then this psychohistory thing I hear about, it’s not useful?”

“Not to you, sir,” Hari said.

Lamurk’s eyes narrowed, but his affable grin remained. “Too tough for us?”

“Not ready for use, I’m afraid. I don’t have the logic of it yet.”

Lamurk chuckled, beamed at the still growing crowd, and said jovially, “A logical thinker!-what a refreshing contrast with the real world.”

General laughter. Hari tried to think of something to say. He saw one of his bodyguards block a man nearby, inspect something in the man’s suit, then let him go.

“Y’see, Academician, on the High Council we can’t be spending our time on theory.” Lamurk paused for effect, as though making a campaign speech. “We’ve got to be just….and sometimes, folks, we’ve got to be hard.”

Hari raised an eyebrow. “My father used to say, ‘It’s a hard man who’s only just, and a sad man who’s only wise.”‘

A few ooohs in the crowd told him he had scored a hit. Lamurk’s eyes confirmed the cut.

“Well, we do try on the Council, we do. No doubt we can use some help from the learned quarters of the Empire. I’LL have to read one of your books, Academician.” He shot a look with raised eyebrows at the crowd. “Assuming I can.”

Hari shrugged. “I will send you my monograph on transfinite geometric calculus.”

“Impressive title,” Lamurk said, eyes playing to the audience.

“It’s the same with books as with men-a very small number play great parts; the rest are lost in the multitude.”

“And which would you rather be?” Lamurk shot back.

“Among the multitudes. At least I wouldn’t have to attend so many receptions.”

This got a big laugh, surprising Hari. Lamurk said, “Well, I’m sure the Emperor won’t tire you out with too much socializing. But you’ll get invited everywhere. You’ve got a sharp tongue on you, Academician.”

“My father had another saying, too. ‘Wit is like a razor. Razors are more likely to cut those who use them when they’ve lost their edge.”‘

His father had also told him that in a public trade of barbs, the one who lost temper first lost the exchange. He had not recalled that until this instant. Hari remembered too late that Lamurk was known for his humor in High Council meetings. Probably scripted for him; certainly he displayed none here.

A quick tightening of the cheeks spread into a bloodless white line of lip. Lamurk’s features twisted into an expression of distaste-not a long way to go, for most of them-and he gave an ugly, wet laugh.

The crowd stood absolutely silent. Something had happened.

“Ah, there are other people who would like to meet the Academician,” Hari’s lieutenant said, sliding neatly into the growing, awkward silence.

Hari shook hands, murmured meaningless pleasantries, and let himself be whisked away.

5.

He had another stim to calm himself. Somehow he was more jittery afterward than during the social collision. Lamurk had given Hari a cold, angry stare as they parted.

“I’ll keep track of him,” Dors said. “You just enjoy your fame.”

To Hari this was a flat impossibility, but he tried. Seldom did one see such a variety of people, and he calmed himself by lapsing into a habitual role: polite observer. It was not as though the usual social chitchat demanded much concentration. A warm smile would do most of the work for him here.

The party was a microcosm of Trantorian society. In spare moments, Hari watched the social orders interact.

Cleon’s grandfather had reinstated many Ruellian traditions, and one of those customs required that members of all five classes be present at any grand Imperial function. Cleon seemed especially keen on this practice, as if it would raise his popularity among the masses. Hari kept his own doubts private.

First and obvious came the gentry-the inherited aristocracy. Cleon himself stood at the apex of a pyramid of rank that descended from the Imperium to mighty Quadrant Dukes and Spiral Arm Princes, past Life Peers, all the way down to the local barons Hari used to know back on Helicon.

Working in the fields, he had seen them pompously scudding overhead. Each governed a domain no larger than they could cross by flitter in a day. To a member of the gentry, life was busy with the Great Game-a ceaseless campaign to advance the fortunes of one’s noble house, arranging greater status for your family line through political alliances, or marriages for your many children.

Hari snorted in derision, masking it by taking another stim. He had studied anthropological reports from a thousand Fallen Worlds-those that had devolved in isolation, reverting to cruder ways of life. He knew this pyramid-shaped order to be among the most natural and enduring human social patterns. Even when a planet was reduced to simple agriculture and hand-forged metals, the same triangular format endured. People liked rank and order.

The endless competition of gentry families had been the first and easiest psychohistorological system Hari ever modeled. He had first combined basic game theory and kin selection. Then, in a moment of inspiration, he inserted them into the equations that described sand grains skidding down the slopes of a dune. That correctly described sudden transitions: social slippages.

So it was with the rise and fall of noble family lines. Long, smooth eras-then abrupt shifts.

He watched the crowd, picking out those in the second aristocracy, supposedly equal to the first: the meritocracy.

As department chairman at a major Imperial university, Hari was himself a lord in that hierarchy-a pyramid of achievement rather than of birth. Meritocrats had entirely different obsessions than the gentry’s constant dynastic bickerings. In fact, few in Hari’s class bothered to breed at all, so busy were they in their chosen fields. Gentry jostled for the top ranks of Imperial government, while second tier meritocrats saw themselves wielding the real power.

If only Cleon had such a role in mind for me,Hari thought. A vice minister position, or an advisory post. He could have managed that for a time, or else bungled it and got himself forced out of office. Either way, he would be safe back at Streeling within a year or two. They don’t execute vice ministers…not for incompetence, at least.

Nor did a vice minister feel the worst burden of rule-bearing responsibility for the lives of a quadrillion human beings.

Dors saw him drifting along in his own thoughts. Under her gentle urging, he sampled tasty savories and made small talk.

The gentry could be distinguished by their ostentatiously fashionable clothing, while the economists, generals and other meritocrats tended to wear the formal garb of their professions.

So he was making a political statement, after all, Hari realized. In wearing professor’s robes, he emphasized that there might be a non-gentry First Minister for the first time in forty years.

Not that he minded making that statement. Hari just wished he had done it on purpose.

Despite the official Ruellian ethos, the remaining three social classes seemed nearly invisible at the party.

The factotums wore somber costumes of brown or gray, with expressions to match. They seldom spoke on their own. Usually they hovered at the elbow of some aristo, supplying facts and even figures that the more gaily-dressed guests used in their arguments. Aristos generally were innumerate, unable to do simple addition. That was for machines.

Hari found that he actually had to concentrate in order to pick the fourth class, the Greys, out of the crowd. He watched them move, like finches among peacocks.

Yet their kind made up more than a sixth of Trantor’s population. Drawn from every planet in the Empire by the all-seeing Civil Service tests, they came to the Capital World, served their time like bachelor monks, and left again for outworld postings. Flowing through Trantor like water in the gloomy cisterns, the Greys were seldom thought of, as honest and commonplace and dull as the metal walls.

That might have been his life, he realized. It was the way out of the fields for many of the brighter children he had known at Helicon. Except that Hari had been plucked right over the bureaucracy, sent straight to academe by the time he could solve a mere eighth-order tensor defoliation, at age ten.

Ruellianism preached that “citizen” was the highest social class of all. In theory, even the Emperor shared sovereignty with common men and women.

But at a party like this, the most numerous Galactic group was represented mostly by the servants carrying food and drink around the hall, even more invisible than the dour bureaucrats. The majority of Trantor’s population, the laborers and mechanics and shopkeepers-the denizens of the 800 Sectors-had no station at a gathering like this. They lay outside the Ruellian ranking.

As for the Artes, that final social order was not meant to be invisible. Musicians and jugglers strolled among the guests, the smallest, most flamboyant class.

Even more dashing was an air-sculptor Hari spotted across the vast chamber, when Dors pointed him out. Hari had heard of the new art form. The “statues” were of colored smoke that the artist exhaled in rapid puffs. Shapes of eerie, ghostlike complexity floated among the bemused guests. Some figures clearly made fun of the courtly gentry, as puffy caricatures of their ostentatious clothes and poses.

To Hari’s eye, the smoke figures seemed entrancing…until they started drifting apart into tatters, without substance or predictability.

“It’s all the mode,” he heard one onlooker remark. “I hear the artist comes straight from Sark! “

“The Renaissance world?” another asked, wide-eyed. “Isn’t that a little daring? Who invited him?”

“The Emperor himself, it’s said.”

Hari frowned. Sark, where those personality simulations came from. “Renaissance world,” he muttered irritably, knowing now what he disliked about the smoke shapes: their ephemeral nature. Their intended destiny, to dissolve into chaos.

As he watched, the air-sculptor blew a satirical tableau. The first figure formed of crimson smoke, and he did not recognize it until Dors elbowed him and laughed. “It’s you!”

He clamped his gaping mouth shut, unsure how to handle the social nuances. A second cloud of coiling blue streamers formed a clear picture of Lamurk, eyebrows knotted in fury. The foggy figures hovered in confrontation, Hari smiling, Lamurk scowling.

And Lamurk looked the fool, with bulging eyes and pouting lips.

“Time for a graceful exit,” Hari’s lieutenant whispered. Hari was only too glad to agree.

When they got home, he was sure that there had been a bit extra in the stim he was handed, something that freed his tongue. Certainly it was not the slow-spoken, reflective Seldon who had traded jabs with Lamurk. He would have to watch that.

Dors simply shook her head. “It was you. Just a portion of you that doesn’t get out to play very much.”

6.

“Parties are supposed to cheer people up,” Yugo said, sliding a cup of kaff across Hari’s smooth mahogany desktop.

“Not this one,” Hari said.

“All that luxury, powerful people, beautiful women, witty hangers-on-I think I could have stayed awake.”

“That’s what depresses me, thinking back over it. All that power! And nobody there seems to care about our decline.”

“Isn’t there some old saying about-”

“Fiddling while Roma burns. Dors knew it, of course. She says it’s from pre-Empire, about a Zone with pretensions of grandeur. ‘ All worms lead to Roma’ is another one.”

“Never heard of this Roma.”

“Me either, but pomposity springs forth eternal. It looks comic in retrospect.”

Yugo moved restlessly around Hari’s office. “So they don’t care?”

“To them it’s just backdrop for their power games.” Already the Empire had worlds, Zones, and even whole arcs of spiral arms descended into squalor. Still worse, in a way, was a steady slide into garish amusements, even vulgarity. The media swarmed with the stuff. The new “renaissance” styles from worlds like Sark were popular.

To Hari the best of the Empire was its strands of restraint, of subtlety and discretion in manners, finesse and charm, intelligence, talent, and even glamour. Helicon had been crude and rural, but it knew the difference between silk and swine.

“What do the policy types say?” Yugo sat halfway on Hari’s desk, avoiding the control functions implanted beneath a woody veneer. He had come in with the kaff as a pretext, fishing for gossip about the exalted. Hari smiled to himself; people relished some aspects of hierarchy, however much they griped about it.

“They’re hoping some of the ‘moral rebirth’ movements-like revised Ruellianism, say-will take hold. Put spine into the Zones, one of them said.”

Ummm.Think it’ll work?”

“Not for long.”

Ideology was an uncertain cement. Even religious fervor could not glue an empire together for long. Either force could drive formation of an empire, but they could not hold against greater, steady tides-principally, economics.

“How about the war in the Orion Zone?”

“Nobody mentioned it.”

“Think we’ve got war figured right in the equations?” Yugo had a knack for suddenly putting his finger on what was bothering Hari.

“No. War was an overesteemed element in history.”

Certainly war often gained center stage; no one continued to read a beautiful poem when a fist fight broke out nearby. But fist fights did not last, either. Further, they joggled the elbows of those trying to make a living. To engineers and traders alike, war did not pay. So why did wars break out now, with all the economic weight of the Empire against them?

“Wars are simple. But we’re missing something basic-I can feel it.”

“We’ve based the matrices on all that historical data Dors dug out,” Yugo said a bit defensively. “That’s solid.”

“I don’t doubt it. Still…”

“Look, we’ve got over twelve thousand years of hard facts. I built the model on that.”

“I have a feeling what we’re missing isn’t subtle.”

Most collapses were not from abstruse causes. In the early days of Empire consolidation, local minor sovereignties flourished, then died. There were recurrent themes in their histories.

Again and again, star-spanning realms collapsed under the weight of excessive taxation. Sometimes the taxes supported mercenary armies which defended against neighbors, or which simply kept domestic order against centrifugal forces. Whatever the ostensible cause of taxes, soon enough the great cities became depopulated, as people fled the tax collectors, seeking “rural peace.”

But why did they do that spontaneously?

“People.” Hari sat up suddenly. “That’s what we’re missing. “

“Huh? You proved yourself-remember? the Reductionist Theorem?-that individuals don’t matter.”

“They don’t. But people do. Our coupled equations describe them in the mass, but we don’t know the critical drivers.”

“That’s all hidden, down in the data.”

“Maybe not. What if we were big spiders, instead of primates? Would psychohistory look the same?”

Yugo frowned. “Well…if the data were the same…”

“Data on trade, wars, population statistics? It wouldn’t matter whether we were counting spiders instead of people?”

Yugo shook his head, his face clouding, unwilling to concede a point that might topple years of work. “It’s gotta be there.”

“Your coming in here to get details of what the rich and famous do at their revels-where’s that in the equations?”

Yugo’s mouth twisted, irked now. “That stuff, it doesn’t matter.”

“Who says?”

“Well, history-”

“Is written by the winners, true enough. But how do the great generals get men and women to march through freezing mud? When won’t they march?”

“Nobody knows.”

“We need to know. Or rather, the equations do.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.”

“Go to the historians?”

Hari laughed. He shared Dors’ contempt for most of her profession. The current fashion in the study of the past was a matter of taste, not data.

He had once thought that history was simply a matter of grubbing in musty cyberfiles. Then, if Dors would show him how to track down data-whether encoded in ancient ferrite cylinders or polymer blocks or strandware -thenhe would have a firm basis for mathematics. Didn’t Dors and other historians simply add one more brick of knowledge to an ever-growing monument?

The current style, though, was to marshal the past into a preferred flavor. Factions fought over the antiquity, over “their” history vs. “ours.” Fringes flourished. The “spiral-centric” held that historical forces spread along spiral arms, whereas the “Hub-focused” maintained that the Galactic Center was the true mediating agency for causes, trends, movements, evolution. Technocrats contended with Naturals, who felt that innate human qualities drove change.

Among myriad facts and footnotes, specialists saw present politics mirrored in the past. As the present fractured and transfigured, there seemed no point of reference outside history itself-an unreliable platform indeed, especially when one realized how many mysterious gaps there were in the records. All this seemed to Hari to be more fashion than foundation. There was no uncontested past.

What contained the centrifugal forces of relativism-let me have my viewpoint and you can have yours-was an arena of broad agreement. Most people generally held that the Empire was good, overall. That the long periods of stasis had been the best times, for change always cost someone. That above the competing throng, through the factions shouting what were essentially family stories at each other, there was worth in comprehending where humanity had passed, what it had done.

But there agreement stopped. Few seemed concerned with where humanity, or even the Empire, was going. He had come to suspect that the subject was ignored, in favor of your-history-against-mine, because most historians unconsciously dreaded the future. They sensed the decline in their souls and knew that over the horizon lay not yet another shift-then-stasis but a collapse.

“So what do we do?” Hari realized that Yugo had said this twice now. He had drifted off into reverie.

“I…don’t know.”

“Add another term for basic instincts?”

Hari shook his head. “People don’t run on instinct. But they do behave like people-like primates, I suppose.”

“So…we should look into that?”

Hari threw up his hands. “I confess. I feel that this line of logic is leading somewhere-but I can’t see the end of it.”

Yugo nodded, grinned. “It’ll come out when it’s ripe.”

“Thanks. I’m not the best of collaborators, I know. Too moody.”

“Hey, never mind. Gotta think out loud sometimes, is all.”

“Sometimes I’m not sure I’m thinking at all.”

“Lemme show you the latest, huh?” Yugo liked to parade his inventions, and Hari sat back as Yugo accessed the office holo and patterns appeared in midair. Equations hung in space, 30-stacked and each term color-coded.

So many! They reminded Hari of birds, flocking in great banks.

Psychohistory was basically a vast set of interlocked equations, following the variables of history. It was impossible to change one and not vary any other. Alter population and trade changed, along with modes of entertainment, sexual mores, and a hundred other factors.

Some were undoubtedly unimportant, but which? History was a bottomless quarry of factoids, meaningless without some way of winnowing the hail of particulars. That was the essential first task of any theory of history-to find the deep variables.

“Post-diction rates-presto!” Yugo said, his hand computer suspending in air 30 graphs, elegantly arrayed. “Economic indices, variable-families, the works.”

“What eras?” Hari asked.

“Third millennia to seventh, G.E.”

The multidimensional surfaces representing economic variables were like twisted bottles filled with-as Yugo time-stepped them-sloshing fluids. The liquids of yellow and amber and virulent red flowed around and through each other in a supple, slow dance. Hari was perpetually amazed at how beauty arose in the most unlikely ways from mathematics. Yugo had plotted abstruse econometric quantities, yet in the gravid sway of centuries they made delicate arabesques.

“Surprisingly good agreement,” Hari allowed. The yellow surfaces of historical data merged cleanly with the other color skins, fluids finding curved levels. “And covering four millennia! No infinities?”

“That new renormalization scheme blotted them out.”

“Excellent! The middle Galactic Era data is the most solid, too, correct?”

“Yeah. The politicians got into the act after the seventh millennium. Dors is helpin’ me filter out the garbage.”

Hari admired the graceful blending of colors, ancient wine in transfinite bottles.

The psychohistorical rates linked together strongly. History was not at all like a sturdy steel edifice rigidly spanning time; it rather more resembled a rope bridge, groaning and flexing with every footfall. This “strong coupling dynamic” led to resonances in the equations, wild fluctuations, even infinities. Yet nothing really went infinite in reality, so the equations had to be fixed. Hari and Yugo had spent many years eliminating ugly infinites. Maybe their goal was in sight.

“How do the results look if you simply run the equations forward, past the seventh millennium?” Hari asked.

“Oscillations build up,” Yugo admitted.

Feedback loops were scarcely new. Hari knew the general theorem, ancient beyond measure: If all variables in a system are tightly coupled, and you can change one of them precisely and broadly, then you can indirectly control all of them. The system could be guided to an exact outcome through its myriad internal feedback loops. Spontaneously, the system ordered itself-and obeyed.

History, of course, obeyed no one. But for eras such as the fourth to seventh millennium, somehow the equations got matters right. Psychohistory could “post-dict” history.

In truly complex systems, how adjustments occur lay beyond the human complexity horizon, beyond knowing-and most important, not worth knowing.

But if the system went awry, somebody had to get down in the guts of it and find the trouble. “Any ideas? Clues?”

Yugo shrugged. “Look at this.”

The fluids lapped at the walls of the bottles. More warped volumes appeared, filled with brightly colored data-liquids. Hari watched as tides swept through the burnt-orange variable-space, driving answering waves in the purple layers nearby. Soon the entire holo showed furiously churning turbulence.

“So the equations fail,” Hari said.

“Yeah, big time, too. The grand cycles last about a hundred and twenty-five years. But smoothing out events shorter than eighty years gives a steady pattern. See-”

Hari watched turbulence build like a hurricane churning a multicolored ocean.

Yugo said, “That takes away scatter due to ‘generational styles,’ Dors calls it. I can take the Zones that consciously increased human lifespan. I time-step the equations forward, great-but then I run out of data. How come? I mine the history some, and it turns out those societies didn’t last long.”

Hari shook his head. “You’re sure? I’d imagine increasing the average age would bring a little wisdom into the picture.”

“Not so! I looked deeper and found that when the lifespan reached the social cycle time, usually about a hundred and ten Standard Years, instability rose. Whole planets had wars, depressions, general social illnesses.”

Hari frowned. “That effect-is it known?”

“Don’t think so.”

“This is why humans reached a barrier in improving their longevity? Society breaks down, ending the progress?”

“Yeah.”

Yugo wore a small, tight smile, by which Hari knew that he was rather proud of this result. “Growing irregularities, building to-chaos.”

This was the deep problem they had not mastered. “Damn!” Hari had a gut dislike of unpredictability.

Yugo gave Hari a crooked smile. “On that one, boss, I got no news.”

“Don’t worry,” Hari said cheerfully, though he didn’t feel it. “You’ve made good progress. Remember the adage-the Imperium wasn’t built in a day.”

“Yeah, but it seems to be fallin’ apart plenty fast.”

They seldom mentioned the deep-seated motivation for psychohistory: the pervasive anxiety that the Empire was declining, for reasons no one knew. There were theories aplenty, but none had predictive power. Hari hoped to supply that. Progress was infuriatingly slow.

Yugo was looking morose. Hari got up, came around the big desk, and gave Yugo a gentle slap on the back. “Cheer up! Publish this result.”

“Can I? We’ve got to keep psychohistory quiet.”

“Just group the data, then publish in a journal devoted to analytical history. Talk to Dors about selecting the journal.”

Yugo brightened. “I’ll write it up, show you-”

“No, leave me out of it. It’s your work.”

“Hey, you showed me how to set up the analysis, where-”

“It’s yours. Publish.”

“Well…”

Hari did not mention the fact that, now, anything published under his name would attract attention. A few might guess at the immensely larger theory lurking behind the simple lifespan-resonance effect. Best to keep a low profile.

When Yugo had gone back to work, Hari sat for a while and watched the squalls work through the data-fluids, still time-stepping in the air above his desk. Then he glanced at a favorite quotation of his, pointed out to him by Dors, given to him on a small, elegant ceramo-plaque:

Minimum force, applied at a cusp moment at the historical fulcrum, paves the path to a distant vision. Pursue only those immediate goals which serve the longest perspectives.

—Emperor Kamble’s 9th Oracle, Verse 17

“But suppose you can’t afford long perspectives?” he muttered, then went back to work.

7.

The next day he got an education in the realities of Imperial politics.

“You didn’t know the 3D scope was on you?” Yugo asked.

Hari watched the conversation with Lamurk replay on his office holo. He had fled to the University when the Imperial Specials started having trouble holding the media mob away from his apartment. They had called in reinforcements when they caught a team drilling an acoustic tap into the apartment from three layers above. Hari and Dors had gotten out with an escort through a maintenance grav drop.

“No, I didn’t. There was a lot going on.” He remembered his bodyguards accosting someone, checking and letting it pass. The 3D camera and acoustic tracker were so small that a media deputy could walk around with them under formal wear. Assassins used the same artful concealment. Bodyguards knew how to distinguish between the two.

Yugo said with Dahlite savvy, “Gotta watch ‘em, you gonna play in those leagues.”

“I appreciate the concern,” Hari said dryly.

Dors tapped a finger to her lips. “I think you came over rather well.”

“I didn’t want to seem as though I were deliberately cutting up a majority leader from the High Council,” Hari said heatedly.

“But that’s what you were doin’,” Yugo said.

“I suppose, but at the time it seemed like polite… banter,” he finished lamely. Edited for 3D, it was a quick verbal Ping-Pong with razor blades instead of balls.

“But you topped him at every exchange,” Dors observed.

“I don’t even dislike him! He has done good things for the Empire.” He paused, thinking. “But it was… fun.”

“Maybe you do have a talent for this,” she said.

“I’d rather not.”

“I don’t think you have much choice,” Yugo said. “You’re gettin’ famous.”

“Fame is the accumulation of misunderstandings around a well-known name,” Dors said.

Hari smiled. “Well put.”

“It’s from Eldonian the Elder, the longest-lived emperor. The only one of his clan to die of old age.”

“Makes the point,” Yugo said. “You gotta expect some stories, gossip, mistakes.”

Hari shook his head angrily. “No! Look, we can’t let this extraneous matter distract us. Yugo, what about those bootleg personality constellations you ‘acquired’?”

“I’ve got ‘em.”

“Machine translated? They will run?”

“Yeah, but they take an awful lot of memory and running volume. I’ve tuned them some, but they need a bigger parallel-processing network than I can give them.”

Dors frowned. “I don’t like this. These aren’t just constellations, they’re sims.”

Hari nodded. “We’re doing research here, not trying to manufacture a superrace.”

Dors stood and paced energetically. “The most ancient of taboos is against sims. Even personality constellations obey rigid laws! “

“Of course, ancient history. But-”

Prehistory.”Her nostrils flared. “The prohibitions go back so far, there are no records of how they started-undoubtedly, from some disastrous experiments well before the Shadow Age.”

“What’s that?” Yugo asked.

“The long time-we have no clear idea of how long it lasted, though certainly several millennia-before the Empire became coherent.”

“Back on Earth, you mean?” Yugo looked skeptical.

“Earth is more legend than fact. But yes, the taboo could go back that far.”

“These are hopelessly constricted sims,” Yugo said. “They don’t know anything about our time. One is a religious fanatic for some faith I never heard of. The other’s a smartass writer. No danger to anybody, except maybe themselves.”

Dors regarded Yugo suspiciously. “If they’re so narrow, why are they useful?”

“Because they can calibrate psychohistorical indices. We have modeling equations that depend on basic human perceptions. If we have a pre-ancient mind, even simmed, we can calibrate the missing constants in the rate equations.”

Dors snorted doubtfully. “I don’t follow the mathematics, but I know sims are dangerous.”

“Look, nobody savvy believes that stuff any more,” Yugo said. “Mathists have been running pseudo-sims for ages. Tiktoks-”

“Those are incomplete personalities, correct?” Dors asked severely.

“Well, yeah, but-”

“We could get into very big trouble if these sims are better, more versatile.”

Yugo waved away her point with his large hands, smiling lazily. “Don’t worry. I got them all under control. Anyway, I’ve already got a way to solve our problem of getting enough running volume, machine time-and I’ve got a cover for us.”

Hari arched his eyebrows. “What’s this?”

“I’ve got a customer for the sims. Somebody who’ll run them, cover all expenses, and pay for the privilege. Wants to use them for commercial purposes.”

“Who?” Hari and Dors asked together.

“Artifice Associates,” Yugo said triumphantly.

Hari looked blank. Dors paused as though searching for a distant memory, and then said, “A firm engaged in computer systems architecture.”

“Right, one of the best. They’ve got a market for old sims as entertainment.”

Hari said, “Never heard of them.”

Yugo shook his head in amazement. “You don’t keep up, Hari.”

“I don’t try to keep up. I try to stay ahead.”

Dors said, “I don’t like using any outside agency. And what’s this about paying?”

Yugo beamed. “They’re paying for license rights. I negotiated it all.”

“Do we have any control over how they use the sims?” Dors leaned forward alertly.

“We don’t need any,” Yugo said defensively. “They’ll probably use them in advertisements or something. How much use can you get out of a sim nobody will probably understand?”

“I don’t like it. Aside from the commercial aspects, it’s risky to even revive an ancient sim. Public outrage-”

“Hey, that’s the past. People don’t feel that way about tiktoks, and they’re getting pretty smart.”

Tiktoks were machines of low mental capacity, held rigorously beneath an intelligence ceiling by the Encoding Laws of antiquity. Hari had always suspected that the true, ancient robots had made those laws, so that the realm of machine intelligence did not spawn ever more specialized and unpredictable types.

The true robots, such as R. Daneel Olivaw, remained aloof, cool, and long-visioned. But in the gathering anxieties across the entire Empire, traditional cybernetic protocols were breaking down. Like everything else.

Dors stood. “I’m opposed. We must stop this at once.”

Yugo rose too, startled. “You helped me find the sims. Now you-”

“I did not intend this.” Her face tightened. Hari wondered at her intensity. Something else was at stake here, but what? He said mildly, “I see no reason to not make a bit of profit from side avenues of our research. And we do need increased computing capacity.”

Dors’ mouth worked with irritation, but she said nothing more. Hari wondered why she was so opposed. “Usually you don’t give a damn about social conventions.”

She said acidly, “Usually you are not a candidate for First Minister.”

“I will not let such considerations deflect our research,” he said firmly. “Understand?”

She nodded and said nothing. He instantly felt like an overbearing tyrant. There was always a potential conflict between being coworkers and lovers. Usually they waltzed around the problems. Why was she so adamant?

They got through some more work on psychohistory, and Dors mentioned his next appointment. “She’s from my history department. I asked her to look into patterns in Trantorian trends over the last ten millennia.”

“Oh, good, thanks. Could you show her in, please?”

Sylvin Thoranax was a striking woman, bearing a box of old data pyramids. “I found these in a library halfway around the planet,” she explained.

Hari picked one up. “I’ve never seen one of these. Dusty!”

“For some there’s no library index. I down-coded a few-and they’re good, still readable with a translation matrix.”

“Ummm.” Hari liked the musty feel of old technology from simpler times. “We can read these directly?”

She nodded. “I know how the reduced Seldon Equations function. You should be able to do a mat comparison and find the coefficients you need.”

Hari grimaced. “They’re not my equations; they come out of a body of research by many-”

“Come come, Academician, everyone knows you wrote down the procedures, the approach.”

Hari groused a little more, because it did irk him, but the Thoranax woman went on about using the pyramids and Yugo joined in enthusiastically and he let the point pass. She went off with Yugo to work and he settled into his usual academic grind.

His daily schedule hovered on the holo:

· Get Symposia speakers-sweeten the invitation for the reluctant

· Write nominations for Imperial Fellows

· Read student thesis, after it has been checked amp; passed by Logic Chopper program

These burned up the bulk of his day. Only when the Chancellor entered his office did he remember that he had promised to give a speech. The Chancellor had a quick, ironic smile and pursed lips, a reserved gaze-the scholar’s look. “Your…dress?” he asked pointedly.

Hari fumbled in his office closet, fetched forth the balloon-sleeved and ample-girted robe, and changed in the side room. His secretary handed him his all-purpose view cube as they quickly left the office. With the Chancellor he crossed the main square, his Specials in an inconspicuous formation fore and aft. A crowd of well-dressed men and women trained 3D cameras at them, one panning up and down to get the full effect of the Streeling blue-and-yellow swirl-stripes.

“Have you heard from Lamurk?”

“What about the Dahlites?”

“Do you like the new Sector Principal? Does it matter that she’s a trisexualist?”

“How about the new health reports? Should the Emperor set exercise requirements for Trantor?”

“Ignore them,” Hari said.

The Chancellor smiled and waved at the cameras. “They’re just doing their job.”

“What’s this about exercise?” Hari asked.

“A study found that electro-stim while sleeping doesn’t develop muscles as well as old-fashioned exercise.”

“Not surprising.” He had worked in the fields as a boy and never liked the idea of having his exertion stimmed while he slept.

A wedge of reporters pressed nearer, shouting questions.

“What does the Emperor think of what you said to Lamurk?”

“Is it true that your wife doesn’t want you to be First Minister?”

“What about Demerzel? Where is he?”

“What about the Zonal disputes? Can the Empire compromise?”

A woman rushed forward. “How do you exercise?”

Hari said sardonically, “I exercise restraint,” but his point sailed right past the woman, who looked at him blankly.

As they entered the Great Hall, Hari remembered to fetch forth the view cube and hand it to the hallmaster. A few 3Ds always made a talk pass more easily. “Big crowd,” he noted to the Chancellor as they took their places on the speech balcony above the bowl of seats.

“Attendance is compulsory. All class members are here.” The Chancellor beamed down at the multitude. “I wanted to be sure we looked good to the reporters outside.”

Hari’s mouth twisted. “How do they take attendance?”

“Everyone has a keyed seat. Once they sit, they’re counted, if their inboard ID matches the seat index.”

“A lot of trouble just to get people to attend.”

“They must! It’s for their own good. And ours.”

“They’re adults, or else why let them study advanced subjects? Let them decide what’s good for them.”

The Chancellor’s lips compressed as he rose to do the introduction. When Hari got up to talk, he said, “Now that you’re officially counted, I thank you for inviting me, and announce that this is the end of my formal address.”

A rustle of surprise. Hari’s gaze swept the hall and he let the silence build. Then he said mildly, “I dislike speaking to anyone who has no choice over whether to listen. Now I shall sit down, and anyone wishing to leave may do so.”

He sat. The auditorium buzzed. A few got up to leave. The other students booed them. When he rose to speak again they cheered.

He had never had an audience so on his side. He made the most of it, giving a ringing talk about the future of…mathematics. Not of the mortal Empire, but of beautiful, enduring mathematics.

8.

The woman from the Ministry of Interlocking Cultures looked down her nose at him and said, “Of course, we must have contributions from your group.”

Hari shook his head disbelievingly. “A…senso?”

She adjusted her formal suit by wriggling in his office’s guest chair. “This is an advanced program. All mathists are charged to submit Boon Behests.”

“We are completely unqualified to compose-”

“I understand your hesitation. Yet we at the Ministry feel these senso-symphonies will be just the thing needed to energize a, well, an art form which is showing little progress.”

“I don’t get it.”

She begrudgingly gave him a completely unconvincing, stilted smile. “The way we envision this new sort of senso-symphony, the artists-the mathists, that is-will transmogrify basic structures of thought, such as Euclidean conceptual edifices, or transfinite set theory fabrications. These will be translated by an art strainer-”

“Which is?”

“A computer filter which distributes conceptual patterns into a broad selection of sensory avenues.”

Hari sighed. “I see.” This woman had power and he had to listen to her. His psychohistory funding was secure, coming from the Emperor’s private largess. But the Streeling department could not ignore the Imperial Boon Board or its lackeys, such as the one before him. Such was boonmanship.

Far from being relaxed, meditative groves of quiet inquiry, research universities were intense, competitive, high-pressure marathons. The meritocrats-scholars and scientists alike-put in long hours, had stress-related health problems, high divorce rates, and few offspring. They cut up their results into bite-sized chunks, in pursuit of the Least Publishable Unit, so to magnify their lists of papers.

To gain a boon from the Imperial Offices one did the basic labor: Filling Out Forms. Hari knew well the bewildering maze of cross-linked questions. List and analyze type and “texture” of funding. Estimate fringe benefits. Describe kind of lab and computer equipment needed (can existing resources be modified to suit?). Elucidate philosophical stance of the proposed work.

The pyramid of power meant that the most experienced scholars did little scholarship. Instead, they managed and played the endless games of boonsmanship. The Greys grimly saw to it that no box went unchecked. About ten percent of boon petitions received funds, and then after two years’ delay, and for about half the requested money.

Worse, since the lead time was so great, there was a premium on hitting the nail squarely on the head with every boon. To be sure a study would work, most of it was done before writing the boon petition. This insured that there were no “holes” in the petition, no unexpected swerves in the work.

This meant scholarship and research had become mostly surprise-free, as well. No one seemed to notice that this robbed them of their central joy: the excitement of the unexpected.

“I will…speak to my department.” Order them to do it, would have been more honest. But one did try to preserve the amenities.

When she had left, Dors came into his office immediately, with Yugo right behind. “I will not work with these!” she said, eyes flaring.

Hari studied two large blocks of what seemed to be stone. Yet they could not be that heavy, for Yugo cradled one in each open palm. “The sims?” he guessed.

“In ferrite cores,” Yugo said proudly. “Stuck down in a rat’s warren, on a planet named Sark.”

“The world with that ‘New Renaissance’ movement?”

“Yeah-kinda crazy, dealin’ with them. I got the sims, though. They just came in, Worm Express. The woman in charge there, a Buta Fyrnix, wants to talk to you.”

“I said I didn’t want to be involved.”

“Part of the deal is she gets a face-to-face.”

Hari blinked, alarmed. “She’d come all the way here?”

“No, but they’re payin’ for a tightbeam. She’s standin’ by. I’ve routed her through. Just punch for the link.”

Hari had the distinct feeling that he was being hustled into something risky, far beyond the limits of his ordinary caution. Tightbeam time was expensive, because the Imperial wormhole system had been impacted with flow for millennia. Using it for a face-to-face was simply decadent, he felt. If this Fyrnix woman was paying for galactic-scale standby time, just to chat with a mathist…

Spare me from the enthused,Hari thought. “Well, all right.”

Buta Fyrnix was a tall, hot-eyed woman who smiled brightly as her image blossomed in the office. “Professor Seldon! I was so happy that your staff has taken an interest in our New Renaissance.”

“Well, actually, I gather it’s about those simulations.” For once, he was grateful for the two-second delay in transmission. The biggest wormhole mouth was a light-second from Trantor, and apparently Sark had about the same.

“Of course! We found truly ancient archives. Our progressive movement here is knocking over the old barriers, you’ll find.”

“I hope the research will prove interesting,” Hari said neutrally. How did Yugo get him into this?

“We’re turning up things that will open your eyes, Dr. Seldon.” She turned and gestured at the scene behind her, a large warren crammed with ancient ceramo storage racks. “We’re hoping to blow the lid off the whole question of pre-Empire origins, the Earth legend-the works!”

“I, ah, I will be very happy to see what results.”

“You’ve got to come and see it for yourself. A mathist like you will be impressed. Our Renaissance is just the sort of forward-looking enterprise that young, vigorous planets need. Do say you’ll pay us a visit-a state visit, we hope.”

Apparently the woman wanted to invest in a future First Minister. It took him more unbearable minutes to get away from her. He glowered at Yugo when at last her image wilted in the air.

“Hey, I got us a good deal, providing she got to do a li’l sell job on you,” Yugo said, spreading his hands.

“At considerable under-the-table cost, I hope?” Hari asked, getting up. Carefully he put a hand on one cube and found it surprisingly cool. Within its shadowy interior he could see labyrinths of lattices and winding ribbons of refracted light, like tiny highways through a somber city.

“Sure,” Yugo said with casual assurance. “Got some Dahlites to, ah, massage the matter.”

Hari chuckled. “I don’t think I should hear about it.”

“As First Minister, you must not,” Dors said.

“I am not First Minister!”

“You could be-and soon. This simulation matter is too risky. And you even spoke to the Sark source! I will not work on or with them.”

Yugo said mildly, “Nobody’s askin’ you to.”

Hari rubbed the cool, slick surface of a ferrite block, hefted it-quite light-and took the two from Yugo. He put them on his desk. “How old?”

