LUNCHEON consisted of a heap of soft, crusty balls that came in different shades and that contained a variety of fillings.
Deniador picked up a small object which unfolded into a pair of thin, transparent gloves, and put them on. His guests followed suit.
Bliss said, “What is inside these objects, please?”
Deniador said, “The pink ones are filled with spicy chopped fish, a great Comporellian delicacy. These yellow ones contain a cheese filling that is very mild. The green ones contain a vegetable mixture. Do eat them while they are a quite warm. Later we will have hot almond pie and the usual beverages. I might recommend the hot cider. In a cold climate, we have a tendency to heat our foods, even desserts.”
“You do yourself well,” said Pelorat.
“Not really,” said Deniador. “I’m being hospitable to guests. For myself, I get along on very little. I don’t have much body mass to support, as you have probably noticed.” ‘
Trevize bit into one of the pink ones and found it very fishy indeed, with all overlay of spices that was pleasant to the taste but which, he thought, along with the fish itself, would remain with him for the rest of the day and, perhaps, into the night.
When he withdrew the object with the bite taken out of it, he found that the crust had closed in over the contents. There was no squirt, no leakage, and, for a moment, he wondered at the purpose of the gloves. These seemed no chance of getting his hands moist and sticky if he didn’t use them, so he decided it was a matter of hygiene. The gloves substituted for a washing of the hands if that were inconvenient and custom, probably, now dictated their use even if the hands were washed. (Lizalor hadn’t used gloves when he had eaten with her the day before.-Perhaps that was because she was a mountain woman.)
He said, “Would it be unmannerly to talk business over lunch?”
“By Comporellian standards, Councilman, it would be, but you are my guests, and we will go by your standards. If you wish to speak seriously, and do not think-or care-that that might diminish your pleasure in the food, please do so, and I will join you.”
Trevize said, “Thank you. Minister Lizalor implied-no, she stated quite bluntly-that Skeptics were unpopular on this world. Is that so?”
Deniador’s good humor seemed to intensify. “Certainly. How hurt we’d be if we weren’t. Comporellon, you see, is a frustrated world. Without any knowledge of the details, there is the general mythic belief, that once, many millennia ago, when the inhabited Galaxy was small, Comporellon was the leading world. We never forget that, and the fact that in known history we have not been leaders irks us, fills us-the population in general, that is-with a feeling of injustice.
“Yet what can we do? The government was forced to be a loyal vassal of the Emperor once, and is a loyal Associate of the Foundation now. And the more we are made aware of our subordinate position, the stronger the belief in the great, mysterious days of the past become.
“What, then, can Comporellon do? They could never defy the Empire in older times and they can’t openly defy the Foundation now. They take refuge, therefore, in attacking and hating us, since we don’t believe the legends and laugh at the superstitions.
“Nevertheless, we are safe from the grosser effects of persecution. We control the technology, and we fill the faculties of the Universities. Some of us, who are particularly outspoken, have difficulty in teaching classes openly. I have that difficulty, for instance, though I have my students and hold meetings quietly off-campus. Nevertheless, if we were really driven out of public life, the technology would fail and the Universities would lose accreditation with the Galaxy generally. Presumably, such is the folly of human beings, the prospects of intellectual suicide might not stop them from indulging their hatred, but the Foundation supports us. Therefore, we are constantly scolded and sneered at and denounced-and never touched.”
Trevize said, “Is it popular opposition that keeps you from telling us where Earth is? Do you fear that, despite everything, the anti-Skeptic feeling might turn ugly if you go too far?”
Deniador shook his head. “No. Earth’s location is unknown. I am not hiding anything from you out of fear-or for any other reason.”
“But look,” said Trevize urgently. “There are a limited number of planets in this sector of the Galaxy that possess the physical characteristics associated with habitability, and almost all of them must be not only inhabitable, but inhabited, and therefore well known to you. How difficult would it be to explore the sector for a planet that would be habitable were it not for the fact that it was radioactive? Besides that, you would look for such a planet with a large, satellite in attendance. Between radioactivity and a large satellite, Earth would be absolutely unmistakable and could not be missed even with only a casual search. It might take some time but that would be the only difficulty.”
Deniador said, “The Skeptic’s view is, of course, that Earth’s radioactivity and its large satellite are both simply legends. If we look for them, we look for sparrow-milk and rabbit-feathers.”
“Perhaps, but that shouldn’t stop Comporellon from at least taking on the search. If they find a radioactive world of the proper size for habitability, with a large satellite, what an appearance of credibility it would lend to Comporellian legendry in general.”
Deniador laughed. “It may be that Comporellon doesn’t search for that very reason. If we fail, or if we find an Earth obviously different from the legends, the reverse would take place. Comporellian legendry in general would be blasted and made into a laughingstock. Comporellon wouldn’t risk that.”
