IT WAS RAINING lightly. Trevize looked up at the sky, which was a solid grayish white.
He was wearing a rain hat that repelled the drops and sent them flying well away from his body in all directions. Pelorat, standing out of range of the flying drops, had no such protection.
Trevize said, “I don’t see the point of your letting yourself get wet, Janov.”
“The wet doesn’t bother me, my dear chap,” said Pelorat, looking as solemn as he always did. “It’s a light and warm rain. There’s no wind to speak of. And besides, to quote the old saying: ‘In Anacreon, do as the Anacreonians do.”‘ He indicated the few Gaians standing near the Far Star, watching quietly. They were well scattered, as though they were trees in a Gaian grove, and none wore rain hats.
“I suppose,” said Trevize, “they don’t mind being wet, because all the rest of Gaia is getting wet. The trees-the grass-the soil-all wet, and all equally part of Gaia, along with the Gaians.”
“I think it makes sense,” said Pelorat. “The sun will come out soon enough and everything will dry quickly. The clothing won’t wrinkle or shrink, there’s no chilling effect, and, since there aren’t any unnecessary pathogenic microorganisms, no one will get colds, or flu, or pneumonia. Why worry about a bit of damp then?”
Trevize had no trouble in seeing the logic of that, but he hated to let go of his grievance. He said, “Still, there is no need for it to rain as we are leaving. After all, the rain is voluntary. Gaia wouldn’t rain if it didn’t want to. It’s almost as though it were showing its contempt for us.”
“Perhaps”-and Pelorat’s lip twitched a bit “Gaia is weeping with sorrow at our leaving.”
Trevize said, “That may be, but I’m not.”
“Actually,” Pelorat went on, “I presume that the soil in this region needs a wetting down, and that need is more important than your desire to have the sun shine.”
Trevize smiled. “I suspect you really like this world, don’t you? Even aside from Bliss, I mean.”
“Yes, I do,” said Pelorat, a trace defensively. “I’ve always led a quiet, orderly life, and think how I could manage here, with a whole world laboring to keep it quiet and orderly.-After all, Golan, when we build a house-or that ship-we try to create a perfect shelter. We equip it with everything we need; we arrange to have its temperature, air quality, illumination, and everything else of importance, controlled by us and manipulated in a way to make it perfectly accommodating to us. Gaia is just an extension of the desire for comfort and security extended to an entire planet. What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that,” said Trevize, “is that my house or my ship is engineered to suit me. I am not engineered to suit it. If I were part of Gaia, then no matter how ideally the planet was devised to suit me, I would be greatly disturbed over the fact that I was also being devised to suit it.”
Pelorat pursed his lips. “One could argue that every society molds its population to fit itself. Customs develop that make sense within the society, and that chain every individual firmly to its needs.”
“In the societies I know, one can revolt. There are eccentrics, even criminals.”
“Do you want eccentrics and criminals?”
“Why not? You and I are eccentrics. We’re certainly not typical of the people living on Terminus. As for criminals, that’s a matter of definition. And if criminals are the price we must pay for rebels, heretics, and geniuses, I’m willing to pay it. I demand the price be paid.”
“Are criminals the only possible payment? Can’t you have genius without criminals?”
“You can’t have geniuses and saints without having people far outside the norm, and I don’t see how you can have such things on only one side of the norm. There is bound to be a certain symmetry.-In any case, I want a better reason for my decision to make Gaia the model for the future of humanity than that it is a planetary version of a comfortable house.”
“Oh, my dear fellow. I wasn’t trying to argue you into being satisfied with your decision. I was just making an observa-”
He broke off. Bliss was striding toward them, her dark hair wet and her robe clinging to her body and emphasizing the rather generous width of her hips. She was nodding to them as she came.
“I’m sorry I delayed you,” she said, panting a little. “It took longer to check with Dom than I had anticipated.”
“Surely,” said Trevize, “you know everything he knows.”
“Sometimes it’s a matter of a difference in interpretation. We are not identical, after all, so we discuss. Look here,” she said, with a touch of asperity, “you have two hands. They are each part of you, and they seem identical except for one being the mirror-image of the other. Yet you do not use them entirely alike, do you? There are some things you do with your right hand most of the time, and some with your left. Differences in interpretation, so to speak.”
“She’s got you,” said Pelorat, with obvious satisfaction.
