TREVIZE felt frozen. Trying to breathe normally, he turned to look at Bliss.
She was standing with her arm protectively about Pelorat’s waist, and, to all appearances, was quite calm. She smiled slightly and, even more slightly, nodded her head.
Trevize turned back to Bander. Having interpreted Bliss’s actions as signifying confidence, and hoping with dreadful earnestness that he was correct, he said grimly, “How did you do that, Bander?”
Bander smiled, obviously in high good humor. “Tell me, little Outworlders, do you believe in sorcery? In magic?”
“No, we do not, little Solarian,” snapped Trevize.
Bliss tugged at Trevize’s sleeve and whispered, “Don’t irritate him. He’s dangerous.”
“I can see he is,” said Trevize, keeping his voice low with difficulty. “You do something, then.”
Her voice barely heard, Bliss said, “Not yet. He will be less dangerous if he feels secure.”
Bander paid no attention to the brief whispering among the Outworlders. It moved away from them uncaringly, the robots separating to let it pass.
Then it looked back and crooked a finger languidly. “Come. Follow me. All three of you. I will tell you a story that may not interest you, but that interests me.” It continued to walk forward leisurely.
Trevize remained in place for a while, uncertain as to the best course of action. Bliss walked forward, however, and the pressure of her arm led Pelorat forward as well. Eventually, Trevize moved; the alternative was to be left standing alone with the robots.
Bliss said lightly, “If Bander will be so kind as to tell the story that may not interest us-”
Bander turned and looked intently at Bliss as though he were truly aware of her for the first time. “You are the feminine half-human,” he said, “aren’t you? The lesser half?”
“The smaller half, Bander. Yes.”
“These other two are masculine half-humans, then?”
“So they are.”
“Have you had your child yet, feminine?”
“My name, Bander, is Bliss. I have not yet had a child. This is Trevize. This is Pel.”
“And which of these two masculines is to assist you when it is your time? Or will it be both? Or neither?”
“Pel will assist me, Bander.”
Bander turned his attention to Pelorat. “You have white hair, I see.”
Pelorat said, “I have.”
“Was it always that color?”
“No, Bander, it became so with age.”
“And how old are you?”
“I am fifty-two years old, Bander,” Pelorat said, then added hastily, “That’s Galactic Standard Years.”
Bander continued to walk (toward the distant mansion, Trevize assumed), but more slowly. It said, “I don’t know how long a Galactic Standard Year is, but it can’t be very different from our year. And how old will you be when you die, Pel?”
“I can’t say. I may live thirty more years.”
“Eighty-two years, then. Short-lived, and divided in halves. Unbelievable, and yet my distant ancestors were like you and lived on Earth.-But some of them left Earth to establish new worlds around other stars, wonderful worlds, well organized, and many.”
Trevize said loudly, “Not many. Fifty.”
Bander turned a lofty eye on Trevize. There seemed less humor in it now. “Trevize. That’s your name.”
“Golan Trevize in full. I say there were fifty Spacer worlds. Our worlds number in the millions.”
“Do you know, then, the story that I wish to tell you?” said Bander softly.
“If the story is that there were once fifty Spacer worlds, we know it.”
“We count not in numbers only, little half-human,” said Bander. “We count the quality, too. There were fifty, but such a fifty that not all your millions could make up one of them. And Solaria was the fiftieth and, therefore, the best. Solaria was as far beyond the other Spacer worlds, as they were beyond Earth.
“We of Solaria alone learned how life was to be lived. We did not herd and flock like animals, as they did on Earth, as they did on other worlds, as they did even on the other Spacer worlds. We lived each alone, with robots to help us, viewing each other electronically as often as we wished, but coming within natural sight of one another only rarely. It is many years since I have gazed at human beings as I now gaze at you but, then, you are only half-humans and your presence, therefore, does not limit my freedom any more than a cow would limit it, or a robot.
“Yet we were once half-human, too. No matter how we perfected our freedom; no matter how we developed as solitary masters over countless robots; the freedom was never absolute. In order to produce young there had to be two individuals in co-operation. It was possible, of course, to contribute sperm cells and egg cells, to have the fertilization process and the consequent embryonic growth take place artificially in automated fashion. It was possible for the infant to live adequately under robotic care. It could all be done, but the half-humans would not give up the pleasure that went with biological impregnation. Perverse emotional attachments would develop in consequence and freedom vanished. Do you see that that had to be changed?”
