TREVIZE seemed lost in thought during dinner, and Bliss concentrated on the food.
Pelorat, the only one who seemed anxious to speak, pointed out that if the world they were on was Aurora and if it was the first settled world, it ought to be fairly close to Earth.
“It might pay to scour the immediate stellar neighborhood,” he said. “It would only mean sifting through a few hundred stars at most.”
Trevize muttered that hit-and-miss was a last resort and he wanted as much information about Earth as possible before attempting to approach it even if he found it. He said no more and Pelorat, clearly squelched, dwindled into silence as well.
After the meal, as Trevize continued to volunteer nothing, Pelorat said tentatively, “Are we to be staying here, Golan?”
“Overnight, anyway,” said Trevize. “I need to do a bit more thinking.”
“Is it safe?”
“Unless there’s something worse than dogs about,” said Trevize, “we’re quite safe here in the ship.”
Pelorat said, “How long would it take to lift off, if there is something worse than dogs about?”
Trevize said, “The computer is on launch alert. I think we can manage to take off in between two and three minutes. And it will warn us quite effectively if anything unexpected takes place, so I suggest we all get some sleep. Tomorrow morning, I’ll come to a decision as to the next move.”
Easy to say, thought Trevize, as he found himself staring at the darkness. He was curled up, partly dressed, on the floor of the computer room. It was quite uncomfortable, but he was sure that his bed would be no more conducive to sleep at this time and here at least he could take action at once if the computer sounded an alarm.
Then he heard footsteps and automatically sat up, hitting his head against the edge of the desk-not hard enough to do damage, but hard enough to make rubbing and grimacing a necessity.
“Janov?” he said in a muffled voice, eyes tearing.
“No. It’s Bliss.”
Trevize reached over the edge of the table with one hand to make at least semicontact with the computer, and a soft light showed Bliss in a light pink wraparound.
Trevize said, “What is it?”
“I looked in your bedroom and you weren’t there. There was no mistaking your neuronic activity, however, and I followed it. You were clearly awake so I walked in.”
“Yes, but what is it you want?”
She sat down against the wall, knees up, and cradled her chin against them. She said, “Don’t be concerned. I have no designs on what’s left of your virginity.”
“I don’t imagine you do,” said Trevize sardonically. “Why aren’t you asleep? You need it more than we do.”
“Believe me,” she said in a low, heartfelt tone, “that episode with the dogs was very draining.”
“I believe that.”
“But I had to talk to you when Pel was sleeping.”
Bliss said, “When he told you about the robot, you said that that changes everything. What did you mean?”
Trevize said, “Don’t you see that for yourself? We have three sets of coordinates; three Forbidden Worlds. I want to visit all three to learn as much as possible about Earth before trying to reach it.”
He edged a bit closer so that he could speak lower still, then drew away sharply. He said, “Look, I don’t want Janov coming in here looking for us. I don’t know what he’d think.”
“It’s not likely. He’s sleeping and I’ve encouraged that just a bit. If he stirs, I’ll know.-Go on. You want to visit all three. What’s changed?”
“It wasn’t part of my plan to waste time on any world needlessly. If this world, Aurora, had been without human occupation for twenty thousand years, then it is doubtful that any information of value has survived. I don’t want to spend weeks or months scrabbling uselessly about the planetary surface, fighting off dogs and cats and bulls or whatever else may have become wild and dangerous, just on the hope of finding a scrap of reference material amid the dust, rust, and decay. It may be that on one or both of the other Forbidden Worlds there may be human beings and intact libraries.-So it was my intention to leave this world at once. We’d be out in space now, if I had done so, sleeping in perfect security.”
“But if there are robots still functioning on this world, they may have important information that we could use. They would be safer to deal with than human beings would be, since, from what I’ve heard, they must follow orders and can’t harm human beings.”
“So you’ve changed your plan and now you’re going to spend time on this world searching for robots.”
“I don’t want to, Bliss. It seems to me that robots can’t last twenty thousand years without maintenance.-Yet since you’ve seen one with a spark of activity still, it’s clear I can’t rely on my commonsense guesses about robots. I mustn’t lead out of ignorance. Robots may be more enduring than I imagine, or they may have a certain capacity for self-maintenance.”