Trevize nodded. “It’s an effective analogy, if it were relevant, and I’m not at all sure it is. In any case, does this mean we can board the ship now? It is raining.”
“Yes, yes. Our people are all off it, and it’s in perfect shape.” Then, with a sudden curious look at Trevize, “You’re keeping dry. The raindrops are missing you.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Trevize. “I am avoiding wetness.”
“But doesn’t it feel good to be wet now and then?”
“Absolutely. But at my choice, not the rain’s.”
Bliss shrugged. “Well, as you please. All our baggage is loaded so let’s board.”
The three walked toward the Far Star. The rain was growing still lighter, but the grass was quite wet. Trevize found himself walking gingerly, but Bliss had kicked off her slippers, which she was now carrying in one hand, and was slogging through the grass barefoot.
“It feels delightful,” she said, in response to Trevize’s downward glance.
“Good,” he said absently. Then, with a touch of irritation, “Why are those other Gaians standing about, anyway?”
Bliss said, “They’re recording this event, which Gaia finds momentous. You are important to us, Trevize. Consider that if you should change your mind as a result of this trip and decide against us, we would never grow into Galaxia, or even remain as Gaia.”
“Then I represent life and death for Gaia; for the whole world.”
“We believe so.”
Trevize stopped suddenly, and took off his rain hat. Blue patches were appearing in the sky. He said, “But you have my vote in your favor now. If you kill me, I’ll never be able to change it.”
“Golan,” murmured Pelorat, shocked. “That is a terrible thing to say.”
“Typical of an Isolate,” said Bliss calmly. “You must understand, Trevize, that we are not interested in you as a person, or even in your vote, but in the truth, in the facts of the matter. You are only important as a conduit to the truth, and your vote as an indication of the truth. That is what we want from you, and if we kill you to avoid a change in your vote, we would merely be hiding the truth from ourselves.”
“If I tell you the truth is non-Gaia, will you all then cheerfully agree to die?”
“Not entirely cheerfully, perhaps, but it’s what it would amount to in the end.”
Trevize shook his head. “If anything ought to convince me that Gaia is a horror and should die, it might be that very statement you’ve just made.” Then he said, his eyes returning to the patiently watching (and, presumably, listening) Gaians, “Why are they spread out like that? And why do you need so many? If one of them observes this event and stores it in his or her memory, isn’t it available to all the rest of the planet? Can’t it be stored in a million different places if you want it to be?”
Bliss said, “They are observing this each from a different angle, and each is storing it in a slightly different brain. When all the observations are studied, it will be seen that what is taking place will be far better understood from all the observations together than from any one of them, taken singly.”
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, in other words.”
“Exactly. You have grasped the basic justification of Gaia’s existence. You, as a human individual, are composed of perhaps fifty trillion cells, but you, as a multicellular individual, are far more important than those fifty trillion as the sum of their individual importance. Surely you would agree with that.”
“Yes,” said Trevize. “I agree with that.”
He stepped into the ship, and turned briefly for one more look at Gaia. The brief rain had lent a new freshness to the atmosphere. He saw a green, lush, quiet, peaceful world; a garden of serenity set amid the turbulence of the weary Galaxy.
-And Trevize earnestly hoped he would never see it again.
WHEN THE airlock closed behind them, Trevize felt as though he had shut out not exactly a nightmare, but something so seriously abnormal that it had prevented him from breathing freely.
He was fully aware that an element of that abnormality was still with him in the person of Bliss. While she was there, Gaia was there and yet he was also convinced that her presence was essential. It was the black box working again, and earnestly he hoped he would never begin believing in that black box too much.
He looked about the vessel and found it beautiful. It had been his only since Mayor Harla Branno of the Foundation had forced him into it and sent him out among the stars, a living lightning rod designed to draw the fire of those she considered enemies of the Foundation. That task was done but the ship was still his, and he had no plans to return it.
It had been his for merely a matter of a few months, but it seemed like home to him and he could only dimly remember what had once been his home in Terminus.
Terminus! The off-center hub of the Foundation, destined, by Seldon’s Plan, to form a second and greater Empire in the course of the next five centuries, except that he, Trevize, had now derailed it. By his own decision he was converting the Foundation to nothing, and was making possible instead, a new society, a new scheme of life, a frightening revolution that would be greater than any since the development of multicellular life.
Now he was engaged in a journey designed to prove to himself (or to disprove) that what he had done was right.