Trevize said, “No, Bander, because we do not measure freedom by your standards.”
“That is because you do not know what freedom is. You have never lived but in swarms, and you know no way of life but to be constantly forced, in even the smallest things, to bend your wills to those of others or, which is equally vile, to spend your days struggling to force others to bend their wills to yours. Where is any possible freedom there? Freedom is nothing if it is not to live as you wish! Exactly as you wish!
“Then came the time when the Earthpeople began to swarm outward once more, when their clinging crowds again swirled through space. The other Spacers, who did not flock as the Earthpeople did, but who flocked nevertheless, if to a lesser degree, tried to compete.
“We Solarians did not. We foresaw inevitable failure in swarming. We moved underground and broke off all contact with the rest of the Galaxy. We were determined to remain ourselves at all costs. We developed suitable robots and weapons to protect our apparently empty surface, and they did the job admirably. Ships came and were destroyed, and stopped coming. The planet was considered deserted, and was forgotten, as we hoped it would be.
“And meanwhile, underground, we worked to solve our problems. We adjusted our genes gingerly, delicately. We had failures, but some successes, and we capitalized on the successes. It took us many centuries, but we finally became whole human beings, incorporating both the masculine and feminine principles in one body, supplying our own complete pleasure at will, and producing, when we wished, fertilized eggs for development under skilled robotic care.”
“Hermaphrodites,” said Pelorat.
“Is that what it is called in your language?” asked Bander indifferently. “I have never heard the word.”
“Hermaphroditism stops evolution dead in its tracks,” said Trevize. “Each child is the genetic duplicate of its hermaphroditic parent.”
“Come,” said Bander, “you treat evolution as a hit-and-miss affair. We can design our children if we wish. We can change and adjust the genes and, on occasion, we do.-But we are almost at my dwelling. Let us enter. It grows late in the day. The sun already fails to give its warmth adequately and we will be more comfortable indoors.”
They passed through a door that had no locks of any kind but that opened as they approached and closed behind them as they passed through. There were no windows, but as they entered a cavernous room, the walls glowed to luminous life and brightened. The floor seemed bare, but was soft and springy to the touch. In each of the four corners of the room, a robot stood motionless.
“That wall,” said Bander, pointing to the wall opposite the door-a wall that seemed no different in any way from the other three-”is my visionscreen. The world opens before me through that screen but it in no way limits my freedom for I cannot be compelled to use it.”
Trevize said, “Nor can you compel another to use his if you wish to see him through that screen and he does not.”
“Compel?” said Bander haughtily. “Let another do as it pleases, if it is but content that I do as I please. Please note that we do not use gendered pronouns in referring to each other.”
There was one chair in the room, facing the vision-screen, and Bander sat down in it.
Trevize looked about, as though expecting additional chairs to spring from the floor. “May we sit, too?” he said.
“If you wish,” said Bander.
Bliss, smiling, sat down on the floor. Pelorat sat down beside her. Trevize stubbornly continued to stand.
Bliss said, “Tell me, Bander, how many human beings live on this planet?”
“Say Solarians, half-human Bliss. The phrase ‘human being’ is contaminated by the fact that half-humans call themselves that. We might call ourselves whole-humans, but that is clumsy. Solarian is the proper term.”
“How many Solarians, then, live on this planet?”
“I am not certain. We do not count ourselves. Perhaps twelve hundred.”
“Only twelve hundred on the entire world?”
“Fully twelve hundred. You count in numbers again, while we count in quality.-Nor do you understand freedom. If one other Solarian exists to dispute my absolute mastery over any part of my land, over any robot or living thing or object, my freedom is limited. Since other Solarians exist, the limitation on freedom must be removed as far as possible by separating them all to the point where contact is virtually nonexistent. Solaria will hold twelve hundred Solarians under conditions approaching the ideal. Add more, and liberty will be palpably limited so that the result will be unendurable.”
“That means each child must be counted and must balance deaths,” said Pelorat suddenly.
“Certainly. That must be true of any world with a stable population-even yours, perhaps.”
“And since there are probably few deaths, there must therefore be few children.”
Pelorat nodded his head and was silent.
Trevize said, “What I want to know is how you made my weapons fly through the air. You haven’t explained that.”