Trevize paused, then went on, very earnestly, “Besides, even if we discount those two uniquities-if there is such a word in Galactic-of radioactivity and a large satellite, there is a third that, by definition, must exist, without any reference to legends. Earth must have upon it either a flourishing life of incredible diversity, or the remnants of one, or, at the very least, the fossil record of such a one.”
Deniador said, “Councilman, while Comporellon has sent out no organized search party for Earth, we do have occasion to travel through space, and we occasionally have reports from ships that have strayed from their intended routes for one reason or another. Jumps are not always perfect, as perhaps you know. Nevertheless, there have been no reports of any planets with properties resembling those of the legendary Earth, or any planet that is bursting with life. Nor is any ship likely to land on what seems an uninhabited planet in order that the crew might go fossil-hunting. If, then, in thousands of years nothing of the sort has been reported, I am perfectly willing to believe that locating Earth is impossible, because Earth is not there to be located.”
Trevize said, in frustration, “But Earth must be somewhere. Somewhere there is a planet on which humanity and all the familiar forms of life associated with humanity evolved. If Earth is not in this section of the Galaxy, it must be elsewhere.”
“Perhaps,” said Deniador cold-bloodedly, “but in all this time, it hasn’t turned up anywhere.”
“People haven’t really looked for it.”
“Well, apparently you are. I wish you luck, but I would never bet on your success.”
Trevize said, “Have there been attempts to determine the possible position of Earth by indirect means, by some means other than a direct search?”
“Yes,” said two voices at once. Deniador, who was the owner of one of the voices, said to Pelorat, “Are you thinking of Yariff’s project?”
“I am,” said Pelorat.
“Then would you explain it to the Councilman? I think he would more readily believe you than me.”
Pelorat said, “You see, Golan, in the last days of the Empire, there was a time when the Search for Origins, as they called it, was a popular pastime, perhaps to get away from the unpleasantness of the surrounding reality. The Empire was in a process of disintegration at that time, you know.
“It occurred to a Livian historian, Humbal Yariff, that whatever the planet of origin, it would have settled worlds near itself sooner than it would settle planets farther away. In general, the farther a world from the point of origin the later it would have been settled.
“Suppose, then, one recorded the date of settlement of all habitable planets in the Galaxy, and made networks of all that were a given number of Millennia old. There could be a network drawn through all planets ten thousand years old; another through those twelve thousand years old, still another through those fifteen thousand years old. Each network would, in theory, be roughly spherical and they should be roughly concentric. The older networks would form spheres smaller in radius than the younger ones, and if one worked out all the centers they should fall within a comparatively small volume of space that would include the planet of origin-Earth.”
Pelorat’s face was very earnest as he kept drawing spherical surfaces with his cupped hands. “Do you see my point, Golan?”
Trevize nodded. “Yes. But I take it that it didn’t work.”
“Theoretically, it should have, old fellow. One trouble was that times of origin were totally inaccurate. Every world exaggerated its own age to one degree or another and there was no easy way of determining age independently of legend.”
Bliss said, “Carbon-14 decay in ancient timber.”
“Certainly, dear,” said Pelorat, “but you would have had to get co-operation from the worlds in question, and that was never given. No world wanted its own exaggerated claim of age to be destroyed and the Empire was then in no position to override local objections in a matter so unimportant. It had other things on its mind.
“All that Yariff could do was to make use of worlds that were only two thousand years old at most, and whose founding had been meticulously recorded under reliable circumstances. There were few of those, and while they were distributed in roughly spherical symmetry, the center was relatively close to Trantor, the Imperial capital, because that was where the colonizing expeditions had originated for those relatively few worlds.
“That, of course, was another problem. Earth was not the only point of origin of settlement for other worlds. As time went on, the older worlds sent out settlement expeditions of their own, and at the time of the height of Empire, Trantor was a rather copious source of those. Yariff was, rather unfairly, laughed at and ridiculed and his professional reputation was destroyed.”
Trevize said, “I get the story, Janov.-Dr. Deniador, is there then nothing at all you could give me that represents the faintest possibility of hope? Is there any other world where it is conceivable there may be some information concerning Earth?”
Deniador sank into doubtful thought for a while. “We-e-ell,” he said at last, drawing out the word hesitantly, “as a Skeptic I must tell you that I’m not sure that Earth exists, or has ever existed. However-” He fell silent again.
Finally, Bliss said, “I think you’ve thought of something that might be important, Doctor.”
“Important? I doubt it,” said Deniador faintly. “Perhaps amusing, however. Earth is not the only planet whose position is a mystery. There are the worlds of the first group of Settlers; the Spacers, as they are called in our legends. Some call the planets they inhabited the ‘Spacer worlds’; others call them the ‘Forbidden Worlds.’ The latter name is now the usual one.