He found himself lost in thought and motionless, so that he shook himself in self-irritation. He hastened to the pilot room and found his computer still there.
It glistened; everything glistened. There had been a most careful cleaning. The contacts he closed, nearly at random, worked perfectly, and, it surely seemed, with greater ease than ever. The ventilating system was so noiseless that he had to put his hand over the vents to make sure he felt air currents.
The circle of light on the computer glowed invitingly. Trevize touched it and the light spread out to cover the desk top and the outline of a right and left hand appeared on it. He drew a deep breath and realized that he had stopped breathing for a while. The Gaians knew nothing about Foundation technology and they might easily have damaged the computer without meaning any malice. Thus far they had not, the hands were still there.
The crucial test came with the laying on of his own hands, however, and, for a moment, he hesitated. He would know, almost at once, if anything were wrong, but if something was, what could he do? For repairs, he would have to go back to Terminus, and if he did, he felt quite confident that Mayor Branno would not let him leave again. And if he did not-
He could feel his heart pounding, and there was clearly no point in deliberately lengthening the suspense.
He thrust his hands out, right, left, and placed them on the outlines upon the desk. At once, he had the illusion of another pair of hands holding his. His senses extended, and he could see Gaia in all directions, green and moist, the Gaians still watching. When he willed himself to look upward, he saw a largely cloudy sky. Again, at his will, the clouds vanished and he looked at an unbroken blue sky with the orb of Gaia’s sun filtered out.
Again he willed and the blue parted and he saw the stars.
He wiped them out, and willed and saw the Galaxy, like a foreshortened pinwheel. He tested the computerized image, adjusting its orientation, altering the apparent progress of time, making it spin first in one direction, then the other. He located the sun of Sayshell, the nearest important star to Gaia; then the sun of Terminus; then of Trantor; one after the other. He traveled from star to star in the Galactic map that dwelt in the bowels of the computer.
Then he withdrew his hands and let the world of reality surround him again and realized he had been standing all this time, half-bowing over the computer to make the hand contact. He felt stiff and had to stretch his back muscles before sitting down.
He stared at the computer with warm relief. It had worked perfectly. It had been, if anything, more responsive, and what he felt for it he could only describe as love. After all, while he held its hands (he resolutely refused to admit to himself that he thought of it as her hands) they were part of each other, and his will directed, controlled, experienced, and was part of a greater self. He and it must feel, in a small way (he suddenly, and disturbingly, thought), what Gaia did in a much larger way.
He shook his head. No! In the case of the computer and himself, it was he-Trevize-who was in entire control. The computer was a thing of total submission.
He rose and moved out to the compact galley and dining area. There was plenty of food of all kinds, with proper refrigeration and easy-heating facilities. He had already noted that the book films in his room were in the proper order, and he was reasonably sure-no, completely sure-that Pelorat had his personal library in safe storage. He would otherwise surely have heard from him by now.
Pelorat! That reminded him. He stepped into Pelorat’s room. “Is there room for Bliss here, Janov?”
“Oh yes, quite.”
“I can convert the common room into her bedroom.”
Bliss looked up, wide-eyed. “I have no desire for a separate bedroom. I am quite content to stay here with Pel. I suppose, though, that I may use the other rooms when needed. The gym, for instance.”
“Certainly. Any room but mine.”
“Good. That’s what I would have suggested be the arrangement, if I had had the making of it. Naturally, you will stay out of ours.”
“Naturally,” said Trevize, looking down and realizing that his shoes overlapped the threshold. He took a half-step backward and said grimly, ‘These are not honeymoon quarters, Bliss.”
“I should say, in view of its compactness, that it is exactly that even though Gaia extended it to half again as wide as it was.”
Trevize tried not to smile. “You’ll have to be very friendly.”
“We are,” said Pelorat, clearly ill at ease at the topic of conversation, “but really, old chap, you can leave it to us to make our own arrangements.”
“Actually, I can’t,” said Trevize slowly. “I still want to make it clear that these are not honeymoon accommodations. I have no objection to anything you do by mutual consent, but you must realize that you will have no privacy. I hope you understand that, Bliss.”
“There is a door,” said Bliss, “and I imagine you will not disturb us when it is locked-short of a real emergency, that is.”
“Of course I won’t. However, there is no soundproofing.”
“What you are trying to say, Trevize,” said Bliss, “is that you will hear, quite clearly, any conversation we may have, and any sounds we may make in the course of sex.”