Bliss said, “Listen to me, Trevize, and please keep this confidential.”
“Confidential?” said Trevize, raising his voice in surprise. “From whom?”
“Sh! From Pel, of course. Look, you don’t have to change your plans. You were right the first time. There are no functioning robots on this world. I detect nothing.”
“You detected that one, and one is as good as-”
“I did not detect that one. It was nonfunctioning; long nonfunctioning.”
“I know what I said. Pel thought he saw motion and heard sound. Pel is a romantic. He’s spent his working life gathering data, but that is a difficult way of making one’s mark in the scholarly world. He would dearly love to make an important discovery of his own. His finding of the word ‘Aurora’ was legitimate and made him happier than you can imagine. He wanted desperately to find more.”
Trevize said, “Are you telling me he wanted to make a discovery so badly he convinced himself he had come upon a functioning robot when he hadn’t?”
“What he came upon was a lump of rust containing no more consciousness than the rock against which it rested.”
“But you supported his story.”
“I could not bring myself to rob him of his discovery. He means so much to me.
Trevize stared at her for a full minute; then he said, “Do you mind explaining why he means so much to you? I want to know. I really want to know. To you he must seem an elderly man with nothing romantic about him. He’s an Isolate, and you despise Isolates. You’re young and beautiful and there must 61 other parts of Gaia that have the bodies of vigorous and handsome young am. With them you can have a physical relationship that can resonate through Gaia and bring peaks of ecstasy. So what do you an in Janov?”
Bliss looked at Trevize solemnly. “Don’t you love him?”
Trevize shrugged and said, “I’m fond of him. I suppose you could say, in a nonsexual way, that I love him.”
“You haven’t known him very long, Trevize. Why do you love him, in that nonsexual way of yours?”
Trevize found himself smiling without being aware of it. “He’s such an odd fellow. I honestly think that never in his life has he given a single thought to himself. He was ordered to go along with me, and he went. No objection. He wanted me to go to Trantor, but when I said I wanted to go to Gaia, he never argued. And now he’s come along with me in this search for Earth, though he must know it’s dangerous. I feel perfectly confident that if he had to sacrifice his life for me-or for anyone-he would, and without repining.”
“Would you give your life for him, Trevize?”
“I might, if I didn’t have time to think. If I did have time to think, I would hesitate and I might funk it. I’m not as good as he is. And because of that, I have this terrible urge to protect and keep him good. I don’t want the Galaxy to teach him not to be good. Do you understand? And I have to protect him from you particularly. I can’t bear the thought of you tossing him aside when whatever nonsense amuses you now is done with.”
“Yes, I thought you’d think something like that. Don’t you suppose I see in Pel what you see in him-and even more so, since I can contact his mind directly? Do I act as though I want to hurt him? Would I support his fantasy of having seen a functioning robot, if it weren’t that I couldn’t bear to hurt him? Trevize, I am used to what you would call goodness, for every part of Gaia is ready to be sacrificed for the whole. We know and understand no other course of action. But we give up nothing in so doing, for each part is the whole, though I don’t expect you to understand that. Pel is something different.”
Bliss was no longer looking at Trevize. It was as though she were talking to herself. “He is an Isolate. He is not selfless because he is a part of a greater whole. He is selfless because he is selfless. Do you understand me? He has all to lose and nothing to gain, and yet he is what he is. He shames me for being what I am without fear of loss, when he is what he is without hope of gain.”
She looked up at Trevize again now, very solemnly. “Do you know how much more I understand about him than you possibly can? And do you think I would harm him in any way?”
Trevize said, “Bliss, earlier today, you said, ‘Come, let us be friends,’ and all I replied was, ‘If you wish.’ That was grudging of me, for I was thinking of what you might do to Janov. It is my turn, now. Come, Bliss, let us be friends. You can keep on pointing out the advantage of Galaxia and I may keep on refusing to accept your arguments, but even so, and despite that, let us be friends.” And he held out his hand.