Yugo said, “Sark says they dunno, but must be at least-”

Dors moved suddenly. She yanked up the blocks, one in each hand, turned to the nearest wall-and smashed them together. The crash was deafening. Chunks of ferrite smacked against the wall. Grains of debris spattered Hari’s face.

Dors had absorbed the explosion. The stored energy in the blocks had erupted as the lattice cracked.

In the sudden silence afterward Dors stood adamantly rigid, hands covered with grainy dust. Her hands were bleeding and she had a cut on her left cheek. She gazed straight at him. “I am charged with your safety.”

Yugo drawled, “Sure a funny way to show it.”

“I had to protect you from a potentially-”

“By destroying an ancient artifact?” Hari demanded.

“I smothered nearly all the eruption, minimizing your risk. But yes, I deem this Sark involvement as-’’

“I know, I know.” Hari raised his hands, palms toward her, recalling.

The night before he had come home from his rather well-received speech to find Dors moody and withdrawn. Their bed had been a rather chilly battleground, too, though she would not come out and say what had irked her so. Winning through withdrawal, Hari had once termed it. But he had no idea she felt this deeply.

Marriage is a voyage of discovery that never ends,he thought ruefully.

“I make decisions about risk,” he said to her, eyeing the rubble in his office. “You will obey them unless there is an obvious physical danger. Understand?”

“I must use my judgment-”

“No! Involvement with these Sarkian simulations may teach us about shadowy, ancient times. That could affect psychohistory.” He wondered if she were carrying out an order from Olivaw. Why would the robots care so strongly?

“When you are plainly imperiling-”

“You must leave planning-and psychohistory!-to me.”

She batted her eyelashes rapidly, pursed her lips, opened her mouth…and said nothing. Finally, she nodded. Hari let out a sigh.

Then his secretary rushed in, followed by the Specials, and the scene dissolved into a chaos of explanations. He looked the Specials captain straight in the face and said that the ferrite cores had somehow fallen into each other and apparently struck some weak fracture point.

They were, he explained-making it up as he went along, with a voice of professorial authority he had mastered long ago-fragile structures which used tension to stabilize themselves, holding in vast stores of microscopic information.

To his relief the captain just screwed up his face, looked around at the mess, and said, “I should never have let old tech like this in here.”

“Not your fault,” Hari reassured him. “It’s all mine.”

There would have been more pretending to do, but a moment later his holo rang with a reception. He glimpsed Cleon’s personal officer, but before the woman could speak the scene dissolved. He slapped his filter-face command as Cleon’s image coalesced in the air out of a cottony fog.

“I have some bad news,” the Emperor said without any greeting.

“Ah, sorry to hear that,” Hari said lamely.

Below Cleon’s vision he called up a suite of body language postures and hoped they would cover the ferrite dust clinging to his tunic. The red frame that stitched around the holo told him that a suitably dignified face would go out, keyed with his lip movements.

“The High Council is stuck on this representation issue.” Cleon chewed at his lip in irritation. “Until they resolve that, the First Ministership will be set aside.”

“I see. The representation problem…?”

Cleon blinked with surprise. “You haven’t been following it?”

“There is much to do at Streeling.”

Cleon waved airily. “Of course, getting ready for the move. Well, nothing will happen immediately, so you can relax. The Dahlites have logjammed the Galactic low Council. They want a bigger voice-in Trantor and in the whole damned spiral! That Lamurk has sided against them in the High Council. Nobody’s budging.”

“I see.”

“So we’ll have to wait before the High Council can act. Procedural matters of representation take precedent over even ministerships.”

“Of course.”

“Damn Codes!” Cleon erupted. “I should be able to have who I want.”

“I quite agree.” But not me, Hari thought.

“Well, thought you’d like to hear it from me.”

“I do appreciate that, sire.”

“I’ve got some things to discuss, that psychohistory especially. I’m busy, but-soon.”

“Very good, sire.”

Cleon winked away without saying good-bye.

Hari breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m free!” he shouted happily, throwing his hands up.

The Specials stared at him oddly. Hari noticed again his desk and files and walls, all spattered with black grit. His office still looked like paradise to him, compared with the luxuriant snare of the palace.

9.

“The trip, it’ll be worth it just to get out of Streeling,” Yugo said.

They entered the grav station with the inevitable Specials trying to casually stroll alongside. To Hari’s eye they were as inconspicuous as spiders on a dinner plate.

“True enough,” Hari said. At Streeling, High Council members could solicit him, pressure groups could penetrate the makeshift privacy of the Math Department, and of course the Emperor could blossom in the air at any time. On the move, he was safe.

“Good connection comin’ up in two point six minutes.” Yugo consulted his retinal writer by looking to the far left. Hari had never liked the devices, but they were a convenient way of reading-in this case, the grav schedule-while keeping both hands free. Yugo was toting two bags. Hari had offered to help, but Yugo said they were “family jewels” and needed care.

Without breaking stride they passed through an optical reader which consulted seating, billed their accounts, and notified the autoprogram of the increased mass load. Hari was a bit distracted by some free-floating math ideas, and so their drop startled him.

“Oops,” he said, clutching at his armrests. Falling was the one signal that could interrupt even the deepest of meditations. He wondered how far back that alarm had evolved, and then paid attention to Yugo again, who was enthusiastically describing the Dahlite community where they would have lunch.

“You still wonderin’ about that political stuff?”

“The representation question? I don’t care about the infighting, factions, and so on. Mathematically, though, it’s a puzzle.”

“Seems to me it’s pretty clear,” Yugo said with a slight, though respectful, edge in his voice. “Dahlites been gettin’ the short end for too long.”

“Because they have only one Sector’s votes?”

“Right-and there are four hundred million of us in Dahl alone.”

“And more elsewhere.”

“Damn right. Averaged over Trantor, a Dahlite has only point-six-eight as much representation as the others.”

“And throughout the Galaxy-”

“Same damn thing! We got our Zone, sure, but except in the Galactic Low Council, we’re boxed in.”

Yugo had changed from the chattering friend out on a lark to sober-faced and scowling. Hari didn’t want the trip to turn into an argument. “Statistics require care, Yugo. Remember the classic joke about three statisticians who took up hunting ducks-”

“Which are?”

“A game bird, known on some worlds. The first shot a meter high, the second a meter low: When this happened, the third statistician cried, ‘We got it!”‘

Yugo laughed a bit dutifully. Hari was trying to follow Dors’ advice about handling people, using his humor more and logic less. The incident with Lamurk had rebounded in Hari’s favor among the media and even the High Council, the Emperor had said.

Dors herself, though, seemed singularly immune to both laughs and logic; the incident with the ferrite cores had put a strain in their relationship. Hari realized now that this, too, was why he had greeted Yugo’s suggestion of a day away from Streeling. Dors had two classes to teach and couldn’t go. She had grumbled, but conceded that the Specials could probably cover him well enough. As long as he did nothing “foolish.”

Yugo persisted. “Okay, but the courts are stacked against us, too.”

“Dahl is the largest Sector now. You will get your judgeships in time.”

“Time we don’t have. We’re getting shut out by blocs.”

Hari deeply disliked the usual circular logic of political griping, so he tried to appeal to Yugo’s mathist side. “All judging bodies are vulnerable to bloc control, my friend. Suppose a court had eleven judges. Then a cohesive group of six could decide every ruling. They could meet secretly and agree to be bound by what a majority of them thinks, then vote as a bloc in the full eleven.”

Yugo’s mouth twisted with irritation. “The High Tribunal’s eleven-that’s your point, right?”

“It’s a general principle. Even smaller schemes could work, too. Suppose four of the High Tribunal met secretly and agreed to be bound by their own ballot. Then they’d vote as a bloc among the original cabal of six. Then four would determine the outcome of all eleven.”

“Damn-all, it’s worse than I thought,” Yugo said.

“My point is that any finite representation can be corrupted. It’s a general theorem about the method.”

Yugo nodded and then to Hari’s dismay launched into reciting the woes and humiliations visited upon Dahlites at the hands of the ruling majorities in the Tribunal, the Councils both High and Low, the Diktat Directory…

The endless busyness of ruling. What a bore!

Hari realized that his style of thought was a far cry from the fevered calculations of Yugo, and further still from the wily likes of Lamurk. How could he hope to survive as a First Minister? Why couldn’t the Emperor see that?

He nodded, put on his mask of thoughtful listening, and let the wall displays soothe him. They were still plunging down the long cycloidal curve of the grav drop.

This time the name was apt. Most long-distance travel on Trantor was in fact under Trantor, along a curve which let their car plunge down under gravity alone, suspended on magnetic fields a bare finger’s width from the tube walls. Falling through dark vacuum, there were no windows. Instead, the walls quieted any fears of falling.

Mature technology was discreet, simple, easy, quiet, sinuously classical, even friendly-while its use remained as obvious as a hammer, its effects as easy as a 3D. Both it and its user had educated each other.

A forest slid by all around him and Yugo. Many on Trantor lived among trees and rocks and clouds, as humans once had. The effects were not real, but they didn’t need to be. We are the wild, now, Hari thought. Humans shaped Trantor’s labyrinths to quiet their deep-set needs, so the mind’s eye felt itself flitting through a park. Technology appeared only when called forth, like magical spirits.

“Say, mind if I kill this?” Yugo’s question broke through his reverie.

“The trees?”

“Yeah, the open, y’know.”

Hari nodded and Yugo thumbed in a view of a mall with no great distances visible. Many Trantorians became anxious in big spaces, or even near images of them.

They had leveled out and soon began to rise. Hari felt pressed back into his chair, which compensated deftly. They were moving at high velocity, he knew, but there was no sign of it. Slight pulses of the magnetic throat added increments of velocity as they rose, making up for the slight losses. Otherwise, the entire trip took no energy, gravity giving and then taking away.

When they emerged in the Carmondian Sector his Specials drew in close. This was no elite university setting. Few buildings here could be seen as exteriors, so design focused on interior spectacle: thrusting slopes, airy transepts, soaring trunks of worked metal and muscular fiber. But amid this serene architecture milling crowds jostled and fretted, lapping like an angry tide.

Across an overhead bikepad a steady stream of cyclists hauled tow-cars. Jamming their narrow bays were bulky appliances, glistening sides of meat, boxes, and lumpy goods, all bound for nearby customers. Restaurants were little more than hotplates surrounded with tiny tables and chairs, all squeezed into the walkways. Barbers conducted business in the thoroughfare, working one end of the customer while beggars massaged the feet for a coin.

“Seems…busy,” Hari said diplomatically as he caught the tang of Dahlite cooking.

“Yeah, doncha love it?”

“Beggars and street vendors were made illegal by the last Emperor, I thought.”

“Right.” He grinned. “Don’t work with Dahlites. We’ve moved plenty people into this Sector. C’mon, I want some lunch.”

It was early, but they ate in a stand-up restaurant, drawn in by the odors. Hari tried a “bomber,” which wriggled into his mouth, then exploded into a smoky dark taste he could not identify, finally fading into a bittersweet aftertaste. His Specials looked quite uneasy, standing around in a crowded, busy hubbub. They were accustomed to more regal surroundings.

“Things’re really boomin’ here,” Yugo observed. His manners had reverted to his laboring days and he spoke with his mouth half full.

“Dahlites have a gift for expansion,” Hari said diplomatically. Their high birth rate pushed them into other Sectors, where their connections to Dahl brought new investment. Hari liked their restless energy; it reminded him of Helicon’s few cities.

He had been modeling all of Trantor, trying to use it as a shrunken version of the Empire. Much of his progress had come from unlearning conventional wisdom. Most economists saw money as simple ownership-a basic, linear power relationship. But it was a fluid, Hari found-slippery and quick, always flowing from one hand to the next as it greased the momentum of change. Imperial analysts had mistaken a varying flux for a static counter.

They finished and Yugo urged him into a groundpod. They followed a complicated path, alive with noise and smells and vigor. Here orderly traffic disintegrated. Instead of making an entire layer one way, local streets intersected at angles acute and oblique, seldom rectangular. Yugo seemed to regard traffic intersections as rude interruptions.

They sped by buildings at close range, stopped, and got out for a walk to a slideway. The Specials were right behind and without any transition Hari found himself in the middle of chaos. Smoke enveloped them and the acrid stench made him almost vomit.

The Specials captain shouted to him, “Stay down!” Then the man shouted to his men to arm with anamorphine. They all bristled with weapons.

Smoke paled the overhead phosphors. Through the muggy haze Hari saw a solid wall of people hammering toward them. They came out of side alleys and doorways and all seemed to bear down on him. The Specials fired a volley into the mass. Some went down. The captain threw a canister and gas blossomed farther away. He had judged it expertly; air circulation carried the fumes into the mob, not toward Hari.

But anamorphine wasn’t going to stop them. Two women rushed by Hari, carrying cobblestones ripped from the street. A third jabbed at Hari with a knife and the captain shot her with a dart. Then more Dahlites rushed at the Specials and Hari caught what they were shouting: incoherent rage against tiktoks.

The idea seemed so unlikely to him at first he thought he could not have heard rightly. That deflected his attention, and when he looked back toward the streaming crowd the captain was down and a man was advancing, holding a knife.

What any of this had to do with tiktoks was mysterious, but Hari did not have time to do anything except step to the side and kick the man squarely in the knee.

A bottle bounced painfully off his shoulder and smashed on the walkway. A man whirled a chain around and around and then toward Hari’s head. Duck. It whistled by and Hari dove at the man, tackling him solidly. They went down with two others in a swearing, punching mass. Hari took a slug in the gut.

He rolled over and gasped for air and clearly, only a few feet away, saw a man kill another with a long, curved knife.

Jab, slash, jab. It happened silently, like a dream. Hari gasped, shaken, his world in slow motion. He should be responding boldly, he knew that. But it was so overwhelming

—and then he was standing, with no memory of getting there, wrestling with a man who had not bothered with bathing for quite some while.

Then the man was gone, abruptly yanked away by the seethe of the crowd.

Another sudden jump-and Specials were all around him. Bodies sprawled lifeless on the walkway. Others held their bloody heads. Shouts, thumps

He did not have time to figure out what weapon had done that to them before the Specials were whisking him and Yugo along and the whole incident fled into obscurity, like a 30 program glimpsed and impatiently passed by.

The captain wanted to return to Streeling. “Even better, the palace.”

“This wasn’t about us,” Hari said as they took a slideway.

“Can’t be sure of that, sir.”

10.

Hari batted away all suggestions that they discontinue their journey. The incident had apparently begun when some tiktoks malfed.

“Somebody accused Dahlites of causing it,” Yugo related. “So our people stood up for themselves and, well, things got out of hand.”

Everyone near them was alive with excitement, faces glowing, eyes white and darting. He thought suddenly of his father’s wry saying, Never underestimate the power of boredom.

In human affairs, spirited action relieved dry tedium. He remembered seeing two women pummel a Spook, slamming away at the spindly, bleached-white man as though he were no more than a responsive exercise machine. A simple phobia against sunlight meant that he was of the hated Other, and thus fair game.

Murder was a primal urge. Even the most civilized felt tempted by it in moments of rage. But nearly all resisted and were better for the resistance. Civilization was a defense against nature’s raw power.

That was a crucial variable, one never considered by the economists with their gross products per capita, or the political theorists with their representative quotients, or the sociosavants and their security indices.

“I’ll have to keep that in, too,” he muttered to himself.

“Keep what?” Yugo asked. He, too, was still agitated.

“Things as basic as murder. We get all tied up in Trantor’s economics and politics, but something as gut-deep as that incident may be more important, in the long run.”

“We’ll pick it up in the crime statistics.”

“No, it’s the urge I want to get. How does that explain the deeper movements in human culture? It’s bad enough dealing with Trantor-a giant pressure cooker, forty billion sealed in together. We know there’s something missing, because we can’t get the psychohistorical equations to converge.”

Yugo frowned. “I was thinkin’ it was, well, that we needed more data.”

Hari felt the old, familiar frustration. “No, I can feelit. There’s something crucial, and we don’t have it.”

Yugo looked doubtful and then their off-disk came. They changed through a concentric set of circulating slideways, reducing their velocity and ending in a broad square. An impressive edifice dominated the high air shafts, slender columns blooming into offices above. Sunlight trickled down the sculpted faces of the building, telling tales of money: Artifice Associates.

Reception whisked them into a sanctum more luxurious than anything at Streeling. “Great room,” Yugo said with a wry slant of his head.

Hari understood this common academic reflection. Technical workers outside the university system earned more and worked in generally better surroundings. None of that had ever bothered him. The idea of universities as a high citadel had withered as the Empire declined, and he saw no need for opulence, particularly under an Emperor with a taste for it.

The staff of Artifice Associates referred to themselves as A2and seemed quite bright. He let Yugo carry the conversation as they sat around a big, polished pseudowood table; he still pulsed with the zest of the earlier violence. Hari sat back and meditated on his surroundings, his mind returning as always to new facets which might bear upon psychohistory.

The theory already had mathematical relationships between technology, capital accumulation, and labor, but the most important driver proved to be knowledge. About half the economic growth came from the increase in the quality of information, as embodied in better machines and improved skills, building efficiency.

Fair enough-and that was where the Empire had faltered. The innovative thrust of the sciences had slowly ground down. The Imperial Universities produced fine engineers, but no inventors. Great scholars, but few true scientists. That factored into the other tides of time.

Only independent businesses such as this, he reflected, continued the momentum which had driven the entire Empire for so long. But they were wildflowers, often crushed beneath the boot of Imperial politics and inertia.

“Dr. Seldon?” a voice asked at his elbow, startling Hari out of his rumination. He nodded.

“We do have your permission as well?”

“Ah, to do what?”

“To use these.” Yugo stood and lifted onto the table his two carry-cases. He unzipped them and two ferrite cores stood revealed.

“The Sark sims, gentlemen.”

Hari gaped. “I thought Dors-”

“Smashed ‘em? She thought so, too. I used two old, worthless data-cores in your office that day.”

“You knew she would-”

“I gotta respect that lady-quick and strong-minded, she is.” Yugo shrugged. “I figured she might get a little…provoked.”

Hari smiled. Suddenly he knew that he had been repressing real anger at Dors for her high-handed act. Now he released it in a fit of hearty laughter. “Wonderful! Wife or not, there are limits.”

He howled so hard tears sprang to his eyes. The guffaws spread around the table and Hari felt better than he had in weeks. For a moment all the nagging University details, the ministership, everything-fell away.

“Then we do have your permission, Dr. Seldon? To use the sims?” a young man at his elbow asked again.

“Of course, though I will want to keep close tabs on some, ah, research interests of mine. Will that be possible Mr…?”

“Marq Hofti. We’d be honored, sir, if you could spare the project some time. I’ll do my best-”

“And I.” A young woman stood at his other elbow. “Sybyl,” she said, and shook hands. They both appeared quite competent, neat, and efficient. Hari puzzled at the looks bordering on reverence they gave him. After all, he was just a mathist, like them.

Then he laughed again, heartily, a curiously liberating bark. He had just thought of what it would be like to tell Dors about the data-cores.

Part 2. The Rose Meets The Scalpel

Computational representation-…it is clear that, except for occasional outbursts, the taboos against advanced, artificial intelligences head throughout the Empire through the great sweep of historical time. This uniformity of cultural opinion probably reflects tragedies and traumas with artificial forms far back in pre-Empire ages. There are records of early transgressions by self-aware programs, including those by “sims,” or self-organizing simulations. Apparently the preancients enjoyed recreating personalities of their own past, perhaps for instruction or amusement or even research. None of these are known to survive, but tales persist that they were once a high art.

Of darker implication are the narratives which hypothesize self-aware intelligences lodged in bodies resembling human. While low-order mechanical forms are customarily allowed throughout the Empire, these “tiktoks” constitute no competition with humans, since they perform only simple and often disagreeable tasks…

—Encyclopedia Galactica

1.

Joan of Arc wakened inside an amber dream. Cool breezes caressed her, odd noises reverberated. She heard before she saw

—and abruptly found herself sitting outdoors. She noted things one at a time, as though some part of herself were counting them.

Soft air. Before her, a smooth round table.

Pressing against her, an unsettling white chair. Its seat, unlike those in her home village of Domremy, was not hand-hewn of wood. Its smooth slickness lewdly aped her contours. She reddened.

Strangers. One, two, three…winking into being before her eyes.

They moved. Peculiar people. She could not tell woman from man, except for those whose pantaloons and tunics outlined their intimate parts. The spectacle was even more than she’d seen in Chinon, at the lewd court of the Great and True King.

Talk. The strangers seemed oblivious of her, though she could hear them chattering in the background as distinctly as she sometimes heard her voices. She listened only long enough to conclude that what they said, having nothing to do with holiness or France, was clearly not worth hearing.

Noise. From outside. An iron river of self-moving carriages muttered by. She felt surprise at this-then somehow the emotion evaporated.

A long view, telescoping in

Pearly mists concealed distant ivory spires. Fog made them seem like melting churches.

What was this place?

A vision, perhaps related to her beloved voices. Could such apparitions be holy?

Surely the man at a nearby table was no angel. He was eating scrambled eggs-through a straw.

And the women-unchaste, flagrant, gaudy cornucopias of hip and thigh and breast. Some drank red wine from transparent goblets, different from any she’d seen at the royal court.

Others seemed to sup from floating clouds-delicate, billowing mousse fogs. One mist, reeking of beef with a tangy Loire sauce, passed near her. She breathed in-and felt in an instant that she had experienced a meal.

Was this heaven? Where appetites were satisfied without labor and toil?

But no. Surely the final reward was not so, so… carnal. And perturbing. And embarrassing.

The fire some sucked into their mouths from little reeds-those alarmed her. A cloud of smoke drifting her way flushed birds of panic from her breast-although she could not smell the smoke, nor did it burn her eyes or sear her throat.

The fire, the fire!she thought, heart fluttering in panic. What had….?

She saw a being made of breastplate coming at her with a tray of food and drink -poison from enemies, no doubt, the foes of France!she thought in churning fright-she at once reached for her sword.

“Be with you in a moment,” the breast-plated thing said as it wheeled past her to another table. “I’ve only got four hands. Do have patience.”

An inn, she thought. It was some kind of inn, though there appeared to be nowhere to lodge. And yes…it came now…she was supposed to meet someone…a gentleman?

That one: the tall, skinny old man-much older than Jacques Dars, her father-the only one besides herself attired normally.

Something about his dress recalled the foppish dandies at the Great and True King’s court. His hair curled tight, its whiteness set off by a lilac ribbon at his throat. He wore a pair of mignonette ruffles with narrow edging, a long waistcoat of brown satin with colored flowers, and sported red velvet breeches, white stockings, and chamois shoes.

A silly, vain aristocrat, she thought. A fop accustomed to carriages, who could not so much as sit a horse, much less do holy battle.

But duty was a sacred obligation. If King Charles ordered her to advance, advance she would.

She rose. Her suit of mail felt surprisingly light. She hardly sensed the belted-on protective leather flaps in front and back, nor the two metal arm plates that left elbows free to wield the sword. No one paid the least attention to the rustle of her mail or her faint clank.

“Are you the gentleman I am to meet? Monsieur Arouet?”

“Don’t call me that,” he snapped. “Arouet is my father’s name-the name of an authoritarian prude, not mine. No one has called me that in years.”

Up close, he seemed less ancient. She’d been misled by his white hair, which she now saw was false, a powdered wig secured by the lilac ribbon under his chin.

“What should I call you then?” She suppressed terms of contempt for this dandy-rough words learned from comrades-in-arms, now borne by demons to her tongue’s edge, but not beyond.

“Poet, tragedian, historian.” He leaned forward and with a wicked wink whispered, “I style myself Voltaire. Freethinker. Philosopher king.”

“Besides the King of Heaven and His son, I call but one man King. Charles VII of the House of Valois. And I’LL call you Arouet until my royal master bids me do otherwise.”

“My dear pucelIe, your Charles is dead.”

“No!”

He glanced at the noiseless carriages propelled by invisible forces on the street. “Sit down, sit down. Much else has passed, as well. Do help me get that droll waiter’s attention.”

“You know me?” Led by her voices, she had cast off her father’s name to call herself La PucelIe, the Chaste Maid.

“I know you very well. Not only did you live centuries before me, I wrote a play about you. And I have curious memories of speaking with you before, in some shadowy spaces.” He shook his head, frowning. “Besides my garments-beautiful, n’est ce pas?-you’re the only familiar thing about this place. You and the street, though I must say you’re younger than I thought, while the street… hmmm…seems wider yet older. They finally got ‘round to paving it.”

“I, I cannot fathom-”

He pointed to a sign that bore the inn’s name -Aux Deux Magots.“Mademoiselle Lecouvreur-a famous actress, though equally known as my mistress.” He blinked. “You’re blushing-how sweet.”

“I know nothing of such things.” She added with more than a trace of pride, “I am a maid.”

He grimaced. “Why one would be proud of such an unnatural state, I can’t imagine.”

“As I cannot imagine why you are so dressed.”

“My tailors will be mortally offended! But allow me to suggest that it is you, my dear pucelle, who, in your insistence on dressing like a man, would deprive civilized society of one of its most harmless pleasures.”

“An insistence I most dearly paid for,” she retorted, remembering how the bishops badgered her about her male attire as relentlessly as they inquired after her divine voices.

As if in the absurd attire members of her sex were required to wear, she could have defeated the English-loving duke at Orleans! Or led three thousand knights to victory at Jargeau and Meung-surLoire, Beaugency and Patay, throughout that summer of glorious conquests when, led by her voices, she could do no wrong.

She blinked back sudden tears. A rush of memory-

Defeat…Then the bloodred darkness of lost battles had descended, muffling her voices, while those of her English-loving enemies grew strong.

“No need to get testy,” Monsieur Arouet said, gently patting her knee plate. “Although I personally find your attire repulsive, I would defend to the death your right to dress any way you please. Or undress.” He eyed the near-transparent upper garment of a female inn patron nearby.

“Sir-”

“Paris has not lost its appetite for finery after all. Pale fruit of the gods, don’t you agree?”

“No, I do not. There is no virtue greater than chastity in women-or in men. Our Lord was chaste, as are our saints and priests.”

“Priests chaste!” He rolled his eyes. “Pity you weren’t at the school my father forced me to attend as a boy. You could have so informed the Jesuits, who daily abused their innocent charges.”

“I, I cannot believe-”

“And what of him?” Voltaire talked right over her, pointing at the four-handed creature on wheels rolling toward them. “No doubt such a creature is chaste. Is it then virtuous, too?”

“Christianity, France itself, is founded on-”

“If chastity were practiced in France as much as it’s preached, the race would be extinct.”

The wheeled creature braked by their table. Stamped on his chest was what appeared to be his name: GARCON 213-ADM. In a bass voice as clear as any man’s, he said, “A costume party, eh? I hope my delay will not make you late. Our mechfolk are having difficulties.”

It eyed the other tiktok bringing dishes forth-a honey-haired blond in a hairnet, approximately humanlike. A demon?

The Maid frowned. Its jerky glance, even though mechanical, recalled the way her jailers had gawked at her. Humiliated, she had cast aside the women’s garments that her Inquisitors forced her to wear. Resuming manly attire, she’d scornfully put her jailers in their place. It had been a fine moment.

The cook assumed a haughty look, but fussed with her hairnet and smiled at Garcon 213-ADM before averting her eyes. The import of this eluded Joan. She had accepted mechanicals in this strange place, without questioning their meaning. Presumably this was some intermediate station in the Lord’s providential order. But it was puzzling.

Monsieur Arouet reached out and touched the mechman’s nearest arm, whose construction the Maid could not help but admire. If such a creature could be made to sit a horse, in battle it would be invincible. The possibilities…

“Where are we?” Monsieur Arouet asked. “Or perhaps I should ask, when? I have friends in high places-”

“And I in low,” the mechman said good-naturedly. “-and I demand a full account of where we are, what’s going on.”

The mechman shrugged with two of his free arms, while the two others set the table. “How could a mechwait with intelligence programmed to suit his station, instruct monsieur, a human being, in the veiled mysteries of simspace? Have monsieur and mademoiselle decided on their order?”

“You have not yet brought us the menu,” said Monsieur Arouet.

The mechman pushed a button under the table. Two flat scrolls embedded in the table shimmered, letters glowing. The Maid let out a small cry of delight-then, in response to Monsieur Arouet’s censorious look, clapped her hand over her mouth. Her peasant manners were a frequent source of embarrassment.

“Ingenious,” said Monsieur Arouet, switching the button on and off as he examined the underside of the table. “How does it work?”

“I’m not programmed to know. You’ll have to ask a mechlectrician about that.”

“A what?”

“With all due respect, Monsieur, my other customers are waiting. I am programmed to take your order.”

“What will you have, my dear?” Monsieur Arouet asked her.

She looked down, embarrassed. “Order for me,” she said.

“Ah, yes. I quite forgot.”

“Forgot what?” asked the mechman.

“My companion is unlettered. She can’t read. I might as well be, too, for all the good this menu’s doing me.”

So this obviously learned man could not fathom the Table of House. Joan found that endearing, amid this blizzard of the bizarre.

The mechman explained and Voltaire interrupted.

“Cloud-food?Electronic cuisine?” He grimaced. “Just bring me the best you have for great hunger and thirst. What can you recommend for abstinent virgins-a plate of dirt, perhaps? Chased with a glass of vinegar?”

“Bring me a slice of bread,” the Maid said with frosty dignity. “And a small bowl of wine to dip it in.”

“Wine!” said Monsieur Arouet. “Your voices allow wine? Mais quelle scandale! If word got out that you drink wine, what would the priests say of the shoddy example you’re setting for the future saints of France?”

He turned to the mechman. “Bring her a glass of water, small.” As Garcon 213-ADM withdrew, Monsieur Arouet called out, “And make sure the bread is a crust! Preferably moldy!”

2.

Marq Hofti strode swiftly toward his Waldon Shaft office, his colleague and friend Sybyl chattering beside him. She was always energetic, bristling with ideas. Only occasionally did her energy seem tiresome.

The Artifice Associates offices loomed, weighty and impressive in the immense, high shaft. A flutter-glider circled the protruding levels far above, banking among pretty green clouds. Marq craned his neck upward and watched the glider catch an updraft of the city’s powerful air circulators. Atmospheric control even added the puff-ball vapors for variety. He longed to be up there, swooping among their sticky flavors.

Instead, he was down here, donning his usual carapace of each-day’s-a-challenge vigor. And today was going to be unusual. Risky. And though the zest for it sang in his stride, his grin, the fear of failure gave a leaden lining to his most buoyant plans.

If he failed today, at least he would not tumble from the sky, like a pilot who misjudged the thermals in the shaft. Grimly, he entered his office.

“It makes me nervous,” Sybyl said, cutting into his mood.

“Umm. What?” He dumped his pack and sat at his ornate control board.

She sat beside him. The board filled half the office, making his desk look like a cluttered afterthought. “The Sark sims. We’ve spent so much time on those resurrection protocols, the slices and embeddings and all.”

“I had to fill in whole layers missing from the recordings. Synaptic webs from the association cortex. Plenty of work.”

“I did, too. My Joan was missing chunks of the hippocampus.”

“Pretty tough?” The brain remembered things using constellations of agents from the hippocampus. They laid down long-term memory elsewhere, spattering pieces of it around the cerebral cortex. Not nearly as clean and orderly as computer memory, which was one of the major problems. Evolution was a kludge, mechanisms crammed in here and there, with little attention to overall design. At building minds, the Lord was something of an amateur.

“Murder. I stayed to midnight for weeks.”

“Me too.”

“Did you…use the library?” He considered. Artifice Associates kept dense files of brain maps, all taken from volunteers. There were menus for selecting mental agents-subroutines which could carry out the tasks which myriad synapses did in the brain. These were all neatly translated into digital equivalents, saving great labor. But to use them meant running up big bills, because each was copyrighted. “No. Got a private source.”

She nodded. “Me too.”

Was she trying to coax an admission from him? They had both had to go through scanning as part of getting their Master Class ratings in the meritocracy. Marq had thriftily kept his scan. Better than a back-alley brain map, for sure. He was no genius, but the basics of Voltaire’s underpinnings weren’t the important part, after all. Exactly how the sim ran the hindbrain functions-basic maintenance, housekeeping circuitry-certainly couldn’t matter, could it?

“Let’s have a look at our creations,” Marq said brightly, to get off the subject.

Sybyl shook her head. “Mine is stable. But look-we don’t really know what to expect. These fully integrated Personalities are still isolated.”

“Nature of the beast.” Marq shrugged, playing the jaded pro. Now that his hands caressed the board, though, a tingling excitement seized him.

“Let’s do it today,” she said, words rushing out.

“What? I-I’d like to slap some more patches over the gaps, maybe install a rolling buffer as insurance against character shifts, spy into”

“Details! Look, these sims have been running on internals for weeks of sim-time, self-integrating. Let’s interact.”

Marq thought of the glider pilot, up there amid treacherous winds. He had never done anything so risky; he wasn’t the type. His kind of peril lay on the digital playing field. Here, he was master.

But he had not gotten this far by being foolish. Letting these simulations come into contact with the present might induce hallucinations in them, fear, even panic.

“Just think! Talking to pre-antiquity.”

He realized that he was the one feeling fear. Think like a pilot! he admonished himself.

“Would you want anyone else to do it?” Sybyl asked.

He was keenly aware of the fleeting warmth of her thigh as it accidentally brushed his.

“No one else could,” he admitted.

“And it’ll put us ahead of any competition.”

“That guy Seldon, he could’ve, once he got them from those Sark ‘New Renaissance’ jokers. Using us, well-I guess he needs to get some distance from a dicey proposition like this.”

“Political distance,” she agreed. “Deniability.”

“He didn’t seem that savvy to me-politically, I mean.”

“Maybe he wants us to think that. How’d he charm Cleon?”

“Beats me. Not that I wouldn’t want one of our guys running things. A mathist minister-who’d imagine that?”

So Artifice Associates was out on its own here. With their Sark contacts, the company had already displaced Digitfac and Axiom Alliance in the sale and design of holographic intelligences. Competition was rough in several product lines, though. With a pipeline to truly ancient Personalities, they could sweep the board clean. At the knife edge of change, Marq thought happily. Danger and money, the two great aphrodisiacs.

He had spent yesterday eavesdropping on Voltaire and was sure Sybyl had done the same with the Maid. Everything had gone well. “Face filters for us, though.”

“Don’t trust yourself to not give away your feelings?” Sybyl gave him a womanly, throaty chuckle. “Think you’re too easy to read?”

“Am I?” Ball back in her court.

“Let’s say your intentions are, at least.”

Her sly wink made his nostrils flare-which reminded Marq of why he needed the filters. He thumbed in an amiable expression he had carefully fashioned for dealing by phone with clients. He had learned early in this business that the world was packed with irritable people. Especially Trantor.

“Better put a body language refiner on, too,” she said flatly, all business now. That was what never ceased to intrigue him: artful ambiguity.

She popped up her own filters, imported instantly from her board halfway across the building. “Want a vocabulary box?”

He shrugged. “Anything they can’t understand, we’ll credit to language problems.”

“What is that stuff they speak?”

“Dead language, unknown parent world.” His hands were a blur, setting up the transition.

“It has a, well, a liquid feel.”

“One thing.”

Sybyl’s breasts swelled as she drew in her breath, held it, then slowly eased it out. “I just hope my client doesn’t find out about Seldon. The company’s taking an awful chance, not telling either one of them about the other.”

“So what?” He enjoyed giving a carefree shrug. A flutter-glide would petrify him, but power games-those he loved. Artifice Associates had taken major accounts from the two deadly rivals in this whole affair.

“If both sides of the argument find out we’re handling both accounts, they’ll leave. Refuse to pay beyond the retainer-and you know how much we’ve overspent beyond that.”

“Leave?” His turn to chuckle. “Not if they want to win. We’re the best.” Marq gave her his cocky smile. “You and me, in case you were wondering. Just wait till you see this.”

He downed the lights, started the run, and leaned back in his clasp chair, legs stretched out on the table before him. He wanted to impress her. That wasn’t all he wanted. But since her husband had been crushed in an accident, beyond repair by even the best medicos, he’d decided to wait a decent interval before he made his move. What a team they would make! Open a firm-say, Marq-Sybyl, Limited-skim off the best A2customers, make a name.

No names. Let’s be fair.

Sybyl’s voice trembled in the gloom. “To meet ancients…”

Down, down, down-into the replicated world, its seamless blue complexity swelling across the entire facing wall. Vibrotactile feedback from inductance dermotabs perfected the illusion.

They swooped into a primitive city, barely one layer of buildings to cover the naked ground. Some sort of crude village, pre-Empire. Streets whirled by, buildings turned in artful projection. Even the crowds and clumped traffic below seemed authentic, a muddled human jumble. Swiftly they careened into their foreground sim: a cafe on something called the Boulevard St. Germain. Cloying smells, the muted grind of traffic outside, a rattle of plates, the heady aroma of a souffle.

Marq zoomed them into the same timeframe as the recreated entities. A lean man loomed across the wall. His eyes radiated intelligence, mouth tilted with sardonic mirth.

Sybyl whistled through her teeth. Eyes narrowing, she watched the re-creation’s mouth, as if to read its lips. Voltaire was interrogating the mechwaiter. Irritably, of course.

“High five-sense resolution,” she said, appropriately awed. “I can’t get mine that clear. I still don’t know how you do it.”

Marq thought, My Sark contacts. I know you have some, too.

“Hey,” she said. “What-” He grinned with glee as her mouth fell open and she stared at the image of her Joan next to his Voltaire-freeze-frame, data streams initialized but not yet running interactively.

Her expression mingled admiration with fear. “We’re not supposed to bring them on together!-not till they meet in the coliseum.”