“Yes, that is what I am trying to say. With that in mind, I expect you may find you will have to limit your activities here. This may discommode you, and I’m sorry, but that’s the situation as it is.”
Pelorat cleared his throat, and said gently, “Actually, Golan, this is a problem I’ve already had to face. You realize that any sensation Bliss experiences, when together with me, is experienced by all of Gaia.”
“I have thought of that, Janov,” said Trevize, looking as though he were repressing a wince. “I didn’t intend to mention it just in case the thought had not occurred to you.”
“But it did, I’m afraid,” said Pelorat.
Bliss said, “Don’t make too much of that, Trevize. At any given moment, there may be thousands of human beings on Gaia who are engaged in sex; millions who are eating, drinking, or engaged in other pleasure-giving activities. This gives rise to a general aura of delight that Gaia feels, every part of it. The lower animals, the plants, the minerals have their progressively milder pleasures that also contribute to a generalized joy of consciousness that Gaia feels in all its parts always, and that is unfelt in any other world.”
“We have our own particular joys,” said Trevize, “which we can share after a fashion, if we wish; or keep private, if we wish.”
“If you could feel ours, you would know how poverty-stricken you Isolates are in that respect.”
“How can you know what we feel?”
“Without knowing how you feel, it is still reasonable to suppose that a world of common pleasures must be more intense than those available to a single isolated individual.”
“Perhaps, but even if my pleasures were poverty-stricken, I would keep my own joys and sorrows and be satisfied with them, thin as they are, and be me and not blood brother to the nearest rock.”
“Don’t sneer,” said Bliss. “You value every mineral crystal in your bones and teeth and would not have one of them damaged, though they have no more consciousness than the average rock crystal of the same size.”
“That’s true enough,” said Trevize reluctantly, “but we’ve managed to get off the subject. I don’t care if all Gaia shares your joy, Bliss, but I don’t want to share it. We’re living here in close quarters and I do not wish to be forced to participate in your activities even indirectly.”
Pelorat said, “This is an argument over nothing, my dear chap. I am no more anxious than you to have your privacy violated. Nor mine, for that matter. Bliss and I will be discreet; won’t we, Bliss?”
“It will be as you wish, Pel.”
“After all,” said Pelorat, “we are quite likely to be planet-bound for considerably longer periods than we will space-borne, and on planets, the opportunities for true privacy-”
“I don’t care what you do on planets,” interrupted Trevize, “but on this ship, I am master.”
“Exactly,” said Pelorat.
“Then, with that straightened out, it is time to take off.”
“But wait.” Pelorat reached out to tug at Trevize’s sleeve. “Take off for where? You don’t know where Earth is, nor do I, nor does Bliss. Nor does your computer, for you told me long ago that it lacks any information on Earth. What do you intend doing, then? You can’t simply drift through space at random, my dear chap.”
At that, Trevize smiled with what was almost joy. For the first time since he had fallen into the grip of Gaia, he felt master of his own fate.
“I assure you,” he said, “that it is not my intention to drift, Janov. I know exactly where I am going.”
PELORAT walked quietly into the pilot room after he had waited long moments while his small tap on the door had gone unanswered. He found Trevize looking with keen absorption at the starfield.
Pelorat said, “Golan-” and waited.
Trevize looked up. “Janov! Sit down.-Where’s Bliss?”
“Sleeping.-We’re out in space, I see.”
“You see correctly.” Trevize was not surprised at the other’s mild surprise. In the new gravitic ships, there was simply no way of detecting takeoff. There were no inertial effects; no accelerational push; no noise; no vibration.
Possessing the capacity to insulate itself from outside gravitational fields to any degree up to total, the Far Star lifted from a planetary surface as though it were floating on some cosmic sea. And while it did so, the gravitational effect within the ship, paradoxically, remained normal.
While the ship was within the atmosphere, of course, there was no need to accelerate so that the whine and vibration of rapidly passing air would be absent. As the atmosphere was left behind, however, acceleration could take place, and at rapid rates, without affecting the passengers.
It was the ultimate in comfort and Trevize did not see how it could be improved upon until such time as human beings discovered a way of whisking through hyperspace without ships, and without concern about nearby gravitational fields that might be too intense. Right now, the Far Star would have to speed away from Gaia’s sun for several days before the gravitational intensity was weak enough to attempt the Jump.
“Golan, my dear fellow,” said Pelorat. “May I speak with you for a moment or two? You are not too busy?”