“Of course, Trevize,” she said, and their hands gripped each other strongly.
TREVIZE grinned quietly to himself. It was an internal grin, for the line of his mouth didn’t budge.
When he had worked with the computer to find the star (if any) of the first set of co-ordinates, both Pelorat and Bliss had watched intently and had asked questions. Now they stayed in their room and slept or, at any rate, relaxed, and left the job entirely to Trevize.
In a way, it was flattering, for it seemed to Trevize that by now they had simply accepted the fact that Trevize knew what he was doing and required no supervision or encouragement. For that matter, Trevize had gained enough experience from the first episode to rely more thoroughly on the computer and to feel that it needed, if not none, then at least less supervision.
Another star-luminous and unrecorded on the Galactic map-showed up. This second star was more luminous than the star about which Aurora circled, and that made it all the more significant that the star was unrecorded in the computer.
Trevize marveled at the peculiarities of ancient tradition. Whole centuries might be telescoped or dropped out of consciousness altogether. Entire civilizations might be banished into forgetfulness. Yet out of the midst of these centuries, snatched from those civilizations, might be one or two factual items that would be remembered undistorted-such as these co-ordinates.
He had remarked on this to Pelorat some time before, and Pelorat had at once told him that it was precisely this that made the study of myths and legends so rewarding. “The trick is,” Pelorat had said, “to work out or decide which particular components of a legend represent accurate underlying truth. That isn’t easy and different mythologists are likely to pick different components, depending, usually, on which happen to suit their particular interpretations.” .
In any case, the star was right where Deniador’s co-ordinates, corrected for time, said it would be. Trevize was prepared, at this moment, to wager a considerable sum that the third star would be in place as well. And if it was, Trevize was prepared to suspect that the legend was further correct in stating that there were fifty Forbidden Worlds altogether (despite the suspiciously even number) and to wonder where the other forty-seven might be.
A habitable world, Forbidden World, was found circling the star-and by this time its presence didn’t cause even a ripple of surprise in Trevize’s bosom. He had been absolutely sure it would be there. He set the Far Star into a slow orbit about it.
The cloud layer was sparse enough to allow a reasonable view of the surface from space. The world was a watery one, as almost all habitable worlds were. There was an unbroken tropical ocean and two unbroken polar oceans. In one set of middle latitudes, there was a more or less serpentine continent encircling the world with bays on either side producing an occasional narrow isthmus. In the other set of middle latitudes, the land surface was broken into three large parts and each of the three were thicker north-south than the opposite continent was.
Trevize wished he knew enough climatology to be able to predict, from what he saw, what the temperatures and seasons might be like. For a moment, he toyed with the idea of having the computer work on the problem. The trouble was that climate was not the point at issue.
Much more important was that, once again, the computer detected no radiation that might be of technological origin. What his telescope told him was that the planet was not moth-eaten and that there were no signs of desert. The land moved backward in various shades of green, but there were no signs of urban areas on the dayside, no lights on the nightside.
Was this another planet filled with every kind of life but human?
He rapped at the door of the other bedroom.
“Bliss?” he called out in a loud whisper, and rapped again.
There was a rustling, and Bliss’s voice said, “Yes?”
“Could you come out here? I need your help-”
“If you wait just a bit, I’ll make myself a bit presentable.”
When she finally appeared, she looked as presentable as Trevize had ever seen her. He felt a twinge of annoyance at having been made to wait, however, for it made little difference to him what she looked like. But they were friends now, and he suppressed the annoyance.
She said with a smile and in a perfectly pleasant tone, “What can I do for you, Trevize?”
Trevize waved at the viewscreen. “As you can see, we’re passing over the surface of what looks like a perfectly healthy world with a quite solid vegetation cover over its land area. No lights at night, however, and no technological radiation. Please listen and tell me if there’s any animal life. There was one point at which I thought I could see herds of grazing animals, but I wasn’t sure. It might be a case of seeing what one desperately wants to see.”
Bliss “listened.” At least, a curiously intent look came across her face. She said, “Oh yes-rich in animal life.”