“In their pride and prime, the legend goes, the Spacers had lifetimes stretching out for centuries, and refused to allow our own short-lived ancestors to land on their worlds. After we had defeated them, the situation was reversed. We scorned to deal with them and left them to themselves, forbidding our own ships and Traders to deal with them. Hence those planets became the Forbidden Worlds. We were certain, so the legend states, that He Who Punishes would destroy them without our intervention, and, apparently, He did. At least, no Spacer has appeared in the Galaxy to our knowledge, in many millennia.”
“Do you think that the Spacers would know about Earth?” said Trevize.
“Conceivably, since their worlds were older than any of ours. That is, if any Spacers exist, which is extremely unlikely.”
“Even if they don’t exist, their worlds do and may contain records.”
“If you can find the worlds.”
Trevize looked exasperated. “Do you mean to say that the key to Earth, the location of which is unknown, may be found on Spacer worlds, the location of which is also unknown?”
Deniador shrugged. “We have had no dealings with them for twenty thousand years. No thought of them. They, too, like Earth, have receded into the mists.”
“How many worlds did the Spacers live on?”
“The legends speak of fifty such worlds-a suspiciously round number. There were probably far fewer.”
“And you don’t know the location of a single one of the fifty?”
“Well, now, I wonder-”
“What do you wonder?”
Deniador said, “Since primeval history is my hobby, as it is Dr. Pelorat’s, I have occasionally explored old documents in search of anything that might refer to early time; something more than legends. Last year, I came upon the records of an old ship, records that were almost indecipherable. It dated back to the very old days when our world was not yet known as Comporellon. The name ‘Baleyworld’ was used, which, it seems to me, may be an even earlier form of the ‘Benbally world’ of our legends.”
Pelorat said, excitedly, “Have you published?”
“No,” said Deniador. “I do not wish to dive until I am sure there is water in the swimming pool, as the old saying has it. You see, the record says that the captain of the ship had visited a Spacer world and taken off with him a Spacer woman.”
Bliss said, “But you said that the Spacers did not allow visitors.”
“Exactly, and that is the reason I don’t publish the material. It sounds incredible. There are vague tales that could be interpreted as referring to the Spacers and to their conflict with the Settlers-our own ancestors.-Such tales exist not only on Comporellon but on many worlds in many variations, but all are in absolute accord in one respect. The two groups, Spacers and Settlers, did not mingle. There was no social contact, let alone sexual contact, and yet apparently the Settler captain and the Spacer woman were held together by bonds of love. This is so incredible that I see no chance of the story being accepted as anything but, at best, a piece of romantic historical fiction.”
Trevize looked disappointed. “Is that all?”
“No, Councilman, there is one more matter. I came across some figures in what was left of the log of the ship that might-or might not-represent spatial co-ordinates. If they were-and I repeat, since my Skeptic’s honor compels me to, that they might not be-then internal evidence made me conclude they were the spatial co-ordinates of three of the Spacer worlds. One of them might be the Spacer world where the captain landed and from which he withdrew his Spacer love.”
Trevize said, “Might it not be that even if the tale is fiction, the coordinates are real?”
“It might be,” said Deniador. “I will give you the figures, and you are free to use them, but you might get nowhere.-And yet I have an amusing notion.” His quick smile made its appearance.
“What is that?” said Trevize.
“What if one of those sets of co-ordinates represented Earth?”
COMPORELLON’S sun, distinctly orange, was larger in appearance than the sun of Terminus, but it was low in the sky and gave out little heat. The wind, fortunately light, touched Trevize’s cheek with icy fingers.
He shivered inside the electrified coat he had been given by Mitza Lizalor, who now stood next to him. He said, “It must warm up sometime, Mitza.”
She glanced up at the sun briefly, and stood there in the emptiness of the spaceport, showing no signs of discomfort-tall, large, wearing a lighter coat than Trevize had on, and if not impervious to the cold, at least scornful of it.
She said, “We have a beautiful summer. It is not a long one but our food crops are adapted to it. The strains are carefully chosen so that they grow quickly in the sun and do not frostbite easily. Our domestic animals are well furred, and Comporellian wool is the best in the Galaxy by general admission. Then, too, we have farm settlements in orbit about Comporellon that grow ‘ tropical fruit. We actually export canned pineapples of superior flavor. Most people who know us as a cold world don’t know that.”
Trevize said, “I thank you for coming to see us off, Mitza, and for being willing to co-operate with us on this mission of ours. For my own peace of mind, however, I must ask whether you will find yourself in serious trouble over this.”