“I offered you sorcery or magic as an explanation. Do you refuse to accept that?”
“Of course I refuse. What do you take me for?”
“Will you, then, believe in the conservation of energy, and in the necessary increase of entropy?”
“That I do. Nor can I believe that even in twenty thousand years you have changed these laws, or modified them a micrometer.”
“Nor have we, half-person. But now consider. Outdoors, there is sunlight.” There was its oddly graceful gesture, as though marking out sunlight all about. “And there is shade. It is warmer in the sunlight than in the shade, and heat flows spontaneously from the sunlit area into the shaded area.”
“You tell me what I know,” said Trevize.
“But perhaps you know it so well that you no longer think about it. And at night, Solaria’s surface is warmer than the objects beyond its atmosphere, so that heat flows spontaneously from the planetary surface into outer space.”
“I know that, too.”
“And day or night, the planetary interior is warmer than the planetary surface. Heat therefore flows spontaneously from the interior to the surface. I imagine you know that, too.”
“And what of all that, Bander?”
“The flow of heat from hotter to colder, which must take place by the second law of thermodynamics, can be used to do work.”
“In theory, yes, but sunlight is dilute, the heat of the planetary surface is even more dilute, and the rate at which heat escapes from the interior makes that the most dilute of all. The amount of heat-flow that can be harnessed would probably not be enough to lift a pebble.”
“It depends on the device you use for the purpose,” said Bander. “Our own tool was developed over a period of thousands of years and it is nothing less than a portion of our brain.”
Bander lifted the hair on either side of its head, exposing that portion of its skull behind its ears. It turned its head this way and that, and behind each ear was a bulge the size and shape of the blunt end of a hen’s egg.
“That portion of my brain, and its absence in you, is what makes the difference between a Solarian and you.”
TREVIZE glanced now and then at Bliss’s face, which seemed entirely concentrated on Bander. Trevize had grown quite certain he knew what was going on.
Bander, despite its paean to freedom, found this unique opportunity irresistible. There was no way it could speak to robots on a basis of intellectual equality, and certainly not to animals. To speak to its fellow-Solarians would be, to it, unpleasant, and what communication there must be would be forced, and never spontaneous.
As for Trevize, Bliss, and Pelorat, they might be half-human to Bander, and it might regard them as no more an infringement on its liberty than a robot or a goat would be-but they were its intellectual equals (or near equals) and the chance to speak to them was a unique luxury it had never experienced before.
No wonder, Trevize thought, it was indulging itself in this way. And Bliss (Trevize was doubly sure) was encouraging this, just pushing Bander’s mind ever so gently in order to urge it to do what it very much wanted to do in any case.
Bliss, presumably, was working on the supposition that if Bander spoke enough, it might tell them something useful concerning Earth. That made sense to Trevize, so that even if he had not been truly curious about the subject under discussion, he would nevertheless have endeavored to continue the conversation.
“What do those brain-lobes do?” Trevize asked.
Bander said, “They are transducers. They are activated by the flow of heat and they convert the heat-flow into mechanical energy.”
“I cannot believe that. The flow of heat is insufficient.”
“Little half-human, you do not think. If there were many Solarians crowded together, each trying to make use of the flow of heat, then, yes, the supply would be insufficient. I, however, have over forty thousand square kilometers that are mine, mine alone. I can collect heat-flow from any quantity of those square kilometers with no one to dispute me, so the quantity is sufficient. Do you see?”
“Is it that simple to collect heat-flow over a wide area? The mere act of concentration takes a great deal of energy.”
“Perhaps, but I am not aware of it. My transducer-lobes are constantly concentrating heat-flow so that as work is needed, work is done. When I drew your weapons into the air, a particular volume of the sunlit atmosphere lost some of its excess heat to a volume of the shaded area, so that I was using solar energy for the purpose. Instead of using mechanical or electronic devices to bring that about, however, I used a neuronic device.” It touched one of the transducer-lobes gently. “It does it quickly, efficiently, constantly-and effortlessly.”
“Unbelievable,” muttered Pelorat.
“Not at all unbelievable,” said Bander. “Consider the delicacy of the eye and ear., and how they can turn small quantities of photons and air vibrations into information. That would seem unbelievable if you had never come across it before. The transducer-lobes are no more unbelievable, and would not be so to you, were they not unfamiliar.”