Now she seemed to concentrate harder. A full minute passed, and then another, and finally she relaxed. “I can’t quite tell. Every once in a while it seemed to me that I detected a whiff of intelligence sufficiently intense to be considered human. But it was so feeble and so occasional that perhaps I, too, was only sensing what I desperately wanted to sense. You see-”
She paused in thought, and Trevize nudged her with a “Well?”
She said, “The thing is I seem to detect something else. It is not something I’m familiar with, but I don’t see how it can be anything but-”
Her face tightened again as she began to “listen” with still greater intensity.
“Well?” said Trevize again.
She relaxed. “I don’t see how it can be anything but robots.”
“Yes, and if I detect them, surely I ought to be able to detect human beings, too. But I don’t.”
“Robots!” said Trevize again, frowning.
“Yes,” said Bliss, “and I should judge, in great numbers.”
PELORAT also said “Robots!” in almost exactly Trevize’s tone when he was told of them. Then he smiled slightly. “You were right, Golan, and I was wrong to doubt you.”
“I don’t remember your doubting me, Janov.”
“Oh well, old man, I didn’t think I ought to express it. I just thought, in my heart, that it was a mistake to leave Aurora while there was a chance we might interview some surviving robot. But then it’s clear you knew there would be a richer supply of robots here.”
“Not at all, Janov. I didn’t know. I merely chanced it. Bliss tells me their mental fields seem to imply they are fully functioning, and it seems to me they can’t very well be fully functioning without human beings about for care and maintenance. However, she can’t spot anything human so we’re still looking. »
Pelorat studied the viewscreen thoughtfully. “It seems to be all forest, doesn’t it?”
“Mostly forest. But there are clear patches that may be grasslands. The thing is that I see no cities, or any lights at night, or anything but thermal radiation at any time.”
“So no human beings after all?”
“I wonder. Bliss is in the galley trying to concentrate. I’ve set up an arbitrary prime meridian for the planet which means that it’s divided into latitude and longitude in the computer. Bliss has a little device which she presses whenever she encounters what seems an unusual concentration of robotic mental activity-I suppose you can’t say ‘neuronic activity’ in connection with robots-or any whiff of human thought. The device is linked to the computer, which thus gets a fix on all the latitudes and longitudes, and we’ll let it make the choice among them and pick a good place for landing.”
Pelorat looked uneasy. “Is it wise to leave the matter of choice to the computer?”
“Why not, Janov? It’s a very competent computer. Besides, when you have no basis on which to make a choice yourself, where’s the harm in at least considering the computer’s choice?”
Pelorat brightened up. “There’s something to that, Golan. Some of the oldest legends include tales of people making choices by tossing cubes to the ground.”
“Oh? What does that accomplish?”
“Each face of the cube has some decision on it-yes-no-perhaps-postpone-and so on. Whichever face happens to come upward on landing would be taken as bearing the advice to be followed. Or they would set a ball rolling about a slotted disc with different decisions scattered among the slots. The decision written on the slot in which the ball ends is to be taken. Some mythologists think such activities represented games of chance rather than lotteries, but the two are much the same thing in my opinion.”
“In a way,” said Trevize, “we’re playing a game of chance in choosing our place of landing.”
Bliss emerged from the galley in time to hear the last comment. She said, “No game of chance. I pressed several ‘maybes’ and then one sure-fire ‘yes,’ and it’s to the ‘yes’ that we’ll be going.”
“What made it a ‘yes’?” asked Trevize.
“I caught a whiff of human thought. Definite. Unmistakable.”
IT HAD been raining, for the grass was wet. Overhead, the clouds were scudding by and showing signs of breaking up.
The Far Star had come to a gentle rest near a small grove of trees. (In case of wild dogs, Trevize thought, only partly in jest.) All about was what looked like pasture land, and coming down from the greater height at which a better and wider view had been possible, Trevize had seen what looked like orchards and grain fields-and this time, an unmistakable view of grazing animals.
There were no structures, however. Nothing artificial, except that the regularity of the trees in the orchard and the sharp boundaries that separated fields were themselves as artificial as a microwave-receiving power station would have been.