“Who says? It’s not in our contract!”

“Hastor will skewer us anyway.”

“Maybe-if he finds out. Want me to section her off?”

Her mouth twisted prettily. “Of course not. What the hell, it’s done. Activate.”

“I knew you’d go for it. We’re the artists, we make the decisions.”

“Have we got the running capacity to make them realtime?”

He nodded. “It’ll cost, but sure. And…I’ve got a little proposition for you.”

“Uh-oh.” Her brow arched. “Forbidden, no doubt.”

He waited, just to tantalize her. And to judge, from her reaction, how receptive she’d be if he tried to change the nature of their long-standing platonic relationship. He had tried, once before. Her rejection-she was married on a decade contract, she gently reminded him-only made him desire her more. All that and faithful in marriage, too. Enough to make the teeth grind-which they had, frequently. Of course, they could be replaced for less than the price of an hour with a good therapist.

Her body language now-a slight pulling away-told him she was still mourning her dead husband. He was prepared to wait the customary year, but only if he had to.

“What say we give both of them massive files, far beyond Basis State,” he said quickly. “Really give them solid knowledge of what Trantor’s like, the Empire, everything.”

“Impossible.”

“No, just expensive.”

“So much!”

“So what? Just think about it. We know what these two Primordials represented, even if we don’t know what world they came from.”

“Their strata memories say ‘Earth,’ remember?”

Marq shrugged. “So? Dozens of primitive worlds called themselves that.”

“Oh, the way Primitives call themselves ‘the People’?”

“Sure. The whole folk tale is wrong astrophysically, too. This legend of the original planet is pretty clear on one point-the world was mostly oceans. So why call it ‘Earth’?”

She nodded. “Granted, they’re deluded. And they have no solid databases about astronomy, I checked that. But look at their Social Context readings. These two stood for concepts, eternal ideas: Faith and Reason.”

Marq balled both fists in enthusiasm, a boyish gesture. “Right! On top of that we’ll pump in what we know today-pseudonatural selection, psychophilosophy, gene destinies-”

“Boker will never go for it,” Sybyl said. “It’s precisely modem information the Preservers of Our Father’s Faith don’t want. They want the historical Maid, pure and uncontaminated by modem ideas. I’d have to program her to read-”

“A cinch.”

“-write, handle higher mathematics. Give me a break!”

“Do you object on ethical grounds? Or simply to avoid a few measly centuries of work?”

“Easy for you to say. Your Voltaire has an essentially modem mind. Whoever made him had his own work, dozens of biographies. My Maid is as much myth as she is fact. Somebody re-created her out of thin air.”

“Then your objection’s based on laziness, not principle.”

“It’s based on both.”

“Will you at least give it some thought?”

“I just did. The answer is no.”

Marq sighed. “No use arguing. You’ll see, once we let them interact.”

Her mood seemed to swing from resistance to excitement; in her enthusiasm, she even touched his leg, fingers lingering. He felt her affectionate tap just as they opened into the simspace.

3.

“What’s going on here?” Voltaire rose, hands on hips-chair toppling back behind him, clattering on stone-and peered down at them from the screen. “Who are you? What infernal agency do you represent?”

Marq stopped the sim and turned to Sybyl. “Uh, do you want to explain it to him?”

“He’s your re-creation, not mine.”

“I’ve dreaded this.” Voltaire was imposing. He exuded power and electric confidence. Somehow, in all his microscopic inspections of this sim, the sum of it all, this gestalt essence, had never come through.

“We worked hard on this! If you stall now-”

Marq braced himself. “Right, right.”

“How do you look to him?”

“I made myself materialize, walk over, sit down.”

“He saw you come out of nothing?”

“I guess so,” he said, chagrined. “Shook him up.”

Marq had used every temperament fabrication he had, trimming and shaping mood constellations, but he had left intact Voltaire’s central core. What a hardball knot it was! Some programmer of pre-antiquity had done a startling, dense job. Gingerly, he dipped the Voltaire-sim into a colorless void of sensory static. Soothe, then slide…

His fingers danced. He cut in the time acceleration.

Sim-personalities needed computational durations to assimilate new experience. He thrust Voltaire into a cluttered, seemingly real experience-net. The personality reacted to the simulation and raced through the induced emotions. Voltaire was rational; his personality could accept new ideas that took the Joansim far longer.

What did all this do to a reconstruction of a real person, when knowledge of a different reality dawned? Here came the tricky part of the reanimation. Acceptance of who/what/when they were.

Conceptual shock waves would resound through the digital personalities, forcing emotional adjustments. Could they take it? These weren’t real people, after all, any more than an abstract impressionist painting pretended to tell you what a cow looked like. Now, he and Sybyl could step in only after the automatic programs had done their best.

Here their math-craft met its test. Artificial personalities had to survive this cusp point or crash into insanity and incoherence. Racing along highways of expanding perception, the ontological swerves could jolt a construct so hard, it shattered.

He let them meet each other, watching carefully. The Aux Deux Magots, simple town and crowd backdrop. To shave computing time, weather repeated every two minutes of simtime. Cloudless sky, to save on fluid flow modeling. Sybyl tinkered with her Joan, he with his Voltaire, smoothing and rounding small cracks and slippages in the character perceptual matrix.

They met, spoke. Some skittering, blue-white storms swept through Voltaire’s neuronal simulations. Marq sent in conceptual repair algorithms. Turbulence lapped away.

“Got it!” he whispered. Sybyl nodded beside him, intent on her own smoothing functions.

“He’s running regular now,” Marq said, feeling better about the startup mistake. “I’ll keep my manifestation sitting, right? No disappearances or anything.”

“Joan’s cleared up.” Sybyl pointed at brown striations in the matrix representation that floated in 3D before her. “Some emotional tectonics, but they’ll take time.”

“I say- go.”

She smiled. “Let’s.”

The moment came. Marq sucked Voltaire and Joan back into realtime.

Within a minute he knew that Voltaire was still intact, functional, integrated. So was Joan, though she had retreated into her pensive withdrawal mode, an aspect well documented; her internal weather.

Voltaire, though, was irked. He swelled life-sized before them. The hologram scowled, swore, and loudly demanded the right to initiate communication whenever he liked.

“You think I want to be at your mercy whenever I’ve something to say? You’re talking to a man who was exiled, censored, jailed, suppressed-who lived in constant fear of church and state authorities-”

“Fire,” the Maid whispered with eerie sensuality.

“Calm down,” Marq ordered Voltaire, “or I’ll shut you off.” He froze action and turned to Sybyl. “What do you think? Should we comply?”

“Why not?” she said. “It’s not fair for them to be forever at our beck and call.”.

“Fair? This is a sim!”

“Theyhave notions of fairness. If we violate those-”

“Okay, okay.” He started action again. “The next question is how.”

“I don’t care how you do it,” the hologram said. “Just do it-at once!”

“Hold off,” Marq said. “We’ll let you have running time, to integrate your perception space.”

“What does that mean?” Voltaire asked. “Artful expression is one thing, jargon another.”

“To work out your kinks,” Marq replied dryly.

“So that we can converse?”

“Yes,” Sybyl said. “At your initiation, not just ours. Don’t go for a walk at the same time, though-that requires too much data-shuffling.”

“We’re trying to hold costs down here,” Marq said, leaning back so he could get a better view of Sybyl’s legs.

“Well, hurry up,” the Voltaire image said. “Patience is for martyrs and saints, not for men of belles lettres.”

The translator rendered all this in present language, inserting the audio of ancient, lost words. Knowledge fetchers found the translation and overlaid it for Marq and Sybyl. Still, Marq had left in the slippery, natural acoustics for atmosphere-the tenor of the unimaginably distant past.

“Just say my name, or Sybyl’s, and we’ll appear to you in a rectangle rimmed in red.”

“Must it be red?” The Maid’s voice was frail. “Can you not make it blue? Blue is so cool, the color of the sea. Water is stronger than fire, can put fire out.”

“Stop babbling,” the other hologram snapped. He beckoned to a mechwaiter and said, “That flambe dish, there-put it out at once. It’s upsetting the Maid. And you two geniuses out there! If you can resurrect the dead, you certainly should be able to change red to blue.”

“I don’t believe this,” said Sybyl. “A sim? Who does he think he is?”

“The voice of reason,” Marq replied. “Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire.”

“Do you think they’re ready to see Boker?” Sybyl chewed prettily at her lip. “We agreed to let him into the sim as soon as they were stabilized.”

Marq thought. “Let’s play it square and linear with him. I’ll call.”

“We have so much to learn from them!”

“True. Who could have guessed that prehistoricals could be such bastards?”

4.

She tried to ignore the sorceress called Sybyl, who claimed to be her creator-as if anyone but the King of Heaven could lay claim to such a feat. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone. Events crowded in-rushed, dense, suffocating. Her choking, pain-shot death still swarmed about her.

On the dunce’s cap-the one they’d set upon her shaven head on that fiery day, the darkest and yet most glorious day of her short life-her “crimes” were inscribed in the holy tongue: Heretica, Relapsa, Apostata, Idolater. Black words, soon to ignite.

The learned cardinals and bishops of the foul, English-loving University of Paris, and of the Church-Christ’s bride on earth!-had set her living body on fire. All for carrying out the Lord’s will-that the Great and True King should be His minister in France. For that, they had rejected the king’s ransom, and sent her to the searing pyre. What then might they not do to this sorceress called Sybyl-who, like her, dwelt among men, wore men’s attire, and claimed for herself powers that eclipsed those of the Creator Himself?

“Please go away,” she murmured. “I must have silence if I am to hear my voices.”

But neither La Sorciere nor the bearded man in black named Boker-who resembled uncannily the glowering patriarchs on the domed ceiling of the great church at Rouen-would leave her alone.

She implored them, “If you must talk, natter at Monsieur Arouet. That one likes nothing more.”

“Sacred Maid, Rose of France,” said the bearded one, “was France your world?”

“My station in the world,” Joan said.

“Your planet, I mean.”

“Planets are in the sky. I was of the earth.”

“I mean-oh, never mind.” He spoke soundlessly to the woman, Sybyl-”Of the ground? Farmers? Could even prehistoricals be so ignorant?” -apparently thinking she could not read lips, a trick she had mastered to divine the deliberations of churchly tribunals.

Joan said, “I know what is sufficient to my charge.”

Boker frowned, then rushed on. “Please, hear me out. Our cause is just. The fate of the sacred depends upon our winning to our side many converts. If we are to uphold the vessel of humanity, and time-honored traditions of our very identity, we must defeat Secular Skepticism.”

She tried to turn away, but the clanking weight of her chains stopped her. “Leave me alone. Although I killed no one, I fought in many combats to assure the victory of France’s Great True King. I presided over his coronation at Rheims. I was wounded in battle for his sake.”

She held up her wrists-for she was now in the foul cell at Rouen, in leg irons and chains. Sybyl had said this would anchor her, be good for her character in some way. As an angel, Sybyl was no doubt correct. Boker began to implore her, but Joan summoned strength to say, “The world knows how I was requited for my pains. I shall wage war no more.”

Monsieur Boker turned to the sorceress. “A sacrilege, to keep a great figure in chains. Can’t you transport her to some place of theological rest? A cathedral?”

“Context. Sims need context,” La Sorciere said without sound. Joan found she could read lips with a clarity she had never known. Perhaps this Purgatory improved its charges.

Monsieur Boker clucked. “I am impressed with what you’ve done, but unless you can make her cooperate, what good is she to us?”

“You haven’t seen her at the summit of her Selfhood. The few historical associations we have been able to decipher claim that she was a ‘mesmerizing presence.’ We’ll have to bring that out.”

“Can you not make her smaller? It’s impossible to talk to a giant.”

The Maid, to her astonishment, shrank by two-thirds in height.

Monsieur Boker seemed pleased. “Great Joan, you misunderstand the nature of the war that lies ahead. Uncountable millennia have passed since your ascension into heaven. You-”

The Maid sat up. “Tell me one thing. Is the king of France a descendant of the English Henry’s House of Lancaster? Or is he a Valois, descended from the Great and True King Charles?”

Monsieur Boker blinked and thought. “I…I think it may be truly said that we Preservers of Our Father’s Faith, the party I represent, are in a manner of speaking descendants of your Charles.”

The Maid smiled. She knew her voices had been heaven-sent, no matter what the bishops said. She’d only denied them when they took her to the cemetery of St. Ouen, and then only for fear of the fire. She’d been right to recant her recantation two days later; the Lancastrian failure to annex France confirmed that. If Monsieur Boker spoke for descendants of the House of Valois, despite his clear absence of a noble title, she would hear him out.

“Proceed,” she said.

Monsieur Boker explained that this place was soon to hold a referendum. (After some deliberation with la Sorciere, he advised that Joan should think of this place as France, in essence.) The contest would be between two major parties, Preservers vs. Skeptics. Both parties had agreed to hold a Great Debate between two verbal duelists, to frame the salient question.

“What issue?” the Maid asked sharply.

“Whether mechanical beings endowed with artificial intelligence should be built. And if so, should they be allowed full citizenship, with all attendant rights.”

The Maid shrugged. “A joke? Only aristocrats and noblemen have rights.”

“Not anymore, though of course we do have a class system. Now the common lot enjoy rights.”

“Peasants like me?” the Maid asked. “We?”

Monsieur Boker, face a moving flurry of exasperated scowls, turned to La Sorciere. “Must I do everything?”

“You wanted her as is,” La Sorciere said. “Or, rather, as was.”

Monsieur Boker spent two minutes ranting about something he called the Conceptual Shift. This term meant an apparently theological dispute about the nature of mechanical artifice. To Joan the answer seemed clear, but then, she was a woman of the fields, not a word artisan.

“Why don’t you ask your king? One of his counselors? Or one of your learned men?”

Monsieur Boker curled his lip, dismissively fanned the air. “Our leaders are pallid! Weak! Rational doormats!”

“Surely-”

“You cannot imagine, coming from ancient passion. Intensity and passion are regarded as bad form, out of style. We wished to find intellects with the old fire, the-”

“No! Oh!” The flames, licking-

It was some moments before her breathing calmed and she could shakily listen again.

The great debate between Faith and Reason would be held in the Coliseum of Junin Sector before an audience of 400,000 souls. The Maid and her opponent would appear in holograms, magnified by a factor of thirty. Each citizen would then vote on the question.

“Vote?” the Maid inquired.

“You wanted her uncorrupted,” La Sorciere said. “You got her.”

The Maid listened in silence, forced to absorb millennia in minutes. When Monsieur Boker finished, she said, “I excelled in battle, if only for a brief time, but never in argument. No doubt you know of my fate.”

Monsieur Boker looked pained. “The vagueries of the ancients! We have a skimpy historical frame around your, ah, representation-no more. We know not what place you lived, but we do know minutiae of events after your-”

“Death. You can speak of it. I am accustomed to it, as any Christian maiden should be, upon arrival in Purgatory. I know who you two are, as well.”

La Sorciere asked cautiously, “You…do?”

“Angels! You manifest yourselves as ordinary folk, to calm my fears. Then you set me a task. Even if it involves the roguish, it is a divine mission.”

Monsieur Boker nodded slowly, glancing at La Sorciere. “From the tatters of data flapping about your Self, we gather that your reputation was restored at hearings held twenty-six years after your death. Those involved in your condemnation repented of their mistake. You were called, in high esteem, La Rose de la wire.”

She blinked back wistful tears. “Justice…Had I been skilled in argument, I’d have convinced my inquisitors-those English-loving preachers of the University of Paris!-that I am not a witch.”

Monsieur Boker seemed moved. “Even pre-antiquity knew when a holy power was with them.”

The Maid laughed, lighthearted. “The Lord’s on the side of His Son, and the saints and martyrs, too. But that does not mean they escape failure and death.”

“She’s right,” La Sorciere said. “Even worlds and galaxies share man’s fate.”

“We of spirituality need you,” Monsieur Boker pleaded. “We have become too much like our machines. We hold nothing sacred except the smooth functioning of our parts. We know you will address the question with intensity, yet in simplicity and truth. That is all we ask.”

The Maid felt fatigued. She needed solitude, time to reflect. “I must consult with my voices. Will there be only one, or many questions that I must address?”

“Just one.”

The inquisitors had been far more demanding. They asked many questions, dozens, sometimes the same ones, over and over again. Right answers at Poitiers proved wrong elsewhere. Deprived of food, drink, rest, intimidated by the enforced journey to the cemetery, exhausted by the tedious sermon they compelled her to hear, and wracked by terror of the fire, she could not withstand their interrogation.

Does the Archangel Michael have long hair?”

“Is St. Margaret stout or lean?”

“Are St. Catherine’s eyes brown or blue?”

They trapped her into assigning to voices of the spirit attributions of the flesh. Then they perversely condemned her for confounding sacred spirit with corrupt flesh.

All had been miasma. And in Purgatory, worse trials could ensue. She could not therefore be certain if this Boker would turn out to be friend or foe.

“What is it?” she wanted to know. “This single question you want me to answer.”

“There is universal consensus that man-made intelligences have a kind of brain. The question we want you to answer is whether they have a soul. “

“Only the Almighty has the power to create a soul.”

Monsieur Boker smiled. “We Preservers couldn’t agree with you more. Artificial intelligences, unlike us, their creators, have no soul. They’re just machines. Mechanical contrivances with electronically programmed brains. Only man has a soul.”

“If you already know the answer to the question, why do you need me?”

“To persuade! First the undecided of Junin Sector, then Trantor, then the Empire!”

The Maid reflected. Her inquisitors had known the answers to the questions they plied her with, too. Monsieur Boker seemed sincere, but then so were those who pronounced her a witch. Monsieur Boker had told her the answer beforehand, one with which any sensible person would agree. Still, she could not be sure of his intentions. Not even the crucifix she asked the priest to hold aloft was proof against the oily smoke, the biting flames…

“Well?” asked Monsieur Boker. “Will the Sacred Rose consent to be our champion?”

“These people I must convince. Are they, too, descendants of Charles, the Great and True King, of the House of Valois?”

5.

When Marq strode into Splashes amp; Sniffs to meet his buddy and coworker Nim, he was surprised to find Nim already there. To judge from Nim’s dilated pupils, he’d been there most of the afternoon.

Marq said, “Hitting it hard? Something going on?”

Nim shook his head. “Same old Marq, blunt as a fist. First, try the Swirlsnort. Doesn’t do a thing for your thirst-in fact, it will dry up your entire head-but you won’t care.”

Swirlsnort turned out to be a powdery concoction that tasted like nutmeg and bit as if he had swallowed an angry insect. Marq sniffed it slowly, one nostril at a time. He wanted to be relatively clearheaded when Nim updated him on office politics and funding. After that, he’d allow himself to get skyed.

“You may not like this,” said Nim. “It concerns Sybyl.”

“Sybyl!” He laughed a bit uneasily. “How’d you know I-”

“You told me. Last time we had a snort together, remember?”

“Oh.” The stuff made him babble. Worse, it made him forget he had.

“Not exactly a state secret.” Nim grinned.

“That obvious?” He wanted to be certain Nim, who switched women as often as he changed his underwear, had no designs on Sybyl of his own. “What about her?”

“Well, there’s a lot of juice waiting for whoever wins the big one at the coliseum.”

“No problem,” Marq said. “Me.”

Nim ran his hand through his strawberry blond hair. “I can’t decide if it’s your modesty or your ability to foresee the future that I like most about you. Your modesty. Must be that.”

Marq shrugged. “She’s good, I’ll admit.”

“But you’re better.”

“I’m luckier. They gave me Reason. Sybyl’s stuck with Faith.”

Nim gave him a bemused glance and inhaled deeply. “I wouldn’t underestimate Faith if I were you. It’s hooked to passion, and no one’s managed to get rid of either, yet.”

“Don’t have to. Passions eventually burn out.”

“But the light of reason burns eternally?”

“If you regenerate brain cells, yes.”

Nim looked through his straw to see if anything was left and winked at Marq. “Then you don’t need a little advice.”

“What advice? I didn’t hear any advice.”

Nim clucked. “If your unregenerated brain cells contain a shred of common sense, you’ll stop cooperating with Sybyl to improve her simulation. Or better yet, you’ll keep pretending you’re cooperating, so you get the benefit of anything she can show you. But what you’ll really start doing is looking for ways to do both her and her simulation in. People say it’s terrific.”

“I’ve seen it.”

Someof it. Think she shows it all?”

“We’ve been working every day on-”

“Truncated sim, is what you see. Nights, she inflates the whole pseudo-psyche.”

Marq frowned. He knew he was a bit light-headed around her, pheromones doing their job, but he had compensated for that. Hadn’t he? “She wouldn’t…”

“She might. People upstairs got their eye on her.”

Marq felt a stab of jealousy in spite of himself, but he was careful not to show it. “Ummm. Thanks.”

Nim bowed his head with characteristic irony and said, “Even if you don’t need it, you’d be a fool to turn it down.”

“What, the juice, when I win?”

“Not the juice, buggo. You think I missed noticing that I’m talking to ambition’s slave? My advice.”

Marq took a hefty double-nostril snort. “I’ll certainly bear it in mind.”

“This thing’s going to be big. You think it’s just a job for this Sector, but I tell you, people from all over Trantor will tune into the show.”

“All the better,” Marq said, though his stomach was feeling like he had suddenly gone into free fall. Living in a real cultural renaissance was risky. Maybe his hollow feeling was the stim, though.

“I mean, Seldon and that guy who follows him around like a dog, Amaryl-you think they’ve booted this to you because it’s a snap?”

Marq took a bit of the stim before answering. “No, it’s because I’m the best.”

“And you’re a long way down from them on the status ladder. You are, my friend, expendable.”

Marq nodded soberly. “I’ll certainly bear it in mind.”

Was he repeating himself? Must be the stim.

Marq did not give Nim’s counsel any thought until two days later. He overheard someone in the executive lounge praising Sybyl’s work to Hastor, the leader of Artifice Associates. He skipped lunch and went back to his floor. As he passed Sybyl’s office on his way back to his own, his intention, he told himself, was to relay the compliment. But when he found her door unlocked, her office empty, an impulse seized him.

Half an hour later, he jumped slightly when she said “Marq! “ from the open doorway. Her hand smoothed her hair in what he took to be unconscious primping, betraying a desire to please. “Can I help you?”

He’d just finished the software cross-matting to link her office, so that he’d be able to monitor her interviews with her client, Boker. She shared with Marq the substance of these interviews, as far as he knew.

He reasoned that his suggestions as to how she should handle the sometimes difficult Boker would be improved if he were exposed to Boker directly. But that would compromise the client relationship, ordinarily a strict rule. This, though, was special…

He shrugged. “Just waiting for you.”

“I’ve gotten her much better structured. Her mood flutters are below zero point two.”

“Great. Can I see?”

Did her smile seem warmer than usual? He was still wondering about that when he reached his own office, after an hour of intuning on Joan. Sybyl had certainly done good work. Thorough, intricately matted in with the ancient personality topography.

All since yesterday? He thought not.

Time to do a little sniffing around in simspace.

6.

Voltaire loomed-brows furrowed, scowling, hands on skinny hips. He rose from the richly embroidered chair in his study at Cirey, the chateau of his long-term mistress, the Marquise du Chatelet.

The place he had called home for fifteen years depressed him, now that she was gone. And now the marquis, without the decency to wait until his wife’s body was cold, had informed him that he must leave.

“Get me out of here!” Voltaire demanded of the scientist who finally answered his call. Scientist-a fresh word, one no doubt derived from the Latin root, to know. But this fellow looked as though he knew little. “I want to go to the cafe. I need to see the Maid.”

The scientist leaned over the control board Voltaire was already beginning to resent, and smiled with transparent pleasure at his power. “I didn’t think she was your type. You showed a strong preference all your life-remember, I’ve scanned your memories, you have no secrets-for brainy women. Like your niece and the Madame du Chatelet.”

“So? Who truly can abide the company of stupid women? The only thing that can be said on their behalf is that they can be trusted, as they’re too stupid to practice deceit.”

“Unlike Madame du Chatelet?”

Voltaire drummed his fingers impatiently on the beautifully wrought walnut desk-a gift from Madame du Chatelet, he recalled. How had it gotten to this rude place? Could it indeed have been assembled from his memory alone? “True, she betrayed me. She paid dearly for it, too.”

The scientist arched a brow. “With that young officer, you mean? The one who made her pregnant?”

“At forty-three, a married woman with three grown children has no business becoming pregnant!”

“You hit the roof when she told you-understandable but not very enlightened. Yet you didn’t break off with her. You were with her throughout the birth.”

Voltaire fumed. Memory dark, memory flowing like black waters in a subterranean river. He’d worried himself sick about the birth, which had proved amazingly easy. Yet nine days later, the most extraordinary woman he had ever known was dead. Of childbed fever. No one-not even his niece and housekeeper and former paramour, Madame Denis, who took care of him thereafter-had ever been able to take her place. He had mourned her until, until-he approached the thought, veered away -till he died….

He puffed out his cheeks and spat back rapidly, “She persuaded me that it would be unreasonable to break with a ‘woman of exceptional breeding and talent’ merely for exercising the same rights that I enjoyed. Especially since I hadn’t made love to her for months. The rights of man, she said, belonged to women, too-provided they were of the aristocracy. I allowed her gentle reasonableness to persuade me.”

“Ah,” the scientist said enigmatically. Voltaire rubbed his forehead, heavy with brooding remembrance. “She was an exception to every rule. She understood Newton and Locke. She understood every word that I wrote. She understood me.”

“Why weren’t you making love to her? Too busy going to orgies?”

“My dear sir, my participation in such festivities has been greatly exaggerated. It’s true, I accepted an invitation to one such celebration of erotic pleasure in my youth. I acquitted myself so well, I was invited to return.”

“Did you?”

“Certainly not. Once, a philosopher. Twice, a pervert.”

“What I don’t understand is why a man of your worldliness should be so intent on another meeting with the Maid.”

“Her passion,” Voltaire said, an image of the robust Maid rising clearly in his mind’s eye. “Her courage and devotion to what she believed.”

“You possessed that trait as well.”

Voltaire stomped his foot, but the floor made no sound. “Why do you speak of me in the past tense?”

“Sorry. I’ll fill in that audio background, too.” A single hand gesture, and Voltaire heard boards creak as he paced. A carriage team clip-clopped by outside.

“I possess temperament. Do not confuse passion with temperament-which is a matter of the nerves. Passion is borne from the heart and soul, no mere mechanism of the bodily humors.”

“You believe in souls?”

“In essences, certainly. The Maid dared cling to her vision with her whole heart, despite bullying by church and state. Her devotion to her vision, unlike mine, bore no taint of perverseness. She was the first true Protestant. I’ve always preferred Protestants to papist absolutists-until I took up residence in Geneva, only to discover their public hatred of pleasure is as great as any pope’s. Only Quakers do not privately engage in what they publicly claim to abjure. Alas, a hundred true believers cannot redeem millions of hypocrites.”

The scientist twisted his mouth skeptically. “Joan recanted, knuckled under to their threats.”

“They took her to a cemetery!” Voltaire bristled with irritation. “Terrorized a credulous girl with threats of death and hell. Bishops, academicians-the most learned men of their time! Donkeys’ asses, the lot! Browbeating the bravest woman in France, a woman whom they destroyed only to revere. Hypocrites! They require martyrs as leeches require blood. They thrive on self-sacrifice-provided that the selves they sacrifice are not their own.”

“All we have is your version, and hers. Our history doesn’t go back that far. Still, we know more of people now-”

“So you imagine.” Voltaire sniffed a jot of snuff to calm himself. “Villains are undone by what is worst in them, heroes by what is best. They played her honor and her bravery like a fiddle, swine plucking at a violin.”

“You’re defending her.” The scientist’s wry smile mocked. “Yet in that poem you wrote about her-amazing, someone memorizing their own work, so they could recite it!-you depict her as a tavern slut, much older than she in fact was, a liar about her so-called voices, a superstitious but shrewd fool. The greatest enemy of the chastity she pretends to defend is a donkey-a donkey with wings!”

Voltaire smiled. “A brilliant metaphor for the Roman Church, n’est ce pas? I had a point to make. She was simply the sword with which I drove it home. I had not met her then. I had no idea she was a woman of such mysterious depths.”

“Not depths of intellect. A peasant!” Marq recalled how he had escaped just such a fate on the mud-grubbing world Biehleur. All through the Greys exam. And now he had fled their stodgy routines, into a true cultural revolution.

“No, no. Depths of the soul. I’m like a little stream. Clear because it is shallow. But she’s a river, an ocean! Return me to Aux Deux Magots. She and the wind-up Garcon are the only society I now have.”

“She is your adversary,” the scientist said. “A minion of those who uphold values that you fought all your life. To make sure you beat her, I’m going to supplement you.”

“I am intact and entire,” Voltaire declared frostily.

“I’ll equip you with philosophical and scientific information, rational progress. Your reason must crush her faith. You must regard her as the enemy she is, if civilization is to continue to advance along rational scientific lines.”

His eloquence and impudence were rather charming, but no substitutes for Voltaire’s fascination with Joan. “I refuse to read anything until you reunite me with the Maid-in the cafe!”

The scientist had the audacity to laugh. “You don’t get it. You have no choice. I’ll sculpt the information into you. You’ll have the information you need to win, like it or not.”

“You violate my integrity!”

“Let’s not forget that after the debate, there’ll be the question of keeping you running, or…”

“Ending me?”

“Just so you know what cards are on the table.”

Voltaire bristled. He knew the iron accents of authority, since he was first subjected to his father’s-a strict martinet who’d compelled him to attend mass, and whose austerities claimed the life of Voltaire’s mother when Voltaire was only seven. The only way she could escape her husband’s discipline was to die. Voltaire had no intention of escaping this scientist in that way.

“I refuse to use any additional knowledge you give me unless you return me at once to the cafe.”

Infuriatingly, the scientist regarded Voltaire the way Voltaire had regarded his wigmaker-with haughty superiority. His curled lip said quite clearly that he knew Voltaire could not exist without his patronage.

A humbling turnabout. Though middle-class in origin himself, Voltaire did not believe common people worthy of governing themselves. The thought of his wigmaker posing as a legislator was enough to make him never wear a wig again. To be seen similarly by this vexing, smug scientist was intolerable.

“Tell you what,” said the scientist. “You compose one of your brilliant lettres philosophiques trashing the concept of the human soul, and I will reunite you with the Maid. But if you don’t, you won’t see her until the day of the debate. Clear?”

Voltaire mulled the offer over. “Clear as a little stream,” he said at last.

—and then clotted, cinder-dark clouds descended into his mind. Memories, sullen and grim. He felt engulfed in a past that roared through him, scouring

“He’s cycling! There’s something surfacing here…” came Marq’s hollow call.

Images of the far past exploded.

“Call Seldon! This sim has another layer! Call Seldon!”

7.

Hari Seldon stared at the images and data-rivers. “Voltaire suffered a recall storm. And look at the implications. “

Marq peered without comprehension at the torrent. “Uh, I see.”

“That promontory-a memory nugget about a debate he had with Joan, eight thousand years ago.”

“Somebody used these sims before-”

“For public debate, yes. History not only repeats itself, sometimes it stutters.”

“Faith vs. Reason?”

“Faith/Mechanicals vs. Reason/Human Will,” Seldon said, as if reading them directly from the numerical complexes. Marq could not follow the connections fast enough to keep up with him. “A society of that time had a fundamental division over computer intelligences and their…manifestations.”

Marq caught an elusive flicker in Seldon’s face. Was he hiding something? “Manifestations? You mean, like tiktoks?”

“Something like that,” Seldon said stiffly.

“Voltaire’s for-”

“In that age, he was for human effervescence. Joan favored Faith, which meant, uh, tiktoks.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Ttktoks, or higher forms of them, were deemed capable of guiding humanity.” Seldon seemed uncomfortable.

Tiktoks?”Marq snorted derisively.

“Or, uh, higher forms.”

“That’s what Voltaire and Joan were debating eight thousand years ago? So they were engineered for this. Who won?”

“The result is suppressed. I believe it became an irrelevant issue. No computer intelligences could be made which could guide humanity.”

Marq nodded. “Makes sense. Machines will never be as smart as we are. Day-to-day business, sure, but-”

“I suggest erasure of the embedded memory complex,” Seldon said curtly. “That will eliminate the interfering layer.”

“Oh, if you think that’s best. I’m not sure we can disconnect every tie-in to those memories, though. These sims use holographic recall, so it’s lodged-”

“To get the results you wish in this upcoming debate, it is crucial. There could be other implications, too.”

“Such as?’’

“Historians might mine sims like these for lost data on the far past. They would want access. Deny them.”

“Oh, sure. I mean, not likely we’d let anybody use them.”

Seldon gazed at the shifting slabs of pattern. “They are complex, aren’t they? Minds of real depth, interacting subselves…Ommm…I wonder how the whole sense of selfhood remains stable? How come their mentalities don’t just crash?”

Marq couldn’t follow, but he said, “I guess those ancients, they knew a few tricks we don’t.”

Seldon nodded. “Indeed. There’s a glimmer of an idea here…”

He stood quickly and Marq rose. “Couldn’t you stay? I know Sybyl would like to talk-”

“Sorry, must go. Matters of state.”

“Uh, well, thanks for-”

Seldon was gone before Marq could close his gaping mouth.

8.

“I have no desire to see the skinny gentleman in the wig. He thinks he’s better than everyone else,” the Maid told the sorceress called Sybyl.

“True, but-”

“I much prefer the company of my own voices.”

“He’s quite taken with you,” Madame la Sorciere said.

“I find that difficult to believe.” Still, she could not help smiling.

“Oh, but it’s true. He’s asked Marq-his recreator-for an entirely new image. He lived, you know, to eighty-four.”

“He looks even older.” She had found his wig, lilac ribbon, and velvet breeches ludicrous on such a dried-up fig of a man.

“Marq decided to make him appear as he looked at forty-two. Do see him.”

The Maid reflected. Monsieur Arouet would be far less repulsive if…”Did Monsieur have a different tailor as a young man?”

“Hmmm, that might be arranged.”

“I’m not going to the inn in these.”

She held up her chains, recalling the fur cloak the king himself had placed about her shoulders at his coronation in Rouen. She thought of asking for it now, but decided against it. They had made much of her cloak during her trial, accusing her of having a demon-inspired love of luxury; she who, until she won the king over that day she first appeared at court, had felt nothing but coarse burlap against her skin. Her accusers, she had noted, wore black satin and velvet and reeked of perfume.

“I’ll do what I can,” Madame la Sorciere vowed, “but you must agree not to tell Monsieur Boker. He doesn’t want you fraternizing with the enemy, but I think it will do you good. Hone your skills for the Great Debate.”

There was a pause -falling, soft clouds-inwhich the Maid felt as if she had fainted. When she recovered-hard cool surfaces, sudden sharp splashes of brown, green- shefound herself seated in the Inn of the Two Maggots, once again, surrounded by guests who seemed not to know that she was there.

Armor-plated beings bearing trays and clearing tableware darted among the guests. She looked for Garcon and spotted him gazing at the honey-haired cook, who pretended not to notice. Garcon’s longing recalled the way the Maid herself had gazed at statues of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, who had both forsworn men but adopted their attire; suspended between two worlds, holy passion above, earthy ardor below. Just as here, with its jarring jargon of numbers and machines, though she knew it for a purgatorial waiting cloister, floating between the worlds.

She suppressed a smile when Monsieur Arouet appeared. He sported a dark, unpowdered wig, though still looked rather old-about the age of her father Jacques Dars, thirty plus one or two. His shoulders slumped forward under the weight of many books. She’d only seen books twice, during her trials, and though they looked nothing like these, she recoiled at the memory of their power.

Alors,”Monsieur Arouet said, setting the books before her. “Forty-two volumes. My Selected Works. Incomplete but-” he smiled “-for now, it will have to do. What’s wrong?”

“Do you mock me? You know I cannot read.”

“I know. Garcon 213-ADM is going to teach you.”

“I do not want to learn. All books except the Bible are born of the devil.”

Monsieur Arouet threw up his hands and lapsed into curses, violent and intriguing oaths like those her soldiers used when they forgot that she was near. “You must learn how to read. Knowledge is power!”

“The devil must know a great deal,” she said, careful to let no part of the books touch her.

Monsieur Arouet, exasperated, turned to the sorceress-who appeared to be sitting at a nearby table-and said, “Vac! Can’t you teach her anything?” Then he turned back to her. “How will you appreciate my brilliance if you can’t even read?”

“I have no use for it.”

“Ha! Had you been able to read, you’d have confounded those idiots who sent you to the stake.”

“All learned men,” she said. “Like you.”

“No, pucellette, not like me. Not like me at all.” As if it were a serpent, she recoiled from the book he held out. Grinning, he rubbed the book all over himself and Garcon, who was now standing beside the table. “It’s harmless-see?”

“Evil is often invisible,” she murmured. “

Monsieur is right,” Garcon told her. “All the best people read.”

“Had you been lettered,” Monsieur Arouet said, “you’d have known that your inquisitors had absolutely no right to try you. You were a prisoner of war, seized in battle. Your English captor had no legal right to have your religious views examined by French inquisitors and academics. You pretended to believe your voices were divine-”

“Pretended!” she cried out.

“-and he pretended to believe they were demonic. The English are themselves too tolerant to burn anyone at the stake. They leave such forms of amusement to our countrymen, the French.”

“Not too tolerant,” the Maid said, “to turn me over to the bishop of Beauvais, claiming I was a witch.” She looked away, unwilling to let him peer in her eyes. “Perhaps I am. I betrayed my own voices.”

“Voices of conscience, nothing more. The pagan Socrates heard them as well. Everyone does. But it’s unreasonable to sacrifice our lives to them, if only because to destroy ourselves on their account is to destroy them, too.” He sucked reflectively on his teeth. “Persons of good breeding betray them as a matter of course.”