“No!” She shook her head proudly. “No trouble. In the first place, I will not be questioned. I am in control of transportation, which means I alone set the rules for this spaceport and others, for the entry stations, for the ships that come and go. The Prime Minister depends on me for all that and is only too delighted to remain ignorant of its details.-And even if I were questioned, I have but to tell the truth. The government would applaud me for not turning the ship over to the Foundation. So would the people if it were safe to let them know. And the Foundation itself would not know of it.”
Trevize said, “The government might be willing to keep the ship from the Foundation, but would they be willing to approve your letting us take it away?”
Lizalor smiled. “You are a decent human being, Trevize. You have fought tenaciously to keep your ship and now that you have it you take the trouble to concern yourself with my welfare.” She reached toward him tentatively as though tempted to give some sign of affection and then, with obvious difficulty, controlled the impulse.
She said, with a renewed brusqueness, “Even if they question my decision, I have but to tell them that you have been, and still are, searching for the Oldest, and they will say I did well to get rid of you as quickly as I did, ship and all, And they will perform the rites of atonement that you were ever allowed to land in the first place, though there was no way we might have guessed what you were doing.”
“Do you truly fear misfortune to yourself and the world because of my presence?”
“Indeed,” said Lizalor stolidly. Then she said, more softly, “You have brought misfortune to me, already, for now that I have known you, Comporellian men will seem more sapless still. I will be left with an unappeasable longing. He Who Punishes has already seen to that.”
Trevize hesitated, then said, “I do not wish you to change your mind on this matter, but I do not wish you to suffer needless apprehension, either. You must know that this matter of my bringing misfortune on you is simply superstition.”
“The Skeptic told you that, I presume.”
“I know it without his telling me.”
Lizalor brushed her face, for a thin rime was gathering on her prominent eyebrows and said, “I know there are some who think it superstition. That the Oldest brings misfortune is, however, a fact. It has been demonstrated many times and all the clever Skeptical arguments can’t legislate the truth out of existence.”
She thrust out her .hand suddenly. “Good-bye, Golan. Get on the ship and join your companions before your soft Terminian body freezes in our cold, but kindly wind.”
“Good-bye, Mitza, and I hope to see you when I return.”
“Yes, you have promised to return and I have tried to believe that you would. I have even told myself that I would come out and meet you at your ship in space so that misfortune would fall only on me and not upon my world-but you will not return.”
“Not so! I will! I would not give you up that easily, having had pleasure of you.” And at that moment, Trevize was firmly convinced that he meant it.
“I do not doubt your romantic impulses, my sweet Foundationer, but those who venture outward on a search for the Oldest will never come back-anywhere. I know that in my heart.”
Trevize tried to keep his teeth from chattering. It was from cold and he didn’t want her to think it was from fear. He said, “That, too, is superstition.”
“And yet,” she said, “that, too, is true.”
IT WAS GOOD T0 be back in the pilot-room of the Far Star. It might be cramped for room. It might be a bubble of imprisonment in infinite space. Nevertheless, it was familiar, friendly, and warm.
Bliss said, “I’m glad you finally came aboard. I was wondering how long you would remain with the Minister.”
“Not long,” said Trevize. “It was cold.”
“It seemed to me,” said Bliss, “that you were considering remaining with her and postponing the search for Earth. I do not like to probe your mind even lightly, but I was concerned for you and that temptation under which you labored seemed to leap out at me.”
Trevize said, “You’re quite right. Momentarily at least, I felt the temptation. The Minister is a remarkable woman and I’ve never met anyone quite like her.-Did you strengthen my resistance, Bliss?”
She said, “I’ve told you many times I must not and will not tamper with your mind in any way, Trevize. You beat down the temptation, I imagine, through your strong sense of duty.”
“No, I rather think not.” He smiled wryly. “Nothing so dramatic and noble. My resistance was strengthened, for one thing, by the fact that is was cold, and for another, by the sad thought that it wouldn’t take many sessions with her to kill me. I could never keep up the pace.”
Pelorat said, “Well, anyway, you are safely aboard. What are we going to do next?”
“In the immediate future, we are going to move outward through the planetary system at a brisk pace until we are far enough from Comporellon’s sun to make a Jump.”
“Do you think we will be stopped or followed?”
“No, I really think that the Minister is anxious only that we go away as rapidly as possible and stay away, in order that the vengeance of He Who Punishes not fall upon the planet. In fact-”
“She believes the vengeance will surely fall on us. She is under the firm conviction that we will never return. This, I hasten to add, is not an estimate of my probable level of infidelity, which she has had no occasion to measure. She meant that Earth is so terrible a bearer of misfortune that anyone who seeks it must die in the process.”
Bliss said, “How many have left Comporellon in search of Earth that she can make such a statement?”
“I doubt that any Comporellian has ever left on such a search. I told her that her fears were mere superstition.”