Could that level of artificiality have been produced by robots, however? Without human beings?
Quietly, Trevize was putting on his holsters. This time, he knew that both weapons were in working order and that both were fully charged. For a moment, he caught Bliss’s eye and paused.
She said, “Go ahead. I don’t think you’ll have any use for them, but I thought as much once before, didn’t I?”
Trevize said, “Would you like to be armed, Janov?”
Pelorat shuddered. “No, thank you. Between you and your physical defense, and Bliss and her mental defense, I feel in no danger at all. I suppose it is cowardly of me to hide in your protective shadows, but I can’t feel proper shame when I’m too busy feeling grateful that I needn’t be in a position of possibly having to use force.”
Trevize said, “I understand. Just don’t go anywhere alone. If Bliss and I separate, you stay with one of us and don’t dash off somewhere under the spur of a private curiosity.”
“You needn’t worry, Trevize,” said Bliss. “I’ll see to that.”
Trevize stepped out of the ship first. The wind was brisk and just a trifle cool in the aftermath of the rain, but Trevize found that welcome. It had probably been uncomfortably warm and humid before the rain.
He took in his breath with surprise. The smell of the planet was delightful. Every planet had its own odor, he knew, an odor always strange and usually distasteful-perhaps only because it was strange. Might not strange be pleasant as well? Or was this the accident of catching the planet just after the rain at a particular season of the year. Whichever it was-
“Come on,” he called. “It’s quite pleasant out here.”
Pelorat emerged and said, “Pleasant is definitely the word for it. Do you suppose it always smells like this?”
“It doesn’t matter. Within the hour, we’ll be accustomed to the aroma, and our nasal receptors will be sufficiently saturated, for us to smell nothing.”
“Pity,” said Pelorat.
“The grass is wet,” said Bliss, with a shade of disapproval.
“Why not? After all, it rains on Gaia, too!” said Trevize, and as he said that a shaft of yellow sunlight reached them momentarily through a small break in the clouds. There would soon be more of it.
“Yes,” said Bliss, “but we know when and we’re prepared for it.”
“Too bad,” said Trevize; “you lose the thrill of the unexpected.”
Bliss said, “You’re right. I’ll try not to be provincial.”
Pelorat looked about and said, in a disappointed tone, “There seems to be nothing about.”
“Only seems to be,” said Bliss. “They’re approaching from beyond that rise.” She looked toward Trevize. “Do you think we ought to go to meet them?”
Trevize shook his head. “No. We’ve come to meet them across many parsecs. Let them walk the rest of the way. We’ll wait for them here.”
Only Bliss could sense the approach until, from the direction of her pointing finger, a figure appeared over the brow of the rise. Then a second, and a third.
“I believe that is all at the moment,” said Bliss.
Trevize watched curiously. Though he had never seen robots, there was not a particle of doubt in him that that was what they were. They had the schematic and impressionistic shape of human beings and yet were not obviously metallic in appearance. The robotic surface was dull and gave the illusion of softness, as though it were covered in plush.
But how did he know the softness was an illusion? Trevize felt a sudden desire to feel those figures who were approaching so stolidly. If it were true that this was a Forbidden World and that spaceships never approached it-and surely that must be so since the sun was not included in the Galactic map-then the Far Star and the people it carried must represent something the robots had never experienced. Yet they were reacting with steady certainty, as though they were working their way through a routine exercise.
Trevize said, in a low voice, “Here we may have information we can get nowhere else in the Galaxy. We could ask them for the location of Earth with reference to this world, and if they know, they will tell us. Who knows how long these things have functioned and endured? They may answer out of personal memory. Think of that.”
“On the other hand,” said Bliss, “they may be recently manufactured and may know nothing.”
“Or,” said Pelorat, “they may know, but may refuse to tell us.”
Trevize said, “I suspect they can’t refuse unless they’ve been ordered not to tell us, and why should such orders be issued when surely no one on this planet could have expected our coming?”
At a distance of about three meters, the robots stopped. They said nothing and made no further movement.
Trevize, his hand on his blaster, said to Bliss, without taking his eyes from the robot, “Can you tell whether they are hostile?”