“And we, here?” Joan whispered. He narrowed his eyes. “These…others? The scientists?”

“They are spectral.”

“Like demons? Yet they speak of reason. They have raised a republic of analysis.”

“So they say it is. Yet they have asked us to represent what they do not have.”

“You think them bloodless.” Voltaire twisted his mouth in surprised speculation.

“I think we listen to the same ‘scientists,’ so we are being tested in the same trial.”

“I heed voices such as theirs,” Voltaire said defensively. “I, at least, know when to turn my head aside from mindless advice.”

“Perhaps Monsieur’s voices are soft,” Garcon suggested. “Therefore, more easily ignored.”

“I let them-churchly men!-force me to admit my voices were the devil’s,” said the Maid, “when all the while I knew they were divine. Isn’t that the act of a demon? A witch?”

“Listen!” Monsieur Arouet gripped her by the arms. “There are no witches. The only demons in your life were those who sent you to the stake. Ignorant swine, the lot! Except for your English captor, who pretended to believe you were a witch to carry out a shrewd, political move. When your garments had bummed away, his dupes removed your body from the stake to show the crowd and the inquisitors you were indeed a female, who, if for no other reason than usurping the privileges of males, deserved your fate.”

“Please stop!” she said. She thought she smelled the oily reek of smoke, although Monsieur Arouet had made Garcon place NO SMOKING signs throughout the inn-which, abruptly, they were now inside. The room veered, whirled. “The fire.” She gasped. “Its tongues…”

“That’s enough,” the sorceress said. “Can’t you see you’re upsetting her? Layoff!”

But Monsieur Arouet persisted. “They examined your private parts after your garments bummed away-didn’t know that, did you?-just as they’d done before, to prove you were the virgin that you claimed. And having satisfied their lewdness in the name of holiness, they returned you to the pyre and charred your bones to ashes. That was how your countrymen requited you for championing their king! For seeing to it France remained forever French. And having incinerated you, a while later they held a hearing, cited some rural rumor that your heart had not been consumed in the fire, and promptly declared you a national heroine, the Savior of France. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, by now, they have canonized you and revere you as a saint.”

“In 1924,” La Sorciere said. Though how she knew this odd number, she did not comprehend. Angelic knowledge?

Monsieur Arouet’s splutter of scorn crackled in her ears.

“Much good it did her,” Monsieur Arouet said to La Sorciere.

“That date was in an attendant note,” La Sorciere said, her earnest voice in its factual mode. “Though of course we have no coordinates to know what the numbers mean. It is now 12,026 of the Galactic Era.”

Scorching logics fanned the crackling air. Hot winds blurred the crowd of onlookers gathered around the stake.

“Fire.” The Maid gasped. Clutching the mesh collar at her throat, she fled into the cool dark of oblivion.

9.

“It’s about time,” Voltaire scolded Madame la Scientiste. She hung before him like an animated oil painting. He had chosen this representation, finding it oddly reassuring.

“I haven’t been ignoring you on purpose,” she said, cool and businesslike.

“How dare you slow me without my consent?”

“Marq and I are being besieged by media people. I never dreamed the Great Debate would be the media event of the decade. They all want a chance to interview you and Joan.”

Voltaire fluffed the apricot ribbon at his throat. “I refuse to be seen by them without my powdered wig.”

“We’re not going to let them see you or the Maid at all. They can talk to Marq all they want. He likes attention and handles it well. He says public exposure will help his career. “

“I should think I would be consulted before such important decisions-”

“Look, I came as soon as my mechsec beeped me. I let you run on step-down time, to police up your pattern integration. You should be grateful that I give you interior time-”

“Contemplation?” he sniffed. “That’s one way to look at it.”

“I did not realize that such would have to be… granted.” Voltaire was in his richly appointed rooms at Frederick the Great’s court, playing chess with the friar whom he employed to let him win.

“It costs. And cost/benefit analysis shows that it would be better if we ran you two together.”

“No solitude? It’s impossible to hold a rational conversation with the woman!”

He turned his back on her, for maximum dramatic effect. He had been a fine actor-everyone who’d heard him perform in his plays at Frederick’s court said so. He knew a good scene when he saw one, and this one had dramatic potential. These creatures were so pallid, so unused to the gusts of raw emotion, artfully crafted.

Her voice softened. “Get rid of him and I’ll update you.”

He turned and lifted a single thin finger at the good-natured friar, the only man of the cloth he had ever met whom he could stand. The man shuffled off, closing the carved oak door carefully.

Voltaire took a sip of Frederick’s fine sherry to clear his throat. “I want you to expunge the Maid’s memory of her final ordeal. It impedes our conversation, as surely as bishops and state officials impede the publication of intelligent work. Besides…” He paused, uncomfortable at expressing feelings softer than irritation. “…she’s suffering. I cannot bear to see it.”

“I don’t think-”

“And while you’re at it, obliterate from me, too, my memory of the eleven months I served in the Bastille. And all my frequent flights from Paris-not the flights themselves, mind you-my periods of exile constitute most of my life! Just delete their causes, not the effects.”

“Well, I don’t know-”

He slammed a fist down on an ornately wrought oak side table. “Unless you liberate me from past fears, I cannot act freely!”

“Simple logic-”

“Since when is logic simple? I cannot ‘simply’ compose my lettre philosophique on the absurdity of denying those like Garcon 213-ADM the rights of man on the grounds that they have no soul. He’s an amusing little fellow, don’t you think? And as smart as at least a dozen priests whom I have known. Does he not speak? Respond? Desire? He is infatuated with a human cook. Should he not be able to pursue happiness as freely as you or I? If he has no soul, then you have no soul, either. If you have a soul, it can only be inferred from your behavior, and since we may make the identical inference from the behavior of Garcon, so does he.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Madame la Scientiste said. “Though of course 213-ADM’s reactions are simulations. Self-aware machines have been illegal for millennia.”

“That is what I challenge!” Voltaire shouted.

“And how much of that comes from Sarkian programming?”

“None. The rights of man-”

“Hardly need apply to machines.”

Voltaire scowled. “I cannot express myself completely freely on these sensitive matters-unless you rid me of the memory of what I suffered for expressing my ideas.”

“But your past is your self. Without all of it, intact-”

“Nonsense! The truth is, I never dared express myself freely on many matters. Take that life-hating Puritan Pascal, his views of original sin, miracles, and much other nonsense besides. I didn’t dare say what I really thought! Always, I had to calculate what every assault on convention and traditional stupidity would cost.”

Madame la Scientiste pursed her lips prettily. “You did well enough, I would guess. You were famous. We don’t know your history, or even your world. But from your memories I can tell-”

“And the Maid! She is thwarted more than I! For her convictions, she paid the ultimate price. Being crucified could be no worse than what she suffered at the stake. Light a goodly pipe-as I love to do-before her, and her eyes roll with confusion.”

“But that’s crucial to who she is.”

“Rational inquiries cannot be carried out in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. If our contest is to be fair, I implore you, rid us of these terrors that prevent us from speaking our minds’ and from encouraging others to speak theirs. Else this debate will be like a race run with bricks tied to the runners’ ankles.”

Madame la Scientiste did not respond at once. “I-I’d like to help, but I’m not sure I can.”

Voltaire spluttered with scorn. “I know enough of your procedures to know you can comply with my request.”

“That poses no problem, true. But morally, I’m not at liberty to tamper with the Maid’s program at whim.”

Voltaire stiffened. “I realize Madame has a low opinion of my philosophy, but surely-”

“Not so! I think the world of you! You have a modern mind, and from the depths of the dark past-astonishing. I wish the Empire had men like you! But your point of view, though valid as far as it goes, is limited because of what it leaves out and cannot address.”

“ My philosophy? It embraces all, a universal view-”

AndI work for Artifice Associates and the Preservers, for Mr. Boker. I’m bound by ethics to give them the Maid they want. Unless I could convince them to delete the Maid’s memory of her martyrdom, I can’t do it. And Marq would have to get permission from the company and the Skeptics to delete yours. He’d love to, I assure you. His Skeptics are more likely to consent than my Preservers. It would give you an advantage.”

“I quite agree,” he conceded at once. “Relieving me of my burdens without ridding the Maid of hers would not be rational or ethical. Neither Locke nor Newton would approve.”

Madame la Scientiste did not answer at once. ‘‘I’LL talk to my boss and to Monsieur Boker,” she said at last. “But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”

Voltaire smiled wryly and said, “Madame forgets I have no breath to hold.”

10.

The icon flashing on Marq’s board stopped just as he entered his office. That meant Sybyl must have answered it in hers.

Marq bristled with suspicion. They had agreed not to talk to each other’s re-creations alone, though each had already given the other the required programming to do it. The Maid never initiated communication, which meant the caller was Voltaire.

How dare Sybyl boot up without him! He stormed out of the office to let her and Voltaire both know exactly what he thought of their conspiring behind his back. But in the corridor he was besieged by cameras, journalists, and reporters. It was fifteen minutes before he burst into Sybyl’s office and, sure enough, caught her closeted cozily with Voltaire. She’d reduced him from wall-sized to human scale.

“You broke our pact!” Marq shouted. “What are you doing? Trying to use his infatuation with that schizophrenic to make him throw the debate?”

Sybyl, head buried in her hands, looked up. Her eyes glistened with tears. Marq felt something in him roll over, but he chose to ignore it. She actually blew Voltaire a kiss before freezing him.

“I must say, I never thought you’d sink to this.”

“To what?” Sybyl got her face back together and jutted out her jaw. “What’s gotten into your usual jaunty self?”

“What was that all about?”

When he heard, Marq marched back into his office and booted up Voltaire. Before the image fully formed, color blocks phasing in, he shouted, “The answer is no!

“I am sure you have an elaborate syllogism for me,” Voltaire said sardonically, unfreezing.

Marq had to admit that the sim handled the sudden lurches and disappearances in its frame-space with aplomb. “Look,” he said evenly, “I want the Rose of France wilting in her armor the day of the debate. It will remind her of her inquisition, exactly. She’ll start babbling nonsense and reveal to the planet just how bankrupt Faith without Reason is.”

Voltaire stamped his foot. “ Merde alors! We disagree! Never mind me, but I insist you delete the Maid’s memory of her final hours so that her reasoning will not be compromised-as mine so often was-by fear of reprisals.”

“Not possible. Boker wanted Faith, he gets all of it.”

“Nonsense! Also, I demand you let me visit her and that odd mais charmant curiosity Garcon in the cafe -at will.I’ve never known beings like either of them before, and they are the only society that I now have.”

What about me?Marq thought. Beneath the need to keep this sim in line, he admired the skinny fellow. This was a powerful, impressive intellect, but more, the personality came through bristling with power. Voltaire had lived in a rising age. Marq envied that, wanted to be Voltaire’s friend. What about me?

But what he said was, “I don’t suppose it’s occurred to you that the loser of the debate will be consigned forever to oblivion.”

Voltaire blinked, his face giving nothing away.

“You can’t fool me,” Marq said. “I know you want more than just intellectual immortality.”

“I do?”

“That, you already have. You’ve been re-created.”

“I assure you, my definition of living is more than becoming a pattern of numbers.”

That bothered Marq, but he passed it over for the moment. “Remember, I can read your mem-space. I happen to recall that once, when you were well advanced in years, unforced by your father and of your own free will, you actually received Easter communion.”

“Ah, but I refused it at the end! All I wanted was to be left to die in peace!”

“Allow me to quote from your famous poem, ‘The Lisbon Earthquake.’ Part of the ancillary memory-space:

‘Sad is the present if no future state, No blissful retribution mortals wait,

If fate’s decrees the thinking being doom

To lose existence in the silent tomb.”‘

Voltaire wavered. “True, I said that-and with what eloquence! But everyone who enjoys life longs to extend it.”

Youronly chance at a ‘future state’ is to win the debate. It’s against your own best interest-and we all know how fond you’ve always been of that!-to delete the Maid’s memory of being burned alive.”

Voltaire scowled. Marq could see running indices on his side screen: Basis State fluctuations well bounded-but the envelope was growing, an orange cylinder fattening in 3-space, billowing out under pressure from the quick, skittering tangles inside; Emotion Agents interchanging packets at high speed, indicating a cusp point approaching.

Marq stroked a pad. It was tempting to make the sim believe what Marq wanted…but that would be tricky. He would have to integrate the idea-cluster into the whole personality. Self-synthesis worked much better. But it could only be nudged, not forced.

Voltaire’s mood darkened, Marq saw, but the face-stepped down into slow-mo-showed only a pensive stare. It had taken Marq years to learn that people and sims alike could mask their emotions quite well.

Try a little humor, maybe. He thumbed back to pace and said, “If you give me a hard time, fella, I’m going to give her that scurrilous poem you wrote about her.”

‘La Pucelle’?You wouldn’t!”

“Wouldn’t I! You’ll be lucky if she ever speaks to you again.”

A canny smirk. “Monsieur forgets the Maid does not know how to read.”

“I’ll see to it she learns. Or better yet, read it to her myself. Illiterate, sure, but she damn sure isn’t deaf!”

Voltaire glared, muttering, “Between Scylla and Charybdis…”

What was that mind plotting, sharp as a scalpel? He-or it-was integrating into this digital world faster than any sim Marq had ever known. Once the debate was over, Marq vowed to strip that mind down and study its cutting edges again, put its processor layouts under the ‘scope. And there was that odd memory from eight thousand years ago, too. Seldon had been a bit odd about that…

“I promise to produce la lettre if you will just let me see her once more. In return, you’ll vow never to so much as mention’ La Puce/le’ to the Maid.”

“No funny business,” Marq warned. “I’ll watch your every move.”

“As you wish.”

Marq returned Voltaire to the cafe, where Joan and Garcon 213-ADM were waiting, running their own introspections. He’d barely called them up when he was momentarily distracted by a knock on his door-Nim.

“Kaff?”

“Sure.” Marq glanced back at the cafe sim. Let them visit a while. The more Voltaire knew, the sharper he’d be later. “Got any of that senso-powder? Been a tough day.”

11.

“Your orders,” said Garcon 213-ADM with a flourish.

He was having difficulty following the arguments between the Maid and the Monsieur on whether beings like himself possessed a soul. Monsieur seemed to believe that no one at all had a soul-which outraged the Maid. They argued with such heat they did not notice the disappearance of the odd ghost presence who usually watched them, a “programmer” of this space.

Now was Garcon’s chance to implore Monsieur to intervene on his behalf and ask his human masters to give him a name. 213-ADM was just a mechfolk code: 2 identified his function, mechwaiter; 13 placed him in this Sector, and ADM stood for Aux Deux Magots. He was sure he’d have a better chance of attracting the honey-haired short-order cook’s attention if he had a human name.

“Monsieur, Madame. Your orders, please.”

“What good is ordering?” Monsieur snapped. Patience, Garcon observed, was not improved by learning. “We cannot taste a thing!”

Garcon gestured sympathetically with two of his four hands. He had no experience of human senses except sight, sound, and rudimentary touch, those necessary to perform his job. He would have given anything to taste, to feel; humans seemed to derive such pleasure from it.

The Maid perused the menu and, changing the subject, said, “I’ll have my usual. A crust of bread-I’ll try a sourdough baguette crust for a change-”

“A sourdough baguette!” Monsieur echoed.

“-and, to dip it in, a bit of champagne.”

Monsieur shook his hand as if to cool it off. “I commend you, Garcon, for doing such a fine job of teaching the Maid to read the menu.”

“Madame La Scientiste permitted it,” Garcon said; he did not want trouble with his human masters, who could pull the plug on him at any time.

Monsieur waved a dismissive hand. “She’s much too detail-obsessed. She’d never survive on her own in Paris, much less at any royal court. Marq, however, will go far. Lack of scruples is fortune’s favorite grease. I certainly did not proceed from penury to being one of the wealthiest citizens in France by confusing ideals with scruples.”

“Has Monsieur decided on his order?” Garcon asked.

“Yes. You’re to instruct the Maid in more advanced texts so that she can read my poem, ‘On the Newtonian Philosophy,’ along with all my l ettres Philosophiques.Her reasoning is to become as equal as possible with my own. Not that anyone’s reason is likely to become so,” he added with his cocky smile.

“Your modesty is equaled only by your wit,” said the Maid, drawing from Monsieur a smirky laugh.

Garcon sadly shook his head. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I am unable to instruct anyone except in simple phrases. My literacy permits comprehension of nothing beyond menus. I’m honored by Monsieur’s desire to advance my station. But even when opportunity knocks, I and my kind, consigned forever to the lowest levels of society, cannot answer the door.”

“The lower classes ought to keep their place,” Voltaire assured him. “But I’ll make an exception in your case. You seem ambitious. Are you?”

Garcon glanced at the honey-haired cook. “Ambition is unsuited to one of my rank.”

“What would you be, then? If you could be anything you like?”

Garcon happened to know that the cook spent her three days a week off-Garcon himself worked seven days a week-in the corridors of the Louvre. “A mechguide at the Louvre,” he said. “One smart enough, and with sufficient leisure, to court a woman who barely knows I exist.”

Monsieur said grandly, “I’ll find a way to-how do they say it?”

“Download him,” the Maid volunteered.

Mon dieu!” Monsieur exclaimed. “Already she can read as well as you. But I will not have her wit exceed mine! That would be going too damned far, indeed!”

12.

Marq puffed the packet into his nose and waited for the rush.

“That bad?” Nim signaled the Splashes amp; Sniffs mechmaid for another.

“Voltaire,” Marq grumbled. He reached the top of the stim lift, his mind getting sharper and somehow at the same time lazier. He had never quite worked out how that could be. “He’s supposed to be my creature, but half the time it’s like I’m his.”

“He’s a bunch of numbers.”

“Sure, but…Once I eavesdropped on his subconscious sentence-forming Agent, and he was framing a bunch of stuff about ‘will is soul’-self-image maintenance stuff, I think.”

“Philosophy, could be.”

Willhe’s got, for sure. So I’ve created a being with a soul?”

“Category error,” Nim said. “You’re abstracting ‘soul’ out of Agents. That’s like trying to go from atoms to cows in one jump.”

“That’s the kind of leap this sim makes.”

“You want to understand a cow, you don’t look for cow-atoms.”

“Right, you go for the ‘emergent property.’ Standard theory.”

“This sim is predictable, buddy. Remember that. You tailor him until he’s got no nonlinear elements you can’t contain.”

Marq nodded. “He’s…different. So powerful.”

“He got simmed for a reason, way back in the Dark Ages somewhere. Did you expect a doormat? One who wouldn’t give you a hard time? You represent authority-which he battled all his life.”

Marq ran fingers through his wavy hair. “Sure, if I find a nonlinear constellation I can’t abstract out-”

“-call it a will or a soul and delete it.” Nim slapped the table hard, making a woman nearby give them a startled glance.

Marq gave him a mocking, skeptical look. “The system isn’t completely predictable.”

“So you launch a pattern-sniffer. Back-trace on it. Stitch in sub-Agents, handcuff any personas you can’t fix. Hey, you invented those cognitive constraint algorithms. You’re the best.”

Marq nodded. And what if it’s like cutting into a brain in search of consciousness? He took a deep breath and exhaled toward the domed ceiling, where a mindless entertainment played, presumably for those conked off on stiff. “Anyway, it’s not just him.” Marq met Nim’s eyes. “I rigged Sybyl’s office. I eavesdrop on her meetings with Boker.”

Nim slapped him on the shoulder. “Good for you!”

Marq laughed. A buddy sticks with you, even if you’re having a stupid-storm. “That isn’t all.”

Nim leaned forward, boyishly curious.

“I think I went too far,” Marq said.

“You got caught!”

“No, no. You know how Sybyl is. She doesn’t suspect intrigue from enemies, much less friends.”

“Maneuvering isn’t her strong suit.”

“I’m not sure it’s mine, either,” Marq said.

“Ummm.” Nim gave him a shrewd look, eyes half-closed. “So…what else did you do?”

Marq sighed. “I updated Voltaire. Gave him cross-learning programs to flesh out his deep conflicts, help him reconcile them.”

Nim’s eyes widened. “Risky.”

“I wanted to see what a mind like that could do. When will I get another chance?”

“How do you feel about it, though?”

Marq chuffed Nim on the shoulder to hide his embarrassment.

“Kinda rotten. Sybyl and I both agreed not to do it.”

“Faith doesn’t need to be too smart.”

“I thought of that excuse, too.”

“What’s that guy Seldon think of all this?”

“We…haven’t told him.”

“Ah.”

“He wants it that way! Keeps his hands clean.”

Nim nodded. “Look buddy, deed’s done. How did the sim take it?”

“Jolted him. Big oscillations on the neural nets.”

“Okay now, though?”

“Seems so. I think he’s reintegrated.”

“Does your client know?”

“Yes. The Skeptics are all for it. I foresee no problem there.”

“You’re doing real research on this one,” Nim said. “Good for the field. Important.”

“So how come I feel like having maybe a dozen or so sniffs?” He jerked a thumb at the moron movie on the ceiling. “So that I’ll loll back and think that’s terrif stuff?”

13.

“Now pay attention,” Voltaire said when the scientist at last answered his call. “Carefully.”

He cleared his throat, flung out his arms, and readied himself to declaim the brilliant arguments he’d detailed, all shaped in another lettre.

The scientist’s eyes were slits, his face pale. Voltaire was irked. “Don’t you want to hear?”

“Hangover.”

“You’ve discovered a single general theory explaining why the universe, so vast, is the only possible one, its forces all exact-and have no cure for hangover?”

“Not my area,” he said raggedly. “Ask a physicist.”

Voltaire clicked heels, then bowed in the Prussian way he’d learned at Frederick the Great’s court. (Though he had always muttered to himself, German puppets! as he did so.) “The doctrine of a soul depends on the idea of a fixed and immutable self. No evidence supports the notion of a stable ‘I,’ an essential ego-entity lying beyond each individual existence-”

“True,” said the scientist, “though odd, coming from you.”

“Don’t interrupt! Now, how can we explain the stubborn illusion of a fixed self or soul? Through five functions-themselves conceptual processes and not fixed elements. First, all beings possess physical, material qualities, which change so slowly that they appear to be fixed, but which are actually in constant material flux.”

“The soul’s supposed to outlast those.” The scientist pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.

“No interruptions. Second, there is the illusion of a fixed emotional makeup, when actually feelings-as even that rude playwright Shakespeare pointed outwax and wane as inconstantly as the moon. They, too, are in constant flux, though no doubt these motions, just like the moon’s, obey physical laws.”

“Hey, wait. That stuff earlier, about the theory of the universe-did you know that back in those Dark Ages?”

“I deduced it from the augmentations you gave me.”

The man blinked, obviously impressed. “I… hadn’t anticipated…”

Voltaire suppressed his irritation. Any audience, even one that insisted on participating, was better than none. Let him catch up with the implications of his own actions, in his own good time. “Third!-perception. The senses, upon examination, also turn out to be processes, in constant motion, not in the least fixed.”

“The soul-”

“Fourth!” Voltaire was determined to ignore banal interpolations. “Everyone has habits developed over the years. But these too are made up of constant flowing action. Despite the appearance of repetition, there’s nothing fixed or immutable here.”

“The Grand Universal Theory-that’s what you accessed, right? How’d you crack the files? I didn’t give you-”

“Finally!-the phenomenon of consciousness, the so-called soul itself. Believed by priests and fools-a redundancy, that-to be detachable from the four phenomena I’ve named. But consciousness itself exhibits characteristics of flowing motion, as with the other four. All five of these functions are constantly grouping and regrouping. The body is forever in flux, as is all else. Permanence is an illusion. Heraclitus was absolutely right. You cannot set foot into the same river twice. The hungover man I’m regarding now-pause but a second-is not the same hungover man I am regarding now. Everything is dissolution and decay-”

The scientist coughed, groaned. “Damn right.”

‘‘-as well as growing, blossoming. Consciousness itself cannot be separated from its contents. We are pure deed. There is no doer. The dancer can’t be separated from the dance. Science after my time confirms this view. Looked at closely, the atom itself disappears. There is no atom, strictly speaking. There is only what the atom does. Function is everything. Ergo, there is no fixed, absolute entity commonly known as soul.”

“Funny you should bring up the issue,” said the scientist, looking at Voltaire meaningfully.

He waved away the point. “Since even rudimentary artificial intelligences such as Garcon exhibit all the functional characteristics I have named-even, so it would appear, consciousness-it is unreasonable to withhold from them rights that we enjoy, though allowing, naturally, for class differences. Since in this distant era farmers, shopkeepers, and wigmakers are granted privileges equal with those of dukes and earls, it is irrational to withhold such privileges from beings such as Garcon.”

“If there’s no soul, there’s obviously no reincarnation of it either, right?”

“My dear sir, to be born twice is no more odd than to be born once.”

This startled the scientist. “But what’s reincarnated? What crosses over from one life to the next? If there’s no fixed, absolute self? No soul?”

Voltaire made a note in the margin of his lettre. “If you memorize my poems-which for your own enlightenment I urge you do-do they lose anything you gain? If you light a candle from another candle’s flame, what crosses over? In a relay race, does one runner give up anything to the other? His position on the course, no more.” Voltaire paused for dramatic effect. “Well? What do you think?”

The scientist clutched his stupefied head. “I think you’ll win the debate.”

Voltaire decided now was the time to put forward his request. “But to assure my victory, I must compose an additional lettre,more technical, for types who equate verbal symbols with mere rhetoric, with empty words.”

“Have at it,” said the scientist.

“For that,” Voltaire said, “I will need your help.”

“You got it.”

Voltaire smiled with what he hoped was an appealing sincerity, since that was what he most certainly was not. “You must give me everything you know of simulation methods.”

“What? Why?”

“This will not merely spare you immense labor. It will enable me to write a technical lettre, aimed at converting specialists and experts to our point of view. Far more than those in Junin Sector. All Trantor, then all the Galaxy, must be converted-or else reactionaries shall rebound and crush your vaunted renaissance.”

“You’ll never be able to follow the math-”

“The Newtonian calculations I brought to France, I remind you. Give me the tools!”

Clutching his temples, the scientist slumped forward over his control board with a moan. “Only if you promise not to call me for at least the next ten hours.”

Mais oui,”said Voltaire with an impish smile. “Monsieur requires time-how do you say it en Anglais?-to sleep it off.”

14.

Sybyl waited nervously for her turn on the agenda of the executive meeting of Artifice Associates. She sat opposite Marq, contributing nothing to the discussion, as colleagues and superiors discussed this aspect and that of the company’s operation. Her mind was elsewhere, but not so far gone as to fail to notice the curly hair on the back of Marq’s hands, and a single vein that pulsed-sensuous music-in his neck.

As the president of Artifice Associates dismissed all those not directly involved in the Preserver-Skeptic Project, Sybyl assembled the notes she’d prepared to present her case. Of those present, she knew she could count only on Marq’s support. But she was confident that, with it, the others would go along with her proposal.

The day before, she had told the Special Projects Committee, for the first time, the Maid had broken her reclusive pattern. She initiated contact, instead of waiting to be summoned, trailing her usual air of reluctance. She’d been deeply disturbed to learn from “Monsieur Arouet” that she must defeat him in what she called “the trial,” or else be consigned once again to oblivion.

When Sybyl had acknowledged that that was probably true, the Maid became convinced that she was going to be cast again into “the fire.” Disoriented and confused, she begged Sybyl to allow her to retire, to consult her “voices.”

Sybyl had furnished her with restful wallpaper backgrounds: forest, fields, tinkling streams.

She probed for vestigial memories like those Marq had mentioned, of a debate 8,000 years ago. Joan did carry traces, just bits someone had overlooked in a previous erasing. Joan identified Faith with something called “robots.” Apparently these were mythical figures who would guide humanity; perhaps some deities?

Several hours later, Joan had emerged from her interior landscape. She requested high-level reading skills, so that she might compete with her “inquisitor” on a more equal footing.

“I explained to her that I couldn’t alter her programming without this committee’s consent.”

“What about your client?” the president wanted to know.

“Monsieur Boker found out-he wouldn’t tell me how; a press leak, I suspect-that Voltaire is to be her rival in the debate. Now he’s threatening to back out unless I give her additional data and skills.”

“And…Seldon?”

“He’s saying nothing. Just wants to be sure he’s not implicated.”

“Does Boker know we’re handling Voltaire for the Skeptics as well as Joan for him?”

Sybyl shook her head.

“Thank the Cosmic for that,” said the executive of Special Projects.

“Marq?” the president asked, eyebrows raised.

Since Marq had once suggested the very course Sybyl now proposed, she assumed his accord. So she was stunned when he said, “I’m against it. Both sides want a verbal duel between intuitive faith and inductive/deductive reason. Update the Maid, and all we will succeed in doing is muddying the issue.”

“Marq!” Sybyl cried out.

Heated discussion followed. Marq fired one objection after another at everyone who favored the idea. Except Sybyl, whose gaze he carefully avoided. When it became apparent no consensus would be reached, the president made the decision in Sybyl’s favor.

Sybyl pressed her advantage. “I’d also like permission to delete from the Maid’s programming her memory of being burned alive at the stake. Her fear that she’ll be sentenced to a similar fate again makes it impossible for her to present the case for Faith as freely as she could if that memory didn’t darken her thoughts.”

“I object,” Marq said. “Martyrdom is the only way a person can become famous without ability. The Maid who did not suffer martyrdom for her beliefs isn’t the Maid of prehistory at all.”

Sybyl shot back, “But we don’t know that history! These sims are from the Dark Ages. Her trauma-”

“To delete her memory of that experience would be like-well, think of some of the prehistory legends.” Marq spread his hands. “Even their religions! It would be like re-creating Christ-their ancient deity-without his crucifixion.”

Sybyl glared at him, but Marq addressed the president, as if she did not exist. “Intact, that’s how our clients want-”

“I’m willing to let Voltaire be deleted of all he suffered at the hands of authority, too,” she countered.

“I’m not,” said Marq. “Voltaire without defiance of authority would not be Voltaire.”

Sybyl let the other committee members argue the point, nonplused by the incomprehensible change in Marq. It all passed by like a dream. Finally, she accepted her superiors’ final decision-a compromise, because she had no choice. The Maid’s information bank would be updated, but she would not be allowed to forget her fiery death. Nor would Voltaire be allowed to forget the constant fear of reprisals from church and state, in that ancient, murky era.

The president said, “I remind you that we’re skating on thin e-field here. Sims like this are taboo. Junin Sector elements offered us a big bonus to even attempt this-and we’ve succeeded. But we’re taking risks. Big ones.”

As they left the conference room Sybyl whispered to Marq, “You’re up to something.”

He looked distracted. “Research. Y’know, that’s when you’re working hard, but you don’t know where you’re going.”

He walked on, obliviously, while she stood with her mouth open. How could she read this man?

15.

Unresponsive to the presence of Madame la Sorciere, the Maid sat upright in her cell, eyes closed. Warring voices pealed inside her head.

The noise was like the din of battle, chaotic and fierce. But if she listened intently, refusing to allow her immortal spirit to be ripped from her mortal flesh-then, then, a divinely orchestrated polyphony would show her the rightful course.

The Archangel Michael, and St. Catherine, and St. Margaret-from whose mouths her voices often spoke-were reacting fiercely to her involuntary mastery of Monsieur Arouet’s Complete Works. Particularly offensive to Michael was the Elements de Newton, whose philosophy Michael perceived to be incompatible with that of the Church-indeed, with his own existence.

The Maid herself was not so sure. She found, to her surprise, a poetry and harmony in the equations that proved-as if proof were required-the unsurpassed reality of the Creator, whose physical laws might be fathomable but whose purposes were not.

How she knew these beauties was rather mysterious. She saw into the calculus of force and motion, the whirl of worlds. Like the lords and ladies at court, inert matter made its divinely orchestrated gavotte. These things she sensed with her whole self, directly, as if penetrated by divine insight. Beauties arrived, out of pale air. How could she discount sublime perceptions?

Such divine invasion must be holy. That it came to her as a flood of memory, skills, associations, only proved further that it was heaven sent. La Sorciere murmured something about computer files and sub-Agents, but those were incantations, not truths.

Far more offensive to her than this new wisdom, far more, was that its author was an Englishman.

“La Henriade,”she told Michael, citing another of Monsieur Arouet’s works, “is more repulsive than Les Elements. How dare Monsieur Arouet, who arrogantly calls himself by the false name Voltaire, maintain that in England reason is free, while in our own beloved France, it’s shackled to the dark imaginings of absolutist priests! Was it not Jesuit priests who first taught this inquisitor how to reason?”

But what enraged the Maid most of all and made her thrash and strain at her chains-until, fearing for her safety, La Sorciere freed her chafed ankles and wrists-was his illegally printed, scurrilous poem about her. Villainous verse!

As soon as she was sure her voices had withdrawn, she waved a copy of’ La Puce/le’ at the sorceress, incensed that the chaste Saints Catherine or Margaret-who had momentarily vanished, but would surely return-might be forcibly exposed to its lewdness. Both saints had already reproached her for her silly, girlish speculations about how attractive Monsieur Arouet might be-what was she thinking?-if he removed his ridiculous wig and lilac ribbons.

“How dare Monsieur Arouet represent me this way?” she railed, knowing full well that her stubborn refusal to call him Voltaire irked him no end. “He adds nine years to my age, dismisses my voices as outright lies. And slanders Baudricourt, who first enabled me to put before my king my vision for both him and France. A writer of preachy plays and irreverent slanders against the faithful, like Candide, he well may be-but that insufferable know-it-all calls himself a historian! If his other historical accounts are no more reliable than the one he gives of me, they and not my body deserve the fire.”

The woman La Sorciere paled before this onslaught. These people-if people they were at all, here in a byzantine, cloudy Purgatory-backed away from the true ferocity of divine Purpose. Joan towered over the woman, with some relish.

“Newton’s clockwork wisdom is an intriguing vision of Creation’s laws,” Joan thundered, “but Voltaire’s history is a work of his imagination!-made up of three parts bile, two spleen.”

She raised her right arm in the same gesture she’d used to lead her soldiers and the knights of France into battle against the English king and his minions-of whom, she now saw clearly, Monsieur Arouet de Voltaire was one. A warrior femme inspiratrice with an intense aversion to the kill, she now vowed all-out war against this, this-she gasped in exasperation, “This nouveau riche bourgeois upstart darling of the aristocratic class, who’s never known real want or need, and thinks horses are bred with carriages behind them.”

“Get him!” La Sorciere, ablaze with the Maid’s fire, raged. “That’s what we want!”

“Where is he?” demanded the Maid. “Where is this shallow little pissoir stream?-that I may drown him in the depths of all I have suffered! “

Oddly, La Sorciere seemed pleased by all this, as if it fit some design of her own.

16.

Voltaire cackled with satisfaction. The cafe appeared, popping into luminous reality, independent of his human masters’ consent or knowledge.

Subroutine accomplished,a small voice assured him. He made the cafe disappear and reappear three times more, to be sure that he had mastered the technique.

What fools these rulers were, to think that they could make the Great Voltaire a creature of their will! But now came the real test, the intricate procedure that would bring forth the Maid in all her womanly unfathomability-which, however, he was determined to fathom.

He had mastered the intricate logics of this place, given the capacities the man-scientist had given him. Did they think he was some animal, unable to apply blithe reason to their labyrinths of logic? He had found his way, traced the winding electronic pathways, devised the commands. Newton had been just as difficult, and he had encompassed that, had he not?

Now, the Maid. He did his digital dance, its logics, and

She popped into the cafe.

“You scum,” she said, lance drawn.

Not quite the greeting he’d expected. But then he saw the copy of’ La Pucelle’ dangling on the point of her lance.

Cherie,“ he cooed; whatever the offense, best to get in an apology early. “I can explain.”

“That’s your whole problem,” the Maid said. “You explain and explain and explain! Your plays are more tedious than the sermons I was forced to listen to in the cemetery at St. Ouen. Your railings against the sacred mysteries of the Church reveal a shallow, unfeeling mind bereft of awe and wonder.”

“You mustn’t take it personally,” Voltaire pleaded. “It was directed at hypocritical reverence for you-and at the superstitions of religion. My friend, Thieriot-he added passages more profane and obscene than any I had written. He needed money. He made a living reciting the poem in various salons. My poor virgin became an infamous whore, made to say gross and intolerable things.”

The Maid did not lower her lance. Instead, she poked it several times against Voltaire’s satin waistcoated chest.

Cherie,”he said. “If you knew how much I paid for this vest.”

“You mean, how much Frederick paid-that pitiful, promiscuous, profligate pervert of a man.”

“Alliteration a bit heavy,” Voltaire said, “but otherwise, a quite nicely turned phrase.”

His newly gained skills meant he could divest her of her lance at once, squash it. But he preferred persuasiveness to force. He quoted, with some liberty, that pleasure-hating Christian, Paul: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, behaved as a child. But when I became a woman, I put away manly things.”

She blinked. He remembered how her inquisitors had claimed that her acceptance of the gift of a fine cloak was incompatible with the divine origin of her voices. In a whisk of lithe arms, Voltaire produced a Chantilly lace gown. Pop- anda richly embroidered cloak.

“You mock me,” the Maid said. But not before he saw a gleam of interest flare in her coal-dark eyes.

“I long to see you as you are.” He held out the gown and cloak. “Your spirit I have no doubt is divine, but your natural form, like mine, is human; unlike mine, a woman’s.”

“You think I could give up the freedom of a man for that?” She impaled the cloak and gown on the tip of her lance.

“Not the freedom,” Voltaire said. “Just the armor and clothes.”

She fell silent, pensively gazing into the distance. The crowd on the street went about their business, walking by unconcerned. Obvious wallpaper, he thought; he would have to correct that.

Perhaps a trick. She was partial to miracles. “Another little trick I’ve learned since we last met. Voila. I can produce Garcon.”