Trevize said, “What do you do with these constantly operating transducerlobes?”
“We run our world,” said Bander. “Every robot on this vast estate obtains its energy from me; or, rather, from natural heat-flow. Whether a robot is adjusting a contact, or felling a tree, the energy is derived from mental transduction-my mental transduction.”
“And if you are asleep?”
“The process of transduction continues waking or sleeping, little half-human,” said Bander. “Do you cease breathing when you sleep? Does your heart stop beating? At night, my robots continue working at the cost of cooling Solaria’s interior a bit. The change is immeasurably small on a global scale and there are only twelve hundred of us, so that all the energy we use does not appreciably shorten our sun’s life or drain the world’s internal heat.”
“Has it occurred to you that you might use it as a weapon?”
Bander stared at Trevize as though he were something peculiarly incomprehensible. “I suppose by that,” he said, “you mean that Solaria might confront other worlds with energy weapons based on transduction? Why should we? Even if we could beat their energy weapons based on other principles-which is anything but certain-what would we gain? The control of other worlds? What do we want with other worlds when we have an ideal world of our own? Do we want to establish our domination over half-humans and use them in forced labor? We have our robots that are far better than half-humans for the purpose. We have everything. We want nothing-except to be left to ourselves. See here-I’ll tell you another story.”
“Go ahead,” said Trevize.
“Twenty thousand years ago when the half-creatures of Earth began to swarm into space and we ourselves withdrew underground, the other Spacer worlds were determined to oppose the new Earth-settlers. So they struck at Earth.”
“At Earth,” said Trevize, trying to hide his satisfaction over the fact that the subject had come up at last.
“Yes, at the center. A sensible move, in a way. If you wish to kill a person, you strike not at a finger or a heel, but at the heart. And our fellow-Spacers, not too far removed from human beings themselves in passions, managed to set Earth’s surface radioactively aflame, so that the world became largely uninhabitable.”
“Ah, that’s what happened,” said Pelorat, clenching a fist and moving it rapidly, as though nailing down a thesis. “I knew it could not be a natural phenomenon. How was it done?”
“I don’t know how it was done,” said Bander indifferently, “and in any case it did the Spacers no good. That is the point of the story. The Settlers continued to swarm and the Spacers-died out. They had tried to compete, and vanished. We Solarians retired and refused to compete, and so we are still here.”
“And so are the Settlers,” said Trevize grimly.
“Yes, but not forever. Swarmers must fight, must compete, and eventually must die. That may take tens of thousands of years, but we can wait. And when it happens, we Solarians, whole, solitary, liberated, will have the Galaxy to ourselves. We can then use, or not use, any world we wish to in addition to our own.”
“But this matter of Earth,” said Pelorat, snapping his fingers impatiently. “Is what you tell us legend or history?”
“How does one tell the difference, half-Pelorat?” said Bander. “All history is legend, more or less.”
“But what do your records say? May I see the records on the subject, Bander?-Please understand that this matter of myths, legends, and primeval history is my field. I am a scholar dealing with such matters and particularly with those matters as related to Earth.”
“I merely repeat what I have heard,” said Bander. “There are no records on the subject. Our records deal entirely with Solarian affairs and other worlds are mentioned in them only insofar as they impinge upon us.”
“Surely, Earth has impinged on you,” said Pelorat.
“That may be, but, if so, it was long, long ago, and Earth, of all worlds, was most repulsive to us. If we had any records of Earth, t am sure they were destroyed out of sheer revulsion.”
Trevize gritted his teeth in chagrin. “By yourselves?” he asked.
Bander turned its attention to Trevize. “There is no one else to destroy them.”
Pelorat would not let go of the matter. “What else have you heard concerning Earth?”
Bander thought. It said, “When I was young, I heard a tale from a robot about an Earthman who once visited Solaria; about a Solarian woman who left with him and became an important figure in the Galaxy. That, however, was, in my opinion, an invented tale.”
Pelorat bit at his lip. “Are you sure?”
“How can I be sure of anything in such matters?” said Bander. “Still, it passes the bounds of belief that an Earthman would dare come to Solaria, or that Solaria would allow the intrusion. It is even less likely that a Solarian woman-we were half-humans then, but even so-should voluntarily leave this world.-But come, let me show you my home.”