“Not at all busy. The computer handles everything once I instruct it properly. And sometimes it seems to guess what my instructions will be, and satisfies them almost before I can articulate them.” Trevize brushed the top of the desk lovingly.
Pelorat said, “We’ve grown very friendly, Golan, in the short time we’ve known each other, although I must admit that it scarcely seems a short time to me. So much has happened. It’s really peculiar when I stop to think of my moderately long life, that half of all the events I have experienced were squeezed into the last few months. Or so it would seem. I could almost suppose-”
Trevize held up a hand “Janov, you’re spinning outward from your original point, I’m sure. You began by saying we’ve grown very friendly in a very short time. Yes, we have, and we still are. For that matter, you’ve known Bliss an even shorter time and have grown even friendlier.”
“That’s different, of course,” said Pelorat, clearing his throat in some embarrassment.
“Of course,” said Trevize, “but what follows from our brief but enduring friendship?”
“If, my dear fellow, we still are friends, as you’ve just said, then I must pass on to Bliss, whom, as you’ve also just said, is peculiarly dear to me.”
“I understand. And what of that?”
“I know, Golan, that you are not fond of Bliss, but for my sake, I wish-”
Trevize raised a hand. “One moment, Janov. I am not overwhelmed by Bliss, but neither is she an object of hatred to me. Actually, I have no animosity toward her at all. She’s an attractive young woman and, even if she weren’t, then, for your sake, I would be prepared to find her so. It’s Gaia I dislike.”
“But Bliss is Gaia.”
“I know, Janov. That’s what complicates things so. As long as I think of Bliss as a person, there’s no problem. If I think of her as Gaia, there is.”
“But you haven’t given Gaia a chance, Golan.-Look, old chap, let me admit something. When Bliss and I are intimate, she sometimes lets me share her mind for a minute or so. Not for more than that because she says I’m too old to adapt to it.-Oh, don’t grin, Golan, you would be too old for it, too. If an Isolate, such as you or I, were to remain part of Gaia for more, than a minute or two, there might be brain damage and if it’s as much as five or ten minutes, it would be irreversible.-If you could only experience it, Golan.”
“What? Irreversible brain damage? No, thanks.”
“Golan, you’re deliberately misunderstanding me. I mean, just that small moment of union. You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s indescribable. Bliss says there’s a sense of joy. That’s like saying there’s a sense of joy when you finally drink a bit of water after you have all but died of thirst. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it’s like. You share all the pleasures that a billion people separately experience. It isn’t a steady joy; if it were you would quickly stop feeling it. It vibrates, twinkles, has a strange pulsing rhythm that doesn’t let you go. It’s more joy-no, not more-it’s a better joy than you could ever experience separately. I could weep when she shuts the door on me-”
Trevize shook his head. “You are amazingly eloquent, my good friend, but you sound very much as though you’re describing pseudendorphin addiction, or that of some other drug that admits you to joy in the short term at the price of leaving you permanently in horror in the long term. Not for me! I am reluctant to sell my individuality for some brief feeling of joy.”
“I still have my individuality, Golan.”
“But for how long will you have it if you keep it up, Janov? You’ll beg for more and more of your drug until, eventually, your brain will be damaged. Janov, you mustn’t let Bliss do this to you.-Perhaps I had better speak to her about it.”
“No! Don’t! You’re not the soul of tact, you know, and I don’t want her hurt. I assure you she takes better care of me in that respect than you can imagine. She’s more concerned with the possibility of brain damage than I am. You can be sure of that.”
“Well, then, I’ll speak to you. Janov, don’t do this anymore. You’ve lived for fifty-two years with your own kind of pleasure and joy, and your brain is adapted to withstanding that. Don’t be snapped up by a new and unusual vice. There is a price for it; if not immediately, then eventually.”
“Yes, Golan,” said Pelorat in a low voice, looking down at the tips of his shoes. Then he said, “Suppose you look at it this way. What if you were a one-celled creature-”
“I know what you’re going to say, Janov. Forget it. Bliss and I have already referred to that analogy.”
“Yes, but think a moment. Suppose we imagine single-celled organisms with a human level of consciousness and with the power of thought and imagine them faced with the possibility of becoming a multicellular organism. Would not the single-celled organisms mourn their loss of individuality, and bitterly resent their forthcoming enforced regimentation into the personality of an overall organism? And would they not be wrong? Could an individual cell even imagine the power of the human brain?”