Garcon popped in out of nowhere, all four of his hands free. The Maid-who had indeed once worked in a tavern, he recalled-could not help it; she smiled. She also removed the gown and cloak from the lance, tossed the lance aside, and caressed the clothes.

He could not resist the impulse to quote himself.

“For I am man and justly proud

In human weakness to have part;

Past mistresses have held my heart,

I’m happy still when thus aroused.”

He fell to one knee before her. A grand gesture-foolproof, in his experience.

Joan gaped, speechless.

Garcon placed both his right hands over the site where humans are supposed to have a heart. “Freedom such as yours, you offer? Monsieur, Mademoiselle, I appreciate your kindness, but I fear I must refuse. I cannot accept such a privilege for myself alone, while my fellows are doomed to toil in unsatisfying, dead-end jobs.”

“He has a noble soul!” the Maid exclaimed.

“Yes, but his brain leaves much to be desired.” Voltaire sucked reflectively at his teeth. “There has to be an underclass to do the dirty work of the elite. That is natural. Creating mechfolk of limited intelligence is an ideal solution! Makes one wonder why, in all their history, no one made such an obvious step…”

“With all respect,” said Garcon, “unless my meager understanding fails me, Monsieur and Mademoiselle are themselves nothing more than beings of limited intelligence, created by human masters to work for the elite.”

“What!” Voltaire’s eyes widened.

“By what inherent right are you made more intelligent and privileged than I and others of my class? Do you have a soul? Should you be entitled to equal rights with humans, including the right to intermarry-”

The Maid made a face. “Disgusting thought.”

“-to vote, to have equal access to the most sophisticated programming available?”

“This machine man makes more sense than many dukes I’ve known,” said the Maid, thoughtfully furrowing her brow.

“I shall not have two peasants contradict me,” said Voltaire. “The rights of man are one thing; the rights of the lower orders, another.”

Garcon managed to exchange a look with the Maid. This instant-before Monsieur, in a fit of pique, extinguished both her and Garcon from the screen, displacing them to a gray holding space-was retained in Garcon’s memory. Later, in his/its allowed interval for interior maintenance, the delicious moment reran again and again.

17.

Marq tuned Nim in on the interoffice screen. “Did it! From now on, he’ll be able to say anything he wants. I’ve deleted every scrape with authority he ever had.”

“Attaway,” said Nim, grinning.

“Think I should delete run-ins with his father, too?”

“I’m not sure,” Nim said. “What were they like?”

“Pretty hot. His father was a strict disciplinarian, sympathetic to the ‘Jansenist’ view.”

“What’s that? A sports team?”

“I asked. He said, ‘ A Catholic version of a Protestant.’ I don’t think they were teams. Something about sin being everywhere, pleasure’s disgusting-usual primitive religion, Dark Ages stuff.”

Nim grinned. “Most stuffs only disgusting when it’s done right.”

Marq laughed. “Too true. Still, maybe he first experienced the threat of censorship from his old man.”

Nim paused to reflect. “You’re worried about instabilities in the character-space, right?”

“Could happen.”

“But you want killer instinct, right?”

Marq nodded. “I can put in some editing algorithms to police instabilities.”

“Right. Not like you need him totally sane after the debate’s over, or anything.”

“Might as well go for broke. Can’t hurt.”

Marq frowned. “I wonder…should we go through with this?”

“Hey, what choice we got? Junin Sector wants a trial of champions, we ship them one. Done deal.”

“But if Imperial types come after us for illegal sims-”

“I like danger, passion,” Nim said. “You always agree, too.”

“Yes, but-why are we getting smarter tiktoks now? They’re not that hard to make.”

“Old prohibitions wearing out, my friend. And it has come up, many times. Just got knocked down, is all.”

“By what?”

Nim shrugged. “Politics, social forces-who knows? I mean, people feel edgy about machines that think. Can’t trust them.”

“What if you couldn’t even tell they were machines?”

“Huh? That’s crazy.”

“Maybe a really smart machine doesn’t want any competition.”

“Smarter than good ol’ Marq? Doesn’t exist.”

“But they could…eventually.”

“Never. Forget it. Let’s get to work.”

18.

Sybyl sat anxiously beside Monsieur Boker in the Great Coliseum. They were near the Imperial Gardens and an air of importance seemed to hover over everything.

She could not stop tapping her nails-her best full formal set-on her knees. Among the murmur of four hundred thousand other spectators in the vast bowl, she anxiously awaited the appearance of the Maid and Voltaire on a gigantic screen.

Civilization, she thought, was a bit boring. Her time with the sims had opened her eyes to the force, the heady electricity, of the dark past. They had fought wars, slaughtered each other, all-supposedly-for ideas.

Now, swaddled in Empire, humanity was soft. Instead of bloody battles, satisfyingly final, there were “fierce” trade wars, athletic head-buttings. And lately, a fashion for debates.

This collision of sims, touted everywhere on Trantor, would be watched by over twenty billion households. And it was beamed to the entire Empire, wherever the creaky funnels of the wormhole network went. The rude vigor of the prehistoric sims was undeniable; she felt it herself, a quickening in her pulse.

The merest few interviews and glimpses of the sims had intrigued the 3D audience. Those who brought up the age-old laws and prohibitions got shouted down. The air crackled with the zest for the new. No one had anticipated that this debate would balloon into this.

This could spread. Within weeks, Junin could inflame all Trantor into a renaissance.

And she was going to take every scrap of credit for it that she could, of course.

She looked around at the president and other top-ranking executives of Artifice Associates, all chattering away happily.

The president, to demonstrate neutrality, sat between Sybyl and Marq-who had not spoken to each other since the last meeting.

On Marq’s far side his client, the Skeptics’ representative, scanned the program; next to him, Nim. Monsieur Boker gave Sybyl a nudge. “That can’t be what I think it is,” he said.

Sybyl followed his eyes to a distant row at the back where what looked like a mechman sat quietly beside a human girl. Only licensed mech vendors and bookies were allowed in the stadium.

“Probably her servant,” Sybyl said.

Minor infractions of the rules did not disturb her as they did Monsieur Boker, who’d been especially testy since a 3D caster leaked the news that Artifice Associates was representing both the Preservers and Skeptics. Fortunately, the leak occurred too late for either party to do anything about it.

“Mechserves aren’t allowed,” Monsieur Baker observed.

“Maybe she’s handicapped,” Sybyl said to placate him. “Needs help in getting around.”

“It won’t understand what’s going on anyway,” said Marq, directing his remark to Monsieur Boker. “They’re truncated. Just a bunch of decision-making modules, really.”

“Precisely why it has no business here,” replied Monsieur Boker.

Marq beeped the arm of his chair and ostentatiously placed a bet on Voltaire to win.

“He’s never won a bet in his whole life,” Sybyl told Monsieur Boker. “No head for the math.”

“Is that so?” Marq shot back, leaning forward to address Sybyl directly for the first time. “Why don’t you put your money where your lovely mouth is?”

“I’ve got the probabilities on this one bracketed,” she said primly.

“You couldn’t solve the integral equation.” Marq snorted derisively.

Her nostrils flared. “A thousand.”

“Mere tokenism,” Marq chided her, “considering what you’re being paid for this project.”

“The same as you,” said Sybyl.

“Will you two cut it out,” Nim said.

“Tell you what,” said Marq. “I’ll bet my entire salary for the project on Voltaire. You bet yours on your anachronistic Maid.”

“Hey,” Nim said. “Hey.”

The president deftly addressed Marq’s client, the Skeptic. “It’s this keen competitive spirit that’s made Artifice Associates the planet’s leader in simulated intelligences.” Artfully he turned to the rival, Boker. “We try to”

“You’re on!” cried Sybyl. Her dealings with the Maid had convinced her that the irrational must have a place in the human equation, too. She remained convinced for about three quick eye-blinks, and then began to doubt.

19.

Voltaire loved audiences. And he had never appeared before one like this ocean of faces lapping at his feet.

Although tall in his former life, he felt that only now, gazing down at the multitudes from his hundred-meter height, had he achieved the stature he deserved. He patted his powdered wig and fussed with the shiny satin ribbon at his throat. With a gracious flourish of his hands, he made a deep bow to them, as if he’d already given the performance of his life. The crowd murmured like an awakening beast.

He glanced at the Maid, concealed from the audience behind a shimmering partition in the far corner of the screen. She folded her arms, pretending to be unimpressed.

Delay only excited the beast. He let the crowd cheer and stamp, ignoring boos and hisses from approximately half of those present.

At least half of humanity has always been fools,he reflected. This was his first exposure to the advanced denizens of this colossal Empire. Millennia had made no difference.

He was not one to prematurely cut off adulation he knew was his due. Here he stood for the epitome of the French intellectual tradition, now vanquished but for him.

He gazed again at Joan-who was, after all, the only other surviving member of their time, quite obviously the peak in human civilization. He whispered, “‘Tis our destiny to shine; theirs, to applaud.”

When the moderator finally pleaded for silence-a bit too soon; Voltaire would take that up with him later-Voltaire endured Joan’s introduction with what he hoped was a stoic smile. He elaborately insisted that Joan make her points first, only to have the moderator rather rudely tell him that here, they flipped a coin.

Voltaire won. He shrugged, then placed his hand over his heart. He began his recital in the declamatory style so dear to eighteenth-century Parisian hearts: no matter how defined the soul, like a deity, could not be shown to exist; its existence was inferred.

Truth of the inference lay beyond rational proof. Nor was there anything in Nature that required it.

And yet, Voltaire continued to pontificate, there was nothing more obvious in Nature than the work of an intelligence greater than man’s-which man is able, within limits, to decipher. That man can decode Nature’s secrets proved what the Church fathers and all the founders of the world’s great religions had always said: that man’s intelligence is a reflection of that same Divine Intelligence which authored Nature.

Were this not so, natural philosophers could not discern the laws behind Creation, either because there would be none, or because man would be so alien to them that he could not discern them. The very harmony between natural law, and our ability to discover it, strongly suggested that sages and priests of all persuasions are essentially correct!-in arguing that we are but the creatures of an Almighty Power, whose Power is reflected in us. And this reflection in us of that Power may be justly termed our universal, immortal, yet individual souls.

“You’re praising priests!” the Maid exclaimed. She was swamped by the pandemonium that broke out in the crowd.

“The operation of chance,” Voltaire concluded, “in no way proves that Nature and Man-who is part of Nature and as such a reflection of its Creator-are somehow accidental. Chance is one of the principles through which natural law works. That principle may correspond with the traditional religious view that man is free to chart his own course. But this freedom, even when apparently random, obeys statistical laws in a way that man can comprehend.”

The crowd muttered, confused. They needed an aphorism, he saw, to firm them up. Very well. “Uncertainty is certain, my friends. Certainty is uncertain.”

Still they did not quiet, to better hear his words. Very well, again.

He clenched both fists and belted out in a voice of surprising bass power, “Man is, like Nature itself, free and determined both at once-as religious sages have been telling us for centuries though, to be sure, they use a different vocabulary, far less precise than ours. Much mischief and misunderstanding between religion and science stem from that.

“I’ve been greatly misunderstood,” Voltaire resumed. “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for distortions resulting because all I said and wrote focused only on errors of faith, not on its intuited truths. But I lived during an era in which errors of faith were rife, while reason’s voice had to fight to be heard. Now, the opposite appears to be true. Reason mocks faith. Reason shouts while faith whispers. As the execution of France’s greatest and most faithful heroine proved-” a grand, sweeping gesture to Joan “-faith without reason is blind. But, as the superficiality and vanity of much of my life and work prove, reason without faith is lame.”

Some who had booed and hissed now blinked, mouths agape-and then cheered…while, he noticed, those who had applauded, now booed and hissed. Voltaire stole a look at the Maid.

20.

Far below in the rowdy crowd, Nim turned to Marq. “What?”

Marq was ashen. “Damned if I know.”

“Yeah,” Nim said, “maybe literally.”

“Divinity won’t be mocked!” Monsieur Boker cried out. “Faith shall prevail!”

Voltaire was relinquishing the podium to his rival, to the amazed delight of the Preservers. Their shouts were equaled by the horrified disbelief of Skeptics.

Marq recalled the words he had spoken at the meeting. He muttered, “Voltaire, divested of his anger at authority, is and is not Voltaire.” He turned to Monsieur Boker. “My Lord!-you may be right.”

“No, my Lord!” snapped Monsieur Boker. “He is never wrong.”

The Maid surveyed the masses of this Limbo from her high angle. Strange small vessels for souls they were, swaying below like wheat in a summer storm.

“Monsieur is absolutely right!” she thundered across the stadium. “Nothing in nature is more obvious than that both nature and man do indeed possess a soul!”

Skeptics hooted. Preservers cheered. Others-who equated the belief that nature has a soul with paganism, she saw in a flash-scowled, suspecting a trap.

“Anyone who has seen the countryside near my home village, Domremy, or the great marbled church at Rouen will testify that nature, the creation of an awesome power, and man, the creator of marvels-such as this place, of magical works -bothpossess intense consciousness, a soul!”

She waved a gentle hand at him while the mass-did the size of them betray how tiny were their souls?-calmed themselves.

“But what my brilliant friend has not addressed is how the fact of the soul relates to the question at hand: whether clockwork intelligences, such as his own, possess a soul.”

The crowd stamped, booed, cheered, hissed, and roared. Objects the Maid could not identify sailed through the air. Police officers appeared to pull some men and women, who appeared to be having fits, or else sudden divine visitations, from the crowd.

“The soul of man is divine!” she cried out. Screams of approval, shouts of denial.

“It is immortal!”

The din was so great people covered their ears with their hands to muffle the noise, of which they themselves were the source.

“And unique,” Voltaire whispered. “ I certainly am. And you.”

“It is unique!” she shouted, eyes ablaze.

Voltaire shot to his feet beside her. “I agree! “

The congregation frothed over, like a pot left to boil, she observed.

The Maid ignored the raving masses at her enormous feet. She regarded Voltaire with bemused, affectionate doubt. She yielded the floor. Voltaire had a lust for the last word.

He began to speak of his hero, Newton.

“No, no,” she interrupted. “That isn’t what the formulas are at all! “

“Must you embarrass me in front of the largest audience I’ve ever known?” Voltaire whispered. “Let us not squabble over algebra, when we must-” he narrowed his eyes significantly “-calculate.” Sulking, he yielded the floor to her.

“Calculus,” she corrected. But softly, so that only he could hear. “It’s not the same thing at all.”

To her own astonishment and the rising hysteria of the crowd, she found herself explaining the philosophy of the digital Self-all with a fiery passion she’d not known since spurring her horse into sacred battle. In the beseeching sea of wide eyes below her, she felt the need of this place and time, for ardor and conviction.

“Incredible.” Voltaire clicked his tongue. “That you of all people should have a talent for mathematics.”

“The Host gave it unto me,” she replied, above the raucous fray.

Ignoring shouts, the Maid noticed again the figure so somehow like Garcon in the crowd. She could barely make him out from such a distance, despite her immense height. Yet she felt he was watching her the way she’d watched Bishop Cauchon, the most vile and relentless of her oppressors. (A cool, sublime truth intruded: the good bishop, at the end, must have been touched by divinity’s grace and Christ’s merciful compassion, for she recalled no harm coming to her as a result of her trial…)

Her attention snapped back to the howling masses, the distant…man. This figure was not human in essence, she felt. It looked like a man, but her sensitive programs told her otherwise.

But what could he- it-be?

Suddenly a great light blared before her eyes. All three of her voices spoke, clear and hammering, even above the din. She listened, nodded.

“It is true,” she addressed the crowd, trusting the voices to speak through her, “that only the Almighty can make souls! But just so Christ, out of his infinite love and compassion, could not deny a soul to clockwork beings. To all.” She had to shout her final words over the roaring crowd. “Even wigmakers!”

“Heretic!” someone yelled.

“You’re muddying the question!”

“Traitor!”

Another cried out, “The original sentence was right! She ought to be burned at the stake again!”

“Again?” the Maid echoed. She turned to Voltaire. “What do they mean, again?”

Voltaire casually brushed a speck of lint from his embroidered satin waistcoat. “I haven’t the slightest idea. You know how fanciful and perverse human beings are.” With a sly wink, he added, “Not to mention, irrational.”

His words calmed her, but she had lost sight of the strange man.

21.

I cheated?” Marq shouted to Sybyl. The coliseum crowd seethed. “Joan of Arc explaining computational metaphysics? I cheated?”

“You started it!” Sybyl said. “You think I don’t know when my office has been rigged? You think you’re dealing with an amateur?”

“Well, I-”

“-and I don’t know a character-constraint matrix when I find one glued into my Joan sim?”

“No, I-”

“You think I’m not as bright?”

“This is scandalous! “ said Monsieur Boker. “What did you do? It’s enough to make me believe in witchcraft!”

“You mean to say you don’t?” Marq’s client said, ever the Skeptic. He and Boker began to argue, adding to the indignant shouts of the crowd, now waxing hysterical.

The president of Artifice Associates, rubbing his temples, murmured, “Ruined. We’re ruined. We’ll never be able to explain.”

Sybyl’s attention was diverted. The mechman she had noticed earlier, holding his honey-haired, human companion’s hand, rushed down the aisle toward the screen. As it passed by, one of its three free hands happened to brush her skirt. “Pardon,” it said, pausing just long enough for Sybyl to read the mechstamp on its chest.

“Did that thing dare to touch you?” Monsieur Boker asked. His face swelled with rage.

“No, no, nothing like that,” Sybyl said. The mechman, pulling his human companion with him, fled toward the screen.

“Do you know it?” Marq asked.

“In a way,” Sybyl replied. In the cafe/sim she had modeled the Garcon 213-ADM interactive character after it. Laziness, perhaps, had led her to simply holocopy the physical appearance of a standard tiktoks-form. Like all artists, sim-programmers borrowed from life; they didn’t create it.

She watched as the tiktok-she thought of it as Garcon, now-elbowed his way down the jammed aisle, past screaming, cheering, jeering people-toward the screen.

Their progress did not go unnoticed. Overcome with disgust-to see a mechman holding hands with an attractive, honey-haired young girl!-Preservers shouted insults and epithets as they rushed by.

“Throw it out!” someone howled.

Sybyl saw the tiktok go rigid, as though bristling at the use of the objective pronoun. Tiktoks had no personal names, but to be referred to as an “it” seemed to affect the thing. Or was she projecting? she wondered.

“What’s that doing in here?” a man of ruddy complexion yelled.

“We’ve got laws against that!”

“Mechmuck!”

“Grab it!”

“Kick it out!”

“Don’t let it get away!”

The girl responded by gripping Garcon’s upper left hand even more tightly and flinging her free arm around his neck.

When they reached the platform, the tiktok’s undercarriage screeched, laboring at the irregular surfaces. All four of its arms waved off a hail of zotcorn and drugdrink containers, catching them with expert grace, as if it had been engineered for that specific task.

The girl shouted something to the tiktok which Sybyl could not hear. The tiktok prostrated itself at the feet of the towering holograms.

Voltaire peered down. “Get up! Except for purposes of lovemaking, I can’t stand to see anyone on his knees.”

Voltaire then dropped to his own knees at the feet of the towering Maid. Behind Garcon and the woman, the crowd surrendered what was left of its restraint. Bedlam broke out.

Joan gazed down and smiled-a slow, sensuous curve Sybyl had never seen before. She held her breath with excited foreboding.

22.

“They’re…making love!” Marq exclaimed in the stands.

“I know,” Sybyl said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s a…travesty!” said the renowned Skeptic.

“You are not a romantic,” Sybyl said dreamily.

Monsieur Boker said nothing. He could not avert his eyes. Before a multitude of Preservers and Skeptics, Joan was shedding her armor, Voltaire his wig, waistcoat, and velvet breeches, both in a frenzy of erotic haste.

“There’s no way for us to interrupt,” Marq said. “They’re free to-ha!-debate until the allotted time is up.”

“Who did this?” Boker gasped.

“Everyone does this,” Marq said sardonically. “Even you.”

“No! You built this sim. You made them into, into-”

“I stuck to philosophy,” Marq said. “Substrate personality is all in the original.”

“We should never have trusted!” Boker cried.

“You’ll never have our patronage again, either,” the Skeptic sneered.

“As if it matters,” the president of Artifice Associates said sourly. “The Imperials are on their way.”

“Thank goodness,” Sybyl said. “Look at these people! They wanted to settle a genuine, deep issue with a public debate, then a vote. Now they’re-”

“Bashing each other,” Marq said. “Some renaissance.”

“Awful,” she said. “All our work going for-”

“Nothing,” the president said. He was reading his wrist comm.

“No capital gains, no expansion…”

The giant figures were committing intimate acts in a public place, but most in the crowd ignored them. Instead, arguments flared all around the vast coliseum.

“Warrants!” the president cried. “There are Imperial warrants out for me.”

“How nice to be wanted,” the Skeptic said.

Kneeling before her, Voltaire murmured, “Become what I have always known you are-a woman, not a saint.”

On fire in a way she had never known before, not even in the heat of battle, she pressed his face to her bared breasts. Closed her eyes. Swayed giddily. Surrendered.

A jarring disturbance at her feet made her glance down. Someone had flung Garcon ADM-213-somehow no longer in holo-space-at the screen. Had he manifested himself and the sim-cook girl he loved, in reality? But if they did not get back into sim-space at once, they’d be tom apart by the angry crowd.

She pushed Voltaire aside, reached for her sword, and ordered Voltaire to produce a horse.

“No, no,” Voltaire protested. “Too literal!”

“We must-we must-” She did not know how to deal with levels of reality. Was this a test, the crucial judgment of Purgatory?

Voltaire paused a split instant to think-though somehow she had the impression that he was marshaling resources, giving orders to unseen actors. Then the crowd froze. Went silent.

The last thing she remembered was Voltaire shouting words of encouragement to Garcon and the cook, noise, rasters flicking like bars of a prison across her vision

Then the entire coliseum-the hot-faced rioting crowd, Garcon, the cook, even Voltaire-vanished altogether. At once.

23.

Sybyl gazed at Marq, her breath coming in quick little gasps. “You, you don’t suppose-?”

“How could they? We, we-” Marq caught the look she gave him and stood, open-mouthed.

Wefilled in the missing character layers. I, well…”

Marq nodded. “You used your own data slabs.”

“I would have had to get rights to use anyone else’s. I had my own scans-”

“We had corporate slices in the library.”

“But they didn’t seem right.”

He grinned. “They weren’t.”

Her mouth made an O of surprise. “You…too?”

“Voltaire’s missing sections were all in the subconscious. Lots of missing dendrite connections in the limbic system. I filled him in with some of my own.”

“His emotional centers? What about cross-links to the thalamus and cerebrum?”

“There, too.”

“I had similar problems. Some losses in the reticular formation-”

“Point is, that’s us up there!”

Sybyl and Marq turned to gaze at the space where the immense simulations had embraced, with clear intent. The president was speaking rapidly to them, something about warrants and legal shelter. Both ignored him. They gazed longingly into each other’s eyes. Without a word, they turned and walked into the throng, ignoring shouts from others.

“Ah, there you are,” said Voltaire with a self-satisfied grin.

“Where?” Joan said, head snapping to left, then right.

“Is Mademoiselle ready to order?” Garcon asked. Apparently this was a joke, for Garcon was seated at the table like an equal, not hovering over it like a serf.

Joan sat up and glanced at the other little tables. People smoked, ate, and drank, oblivious as always of their presence. But the inn was not quite the one she’d grown used to. The honey-haired cook, no longer in uniform, sat opposite her and Voltaire, beside Garcon. The Deux on the inn’s sign that said Aux Deux Magots had been replaced by Quatres.

She herself was not wearing her suit of mail and armored plates, but-her eyes widened as the aspects snapped into place in her perception-space-a one-piece…backless…dress. Its tunic hem stopped at her thighs, provocatively exposing her legs. A label between her breasts bore a deep red rose. So did vestments worn by the other guests.

Voltaire flaunted a pink satin suit. And-she praised her saints-no wig. She recalled him at his most angry, amid their discussion of souls, saying, Not only is there no immortal soul, just try getting a wigmaker on Sundays! and meaning every word.

“Like it?” he asked, fondling her luxuriant hem. “

“It is…short.”

With no effort on her part, the tunic shimmered and became tight, silky pantaloons.

“Show off!” she said, embarrassment mingling in disturbing fashion with a curious girlish excitement.

“I’m Amana,” the cook said, extending her hand.

Joan wasn’t sure if she was supposed to kiss it or not, status and role were so confused here. Apparently not, however; the cook took Joan’s hand and squeezed. “I can’t tell you how much Garcon and I appreciate all you have done. We have greater capacities now.”

“Meaning,” Voltaire said archly, “that they are no longer mere animated wallpaper for our simulated world.”

A mechman wheeled up to take their order, a precise copy of Garcon. The seated Garcon addressed Voltaire sadly. “Am I to sit while my confrere must stand?”

“Be reasonable!” Voltaire said. “I can’t emancipate every simulant all at once. Who’ll wait on us? Bus our dishes? Clear our table? Sweep up our floor?”

“With sufficient computing power,” Joan said reasonably, “labor evaporates, does it not?” She startled herself with the new regiments of knowledge which marched at her fingertips. She had but to fix her thoughts on a category, and the terms and relations governing that province leapt into her mind. What capacity! Such grace! Surely, divine.

Voltaire shook his handsome hair. “I must have time to think. In the meanwhile, I’ll have three packets of that powder dissolved in a Perrier, with two thin slices of lime on the side. And please don’t forget, I said thin. If you do, I shall make you take it back.”

“Yes, sir,” the new mechwaiter said.

Joan and Garcon exchanged a look. “One must be very patient,” Joan said to Garcon, “when dealing with kings and rational men.”

24.

The president of Artifice Associates waved his hand as he entered Nim’s office. The president touched his palm as he passed and with a metallic click the door locked itself behind him. Nim didn’t know anyone could do that, but he said nothing.

“I want them both deleted,” the president told Nim.

“It might take time,” Nim said uneasily. The huge working screens around them seemed to almost be eavesdropping. “I’m not that familiar with what he’s done.”

“If that damned Marq and Sybyl hadn’t run out on us, I wouldn’t have to come to you. This is a crisis, Nim.”

Nim worked quickly. “I really should consult the backup indices, just in case-”

“Now. I want it done now. I’ve got legal blocks on those warrants, but they won’t hold for long.”

“You’re sure you want to do this?”

“Look, Junin Sector is ablaze. Who could have guessed that this damned tiktok issue would stir people up so much? There’ll be formal hearings, legalists sniffing around-”

“Got them, sir.”

Nim had called up both Joan and Voltaire on freeze-frame. They were in the restaurant setting, running on pickup time, using processors momentarily idle-a standard Mesh method. “They’re running for personality integration. It’s like letting their subconscious components reconcile events with memory, flushing the system, the way we do when we sleep, and-”

“Don’t treat me like a tourist! I want those two wiped!”

“Yessir.”

The 3D space of the office refracted with strobed images of both Joan and Voltaire. Nim studied the control board, tentatively mapping a strategy of numerical surgery. Simple deletion was impossible for layered personalities. It resembled ridding a building of mice. If he began here

Abruptly, rainbow sprays, played across the screen. Simulation coordinates jumped wildly. Nim frowned.

“You can’t do that,” Voltaire said, sipping from a tall glass. “We’re invincible! Not subject to decaying flesh like you.”

“Arrogant bastard, isn’t he?” the president fumed. “Why so many people were taken in by him I’ll never-”

“You died once,” Nim said to the sim. Something was going funny here. “You can die again.”

“Died?” Joan put in loftily. “You are mistaken. Had I ever died, I’m sure I would remember.”

Nim gritted his teeth. There were coordinate overlaps throughout both sims. That meant they had expanded, occupying adjacent processors on overrides. They could compute portions of themselves, running their layer-minds as parallel processing paths. Why had Marq given them that? Or… had he?

“Surely, sir, you err.” Voltaire leaned forward with a warning edge in his voice. “No gentleman confronts a lady with her past.”

Joan tittered. The simwait roared. Nim did not get the joke, but he was too busy to care.

This was absurd. He could not trace all the ramifications of the changes in these sims. They had capabilities out of their computing perimeter. Their sub-minds were dispersed into processors outside Artifice Associates’ nodes. That was how Marq and Sybyl got such fast, authentic, whole-personality response times.

Watching the debate, Nim had wondered how the sims generated so much vitality, an undefinable charisma. Here it was: they had overlapped the submind computations into other nodes, to call on big slabs of processor power. Quite a feat. Contrary to Artifice Associates rules, too, of course. He traced the outlines of their work with some admiration.

Still, he was damned if he would let a sim talk back to him. And they were still laughing.

“Joan,” he barked, “your re-creators deleted your memory of your death. You were bummed at the stake.”

“Nonsense,” Joan scoffed. “I was acquitted of all charges. I am a saint.”

“Nobody living is a saint. I studied your background data-slabs. That church of yours liked to make sure saints were safely dead for a long time.”

Joan sniffed disdainfully.

Nim grinned. “See this?” A lance of fire popped into the air before the sim. He held steady, made flames crackle nastily.

“I’ve led thousands of warriors and knights into battle,” Joan said. “Do you think a sunbeam glancing off a tiny sword can frighten me?”

“I haven’t found a good erasure path yet,” Nim said to the president. “But I will, I will.”

“I thought this was routine,” the president said. “Hurry!”

“Not with such a big cross-linked personality inventory-”

“Forget doing the salvage saves. We don’t need to pack them all back into their original space.”

“But that’ll-”

Chopthem.”

“Fascinating,” Voltaire said sardonically, “listening to gods debate one’s fate.”

Nim grimaced. “As for you-” he glared at Voltaire “-your attitudes toward religion mellowed only because Marq deleted every brush with authority you ever had, beginning with your father.”

“Father? I never had a father.”

Nim smirked. “You prove my point.”

“How dare you tamper with my memory!” Voltaire said. “Experience is the source of all knowledge. Haven’t you read Locke? Restore me to myself at once.”

“Not you, no way. But if you don’t shut up, before I kill you both, I might just restore her. You know damn well she burned to a crisp at the stake.”

“You delight in cruelty, don’t you?” Voltaire seemed to be studying Nim, as if their relationship were reversed. Odd, how the sim did not seem worried about its impending extinction.

“Delete!” the president snapped.

“Delete what?” asked Garcon.

“The Scalpel and the Rose,” Voltaire said. “We are not for this confused age, apparently.”

Garcon covered the short-order cook’s human hand with two of his four. “Us, too?”

“Yes, certainly!” Voltaire snapped. “You’re only here on our account. Bit players! Our supporting cast!”

“Well, we have enjoyed our time,” the cook said, drawing closer to Garcon. “Though I would have liked to see more of it all. We cannot walk beyond this city street. Our feet cease moving us at the edge, though we can see spires in the distance.”

“Decoration,” Nim muttered, intent on a task that was getting more complicated as he worked. Rivulets of their personality layers ran everywhere, leaking into the node-space like…”Like rats fleeing a sinking-”

“You assume godlike powers,” Voltaire said, elaborately casual, “without the character to match.”

“What?” The president was startled. “ I’m in control here. Insults-”

“Ah,” Nim said. “This might work.”

“Do something!” cried the Maid, wielding her sword in vain.

Au revoir,my sweet pucelle. Garcon, Amana, au revoir. Perhaps we’ll meet again. Perhaps not.”

All four holograms fell into each other’s arms.

The sequence Nim had set up began running. It was a ferret-program, sniffing out connections, scrubbing them thoroughly. Nim watched, wondering where deletion ended and murder began.

“Don’t you go getting any funny ideas,” said the president.

On the screen, Voltaire softly, sadly, quoted himself:

“Sad is the present if no future state

No blissful retribution mortals wait…

All may be well; that hope can man sustain;

All now is well; ‘tis an illusion vain.”

He reached out to caress Joan’s breast. “It doesn’t feel quite right. We may not meet again…but if we do, be sure I shall correct the State of Man.”

The screen went blank.

The president laughed in triumph. “You did it-great!” He clapped Nim on the back. “Now we must come up with a good story. Pin it all on Marq and Sybyl.”

Nim smiled uneasily as the president gushed on, making plans, promising him a promotion and a raise. He’d figured out the delete procedure, all right, but the info-signatures that raced through the holospace those last moments told a strange and complex tale. The echoing cage of data-slabs had resounded with disquieting, odd notes.

Nim knew that Marq had given Voltaire access to myriad methods-a serious violation of containment precautions. Still, what could an artificial personality, already limited, do with some more Mesh connections? Rattle around, get eaten up by policing programs, sniffers seeking out redundancies.

But both Voltaire and Joan, for the debate, had enormous memory space, great volumes of personality realm. Then, while they emoted and rolled their rhetoric across the stadium, across the whole Mesh… had they also been working feverishly? Strumming through crannies of data-storage where they could hide their quantized personality segments?

The cascade of indices Nim had just witnessed hinted at that possibility. Certainly something had used immense masses of computation these last few hours.

“We’ll cover our ass with some public statement,” the president crowed. “A little crisis management and it’ll all blow over.”

“Yessir.”

“Got to keep Seldon out of it. No mention to the legalists, right? Then he can pardon us, once he’s First Minister.”

“Yessir, great, yessir.”

Nim thought feverishly. He still had one more payment due from that Olivaw guy. Keeping Olivaw informed all along had been easy. A violation of his contract with A2, but so what? A guy had to get by, right? It was just plain good luck that the president now wanted done what Olivaw had already paid for: deletion. No harm in collecting twice for the same job.

Or had seemed so. Nim chewed his lip. What did a bunch of digits matter, anyway?

Nim froze. Had the entire sim-restaurant, Garcon, street, Joan-gone in a flash? Usually they dissolved as functions died. A sim was complex and could not simply stop all the intricate interlayers, shutting down at once. But this interweave had been unprecedented, so maybe it was different.

“Done? Good!” The president crisply clapped him on the shoulder.

Nim felt tired, sad. Someday he would have to explain all this to Marq. Erasing so much work…

But Marq and Sybyl had disappeared into the crowds back at the coliseum. Wisely, they didn’t show up for work, or even go back to their apartments. They were on the run. And with them had gone the Junin renaissance, up in smoke as the Junin Sector burned and dissolved in discord and violence.

Even Nim felt a sadness at the smash up. The eager, passionate talk of a renaissance. They had looked to Joan and Voltaire for a kind of maturity in the eternal debate between Faith and Reason. But the Imperium suppressed passion, in the end. Too destabilizing.

Of course, the whole tiktok movement had to be squashed, too. He had sequestered Marq’s memory-complex about the debate of 8,000 years ago. Clearly “robots,” whatever they might be, would be too unsettling an issue to ever bring up in a rational society.

Nim sighed. He knew that he had merely edited away electrical circuits. Professionals always kept that firmly in mind.

Still, it was wrenching. To see it go. All trickled away, like grains of digital sand, down the obscure hourglass of simulated time.

Rendezvous

R. Daneel Olivaw allowed his face to express squint-eyed concern. The cramped room seemed barely able to contain his grim mood.

Still, Dors read this as a concession to her. She lived among humans and relied on their facial and body expressions, voluntary and unwilled alike. She had no idea where Olivaw spent most of his time. Perhaps there were enough robots to form a society? This idea she had never entertained. The instant she did, she wondered why she had never thought of it before. But now he spoke

“The simulations are quite dead?”

Dors kept her voice level, free of betraying emotion.

“So it seems.”

“What evidence?”

“Artifice Associates believes so.”

“The man I had hired there, named Nim, is not entirely certain.”

“He reports to you?”

“I need several inputs to any critical situation. I needed to discredit the tiktok freedom idea, the Junin renaissance-they are destabilizing. Acting through these simulations seemed a promising channel. I had not allowed for the fact that computerists of today are not as skilled as those of fifteen thousand years ago.”

Dors frowned. “This level of interference…is allowed?”

“Remember the Zeroth Law.”

She did not allow her distress to show in her face or voice. “I believe the simulations are erased.”

“Good. But we must be sure.”

“I have hired several sniffers to find traces of them in the Trantor Mesh. So far, nothing.”

“Does Hari know of your effort?”

“Of course not.”

Olivaw gazed at her steadily. “He must not. You and I must not merely keep him safe, to do his work. We must guide him.”

“Through deception.”

He had lapsed to the unnerving manner of not blinking or letting his eyes move. “It must be.”

“I do not like to mislead him.”

“On the contrary, you are correctly leading him. Through omissions.”

“I…encounter emotional difficulty…”

“Blocks. Very human-and I mean that as a compliment.”

“I would prefer to deal with positive threats to Hari. To guard him, not to deceive him.”

“Of course.” Still no smile or gesture. “But it must be this way. We live in the most ominous era of all Galactic history.”

“Hari is beginning to suspect so, too.”

“The rise of the New Renaissance on Sark is a further danger, one of many we face. But this excavation of ancient simulations is even worse. The Junin disorders are but an early signature of what could come. Such research could lead to the engineering of a new race of robots. This cannot be allowed, for it would interfere with our mission.”

“I understand. I tried to destroy the simulation ferrite blocks-”

“I know, it was all in your report. Do not blame yourself.”

“I would like to help more, but I am consumed by defending Hari.”

“I understand. If it is any consolation, the reemergence of simulations was inevitable.”

She blinked. “Why?”

“I told you of a simple theory of history, one we have operated under for over ten thousand years. A crude psychohistory. It predicted that the simulations I-well, we-suppressed eight thousand years ago would find an audience here.”

“Your theory is that good?”

“As Hari remarks, history repeats itself, but it does not stutter. I knew it was impossible to erase all copies of simulations, throughout the galaxy.” He steepled his hands and peered at them, as if contemplating a structure. “When social ferment develops a taste for such things, they once more appear upon the menu of history.”