“Your home?” said Bliss, looking about. “Are we not in your home?”
“Not at all,” said Bander. “This is an anteroom. It is a viewing room. In it I see my fellow-Solarians when I must. Their images appear on that wall, or three-dimensionally in the space before the wall. This room is a public assembly, therefore, and not part of my home. Come with me,”
It walked on ahead, without turning to see if it were followed, but the four robots left their corners, and Trevize knew that if he and his companions did not follow spontaneously, the robots would gently coerce them into doing so.
The other two got to their feet and Trevize whispered lightly to Bliss, “Have you been keeping it talking?”
Bliss pressed his hand, and nodded. “Just the same, I wish I knew what its intentions were,” she added, with a note of uneasiness in her voice.
THEY followed Bander. The robots remained at a polite distance, but their presence was a constantly felt threat.
They were moving through a corridor, and Trevize mumbled low-spiritedly, “There’s nothing helpful about Earth on this planet. I’m sure of it. Just another variation on the radioactivity theme.” He shrugged. “We’ll have to go on to the third set of co-ordinates.”
A door opened before them, revealing a small room. Bander said, “Come, half-humans, I want to show you how we live.”
Trevize whispered, “It gets infantile pleasure out of display. I’d love to knock it down.”
“Don’t try to compete in childishness,” said Bliss.
Bander ushered all three into the room. One of the robots followed as well. Bander gestured the other robots away and entered itself. The door closed behind it.
“It’s an elevator,” said Pelorat, with a pleased air of discovery.
“So it is,” said Bander. “Once we went underground, we never truly emerged. Nor would we want to, though I find it pleasant to feel the sunlight on occasion. I dislike clouds or night in the open, however. That gives one the sensation of being underground without truly being underground, if you know what I mean. That is cognitive dissonance, after a fashion, and I find it very unpleasant.”
“Earth built underground,” said Pelorat. “The Caves of Steel, they called their cities. And Trantor built underground, too, even more extensively, in the old Imperial days. And Comporellon builds underground right now. It is a common tendency, when you come to think of it.”
“Half-humans swarming underground and we living underground in isolated splendor are two widely different things,” said Bander.
Trevize said, “On Terminus, dwelling places are on the surface.”
“And exposed to the weather,” said Bander. “Very primitive.”
The elevator, after the initial feeling of lower gravity that had given away its nature to Pelorat, gave no sensation of motion whatsoever. Trevize was wondering how far down it would penetrate, when there was a brief feeling of higher gravity and the door opened.
Before them was a large and elaborately furnished room. It was dimly lit, though the source of the light was not apparent. It almost seemed as though the air itself were faintly luminous.
Bander pointed its finger and where it pointed the light grew a bit more intense. It pointed it elsewhere and the same thing happened. It placed its left hand on a stubby rod to one side of the doorway and, with its right hand, made an expansive circular gesture so that the whole room lit up as though it were in sunlight, but with no sensation of heat.
Trevize grimaced and said, half-aloud, “The man’s a charlatan.”
Bander said sharply. “Not ‘the man,’ but ‘the Solarian.’ I’m not sure what the word ‘charlatan’ means, but if I catch the tone of voice, it is opprobrious.”
Trevize said, “It means one who is not genuine, who arranges effects to make what is done seem more impressive than it really is.”
Bander said, “I admit that I love the dramatic, but what I have shown you is not an effect. It is real.”
It tapped the rod on which its left hand was resting. “This heat-conducting rod extends several kilometers downward, and there are similar rods in many convenient places throughout my estate. I know there are similar rods on other estates. These rods increase the rate at which heat leaves Solaria’s lower regions for the surface and eases its conversion into work. I do not need the gestures of the hand to produce the light, but it does lend an air of drama or, perhaps, as you point out, a slight touch of the not-genuine, I enjoy that sort of thing.”
Bliss said, “Do you have much opportunity to experience the pleasure of such little dramatic touches?”
“No,” said Bander, shaking its head. “My robots are not impressed with such things. Nor would my fellow-Solarians be. This unusual chance of meeting half-humans and displaying for them is most-amusing.”
Pelorat said, “The light in this room shone dimly when We entered. Does it shine dimly at all times?”
“Yes, a small drain of power-like keeping’ the robots working. My entire estate is always running, and those parts of it not engaged in active labor are idling.”