“Are you sure you believe that, or have you let her shake you?”
“I know her fears are the purest superstition in the form she expresses them, but they may be well founded just the same.”
“You mean, radioactivity will kill us if we try to land on it?”
“I don’t believe that Earth is radioactive. What I do believe is that Earth protects itself. Remember that all reference to Earth in the Library on Trantor has been removed. Remember that Gaia’s marvelous memory, in which all the planet takes part down to the rock strata of the surface and the molten metal at the core, stops short of penetrating far enough back to tell us anything of Earth.
“Clearly, if Earth is powerful enough to do that, it might also be capable of adjusting minds in order to force belief in its radioactivity, and thus preventing any search for it. Perhaps because Comporellon is so close that it represents a particular danger to Earth, there is the further reinforcement of a curious blankness. Deniador, who is a Skeptic and a scientist, is utterly convinced that there is no use searching for Earth. He says it cannot be found.-And that is why the Minister’s superstition may be well founded. If Earth is so intent on concealing itself, might it not kill us, or distort us, rather than allow us to find it?”
Bliss frowned and said, “Gaia-”
Trevize said quickly, “Don’t say Gaia will protect us. Since Earth was able to remove Gaia’s earliest memories, it is clear that in any conflict between the two Earth will win.”
Bliss said coldly, “How do you know that the memories were removed? It might be that it simply took time for Gaia to develop a planetary memory and that we can now probe backward only to the time of the completion of that development. And if the memory was removed, how can you be sure that it was Earth that did it?”
Trevize said, “I don’t know. I merely advance my speculations.”
Pelorat put in, rather timidly, “If Earth is so powerful, and so intent on preserving its privacy, so to speak, of what use is our search? You seem to think Earth won’t allow us to succeed and will kill us if that will be what it takes to keep us from succeeding. In that case, is there any sense in not abandoning this whole thing?”
“It might seem we ought to give up, I admit, but I have this powerful conviction that Earth exists, and I must and will find it. And Gaia tells me that when I have powerful convictions of this sort, I am always right.”
“But how can we survive the discovery, old chap?”
“It may be,” said Trevize, with an effort at lightness, “that Earth, too, will recognize the value of my extraordinary rightness and will leave me to myself. But-and this is what I am finally getting at-I cannot be certain that you two will survive and that is of concern to me. It always has been, but it is increasing now and it seems to me that I ought to take you two back to Gaia and then proceed on my own. It is I, not you, who first decided I must search for Earth; it is I, not you, who see value in it; it is 1, not you, who am driven. Let it be I, then, not you, who take the risk. Let me go on alone.-Janov?”
Pelorat’s long face seemed to grow longer as he buried his chin in his neck. “I won’t deny I feel nervous, Golan, but I’d be ashamed to abandon you. I would disown myself if I did so.”
“Gaia will not abandon you, Trevize, whatever you do. If Earth should prove dangerous, Gaia will protect you as far as it can. And in any case, in my role as Bliss, I will not abandon Pel, and if he clings to you, then I certainly cling to him.”
Trevize said grimly, “Very well, then. I’ve given you your chance. We go on together.”
“Together,” said Bliss.
Pelorat smiled slightly, and gripped Trevize’s shoulder. “Together. Always.”
BLISS SAID, “Look at that, Pel.”
She had been making use of the ship’s telescope by hand, almost aimlessly, as a change from Pelorat’s library of Earth-legendry.
Pelorat approached, placed an arm about her shoulders and looked at the viewscreen. One of the gas giants of the Comporellian planetary system was in sight, magnified till it seemed the large body it really was.
In color it was a soft orange streaked with paler stripes. Viewed from the planetary plane, and more distant from the sun than the ship itself was, it was almost a complete circle of light.
“Beautiful,” said Pelorat.
“The central streak extends beyond the planet, Pel.”
Pelorat furrowed his brow and said, “You know, Bliss, I believe it does,”
“Do you suppose it’s an optical illusion?”
Pelorat said, “I’m not sure, Bliss. I’m as much a space-novice as you am-Golan!”
Trevize answered the call with a rather feeble “What is it?” and entered the pilot-room, looking a bit rumpled, as though he had just been napping on his bed with his clothes on-which was exactly what he had been doing.
He said, in a rather peevish way, “Please! Don’t be handling the instruments.”
“It’s just the telescope,” said Pelorat. “Look at that.”
Trevize did. “It’s a gas giant, the one they call Gallia, according to the information I was given.”
“How can you tell it’s that one, just looking?”
“For one thing,” said Trevize, “at our distance from the sun, and because of the planetary sizes and orbital positions, which I’ve been studying in plotting our course, that’s the only one you could magnify to that extent et this time. For another thing, there’s the ring.”