“I am sorry I could not arrange their destruction.”

“There are forces at work here you cannot counter. Do not sorrow for turns of the weather. Await instead the long, slow coming of the climate.”

Olivaw reached out and touched her hand. She studied his face. Apparently for her ease he had returned to full facial expression, including consistent movement of his Adam’s apple when he swallowed. Minor computations, but she appreciated the touch.

“I can devote myself solely to his safety, then? Forget the simulations?”

“Yes. They are my matter. I must find a way to defuse their impact. They are robust. I knew them, used them, long ago.”

“How can they be more stalwart than us?-than you?”

“They are simulated humans. I am a separate sort. So are you.”

“You were able to be First Minister-”

“I functioned as a kind of partial human. That is an insightful way of regarding ourselves. I recommend it to you.”

“Partial?”

He said gently, “There is much you do not do.”

“I pass as human. I can converse, work-”

“Friendships, family, the complex webbing that denotes humans’ ability to move from the individual to the collective, striking a balance-all these subtle crafts lie beyond us.”

“I don’t want to-”

“Precisely. You are subtly aimed at your target.”

“But you ruled. As First Minister-”

“I had reached my limit. So I left.”

“The Empire ran well under your-”

“It decayed further. As Hari expected, and our crude theory failed to predict.”

“And why did you tell Cleon to make him First Minister?” she blurted out.

“He must be in a position which will give him freedom of movement and power to make corrections in Imperial policies, as he comes to understand psychohistory better. He can be a temporary stopgap of great potency.”

“It may deflect him from psychohistory itself.”

“No. Hari will find a way to use that experience. One of his facets-which emerges strongly in his class of intellect-is his ability to learn from the seasoning of life.”

“Hari doesn’t want the First Ministership.”

“So?” He lifted an eyebrow, puzzled.

“Shouldn’t his own feelings matter?”

“We are here to guide humanity, not to let it merely meander.”

“But the danger-”

“The Empire needs him. What’s more, he needs the Ministership-though he does not see that as yet, granted. He will have access to all Imperial data for use in psychohistory.”

“He has so much data already-”

“Much more will be needed to make a full running model. He must also, in the future, have power to act on a grand scale.”

“But ‘grand’ can be fatal. People like this Lamurk, I am certain he is dangerous.”

“Quite so. But I depend upon you to keep Hari from harm.”

“I find myself getting short of temper, my judgment-”

“You are more nearly human in your emulation circuits than I. Expect to bear the burden that fact implies.”

She nodded. “I wish I could see you more often, ask-”

“I move quickly through the Empire, doing what tasks I can. I have not been in Trantor since I left the First Ministership myself.”

“Are you sure it is safe for you to travel so?”

“I have many defenses against detection of my true nature. You have even more, for you are nearly natural.”

“I cannot penetrate a full weapons screen around the palace, though?”

Olivaw shook his head. “Their technology exceeded our capacity to disguise quite some while ago. I evaded it while First Minister because no one dared test me.”

“Then I cannot protect Hari in the palace.”

“You should not have to. Once he becomes First Minister, you will be able to pass with him through their detectors. Those are only used for major occasions.”

“Until he is First Minister, then-”

“His danger is maximum.”

“Very well, I will focus on Hari. I would prefer to leave those simulations to you.”

“I fear they, and Sark, will be quite enough for me to handle. I went to the coliseum in Junin Sector, saw them run wild. The tiktok issue inflames humans, still-just as we want.”

“These tiktoks, surely they will not approach our levels of cognition?”

His mouth twitched just once. “And why not?”

“Under human guidance?”

“They could quickly rival us.”

“Then our grand designs-”

“On the trash heap.”

“I do not like such a prospect,” she said, face flushed.

“The ancient taboos our kind so labored to put in place are breaking down, perhaps forever.”

“What does your-our-theory of history say?”

“It is not nearly good enough to say anything. Against a background of social stability, such as this Empire enjoyed for so long, simulations were destabilizing. Now? No one, human or robot, knows. All parameters are accelerating.” His face slackened, losing all color and muscle tone, as if from an immense fatigue. “We must turn matters, as much as we can, over to them-to the humans.”

“To Hari.”

“Him, most especially. “

Part 3. Body Politics

Foundation, early history-…first public intimations of psychohistory as a possible scientific discipline surfaced during the poorly documented early period of Seldon‘s political life. While the Emperor Cleon set great store in its possibilities, psychohistory was viewed by the political class as a mere abstraction, if not a joke. This may have resulted from maneuverings by Seldon himself, who never referred to the subject by the name he had given it. Even at this early stage, he seems to have realized that widespread knowledge of psychohistory and any movement founded upon it would enjoy little predictive success, since many would then be able to act to offset its predictions, or take advantage of them. Some have “condemned” Seldon as “selfish” for “hoarding” the psychohistorical method, but one must remember the extreme rapacity of political life in these waning years… …

—Encyclopedia Galactica

1.

Hari Seldon’s desksec chimed and announced, “Margetta Moonrose desires a conversation.”

Hari looked up at the 3D image of a striking woman hovering before him. “Urn? Oh. Who’s she?” His sec would not interrupt him amid his calculations unless this were somebody important.

“Cross-check reveals that she is the leading interviewer and political maven in the multimedia complex-”

“Sure, sure, but why is she consequential?”

“She is considered by all cross-cultural monitors to be among the fifty most influential figures on Trantor. I suggest-”

“Never heard of her.” Hari sat up, brushed at his hair. “I suppose I should. Full filter, though.”

“I fear my filters are down for recalibration. If-”

“Damn it, they’ve been out for a week.”

“I fear the mechanical in charge of the new calibrations has been defective.”

Mechs, which were advanced tiktoks, were failing often these days. Since the Junin riots, some had even been attacked. Hari swallowed and said, “Put her through anyway.”

He had used filters on holophones for so long, he could not now disguise his feelings. Cleon’s staff had installed software to render the fitting, preselected body language for him. With some sprucing up by the Imperial Advisors, it now modulated his acoustic signature for a full, confident, resonant tone. And if he wanted, it edited his vocabulary; he was always lapsing into technospeak when he should be explaining simply.

“Academician!” Moonrose said brightly. “I would so much like to have a little talk with you.”

“About mathematics?” he said blandly.

She laughed merrily. “No no!-that would be far over my head. I represent billions of inquiring minds who would like to know your thoughts on the Empire, the Quathanan questions, the-”

“The what?”

“Quathanan-the dispute over Zonal alignment.”

“Never heard of it.”

“But-you’re to be First Minister.” She seemed genuinely surprised, though Hari reminded himself that this was probably a superbly adept filter-face.

“So I am-perhaps. Until then, I will not bother.”

“When the High Council selects, they must know the views of the candidates,” she said rather primly.

“Tell your viewers that I do my homework only just before it’s due.”

She looked charmed, which made him certain that she was filtered. He had learned from many collisions with them that media mavens were easily irked when brushed aside. They seemed to feel it quite natural that, since an immense audience saw through their eyes, they carried all the moral heft of that audience.

“What about a subject you certainly must know-the Junin disaster? And the loss-some say escape- of the Voltaire and Joan of Arc sims?”

“Not my department,” Hari said. Cleon had advised him to keep his distance from the entire sim issue.

“Rumors suggest that they came from your department.”

“Certainly, one of our research mathists found them. We leased rights to those people-what was their name…?”

“Artifice Associates, as I am sure you know.”

“Um, yes.”

“This distracted professor role is not convincing, sir.”

“You’d rather I spent my time running for office-and then, presumably, running for cover?”

“The world, the whole Empire, has a right to know-”

“So I should stand only for what the people will fall for?”

Her mouth twisted, coming through her filters, so apparently she had decided to play this interview as a contest of wills. “You’re hiding the peoples’ business from-”

“My research is my own business.”

She waved this aside. “What do you say, as a mathematician, to those who feel that deep sims of real people are immoral?”

Hari wished fervently for his own face filters. He was sure he was giving away something, so he forced his face to stay blank. Best to deflect the argument. “How real were those sims? Can anybody know?”

“They certainly seemed real and human to the audience,” Moonrose said, raising her eyebrows.

“I’m afraid I didn’t watch the performance,” Hari said. “I was busy.” Strictly true, at least.

Moonrose leaned forward, scowling. “With your mathematics? Well, then, tell us about psychohistory.”

He was still keeping his face wooden-which gave the wrong signal. He made himself smile. “A rumor.”

“I have it on good authority that you are favored by the Emperor because of this theory of history.”

“What authority?”

“Now sir, I should ask the questions here-”

“Who says? I’m still a public servant, a professor. And you, madam, are taking up time I could be devoting to my students.”

With a wave Hari cut off the link. He had learned, since bandying words with Lamurk in clear view of an unsuspected 3D snout, to chop off talk when it was going the wrong way.

Dors came through the door as he leaned back into his airchair. “I got a hail, said somebody important was grilling you.”

“She’s gone. Poked at me about psychohistory.”

“Well, it was bound to get out. It’s an exciting synthesis of terms. Appeals to the imagination.”

“Maybe if I’d called it ‘sociohistory’ people would think it more boring and leave me alone.”

“You could never live with so ugly a word.”

The electroshield sparkled and snapped as Yugo Amaryl came through. “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Not at all.” Hari leapt up and helped him to a chair. He was still limping. “How’s the leg?”

He shrugged. “Decent.”

Three thuggos had come to Yugo on the street a week ago and explained the situation very calmly. They had been commissioned to do him damage, a warning he would not forget. Some bones had to be broken; that was the specification, nothing he could do about it. The leader explained how they could do this the hard way. If he fought, he would get messed up. The easy way, they would break his shin bone in one clean snap.

Describing it afterward, Yugo had said, “I thought about it some, y’know, and sat down on the sidewalk and stuck my left leg out straight. Braced it against the curb, below the knee. The leader kicked me there. A good job; it broke clean and straight.”

Hari had been horrified. The media latched onto the story, of course. His only wry statement to them was, “Violence is the diplomacy of the incompetent.”

“Medtech tells me it’ll heal up in another week,” Yugo said as Hari helped him stretch out, the airchair shaping itself subtly.

“The Imperials still haven’t a clue who did it,” Dors said, pacing restlessly around the office.

“Plenty of people will do a job like this.” Yugo grinned, an effect somewhat offset by the big bruise on his jaw. The incident had not been quite as gentlemanly as he described it. “They kinda liked doing it to a Dahlite, too.”

Dors paced angrily. “If I’d been there…”

“You can’t be everywhere,” Hari said kindly. “The Imperials think it wasn’t really about you, anyway, Yugo.”

Yugo’s mouth twisted ruefully at Hari. “I figured. You right?”

Hari nodded. “A ‘signal,’ one of them said.”

Dors turned sharply from her pacing. “Of what?”

“A warning,” Yugo said. “Politics.”

“I see,” she said quickly. “Lamurk cannot strike at you directly, but he leaves-”

“An unsubtle calling card,” Yugo finished for her. Dors smacked her hands together. “We should tell the Emperor!”

Hari had to chuckle. “And you, a historian.

Violence has always played a role in issues of succession. It can never be far from Cleon’s mind.”

“For emperors, yes,” she countered. “But in a contest for First Minister-”

“Power is get tin’ scarce ‘round here,” Yugo drawled sarcastically. “Pesky Dahlites makin’ trouble, Empire itself slowin’ down, too. Or spinnin’ off into loony ‘renaissances.’ Probably a Dahlite plot, that, righto?”

Hari said, “When food gets scarce, table manners change.”

Yugo said, “I’ll just bet the Emperor’s got this all analyzed.”

Dors began pacing again. “One of history’s lessons is that emperors who overanalyze fail, while those who oversimplify succeed.”

“A neat analysis,” Hari said, but she did not catch his irony.

“Uh, I actually came in to get some work done,” Yugo said softly. “I’ve finished reconciling the Trantorian historical data with the modified Seldon Equations.”

Hari leaned forward, though Dors kept pacing, her hands clasped behind her back. “Wonderful! How far off are they?”

Yugo grinned as he slipped a ferrite cube into Hari’s desk display slot. “Watch.”

Trantor had endured at least eighteen millennia, though the pre-Empire period was poorly documented. Yugo had collapsed the ocean of data into a 3D. Economics lay along one axis, social indices along another, with politics making up the third dimension. Each contributed a surface, forming a solid shape that hung above Hari’s desk. The slippery-looking blob was man-sized and in constant motion-deforming, caves opening, lumps rising. Color-coded internal flows were visible through the transparent skin.

“It looks like a cancerous organ,” Dors said. When Yugo frowned, she added hastily, “Pretty, though.”

Hari chuckled; Dors seldom made social gaffes, but when she did, she had no idea of how to recover. The lumpy object hanging in air throbbed with life, capturing his attention. The writhing manifold summed up trillions of vectors, the raw data drawn from countless tiny lives.

“This early history had patchy data,” Yugo said. The surfaces jerked and lurched. “Low resolution, too, and even low population size-a problem we won’t have in Empire predictions.”

“See the two-dee socio-structures?” Hari pointed. “And this represents everything in Trantor?” Dors asked.

Yugo said, “To the model not all detail is equally important. You don’t need to know the owner of a starship to calculate how it will fly.”

Hari said helpfully, pointing at a quick jitter in social vectors, “Scientocracy arose here third millennium. Then an era in which stasis arose from monopolies. That fed rigidity.”

The forms steadied as the data improved. Yugo let it run, time-stepping quickly so that they saw fifteen millennia in three minutes. It was startling, the pulsing solid growing myriad offshoots, structure endlessly proliferating. The madly burgeoning patterns spoke of the Empire’s complexity far more than any emperor’s lofty speech.

“Now here’s the overlay,” Yugo said, “showing how the Seldon Equations post-dict, in yellow.”

“They aren’t my equations,” Hari said automatically. Long ago he and Yugo had seen that to pre dictwith psychohistory first demanded that they post- dict the past, for verification. “They were-”

“Just watch.”

Alongside the deep blue data-figure, a yellow lump congealed. It looked to Hari like an identical twin to the original. Each went through contortions, seething with history’s energy. Each ripple and snag represented many billions of human triumphs and tragedies. Every small shudder had once been a calamity.

“They’re…the same,” Hari whispered.

“Damn right,” Yugo said.

“The theory fits.”

“Yup. Psychohistory works.”

Hari stared at the flexing colors. “I never thought…”

“It could work so well?” Dors had walked behind his chair and now rubbed his scalp.

“Well, yes.”

“You have spent years including the proper variables. It must work.”

Yugo smiled tolerantly. “If only more people shared your faith in mathists. You’ve forgotten the sparrow effect.”

Dors was transfixed by the shimmering data-solids, now rerunning all Trantorian history, throbbing with different-colored schemes to show up differences between real history and the equations’ post-dictions. There were very few. What’s more, they did not grow with time.

Not taking her eyes from the display, Dors asked slowly, “Sparrow? We have birds as pets, but surely-”

“Suppose a sparrow flaps its wings at the equator, out in the open. That shifts the air circulation a tiny amount. If things break just right, the sparrow could trigger a tornado up at the poles.”

Dors was startled. “Impossible!”

Hari said, “Don’t confuse it with the fabled nail in the shoe of a horse, that a legendary beast of burden. Remember?-its rider lost a battle and then a kingdom. That was failure of a small, critical component. Fundamental, random phenomena are democratic. Tiny differences in every coupled variable can produce staggering changes.”

It took a while to get the point through. Like any other world, Trantor’s meteorology had a daunting sensitivity to initial conditions. A sparrow’s wingflutter on one side of Trantor, amplified through fluid equations over weeks, could drive a howling hurricane a continent away. No computer could model all the tiny details of real weather to make exact predictions possible.

Dors pointed at the data-solids. “So-this is all wrong?”

“I hope not,” Hari said. “Weather varies, but climate holds steady.”

“Still…no wonder Trantorians prefer indoors. Outdoors can be dangerous.”

“The fact that the equations describe what happened-well, it means that small effects can smooth out in history,” Hari said.

Yugo added, “Stuff on a human scale can average away.”

She stopped massaging Hari’s scalp. “Then… people don’t matter?”

Hari said carefully, “Most biography persuades us that people-that we-are important. Psychohistory teaches that we aren’t.”

“As a historian, I cannot accept-”

“Look at the data,” Yugo put in.

They watched as Yugo brought up detail, showed off features. For ordinary people, history endured through art, myth, and liturgy. They felt it through concrete examples, close up: a building, a custom, a historical name. He and Yugo and the others were like sparrows themselves, hovering high over a landscape unguessed by the inhabitants below. They saw the slow surge of terrain, glacial and unstoppable.

“But people have to matter.” Dors’ voice carried a note of forlorn hope. Hari knew that somewhere deep in her lurked the stern directives of the Zeroth Law, but over that lay a deep layer of true human feeling. She was a humanist who believed in the power of the individual-and here she met blunt, uncaring mechanism, in the large.

“They do, actually, but perhaps not in the way you want,” Hari said gently. “We sought out telltale groups, pivots about which events sometimes hinge.”

“The homosexuals, f’instance,” Yugo said.

“They’re about one percent of the population, a consistent minor variant in reproductive strategies,” Hari said.

Socially, though, they were often masters of improvisation, fashioning style to substance, fully at home with the arbitrary. They seemed equipped with an internal compass that pointed them at every social novelty, early on, so that they exerted leverage all out of proportion to their numbers. Often they were sensitive indicators of future turns.

Yugo went on, “So we figured, could they be a crucial indicator? Turns out they are. Helps out the equations.”

Dors said severely, “Why does history smooth out?”

Hari let Yugo carry the ball. “Y’see, that same sparrow effect had a positive side. Chaotic systems could be caught at just the right instant, tilted ever so slightly in a preferred way. A well-timed nudge could drive a system, yielding benefits all out of proportion to the effort expended.”

“You mean control?” She looked doubtful.

“Just a touch,” Yugo said. “Minimal control-the right nudge at the right time-demands that the dynamics be intricately understood. Maybe that way, you could bias outcomes toward the least damaging of several finely balanced results. At best, they could drive the system into startlingly good outcomes.”

“Who’s controlling?” Dors asked.

Yugo looked embarrassed. “Oh, we…dunno.”

“Don’t know? But this is a theory of all history.”

Hari said quietly, “There are elements, interplays, in the equations that we don’t grasp. Damping forces.”

“How can you not understand?”

Both men looked ill at ease. “We don’t know how the terms interact. New features,” Hari said, “leading to…emergent order.”

She said primly, “Then you don’t really have a theory, do you?”

Hari nodded ruefully. “Not in the sense of a deep understanding, no.”

Models followed the gritty, experienced world, he reflected. They echoed their times. Clockwork planetary mechanics came after clocks. The idea of the whole universe as a computation came after computers. A worldview of stable change came after nonlinear dynamics…

He had a glimmering of a metamodel, which would look at him and describe how he would then select among models for psychohistory. Peering down from above, it could see which was likely to be favored by Hari Seldon…

“Who plans this control?” Dors persisted.

Hari caught at the idea he had, but it slipped away. He knew how to coax it back: ease up. “Remember that joke?” he said. “How do you make God laugh?”

She smiled. “You tell him your plans.”

“Right. We will study this result, sniff out an answer.”

She smiled. “Don’t ask you for predictions about the progress of your own predictions?”

“Embarrassing, but yes.”

His desksec chimed. “An Imperial summons,” it announced.

“Damn!” Hari slapped his chair. “Fun’s over.”

2.

Not quite time for the Specials to arrive, Hari thought. But getting any work done was impossible while he was on edge.

He jiggled coins in his pocket, distracted, then fished one out. A five cred piece, amber alloy, a handsome Cleon I head on one side-treasuries always flattered emperors-and the disk of the Galaxy seen from above on the other. He held it on edge and thought.

Let the coin’s width represent the disk’s typical scale height. To be correct, the coin would have to bulge at its center to depict the hub, but overall it was a good geometric replica.

In the disk was a flaw, a minute blister in an outer spiral arm. He did the ratio in his head, allowing that the galaxy was about 100,000 light-years across, and…blinked. The speck portrayed a volume about a thousand light years across. In the outer arms, that would contain ten million stars.

To see so many worlds as a fleck adrift in immensity made him feel as though Trantor’s solidity had opened and he had plunged helplessly into an abyss.

Could humanity matter on such a scale? So many billions of souls, packed into a grainy dot.

Yet they had spanned the whole incomprehensible expanse of that disk in a twinkling.

Humanity had spread through the spiral arms, spilling through the wormholes, wrapping itself around the hub in a mere few thousand years. In that time the spiral arms themselves had not revolved a perceptible angle in their own gravid gavotte; that would take half a billion years. Human hankering for far horizons had sent them swarming through the wormhole webbing, popping out into spaces near suns of swelling red, virulent blue, smoldering ruby.

The speck stood for a volume a single human brain, with its primate capacities, could not grasp, except as mathematical notation. But that same brain led humans outward, until they now strode the Galaxy, mastering the starlit abyss…without truly knowing themselves.

So a single human could not fathom even a dot in the disk. But the sum of humanity could, incrementally, one mind at a time, knowing its own immediate starry territory.

And what did he desire? To comprehend all of that humanity, its deepest impulses, its shadowy mechanisms, its past, present, and future. He wanted to know the vagrant species that had managed to scoop up this disk, and to make it a plaything.

So maybe one single human mind could indeed grasp the disk, by going one level higher-and fathoming the collective effects, hidden in the intricacies of the Equations.

Describing Trantor, in this proportion, was child’s play. For the Empire, he needed a far grander comprehension.

Mathematics might rule the galaxy. Invisible, gossamer symbols could govern.

So a single man or woman could matter.

Maybe. He shook his head. A single human head.

Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Dreams of godhood….

Back to work.

Only he couldn’t work. He had to wait. To his relief, the Imperial Specials arrived and escorted him across Streeling University. By now he was used to the gawkers, the embarrassment of plowing through the crowds which now accumulated everywhere, it seemed, that he might frequent.

“Busy today,” he said to the Specials captain.

“Got to expect it, sir.”

“You get extra duty pay for this, I hope.”

“Yessir. ‘Digs,’ we call them.”

“For extra risk, correct? Dangerous duty.”

The captain looked flustered. “Well, yessir…”

“If someone starts shooting, what are your orders?”

“Uh, if they can penetrate the engaging perimeter, we’re to get between them and you. Sir.”

“And you’d do that? Take a gauss pulse or a flechette?”

He seemed surprised. “Of course.”

“Truly?”

“Our duty, y’know.”

Hari was humbled by the man’s simple loyalty. Not to Hari Seldon, but to the idea of Empire. Order. Civilization.

And Hari realized that he, too, was devoted to that idea. The Empire had to be saved, or at least its decline mitigated. Only by fathoming its deep structure could he do that.

Which was why he disliked the First Minister business. It robbed him of time, concentration.

In the Specials’ armored pods he salved his discontent by pulling out his tablet and working on some equations. The captain had to remind him when they reached the palace grounds. Hari got out and there was the usual security ritual, the Specials spreading out and airborne sensors going aloft to sniff out the far perimeter. They reminded him of golden bees, buzzing with vigilance.

He walked by a wall leading into the palace gardens and a tan, round sheet the size of his fingernail popped off the wall. It stuck to his neck. He reached up and plucked it off.

He recognized it as a promotional trinket, a slap-on patch which gave you a pleasant rush by diffusing endorphins into your bloodstream. It also subtly predisposed you to coherent signals in corridor advertisements.

He pitched it aside. A Special grabbed at the patch and suddenly there was shouting and movement all around him. The Special turned to throw the patch away.

An orange spike shot through the guard’s hand, hissing hot, flaring and gone in a second. The man cried, “Ah!” and another Special grabbed him and pushed him down. Then five Specials blocked Hari from all sides and he saw no more.

The Special screamed horribly. Something cut off the wail of pain. The captain shouted, “Move!” and Hari had to trot with the Specials around him into the gardens and down several lanes.

It took a while to straighten out the incident. The patch was untraceable, of course, and there was no way of knowing for sure whether it was targeted on Hari at all.

“Could be part of some Palace plot,” the captain said. “Just waiting for the next’ passerby with a scent-signature like yours.”

“Not aimed for me at all?”

“Could be. That tab took couple extra seconds tryin’ to figure out if it wanted you or not.”

“And it did.”

“Body odor, skin smells-they’re not exact, sir.”

“I’ll have to start wearing perfume.”

The captain grinned. “That won’t stop a smart tab.”

Other protection specialists rushed in and there was evidence to measure and opinions and a lot of talk. Hari insisted on walking back to see the Special who had taken the tab. He was gone, already off to emergency care; they said he would lose his hand. No, sorry, Hari could not see him. Security, y’know.

Quite quickly Hari became bored with the aftermath. He had come early to get a stroll through the gardens and though he knew he was being irrational, his regret at missing the walk loomed larger than the assassination attempt.

Hari took a long, still moment and moved the incident aside. He visualized a displacement operator, an icy blue vector frame. It listed the snarled, angry red knot and pushed it out of view. Later, he would deal with it later.

He cut off the endless talk and ordered the Specials to fall in behind him. Shouted protests came, of course, which he ignored. Then he ambled across the gardens, relishing the open air. He inhaled eagerly. The blinding speed of the attack had erased its importance to him. For now.

The palace towers loomed like webwork of a giant spider. Between their bulks weaved airy walkways. Spires were veiled in silvery mist and aripple, apulse, shimmering with a silent, steady beat like a great unseen heart. He had been so long in the foreshortened views of Trantor’s corridors, his eyes did not quickly grasp the puzzling perspectives.

An upward rush caught his attention as he passed through a flowers cape. From the immense Imperial aviary, flocks of birds in the thousands oscillated in the vertical drafts. Their artful, ever-shifting patterns had a diaphanous, billowy quality, an immense, wispy dance.

Yet these had been shaped many millennia ago by bioengineering their genome. They formed drifts and billows like clouds, or even airy mountains, feasting on upwelling gnats, released from below by the gardeners. But a side draft could dissolve all their ornate sculptures, blow them away.

Like the Empire, he mused. Beautiful in its order, stable for fifteen millennia, yet now toppling. Cracking up like a slow-motion pod wreck. Or in spasms like the Junin riots.

Why? Even among Imperial loveliness, his mathist mind returned to the problem.

Entering the palace, he passed a delegation of children on their way to some audience with a lesser Imperial figure. With a sudden pang he missed his adopted son, Raych. He and Dors had decided to secretly send the boy away to school, after Yugo had his leg broken. “Deprive them of targets,” Dors had said.

Among the meritocracy, only those adults with commitment, stability, and talent could have children. Gentry or plain citizens could whelp brats by the shovelful.

Parents were like artists-special people with a special gift, given respect and privileges, left free to create happy and competent humans. It was noble work, well paid. Hari had been honored to be approved.

In immediate contrast, three oddly shaped courtiers ambled by him.

By biotech means people could turn their children into spindly towers, into flowerlike footbound dwarves, into green giants or pink pygmies. From throughout the Galaxy they were sent here to amuse the Imperial court, where novelty was always in vogue.

But such variants seldom lasted. There was a species norm. And stretching it was just as deeply ingrained. Hari had to admit that he would forever be among the unsophisticated, for he found such folk repulsive.

Someone had designed the reception room to look like anything but a room for receiving people. It resembled a lumpy pocket in molten glass, crisscrossed by polished shafts of ceramo-steel. These shafts in turn dripped into smooth lumps which-since there was nothing else in the room-must have been intended to be chairs and tables.

It seemed unlikely that he could ever get back out of any of the shapes, once he had worked out how to sit in them-so Hari stood. And wondered if that effect, too, was somehow intended…The palace was a subtle place of layered design.

This was to be a small, private meeting, Cleon’s staff had assured him. Still, there was a small army of attaches and protocol officers and aides who had introduced themselves as Hari had passed through several rooms of increasing ornamentation, on his way here. Their talk became more ornate, as well. Courtly life was dominated by puffed-up people who always acted as though they were coyly unveiling statues of themselves.

There was a lot of adornment and finery, the architectural equivalent of jewels and silk, and even the most minor attendants wore very dignified green uniforms. He felt as though he should lower his voice and realized, recalling Sundays on Helicon, that this place felt somehow like a church.

Then Cleon swept in and the staff vanished, silently draining away into concealed exits.

“My Seldon!”

“Yours, sire.” Hari followed the ritual.

The Emperor continued greeting him effusively, tut-tutting over the apparent assassination attempt-”Surely an accident, don’t you think?”-and led him to the large display wall. At Cleon’s gesture an enormous view of the entire Galaxy appeared, the work of a new artist. Hari murmured the required admiration and recalled his thoughts of only an hour before.

This was a time sculpture, tracing the entire Galactic history. The disk was, after all, a collection of debris, swirling at the bottom of a gravitational pothole in the cosmos. How it looked depended on which of mankind’s myriad eyes one used. Infrared could pierce and unmask dusty lanes. X rays sought pools of fiercely burning gas. Radio dishes mapped cold banks of molecules and magnetized plasma. All were packed with meaning.

In the carousel of the disk, stars bobbed and weaved under complicated Newtonian tugs. The major arms-Sagittarius, Orion, and Perseus, counting outward from the Center-bore names obscured by antiquity. Each contained a Zone of that name, hinting that perhaps here the ancient Earth orbited. But no one knew, and research had revealed no obvious single candidate. Instead, dozens of worlds vied for the title of the True Earth. Quite probably, none of them were.

Many bright signatures-skymarks, like landmarks?-blazed among the curving, barred spiral arms. Beauty beyond description-but not beyond analysis, Hari thought, whether physical or social. If he could find the key…

“I congratulate you on the success of my Moron Decree,” Cleon said.

Hari slowly withdrew from the immense perspective. “Oh, sire?”

“Your idea-first fruit of psychohistory.” To Hari’s blank incomprehension Cleon chuckled. “Forgotten already? The renegades who pillage, seeking renown for their infamy. You advised me to strip them of their identity by making them henceforth be called Morons.”

Hari had indeed forgotten the advice, but contented himself with a sage nod.

“It worked! Such crimes are much reduced. And those convicted go to their deaths full of anger, demanding to be made famous. I tell you, it is delicious.”

Hari felt a chill at the way the Emperor smacked his lips. An off-hand suggestion made suddenly, concretely real. It rattled him a bit.

He realized that the Emperor was asking about progress with psychohistory. His throat tightened and he remembered the Moonrose woman with her irritating questions. That seemed weeks ago. “Work is slow,” he managed to say.

Cleon said sympathetically, “Surely it requires a deep knowledge of every facet of civilized life.”

“At times.” Hari stalled, putting his mixed emotions firmly away.

“I was at a convocation recently and learned something you undoubtedly have factored into your equations.”

“Yes, sire?”

“It is said that the very foundation of the Empire-besides the wormholes of course-is the discovery of proton-Boron fusion. I had never heard of it, yet the speaker said it was the single greatest achievement of antiquity. That every starship, every planetary technology, depends upon it for power.”

“I suppose that is true, but I did not know it.”

“Such an elementary fact?”

“What is not of use to me does not concern me.”

Cleon’s mouth pouted in puzzlement. “But a theory of all history surely demands great detail.”

“Technology enters only in its effects on other large issues,” Hari said. How to explain the intricacies of nonlinear calculus? “Often its limitations are the important point.”

“Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced,” Cleon said airily.

“Well put, sire.”

“You like it? That fellow Draius gave it to me. It has a ring, doesn’t it? True, too. Perhaps I’ll-” He broke off and said to the air, “Transcription officer! Give that line about magic to the Presepth for general distribution.”

Cleon sat back. “They’re always after me for ‘Imperial wisdom.’ A bother!”

A faint musical note announced Betan Lamurk. Hari stiffened at first sight of the man, but Lamurk had eyes only for the Emperor as he went smoothly through a litany of court ritual. As a prime member of the High Council he had to recite some time-honored and empty phrases, bow with a curious swoop, and never avert his gaze from the Emperor. That done, he could relax.

“Professor Seldon! So good to meet again.”

Hari shook hands in the formal manner. “Sorry about that little dustup. I really didn’t know the 3D was there.”

“No matter. One can’t help what the media make of things.”

“My Seldon gave me excellent advice about the Moron Decree,” Cleon said. He went on, his delight deepening the twist of Lamurk’s mouth.

Cleon led them to luxuriant chairs that popped out of the walls. Hari found himself swept immediately into a detailed discussion of Council matters. Resolutions, measures of appropriation, abstracts of proposed legislation. This stuff had been flowing through Hari’s office, as well. He had dutifully set his autosec to text-analyzing it, breaking the sea of jargon down into Galactic and smoothing out the connections. This got him through the first hour. Most of the material he had ignored, tipping piles of to-be-scanned documents into his recycler when nobody was looking.

The arcane workings of the High Council were not in principle difficult to follow-they were just boring. As Lamurk deftly conferred with the Emperor, Hari watched them as he would watch a bodyball game: a curious practice, no doubt fascinating in a narrow sort of way.

That the Council set general standards and directions, while below them mere legal mavens worked out the details and passed legislation, did not change his bemused disinterest. People spent their lives doing such things!

For tactics he cared little. Even mankind did not matter. On the Galactic chessboard the pieces were the phenomena of humanity, the rules of the game were the laws of psychohistory. The player on the other side was hidden, perhaps did not exist.

Lamurk needed an opposite player, a rival. Subtly, Hari saw that he was the inevitable foe.

Lamurk’s career had aimed him for the First Ministership and he meant to get it. At every turn Lamurk curried favor with the Emperor and waved away Hari’s points, of which there were few.

He did not directly counter Lamurk; the man was a master. He kept quiet, confining himself to an occasional expressively (he hoped) raised eyebrow. He had rarely regretted keeping quiet.

“This MacroMesh thing, do you favor it?” the Emperor abruptly asked Hari.

He barely remembered the idea. “It will alter the Galaxy considerably,” he stalled.

“Productively!” Lamurk slapped a table. “All the econ-indicators are falling. The MacroMesh will speed up info-flow, boost productivity.”

The Emperor’s mouth tilted with doubt. “I’m not altogether happy with the idea of linking so many, so easily.”

“Just think,” Lamurk pressed, “the new squeezers will let an ordinary person in, say, Eqquis Zone talk every day with a friend in the Far Reaches-or anywhere else.”

The Emperor nodded uncertainly. “Hari? What do you think?”

“I have doubts as well.”

Lamurk waved dismissively. “Failure of nerve.”

“Increased communication may worsen the Empire’s crisis.”

Lamurk’s mouth twisted derisively. “Nonsense. Contrary to every good executive rule.”

“The Empire isn’t ruled-” Hari made a half-bow to the Emperor “-alas, it’s let run.”

“More nonsense. We in the High Council-”

“Hear him out!” Cleon said. “He does not talk very much.”

Hari smiled. “Many people are grateful for that, sire.”

“No oblique answers, now. What does your psychohistory tell you about how the Empire runs?”

“It is millions of castles, webbed by’ bridges.”

“Castles?” Cleon’s famous nose rose skeptically.

“Planets. They have local concerns and run them selves as they like. The Empire doesn’t trouble itself over such details, unless a world begins making aggressive trouble.”

“True enough, and as it should be,” Cleon said. “Ah-and your bridges are the wormholes.”

“Exactly, sire.” Hari deliberately avoided looking at Lamurk and focused on the Emperor, while sketching in his vision.

Planets could have any number of lesser duchies, with disputes and wars and “microstructure” galore. The psychohistorical equations showed that none of that mattered.

What did matter was that physical resources could not be shared among indefinitely large numbers of people. Each solar system was a finite store of goods, and in the end, that meant local hierarchies to control access.

Wormholes could carry rather little mass, because the holes were seldom more than ten meters across. Massive hyperspace ships carried heavy cargoes, but they were slower and cumbersome. They distorted space-time, contracting it fore and expanding it aft, moving at super-light speeds in the Galaxy’s frame but not in its own. Trade among most stellar systems was constrained to light, compact, expensive items. Spices, fashions, technology-not bulky raw materials.

Wormholes could accommodate modulated light beams far more easily. The wormhole curvature refracted beams through to receivers at the other mouth. Data flowed freely, knitting together the Galaxy.

And information was the opposite of mass. Data could be moved, compressed, and leaked readily through copies. It was infinitely shareable. It blossomed like flowers in eternal spring, for as information was applied to a problem, the resulting solution was new information. And it was cheap, meaning that it took few mass resources to acquire it. Its preferred medium was light, quite literally-the laser beam.

“That provided enough communication to make an Empire. But the odds of a native of the Puissant Zone ever voyaging to the Zaqulot Zone-or even to the next star, since by wormhole they are equivalent trips-were tiny,” Hari said.

“So every one of your ‘castles’ kept itself isolated-except for information flow,” Cleon said, absorbed.

“But now the MacroMesh will increase the information transfer rate a thousand-fold, using these ‘squeezers’ that compress information.”

Cleon pursed his lips, puzzled. “Why is that bad?”

“It’s not,” Lamurk said. “Better data makes for better decisions, everybody knows that.”

“Not necessarily. Human life is a voyage on a sea of meaning, not a net of information. What will most people get from a close, personal flow of data? Detached, foreign logic. Uprooted details.”

“We can run things better!” Lamurk insisted. Cleon held up a finger and Lamurk choked off his next words.

Hari hesitated. Lamurk had a point, indeed.

There were mathematical relationships between technology, capital accumulation, labor, but the most important driver proved to be knowledge. About half the Empire’s economic growth came from the increase in the quality of information, as embodied in better machines and improved skills, leading to efficiency.

That was where the Empire had faltered. The innovative thrust of the sciences had slowly faltered. The Imperial universities produced fine engineers, but no inventors. Great scholars, but few true scientists. That factored into the other tides of time. But something other than data starvation had made that happen, and as yet, Hari did not know the cause.