“And you supply the power constantly for all this vast estate?”
“The sun and the planet’s core supply the power. I am merely the conduit. Nor is all the estate productive. I keep most of it as wilderness and well stocked with a variety of animal life; first, because that protects my boundaries, and second, because I find esthetic value in it. In fact, my fields and factories are small. They need only supply my own needs, plus some specialties to exchange for those of others. I have robots, for instance, that can manufacture and install the heat-conducting rods at need. Many Solarians depend upon me for that.”
“And your home?” asked Trevize. “How large is that?”
It must have been the right question to ask, for Bander beamed. “Very large. One of the largest on the planet, I believe. It goes on for kilometers in every direction. I have as many robots caring for my home underground, as I have in all the thousands of square kilometers of surface.”
“You don’t live in all of it, surely,” said Pelorat.
“It might conceivably be that there are chambers I have never entered, but what of that?” said Bander. “The robots keep every room clean, well ventilated, and in order. But come, step out here.”
They emerged through a door that was not the one through which they had entered and found themselves in another corridor. Before them was a little topless ground-car that ran on tracks.
Bander motioned them into it, and one by one they clambered aboard. There was not quite room for all four, plus the robot, but Pelorat and Bliss squeezed together tightly to allow room for Trevize. Bander sat in the front with an air of easy comfort, the robot at its side, and the car moved along with no sign of overt manipulation of controls other than Bander’s smooth hand motions now and then.
“This is a car-shaped robot, actually,” said Bander, with an air of negligent indifference.-
They progressed at a stately pace, very smoothly past doors that opened as they approached, and closed as they receded. The decorations in each were of widely different kinds as though robots had been ordered to devise combinations at random.
Ahead of them the corridor was gloomy, and behind them as well. At whatever point they actually found themselves, however, they were in the equivalent of cool sunlight. The rooms, too, would light as the doors opened. And each time, Bander moved its hand slowly and gracefully.
There seemed no end to the journey. Now and then they found themselves curving in a way that made it plain that the underground mansion spread out in two dimensions. (No, three, thought Trevize, at one point, as they moved steadily down a shallow declivity.)
Wherever they went, there were robots, by the dozens-scores-hundreds-engaged in unhurried work whose nature Trevize could not easily divine. They passed the open door of one large room in which rows of robots were bent quietly over desks.
Pelorat asked, “What are they doing, Bander?”
“Bookkeeping,” said Bander. “Keeping statistical records, financial accounts, and all sorts of things that, I am very glad to say, I don’t have to bother with. This isn’t just an idle estate. About a quarter of its growing area is given over to orchards. An additional tenth are grain fields, but it’s the orchards that are really my pride. We grow the best fruit in the world and grow them in the largest number of varieties, too. A Bander peach is the peach on Solaria. Hardly anyone else even bothers to grow peaches. We have twenty-seven varieties of apples and-and so on. The robots could give you full information.”
“What do you do with all the fruit?” asked Trevize. “You can’t eat it all yourself.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m only moderately fond of fruit. It’s traded to the other estates.”
“Traded for what?”
“Mineral material mostly. I have no mines worth mentioning on my estates. Then, too, I trade for whatever is required to maintain a healthy ecological balance. I have a very large variety of plant and animal life on the estate.”
“The robots take care of all that, I suppose,” said Trevize.
“They do. And very well, too.”
“All for one Solarian.”
“All for the estate and its ecological standards. I happen to be the only Solarian who visits the various parts of the estate-when I choose-but that is part of my absolute freedom.”
Pelorat said, “I suppose the others-the other Solarians-also maintain a local ecological balance and have marshlands, perhaps, or mountainous areas or seafront estates.”
Bander said, “I suppose so. Such things occupy us in the conferences that world affairs sometimes make necessary.”
“How often do you have to get together?” asked Trevize. (They were going through a rather narrow passageway, quite long, and with no rooms on either side. Trevize guessed that it might have been built through an area that did not easily allow anything wider to be constructed, so that it served as a connecting link between two wings that could each spread out more widely.
“Too often. It’s a rare month when I don’t have to pass some time in conference with one of the committees I am a member of. Still, although I may not have mountains or marshlands on my estate, my orchards, my fishponds, and my botanical gardens are the best in the world.”