“You’ll have to allow for the fact that I have no experience whatsoever with their mental workings, Trevize, but I don’t detect anything that seems hostile.”
Trevize took his right hand away from the butt of the weapon, but kept it near. He raised his left hand, palm toward the robots, in what he hoped would be recognized as a gesture of peace and said, speaking slowly, “I greet you. We come to this world as friends.”
The central robot of the three ducked his head in a kind of abortive bow that might also have been taken as a gesture of peace by an optimist, and replied.
Trevize’s jaw dropped in astonishment. In a world of Galactic communication, one did not think of failure in so fundamental a need. However, the robot did not speak in Galactic Standard or anything approaching it. In fact, Trevize could not understand a word.
PELORAT’S surprise was as great as that of Trevize, but there was an obvious element of pleasure in it, too.
“Isn’t that strange?” he said.
Trevize turned to him and said, with more than a touch of asperity in his voice, “It’s not strange. It’s gibberish.”
Pelorat said, “Not gibberish at all. It’s Galactic, but very archaic. I catch a few words. I could probably understand it easily if it were written down. It’s the pronunciation that’s the real puzzle.”
“Well, what did it say?”
“I think it told you it didn’t understand what you said.”
Bliss said, “I can’t tell what it said, but what I sense is puzzlement, which fits. That is, if I can trust my analysis of robotic emotion-or if there is such a thing as robotic emotion.”
Speaking very slowly, and with difficulty, Pelorat said something, and the three robots ducked their head in unison.
“What was that?” said Trevize.
Pelorat said, “I said I couldn’t speak well, but I would try. I asked for a little time. Dear me, old chap, this is fearfully interesting.”
“Fearfully disappointing,” muttered Trevize.
“You see,” said Pelorat, “every habitable planet in the Galaxy manages to work out its own variety of Galactic so that there are a million dialects that are sometimes barely intercomprehensible, but they’re all pulled together by the development of Galactic Standard. Assuming this world to have been isolated for twenty thousand years, the language would ordinarily drift so far from that of the rest of the Galaxy as to be an entirely different language. That it isn’t may be because the world has a social system that depends upon robots which can only understand the language as spoken in the fashion in which they were programmed. Rather than keep reprogramming, the language remained static and we now have what is to us merely a very archaic form of Galactic.”
“There’s an example,” said Trevize, “of how a robotized society can be held static and made, to turn degenerate.”
“But, my dear fellow,” protested Pelorat, “keeping a language relatively unchanged is not necessarily a sign of degeneration. There are advantages to it. Documents preserved for centuries and millennia retain their meaning and give greater longevity and authority to historical records. In the rest of the Galaxy, the language of Imperial edicts of the time of Hari Seldon already begins to sound quaint.”
“And do you know this archaic Galactic?”
“Not to say know, Golan. It’s just that in studying ancient myths and legends I’ve picked up the trick of it. The vocabulary is not entirely different, but it is inflected differently, and there are idiomatic expressions we don’t use any longer and, as I have said, the pronunciation is totally changed. I can act as interpreter, but not as a very good one.”
Trevize heaved a tremulous sigh. “A small stroke of good fortune is better than none. Carry on, Janov.”
Pelorat turned to the robots, waited a moment, then looked back at Trevize. “What am I supposed to say?”
“Let’s go all the way. Ask them where Earth is.”
Pelorat said the words one at a time, with exaggerated gestures of his hands.
The robots looked at each other and made a few sounds. The middle one then spoke to Pelorat, who replied while moving his hands apart as though he were stretching a length of rubber. The robot responded by spacing his words as carefully as Pelorat had.
Pelorat said to Trevize, “I’m not sure I’m getting across what I mean by ‘Earth.’ I suspect they think I’m referring to some region on their planet and they say they don’t know of any such region.”
“Do they use the name of this planet, Janov?”
“The closest I can come to what I think they are using as the name is ‘Solaria.’ “
“Have you ever heard of it in your legends?”
“No-any more than I had ever heard of Aurora.”
“Well, ask them if there is any place named Earth in the sky-among the stars. Point upward.”