“Ring?” said Bliss, mystified.
“All you can see is a thin, pale marking, because we’re viewing it almost edge-on. We can zoom up out of the planetary plane and give you a better view. Would you like that?”
Pelorat said, “I don’t want to make you have to recalculate positions and courses, Golan. “
“Oh well, the computer will do it for me with little trouble.” He sat down at the computer as he spoke and placed his hands on the markings that received them. The computer, finely attuned to his mind, did the rest.
The Far Star, free of fuel problems or of inertial sensations, accelerated rapidly, and once again, Trevize felt a surge of love for a computer-and-ship that responded in such a way to him-as though it was his thought that powered and directed it, as though it were a powerful and obedient extension of his will.
It was no wonder the Foundation wanted it back; no wonder Comporellon had wanted it for itself. The only surprise was that the force of superstition had been strong enough to cause Comporellon to be willing to give it up.
Properly armed, it could outrun or outfight any ship in the Galaxy, or any combination of ships-provided only that it did not encounter another ship like itself.
Of course, it was not properly armed. Mayor Branno, in assigning him the ship, had at least been cautious enough to leave it unarmed.
Pelorat and Bliss watched intently as the planet, Gallia, slowly, slowly, tipped toward them. The upper pole (whichever it was) became visible, with turbulence in a large circular region around it, while the lower pole retired behind the bulge of the sphere.
At the upper end, the dark side of the planet invaded the sphere of orange light, and the beautiful circle became increasingly lopsided.
What seemed more exciting was that the central pale streak was no longer straight but had come to be curved, as were the other streaks to the north and south, but more noticeably so.
Now the central streak extended beyond the edges of the planet very distinctly and did so in a narrow loop on either side. There was no question of illusion; its nature was apparent. It was a ring of matter, looping about the planet, and hidden on the far side.
“That’s enough to give you the idea, I think,” said Trevize. “If we were to move over the planet, you would see the ring in its circular form, concentric about the planet, touching it nowhere. You’ll probably see that it’s not one ring either but several concentric rings.”
“I wouldn’t have thought it possible,” said Pelorat blankly. “What keeps it in space?”
“The same thing that keeps a satellite in space,” said Trevize. “The rings consist of tiny particles, every one of which is orbiting the planet. The rings are so close to the planet that tidal effects prevent it from coalescing into a single body.”
Pelorat shook his head. “It’s horrifying when I think of it, old man. How is it possible that I can have spent my whole life as a scholar and yet know so little about astronomy?”
“And I know nothing at all about the myths of humanity. No one can encompass all of knowledge.-The point is that these planetary rings aren’t unusual. Almost every single gas giant has them, even if it’s only a thin curve of dust. As it happens, the sun of Terminus has no true gas giant in its planetary family, so unless a Terminian is a space traveler, or has taken University instruction in astronomy, he’s likely to know nothing about planetary rings. What is unusual is a ring that is sufficiently broad to be bright and noticeable, like that one. It’s beautiful. It must be a couple of hundred kilometers wide, at least.”
At this point, Pelorat snapped his fingers. “That’s what it meant.”
Bliss looked startled. “What is it, Pel?”
Pelorat said, “I came across a scrap of poetry once, very ancient, and in an archaic version of Galactic that was hard to make out but that was good evidence of great age.-Though I shouldn’t complain of the archaism, old chap. My work has made me an expert on various varieties of Old Galactic, which is quite gratifying even if it is of no use to me whatever outside my work.-What was I talking about?”
Bliss said, “An old scrap of poetry, Pel dear.”
“Thank you, Bliss,” he said. And to Trevize, “She keeps close track of what I say in order to pull me back whenever I get off-course, which is most of the time.”
“It’s part of your charm, Pel,” said Bliss, smiling.
“Anyway, this scrap of poetry purported to describe the planetary system of which Earth was part. Why it should do so, I don’t know, for the poem as a whole does not survive; at least, I was never able to locate it. Only this one portion survived, perhaps because of its astronomical content. In any case, it spoke of the brilliant triple ring of the sixth planet ‘both brade and large, sae the woruld shronk in comparisoun.’ I can still quote it, you see. I didn’t understand what a planet’s ring could be. I remember thinking of three circles on one side of the planet, all in a row. It seemed so nonsensical, I didn’t bother to include it in my library. I’m sorry now I didn’t inquire.” He shook his head. “Being a mythologist in today’s Galaxy is so solitary a job, one forgets the good of inquiring.”
Trevize said consolingly, “You were probably right to ignore it, Janov. It’s a mistake to take poetic chatter literally.”
“But that’s what was meant,” said Pelorat, pointing at the screen. “That’s what the poem was speaking of. Three wide rings, concentric, wider than the planet itself.”