Trevize shook his head violently. “No, Janov, it’s a false analogy. Single-celled organisms don’t have consciousness or any power of thought, or if they do it is so infinitesimal it might as well be considered zero. For such objects to combine and lose individuality is to lose something they have never really had. A human being, however, is conscious and does have the power of thought. He has an actual consciousness and an actual independent intelligence to lose, so the analogy fails.”
There was silence between the two of them for a moment; an almost oppressive silence; and finally Pelorat, attempting to wrench the conversation in a new direction, said, “Why do you stare at the viewscreen?”
“Habit,” said Trevize, smiling wryly. “The computer tells me that there are no Gaian ships following me and that there are no Sayshellian fleets coming to meet me. Still I look anxiously, comforted by my own failure to see such ships, when the computer’s sensors are hundreds of times keener and more piercing than my eyes. What’s more, the computer is capable of sensing some properties of space very delicately, properties that my senses can’t perceive under any conditions.-Knowing all that, I still stare.”
Pelorat said, “Golan, if we are indeed friends-”
“I promise you I will do nothing to grieve Bliss; at least, nothing I can help.”
“It’s another matter now. You keep your destination from me, as though you don’t trust me with it. Where are we going? Are you of the opinion you know where Earth is?”
Trevize looked up, eyebrows lifted. “I’m sorry. I have been hugging the secret to my own bosom, haven’t I?”
“Yes, but why?”
Trevize said, “Why, indeed. I wonder, my friend, if it isn’t a matter of Bliss.”
“Bliss? Is it that you don’t want her to know. Really, old fellow, she is completely to be trusted.”
“It’s not that. What’s the use of not trusting her? I suspect she can tweak any secret out of my mind if she wishes to. I think I have a more childish reason than that. I have the feeling that you are paying attention only to her and that I no longer really exist.”
Pelorat looked horrified. “But that’s not true, Golan.”
“I know, but I’m trying to analyze my own feelings. You came to me just now with fears for our friendship, and thinking about it, I feel as though I’ve had the same fears. I haven’t openly admitted it to myself, but I think I have felt cut out by Bliss. Perhaps I seek to ‘get even’ by petulantly keeping things from you. Childish, I suppose.”
“I said it was childish, didn’t I? But where is the person who isn’t childish now and then? However, we are friends. We’ve settled that and therefore I will play no further games. We’re going to Comporellon.”
“Comporellon?” said Pelorat, for the moment not remembering.
“Surely you recall my friend, the traitor, Munn Li Compor. We three met on Sayshell.”
Pelorat’s face assumed a visible expression of enlightenment. “Of course I remember. Comporellon was the world of his ancestors.”
“If it was. I don’t necessarily believe anything Compor said. But Comporellon is a known world, and Compor said that its inhabitants knew of Earth. Well, then, we’ll go there and find out. It may lead to nothing but it’s the only starting point we have.”
Pelorat cleared his throat and looked dubious. “Oh, my dear fellow, are you sure?”
“There’s nothing about which to be either sure or not sure. We have one starting point and, however feeble it might be, we have no choice but to follow it up.”
“Yes, but if we’re doing it on the basis of what Compor told us, then perhaps we ought to consider everything he told us. I seem to remember that he told us, most emphatically, that Earth did not exist as a living planet, that its surface was radioactive and that it was utterly lifeless. And if that is so, then we are going to Comporellon for nothing.”
THE THREE were lunching in the dining room, virtually filling it as they did so.
“This is very good,” said Pelorat, with considerable satisfaction. “Is this part of our original Terminus supply?”
“No, not at all,” said Trevize. “That’s long gone. This is part of the supplies we bought on Sayshell, before we headed out toward Gaia. Unusual, isn’t it? Some sort of seafood, but rather crunchy. As for this stuff, I was under the impression it was cabbage when I bought it, but it doesn’t taste anything like it.”
Bliss listened but said nothing. She picked at the food on her own plate gingerly.
Pelorat said gently, “You’ve got to eat, dear.”
“I know, Pel, and I’m eating.”
Trevize said, with a touch of impatience he couldn’t quite suppress, “We do have Gaian food, Bliss.”
“I know,” said Bliss, “but I would rather conserve that. We don’t know how long we will be out in space and eventually I must learn to eat Isolate food. “
“Is that so bad? Or must Gaia eat only Gaia.”