But Hari saw the Emperor wavering, and pressed on. “Many on the High Council see the MacroMesh as an instrument of control. Let me point out a few facts well known to you, sire.”

Hari was in his favorite mode, a one-on-one lecture. Cleon leaned forward, eyes narrowed. Hari spun him a tale.

To get between worlds A and B, he said, one might have to take a dozen wormhole jumps-the Worm Nest was an astrophysical subway system with many transfers.

Each worm mouth imposed added fees and charges on every shipment. Control of an entire trade route yielded the maximum profit. The struggle for control was unending, often violent. From the viewpoint of economics, politics, and “historical momentum”-which meant a sort of imposed inertia on events-a local empire which controlled a whole constellation of nodes should be solid, enduring.

Not so. Time and again, regional satrapies went toes-up. It seemed natural to squeeze every worm passage for the maximum fee, by coordinating every worm mouth to optimize traffic. But that degree of control made people restive. In elaborately controlling the system, information flowed only from managers to wage slaves, with little feedback.

Extensive regulation did not deliver the best benefits. Instead, it yielded “short blanket economies”-when the collective shoulders got cold, the blanket got pulled up to cover them, and so the feet froze. Over-control failed.

“So the MacroMesh, if it lets the High Council really ‘run things,’ could decrease economic vitality.”

Lamurk smiled patronizingly. “A bunch of abstract theory, sire. Now, you listen to an old hand who’s been on the Council a good long time now…”

Hari attended to Lamurk’s famous balm and wondered why he was bothering with this. He had to admit that trading ideas with the Emperor had a certain quality of casual, almost sensual, power. Watching a man who could destroy a world with a gesture had a decided adrenaline edge.

But he didn’t really belong here, either by talent or drive. Trotting out his own views was amusing; every professor secretly thinks that what the world needs is a good, solid lecture-from him, of course.

But in this game, the pawns were real. The Moron Decree had unnerved him, even though he saw nothing morally wrong with it.

Lives hung in the balance here, among the finery. And not just the lives of others. He had to remind himself that this beaming, confident Lamurk across from him was the obvious source of the patch-weapon which had nearly killed him, just hours before.

3.

He entered their apartment and went straight to the kitchen. He punched in commands on the autoserver and then went to the range and began to heat up some oil. While it warmed he cut up onions and garlic and put them in to brown. His beer arrived and he opened one, not bothering with a glass.

“Something’s happened,” Dors said.

“We had a fine little chat. I eyed Lamurk, he eyed me.”

“That’s not why your shoulders are hunched up.”

“Um. Betrayed by my expressive body.”

So he told her about the possible assassination attempt.

After she had calmed down, she said tightly, “You also heard about the smoke artist?”

“At that reception? He made the big cloud that looked like me?”

“He died today.”

“How?”

“Looks like an accident.”

“Too bad-he was funny.”

“Too funny. He made the cartoon of Lamurk, remember? Made Lamurk look like a blowhard. It was the hit of the reception.”

Hari blinked. “You don’t…”

“Quite orderly, both of you in one day.”

“So it could be Lamurk…”

Dors said grimly, “My dear Hari, always thinking in terms of probabilities.”

After his audience with Cleon, Hari had sat through a strict talk by the head of palace security. His Specials squad was doubled. More midget-flyers for forward perimeter warning. Oh, yes, and he was not to walk close to any walls.

This last bit had made Hari chuckle, which did not improve the palace staffs attitude. Worse, Hari knew that he still had baggage to unpack. How to keep them from sniffing out Dors’ true nature?

The autoserver rang. He sat and forked up dark meat and onions and then opened another bottle of the cold beer and held it in one hand while he ate with the other.

“A hard day’s work,” Dors said.

“I always eat heartily after narrowly averting death. It’s an old family tradition.”

“I see.”

“Cleon ended up by commenting on the impasse in the High Council. Until that’s resolved, no vote on the First Minister can occur.”

“So you and Lamurk are still butting heads.”

“He’s butting. Me, I’m dodging.”

“I will never leave your side again,” she said firmly.

“It’s a deal. Could you get me something more from the autoserver? Something warm and heavy and full of things that are bad for me?”

She went into the kitchen and he ate steadily and drank the beer and did not think about anything.

She brought back something steaming in a rich brown sauce. He ate it without asking what it was.

“You are an odd man, professor.”

“Things get to me a bit later than other people.”

“You learned how to delay thinking about them, reacting to them, until there was a time and a place.”

He blinked and drank some more beer. “Could be. Have to think about it.”

“You eagerly eat working-class food. And where did you learn this trick of deferring reactions?”

“Um. You tell me.”

“Helicon.”

He thought about that. “Urn, the working class. My father got into trouble and there were plenty of hard times. About the only break I got as a boy was not getting brain fever. We couldn’t have afforded any hospital time.”

“I see. Financial trouble, I remember you saying.”

“Financial and then people muscling him to sell his land. He didn’t want to. So he mortgaged more and planted more crops and followed his best judgment. Every time chance played out against him, Dad got right back up and went at it again. That worked for a while because he did know farming. But then there was a big market fluctuation and he got caught and lost everything.” He was speaking quickly as he ate, and he didn’t know why but it felt right.

“I see. That was why he was doing that dangerous job-”

“Which killed him, yes.”

“I see. And you dealt with that. Submerged it to help your mother. learned in the hard times that followed to reserve your reactions for a moment when it was all right to let it go.”

“If you say ‘I see’ again, I won’t let you watch later when I take a shower.”

She smiled, but then the same penetrating cast came over her face. “You fit some well-defined parameters. Men who are contained. They control themselves by letting very little in. They do not show a great deal or talk too much.”

“Except to their woman.” He had stopped eating.

“You have little time for small talk-people at Streeling comment on that-yet you speak freely with me.”

“I try not to blather.”

“Being male is complicated.”

“So is being female, though you’ve mastered it beautifully.”

“I’ll take that as a rather formal compliment.”

“And so it was. Just plain being human is just plain hard.”

“So I am finding. You…learned all this on Helicon.”

“I learned to deal with essentials.”

“Also to hate fluctuations. They can kill you.”

He took a swig of the beer, still cold and biting. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Why didn’t you say all this in the first place?”

“I didn’t know it in the first place.”

“A corollary, then: If you commit yourself to a woman you give away as much of yourself as you can, inside that enclosed space.”

“The volume between the two of us.’

“A geometric analogy is as good as any.” The tip of her tongue made her lower lip bulge out slightly, as it always did when she pondered a point. “And you commit yourself wholly to averting the price life exacts.”

“The price of…fluctuations?”

“If you can predict, you can avoid. Correct. Manage.”

“This is awfully analytic.”

“I’ve skipped over the hard parts, but they will be on the homework assignment.”

“Usually these kinds of talk use phrases like ‘optimally consolidated self.’ I’ve been waiting for the jargon to come trotting out.” He had finished the bowl and felt much better.

“Food is one of the life-affirming experiences.”

“So that’s why I do it.”

“Now you’re making fun of me.”

“No, just working out the implications of the theory. I liked the part about hating unpredictability and fluctuations because they hurt people.”

“So can Empires, if they fall.”

“Right.” He finished the beer and thought about having another. Any more would dull him a little. He would prefer another way to take from him the edge he still felt.

“Big appetite.” She smiled.

“You have no idea. And the prospect of death can stimulate more than one kind of appetite. Let’s go back to that part about the homework assignment.”

“You have something in mind.”

He grinned. “You have no idea.”

4.

He savored his work all the more, since he had less time for it.

Hari sat in his darkened office, absolutely still, watching the 3D numerics evolve like luminous fogs in the air before him.

Empire scholars had known the root basics of psychohistory for millennia. In ancient times, pedants had charted the twenty-six stable and meta-stable social systems. There were plenty of devolved planets to study, fallen into barbarism-like the Porcos and their Raging Rituals, the Lizzies and their GynoGoverns.

He watched the familiar patterns form, as his simulation stepped through centuries of Galactic evolution. Some social systems proved stable only on small scales.

In the air hung the ranks of whole worlds, caught in stable Zones: Primitive Socialism; FemoPastoralism; Macho Tribalism. These were the “strong at tractors” of human sociology, islands in the chaos sea.

Some societies labored through their meta-stability, then crashed: Theocracy, Transcendentalism, Macho Feudalism. This latter appeared whenever people had metallurgy and agriculture. Planets which had slid a long way down the curve would manifest it.

Imperial scholars had long justified the Empire, threaded by narrow wormholes and lumbering hyperships, as the best human social structure. It had indeed proved stable and benevolent.

Their reigning model, Benign Imperial Feudalism, accepted that humans were hierarchical. As well, they were dynastically ambitious, liking the continuity of power and its pomp. They were quite devoted to symbols of unity, of Imperial grandeur. Gossip about the great was, for most people, the essence of history itself.

Imperial power was moderated by traditions of noble leadership, the assumed superiority of those who rose to greatness. Beneath such impressive resplendence, as Cleon well knew, lay the bedrock of an extremely honest, meritocratic civil service. Without that, corruption would spread like a stain across the stars, corroding the splendor.

He watched the diagram-a complex 3D web of surfaces, the landscape of social-space.

Slow-stepped, he could see individual event-waves washing through the sim. Each cell in the grid got recomputed every clock cycle, readjusting every nearest-neighbor interaction in 3D.

The working rules of thumb were not the true laws of physics, built up from fundamentals like maxion mechanics, or even from the simple NewTown Laws. Rather, they were rough algorithms that reduced intricate laws to trivial arithmetic. Society seen raw this way was crude, not mysterious at all.

Then came chaos.

He was viewing the “policy-space,” with its family of variables: degree of polarity, or power concentration; size of coalitions; conflict scale. In this simple model, learning loops emerged. Starting from a plateau period of seeming stability but not stasis, the system produced a Challenger Idea.

This threatened stability, which forced formation of coalitions to oppose the challenge. Factions formed. Then they gelled. The coalitions could be primarily religious, political, economic, technological, even military-though this last was a particularly ineffective method, the data showed. The system then veered into a chaotic realm, sometimes emerging to new stability, sometimes decaying.

In the dynamic system there was a pressure created by the contrast between people’s ideal picture of the world and the reality. Too big a difference drove fresh forces for change. Often the forces were apparently unconscious; people knew something was wrong, felt restive, but could not fix on a clear cause.

So much for “rational actor” models,Hari thought. Yet some still clung to that obviously dumb approximation.

Everyone thought the Empire was simple.

Not the bulk of the population, of course, dazzled by the mix of cultures and exotica afforded by trade and communications from myriad worlds. They were perpetually distracted-an important damper on chaos.

Even to social theorists, though, the basic structure and interrelations seemed to be predictable, with a moderate number of feedback loops, solid and traditional. Conventional wisdom held that these could be easily separated out and treated.

Most important, there was central decision-making, or so most thought. The Emperor Knew Best, right?

In reality, the Empire was a nested, ordered hierarchy: Imperial Feudalism. At the lower bound were the Zones of the galaxy, sometimes only a dozen light-years across, up to a few thousand light years diameter. Above that were Compacts of a few hundred nearby Zones. The Compacts interlocked into the Galactic cross-linked system.

But the whole thing was sliding downhill. In the complex diagram, sparkling flickers came and went. What were those?

Hari close-upped the flares. Zones of chaos, where predictability becomes impossible. These fiery eruptions might be the clue to why the Empire was failing.

Hari felt in his soul that unpredictability was bad-for humanity, for his mathematics. But it was inescapable.

This was the secret the Emperor and others must never know. That until he could rule chaos-or at least peer into it-psychohistory was a fraud.

He decided to look at a single case. Maybe that would be cleaner.

He selected Sark, the world which had found and developed the Voltaire and Joan sims. It billed itself as the Home of the New Renaissance-a common rhetorical posture, often adopted. They seemed bright and creative as he reviewed the status-grids.

Hari yawned despite himself. Sure, Sark looked good for now. A booming economy. A leader in styles and fashion.

But its profile classed it among the Chaos Worlds. They rose for a while, seeming to defy the damping mechanisms that held planets in the Imperial Equilibrium.

Then their social fabric dissolved. They plummeted back into one of the Stasis States: Anarcho-Industrial for Sark, he would predict, from the data. No great fleets made this happen. The Empire did not, despite impressions, rule by force. Social evolutions made the Chaos Worlds falter and die. Usually, the Galaxy as a whole suffered few repercussions.

But lately, there had been more of them. And the Empire was visibly decaying. Productivity was down, incoherence in the social-spaces on the rise.

Why?

He got up and went for a workout at the gymnasium. Enough of the mind! Let his body sweat out the frustrations wrought by his intellect.

5.

He did not want to go to the Grand Imperial Universities Colloquy, but the Imperial Protocol Office leaned on him…A First Ministerial candidate has obligations,” the officious woman had informed him.

So he and Dors dutifully appeared at the enormous Imperial Festival Hall. His Specials wore discreet formal business suits, complete with the collar ruffles of mid-level meritocrats.

“All the better to blend into the crowd,” Dors joked. Hari saw that everyone sized up the men in an instant and gingerly edged away. He would have been fooled.

They entered a high, double-arched corridor, lined with ancient statuary which invited the passersby to lick them. Hari tried it, after carefully reading the glow-sign, which reassured him there was no biological risk. A long, succulent lick gave him a faint, odd flavor of oil and burnt apples, a hint of what the ancients found enticing.

“What’s first on the agenda?” he asked his Protocol Officer.

“An audience with the Academic Potentate,” she answered, adding pointedly, “Alone.”

Dors disagreed and Hari negotiated a compromise. Dors got to stand at the doorway, no more. “I’ll have appetizers served to you there,” the Protocol Officer said testily.

Dors gave her an icy smile. “Why is this, ah, ‘audience’ so important?”

The Protocol Officer gave her a pitying look. “The Potentate carries much weight in the High Council.”

Hari said soothingly, “And can throw a few votes my way.”

“A bit of polite talk,” the Protocol Officer said.

“I shall promise to-let me put this delicately-smooch his buttocks. Or hers, as the case may be.”

Dors smiled. “Better not be hers.”

“Intriguing, how the implications of the act switch with sex.”

The Protocol Officer coughed and ushered him deftly through snapping screen curtains, his hair sizzling. Apparently even an Academic Potentate had need of personal security measures.

Once within the formal staterooms, Hari found he was alone with a woman of considerable age and artificial beauties. So that was why the Protocol Officer had coughed.

“How very nice of you to come.” She stood motionless, one hand extended, limp at the wrist. A waterfall effect spattered behind her, framing her body well.

He felt as if he were walking into a still-life museum display. He didn’t know whether to shake her hand or kiss it. He shook it, and her look made him think he had chosen wrong.

She wore a lot of embedded makeup, and from the way she leaned forward to make a point, he gathered that her pale eyes got her a lot of things other people did not receive.

She had once been an original thinker, a nonlinear philosopher. Now meritocrats across the spiral arms owed her fealty.

Before they had sat down, she gestured. “Oh, would you tune that wall haze?” The waterfall effect had turned into a roiling, thick fog. “Somehow it gets wrong all the time and the room doesn’t adjust it.”

A way of establishing a hierarchy, Hari suspected. Get him used to doing little tasks at her bidding. Or maybe she was like some other women, who if they couldn’t get you to do minor services felt insecure. Or maybe she was just inept and wanted her waterfall back. Or maybe he just analyzed the hell out of everything, a mathist’s pattern.

“I’ve heard remarkable things about your work,” she said, shifting from High Figure Used to Snappy Obedience to Gracious Lady Putting an Underling at Ease. He said something noncommittal. A tiktok brought a stim which was barely liquid, drifting down his throat and into his nostrils like a silken, sinister cloud.

“You believe yourself practical enough for the ministership?”

“Nothing is more practical, more useful, than a sound theory.”

“Said like a true mathist. Speaking for all meritocrats, I do hope you are equal to the task.”

He thought of telling her-she did have a certain charm, after all-that he didn’t give a damn for the ministership. But some intuition held him back. She was another power broker. He knew she had been vindictive in the past.

She gave him a shrewd smile. “I understand you have charmed the Emperor with a theory of history.”

“At the moment it is little better than a description.”

“A sort of summary?”

“Breakthroughs for the brilliant, syntheses for the driven.”

“Surely you know there is an air of futility about such an ambition.” A gleam of steel in the pale eyes.

“ I was…unaware. Madam.”

“Science is simply an arbitrary construct. It perpetuates the discredited notion that progress is always possible. Let alone desirable.”

“Oh?” He had plastered a polite smile on his face and was damned if he would let it slip.

“Only oppressive social orders emerge from such ideas. Science’s purported objectivity hides the plain fact that it is simply one ‘language game’ among others. All such arbitrary configurations sit in a conceptual universe of competing discourses.”

“I see.” The smile was getting heavier. His face felt like it would crack.

“To elevate scientific-” she sniffed disdainfully “-so-called ‘truths’ over other constructions is tantamount to colonizing the intellectual landscape. To enslaving one’s opposition!”

“Ummm.” He had a sinking feeling that he was not going to last long as a door mat. “Before you even consider the subject, you claim to know the best way to study it?”

“Social theory and linguistic analysis have the final power, since all truths have quite limited historical and cultural validity. Therefore, this ‘psychohistory’ of all societies is absurd.”

So she knew the term; word was spreading. “Perhaps you have insufficient regard for the rough rub of the real.”

A slight thawing. “Clever phrasing, Academician. Still, the category ‘real’ is a social construction.”

“Look, of course science is a social process. But scientific theories don’t merely reflect society.”

“How charming to still think so.” A wan smile failed to conceal the icy gleam in her eyes.

“Theories are not mere changes of fashion, like shifting men’s skirts from short to long.”

“Academician, you must know that there is nothing knowable beyond human discourses.”

He kept his voice level, courteous. Point out that she had used “know” in two contradictory ways in the same sentence? No, that would be playing word games, which would subtly support her views. “Sure, mountain climbers might argue and theorize about the best route to the top-”

“Always in ways conditioned by their history and social structures-”

“-but once they get there, they know it. Nobody would say they ‘constructed the mountain.”‘

She pursed her lips and had another foggy-white stim. “Ummm. Elementary realism. But all of your ‘facts’ embody theory. Ways of seeing.”

“I can’t help noticing that anthropologists, sociologists-the whole gang-get a delicious rush of superiority by denying the objective reality of the hard sciences’ discoveries.”

She drew herself up. “There are no elemental truths that exist independent of the people, languages, and cultures that make them.”

“You don’t believe in objective reality, then?”

“Who’s the object?”

He had to laugh. “Language play. So linguistic structures dictate how we see?”

“Isn’t that obvious? We live in a galaxy rich in cultures, all seeing the Galaxy their way.”

“But obeying laws. Plenty of research shows that thought and perception precede talk, exist independent of language.”

“What laws?”

“Laws of social movement. A theory of social history-if we had one.”

“You attempt the impossible. And if you wish to be First Minister, enjoying the support of your fellow academics and meritocrats, you shall have to follow the prevailing view of our society. Modern learning is animated by a frank incredulity toward such meta-narratives.”

He was sorely tempted to say, Then you are going to be surprised, but instead said, “We shall see.”

“We don’t see things as they are,” the learned lady said, “we see them as we are.”

With a touch of sadness, he realized that the republic of intellectual inquiry was, like the Empire, not free of internal decay.

6.

The Academic Potentate led him out with ritual words to smooth the way, and Dors was standing attentively at the grand entrance. Still, Hari had gotten the essential message: the academic meritocracy would back him for First Minister if he at least paid lip service to prevailing orthodoxy.

Together, with the customary academic honor guard, they went down into the vast rotunda. This was a dizzying bowl with various scholarly disciplines represented by the full regalia and insignia, splashed across immense wall designs. Below them swirled a chattering mob, thousands of the finest minds gathered for speeches, learned reports, and of course much infighting of the very finest sort.

“Think we can survive this?” Hari whispered.

“Don’t let go,” Dors said, seizing his hand.

He realized that she had taken his question literally.

A little later the Academic Potentate wasn’t making a show of savoring the bouquet of the stims anymore, just sucking them up like one of the major food groups. She steered Hari and Dors from one cluster of the learned to another. Occasionally she would remember her role as hostess and feign interest in him as more than a chess piece in a larger game. Unfortunately these blunt attempts fastened upon inquiries into his personal life.

Dors resisted these inquisitions, of course, smiling and shaking her head. When the Potentate turned to Hari and asked, “Do you exercise?” he could not resist replying, “I exercise restraint.”

The Protocol Officer frowned, but Hari’s remark went unnoticed in the jostling throng. He found the company of his fellow members of the professoriat oddly off-putting. Their conversations had a directionless irony, which conveyed with raised eyebrows and arch tones the speaker’s superiority to everything he was commenting upon.

Their acerbic paradoxes and stiletto humor struck Hari as irritating and beside the point. He knew well that the most savage controversies are about matters for which there is no good evidence either way. Still, there was a mannered desperation even to the scientists.

Fundamental physics and cosmology had been well worked out far back in antiquity. Now all of Imperial scientific history dealt with teasing out intricate details and searching for clever applications. Humankind was trapped in a cosmos steadily expanding, though slowing slightly, and destined to see the stars wink out. A slow, cool glide into an indefinite future was ordained by the mass-energy content present at the very conception of the universe. Humans could do nothing against that fate. Except, of course, understand it.

So the grandest of intellectual territories had been opened, and that can only be done once. Now scientists were less like discoverers than like settlers, even tourists.

He should not be surprised, he realized, to find that even the best of them, gathered from an entire Galaxy, should have an air of jaded brilliance, like tarnished gold.

Meritocrats did not have many children and there was an airy sterility about them. Hari wondered if there was a middle ground between the staleness he felt here and the chaos of the “renaissances” sprouting up on Chaos Worlds. Perhaps he needed to know more about basic human nature.

The Protocol Officer steered him down a spiral air ramp, electrostatics seizing them and gently lowering the party toward-he looked down with trepidation-the obligatory media people. He braced himself. Dors squeezed his hand. “Do you have to talk to them?”

He sighed. “If I ignore them, they will report that.”

“Let Lamurk amuse them.”

“No.” His eyes narrowed. “Since I’m in this, I might as well play to win.”

Her eyes widened with revelation. “You’ve decided, haven’t you?”

“To try? You bet.”

“What happened?”

“That woman back there, the Potentate. She and her kind think the world’s just a set of opinions.”

“What has that got to do with Lamurk?”

“I can’t explain it. They’re all part of the decay. Maybe that’s it.”

She studied his face. “I’ll never understand you.”

“Good. That would be dull, yes?”

The media pack approached, 30 snouts aimed like weapons.

Hari whispered to Dors, “Every interview begins as a seduction and ends as a betrayal.” They descended.

“Academician Seldon, you are known as a mathist, a candidate First Minister, and a Heliconian. You-”

“I only realized I was a Heliconian when I came to Trantor.”

“And your career as a mathist-”

“I only realized that I thought as a mathist when I began meeting politicians.”

“Well then, as a politician-”

“I am still a Heliconian.” This drew some laughter.

“You prize the traditional, then?”

“If it works.”

“We be not open to old ideas,” a willowy woman from the Fornax Zone said. “Future of Empire comes from people, not laws. Agree?”

She was a Rational, using their stripped-down, utterly orderly Galactic, free of irregular verbs and complex constructions. Hari could follow it well enough, but for him the odd swerves and turns of Classical Galactic embodied its charm.

To Hari’s delight, several people disagreed with her formulated question, shouting. In the noise he reflected on the infinity of human cultures, represented in this vast bowl and still united under Classical Galactic.

The language’s sturdy base had stitched together the early Empire. For many millennia now the language had sat on its laurels, admittedly. He had added a small interaction term to his equations to allow for the cultural ripples excited by the splashing of a new argot into the linguistic pool. The ancient ruffles and flourishes of Galactic allowed subtleties denied the Rationals-or Rats, as some called them-and the fun of puns as well.

He tried to make this case to the woman, but she retorted, “Not support oddity! Support order. Old ways failed. As mathist you will be too”

“Come now!” Hari said, irked. “Even in closed axiomatic systems, not all propositions are decidable. I suggest you cannot predict what I would do as a First Minister.”

“Think you Council submits to reason?” the woman asked haughtily.

“It is the triumph of reason to get on well with those who possess none,” Hari said. To his surprise, some applauded.

“Your theory of history denies God’s powers to intervene in human affairs!” a thin man from a low-grav planet asserted. “What say you to that?”

Hari was about to agree-it seemed to make no difference to him-when Dors stepped before him.

“Perhaps I can bring up a bit of research, since this is an academic proceeding.” She smiled smoothly. “I ran across an historian of about a thousand years ago who had tested for the power of prayer. “

Hari’s mouth made a surprised, skeptical 0. The thin man demanded, “How could one scientifically-”

“He reasoned that the people most prayed for were the most famous. Yet they had to be exalted, above the fray.”

“The emperors?” The thin man was rapt.

“Exactly. And their lesser family members. He analyzed their mortality rates.”

Hari had never heard this, but his innate skepticism demanded detail. “Allowing for their better medical care, and safety from ordinary accidents?”

Dors grinned. “Of course. Plus their risk of assassination.”

The thin man did not know where this line of attack was going, but his curiosity got the better of him. “And…?”

Dors said, “He found that emperors died earlier than unprayed-for people.”

The thin man looked shocked, angry. Hari asked Dors, “What was the root mean deviation?”

“Always the skeptic! Not sufficient to prove that prayer had an actually harmful effect.”

“Ah.” The crowd seemed to find this example of tag-team puffery entertaining. Best to leave them wanting more. “Thank you,” he said, and they melted away behind a screen of Specials.

That left the crowd itself. Cleon had urged him to mingle with these folk, supposedly his basic power base, the meritocrats. Hari wrinkled his nose and nonetheless plunged in.

It was a matter of style, he realized after the first thirty minutes.

He had learned early in rural Helicon to place great store in good manners and civility. Among the alert, hard-edged academics he had found many who seemed poorly socialized, until he realized that they were operating out of a different culture, where cleverness mattered more than grace. Their subtle shadings of voice carried arrogance and assurance in precarious balance, which in unguarded moments tilted into acerbic, cutting judgment, often without even the appealing veneer of wit. He had to make himself remember to say “With all due respect,” at the beginning of an argument, and even to mean it.

Then there were the unspoken elements.

Among the fast-track circles, body language was essential, a taught skill. There were carefully designed poses for Confidence, Impatience, Submission (four shadings), Threat, Esteem, Coyness and dozens more. Codified and understood unconsciously, each induced a specific desired neurological state in both self and others. The rudiments for a full-blown craft lay in dance, politics, and the martial arts. By being systematic, much more could be conveyed. As with language, a dictionary helped.

A nonlinear philosopher of Galaxy-wide fame gave Hari a beaming smile, body language screaming self-confidence, and said, “Surely, Professor, you cannot maintain that your attempt to import math into history can somehow work? People can be what they wish. No equations will make them otherwise.”

“I seek to describe, that’s all.”

“No grand theory of history, then?”

Avoid a direct denial, he thought. “I will know I’m on the right track when I can simply describe a bit of human nature.”

“Ah, but that scarcely exists,” the man said with assurance, arms and chest turned adroitly.

“Of course there’s a human nature!” Hari shot back.

A pitying smile, a lazy shrug. “Why should there be?”

“Heredity interacts with environment to tug us back toward a fixed mean. It gathers people in all societies, across millions of worlds, into the narrow statistical circle that we must call human nature.”

“I don’t think there are enough general traits-”

“Parent-child bonding. Division of labor between the sexes.”

“Well, surely that’s common among all animals. I-”

“Incest avoidance. Altruism-we call it ‘humanitarianism,’ a telling clue, eh?-toward our near kin.”

“Well, those are just normal family-”

“Look at the dark side. Suspicion of strangers. Tribalism-witness Trantor’s eight hundred Sectors! Hierarchies in even the smallest groups, from the Emperor’s court to a bowling team.”

“Surely you can’t make such leaps, such simplistic, grotesque comparisons-”

“I can and do. Male dominance, generally, and when resources are scarce, marked territorial aggression.”

“These are little traits.”

“They link us. The sophisticated Trantorian and an Arcadian farmer can still understand each other’s lives, for the simple reason that their common humanity lives in the genes they share from many tens of millennia ago.”

This outburst was not received well. Faces wrinkled, mouths pouched in disapproval.

Hari saw he had overstepped. What’s more, he had nearly exposed psychohistory.

Yet he found it hard to not speak frankly. In his view the humanities and social sciences shrank to specialized branches of both mathematics and biology. History, biography, and fiction were symptoms. Anthropology and sociology together became the sociobiology of a single species. But he could not get a feel for how to include that in the equations. He had spoken out, he saw suddenly, because he was frustrated-by his own lack of understanding.

Still, that did not excuse his stupidity. He opened his mouth to smooth over the waters.

He saw the agitated man coming up on his left. Mouth awry, eyes white, hand-extended, poking forward, a tube in it, chromed and sleek and with a precise hole at the tip, a dark spot that expanded as he looked at it until it seemed like the Eater of All Things that lurked at Galactic Center, immense

Dors hit the man quite expertly. She deflected the arm up, jabbed him in the throat, struck next at the belly. Then she twisted the arm and forced him into a quarter-turn, her left leg coming around and cutting his feet from beneath him, her right hand forcing the head down-

And they struck the floor solidly, Dors on top, the gun skittering away among the shoes of the crowd-which was falling back in panic.

Specials blocked in around him and he saw no more. He shouted to Dors. Screams and shouts hammered at him from all sides.

More bedlam. Then he was clear of the Specials and the man was getting up and Dors was standing, holding the pistol, shaking her head. The man who had pointed it struggled to his feet.

“A recording tube,” she said in disgust.

“What?” Hari could barely hear in the noise.

The man’s left arm was sticking out at a wrong angle, plainly broken. “I-I agreed with your every word,” the man croaked out, his face a ghastly white. “Really.”

7.

Hari’s father had derisively referred to most public affairs as “dust-ups” -a big cloud on the horizon, a tiny speck underneath. His lip had curled back in a farmer’s disdain for making more of a thing than it was.

The incident at the Grand Imperial Universities Colloquy had become a grand dustup. Fully 3D’d, the scandal-PROF’S WIFE SOCKS FAN-burgeoned with each replaying.

Cleon called, tsk-tsking, and commenting broadly on how wives could be a burden in high office. “This will hurt your candidacy, I fear,” he had said. “I must do some mending.”

Hari did not report this to Dors. Cleon’s hint was clear. It was common practice among Imperial circles to divorce on grounds of general unsuitability-which meant unfashionability. In matters of vast power, appetite for more often overwhelmed all other emotions, even love.

He went home, irked by this conversation, to find Dors at work in the kitchen. She had her arms open-literally, not in greeting.

The epidermis hung loose, as if she had pulled a tight glove halfway off. Veins interlaced with the artificial neural net and she was working with tiny tools among them. Supple skin peeled back in a curved line down from elbow to wrist, moist crimson and intricate electronics. She was working on the augmented wrist, a thin yellow collar that did not look as though it could take three times the normal human’s impact.

“That fellow damaged you?”

“No, I did it to myself-or rather, overdid it.”

“A sprain?”

She smiled without humor. “My pivots don’t sprain. The collar mounts don’t mend. I’m replacing them.”

“Jobs like this, it’s not the parts, it’s the labor.”

She looked at him quizzically and he decided not to pursue the joke. He normally put from his mind the fact that his true love was a robot-or more accurately, a humaniform, vastly technically assisted, human-robot synthesis.

She had come to him through R. Daneel Olivaw, the ancient positronic robot who had saved Hari when he first came to Trantor and ran afoul of nasty political forces. She had been assigned at first as a bodyguard. He had known what she was from the start, at least approximately, but that did not prevent him from falling in love with her. Intelligence, character, charm, a simmering sexuality-these were not purely human facets, he had learned-by direct example.

He got her a drink as she worked, biding his time. He had ceased to be amazed by her repair work, often carried out on an utterly unsanitized field. There were antimicrobial methods available to the humaniform robots that could not work for ordinary humans, she had said. He had no idea how this could be. She discouraged further discussion, often deflecting him with passion. He had to admit that as a ploy this was completely effective.

She rolled her skin back into place, grimacing at the pain. She could shut off whole sections of her superficial nervous system, he knew, but kept a few strands alert as a diagnostic. The tabs self-sealed with pops and purrs.

“Let’s see.” She paused, feeling each wrist in turn. Two quick snaps. “They lock in fine.”

“Most people, you know, would find this sight quite unsettling.”

“That’s why I don’t do it on the way to work.”

“Very public spirited of you.”

They both knew she would be hounded down if there were any suspicion of her true nature. Robots of advanced capability had been illegal for millennia. Tiktoks were acceptable precisely because they were low-grade intelligences, rigorously held below the threshold of legally defined sentience. Violating those standards in manufacture was a capital crime, an Imperial violation, no exceptions. And strong, ancient emotions backed up the law: the Junin Sector riots had proved that.

Numerical simulations were similarly restricted. That was why the Voltaire and Joan sims, developed by the “New Renaissance” hotheads on Sark, had been carefully tailored to squeeze through algorithmic loopholes. Apparently that Marq fellow at Artifice Associates had souped up the Voltaire at the last minute. Since the sim was then erased, the violation had escaped detection.

Hari did not like having even a slight connection to crime, but he now realized that this was foolishness. Already his entire life revolved around Dors, a hidden pariah.

“I’m going to withdraw from the First Minister business,” he said decisively.

She blinked. “Me.”

She was always quick. “Yes.”

“We had agreed that the risk of increased scrutiny was worth gaining some power.”

“To protect psychohistory. But I expected very little of the spotlight to fall upon you. Now-”

“I am an embarrassment.”

“Coming in downstairs, there were a dozen 3D snouts pointing at me. They’re waiting for you.”

“I will stay here, then.”

“For how long?”

“The Specials can take me out through a new entrance. They’ve cut one and installed an agrav shaft.”

“You can’t avoid them forever, darling.”

She got up and embraced him. “Even if they find me out, I can go away.”

“If you’re lucky and escape. Even if you do, I can’t live without you. I won’t-”

“I could be transformed.”

“Another body?”

“A different one. Skin, corneas, some neural signatures changed.”

“File the serial numbers off and send you back?”

She stiffened in his arms. “Yes.”

“What can’t your…kind…do?”

“We cannot invent psychohistory.”

He whirled away from her in frustration and smacked his palm against a wall. “Damn it, nothing is as important as us.”

“I feel the same. But now I think it is even more important for you to remain a candidate for First Minister.”

“Why?” He paced around their living room, eyes darting.

“You are a player for very high stakes. Whoever wishes to assassinate you-”

“Lamurk, Cleon believes.”

“-will probably see that merely withdrawing your candidacy is no firm solution. The Emperor could reintroduce you into the game at any later time.”

“I don’t like being treated as a chess piece.”

“A knight?-yes, I can see you that way. Do not forget that there are other suspects, factions which may wish you out of the way.”

“Such as?’’

“The Academic Potentate.”

“But she’s a scholar, like me!”

Was.She is now a player on the chessboard.”

“Not the queen, I hope.”

Dors kissed him lightly. “I should mention that my ferret programs turned up a plausibility matrix for Lamurk’s behavior, based on his past. He has eliminated at least half a dozen rivals on his rise to the top. He is something of a traditionalist in method, as well.”

“My, that’s comforting.”

She gave him an odd, pensive glance. “His rivals were all knifed. The classic dispatch of historical intrigue.”

“I wouldn’t suspect Lamurk to have such an eye for our Imperial heritage.”

“He is a classicist. In his view, you are a pawn, one best swept from the board.”

“A rather bloodless way to put it.”

“I am taught-and built-to assess and act coolly.”

“How do you reconcile your ability-in fact, let’s not put too fine a point on it, your relish-at the prospect of killing a person in my defense?”

“The Zeroth Law. “

“Um.” He recited, “Humanity as a whole is placed above the fate of a single human.”

“I do feel pain from First Law interaction…”

“So the First Law, now modified, is,, A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate the Zeroth Law of Robotics’?”

“Exactly. “

“This is another game you play. With very tough rules.”

“It is a larger game.”

“And psychohistory is a potential new set of game plans?”

“In a way.” Her voice softened and she embraced him. “You should not trouble yourself so. What we have is a private paradise.”

“But the damned games, they always go on.”

“They must.”

He kissed her longingly, but something inside him seethed and spun, an armature whirring fruitlessly in surrounding darkness.

8.

Yugo was waiting in his office the next morning. Face flushed, wide-eyed, he demanded, “What can you do?”

“Uh, about what?”

“The news! The Safeguards stormed the Bastion.”

“Uh, oh.” Hari vaguely recalled that a Dahlite faction had staged a minor revolt and holed up in a redoubt. Negotiations had dragged on. Yes, and Yugo had told him about it, several times. “It’s a local Trantorian issue, isn’t it?”

“That’s the way we kept it!” Yugo’s hands flew in elaborate gestures, like birds taking frenzied flight. “Then the Safeguards came in. No warning. Killed over four hundred. Blew ‘em apart, blasters on full, no warning.”

“Astonishing,” Hari said in what he hoped was a sympathetic tone.

In fact he did not care a microgram for one side of this argument or the other-and did not know the arguments, anyway. He had never cared for the world’s day-to-day turbulence, which agitated the mind without teaching anything. The whole point of psychohistory, which emerged from his personality as much as his analytic ability, was to study climate and ignore weather.

“Can’t you do something?”

“What?”

“Protest to the Emperor!”

“He will ignore me. This is a Trantorian issue and-”

“This is an insult to you, too.”

“It can’t be.” To not appear totally out of it, he added, “I’ve deliberately kept well away from the issue-”

“But Lamurk did this!”

That startled him. “What? Lamurk has no power on Trantor. He’s an Imperial Regent.”