Trevize said, “I never heard of such a thing. I don’t think rings can be that wide. Compared to the planet they circle, they are always very narrow.”
Pelorat said, “We never heard of a habitable planet with a giant satellite, either. Or one with a radioactive crust. This is uniqueness .number three. If we find a radioactive planet that might be otherwise habitable, with a giant satellite, and with another planet in the system that has a huge ring, there would be no doubt at all that we had encountered Earth.”
Trevize smiled. “I agree, Janov. If we find all three, we will certainly have found Earth.”
“If!” said Bliss, with a sigh.
THEY WERE beyond the main worlds of the planetary system, plunging outward between the positions of the two outermost planets so that there was now no significant mass within 1.5 billion kilometers. Ahead lay only the vast cometary cloud which, gravitationally, was insignificant.
The Far Star had accelerated to a speed of 0.1 c, one tenth the speed of light. Trevize knew well that, in theory, the ship could be accelerated to nearly the speed of light, but he also knew that, in practice, 0.1 c was the reasonable limit.
At that speed, any object with appreciable mass could be avoided, but there was no way of dodging the innumerable dust particles in space, and, to a far greater extent even, individual atoms and molecules. At very fast speeds, even such small objects could do damage, scouring and scraping the ship’s hull. At speeds near the speed of light, each atom smashing into the hull had the properties of a cosmic ray particle. Under that penetrating cosmic radiation, anyone on board ship would not long survive.
The distant stars showed no perceptible motion in the viewscreen, and even though the ship was moving at thirty thousand kilometers per second, there was every appearance of its standing still.
The computer scanned space to great distances for any oncoming object of small but significant size that might be on a collision course, and the ship veered gently to avoid it, in the extremely unlikely case that that would be necessary. Between the small size of any possible oncoming object, the speed with which it was passed, and the lack of inertial effect as the result of the course change, there was no way of telling whether anything ever took place in the nature of what might be termed a “close call.”
Trevize, therefore, did not worry about such things, or even give it the most casual thought. He kept his full attention on the three sets of co-ordinates he had been given by Deniador, and, particularly, on the set which indicated the object closest to themselves.
“Is there something wrong with the figures?” asked Pelorat anxiously.
“I can’t tell yet,” said Trevize. “Co-ordinates in themselves aren’t useful, unless you know the zero point and the conventions used in setting them up-the direction in which to mark off the distance, so to speak, what the equivalent of a prime meridian is, and so on.”
“How do you find out such things?” said Pelorat blankly.
“I obtained the co-ordinates of Terminus and a few other known points, relative to Comporellon. If I put them into the computer, it will calculate what the conventions must be for such co-ordinates if Terminus and the other points are to be correctly located. I’m only trying to organize things in my mind so that I can properly program the computer for this. Once the conventions are determined, the figures we have for the Forbidden Worlds might possibly have meaning.”
“Only possibly?” said Bliss.
“Only possibly, I’m afraid,” said Trevize. “These are old figures after all-presumably Comporellian, but not definitely. What if they are based on other conventions?”
“In that case?”
“In that case, we have only meaningless figures. But-we just have to find out.”
His hands flickered over the softly glowing keys of the computer, feeding it the necessary information. He then placed his hands on the handmarks on the desk. He waited while the computer worked out the conventions of the known co-ordinates, paused a moment, then interpreted the co-ordinates of the nearest Forbidden World by the same conventions, and finally located those co-ordinates on the Galactic map in its memory.
A starfield appeared on the screen and moved rapidly as it adjusted itself. When it reached stasis, it expanded with stars bleeding off the edges in all directions until they were almost all gone. At no point could the eye follow the rapid change; it was all a speckled blur. Until finally, a space one tenth of a parsec on each side (according to the index figures below the screen) “ all that remained. There was no further change, and only half a dozen dial sparks relieved the darkness of the screen.
“Which one is the Forbidden World?” asked Pelorat softly.
“None of them,” said Trevize. “Four of them are red dwarfs, one a near-red dwarf, and the last a white dwarf. None of them can possibly have a habitable world in orbit about them.”
“How do you know they’re red dwarfs just by looking at them?”
Trevize said, “We’re not looking at real stars; we’re looking at a section of the Galactic map stored in the computer’s memory. Each one is labeled. You can’t see it and ordinarily I couldn’t see it either, but as long as my hands are making contact, as they are, I am aware of a considerable amount of data on any star on which my eyes concentrate.”
Pelorat said in a woebegone tone, “Then the co-ordinates are useless.”
Trevize looked up at him, “No, Janov. I’m not finished. There’s still the matter of time. The co-ordinates for the Forbidden World are those of twenty thousand years ago. In that time, both it and Comporellon have been revolving about the Galactic Center, and they may well be revolving at different speeds and in orbits of different inclinations and eccentricities. With time, therefore, the two worlds may be drifting closer together or farther apart and, in twenty thousand years, the Forbidden World may have drifted anywhere from one-half to five parsecs off the mark. It certainly wouldn’t be included in that tenth-parsec square.”