Again an exchange, and finally Pelorat turned and said, “All I can get from them, Golan, is that there are no places in the sky.”
Bliss said, “Ask those robots how old they are; or rather, how long they have been functioning.”
“I don’t know how to say ‘functioning,”‘ said Pelorat, shaking his head. In fact, I’m not sure if I can say ‘how old.’ I’m not a very good interpreter.”
“Do the best you can, Pel dear,” said Bliss.
And after several exchanges, Pelorat said, “They’ve been functioning for twenty-six years.”
“Twenty-six years,” muttered Trevize in disgust. “They’re hardly older than you are, Bliss.”
Bliss said, with sudden pride, “It so happens-”
“I know. You’re Gaia, which is thousands of years old.-In any case, these robots cannot talk about Earth from personal experience, and their memorybanks clearly do not include anything not necessary to their functioning. So they know nothing about astronomy.”
Pelorat said, “There may be other robots somewhere on the planet that are primordial, perhaps.”
“I doubt it,” said Trevize, “but ask them, if you can find the words for it, Janov.”
This time there was quite a long conversation and Pelorat eventually broke it off with a flushed face and a clear air of frustration.
“Golan,” he said, “I don’t understand part of what they’re trying to say, but I gather that the older robots are used for manual labor and don’t know anything. If this robot were a human, I’d say he spoke of the older robots with contempt. These three are house robots, they say, and are not allowed to grow old before being replaced. They’re the ones who really know things-their words, not mine.”
“They don’t know much,” growled Trevize. “At least of the things we want to know.”
“I now regret,” said Pelorat, “that we left Aurora so hurriedly. If we had found a robot survivor there, and we surely would have, since the very first one I encountered still had a spark of life left in it, they would know of Earth through personal memory.”
“Provided their memories were intact, Janov,” said Trevize. “We can always go back there and, if we have to, dog packs or not, we will.-But if these robots are only a couple of decades old, there must be those who manufacture them, and the manufacturers must be human, I should think.” He turned to Bliss. “Are you sure you sensed-”
But she raised a hand to stop him and there was a strained and intent look on her face. “Coming now,” she said, in a low voice.
Trevize turned his face toward the rise and there, first appearing from behind it, and then striding toward them, was the unmistakable figure of a human being. His complexion was pale and his hair light and long, standing out slightly from the sides of his head. His face was grave but quite young in appearance. His bare arms and legs were not particularly muscled.
The robots stepped aside for him, and he advanced till he stood in their midst.
He then spoke in a clear, pleasant voice and his words, although used archaically, were in Galactic Standard, and easily understood.
“Greetings, wanderers from space,” he said. “What would you with my robots?”
TREVIZE did not cover himself with glory.. He said foolishly, “You speak Galactic?”
The Solarian said, with a grim smile, “And why not, since I am not mute?”
“But these?” Trevize gestured toward the robots.
“These are robots. They speak our language, as I do. But I am Solarian and hear the hyperspatial communications of the worlds beyond so that I have learned your way of speaking, as have my predecessors. My predecessors have left descriptions of the language, but I constantly hear new words and expressions that change with the years, as though you Settlers can settle worlds, but not words. How is it you are surprised at my understanding of your language?”
“I should not have been,” said Trevize. “I apologize. It was just that speaking to the robots, I had not thought to hear Galactic on this world.”
He studied the Solarian. He was wearing a thin white robe, draped loosely over his shoulder, with large openings for his arms. It was open in front, exposing a bare chest and loincloth below. Except for a pair of light sandals, he wore nothing else.
It occurred to Trevize that he could not tell whether the Solarian was male or female. The breasts were male certainly but the chest was hairless and the thin loincloth showed no bulge of any kind.
He turned to Bliss and said in a low voice, “This might still be a robot, but very like a human being in-”
Bliss said, her lips hardly moving, “The mind is that of a human being, not a robot.”
The Solarian said, “Yet you have not answered my original question. I shall excuse the failure and put it down to your surprise. I now ask again and you must not fail a second time. What would you with my robots?”