Pelorat said, “But, my dear fellow-I mean, Bander-I would assume you have never left your estate and visited those of others-”
“Certainly not, “ said Bander, with an air of outrage.
“I said I assumed that,” said Pelorat mildly. “But in that case, how can you be certain that yours are best, never having investigated, or even seen the others?”
“Because,” said Bander, “I can tell from the demand for my products in interestate trade.”
Trevize said, “What about manufacturing?”
Bander said, “There are estates where they manufacture tools and machinery. As I said, on my estate we make the heat-conducting rods, but those are rather simple.”
“Robots are manufactured here and there. Throughout history, Solaria has led all the Galaxy in the cleverness and subtlety of robot design.”
“Today also, I imagine,” said Trevize, carefully having the intonation make the remark a statement and not a question.
Bander said, “Today? With whom is there to compete today? Only Solaria makes robots nowadays. Your worlds do not, if I interpret what I hear on the hyperwave correctly.”
“But the other Spacer worlds?”
“I told you. They no longer exist.”
“I don’t think there is a Spacer alive anywhere but on Solaria.”
“Then is there no one who knows the location of Earth?”
“Why would anyone want to know the location of Earth?”
Pelorat broke in, “I want to know. It’s my field of study.”
“Then,” said Bander, “you will have to study something else. I know nothing about the location of Earth, nor have I heard of anyone who ever did, nor do I care a sliver of robot-metal about the matter.”
The car came to a halt, and, for a moment, Trevize thought that Bander was offended. The halt was a smooth one, however, and Bander, getting out of the car, looked its usual amused self as it motioned the others to get out also.
The lighting in the room they entered was subdued, even after Bander had brightened it with a gesture. It opened into a side corridor, on both sides of which were smaller rooms. In each one of the smaller rooms was one or two ornate vases, sometimes flanked by objects that might have been film projectors.
“What is all this, Bander?” asked Trevize.
Bander said, “The ancestral death chambers, Trevize.”
PELORAT looked about with interest. “I suppose you have the ashes of your ancestors interred here?”
“If you mean by ‘interred,”‘ said Bander, “buried in the ground, you are not quite right. We may be underground, but this is my mansion, and the ashes are in it, as we are right now. In our own language we say that the ashes are ‘inhoused.’ “ It hesitated, then said, “ ‘House’ is an archaic word for ‘mansion.’ “
Trevize looked about him perfunctorily. “And these are all your ancestors? How many?”
“Nearly a hundred,” said Bander, making no effort to hide the pride in its voice. “Ninety-four, to be exact. Of course, the earliest are not true Solarians-not in the present sense of the word. They were half-people, masculine and feminine. Such half-ancestors were placed in adjoining urns by their immediate descendants. I don’t go into those rooms, of course. It’s rather ‘shamiferous.’ At least, that’s the Solarian word for it; but I don’t know your Galactic equivalent. You may not have one.”
“And the films?” asked Bliss. “I take it those are film projectors?”
“Diaries,” said Bander, “the history of their lives. Scenes of themselves in their favorite parts of the estate. It means they do not die in every sense. Part of them remains, and it is part of my freedom that I can join them whenever I choose; I can watch this bit of film or that, as I please.”
“But not into the-shamiferous ones.”
Bander’s eyes slithered away. “No,” it admitted, “but then we all have that as part of the ancestry. It is a common wretchedness.”
“Common? Then other Solarians also have these death chambers?” asked Trevize.
“Oh yes, we all do, but mine is the best, the most elaborate, the most perfectly preserved.”
Trevize said, “Do you have your own death chamber already prepared?”
“Certainly. It is completely constructed and appointed. That was done as my first duty when I inherited the estate. And when I am laid to ash-to be poetic-my successor will go about the construction of its own as its first duty.”
“And do you have a successor?”
“I will have when the time comes. There is as yet ample scope for life. When I must leave, there will be an adult successor, ripe enough to enjoy the estate, and well lobed for power-transduction.”
“It will be your offspring, I imagine.”
“But what if,” said Trevize, “something untoward takes place? I presume accidents and misfortunes take place even on Solaria. What happens if a Solarian is laid to ash prematurely and it has no successor to take its place, or at least not one who is ripe enough to enjoy the estate?”