“What do we do, then?”
“We have the computer move the Galaxy twenty thousand years back in time relative to Comporellon.”
“Can it do that?” asked Bliss, sounding rather awe-struck.
“Well, it can’t move the Galaxy itself back in time, but it can move the map in its memory banks back in time.”
Bliss said, “Will we see anything happen?”
“Watch,” said Trevize.
Very slowly, the half-dozen stars crawled over the face of the screen. A new star, not hitherto on the screen, drifted in from the left hand edge, and Pelorat pointed in excitement. “There! There!”
Trevize said, “Sorry. Another red dwarf. They’re very common. At least three fourths of all the stars in the Galaxy are red dwarfs.”
The screen settled down and stopped moving.
“Well?” said Bliss.
Trevize said, “That’s it. That’s the view of that portion of the Galaxy as it would have been twenty thousand years ago. At the very center of the screen is a point where the Forbidden World ought to be if it had been drifting at some average velocity.”
“Ought to be, but isn’t,” said Bliss sharply.
“It isn’t,” agreed Trevize, with remarkably little emotion.
Pelorat released his breath in a long sigh. “Oh, too bad, Golan.”
Trevize said, “Wait, don’t despair. I wasn’t expecting to see the star there.”
“You weren’t?” said Pelorat, astonished.
“No. I told you that this isn’t the Galaxy itself, but the computer’s map of the Galaxy. If a real star is not included in the map, we don’t see it. If the planet is called ‘Forbidden’ and has been called so for twenty thousand years, the chances are it wouldn’t be included in the map. And it isn’t, for we don’t see it.”
Bliss said, “We might not see it because it doesn’t exist. The Comporellian legends may be false, or the co-ordinates may be wrong.”
“Very true. The computer, however, can now make an estimate as to what the co-ordinates ought to be at this time, now that it has located the spot where it may have been twenty thousand years ago. Using the co-ordinates corrected for time, a correction I could only have made through use of the star map, we can now switch to the real starfield of the Galaxy itself.”
Bliss said, “But you only assumed an average velocity for the Forbidden World. What if its velocity was not average? You would not now have the correct co-ordinates.”
“True enough, but a correction, assuming average velocity, is almost certain to be closer to its real position, than if we had made no time correction at all.”
“You hope!” said Bliss doubtfully.
“That’s exactly what I do,” said Trevize. “I hope.-And now let’s look at the real Galaxy.”
The two onlookers watched tensely, while Trevize (perhaps to reduce his own tensions and delay the zero moment) spoke softly, almost as though he were lecturing.
“It’s more difficult to observe the real Galaxy,” he said. “The map in the computer is an artificial construction, with irrelevancies capable of being eliminated. If there is a nebula obscuring the view, I can remove it. If the angle of view is inconvenient for what I have in mind, I can change the angle, and so on. The real Galaxy, however, I must take as I find it, and if I want a change I must move physically through space, which will take far more time than it would take to adjust a map.”
And as he spoke, the screen showed a star cloud so rich in individual stars as to seem an irregular heap of powder.
Trevize said, “That’s a large angle view of a section of the Milky Way, and I want the foreground, of course. If I expand the foreground, the background will tend to fade in comparison. The co-ordinate spot is close enough to Comporellon so that I should be able to expand it to about the situation I had on the view of the map. Just let me put in the necessary instructions, if I can hold on to my sanity long enough. Now.”
The starfield expanded with a rush so that thousands of stars pushed off every edge, giving the watchers so real a sensation of moving toward the screen that all three automatically leaned backward as though in response to a forward rush.
The old view returned, not quite as dark as it had been on the map, but with the half-dozen stars shown as they had been in the original view. And there, close to the center, was another star, shining far more brightly than the others.
“There it is,” said Pelorat, in an awed whisper.
“It may be. I’ll have the computer take its spectrum and analyze it.” There was a moderately long pause, then Trevize said, “Spectral class, G-4, which makes it a trifle dimmer and smaller than Terminus’s sun, but rather brighter than Comporellon’s sun. And no G-class star should be omitted from the computer’s Galactic map. Since this one is, that is a strong indication that it may be the sun about which the Forbidden World revolves.”
Bliss said, “Is there any chance of its turning out that there is no habitable planet revolving about this star after all?”
“There’s a chance, I suppose. In that case, we’ll try to find the other two Forbidden Worlds.”
Bliss persevered. “And if the other two are false alarms, too?”
“Then we’ll try something else.”
“I wish I knew,” said Trevize grimly.