Trevize said, “We are travelers who seek information to reach our destination. We asked your robots for information that would help us, but they lacked the knowledge.”
“What is the information you seek? Perhaps I can help you.”
“We seek the location of Earth. Could you tell us that?”
The Solarian’s eyebrows lifted. “I would have thought that your first object of curiosity would have been myself. I will supply that information although you have not asked for it. I am Sarton Bander and you stand upon the Bander estate, which stretches as far as your eye can see in every direction and far beyond. I cannot say that you are welcome here, for in coming here, you have violated a trust. You are the first Settlers to touch down upon Solaria in many thousands of years and, as it turns out, you have come here merely to inquire as to the best way of reaching another world. In the old days, Settlers, you and your ship would have been destroyed on sight.”
“That would be a barbaric way of treating people who mean no harm and offer none,” said Trevize cautiously.
“I agree, but when members of an expanding society set foot upon an inoffensive and static one, that mere touch is filled with potential harm. While we feared that harm, we were ready to destroy those who came at the instant of their coming. Since we no longer have reason to fear, we are, as you see, ready to talk.”
Trevize said, “I appreciate the information you have offered us so freely, and yet you failed to answer the question I did ask. I will repeat it. Could you tell us the location of the planet Earth?”
“By Earth, I take it you mean the world on which the human species, and the various species of plants and animals”-his hand moved gracefully about as though to indicate all the surroundings about them-”originated.”
“Yes, I do, sir.”
A queer look of repugnance flitted over the Solarian’s face. He said, “Please address me simply as Bander, if you must use a form of address. Do not address me by any word that includes a sign of gender. I am neither male nor female. I am whole.”
Trevize nodded (he had been right). “As you wish, Bander. What, then, is the location of Earth, the world of origin of all of us?”
Bander said, “I do not know. Nor do I wish to know. If I did know, or if I could find out, it would do you no good, for Earth no longer exists as a world.-Ah,” he went on, stretching out his arms. “The sun feels good. I am not often on the surface, and never when the sun does not show itself. My robots were sent to greet you while the sun was yet hiding behind the clouds. I followed only when the clouds cleared.”
“Why is it that Earth no longer exists as a world?” said Trevize insistently, steeling himself for the tale of radioactivity once again.
Bander, however, ignored the question or, rather, put it to one side carelessly. “The story is too long,” he said. “You told me that you came with no intent of harm.”
“That is correct.”
“Why then did you come armed?”
“That is merely a precaution. I did not know what I might meet.”
“It doesn’t matter. Your little weapons represent no danger to me. Yet I am curious. I have, of course, heard much of your arms, and of your curiously barbaric history that seems to depend so entirely upon arms. Even so, I have never actually seen a weapon. May I see yours?”
Trevize took a step backward. “I’m afraid not, Bander.”
Bander seemed amused. “I asked only out of politeness. I need not have asked at all.”
It held out its hand and from Trevize’s right holster, there emerged his blaster, while from his left holster, there rose up his neuronic whip. Trevize snatched at his weapons but felt his arms held back as though by stiffly elastic bonds. Both Pelorat and Bliss started forward and it was clear that they were held as well.
Bander said, “Don’t bother trying to interfere. You cannot.” The weapons flew to its hands and it looked them over carefully. “This one,” it said, indicating the blaster, “seems to be a microwave beamer that produces heat, thus exploding any fluid-containing body. The other is more subtle, and, I must confess, I do not see at a glance what it is intended to do. However, since you mean no harm and offer no harm, you don’t need arms. I can, and I do, bleed the energy content of the units of each weapon. That leaves them harmless unless you use one or the other as a club, and they would be clumsy indeed if used for that purpose.”
The Solarian released the weapons and again they drifted through the air, this time back toward Trevize. Each settled neatly into its holster.
Trevize, feeling himself released, pulled out his blaster, but there was no need to use it. The contact hung loosely, and the energy unit had clearly been totally drained. That was precisely the case with the neuronic whip as well.
He looked up at Bander, who said, smiling, “You are quite helpless, Outworlder. I can as easily, if I so desired, destroy your ship and, of course, you.”