Bliss sighed. “Actually, there’s a saying of ours that goes: ‘When Gaia eats Gaia, there is neither loss nor gain.’ It is no more than a transfer of consciousness up and down the scale. Whatever I eat on Gaia is Gaia and when much of it is metabolized and becomes me, it is still Gaia. In fact, by the fact that I eat, some of what I eat has a chance to participate in a higher intensity of consciousness, while, of course, other portions of it are turned into waste of one sort or another and therefore sink in the scale of consciousness.”
She took a firm bite of her food, chewed vigorously for a moment, swallowed, and said, “It represents a vast circulation. Plants grow and are eaten by animals. Animals eat and are eaten. Any organism that dies is incorporated into the cells of molds, decay bacteria, and so on, still Gaia. In this vast circulation of consciousness, even inorganic matter participates, and everything in the circulation has its chance of periodically participating in a high intensity of consciousness.”
“All this,” said Trevize, “can be said of any world. Every atom in me has a long history during which it may have been part of many living things, including human beings, and during which it may also have spent long periods as part of the sea, or in a lump of coal, or in a rock, or as a portion of the wind blowing upon us.”
“On Gaia, however,” said Bliss, “all atoms are also continually part of a higher planetary consciousness of which you know nothing.”
“Well, what happens, then,” said Trevize, “to these vegetables from Sayshell that you are eating? Do they become part of Gaia?”
“They do-rather slowly. And the wastes I excrete as slowly cease being part of Gaia. After all, what leaves me is altogether lacking in contact with Gaia. It lacks even the less-direct hyperspatial contact that I can maintain, thanks to my high level of conscious intensity. It is this hyperspatial contact that causes non-Gaian food to become part of Gaia-slowly-once I eat it.”
“What about the Gaian food in our stores? Will that slowly become non-Gaian? If so, you had better eat it while you can.”
“There is no need to be concerned about that,” said Bliss. “Our Gaian stores have been treated in such a way that they will remain part of Gaia over a long interval.”
Pelorat said, suddenly, “But what will happen when we eat the Gaian food. For that matter, what happened to us when we ate Gaian food on Gaia itself. Are we ourselves slowly turning into Gaia7”
Bliss shook her head and a peculiarly disturbed expression crossed her face. “No, what you ate was lost to us. Or at least the portions that were metabolized into your tissues were lost to us. What you excreted stayed Gaia or very slowly became Gaia so that in the end the balance was maintained, but numerous atoms of Gaia became non-Gaia as a result of your visit to us.”
“Why was that?” asked Trevize curiously.
“Because you would not have been able to endure the conversion, even a very partial one. You were our guests, brought to our world under compulsion, in a manner of speaking, and we had to protect you from danger, even at the cost of the loss of tiny fragments of Gaia. It was a willing price we paid, but not a happy one.”
“We regret that,” said Trevize, “but are you sure that non-Gaian food, or some kinds of non-Gaian food, might not, in their turn, harm you?”
“No,” said Bliss. “What is edible for you would be edible to me. I merely have the additional problem of metabolizing such food into Gaia as well as into my own tissues. It represents a psychological barrier that rather spoils my enjoyment of the food and causes me to eat slowly, but I will overcome that with time.”
“What about infection?” said Pelorat, in high-pitched alarm. “I can’t understand why I didn’t think of this earlier. Bliss! Any world you land on is likely to have microorganisms against which you have no defense and you will die of some simple infectious disease. Trevize, we must turn back.”
“Don’t be panicked, Pel dear,” said Bliss, smiling. “Microorganisms, too, are assimilated into Gaia when they are part of my food, or when they enter my body in any other way. If they seem to be in the process of doing harm, they will be assimilated the more quickly, and once they are Gaia, they will do me no harm.”
The meal drew to its end and Pelorat sipped at his spiced and heated mixture of fruit juices. “Dear me,” he said, licking his lips, “I think it is time to change the subject again. It does seem to me that my sole occupation on board ship is subject-changing. Why is that?”
Trevize said solemnly, “Because Bliss and I cling to whatever subjects we discuss, even to the death. We depend upon you, Janov, to save our sanity. What subject do you want to change to, old friend?”
“I’ve gone through my reference material on Comporellon and the entire sector of which it is part is rich in legends of age. They set their settlement far back in time, in the first millennium of hyperspatial travel. Comporellon even speaks of a legendary founder named Benbally, though they don’t say when he came from. They say that the original name of their planet was Benbally World.”