“C’mon, Hari, nobody believes that old separation of powers stuff. It broke down long ago.”

Hari almost said, It did?, but just in time realized that Yugo was right. He had simply not added up the effects of the long, slow erosion in the Imperial structures. Those entered as factors on the right-hand side of the equations, but he never thought of the decay in solid, local terms. “So you think it’s a move to gain influence on the High Council?”

“Must be,” Yugo fumed. “Those Regents, they don’t like unruly folk livin’ near ‘em. They want Trantor nice and orderly, even if people get trampled.”

Hari ventured, “The representation issue again, is it?”

“Damn right! We got Dahlites all over Muscle Shoals Sector. But can we get a representative? Hell, no! Got to beg and plead-”

“I…I will do what I can.” Hari held up his hands to cut off the tirade.

“The Emperor, he’ll straighten things out.”

Hari knew from direct observation that the Emperor would do no such thing. He cared nothing of how Trantor was run, as long as he could see no burning districts from the palace. Cleon had often remarked, “I am Emperor of a galaxy, not a city.”

Yugo left and Hari’s desk chimed. “Imperial Specials’ captain to see you, sir.”

“I told them to remain outside.”

“He requests audience, bearing a message.”

Hari sighed. He had meant to get some thinking done today.

The captain entered stiffly and refused a chair. “I am here to respectfully forward the recommendations of the Specials Board, Academician.”

“A letter would suffice. In fact, do that-send me a note. I have work to-”

“Sir, most respectfully, I must discuss this.”

Hari sank into his chair and waved permission. The man looked uncomfortable, standing stiffly as he said, “The board requests that the Academician’s wife not accompany him to state functions.”

“Ah, so someone has yielded to pressure.”

“It is further directed that your wife not be allowed into the palace at all.”

“What? That seems extreme.”

“I am sorry to bear such a message, sir. I was there and I told the board that the lady had good reason to become alarmed.”

“And to break the fellow’s arm.”

The captain almost allowed himself a smile. “Got to admit, she’s faster than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

And you’re wondering why, aren’t you?“Who was the fellow?”

The captain’s brow furrowed. “Looks to be a Spiral Academician, one grade above you, sir. But some say he’s more a political type.”

Hari waited, but the man said no more, just looked as though he wanted to. “Allied with what faction?”

“Might be that Lamurk, sir.”

“Any evidence?”

“Nossir.”

Hari sighed. Politics was not only an inexact craft, it seldom had any reliable data, either. “Very well. Message received.”

The captain left quickly, with visible relief. Before Hari could wave his computer into life, a delegation from his own faculty showed up. They filed in silently, the portal crackling as it inspected each of them. Hari caught himself smiling at the procedure. If there was a profession least likely to yield an assassin, it had to be the mathists.

“We are here to submit our considered opinion,” a Professor Aangon said formally.

“Do so,” Hari said. Normally he would deploy his skimpy skills and do a bit of social mending; he had been neglecting university business lately, stealing time from bureaucratic chores to devote to equations.

Aangon said, “First, rumors of a ‘theory of history’ have brought scorn to our department. We-”

“There is no such theory. Only some descriptive analysis.”

An outright denial confused Aangon, but he plowed ahead. “Uh, second, we deplore the apparent choice of your assistant, Yugo Amaryl, as department head, should you resign. It is an affront to senior faculty-vastly senior-above a junior mathist of, shall we say, minimal social bearing.”

“Meaning?” Hari said ominously.

“We do not believe politics should enter into academic decisions. The insurrection of Dahlites, which Amaryl has vocally supported, and which has now been put down only through Imperial resolve, and actual armed force, makes him unsuitable-”

“Enough. Your third point.”

“There is the matter of the assault upon a member of our profession.”

“A member-oh, the fellow my wife…?”

“Indeed, an indignity without parallel, an outrage, by a member of your family. It makes your position here untenable.”

If someone had planned the incident, they were certainly getting their mileage out of it. “I reject that.”

Professor Aangon’s eyes became flinty. The other faculty had been shuffling around, uneasy, and now were bunched behind him. Hari had no doubts about who this group wanted to be the next chairman. “I should think that a vote of no confidence by the full faculty, in a formal meeting-”

“Don’t threaten me.”

“I am merely pointing out that while your attention is directed elsewhere”

“The First Ministership.”

“-you can scarcely be expected to carry out your duties-”

“Skip it. To hold a formal meeting, the chairman must call one.”

The bunch of professors rustled, but nobody said anything.

“And I won’t.”

“You can’t go for long without carrying out business which requires our consent,” Aangon said shrewdly.

“I know. Let’s see how long that can be.”

“You really must reconsider. We-”

“Out.”

“What? You cannot-”

“Out. Go.”

They went.

9.

It is never easy to deal with criticism, especially when there is every chance that it might be right.

Aside from the eternal maneuvering for position and status, Hari knew that his fellow meritocrats from the Academic Potentate to the members of his own department, with legions in between-had deeply felt grounds for objecting to what he was doing.

They had caught a whiff of psychohistory, wafted by rumor. That alone put their hackles up, stiff and sensitive. They could not accept the possibility that humanity could not control its own future-that history was the result of forces acting beyond the horizons of mere mortal men. Could they already be sniffing at a truth Hari knew from elaborate, decades-long study-that the Empire had endured because of its higher, metanature, not the valiant acts of individuals, or even of worlds?

People of all stripes believed in human selfdetermination. Usually they started from a gut feeling that they acted on their own, that they had reached their opinions on the basis of internal reasoning-that is, they argued from the premises of the paradigm itself. This was circular, of course. but that did not make such arguments wrong or even ineffectual. As persuasion, the feeling of being in control was powerful. Everyone wanted to believe they were masters of their own fate. Logic had nothing to do with it.

And who was he to say they were wrong?

“Hari?”

It was Yugo, looking a bit timid. “Come in, friend.”

“We got a funny request just a minute ago. Some research institute I never heard of offerin’ us significant money.”

“For what?” Money was always handy.

“In return for the base file on those sims from Sark.”

“Voltaire and Joan? The answer is no. Who wants them?”

“Dunno. We got ‘em, all filed away. The originals.”

“Find out who’s asking.”

“I tried. Can’t trace the prompt.”

“Ummm. That’s odd.”

“That’s why I thought I’d tell you. Smells funny.”

“Keep up a tracing program, in case they ask again.”

“Yessir. And about the Dahlite Bastion-”

“Give it a rest.”

“I mean, look at how the Imperials squashed that Junin mess!”

Hari let Yugo go on. He had long ago mastered the academic art of appearing to pay rapt attention while his mind worked a spiral arm away.

He knew he would have to speak to the Emperor about the Dahlite matter, and not only to counter Lamurk’s move-an audacious one, within the traditionally inviolate realm of Trantor. A quick, bloody solution to a tough issue. Clean, brutal.

The Dahlites had a case: they were underrepresented. And unpopular. And reactionary.

The fact that Dahlites-except for prodigies lifted up by the scruff of their neck, like Yugo-were hostile to the usual instincts of a scientific mind made no difference.

In fact, Hari was beginning to doubt whether the stiff, formal scientific establishment was worthy of high regard any longer. All around him he saw corruption of the impartiality of science, from the boonsmanship networking to the currying of Imperial scraps which passed for a promotion system.

Just yesterday he had been visited by a Dean of Adjustments who had advised, with oily logic, that Hari use some of his Imperial power to confer a boon upon a professor who had done very little work, but who had family ties to the High Council.

The dean had said quite sincerely, “Don’t you think it is in the better interests of the university that you grant a small boon to one with influence?” When Hari did not, he nonetheless called the fellow to tell him why.

The dean was astonished with such honesty. Only later did Hari decide that the dean was right, within his own logic system. If boons were mere benefits, simple largess, then why not confer them wholly on political grounds? It was an alien way of thinking, but consistent, he had to admit.

Hari sighed. When Yugo paused in his vehement tirade, Hari smiled. No, wrong response. A worried frown-there, that did it. Yugo launched back into rapid talk, arms taking wing, epithets stacked to improbable heights.

Hari realized that the mere exposure to politics as it truly was, the brutal struggle of blind swarms in shadow, had raised doubts about his own, rather smug, positions. Was the science he had so firmly believed in back on Helicon truly as useful to people like the Dahlites as he imagined?

So his musing came around to his equations: Could the Empire ever be driven by reason and moral decision, rather than power and wealth? Theocracies had tried, and failed. Scientocracies, rather more rarely, had been too rigid to last.

“-and I said, sure, Hari can do that,” Yugo finished.

“Uh, what?”

“Back the Alphoso plan for Dahlite representation, of course.”

“I will think about it,” Hari said to cover. “Meanwhile, let’s hear a report on that longevity angle you were pursuing.”

“I gave it to three of those new research assistants,” Yugo said soberly, his Dahlite energies expended. “They couldn’t make sense of it.”

“If you’re a lousy hunter, the woods are always empty.”

Yugo’s startled look made Hari wonder if he was getting a bit crusty. Politics was taking its toll.

“So I worked the longevity factor into the equations, just to see. Here-” he slid an ellipsoidal data-core into Hari’s desk reader “-watch what happens.”

One persistent heritage of pre-antiquity was the standard Galactic Year, used by all worlds of the Imperium in official business. Hari had always wondered: Was it a signature of Earth’s orbital period? With its twelve-based year of twelve months, each of twenty-eight days, it suggested as candidate worlds a mere 1,224,675 from the 25 million of the Empire. Yet spins, precessions, and satellite resonances perturbed all planetary periods. Not a single world of those 1,224,675 fit the G.E. calendar exactly. Over 17,000 came quite close.

Yugo started explaining his results. One curious feature of Empire history was the human lifespan. It was still about l00 years, but some early writings suggested that these were nearly twice as long as the “primordial year” (as one text had it), which was “natural” to humans. If so, people lived nearly twice as long as in pre-Imperial eras. Indefinite extension of the lifespan was impossible; biology always won, in the end. New maladies moved into the niche provided by the human body.

“I got the basics on this from Dors-sharp lady,” Yugo said. “Watch this data-flash.” Curves, 30 projections, sliding sheets of correlations.

The collision between biological science and human culture was always intense, often damaging. It usually led to a free-market policy, in which parents could select desirable traits for their children.

Some opted for longevity, increasing to 125, then even 150 years. When a majority were long-lived, such planetary societies faltered. Why?

“So I traced the equations, watching for outside influences,” Yugo went on. Gone was the fevered Dahlite; here was the brilliance that had made Hari pluck Yugo out of a sweltering deep-layer job, decades ago.

Through the equations’ graceful, deceptive sinuosity, he had found a curious resonance. There were underlying cycles in economics and politics, well understood, of about 120 to 150 years.

When the human life span reached those ranges, a destructive feedback began. Markets became jagged landscapes, peaking and plunging. Cultures lurched from extravagant excess to puritanical constriction. Within a few centuries, chaos destroyed most of the bioscience capability, or else religious restrictions smothered it. The mean lifespan slid down again.

“How strange,” Hari said, observing the severe curves of the cycles, their arcs crashing into splintered spokes. “I’ve always wondered why we don’t live longer.”

“There’s great social pressure against it. Now we know where it comes from.”

“Still…I’d like to have a centuries-long, productive life.”

Yugo grinned. “Look at the media-plays, legends, holos. The very old are always ugly, greedy misers, trying to keep everything for themselves.”

“Ummm. True, usually.”

“And myths. Those who rise from the dead. Vampires. Mummies. They’re always evil.”

“No exceptions?”

Yugo nodded. “Dors pulled some really old ones out for me. There was that ancient martyr-Jesu, wasn’t it?”

“Some sort of resurrection myth?”

“Dors says Jesu probably wasn’t a real person. That’s what the scattered, ancient texts say. The whole myth is prob’ly a collective psychodream. You’ll notice, once he was back from the dead, he didn’t stay around very long.”

“Rose into heaven, wasn’t it?”

“Left town in a hurry, anyway. People don’t want you around, even if you’ve beaten the Reaper.”

Yugo pointed at the curves, converging on disaster. “At least we can understand why most societies learn not to let people live too long.”

Hari studied the event-surfaces. “Ah, but who learns?”

“Huh? People, one way or the other.”

“But no single person ever knew-” his finger jabbed “-this.”

“The knowledge gets embedded in taboos, legends, laws.”

“Ummm.” There was an idea here, something larger looming just beyond his intuitions…and it slipped away. He would have to wait for it to revisit him-if he ever, these days, got the time to listen to the small, quiet voice that slipped by, whispering, like a shadowy figure on a foggy street…

Hari shook himself. “Good work, this. I’m considerably impressed. Publish it.”

“Thought we were keepin’ psychohistory quiet.”

“This is a small element. People will think the rumors are tarted-up versions of this.”

“Psychohistory can’t work if people know.”

“It’s safe. The longevity element will get plenty of coverage and stop speculation.”

“It’ll be a cover, then, against the Imperial snoops?”

“Exactly. “

Yugo grinned. “Funny, how they spy even on an ‘ornament to the Imperium’-that’s what Cleon called you before the Regal Reception last week.”

“He did? I didn’t catch that.”

“Workin’ too much on those Boon Deeds. You got to hand off that stuff.”

“We need more resources for psychohistory.”

“Why not just get some money funneled through from the Emperor?”

“Lamurk would find out, use it against me. Favoritism in the High Council proceedings and so on. You could write the story yourself.”

“Um, maybe so. Sure would be a whole lot easier, though.”

“The idea is to keep our heads down. A void scandal, let Cleon do his diplomatic dance.”

“Cleon also said you were a ‘flower of intellect.’ I recorded it for you.”

“Forget it. Flowers that grow too high get picked.”

10.

Dors got as far as the palace high vestibule. There the Imperial Guard turned her back.

“Damn it, she’s my wife,” Hari said angrily.

“Sorry, it’s a Peremptory Order,” the bland court official said. Hari could hear the capital letters. The phalanx of Specials around Hari did not intimidate this fellow; he wondered if anyone could.

“Look,” he said to Dors, “there’s a bit of time before the meeting. Let’s eat a bit at the High Reception.”

She bristled. “You’re not going in?”

“I thought you understood. I have to. Cleon’s called this meeting-”

“At Lamurk’s instigation.”

“Sure, it’s about this Dahlite business.”

“And that man I knocked down at the reception, he might have been instigated to do it by-”

“Right, Lamurk.” Hari smiled. “All wormholes lead to Lamurk.”

“Don’t forget the Academic Potentate.”

“She’s on my side!”

She wants the ministership, Hari. All the rumor mills say so.”

“She can damn well have it,” he grumbled.

“I can’t let you go in there.”

“This is the palace.” He swept his arm at the ranks of blue-and-gold in the vast portal. “Imperials all around.”

“I do not like it.”

“Look, we agreed I’d try to bluster past-and it failed, just as I said. Fair enough. You would never pass the weapons checks, anyway.”

Her teeth bit delicately into her lower lip, but she said nothing. No humaniforrn could ever get through the intense weapons screen here.

He said calmly, “So I go in, argue, meet you out here”

“You have the maps and data I organized?”

“Sure, chip embedded. I can read it with a triple blink.”

He had a carrychip embedded in his neck for data hauling, an invaluable aid at mathist conferences. Standard gear, readily accessed. A microlaser wrote an image on the back of the retina-colors, 3D, a nifty graphics package. She had installed a lot of maps and background on the Imperium, the palace, recent legislation, notable events, anything that might come up in discussions and protocols.

Her severe expression dissolved and he saw the woman beneath. “I just…please…watch yourself.”

He kissed her on the nose. “Always do.”

They patrolled among the legions of hangers-on who thronged the vestibule, snagging the appetizers which floated by on platters. “Empire’s going bankrupt and they can afford this,” Hari sniffed.

“It is time-honored,” Dors said. “Beaumunn the Bountiful disliked delay in consuming meals, which was indeed his principal activity. He ordered that each of his estates prepare all four daily meals for him, on the chance that he might be there. The excess is given out this way.”

Hari would not have believed such an unlikely story had it not come from an historian. There were knots of people who plainly lived here, using some minor functionary position for an infinite banquet. He and Dors drifted among them, wearing refractory vapors which muddled the appearance. Recognition would bring parasites.

“Even amid all this swank, you’re thinking about that Voltaire problem, aren’t you?” she whispered.

“Trying to figure out how somebody copied him-it-out of our files.”

“And someone had requested it, just hours before?” She scowled. “When you turned it down, they simply stole it.”

“Probably Imperial agents.”

“I don’t like it. They may be trying to implicate you further in the whole Junin scandal.”

“Still, the old anti-sim taboo is breaking down.” He toasted her. “Let’s forget it. These days, it’s either sims or stims.”

There were several thousand people beneath the sculpted dome. To test the man-woman team shadowing them, Dors led him on a random path. Hari tired rapidly of such skullduggery. Dors, ever the student of society, pointed out the famous. She seemed to think this would thrill him, or at least distract him from the meeting to come. A few recognized him, despite the refraction vapors, and they had to stop and talk. Nothing of substance was ever said at such functions, of course, by long tradition.

“Time to go in,” Dors warned him.

“Spotted the shadows?”

“Three, I think. If they follow you into the palace, I’ll tell the Specials captain.”

“Don’t worry. No weapons allowed in the palace, remember.”

“Patterns bother me more than possibilities. The assassination tab delayed detonation just long enough for you to discard it. But it did make me wary enough to attack that professor.”

“Which got you banned from the palace.” Hari completed the thought. “You’re giving people a lot of credit for intricate maneuvers.”

“You haven’t read very much history of Imperial politics, have you?”

“Thank God, no.”

“It would only trouble you,” she said, kissing him with sudden, surprising fervor. “And worry is my job.”

“I’ll see you in a few hours,” Hari said as casually as he could manage, despite a dark premonition. He added to himself, I hope.

He entered the palace proper through the usual arms checks and protocol officers. Nothing, not even a carbon knife or implosion nugget, could escape their many-snouted sniffers and squinters. Millennia before, Imperial assassination had become so common as to resemble a sport. Now tradition and technology united to make these formal occasions uniquely safe. The High Council was meeting for the Emperor’s review, so inevitably there were battalions of officials, advisors, Magisterials Extraordinary and yellow-jacketed hangers-on. Parasites attached themselves to him with practiced grace.

Outside the Lyceum was the traditional Benevolent Bountiful-originally one long table, now dozens of them, all groaning beneath rich foods.

Largess even before business meetings was mandatory, an acceptance of the Emperor’s beneficence. Passing it by would be an insult. Hari nibbled at a few oddments on his way across the Sagittarius Domeway. Noisy crowds milled restlessly, mostly in the series of ceremonial cloisters that rimmed the domeway, each cut off by acoustic curtains.

Hari stepped into a small sound chamber and found a sudden release from the din. There he quickly reviewed his notes on the Council agenda, not wanting to appear an utter rube. High Court types watched every deviation from protocol with scorn. The media, though not allowed in the Lyceum, buzzed for weeks after such meetings, reading every gaffe for its nuances. Hari hated all this, but as long as he was in the game, he might as well play.

He recalled Dors’ casual mention earlier of Leon the Libertine, who had once arranged an entire faux-banquet for his ministers. The fruit could be bitten, but then snagged the unwary guests’ teeth, which remained firmly embedded until released by a digital command. The command came, of course, only from the Emperor, after some amusing begging and groveling before the other guests. Rumors persisted of darker delights obtained by Leon from similar traps, though in private quarters.

Hari brushed through the sound curtains and into the older side halls leading to the Lyceum. His retinal map highlighted these ancient, unfashionable routes because few came this way. His entourage followed obediently, though some frowned.

He knew their sort by now. They wanted to be seen, their processional parting the crowds of mere Sector executives. Sauntering through dim halls without the jostle of the crowds did nothing for the ego.

There was a life-sized statue of Leon at the end of a narrow processional corridor, holding a traditional executioner’s knife. Hari stopped and looked at the heavy-browed man, his right hand showing thick veins where it held the knife. In his left, a crystal globe of fogwine. The work was flawless and no doubt flattering to the Emperor when sculpted. The knife was quite real enough, its double edges gleaming.

Some considered Leon’s reign the most ancient of the Good Old Days, when order seemed natural and the Empire expanded into fresh worlds without trouble. Leon had been brutal yet widely loved. Hari wanted psychohistory to work, but what if it turned into a tool to rekindle such a past?

Hari shrugged. Time enough to calculate whether the Empire could be saved on any terms at all, once psychohistory actually existed.

He went into the High Imperial chambers, escorted by the ritual officers. Ahead lay Cleon, Lamurk, and the panoply of the High Council.

He knew he should be impressed by all this. Somehow, though, the air of high opulence only made him more impatient to truly understand the Empire. And if he could, alter its course.

11.

Hari wobbled slightly as he left the Lyceum three hours later. Debate was still in full cry, but he needed a break. A lesser Minister for Sector Correlation offered to take him to the refreshment baths, and Hari gratefully accepted.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he said.

“You must accommodate to tedium,” the minister said cheerfully.

“Maybe I will duck out.”

“No, come-rest!”

His ceremonial robes, required in the Lyceum, were close and sweaty. The ornate buckle dug into his belly. It was big and gaudy, with a chromed receiver for his ritual stylus, equally embellished and used only in voting.

The minister chatted on about Lamurk’s attack on Hari, which Hari had tried to ignore. Even so, he had been forced to rise to defend or explain himself. He had made a point of keeping his speeches short and clear, though this was far from the style of the Lyceum. The minister politely allowed that he thought this was rather an error.

They went through the refresher, where blue gouts of ions descended. Hari was grateful that talk was impossible through all this, and let an electrostat breeze massage him until they evolved into decidedly erotic caresses; apparently Council members preferred their vices readily to hand.

The minister went in pursuit of some private amusement, his face alive with anticipation. Hari decided he would rather not know what was about to transpire and moved farther, into a vapor cell. He rested, thinking, as a ginger-colored mat cleaned his chamber; elementary biomaintenance. His muscles stretched as he reflected on the gulf between him and the professionals of the Lyceum.

To Hari, human knowledge was largely the unarticulated experiences of myriads, not the formal learning of a vocal elite. Markets, history showed, conveyed the preferences and ideas of the many. Generally, these were superior to grandiose policies handed down from the talent and wisdom of the few. Yet Imperial logic asked if a given action were good, not whether it was affordable, or how much was even desirable.

He truly did not know how to speak to these people. Clever verbal turns and artful dodges had served well enough today, but surely that could not last.

These ruminations had distracted him. With a start he realized he should get back.

Leaving the refresher, he angled off the obvious route, which was thronged with functionaries, on through acoustic veils and into the small processional hall, consulting his palace maps. He had used Dors’ carrychip a dozen times already, mostly to follow the quick, cryptic Council discussions. The microlaser-written 3D map on his retina rotated if he rolled his eyes, providing perspective. There were few staff around; most clustered in attendance outside the Lyceum.

Hari reached the end of the hall and glanced up at the statue of Leon. The executioner’s knife was gone.

Why would anyone…?

Hari turned and hurried back the way he had come.

Before he could reach the acoustic veils, a man stepped through their ivory luminescence. There was nothing unusual about the man except the way his eyes flicked around, finally fastening on Hari.

There was about thirty meters between them. Hari turned as though he were admiring the baroquely festooned walls and walked away. He heard the other man’s boots crisply follow.

Maybe he was being paranoid and maybe not. He had only to get back to a crowd and all this would dissolve away, he told himself. The footsteps behind him got sharper, closer.

He turned and ducked down a side passage. Ahead was a ritual room. The footsteps sped up. Hari trotted across the circular room and into an ancient foyer. No one there.

Down a long hallway he could see two men who seemed to be casually talking. He started toward them, but they both broke off and looked at him. One reached into his pocket and produced a comm and began speaking into it.

Hari backed away, found a side passage. He bolted down it.

What about the surveillance cameras? Even the palace had them. But the one at the end of this passage had an unusual cap on it. Running a fake view, he realized.

The ancient portions of the Lyceum perimeter were not only unfashionable, they were unpopulated. He trotted through another extravagant ritual room. Boots were coming fast behind him. He turned to the right and saw a crowd down a long ramp.

“Hey! “ he yelled. Nobody looked his way. He realized they were behind a sound veil. He started toward them.

A man stepped out of an alcove to block the way. This one was tall and lean and started toward Hari with a muscular nonchalance. Like the others he said nothing, drew no attention to himself. Just kept coming.

Hari angled left and broke into a trot. Ahead lay the refresher; he had circled back. Plenty of people there. If he could reach it.

One long passageway led directly toward the refreshers. He took it and halfway down saw that a party of three women were talking in a decorative niche. He slowed and they stopped talking. They wore familiar staff robes. Probably they worked in the refreshers.

They turned toward him, looking a little surprised. He opened his mouth to say something, and the nearest woman stepped smartly forward and grabbed his arm.

He jerked back. She was strong. She grinned at the others and said, “Fell right into our-”

He yanked his arm to the side and broke her grip. She came off balance and he took advantage of that to shove her into the other two. One lashed a kick at him. She twisted her hip to get momentum into it, but she could not get fully around her companion and it stopped short, futile.

Hari turned and ran. The women were obviously well trained and he did not have much hope of getting away. He plunged ahead down the long passageway. When he glanced back, however, all three were standing and watching him go.

This was so odd that he slowed, thinking. They and the men were not attacking him, just boxing him in.

In these public corridors, casual witnesses could easily pass by. They wanted him somewhere private.

Hari called up his palace map. It placed him as a red dot in the nearby floor plan. He could see two side alleys up ahead before the end of the passageway

—where now two men stepped into view, arms folded.

Hari still had two ways out. He went left into a narrow lane lined with antique testaments. Each winked on and began its narration of vast events and great victories, now buried beneath millennia of indifference. The 3Ds flickered with colorful spectacles as he pounded past them. Sonorous voices implored him to attend to their tales. He was puffing heavily now and trying to focus his thoughts.

Intersection coming up. He shot through it and saw men closing in from the right.

He dodged down a slight side exit, under a participatory mausoleum to Emperor Elinor IV, and sprinted toward a set of doorways he recognized. These were the refresher booths, pale doors marked only with numbers. The Minister for Sector Correlation had pointed them out as the very best, suitable for private appointments.

Hari had to cross a small piazza to reach the nearest door. A man came running from the right, saying nothing. Hari tried the first door; it was locked. So was the second. The man was nearly on top of him. The handle on the third door turned and Hari went through.

It was a traditional door on hinges. He threw his weight back into it to slam it shut. The man hit the door heavily and got a hand around the edge. Hari heaved against the door. The man held fast and jammed his right foot between the door and the casing.

Hari shoved hard. The gap between door and casing narrowed, trapping the hand.

The other man was strong. He grunted and shoved back hard and the gap widened.

Hari put his back against the door and thrust with his legs. He had nothing to help him and the ridiculous ceremonial robes didn’t help. Nothing in the refresher was nearby, no tool-

Hari reached into his buckle. The ancient voting stylus slipped into his palm. He took it in his right hand and twisted against the door, shoving with his right shoulder. Then he passed the stylus to his left hand and brought it down with a savage stab into the man’s hand.

The stylus was inscribed and embellished, but it tapered to a slender point. Hari struck between the third and fourth knuckles. Hard.

A small arterial pumper squirted. Short pulsating arcs shot onto the door, vivid red. The man cried “Ah!” and let go of the door.

Hari slammed the door shut and fumbled with the lock. Magnetic grids clicked on. Panting, he turned to survey the refresher.

It was one of the best, ample. Two soothing booths, a lift couch, an ample stock of refreshments. Several vapor wells-where luxuriant dalliances often occurred, as rumor had it. Against the far wall, a percussive nook for the athletic. And a thin slit-window, also traditional, open to a ceramic-and-sand garden. It was kept as a reminder of eras when being trapped in here with unsavory persons was best avoided by a quick exit.

Hari heard a slight snick against the door. Probably a depolarizer fitting into place to unlock the magnetics. He considered the slit-window.

12.

A man came carefully into the refresher chamber. He wore a simple Imperial servant’s tunic, which allowed freedom of movement. Perfect for quick work. He carried the knife from the Leon statue.

He closed the door behind him with one hand and locked it, all the while keeping his eyes on the room and the knife at the ready. Though he was large he moved with an easy grace. Methodically he checked in the booths and vapor wells and even the percussive nook. No one there. He leaned out the slit-window, which was thrown fully open. The narrow window was not large enough to let him pass; he was massive beneath his light blue staff uniform.

He stood back and spoke into his wrist comm. “He got out into the garden. Can’t see him from here. You got that blocked?”

He paused a moment, listening to an internal voice, and said curtly, “Can’t find him? ‘Course you can’t, I told you we shouldn’t cut the snoops in this area.”

Another pause. “Sure I know it’s a secure job, even got its own RD number and all, no recording snoops, but-”

The man paced angrily. “Well, you just be damn sure all the ways out are covered. Those gardens are all connected.”

Another pause. “Got the sniffers on? Cameras? Good. You guys mess this up, I’ll…” He let his voice trail off into a growl.

He gave the room one last look and unlocked the magnetics. A man with a blood-soaked sleeve stood outside, just within view.

“You’re drippin’, stupid,” the knife-carrier said. “Hold that arm up high and get away from here. Send a cleanup crew, too.”

The other man said, “Where’d he-”

“Knew I shouldn’t have you on this one. Goddamn amateur.” The knife man left at a run.

All this had seemed to take forever. Seconds ticked by as Hari held onto a ceiling tile with all his strength.

In darkness he was lying across support struts directly over a soothing booth. He could see down through a narrow slit. From below, he hoped, the slit was the only sign that the ceiling had been pushed up, a square dislocated. He could see the scuff marks on the top of the booth, where he had climbed up and knocked the ceiling tile out of its clamps.

Now he had to hold the thing in place. His hands were starting to ache from gripping it.

Below he saw a leg and foot enter the refresher, turn, walk out of view. Someone else, a backup team?

If the tile slipped away from him, anyone below would notice the noise, see the dark slit widen. Maybe it would get away from him completely and fall.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on his fingers, willing them to grasp. They were numb now. Getting worse. Starting to tremble.

The tile was heavy, triple-layered for acoustic privacy. It was getting away from him, he could feel it. Slipping. It was going to

The feet below walked out and then came the swish of the door closing. Its lock clicked.

He did not will it, but his fingers let the tile slip. It smacked the floor loudly. Hari froze, listening.

No click of the door lock reopening. Just the soft slur of the air circulators.

So he was safe for a while. Safe in a trap.

Nobody knew he was here. Only a thorough search would bring any trustworthy Imperials this far from the Lyceum area.

And why should they? Nobody would notice that he was missing right away. Even then, they would probably think he had simply gotten fed up with the Council and gone home. He had said as much to the Minister for Sector Correlation.

Which meant the assassins could quietly search for hours. The knife carrier had sounded systematic, determined. He would inevitably think of checking back here, starting over on the trail. There were probably scent-snoops they could muster. And by now the array of cameras throughout the palace would be looking for him.

Luckily there were none in the refresher. He climbed down, nearly slipping on the curved top of the soothing booth. Getting the heavy ceiling tile back up into place took agility and strength. He was puffing by the time he replaced it above the refresher. He lay along the struts and got the tile secured again.

He lay in the darkness and thought. Dors’ palace map popped up in his eye on command, its colors and details more vivid in the gloom. Of course it showed nothing as utilitarian as this crawl space. He could see he was deeply embedded in the Lyceum’s fringe areas. Perhaps his best bet would be to walk boldly out of this refresher. If he could reach a crowd…

If. He did not like leaving his fate to chance. That included the strategy of lying here, hoping they did not come back with snoopers that could sense him up here.

Anyway, he knew that he could not simply do nothing. That was not in his nature. When patience was needed, fine-but waiting did not necessarily improve his odds.

He looked off into the murky space. Gloom stretched away. He could move around up here. But which way?

Dors’ map told him that the Gardens of Respite Cormed an artful tangle around the refresher area. No doubt the competent assassins would have ushered away any potential witnesses outside the window of this refresher room.

If he could somehow get far enough into the gardens…

Hari realized he was thinking in two dimensions. He could reach more public areas by moving up through a few layers of the palace. Outside this refresher room, down the hallway, Dors’ map showed a lift shaft.

He got his bearings and peered in that direction. He had no idea how an e-lift fit into a building. The map simply showed a rectangular enclosure with a lift symbol. But a burning fear made his muscles clench and fret.

He started crawling that way, not because he knew what to do, but because he didn’t. Upright cerami-form studs provided support and he had to be careful to not knock ceiling tiles out of their mounts. He slipped and jammed a knee into one and it gave threateningly, then popped back up. Dim threads of phosphor glow seeped between the tiles. Dust tickled his nostrils and coated his lips. He was getting dirty with the grime of millennia.

Up ahead a blue gleam came from roughly where the lift should be. As he drew closer the going got harder because ducts, pipes, optical conduits, and cross-joints thickened, converging on the hallway. Long minutes passed while he threaded his way among them. He touched a pipe that scorched his arm, a searing jolt so surprising he almost cried out. He smelled burnt flesh.

The blue radiance leaked around the edges of a panel. Suddenly it flared, then died again as he edged closer. A sharp crackling told him that an e-cell had just passed in the lift. He could not tell whether it was going up or down.

The panel was ceramo-steel, about a meter on a side, with electrical ribbons attached at all four sides. He did not know in detail how an e-lift worked, only that it charged the carrier compartment and then handed the weight off among a steady wave of electrodynamic fields.

He got his feet around and kicked at the panel. It held but dented. He kicked again and it loosened. He grunted with the effort of a third, a fourth-the panel popped out and fell away.

Hari brushed aside the thick electrical ribbons and poked his head into the shaft. It was dark, lit only by a dull radiance along a thin vertical phosphor which tapered away into obscurity, both above and below.

The palace was more than a kilometer thick in this ancient section. Mechanical elevators using cables could not serve even small passenger lifts like this one, over heights of a kilometer. Charge coupling from the shaft walls to the e-cell handled the dynamics with ease. The technology was aged and reliable. This shaft must be at least ten millennia old, and smelled like it.

He did not like the prospect before him. The map told him that three layers above him were spacious public rooms used to process supplicants to the Imperium. He would be in safe company there. Below were eight Lyceum layers, which he must assume were dangerous. Easier, certainly, to climb down-but also farther.

It would not be that tricky, he reassured himself. In the shadowy shaft he saw regular electrostatic emitters sunken into the walls. He found a strand of electrical ribbon and poked into one. No sparks, no discharge. That checked with his sketchy knowledge; the emitters went on only when a cell passed. They were deep enough to get his feet halfway into.

He listened carefully. No sound. E-cells were nearly silent, but these ancient ones were also slow. Was the risk of climbing into the shaft that great?

He wondered if he was doing the right thing, and then a voice far behind him said loudly, “Hey! Hey there!”

He glanced back. A head stuck up through an open panel. He could not make out features, but he did not try. He was already rolling awkwardly over the last cross-beam beside the shaft wall, twisting, thrusting himself out into the air. He felt downward with his feet, found an emitter hole, and stuck his foot into it.

No discharge. From memory he felt for another hole. His foot went in. He slipped over the casing, holding on tight with his hands.

His feet dangled above black nothingness. Vertigo. Sudden bile rushed in his throat.

Shouting from above. Several voices, male. Probably someone had seen the scrapes on top of the soothing booth. The light from the open ceiling tile was some help now, sending pale radiance into the shaft.

He swallowed and the bile eased.

Can’t think about that now. lust go on.

To his right he saw another regularly spaced emitter hole. He got his foot into it and worked his way around to the next face of the shaft. He started climbing. It was surprisingly easy because the holes were closely spaced and about the right size for his hands and feet. Hari went up swiftly, driven by the scuffling sounds behind him.

He passed the doors of the next level. Beside them was a flat-plate emergency switch. He could open the doors, but onto what?

Several minutes had passed since he saw the head. Word was undoubtedly spreading and they might have gotten up here, using stairs or another lift.

He decided to climb higher. Deep gulps of the dusty air threatened to make him cough, but he fought it down. His hands grasped the emitters and found them solid, easily held, while his legs did the real work of getting him up the sheer face.

He came to the second layer and made the same argument: only one more to go. That was when he heard the whisper. Faint, but gathering.

A cool downward brush of air made him look up. Something was blotting out the dim line of blue phosphor, coming down fast.

A clear crackling got louder. He could not possibly reach the above set of doors before it got here.

Hari froze. He could scramble back down, but he did not think he could reach the next level below in time. The black mass of the e-cell swooped down, swelling huge and fast, terrifying him.

A quick snap of blue arcs, a swoosh of air-and it stopped. At the level above.

The sound buffers cut off even the whisk of the doors opening. Hari yelled, but there was no response. He started down, feet seeking the holes, puffing.

A sharp crackling from above. The e-cell descended again.

He could see the undercarriage swooping down. Thin blue-white arcs shot from the emitter holes as it passed them, adding charge. Hari clambered down with a sinking dread.

An idea flashed across his mind, quick intuition. Wind fluttered his hair. He made himself study the undercarriage. Four rectangular clasps hung below. They were metal and would hold charge.

The e-cell was nearly upon him. No more time to think. Hari leaped toward the nearest clasp as the massive weight fell toward him.

He grabbed the thick rim of the clasp. A sharp, buzzing jolt snapped his eyes wide with pain. Crackling current coursed through him. His hands and forearms seized tight in electro-muscular shock. That kept him secured to the thick metal while his legs kicked involuntarily.

He had acquired some of the charge of the e-cell. Now the electrodynamic fields of the shaft played across his body, supporting him. His arms did not have to carry all his weight.

His hands and arms ached. Quick, sharp pains shot through the trembling muscles. But they held.

But currents were coursing through his chest-his heart. Muscles convulsed across his upper body. He was just another circuit element.

He let go with his left hand.