“That rarely happens. In my line of ancestors, that happened only once. When it does, however, one need only remember that there are other successors waiting for other estates. Some of those are old enough to inherit, and yet have parents who are young enough to produce a second descendant and to live on till that second descendant is ripe enough for the succession. One of these old/young successors, as they are called, would be assigned to the succession of my estate.”
“Who does the assigning?”
“We have a ruling board that has this as one of its few functions-the assignment of a successor in case of premature aching. It is all done by holovision, of course.”
Pelorat said, “Hut see here, if Solarians never see each other, how would anyone know that some Solarian somewhere has unexpectedly-or expectedly, for that matter-been laid to ash.”
Bander said, “When one of us is laid to ash, all power at the estate ceases. If no successor takes over at once, the abnormal situation is eventually noticed and corrective measures are taken. I assure you that our social system works smoothly.”
Trevize said, “Would it be possible to view some of these films you have here?”
Bander froze. Then it said, “It is only your ignorance that excuses you. What you have said is crude and obscene.”
“I apologize for that,” said Trevize. “I do not wish to intrude on you, but we’ve already explained that we are very interested in obtaining information on Earth. It occurs to me that the earliest films you have would date back to a time before Earth was radioactive. Earth might therefore be mentioned. There might be details given about it. We certainly do not wish to intrude on your privacy, but would there be any way in which you yourself could explore those films, or have a robot do so, perhaps, and then allow any relevant information to be passed on to us? Of course, if you can respect our motives and understand that we will try our best to respect your feelings in return, you might allow us to do the viewing ourselves.”
Bander said frigidly, “I imagine you have no way of knowing that you are becoming more and more offensive. However, we can end all this at once, for I can tell you that there are no films accompanying my early half-human ancestors.”
“None?” Trevize’s disappointment was heart-felt.
“They existed once. But even you can imagine what might have been on them. Two half-humans showing interest in each other or, even,” Bander cleared its throat, and said, with an effort, “interacting. Naturally, all half-human films were destroyed many generations ago.”
“What about the records of other Solarians?”
“Can you be sure?”
“It would be mad not to destroy them.”
“It might be that some Solarians were mad, or sentimental, or forgetful. We presume you will not object to directing us to neighboring estates.”
Bander looked at Trevize in surprise. “Do you suppose others will be as tolerant of you as I have been?”
“Why not, Bander?”
“You’ll find they won’t be.”
“It’s a chance we’ll have to take.”
“No, Trevize. No, any of you. Listen to me.”
There were robots in the background, and Bander was frowning.
“What is it, Bander?” said Trevize, suddenly uneasy.
Bander said, “I have enjoyed speaking to all of you, and observing you in all your-strangeness. It was a unique experience, which I have been delighted with, but I cannot record it in my diary, nor memorialize it in film.”
“My speaking to you; my listening to you; my bringing you into my mansion; my bringing you here into the ancestral death chambers; are shameful acts.”
“We are not Solarians. We matter to you as little as these robots do, do we not?”
“I excuse the matter to myself in that way. It may not serve as an excuse to others.”
“What do you care? You have absolute liberty to do as you choose, don’t you?”
“Even as we are, freedom is not truly absolute. If I were the only Solarian on the planet, I could do even shameful things in absolute freedom. But there are other Solarians on the planet, and, because of that, ideal freedom, though approached, is not actually reached. There are twelve hundred Solarians on the planet who would despise me if they knew what I had done.”
“There is no reason they need know about it.”
“That is true. I have been aware of that since you’ve arrived. I’ve been aware of it all this time that I’ve been amusing myself with you. The others must not find out.”
Pelorat said, “If that means you fear complications as a result of our visits to other estates in search of information about Earth, why, naturally, we will mention nothing of having visited you first. That is clearly understood.”
Bander shook its head. “I have taken enough chances. I will not speak of this, of course. My robots will not speak of this, and will even be instructed not to remember it. Your ship will be taken underground and explores for what information it can give us-”
“Wait,” said Trevize, “how long do you suppose we can wait here while you inspect our ship? That is impossible.”
“Not at all impossible, for you will have nothing to say about it. I am sorry. I would like to speak to you longer and to discuss many other things with you, but you see the matter grows more dangerous.”
“No, it does not,” said Trevize emphatically.
“Yes, it does, little half-human. I’m afraid the time has come when I must do what my ancestors would have done at once. I must kill you, all three.”