“And how much truth is there in that, in your opinion, Janov?”
“A kernel, perhaps, but who can guess what the kernel might be.”
“I never heard of anyone named Benbally in actual history. Have you?”
“No, I haven’t, but you know that in the late Imperial era there was a deliberate suppression of pre-Imperial history. The Emperors, in the turbulent last centuries of the Empire, were anxious to reduce local patriotism since they considered it, with ample justification, to be a disintegrating influence. In almost every sector of the Galaxy, therefore, true history, with complete records and accurate chronology, begins only with the days when Trantor’s influence made itself felt and the sector in question had allied Itself to the Empire or been annexed by it.”
“I shouldn’t think that history would be that easy to eradicate,” said Trevize.
“In many ways, it isn’t,” said Pelorat, “but a determined and powerful government can weaken it greatly. If it is sufficiently weakened, early history comes to depend on scattered material and tends to degenerate into folk tales. Invariably such folk tales will fill with exaggeration and come to show the sector to be older and more powerful than, in all likelihood, it ever really was. And no matter how silly a particular legend is, or how impossible it might be on the very face of it, it becomes a matter of patriotism among the locals to believe it. I can show you tales from every corner of the Galaxy that speak of original colonization as having taken place from Earth itself, though that is not always the name they give the parent planet.”
“What else do they call it?”
“Any of a number of names. They call it the Only, sometimes; and sometimes, the Oldest. Or they call it the Mooned World, which, according to some authorities is a reference to its giant satellite. Others claim it means ‘Lost World’ and that ‘Mooned’ is a version of ‘Marooned,’ a pre-Galactic word meaning ‘lost’ or ‘abandoned.”‘
Trevize said gently, “Janov, stop! You’ll continue forever with your authorities and counter-authorities. These legends are everywhere, you say?”
“Oh yes, my dear fellow. Quite. You have only to go through them to gain a feel for this human habit of beginning with some seed of truth and layering about it shell after shell of pretty falsehood-in the fashion of the oysters of Rhampora that build pearls about a piece of grit. I came across just exactly that metaphor once when-”
“Janov! Stop again! Tell me, is there anything about Comporellon’s legends that is different from others?”
“Oh!” Pelorat gazed at Trevize blankly for a moment. “Different? Well, they claim that Earth is relatively nearby and that’s unusual. On most worlds that speak of Earth, under whatever name they choose, there is a tendency to be vague about its location-placing it indefinitely far away or in some never-never land.”
Trevize said, “Yes, as some on Sayshell told us that Gaia was located in hyperspace.”
Trevize cast her a quick glance. “It’s true. That’s what we were told.”
“I don’t disbelieve it. It’s amusing, that’s all. It is, of course, what we want them to believe. We only ask to be left alone right now, and where can we be safer and more secure than in hyperspace? If we’re not there, we’re as good as there, if people believe that to be our location.”
“Yes,” said Trevize dryly, “and in the same way there is something that causes people to believe that Earth doesn’t exist, or that it is far away, or that it has a radioactive crust.”
“Except,” said Pelorat, “that the Comporellians believe it to be relatively close to themselves.”
“But nevertheless give it a radioactive crust. One way or another every people with an Earth-legend consider Earth to be unapproachable.”
“That’s more or less right,” said Pelorat.
Trevize said, “Many on Sayshell believed Gaia to be nearby; some even identified its star correctly; and yet all considered it unapproachable. There may be some Comporellians who insist that Earth is radioactive and dead, but who can identify its star. We will then approach it, unapproachable though they may consider it. We did exactly that in the case of Gaia.”
Bliss said, “Gaia was willing to receive you, Trevize. You were helpless in our grip but we had no thought of harming you. What if Earth, too, is powerful, but not benevolent. What then?”
“I must in any case try to reach it, and accept the consequences. However, that is my task. Once I locate Earth and head for it, it will not be too late for you to leave. I will put you off on the nearest Foundation world, or take you back to Gaia, if you insist, and then go on to Earth alone.”
“My dear chap,” said Pelorat, in obvious distress. “Don’t say such things. I wouldn’t dream of abandoning you.”
“Or I of abandoning Pel,” said Bliss, as she reached out a hand to touch Pelorat’s cheek.
“Very well, then. It won’t be long before we’re ready to take the Jump to Comporellon and thereafter, let us hope, it will be-on to Earth.”